Here is my latest Huffington Post article:
With sex all around us, oozing out of our televisions, theaters, magazines, fashion, on the streets, one would think we are the most sexually informed, open and comfortable nation on the planet. We manage to connect sex to just about anything we sell, buy, eat, smell, see, or touch. It is such a part of our daily lives; we have become like fish in water, unaware of its constant presence, except of course when some famous powerful man is caught with his pants down.
How is it that we are so obsessed with sex, yet understand so little about it?
As a couple and family counselor, I have firsthand experience with the confusion, frustration and pain so many people experience due to their limited understanding of this issue. The impact is not only felt in the bedroom, but also affects a couple’s overall relationship as well as their self-esteem. Our sense of self arises out of all that we are, including our sexuality. This part of us has not been fully examined, understood or expressed. We cannot suppress or ignore our natural drives anymore than we can suppress or ignore an earthquake. It will express itself one way or another, and right now it manifests as a chaotic, dysfunctional obsession.
It’s time we embrace this biological drive and begin to explore and discuss this issue openly and honestly so that we do not pass the same harmful effects on to future generations.
The elephant in the room: men and women have different sexual drives.
It is well known that most men have a much stronger sexual drive than women. It is also apparent that men get aroused more readily and in different ways than women. What is not as well understood is the extent to which these differences are physiologically wired in our brains. With the new technological imaging in neurophysiology, scientists are now able to see where these differences come from. They show us that the areas responsible for sexual and emotional drives are considerably different in men and women.
As Louann Brizendine, a neuropsychiatrist, wrote in her book, The Female Brain, “Women have an eight-lane superhighway for processing emotion, while men have a small country road.” Men, however, “have O’Hare Airport as a hub for processing thoughts about sex, where women have the airfield nearby that lands small and private planes.”
This hard wiring in the brain explains the frustration both men and women experience as each gender unsuccessfully tries to conform the other to its needs — men cannot get women to make love with them more frequently, and women cannot get men to express openly their emotions. The genders’ respective drives are part of their biological nature and cannot be easily controlled or changed, unless they learn how to work together to reprogram their specific wiring.
After several years of marriage (or less), especially if they have children, a typical man, aroused by his woman, approaches her night after night (or day), only to be rebuffed more often than not. She may tell him she is tired, has a headache, is not in the mood or falls asleep before he gets into bed. At those times where she finally relents, she does not appear as engaged or excited, leading him to believe she is not really into him. He becomes frustrated, and starts putting pressure on her to sleep with him. The woman, after some pressure will succumb either because she feels guilty or she just wants to shut him up. The nature of their sex life has changed dramatically; for the woman it has become mostly work or duty; for the man it is laced with frustration. As this cycle continues, the act of sex turns into something she resents or avoids which only increases his frustration.
The breakdown occurs because the man believes that she doesn’t want him or sex, but in reality she is simply not sexually aroused. While she requires greater sexual foreplay in the bedroom prior to actual intercourse, what she needs even more is emotional foreplay during the day. Emotional foreplay for women can range from receiving a brief loving note or phone call from their men to cooking dinner or taking out the garbage without being asked. These actions give a woman the sense of being thought of and cared for — filling her heart with joy and desire. When the woman is emotionally wooed, it triggers her hunger for him and she becomes an eager partner. It all has to do with how the man enters her, emotionally. If he doesn’t arouse her through her emotional world, she will not be inspired.
What further complicates matters is that men need sex to feel loved, and women need to feel loved to want sex. He, not understanding what is going on, takes it personally, and thinks that she doesn’t love him or is not attracted to him anymore. She, also taking his reaction personally, perceives that all he wants is her body — he is not interested in her or her needs. Unable to clearly articulate what is going on with her, she begins to complain and nag him about things that seem trivial to him. They both end up blaming each other, feeling resentful, frustrated and unloved.
These feelings spill into their everyday life, affecting the way they interact with each other. His anger and frustration cause him to become less affectionate or emotionally unavailable to her. She grows more unhappy and disconnected from him. Depending on the couple, they may begin to drift apart with different consequences. With some couples, the men transfer their sexual energy to their work, and/or pursue other sexual outlets; the women meet their emotional needs by talking to their girlfriends, taking care of their children and/or finding a man who will provide them with emotional sustenance. Each gender loses the sense of partnership and moves further into separate and distinct roles. Ultimately, they either settle into a life of quiet desperation or become part of the 50% divorce statistic.
Begin a conversation for healing
If this scenario sounds familiar, and you wish to break this cycle, it’s time to have a heart to heart talk with your partner. You could use this article to initiate a conversation and convey to your partner your desire to better understand and fulfill his/her sexual/emotional needs. Because it is not part of women’s biology to desire as much sex as men, and it’s not natural for men to be more affectionate and romantic, you need to help each other override your respective wiring. The good news is that our brains are plastic, which means they can rewire and change based on new experiences. If you and your beloved wish to be in a more loving and happy relationship, start listening to each other with compassion and patience. With time and practice, sex and love can come together and break the cycle of confusion and frustration.