Sex & Sociability

Question and commentary on connections, both sexual and social

Sexual Problems With No Ideal Solutions

Sometimes even the greatest of good will does not solve a sexual impasse.

It’s a commonly believed truism that opposites attract. Not only are the majority of people who couple of opposite sexes, they are often of opposing temperaments…even if they are the same sex. So larks who start the day early mate with owls who stay up late. Savers mate with spenders, socializers with stay-at-homes, neat freaks with mess makers. It is often these very opposing characteristics that give the couple balance, even when they are also the source of ongoing friction. They are often the source of the initial attraction as well.

These stylistic differences can be accommodated for, usually, without major blow ups, depending on the extremity of the trait and the tolerance of the partner. When the differences in styles and preferences are sexual and the couple is monogamous, the disparity can be challenging in the extreme.

Even such a small difference as between those who prefer sex at night before going to sleep and those who enjoy it first thing in the morning can be the cause of less sex than either would wish when a compromise of sex some other time of the day or trading off preferred times can’t be reached. People offer all sorts of “reasons” why they can’t alter their sex time preferences: “But I need to shower first”, “What about morning breath?”, “I can’t go to bed at that hour”, etc. I insist that where there is a will there is a way. They just need to think more creatively and be a little bit more flexible.

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But what of major differences that are not of timing but of the nature of sexual acts themselves? What about those who are averse to oral sex coupled with a person who can only reach orgasm in that that way? What about a person who is into elaborate fantasy play complete with costumes with a mate whose only costume is buttoned up pajamas? Those who are into bondage and discipline or other forms of power play will never be satisfied with a lifelong diet of “vanilla” sex.” What of fetishists from the mildest to the wildest?

These are the mismatched couples likely to come to see me as a sex therapist hoping for some secret persuasive technique that can turn their mate into the sex partner they long for—more kinky or more “normal”. What I have to tell them is that neither partner is wrong but as long as they are monogamous, someone, if not both, is just not going to have the sex life he or she wants. That’s very disappointing news to those hoping for a magic fix.

It may sound as if I am advocating opening the relationship. I am not necessarily, but that is one solution to be explored when a couple is unhappy with their sex life and the differences in their predilections. Yes, most couples reject this as a solution—to get what is needed elsewhere while enjoying what they can with one another. So then what?

Sometimes education can loosen up the rigidity of a position: “Maybe I am willing to try it your way once”, “All right, I’m willing to do that occasionally.” Sometimes that’s enough to break the stalemate. Realistically, it’s not nearly close enough for many people. When what is wanted is enthusiastic co-operation in the sex acts of choice, a grudging occasional compliance is a pretty poor substitute, but perhaps better than not at all.

And on that discouraging note is pretty well where it has to remain. For many individuals, love, family, economic considerations, habit, will trump their ideal sex life. It becomes less important over the years for many people. For those for whom years without getting what they most desire becomes more distressing some major decisions have to be made—end the relationship, cheat, try negotiating one more time. I have known couples who have tried all of these approaches. Sometimes they “work”, sometimes not. As I said in the title of this piece, sometimes there just are not any ideal solutions.

Isadora AlmanM.F.T., is a Board-certified sex, marriage, and family therapist, lecturer, author, and syndicated advice columnist of "Ask Isadora."

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