Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Sex: Wanting it even when we don’t

Does talking about sex ever get boring? No? Good answer.

One of the things I love about talking to my Readers is they help me consider fun and exciting experiences that I’ve had, and that I’m clearly not alone in. And when I say fun and exciting I hope you know that what I really mean; is we need a sarcasm font.  But in a good way.

I love sex. But, sometimes sex can be really, really hard for me. No, that is not a pun.

Sex can be a major point of ambivalence… does anyone else wish this word sounded less like you just don’t care, and more like EVERYTHING is split in an extreme way that you feel all at the same time and care way too much but also not at all?

Sex is wonderful for a lot of reasons. It’s probably the most tangible affirmation of affection that you can experience with your entire body (for someone like me). It can take me out of my own head and put me in the actual moment. It’s a way to experience and share intimacy… (or avoid emotional intimacy while remaining comfortably close). It’s comforting! A comforting escape sometimes, but comforting none the less! It makes us feel desired, needed, wanted… an affirmation that we need often. And maybe most importantly, it makes our partner happy. Not going to lie, there’s a deep sense of satisfaction that comes (no pun intended) in knowing that we’ve satisfied our partner.

At times sex can be more about our partners than it is about ourselves, or “us” as it probably should be. Yes, it can be all about you. Which is great, yes?

Except when it’s not.

As I mentioned in my post about Sex Avoidance, there are a lot of reasons someone might not want to have sex, or be able to have sex ---- > Sexual abuse, being the big white elephant in the room. How people handle sexual abuse is dependent on the individual. Some people can’t handle sex well after and try to avoid it as best as they can.

 Some people overcompensate with it and go the “I want it now and all the time” route. This can be for a lot of reasons, including, but not limited to: Needing to feel like sex isn't a big deal, and therefore less like something was taken away from them; something of a Stockholm syndrome of that was how my abuser “showed” he cared so that’s how we understand “love”, a desire to be the one initiating and therefore in control, the one using not the one being used, the one dominating, not being dominated…. The list goes on.

Those are the more extreme of the extremes. The all or nothing.

But there are many places in between where we might go. I’m somewhere in between, but it was a process to even get there. When you’re used to being used for sex, when you've dealt with other forms of sexual abuse, the desire for a loving, sexually intimate relationship can still survive, but there are some big gaping emotional wounds that don’t heal easily. That may not completely heal at all.

That doesn’t mean we want to give up on intimacy altogether though (the sexual kind, getting comfortable with the emotional kind is a whole different ball game).  Sure we may take a break from one form of it (for example: men) for a while, maybe a few weeks, months, or even a few years, if you’re not particularly limited in the orientation of preference. But after a while, or maybe even right away, we’ll try to get right back up on that, um, horse.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that wound doesn’t still exist though. It’s important that we share this kind of information with partners we plan on staying with, otherwise there’s no way for them to understand what’s going on when they, inevitably, trigger us. Especially if the psychological injury is still fresh it’s very easy to trip that trigger. Even if it’s been years, and you’ve been through a lot of healing, something may catch you on an off day that you weren’t expecting, and the wound reopens for a while. It might not be as bad as the initial wounding, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still significant to you.

Which can surprise the shit out of our partner b/c if we weren’t expecting it, they’re definitely not expecting it.

This can be especially unfortunate if that trigger occurs during an already intimate situation. This has happened to me with a few guys before. I hate saying no to sex. I hate even more having to stop the process after we’ve already started getting frisky.

I feel guilty. I feel like I’m failing my partner. No matter how understanding they are (and it is important that you respect this need and treat it with understanding – this was actually that last straw I had with Tech Boy), I still feel like I’ve failed them on some level. When that fear of abandonment and rejection translates to: Making my partner happy is what makes them stay, I need to do this for my partner or they won’t be happy, if they’re not happy they might not love me anymore, if they don’t love me anymore they might leave, if they leave, I’m lost… not being able to please our partners can be devastating, and trigger another set of rejection reactions and emotional turbulence.

This can lead to a lot of having sex when we don’t necessarily want to (but we won’t show that), initiating sex because we think it’s what our partner needs or expects, despite our own desires, etc., because the consequences of not always seeming ready, willing, and able, or much more frightening to us than just saying, “No tonight honey, let’s do it tomorrow.”

In the past I’ve just sucked it up, and sort of tuned out. I did this with Boring-Ex a lot. Yeah, occasionally with Tech Boy. Evil-Ex, oddly, didn’t use me for sex, so much as prestige and money. Especially in college, when I was struggling with my sexuality and the decision to date men at all, having sex with men (the whole 2 of them I dated in 6 years at school) was complicated and invasive for me. There was a lot of internal battling going on with whether I was even okay with it or not. I’ve said it before, and it still holds true: sex with men can be like getting punched in the vag repeatedly with a blunt object. Not my favorite thing ever.

In the past, I couldn’t say no though. I felt guilty. I learned pretty early from guys that if I wasn’t available in that way, I wasn’t worth keeping around. I learned that being available in that way, kept him coming back (The One). So of course, the counter thought to that internalized logic, is if I’m not available in that way, they won’t be there anymore. This is what abusive douchebags are like.

So when we date someone that isn’t out to get us with only dishonorable intentions  it can be a pretty confusing place to be. The two guys I dated in college were really very nice guys, but I was struggling with my sexual identity and after the more extreme sexual abuse I’ve suffered through. After a while I wouldn’t see my partner as often in person b/c I knew where it would inevitably lead, or I would use the functional excuse of needing to study. Not being around because of school helped me avoid the pressure of having to do something I wasn’t comfortable with, and also provided an excuse that wouldn’t hurt their ego so they wouldn’t leave.

Even though they were nothing like The One and some of the other guys that screwed with me, I couldn’t turn off the expectation that they would, or should, treat me the same way. No amount of them telling me they understand could really make that sink in either. Hearing and “knowing” is one thing… feeling and KNOWING, is something else.

It’s taken a lot of work to get past some of these hang ups, and to be perfectly honest, with men, I still can’t shake the underlying suspicion that all they want is sex. I try very hard when I’ve made the decision to be with a guy to not hold them to what previous exes have done. But it’s ye olde battle of cognitive knowledge vs. emotional instinct. I’ve been through so much trauma, that the thought of someone wanting to be with me, for me, and not just for sex… fits, wrong. Once the aspect of sex comes into place, something changes.

I have a lot of guy friends. I grew up with guys. For most of my life I was much more comfortable being one of the guys, than having female friends. Until that moment when it became too obvious to ignore that they had some other kinds of feelings working behind the scenes. It’s a tangible sensation of my heart dropping into my stomach and my brain cringing in sadness when a platonic male friend tells me he has feelings for me. It makes me question every intention back to the beginning. It makes me sad.

I’m still trying to learn, and internalize, that you can care for someone deeply and being physical with them doesn’t negate that. (For me “someone” means a male someone. Sorry I’ve never had these problems with women so sexual intimacy and women is just a non-issue for me).  Unfortunately Friend and Tech Boy didn’t help me much with this one, so it’s something I’m still struggling with. It’s not as bad as it used to be. In the past I would be disgusted and filled with revulsion at the betrayal of what our friendship was supposed to mean. ::shrug:: Now? It still makes me sad, and my guard does go back up a little.

On the plus side, my appreciation for my straight female friends has risen dramatically!

Frankly, some days I just want to be "normal", without all of these constant, conflicting feelings, and just be happily impulsive with my sex life. This is much more possible for me now, but sometimes you just want to do what you want to do, and you don't realize it's not a going well til you're already there. It sucks. And it's a mess. 

In summation: Even though we may really, really be into you, into having sex with you, there’s still a lot of wounds and conflicting experiences that can interfere with our decision to be intimate in that way. And for those of us that do struggle with this, our bodies our ours. It’s OKAY to say no, it’s okay to wait until you’re ready, even if you were okay with it the night before.

This isn’t always the motivation, it’s not the motivation for everyone, but it’s something I’ve been through and I think some can relate. 


  1. Hi Haven. I read your blog (despite being a very time-poor person) because it's articulate and often insightful. However, I want to comment that this blog entry seems to have as a starting point the premiss that for those who want it, sex is always available. Maybe that's true in modern-day New York, but let's not forget that for many (most?) people in most places and at most times in history, sex is not easy to get. Many societies are very sexually repressive and many people are simply shy or live in a small town where everybody knows everybody, or stuck in a stale marriage etc etc. It's nice to have the opportunity, but for many people, unwanted sexual frustration is a fact of life.

    1. Thank you for this perspective!

      I didn't actually grow up in New York. I'm a transplant. I came here just a few years ago for my Evil-Ex and the job I was offered at the time. I grew up in the mid-West.

      I agree, you're absolutely right! This is how society is in many places and has been. I grew up in a place that was much more conservative than NYC and not New York at all. That's where most of my story takes place. And yet.... this is what I learned.

      I don't like the idea that this can be interpreted as if sex is available for those that want it. That's not at all what I mean. I'm going to go back and try to take a more objective look at this article to fix that. Thank you!

      Though to be honest, and a point that many of my male friends point out to me... being attractive, and female, if you want sex, you can get it. Anywhere.

    2. I'm also discovering that I'm not sure which aspects of this give you that perspective. Can you point them out? Sorry.

    3. Sorry, I was away working for a while. I think it's partly the reference to "having a lot of sex when you don't necessarily want to". Let's analyse that. You only ever have sex if you meet people who want to have sex with you (leaving aside criminal or commercial sex), only if you have a suitable place to have sex with privacy, if you are not too exhausted to have sex (I know a single parent who is attractive and in demand but simply too tired all the time), only if you don't risk being stigmatised or outcast by having sex, etc etc. These conditions tend to be met by young childless professional people in big cities in the modern Western world. In such places, sex is used as an outlet for a lot of things, because it's available. In places where it's not available, people can use other outlets, like alcohol violence or religion. Different fixes depending on the circumstances. I suspect if you were the same person but living in a village in a highly-religious community, you would be writing about a love-hate relationship with God rather than with sex. But now that I read that comment again, it seems so obvious that I'm not sure that it's very insightful. Sorry if that's the case.

  2. "It’s a tangible sensation of my heart dropping into my stomach and my brain cringing in sadness when a platonic male friend tells me he has feelings for me. It makes me question every intention back to the beginning. It makes me sad."

    I gather you are a very attractive woman and you know it. It may be safe to assume that nearly every heterosexual male you get to know is going to have non-platonic feelings for you at one point or another. That doesn't mean they are douchebags. Some of them will never mention those feelings and will remain platonic with you because they know that's what you want, or because they know that's what's appropriate under the circumstances. Some of them may eventually express their feelings, just to get it out on the table, without any expectation that anything physical will happen. Some may express those feelings with perhaps the hope that something physical will happen, but if you aren't willing to go there, they may be willing to remain platonic because they value your friendship. There are a lot of possible permutations here, and I don't think you should be too disappointed when a platonic male friend says he has feelings for you. It doesn't necessarily mean he's only after one thing. He might be, but given your intellect and depth, quite possibly not.

    For you, how is it different if a female friend with whom you have a platonic relationship tells you she has feelings for you? Do you question every intention back to the beginning with her as well?

    1. Sorry, I read your post again. I see you've already answered some of this and that was much of the point of your post. You aren't similarly disappointed when platonic female friends tell you they have feelings for you because, in part, you don't have a history of being abused by females. You have difficulty trusting men because of past abuse. When you develop what you believe is a platonic relationship with a man and it turns out he's physically attracted to you, that fragile foundation of trust you've built suddenly crumbles. Is that right?

      I guess I'm saying your trust doesn't need to crumble just because you realize one day that he's attracted to you. He may still be a perfectly good guy you can trust. But you already knew that...;)

  3. Oh wow, this article summarises my mental states - in relation to sex - exactly!! It's like I could have actually written this piece (except I'm straight, not bisexual) but I feel the exact same way with men! I find it very difficult with my 5-year partner, and he can get very stroppy if I "stop" things when they've already begun because I've had a weird emotional fall-out moment again... so now I usually just go through with it to keep him happy.... You've inspired me to try and have a bit more self-esteem, I think borderlines maybe tend to let people use them in order to try and please them and keep their love. Thank you for sharing this xx
    - Tam (Bipolar, BPD)


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