Differences in sexual expression

My husband and I have completely different sexual desires. He likes things rough and fast, talking of pleasures like anal sex and things I simply have no interest in. I think I could enjoy his rougher style if we would start out slow. My husband sees this as boring. This means pleasure for him and none for me. I often avoid sex by falling asleep on the couch or starting a fight before bed. If I initiate sex he will show his impatience by telling me what to do. This turns me off. I have told him what I like in bed and although he seems to listen, things never change. Am I supposed to let him continue doing whatever he wants, whenever he wants, just because he is my husband?

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Gayle Peterson

Gayle Peterson, PhD, is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She is a clinical member of the Association... Read more

Your husband's behavior is deeply disturbing to you. If you continue to feel that your only options are to avoid him or to acquiesce, your marriage will suffer.

Require that your husband experiment with your softer approach half of the time. Do not avoid him, but make clear to him that your needs are equally important. If he is unable to consider your approach in any way, perhaps there is something deeper that needs to be addressed. Couples' or individual therapy for him may be an option if he is the one unable to compromise.

It is true that in general, women may enjoy slower emotional contact in order to build sexual arousal, while men may seek sexual arousal and contact more quickly in order to feel close to their partner. Yet, we are all susceptible to guilt and other tensions surrounding sex from a very young age.

It might prove interesting and beneficial to share with one another how each one of you matured sexually. In other words, when was the first time you even knew what sex was? What was your reaction as a boy, as a girl? When and how did you have your first orgasm? Through masturbation alone, or with a partner? What was your first sexual experience? Were there any sexual traumatic incidents in your own life, either that happened to you or you were witness to? Refer to my article A look at sex, marriage and cultural loading for further suggestions about exploring the cultural and/or gender attitudes that may influence sexuality in a marriage.

The nature of the sexual relationship may also be a microcosm of a larger theme in your relationship. Reflect on whether or not you have this same or similar complaint outside of the bedroom. Does your husband express tenderness and affection in a satisfying manner to you in your daily life? If the sexuality expresses a larger theme in the marriage, you may want to begin to address these behaviors in other areas, first. Understanding each other may bring change to your relationship which may influence the sexual sphere.

Develop your ability to talk about sex and the difficulties that are coming up in the physical intimacy of the marriage. Sexuality is often a very delicate part of our psyches. It is a primal and unconscious force. Be kind, loving and accepting of one another in your discussion. Do not disparage or criticize. Build trust through nonjudgmental listening. Be curious about your partner's experience and how his or her relationship to adult sexuality evolved. There is an abundance of shame in our culture that is associated with sex. So it is imperative that your couples' discussion generate an atmosphere of acceptance and understanding rather than judgementality and condemnation. If you cannot talk safely about the subject, seek couples' counseling to provide a safe framework for doing so.

Very often, buried guilt or performance anxiety can get in the way of sexual pleasure and enjoyment. For some men and women the tendency towards immediate and fast gratification masks the deeper discomfort with the actual sexual sensations themselves. Being unable to tolerate the sensuality may present as repetitious premature ejaculation, or other behaviors that avoid the build up of sexual tension. Perhaps your husband's preference for "hitting hard and fast" is the result of discomfort with sensuality. You may also find it interesting that according to brain researcher, Paul MacClean, the area of the brain that is considered to be related to sexuality, is also closely connected to self and species preservations. According to MacClean, this may account for the link between sexuality and aggression, including sexual jealousy, competition for mates and even sado-masochism. Clinically, however the goal of sex therapy, (or sexual happiness in marriage) is, as sex theorist Helen Kaplan expresses, "to allow the couples to experience the natural unfolding of their sexual response ... and to teach the partners to create a loving ambiance ... to maximize the sensuous and psychic stimulation which can potentially enhance the pleasurable aspects of sexuality." The key word here is teach. We must be willing to teach our partners about our needs, sexually and otherwise.

One exercise suggested by the Mastersons (sex therapists) is to explore one another's bodies without the pressure of having sex. Genitals and breasts are off limits in order to focus on sensation rather than the goal of orgasm. Have a "naked date" together. Agree (and stick to the agreement) not to have sex, but simply to take turns exploring one another's bodies. Perhaps after a warm bath together and with candlelight if desired. This allows a partner to experience sensuality instead of focused sex. Each partner gives feedback as to what feels good, how they enjoy being touched and handled by the other. It can also afford partners an opportunity to increase their sensual and sexual comfort zone, resulting in a broader context for sexual pleasure and enjoyment.

Your husband may be expressing the aggression that can be a part of sexuality and you may be expressing the tenderness. Perhaps a middle ground could be found that incorporates both the natural healthy aggression and the gentle and tender sensations of physical intimacy. It takes a tremendous amount of energy to avoid problems in a marriage. Harness this same energy to find solutions and answers to your dilemma.

One thing is for certain. Coping with major marital issues provides the possibility for positive change, while avoidance assures that your relationship will continue to deteriorate! The choice is yours.

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