Thursday, September 16, 2010

True Wife's Tale #5: Laura and Mismatched Sex Drives

Today’s True Wife's Tale takes you into the bedroom of Laura and David, married twelve years. Their issue is different sex drives. He wants it, she...not so much, or at least, not so frequently. It’s probably also germane to note that outside of the bedroom, Laura is generally “the decider” in the relationship. She is a very busy exec in the movie industry and David is a custom furniture maker who works at home.

Sometimes David and Laura reach a happy détente on how and when they’ll have sex, other times their differences threaten the marriage. When I interviewed Laura she said, “I’ll be curious how we compare to the other people you talk to because my husband always thinks that we’re broken. He told me he’s concerned this might be the end of our marriage. That broke my heart.”

Laura's solution to this dilemma? Make a deal with David (she is a movie exec, after all). If he wants sex--really really wants it--she will agree, with no complaint. The thing is, he doesn't just want sex, as in, a quickie, he wants sex as in "making love," as in lots of time spent on the act, orgasms (non-fake) had by all, etc... Does this agreement charge up their sex lives, or does Laura get fed up and renege on the deal? Well, you'll just have to read below and find out now, won't you?

And while I'm being all bossy, here are some questions for you:
--How do you handle it when one person wants sex and the other doesn't?
--Do different levels of desire cause problems in your relationship?

(True Wife's Tales are an In Bed With Married Women continuing series in which women tell the damn truth about their sex life, no matter how embarrassing, non-existent, hot or enviable it may be. If you'd like to tell your story, click here.)

In Bed With Married Women:  How’s your sex life these days?

Laura:  Our sex life is, in my opinion, just fine. We have it on average, two to three times per week. In

my husband’s opinion, we could be having a lot more. But physiologically, I’m at a phase where I’m not producing any sex drive hormones. That’s apparently very normal.  It takes some foreplay--whether that be a glass of wine or a little kissing--to get those hormones rocking and rolling for me.  My husband has raging hormones.  He tells me “There’s not a moment of any day that I’m not thinking of having sex with you.  Anytime you say ‘Let’s do it,’  I’m there, I ready, let’s go right now.”

We’re very very open in our communication about our differences about sex.  We go through a cycle about every three months when aren’t seeing eye to eye on how much is enough sex.  It will turn into a knockdown dragout, let’s-figure-this-out fight.  You’d think we’d get it figured out.  He would like to have sex at least three times a week.  I would be totally fine with once.  But I told him, “Honey, if you need sex, I will say yes every time you seriously are asking for sex.  When you REALLY need it, tell me ‘I really would like to have sex tonight’ and I will say yes every time--no matter what.  No matter how I’m feeling, no matter how much I don’t want to, I will shift my thinking and I will give it to you.”

This is what ends up happening: He will ask two or three times a week and I will always say “Yeah, honey, that sounds good.  Let’s go.”  Then he’ll say, “I appreciate that you’re open to giving me it every time I want it, but I’m starting to feel sad that you never instigate.”  So THEN I’ve got the pressure on myself to instigate once a week.

This works really well for awhile, and then I start to get resentful. I think, “Why do I have to do this?  I’m exhausted.  You have no idea what my life is like” and we have the fight again. This is our cycle.

In Bed:  When you agree to have sex, is it required that you enjoy yourself or can you just show up?

Laura: Oh, that’s the problem.  I shouldn’t say “the problem”, that’s “the interesting challenge.” My husband insists that I have an orgasm every time we have sex.  For a man to have an orgasm, it doesn’t take any mental energy at all.  It actually takes mental energy not to get off.  For me, it’s not always just a quick thing.  I kind of have to get my mind there.  I have to focus some energy.  When it happens, it’s always great.  But 90% of the time, it takes a little bit of mental and physical energy to have an orgasm.  So for me to say yes to him I have to work to get in the mindset because I know I have to get off.  I know I do or he won’t stop.  And I refuse to fake.

So I have think, “Okay, it’s tonight.  I’ll have a glass of wine and do a little meditative thinking.”  Once we get going, it’s all good.  But it’s just having to shift directions in the evening after a busy day.  He doesn’t understand how much mental and physical energy I have to put into sex because he doesn’t have to put any of that in.  And his feelings are hurt that I have to put so much energy in.  But I keep telling him, “You’ve got the hormones, I don’t.  Physiologically our bodies are different and that’s okay.  Don’t take it so personally.  I am attracted to you and I think you’re a wonderful man.  I just don’t have the hormones ranging like you do.”  He’ll be okay with that for awhile, but he’ll get sad about it after a few months when he starts to see me go back to my old habits of “Oh, I don’t want to.”

In Bed: Can you just get by with a quickie?

Laura: He doesn’t like quickies. He prefers, as he calls them, longies. I always tell him, “If you just want to hop on and get off, I’m yours. If you have tension and you just need to release it, I’m your hole.” Anytime, I’ll do that--as long as I don’t have the pressure of having to get off myself.  But he says, “That’s not really what I want.  I don’t want to just get off--I want to have an intimate relationship with my wife.”  And I think, “Oh, man, I just wish you wanted a quickie.”

In Bed:  When it’s your turn to instigate, what do you do?

Laura:  It’s usually candles, music.  I look at him downstairs, and I’ll go “I’m going to go upstairs,” and, if it’s early, he’ll know.  I’ll go upstairs and light a candle, put on some music--we have several CDs that we like for that purpose.

In Bed:  Like what?

Laura:  Sting, James Blunt and the Grey's Anatomy Soundtrack from Season 2.  If he doesn’t come up in like 15 minutes, I’ll peek my head down and go, “Hell-oooo.”  Or if he’s up in bed already, I’ll just take off my clothes and jump on him.  That’s one of his favorite ways.

In Bed:  Are there things he wants to try that you don’t want to do?

When he asks me to do things sexually that are a stretch for me, it makes me very uncomfortable. I’ve tried to think of something I could do that’s not quite what he wants but something that’s more adventurous than the regular old me.  But it’s very uncomfortable to me.  He wants simple things that probably aren’t that bizarre.  Like he has asked me to dress up in business attire and, you know, be in my office. He loves when I’m in business attire.  He just thinks that the sexiest thing.  That would be a huge favor to him and I can’t even do that.  And it’s not even that big of a deal, right?  It’s not that unusual to role play.

He loves garter belts and stockings on me and I rarely put them on for him.  He used to set out a full ensemble on the bed.  I’d go upstairs and when I’d see it, I’d know.  He buys me tons of lingerie, the kind where everything matches.  I have dozens of ensembles that he’s bought and I never wear them.  Once every five months, I might put it on as part of letting him know that I’m instigating.  He would love if I put it on every time.  But to me that’s one more bit of energy I have to use up to put those stupid stockings on and fumble with the stupid garter belt things. But on his birthday and our anniversary, I’ll put it on, just because he loves it so much.

In Bed:  What happens in your bedroom?

Laura:  There are sort of four or five different scenarios that almost always play out.  They almost always involve lots of kissing and touching.  He thoroughly enjoys oral sex, not me on him, but him on me.  That’s like one of his favorite things in the world, I don’t get it.  95% of the time, that’s part of it.  There’s not a lot of oral sex from me to him.  I do on occasion, but it's not something I like to do.  I’ll do it if he asks.  We have four or five positions. I know which ones get him off the fastest and I’ll push him into those if I can if I want to get to sleep.  Lots of me on top. We never do it in the missionary position, never ever.  I could be on my back, but he’ll have me twisted sideways.  I let him lead because I’m up for almost anything. He’ll flip me over and pull me to the edge of the bed or stand up with me on my hands and knees.  But I always know that when he puts me on my back and puts my ankles up on my shoulders, then we’re getting toward the end.  That’s the easiest way for him to get off.  So once we get in that position, I think “Oh, good, we’re coming down the home stretch.”

When my husband talks about intimacy, he means sex. But for me, my an intimate relationship is far more than sex. It’s just touching feet in bed at night when we don’t want to have sex but just want to know that we’re there. It’s the talks about raising our children, our dreams for the future, our philsophy about life and spirituality.


Anonymous said...

We have this problem, but the opposite version. In our house, I'm the one who wants more sex than my husband. When other women are talking about how their husbands are all over them, I am too embarrassed to say that mine isn't.

Brent H. said...

Part 1 of 2 (I apparently wrote more than the "post a comment" feature will allow... )

It makes me sad to read this, as Laura's comments contain so much frustration and resignation.

While I share her hubby David's preference for longies, he certainly needs to learn the virtue of quickies, as they are sometimes the only feasible option. Sounds like he also has a restricted sense of intimacy typically of so many men. There are other forms of intimacy besides the physical, and other forms of physical intimacy besides sex. Perhaps Laura and David should learn the fine art of giving one another great massages?

That said, David's insistence that his wife always have an orgasm is a bit troubling. It sounds good on the surface, given the neglect of female pleasure still common among many males of the species. But if Laura isn't all that interested in sex on a given occasion, that suggests that she's not that interested in having an orgasm (well, not one produced by sex, anyway) at that time. That's not what she wants. Which leads one to wonder, does David want his wife to have an orgasm for her sake in such an instance, or for his own? It sounds like giving his wife an orgasm and satisfying her sexually may be overly important for David's sense of self.

(Note to David: sex without orgasm - female and/or male - is still a form of intimacy and pleasure and hence is not pointless, inadequate, or a waste of time.)

As I'm not female, it's harder for me to comment on Laura's situation, so I should probably defer to other women. I will say, though, that there's a difference between wanting sex less than one's partner and not really wanting it at all. It's not clear to me which is the case here. Laura may not want sex often because she simply doesn't enjoy it. Her reference to "coming down the home stretch" suggests that, at least in some cases, she can't wait for the sex to be over. Also interesting in this regard is Laura's lukewarm attitude toward giving and, apparently, even receiving oral sex. I was quite surprised by the latter. Most women I know are very, very happy (overjoyed?) to encounter men who delight in performing oral sex. Laura's seeming confusion about her husband in this regard ("I don't get it") is quite striking. Goodness, why not just lie back and enjoy it? (Although if David does get too much of his self-esteem from sex, it may be that his appetite for cunnilingus has other motives than simply pleasing Laura, and maybe she picks up on that.)

On a related note, I would suggest that there's a certain amount of tension in Laura's account of her own lack of interest. She attributes some of it to exhaustion (e.g., her frustration with putting on lingerie), but she seems to admit that some of the problem is her own inhibitions (e.g., regarding her husband's request for some very, very minor role playing with Laura in her work clothes). It would be helpful to know what other sorts of sexual requests David makes that make Laura uncomfortable.

Brent H. said...

Part 2 of 2

Laura's extremely demanding job provides the subtext for a lot of her account. I wonder if there was a time when Laura had a less demanding work situation, and if so, how her interest in and pleasure during sex fared then.

Also, Laura and David have such radically different jobs, with such very different demands, that it may be useful for them to walk one another through exactly what a typical day at work entails for each of them. This may help them to better appreciate one another's circumstances. Although I realize they may have done this long ago.

Another relevant factor, and one that I should've alluded to before, is Laura's statement about her body and hormones: "But physiologically, I’m at a phase where I’m not producing any sex drive hormones. That’s apparently very normal." Obviously, this may account for her lack of interest. Since I don't know much about female physiology, I don't know how to interpret Laura's statement (e.g., how old she is, where she's at in her sexual life cycle and what's normal for that stage). Although I would maintain nonetheless that there is an important distinction between interest and pleasure, between how much one wants sex and how much one enjoys sex when it does happen.

Laura and David may want to read David Schnarch's book Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love and Intimacy Alive in Committed Relationships (for Amazon reviews, see:

Lastly, a comment for the anonymous female poster whose sex drive is greater than her husband's: from what I've read, this is a much more common phenomenon than is usually understood. (Do a search online if you don't believe me.) While women commonly interpret this to mean their man no longer finds them attractive - an assumption that can cause much tension and unhappiness in a relationship (I'm speaking from experience here, unfortunately) - that explanation need not be the case. There are other possible causes. There may be a pharmaceutical culprit, for instance. Many prescription drugs can reduce sex drive. Antidepressants are notorious in this regard, but there are many other seemingly innocuous medications (e.g., some for blood pressure) that have this effect. Also, low male sex drive is sometimes the result of an undiagnosed health problem (sleep apnea is a frequent one). So the first thing frustrated wives should do in such cases is to get their husbands to the doctor's office. Much heartache could be alleviated by not assuming the worst about men in these cases.

Anonymous said...

Hello Bed / Laura
I was moved by this post, as much of it strikes a chord with the way I view my own relationship with my wife. And I thought long and hard about what constructive comments I could / should make, based on my own experiences.
But I'm not sure that opening the door to amateur psychology is really what this post is about, so I shall refrain. (No disrespect to the excellent comments from Brent above. These are much more helpful than anything I could offer).
Instead, can I just say "thank you" for sharing this intimate detail of your life. It has made me reflect on my own in a good way, and I hope that it has helped others too.

Jill Hamilton said...

Brent, thanks for your close and thoughtful reading of this. And Anonymous, you are reading this in exactly the spirit it was intended. Which is, actually, a point I was just thinking about. The idea with True Wife (or Husband) Tales is to share what's really going on in our sex lives so that we can reflect on our own situations, find something helpful, or merely see what the spectrum of sexuality might hold.
Someone asked me the other day if I censor comments. I do, if they seem like they are being unduly harsh or judgmental to another commenter or to someone portrayed in a post. (my hypocrisy: I hate censorship--except when I'm the one doing the censoring.)
I want this to be a space where people can speak truthfully about sex without feeling like they are going to be attacked or judged. In my mind, honesty benefits us all, so I want to do everything I can to foster the spirit of truth-telling w/o fear of judgment. In my mind, sexual preferences, desires, etc... aren't right or wrong, they just are.

Anonymous said...

Just wrote a LONG response but it was booted out . . . but (other) anonymous. I feel your pain. Mine wouldn't initiate if his life depended on it and it does get very old listening to the giggles of your girlfriends and wishing you had even one similar story to tell.

WolfK said...

As horrible for David as his situation may be, Laura will negotiate. Just think if he was in my shoes, where it's non-negotiable. Period. Celibacy against one's will is hell. The deepest layer of hell when you don't want to leave her because setting aside the celibacy, she's still the most amazing person on the planet and the thought of leaving is as painful as the reality of staying with her and being celibate. Now THAT's a story I'd love to read about (so I could solve my own problem).

Greg in Pasadena said...

I feel so bad for Laura, sex should be something both partners enjoy and share just between themselves, there's so much "I will let Him" "I will be his hole" OMG, in our house I have a higher libido than my wife (were married 25 years) so I get Davids frustration, especially since it seems he is doing all he can to please Laura, it's like she keeps returning his Bday and Valentines day gifts, for David it must be so painful, and I must say that if they don't work out something so that sex to Laura doesn't feel like a 2nd job than David will just turn it off completely and they will have a sexless marriage or David will cheat, neither being what either would want if they had to revisit this AFTERWARD. Please work it out for the sake of your marriage.

William Quincy Belle said...

Annie Hall

deeman said...

I read this after posting a comment about Tale #6 that sounds a lot like this Tale. It is great that my wife and I are OK with quickies, both for her and for me. We've dealt with the orgasm issue. She often is not orgasmic and doesn't try to be. She says, and I believe her, that having an orgasm is not that important to her, it is the being together that is important. My first wife was easily multiorgasmic, five or six almost every time we had sex. So I had trouble at first with my present wife's attitude. But I understand that, as Laura accurately puts it, she often doesn't want to put in the mental effort.

It doesn't take any effort for me to have an orgasm, it takes effort for me not to have one too fast. I can be as fast or slow as I want, and I can have more than one orgasm before I ejaculate. I control my orgasm. My wife has the same right. It is not for me to control her orgasm, it's up to her. I'll help her all she wants, but it is her responsibility, and if she is satisfied short of orgasm then all I can be is happy for her.

Elle said...

A very belated comment, but I wanted to thank both Laura and the blogger for sharing this. It reminds me a lot of my own relationship . . . it is so comforting to know that others have similar struggles and to hear them talk openly about them. Thank-you.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this. My wife could have written the same account, literally down to the detail. I appreciate her being "my hole." But it destroys at my soul, the thought of my sexuality, my attempt at lovemaking and reconnection being viewed as a chore, something to get over with, so we can go back to more important things, like reality TV.

If your husband is like me, he is thinking about cheating, fantasizing what it must be like to have someone so overcome with lust that they have the same sexual urgency as he does.

Anonymous said...

"If your husband is like me, he is thinking about cheating, fantasizing what it must be like to have someone so overcome with lust that they have the same sexual urgency as he does."

I was married to someone a bit like Laura for 22 years. My ex even liked sex a lot when it happened, inevitably climaxing at least once but the issue for me was the constant rejection, getting let down and use of sex to control other aspects of the relationship.

After 17 of those 22 years, I found myself in a position where it was easy (logistically) to cheat. So I did. And I discovered what it is like to have a partner with similar levels of drive to mine: in the end this revelation led to our divorce. I'm not saying this is what has to happen: my ex and I failed to talk about this enough, failed to go to couples therapy, failed to resolve other issues in our marriage. I cheated rather than trying to solve the problem, but I still think this kind of problem is close to insoluble. We so desire to be desired that when levels of desire are so mismatched, the partner with high desire always feels rejected and the one with low desire feels put upon: I hate to be pessimistic but there really is no perfect solution to this.

I now have a partner whose drive is at least as high as mine, and who is more adventurous than me. I'm looking forward to life on the other end of the stick: whatever happens, I will always tell her how beautiful and sexy she is, and I never want her to know that feeling of rejection that was so destructive to my previous relationship. If sometimes I spend time getting her off when I don't want sex myself, that's a pleasant novelty for now.