Sexual Negotiation on Long-Term Partnership:
All Sex, All the Time, or The End of the Affair?

Many people entering long-term, committed relationships, be it legal marriage or partnership, have a lot of ideas about sex in those unions they may not even be aware of. It can be a strange awakening to realize that you don't need to worry about forgetting your toothbrush at her place anymore, or trying to fit in a whole week of libido in one Friday night at his place. Suddenly, your partner becomes available and easily accessible twenty-four hours a day.  Even the most enlightened, progressive being can find themselves looking at their partner as they're getting ready to go to work -- half-dressed, smelling like a fresh morning shower, a little sleep still in their eyes -- and see a blaring neon sign blaring over their heads which screams: All Sex, All the Time!  Meanwhile, they're trying to escape your wanton clutches to rustle up three kids and get them to school on time, shovel some food and coffee down, and make it to work on time for a change. That big sign can end up looking like a pretty dusty marquee, where they're showing nothing but The End of the Affair.

It's very easy and very human to make the assumption that when our partner becomes available on a daily basis, and when we've made a lifelong commitment, that our sexual needs will now be completely fulfilled far more easily, and far more often.  We may have been raised with the idea that love makes for great sex, and if it doesn't, we're doing something terribly wrong.

Unionized partnerships afford us a level of trust we may not have had before, making us feel a lot less vulnerable and a lot more open, sexually and emotionally.  We may find that if our sexual drive tends to peak at odd times that were difficult to schedule before; we're elated, because suddenly, having sex at noon, or at four in the morning on Tuesday is possible. Perhaps we now feel comfortable divulging -- with the anticipation of making real -- sexual fantasies or facets of our sexuality that we felt a little too vulnerable to do so before.  Perhaps we even think of committed partnership as a way to have LESS sex than we did before.  All in all, a whole new level of our sexual relationship has opened up to us...and we are often utterly bewildered by it.

We know some of these expectations aren't realistic.  We've heard the tales of wedded-bed-death, we may know our mothers got headaches a lot and aspirin never seemed to make them go away, and we may suspect that our grandparents, married 50 years and counting are probably NOT creaking the bed springs morning, noon and night.  Dr. Jack Morin, in his brilliant and groundbreaking book The Erotic Mind, states that, "according to the ideals of love and marriage to which most of us subscribe, deepening affection and closeness are supposed to coexist with a dependable, satisfying sex life. However, the difficulty millions of couples have in combining closeness with sexual enthusiasm is evident in the steady stream of books and articles about keeping the spark in marriage. I'm convinced that couples who openly confront the difficulties of combining intimacy and passion are the ones most likely to thrive.  It is crucial to acknowledge that closeness and sexual desire are not one and the same, but rather two separate, yet interacting experiences."

Most of us don't either do it like bunnies all the time or hitch a ride to the nearest nunnery.  The key to keeping it fresh and healthy without annoying anyone or hurting anyone (or a lot of "headaches") is sexual negotiation.  We know that in other aspects of our relationship that
Compromise is King, and sex is no exception.  If we come to it recognizing that great love doesn't always make great sex, that making both work is a lifelong endeavor that should be enjoyable, enlightening and engaging, and that we're solely responsible for our own satisfaction, we can do more than simply manage our collective sexuality.  We can deepen and expand it so that any "problem" becomes instead an instigator of growth, evolution and intimacy in our relationship -- platonic and sexual -- and within ourselves.

Fantasy, meet Reality.  Reality, meet Fantasy.
When I am in a more casual relationship, I can't get enough sex.  I am the Energizer Bunny of the limitless libido...until I up the ante and add an extra pillow to the bed long-term.  When relationships I'm in become more permanent, I often go through a fairly long stage of being almost completely disinterested in sex altogether, which is -- if I haven't warned them -- a great shock to my partners.  Why does this happen?  Because it's so easy. I'm a girl who likes a challenge in my heart, and once the hunt be done, my quiver misses the arrow.  Others may find their sex drive catapults into near-impossibility in it's demands.  Others still may find that they perhaps miss the regular schedule of every Friday night, and adjusting is difficult. People who once wouldn't notice an Adonis or Aphrodite walking down the street may suddenly rubberneck every passerby once they're off-limits.  It's all over the map, but the constant is that for almost everyone, upping our level of commitment changes our sexual behavior.

Based on our ideals for partnership, we all have  expectations of what the sexual life of a spouse or partner is, and we may not even realize we have them.  We may not feel we need to make those expectations go away once we acknowledge them -- some may be excellent and healthy -- but if we're intellectually and emotionally prepared for them to meet daily life and prove false or unrealistic, and willing to adapt them or let go of them completely, we'll be a whole lot happier.

Put all your cards on the table before you play your hand, even if it means you'll lose the game. A good number of people keep some sexual "secrets" under lock and key until AFTER they've wed or partnered with someone.  Some tragically hide them their whole lives.  I knew a man once who knew years before he married, with certainty, that he was gay.  He loved the woman he married very much, albeit only platonically, and felt he could make it work.  Over the next forty years, he had countless crushes on, and half-affairs with, the college boys he taught.  His sex life with his wife began and ended with the conception of two children.  He was unhappy most of the time, and passed on never having said a single word to her about it.

Obviously, that's an extreme case.  But if, for instance, we have endless fantasies we want to act out about multiple partners, or if we're interested in BDSM or other alternative practices, or if we -- like I do -- know that we go through long spells of not wanting much sex at all or conversely know we want and expect it night and day, we create a potentially impossible situation if our we do not tell our partners these things before we shack up. We basically make sexual negotiation impossible if we want to negotiate something that is imperative or intrinsic to our natures that our partners never even had the vaguest clue existed.  If nonnegotiable sexual aspects, behaviors or preferences exist that we know about, and don't inform our partners of, we don't leave a lot of room to negotiate.  "Deal with it, babe," isn't exactly a great opener to a mutually productive dialogue.

It is entirely possible that some of our sexual needs and desires simply cannot be rectified with a given partner.  That may mean we may have to prioritize or choose to let go of some of those things in the short or long-term to engage in that partnership.  It may even make clear that in the long run, it just isn't the right partnership, and we may have to move on. But it is far, far better to do this sort of sharing, communicating and exploring before we put down roots and make commitments.  If that isn't possible -- as we sometimes discover things about our sexual selves far later in life we never suspected before -- it is far better to recognize that some things are impassible and move on, or reevaluate the terms of a relationship, than to drag each other through the ringer trying to get one or both partners to give something that they cannot give, or will not be comfortable or happy providing.

It goes without saying that for optimum health of both self and partnership,some things sexual cannot just be tossed under the rug our whole lives.  We cannot healthily deny our sexual orientation, for instance.  If we have strong fetishes, preferences or proclivities that we know don't or can't include or interest our partner, assuming we'll "grow out of them" is unrealistic.  A lot of sexual behavior and identity is rooted very deeply in our psyches from childhood, and though we can certainly manage most of it, we cannot make it go away, or pretend it isn't there.

Don't throw away your vibrator or kiss your palm goodbye. We all have hungry times and dry spells.  While we can work with our partner to make both manageable and enjoyable, it is not healthy for anyone to have sex when they don't want to, or to have sex solely for the purpose of getting someone else's rocks off so they'll just leave us alone and let us go to sleep, already.  We also cannot expect our partners to psychically guess at what we want, or make us familiar or comfortable with our own sexuality or body.

Masturbation, or other self-sexual or sensual activities, is often nature's answer to many sexual issues, including seemingly unmanageable libidos or someone else's lack of interest, sexual communication, and sexual self-knowledge.  Recognize that when it comes to sex, you can -- literally -- take matters into your own hands to solve a number of different problems, bridge a lot of partnership gaps, and establish the basis for a realistic view of your sexual self.

It's no one's job to make sure you're sexually satisfied but yours, and no one else can assess what your sexual needs, likes and dislikes are but you. Understanding our sexuality outside our partnership is integral to understanding, exploring and managing it within our partnership.  Anne Semans and Cathy Winks state in The Good Vibrations Guide to Sex that, "the very best way to pinpoint what you like is to concentrate when masturbating."  They also add that being able to communicate and negotiate with a partner about sex, "starts with articulating our needs to ourselves."  Truer words were rarely spoken, and are all too often overlooked or cast aside, to the detriment of our sexual relationships with ourselves and others.

Love, honor and obey...when the other person is being reasonable. It's no fair to demand or insist on sex or a type of sex from anyone, and expect that just because they agreed to be our life-partner, they should comply.  Even when we've unionized our lives with someone else, we need to recognize that they are not a part of our whole, but a companion to it, and they, like us, are still wholly their own.  Conversely, we are allowed and should feel comfortable saying no to our partner without guilt when we're not interested in something which they want.  If we begin to act out of obligation instead of love and respect, while it may seem simpler and more peaceable short term, in the long-run we are robbing ourselves and our partnership of honesty, communication and genuine, mutual partnership.

Sometimes, our sexual lives merge very harmoniously and organically, as so it's easy to feel that on some level, we really are "one," but if we get too attached to that notion, and it becomes expectation, it can be very
frustrating when our desires and needs differ.

The largest sex organ in the human body is the brain. In a world chock-full of sex advice, it's easy to become distracted with "secret sex tips" or Cosmo headlines.  But all that aside, perfecting our fellatio technique, or using the latest gadget is only of use if we're interested, aroused, comfortable and our needs feel addressed.

The best sex tip anyone can give you isn't to learn to flick your tongue like a serpent, or to memorize 367 steps to better intercourse.  It's to understand ourselves and our partners, accept us all as we are, and to talk to your partner about sex, not just in the bedroom or during sexual activity, but as a normal component of our daily lives.  Relationship counselor Eve Eschner Hogan, in her book Intellectual Foreplay, composed a vast series of questions for partners to ask one another about sex, ranging from how comfortable each partner is with being nude, to how each feels initiating sex, to what times of the day or month each partner feels a high sex drive.  Establishing an easy dialogue about numerous aspects of our sexuality is key to getting what we want as well as ensuring that our partner is comfortable, and can get the same.

If we know, for instance, that when our partner is menstruating, they are sexually disinterested, we can spare ourselves some disappointment or feelings of rejection.  If we discover that one of us is more reticent about initiating sex, we can realize that that doesn't mean they aren't interested because they don't initiate, and in addition, work on creative ways to make initiating more comfortable.  We may discover in talking about sex that one of us likes things the other does not, and feel out ways to bridge that gap. For example, if one partner is interested in bondage or sadomasochism, and that turns the other a sickly shade of chartreuse, we may be able to seek a middle ground in light sensation play, with blindfolds, feathers or ice cubes.

If we've been honest with ourselves and each other on a daily basis, most sexual gaps can be bridged, simply by keeping a dialogue with a willingness to compromise, and a recognition that our partner doesn't "owe" us anything at all when it comes to sex.  What we owe ourselves and each other instead is communication, honesty and acceptance, and the willingness to carry our own weight and synergize our needs with our partners needs as fairly as possible with a greater love of reality and growth than of fantasy and preconceived notion.
Ultimately, no one else can make us sexually whole or satisfied but ourselves, and because sexuality is an integral aspect of our physiology, psychology and emotional being, it is a job that is never done, and that is -- and should be -- constantly evolving.

If we are evaluating and discussing our sexual selves and our sexual partnership daily with an open mind and with sincerity and honesty, not only will we find greater sexual satisfaction with our partner and within ourselves, we will develop skills for communication, negotiation and self-realization that will affect every aspect of our lives positively.

 Bio:Heather Corinna is the Editor of Scarlet Letters: A Journal of Femmerotica, Femmerotic and Scarleteen, three highly lauded sexuality sites. Her work has been applauded by Yahoo!, Playboy,  AVN, the San Francisco Weekly, the Boston Phoenix, The Minneapolis City Pages, and other publications. She has written on sex and sensibility for numerous internet and print publications and anthologies, and she was an honorary speaker on freedom of speech and sexuality for the Illinois Library Assocation last year.

Article reprinted here with permission. 


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