We’re always hearing that we could be having better sex, a better orgasm, or a better relationship. But how often do we hear the nitty-gritty of how we can actually better understand our deepest desires and most embarrassing questions? Bustle has enlisted Vanessa Marin, a sex therapist, to help us out with the details. No gender, sexual orientation, or question is off limits, and all questions remain anonymous. Now, onto today’s topic: when you should say "yes" and "no" to sex in a relationship.
Q: My boyfriend wants sex a lot more than I do. He doesn't exactly pressure me to have sex, but when it's been a few days, I can tell that he starts feeling irritable. He’ll drop little hints, like asking me what's wrong and why my sex drive is so low. His attitude makes me feel pressured, but I’m not sure if I’m being oversensitive. I basically want to know when I should say yes to sex, and when it’s OK to say no.
A; Thanks for your question! It’s always tricky to manage mismatched sex drives in a relationship, and it sure doesn’t help when your partner is making unhelpful remarks about your sex drive. Let’s mix things up this week by talking about the Do’s and Don’ts of saying “yes” or “no” to sex in a relationship.
Do: Honor Your Own Desires
Let’s jump right into my single most important piece of advice — it’s always OK to say no. Always! It’s your body, and you get to choose what does and doesn’t feel right to you. If you don’t want to have sex, you shouldn’t force yourself to do it. Neither should your partner. It's crucial to talk about this issue because there are definitely situations where these types of dynamics can border on (or even fully cross over into) abuse.
If the thought of turning down sex makes you feel nervous, you may want to try practicing beforehand. Test out a few ways of saying "no," and find the words that feel most natural to you. Some examples include, "I want to connect with you, but I'm not feeling like having sex right now" or "I'm not feeling in the mood for sex, but is there something else we could do?"
Don’t: Let Your Partner Get Away With Being Passive-Aggressive
Your boyfriend is being immature by pouting and trying to make you feel guilty about not desiring sex as often as he does. You don’t want to reinforce his behaviors by giving into him when he’s pressuring you. Tell him that you want to have a sex life where both of you feel fulfilled, but that his comments aren’t very kind. Let him know the reaction that it stirs up for you.
Do: Ask Your Partner To Be More Direct With Their Initiations
This pattern that you’re describing is one that happens quite frequently in relationships. Usually the partner with the higher sex drive starts to feel rejected, and tries to initiate sex without really initiating. It’s hard to directly ask for sex, because it puts you in the vulnerable position of potentially hearing “no” in response. But by sulking and not expressing his wants, he’s only adding more pressure to an already tense situation.
Tell him, “I’m not always clear when you are or aren’t wanting sex, so then I don’t really know how to respond. Can we both try to be more direct?”
Don’t: Think There’s Anything Wrong With You
You said your boyfriend keeps asking you why your sex drive is “so low,” so I want to remind you that there is no “right” or “wrong” sex drive. We all have different levels of desire, and we should respect what our bodies are telling us. Your sex drive may be lower than his, but that doesn’t make it something you need to "fix". This is important, so let me repeat it again: there is nothing wrong with you!
Do: Talk About Both Of Your Expectations For Your Sex Life
It sounds like you haven’t had many open conversations about what you each want out of your sexual relationship. Not being clear on your expectations only serves to create more tension. Is he just getting grumpy every once in a while, or could this potentially be a sexual compatibility issue?
Ask him, “what level of sexual frequency feels healthy for you?” Share your own answer with him, and try to have an honest conversation about the level of compatibility between the two of you.
Do: Consider Occasional Maintenance Sex
There are going to be times where you know without a doubt that you’re not interested in sex, and there are going to be times where you feel pretty neutral. Your question cuts to the heart of one of the main issues that comes up in relationships — how much to compromise. Compromise is just a natural part of relationships. We do it because we care about our partner’s needs and we are willing to show them as much consideration as we show ourselves.
I’m being tough on your boyfriend, but I’m hoping that once the two of you talk openly, he’ll take a more mature approach to initiating sex. If your partner’s desires are important to you, there may be times where you feel totally fine having maintenance sex, even if you’re not particularly in the mood. There may even be times where it feels good to take care of your boyfriend in this way, or when you feel not in the mood, but feel open to seeing if foreplay would get you there.
The key is that you're making an active decision here, not caving in to sexual coercion. Maintenance sex shouldn’t happen at times where your boyfriend is being pouty or pressuring, and you should never feel badly about changing your mind and saying no at any point during sex.
Don’t: Stay In A Relationship Where You’re Not Sexually Compatible
If it feels like you and your boyfriend are arguing about sex more often than enjoying having it, it may be time to move on. Sexual compatibility can — and should — be a deal-breaker in a relationship.
Like I said before, I'm not sure how intensely your boyfriend is pressuring you, but if it ever feels like he's displaying a lack of respect or bordering on emotional abuse, you absolutely should end the relationship.
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