If you surround yourself with enough women in committed relationships (both online and in the real world), you will inevitably talk about sex. There will be the usual complaints about satisfaction, being too tired, not being interested or not getting enough. There will be questions about positions, fetishes and fantasies. There will be lots of candid, healthy discussion on a normal part of life.

And then someone will say something to the effect of, “Hubby hasn’t been pulling his weight, guess who ain’t getting any tonight?” I am sticking with heterosexual relationships as they are the ones I am most familiar with. (I do not assume this sort of thing doesn’t occur in gay or bisexual relationships, nor do I assume there are no straight men who would ever withhold sex from their partners.) Most of the responses will be laughter, or hearty words of support commending her for showing her man what’s up. They are almost all happy. I have a lot of feelings when I hear this, and happiness isn’t one of them.

I feel jealous. Jealous of the crazy amount of sex she must be having to afford to go without it to prove a point.

I feel angry. Angry that something which is so important to a healthy relationship could ever be reduced to a mere bargaining chip.

I feel ashamed. Ashamed that while we have come so far as women, our sexuality is often seen as our only source of power.

Mostly, I feel sad. Sad that the only way she can get through to her husband is to go without something in theory both partners should enjoy.

Sad that maybe her sex life is so unpleasant she would so freely go without.

Sad that this is seen as a badge of honor and not as a sign of a troubled relationship.

Let me be clear: no one should never ever feel compelled to engage in any sexual activity. Forced sex in a marriage is still rape. Nobody “owes” anyone sex. It doesn’t matter if it’s his birthday, he got a promotion or he did the dishes. I have just as big an issue of using sex as a reward as I do with using it (or not using it) as a punishment. If sex isn’t something both parties are into, that is a problem.

If we withhold sex we aren’t merely denying your partner. We are denying ourselves. We are denying ourselves the opportunity for connection. We are denying ourselves gratification. You are denying ourselves  something which is quintessential for a thriving marriage.

I realize there are those who may read this, and think, I should lighten up. They will say withholding sex is the only way to get anything done right. They will say they’re not hurting anyone. They will say sex is not that important, and if did mean so much to their spouses, they would be better partners.

And perhaps they do need to be better partners. I doubt any of us can say the man in our life is perfect. I doubt any of us are perfect, either. Relationships are always evolving and will encounter many challenges. Challenges that should be dealt with healthy discussion between the two parties, and, if necessary, with the help of a licensed therapist.

I might have a unique view, but for me, holding sex over your partner’s head, using your body as a bribe for “better behavior,” is as about as cruel a thing as one can do. Before you start saying, well if he did x, y and z, I might be more in the mood, I agree. So speak up! Tell him how you feel. Get angry. Argue if you must. Then move forward, and up to the bedroom.

I venture to guess that for many women, the issue isn’t whether their husbands do the dishes or treat them to romantic dinners. I know sex is often the last thing on our minds, and maybe it is easier to look to our partners for our disinterest and not toward ourselves. We need to confront our own issues with sex, intimacy and relationships and work with our spouses to foster a healthy partnership. We must treat our sex lives with the same respect and care we devote to our kids, our work and our finances.

Because sex isn’t just some superfluous side dish; it is the main course, it is the meat and potatoes. It is the essence of a relationship. And whether you are a couple who enjoys doing the deed daily or are content with just knocking boots a few times a year, let it be motivated by love, compassion and respect.

Life is too short to be sexually petty.

You may also like:

Don’t Stop Having Sex Because You Have Kids

“What’s Wrong With Me?” When Sex Isn’t Great

What If Tonight Was Your Last Chance To Have Sex With Your Husband

 

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