A common argument low-drive spouses have against high-drive spouses “Why do we NEED to improve our sex life? Isn’t it good enough?” And that’s a difficult question to answer for most, because it’s not a simple yes or no. So, I thought I’d take a few (like a thousand or two) words and try to explain this built-in need for most high-drive spouses to continuously reach for a higher quality, and higher-frequency, sex life, because I think it’s a bigger topic than most give credit for. My wife’s comments will be in purple.
Our brains grow accustomed to input
It’s a well known fact that our brains, and bodies, get used to certain things once it has experienced them continuously for a while. We can get addicted to processed sugar, caffeine, dairy, not to mention cigarettes, and other drugs (medicinal or not). Now, there is a physiological response at play here, but also a psychological one (which really boils again down to physiological if you get deep enough). Our brains are constantly rewiring themselves.
Ever hear a song that you instantly hated, but you couldn’t avoid (maybe it was on the radio at work or in the car constantly). After a while, you don’t hate it anymore. Then you start humming it when it’s quiet. Your brain adapts to inputs, and when it misses it, it craves that input.
Counselor Deanna Troi: Have you ever heard Data define friendship?
Commander William T. Riker: No.
Counselor Deanna Troi: How did he put it? “As I experience certain sensory input patterns, my mental pathways become accustomed to them. The inputs eventually are anticipated and even missed when absent.”
This becomes very clear to the spouses of anyone who has been a gatekeeper, or refuser, and then changes their belief, view, or habits towards sex. The strangest thing happens. Your spouse, who used to avoid sex like the plague, all of a sudden starts to miss it when it’s been a few days since you’ve had sex (which just feels like a miracle the first time they say it).
I think I still shock Jay when I say that I was looking forward to having sex, or that I really missed the opportunity because he accidentally stayed out too late, and I needed the sleep so badly. It still feels surreal to him that I’ve changed so much.
But, this extends further, into a problem. You see, when we experience something exciting, our brain releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that tells our brain we’ve done something good. It’s been called the “reward” hormone, and it makes you feel amazing. But dopamine is highly addictive. We crave dopamine, we want to be excited. But, as we continue to receive these bursts of dopamine, the problem starts to come up. They don’t feel as good any more. That “fix” doesn’t quite do as much for us. And so, we crave more to keep our levels of dopamine higher for longer.
So, we want more sex, we want higher quality sex, we want more exciting sex. I often wonder when the kids are grown and out of the house and we’re retired and with each other all day long, will we be bored with “normal” sex? Will we be wanting it ALL THE TIME. (although Jay’s drive is what I would call constant, he would be on cloud 9 if we could have sex practically all the time).
Do you remember your first romantic kiss? That one peck that sent you over the moon for days? What happens when you give your spouse that same kind of peck? Probably nothing. It probably barely registers that you did something, because it’s such a habit. I wish we could hold on to that feeling. But, we progress, kissing turns into all sorts of activities (in different orders for different couples), and each step comes with an increase in dopamine, and, in turn, the previous step no longer gives us quite the same feeling. How many of you remember how awesome making out was? Just kissing until your lips felt numb and tingly. How many of us do that in our marriages, years, or even months, or weeks, later? I know we don’t.
Sex progresses the same way. As our library of sexual expression with our spouse expands, it becomes nearly impossible to go back to a singular physical expression of love. My wife said the other week “when was the last time we had sex with the lights off?” Neither of us could remember (since then, we have once, I’m not saying having sex with the lights off is bad, it’s just rare in our house, because, well, I enjoy the visual inputs. And I like being able to see too).
And so, we have this constant drive to improve our sex life, to reach the next level of dopamine. I’m not saying it’s the most noble reason (or a noble one at all), but I don’t think we can ignore this biological desire to want to experience more and more exciting sex.
I know for myself, having ADHD, I get bored easily, so having that excitement factor is very important for me to want more sex. I need it to stay engaged in our time together. Jay is very good at keeping me engaged.
Everything that stagnates, dies
Corporations that don’t grow, die. The same can be said for relationships. Marriages need to be constantly growing, constantly improving, or else they will die, and part of that is our sex life. We hear the phrase “stuck in a rut” in marriage, and often it describes their sexual relationship. Spouses will complain that the same script is constantly being followed whenever they have sex (or don’t). The initiation is always the same, the foreplay is always the same (even if that means it’s non-existent), sex is always the same position or two, or maybe three, but in the same order. And eventually one spouse usually ends up thinking “I’d rather not have sex than go through that script again.” This was/is always me. But I blame it on homeschooling 4 kids and a toddler that doesn’t yet sleep through the night. So it’s got to be interesting, and new to spark that feeling of, “Ohh, what are we gonna do tonight?” I love asking him what he has planned for me and hearing what he’s been thinking about doing when we get some time together. Why? Is sex bad? No. Is the orgasm awful? No. But it’s boring. Yep. Sex can be boring, if it’s constantly the same thing, over and over again. This is what happens when we don’t improve our sex life. It becomes scripted, mundane, boring, and then dies.
My wife and I are studying Song of Solomon at the moment with our small group, and one thing is clear in that book so far: Sex is meant to be exciting and adventurous; the newlyweds described were having all kinds of sex in and outside of the bedroom.
And so, your sex life should be constantly evolving. Try new things (not new people), write each other an erotic story, add mutual masturbation to your list of activities, give some light bondage a try, or hair pulling, or any number of things you two can come up with. If you generally do not initiate, change it up a bit and initiate with confidence!
The facets of our relationship are all linked
Our sex life doesn’t exist in a silo. Our physical, emotional and spiritual relationships are all intertwined. As one grows, they all should grow, otherwise your marriage becomes unbalanced. If your physical relationship is not growing at the same pace as your emotional and spiritual relationship, then they’re growth will be stunted, or they will grow out of control, without the support it should have. These relationships tend to twist and corrupt into something they were never intended to be, something not resembling marriage at all.
This can be used to advantage in a marriage as well though. If there are no impedances on a marriage, nothing holding back the different facets of the marriage, often you can kick-start growth in the others by focusing on one. For example, I quit porn at about the same time that my wife stopped being a refuser/gatekeeper. We had done a lot of damage to our relationship. Our sex life was abysmal, our emotional relationship had taken a beating from both sides, and our spiritual relationship was neglected, at best. So, we did a 10 days of sex challenge. I’ll be honest, at first all I could think about was “yay! sex!” I had no idea how much of an impact this would have on the rest of our marriage. It brought the start of healing for our emotional relationship, and the beginning of growth for our spiritual relationship. We were both amazed, and still are, at how much our marriage has changed and grown over the course of a few short years. But, we were both willing to let the facets of our relationship grow. If one spouse is blocking any of them, this won’t work. Typically, not always, the men block emotional growth, the women block the physical growth, and often both are uncomfortable with spiritual growth. In those cases, even if the genders are reversed, they typically don’t realize how much they are impacting the part of the relationship they are interested in the most. You cannot have the emotional relationship you want in marriage without having a great physical relationship, and you cannot have the physical relationship you want without investing in the emotional relationship. And the same goes for the spiritual relationship. They all need to grow together, because they are all facets of one relationship.
I would like to add that I think some aspects can have growth spurts and then the other area’s catch up. We improved our sex life dramatically in a very short time span, but it took quiet a long time for our emotional side to really heal and grow beyond the hurt that we caused each other. So while you can’t really grow one area in particular without the others, the fact that we wanted to grow all of them together and change everything I think was the biggest impact to our turn around. Putting your pride aside and making yourself vulnerable in your most challenging part of life will deepen the connection between you and your spouse and with God.
How are your relationships in your marriage? Are you nurturing all three? Maybe ask your spouse what they think before you answer.