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July 22, 2009

Is Sex Necessary?

The Editorial Staff sprang from betwixt the marital sheets this morning possessed of a steely eyed resolve to slake BillT's insatiable appetite for sex and relationships posts. It's a dirty, dirty job but then your hostess is a dirty, dirty girl. Besides we have a vested interest in preventing the thong slinging contingent from becoming restive, lest they commence to finger painting each other's fiddly bits with salsa or - heaven forfend! - homemade guac.

Fortunately, 'Lil Miss Attila poses today's question for the ages. Is Sex Necessary? The Scourge of the Blogosphere concludeth: "Yea, verily":

Men, it turns out, are very simple creatures, and if you please them they will do anything for you. Flanigan, despite her very real insights, is heart-breakingly unwilling to see that there might be two sides to any story, and in her insistence that women can solve the problem of sexless marriages if they just shut up, and put their minds to it. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!

Well, sometimes. And one gets, one really does, that Flanigan’s husband is dynamite in the sack, so whenever there’s been a lull in the action all she’s had to do it turn the faucet back on. I’m sure that is all that’s required, north of 50% of the time, when married folk encounter a dry spell. But I don’t think human sexuality is universally uncomplicated. And I don’t think men are quite the simple creatures that some of ‘em claim to be. I mean—they aren’t.

I think Attila's dead on here. Most of my battle of the sexes essays grapple with commonly occurring facets of male/female interaction. That said, I'm cognizant of the pitfalls of oversimplification. Few generalized observations can possibly hope to explain every individual along a broad spectrum of men and women exhibiting endless combinations of masculine and feminine characteristics. It's perhaps more helpful to think of the exercise as an attempt to understand behaviors we think of as typically masculine or feminine because, though individuals of both sexes may possess them in varying degrees, in the aggregate they're more common in (and are exhibited to a greater degree by) men or women, respectively.

But I digress...

The Flanigan essay linked by Attila is a must read. So many "Bam!" moments. But this, especially, made our little grey cells go positively tingly:

The dominant feature of Kate's attitude toward her husband—that is, before they resume making the sound of Us—is blistering contempt. Contempt for his work: he is a quietly successful architect, given to building whimsical little structures like Peace Pagodas, a pursuit that leaves him time to make pesto and watch Disney videos with the kids while she strides off to her high-paying, high-pressure job. Contempt for his inability to notice if the family has run out of toilet paper or whether the children are properly dressed for a birthday party. Contempt for his very existence in the household: when he wonders whether it would be such a bad thing if their uncooperative nanny quit, Kate tells him, "Frankly, it would be easier if you left." That the man entertains even a single amorous notion about this ball-breaker—much given to kittenish, come-hither comments along the lines of "Richard, I thought I asked you to tidy up?" and "Why the hell can't you do something that needs doing?"—is testament either to a libido of iron or to an erotic sensibility that leans toward the deeply masochistic. If best-selling novels succeed because they "tap into" something in the culture, surely this woman's helpless anger at the man who she thought was going to share her domestic burden accounts in part for the book's immense popularity.

Pearson told an interviewer, "Until they program men to notice you're out of toilet paper, a happy domestic life will always be up to women"—a sentiment almost unanimously held by the working mothers I know. What we've learned during this thirty-year grand experiment is that men can be cajoled into doing all sorts of household tasks, but they will not do them the way a woman would. They will bathe the children, but they will not straighten the bath mat and wring out the washcloths; they will drop a toddler off at nursery school, but they won't spend ten minutes chatting with the teacher and collecting the art projects. They will, in other words, do what men have always done: reduce a job to its simplest essentials and utterly ignore the fillips and niceties that women tend to regard as equally essential. And a lot of women feel cheated and angry and even—bless their hearts—surprised about this. In the old days, of course, men's inability to perform women's work competently was a source of satisfaction and pride to countless housewives. A reliable sitcom premise involved Father's staying home for a day while Mother handled things at his office; chastened and newly admiring of the other's abilities, each ran gratefully back to familiar terrain. Nowadays, when a working mother arrives home after a late deposition, only to find the living room strewn with Legos and a pizza box crammed into the kitchen trash, she tends to get madder than a wet hen. Women are left with two options: endlessly haranguing their husbands to be more womanly, or silently fuming and (however wittingly) launching a sex strike of an intensity and a duration that would have impressed Aristophanes. The men who cave to the pressure to become more feminine—putting little notes in the lunch boxes, sweeping up after snack time, the whole bit—may delight their wives but they probably don't improve their sex lives much, owing to the thorny old problem of la difference. I might be quietly thrilled if my husband decided to forgo his weekly tennis game so that he could alphabetize the spices and scrub the lazy Susan, but I would hardly consider it an erotic gesture.

It turns out that the "traditional" marriage, which we've all been so happy to annihilate, had some pretty good provisions for many of today's most stubborn marital problems, such as how to combine work and parenthood, and how to keep the springs of the marriage bed in good working order. What's interesting about the sex advice given to married women of earlier generations is that it proceeds from the assumption that in a marriage a happy sex life depends upon orderly and successful housekeeping. Marabel Morgan's notorious 1973 book, The Total Woman, has lingered in people's minds because of the seduction techniques it recommends to unhappy housewives. They ought to consider meeting their husbands at the front door in sexy costumes (heels and lingerie, that kind of thing), calling them at work and talking dirty to them, seducing them beneath the dining-room table. (Morgan does not, however, recommend that women nurture a burning intelligence. In a list of unconventional locations in which to make love, she includes the hammock, counseling her readers, "He may say 'We don't have a hammock.' You can reply 'Oh, darling, I forgot!'"). But long before she describes any of these memorable techniques, Morgan gives a quite thorough accounting of how a housewife ought to go about "redeeming the time" and the energy so that she is physically and emotionally able to make love on a regular basis. A housewife should run her household the way an executive runs his business: with goals, schedules, and plans. She should make dinner—or at least do all the shopping and planning for it—right after breakfast, so that she isn't running around like a madwoman in the late afternoon with no idea what to cook. She should take time to rest and relax during the day so that she is not exhausted and depleted come whoopee hour. With the right kind of planning, "you can have all your home duties finished before noon." In a household run by an incompetent wife, however, "by the time her husband enters the scene, she's had it," Morgan writes. "She's too tired to be available to him." This seems a fairly accurate depiction of many contemporary two-career marriages, in which dinner is a nightly crisis (what to eat?) and an endless negotiation (who to cook it?) entered into by two people who have been managing crises and negotiating agreements all day long and who still have the children's homework and baths and bedtimes to contend with.

The key insight here is not so much that a successful sex life is inextricably linked to a spanking clean kitchen floor but the realization that if we don't make sex a priority (with all the distasteful "work" that requires), our sex lives tend to suffer. It shouldn't be the woman's job alone to keep things spicy in the boudoir, but at the same time there's little doubt that when women entered the work force their careers added one more competing element to the often daunting list of responsibilities they juggle on a daily basis. It's little wonder sex can seem like just another chore: after a tough day at work the probability that the lady of the house will greet her significant other at the door in a wig, stiletto heels and a pink satin thong asymptotically approaches zero. But if a thing is important enough, some of us will jump on that grenade anyway. The problem here is that as our lives become busier, so does our list of "important things". Something has to give, and all too often it's our sex lives. Is this the fault of those dreadful feminists, or just one more unpalatable tradeoff to be juggled along with everything else?

Blaming feminism may be comforting to some, but it's possible to recognize the practical tradeoffs involved with actually allowing women to make their own choices. As much as I've decried the flight of women from hearth and home, I'm not sure I want to go back to the world I lived in as a child: a place where women were sometimes - mostly when it was convenient - put on a pedestal, but also dismissed as fluffy headed children suited only for "women's work" (MCP shorthand for any occupation which neither requires women to think too hard nor exposes Western Civilization to the horror of PMS, a debilitating condition that can only cause the fairer sex to do terribly silly things like fumbling the nuclear football and bringing life on planet Earth to a nasty and brutish conclusion).

Serendipity is a funny thing. Googling just now for a link to augment the PMS/nuclear football reference, I stumbled upon a comment that adroitly conveys my utter frustration with the 'We are no more than the sum of our endocrine glands' argument:

"In our society, a man knows that even if he is not getting a blow job, a lot of other men are. He can see all those men getting blow jobs on porn videos, and he hears about blow jobs from his friends. And he knows that in that way, those men are "luckier" (if not more virile and attractive) than he. So much so that a man who does not get serviced by his wife might be hesitant to even admit such a thing to his friends. What a shame, that a man has so little power in his marriage that he cannot even get a blow job from his wife. What kind of man is he? Maybe not much of a man at all. Such a lack could, um, eat at a man. Such a lack, along with a compulsion to remedy it, could even undermine a marriage."

I'm just wondering. If this is true, and really more or less common wisdom for all men, then how on earth did WOMEN ever get the reputation for being hormonally driven to the point of being too unstable for higher office? Remember all those jokes about how a woman can't be president because, why, her PMS would represent a threat of global proportions for an imminent nuclear holocaust! Seems to me that men's focus is so permanently on the little head, how on earth did the trope ever develop that they had the capacity more so than women to lead businesses, religions and nations? My god, apparently all they are EVER thinking about, even as their wives are dying inch by inch, is where the next blow job is coming from! It's a miracle they get anything done!

Leaving aside the wisdom of using what women are constantly assured is 'only a fantasy which has no effect on how I feel about you' as a benchmark for unspoken performance reviews, we proceed to Attila's question: is sex necessary for a good marriage, or even for a good life?

I don't think so. Sex is tremendously important, fun, life affirming. But necessary? Not by a long shot.

I love sex. When I've had to go without it, my quality of life suffers. During those rare interludes when one or the other of us has been too tired or too busy to make the effort at the end of a long work day, I miss it. I don't feel as close to my husband because there is something deeply primal about touch. It connects people in a way words often fail to do. But is sex the only way to establish and maintain that connection?

Of course not. It can be done in a thousand different ways. Sex just happens to be a particularly enjoyable and efficient means to an end and in this age when both men and women (as Flanagan so aptly noted) are juggling job stress and familial demands, it is probably more important than ever. But we human beings are an adaptable race and I know many good marriages which also happen to be sexless ones.

Air Force wife posed an interesting question via email yesterday that seems on point:

What is your take on this?... I know you were married young as AFHusband and I were. I just don't think that "too young" is a real thing for the most part. In fact, in my experience and what I've seen, people who get married older often have more problems adjusting to life in marriage simply because they've already matured into patterns that marriage disrupts.

Not always, of course, but quite often.

I've been thinking that perhaps it's not "too young" that is the problem, it's the fact that marriage is treated as disposable that is the real problem, and that is not connected to age.

The view of marriage as a disposable arrangement honored only so long as both parties feel "happy" (rather than as a binding promise whose success includes the willingness to put our personal happiness on the back burner at times) is definitely a factor. But I think the failure to truly commit is also a huge driver in both cheating and divorce. If you're truly committed to your marriage, it comes first in your life.

You may prize your career, your hobbies, or time with your friends, and as demands on your time wax and wane, outside considerations may temporarily take priority over your marriage. But it strikes me as profoundly ludicrous to expect a 60 or 70 year relationship to last unless one is willing to put in the day-in, day-out effort needed to keep love alive. What we tend to forget is that even good sex requires work. Being a good lover (and for many women even learning to let go and fully enjoy sex requires a conscious effort) is a skill much like any other. The more you do it, the better it becomes. And you can get out of practice.

If you care about your marriage, you do what it takes. Sex makes getting along easier - far easier. But as the plethora of Viagra commercials aptly demonstrate, sex isn't something we can count on.

It makes a far better better servant than it ever did a master.

Posted by Cassandra at July 22, 2009 04:40 AM

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Comments

Ouch. My brain (and fifth appendage) hurt. Thought provoking, with interesting insight.

True though, is the fact that both parties must work at it to keep it good. None of that "ho-hum" (sounds like a commercial transaction, eh?) sex, but always recognizing the bounds and limits of the other half of the equation.

My bride is the best for me. Routine? None. It's whenever and where ever. Of course, we are banned from the O Club at NAS Jax and the Publix in Orange Park...(*RIMSHOT*) (not really).

Sex is mechanically incredibly simple, but extraordinarily complex on so many other levels. It is probably best left as such.

KP

Posted by: kbob in Katy at July 22, 2009 09:01 AM

I often wondered why men and brontosaurii had two brains. Now we know.

It is very very necessary.

*runs off giggling madly*

Posted by: Cricket at July 22, 2009 09:27 AM

The Editorial Staff sprang from betwixt the marital sheets this morning possessed of a steely eyed resolve to slake BillT's insatiable appetite for sex and relationships posts.

I don't even wanna know what set *that* resolve off while you were still "betwixt the marital sheets"...

...especially if you spent a couple of hours watching the Castle Anthrax sketch before bedtime.

Posted by: BillT at July 22, 2009 09:35 AM

I always liked Jeff Foxworthy's description of marital sex - he "knows his wife's combination", which makes it better.

Which is also how I tend to think of marital sex. It's a wonderful thing when you've been with someone long enough that they know your combination, and also the subtle vagaries of your lock. If, for instance, it tends to stick in humid weather or whatever the case may be.

Very few things are really *necessary* I believe. Food (and not even good food), water, air... That's about it. But I do believe that sex is necessary for me to be at the top of my life-game. There's a reason Maslow placed it in the base of his hierarchy and not merely in third place with "Belongingness and Love Needs".

However, one thing I will say about so much of the responsibility supposedly resting on women - when you have the power of "No", then it seems to make sense that you will also have the responsibility for the green light. Of course things vary and all that - but it makes some kind of sense - With great power comes great responsibility and all that Spiderman stuff.

Anyway, this probably makes me sound like some kind of horrible traitor to my exhausted fellow women who juggle career and home and don't want to be saddled with the extra responsibility of creating the sexy mood at home. I'm not, though. Thanks to the wonderful world of deployments, I've been both a married women with a normal family and a single mother. I've gone without sex and had an over-abundance (ahhhh, homecoming. It's a beautiful thing.). But the biggest lesson I've gotten out of all that is usually my real priorities are not what I *think* my priorities should be. Who cares if my house is sparkling? My husband doesn't notice beyond a certain level of cleanliness (which used to drive the German quarter of my genetics up a wall). Why bother with THAT when I could save my energy for something I find a great deal more fun and satisfying?

And when we had small children, AFG drove me crazy at first with his method of baby butt wiping. Then I realized - the child wasn't getting hurt, the hiney in question was getting clean, and best of all I WASN'T THE ONE DOING IT. Who cares what the method is?

Perhaps we women need to take a step back from our incessant need to control everything around the house and focus on the things that really make a difference to us. It's hard to do when the lady down the street has a maid and we can't afford one. Our house will never pass female muster like hers will.

But then again, our sex lives and marriages sure will. Plus, we'll be WAY happier. And happiness leads to better sex lives... It's a win-win, really.

Posted by: airforcewife at July 22, 2009 10:01 AM

I do believe that sex is necessary for me to be at the top of my life-game. There's a reason Maslow placed it in the base of his hierarchy and not merely in third place with "Belongingness and Love Needs".

Hey, I'm not saying it isn't very important. I'm just saying that if tomorrow I found out I could never have sex again with my husband, I wouldn't consider my "need" for sex (a need, by the way, that can be gratified at least in part without the aid of third persons) to invalidate our marriage vows. That rationalization is used for all sorts of dumb reasons. While I understand and sympathize, I'm not convinced.

Posted by: Cassandra at July 22, 2009 11:03 AM

http://www.fitmyfit.com/list.asp?id=3133

Posted by: john at July 22, 2009 11:44 AM

Here are the two parts I liked most from the Flanagan article:

"Under [modern] conditions, pity the poor married man hoping to get a bit of comfort from the wife at day's end. He must somehow seduce a woman who is economically independent of him, bone tired, philosophically disinclined to have sex unless she is jolly well in the mood, numbingly familiar with his every sexual maneuver, and still doing a slow burn over his failure to wipe down the countertops and fold the dish towel after cooking the kids' dinner." -- and:

"The rare woman—the good wife, and the happy one—is the woman who maintains her husband's sexual interest and who returns it in full measure."

I had to laugh at an old Ray Romano skit about the sex-challenged marriage after children. He said whenever he has sex he knows it's time to mail in the quarterly tax payment. If it's oral sex, he renews his driver's license. What's with that, anyway? My husband puts up with my middle-aged dumpiness, bless him, so I'm hardly going to be stingy with him, even supposing I could ever look at it in those terms, because it's not exactly charity we're talking here.

I liked the Foxworthy "combination" thing, too.

Posted by: Texan99 at July 22, 2009 01:06 PM

And BillT, since this thread is for you, I've always loved the "Castle Anthrax" scene. I was reminded of it once when driving through a military training facility. "Hundreds of young men in prime physical condition, all between the ages of 18 and 22 . . . ." -- Though these days, I confess, I prefer men of more my own age, and one in particular.

Posted by: Texan99 at July 22, 2009 01:09 PM

Wow. Lot's of stuff and little time to comment.

I'll just start off with this:

Miss Attila posits that the guy bears culpability as well. I say to that, "True, but so what". If you are thinking "I'll do X when he does Y" what makes you believe he isn't thinking "I'll do Y when she does X". Someone has to make the first move, and it might as well be you.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at July 22, 2009 01:24 PM

I completely agree, Yu-Ain. But on the other hand, a very common female "complaint" about dealing with guys is that we are *always* the one who has to make the first move. When you consider that the reason she might not be fulfilling your desire to have sex more often is:

1. She's already exhausted/overwhelmed.
2. She thinks you don't care about her.
2. She's feeling put upon or taken advantage of and wishes you'd try harder (the "if you cared about me you'd know how I feel/ask me how I feel/notice how unhappy I am deal, which I agree is a non-starter but is also understandable in the circumstances)


...I think you can see how we got in this predicament in the first place! :) It doesn't seem right to put it all on the woman. Or the man.

Taking care with the relationship ought to be a joint responsibility. If it's not, a woman wonders what happened to the guy who was so attentive when he couldn't take her for granted, just as the guy legitimately wonders why she isn't as enthusiastic about sex as the girl he worked so hard to romance when they were both single.

I think often these situations are sort of a comedy of errors and you're right: being stubborn doesn't help. But just like guys, we're human with all the failings that condition entails.

Posted by: Cassandra at July 22, 2009 01:42 PM

IOW, the old observation that it takes two people to have a relationship still applies :p

Posted by: Cassandra at July 22, 2009 01:44 PM

But on the other hand, a very common female "complaint" about dealing with guys is that we are *always* the one who has to make the first move.

Yes, that is a very common female complaint. Of course he's saying the exact same thing. Which is what makes the "No, you first, I always go first" formulation so invidious. No one wants to believe that they are/have taken advantage of the other and so we always envision ourselves as the agrieved party whether it's true or not.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at July 22, 2009 02:18 PM

"IOW, the old observation that it takes two people to have a relationship still applies :p"
ManImatellinyouwhatman,ifI'vesaiditonceI'vedsaiditbefore... Dangedolerelationshipcounselorsalwaysmakingmefellike
amumblin'stutterin'selfabsorbedyetaddledbuffooninterestedin
littlemorethansexanddrugsandrocknroll
whileeverydateItakeoutalwayswindsuptellingmeabout

her needs...

ManIneedabeer.

I thinkI'llturnontheradio.


Posted by: Boomhauer at July 22, 2009 02:18 PM

I thinkI'llturnontheradio.

Or better yet, change the oil. :p

Posted by: Cassandra at July 22, 2009 02:31 PM

Whoa! Iamwayoverdueforanoilchangehere!

ManImatellin'youwhatCassyouarethebest! 8)

Posted by: Boomhauer at July 22, 2009 02:53 PM

Which is what makes the "No, you first, I always go first" formulation so invidious.

*tsk*

Every Gentleman knows

1. the Lady always comes first, and

2. always support at least half of your weight with your elbows.

Posted by: BillT at July 22, 2009 02:53 PM

Is sex necessary?

Technically, No. Many couples lead completely fulfilled and emotionally happy lives after one suffers a debilitating injury where "the hardware" (heh) becomes non-functioning.

But absent hardware malfuntions, I think the absence of sex is sort of like the canary in the coal mine. While the death of the canary is of great concern to the canary (or would, if he were alive to be concerned about such things) it's not exactly what is causing distress in the miners. Similarly, the canary chirping along happily isn't an indication that the mine is in good working condition.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at July 22, 2009 02:54 PM

"Or better yet, change the oil. :p"

Oil change instructions:

Oil Change instructions for Women:
1) Pull up to Jiffy Lube when the mileage reaches 3000 miles since the last oil change.
2) Drink a cup of coffee.
3) 15 minutes later, write a check and leave with a properly maintained vehicle.

Money spent:
Oil Change:$20.00
Coffee: $1.00
Total: $21.00
=============

Oil Change instructions for Men:
1) Wait until Saturday, drive to auto parts store and buy a case of oil, filter, kitty litter, hand cleaner and a scented tree, write a check for $50.00.
2) Stop by 7/11 and buy a case of beer, write a check for $20, drive home.
3) Open a beer and drink it.
4) Jack car up. Spend 30 minutes looking for jack stands.
5) Find jack stands under kid's pedal car.
6) In frustration, open another beer and drink it.
7) Place drain pan under engine.
8) Look for 9/16 box end wrench.
9) Give up and use crescent wrench.
10) Unscrew drain plug.
11) Drop drain plug in pan of hot oil; splash hot oil on you in process. Cuss.
12) Crawl out from under car to wipe hot oil off of face and arms. Throw kitty litter on spilled oil.
13) Have another beer while watching oil drain.
14) Spend 30 minutes looking for oil filter wrench.
15) Give up; crawl under car and hammer a
screwdriver through oil filter and twist off.
16) Crawl out from under car with dripping oil filter splashing oil everywhere from holes. Cleverly hide old oil filter among trash in trash can to avoid environmental penalties. Drink a beer.
17) Install new oil filter making sure to apply a thin coat of oil to gasket surface.
18) Dump first quart of fresh oil into engine.
19) Remember drain plug from step 11.
20) Hurry to find drain plug in drain pan.
21) Drink beer.
22) Discover that first quart of fresh oil is now on the floor. Throw kitty litter on oil spill.
23) Get drain plug back in with only a minor spill. Drink beer.
24) Crawl under car getting kitty litter into eyes. Wipe eyes with oily rag used to clean drain plug. Slip with stupid crescent wrench tightening drain plug and bang knuckles on frame removing any excess skin between knuckles and frame.
25) Begin cussing fit.
26) Throw stupid crescent wrench.
27) Cuss for additional 5 minutes because wrench hit bowling trophy.
28) Beer.
29) Clean up hands and bandage as required to stop blood flow.
30) Beer.
31) Dump in five fresh quarts of oil.
32) Beer.
33) Lower car from jack stands.
34) Move car back to apply more kitty litter to fresh oil spilled during any missed steps.
35) Beer.
36) Test drive car.
37) Get pulled over: arrested for driving under the influence.
38) Car gets impounded.
39) Call loving wife, make bail.
40) 12 hours later, get car from impound yard.

Money spent:
Parts: $50.00
DUI: $2500.00
Impound fee: $75.00
Bail: $1500.00
Beer: $20.00
Total: $4,145.00
================

But you know the job was done right!

0>;~}

Posted by: DL Sly at July 22, 2009 03:17 PM

Oil Change instructions for Men:

You have to *change* Wesson?

Posted by: BillT at July 22, 2009 03:25 PM

"Posted by: DL Sly at July 22, 2009 03:17 PM"
Dangmanyousoundlikeyouwerethere
oryoureadthecourttranscriptsorsomethin'
ManImatellinyouwhat
afterthinkingabouthtatlastoilchange
Ineedanotherbeer.

Posted by: Boomhauer at July 22, 2009 03:39 PM

"You have to *change* Wesson?"

Not if you use Mazola.
0>;~}

Posted by: DL Sly at July 22, 2009 03:43 PM

OMG, Sly.

That was hysterical :p
You guys rock.

Posted by: Cassandra at July 22, 2009 03:55 PM

"OMG, Sly."

Please tell me you didn't scream like a weatherman......

0>;~}

Posted by: DL Sly at July 22, 2009 04:04 PM

"Miss Attila posits that the guy bears culpability as well. I say to that, "True, but so what". If you are thinking "I'll do X when he does Y" what makes you believe he isn't thinking "I'll do Y when she does X". Someone has to make the first move, and it might as well be you."

Too busy begging and pleading.

"The power of 'no'? Green lights?" Mine's always on, unless I've got the flu, for crying out loud. Thst's what's so maddening about the whole thing: society presumes that the woman can get it any time she pleases.

I mean, with her husband. And I'd give anything to have that be true.

Posted by: Little Miss Attila at July 22, 2009 07:52 PM

One of the saddest things I've ever read was a post about women who want to have sex with their husbands, but their husbands refuse.

Now I am not saying that is your situation, but there were 400+ comments on that thread and the vast, vast majority of them were heartrending accounts from women of just how real that problem is.

I cried buckets, reading it. And it made me angry - not at their husbands so much, but more at the idea that it *must* be the woman who doesn't want sex b/c (you know) we all know women are wired that way, unlike men who think of nothing else.

That's why I loved your observation that sweeping generalizations aside, when you get down to individuals it ain't that simple. As I believe Kbob already noted, sexuality is a complex phenomenon and [mirabile dictu!] men have emotions too. And it all goes into the mix.

In addition to the issues of mismatched sex drives there's the issue of people withdrawing emotionally. It happens, and more often than we want to admit it's the man who withdraws. None of us has an entre into someone else's life.

I think it's useful (in general) to try and identify patterns and general characteristics that may help us understand a lot of this stuff. That said, I long since lost track of the men who've told me stories that flip convenient assumptions on their heads.

As you note, this stuff isn't easy. If it were more people would stay married/be happy in their marriages. What really shows commitment and maturity, to me, are people like you who persevere even when life doesn't hand them everything they want.

re: begging and pleading. I have partially read a great book called You Still Don't Understand. Author's a guy named Driscoll. Never found time to finish it, but I was so impressed with it that I loaned it to a friend. It really helped me understand some things that just puzzled the heck out of me.

Posted by: Cassandra at July 22, 2009 08:53 PM

Actually, I'm grilling steak, pointing out that it's summer, and waiting for it to get dark. Plus being pleasant and wearing my sexy yoga pants.

Sorry I got whiny!

Posted by: Little Miss Attila at July 22, 2009 11:38 PM

Miss Attila,

As Cass said, that's the problem with aggregates. In the aggregate, the safe money *is* that it's the woman who has the "red light". But as the saying goes, 1 in a million odds don't mean jack when you are the 1.

I'm sorry for your situation. While I am quite aware of the phenomenon of sexless marriages (in both genders) I can't say I understand it. It's free, it's fun, it's non-fattening, and with the advent of effective birth-control I simply fail to see any downside to the activity. It's the perfect answer to "I'm bored, what do you want to do?"

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at July 23, 2009 09:51 AM

Not exactly a comfortable topic since it hits so close to home for me. In my case, it has more to do with my wife's health than willingness. But even so, it's still difficult. Logically knowing something and emotionally dealing with it are two different matters.

Posted by: MikeD at July 23, 2009 10:23 AM

Cassandra, are you referring to that NY Times article a month or two ago? I read that, too, and all those comments. I was blown away. As Yu said, if there's an underlying physical problem you deal with it and that's the breaks, but it's definitely the canary in the coal mine, and it seems to be amazingly common.

I think I'll go check out that book you mentioned.

Posted by: Texan99 at July 23, 2009 12:41 PM

Nowadays, when a working mother arrives home after a late deposition, only to find the living room strewn with Legos and a pizza box crammed into the kitchen trash, she tends to get madder than a wet hen. Women are left with two options: endlessly haranguing their husbands to be more womanly, or silently fuming and (however wittingly) launching a sex strike of an intensity and a duration that would have impressed Aristophanes.

Actually, I can think of lots of other options. Hire a maid. Be grateful your husband is willing to look after the kids while you're working late - some aren't. Accept that your way isn't always the best way. Learn to ignore the clutter and enjoy your family. Stock the freezer with frozen microwavable dinners - buy Amy's so you can believe they're healthier than pizza. Why on earth any rational person would believe it's easier to get someone else to change their behavior than it is to change their own attitude is beyond me.

However, I'd also like to point out that this type of reaction on the part of working wives with at-home husbands is not that different from how working husbands with at-home wives used to react when they came home from a hard day at the office to discover the house was a disaster and dinner was going to be Chinese take-out - again. (I recommend Erma Bombeck.) The working husband might have harangued the at-home wife to be more like his mother (always a winner) and he might have staged not a sex strike but a talking strike ("I'm going to the den until dinner is ready") but the principle is the same. I'm not sure this is as much about men versus women as it is about the demand on the part of the person with a "real" job to know why on earth the at-home person can't manage to spend just a few minutes - for heaven's sake - keeping the place neat and cooking a decent meal. It's not like she or he has anything else to do all day.

One of the very first Ms articles was called something like "I want a wife". It listed all the support services wives provided for their working husbands and ended with the author bemoaning the fact that working women didn't get those support services. It sounds like the women in the example above still want a wife but have forgotten that one reason so many women wanted to work in the first place is that being the support person isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Posted by: Elise at July 24, 2009 09:56 AM

Bingo :p

Posted by: Cassandra at July 24, 2009 10:11 AM

Actually, I can think of lots of other options. Hire a maid.

That was our solution. It's been fantastic! Worth every single ever-lovin' penny (and quite a few more, at that).

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at July 24, 2009 10:32 AM

I'm not sure this is as much about men versus women as it is about the demand on the part of the person with a "real" job to know why on earth the at-home person can't manage to spend just a few minutes - for heaven's sake - keeping the place neat and cooking a decent meal. It's not like she or he has anything else to do all day.

One of the biggest motivators for me when I was unemployed for nine months was the "honey do" list. More than anything else, that convinced me that I never wanted to be a house husband again. I'd flip burgers before taking care of the house for a living. Anyone (male or female) who thinks being a stay at home spouse is not a "job" is a moron.

Posted by: MikeD at July 24, 2009 12:50 PM

Trust me, Mike. There are a lot of morons out there :p

Male and female.

Posted by: Cassandra at July 24, 2009 12:54 PM

Hiring a maid is grand. Once a week is not very expensive either, considering time/energy/happiness is at least as valuable as money. But IMHO, the more valuable asset, especially in the long run, is the ability to adjust one's own attitude. Unless you really do not give a rodent's rear-most for your spouse.

Posted by: bthun at July 24, 2009 01:51 PM

Anyone (male or female) who thinks being a stay at home spouse is not a "job" is a moron.


It's absolutely a job. And while, in general, I agree with Elise, I do happen to believe that the stay at home spouse has as much duty to that job as the wage-earning spouse has to theirs.

Which is not to say that dinner should always be home cooked @ 6pm sharp or that chinese take-out won't be on the table every other night. Priorities on the task list for your employer change and sometimes that means you work on one project to the exclusion of others for a time. I see no reason why the same wouldn't apply at home just as much if not more so.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at July 24, 2009 02:14 PM

It's absolutely a job. And while, in general, I agree with Elise, I do happen to believe that the stay at home spouse has as much duty to that job as the wage-earning spouse has to theirs.

I can see your point here. If the couple has decided that Pat will work to earn money while Lee will stay home to take care of the domestic side of things (whether with or without kids), it's reasonable to expect both sides to live up to their side of the bargain. Marriages that work like that work quite well. Both people have entered willingly into the agreement; each person respects the other's contribution; neither feels like they're doing more - or less. It's a partnership.

But - and it's a big but - to slide (as you appear to) into viewing that as an employer/employee relationship where Pat is the boss and Lee is the employee is not exactly conducive to the partnership aspect of relationships. We circle back around pretty quickly to part of the reason women wanted to work: they weren't totally enthusiastic about being completely financially dependent on another person. They weren't - if I may be blunt - excited about sleeping with the boss.

Posted by: Elise at July 24, 2009 03:07 PM

The other point here is that your partner is unlikely to be in a position to reproach you if you don't finish or fail to perform some task at work, something we all do from time to time for various reasons.

I agree that if you've agreed your partner will stay home and take care of the house and is regularly failing to live up to his/her responsibilities, you have a valid beef. By the same token, if your poor or non-performance of your job begins to impact your financial security, your partner has a valid beef.

But as Elise points out, the partner who stays home is hardly in an equal status if they are being constantly supervised by their spouse.

Posted by: Cassandra at July 24, 2009 03:13 PM

But - and it's a big but - to slide (as you appear to) into viewing that as an employer/employee relationship where Pat is the boss and Lee is the employee is not exactly conducive to the partnership aspect of relationships.

I'm sorry if my statement left that impression. It certainly wasn't meant to, but rather in the sense that Cass pointed out:By the same token, if your poor or non-performance of your job begins to impact your financial security, your partner has a valid beef. Yep, they certainly do. Neither one ought to be "the boss", just that each member has a duty to the other to hold up their end of the bargain.

Think doubles tennis not Manager/Boxer. That is, a team with each responsible for their half of the court (but each being willing to cover the other's half when needed) and accountable to the other, not where one gives all the direction and the other takes all the punches.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at July 24, 2009 04:57 PM

Geez, even the posts on *sex* invariably slide into *relationships*...

Posted by: BillT at July 24, 2009 05:17 PM

Maybe an oil change is in order??
I suggest grapeseed or almond.

0>;~}

Posted by: DL Sly at July 24, 2009 05:58 PM

I prefer Olive Oil...

Posted by: Popeye at July 24, 2009 06:11 PM

Not Wesson, huh?

Posted by: BillT at July 24, 2009 06:34 PM

Enjoyed the discussion. Did not see this mentioned but Dennis Prager has a part of his Wednesday talk show in I think the third hour dealing with this topic. He also has a book coming out tentatively titled "Your Husband is not a Pervert". Can't remember the subtitle but it was something like "An Examination of Male Sexual Nature". Dennis also had a couple of columns on the subject which I think also could be interesting to ponder and with which I agree with. Anyway great discussion, it was fun to read.

Posted by: SteveP at July 24, 2009 06:43 PM

...tentatively titled "Your Husband is not a Pervert."

Well, now, let's not get ahead of ourselves. We haven't heard from Watt yet!

Posted by: Grim at July 24, 2009 08:45 PM

Oooohhh!! That's gonna leave a mark.....

*draws imaginary score line in air*

You have been missed around here, Grim.
0>;~}

Posted by: DL Sly at July 24, 2009 09:30 PM

Elise said: "However, I'd also like to point out that this type of reaction on the part of working wives with at-home husbands is not that different from how working husbands with at-home wives used to react when they came home from a hard day at the office to discover the house was a disaster and dinner was going to be Chinese take-out - again. . . . The working husband might have harangued the at-home wife to be more like his mother (always a winner) and he might have staged not a sex strike but a talking strike ('I'm going to the den until dinner is ready') but the principle is the same."

She also mentioned that one reason some women work is not to feel totally financial dependent on someone else, and to be expected, so to speak, to "sleep with the boss."

These comments really hit the nail on the head for me. Especially the talking-strike that is the husband's equivalent of the sex-strike. He probably doesn't think of it as a strike any more than she thinks she's deliberately withholding sex. It's just that it becomes impossible to interact in that way when the relationship is broken. Evidently men don't find it much more difficult to have sex when things are rotten than women do to talk under similar conditions, and neither has much of an idea how hard the opposite task is. Guys, you know that helpless, enraged, frustrated feeling of privation you feel when your wife won't let you touch her? That's how she feels when you do the Silent Ice Man thing.

Posted by: Texan99 at July 25, 2009 03:41 PM

Especially the talking-strike that is the husband's equivalent of the sex-strike.

I've *never* gone on a "talking strike" -- I just can't get a word in edgewise, is all...

Posted by: BillT at July 25, 2009 04:03 PM

The answer is no. Sex is definitely not necessary. My choice. I've lived with the same woman for 23 years. No 2 person sex for 14 years since (I think) 1995 - might have been 1994. Separate bedrooms and porn are the answer.
It's just too demoralizing to keep begging.

Posted by: Spore Virus at August 27, 2009 07:06 PM

Having recently graduated from college, and being female, I would say that I don't find "freshman" to be offensive, though it's not the term I prefer. I also find nothing clumsy about the phrase "first-year student". But this is more a question of habit, since where I went to school, we generally referred to members of the freshman class as first-year students, or "first-years". The gendered aspect of "freshmen" becomes quite pronounced when you are referring to a group composed solely of women.

Posted by: psp bildschirmschutz at December 30, 2009 04:37 AM

As a men, I would like to say YES it is.

Posted by: james corben at August 28, 2010 07:16 AM

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