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Why Some People Hate Sex: the Fascinating Psychology Behind Sexual Revulsion

How to find a path to a healthy intimacy.
 
 
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Mark and Stacey, an attractive couple in their early thirties, have only been married two years and they're already knotted in conflict. In our first session, Mark, an intense, athletically built man, gets to the point, "I hate it that we're such a stereotype, but it's the typical scenario of me wanting more sex than she does. We're down to once every two weeks--if I'm lucky--and it's driving me crazy. I have a strong sex drive, so if it were up to me, we'd do it every day, the way we used to when we were dating. Now, not only do I not get my sexual needs met, but I feel rejected because most of the time I get shot down when I initiate."

Stacey, slim, darkhaired, sits rigidly in her chair. "I know we don't have sex as much as Mark likes," she says, with an edge in her voice, "but for me to want to make love, I have to feel emotionally connected to him and, to be honest, most of the time, I just don't. He seems so obsessed about this issue. I constantly feel pressure to satisfy him. It's like raw sex is the only thing he wants from me. It's gotten to the point where any time he touches me I freeze up--I'm afraid to respond even affectionately because if I do, he thinks it's an invitation to sex."

"Yeah, in some ways that's the hardest part of it for me," Mark interrupts, "the way she sees me now. She looks at me like I'm one of those guys on The Sopranos. I like sex, but I'm no drooling animal. I can be romantic and I do try to help her feel close, but whatever I do does no good," he says despondently. "No matter how sensitive I try to be, it's like she has this view of me as a sex-crazed gorilla."

I ask each of them to describe what typically happens when they do have sex. Stacey says, "After some time goes by when we haven't had sex, Mark gets more and more sulky, and I begin to feel I'm like a bad, unloving wife. So I hug him or pat his shoulder or maybe just smile at him or something and, oh boy! That's all it takes--he's off to the races. I feel I can't say no again, and so we'll get in bed and start kissing. I try to be as warm as I can get myself to be; I don't want to just lie there like a dead fish. And, usually, at a certain point, I can work myself up so that I'm into it, sort of. Afterwards, I feel relieved because I know he feels happier and not so angry at me and, also, he'll back off and I won't have to do it for a while."

Mark seems not to have heard the many negative qualifiers in Stacey's description of their sex life. "That's what I don't get," he exclaims with exasperation. "In the middle of it, she comes alive and seems to like what I'm doing, but the next day she's uninterested again. If you like it, why not want more? Also, I don't enjoy the beginnings that much because I want to feel wanted by her, not like I have to kick start her engine every time. I'm not one of these guys who just wants to satisfy himself. I'm good at foreplay and I've learned what she likes."

Mark and Stacey are caught in a classic struggle, and most couples therapists have responded with a now-classic technique: get him to back off by issuing a moratorium on sex and assigning exercises that allow them to show affection to each other without any sexual expectation. Trained as a problem-solving, strategic therapist, I used to give that directive to couples and often found that it had the desired effect. It probably would've worked with Mark and Stacey, too. As he contained himself so she felt less under seige and more cared for, eventually they could've found a frequency that felt okay to each, checked off this particular glitch on their list of relationship issues, and left therapy reasonably satisfied.

 
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