In the first few months of our relationship, my boyfriend dreamt he was masturbating and a deformed version of me entered the room, indicating a strong desire to be a part of the experience he was having with himself. The sight of me as a desperate and misshapen creature repulsed him. The next morning, BF recounted the dream to me, thinking I would laugh.
His Jungian cesspool of a subconscious unearthed fears I didn’t even know I had about my desirability, my skills as a lover, my sex drive’s capacity to make me seem desperate, needy, overwhelming and even predatory. It made me question how far out of touch I may be with my own needs, and those of the man I loved.
I recently read a slew of testimonials on the Huffington Post from despondent women lamenting a lack of sex in their relationships. While they proved illuminating, the compilation of woes didn’t offer any respite. Every fretful question was left without an answer: why does the man of my dreams feel “forced” to have sex with me? How can six or seven days go by and sex doesn’t happen? When did commitment start being weighed higher than sexual indulgence? Why are all the suggestions I make met with a flat-out “no” or silence?
My therapist once told me that there’s a belief sex is supposed to instantly “work” or just “happen” as if it exists exclusively in its own VIP, R-rated bubble, filled with body parts, pride and inherent understanding. According to this belief, sex is exempt from learning, growth or evolution of any kind – unlike every other area of life. This misconception not only kills self-esteem and a sense of exploration, it also has the capacity to destroy a perfectly healthy relationship.
What I’ve learned with my current partner is that sex requires patience and perseverance like anything else. It is not to be taken lightly, or written off with the receipt returning lingerie you bought in an honest effort to “spice it up.” There’s nothing wrong with lingerie, but there are many factors at play when sex becomes a “problem” that a new g-string won’t fix.
Initially, my boyfriend didn’t know how to relate to me sexually because he also knew I was coming from some very damaging sexual experiences. In previous relationships, sex had been superficial, destructive and at times violent. It wasn’t an expression of who I am; it was the act of playing out who I thought I should be. I’d always sensed there was more to physical intimacy than this, but I had yet to experience it.
When we were going through a period without sex (not for physical reasons, but for the more dreaded mental, psychological and emotional ones) I found myself asking my partner if he was attracted to me or to other women at all. Like, not in my head. Out loud. He dutifully answered and said he was sexually attracted to me and sometimes to other women, because he could imagine himself feeling free with them.
Sorry… Say again? Because he could imagine himself feeling free with them. Once I shook off the image of myself as a ball and chain, I realised that this insight was one of the greatest gifts I’d ever been given. It revealed to me that a sense of freedom and autonomy must be central to fuelling a physical desire for one another.
Maybe focusing solely on sex, nagging, creating ultimatums and constantly reliving trauma from past experiences – rather than being present to the person in front of me – not only was a turn off, but it was missing the point.
Maybe allowing space, listening, respecting each other’s needs and being present are the ultimate aphrodisiacs. In Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence, author Esther Perel looks into the benefits of cultivating a sense of independence in our intimate relationships: “It is too easily assumed that problems with sex are the result of a lack of closeness… But perhaps the way we construct closeness reduces the sense of freedom and autonomy needed for sexual pleasure,” she says.
“Our need for togetherness exists alongside our need for separateness…. With too much distance, there can be no connection. But too much merging eradicates the separateness of two distinct individuals. Then there is nothing more to transcend, no bridge to walk on, no one to visit on the other side, no other internal world to enter.”
Sex may be a reflection of what’s happening in the relationship, but it need not be a cold measure of the relationship’s success. Through inviting a stronger sense of autonomy into the world I have with my partner, I see how sexual harmony is directly linked to harmony between us overall. Which is no longer something to fear – instead it’s become a magical opportunity for growth and adventure. No longer is sex a source of self-doubt and distress: it’s a sacred, spiritual act.