For many women in marriage, sex turns from an expression of intimacy, love, and desire to an obligation. They loose track of their own desire, their own pleasure, their own motivations, and they feel like sex has become “just another thing that I have to do to take care of someone else.” Women with young children are super taxed by care-giving responsibilities and they have framed sex in a way that becomes another source of resentment.
“I knew we were in trouble when I couldn’t even think about having sex until all the toys were put away,” my patient Christina reluctantly admits. “And then there are the dishes, the laundry, the bills, and the dog. The list never ends. The chores always seem to win out, and intimacy between Valerio and her gets lost in the shuffle. If someone were to ask me, ‘What would you rather do, wash the laundry, or make love to your husband?’ of course I would pick sex. But in real life?, I push Valerio away”. “With a five year old and a two year old, she’s on mother duty 24/7. “If I have any time left, I just want it for myself. When her husband approaches her, it feels like one more person wanting something from her. “I know that’s not his intention, she says, but it’s how I feel. I don’t have anything left to give.”
When I ask her if she misses the connection, she shrugs. “Not really. I keep thinking that it will come back, but I can’t say I miss it.”
Christina is as a woman who’s so constantly involved in caring for others that when her husband initiates sex, she confuses offer and demand. She fails to see his advances as an invitation, and responds as if it is one more obligation. Instead of seeing a man, she reacts to him as if he is one more child who needs something from her. “I already have two children, I don’t need a third one.”
When I work with women like Christina I address their feelings of resentment, help them learn to ask for help, stop and notice how they are over-functioning. They often end up doing so much and feel like they have no choice. That is indeed the case, but sometimes it is ok to stop even when all the lego pieces are not neatly put back in the box.
I help them learn to stop and take care of themselves. The image of a family sitting down for breakfast and a mother running around serving everyone like a chicken without a head as the standard of good mothering is in sore need of change. Mothers can start by sitting down for just a few minutes as they take their morning coffee.
We address their lost sense of ownership over their sexuality and sensuality, and try to help them reconnect with who THEY are sensually, what THEY like sexually, and with their own sense of pleasure. I help them understand that their husband’s (usually) are “using” sex as a path to feeling emotionally connected — not just “using” their wives bodies to get their own pleasure. But here’s the snag. In the course of reclaiming themselves, they often have to learn to take care of themselves by saying, “no.” They have to learn that they really can be their own separate person and that they won’t WANT to say yes until they allow themselves to say no.
I like the idea of the “sex date” to help couples’ break the habit of avoiding or simply not making time and space for intimacy, and to help them bring intentionality to connecting emotionally and physically.
Because of the cycle of resentment, mothers like Christina, have almost always built a pattern of aversion to or avoidance of sex, and they need help breaking that cycle.
“Sex dates” with the woman in charge, can give her a sense of control over the situation. It puts a break to the repeated dance where he wants sex and her only sexual independence is to say no. Of course, this will only work as long as it gives her a real sense of control and doesn’t trigger the feeling of duty and responsibility, and again block her contact with their own sexual drive. Valerio is not to initiate, only Christina can. And she needs to ask for exactly what she wants. Cuddling, sharing a glass of wine, a foot massage, a simple kiss. The smallest touches are fine. His task is to step back, appreciate her gestures and not put pressure to go further. This is important as Christina will often resist any contact for fear that this will lead to unwanted sex. Any time is fine, in fact it is better to avoid the night when all she wants is to be left alone.
Instead of insisting, Valerio can help her with “home and kids”, monitor his frustrations and be kind. He can show he cares in multiple ways, that don’t need to be rewarded with sex.
It doesn’t directly connect Christina to her erotic self, nor make her interested in sex, but it goes a long way to reduce the resentment and the avoidance.