It was Sunday morning and my husband was snuggling me to wake up, whispering into my ear “Breakfast or sex?” A familiar (and uncomfortable) feeling of guilt rose up in my stomach, as I responded “Breakfast, no time”.
He had received a heavy dose of rejection from me in the past few weeks, and I could sense his hurt as he lifted up the covers to kiss my belly sweetly and sighed “Okay”. I felt horrible. He looked up at me and said in a sad but truly curious voice, “When are we going to have sex again?”
It felt scary, but his vulnerability in that moment gave me the courage to share my crunchy feelings. I said I wasn’t sure exactly what was happening, but had felt recently that despite years of successfully working to connect with my sexuality, I was right back where I started, with desire seemingly elusive. I told him I felt ashamed that I wasn’t able to respond the way that I wanted to his advances.
He confided that despite all the progress we had made in the years of working with our sex coach, he still didn't feel confident initiating sex with me. He felt like a failure, unable to fully express his desire, scared of the rejection. With those words, the storyline of our 20+ year sex life came to life right before my eyes.
I told him it seemed like our sex life had three chapters. In the first chapter, he initiated, I responded by giving him a hand-job, then we’d have sex. In the second chapter, after seeing a sex coach who helped me connect with my sexuality, I did all the initiating. This was different and fun for both of us, for a while. And now, we seemed to be in a third chapter where he wanted to be able to initiate and get a positive response.
“Holy shit. My desire hasn’t changed at all after five years of sex coaching!” I said excitedly. He looked at me confused, not quite sure why this statement was exciting.
I replied that in the first chapter, hand-jobs were my single mechanism for accessing my desire. I relied on this tried and true approach for 15 years. Then, in the second chapter, our sex coaching investment paid off and I learned new ways of accessing my desire. And now in the third chapter, while it seemed like we were back in the first chapter, we actually weren’t.
The story I had been telling myself up to that point was that in the first chapter, I had “low desire” and in the second chapter, I had successfully “fixed” my low desire, and now in the third chapter, my “low desire” had returned. But I suddenly grasped what was actually happening is that my desire always starts with a “no” and slowly builds to a “yes”.
I realized my desire slowly ramped up as I was exposed to sensations without pressure. That’s why hand-jobs worked so well. I’d offer them without the guarantee of sex, which paradoxically allowed me to slowly experience sensual feelings that would often turn me on for sex. Later, my coach taught me how to connect with fantasy and sensations in my body, which took things to a higher level.
Part of me was filled with grief, realizing that neither of us were going to be able to change the speed of my desire. But I also rejoiced that my desire could range from small and delicate to intense and overpowering like in the photo above that was captured at the end of a long vacation where my desire was invited over and over again without pressure.
All of this felt revelatory because the story my husband had been telling himself was that he was incompetent at turning me on, because when he initiated, he got rejected. But under this new logic, he wasn’t incompetent, he was just impatient!
All the guilt I had been feeling for my desire not “working”, and frustration he had been feeling for not being able to turn me on, felt reframed. If I could understand and accept how my desire works (and explain it to him), maybe he too could understand and accept it.
Sitting here now, I’ll be honest that I’m still struggling to fully accept the way my desire works. There are days when I am very frustrated that she is not more spontaneous and accessible. I need to remind myself that when I invite her to play and let her join the party on her own timetable, that she will reward me by showing up in her fullest expression. And most of all, I need to remember that my husband wanting to initiate and me needing a slow build are not incompatible needs!
Sharing this story and this very real photo of my desire is scary. Terrifying actually. But I hope seeing what desire looks like for one woman will inspire more of us to get curious about what it looks like for all the women in our lives. And to create a safe place for conversation with our women friends, partners and lovers about their desire.
New to this blog and want to start at the beginning? Check out this post about why I started a blog about sex.
This blog reflects real-life experiences. I'd love to hear about your experiences, so let’s continue the conversation in the comments section below.
You can also check out these resources or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in classes or coaching to explore your own sexuality. I am a sex and relationship coach and if I can't personally help you, I'd be very happy to connect you with other wonderful sex educators, coaches and therapists.
© Pam Costa, 2017