How do you/did you plan, compromise, or agree on standards for your sex life?
July 24, 2008 6:32 PM   Subscribe

How do you/did you plan, compromise, or agree on standards for your sex life?

I'm 23, female, and about to get married to someone with a much higher sex drive than mine (I attribute this to his having very few sexual relationships prior to me, while I have been much more active). At first, we had the usual new-relationship-constant-sex thing that most people do, which lasted a few months, and now two and a half years later he's still expecting to have sex daily (or multiple times daily). It's not that I'm less attracted to him, but I have certainly gotten busier and less sexual - for me, 2-3 times a week would be sufficient, if not too often.

We have attempted to address this several times and come to a stalemate where compromises are concerned. He just doesn't get why I was able to have sex so often before, but can't now. Also, he seems to think that when I don't feel like having intercourse, it isn't too much to ask for me to help him manually. I disagree - while I'm not opposed to this sometimes, there are days where I just don't have the capacity for sex in any form.

So what I'm asking is, how does one work out something like this? I assume most married couples have discussed this and come to some sort of conclusion, but how, and what is it? Is it wise or normal to say "We'll do it x times a week, and if one of us does not want to, then y or z."? Is there another solution we're not seeing? What kinds of compromises or agreements do you have or know about?

I know that there are other threads like this one and this one which include suggestions on a happy married life - I need suggestions of this kind in regard to a happy married sex life.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (25 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

It's important to determine how much of the sexual desire each of you experience is physical and how much is emotional.

If your husband gets driven to distraction by lack of sexual release, and only requires a few peace-of-mind orgasms more per week than you are willing to provide, there should be no problem with his attaining them on his own. However, if he's overcome with desire to be with you for intimacy's sake, more often than you want that, I think participation on your part is more adviseable.

There's nothing wrong with communicatig when you're not interested in pursuing an orgasm of your own, or when you want him to feel loved and taken care of, but not to the tune of 30 minutes of mediocre pumping away. "Can you be fast and unrestrained?" can be a good question to ask.

If he's pursuing sex far above and beyond his needs, and just doing it because it's more fun than vacuuming, I definitely think you have a right to ask that he save up his energy for more quality sex.

You don't have to participate every time, but there's also a way to participate without feeling put upon to really perform. Personally, I prefer this. I would rather be the visual stimulus than it be some hastily downloaded bad porn.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 6:53 PM on July 24, 2008 [5 favorites]

I wish we had anonymous answering. Feel free to email me.
posted by dpx.mfx at 6:56 PM on July 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

(I attribute this to his having very few sexual relationships prior to me, while I have been much more active)

While this may very well explain some of the difference in your understanding of the need to compromise in this situation, it is extremely unlikely that this explains the difference in your overall sex drives. It's not as though a person needs to have sex a certain number of times in a lifetime, and you've gone through more of your quota than he has.

In any case, don't ever tell him that you hold this opinion. Because it sounds an awful lot like, "I don't need to have sex with you now because I already got all the sex I need from the vast number of other guys I slept with before you, so you're unnecessary." It will only serve to make him insecure, and that won't help the situation at all.
posted by decathecting at 7:13 PM on July 24, 2008 [5 favorites]

I'm generally of the opinion that it is important to be happy in ones relationship given the status quo. Improvement is always nice but expending or relying on improvement is just setting oneself up for long-term problems. "If only he/she does/stop doing X I'll finally be happy" is the slogan of a doomed relationship.

That said, I would think the important thing is to get an honest answer out of your SO as to whether if the frequency of sex never goes above 3/week (and likely will drop off to 1-2 based on the tone of your post) he will be willing to live with it. Forever.

Don't make it seem like this is a temporary thing or dangle the hope that "as soon as work/school/whatever changes things will go back to how they were" in front of him and get a real, honest analysis of the situation.

Maybe this is a deal breaker. Wouldn't be for me (after 10 years of monogamous life 2-3/week is quite a comfortable and sustainable situation) but I wouldn't blame a guy if it was not. Having one's sex drive be out of synch with ones partner by a factor of 3-7x is not an issue to be taken lightly.
posted by Riemann at 7:14 PM on July 24, 2008

Ditto dpx.mfx

I have had this EXACT situation come up and the situation was the same, wife more experienced, me, not so much....

Feel free to email me as well....
posted by TeachTheDead at 7:19 PM on July 24, 2008

Deal breaker. Even if his sex drive ultimately decreases or yours increases the resentment will linger.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:21 PM on July 24, 2008

I broke up with her and married someone who has a sex drive similar than mine.

I say that not to dismiss your concerns, but to underline how fundamental an active sex life is for some people. Kudos to you for proactively looking to address this, rather than allowing it to be a festering sore in the relationship.

In my experience, there are a set of basic answers here.

First is that it takes compromise on both sides, not just one. You have to meet "halfway" -- not halfway in a numerical sense (eg he wants sex 14 times a week, you want it 2, so therefore you have sex 8 times), but in an emotional sense, where both people feel listened to and respected.

Second is that for this compromise to be able to take place, you need to be giving your sex life a real emphasis. Don't let it be the thing that gets the time and attention left over after work, and seeing friends, and going shopping, and arguing with your mother, and considering the paint chips for the living room. Make it the first priority, the thing that gives you the energy to go out and deal with all of those other things.

Third, what has worked really well for us is two things: (almost) always saying "yes" instead of "no," and expanding the idea of "sex" beyond the 2.5 minutes of actual humping or whatever the average is. So we have raised the bar for saying "no" pretty high -- needs surgery cuts it; kind of tired doesn't. That means sometimes starting to have sex when one of us isn't 100% totally in the mood -- but in most of a decade of often more-than-daily sex, I can think of only a couple of times when the reluctant person didn't get all fired up once things got going.

By expanding the idea of sex, I guess I mean both other acts (like AV's suggestion of posing) and realizing that foreplay starts hours, if not weeks, before -- being nice and doing the other person's chores because they had a crap day at work does a lot more to get them in the mood than pulling a seduction routine in the bedroom that evening.

Fourth, mediocre sex can still be totally awesome for the relationship. Quickies are great, it's ok if only one of you (or even neither) actually comes, and awkward times of day and uncomfortable positions will give you something to laugh about later. It doesn't sound like this is your issue, but sometimes people don't say "yes" because they want it to be perfect, and tonight it won't be perfect, and instead of settling for 80% good sex they prefer to have nothing.

Basically, a marriage is (among many other things) about building a "you against the world" front, and a good sex life is a really good way to build that intimacy. But the definition of "good" has to come from you, not from other people's marriages -- I like my sex daily, but have a friend who says he is completely happy with once or twice a month, as long as those rare occasions are mind-blowingly good.

I would also challenge you both -- what is going on in your life that is getting in the way of you wanting more sex? Can that be changed? And for him, what is he looking for with the frequent sex? Could quality substitute for quantity in some respect? Are there other ways to get the intimacy and physical contact he is craving?
posted by Forktine at 7:24 PM on July 24, 2008 [38 favorites]

Maybe instead of agreeing on a NUMBER (which seems very obligatory, and obligatory sex is the worst, leaving both feeling resentful) decide on times when you are definitely off limits for sex, unless you initiate. For example, I don't usually like having sex right before I go to sleep, especially if I've had an exhausting day, because then it feels like a chore and obstacle to a long restful sleep. But pre or post dinnertime sex-- way better than watching prime time TV. Maybe if he knows your preference he can work with it a little more, so you don't feel so resentful when he has a -- um -- request.
posted by np312 at 7:24 PM on July 24, 2008 [3 favorites]

With that degree of frequency it seems like he's just relieving the pressure most of the time instead of wanting an intimate experience with you. If that's the case then I'd just let him masturbate. I don't want to be used as a sex toy. Mr. Desjardins and I communicate when we really want to have a "special evening" and when it's just an itch that needs scratching. If it's the former, it's best to plan ahead of time - a date night, if you will. If it's the latter, and one of us doesn't feel like it, the other is responsible for scratching his/her own itch. The frequency of each has just happened organically, sometimes in fits and starts. It wasn't a conversation like "I need it 8 times a week and you need it 4, so let's do 6." Sometimes it's more like pouting followed by a more rational conversation (and an apology) the next day. (Note that I am the pouter just as much as he is.)
posted by desjardins at 7:25 PM on July 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

I wish we had anonymous answering.

There basically is -- you can mail a moderator (or sometimes a fellow Mefite), who will post your comments anonymously. It's imperfect -- Jessamyn or whomever knows who you are, and no one can easily mail you to ask a followup. But it works, and is done with some frequency.
posted by Forktine at 7:27 PM on July 24, 2008

I don't know whether I have a lower sex drive than MD, or just a different one. Due to my 8-6 job, I'm at work during my, ah, peak sexual hours. On a normal week, MD would like to have sex probably 4-5 nights while I'll be "in the mood" maybe once. During the weekend, the frequency is closer to what he'd like, which leads me to believe that it's partly timing and partly that I'm very tired at night.

We're honest with each other. We both make compromises. We initiate sex before we go to bed. When I'm too tired, we cuddle. I make the effort to initiate when I'm in the mood, instead of making him guess. Basically, we deal the same way we deal with any other disagreement. Really, it's just sex.
posted by muddgirl at 7:32 PM on July 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

On reading some of the other posts, I could go into more explicit detail, but yeah, not comfortable without anonymity. But mostly agreeing with the "make sure duo sex is about more than just 2.5 minutes of humping, and encourage him to masturbate."
posted by muddgirl at 7:34 PM on July 24, 2008

I'm guessing most couples don't work it out in a formal x times a week way. The more important conversation to have is what sex means to each of you, what you would like from other (like, not demand) and a willingness to explore some compromises. Then as it comes up, sometimes you say no because you really don't feel like it and he accepts, sometimes you say yes because you know it makes him happy and sometimes you offer something else.

John Gottman, in his books about marriage talks about unsolvable problems. This may be one for you - he may always want more than you are interested in. You can still have a happy marriage, provided that you both figure out how to deal with the situation in a way that shows you care about each other while taking care of your own needs too. On the other hand, by the time you both get to 40, you may find that he has slowed down more than you have and you will have the same problem in the opposite direction.

On the one hand, he needs to accept that you are entitled to say no when you don't feel like it. On the other hand, you can think about what he can do that might make you more interested and/or how you can show your love without feeling like you being used. (i think many men who aren't good at expressing emotions find that sex is an important way to feel connected to the woman they love. But that is just my observation as a woman).

Possible alternatives: you get him off (orally or manually); he masturbates while you cuddle up to him - might also hold his balls, or have him come on you; porn for him; porn for you (if helps you get in the mood); you make an effort to initiate when he is not expecting it; he does it by himself; schedule some time for romantic, high quality sex; make a promise for a specific time later when you will have more energy; have him give you a massage first to help you relax. I would also make an effort to be very clear that you love him and are attracted to him (example: a compliment and a warm kiss as you/he leaves for work).
posted by metahawk at 7:38 PM on July 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

After reading over all these, Forktine is right on.

To elaborate on what I was trying to say above, it's important for your SO to understand that this change is most likely permanent and that in the moderate term it is likely to accelerate a bit more in this direction.

To quote from the OP, "He just doesn't get why" is not really important. No matter what the reason, what is important is either acceptance of the situation (or, of course, the decision to end the relationship).

The major danger here is that either one of you makes compromises you can't really live with and end up resenting the other party for it. That is, in my opinion, a much worse outcome than a clean breakup unencumbered by marriage, kids etc...
posted by Riemann at 8:02 PM on July 24, 2008

the alarming thing about this, to me, is that your SO seems not to be able to grok that, after 2.5 years, your tastes may have changed. to me, that doesn't bode well for a lifelong, monogamous relationship. how is he going to react when other aspects of your personality or identity inevitably change over time?

please disregard this if it's an inappropriate suggestion for you and your SO. have you ever considered polyamory? if it seems to be true that your diminished (in his eyes) sex drive ("normal" in your eyes, after a period of ramped-up sex at the beginning of the relationship) is a challenge for him, then you might want to consider asking him to explore this more. is it sexual release he wants/needs? intimacy? and if so, intimacy specifically with you, or would intimacy with another be acceptable?

a former SO and i had very similar circumstances in our 5-year relationship. unfortunately, it ultimately didn't work out between us, but we spent quite a bit of time exploring the possibility of other-loves. polyamory isn't for everyone -- and please understand, i'm not trying to suggest that his finding another person to shag will solve all of your relationship issues. but -- while polyamory is a lot of work and requires a tremendous amount of open communication -- it can be a lifestyle adjustment that can successfully address disparities between sex drives.

good luck. i don't envy the situation you're in -- but know that you're not alone.
posted by CitizenD at 9:23 PM on July 24, 2008

I just re-read the part where you said "about to get married..." Stop planning that wedding and take the money you're going to spend on flowers and a photographer and get yourselves some pre-wedding counseling. Sexual compatibility is *huge* in a marriage. If you guys go into this out of sync - your chances of success are really, really poor. Good luck to you both.
posted by Wolfie at 10:24 PM on July 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Agree with others here, are you getting as much out of the sexual experience as he is? 23 and somewhat inexperienced can just mean you're not quite familiar enough with your own body to know what you need. Beginning fireworks can cover over a multitude of mediocre technique.

There's always more sex in the beginning of a relationship; people usually return to their 'baseline' appetite. Many also shut down from their partner over any number of issues. If you're shutting down, it may be about more than sex. If your baseline is just naturally lower, and you want it to be higher, for your own enjoyment, read my previous answer here.
posted by for_serious at 6:58 AM on July 25, 2008

I'm well over a decade into a similar relationship. My sex drive is much, much higher than hers -- once a week or so would be sufficient if she had her way, but I'm more of a "morning, noon, and night" kind of guy. Communication helps, but doesn't fix the problem which has contributed to a great majority of the tension in the relationship.

What's partially worked for us is setting limits. There's a point at which things become physically unpleasant for her, as surprising as that was when I learned where that point turned out to be, and sexual frequency greater than that rate is verboten by mutual agreement. I consider her well-being to exceed the importance of my sexual satisfaction. There's also a point at which a dry spell starts to affect my emotional health and letting things go that long is also addressed by mutual agreement. These two limits are far enough apart -- every other day on one end, and about a week on the other end -- that we make a conscious effort to keep things simmering somewhere in the middle although frankly things tend more toward the lower-frequency side.

It took some pretty big sacrifices on my part to reach an agreement, but our goal when we tried to figure this out was to find a way to reduce the damage that sexual incompatibility has on our otherwise fairly good relationship and we seem to have met that goal. It's a matter that needs regular attention and discussion, but the option of letting the relationship deteriorate over sex isn't something on the table, so the communication is something we just have to do. Until we sat down and started to deal with it we had a lot of problems. Despite how obvious such a thing seems to me, I don't think she understood how important sex is to me and how damaging the lack of attention to it was until we actually discussed it. I'm still not sure I've managed to get the message across even after hours and hours of talking and listening.

A big problem is that this came up after the wedding. In the several years of our relationship up to that point libido issues were more minor and not serious enough to discuss. I consider it an error on our part for not having The Talk about this kind of thing beforehand. I don't know that we'd have called the wedding off if our libido mismatch had been clearer, but it's a possibility.

I'd have appreciated knowing in advance that the level of sexual activity that I preferred was not only completely and utterly out of the question, but that it would recede even more out of reach. I'd have appreciated knowing my partner didn't understand how important sex was and how much her being increasingly unwilling to participate hurts me. It would have been nice to have had the chance to say up front, "That's a really fucking bad thing."

In hindsight I'd have liked to have married someone who places a value on sex similar to mine and less similar to yours. Your cavalier attitude about saying no to sex seems toxic to me, and likely the importance I place on it would seem that way to you.

Isn't it a good thing you're not thinking of marrying me?
posted by majick at 7:09 AM on July 25, 2008 [3 favorites]

(I attribute this to his having very few sexual relationships prior to me, while I have been much more active).

Sorry I don't get how being more experienced has anything to do with it, you either like to have sex more or you don't

Also, he seems to think that when I don't feel like having intercourse, it isn't too much to ask for me to help him manually. I disagree

You'd prefer he slinks away into the spare room and jack off to Penthouse? Perhaps, and I'm purely guessing here; perhaps your more worldly approach to sex previously has him enthralled and he wants or needs to be subservient to YOUR sex drive.

What kinds of compromises or agreements do you have or know about?

You may be accepting this power he is offering and metering sex accordingly, this is not as unusual as it sounds, many couples operate this way without realizing the underlaying mechanics, perhaps you should explore this as a long term solution.

Is there another solution we're not seeing?
Make him do the housework then tell him you're still too busy but he can have a wank if he wants to, then slap him on the arse and tell him to make dinner, LOL!
posted by plainjs at 8:02 AM on July 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Wow, completely unhelpful, plainjs.

I've been thinking a bit more about my hubby and me, and how we're dealing with the issue. Like I said before, it has required honest and often emotionally painful communication. For example, one thing that bugged me was when we'd be cuddling, and he'd start fondling my breasts as an attempt to initiate sex. The problem was that, if I wasn't already in the mood, I found it to be irritating. I would push his hands away, he'd persist, I'd get frustrated, and he'd get angry. The result is I would be tired and frustrated, and he'd be frustrated and angry - not exactly a great starting point. It's easier now, because I asked that instead of fondling me he rub my belly, or my hair, or my thigh. It's relaxing, instead of irritating. It's thoughtful. It makes me feel loved and cared for. It signals that he's horny without being intrusive.

But it required a lot of ... I suppose it was negotiating ... to figure out why I was getting upset, and what we could do together to fix that. Perhaps our difference isn't as bad as some other people who've posted here, but I hope this doesn't become an issue that we divorce over.
posted by muddgirl at 9:00 AM on July 25, 2008

It doesn't sound like you love him. He is crazy about you and getting into bed with you is still very exciting to him. All he needs to go to sleep happy is a handjob, and you'd rather push him away?
posted by w0mbat at 10:34 AM on July 25, 2008

You had better iron this out ASAP - before the marriage, before kids enter the picture.

If your mutual sex drives are so far apart, eventually he will find a way to satisfy his. And that could potentally expand from manual "override" to third-party gratification.

Or - he could become bitter, which could also poison things.

Either of those outcomes will certainly NOT make your relationship stronger.
posted by jkaczor at 1:30 PM on July 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

follow-up from someone who would prefer to remain anonymous.
I don't really like the direction a lot of these answers take. In my relationship, I'm the one with the higher sex drive (every day for me, every 2nd or 3rd day for him), and my partner isn't obligated to "help me out" when he's not in the mood. The fact that I often want more sex than I get does NOT mean that he owes me or that I'll eventually cheat on him and that it'll be his fault. That's crazy talk! If I were to threaten that, it would be coercive, and that's not the type of sex you want.

I also don't think this amount of difference is deal-breaker. You're not one of those couples where one wants it every day and the other wants it once a month.

Our situation is a little different because I'm the girl, and I find that my sex drive waxes and wanes with my menstrual cycle (ranging from "every 2-3 days" to "moremoremore, again again!!"), whereas his is fairly constant. If your partner's sex drive is constantly very high and yours waxes and wanes at a lower level, that could be a bit more challenging.

However. I try not to push for sex every day, because I know it becomes like a chore for him, so it's not as good. The sex is usually better if I wait for the third day, when he's all riled up and ready to go, but we usually end up with an every-other-day situation. This is fine with me for a number of reasons: I respect him and his right to not be turned on or used for sex every minute of every day, I am free to masturbate as often as needed, and he is often willing to become turned on even if he isn't already.

On your side, you could be willing to be seduced a bit more often than you would be otherwise. You lean towards 2-3 times a week? Decide to have sex every other day for a week or two (and he's not allowed to ask for it on the other days), and then re-assess. Allow him to turn you on. Insist on the amount and type of foreplay you need to really get going. Take time for it and consider it an investment in your relationship. Make sure he knows you're taking this seriously and not underestimating how important it is for him.

On his side, he needs to see you as more than a means to an end and to take matters into his own hands (if ya know what I'm sayin') when you're not in the mood. He also needs to strive for sex that is super-duper-amazing for you so that it's not just a favour you're doing for him.
posted by jessamyn at 4:24 PM on July 25, 2008 [3 favorites]

You have stumbled upon what I have always believed is the number 1 problem in marriages in America, but for some reason "money" is what always gets the glamor, and is much easier to answer in a poll.

I have had in the last 10-15 years maybe 150 people counsel with me over their marriages. Sex and intimacy was at the heart of the issue in probably all but 5 of them.

In fact, except in cases of gambling addiction, I would say "money" is actually never the problem.

I think Forktine's statement about how he simply chose another mate should make your eyes open fully. Many people think that way, and as majick stated, many would have made that same decision given the opportunity (i.e. the incompatibility was noticed before the marriage, rather than after).

My personal opinion is that small differences in sexual compatibility can be worked out, but large ones are basically unresolvable.
posted by Ynoxas at 11:38 PM on July 25, 2008

If you're still reading, I had another thought. I'm getting married in two months and I'm constantly thinking about wedding details (especially since we're mostly self-financing it). I can't feel sexual when I feel overwhelmed. I have to have a certain amount of things done before I calm down and can focus on sex. It's very difficult for my fiancé to understand how much the wedding planning consumes my mental energy, because, you know, it's "just a big party, basically." So we work together until I get enough done where I feel relaxed, and his helping me makes me feel more sexual.

If you're not planning your wedding yet, then substitute with work stress, housework, or whatever else that prevents you from relaxing. If he can do specific things to help you, even just listen without interrupting for 15 minutes, that may make you feel much more sexual towards him. Don't promise a direct trade ("If you do the laundry I'll have sex with you") but let him know that you're much more likely to be in the mood once all the laundry's done. Then if your feelings are at least neutral at that point, follow through. I mean, the guy tried. At the very least you'll get a lot of help with the housework, but I suspect your feelings towards intimacy will change.
posted by desjardins at 10:25 AM on July 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

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