Broccoli or Tofu? Sexual Differences in Relationships

Dan Savage has written yet another in his brilliant series of columns about couples with different kinks trying to negotiate a sex life that makes them both happy. In this case, the woman is fairly vanilla, and the man is into transvestite adult baby/diaper play. She’s been good about playing along with his kink, but he’s become uninterested in having vanilla sex, the kind of sex she wants — ever.

Something about this one really jumped out at me. There’s a pattern in a lot of these letters that’s really prominent in this one: it’s something I’ve thought about a lot, so I’m making it the subject of today’s sermon. (BTW, I think Dan’s advice — essentially “If you think you’re going to find another girlfriend who’s as willing to go along with your rather out-there kink, you’re high” — was dead-on. I just want to expand on it.)


When it comes to sex, I think a lot of people have a hard time distinguishing between things that really upset them or gross them out, and things that just aren’t their favorite. And I think this difficulty is what causes so much of the stress and frustration in these sexual negotiations.

Let me make a quick analogy. I really, really despise broccoli. The presence of it in any food, even in small amounts, makes a dish completely inedible to me. I can barely stand to be in the room while it’s being cooked.

Tofu, on the other hand, isn’t my personal favorite thing to eat. I certainly won’t go out of my way to buy it and cook it. But if it’s cooked right, in a dish with a good sauce and tasty tidbits, I can eat it with no problem, and even enjoy it.

I think when a couple is trying to negotiate sexual likes and dislikes, they need to figure out which of their dislikes are broccoli, and which ones are tofu. And if there’s a sex act that’s tofu to you — and it’s a Scharffenberger chocolate souffle to your partner — then by gum, you should bloody well be giving them their chocolate souffle. At least some of the time.

The adult baby guy is a perfect example. I find it hard to believe that he’s actually revolted by vanilla sex. I think he just doesn’t like it all that much. It’s not broccoli — it’s tofu.

But he still won’t eat it.

Of course this is selfish. That’s obvious. I think there’s a more serious problem than him being selfish. I think he has a seriously troubling sexual/romantic disconnection.

Here’s what I mean. When I have sex, I don’t just get off on my own kinks and my own pleasure. I also get off on my partner’s pleasure. The sight, the sound, the feel, of someone in my bed who’s getting excited and getting off… that’s hot. It’s not particularly selfless or noble of me — it’s just hot. (I wrote about this a little in A Dyke’s Defense of Blowjobs.) The more I care about someone, the more true that is. And I think that’s true for most people.

And if you can’t get off on the sight and sound and feel of your partner’s pleasure — even if what you’re doing isn’t your particular favorite thing — then what the hell are you doing in a sexual/romantic relationship?

Broccoli or Tofu? Sexual Differences in Relationships

6 thoughts on “Broccoli or Tofu? Sexual Differences in Relationships

  1. 1

    Yea! I love food/sex analogies and your tofu-or-brocolli is a good one.
    I also think Savage is dead on, though I will say in the baby-guy’s defense that since *real* real fetishes (which it sounds like he’s got) are extraordinarily hard to satisfy. Not least because real fetishes — the needy kind, not the “this is a fun kink” kind — are displacements. It’s sort of like (to use another analogy) a bull that keeps thinking “if only that cape was a little more red I could finally get my horns into it.” Except it’s really the matador he needs to deal with.
    Anyway, to get back to your post, you said “And if you can’t get off on the sight and sound and feel of your partner’s pleasure — even if what you’re doing isn’t your particular favorite thing — then what the hell are you doing in a sexual/romantic relationship?” That’s really well said, Greta.
    Take care,

  2. 2

    “And if you can’t get off on the sight and sound and feel of your partner’s pleasure — even if what you’re doing isn’t your particular favorite thing — then what the hell are you doing in a sexual/romantic relationship?”
    You knew this one was going to be quotable, didn’t you, Greta?
    I found a lot of parallels in these stories to my own situation. I have been together with my bf for over a decade, as he has moved into a fairly plain sort of kink, the one in which the world is populated by “doms” and “subs” and people call one another “sir” and “boy” and they lick boots etc. Once every few months he goes off to some event (e.g., Folsom) where he can find people who are into this sort of thing.
    Now, I certainly don’t have a broccoli reaction to this – I can stand to be in the same room while it is being cooked – but if you want to overcook my stalk till it gets too mushy to eat, just call me “sir” (or have me do it to you, either way) while we’re getting in to it.
    Just like Beyond, I have found that my man really doesn’t get into vanilla sex. Not that he refuses it categorically, but on the rare occasions when we do it, he just isn’t into it at all. And since I am like you, I get off on my partner’s pleasure, well, there isn’t much there for me, either.
    Since we have an open relationship, I get out once in a while. And I do seem to find those guys who are turned on by watching me squirm when they touch me just so. The contrast is getting to be almost embarrassing.
    I find myself wondering the flip side of your question – “And if my partner can’t get off on the sight and sound and feel of my pleasure — even if what we’re doing isn’t his particular favorite thing — then what the hell am I doing in a sexual/romantic relationship?”
    By the way, Greta – welcome to the world of anonymous people dumping their relationship issues at your door 🙂

  3. 3

    Great analogy! This is particuarly difficult when a couple is also monogamous, as the original couple seems to be.
    In my experience such differences are extremely difficult to overcome. If he’s not into vanilla sex, he’s not, and nothing vanilla will make his cock hard. I think Savage was wrong in saying that the guy should stay, as whom else will he find to play along with his kink? It does a disservice to both parties to remain in a situation where the intimacy is no longer working in a mutual, enthusiastic fashion.
    She deserves a partner who thinks she’s the bee’s knees and can’t keep his hands off of her. He deserves a partner/Ma’am/Dommy who just loves her little baby-waby and can’t wait to diaper his butt.
    I love the broccoli/tofu analogy, and I also agree with your statement regarding why one is in a relationship in the first place.
    It’s going to be a while until he finds a woman who likes his kink, but he owes it to himself and his current partner to go and find her. She deserves to have hot vanilla sex just as much as he deserves to get his ass powdered.

  4. 4

    How about a more common problem?
    I know of several couples where one partner simply has a greater sexual appetite than the other. One wants sex twice a day, the other maybe once a month.
    What might seem like the perfect compromise, however mathematically arrived at, is actually a formula for making both partners miserable. For one it’s much too frequent, while it’s far too little to satisfy the other.
    Being the polyamorous sort that I am, it seems much more reasonable for the more sexually motivated partner to have sex with other partners, but in every case, the other partner has been totally opposed to the idea.
    I can’t understand why anyone would do that. How can someone demand sexually fidelity and refuse to deliver on the sex? If we were dealing with food instead of sex, it would be like forcing your partner to starve to death because you’re not hungry. It just doesn’t seem fair.
    Maybe this is why I don’t like the idea of commitment. I see relationships as ways of adding to each others’ enjoyment of life, not setting limits on it.

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