How to Balance Intimacy with Eroticism

Posted in self help by Steph Auteri on March 5, 2008
Tags: , , , , ,

unhappy couple.

So is it even possible to keep erotic excitement alive in a long-term relationship? When the person you love is as familiar to you as that old, ratty pillow your mother sewed for you back in your toddler years, how can you possibly get excited about him or her anymore? Is this slide into affection and deeper intimacy a form of a more mature love, signaling the end of a youthful passion that was bound to end eventually?

This might be TMI, but I’ve been struggling with a low libido for the past few years.

If this is TMI, I’m giving you the chance to bow out now.

Okay, as for the rest of you…

When I hit my first sexual roadblock with my then-boyfriend/now-husband, I assumed it was the aftershocks of a past sexually abusive relationship that was holding me back.

As I attempted to read every relevant book I could get my hands on — Rekindling Desire, He Comes Next, Sexual Healing, and The Multi-Orgasmic Couple among them — as a means of curing myself, I realized that there were many more layers to my problem. (p.s. I haven’t tried conquering this with self-help books alone; open communication with my spouse in addition to talk therapy are also parts of my journey toward, um, rekindling desire.) Layers involving my depression, my constant exhaustion, my fear of commitment, etc.

Though Sexual Healing seemed to bring me closer to understanding than anything else, I had a feeling that my problem — our problem — was definitely more mental than physical. It wasn’t until I ordered myself a copy of Esther Perel‘s Mating in Captivity that I finally began to feel that I was regaining something that had been lost for far too long.

Perel is a couples and family therapist who believes that it is, indeed, possible to maintain the excitement in a long-term relationship. Among the things she wrote that struck me:

  • The Madonna/Whore Complex Does Exist…On Both Sides. One of Perel’s patients complains to Perel that her husband only seems to appreciate her as a housewife. “I want to be appreciated as a woman,” she says. “Not as a mother, not as a wife, not as a companion. And I want to appreciate him as a man…I want to be looked at without all the baggage.”

Her words resonate with me, and remind me of the time my husband pointed out that we had been living as friends, or mere roommates. Friends without benefits. And it’s true that, as my husband, I don’t allow myself to see him with an unbiased, hormone-crazed eye. Hell, I’m surprised that he can even be turned on by me, living in close quarters as we do, burping, stinky feet, and all. But at this point, I’m eager to see if Perel is going to provide a way to fix that.

  • “Eroticism thrives on the unpredictable.” Which is why new romances are so exciting. But once people get to know each other, they tend to think that they know it all. And if one loses the ability to be surprised by their significant other, what, exactly, is there to look forward to?
  • “Love is about having; desire is about wanting.” This is connected to the previous bullet point, yet also reveals another piece of the puzzle. Those in the early stages of a relationship take great care to charm and seduce. In fact, those early days are actually akin to one, long seduction. But once one feels that they have attained their prize, they stop trying. In a way, it’s no wonder I’m not turned on. I need to be convinced that I should even be turned on. If he says, “Are you gonna get with me?” (and yes, this is how he propositions me), I should reply: “Convince me that I should.”
  • My fear of commitment could possibly be dulling my sex drive. It’s difficult to feel sexually free and open if you feel that you’ve personally agreed to a life term prison sentence. “Commitment means sacrificing your own goals and ambitions for something that you can’t control and that you could potentially fail at…When you let another person in, romantically, you make less room for yourself.”

Anxiety is a hell of a buzzkill and, I have to admit, marriage is never something I was completely sure about, despite loving my husband. It was difficult for me to just say “I do,” when I felt that there was so much at stake, and that our success was something I could never be entirely sure of. Even post-wedding, I have questioned my ability to succeed at this whole marriage thing. After all, I’m not afraid to spout my views on how unnatural I believe monogamy to be (but that’s another story for another day). My love of my husband, and my desire for a family, are at constant conflict with these beliefs. My libido doesn’t thrive in this type of environment.

  • Just Because You’re Married (Or In a Relationship) Doesn’t Mean You’re Dead. Which means that my flirtations and mini-crushes are nothing to be afraid of. “Rather than inhibiting a couple’s sexuality,” Perel writes, “recognizing the third has a tendency to add spice, not least because it reminds us that we do not own our partners. We should not take them for granted. In uncertainty lies the seed of wanting.”

Since reading Perel’s book, I’ve been trying harder to overcome my own mental hang-ups, and to make our sex life more of a priority.

“There’s an assumption…that we need only pursue what we don’t yet possess. The trick is that in order to keep our partner erotically engaged we have to become more seductive, not less.”

When I read this one way, I think about the ways in which I wish my husband would make more of an effort to, well, woo me. When I read it another way, I think of the ways in which I need to own more responsibility for this problem as well. After all, I’ve been right all along. Our marriage is not a sure thing, and we may very well fail at it. Acknowledging that fact helps me to see the importance in placing the two of us at the top of my list of priorities.

Overcoming my fear of initiating physicality is another roadblock entirely…

(It’s no wonder I got into adult content shortly after my less-than-healthy relationship back in the day; I’ve been devouring the sexual self-help books ever since.)


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