Sex in Marriage in the #Me Too Movement

We all feel it. Something has shifted. While I expected 2017 to be the year we got to experience the amazing journey of our first female president, instead we got this. The Trump election was a terrifying statement about racism and sexism in our society. Much has been revealed.

This is a time of intense social change. #MeToo #NoMore- They’re talking about it in Hollywood and on Wall Street and in Washington. And we’re talking about it in the bedroom and we’re talking about it in my office.

Are you up to date on the Aziz Ansari buzz? If not this is where it started…

and this is where it went…. and here…

To cut to the chase- Comedian Aziz Ansari had sex with a woman who reported it anonymously as assault. There is great argument about whether is was assault, coercion or was it just really bad sex.

There are so many places I could go with this today but I actually got an email from a friend/fan nudging me towards this.

How Does Consent Work/Not Work in Marriage

Of course you are not allowed to rape you wife..or husband. Consent is still required. And of course you get to say no. And you get to ask. So what about coercion? What about really bad sex in marriage?

In our culture, women have been raised to be flattered when a man wants her. It is her job, before marriage to decide if and when it is time for sex. There are a ton of confusing messages in our culture around women’s sexuality- we are suppose to want it, but just not too much and only in certain ways, in certain circumstances. Somehow most women I know figured out who they wanted to be sexually as young single women. Pile on a rape culture, body image issues, past traumas and the constant threat of violence in personal relationships just to further complicate “what we want”.

Today most women  end up married to some guy they first slept with outside of marriage. Over time as the commitment deepens, modern liberated couples are often shocked to find that their pattern of initiating and responding has become stereotypical. He asks, she says “Not tonight dear, I have a headache.”  

Here’s the classic story- a compilation of hundreds of couples with kids that I know.

Things were good, or ok and then kids came along and lack of sleep, lack of privacy and all that body stuff leads to a couple’s sex life taking a major hit.

He asks, she is too tired or touched out or pissed he hasn’t helped or she fell asleep with the kids or she hates her body. He feels rejected and unloved and then kind of feels like an ass because hey- those are his kids attached to her boobs.

She sees that look. The rejected, unloved and somewhat guilty look of a man whose wife just doesn’t want to have sex with her and she feels guilty. Because she isn’t supposed to say no. She isn’t supposed to hurt his feelings or make him feel bad. She is supposed to be a sexual being, a caring partner. So she says yes, or ok, or she just doesn’t say no next time.

Is this coercion? What is the line? Did regular sex come with the promise to love, honor and cherish? What is “regular sex”?

I have had so many men tell me that they can always tell when it is pity sex and they hate it. So parents of young children who are tired and worried about each other start having pity sex or just enough sex or mostly not good sex or sex after too long of not having sex. Not at all surprisingly unfulfilling for both of them.

What helps?

When I work with women on libido I counsel them that when you have small children, low sex drive is nature’s birth control. Many women only feel that lovely hot and bothered horny feeling when in a new relationship or when trying to get pregnant. Sorry guys but we miss that girlfriend feeling too. Figuring out how to want sex in a different way is complicated for women. Are they doing it for the right reasons? Are they being manipulated? Can they find the part of them that remembers that sex is good for them, not just their partner? Can they ask for what they need in bed, and in the kitchen where resentments can build? Can they look for more moments when sex seems possible if not passionate?

When I work with guys I have to work on their approach and foreplay. When a man has had his feelings hurt over and over and feels rejected and unsafe with his wife around such a precious thing as their sex life it become difficult to risk further rejection. One way to soften the risk is to act like it isn’t really a request for sex- since you’re going to say no anyway… if I grab your boob or your ass and you get pissed off… I was just kidding. Except for many women, this behavior only reminds them of middle school and fighting off unwanted advances. Not a turn on. Waiting until both of you are in bed exhausted at 11:30 and saying “hey, do you want to?” mostly leads to no. Or if the planets align and the kids fall asleep early and you ask just right, you might get the green light only to fail to take the time to ensure that her sexual needs are met. Quickies are a great way to kill the last threads of a woman’s desire.

The grown up sexual conversation is very different than the one on Aziz Ansari’s date night but it has all the same minefields. We have to be willing to talk about pace and what we really want and what is concerning us and how it is working for us. In a patriarchal culture, women have been raised to put the needs of their partner and their relationship ahead of their own needs. This coercion is bigger than the relationship and totally messes with her ability to know how she actually feels about saying yes to her sex with someone she does love. Sex in grown up world is about taking care of your partner, attending to the relationship but if it comes at the cost of personal autonomy and respect we risk destroying the thing we are trying to protect.

Honestly, I have more questions than answers when it comes to how to create healthy sexuality in light of the tainted waters of our culture. I do trust that the battle is worth fighting. Sex is a primary attachment need and it will continue to push us to our limits in loving deeply with passion as we create amazing relationships.

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