We always do a lot of thinking before we run gender specific posts on APW, so I did a lot of pondering on this post. Was it ok to run a post about what happens when women want sex more then their male partners and they are shamed by cultural narratives? Not everyone who reads APW is in a male/ female partnership, so I was on the fence about it. But after a lot of thought, I decided that it’s important to discuss gendered cultural narratives and take their power away. (And yes, we’re totally waiting for a post on LGBTQ focused sex issues, if you’ve got one.) But today’s post, which is written by Christy, takes some of the wind out of the sails of the idea that women just don’t like getting laid, or that good married sex has to look like the cultural norm. Let’s discuss.
I grew up in a conservative household. By this I mean that we went to church almost every Sunday and Did Not Talk About Sex. Ever. That was left up to the California public school system and misguided, hormone-fueled girls’ locker room talk. In fact, the time my mother came home and caught my senior-year boyfriend and I making out furiously on the couch when no one was home (absolutely NO boys were allowed in the house without a parent present!) she stammered an apology and quickly retreated out the front door. Sex had a strictly don’t ask, don’t tell policy in our house, so I rebelled by becoming the most sex-positive virgin around.
Growing up I strongly identified with the feminist movement, so as a post-third wave Christian feminist, I devoured Our Bodies, Ourselves and The Guide to Getting it On like manna from heaven. I knew more about sex and how a woman’s body worked than any of my friends who were actually having sex; as a Sociology major I made it my study and my (ahem) passion. Back then, sexuality was a tool for me—a way to feel in control rather than a means of experiencing pleasure. I was waiting to do it, so sex was off the table, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t be sexy. And that’s what brings all the boys to the yard, isn’t it? Didn’t I learn from age seven that all it took for wholesome Betty to steal Archie away from that rich witch Veronica was for her to don a skimpier bikini? Sexy was where it was at, so when I met a man that not only thought I was sexy but made me feel like being sexual, I thought we had it made. We were a white dress, shared vows, and a fabulous party away from the wedding night of my dreams. And it all went off without a hitch, better than I ever imagined, fireworks even. But that’s only the beginning of my story.
Before I got married some lovely friends held an intimate shower (read: sex shower) for me during which they showered me with sexy lingerie and advice on how to enjoy my upcoming role as a sexually active wife. My friends, God love them, gave me the sex advice they wished they’d gotten before their wedding day. Some was immensely practical (my nurse friend gave me the little gem to always try to pee after intercourse to avoid a UTI), but a lot of it centered around how to make time for your husband when you were, shall we say, less than in the mood. It was great advice, and as I’ve thrown my share of intimate showers over the years, I know it has come in handy for many a bride-to-be. The only problem was that all this advice, along with many other contributing factors, helped set an expectation in my mind that I was going to be fighting off my husband with a stick. I mean, it makes sense, right? Take two people who are saving themselves for marriage, add one engagement ring, sprinkle with a healthy dose of mutual attraction and bake for fourteen months until you have a bangin’ sex life, just waiting for that “I do” to pop my hot oven door open. But that’s not how it happened.
Throughout my engagement I’d been given advice on how to be excited about sex even when I was tired, but I had a husband who often came home from the office too tired and drained for sex. I’d been coached on how to help him feel attractive if I wasn’t in the mood, to say no without making him feel rejected and to set a date to make love another time, but was left feeling unattractive and rejected when he never seemed to be in the mood when I was. I was given the advice to initiate sex as often as I could—because all men loooove that—but often ended up getting back the line I was told that I should never, under any circumstances, say to my new husband: “Sorry honey, I’ve got a headache. Some other time?”
As much as we want to think there’s no double standard anymore, our culture doesn’t truly make room for women to have an active sex drive, while men are generally acknowledged and affirmed as being randy all the time. Sure, the third wave of feminism woke the world up to the fact that women actually like sex, but a woman who wants regular sex is lifted up on a pedestal as an elusive ideal. What man doesn’t want a Charlotte York in the kitchen and a Samantha Jones in the bedroom? Aren’t we told from the time we can make it into PG-13 movies that all you have to do as a woman to get a man’s attention is to flash some leg or drop your dress? Show some skin, wear a see-through top to work, and even Hugh Grant will be your puppy dog. We’re taught over and over again that men want sex—they live it, breathe it, can’t get enough of it—and we, as women, hold the keys to Eden. So when my darling husband wasn’t knocking down the door to get me between the sheets every time I flashed him while coming out of the shower, I started to think something was wrong with me.
It’s regarded as an unspoken, universal truth: all men want sex. If that’s true, then the problem had to be mine. I wasn’t pretty enough, sexy enough, attractive enough. No matter how often he assured me to the contrary, I would some back with “Well, if you’re so attracted to me, why won’t you sleep with me?” Due to relational issues growing up, I got a lot of personal validation from feeling attractive. Before I met A. I’d brokenly substituted people finding me attractive and desiring me for my own sense of self-worth. Pardon my honesty, but I was used to people wanting to get into my pants and being (grudgingly) respectful of my boundaries. Now that I had a husband who was my answer and outlet for twenty-two years of held-in sexuality, was self-admittedly attracted to me, but didn’t necessarily want to have sex, I didn’t know how to feel good about myself. I’m not used to not feeling good about myself, so I started to not feel good about him.
We fought often; I said things I shouldn’t have, and blamed him, myself, our parents, sometimes even God for our mismatched sex drives. Everything I read, everything I watched, every sex-centered conversation I had with a girlfriend led me to believe that we were freaks; A. was a freak for not wanting me more, I was a freak for not exciting my husband. I didn’t think about all of the times we did have sex—great sex. Every time the stars collided and our collective mojos were in sync, we had wonderful, loving, intimate sex. The kind of sex we both craved. We’d even go through periods where sex was regular, often even, but the joy we experienced during those times was blotted out by my utter dismay when we would hit another dry spell. I had a misguided belief that being a good wife equaled offering sex whenever I wanted it (read: all the time), and him not taking me up on my offers did not compute. I couldn’t talk about it, because all I heard from my girlfriends was how hard it was to keep their husband’s hands off of them. I could only smile and nod like I understood their eye-rolling exasperation—smugly secure in their own attractiveness to their men—while I sat mute, scared that they would unfairly judge my husband’s manhood or my credibility as a wife if I told them what was going on (or not going on) in our bedroom. Needless to say, it was not a happy time.
I am an incorrigible bookophile, so when I got fed up with asking and not receiving, I headed to my local bookseller. I looked in the Love and Sex section, the Women’s Studies section, the Christian Inspiration section. I found lots of books, all with roughly the same generic titles: How to Keep your Marriage Together Through Sex, How to Keep Your Sex Life Hot by Keeping Him Guessing, How to Have 101 Nights of Sizzling Romance. I found guides for 21-day journeys to make my husband feel loved that included a chapter on sex, thrown in as a bonus round. I found books on techniques to make his toes curl, but nothing to help me get him to want to curl around me in the first place. I was growing increasingly frustrated and wondered if I was the only woman on the planet who desired sex more than her husband, because according to TV, movies, magazines, and now the bookshelves, men always want it more. Then one day I was talking to my therapist (whom I started to see for an entirely different issue and is a total rockstar) and we started talking about my sex life. After I haltingly admitted that I felt that sometimes I wanted sex more often than my husband, the good doctor very casually said four words that totally rocked my world: “Oh yeah? Totally normal.”
After that I had about a million questions, not the least of which was that if it’s so normal, why isn’t anyone talking about it?!? It turns out that I was not the only woman whose desire for sex outpaced her husband’s, and I wasn’t the only one who felt frustrated and isolated because of it. After that session I started trying to figure out why—if woman wanting sex more than her man was so normal—people didn’t talk about it. The only answer I’ve come up with leads back to one place: cultural expectations. As I’ve said, we live in a culture that puts the male sex drive on a pedestal. As much as we don’t like to admit it, even modern day America has a bit of a virgin/whore complex and we, as women, are left to blindly navigate the minefield between acceptance and scorn as we try to find a balance between the two. And our men don’t fare any better. What does it say to a man who has a healthy desire for his wife, but doesn’t turn into a raging ball of hormones at every glimpse of her near-naked form, when that’s how “normal” men react to a woman’s body on TV? It tells them they aren’t normal. It’s a double-edged sword that has cut off the opportunity for a healthy dialogue about this issue. But sometimes women do want it more. And not only is that normal, it’s okay. As soon as I started to accept that idea, I started to see my husband differently. It wasn’t that he doesn’t desire me, he just doesn’t desire me as often as I do him (which, to be fair, is a lot). Where he feels loved and fulfilled having sex with a certain regularity, I would happily double it and probably still want the option of a bonus round. He craves intimacy with me as much as I do him, but we don’t always want to experience it in the same ways. We basically have the same problem of mismatched sex-drives that every book and every well-meaning friend offered advice on, it’s just that our roles are reversed.
Figuring this out took tremendous pressure off of us both. I no longer felt like my worth was in question every time a make-out session turned into cuddling. He no longer felt like he was failing me as a husband because he wasn’t living up to a stereotype. We’re still working on finding a balance. Sex will probably always be one of my love languages; for me it’s the perfect blend of Physical Touch and Quality Time, but it’s no longer the measure by which I judge our love. I look for ways to speak love into A.’s heart that are meaningful to him, and without the unnecessary pressure I was putting on him to perform he’s free to find his own ways to meet my need for physical intimacy. Looking back, we can both see that we never had a bad sex life. What we had was poor gender-based expectations of what our sex life would look like that ended up setting us up for a hard time. I recognize that stereotypes grow out of grain of common truth, but I also know that it’s stupid to say that everyone fits into that one vanilla mold. A. and I don’t, and that’s okay.
At the end of the day, that’s why I’m writing this. My life changed the day I started talking about wanting sex more often than my husband and a great woman said, “Oh yeah? Totally normal.” My life changed the day I almost cried when I saw a book called Is That All He Thinks About? How to Enjoy Great Sex With Your Husband while browsing through a bookstore with a girlfriend and mockingly asked, “So where are all the books for the woman who wants sex more than he does?” and she turned to me with wide eyes and said, “You too? I thought it was just me!”
If you are reading this and thinking, “Oh Mylanta, I thought I was going crazy all this time trying to get him into bed!” I’m here to tell you that you’re not the only one. Apparently there are a lot of us out there, and we’ve either been too bogged down by cultural expectations or our own feelings of self-doubt to stand up and start the conversation. So all the ladies who truly feel me, throw your hands up at me! And repeat after me: sometimes women want it more. And that’s okay.
Photo by: Kelly Benvenuto Photography from the APW Flickr Pool