This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog.
Via Pharyngula, we have a charming piece of marital advice from Christian marriage advisor Mark Gungor. The gist: Couples who have been married a long time shouldn’t expect sex to be as exciting and passionate and emotional as it was in the early days. They should expect it to become safe and comfortable and unexciting. But they should go ahead and have sex anyway — because it’ll feel reasonably good even though it won’t be as great as it used to be, because it’ll be good for the marriage, and because it’s one of your basic marital duties. The money quote:
As I said, sometimes sex is just sex; it’s what you do when you are married. Just like cleaning the toilet is what you do to keep your house clean… and I bet you don’t have this great desire or huge emotional connection to scrubbing the porcelain! [Bold in original – GC] You do it because it needs to be done and that’s the way it is with married sex… it does need to be done! It’s the glue that God gave us to bond us to one another. The bible is very clear that it is your responsibility as a spouse.
But today, I want to go someplace else.
I want to talk about the assumption Gungor makes without even thinking, the assumption that forms the foundation for everything else he writes in this piece… an assumption that’s very, very common, not just among Bible-thumping marriage advisors, but in the culture at large.
I’ve been in a long-term relationship for over twelve years. And it’s true, I have to acknowledge; the sex is not what it was in the early days.
Way, way better.
By several orders of magnitude.
For one thing: There is nothing in the world like having sex with someone who you’ve had sex with hundreds of times before… and who therefore really, really knows you. Someone who knows exactly how you like your clit to be touched, who knows exactly how hard you like your nipples pinched, who knows the exact circular motion that you like your prostate to be massaged. Verbal communication is a wonderful thing in a sexual relationship, not to be underestimated for a second… but some things, like “Just ten millimeters to the left and with a slightly slower figure-eight motion, alternating with a light, fast flicking”… some things are hard to say in words. There really is something to be said for physical trial and error. And there is most emphatically something to be said for the exquisite fine-tuning that results from physical trial and error taking place over years and years and years.
And there’s an ease and fluidity that comes with familiarity as well: a letting go that makes sex completely explosive. I can be a very self-conscious person, constantly parsing my actions and reactions and fretting over what other people will think of them. (Sexually and otherwise.) Which, not surprisingly, makes it hard to let go and lose myself in sensation and pleasure. Having sex with the same person, over years and years, has helped me relax enough to be present in the moment; to get the hell out of my head; to stay in my body and feel what I feel; to trust that I won’t be seen as greedy or selfish when I want to come one more time. (And one more. And one more. And, okay, just one more. Okay, maybe another one.)
With a handful of exceptions, I have never felt as comfortable asking to try freaky things with new partners as I am with my wife. Years of hard work put into our relationship — years of going through horrible shit and coming through stronger on the other side — have built a foundation of trust, a deep confidence that this person is really, really not going anywhere. So when I want something totally fucking freaky — or even not so freaky, maybe just goofy or silly or embarrassing — I feel safe asking for it. She may not say yes… but I feel confident that she’ll seriously consider it, and not laugh at it, or denigrate it, or break up with me for suggesting it.
Gungor, and others in our culture, make the assumption that, when it comes to sex, “safe” somehow equals “boring.” In my experience, it’s anything but. “Safe” equals “trusting.” And trust is the core, not only of kink, but of a whole host of wild, intense, exciting sexual explorations.
But the early stages of a sexual relationship can also be fraught: with anxiety, with awkwardness, with misunderstanding, with self-consciousness, with doubt. The early stages of my relationship with Ingrid were a delight: they made me feel boisterously, gigglingly happy just to be alive and walking down the street, and I wouldn’t trade the memory of them for anything. But I also wouldn’t go back to that time for anything in the world, either.