Jul 152010
 

In my continuing story of stuff women can do to improve their desire, in lieu of any effective medical treatment, so far we’ve got:

(1) Embrace responsive desire.
(2) Work on your body image.

and now

(3) Stop having sex.

I mean that.

Why? Well, sometimes people’s sexual interest declines when they feel they’re constantly under pressure to have sex. I call it The Chasing Dynamic and it goes like it:

PERSON A: Honey, wanna have sex?
PERSON B: No, not really.
A: How ’bout now? Wanna have sex now?
B: No, still not really.
A: Now? Wanna have sex now?
B: No. And quit asking me.
A: Now??
B: NO!
A: But… NOW?!?!
B: FUCK OFF!!!!

Obviously in real life this would take place over a series of days, weeks, months, or years, where Person A is constantly trying and failing to initiate, feeling increasingly rejected and desperate, and meanwhile Person B is feeling increasingly pushed and consequently is digging in their heels and feeling less and less likely to want sex any time in the foreseeable future. The more A asks, the more likely B will say no, and the more B says no, the more A asks. It’s a bad scene. At some point, A may give up entirely and stop asking, so the couple coexists in a sort of cold war. Which is just as bad.

Solution? Make some new rules. The rules I’m about to suggest is a variation on Sensate Focus, the sex therapy developed by Masters and Johnson and since adapted to couples of any gender configuration. Feel free to adapt them in whatever way suits your relationship, bearing in mind the essential function of each rule.

(WARNING: If you try to make up rules together, chances are that the very dynamic which gave rise to the problems will prevent you from being able to create change. This is why therapists are helpful. Be open-hearted and trusting and willing to try some new things.)

(1) No sex. By which I mean no genital contact and no orgasms for… say… a month (<– arbitrary). There might be other things you put off-limits too, things that for you, as a couple, are the kinds of things that Person B resists because they feel pushed. The purpose of this is to remove every trace of expectation or demand that sex will be the result of any physical contact between you. Without the dread of “oh hell what if this perfectly pleasant kiss turns into a demand for sex that I still don’t want?” both of you can relax and enjoy what physical intimacy you can have.

(2) Person A – whoever is NOT the low desire person – MAY NOT INITIATE. You can decide between yourself what degree of physical contact A may engage in – e.g., kissin’ and huggin’ are fine, but not breast, genitals, feet, or ears, say. The purpose of this rule is to break down the power dynamic.

A brief tutorial: power is controlling access to something in which the other person has a vested interest, and both people acting like that’s true. In this case, A feels that B has power because A has a vested interested in sex and B is acting as gatekeeper. But at the same time B doesn’t feel powerful because the whole problem is that B doesn’t feel like they have access to the sex A wants!

By taking away A’s ability to ask, we’re saying, “Yup, B is the gatekeeper for now. Sit down and shut up, darling.” Person A is likely to have A Lot of Feelings about this. That’s fine. Don’t let all Those Feelings get in the way of creating positive change.

(3) Person B – the low desire person – MUST initiate at least twice a week. Or once a week if that seems like too much. Or three times, if that seems like too little. Negotiate a number that both of you feel is doable. The function of this rule is to put the power squarely in B’s hands and then give them responsibility for doing something with it. B can’t just sit there with all hte power and do nothing – that’s ungenerous and unhelpful.

Fortunately, since you have the “no sex rule,” what B is initiating isn’t sex, but rather sensual touching. No demand, no expectations, no pressure to “perform.” Just touching and pleasure and awareness of bodies. At some point during the day or else right when you go to bed, B indicates that they’re initiating sensual touching. Verbally, nonverbally, whatever works. You find at least 20 minutes of uninterrupted time when you canfocus on each other and be attentive and present, without distractions.

If you choose a BAD time, it doesn’t count.

The standard in sensate focus is to progress this way:

(stage 1) one person touches the other (excluding body parts that underwear covers) for her own pleasure, and then they switch
(stage 2) one person touches the other (excluding body parts that underwear covers) for her own and her partner’s pleasure, and then they switch
(stage 3) one person touches the other now, INCLUDING genitals/breasts, for both partners’ pleasure, and then they switch
(stage 4) simultaneous touching for mutual pleasure.

You don’t have to do it that way. Orgasm is never the goal – it can’t be, it’s against the rules – but apart from that you can pretty much do what you want.

There’s more stuff about self-protection and self-assertion that I’m going to skip over for now because this post is getting long. I’ll write about that another time.

So those are the rules. Give it a try. See what happens.

Emily Nagoski

  11 Responses to “real pink viagra (3): stop having sex”

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  1. Great advice. In my first marriage, we ended up doing this exercise exactly … oh, except for part (3). We only did (1) and (2).

    Needless to say, I am now happily in my *second* marriage :)

  2. http://longingsend.wordpress.com/2010/06/27/the-toy-we-will-never-use/

    This post argues that high-powered toys like the Hitachi Magic Wand desensitize the genitals and “spoil” the user for gentler stimulation. Is there any truth to it?

    • No, vibrators, even Hitachis, don’t desensitize the genitals except in the immediate short term. If you buzzed your arm for 20 minutes it’d go numb, right, but all the sensation would come back after a little time. It does no damage, nor does the body desensitize so that you need more and more stimulation to achieve the same sensation.

      It is not that the Hitachi “destroys genital sensitivity,” it’s that some people’s genitals are less sensitive than others’. The folks that the blog post describes, the ones who say other toys aren’t intense enough, are probably lower-SES people who require more stimulation, so the Hitachi appeals to them because it’s intense enough.

      That said, I’m inclined to agree with the general principle that our standards for “adequate” change with what’s available and a sense of perspective is important. I could never cope with dial-up internet anymore, ya know? It’s the same basic dynamic, I think. Just because the HMW gives you an orgasm in 5 minutes doesn’t mean no other toy will do or that organic, untoyed sex is inadequate. It’s okay to take 40 minutes to have an orgasm manually. It’s okay NOT to have an orgasm at all.

      • In my experience, the Hitachi Magic Wand has made me MORE sensitive and receptive. Kind of “waking things up”.

  3. Thank you, thank you, thank you! This was exactly what my last relationship turned into and I was person B. It failed miserably, for a lot of reasons, but this became a major factor. I was always a person who was very sex positive, and by the end of the relationship I hated it. The Chasing Dynamic you describe is exactly how it went down between us. In the end, he cheated on me. It’s been eight months, I’m in a new (very awesome!) relationship and back to my old sex positive self. But I still can’t shake the fear that the chasing dynamic will come back and history will repeat itself.

    I just wanted to say thank you because it makes me feel so much better and more confident that if it becomes a problem again I have a good game plan.

  4. Great article! Do you have any advice for a less drastic means of addressing the chasing dynamic? I am Person B, and we communicate a lot and have found a lot of ways to navigate through the situation (made sending him off to watch porn when I’m not in the mood into a game, for example), but it’s still frustrating. I don’t think that the situation merits something as structured as this plan, but I wonder if you have any other advice?

    Sorry for the long comment. Thanks for this great post!

  5. Um, sorry, I just reread the article, and you link to two other articles with suggestions right at the top! Sorry & thx.

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