Posts Tagged ‘sex in relationships’

The Ongoing Quest to be Sexually Fulfilled

August 2, 2010  |  essays  |  2 Comments

That’s where that whole online writing project (aka blog) of mine started, really: in an attempt to write myself into a better sex life, and into personal relationships about my own sexuality, gender identity and expression, and sustaining relationships. For the first three years, I was attempting to write myself into a long term, stable, sane relationship, in part because I wanted to have a better sex life and in part for all the rest of the good stuff that comes with intimacy, cohabitation, and love.

And now, I’ve found the girl I’ve been with for a year and a half, Kristen. And the longer we’re together, the longer it seems we’ll last.

So, now what? Is my quest for a fulfilled sex life over?

To some degree, yes—many of the problems and questions that plagued me as a single butch top, such as, “When am I going to get laid next?” and “Who’s it going to be with?” and “How do I know if she’ll be into what I’m into?” are no longer a factor. I love that I am with someone as open and eager to explore sex as I am, if not more so. I love that our sex drives are pretty well matched. I love that I am with someone whom I can try out new toys with (it was much harder to be a toy reviewer when I was solo, that’s for sure).

But that is not necessarily a recipe for perfect sexual compatibility, or ongoing sexual fulfillment. Note the key word there: ongoing. A sex life is just that—a LIFE—which means it happens every day. And like any other aspect of life, it is interwoven tightly with all sorts of other aspects, and can be different, feel different, or present unique new obstacles at any time.

How does one navigate fulfillment with all sorts of other things—bills, work, health, family, projects, friends—are also vying for attention? How do you keep the spark going?

Perhaps this relates to my theories around general relationship intelligence and the lack of depiction of many stable, sane, healthy relationships in the various storytelling arts. Most romantic comedies or dramas, for example, focus on the part of a relationship story where the couple is overcoming obstacles in order to begin their life together. At the beginning of the film, the couple is not together; the dramatic action focuses around their miscommunications, struggles, possibly sex, expectations, who called (or didn’t call) who, and who can get over their issues in order to fully embark on a committed monogamous relationship; then the end of the movie shows the couple, triumphant, and we are happy, having been rooting for them all along.

But we see very little of what happens next in the relationship. How the couple communicates, negotiates, reaches consensus, struggles, forgives, fights, and maintains a balance between their individual separate selves and their collective togetherness. So rare is a film where the couple is together at the beginning and the end, where the dramatic action centers around the relationship trials or the couple coming together to solve outside problems.

Without such good models of problem solving in long term relationships, and with such high divorce rates, meaning that for folks my age it is rather rare for our parents to still be together, or even to have an older couple in our lives as mentors, how can we be expected to have the relationship skills to sustain our own long term relationships?

And isn’t it similar with sex: when we are single, we expect getting into a relationship will fulfill our sexual needs. The smarter folks among us know that getting into a relationship isn’t quite enough, but that we need to get into a relationship with a person with whom we are sexually compatible. A subtle but key difference!

Yet still—life happens. Even if you find that special someone, there is still ongoing navigation to keeping it up and getting off. And sharing a life with someone means distractions, miscommunications, unforeseen occasional tragedies, and our ever-changing bodies and lives.

This is what I have been puzzling through in my own relationship, as we are increasingly sharing space and continually sharing our lives.

My relationship with Kristen started as almost purely sexual. She lived a few hours away from me, and worked in another state, and would come visit on weekends. She’d lived in New York City before and planned to move back, which is how we met in the first place. We spent whole weekends in bed, rarely leaving my apartment, rarely leaving my room except to eat and shower and rest our bodies. After she left, I would spend the whole week playing over and over the last weekend, often writing about what we’d done, how we’d played, and planning some new ways to play when she came back.

I would pounce on her as soon as she walked in the door. Already hard packing and waiting anxiously to feel her again. Not even letting her put her things away before shoving her up against something, so eager and grateful to have someone who let me play with dominance, someone who was open to play.

It was erotic, connected, passionate, heated sex, full of longing and relief and release. Plus, we continued falling in love, discovering all the ways we enjoyed each other’s company outside of the bedroom.

It’s easy to look back and see the bliss, but equally present was the ache of longing, the fear of the fragility of a new relationship, those days when we would have given anything to come home to each other, all the fetishizing and idealizing of a shared domesticity. I brush over those feelings now because that wish was granted, I no longer have to long to share other parts of my life with her, as our lives are increasingly entwined.

Now we have the new obstacles of sustainment: Am I getting what I want in bed, in this relationship? Are we having sex often enough for me? Are we having the kind of sex I want, or am I longing for something else, something new? How do I ask for more, or different, sex? How do we keep the spark of eroticism, passion, longing, and eagerness when we are available to each other, in so many ways, constantly? How do we keep it fresh and new when we’re willing to do, and have done, so much experimenting already?

Maybe this sounds like a trite problem, especially to those who don’t have partners, don’t get laid, or don’t prioritize sex as a serious hobby the way Kristen and I do, but I suspect many people in reasonably satisfied relationships ask these questions at some point or another.

I’m sure all of our relationships have a unique set of circumstances behind these questions. For me, it seems to be that my girlfriend would like to have sex more often than we do, and in part because of our dynamic and the sexual roles we like to play with of Daddy/girl and domination/submission, she has a hard time asking for more. She feels greedy and unwarranted. I know I also have a hard time allowing myself to be seduced, so even when she does feel bold enough to make her desires clear, I don’t always respond with what she wants. I adore our dynamics and they are a key important part of this relationship, roles I have been eager to explore for years and I am grateful to do so. But precisely those dynamics erase my own desire for the chase, since she is constantly available to me, sometimes my desire runs a little low. I crave some denial, something to conquer, something to come up against in order to create friction.

We have discussed this; and of course I don’t want her denying me just for the sake of denying me, of turning me down when what she’s really interested in is playing, but we are still working out the details of dynamics we have chosen.

I’m pretty confident that we’ll figure this out, but I’m not exactly sure how. For now, we’re talking about it (though hopefully not too much), being open with each other, being honest about where we’re both at and what we want, and of course, working on our own shit in therapy. Every relationship is complicated. Every relationship has triumphs, low points, complications. I don’t know how things will get resolved, but things are improving, we are talking well to each other, still having great sex, and enjoying each other.

Really, does it get any better than that?

This post first appeared on the Good Vibrations Magazine.

Review: Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence (Book)

April 13, 2010  |  reviews  |  3 Comments

I’ve been reading Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence by Esther Perel this past week, and it was an interesting enough read to mention it here. I have written quite a lot about my own path to pursuing and finding a fulfilling sexual relationship, as this site was started primarily because I found myself in a lesbian bed death relationship with my ex and was trying to write my way out of it, and to a new sexuality.

Though the cover looks all mainstream self-help-y, it isn’t. Perel is a seasoned therapist and it is mostly full of psychological examples of her clients’ complications in keeping their long-term relationship strong while still having their sexual needs met.

Here’s the publisher’s description:

One of the world’s most respected voices on erotic intelligence, Esther Perel offers a bold, provocative new take on intimacy and sex. Mating in Captivity invites us to explore the paradoxical union of domesticity and sexual desire, and explains what it takes to bring lust home. Drawing on more than twenty years of experience as a couples therapist, Perel examines the complexities of sustaining desire. Through case studies and lively discussion, Perel demonstrates how more exciting, playful, and even poetic sex is possible in long-term relationships. Wise, witty, and as revelatory as it is straightforward, Mating in Captivity is a sensational book that will transform the way you live and love.

Perel quotes many authors I’ve read (and liked), has a very open minded view about kink and fantasy, and grew up largely outside of the US, which gives her a perspective on our achievement-oriented culture that I appreciate. She does include some gay and lesbian couples in her examples, and her examples and suggestions aren’t heteronormative.

The Amazon description reads: “Some of the proposals Perel recommends for rekindling eroticism involve cultivating separateness (e.g., autonomy) in a relationship rather than closeness (entrapment); exploring dynamics of power and control (i.e., submission, spanking); and learning to surrender to a “sexual ruthlessness” that liberates us from shame and guilt.” YES. Isn’t that precisely what I advocate here on Sugarbutch, in fact? Especially within lesbian cultures, the codependency that comes with the “merging” is so normal it’s practically expected, and I feel like we constantly have to fight against it to avoid it. Somewhere Perel has a line about keeping the spark going, how in order to have the spark you have to have friction, and in order to have friction you have to have a gap between you. That is autonomy, right there, and if one or both of the folks in the relationship don’t have enough of it, the spark won’t be cultivated. Obviously I explore a lot of the dynamics of power and control, and I write about why that stuff can be fun and liberating instead of reproducing some sort of dangerous power dynamic. And shame and guilt? I wish it was possible to just wave a magic wand and take away the shame and guilt about sex from this culture—wanting sex, wanting kinky sex, wanting more sex, our carnal desires in general.

To quote Tara Hardy: “This is the sweet glory reason for a body in the first place.”

I really believe that. Now, if only I can find a way to help teach the undoing of that shame and guilt. (I know, I know, that’s lofty. But hey, why not aim high?)

Perel has some great concepts around the conflicts between the dichotomy of love vs lust, stability vs passion, security vs adventures, occasionally misunderstood as a mutually exclusive binary, but, she argues, is really a “paradox to be managed” instead of a “problem to solve.”

It is a puzzle. Can you hold the awareness of each polarity? You need each at different times, but you can’t have both at the same time. Can you accept that? It’s not an either-or situation, but one where you get the benefits of each and also recognize the limits o each. It’s an ebb and flow. Love and desire are two rhythmic yet clashing forces that are always in a state of flux and always looking for the balance point. —p84

I’m not sure if “you can’t have both at the same time,” I think you can love someone and still feel passionate. But you can’t necessarily have security and adventure at the same time … though what if you’re on a backpacking trip with your sweetheart? You’re having an adventure, but you’re with your lover, so you feel the stability that that relationship can cultivate. And sometimes when I’m having kinky sex and talking all kinds of dirty with Kristen, what’s streaming through the back of my mind is I love you I love you I love you

Still, I get the point. And I really appreciate Perel’s encouragement of treating sex like a hobby, like something you pursue, like grown-up play—that’s what it is.

I was kind of hoping I’d come away with a better sense of how to “unlock” my “erotic intelligence,” but I can’t say I feel like that skill was cultivated so well. (Or perhaps I’ve already done that, for the most part, and while there’s more to do, a book aimed at a general audience might not be teaching me what I’m trying to learn.) I wouldn’t say I had any grand revelations from Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence, but it’s very well-written, open minded, and articulate, and it feels very much in line with the work I’m trying to do. I will likely recommend it in the future.