“Do you know what it’s like to live with someone for six years and not even once have them initiate physical intimacy?” he asks.
“Well, you ask almost every day. Even when you’re not asking explicitly, I can feel you asking. It doesn’t exactly leave me a chance to want. I feel smothered,” she responds.
“I don’t know. I feel like if you really loved me, we would be having more sex. You would make me feel wanted,” he counters.
“Well, maybe if you really loved me, you would stop pressuring me.”
I’ve heard variations of this dialogue more times than I can count.
Recently, I posted the following to my social media:
“The more you pressure someone to do something ‘out of love’ for you, the more likely they are to either not want to do it at all, or to do it out of fear or resentment.”
The caption went on to explain that the sentence “if you really loved me” shouldn’t end with a demand that violates the integrity of the listener. This comes up most profoundly in my work with sexual desire discrepancy.
Sexual rejection by an intimate partner, especially repeatedly, is very painful and hard to live with. Sexual demands and pressure from an intimate partner can be overwhelming and traumatic- and a big turnoff.
You end up with a lose-lose dynamic. If there’s rejection, one partner feels hurt. If there’s begrudging sex, the other may feel resentful or violated, and even the higher libido partner feels icky.
Some people responded to the post, asking: “Aren’t there some times when it’s appropriate to say ‘if you really loved me…?” And my answer was yes. It’s not always manipulative or controlling- in certain contexts it can be powerful. But using the “If you really love me” clause to pressure someone to go against their own will is when it becomes dicey. Especially when it comes to pressuring for sex.
Some will ask: “I thought I was being ‘good’ by having sex even though I didn’t want to and didn’t enjoy it, just to please my partner. So how do we know if we’re having sex in a way that’s healthy or not?” Here are some ways you can use to help you gauge*:
Unhealthy Reasons to Have Sex:
Not wanting your partner to get mad or insulted.
Feeling obligated or pressured.
Fear of your partner cheating, stonewalling, or leaving you.
It’s easier than saying no or having an honest conversation.
As a way to avoid your feelings.
Getting it over with (for now).
Great Reasons to Have Sex:
Both of you are in the mood.
As a way to express love, desire, and connection.
It feels good. For both of you.
If you’re not specifically in the mood, but you feel like by starting to pleasure each other, you might get in the mood and enjoy. (With the knowledge that if it doesn’t feel good, you can stop.)
Trying for a pregnancy. (I know this is not the most romantic reason, but it still counts.)
Do circumstances always need to line up perfectly in order for sex to go well? Not necessarily. But both parties actually wanting to be participating is indispensable. And not just to “prove their love.”
A line that comes up in couples’ sessions sometimes is as follows:
“If I have a need for sex one day, and my partner has a need to not have sex, why should her (or his) need take precedence over mine?” The abstract logic is a fair question. But when you add the context of consent, body boundaries, and psychological violation, it becomes clearer (or at least I hope it does) that while rejection is not fun, it’s more damaging to submit to demanded sex than to be turned down.
That being said, a chronically sexless relationship, when one party has needs, is not likely to be a happy or enduring one either. Someone whose sexual needs are never considered is unlikely to feel content in the relationship. But the solution is not to apply pressure or guilt. Nor is it to retreat into anger, resentment, or cheating. It is to initiate a respectful, collaborative dialogue with the goal of problem-solving, and/ or seeking outside help. Desire discrepancy is a very common issue in relationships and can usually be addressed successfully, when there is a foundation of love, empathy, and open-mindedness.
*Please note this is a public blog post, not a diagnostic system. If you and your partner are happy in your relationship, no need to change anything on the basis of what you read here. If you’re not feeling safe in your relationship or you feel deeply unhappy, please seek professional help for individualized guidance.*