Do You Like Sex?

I’m not asking to be flippant. I’m not asking to get too personal. I am asking because I’m curious, and I’m concerned. About our sex lives. About women and what we find important. About assumptions to do with women during pregnancy, women trying to juggle it “all,” women in long-term marriages, women at midlife and later.

Couple in LoveIt’s a simple question and a complex one, and I would hope that men would feel free to offer their observations as well. But I genuinely wish to know – if sex is a priority in your life, in your relationship, in your marriage.

If you like it, if you want it, if you miss it.

I am a woman at midlife and my libido has been strong for many years, though I’ve known the typical ups and downs of desire – the more stress, the more fatigue, the less sleep – interest plummets.

Though I cannot predict the future of course, my libido has never disappeared entirely. And I’m glad. I’m relieved. I consider it an integrated part of a healthy lifestyle.

This doesn’t mean I haven’t gone for extended periods without intimacy. I have, and for many reasons. That lack of affection and shared sexuality left me feeling isolated and mournful. Many believe that men need sex more often than women (I’m not explicitly looking to dispute that or agree with it) – I can only imagine that both men and women living in sexless marriages must suffer terribly, or take their “business” elsewhere.

Sexless Marriage

This weekend, I wrote an article on sexless marriage that appeared at the Huffington Post. I believe that sex is marital glue but not the only marital glue. I believe that affection is just as essential, but affection isn’t necessarily sufficient in and of itself. I believe these are issues for each couple to determine for themselves.

But we often don’t talk about it. At least, not until it’s too late.

And I’m stunned by the numbers of men and women who feel sexually shut down by their partners – even shamed for wanting a sex life.

I wonder if this is a particularly American problem, or a problem that is growing worldwide. I wonder if it has to do with the muddled mess of women’s roles, and our consternation and resentments experienced by both sexes. I wonder if this is a growing problem because what happens behind closed doors is surely a reflection of the global malaise we feel – trapped by bills and hunting for jobs, sandwiched between aging parents and our own children, worrying and preoccupied, so sex takes a tumble down the priority list.

Sex as a Priority

One of the commenters at the Huffington Post argued that women would rather go shopping than do the deed with their husbands. Maybe she was being funny (though she seemed to insist through a string of remarks); one could logically assume there are serious underlying issues in her relationship.

  • But how many women see sex as a means to an end? I can’t help but think it’s too many.
  • How many women are afraid to rock the boat by expressing more openly what they need, and when? Again, I worry that it’s likely too many.

Incidentally, I don’t exempt the men from equal parts hesitation and frustration. Nonetheless, I will explicitly ask – do you like sex? If you used to like it, but something changed – then what?

My Marriage, My Reflections

I believe my sons were conceived of a joyful union, in each instance. There were some happy moments in those first few years, and my children are the fruits of those good experiences.

I also recognize that I was exhausted and lonely by Year 3. That my spouse traveled and there was no family to help transformed my daily dance of demanding job and two little boys into a very tiring proposition.

But I wasn’t very good at speaking my mind at the time – at asking what he needed, or asking for what I needed.

While I don’t think better communication would’ve have changed the end result – our values were dramatically different, a fact that revealed itself as the years went on – an absence of communication creates a widening gulf. If you don’t talk and you don’t listen, resentment grows at an alarming rate. For many of us, the quality of our sex lives is a casualty, one way or another.

Single Parent Sex

There’s little question that single parent sexuality poses other issues and special considerations when it comes to finding a partner (or partners), scheduling, investment of time (and money), and the tricky logistics of children and their needs.

I believe it’s critical to be circumspect around our sons and daughters, which makes dating and loving all the more challenging.

Sometimes our sexuality sits on the shelf for months – or even years – especially if we don’t have an arrangement of shared parenting. We simply never have time off.

Sometimes we find ways for a little “stealth” sexuality – discretion, thanks to a babysitting budget or other single parent friends who are willing to help.

Still – single mother? Getting a little older? It’s difficult to get back out there. To risk rejection. To keep at it.

Good Relationship, Good Sex?

But let’s say you’re well-matched – you share interests, you respect each other, you have values in common, and chemistry. If you have a good relationship but you don’t have good sex, is it a matter of priorities? Scheduling? Self-esteem? Is there an underlying physical or psychological cause?

Is it about unspoken score-keeping, though you may not realize you’re engaging in it? What about fatigue – and the configuration of familial responsibilities?

Is it about communication – a hesitation on your part to express what you want (and how often), or difficulty in hearing what the other is actually saying? Has desire simply taken a hike, and you’re not sure how to rediscover it?

Midlife Women, Great Sex

At midlife, I will say this: Even if sexuality is back-burnered for a time, even if health issues threaten to make intimacy more challenging, even if you think you can live without a sex life but you’re wistful considering its once important role in your life – great sex is rejuvenating and midlife can be enormously liberating – if we don’t view ourselves as lesser women because of a few wrinkles or extra pounds, if we hold loving ourselves and loving another as essential ingredients in a joyful life, if we believe we’re still desirable – and behave in ways that encourage that belief.

A small amount of self-care. Not comparing ourselves to what is past, and only seeing the worst in the mirror. Of course we can’t all age like Helen Mirren, but we can age like ourselves, and age as gracefully as possible if we don’t knock ourselves down and take ourselves out of the game.

Beautiful Mature Silver Haired WomanA woman at 50? A woman at 60? A woman at any age who wishes to celebrate her body as well as her mind – with sex as part of that picture if desire burns brightly?

Why would we think that sexual pleasure and all its emotional benefits disappear? Desire may wane or it may not, but evaporate? It’s nonsensical. And it’s not the case.

Standing Up, Talking and Listening

Simple?

Hardly. But I believe so much of our dissatisfaction has to do with our growing belief that the only valuable woman is a youthful one, and a thin one at that.

My life hasn’t been simple; it certainly isn’t easy. I’ve been heavier and I’ve been thinner, but my own worst enemy in terms of feeling sexy and worthy has always been me. I’m happy to say that’s been changing in recent years, and it’s taken work from the inside out, as well as the outside in.

So I would ask, in order that we speak openly and possibly learn from the process:

  • What would help you enjoy sex to a greater degree or more frequently?
  • If your partner seems disinterested, is there something you can do to help?
  • Is your perception of your value as a sexual being a factor?

 

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Comments

  1. They say when sex in a marriage is good it represents 10% of the marriage but bad sex or no sex it then becomes 99% of the marriage. I was married for 20 years and divorced for over 20 and sex is good when it is good and bad when it is bad regardless of the situation. In lust great, in love great, in a stressful marriage or relationship for me it is mostly all bad as it is directly tied to my feelings. I tried to think I like a man for awhile and tried to have sex just for the hell of it-it didn’t work. I think men f…. and then fall in love and women fall in love and then f…..
    Thanks for the provoking message today.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      I believe there’s a lot of wisdom in that saying, Madge. I have known couples with (to hear both tell it) active and satisfying sex lives, but over the years that may be the only thing that continues to hum along, as all the other changes we undergo dealing with kids, health, money, jobs – all put a strain on the relationship. And sometimes people change in ways we cannot predict. Even then, sex may be fine, but the marriage, not so much.

      Thank you, as always, for your willingness to comment.

  2. Yes, I do enjoy sex. As does my partner. But sadly, it has fallen below in priorities as we juggle our respective full time job, a new baby, a toddler and freelance work. We’re often needed and involved throughout the day so there’s no time to steal away and at night, when the kids are asleep, we try to catch up on work (and my writing/reading). When we finally have time outside of these priorities, there’s a baby in bed with us or we’re often too tired. So we cuddle instead, or aim for a long, meaningful kiss and hug in between.

    We’ve also “scheduled” sex on the calendar once when we realized we needed to make it a priority and if spontaneity wasn’t happening, then we needed to plan it. And it worked. Not the most romantic, but at least we got some ;-)

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Justine, I’m glad things are going well. It’s such a challenge those first few years when you have a second child or more, especially when you’re both working, and you’re just plain worn out. But you’re smart – both of you – to keep the affection for its pleasure and its bonding, and to plan for sexual encounters when you can. There’s no reason we can’t or shouldn’t “schedule” sex with the one we love. After all, we schedule just about everything else for a certain number of years, don’t we?

  3. I’d like to stand up for myself and for the millions of other women around the world who don’t like sex and maybe never did, but wanted to please our partners and so went with the flow for many, many years. There is nothing wrong with us, and there is nothing wrong with preferring activities other than sex. Surveys in this area reveal that many women aren’t particularly interested in sex and don’t care if they ever have sex again.

    To paraphrase your statement: “Closing the book on sex is rejuvenating and midlife can be enormously liberating – if we don’t view ourselves as lesser women because we aren’t interested in sex.” People are made in a huge varieties of shapes and sizes, and our natural libido is just one more variation. My natural libido has pretty much always been zero. I know there are people who are the opposite, but I just wanted to speak up for those who are not sexually inclined.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      I’m glad you spoke up, Sonia, and thank you for reading and commenting.

      Just as there are women for whom their libido says “no thank you,” there are men for whom that’s true as well. I see the real problem when society expects marriage and kids from all of us; we find ourselves married and with those kids – and one of the partners has a particular level of desire and the other doesn’t. For that matter – forget the marriage & the kids. If the libido is mismatched between partners over an extended period in any relationship, in my opinion, it’s doomed.

      So hear’s to a midlife or any stage in life when we can stand up and be ourselves – freely and without shame, without having to live the yoke of societal expectations as to who we’re “supposed to be.”

  4. Experts say that once you lose interest in sex, there is no looking back and extra marital affairs are bound to happen. But what exactly is making you lose interest in sex? A host of psychological and physiological factors can affect your sex drive including stress and depression, money troubles, carrying work home, and ailing family members, all with a direct impact on your libido.

  5. I am one who enjoys sex. I have had rare occasion, both in marriage and more spontaneous, or with ‘friends with benefits’. I understand many women and men (my ex husband included) who do not.
    It can feel threatening on both sides of a relationship when one has a high libido and one not so much.
    Intimacy I believe should not be confused with physical sex. I think it is important for any relationship to have intimacy and show affection for the other in some way.
    I hope to have an active sex life well into my eighties and beyond. Great for the mind, body and soul.

  6. I’m a bit shy about sex, but it’s an important question.
    My libido varies greatly. It’s all about hormones for me, as I learned through birth control pill. When our first baby came, I realized I could take off the pressure off to be perfect every time, and learned that sometimes quick can be fun too. The act of physical love (or just sex sometimes) makes me feel more beautiful, more connected, just better. But sometimes stress and exhaustion get in the way. Being in different cities doesn’t help either.
    My mom is a bit of an over sharer (with this daughter anyway), but she did make an interesting comment about how much good sex keeps a relationship vital as we age. Clearly, she has an active love life. If you just live together without intimacy (of whatever kind gives you shivers) you can shift into a bickering dry relationship.

  7. I love sex but not just for sex’s sake. I believe that intimacy and trust are huge factors to having a healthy sex life. Playing games is not fun and not something I’m interested in at all. And, I have had some awful experiences with men who weren’t willing to engage themselves in some of the action, taking a “lie back and let her do all the work” attitude. I’m not talking my early years; I’m talking recently; I’m talking midlife.

    Unfortunately for me, as a single parent for the past 10 years, all I keep meeting are the wrong men. All I keep meeting are men who are expecting to have this wonderfully engaging relationship with an experienced in life woman who has the perfect body of a very inexperienced in life girl. It ain’t gonna happen!

    Along with the maturity of age in the experiential department and the self-assured department comes the body that has weathered the years to have that sense of self I have today.

    I don’t know if it is my age (44) or the fact that I have little tolerance for people who are full of nonsense but I can’t find a decent man to save my life. I’m not talking love/commitment at first; I’m not even opposed to sex and separation of living space, only seeing each other once or twice per week for the purpose of rejuvenation of chemistry and a bit of action. However, I can’t even find a decent man who is interested in that b/c my body isn’t what is his vision of sexual excitement.

    And, I only mention this out of disgust for them – those men who think they are worth a tight little body. Those women don’t really want you…can you get over that fantasy?! However, someone like me who has an ounce of self-respect doesn’t really want you either, so GROW UP is what I’d like to say.

    A bit of vitriol for you…hope you don’t mind!

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Tina, I hear you. Dating at midlife can be challenging to say the least, and 44 is still young! I also hear you when it comes to the body that has weathered with age (it’s only natural), and the preoccupation with body type / size / shape that is certainly reinforced by media as well as online dating. I don’t know what to say to you except that I understand and empathize. And 10 years post-divorce is a lot of water (and time) under the bridge when sexual companionship (at the very least) can indeed be revitalizing.

      I’m sorry this has been your experience. I’ve certainly lived my own version of it for many years, but there have been times when wonderful men have focused on the finer points (we all have them), and taken the time to get to know me – and allow me to know them. It is possible, but the loneliness and sense of defeat when you would like a woman’s life and can’t seem to access it is deadening.

      I will just add one thing. I know a few good men who have also experienced this from their side. The “average looking guy” – who may be GREAT to many of us, but depending on where he is, how old he is, if he’s got a little paunch or is balding and doesn’t have bank – he may find himself in the same situation. No matter who it is, it feels “off.” It’s not that we don’t have physical types and recognize our own preferences, but there are men who prefer fuller women, there are men who are “face guys” and fall into a woman’s pretty eyes or beautiful smile, and there are men who will always want to be seen with the “trophy” just as there are women who want their version – the Pretty Boy, Mr. Tall Dark And Handsome – whatever.

      Thank you for your honesty and sharing your feelings here. I suspect this is a topic that it’s hard for people to talk about – which is exactly why I asked the questions that I did.

  8. Sex? Yes, please. BUT… with some limits. I want to know who I am with and want to enjoy both the person and the act. Does there need to be love? Not necessarily. Have I gone without? Yes.

  9. For me, proximity and commitment are to hot sex what a bucket of ice water is to a campfire.

    Unfortunately.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Thank you for reading and commenting, Mark. If you feel like expanding, I’d be curious to know why, or possibly your age. The fact that you say “unfortunately” tells me you would like a different experience – or at least, an expanded one.

      By the way, if it wasn’t already clear (at Huff Post), I believe “sex” is a broad catch-all term as we use it, and there is a broad spectrum of sexual experience at different times and with different people. One isn’t automatically superior to the other; that’s society’s judgment, and possibly, our own.

  10. A marriage without sex is doomed. Ok, if you are among those few people who don’t have any desire for it than I suppose it can work.

    Several of the guys I know who are divorced will tell you that one of the ways they knew that their marriages were failing was when the sex disappeared. It wasn’t the only thing or sign of trouble but it is an issue.

    FWIW, most men notice when you are into it and when you are not.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Thanks for joining in with the male perspective Jack. (Most smart women know how important sex is to marriage. Perhaps there’s some denial as the years go on?)

  11. I think that there is a lot of denial involved. There is only so many times that you can say no before people stop asking.

  12. Yes, I like sex and get a healthy dose. I can’t imagine a sexless marriage for myself, though others may find a way to stay together without physical intimacy.

  13. I don’t always need sex, but I do need affection. Sometimes things get so busy you have to schedule even the affection.

    By the way, nothing is a greater turn off in sex than a woman not into it. Nothing is a greater turn on than a woman who is.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      We do seem to underestimate the importance of both, don’t we – both affection and sex, and what shuts us down and revs us up.

  14. I greatly enjoy sex and have a strong libido, despite what we women are told to expect (by so called “experts’, physicians, etc.) as we grow older. I am willing to say it is my favorite activity. My problem is that I am single and sex is not available in a consistent way. When you are divorced and dating and trying to find someone to share your life with, the challenge then becomes one of “I might not meet the person who will become my husband/partner for weeks, months, years…. but I need a sex life now!”.

    Trying to find a friend with benefits, or a sexually neglected and therefore grateful married guy, trying to get some occasional sex here or there, always worrying about HIV and god knows what else, all of these issues begin to take away from a woman’s sexual autonomy. Not to mention society’s trip placed on women about the evils of promiscuity and multiple partners, etc.

    For those of you who have good marriages or partners, where the sex is frequent and satisfying, realize how very fortunate you are. On the one hand you would think that sex is the most available commodity on the planet, on the other hand, for a single woman with a fair amount of wisdom, who wants to feel good about the sex she gets, it can be a very rare thing indeed.

  15. Here’s the perspective this 45 year old male: after 10 great years of marriage my wife lost interest completely in sex over the course of a year; prior to that our sex drives had been roughly equal. For the first time I found myself unhappy. At first I thought I was just being selfish, then I thought “it must be me” and strove to work out harder and shed the few extra pounds I’d accumulated. When that didn’t help I took on more jobs at work thinking I wasn’t making enough money for her. I reinforced all the things I was doing to be a good husband. The inexplicable absence of sex made me question everything about myself that makes a male feel self-worth. (When I tried to talk to her about it she would minimize or deny it.) After a few months of this I began to lose sleep over it, and when up late at night would question her fidelity in my head and wonder if my previously perfect marriage was going to last. As it turns out my fears were probably unfounded and were the unintended side effect (ironically) of her oral contraceptive. We’re working through it finally. I think that a lot of women make the mistake of thinking that for men it’s just an urge, but for my perspective it is clearly an emotional need for which there is no substitute.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Thank you for sharing your story, Nocturne. (I hope you’ll stop by and comment again. It’s nice to have many perspectives.)

      It’s also helpful, I believe, for women to hear what a man may be thinking, how he may be feeling that he isn’t good enough on some level, and the ways that he may try so hard to please his wife or partner. It’s also helpful to know that sex is emotional glue for men as well as women. So often, we hear the old adage that women only enjoy sex when they’re in love (not so), and men enjoy sex anywhere, anytime, any way they can get it.

      I suspect we’re all much more complicated than that – solo, or in our various partnerships.

      I’m glad you stuck around to talk – really talk – and try to get to the bottom of the issue. I wonder how many other meds affect libido or sexual functioning and we simply don’t know.

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  1. [...] let’s not forget that we’re all subject to conventional wisdom, which advises that we must like and want sex – men, as much and as often as possible, and women – when we’re in love, and preferably, [...]

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