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113 Responses

  1. Kaija
    Kaija July 20, 2010 at 11:06 am |

    I am SO glad to see this topic being covered in the original link and by you, Jaclyn…because it is often assumed that it’s always the male half of a hetero couple who wants more sex, but in my own experience (as well as that of my female friends), it can easily be either. I agree with Dan Savage in that if you and your partner are slightly out of phase on this issue, there may be compromise and adjustment. However, if there’s a gaping chasm between how frequently you and your partner want sex, then compromise just means joint misery. Having been in a mismatched situation and suffered, and felt guilty about suffering, and being told I have nothing to complain about, and feeling petty for wanting more/needing more in the past and now having been in a wonderfully compatible on this issue relationship…Oh. My. God. Sex IS important…a satisfying sex life and being able to fully express myself and my sexuality with an equally enthusiastic partner is the difference between night and day. I feel like a plant that nearly died in the desert that is now thriving in the rain forest :) Sex is so much more than getting off…it’s connection and bonding and nonverbal communication and physical exertion and FUN. Long term relationships can be challenging and sometimes a lot of work, and sometimes good sex is the tie that keeps you going through all the rest, that reminds you that you share this thing with your partner that is unique to the two of you. Scheduling and compromise sound like they belong in the boardroom, not the bedroom….

  2. Safiya Outlines
    Safiya Outlines July 20, 2010 at 11:24 am |

    Scheduling can work very well for couples with children, or other family commitments as it enables you both to make time to have sex.

    Something to add, there can be different reasons for mismatched libidos. Some people have a naturally low sex drive, for others it’s caused by stress, lack of time or health issues.

  3. Faith
    Faith July 20, 2010 at 11:36 am |

    “Scheduling can work very well for couples with children, or other family commitments as it enables you both to make time to have sex.”

    Yes, but there is a HUGE difference between scheduling sex when both partners want to have sex but have limited time and scheduling sex just because one person wants it and the other does not.

    I just don’t have any tolerance for the compromise and have sex out of duty mentality. And I say this as a woman who has always been the more highly-sexed partner in my relationships. I don’t get to try to pressure or coerce my sexual partners into more sex, no matter how frustrated I am. It’s disrespectful, rude, and in certain circumstances can border on rape. My high libido is part of the reason that I’ve just decided to remain single and have sex with whomever I want whenever I want – assuming that those people are all fully-consenting adults who are single or who have the blessing of their significant other, of course. There is no justification for trying to convince your partner to have sex when they don’t want to have sex. You have to learn to either deal with it if you are intent on staying monogamous, or find other partners to feel that need. But scheduling sex to try to essentially force your partner into fulfilling your needs when their desire isn’t at least somewhat equal to yours? No. Just no.

  4. IkaTaii
    IkaTaii July 20, 2010 at 11:42 am |

    I think if you go into scheduling with the acceptance that one partner or the other might not be in the mood at that moment and that this is okay, it’s fine. Plus, for more advanced kink encounters, one or both (or more) parties pretty much need a week or two to get everything together, all the while knowing that there’s a chance someone will safeword before anything gets started.

    Of course, the original article is somewhat starkly hetero- and cis-centric, since the queer couples I know are working on alternatives to intercourse from the get-go.

  5. Wonderkitty
    Wonderkitty July 20, 2010 at 11:47 am |

    Like Jaclyn and Kaija, I have been the one wanting sex more often in a relationship. The only thing that got me out and helped us both stop being miserable was finally concluding that sex was important and that it was a good enough reason to break up; the incompatibility in the bedroom had exploded into the rest of the relationship by that time and it’s only afterwards that I was able to back track and figure out what went wrong. Only after I got out.

    The fact was I’d tried to break up with him before but every time I felt guilted into staying in the relationship because sex wasn’t a good enough reason to break up with someone you love. Or so I thought.

    Sex is part of a relationship and it’s no more or less important than all the other parts. Unfortunately we all have to stumble our way there because, culturally, sex isn’t a respected part of our lives, even for men. While sex is still a place of power for men more than women, it’s still that dirty little something on the side.

    Sexual health is difficult to cultivate when sexual attitudes are so unhealthy. I’d always thought of myself as independent, empowered and unburdened by archaic sexual stereotypes, but I still had to grope my way to the understanding that I deserved to be satisfied in my sex life.

    Aiming for enthusiastic consent is how it should be, but getting there is hindered by the fact that being enthusiastic about sex requires overcoming normative influences as well.

  6. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. July 20, 2010 at 12:04 pm |

    Over the years my SO and I have used these strategies when for one reason or another things weren’t clicking. I think the issue sometimes, and I emphasize sometimes, is that because of stress, or insecurity, or other psychological reasons people may not look forward to sex, even though if you get past that initial mental roadblock you’re enthusiastic again. So scheduling worked really, really well for us when I was so stressed that sex seemed like just another time drain. Instead of being a time drain it was structured together time where we might or might not have sex, but we could at least be intimate.

    Compromise worked really well for us when he was feeling horrible about turning 30 (silly to me, but painful to him). His libido hit the floor and we were able to “negotiate” a frequency that he was comfortable with the caveat that he initiated sex so that I wasn’t in the position of policing our sex life (which I absolutely refuse to do). For some reason just setting things up that way for a few months made him feel much better about sex (although not about getting older).

  7. kb
    kb July 20, 2010 at 12:10 pm |

    I actually think that scheduling can be really helpful in the sense that it can lead to the discussions that you need for enthusiastic consent-When do I want it? When would I absolutely not want it? What are my limits? Assuming both partners have equal power in the scheduling, I do think that can be helpful-it takes the pressure off “do I have to? When was the last time? If I say yes now, will they expect thee times a week?” kinds of issues, and does make you both think. And it makes sex a choice that you have time to think about and actively choose(this I think is a big one), not under pressure at the last minute. Can you tell I really don’t like making ANY decision under pressure? possibly pathologically so, but eh, so far it’s worked out.

  8. Ami
    Ami July 20, 2010 at 12:27 pm |

    I haven’t heard of “enthusiastic consent” before vs. willingness…at least not by that name and not consciously, but it is something I have incorporated into my life.

    My partner and I are a somewhat mismatched set, although not drastically enough to cause severe problems, it has frequently affected our day-to-day interactions.

    I strongly advocate against the scheduling approach, at least in my relationship. STRONGLY as it led to more pressure, not less for me. Being the person who has a lower interest, I would become very anxious leading up to said scheduled encounter, which meant they never happened, as my anxiety superseded any desire I might have had. This left my partner frustrated and feeling like a deal had been broken. He never pressured me, but I could tell that when I inevitably broke the schedule, he was let down.

    A much better approach for us, has been to voice WHENEVER I am feeling particularly enthusiastically consent-y, instead of thinking “Oh this is a bad time” or assuming he wasn’t interested at that moment. This way we aren’t passing by the opportunities as they arise naturally and I feel zero dread or anxiety. This has led to a much more fulfilling situation for both of us.

  9. Kaz
    Kaz July 20, 2010 at 12:32 pm |

    First of all: Thank you for talking about this, because people not talking about this, people pretending that we live in a world where there’s no such thing as relationships involving mismatched levels of libido or sexual attraction, is the one big issue I have with the “enthusiastic consent” concept.

    To explain where I am coming from with this: I’m asexual. A huge, huge, huge issue in the asexual community is that of negotiation of sex in relationships, because it’s a fact of life that a lot of asexual people want to have romantic relationships and that our numbers and the extremely low visibility of asexuality mean that asexual-asexual relationships are vanishingly unlikely. As a result, a lot of asexual people end up negotiating some sort of compromise. Others don’t. I won’t, because I find the idea of having sex sufficiently awful and because my romantic orientation is such that I don’t that much mind the idea that I’m never going to be able to have a romantic relationship. But, you know, I am not going to kid myself that as a homoromantic-if-at-all asexual woman refusing to compromise on sex and most likely also refusing the idea of an open relationship (a possible alternative, but not one many people are comfortable with) means that I can probably kiss the idea of a romantic relationship goodbye. Some people aren’t willing to make that sacrifice.

    As a result, it seriously bothers me when sexual people talk as if relationships with mismatched libido/sexual attraction (using both terms because an asexual person may have quite a high libido) are doomed and must immediately break up, not only because I know of happy and healthy asexual/sexual relationships that seem to be working out perfectly well but because that line of thought has enormously disproportionate effects on asexual people; hearing it feels like sexual people are throwing us under the bus in the name of abstract principles. And if “enthusiastic consent” entails this sort of advice, or entails making asexual people incapable of consenting to sex at all (which… is a consequence of certain interpretations) then I want nothing to do with it.

    I’m not going to argue against the fact that compromise has the potential to go horribly horribly wrong, which is why I’d stress the importance of communication, communication, communication, in order to find something that all people involved can live with. Or that the enthusiastic consent standard is excellent if this sort of uncoerced negotiation has *not* happened. I do argue against the idea that because the potential for awful things exists no one should ever do it.

  10. Laura
    Laura July 20, 2010 at 12:53 pm |

    I’m with Kaz, here. I’m pretty much an asexual woman myself. Although I find men pleasing to look at, I don’t want to have sex with ANYONE. I have no sex drive at all and am quite content about it. However, I don’t want to end up alone for my entire life. Where are the partners for the asexuals? I’d be more than willing to compromise on occasional sex if I could just find someone who cares less about sex and more about me as a person.

  11. leedevious
    leedevious July 20, 2010 at 12:59 pm |

    I have a very low sex drive (as in i would be perfectly fine with never having an orgasm again) and my boyfriend has a pretty normal sex drive. I’m not recommending this for anyone else, but it works for me. I just make it a goal to have some sort of sexual activity every few days, even though I don’t feel sexually motivated to do so (that would be impossible). It’s worth it. Everyone is happier this way. He didn’t tell me to compromise in this way, I decided to do it on my own.

  12. Harrison T.B.
    Harrison T.B. July 20, 2010 at 1:06 pm |

    Goodness, I must be the only person in the world who finds hitting a quota sexy. My girlfriend and I have struggled with mismatched libidos at times, and I find that we rely most heavily on scheduling and compromise. But I agree with Kristen J. – scheduling is not about saying “At 10pm, I will place my mouth on your genitals.” It’s more about scheduling time alone and making a higher than normal effort to be with each other naked…wherever that ends up taking you.

  13. marisateika
    marisateika July 20, 2010 at 1:08 pm |

    I think there’s an important point that everyone is missing here with regards to Greta’s article and scheduling sex, which is this:
    “If you schedule at least some of your sex life ahead of time, instead of relying on spur- of- the- moment impulses and advances, it can cut through a lot of these unfortunate dynamics. Sex becomes something you’re planning together, something you’re partnering in… rather than something one person is always asking for and the other is either accepting or shooting down.”

    Sex – like all aspects of relationship – is about compromise. While one person shouldn’t expect that they can have sex any time they demand it, the other shouldn’t think they have no obligation to have it at all, ever, period (unless that is the specific pre-determined arrangement you’re in). Scheduling sex is a completely reasonable thing; as Greta points out, you avoid a lot of wounded egos and feelings of rejection and “emotional drifting” as a result of said hurt feelings.

    I hate that attitude that sex isn’t / can’t be mundane like all other aspects of life because it puts it on this high and fantastical pedestal that’s, well…absurd. We don’t have a problem pointing out when this is absurd in movies–why do we struggle to do it in real life?

    And again, this wasn’t the only suggestion. There are plenty of them. But if you’re not willing to try any of them — including an open marriage — I can’t imagine how this wouldn’t risk the end of the relationship. Or at least, the end of a happy and satisfied one.

  14. alawyer
    alawyer July 20, 2010 at 1:23 pm |

    I’m a huge advocate for the principle and practice of enthusiastic consent. In fact, it’s one of the main things I talk about whenever I open my mouth. For a whole range of reasons, I firmly believe that some baseline “willingness” is not enough: you should only interact with someone sexually if they’re actively psyched about what’s happening.

    I could not disagree with this more strongly. Why is my partner’s business to unilterally cut off sexual interactions because I seem insufficiently enthusiastic? It’s my decision to decide whether I’m interested enough, not his. And vice versa.

    I’m not going to say you should never cut off a sexual interaction because your partner seems uninterested; you dwant to be sure you’re not veering in the direction of problematic pressuring. But there’s no reason to set up a rigid rule of the sort you’re proposing.

  15. Henry
    Henry July 20, 2010 at 1:40 pm |

    “At 10pm, I will place my mouth on your genitals.”

    Honestly though, how hilarious would that be? Like, you hang a cork board up in the dining room with a fully detailed schedule on it. Imagine, guy sitting at the table, maybe doing some tax paperwork. In walks his girlfriend, who says, “it’ 10 o’clock” and dude has to just immediately stop what he’s doing and get to work.

  16. Astrid
    Astrid July 20, 2010 at 1:44 pm |

    I was so shocked by the scheduling suggestion at the very top of the Alternet article that I didn’t read the rest of it until a while later. Then I realized that some other suggestions might indeed be useful.

  17. Sophia
    Sophia July 20, 2010 at 1:58 pm |

    I think scheduling could work very well for some people and horribly for others. If you’re the kind of person who wants a lot of anticipation and build-up leading to sex (rather than your partner just randomly asking you to have sex right now), then scheduling would be great. You could send sexy e-mails over the course of the day and really get yourself excited for it. However, if you have a lot of anxiety issues surrounding sex, or if you just aren’t able to get aroused, then scheduling might just compound the problem because you’d be dreading it and feel obligated.

    I actually think “at 10pm I will place my mouth on your genitals” sounds pretty hot. Can you imagine how excited you’d be by 9:59? But maybe that’s just me.

  18. Hot Tramp
    Hot Tramp July 20, 2010 at 2:08 pm |

    I agree that scheduling and finding a “compromise” regarding frequency can lead to problems, but it really depends on the individual situation. My libido fluctuates a lot, but when it’s down, it’s not that I HATE sex — I still get SOMETHING out of it. So I am willing to say, “I am not overflowing with lust right now, but I know sexual connection is important to you, so let’s do it and I’ll focus on how much I like holding you and smelling you and hearing those funny noises you make.” I absolutely do not believe that I owe my partner sex. I recognize that sex is important to my partner, however, and I am often willing to do it as a loving act of service. I know how to draw my own boundaries; if I am in a place where the thought of sex repulses me, I can just say no.

  19. S
    S July 20, 2010 at 2:17 pm |

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently after reading _The Ship That Sailed Into the Living Room_, which posits that romantic relationships in our society (almost?) always end up mimicking a dominant/submissive paradigm, and one partner will end up wanting sex more than the other even if they start off having equivalent libidos. I don’t know that it’s a helpful framework for everyone, but in retrospect I can see how that played out in some past relationships of mine.

  20. Maritzia
    Maritzia July 20, 2010 at 2:31 pm |

    As someone who is in one of those mis-match relationships, I have to agree with the poster. If my partner can’t be enthusiastic about sex, I’d rather not have sex. I don’t want him to feel obligated just because my libido is up. You know what? When I’m feeling like I really need sex, I go find my vibrator.

    I know what my husbands issues are with sex. Part of it has to do with his childhood, part of it has to do with medication he takes. Regardless, I am not going to make him feel bad because he doesn’t want to have sex. I love him way too much for that.

    Maybe it’s because we’re older (we’re both approaching 50), but neither of us considers sex the cornerstone of our relationship. Yes, I really like sex. Yes, I’d really love to sex more often. But our relationship is more important to me than sex. So I make do with what I can do for myself. I also know that if I met someone I wanted to have sex with, my husband would be open to that. I’ve just not met anyone who turns me that way enough to actually have an affair *laughs*.

    Anyway, that’s my take on it from someone living the situation. My relationship is too important to me to stress over something that in the big scheme of life is actually pretty unimportant, at least for the two of us.

  21. Katie K
    Katie K July 20, 2010 at 2:41 pm |

    I just wanted to contribute my two cents.

    I’ve read the article (my SO pointed it out to me), and because my SO and I have sort of mismatched libidos, we did actually talk about the scheduling/quota idea. The thing for me (the sexual bottleneck) is really that I enjoy – enthusiastically! – sex while it is happening, but I quite rarely (much rared than my SO, anyway) find myself doing anything other than sex and thinking: “boy, I’d like to have sex now,” and anytime it’s suggested I ultimately just get very irritated because whatever I was doing (painting, for example, or reading, or programming, or working on something) was rudely interrupted for something that couldn’t be further from my mind at the time. So I really think that the idea of scheduling makes a lot of sense in situations like mine, where there is definitely enthusiastic consent buried under the armour of introversion.

    Oh, and I agree mostly with Harrison T.B.’s response… the end of that is almost word for word my SO’s take on the subject, too.

  22. annajcook
    annajcook July 20, 2010 at 2:44 pm |

    I know how to draw my own boundaries; if I am in a place where the thought of sex repulses me, I can just say no.

    I think this is why context matters, and knowing the specific partners in question. It makes sense to me that the agreements about sex are going to mirror the power dynamics in the relationship as a whole.

    In a relationship where things are discussed and mutually agreed upon? where both people feel comfortable voicing their needs and are confident they will be heard? Then scheduling and compromise can be an extension of that, and incorporate the ethics of enthusiastic consent.

    In a relationship where one or both partner is struggling (whether because of the current relationship or because of past baggage) to voice their needs or feel confident they will be listened to, then that complicates the question of compromise. Because how can there be truly open, honest compromise if one or both partners have trouble speaking up for what they want in an ideal world?

    So I don’t think either situation (scheduling or compromise) is automatically incompatible with the ethic of enthusiastic consent. But, just like any other sexual situation, it’s important for all participants to be paying attention to their partner(s), check in to make sure everything is still good, and so forth.

  23. cathy
    cathy July 20, 2010 at 3:08 pm |

    Just as a note to the person who thought the origional article was hetero-centric, Greta Christina is a queer woman (bisexual) in a long term relationship with a woman and is big on SM. She also uses the term partner and does not use gender specific pronouns (except to refer to Savage). It is odd how you would read an article written by a queer woman using gender neutral language as hetero/cis centric. Just because queer people are more likely to have looser definitions of sex does not mean that some people don’t have specific lines where they think of some things as ‘real’ sex and others as not. The sex/not sex line may be different for different people, but it still exists. The author of the linked piece actually has a post on the issue http://gretachristina.typepad.com/greta_christinas_weblog/2006/09/are_we_having_s_1.html.

  24. annajcook
    annajcook July 20, 2010 at 3:24 pm |

    adding to what cathy says (#25), and what other shave alluded to, when we think of mismatched libidos in our culture, generally, we picture men wanting sex more than women in heterosexual relationships. so I can see why someone who didn’t have any more background on Greta Christina than the AlterNet piece could have assumed a hetero lens.

    but as a bi woman in a lesbian relationship, I’m a big fan of Greta Christina’s writings about queer sex and sexuality in general. She definitely has her own opinions when it comes to ethics, but she articulates them in great detail and as she’s into kink I’m pretty sure she’s thought long and hard about enthusiastic consent and how to make sure it’s happening for all participants.

  25. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. July 20, 2010 at 3:28 pm |

    You know, now that I’ve given it more thought I think the issue is what are the “consequences” of failing at the schedule or the compromise frequency. For my SO and I there were absolutely no consequences if nothing happened or we skipped. No sulking, no complaints, no martyred looks…nada.

    But I can easily see where if the more sexual partner is upset if the schedule/compromise fails that these strategies would be coercive.

    Also, one strategy we’ve also used when things start to get out of whack is one of those silly dishwasher magnates that’s supposed to say when the dishwasher needs to be emptied.

    When its flipped on the pink cow, its his turn to initiate sex, when its on the purple cow, its my turn to initiate sex. We don’t use it all the time, but when one of us feels we’re always the initiator then we just flip it over to the other during the post-cloital haze. Then the other person knows that the pressure is off until they feel like it again and there won’t be any more asking.

    The silliness of it seems to take the pressure off too, and for me at least its a non-confrontational way of saying one person is interested in being more sexual on the other person’s terms.

  26. CBrachyrhynchos
    CBrachyrhynchos July 20, 2010 at 3:37 pm |

    Honestly, Greta Christina’s post is probably the first article I’ve read on this that didn’t inspire deep rage, and I get really frustrated with the way that Savage is the go-to guy on these issues.

  27. Rita
    Rita July 20, 2010 at 3:38 pm |

    Jaclyn, I think you’re absolutely right in expanding the idea of enthusiastic consent to include enthusiastically planning and discussing sex and not just the actual sex. I think that helps maintain an emphasis on “yes means yes!” while allowing that in long-term relationships, sometime compromising can be good for the relationship overall.

    Like Katie K, there are periods in my relationship where, when my partner initiates, my first reaction is “Oh honestly, right now?” but if I go along with it for awhile I’m happy it’s happening. Am I enthusiastic about every sexual touch? Not necessarily, but I am completely enthusiastic about our sexual relationship as a whole.

    1. Jill
      Jill July 20, 2010 at 4:12 pm | *

      Like Katie K, there are periods in my relationship where, when my partner initiates, my first reaction is “Oh honestly, right now?” but if I go along with it for awhile I’m happy it’s happening. Am I enthusiastic about every sexual touch? Not necessarily, but I am completely enthusiastic about our sexual relationship as a whole.

      Right. And there’s obviously a difference between feeling like “No I do not want this AT ALL right now” and “Eh, this isn’t my first choice of activities, but it’s keeping the peace and hey, wait, that feels good…”. I’m obviously a big fan of the enthusiastic consent model, but to me “enthusiastic consent” doesn’t have to mean “YES YES YES I want this now and this is the greatest thing ever!” Hopefully sometimes it’s like that. But sometimes it’s ok if, in a trusting and non-coercive relationship, you aren’t 100% chomping at the bit to have sex but you have sex anyway because (a) even sex that you weren’t totally dying for can still be really really fun, and (b) we are all smart creatures who should ideally be in relationships where we can make compromises, even about sex, without compromising our own bodily integrity.

      That, to me, is the line. If you feel like scheduling sex or having sex that you aren’t 100% enthusiastic about is submitting to something unpleasant, then that is a huge problem. If you feel like scheduling sex or having sex that you aren’t 100% enthusiastic about may not be ideal but it doesn’t make you feel bad or coerced or like you’re doing something unpleasant, then I don’t see why that negotiation should be off-limits when in relationships everything else is regularly negotiated.

  28. Gembird
    Gembird July 20, 2010 at 4:19 pm |

    I tried the scheduling thing- it didn’t really work for my partner and I. As a few others have said, it made me feel anxious about ‘having to perform’, as it were. It wasn’t even like my boyfriend was pressuring me- I just had a few silly moments where I worried that he would be annoyed at me instead of, you know, talking to him. I think it could work much better when the less sexual person finds that having a set time helps them to get excited about having sex/being sexual.

    Being huge nerds, what actually seems to have started us back on the right track is something we saw in, uh, True Blood- where one character says to another that intercourse is only one way to have sex. My boyfriend, who usually isn’t the best communicator, made a point of saying how much he agreed. It led to us talking more about our situation and it looks like it’s getting better bit by bit. So I suppose that’s the geeky version of the ‘redefine sex’ suggestion.

    As for “At 10pm I will put my mouth on your genitals”… I know a couple who schedule their whole evening in 30-minute blocks. They have reading time, hobby time and ‘snuggle time’. Snuggle time is 11-11.30. Precisely. I feel kind of bad for not just accepting that it’s how they like to live, but it makes me giggle a little bit.

  29. Sungold
    Sungold July 20, 2010 at 4:41 pm |

    I feel like this is the sort of discussion that seems really problematic for people who’ve only been sexually active for a few years, or who’ve never been in a really long-term relationship (10 years or more). Enthusiasm is awesome and important, but it doesn’t always mean you’re enthusiastic from the get-go. It doesn’t even mean you’re always panting for it at the peak of, um, activities.

    And by “you,” I mean my male partner, because over the years, I’ve usually been the hornier partner (and that in the majority of my relationships). But precisely because my libido was generally higher, I’ve also often been subject to the whims of my partner. If he’s ready to go, then whoops, I’d better see if I might be rousable – because I might not get another chance for two weeks or a month.

    Where consent is palpably “enthusiastic,” we can be sure sexual assault is far, far away. When consent is more tentative – where “willingness” is in play, to use Greta Christina’s phrase – well, then we need to check in with our partners, one way or another, and make sure they’re warming up. If they aren’t, then maybe it’s time for a hug and a loving good-night kiss. But if they are … well, then we’ve done something good for our long-term connection. Sometimes it’s sweet, sometimes it’s sizzling. It’s all good, as long as no one feels icky afterward.

    Also: I’m often troubled by the absolutism in discussions such as this one, insinuating that one can easily go out and find a new partner whenever libidos are mismatched. In addition to that crazy little thing called love, in my life – and in so many lives – there are young children whose lives would be shattered by divorce.

    That said: Having been on the receiving end of “duty sex,” I know that it kills the soul. I would never recommend it as a way of life. It’s something that happened on the way to my mate and me finding each other again. I hope I never experience it again.

  30. Josh
    Josh July 20, 2010 at 5:28 pm |

    I really, really like what Sungold has to say about this.

  31. Amanda Marcotte
    Amanda Marcotte July 20, 2010 at 5:32 pm |

    Scheduling sex isn’t against the principles of enthusiastic consent in the slightest. Before you live together, all sex is scheduled. It’s just non-explicitly scheduled—you schedule your dates and sex happens. If it makes you feel better, call it “scheduling dates”. Except, at home. Just like when you’re not living together, just because something is on the schedule shouldn’t mean that someone can’t say no. If you get together and someone’s not feeling it, then it doesn’t happen.

  32. Amanda Marcotte
    Amanda Marcotte July 20, 2010 at 5:37 pm |

    I think it’s valuable not to think of desire as a fixed thing. A lot of people with low libidos get that way because they don’t practice their sex muscles. Knowing sex is coming at 7PM tonight can give the person with lower libido an opportunity to fantasize, think about sex, and totally be in the mood when it comes. A lot of “low libido” is just “takes a lot longer to warm up”.

  33. Amanda Marcotte
    Amanda Marcotte July 20, 2010 at 5:43 pm |

    Also, I like Greta’s point about how toxic the dynamic is when one person does 100% of the initiating. If the lower libido person can find ways to initiate—even if they had to spend some time working up to it—then they can go a long way to not making their partner feel like they’re unloved and undesired.

    However, if you legitimately don’t desire your partner, you have an obligation to cut them loose. Even if you identify as asexual. Manipulating someone with the possibility of fulfilling sex is a cruel thing to do. Exploiting self esteem lowered by lack of being desired is cruel. Find someone who doesn’t want to fuck you, either.

  34. BStu
    BStu July 20, 2010 at 5:55 pm |

    I don’t think scheduled sex is conceptually opposed to enthusiastic consent, but I think as a remedy for mismatched libidos it is fraught with problems. When one partner already feels pressured by sex, I think a scheduled time for it could just amplify those feelings and that anxiety. I get that she suggests it as a way to cut through the explicit pressure and rejection dynamics from attempting to initiate sex spontaneously, but I just don’t really feel like it addresses those core issues and could actually just make the much worse on both sides. I’m not saying it needs to be out of the toolbox entirely, but it wouldn’t be my number one suggestion.

    The first thing, I think, is very open communication which I know is far easier said than done. But both partners need to understand and respect where the other is coming from. I think you need to talk through those feelings of rejection and pressure first and foremost. Its not easy but you have to at least commit to trying on your part not to make the other partner feel that way and also to try not to have your side of those feelings either. So, if I was the partner who wanted sex less, I need to take care to make sure my partner doesn’t feel like I’m rejecting her and at the same time, I shouldn’t take her advances as a way of pressuring me. Both partners need to commit on both sides to reduce that emotional tension. Which is way easier said than done, but I think any subsequent solution needs to come from that place first. I’d worry about a couple jumping into a scheduled solution without really coming to any understand about the feelings at play for both of them.

  35. Faith
    Faith July 20, 2010 at 5:56 pm |

    “In addition to that crazy little thing called love, in my life – and in so many lives – there are young children whose lives would be shattered by divorce.”

    While I’ve never been married, I was in a committed relationship with the father of my children. I split with the father of my children for multiple reasons, including sexual differences. My children are better off now than they were when I was with their father because of the fact that I am happier now than I was when I was trying to be the “good” mommy who was trying to keep the family together for the kids.

    Divorce or separation is rarely pleasant for anyone. But the idea that children’s lives are shattered or somehow permanently damaged by divorce can be just as harmful as the idea that divorce is life shattering. My life isn’t perfect as a single mother, but living as a single mother without having to deal with the unhappiness of sexual incompatibility is better for my children because I’m happier which means that I’m better able to care for my kids.

    Kids know when their parents aren’t getting along. Kids are a lot smarter than most people give them credit for. They’re also a lot more resilient that most people give them credit for. I don’t believe that parents who stay together when they are miserable with each other are actually doing the kids any favors. All that’s really doing is teaching the kids that they should stay together with their partner even if they don’t get along with them, which, in my opinion, is an extremely unhealthy lesson to learn.

  36. April
    April July 20, 2010 at 7:13 pm |

    The thing for me (the sexual bottleneck) is really that I enjoy – enthusiastically! – sex while it is happening, but I quite rarely (much rared than my SO, anyway) find myself doing anything other than sex and thinking: “boy, I’d like to have sex now,” and anytime it’s suggested I ultimately just get very irritated because whatever I was doing (painting, for example, or reading, or programming, or working on something) was rudely interrupted for something that couldn’t be further from my mind at the time

    This so perfectly describes the mode I tend to be in after the first 6 or so months of a relationship. At first, I’m into it all the time, and we do it all the time, then, after the relationship hits the “comfort zone,” I tend to feel less “let’s do it NOW” and more “meh… I’m tired…” or “but this is a really good movie and I’d like to keep watching it…” or “I have to get up early…”

    For people in this situation, who have pretty “average” libidos but find the frequency waning more than you’d like for reasons other than unchangeable things like kids, stressful work, etc., I notice that something as simple as just sleeping naked can get things started pretty quickly, and suddenly, visions of getting up to go to work don’t matter so much anymore :) Also, we invested in this “naughty” game that is basically a series of teasing dares that ultimately ends up leading to really voracious sex.

    Aside from that, I really love this article. Mismatched libidos are a really prevalent thing in relationships, and so often not in the way that we assume they are, with men as the more sexual creatures. Thanks for bringing up this topic! The ensing discussion has been really educational, as well.

  37. Kaija
    Kaija July 20, 2010 at 7:53 pm |

    I’m intrigued by the variety of perspectives in the comments and it makes me think about this issue in a wider context. Of course, we are all products of our own experience and Wonderkitty pretty much described mine, which has left me with a knee-jerk reaction to ever being mismatched again.

    I think it’s one thing to have a good sexual connection/excellent chemistry in general and then go through ups and downs of libidos and stress and life in a long-term relationship and find ways to work through them, but if you’re horribly mismatched once the initial wooing phase is over? That’s where I believe that there should be more open discussion as to what importance sex has in a relationship (and both partners have to be willing to be open and honest about it). For me, it’s a lot. For others, it may be different. And this is something that should be on the table for discussion when a relationship gets serious (not necessarily marriage but some kind of agreement of partnership) as much as how each partner handles money or whether or not they want to have children…because it really REALLY matters in the long run and can be the thing that eventually drives you apart. Love does not always conquer all and monogamy/staying together isn’t going to be a fair deal if a partner who decides “I don’t want to have sex with you but I don’t want anyone else to either”.

  38. CBrachyrhynchos
    CBrachyrhynchos July 20, 2010 at 8:30 pm |

    Isn’t it up to the people involved in the relationship to decide what is or is not a fair deal?

  39. Sunset
    Sunset July 20, 2010 at 9:05 pm |

    I’m curious, how many people would be interested in a non-sexual romantic relationship, even (or especially) if one partner was having sex somewhere else? I am mostly asexual; the more I think about it, the more I realize I would not care if my romantic partner was having sex with someone else, or multiple someone elses. I know a lot of people are shocked at that idea…but it would be perfect for me, and I think it’s the whole monogamy thing in our society that makes us recoil at the idea.

    1. Jill
      Jill July 20, 2010 at 10:13 pm | *

      I’m curious, how many people would be interested in a non-sexual romantic relationship, even (or especially) if one partner was having sex somewhere else? I am mostly asexual; the more I think about it, the more I realize I would not care if my romantic partner was having sex with someone else, or multiple someone elses. I know a lot of people are shocked at that idea…but it would be perfect for me, and I think it’s the whole monogamy thing in our society that makes us recoil at the idea.

      I think there are a good number of people who would be interested in that. I personally wouldn’t be, because I like monogamy, and also because that sounds like a lot of work! You’d be involved romantically with one person and sexually with another (or others)… to even meet someone to have a sexual relationship with takes time and effort, and if I’m romantically involved with someone and working and having a life, I don’t necessarily want to expend the time and energy into finding someone else to have sex with. Also, for me, romantic relationships entail sexual activity. I would not be able to feel romantically towards someone without a sexual element — and without regular sex — and have that relationship last. I would not date someone who insisted on waiting until marriage for sex, or who thought sex was only for childbearing, or who wasn’t that interested in sex. Point being, we all have our own values and we all rank sex differently on the importantness scale. I rank it pretty high. But, in many years of dating and many years of discussing sex and relationships, it’s become very obvious that there are people out there for all kinds and all value systems and all lifestyles. So I’m sure there are a great many people who would be totally happy being romantically involved with someone who was asexual and not interested in any sexual activity if they could be sexual outside of the relationship. Personally, I would find that impossible, but luckily the world is a big and diverse place.

  40. Katie K
    Katie K July 20, 2010 at 9:13 pm |

    @CBrachyrhynchos
    Yes, but discussing these issues in a public media, as much as possible, can hopefully bring to light options that may not have seemed possible because of overwhelming messages about sex and relationships and what those two things mean put together.

  41. Greg
    Greg July 20, 2010 at 9:21 pm |

    I really don’t understand why masturbation doesn’t come up more often in these discussions. I’ve been involuntarily celibate for quite some time just because I’m single, but I satisfy my libidinal urges myself. While I’ve never really been in a relationship with a libidinal mismatch, I’ve been in relationship where for scheduling or logistical or distance reasons, I wasn’t having as much sex as I would have liked, so I just filled the gap with masturbation.

    Obviously masturbation isn’t as fulfilling as sex, but the ways in which it’s not (love, caring, companionship, etc.) you’re already getting in the relationship. Or if that’s not the case, than that’s the real problem and the libido issue is just a symptom.

    1. Jill
      Jill July 20, 2010 at 10:06 pm | *

      I really don’t understand why masturbation doesn’t come up more often in these discussions

      I sort of assumed it was because masturbation, for a lot of people, doesn’t replace sex. Masturbation is something that a lot of people (most people?) do whether they’re partnered or not. What you get out of sex with someone else doesn’t really compare.

      I mean, I’ve also been the higher-libido partner; I have yet to be in a relationship where my partner wants to have sex more than I do. It just doesn’t happen. If I was with someone who didn’t want to have sex with me, “just masturbate” would absolutely NOT be an acceptable solution. Part of what makes sex fulfilling is being with another person.

  42. Faith
    Faith July 20, 2010 at 9:23 pm |

    “I’m curious, how many people would be interested in a non-sexual romantic relationship, even (or especially) if one partner was having sex somewhere else?”

    I have absolutely no objections to being involved in a non-sexual relationship with someone as long as that person does not object to me having sex elsewhere.

  43. April
    April July 20, 2010 at 9:46 pm |

    Sunset-

    I’m not sure I would be interested, but I do know of one couple for whom this works extremely well. They love each other a great deal, have been married for a long time, raise children together, while she isn’t altogether interested in sex, but he is, and they are both free to pursue sexual relationships with anyone they please. What I find particularly awesome about their relationship is that, even though only one person has a high sex drive and tends to have more sec than the other, they are both equally free to pursue sex outside of their marriage equally. It goes so far against the whole common and false argument that polyamory only benefits men.

  44. April
    April July 20, 2010 at 9:47 pm |

    What I find particularly awesome about their relationship is that, even though only one person has a high sex drive and tends to have more sec than the other

    Weird typo; I wonder if I meant to accidentally type “secks” instead of “sex.”

  45. Wonderkitty
    Wonderkitty July 20, 2010 at 10:25 pm |

    I’m curious, how many people would be interested in a non-sexual romantic relationship, even (or especially) if one partner was having sex somewhere else?

    I’ve been in open relationships before and also observed others’ open relationships. They have all had varying levels of sexual activity between partners and others. There is definitely no one way to do it.

    I could possibly be involved in that, but it would depend on the person too, obviously. My SO and I are currently negotiating the possibility of opening our relationship now that we’ve reached a point of trusting one another (opening a relationship before that trust existed killed a previous attempt for me), but we haven’t made up our minds. We are quite matched libido-wise, so we haven’t really spent much time thinking about it.

    I really don’t understand why masturbation doesn’t come up more often in these discussions.

    I have to admit I’ve come to the masturbation game laaaaaaaaaaaaaaate. I started being sexually active around 16, but I didn’t start really masturbating, with the purpose of pleasing myself instead of putting on a show for someone else, until about a year ago. Masturbation, for me, was difficult or impossible to enjoy because sexuality was defined for me as something that happened between two people, rather than something that I possessed by myself.

    Also, in the context of a relationship, I have felt, from both sides of the equation, that masturbation was something of a betrayal to/by my SO. Not an enlightened position at all, of course, but it’s just another twisted-up sexual issue that I’ve struggled with.

    (PS: Hoping I didn’t muck up the formatting, first attempt with this particular kind of board)

  46. LC
    LC July 20, 2010 at 10:44 pm |

    There’s so much good discussion going on here.

    I’ve been on both sides of the mismatched sex drive thing, but it only ever became toxic once – which was when she went into the “It seems important to him so I’ll just have sex and pretend to like it” mode.

    Naturally, it gradually grew more and more toxic, and likely destroyed all desire we had for each other once it came out through a mix of rejection, pressure, and betrayal.

    I’m still recovering from it, and still furious that she thought not telling me was at all the right solution. (I can’t believe that she would think “I’m not in the mood” the very first night she wasn’t would be greeted with anything but “ok” by me.)

    Some of these solutions sound workable to me, but as has been pointed out above, they all need to come from a place of honest communication and some investment in the relationship or they are just likely to make things worse in many ways, I suspect.

  47. t-ster
    t-ster July 20, 2010 at 11:09 pm |

    What’s frustrating is that often people don’t discuss how important sex and sexuality is to them at the beginning of a relationship. The rush of new person hormones kind of obscures mismatches in libido and mismatches in sex priority. Then by the time it comes up, you’re often stuck. I’ve been straightforward about the high priority i place on sex in the beginning of relationships, but partners who want to be with me don’t reveal that they’re more interested in “companionship” and that sex isn’t integral to their happiness until after we have been together for a while. It kind of leaks out gradually. Maybe they never even had to articulate it before, so they never realized that. But it’s just hugely frustrating for me, because it’s important to me to want sex, to be wanted by my partner, and for my partner to think his desire is important and integral to who he is.

  48. t-ster
    t-ster July 20, 2010 at 11:11 pm |

    Also, I second Jill’s comment that masturbation is not equal to sex, or a sub for sex. It usually just takes the edge off or is it’s own little extra I want to indulge in, but it doesn’t remove the craving for sex.

  49. RD
    RD July 20, 2010 at 11:14 pm |

    But the idea that children’s lives are shattered or somehow permanently damaged by divorce can be just as harmful as the idea that divorce is life shattering.

    Yes.

  50. ilya
    ilya July 20, 2010 at 11:27 pm |

    If “enthusiastic consent” were the bar we had to reach, my wife and I would probably go from sex once every 2-3 months to once every 2-3 years, if that.

    She admitted to me, after we were married with kids, that when we had sex she was only doing it because I wanted to. At some point, she just couldn’t fake it any more and it became painfully obvious to me that she was. Before it seemed like it just took some time for her to ramp up. After she was “done” the feeling of “just get it over with quickly, okay?” was quite clear.

    But hey, it worked, if the goal was to kill my libido and self-esteem too. Nothing quite makes you feel so desired and want to have sex like having it with someone that makes you feel like a chore that needs doing.

    But our agreement was monogamy and she’s not interested in renegotiating that part of the contract. So instead I count down the days to when the kids are old enough for me to feel okay leaving and in the interim we have “duty” sex to keep the resentment from spilling over into hostility.

  51. evil_fizz
    evil_fizz July 20, 2010 at 11:48 pm |

    How can you be enthusiastic if you don’t know whether or not you’ll like something? To which I always say: you can be enthusiastic about the trying itself. You can be curious and eager to find out how it feels/what it’s like for you.

    I don’t think you even need that. I personally think it’s fine to say “I have no idea if I’ll like that or not, but it doesn’t set off any red flags or squick me, and I like you, so why not and I’ll give you some feedback.” And it’s also fine to say “You know, it was okay, but not my favorite.”

    If you’re talking about a relationship with healthy communication and no one’s feeling manipulated, conned, coerced, or acquiescing when they are not interested in sex at all in a given moment, I really don’t see the issue with it. There are failed experiments and some of trial and error is definitely error. The real question in my mind is whether or not you can giggle about it later.

  52. LC
    LC July 20, 2010 at 11:52 pm |

    @evil_fizz – I agree with that. Being willing to try is fine, but it needs the freedom to go, “yeah, that’s not for me”.

  53. CBrachyrhynchos
    CBrachyrhynchos July 20, 2010 at 11:52 pm |

    @Katie K: True. But I think there are more options for discussion beyond polyamory or ending the relationship. I don’t feel particularly dissatisfied, exploited, or in need of being “cut loose.”

    @Jill: Why is the assumption that masturbation necessarily doesn’t involve someone else? Really, I’m sort of stunned at how little attention is being paid to “redefining sex,” something that would be old hat if we were talking about kinksters or more obvious disabilities or medical conditions.

    1. Jill
      Jill July 21, 2010 at 8:03 am | *

      @Jill: Why is the assumption that masturbation necessarily doesn’t involve someone else? Really, I’m sort of stunned at how little attention is being paid to “redefining sex,” something that would be old hat if we were talking about kinksters or more obvious disabilities or medical conditions.

      Fair point too… But I thought we were talking about solo masturbation as a replacement for sex with someone else who was not interested in having sex with you. Wasn’t trying to erase the “redefining sex” point, since I would consider masturbation with someone else to be having sex.

  54. CBrachyrhynchos
    CBrachyrhynchos July 21, 2010 at 12:32 am |

    However, if you legitimately don’t desire your partner, you have an obligation to cut them loose. Even if you identify as asexual. Manipulating someone with the possibility of fulfilling sex is a cruel thing to do. Exploiting self esteem lowered by lack of being desired is cruel.

    Well, that becomes more creepy and juvenile the more I think about it. But then again, I’m 40 and reserve the right to make my own relationship decisions based on my own needs, and find it intolerably passive-aggressive when partners make unilateral relationship decisions based on their perceptions of my needs.

  55. Jenn
    Jenn July 21, 2010 at 1:02 am |

    I’ve been in mis-matched relationships. I honestly don’t understand the impulse to compromise or anything of the sort. And even though I have a pretty high libido (high enough that I wouldn’t do anything productive all day if I could), the very idea of placing my sex drive in the center of my relationship seems rather… odd.

    I’ve considered breaking up before, when I was dating someone with a much lower libido. But I put my big girl pants on and broke out the vibrator. I’ve had to do the same thing when I was in a lull in work/school and my partner simply didn’t have time for sex.

    I’ve tried communicating that I’d like sex more often, and it often feels pushy and non-consensual if they “give in”. Maybe I’m just bad at being sexual, but the concept of a partner resigning themselves to sex is a total libido killer.

    In short, I really don’t get “wanting” sex if your partner doesn’t want it. Sometimes I just want an orgasm, and I’m perfectly able to do it myself.

    Reading that article was horrifying, actually. I’ve been in relationships where I was in the relationship to be in a relationship, and not because I wanted sexual intimacy with that person. Being on the other side of the equation is awful. You can’t relax and just touch them or hug them, because you’re afraid they’ll take it as an indication that you want to have sex when you don’t. And you know what? I figured out that the problem wasn’t that our libidos mis-matched. I figured out that the problem was that my partner at that time really didn’t give a damn whether or not I wanted to have sex. He wanted to have sex, and that was all that mattered.

    Scheduling sex, compromising for sex, and all sorts of other behaviors of pressuring someone into having sex out of guilt or duty when you’re in a relationship is just gross. I really put it on the wrong side of consent, and much closer to rape than to happy fun times.

    Yeah, this article was nasty.

  56. Chally
    Chally July 21, 2010 at 1:14 am |

    I’m a bit uncomfortable with the the sentiment that masturbation isn’t real sex, or inherently isn’t as fulfilling as partnered sex. That’s hardly a universal experience! :)

    ‘However, if you legitimately don’t desire your partner, you have an obligation to cut them loose. Even if you identify as asexual. Manipulating someone with the possibility of fulfilling sex is a cruel thing to do. Exploiting self esteem lowered by lack of being desired is cruel. Find someone who doesn’t want to fuck you, either.’

    Amanda, that is so many kinds of wrong and such a misrepresentation. There’s loads of reading from the asexual community you could go have a read of.

    1. Jill
      Jill July 21, 2010 at 7:59 am | *

      I’m a bit uncomfortable with the the sentiment that masturbation isn’t real sex, or inherently isn’t as fulfilling as partnered sex. That’s hardly a universal experience! :)

      That’s totally fair. I meant for me personally, I would not find “just masturbate” a decent solution to being in a sexless (or sex-deficient) relationship, because I personally do not find it as fulfilling as partnered sex.

  57. Kaz
    Kaz July 21, 2010 at 6:40 am |

    @Amanda – I do not think I can engage with this right now, but I do want to tell you that coming from an asexual perspective, your comment was seriously ignorant of the issues affecting asexual people and communities (some of which I tried to explain in a comment further upthread) and extremely hurtful for me as an asexual person. Please, please think about what you are saying, read about asexual issues and check your privilege.

  58. Kaz
    Kaz July 21, 2010 at 6:45 am |

    Oh yeah, and please stop characterising all asexual people in relationships with sexual people as cruel, manipulative and exploitative. I mean, seriously?

  59. Rebecca
    Rebecca July 21, 2010 at 8:22 am |

    While one person shouldn’t expect that they can have sex any time they demand it, the other shouldn’t think they have no obligation to have it at all, ever, period (unless that is the specific pre-determined arrangement you’re in).

    (emphasis mine)

    Er, yes, yes they should.

    1. Jill
      Jill July 21, 2010 at 9:17 am | *

      While one person shouldn’t expect that they can have sex any time they demand it, the other shouldn’t think they have no obligation to have it at all, ever, period (unless that is the specific pre-determined arrangement you’re in).

      (emphasis mine)

      Er, yes, yes they should.

      Hmmm… I don’t know if I agree with that. Should one partner feel obligated to have sex? Well, no. But if both partners go into the relationship being sexually active with each other, and they make some sort of commitment — especially, in my opinion, a formalized commitment to monogamy or marriage or cohabitation, which imply some permanency — then I think it’s reasonable to assume that sex is part of the deal, unless there’s an agreement otherwise. It doesn’t mean that one partner gets to demand sex, but I do think that if one person decides that they never want to have sex again, period, or if they feel like sex is a totally optional part of a relationship, that’s a potential issue that should probably be brought up.

  60. Faith
    Faith July 21, 2010 at 8:57 am |

    “Obviously masturbation isn’t as fulfilling as sex”

    I’m a bit torn on that statement. For one thing, much of the masturbation that I’ve engaged in has been more fulfilling than much of the sex that I’ve had! Masturbation has the benefit of you being able to do exactly what you want when you want and only you can know exactly where to touch and how and when. I absolutely believe masturbation can be just as fulfilling if all you really feel the need for is some physical stimulation and orgasm. I’ve relied on masturbation quite heavily for that purpose since I’ve had kids and lost so much of the time that I had before to have sex. In the last couple of years I have largely substituted masturbation for sex. But I was able to do that because I had someone else – whom I am in a sexual relationship with, but have been unable to have sex with for some time due to distance issues – who was able to help provide some emotional/psychological stimulation.

    Masturbation can certainly help in situations where sex isn’t possible, but I don’t think I could use it as a permanent “fix” to not having sex at all or rarely.

    1. Jill
      Jill July 21, 2010 at 9:03 am | *

      “Obviously masturbation isn’t as fulfilling as sex”

      I’m a bit torn on that statement.

      Yeah that was bad wording on my part. For some people masturbation is just as fulfilling as sex; for some people, masturbation is sex. That was my fault for poor writing. I should have said that, as a general rule, I personally do not find masturbation as satisfying as sex. Unless the sex is mediocre or bad. In which case masturbation is way better. I was thinking of sex with a regular partner, and someone probably would not become my regular partner if the sex was mediocre or bad. And it’s not that sex is “better,” physically, than masturbation, just that I find it more emotionally fulfilling.

  61. twostatesystem
    twostatesystem July 21, 2010 at 9:24 am |

    A lot of people with low libidos get that way because they don’t practice their sex muscles.

    Seriously, Amanda?

    That is some FUCKED UP SHIT that you said right there. While it may be true for some people, it also perpetuates the myth that ‘people who don’t like sex haven’t had enough/good sex’ and places blame on the partner with the lower libido that they ‘just aren’t trying hard enough’. Ugh and ew.

    Furthermore, we do all have a responsibility to make sure that needs are being met in relationships (ALL relationships, not just romantic/sexual ones) and we all have deal breakers in relationships. It’s up to the people in a particular relationship to decide whether or not needs are being met. No blanket rule like, ‘deisre your partner or GTFO’ will always apply.

  62. Alara Rogers
    Alara Rogers July 21, 2010 at 9:56 am |

    I don’t honestly get the concept of wanting your partner to be monogamous if you don’t want to have sex with them.

    I am, personally, monogamous because while I have a very high *libido*, it’s mostly not attached to specific human beings, and it’s very, very easy for me to find one person I find attractive and then just never be sexually interested in anyone else ever. There are about three or four people in my life that I ever felt that rush of sexual desire and infatuation with, and one of them is my husband. So it’s real easy for me to be monogamous, because I don’t *want* sex with anyone else.

    But I don’t get sexual jealousy. I don’t understand, emotionally, why it is that if your partner is having sex with someone who isn’t you, but either a. they are also having sex with you or b. you don’t want sex with them, why this is a problem. I can only understand jealousy from the perspective of “I want it, I don’t have it, and someone else does have it.” I was jealous of the cheerleader that the nerdy guy I had a crush on was willing to admit he liked; he didn’t have a chance at actually dating her, but she had what I wanted — his interest — and she didn’t even want it. That was hardly her *fault*, but it made me jealous. But if he had been interested in me and we’d been dating, why should it have affected me if he’d also wanted the cheerleader, or been dating the cheerleader?

    it’s like being jealous of your friends’ relationship with other friends. *No* one wants to put up with someone who’s all like “I’m your best friend, therefore you can’t have any other friends!” We consider that behavior pathological and we’d advise anyone whose friend acts like that to dump the friend. But when there’s sex in the mix, we think this behavior is normal and acceptable. Why? (I mean, I know why, but I don’t emotionally get it and I don’t approve of it.)

    And the concept of an asexual person who would feel jealousy if their romantic partner was having sex with someone else, assuming that the romantic partner was still being *romantic* only with them, just boggles my mind. You don’t want them, but you don’t want them to be with anyone else, either? Huh? What sense does that even make? I mean, if they’re the person who hugs you and gives you backrubs and snuggles next to you at night and goes with you to the movies or dinner and is there for you when you need somebody, and you don’t want sex with them, I can’t comprehend why it would bother you for them to get sex elsewhere. That sounds like an attitude that isn’t really natural to people, that it’s just kind of imposed by our societal insistence that if you love someone of course you only ever have sex with just them… which sounds like a terrible fit, for someone who doesn’t want sex.

    I can understand the perspective of the sexual person who doesn’t want to have a romantic relationship with someone they can’t have sex with, and I can understand the perspective of the asexual person who wants a romantic relationship but does not want sex with the person they love. But I can’t understand why an asexual person wouldn’t be willing to let a sexual person they love go find sex somewhere else, if the sexual person was willing to do that and still remain in a romantic relationship with them. And I can’t understand why a sexual person who is *already* mutually in love with an asexual person wouldn’t be willing to try to get their sexual needs met with friends with benefits relationships rather than demanding it of the person they love. I mean, the choice to not get into that relationship in the first place? I fully understand that. But if you’re there, and you love the person, and they’re asexual (or have become asexual now)… why wouldn’t you want to do what you need to do to remain with the person you love without hurting them or hurting yourself?

  63. CBrachyrhynchos
    CBrachyrhynchos July 21, 2010 at 10:13 am |

    That is some FUCKED UP SHIT that you said right there. While it may be true for some people, it also perpetuates the myth that ‘people who don’t like sex haven’t had enough/good sex’ and places blame on the partner with the lower libido that they ‘just aren’t trying hard enough’. Ugh and ew.

    One of the multiple reasons that I don’t want to get back into polyamory is that I’ve had such bad luck with partners expressing critical views of my primary relationship due to the way we compromise and redefine sex around the difference in libido. The problems ranged from mere insisting on giving the same bad pop-psych advice to actively trying to break up my primary relationship out of a claim that I was being exploited.

    It’s my experience that poly people are more accepting of a relationship with asymmetric kinks than asymmetric libidos.

  64. Ami
    Ami July 21, 2010 at 10:21 am |

    @Alara, as a fairly sexual person, I can’t address the questions you have posed to asexual people (but I feel you’re going to get many responses…)

    I do want to examine your idea that one shouldn’t be have sexual jealousy so long as the non-monogamous person is still ALSO having sex with their partner.

    First of all, I am a highly monogamous person. That is my preference. While I do not judge people who are in open relationships, I know, very clearly that it would not work for me. Ever.

    For me sex, romance, love, and commitment are very complexly intertwined. It’s what I want in my partner. It’s no secret; I make it known. So even if my partner was only in an emotional relationship with me and was also sexual with me, but was having sex with another person on the side, I would not be able to give 100% of myself to that relationship. While my partner might be capable of compartmentalizing sex and love, I am not. It just wouldn’t end well for anyone. I would not be capable of a productive partnership in those circumstances.

    I think the critical problem with your confusion is that you are trying to apply a logical sequence to an emotion others experience. It is very hard to rationalize exactly why certain things make us *feel* one way or another. So while you cannot logically process the jealousy I would feel in an open relationship, that doesn’t make it any less real or important for my personal choices.

  65. CBrachyrhynchos
    CBrachyrhynchos July 21, 2010 at 11:12 am |

    @Alara: I suspect, “I don’t understand” really means “your relationship is icky.” Which makes me reluctant to address what appear to be purely rhetorical questions for the purpose of attacking my sexual relationships.

    Why should I invest a shitload of time, energy, and heartbreak trying to find what I need in other relationships when I can get what I need in my current relationship? Perhaps we’re unusual in that we’ve discovered there are things we can do that satisfy my sexual needs and my partner’s sexual limits.

    I don’t do casual sex, because sex for me has the potential for touching on some very tender parts. From partners of both genders I need trust that I can say “no” without getting shit. I need to know that I limits will be respected without explanation, and the trust that I can explain why I have those limits. From male partners I need a lack of biphobia, and from female partners I need someone who’s not creepy and exploitative when it comes to MM sexuality. And as I’ve explained above, I need absolute respect for my primary relationship.

    These are not impossible standards, but they’re standards that I’ve found with very few people. Would I be happier with more mutual orgasms in my life? Probably. But I don’t have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to suitable partners, and dating looking for one is not something I’m interested in right now.

  66. AshleyLyn
    AshleyLyn July 21, 2010 at 11:14 am |

    “Do you see what I see? I just… where is the enthusiasm here? How does it ever help for the partner who wants it less to have it more anyhow?”

    I have to admit up front that I am rather unacquainted with the idea of “enthusiastic consent” as it is being used here and elsewhere, so please feel free to correct me if I somehow interpret it incorrectly. I wanted to weigh in as another asexual woman here.

    I am profoundly disturbed by the subtle message being conveyed in the quote above. How does it help the partner with the lower libido to have sex more? Maybe it does so by making that person an equal partner in the negotiation of sexual activity. As is shown by the beginning of the post, there are unconscious assumptions being made about the choice not to have sex on both sides of a relationship. Allowing the possibility of negotiating sex may allow also a communication of why sex isn’t wanted at certain times, rather than assuming an ultimate and hurtful rejection.

    Also, the enthusiasm for engaging in sex may not necessarily have anything to do with the physical act itself, but may involve the intimacy and emotional connection associated with fulfilling a partner’s desire. So I would image that one may be enthusiastically consenting to provide one’s beloved with something he or she needs, while also being rather lukewarm about sex in general. But once again, an understanding of how important sexual intimacy is for one’s partner requires communication that may best be suited to conversations surrounding negotiating or scheduling sex.

    I think the situation being discussed in the quote above may refer to people I would consider sex-averse rather than having a low-libido. In the case where someone is truly and deeply averse to sex, having sex more frequently in a relationship will cross the boundaries of what I consider consent and may damage both the relationship and person profoundly.

    All of that being said, I think I agree with Annajcook, context is paramount! Scheduling and negotiating could lead to some serious issues surrounding the equal consent of both partners, but it could also lead to the development of much-needed communication and attention.

  67. Alara Rogers
    Alara Rogers July 21, 2010 at 12:09 pm |

    @CBrachyrhynchos:
    @Alara: I suspect, “I don’t understand” really means “your relationship is icky.” Which makes me reluctant to address what appear to be purely rhetorical questions for the purpose of attacking my sexual relationships.

    Why should I invest a shitload of time, energy, and heartbreak trying to find what I need in other relationships when I can get what I need in my current relationship? Perhaps we’re unusual in that we’ve discovered there are things we can do that satisfy my sexual needs and my partner’s sexual limits.

    Well, then that solves the problem, so there’s no need to look into it any further.

    If you don’t want a different partner to satisfy your sexual needs, and you and your partner are both okay with what you’ve worked out between you, then there’s no issue. What I am having a hard time understanding is why, if it *is* an issue, people don’t solve it by having an open relationship or one partner having a friend with benefits or something.

    In fact it’s kind of ironic that you felt that my question was calling your specific situation “icky”, because if my husband lost all of his libido tomorrow and became sexually uninterested in everyone, I would personally have no interest in going elsewhere for sex… as I mentioned, I have a strong libido but it doesn’t appear to be strongly attached to *people*. I can satisfy myself with masturbation. I enjoy sex with someone I love and am attracted to, and I like it frequently, but when I was not in a relationship, what I missed wasn’t sex, but backrubs, physical affection and the feeling that someone loves me. So I would do just what you’re doing if my husband became asexual. I don’t think your solution is icky at all.

    What I don’t understand is, if a person with high libido is *not* satisfied with what their low-libido or asexual partner can enthuasiastically consent to, and they *would* enjoy casual sex if they didn’t feel it was a betrayal of their partner… well, why is it a betrayal of their partner? Why does the partner feel that way, and why would a high-libido person who cares enough about their love to not want to betray them want to emotionally blackmail them into sex if they are averse to it? How did we get to a place where it’s somehow a less loving, more partner-betraying act to have sex with a different person than to demand that your partner lie back and think of England? And more importantly, why are we as a culture willing to stay in that place?

    I mean, given that for people with sexual “needs” they are in fact needs — not for life, but for health and happiness — and given that for *most* people, sex outside the boundaries of what you want does incredible psychological damage, a mismatched libido situation is pretty much guaranteed to make people hurt each other unless they can come up with a solution that leaves both partners happy. “Compromise and have more sex than one wants, less sex than the other wants” seems like it actually leaves both partners *unhappy*, quite often, because one person is feeling used, objectified and unloved by being pressured into sex they don’t want, and the other is feeling ugly, unwanted and unloved by being denied sex, and this is going to majorly suck for both parties. I’ve actually been in both places — a partner who didn’t want me anymore (who turned out to want other women instead) made me feel unlovable and undesirable, and a drop in my libido caused by medication and exhaustion made me feel unfairly pressured and used. So I understand how they both feel.

    And it seems to me that in many cases — not your specific case, but in a lot of circumstances — that kind of mutual death spiral of hurting each other with incompatible wants would be solved if the less-sexual partner was okay with the more-sexual partner getting sex outside the relationship, and the more-sexual partner was willing to do that instead of pressuring the less-sexual partner for more sex. Because “compromise” works on something like “I’ll do the dishes half the time even though I hate the dishes because I don’t like to do the laundry, so you do it for me half the time”, but on sex… well, obviously, some people can make it work, but being repeatedly rejected by your love really hurts, and being pressured for sex by your love when you don’t want it really hurts, and I don’t think it’s very responsible for the “go-to”, number one answer for this question to be “compromise”, for that reason.

    If a couple can make compromise work and they’re both happy, more power to them. But I think getting over “sex with me and only with me” as a metric for how a partner demonstrates love should get at *least* as much attention for being a useful piece of advice as “compromise” does.

  68. Faith
    Faith July 21, 2010 at 12:41 pm |

    “What I am having a hard time understanding is why, if it *is* an issue, people don’t solve it by having an open relationship or one partner having a friend with benefits or something.”

    It’s an issue because it might not be something that they are comfortable with for multiple reasons. Just like some people aren’t comfortable with anal sex or bondage or oral sex or whatever. People have a right to define their own boundaries for their own reasons. I can understand the desire to have someone devoted to you and you only, even if you don’t want to have sex with them. And I can understand wanting that person to be loyal even if they would rather have sex elsewhere. They might be concerned about the person becoming attached to the person that they are having sex with and subsequently losing that person, or maybe they feel inadequate if their significant other wants to have sex with someone else. Or maybe they believe that the person couldn’t really love them if they are having sex with someone else. Or maybe they wouldn’t be able to stop thinking about the fact that their partner is having sex with someone else during the time that they spend together. While I’m absolutely not a big fan of people not getting their needs filled in a relationship, I do believe that all parties have a right to decide what they can or can not tolerate.

    And, of course, the more sexual person has a right to also leave the relationship if they can’t deal with not having sex.

    I also do think that sex and romance are both very different from other relationships/friendships. There seems to be a lot of talk in the feminist community about how sex is just like everything else, but the fact of the matter is that for a whole lot of people – maybe most – it just isn’t the same at all. There is a far greater degree of intimacy involved in sex and romance – even during casual sex. (I actually hate the term casual sex. Even if you are having sex with a person that you don’t know and never intend to see again, it isn’t “casual”. Sex involves the greatest degree of physical intimacy possible between two or more people. There isn’t anything really casual about it.) I can separate sex and emotions, but there is no denying that the way I interact and feel about people that I have sex or romantic relationships with is far different and far more powerful in certain regards than those people that I haven’t been involved with in that capacity. I don’t think that’s a result of socialization either. It just is what it is.

  69. Rebecca
    Rebecca July 21, 2010 at 1:18 pm |

    Hmmm… I don’t know if I agree with that. Should one partner feel obligated to have sex? Well, no. But if both partners go into the relationship being sexually active with each other, and they make some sort of commitment — especially, in my opinion, a formalized commitment to monogamy or marriage or cohabitation, which imply some permanency — then I think it’s reasonable to assume that sex is part of the deal, unless there’s an agreement otherwise. It doesn’t mean that one partner gets to demand sex, but I do think that if one person decides that they never want to have sex again, period, or if they feel like sex is a totally optional part of a relationship, that’s a potential issue that should probably be brought up.

    I can’t remember where I heard it phrased this way, but: You have a right to sex, in general. You do not have a right to sex from a specific person or any specific person.

    You never are obliged to have sex you don’t want. If one partner in a relationship changes their mind or fails to negotiate amount of sex before getting into it? It still doesn’t change the fact that you are never obliged to have sex, and someone who tells you that you need to have sex with them to prove your love should not be in your life.

    If not having sex is a problem for your partner, there are options for him/her: an open relationship, breaking up. If you don’t want to open the relationship or break up, you have the option of choosing to have sex with your partner. But your partner does not have a right to sex with you if you don’t want it.

    Consent to a relationship is not consent to sex. I can’t believe I’m posting this here.

    1. Jill
      Jill July 21, 2010 at 2:10 pm | *

      If not having sex is a problem for your partner, there are options for him/her: an open relationship, breaking up. If you don’t want to open the relationship or break up, you have the option of choosing to have sex with your partner. But your partner does not have a right to sex with you if you don’t want it.

      Consent to a relationship is not consent to sex. I can’t believe I’m posting this here.

      Yes, I agree with that. What I think is unfair is keeping the potential for sex open where there isn’t any such realistic potential. That is, repeatedly telling your partner that you aren’t up for sex right now, with the implication that you are up for sex in the future, when in fact you are probably not actually interested in having sex. If you’re choosing to take sex off of the table in your relationship, then I do think you have an obligation to voice that. Of course you are totally within your rights to refuse to have sex with someone; there is no obligation to have sex just because you’re in a relationship. But if you are in a relationship where sexual contact has been part of the deal, I do think that you have an obligation as a partner in that relationship to make it clear that you’re taking it off the table for good, as opposed to just repeatedly refusing to have sex at individual times. Does that make sense?

      I think we’re basically saying the same thing.

  70. Faith
    Faith July 21, 2010 at 1:30 pm |

    “You have a right to sex, in general. You do not have a right to sex from a specific person or any specific person.”

    I prefer to say that we have a right to -pursue- sex. I don’t think any of us have a right to sex ever under any circumstance. The only person that we have a right to have sex with is ourselves.

  71. CBrachyrhynchos
    CBrachyrhynchos July 21, 2010 at 1:48 pm |

    Alara: My apologies. It’s a touchy subject for me and I misread you as supporting the “polyamory or bust” position on this.

  72. Rebecca
    Rebecca July 21, 2010 at 2:00 pm |

    @Faith: You’re right, that’s a better way of putting it. (I think the phrasing may have arisen in consideration of laws banning certain kinds of sex, ie. between people of the same sex, kinky.)

  73. Rebecca
    Rebecca July 21, 2010 at 2:14 pm |

    Oh, I see what you mean.

    What I think is unfair is keeping the potential for sex open where there isn’t any such realistic potential. That is, repeatedly telling your partner that you aren’t up for sex right now, with the implication that you are up for sex in the future, when in fact you are probably not actually interested in having sex. If you’re choosing to take sex off of the table in your relationship, then I do think you have an obligation to voice that.

  74. kb
    kb July 21, 2010 at 3:35 pm |

    I think, though this sounds harsh, is also relevant to the mismatched desire problem-no, nobody has a right to sex. But nobody has what I’d describe as a “right” to a relationship either. and while I’m not totally-put out or get out, well, I do think that there also should be a level of consent based on realistic circumstances to the relationship-and frequency of sex is something that should be realistically communicated. Anyone in a relationship does have the right to say, “I don’t want sex, but I don’t want you having sex with anyone else ever” but the partner deserves the right to say “no deal” if necessary.

    in seeing all the complaints about enthusiasm and how to measure it, I do also like the term-active consent rather than enthusiastic. Consent as the presence of yes(with no being freely possible as well) rather than absence of a no is important, as is the idea that consent is something that can be withdrawn, and that should be checked in on, and actively chosen-not just “oh alright”. But really, I do think the answer to the (I hope rethorical) question above-“does that mean asexual people can never consent”-should be no. I’m not going to blanket override anyone like that. and I’m not going to say that people having sex for reasons other than horniness-sex workers come to mind here, though maybe not the only ones-don’t deserve the option.

  75. Chally
    Chally July 21, 2010 at 3:47 pm |

    @ Jill @45 I wasn’t really responding to you there, I realised you were responding personally. :)

  76. Athenia
    Athenia July 21, 2010 at 8:06 pm |

    I just wanted to put in my vote for scheduled sex! Even if you’re not super busy or have kids, I think it’s great! It’s something to look forward to—it’s like a whole week of foreplay!

    Maybe for some people they would feel anxious, but I can totally see how for others it would take the pressure off them and you guys can spend that time building up to it.

  77. Iany
    Iany July 21, 2010 at 9:38 pm |

    I remember this article! I thought it was a pretty good guide.

    While I agree with you about enthusiastic consent, I can see where she’s coming from, if only from the perspective of couples involved in long term relationships.

    I remember a friend of mine saying once that her ex was an incredibly passionate, loving guy who loved to be in love. Problem was, after the initial besotted state wore off, he thought that meant the relationship was over. It’s just that being besotted can’t last forever, some days you love someone so much it’s difficult to breath… Other days you just love them, it’s in the background.

    I think this addresses what happens when you go through a period of being comfortable and not passionate. If you wait for the moments of wild desire when you’re working long hours or stuck in a routine, it might not happen.

    I agree that this is problematic but I also think this offers some solutions. If there isn’t an attempt to be intimate, where does that leave your relationship? I certainly would not condone it if one person was left feeling degraded or hurt… but maybe it would work for some, keeping the ball rolling.

  78. Sunset
    Sunset July 21, 2010 at 10:19 pm |

    I know, as a moderate asexual, my qualities for a relationship are: I want someone who is interested in building a life with me; in sharing certain social endeavors; in promising to support each other no matter what; possibly in raising a family together; someone who I feel I can talk to no matter what. In short, it’s all about “being there” for someone, supporting and taking care of each other. If that meant my partner went elsewhere for sex? Fine by me.

  79. Norah
    Norah July 22, 2010 at 7:46 am |

    I’m asexual (meaning here: no sexual attraction), with very low libido, in a relationship with a highly sexual partner, and I will never ‘enthusiastically consent’.
    We have sex pretty often, I’m fine with that. The expectation that I should be enthusiastic about it and ‘in the mood’ and all into it? No thanks. He doesn’t expect that either, thank gods. Having someone else decide we can’t have sex because I “don’t really want it” or whatever? I think not. Saying we should break up because this is cruel? Yeah, **** you. Really, go **********. Like there is only one kind of really wanting it, or only one kind of fulfilling sex. Our sexlife is great and has been for 10 years. Manipulation, seriously? Ever heard of just being clear about where things stand and the other person being fine with that too?

    Also, we are in an open relationship of sorts, with respect to sex, which has also been working great.

  80. rebekah
    rebekah July 22, 2010 at 12:05 pm |

    My partner and I have a mismatched sex drive as well. I am always wanting sex (thank you birth control) and my partner being a normal human being who is not being pumped full of hormones does not. We have talked about this a lot and what we have decided to do is when I’m really wanting sex and he’s really not we’ll sit and cuddle or do things other than have sex. That way he isn’t having sex he doesn’t want to have but I’m not absolutely miserable either. It seems to work exceptionally well for us. It also means that he doesn’t have a problem when I can’t have sex (medical issues woohoo) and we go back to plan b. It’s made us closer as a couple and neither one of us is left to feel uncomfortable.

  81. K__
    K__ July 22, 2010 at 6:00 pm |

    I have some issues with the ‘enthusiastic consent’ model, but I suppose those issues would be best addressed on a whole separate post. The short, cynical version is, how do you be enthusiastic about something that you know there’s a pretty good chance is going to hurt? You don’t have to answer that now. I don’t have an answer.

    With scheduling sex and compromise – hm tricky. I’ve got sexual dysfunction (pain in case the above hint wasn’t enough.) Strangely my partner’s libido vs. mine hasn’t really been an issue yet. I don’t think our libidos are evenly matched, either. My partner’s libido is probably higher than mine but in practice, for some reason, it’s never really been an issue. Sex drive isn’t the issue it’s the kind of sex that’s an issue for me.

    So yes, I’ve scheduled sex. The way it works is, if I think there’s any chance we’re going to have intercourse, I need to know ahead of time so that I can get ready. I’ll probably be simultaneously excited about the prospect and scared out of my mind about everything that can go wrong.

    But if there’s a chance we’re going to have intercourse, I need a heads up so I can make preparations to make it go as smoothly as possible. I need time to set up everything so that it’s comfortable.

    I can be spontaneous with lots of other sexual activity but PIV sex is a lot harder.

    It’s too much to ask to schedule PIV sex days in advance, I’ll be way too anxious and pressured. I usually mean I need the heads up a few hours ahead of time. If I was scheduling sex days in advance I’d probably make it so that I set aside a block of time in which my partner and I have some kind of physical touching activity and see where it goes from there.

    There’s usually no point in trying to schedule specific activities at specific times because if it doesn’t go as planned we’re both going to feel foolish.

  82. BStu
    BStu July 23, 2010 at 5:44 pm |

    Following the discussion, I’m getting a feeling like people perceive “enthusiastic consent” to have one meaning, but I’m not sure that’s quite the case. I don’t think there is one way for enthusiasm to manifest across all people. I think enthusiastic consent can mean very different things to different people and thus its key to understand what it means to you as an individual. I don’t think it has to be get the pom-pom’s out, “BE! ENTHUSED! B E ENTHUSED!” for everyone. Enthusiastic consent may imply a line of consenting with an appropriate level of enthusiasm, but it doesn’t mean that line is the same for all individuals. There isn’t a single “enthusiastic consent” to be applied towards everyone, but rather unique definitions for all individuals. The continuity is in the concept, not the specifics. Am I right in understanding that?

  83. Heather Aurelia
    Heather Aurelia July 24, 2010 at 10:43 am |

    I think it’s really great to schedule sex, except that doesn’t really work for my boyfriend and I. Usually everytime we get condoms is when we have sex, lol. We are pretty spontenious.

  84. Dominique
    Dominique July 24, 2010 at 2:10 pm |

    I hated being pressured for sex when I didn’t want it. It feels like a kind of blackmail. So I would rather leave the relationship if the guy won’t back off and stop after the first “no”. If sex is that important to him, he should find someone else. If it isn’t, he shouldn’t push. The reverse is also true. I had a really high sex drive when I was younger and if the boyfriend was tired, well… (of course, when the man feels no desire, you won’t get any PIV in any case. But I have never pressured a man to eat me out the way men have pressured me to suck them off. And that’s something I truly hate). So I think it’s important for the partner with the higher libido to back off. If sex is too important, find someone else. If your partner is more important, respect that person’s boundaries. There’s nothing worse than feeling you *must* have sex when you just don’t want it. Sex is supposed to be about your own pleasure. If you’re not enjoying it it’s just wrong. Oversexed people can always masturbate. Undersexed people can only feel violated.

  85. LC
    LC July 24, 2010 at 5:53 pm |

    I have grown, over time, to prefer “active consent” to “enthusiastic consent” because so many people have immediately jumped to the “that must mean pom-poms and cheering and rah-rah-rah” interpretation.

  86. Interesting posts, weekend of 7/25/10 « Feminists with Female Sexual Dysfunction

    […] On Sex & Compromise – Interesting, yes, but useful, No. I have not come to terms with the enthusiastic consent model of sex or with scheduling sex as a compromise in a relationship. How the hell do you do enthuiastic consent when in pain? Does not meeting the enthusiastic consent model preclude sex in that case? I found this post, Eugene Volokh on “One True Inherent Purpose” to be more useful, though it’s not directly related to enthusiastic consent, it’s just neat. It talks about the supposed biological function of how your’re expected to do sex. […]

  87. Mur
    Mur July 26, 2010 at 4:31 pm |

    I think too many people grab a single idea and run with it as an absolute. Scheduling sex can work for some and wont work for others. Saying point blank that it absolutely violates the idea of enthusiastic consent is silly. Just like saying that it always violates one or the other partner. The definition of scheduling isnt absolute either. It could just be a time where you are going to purposefully set aside time to be intimate whether that turns into whatever you define as “sex” is up to the partners in question.

    I think I just read a lot of comments here and a lot of posts about things like “x = y ALL THE TIME” when really (especially because every person is different) the situation is more like “x = a through z” Every situation is different. Every person comes with their own different set of values and personal definitions of all of this. So it isnt prudent to look at any issue (especially one involving sex) and immediately throw a blanket rule at it.

    /end rant

  88. epona
    epona July 26, 2010 at 6:55 pm |

    “Oversexed people can always masturbate. Undersexed people can only feel violated.”

    i can’t agree with this less. as jill, i believe, expressed above, for some people masturbation is not an acceptable replacement for sex for some people. physically orgasming is not the be-all end-all pie-in-the-sky goal for me personally. yes, it’s fun, but what i need specifically when making love, what feeds my soul, is that hot moment filled with love and desire for another human being who is also loving and desiring you, that moment of mutual worship, that place where two (or more, i guess) humans are more intimate emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically than at any other time in existence (barring the period in your mama’s womb, mayhaps).

    i was in a LTR, cohabitating, for 3 years with a man who did not like to have sex with me. the constant hope of “maybe tonight?” almost always followed by the crying myself to sleep because my advances had been rejected, destroyed my self-worth, and left me a starving woman. i communicated my needs, but i was brushed off as being “abnormal” because i wanted sex more than he did. i warned i might have to leave. when i did, he was devastated and tried to hang on to me. so i have to agree with amanda, it is a cruel thing to do to manipulate your partner into staying in a relationship you know is making them miserable, because you don’t want to have sex with them, but don’t want them to go either.

    i later found out he was masturbating daily, so i guess it wasn’t really about low libido.

    a mutual friend once said to me “you should beg for crumbs from no man’s table.” i don’t anymore. i’m now in a relationship where my needs are not seen as abnormal. the floodgates have been opened, and all the pent-up passion from the passed 3 years is pouring out. i feel full, and loved, and not starving anymore.

  89. Annie O. Mouse
    Annie O. Mouse July 26, 2010 at 10:49 pm |

    There’s a lot of great stuff in this thread that I don’t usually see talke about. But I wonder if there’s another part to the “go get a new relationship” or an extra reltaionship advice that people aren’t seeing. I haven’t had the same libido in different relationships, just based on who i was with, how the sex and the foreplay was, all that. Probably age, too, but it seems very relationship-based to me. So if you told me to break up with my lower-libido partner, I would think you were crazy, because not only would I be giving up this great relationship with all this awesome non-sex stuff, but I would be giving up the best sex i ever had, which inspired the biggest libido I ever had. Maybe if we broke up I wouldn’t want it so much, but that sounds like a horrible way to solve the problem.

  90. Fucking with Fucking « Scrawled in Wax

    […] Sluthood healed the part of me that felt my body and my desires were grotesque after two years in a libido-mismatched partnership. Now I felt hot, wanted, powerful. My desire and enthusiasm was an asset, not an unintended weapon. […]

  91. cinnatron
    cinnatron July 27, 2010 at 1:00 am |

    This is why my two year relationship ended two months ago. Thank you for writing this.

  92. epona
    epona July 27, 2010 at 1:08 am |

    @annie – it does, until you reach the point where you realize the problem cannot be solved.

  93. Ginger
    Ginger July 27, 2010 at 9:42 am |

    I think this must be the first time I have ever read a comment thread (and this is a long one) that, while continuing to debate and present such different views, does this so respectfully and logically and sensibly.

    It was a pleasure to read the thread, it added enormously to the article itself and it is a credit both to the individual commentors and the website itself.

    Nicely done.

  94. ashke
    ashke July 27, 2010 at 4:20 pm |

    My fiance and I have been having conversations about this very topic. He has an enormous sex drive. I… don’t. I forget about sex. It’s not that I don’t find him sexy, it’s just I don’t think about it and it doesn’t bother me to not have sex. So we’d end up going for months without having sex. He tried to repress it. He couldn’t anymore, and we talked about it and talked about possible solutions. (An open relationship isn’t something he wants.)

    One, we’re trying to switch things up. We got a couple of sex toys so we don’t always have to have actual intercourse or have me do things I don’t enjoy for him to feel satisfied. I’m still involved, but not always in the ways that can get uncomfortable. And I feel we can be more intimate in some ways because of it. Which we are also working on. We’re giving each other massages a lot now.

    Two, scheduling is working for us. It’s a loose schedule. It’s not “Okay, sex on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.” But I do have an alarm set on my cell phone for two nights a week, and if I haven’t remembered that it’s been four days since we had sex, this helps remind me that I should probably think about tackling him tonight. Because I will otherwise forget.

    It’s an adjustment for me, but I think it’s an important one.

  95. Gideon Bedlam
    Gideon Bedlam July 27, 2010 at 11:07 pm |

    I can’t express how relieved I am to have read this article and many of the comments. I’ve been in a relationship with a woman who I love incredibly for almost three years now, but our libidos are terribly mismatched. For the first year we were sexually blissful, until the initial flush was over, for her at least. It was very difficult for me. It is, I mean. I would never want to pressure her into having sex with me, and the very rare occasions when we do make love, when she does show interest (I’ve long since given up attempts to initiate, for reasons that Epona relates very elegantly in the comments above) I’m paralyzed by fears that she may just be appeasing me. We’ve both been vocal about our individual feels on the matter, and mutually agreed that compromise would not be possible for either of us. We just press on. We just keep living.

    I just can’t help but feel that there’s something wrong with me, because of my seemingly excessive sexuality. I suffer from PTSD (itself an assorted mental illness grab-bag) associated with childhood trauma, and for a long time I’ve worried about the effect this has on my sexuality. What I feel when I’m rejected by her, actively or passively, the feelings of being worthless, undesirable, and repulsive, the whole issue of my self-worth tied so intrinsically to my sexuality screams, to me, histrionic. I love my partner very much, and I know that she loves me, but our situation can sometimes be very toxic.

    We haven’t been dealing with it, because we don’t think that there is a way too. Often, I’ve felt like it would be better if we were to separate, and this has all but actually happened on one occasion. But I can’t help but wonder if it is just a problem with me, that if I can get better, that I won’t be like this, that it won’t matter to me.

    I don’t know. I’m not really looking for advice, but it just feels good to know that I’m not the only person that feels like this. It especially makes me feel better to know that this isn’t just a male problem, that I’m not just poorly coping with a ‘male libido’, which perhaps would be more terrifying to me than the idea that I’m just mentally ill. I don’t mean, by the way, to suggest that any of you are histrionic because of your respective desires. On the contrary, It gives me hope that I’m not just crazy.

    It’s hard to know what’s important. I don’t know if anyone else could make me feel the way she does, when I feel it. We’re both still young. I’m 23 and she’s 25, and I know that there is a very good possibility that it would be better for both of us to find partners with compatible libidos.

    And perhaps if we were to find other partners, there would be other aspects of our respective relationships that are incompatible. Is it worth the risk?

    I wish I could be as confident as some of you.

  96. Spectral
    Spectral July 28, 2010 at 2:11 am |

    “Oversexed people can always masturbate. Undersexed people can only feel violated.”

    Yeah, I would agree with that, plus that the more violated you feel, the less you ever want to have sex again with the one(s) who pushed you into it.

  97. My sluthood, my hero, and my gag order | Not a Dirty Word

    […] healed the part of me that felt my body and my desires were grotesque after two years in a libido-mismatched partnership. Now I felt hot, wanted, powerful. My desire and enthusiasm was an asset, not an unintended weapon. […]

  98. slidysloper
    slidysloper July 28, 2010 at 6:59 pm |

    I’ve been married for almost 39 years. I had a libido once, though never as strong as my husband’s. With menopause and the side effects of medication, my libido is pretty much non-existent these days. My husband’s remains strong. We have not been able to figure out a way to satisfy both of us, so I usually give in to keep him happy. We’ve gotten to the point where I can say, “No, dear, not tonight,” but I can’t use this card too often without him sulking. I love him dearly, and he me, and we are each others’ best friends, but I know than an open relationship wouldn’t work for me. Not sure whether he’d try it or not. I appreciate the honest comments I’ve been reading here. Clearly this is a big issue for a lot of people.

  99. epona
    epona July 28, 2010 at 8:13 pm |

    gideon –

    i cannot say whether you and your partner should break up, that is only for you and her to decide.

    but i can tell you, with fervor, there is nothing wrong with you. please do not think that. it is one of the most common, and most self-destructive conclusions that this particular situation can birth. i went through hell thinking there was something wrong with me, being treated as if there was something wrong with me, because i merely wished to celebrate love in the best way i know how. blaming yourself is a dark road that only leads to misery. i appreciate your willingness to self-examine, that is rare, but please don’t beat yourself up over the desire for affection, completely normal and human thing to want.

    i, too, had a troubled childhood that caused me to possibly desire more affection than some. but that does not make either one of us “wrong”. the ties that you feel between your self-worth and your sexuality are not histrionics; for many they are linked. it is too easy a mental progression from “the person who loves me most, doesn’t want me” to “i am not desirable”. wanting to make love to your lover is not a complex that requires you to “get better” (unless you have a verifiable sex addiction that you haven’t come forward with, which would be another issue entirely), it is the natural way of things.

    you will find your way. best wishes.

  100. BStu
    BStu July 29, 2010 at 1:54 pm |

    epona:
    i later found out he was masturbating daily, so i guess it wasn’t really about low libido.

    I’m not sure that’s a fair conclusion to draw. As it has been noted that masturbation is not necessarily a replacement for sex for people with high libidos, that can be the case for people with lower libidos, as well. Masturbation can be wonderful. Sex can be wonderful. In spite of their superficial similarities, though, I can’t really see them being the same thing or even being about the same thing. Someone with low sexual desire may still masturbate regularly and I don’t think that makes their low libido somehow suspect. I’ll grant that some people may well look at them as equivalent activities, but its certainly possible for them not to be for others. The physical and emotional experiences are enormously different in numerous ways. At most masterbation just suggests a basic interest in sexual expression. Maybe. It may not connect very cleanly with desire for sexual intercourse in all people, though.

  101. Dae
    Dae August 1, 2010 at 7:36 pm |

    I’m a bit late coming to this post, but in case anyone ever reads the whole comment thread again, I wanted to have written this.

    Having been in two libido-imbalanced relationships as the less-often party, I wholeheartedly and emphatically agree with your concerns about scheduling and compromise, and it’s a relief to hear them from someone who’s been on the other side of the desire fence. Both compromise and scheduling set up an obligation, and they both turn sex into an obligation if it didn’t have any of those connotations already! And that is nothing but a setup for a very nasty downward spiral. Speaking from my own experience, every single time I ignored my own disinterest to “compromise” with my partner, I felt my own desire mattering less and less. And with that devaluing of my sexuality, I wanted to engage in exercising it even less, which amplified the negative effect of each instance, and so on. Libido isn’t just on a metronome, where engaging in sex between “beats” of interest simply feels like a mild waste of time; each undesired instance resets the timer, and makes it move more slowly.

    From this experience, I strongly believe the only way to improve the situation for both parties (if an open relationship is not an option) is to explore ways to alter actual interest levels. A past ex didn’t think that was very fair at all, but it was a stark fact that the more I “gave in,” the more miserable I was, and the more that translated into hostility to him. Later experiences showed that my libido was a lot more fluid (and on average, a lot more active) than either of us had thought – it just took someone with a great deal more patience and less self-absorption to figure that out. =P

  102. I always said the one topic I would never talk on here about was sex, well… « goodnight, rose

    […] Sluthood healed the part of me that felt my body and my desires were grotesque after two years in a libido-mismatched partnership. Now I felt hot, wanted, powerful. My desire and enthusiasm was an asset, not an unintended weapon. […]

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