This isn’t going to be a popular opinion, but it is an important one.
The truth about sex is that it often really isn’t as great as everyone would like us to believe. And not having it or not wanting it are completely normal.
I don’t remember a time when sex was ever not a source of anxiety for me. Whether it was anxiety about whether to do it, when to do it, how to do it, not wanting to do it but not having a choice, wanting to do it but afraid of being rejected, being judged for doing it. It has also been a great source of guilt and shame.
Popular opinion is that couples should have sex all the time, that sex is vital for healthy relationships, that if one partner won’t oblige the other and provide them with sex, the other has a right to leave or cheat or generally act like a selfish jerk.
‘Sexperts’ agree that the only bad sex is no sex, that women should be open to trying things their partners suggest even if it makes them uncomfortable, that sex involving pain and violence is more normal and healthy than not having sex at all. They recommend that if you aren’t enjoying sex you should try doing it more often. They advocate ‘taking one for the team’, which is a polite way of saying that women should allow their male partners to have sex with them even if they don’t want it. They support men coercing women into unwanted sex by reminding women how much men ‘need’ sex and that doing it when you don’t want to is just another part of caring for a man, which is a woman’s job, after all.
To ‘spice things up’ in the bedroom we are encouraged to use toys, food, restraints, fantasies, porn. Experimentation and adventurousness are encouraged ahead of kindness and respect. The default position is that men are always up for it and women should always be available and provide an outlet when called upon. That sex begins when the man initiates and ends when he ejaculates, and everything in between focuses on his pleasure. That women are probably not into it, but do it anyway.
It is easy to believe the experts when the party line suits your agenda. It is easy to listen to the few people who get to talk openly about sex in our society and just go along with what they say without really thinking about it. What is takes courage is asking yourself why you feel like you do, and who this promotion of sex really serves.
Have a poke around the internet and see how many women post exasperated accounts of how their husband expects sex even when she is exhausted or not interested or in actual physical pain. All the men who are quite happy to have sex with an unwilling spouse. Then read responses from all the men, and a lot of women, who pop in to explain that all men are biologically hardwired to need sex and she is being cruel to him by denying him this need and she shouldn’t expect him to support her and her (his?) children if she won’t put out. There is an epidemic of it. Women are expected to be available, no matter the circumstances, and men are expected to be willing, all the time.
I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that the reasons most people in relationships have sex have nothing to do with ‘because we enjoy it’ and ‘because I love my partner’. I suspect that a lot of the unspoken, unadmitted reasons are more like ‘because that is what women are for’, ‘because it validates my masculinity and dominance’, ‘because I am entitled to it’, ‘because if I say no he might not like me any more’, ‘because it proves that I look good enough for someone to have sex with’, ‘because he earns more money and this is how I earn my keep’, ‘because we are married and it is my duty’, ‘because it makes me feel like I am valuable’, ‘because sex is an important part of a healthy relationship and by having sex I can lie to myself that this relationship is in any way ‘healthy”.
Admitting these things to yourself can be downright impossible. Suggesting them to someone else is a recipe for disaster.
If you really want to know why you have sex, ask yourself how it feels when a) you want to have sex and your partner doesn’t, or b) your partner wants to have sex, but you don’t. Ask yourself why you respond like you do.
Do you get mad? Depressed? Resentful? Do you feel ugly or unsexy or pathetic?
If you get angry or resentful when your partner turns you down, then you probably have sex because you feel entitled to it or because it reinforces your position of power. If you feel bad about yourself when your partner turns you down, then perhaps you have sex because it validates your value in society as a sex object and makes you feel like you are suitably attractive. If you feel lost or confused or ashamed then it might be that you are simply motivated by adhering to your conditioned gender role and the prescribed sexual behaviour that goes with being ‘man’ or ‘woman’. If you feel depressed then possibly the perceived rejection is messing with your perception of your self.
Here’s the thing. Not having sex is not a problem. If someone not having sex with you feels like a problem, then that is your problem, not theirs. Nobody should ever have sex for any reason than because they want to. And nobody should be made to feel bad for not wanting to.
I had a woman tell me once that by saying women should not ever have sex unless they genuinely want to, I was denying women the right to have children, the protection and economic benefits of relationships with men, and status within society. It made me very sad to realise that there are people – women even – who believe that women should pay for ‘status’ and ‘protection’ with our unwilling bodies.
You can have a healthy relationship without sex, all you need is love and care and respect. Don’t let anyone tell you that there is anything wrong with you for not wanting sex. Don’t let anyone tell you that you are abnormal or damaged or inhibited. And if you are a fan of sex with other people, don’t go around expressing an opinion that only weirdos don’t want sex. That is you impressing your beliefs of what you think other adults should or shouldn’t do with their bodies, which is never your place.
It is hard to undo the training that society bombards us with from such a young age, that is perpetuated by pop culture, ‘sexperts’ and the expectations of others. You absolutely have every right to not have sex if you don’t want to, to say no at any time, to anybody, and not suffer any consequences as a result.
For many women, however, saying ‘no’ is not a safe option, and leaving a man who won’t take ‘no’ for an answer is not always a safe option. For those of us who do have the freedom to decide what we do with our own bodies, we need to perpetuate and promote the idea that nobody is owed sex and real consent comes from being free, safe and able to say ‘no’ or ‘stop’ at any time without fear of negative consequences. That nobody needs, deserves or is entitled to sex with another person. That nobody should ever have sex for any reason than because they want to, and not wanting to is just as normal and healthy as wanting to.