When you’ve been lying next to the same person for more than a decade, you come to expect that they’ll be lying next to you the next night, and the night after that, and all the nights for the rest of your life. In other words, there’s no urgency. If that moment comes in the evening where you think, “Maybe we should have sex,” and you’re a little tired, or full, or you’re in the middle of a great book, it’s easy enough to think, “Meh. There’s always tomorrow.” But then all of the tomorrows add up, and pretty soon you find yourself doing it every couple of weeks or so, and in general wishing you had more sex, and wondering how you got to that point.
Maybe, especially if you’re a fixer like me, you read sexperts like Esther Perel (I took a lot of value from Mating in Captivity), searching for solutions. Esther is a proponent of scheduled sex, suggesting, “When you plan for sex, what you’re really doing is affirming your erotic bond. It’s what you did when you were dating. Think of it as prolonged foreplay — from twenty minutes to two days.”
You have an awkward, yet somehow sweet conversation with your partner about having more sex, and you make a plan — to make a sex date for at least once a week, so that not so much time goes by without it. You look forward to your weekly sex dates, as Esther predicted.
But for us, this plan has not been without its hiccups. We started our weekly sex dates Wednesdays around lunchtime, when the kids were at school. The first couple of weeks were fine, and then the work meetings started dropping in. So we switched to Sunday nights. But we quickly found that we were too exhausted from weekends running to sports events, doing yard work, and staying up late for family movie nights to muster the strength to follow through. We had “Sexy Time” on our calendars, which already is kind of depressing, but almost unbearably so when it keeps getting canceled or changed.
I guess I’m saying the obvious here when I say that in order for this plan to work, you have to actually keep the dates. Not only does not keeping the dates defeat the whole purpose of the plan (to have regular sex), but it also leads to hurt feelings and sometimes even a desire to give up the whole thing altogether and crawl back to the safety of not even trying.
But all of this is not even the big problem I’m here to write about. Something happened the other day that made me realize this plan has a fatal flaw. Both of us were working from home, the kids were at school, and I was suddenly, inexplicably wanting sex. Maybe it was the warmer weather, or the fact that I felt on top of things for once, or maybe it was a brief mention of an old boyfriend on a text chain with high school friends. Whatever the reason, I wanted it, right that very moment. I texted my husband, “What’s your schedule like? Want to hook up?” No response for like an hour. Then he said, “Have a meeting soon. How about tomorrow?”
I ended up saying that was fine, and we had a nice quickie the next day on the couch. But in that moment, where I asked and he couldn’t do it, there was a lot for me. First, was the feeling of subtle rejection. I rarely ask for sex. And though this is a different story, I don’t ask both because of my outdated Gen X beliefs about female sexuality that I have long rejected intellectually but can’t seem to shake emotionally, and also because when I do, my husband often says no. But back to this moment, there was the feeling of rejection, and the feeling of being deprioritized, even though I get it, a work meeting is a work meeting.
But I realized, none of those things were the hardest part of this scenario. The hardest part was that I wanted sex right that very moment. I wanted to get laid and ended up frustrated. Sure, I could have rubbed one out on my own, and there are many times where that’s a great solution. But in this moment, I wanted a real person, I wanted to feel hands on my skin and a tongue in my mouth, and parts in my parts. So this is a problem with having a sex life that is scheduled, the sex doesn’t always (or often) happen when you actually want it. Of course, I can get myself into it when “Sexy Time” pops up in the calendar. But what I am missing is that feeling of wanting someone, of not being able to think of anything else until that want is satisfied, of dropping everything to satisfy it.
Wrapped up in this are all of the issues that come with being together a long time. Take the Coolidge Effect, a much-observed phenomenon where breeding animals tire of sex after a certain amount of time with the same mate, but when a new mate is introduced, suddenly the animals are ready to go. I know how they feel. I met a guy at a work event a few years ago, and I wanted him badly. I have never cheated on my husband, but in that moment I felt like I could have sex with that guy and not think twice about it. (I didn’t.) But if I did have sex with that guy, I don’t think I would love my husband less. I would have space for both feelings, the affection and care that come from building a life with someone, and the lust and aliveness that come from conquering someone new.
All of this has got me questioning lifelong monogamy, and if there isn’t space to create new constructs, ones that don’t hurt anyone or lead to shame or mistrust. I’m wondering if even a stifled Gen X woman like me can figure out how to explore my sexuality in a way that allows both me as an individual and us as a couple to feel safe, satisfied, and growing.
Some might say what I am wanting is immature. That what I really need is to settle into grown-up, respectable love that isn’t about having sex like a teenager. That in every relationship, that initial lust cools and gives way to something much more solid. Some might also say that if a long-term monogamous couple works at it, lust can be rediscovered. I agree with all that, but I still want the easy, don’t-have-to-work-for-it-holy-shit-I’m-turned-on lust. There is a part of me that isn’t ready to give that up yet, and it’s the same part of me that isn’t ready to die yet.
I am so inspired by the more open sexuality of younger generations, and it’s made me acutely aware that there are things I want to experience in this life that my husband can’t provide — sex with a woman, sex with a stranger, sex with that guy from the work thing. And I don’t think experiencing those things should have to mean that I can’t have our solid, sweet, grounding relationship, as well. I haven’t figured out a way to make this all work, just yet. If I figure it out, I’ll let you know. I’m open to suggestions.
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