HER: F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said, “There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy, and the tired.” We’ve spent a lot of time being both the pursued and the pursuing in the sexual journey we’ve been on for the past few years, but these last six months have left us firmly in the last two categories: busy and tired, with little energy for sex and even less for writing about it.
HIM: We’ve had radio silence for so long that a loyal reader and friend recently got in touch to ask if we were alright. I assured him that we were mostly fine, but that life had been dealing us hand after hand of difficult cards all at once.
HER: Since we last posted back in August, you’ve had two deaths in your immediate family (with the ensuing family drama that always seems to accompany these things), we’ve been dealing with health issues of our own, and we’ve both had the most enormous shit-load of work and crazy deadlines either one of us has had to deal with in years. It’s been stressful.
Sex is, of course, a great stress reliever, but when you fall into bed exhausted every night with a list of concerns a mile long swirling about your brain, there’s little motivation to get sex started, and no concentration to get it finished even if you do manage to stick it in for a bit.
I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that our stress has lead to a loss of libido. I’m sure everyone’s experienced that kind of falling off in desire when other things get in the way. An article in The Psychiatric Times explains, “Anxiety plays an important role in the pathogenesis and maintenance of [sexual dysfunctions]. This co-presence is very common in clinical practice: patients with SDs will often present with an anxiety disorder, and in many cases it is unclear which is the primary disorder.”
HIM: Well, hold on. ‘Sexual dysfunction’ is going a little far. We’ve still had a fair amount of sex, all things considered. On average we had it just under 21 times a month last year (yes, in case you’re not aware, we actually keep count). The last two months we had it 17 times each, and we’ll be about at that level this month. So we may be down 20% from our usual pace, but allow me to remind you we’re more than 800% above the frequency I enjoyed during my first marriage. On top of that, we were able to fit in a trip to Hedo (between funerals) where we spent an interesting night in the playroom with some new friends. And we’ve managed to keep up an ongoing (if infrequent) connection with two really nice couples here at home. So all in all, not too bad.
HER: I guess the real difference in our sex life lately is not the infrequency, but the mental disconnection. I just don’t have many sexy thoughts. I know keeping up our sexual relationship both with each other and with our friends is important, and my body is willing, but my brain is severely out of the game. I just can’t get turned on.
HIM: I know. We kind of hit a low point two nights ago. There we were, zooming along on our sexual default settings, and at the point where you’d usually be ready to come you kind of threw in the towel, admitting that you couldn’t generate a sexy thought if your life depended on it. Like a trooper, you said that I should just keep going. But sure enough, after a few minutes, I had to admit that the ‘Land of O’ seemed to be many miles away and I gave up, too.
HER: This lack of focus can sometimes extend to our emotional connection as well. You tend to pull away from me and into yourself when you’re stressed out. You always protest when I say this, but as you were looking up our numbers for this article I saw some of your notes in the margin. You’ve been having serious anxiety symptoms for weeks now, and I had no idea. I find that distressing.
I guess we really do fall into the stereotypical Men are From Mars, Women are from Venus communication styles: when I’m stressed, I want to come home and tell you all about it. It’s how I unload the anxiety and how I connect with you. But when you’re dealing with something difficult, you want to retreat to your ‘cave’ and not talk about it.
Now add to this difference in our ways of processing the insecurities that being in the lifestyle can bring. If you can hide weeks of sleeplessness, tremors, blurred vision, and stomach pain from me, what else could you be hiding? You’ve been spending hours texting a new friend, which normally wouldn’t bother me. But now I wonder if you’ve shared any of this with her, or if the time talking to her has taken away from the time you should have been spending connecting with me. Do you love me enough to be vulnerable, or have I done something to make you feel I can’t be trusted with your deepest fears? When you aren’t transparent with me, my brain runs wild with insecurity-driven possibilities.
HIM: It’s not that I want to hide these things from you. It’s just that talking about them makes them seem more serious — more real in a way — or makes me relive the stress of those anxious moments all over again. I guess I hope that, by trying not to think about it too much, it won’t bother me as deeply. I don’t want to dwell on the negative when I’m trying to push past it.
HER: So in pushing past the anxiety, you end up pushing it down. That seems pretty unhealthy. I think true intimacy is sharing the hard things, the things you wouldn’t tell your buddies. And I can sense the distance. I know when something’s bothering you, and it doesn’t help me feel connected to you when you simply say you’re fine and brush me off. Combine this emotional distance with the physical exhaustion and other external distractions working against us in times of stress, and it’s a perfect storm of sexual decline.
HIM: I think that’s just a difference in coping strategies. You would feel more comfortable if I handled these things just like you do, but I don’t. At the same time, though, I don’t want you to feel estranged from me when I’m going through tough times. I guess I need to find a balance between toughing it out while still keeping you in touch with where I’m at.
HER: And I guess I need to push a little harder (in a gentle way) to get you to open up, rather than letting it drop and secretly inventing painful reasons for your evasiveness. I don’t want to make your anxiety worse, but I also want to feel like nothing is off-limits between us. Who knows? Maybe voicing your fears that this ongoing stomach ache is cancer (or whatever the fear is) will help you realize how unlikely that is. Saying it out loud could take away some of its power rather than letting it fester in your imagination. And it could bring us closer together when we need each other most.
The good news is all these stressors have a finite period. You will gradually feel the pain of your losses less acutely. Our insane deadlines at work are nearly passed. And the people in the family who are causing drama will calm down. This will all pass, and we’ll be able to get back to our sexually deviant selves.
HIM: I know. I had a glimpse of those deviant people yesterday morning as you showed me some bi porn clips with the sound turned off while one of our kids sat on the floor watching TV. As I got hard and took you upstairs, I thought, “I remember this. This is us. This is good.”