Can we talk about coping skills?

I spend a chunk of time talking about coping in my relationship guide because it turns out that effectively coping with stress is quite possibly the most important thing you can do to improve your sex life.

Some people, when they get stressed, experience a drop in their interest in sex (hand raised over here) and some people experience an INCREASE in their interest in sex. Both are normal and healthy, they’re just different “styles,” if you will, of sexual responsiveness.

The most complex difficulty arises when one partner has the first style and the other partner has the second style. Stress can also be a problem in your sex life if you’re both stressed and you both have that first, “ugh sex” style, and so sex goes away and you look at each other and think, “Where did the sex go?” So. Cope with your stress effectively to improve your sex life, you hear what I’m saying? This post is for the low desire person in those scenarios.

Hang on, let me get a definition straight here: stress management and coping are not the same – at least, not for the purposes of this post. Stress management is all the physical stuff, physical activity, nutrition, sleep, breathing, that stuff. That’s all SUPER IMPORTANT, it’s just not what I’m writing about today.

Coping is also super important. Boiled down as far as possible, there are two effective coping strategies:

(a) When a stressor or life event is CHANGEABLE or CONTROLLABLE (i.e., if you did something about it, you could make things different), you engage in PLANFUL PROBLEM SOLVING. You sit down when you’re in a reasonable calm state and you think through the steps required to create the desired change.

(b) When a stressor or life event is NOT CHANGEABLE, you change your mind instead, by engaging in what they call “positive reappraisal.” Douglas Adams mastered this in the following excerpt from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

What to do if you find yourself trapped beneath a large boulder with no means of escape: Consider how lucky you are that life has been good to you so far. Alternatively, if life hasn’t been good to you so far, which given your current circumstances seems more likely, consider how lucky you are that it won’t be troubling you much longer.

Which is so much more entertaining than, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” but indeed that’s what these two coping strategies ultimately suggest.

Making lemonade is not obvious, though; let’s not underestimate the ingenuity and resource required to make the leap from a sky full of citrus fruit to a fridge full of Tom Collins mixer. In addition to lemons, you also require access to sugar and water and a vessel to mix them in, as well as the capacity to view the lemons not as sour and brutally heavy as they tumble from the sky onto your head, but as a potentially delicious summer beverage ingredient.

As a woman who is buying a house and getting married this summer, I’m doing a lot of lemonade-making.

 

It’s relatively easy for me, given that much of my stress is related to the opportunity to live in a house I own with a person who can make me laugh while I’m crying and make me feel sexy even on my most bloated and self-doubting day. So: “Why am I spending my afternoon filling out hateful, ill-designed paperwork and then cleaning my apartment beyond a point that seems necessary to me? Oh yes, so that I can move in with the romantic euphemism and live happily ever after!” That’s lemonade, see? I do it not because I ENJOY it, but because I realize how important it is to my longer-term happiness, and realizing how important it is makes it seem like I’ve done something Good For Me.

When sex is your lemons (this is turning into an awkward metaphor) – that is, when sex is a thing that’s in your life and you’re a person whose interest in sex goes away when you’re stressed – lemonade sex is your answer.

Just as the shift from fruit plonking from the sky to tasty beverage requires a shift in how you see it, sex when you’re stressed requires a shift in perspective.

It’s not an obligation, to start with. It’s not necessarily about physical pleasure, per se. It doesn’t have to be a “release” or even a distraction. It doesn’t have to be AWESOME. It’s a thing you do with your partner because your partner likes it and you like your partner and it won’t do you any kind of harm to have some naked time. You do it because you see how it’s good for your long term happiness: your partner feels welcomed into your heart and mind, feels connected and accepted, may even feel all the pleasure, release, etc that sex is hyped to be. You do it because it’s Good For You.

Will lemonade sex be the best sex of your life? It COULD be! It could surprise you! Responsive desire can blossom into life in a big way at moments you might never expect! But it might also be, ya know, just sex.

Look, if you only exercised or ate vegetables or showered when you really WANTED to… well, I know I’d only do each one about once a week, most weeks.

Sometimes – and I realize this is a controversial thing to say – sometimes you have sex because it’s Good For You, even if you’re not excited about it at first. You make lemonade because you see the potential in lemons; you have sex when your desire is low because you see the potential in sex. See also openness rather than eagerness

(PS – this only works in committed relationships. I wouldn’t apply any of this to the BEGINNING of a relationship. I would have to think it through more thoroughly to give a real answer, but my quick and dirty gut instinct is that if you’re having lemonade sex during the initial stages of a relationship, there might be something amiss.)

(PPS – every asexual person on earth probably already knows all of this.)

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