Valentine's Day Blog 2010
A Valentine To The Mae West In Every Woman
By Dr. David Schnarch
In the classic marital struggles over frequency of sex, who do you envision as the high desire partner? The man? Or the woman?
Usually we think of the man as the one who “can’t get enough.” So much so, that guy’s grousing about being sexually deprived has almost become politically incorrect, instantly dismissed as the drivel of an insensitive jerk. But behind this stereotype hides some of the most heartbreaking parts of people’s lives.
There are a large number of women secretly pining away for a good romp with the man they love. These are the “Invisible Women” who want more sex; older married women who go decades without sexual satisfaction with their partner. In almost half the couples I treat for sexual desire problems, like Anne and Bill, the man is the low desire partner.
Women like Anne are easily dismissed from mind. They suffer from loneliness rather than horniness, and crave a little joy rather than more genital relief. Dying to be held for more than five minutes, so they can finally relax in bed. For Anne and Bill, this never happened in the few times a year they had sex, and Anne increasingly feared they would never really connect before they die. Bill was so frightened to let someone really know him, so filled with anxiety, he fumbled through the act. No emotional contact during physical contact. Not that Anne didn’t know Bill’s secrets and vulnerabilities—the very fact she suffered in silence for years was proof that she knew and loved him. She lay next to Bill each night, complying with his unmarked “no trespass” zone that separated them physically by inches, and emotionally by miles.
Lest I paint too chaste a picture, the Annes of the world also want a good romp in the sack. They know when Mae West said, “A hard man is good to find,” she wasn’t talking about body building. There are lots of women with more than a trace of Mae West in them—buried under years of trying not to want sex, and feeling bad about themselves because they still do. It’s ok for men and generation X girls to declare themself sexually carnivorous, but women who were girls decades ago aren’t use to doing that.
What’s the impact of this kind of deprivation? The Annes of the world get depressed; some get bitter. They grieve for the waste of their own lives, and lost opportunities for shared meanings and moments with the ones they love. Their chests hurt, their hearts ache, and they long to be touched. They feel undesired and undesirable, wondering, “What’s wrong with me? Is it my personality? Is it my appearance? Am I that bad in bed?” Eventually, they get tired of crying in private, and drudge on through their marriage like plow mules.
Over the last 4 years, 14,500 people have taken our online Sex in Relationship Survey. (Take the survey.) The results put Valentine’s Day in perspective. When you realize what’s (not) happening 364 days a year, you won’t get your hopes up for Cupid’s day:
- 15% say their sex is “dead.”
- 34% say sex is “comatose and in danger of dying.”
- 28% say sex is “asleep and needing a wake-up call.”
- In other words, 77% of people say their sex isn’t worth taking off their clothes.
Sixty five percent of couples usually or always have low sexual desire beforehand. If they actually start to have sex, 30% get turned on. These folks are prime targets for a well crafted Valentine’s Day barrage of cards, flowers, silky nightgowns, and “true love” candy assortments. But the 67% who often have low desire during sex aren’t swayed by small gifts when the calendar says it’s time to get frisky. FTD Florists, Victoria’s Secret, Godiva chocolates, and Hallmark cards can’t provide the enormous boost most couples need to fulfill our cherished images of Valentine’s Day.
My new book Intimacy and Desire explains how developing and maintaining a self (differentiation) is the fourth drive of sexual desire, and often outweighs horniness, romantic love and attachment. The solution for Bob wasn’t Prozac or Viagra, it was strengthening his 4 Points of Balance: developing a more solid flexible self, soothing his anxiety and controlling his feelings, not over-reacting, and tolerating discomfort for growth. (More about Crucible 4 Points of Balance here.) Anne didn’t get what she wanted until Bob did a better job of holding on to his self
Research indicates physical contact with those we love—even if it’s a pet—improves our physical and emotional well-being. Physical estrangement in the later years of life wears out your heart, literally and figuratively.
Among the countless couples struggling to honor their marital vows, many married women want to know where the “to have and to hold until death do us part” went? So here’s a thought for Valentine’s day: Sometimes honoring your husband and your marriage involves challenging the sexual status quo. And honoring your wife means taking her off the pedestal and holding her long into the night—before giving her what Mae West loved most.