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Dealing with the Sex-Drive Disparity In Your Relationship

By Dr. Pisaster | Pajiba Dirty Talk | March 8, 2011 |

By Dr. Pisaster | Pajiba Dirty Talk | March 8, 2011 |

In my family, history is passed down orally and like many families it’s the women who are the ones who keep track of and pass on family lore. This history, then, is not quite unbiased. Case in point: In the second decade of the last century, my great grandmother came to suspect her husband was cheating on her. (My great-grandmother was named May Maria Oastrander, née Betsing. My great-grandfather has always just been “her husband.”) One night she followed him on a train from Detroit to Chicago and then hid in the boot of his car as he drove from the station to meet his mistress. Having caught him red-handed and being a strong-willed woman who would not accept being treated in such a way, she divorced him, at a time when divorce was still enough of a scandal to make the Detroit front page news. What almost gets lost in this family history are the personal dynamics that led my great-grandfather to do what he did. My great-grandmother believed that once a month was “enough for any man.” It would seem that my great-grandfather disagreed. Whether his infidelity was the result of a weakness character or of an unbearable situation that he was powerless to change is impossible to know, since his side of the story didn’t survive through four generations, but having been in a relationship with someone who’s sex drive was dramatically lower than mine, I can feel some sympathy for his position (foreshadowing: this column is going to go from amused to ragey in about two paragraphs). As scandalous as it was for my great-grandmother to divorce my great-grandfather over infidelity, it would have been impossible for him to leave her simply because the two of them were sexually incompatible. I bring this up because while divorce is more common and our society is more sexually open, there is still a stigma attached to the idea of leaving someone because you aren’t sexually satisfied. One that leaves many people suffering.

If there is an inheritable component to sex drive (and I suspect there is), it was my great-grandfather who passed on his proclivities. My grandmother’s philosophy was the complete opposite of her mother’s. She felt that there was no reason to say no to my grandfather, since if she wasn’t in the mood to begin with she knew she’d get there pretty quick (although this may in part have been due to seeing what her mother’s philosophy lead to). My mother, aunt, and female cousins are all highly sexual (my extensive knowledge of my extended family’s sex lives thankfully stops short of my uncles). I personally have both the family tendency toward multiple orgasms and the high sex drive that accompanies that tendency. This probably sounds awesome to at least a few of you, but there were far too many years of my life when it was absolute hell. That’s because my first serious relationship was with a young man whose sex drive was abysmally low. Like my great-grandmother, he felt that once a month was plenty. Since I was unwilling to cheat and he was unwilling to compromise, this meant that most of the time I did without. After a while, in a situation like that, even masturbation begins to feel depressing, because it only emphasizes the fact that your partner has rejected you. I stayed in that relationship far too long in part because the idea that I could let a little thing like sex ruin an otherwise great relationship filled me with too much guilt. In our fights about the subject (which were frequent) my ex wasn’t shy about making this same point. Sex is such a trivial thing, such a selfish thing, to end a relationship over.

Except that it’s not. Sex is a major component of being human, and one’s sexuality is an integral part of one’s personality. To be denied expression of this aspect of oneself is excruciatingly painful and devastating to a person’s self esteem. No one should feel pressured into sexual acts, even to please a partner, but it was no less selfish of my ex to ask me to simply do without than it was for me to ask him to accommodate my needs. This does not mean that people have to be completely sexually compatible to make a relationship work, only that in cases where there’s a mismatch, both individuals must be willing to compromise. Too often it’s the more sexual person who is expected to do all the bending. Gender roles, unfortunately, play into this scenario in ways that harm both sexes. Men should know that women aren’t going to want sex as much as they are and should just learn to live with the disappointment. Women should realize that they don’t really have sexual “needs,” the way men do, only “wants,” and wants are easy to suppress. In reality both men and women find themselves with partners who have lower sex drives and who think that it’s perfectly reasonable to turn them down over and over again (I’m sure these dynamics play out in homosexual relationships as well).

If I sound bitter, well, I am. I have been out of that relationship for years and am currently partnered with someone who’s more than happy to accommodate my insatiable sex drive. But I still remember how lonely I felt in bed at night, afraid to even touch my boyfriend because he might lash out at me for trying to be sexual. I remember how unappealing I felt, how convinced I was that something must be wrong with me because he didn’t want me (to this day I have not dared ask a man I’ve slept with if I’m good in bed because I couldn’t handle it if the answer was “no”). I remember feeling both miserable and selfish because I somehow couldn’t make myself accept the lack of sex. I would never in a million years put myself through that again, and it appalls me that not only was my ex willing to put me through it, but that so many people are willing to do the same to their partners because they assume that sex isn’t really that big of a deal. Given all the variables involved in relationships, it’s inevitable that some couples won’t sync sexually. But it’s vital that both member of such couples acknowledge the power and importance of sex and take steps to arrange something that leaves both satisfied. Otherwise both could easily end up with their hearts broken. My great-grandmother went to her grave loving my great-grandfather, despite a second, more successful marriage. A bit of communication and an open-minded approach to sexuality might have saved both her and her husband a great deal of pain.

Dr. Pisaster has a doctorate in biophysics, not actually anything sexy. She does however enjoy having sex, reading about sex, and talking about sex. Especially when she’s had a little whiskey.

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