Intimacy Series: Sex-Drive Snowflakes

Sheri is 1 of 1 and Proud of It

Popular media and other cultural depictions of us guys as horny, thoughtless seed scatterers are crass, shallow, and add a lot of unnecessary fuel to the inferno of misinformation and stigma blazing around the very real (and really important) topic of sexual desire discrepancy in romantic relationships. Take, for instance, the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary series episode titled, “Broke.” The very real (and really unfortunate) cultural trend of counting the number of, “baby mommas,” male athletes can impregnate as a source of bragging rights is one of the main topics. And as we have come to expect in our society, when our professional athlete superheros brag about something, the message trickles down. In this case, the message is that lots of indiscriminate, unprotected sex without acknowledging the very real (and really generationally traumatic) consequences is a sign of virility and success. It is part of what it means to be a man. I don’t relate. I don’t feel that way, but I am a man, so I am at least ever-so-slightly, tangentially tarnished.

 

But like with most stereotypes, amid the legions of uneducated assumptions is the kindling of truth from which the fire was started.

 

I graduated with a business degree with a concentration in marketing in 1995. Two of the only things that stick with me from that four years are that we should never make new decisions based on spent costs, and that yellow and red are the most eye-catching colors we can use in advertising. Likewise, I can tell that there are a few random nuggets that will follow me to my grave from my graduate education in sexual health that I am finishing up. The presently relevant nugget is that male orgasm and ejaculation is under the pressure of natural selection. If we seed scatterers don’t scatter seeds, the species dies off. Male orgasm is required for reproduction. Orgasm is part of the sexual arousal and response cycle with various specific iterations dating originally back to Masters and Johnson in 1966 that includes things like desire, attraction, arousal and orgasm. Desire leads to orgasm. Orgasm leads to reproduction. Reproduction leads to the existence of people to read my ramblings. We often think of women as the more invested gender as it relates to reproduction. When it comes to the sheer level of responsibility, accountability and consistency, there is no doubt that the owners of the uteruses are infinitely more responsible for the survival of the species. However, female orgasm is not directly involved in reproduction. The argument can be made that a woman who enjoys consistent orgasms is likely to engage in sexual activity more often, and thus, put herself in the position to gather more of those scattered seeds, but a woman does not have to orgasm to get pregnant. While male orgasm and ejaculation are not technically the same thing, they almost universally occur together. So to summarize, if humans with penises don’t attain the partnered pleasure they are evolutionarily driven to pursue, humans become extinct. Humans with vulvas often feel hormonal and genetic desires to procreate, but that desire is not directly related to sexual pleasure. It is more of a practical and less erotic desire. What does all this mean? Men with strong desire for sex have passed on their genetics, while women with all levels of sexual desire make it through the evolutionary filter because their orgasms are irrelevant – in a purely reproductive sense, of course. I am a huge proponent of female orgasms.

 

So back to the stereotype I am simultaneously rejecting, and also explaining the scientific origin of: horny seed scatterers serve a vital evolutionary purpose.

 

Before we move on from reproduction, another important little nugget wedged permanently in my cranium is that women change hormonally and biologically once they have babies. A nurturing switch is flipped. The desire to love and protect overwhelms the desire to get naked on the kitchen table. In many relationships, the divide gets wider. It doesn’t mean anyone is broken. It means we are pursuing our natural, biological, hormonal, instinctual purpose. Seed scatterers feel desire to scatter seeds while mothers feel desire to protect and nurture those budding little seedling sprouts. Science. You don’t have to like it, but it helps to understand it.

 

This is as good a time as any to interject my gender caveat. While the stereotype is that guys are hornier than women, the fact is that this is not universally the case. Women often have the higher libido in heterosexual relationships. Sex drive is not gender specific. Relationships between diverse genders and sexual orientations have desire discrepancy, too. What is universal is that when two people partner up, they are more likely to both have a sixth toe on their left foot than to have the same level of sexual desire.

 

We are all sex-drive snowflakes.

 

Sexual desire discrepancy is real. All of us who have chosen to partner for our remaining days really only have two choices: deal with it in a mature, science-forward way (rare), or ignore it to our own considerable peril (very popular).

 

Guess what happens when we add alcohol to discrepant sexual desire? The chasm of misunderstanding, rejection, pain, and lost trust gets wider, while any hope of dealing maturely gets washed away on a river of fermented toxicity.

 

Alcoholism is a painful endeavor, both for the drinkers and for their loved ones – especially their spouses and other committed romantic partners. Just like there is a lot of scientific research support for the concept of human sexual desire discrepancy, there is plenty of research that supports the hypothesis that abusive alcohol use results in marital distress. Pain. Lots of pain. Drinkers in pain. Partners of drinkers in pain.

 

Pain isn’t very sexy.

 

Pain is stressful. The stress alcohol use disorder puts on relationships is immeasurable. Gaslighting, lies, bad behavior, name calling, blame shifting, isolation, hiding alcohol, nervous system dysregulation, breaking stuff, and a constant general buzz of anxiety puts people in alcoholic relationships under tremendous stress. And the correlation between stress and decreased sexual desire is clear and indisputable.

 

Sexual desire discrepancy is sometimes obscurely identified as the cause of alcohol use disorder. “I drank to soothe the rejection.” For a drinker, the idea of drinking more when faced with unmet sexual desires while in a committed romantic relationship is a natural reaction. Rejection is painful. Alcohol eases pain. The equation is simple.

 

But we have to be really careful to identify correlation without misassigning causation. I am a recovered alcoholic married to a woman with less sexual desire than mine. I am familiar with the pain of rejection. I drank often to medicate the pain of rejection.

 

My choice of excessive consumption of a highly addictive neurotoxic to medicate the pain of rejection is like cutting off your hand to deal with a splinter in your finger. The only difference is that society doesn’t encourage us to cut off our hands when we get splinters.

 

My alcoholism is not my wife’s fault. While we are relieving people of the pressure of blame, my sexual desire (which is much stronger than my wife’s) is not my fault. Likewise, my wife’s sexual desire (which is much weaker than mine) is not her fault. No one is broken. We are all normal.

 

Not only do I desire sexual contact more frequently than my wife, but I desire more adventurous sexual activity than my wife does, too. Sexual adventure discrepancy is a cool thing because it makes room for me to call my wife boring and prudish. What girl doesn’t love to have her husband call her names? Sexual adventure discrepancy also leads Sheri to simultaneously think I’m a lust-crazed animal while becoming filled with the self-doubt that she is not enough as a woman or a wife.

 

So we have discrepant desire with regard to both frequency and flavor. For a very long time, that caused us lots of marital distress. But just like with frequency, sexual adventure discrepancy is normal. She is normal. I am normal. We are not broken, and neither are you.

 

Acknowledging the normality of desire discrepancy doesn’t make it any less painful, or any less stressful, in committed relationships. Acknowledging that we are not broken is just the foundation on which we can begin to address the issues.

 

Acknowledging the pain – pulling back the bandages and trying to heal the wounds – this is where I believe alcoholism is a huge advantage. Without alcoholism, the wound would not have grown as excruciatingly painful. Without alcoholism, couples flounder along, mildly dissatisfied, ignoring and dismissing the irritations in their relationships. Desire discrepancy doesn’t get the attention it deserves. It doesn’t get acknowledged and addressed. It gets reluctantly accepted and ignored. We alcoholics are the fortunate ones. There is not reluctant acceptance in alcohol use disorder. Addiction destroys relentlessly until we fix it or die. As compared to “normal” relationships, we are uniquely equipped to address the collateral damage of our maladaptive coping mechanisms. We are prepared to roll up our sleeves and make things better.

 

So what can we do? As many of our readers know, I am a huge fan of Belgian-American Psychotherapist, Dr. Esther Perel who says that, “Foreplay starts at the end of the last orgasm.” She is talking about consistency and safety. She is talking about creating an environment within committed romantic relationships that replaces eggshell-walking with peaceful understanding and empathy. We have to replace mood swings and other erratic behavior with patience and listening and understanding and calm. Esther chooses her words carefully because they are ear-catching and dramatic when she talks about foreplay and orgasms. The message underneath the taboo words is really quite simple. Be safe. Always. Safety isn’t just about physical protection. We have to create emotional and psychological safety, too. It is not enough to temporarily stop watching cable news and ranting about politics when you want to get some. We have to behave that way always. All. The. Time.

 

Does that sound impossible? It is not. Esther and I both know it can be done. You just have to want it enough to prioritize change. A safe environment is like a little petri dish where tiny sexual desire cells can combine and grow into a healthy libido. Safety can’t eliminate desire discrepancy, but it can definitely narrow the divide.

 

Next in the intimacy series we are going to discuss attraction. Esther will be back to offer more tips. Then we will cover enthusiastic consent, sexual arousal, orgasm and trust. These are not independent topics. The concepts in this series build on each other. Solutions will start to take shape. For now, work on that environment of consistent safety. It might not seem like much. It might feel like too little, too late. But here’s the thing: without that foundation of consistent safety, none of the other opportunities for growth are on solid ground. Consistent safety is measured in years, not days or weeks, so don’t waste a lot of time thinking about it. Get started now.

 

Now that we are putting out the fire of misunderstanding about discrepancy, let’s prepare to nurture the spark of desire.

 

If you and your partner are coming back from alcoholism, and you are ready to acknowledge that no one in your relationship is broken, we hope you’ll join us in the Marriagevolution.

Marriagevolution

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