How do you get into the "don't even care if I have sex," state?
November 11, 2019 6:09 PM   Subscribe

Sometimes when I'm with new potential partner, I'll *really* want sex. Other times, I can get into a sort of compassionate, caring state where there's much less internal pressure to have sex. It's very distinct. And it makes relating go much better. I don't know how to reliably do this, though.

Are other people aware of these (at least to me) very distinct states or at least poles on a continuum? If so, does anyone have obvious or non-obvious ways for reliably moving towards the caring, compassionate side during real time interaction?
posted by zeek321 to Human Relations (25 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

Vigorous exercise, or masturbation.
posted by sixswitch at 6:23 PM on November 11 [2 favorites]

posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:47 PM on November 11 [2 favorites]

Are other people aware of these (at least to me) very distinct states or at least poles on a continuum

I have been aware of it in other people who felt these things for me or who evidently functioned that way with regard to other women. I find it alienating and conceptually terrifying. I don't mean that either state is terrifying on its own, it isn't scary to know a man is thinking about sex and not much else. I mean specifically the idea that those two states are opposite poles. for women, the idea that men can either be aroused by you or care about you, but not both at the same time, is an ever-present nightmare that many of us try not to believe in.[1] Being intensely attracted to someone ought to inspire compassion and affection for them -- ought to create an unwise sort of fondness within you, even for people you might never otherwise feel it for and who might not otherwise merit it. it shouldn't drown it out. and when I say "ought" I don't just mean these associations are desirable, I mean they do reliably happen. as a million unwise marriages can testify to.

so I think that being able to just switch from mood to mood at will is, while certainly possible if that's all you want, no more than a quick fix to cover over what your partners might consider to be the real issue, were they aware of it.

however, if they never become aware of it, I suppose there is nothing to worry about.

[1] heterosexual women may not be your primary constituency, I don't mean to assume. but your 'polar' description matches a certain scary heterosexual paradigm, although I'm sure it is not exclusive to it.
posted by queenofbithynia at 6:53 PM on November 11 [40 favorites]

I wonder if meditation could help you notice feelings coming and going, without having to have your behaviour dictated by them?
posted by unstrungharp at 6:55 PM on November 11 [1 favorite]

I'd suggest deemphasizing the "are other people aware of these poles" focus of your ask as it's subjectively true for you, at the moment.

Instead, look into drawing out the implicit categorization of you are making of your past relationships or encounters, and your past partners. What are the common characteristics and experiences among those that fall on either 'side' as you see them in retrospect?

That should help answer your question, insofar as what has resulted in the connection you want before; and potentially get at the concern that queenofbithynia raises, which seems worth thinking about.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:44 PM on November 11 [1 favorite]

Purely as counterpoint, since you asked, I'm not aware of these being distinct states/poles. Your experience, as you describe it, sounds utterly alien to me. much so, in fact, that I have several follow-on questions, but as they would not be addressing your question here I will skip them.

This is not an attempt to invalidate or denigrate your experience. Just ... it's like you said "you know how the sky is bright pink, right? So, why is that?" and here I am staring at a blue sky wondering.
posted by aramaic at 8:06 PM on November 11 [7 favorites]

In some cases the urgent feeling towards a new partner may be driven by anxiety and uncertainty. You'll probably need to do your own deep dive, perhaps with a therapist, on what factors contribute to the different states you experience.
posted by bunderful at 8:09 PM on November 11 [8 favorites]

for women, the idea that men can either be aroused by you or care about you, but not both at the same time, is an ever-present nightmare that many of us try not to believe in

I mean, I get the general tendency...but let me say as a hetero woman that there are heterosexual women for whom this binary very much exists, as well. Libido can be a strong drive that often overrides other, more wholesome/social, drives. OP specifically asks how to sublimate and channel this drive. That seems a fairly universal challenge for many, many people of different genders and orientations. (Not all, maybe, as we can see from the replies.)
posted by The Toad at 8:43 PM on November 11 [13 favorites]

Libido can be a strong drive that often overrides other, more wholesome/social, drives.

everyone has experienced the urgency of one emotion or one sensation being all you can think about. we all know what sex is. that's very far away from one emotion being the opposite of another.

like I guess what I mean is, considering lust and compassion/closeness to be two opposing poles or two "very distinct" experiences is exactly what makes lust unwholesome or antisocial, so to say. perhaps the only thing that can make it so, because it isn't usually either of those things. sex with another cooperating person is necessarily a social activity.

what I also mean is, if you're out with a prospective partner and you become aware that they are physically interested, it is not a natural reflex to interpret that interest as an unwholesome, antisocial threat. it used to be -- women used to be trained to understand desire for us as both threat and insult. to reinforce this, men used to be trained to experience it that way, from the inside. like being hangry, but for sex. I hold out some hope that this is less widespread than it used to be. I feel very strongly that it is terrible to expect someone's rising desire for you to drain away their compassion for you. this is not a form of worldliness that we should re-acquire.

I do not agree that losing compassion as you get excited is indicative of a strong libido. I don't think that it has any correlation with libido strength or weakness whatsoever. people whose lust blocks out other emotions are just as likely to stop being bored, or stop being mean, or stop being angry, when they get excited. and this does happen! if it's only the tenderer emotions that reliably turn off, that's about the nature of the drives, not their strength.

I agree that once it is an ingrained reflex, the only thing to do is to manage it.
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:31 PM on November 11 [10 favorites]

To clarify:

Horniness precludes patient compassion.
Regularly consumated sex enables patient compassion to potentially (and likely) coincide with horniness.
Patient compassion, if it gets there first, or manages to arise, (sufficiently) obviates horniness.

Horniness does not preclude patient compassion.
I can do things to give patient compassion the best chance of arising.
(With the rest the same.)
posted by zeek321 at 9:53 PM on November 11 [1 favorite]

Honestly, I would suggest therapy and not getting involved with anyone until you get this straightened out, because it's a really harmful, hurtful way to think about sex and other people. As in, not only would I want to stay far away from you, I would warn other people you might date as well. It may not be that uncommon, unfortunately, but it's not healthy or ok.
posted by Violet Hour at 2:01 AM on November 12 [13 favorites]

Coming out on the other side of a relationship where my partner probably has this dynamic (and I only realized it reading your question, so thanks for that insight!), I can tell you that having compassion so closely tied up with sex - both on an "either-or" or "if-then" principle - has a dreadful impact on a relationship.

I'd definitely recommend therapy, because solving this is probably beyond "one weird trick" territory.

But as a beginning step, do some serious thinking and self-analyzing: Do you perhaps objectify and "other" people who are in your "potential partner" pool? Is that why you're unable to feel caring towards them? Do you see them as means to an end (sex)? Traditionally, the way this goes is, if you're a hetero male, you see women as "others" and not as people who are mostly like you except for some biological characteristics.

I find that empathy begins with viewing people as fellow humans, not as "potential partner" or "woman" or "man". Be honest with yourself: can you see them in this way?
posted by gakiko at 3:13 AM on November 12 [6 favorites]

When I find myself wanting sex so strongly that I'm thinking or even acting in ways that don't fit my morals, it's often out of fear. Usually it's fear that I'm undesirable, or that my partner's lost interest in me — or in a new relationship, that they'll never be as interested in me as I am in them. I want to convince myself that the fear isn't true, and having a lot of sex is one way to do it.

Have you tried looking for other ways to feel sexy or desirable? Or ways in particular to feel reassured of your partner's attraction to you?

(I know men, and people raised as men, aren't supposed to want to feel sexy — we're just supposed to want sex with someone else who's hot. But usually the two wants go hand in hand, and people who want sex want to feel sexy too. So the first step might be admitting to yourself that you want that, and convincing yourself that it's an okay thing to seek out.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:17 AM on November 12 [14 favorites]

Short term quick fix, masturbation.
Long term future fix, meditation and buddhist philosophy.
The meditation/philosophy takes time but teaches you, through direct experience, that you don't have to act on emotions/desires/thoughts/etc. It teaches you to regard those as not "you". They pop up out of the black box of your subconscious, you don't choose them so why should regard them as "you"? If they're useful then pursue them, if they're not then let them go. Letting them go is really hard but meditation gives you lots of practice.
posted by Awfki at 5:26 AM on November 12 [3 favorites]

You mention in your original question an "internal pressure to have sex" - this seems to be burying the lede, as anything effective to address your concerns will have to figure out what's going on with this internal pressure. Your follow-up offers some corroboration, especially the part about how compassion "obviates" sexualization. That is, in those cases have you considered that you're simply not that sexually attracted to those women, even if they are conventionally very attractive - and that you're actually okay with that, but in an unfamiliar way?
posted by obliterati at 5:47 AM on November 12

I’m having trouble parsing this question. What is ‘regularly consummated sex’ as opposed to ‘regular sex?’
posted by dianeF at 5:59 AM on November 12 [2 favorites]

Echoing that therapy is a good idea, the way you phrased your update has a bunch of phrasing that calls for it to be pulled apart in a conversational way that isn't all that well suited to askme.

what is "patient compassion?" I feel like that's an opaque label for an interplay of different feelings, and it's "preclusion" is a way of externalizing a lack of feeling.

Does lacking it while being horny mean just not caring about your partner's pleasure in sex until your own libido returns to more comfortable level, or does it mean not regarding your partner as a real person so long as you're horny to the point of being misleading about your intentions or otherwise exploitative of their trust in some way? Why are you thinking about this elevated level of sexual need as something you inflict on your partner until you can return to a state that you clearly regard as better and kinder in some way?
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:04 AM on November 12 [6 favorites]

Have you ever gone too far between meals and found yourself thinking poorly, cranky, and obsessed with food?

That’s because our primal needs are more than capable of setting our agendas. With effort we can make ourselves civil, but when we’re hungry our body is going keep letting us know until we do something about it.

If your body wants food, give it some food. If it wants sexual release, give it sexual release.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:11 AM on November 12 [2 favorites]

As I always recommend when someone is experiencing a mind-body problem, you should get a routine physical with bloodwork to start, since that's usually straightforward to obtain, and also get the wheels turning to talk to a therapist, which can take a while in many countries. If you're experiencing sexual desire as aggression or anger or rage, that could be neurological, neurochemical, a result of trauma, rooted in unhealthy cultural conceptualizations of sexuality and/or toxic masculinity, or a combination of several of those things.

If you are sometimes experiencing sexual urge in a manner that is unproductive in a relationship and at other times it is comfortable and equitable and manageable and not all-consuming, there are cyclic/variable mood disorders that sometimes present in hypersexual or compulsive sexual behavior at certain points in the cycle. If that sounds at all familiar to you, please say so to both the doctor you see for your physical and the therapist you hopefully are able to find.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:52 AM on November 12 [6 favorites]

Yes, I have days when lust is more powerful than connecting with my partner. And other days when connecting is more important. I think it's fine, on the lust-filled days, to check in with my partner to see if he's interested in sex. If he is, great. If not, masturbation. (Sometimes split the difference and I get snuggles while I masturbate. Also awesome.) If you or your partner don't enjoy the sex on your overcome with lust days, then masturbate. (Or masturbate, then have sex together.) But otherwise, it should be fine to offer when you're in the mood and to turn your partner down when you're not up for sex.
posted by Margalo Epps at 9:11 AM on November 12 [1 favorite]

This is relatable to me (heteroish cis male). Absolutely recommend therapy for helping with this, as others have suggested.

My understanding of this kind of experience is that it's a problem of, essentially, emotional regulation. The needs/desires/wants in the moment become so loud that they drown out all else. I definitely experience this around sexual desires, as well as all kinds of other daily things. It's incredibly overwhelming and leads to a lot of anxiety for me.

For me, the path to another way has looked like: 1. CBT and/or mindfulness work to be able to sit with those feelings and that experience and not immediately react to them, allowing 2. a deeper listening to other voices that are present at the time. When my brain isn't ringing a 4-alarm fire for one particular need, it turns out I can identify a whole bunch of different needs wants and desires. I can then 3. choose my behavior by incorporating all these voices instead of just the big loud one.

Therapy can help unravel more around your previous (and early) experience around big emotions. Often folks who were socialized as boys were gifted very few skills in this area — our world is set up to support men who aren't good at emotional regulation at the expense of folks around them, so men haven't really needed it.

I think asking this question is 100% the right path and I'm glad you're on the quest. There can be a lot to unravel once you start picking at big things like this but I think you'll find it incredibly rewarding and clarifying.
posted by wemayfreeze at 12:49 PM on November 12 [4 favorites]

I'm not exactly understanding this because my experience is that in new relationships, it's super common to be pretty sexually charged. It sounds like you're saying you want a new partner so much that you have a hard time interacting with them with patience? Is that right?

This might be totally off-base, but I wonder if it might be helpful for you to read about the Madonna-Whore complex. The idea is that sometimes some men unconsciously characterize women as being either good people or sex objects, but not both. So if you love her, you desire her less; if you want her, you won't be able to fall in love (or perhaps treat her with compassion and patience). Wikipedia tells me that Freud said, "Where such men love they have no desire and where they desire they cannot love."

Here's a longer, more modern take on how this impacts dating.
posted by bluedaisy at 2:36 PM on November 12 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you're saying you want a new partner so much that you have a hard time interacting with them with patience?

That's pretty succinct/close--even if I suspect or know someone is interesting, smart, kind, exciting, etc., the ordering of small talk, hanging out, food, even doing something that I usually find fun, is aggravating prior to having sex. I'd prefer sex was more integrated with the "getting to know you" phase.

Once sex is a regular thing I'm spontaneously playful, communicative, patient, want to talk and talk, etc.

Some women are quick to be physically intimate, and that works great. But other women are slower. And, I know I'm usually sexually compatible, frequency-wise, with someone once I'm in a relationship. So I'm trying to be more patient on the front-end so as to not come off weird and to widen the dating pool, given the plenty of people who need more time before feeling comfortable/excited/safe being physically intimate.
posted by zeek321 at 3:14 PM on November 12 [1 favorite]

Oh, I think I get it. So it sounds like you're not saying you're super horny to have sex all the time in a new relationship, but that you have a hard time getting through the getting-to-know-you phase before you have sex the first time? Like, you're anxious for the first time you have sex?

Sexual compatibility is a really important component of a relationship for many people, and I totally get why you'd want to have sex soon. I wouldn't want to fall head over heels for a person and then find out we weren't sexually compatible.

But, yeah, some women will want to take it more slowly and others are happy to have sex pretty quickly. Have you found that the women who have sex earlier in the relationship are more likely to be good matches for you in other ways and in the longer term? Or does that not align? Like, I'm wondering if having sex more quickly aligns with a certain kind of sex positivity and enthusiasm for sex that you want or need? (I'm just spitballing.) But I could be totally wrong about that. Like, do you want to have a partner who is more comfortable with casual sex? If so, I think that's okay.

But it sounds like you are asking for how to be more okay waiting longer to have sex for the first time. I know we're not supposed to go back and forth, but how many dates are we talking here?
posted by bluedaisy at 3:25 PM on November 12 [1 favorite]

even if I suspect or know someone is interesting, smart, kind, exciting, etc., the ordering of small talk, hanging out, food, even doing something that I usually find fun, is aggravating prior to having sex.

So stop doing all that, and start asking for sex up front.

The problem here isn't that there's something wrong with your desires - there isn't! The problem is that you are ashamed of your desires, so you're lying to yourself about them. Worse: you're lying to your partners, too, pretending to want what they want, pretending to enjoy the dates and food and small talk, just to fool them into liking you enough that they give you what you want. That's manipulative and seriously shitty.

We live in 2019, and there has never been a better time for you to be completely up front and honest about what you really want. You have no excuse for lying to your dates and misleading them the whole time you're just waiting for them to start giving you sex!

If this doesn't make sense to you, then consider the inverse of yourself. Imagine you are dating someone who is secretly demisexual (i.e. someone who does not feel sexual attraction unless they are in a deep relationship).
"even if your date suspects or knows you are good looking, great in bed, etc., the ordering of small talk, flirting, making out, even doing semi-sexual things that they usually find fun, is aggravating prior to being in love. They would prefer love was more integrated with the "getting to Biblically know you" phase. Once love is a solid thing they are spontaneously sexual, attracted to you, have a high libido, etc."
Would you want this person to disclose to you that they are demisexual, or would you be okay with them stringing you along - flirting, touching, making out, being sexy around you for weeks or months, with no intention of actually having sex with you until they're in love with you?

If you can imagine the frustration and feeling of being misled that this scenario would cause you, then you can imagine how you've made your partners feel by pulling the same con on them. You lied to them when you pretended to like hanging out. You lied and lied and lied that you were interested in them as people before having sex. THAT is what you're doing wrong.

Stop dating for a little while. Investigate your own drives and desires. Accept them without shame. (It's not wrong to want sex without getting to know people first!! It's okay!! You are allowed to feel that way.) Then, and only then, start dating again. Put the exact things you desire into your dating profile, and make sure you talk a lot about it pre-first-date, during the first date, and beyond. BE YOU. Practice speaking your real desires loud and proud.

Some people will reject you - that's okay. That's the way it should be. You should not be trying to fool them into liking a false version of yourself. Every one of your potential dates deserves to know what you truly want, so that they can make an informed decision about whether or not to date you. And if they don't want to date you, that doesn't mean you're less worthy or less good. You are who you are, and your true desires are worth honoring. Stop torturing yourself to fit into someone else's version of a good partner!posted by MiraK at 8:51 AM on November 13 [1 favorite]

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