According to researchers, women have a much harder time than men maintaining their sex-drive in long-term monogamous relationships. Women seemingly suffer more than men from habituation to a stimulus, meaning they are more easily bored than men with having sex with the same person over and over again. Two German longitudinal studies show that female desire drops dramatically over 90 months, while men’s holds relatively steady. However, women who didn’t live with their partners did not experience the same drop.
Sex with familiarity is apparently harder for women than men. Although Freud did document the Madonna-Whore complex where men struggle to maintain sexual arousal within a committed, loving relationship.
I wrote last week about how when we look to get our security from our partner that is a passion killer for two reasons:
Our partner can never fulfill that expectation so it will always result in disappointment.
Seeing someone as our soother and caretaker is not usually a turn on
With this new research that has come to my attention, some additional thoughts occur to me. Since sex without familiarity seems fairly straight forward for both men and women, but libido goes down as familiarity goes up, especially for women, the familiarity component seems key.
Sex with familiarity is the equivalent of sex with intimacy.
Sex without intimacy is easy. Sex with intimacy is hard.
Why would that be?
Could it be that sex with intimacy is incredibly vulnerable and scary?
It may sound paradoxical, but it was for me. Sex with an attractive stranger would have been easier any day.
I was resistant to being that open, vulnerable, and close. I didn’t realize it at the time, but me keeping one foot out the door felt safer than being all in, in my marriage. Being all in meant loving with an open heart. Having an open heart scared me. Where was my protection? If my heart was open, and I loved full-out what would happen to me if something went wrong. If Angus left or died. How would I survive that? It definitely felt safer to hold back, to find things wrong, to look for excuses to leave so I could prove to myself that I would be okay alone. I didn’t need Angus. I would be okay without him. I was not going to be dependent on him! With this guarded approach to marriage, cuddling was easier than eroticism and desire.
My wisdom knew how to take care of me in the face of my ambivalence and internal instability. I was not ready for the fullness of intimacy.
Sex with intimacy is wholehearted and all-inclusive. It is soul-connecting.
I was scared of my neediness, my dependence, my wanting, and my fragility.
Keeping myself at a distance felt safe even though it meant feeling unsatisfied in my marriage. Lack of desire was numbingly comfortable. My ego could feel in control and unpleasantly arrogant about my lack of weakness and wholesome resignation to married life. My whore was locked safely in the closet. I was tamed.
Until I had a deeper experience of my true nature. Who knew that would unleash my sex drive! Angus says that he finally got interested in the Principles when he was angry with me, and instead of me retaliating I showed compassion and said I saw he was suffering. But another big shift he noticed in me was my re-engaging in our sex life.
Because I finally had the inner safety and security to be all in, in our relationship. I was no longer terrified by how much I loved Angus, and I felt okay enough to be absolutely devastated if it did not work out. I knew I could handle my psychological experience no matter how painful. That meant I could open my heart and know I would be okay no matter what happened.
This is what made sex with intimacy possible for me.
I had to be willing to feel the depth of my love, to feel my attachment to that depth of love, and to know that I would probably want to die if it was lost or taken away from me, and that is all okay. I had to be willing to face my fears of abandonment and rejection. Not because they were true, but because they felt real to me. I had to be willing to see that I could feel consumed by my emotional intensity and suffering and still be okay.
Until then, it was much safer to stay in the comfort zone of cuddles without experiencing the depth of my longing and my attachment. There was no surrender in me. I felt in control. This was needed and important to me until I felt a new kind of inner safety that had nothing to do with me needing to feel in control. I actually experienced it through the illusion of control melting away temporarily and feeling decidedly outside of control because there was nothing to control there. The “I” that felt in control wasn’t there. And it felt so much better.
I knew then that it no longer made sense to try and protect myself. The protection creates suffering. Living without protection was freedom without diminishing any of the psychological pain. The psychological pain just looked like so much less suffering than that caused by the protection. It was like deciding to no longer live in a closet to avoid getting stung by bees. I would rather enjoy nature and smell the flowers risking bee stings and all.
My inner freedom naturally led to more sex and a higher sex drive.
I felt safe enough to have sex with an intimacy that goes beyond the self to the impersonal.
My solution to sexual boredom was the submission of the ego. Finally surrendering to something greater and a willingness to let go of the illusion of control.
The ideas of my ego told me nothing good would ever come of this, but my experience told me differently. My experience let me know that it is okay to love fully and to live with an open heart. It showed me that avoiding hurt is not my purpose. Pain is nothing to be afraid of. I do experience hurt, disappointment, anger, and frustration etc…, but the experience of openness is far greater than any emotional suffering.
Sex with familiarity is not for the faint of heart. Perhaps it is the terrifying nature of this level of intimacy that makes it easier to look for sexual excitement elsewhere rather than finding it in the ordinariness of the person who you love. Boredom is perhaps the coping mechanism that provides a safety rail around the infinite abyss of pure connection and oneness — A state of mind that transcends the individual to the impersonal and shrinks the personal down to size.
It might seem easier to look elsewhere for pleasure instead of confronting the humbling realization of the impermanence of the self and the paradoxically intense psychological experience that is created by something that doesn’t even exist in any permanent way.
It may seem prudent to observe the safety rail of boredom.
There is no right or wrong, but it is important to recognize that familiarity is not the cause of decreased libido in women or men. Fear of intimacy is the culprit. Familiarity actually creates the perfect container to explore uncharted territory and to surrender to new levels of closeness. To be present and connected. To be open. To give and receive love, not just the personal love of human emotions, but also the impersonal love that is our being. To dissolve into that and merge into the experience of it.
The recommendations from psychologists to address sexual boredom is to explore sexuality outside of monogamy in small ways or to bring the frisson on newness back into the bedroom, but playing games does not address the fear of intimacy. If you want to be in a long-term monogamous relationship and to enjoy sex, my suggestion instead of playing games is to jump fully into the relationship with an open heart and to fully embrace the vulnerability of that.
See what sex is like when you launch from a comfortable place into the unknown and surrender to the pleasure that dissolves boundaries of space and time. There is nothing like the ego’s disintegration to allow for pleasure to be amplified and magnified. What is available in the familiar is a sexual intimacy that is ordinary and ecstatic. The sacred and the mundane. All that is needed is a willingness to run bare naked through the flames of your deepest fears of rejection and unworthiness into the arms of your beloved.
Rohini Ross is co-founder of “The Rewilders.” Listen to her podcast, with her partner Angus Ross, Rewilding Love. They believe too many good relationships fall apart because couples give up thinking their relationship problems can’t be solved. In this season of the Rewilding Love Podcast, Rohini and Angus help a couple on the brink of divorce due to conflict. Angus and Rohini also co-facilitate private couples' intensives that rewild relationships back to their natural state of love. Rohini is also the author of the ebook Marriage, and she and Angus are co-founders of The 29-Day Rewilding Experience and The Rewilding Community. You can follow Rohini on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. To learn more about her work and subscribe to her blog visit: TheRewilders.org.