DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m a cis woman who has been happily married to a kind, gentle, cis man for 3 years. The only area where we are mismatched is our libidos — mine is very high and his is not. But we’ve made it work and for the most part and sex has been enjoyable, if a little dull.
Over the past couple of years, I have developed a serious interest in “rough sex.” Without going into too much detail, there are several things I would like to try that sound very enticing to me.
During our last sexual encounter, I talked to my husband about this beforehand and asked him if he would incorporate a few of these things to try them out — like biting me and slapping different parts of my body. He agreed, and it was the best sex we’ve had in a long time. It did not hurt me, and I found everything incredibly enjoyable.
The next day, I was talking with my husband about this to see how he felt and if he liked it. He said it was alright, but he’d prefer to just have “boring sex” (his words) from now on. I was disappointed, but didn’t know what to say.
The rougher sexual encounter has made me hungry for more. I want to do it again. But, I know it made my husband uncomfortable so I won’t force him to do anything. I can’t stop running scenarios around in my mind of things I really want to try, none of which I can do because I know my husband won’t be up for it.
Why can’t I just let this go and be satisfied with what I do have? Is there something pathologically wrong with me?
Counting The Bruises
DEAR COUNTING THE BRUISES: So let’s get this out of the way right off the top: nothing’s wrong with you. You like rough sex; that doesn’t “mean” anything other than hey, you like rough sex. This isn’t revelatory of some deeper truth, it doesn’t mean that something is wrong with you or that you’re acting out some sort of abuse that was inflicted on you.
As far as kinks and interests go, this isn’t all that unusual. A lot of people fantasize about or actively enjoy rough sex; a study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found that people reported engaging in and enjoyed includes choking, spanking, hair pulling, spanking, biting, being pinned down and being tied up. And just to be clear: this was referring to consensual sex, where the rough play was agreed to by both partners, rather than the desire or attempt to actually harm someone.
What’s interesting is that, considering how common it seems to be, how stigmatizing people find it. And a lot of that comes down to the fact that we live in a culture that’s still incredibly sex negative.
It seems weird in a post-50-Shades-of-Gray world, where more and more people are open about the non-standard-issue sex they enjoy, but there’s still a persistent myth that “good people have ‘good’ sex”; non-traditional sex practices are still seen as being unusual, taboo or a sign of deviancy. People, even people who see themselves as being sex-positive and open-minded will often equate enjoyment of rough sex as being suspicious at best. Some see it as being indicative of hating or wanting to degrade women, some see it as a sign of an overall violent nature or that it’s the mark of someone who’s compensating for trauma in their lives. Lots of people will point to aggressive and rough porn — especially porn that may involve slapping, choking and the like — and insist that this is inherently bad and that the popularity of rough sex in porn is a troubling sign of… something.
All of this often comes as a surprise to the folks who enjoy having rough sex with their partners. And most of them came to it the same way you did, CTB: they had fantasies they wanted to explore or they were curious and interested in trying something new and asked their partners to indulge them. And, it seems that most of the folks who gave it a shot really liked it. According to Archives of Sexual Behavior, of the participants who tried rough sex with their partner, only 1.3% said they didn’t like it at all. 14% liked it “a little”, 46% liked it “somewhat” and 39% liked it “very much”.
This isn’t that surprising. The physicality and intensity of various forms of rough sex are literally exciting — it gets the heart pumping harder and the nervous system firing faster what we might consider to be “romantic” sex, and that excitement transfers to the intensity of the experience and increases arousal. The sex tends to be more vigorous, both partners are more engaged and participatory and — importantly — it tends to be a new and novel experience. In fact, a lot of people who report trying and enjoying rough sex mention that they tried it as a way to shake up their sex lives and get out of the routines they’d fallen into. Humans are a novelty-seeking species after all, and changing up our sexual repertoire is a key part of keeping the spark alive and the passion high in a long-term monogamous relationship.
Of course, I don’t need to explain this to you, CTB. You already know this; you had the best sex you’d had in years after your husband agreed to get rough with you. It’s hardly a surprise that when you’ve had some bed shaking banging that shook the pillars of heaven, you want more. Why wouldn’t you? That doesn’t mean that anything’s wrong with you, it just means you had really awesome sex and you’d like more please.
The complication, such as it is, comes in the fact that you loved it and your husband wasn’t that into it. That can be a problem, but it doesn’t have to be. It all comes down to you and your husband having an Awkward Conversation about sex and sexual satisfaction. You and your hubby should set aside time for the two of you to sit down and talk about this, at a time when you know you won’t be interrupted. You want to preface this with the fact that while your sex lives have been enjoyable, you’ve found that you need a little more variety than what you’ve been doing. Explain that the time you and he switched things up was incredible; let him know how much it excited you and how it made you feel and why. Did it make you feel more desired? Did it feel more intense and passionate than normal or more engaged and in tune with one another? Then tell him that. Make it clear that it was the rough sex with him that got your motor running, why this would make things even better between the two of you and how you might see this work. Then give him time to share his side of things. Was this something he just wasn’t into, or was it something he actively disliked? Did this scare him or make him feel like he’d done something “wrong”?
After he’s shared his side of things — and presuming that this wasn’t a hard “no” for him — see if you and he can work out a compromise. This is something you clearly enjoy and crave more of; is this something he can do for you on occasion, purely because you enjoy it? Doing things for your partner in bed specifically for them, even if it’s not your thing, is an important part of maintaining a strong relationship. Studies in The Journal of Sex Research have found that sexual transformations — that is, making changes for the benefit of one’s partner — improve the quality of relationships. It makes one’s partner feel heard, valued and appreciated; their partner is going out of their way to do things that make them happy, just because it makes them happy. That’s a pretty important factor in relationship satisfaction after all. Feeling neglected or like your needs are ignored, unimportant or (worse) shameful, on the other hand, negatively impacts the quality and longevity of a relationship.
Now, this can be a difficult conversation to have; it’s called an Awkward Conversation for a reason after all. It may help to have a third party guide and facilitate the conversation. Finding a sex-positive relationship counselor may make it easier for the two of you two talk things out and find an accomodation that works for the both of you. If you don’t know where to start looking, the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists has a referral directory that can help you find a counselor in your area. But what you shouldn’t do is just assume that this is forever off the table for you — not without at least talking things out with your husband first. Don’t make assumptions; talk to him and find out where he stands. If you can draw out his feelings on this and help him understand your side of things, you might be surprised. It may not be every time the two of you bang, but you may well be able to work an arrangement that will mean getting some prime black and blue marks on occasion.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org