Can ‘maintenance sex’ ever be gender neutral?

Ah, “maintenance sex.” That good old fashioned idea that we are obligated to satisfy our partner’s sexual desires lest they leave us or cheat on us.

Tracy Moore wrote about it for Jezebel on Monday, arguing that, eventually, in all relationships, there are going to be times when you’re having sex, not because you want to, but for the “good of the relationship.”

“If you’re in a relationship in which you agree the sex matters, eventually you will have to expend more effort to have the sex you both agree should happen. Sex drives will not always magically align. When they don’t align, somebody will be horny and the other somebody will not. Then what?”

Now, I don’t particularly disagree with the above. It’s true for the most part. To assume that, throughout a long-term relationship, you and your partner’s libidos and desires are always going to naturally match up, is ridiculous. People get lazy, libidos change for a variety of reasons, things become less exciting as they move past the first year, we develop “relationship issues” (and, regardless of what media and pop/porn culture would like us to believe, sex, sexual desire, and sexual satisfaction are not merely physical) that interfere with our ability to have a happy and carefree sex life, social issues such as misogyny play a role in heterosexual relationships, sometimes there are medical issues, sometimes we aren’t getting enough sleep, sometimes we are busy, sometimes we are stressed, sometimes we don’t feel loved or respected, sometimes our male partners use or have an addiction to porn, sometimes we are being emotionally, physically, or verbally abused, sometimes we are depressed, sometimes we are on hormonal contraceptives which have lowered our sex drive, etc., etc. In other words, there are a myriad of factors that impact sexual desire and many of them are personal and many of them are social and many of them are medical or biological and many of them are reasons I’m not aware of because I am neither you nor am I a psychologist or a doctor.

What I do know is that, as a heterosexual woman who has been in a number of heterosexual relationships and has many heterosexual female friends, the message that we must “keep our man happy” is ubiquitous and that message doesn’t seem to go the other way. This is to say that it doesn’t make sense to treat “maintenance sex” as a gender neutral issue because society doesn’t treat it as a gender neutral issue and because it is not, in fact, a gender neutral issue.

Moore writes:

“I’m writing this gender neutrally. This issue could just as easily apply to a man who doesn’t feel like sex and caves for his lady, or a man for another man, or a woman for another woman. But in reality, of course, maintenance sex is almost exclusively discussed in terms of something a woman does to keep a man happy and faithful, and it’s deeply rooted in the notion that men have a higher sex drive than women, who must be cajoled and coaxed into putting out, or else risk him going elsewhere.”

She’s right. There have been times I’ve wanted to have sex and my partner was too tired or lazy. I know men who’ve had female partners who wanted to have sex far more than they did and I know women who have been left feeling unloved, undesired, and unsatisfied because they wanted to have sex way more than their partners did. This kind of dynamic can cause serious problems in relationships. It can cause fights and resentment and unhappiness. Seriously mismatched libidos can be totally destructive when there is one person who never wants sex and another who wants it every day. I get that.

Moore is also right that we tend to believe men are the ones with insatiable desire and that women are constantly groaning about being pestered for sex and trying to avoid it at any cost. And, honestly, I’ve been in those relationships too and feeling pestered for sex when you’re not in the mood is awful, especially when there are serious reasons you’re not feeling “up to it,” like, for example, your partner keeps using porn despite the fact that you’ve explained a number of times that porn is bad for women and that his use makes you feel disrespected as a human and as his partner or because he doesn’t treat you with respect in other ways or if there is a lack of trust, for example, because he cheats or lies or because he doesn’t treat you as a friend or an equal. There’s this thing bro culture teaches men and it’s that girlfriends and wives are “the old ball and chain” and that men must constantly escape their uptight, no-fun wives in order to have real fun with the boys. They learn that it’s ok to lead a double-life of sorts where they treat their wives and girlfriends one way at home, but then when they’re out with male friends, it’s ok to behave like frat boys. These dynamics do not inspire trust nor do they make women feel loved and respected and like, you know, real people. But it’s a real mystery as to why your wife isn’t eagerly fucking you the second you walk in the door, isn’t it.

These are only some of the reasons that the conversation around “maintenance sex” is not at all gender-neutral despite the fact that it can go both ways. There are more reasons…

As I mentioned, women learn that it is their “job” to keep men happy. We are told over and over again that we must perform sexuality or porny fantasies — wear lingerie, role-play (Oh what, you don’t think it’s sexy that your boyfriend is turned on by schoolgirls?? You’d think pedophilia would totally put you in the mood…), try New And Exciting Things Like Anal And Threesomes!, try out BDSM, put on strip shows, etc. — in order to keep our male partners happy and to keep them from straying. Men are not sent these same messages. I have literally never heard of someone saying to a man, “You know, if you don’t make her orgasms a top priority, wax your bikini line, and wear sexy underwear, she’ll leave you for a younger, hotter man.”

I often reference Thea Cacchioni’s work in these conversations. In her paper, Heterosexuality and the Labour of Love, she points out that women often engage in a kind of “sex work” in heterosexual relationships that she likens to the emotional work women also do in relationships with men, meaning “the unacknowledged effort and the continuing monitoring which women are expected to devote to managing theirs and their partners’ sexual desires and activities.” Like, not only are we expected to be responsible for nurturing the emotional side of our relationships, trying to teach our partners how to express feelings and forcing conversations about emotions from men who never learned how to have these conversations and never learned that talking about their feelings in an honest and respectful way mattered, but we are also expected to be responsible for ensuring our partners don’t cheat on us. When and for what are we holding men accountable for in relationships?

Men and society don’t seem to take into account the ways in which feeling disempowered and objectified in your daily life and then feeling disempowered and objectified in your home might not lead to women feeling particularly fucky. Knowing that our partners are out there objectifying women at the strip club, in porn, or on the street, is unlikely to inspire feelings of love or respect despite the fact that most men seem to think those behaviours are perfectly normal and have nothing to do with their intimate relationships with women.

The level to which women are expected to compartmentalize their realities and their intimate relationships is not conducive to a happy, fulfilling, relaxed, loving, and respectful sex life. There is often a lot women have to shut out in order to have sex with their male partners (not least of which is past trauma). Do we tell men to start treating women as though they are valued beyond their physical desirability and ability to provide men with orgasms if they want a fulfilling sex life? Do we tell them to stop using porn? Do we tell them that their ability to emotionally and mentally connect with their partners is equally as important as those orgasms? Do they tell them to treat us as friends instead of enemies? Rarely. But we do tell women to work at their sex lives.

There is also the fact that our understanding of “sex” is extremely heteronormative. I am (luckily) a woman whose libido is (currently) well-matched with my partner’s and who orgasms easily through penetrative sex. (I also love and respect my boyfriend and feel loved and respected by him, so that helps.) But for many women this isn’t the case. Many women don’t have orgasms from penetrative sex and some women find it painful, yet this is what is expected in terms of heterosexual sex. We’re expecting women to keep up a practice that isn’t necessarily satisfying for them and may even be uncomfortable or painful and we’re completely ignoring all the social, cultural, political, physical, and personal factors that might make it difficult or impossible for women to relax and enjoy sex with men. Like, oh, maybe she just birthed some human beings and is now caring for said beings day in and day and out and also feeding and changing and entertaining them. Maybe expecting women to reproduce and raise children and then also expecting them to take care of their partner’s sexual needs on the side isn’t all that realistic?

In my past long-term relationships, the sex has been frequent at first, and then dwindled because I no longer was interested. In retrospect, this was most-likely because of emotional, verbal, or physical abuse or because I couldn’t trust my partner (for reasons such as his lying or cheating) or because my partner used porn/was addicted to porn and refused to stop/lied to me about it. Yet, at the time, I thought my sex drive had simply disappeared for some unknown reason and I continued to be pestered for sex by my partners who complained “but we used to do it three times a day!”

There is no big mystery as to why I no longer felt up to it, except in the minds of these men. Likely because they’d been sent the message all their lives that they are entitled to sex from their female partners regardless of their behaviour.

Sex is supposed to be mutually enjoyable. It feels gross to have sex with someone when you don’t want to. It should feel gross to your partner, too. I do not want to have sex with someone who doesn’t want to have sex with me. This isn’t to say I don’t think that, eventually, couples may need to both “work” at their relationships and, in turn, their sex lives, but I don’t think that is the same as telling women they are obligated to have sex with their husbands or boyfriends if they want to have a healthy relationship. The healthy relationship part comes first. Not the make-sure-he’s-getting-laid part.

Moore does touch on issues such as “don’t have maintenance sex if you don’t want to” and I actually didn’t find her piece to be particularly offensive, despite the fact that, based on the headline, “How to Have Maintenance Sex,” I assumed I would. I am willing to acknowledge that both parties are not always going to be totally turned on and, like, “Yeah! Let’s fuck!” every time you do it. And that this can go both ways, gender-wise. Often you kind of get into it once you start (and please don’t take this to mean that if you really don’t feel like having sex you should just “push through,” but rather that sometimes one or both parties are going to have to make an effort, despite the fact that they’d rather be watching TV, if sex is an important part of your relationship). Sometimes men are going to have to do things like eat better, get some exercise, and quit smoking if they never feel like having sex and their partner really wants to. Men also might consider cutting out porn and other misogynistic behaviours if they want their partners to feel like and enjoy having sex with them… Just a thought. Essentially, what I’d like is that we talk about “maintenance sex” within the context of patriarchy and that we start holding men accountable rather than pretending as though women’s experiences as women in a male dominated culture doesn’t factor into heterosexual relationships and penetrative sex. If you think a lifetime of being exposed to misogynistic and objectifying imagery isn’t going to impact women’s relationships with men, you’re not going to get very far in terms of the “sex drive” conversation.

To talk about “maintenance sex” as though it’s gender neutral is pointless. There is an entirely different context for asking women to have sex with their male partners when they aren’t feeling it. It’s called porn culture and rape culture and male entitlement and we-live-in-a-culture-that-hates-women-and-treats-them-as-less-than-human. Women are very good at imagining that all away because we have little other choice, but sex is an intimate act and that’s a lot to ignore when you’re trying to relax and coax an orgasm.

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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  • Any hint of anger, by a man, in response to my not being interested in his sexual advances, under any circumstances whatsoever, is going to get him scorched earth by me. I am glad I have enough privilege to do this. So many women do not.

  • Ligia

    Wow. You’ve just summed up exactly why I remain single. Great article!

    • Sass

      Me too! I freaking refuse to be pestered for sex by a dude who doesn’t care how it makes me feel. I’d rather no sex at all, ever again.

      • Lina

        My sex toys have much more value than men. Most men are self-entitled misogynistic assholes and when it comes to sex they rarely take you into consideration, since they have no sense of mutual satisfaction & respect (and actually have no idea how female sexuality works in the first place). I used to think that a girl can’t satisfy herself, that she needs an actual man to do it for her and she would look “slutty” if she touched her clitoris in front of him. BULLSHIT. That’s insecurities & shame nurtured to girls about their sexuality. After I educated myself about social issues (then freaked out about all the lies I believed for all 20 years of my life) and became a feminist, I finally managed to have the FIRST orgasm of my life – after many years of miserable sex life. And it was a real orgasm that was about ME and felt like my body was in heaven — not a semi-fake one to fulfill his ego (which back then, I actually believed it was about me.. what a fool I was). And now I don’t even need a man for it, I can fulfill my sexual needs by myself. I’m also bisexual, but was afraid/ashamed to admit it… Needless to say, I would love to explore my sexuality more with a girl than a boy… The mentality of heterosexual men in this sexist culture disgusts me, let alone all the history behind it. They want it all, but they give nothing back. I’d prefer to give sexual pleasure to a woman than a man, at least she is more likely to appreciate it.

  • C.K. Egbert

    I find the idea that “don’t have maintenance sex if you don’t want to” to be paradoxical.

    I can understand that you might want to do something for your partner when they are in the mood and you don’t particularly feel like it being reciprocated–but the point is that you want to do it, you don’t feel like you need to do it, and it isn’t unpleasant for you to do. The idea mentioned in the Jezebel article that this is analogous to other things you might need to do for someone in a relationship merely demonstrates the idea that using a woman’s body is the same as any other “service” (which sounds to me like the same arguments people make about prostitution being the same as working at a retail job). Having sex is not the same as doing the dishes.

    The problem is that this is usually the man using a woman as a masturbatory tool and is actively unpleasant/uncomfortable/painful for her (particularly as “sex” is usually just a stand-in for penetration, and I have a big problem with using someone’s body like it was a toy). So much of the comments are basically about how women can endure intercourse, and that is heartbreaking and highly abusive of their men to subject them to that.

    Sorry for the long post.

    • Meghan Murphy

      I agree with you for the most part… But I also know women who are in relationships with men who rarely want to or never initiate sex and the women have high sex drives… I guess maybe the answer is just to find a partner who is more sexually compatible? But at the same time is it unreasonable for these men to, maybe, try to get more exercise and quit smoking and make an effort at a sex life if they care about their partners? Also, I will say that there have been a couple of times when I can tell that my boyfriend is like, oh Meghan is sad because we haven’t had sex in a couple of days so we should have sex on Wednesday. It’s not the same as doing it when you don’t want to, it’s more like, lets do this, we both like it, but maybe one person’s been lazy or busy or whatever… We are pretty well matched sexually and share a similar sex drive, but sometimes these things happen… Certainly I would never want someone to have sex with me if they didn’t want to, just to placate me… But I think there’s something in the middle there…

      • C.K. Egbert

        Given the gendered and social-structual differences, I’m not sure I’d feel it would be as problematic for men to make an effort. As you said, it just isn’t the same, given the context, for a man to do something sexually for a woman when he might not feel completely “into it” (for one thing, because it would either be neutral or pleasurable for him). On the other hand (and this relates to the issue of sexual drives), the fact that we define sex around intercourse means that having sex when you aren’t “into it” is going to be a much worse experience for a woman than a man (and of course, if you don’t want to ever have intercourse because it is uncomfortable/it doesn’t give you pleasure/you just don’t want to, you’ll be faced either with abandonment, emotional abuse and coercion, or permanent celibacy. Not that celibacy is a bad thing).

        But once again, it’s not like I’m saying it’s always problematic to do something sexual for your partner when you don’t feel like it being reciprocated (for whatever reason), or if your sex drive just isn’t as high, or if you want to make an effort to be more physical with someone. But I’m also presuming in that instance that the act is occurring without coercion, the woman has a firm sense of personal boundaries and self-respect, and the act itself isn’t going to cause her any harm (physical or psychological). That just isn’t the case in most heterosexual relationships.

        Thanks to patriarchy, women are told that we aren’t loved or desirable unless a man sexually aggresses on us. We are also told that sex (intercourse in particular) is the sine qua non of physical intimacy, or that you need to have sex in order to have intimate and sensual physical experiences with someone else. I think if we stopped putting that emphasis on sex it would alleviate some of the problems people have with it.

        Anyway, great article as always.

        • C.K. Egbert

          I just found a great article which sums up why “maintenance sex” (and thinking of it as “maintenance”) is so disturbing to me:

          To sum up the article, basically that women are in the “service” industry domestically, reproductively, and sexually. Heterosexual relationships usually don’t operate on a level where there is mutual respect and reciprocity (on the level of the sexual as well as emotional and domestic), and thus it’s hard for me to not see maintenance sex as a means of seeing women’s bodies as fundamentally an exploitable resource.

        • Meghan Murphy

          “Given the gendered and social-structual differences, I’m not sure I’d feel it would be as problematic for men to make an effort.”

          Yes, I totally agree. The context is different and therefore I have different expectations for men vs. women.

          “Thanks to patriarchy, women are told that we aren’t loved or desirable unless a man sexually aggresses on us. We are also told that sex (intercourse in particular) is the sine qua non of physical intimacy, or that you need to have sex in order to have intimate and sensual physical experiences with someone else. I think if we stopped putting that emphasis on sex it would alleviate some of the problems people have with it.”

          Also agree. I admit (and this is a difficult thing to admit to, but it’s true…) there have been times when I’m unsure if I’ve tried to come on to my partner because I *really* want to have sex or because I feel like we’re *supposed* to be having sex/because I feel inadequate or like there’s something wrong if I’m not constantly desired by my partner. There’s still that pressure to keep it up, even when you’re in a happy relationship. It’s very hard to separate out our *true* desires from socialization/social expectations/expectations in terms of heterosexual relationships.

          • “It’s very hard to separate out our *true* desires from socialization/social expectations/expectations in terms of heterosexual relationships.”

            It sure is.

            I share your feelings re: not wanting to have sex with someone who does not feel genuine desire for me and I think this is a gendered phenomenon. A woman’s desire certainly does not seem to be as important to a lot of men (like all johns, obviously) as yours and my [and I suspect many other heterosexual women’s] requirement for real desire in our partner. I mean, ultimately if you don’t care about how your partner feels as long as they perform, then you are just masturbating and women don’t seem to manifest that sort of narcissism nearly as much as men do.

            I suspect there is a connection there to the whole “being sexy equals power” trope – the experience of BEING desired being more essential to feeling validated as a female.

            I , I’m ashamed to say, have also experienced an increased “desire” for a particular man when I had been feeling insecure due to his comfort with porn and/or coming on to other women. It was a desire driven, I think, by desperation for his validation. I needed him to reassure me of his desire. (I walked away fairly quickly, but not immediately. I won’t make that mistake again!)

            Patriarchy permeates everything, especially sex. (Wow, sex-based hierarchy manifests in heterosexual sex! Who’da thunk it???) It’s a bit silly for the Jezebel writer or anyone else to even suggest that the issue can be discussed with a premise of gender neutrality.

    • “The problem is that this is usually the man using a woman as a masturbatory tool and is actively unpleasant/uncomfortable/painful for her (particularly as “sex” is usually just a stand-in for penetration, and I have a big problem with using someone’s body like it was a toy).”

      Yes that is a big problem with the concept of “maintenance sex”. Often sex is not just boring for women who do not want to do it, it is painful/harmful. Though I would argue that if a woman expends a large amount of time and effort in order to bring a man pleasure and gets nothing out of it (or a mere promise of future pleasure out of it), that is also a cost to the woman.

      If the time and effort involved are minimal, then the pleasure men get out of it may justify the minor amount of pain experienced by the woman, but our culture severely overestimates the value of male orgasms and underestimates the value of women’s time. Minor pleasure (and I do consider the physical pleasure involved in sex to be minor in the long run) justifies minor sacrifices (of time and effort), but never large ones. This is something sex-crazed men often fail to grasp and of course they should be willing to do for their women whatever they request from them.

      In summary, sex should never be a chore and it should never be like work (where you have to generate a certain amount of output in order to keep your job.)

      • C.K. Egbert

        I can’t say I agree, IR. The fundamental core of women’s oppression is that they are things to be hurt/used, and at the very least it is acceptable to hurt them for some other end (male pleasure, the reproduction of the species, etc.). So no amount of pleasure for a man justifies inflicting pain upon a woman (or even just making her feel like she has to loan out her body for a man to use for a space of time).

        • I totally agree that women should never tolerate real physical or emotional pain in the service of male pleasure, but I was using an extremely broad definition of pain above. One that counts any minor loss a person experiences as a form of pain. For example, if a woman buys flowers for a man, it costs the woman time and money and that can count as a form of “pain” if you use a broad definition of pain.

          I am not against women doing small nice things like that, but it should not be an obligation and men should be willing to do the same for women. I have no problem with the culture encouraging flower-giving, so long as it is encouraged as a gender neutral practice. By contrast, I do object to the culture encouraging BDSM, even if it promoted in a gender-neutral manner, because that involves real physical and emotional pain and the benefits are extremely trivial to the extent that they exist at all. But, if a particular sexual behaviour involved no more effort or discomfortable than buying a set of flowers (e.g. a brief kiss) then I would not object to a gender-neutral promotion of the behaviour either. Whether the culture will actually promote the behaviour in a gender neutral manner is a whole other story.

          More generally, when I discuss feminist issues, I tend to think about how I would like humanity to behave in a classless, post-patriarchal, generally hierarchy-free society. I would not want people to be completely selfish and unwilling to sacrifice anything for the better of humanity. I think there are times when individual sacriface is justified, but you are right, in our culture women are encouraged to make sacrifices more than men are and men are more often represented as being on the receiving end of the sacrifices and this has to change.

  • Elbee

    “Men might also consider cutting out porn…if they want their partners to feel like and enjoy having sex with them. Just a thought”.

    In casual conversation with male coworkers, male relatives and close male friends, I’ve learned that literally ALL men lie to their partners about their porn use, because “it’s easier that way– no arguments”. You know, the old “what she doesn’t know won’t hurt her” argument. And more than a few of these guys are addicted to it, even leaving long-term relationships if forced to choose between the wife or the porn….

    We women truly need to band together and stage a mutiny against that tidal sea of crap, or we will just be subjected to continually lying porn-using partners using our bodies as ‘cum-dumpsters’ while they superimpose their favorite porn star’s face over our own. Ask me how I know this happens. And being branded as insecure for “spying” on the history cache isn’t exactly helping us feel sexy, either.

    Seriously, the dating pool is down to a few drops. Researchers can’t even find subjects who haven’t used porn, for studies on how it affects and changes the user over time. Can’t find ‘porn virgins’…wow.

    We need to switch the imperative from “how to make sure he’s always getting laid” to “how to make sure he’s not lying about using porn” imperative.
    Maybe I’ll start a dating service where polygraph testing for misogynistic practices will be mandated for membership. Might be pretty sparse on male membership, though, eh?

    Other ideas welcomed…..(Great article, Meghan!)

    • Laurel

      Maybe men should know many of us can tell they watch porn. I can’t imagine why a man not raised on/excited by porn would want to slap me, pull my hair, choke me, see me cry, call me a “cum dumpster” or a “slut,” or spooge on my face.

      I was in the same relationship before and during the time internet porn arose and became popular. Before the internet, my man watched porn on VCR tapes, so I could watch them and see exactly what he was whacking off to. What he saw, he wanted, without exception. First he expected me to have several orgasms during every act of intercourse, even though he knew I don’t come that way. Intercourse went from being fun to being a miserable chore I could bring myself to (literally) perform once every couple of weeks.

      Later, as the stuff he saw on the VCR tapes changed (and when his job meant he had much younger co-workers), he got obsessed with anal and decided it was a right I was denying him, which meant I didn’t really love him. As for my not wanting to be choked, it meant I simply “didn’t understand” that it feels good to be choked, so he explained oxygen deprivation to me (!). (But pegging him? Choking *him*? Was I insane?!)

      He assured me that nobody got hurt in porn because porn is just fantasy. Also the women’s orgasms are real, and those lucky sluts get paid thousands and thousands of dollars to have them. He seriously expected me to believe both these statements. He acted very much as if he believed them.

      When the internet came along, our sex life ended. I couldn’t compete and he didn’t care anymore. I’d lie in bed trying to fall asleep while listening to my husband *dial up* porn.

      Years after my divorce, I dated a man who, for whatever reason, claimed not to like porn. We happily fucked up to five times a day. He never assumed I was “up for” anything; we discussed what we did and didn’t want to do. There was no whining or begging or negotiation. I had a helluva lot of fun. I don’t even know how to describe the difference except to say that, unlike the man who said he loved me for sixteen years, this one apparently saw me as human.

      The fact that my sex life predates the internet means I’m pretty damned old, but it does give me an advantage. When I think about what young women today must go through, I’m sad and terrified for them.

      • Meh

        “The fact that my sex life predates the internet means I’m pretty damned old, but it does give me an advantage. When I think about what young women today must go through, I’m sad and terrified for them.”

        It’s sad because I’ve never experienced sex with a man who wasn’t – in some way or another – hooked on porn. When I hear your story about meeting a man who wasn’t into porn (and your positive sexual experiences with him), it makes me feel more positive (even though, realistically, guys my age are porn-sick.)

        I’ve noticed more and more that my sexual experiences are restricted by men. Meaning that I can only attain so much pleasure by being with a man who has been corrupted by porny shit (if anything at all.) I don’t think they realise (or fucking care) how disgusting we find this shit and just how much of a turn-off it is. That’s the best way for me to put it: Men and their porn use/expectations are an absolute TURN OFF.

        I’m happy to say that I’ve been single for a little while now and, therefore, haven’t needed to pretend to cum for ages. And I’ll never pretend again!!!

        • Laurel

          The thing about Mr. No Porn? He had other drawbacks. He had graduated school, bought a house, and was desperate to find the woman who would slot herself neatly into his prepared wife-place for him.

          He was also, unfortunately for you, about my age (early 40’s at the time). )-:

          I’m done with’em. Six years of celibacy haven’t bothered me one bit.

      • pbutterfly2000

        That man you were with sounds like a sociopath.

        • Laurel

          My ex-hub? I guess I make him sound that way, but I believe he’s terribly, terribly ordinary.

          It’s not like he was issuing orders. It’s not like I had the spine then I have now. But it was not the world’s healthiest relationship by any stretch.

          • pbutterfly2000

            Encouraging someone to want to get choked and pressuring someone to have anal sex is sociopathic behavior. Calling porn workers lucky sluts is sociopathic thinking. Good thing you got away.

        • But one that is very familiar to many of us – what with these behaviours being normalized, etc.

  • jo

    ”When they don’t align, somebody will be horny and the other somebody will not. Then what?”
    Has this person never heard about masturbation? Sigh.

    Good post, Meghan.
    With that title of the Jezebel article, it sounded like ”maintenance sex” (ugh) was their new trendy phrase for ”Lie back and think of England”. How anti-feminist and regressive.

  • If sex is such an important part of your relationship that your relationship will fail if you do not have it regularly, then your relationship is shallow, empty and, in short, terrible. The concept of maintenance sex seems to assume that relationships are an inherent good regardless of whether they actually bring pleasure and happiness and regardless of whether they are based on love and equality. It is actually a pretty conservative idea. I am a little surprised that liberal feminists are preaching it, given that they go on and on about “enthusiastic consent”, but what more should I expect from a movement that is more interested in “liberating sex” than liberating women (or humans in general.)

    “Moore does touch on issues such as “don’t have maintenance sex if you don’t want to” ”

    Isn’t maintenance sex, sex that you don’t want, by definition? “It’s okay to have sex you don’t want, if you want to”, LOL. Another logical contradiction, brought to you be sex positive “feminism”.

    I do not think it is a good idea to have too much sex at the beginning of a relationship. It causes people to become desensitised very quickly, causing them to turn to more risky sexual activities in order to produce a stronger physical sensation.

    In my view, relationships should be about egalitarian love and emotional connections (I avoid the word “intimacy”, because I feel it has been hijacked by proponents of aggressive/degrading sex acts). Sex should be a way of expressing that love within such relationships, not the purpose of the relationship. Like I said before, if your relationship cannot work with constant sex, you should rethink it.

    I think most people would have no problem telling people to rethink relationships that cannot function without one person constantly buying flowers (or some other romance associated item) for the other person. That is a perfectly fine way to express love, but it does not create or maintain it. If two people in a relationship never gave each other flowers we would not conclude that they did not each other and that their relationship was doomed. Flowers are just one way of expressing love and the same is (or at least should be) true of sex.

    And furthermore, intercourse is just one way of generating sexual pleasure. I am glad you touched on this in your article. Vaginal intercourse should not be obligatory for couples. Like liberals, I want to abolish the concept that there is such a thing as “real sex”, but while liberals seek to promote sexual acts that are more degrading and more risky than vaginal intercourse, I wish to promote the view that non-penetration, non-violent sexual activities are just as legitimate as vaginal intercourse.

    If BDSMers can be in relationships that consist solely of one person performing acts of aggression against another (I know many BDSMers also have “vanilla” sex, as they call it, but some BDSMers claim to only practice BDSM) and not be accused of failing to have “real sex”, then people who can experience intense physical pleasure by sharing passionate kisses and engaging in other forms of “outercourse” (as it is sometimes called) without people asking them when they are finally going to have “real sex”. Anything that involves interacting with another human being and generates intense sexual pleasure for at least one of the people involved is “real sex” in my view (which does not mean I necessarily endorse all activities which meet this description).

    • Meghan Murphy

      Several men have told me that they need to have sex because this is how the ‘express love’ or feel intimate with their partners. I tend to think this is bullshit. I mean, I believe they believe that, but I think that is only because men don’t learn how to connect emotionally with other people and learn that sex is the primary purpose of relationships with women… I find that women (frustratingly) often also buy into this, explaining to me that we must have sex with our male partners because this is what makes them feel close to us. Again, I wish we would hold men to higher standards… Or at least call them on this bs…

    • Meh

      “I do not think it is a good idea to have too much sex at the beginning of a relationship. It causes people to become desensitised very quickly, causing them to turn to more risky sexual activities in order to produce a stronger physical sensation.”

      What do you mean by desensitised? Like disinterested? Bored?

      • Meghan Murphy

        I always have ‘too much sex’ at the beginning of relationships… I feel like I may as well since it’s not like you’re gonna be having sex 3-4 times a day a few years down the road… I figure that kind of passion is fun to indulge in while it lasts. It never seems to have led me to try more ‘risky’ sexual activities…?

        • Meh


      • Desensitisation occurs when somebody is repeatedly over-stimulated in a particular way. It happens with a lot of things (depictions of violence, physical pain, the taste of food) and it results in people experiencing a dulled physical or psychological response to a stimulus. If someone is physically stimulated in a sexual way over and over, the body responds less to the physical stimulus and a stronger stimulus is needed. Riskier sexual activies usually provide a stronger physical stimulus. So desensitisation could lead to disinterest and boredom, but it could also lead to more extreme sex acts.

        I apologise for using a pyschological jargon term. I always try to make sure that what I write is accessible to people outside of university, but sometimes you become so used to terms it becomes hard not to use them.

        The BDSM community brags about “spicing up people’s sex lives”, but they never question why a sex life needs to be spiced up in the first place. I do not think egalitarian sex is naturally boring. I think people are being desensitised by an excessively sexualised culture (images can cause desensitisation too) and being encouraged to rush into having vaginal sex as soon as they can without taking time to build up emotional connections and gain pleasure from other sexual activities.

        To Meghan, I was making a general statement. I do not claim to be an expert on your particular sex life. I do not think it is morally wrong to have sex to often at the start of the relationship (and I think a lot of things are morally wrong, LOL), but I would ask you how you are not going to be having sex frequently later in the relationship (though 3-4 times a day seems a bit excessive to me.) Does sexual passion have a natural tendency to fade as you get to know someone better? People tend to have sex less often over time as a result of increased responsibility (e.g. people get jobs and have kids), but would the desire for sex just magically fade, even if the people involved did not have additional responsibilities? Or could it be that desensitisation thing I was talking about?

        • Meghan Murphy

          Because it is ridiculous to imagine that anyone would have the time (or motivation?) to keep something like that up… I don’t think it has anything to do with being desensitized… My orgasms happen in the same way, always… I don’t need to push or change anything, nor do I want to… I mean, if it ain’t broke… I think people have more sex at first because the beginning of the relationship is often very lust-driven and that early (physical) excitement about a person tends to dwindle a bit after a while… I have no explanation for this, but it has been my experience and seems to be the experience of most couples I know… It’s not like you aren’t attracted to that person, but the desire to constantly be fucking seems to die down eventually… Again, I don’t really know why.

          • Meh

            Yeah, I get it. It’s a bit of a mystery.

            I know that when I begin relationships it’s (mostly) about the sex. Then after a while the sex stops being so frequent (3 to 4 times a day sounds about right!) and is replaced by other things (intimacy, etc.)

            Having said that, I don’t like to stay in relationships for too long. I think I just get easily bored or something (and I go out with dickheads.)

          • Meghan Murphy

            So far my ‘long-term’ relationships have been 1.5 years (maybe closer to 2? I can’t remember…), 1.5 years, 3 years, 1 year, and this current one’s at 6 months (still in the ‘new’ phase, as far as I’m concerned). So I have no clue how things go when you get to, like, the ten year mark. I guess I can’t ‘make things last’ longer than a couple of years either (ha). Of course, in retrospect, these relationships all appear to have lasted about three times longer than they should have… I really did my very best with some completely undeserving shits.

          • “Because it is ridiculous to imagine that anyone would have the time (or motivation?) to keep something like that up?”

            Yeah, I myself said that 3-4 times a day is a bit excessive, LOL. I should have phrased more along the lines of “how do you know that it is not possible for you (or others) to have a relationship in which you have sex more frequently later on than you do at the start?”. I know of couples that have done that (usually they started out believing that one should not have sex until marriage, but ended up giving up on the idea, as their relationship became more passionate with time.)

            “….the beginning of the relationship is often very lust-driven and that early (physical) excitement about a person tends to dwindle a bit after a while… I have no explanation for this, but it has been my experience and seems to be the experience of most couples I know”

            That is what I am concerned about, LOL. I do not think lust is a strong basis for a relationship. Westerners tend to equate out-of-control feelings of lust with love, feelings that do indeed fade if they are based strictly on physical attraction, but I think feelings of lust can develop out of love. In such situations the feelings may strengthen over time.

            In some more traditional cultures, people have arranged marriages and they report feeling more in love with their partners over time. I am no advocate for arranged marriage (or traditional gender norms.) Many arranged marriage occur for practical or economic reasons and women wind up being abused and taken advantage of as a result. I also think women have a right to make informed decisions about who they marry and that cannot be done if a partner is choosen for them, but I do not think Western culture gives women (or men) the information they need to make good decisions about relationships or marriage. I do not think relationships motivated primarily by physical attraction are likely to last or turn out well, but I glad to hear that you are enjoys your relationship and I hope things continue to go well for you, even if you only have sex once a day, LOL.

          • Meghan Murphy

            I don’t mean to say you feel less ‘in love’ over time. Love grows! And I don’t mean to say that you will necessarily stop having desire for your partner or having a fulfilling sex life. I just mean that level of intercourse — every day, several times a day — doesn’t tend to last very long. I don’t think it’s because we love our partners less. Also, sexual desire isn’t purely about physical attraction — I don’t even think it’s mostly about physical attraction. The reasons we are attracted to our partners are much more about other kinds of connections (as well as plain old biology, pheromones, etc.), in my experience anyway… So it’s not as though that early super-lust is a superficial thing (I mean, it could be for some people, but it isn’t for me and I doubt it is for many people…) — I just think that, for whatever reason, the excitement/lust we feel early on and the kind of super-sex drive that seems common to the early part of a relationship, seems to slow down after a while. Again, I don’t know why but I don’t think it has anything to do with dwindling attraction or love…

          • ErnestinaChe

            I think what IR is trying to get is the idea of “fancying” ..on a talk with Sheila Jeffrey in Australia ..she explained that the whole idea of liking someone without knowing them are the beginnings of objectification when you have sex at the beginning is the lust acting, a process of objectification , I founded absurd, but it does sort of make sense in the patriarchy context, she also talks about the idea of developing a friendship rather than physical attraction as a base for an egalitarian relationship, since beauty and looks are imposed? On women under patriarchy ..hope I made sense

          • Reva

            “I do not think lust is a strong basis for a relationship. Westerners tend to equate out-of-control feelings of lust with love, feelings that do indeed fade if they are based strictly on physical attraction, but I think feelings of lust can develop out of love.”

            So true.Especially many boys and girls of my age (17) start a relationship with sex,somethimes under peer-pressure,sometimes because they’re desperate or sometimes just for the sake of saying ‘I’m in a relationship’…I have seen many teenagers desperately wanting a relationship (never figured why)…even in my country India,where this is not in our ‘culture’…many people feel the need to do it because everyone else is doing it…(this is not the case in every relationship,but there are many that start like this)…I also have pretty good knowledge about relationships in western culture,and I’ve observed that many relationships begin with sex,not love or any kind of mental connection…also there are ‘sex-mates’ or ‘sex-buddies’ or whaterver they call them, with whom you have a purely sexual relationship without any kind of emotional bonding (this is the ‘deal’)…I’m not saying that some particular culture is bad or having sex like this is so wrong.I just feel that this is very sad.Sure you should have sex with anyone you like (as long as they are willing to do it with you),but relationships these days have become so sex-based and lacking love and respect (in most cases…not all relationships are like that).Some of my Europian female friends once told me that sometimes being in a relationship is so important to girls that their mothers think there’s something wrong with their daughters cuz they don’t have a boyfriend yet…(?)These things often make me think again about having a relationship.
            (This might sound quite funny,coming from a 17 year old virgin who has never been in a relationship LOL…but I just wanted to share how I feel about this)

            As for arranged marriage,which is still very common in India,it turns out to be very bad in many cases.The biggest irony of arranged marriages in my country is that we are taught not to talk to stangers,but it’s completely fine to sleep with one..!In educated and well cultured families,arranged marriages usually turn out be great and successful.But among the non-educated people it’s like a ‘deal’ between two families.Mostly the guy chooses the girl,(educated families thanksfully give girls a choice to find the guy they like rather than forcing them to marry the guy her parents like) and the girl has to marry that guy no matter what.Marriage of the girl is like a matter of life and death for such people.They even agree to give dowry to the boy’s family just so they’ll let their boy marry their daughter -_- and in such marriages,the women are treated like slaves by the guy’s family,and many a times forced to ask for dowry from her parents,otherwise it will even result in her death.It’s SO much worse here.

    • pbutterfly2000

      I think the real problem is rejection. If one partner exercises their “no” too much, the other partner is going to feel rejected. This could be for any sort of request, not just sex. It’s very important to get that balance right. If couples can’t negotiate then it’s an unhappy couple. Couples kill each other over whether one of them does the dishes or not.

      But sex is indeed gendered in that often men have a skewed sense of how much sex is enough sex for them, so their partner is always going to have to be rejecting them, and then the rejecting partner is going to feel used. In equal relationships with mutual respect, things like sex (and household chores) work themselves out smoothly.

    • If you do it right when you’re having sex, if both of you get off, you get a nice rush of oxytocin at the end that has a very strong emotional-bonding effect. What looks to you like “sex is more important than anything else in a relationship” is actually “a very pleasurable method of fomenting stronger emotional bonds”.

      You get to pass out and sleep really well afterwards, too, rather than lie awake anxious and unfulfilled.

      But that’s IF you and your partner are considerate of one another in bed and make one another’s pleasure at least as much a priority as your own. Which we women seem to be on board with a lot more than your average guy is. They have no idea what they’re missing.

      That said, as you would agree, we need to do more than just have sex to cultivate those emotional bonds. But I think there’s a function (a word I like better than “purpose”) to all that lust in the beginning, too.

  • Survivorthrrver

    Another great article here.

    I’m blessed to have an education and decent job so I have lived solo for 20 years while co-parenting two lovely daughters. I “dated” 3 liars in a row off the mismatch dot com. One liar – the female upstairs was not a roommate but a wife of ten years, and their marriage of convenience for unwanted pregnancy a mere sham, still, he supported them as they lived upstairs. I had not been single since the 1970’s, and ignorant of porn. Cum on my face? I demurred and wondered why he thought spewing on my face sexay. Then he wanted the anal. Tried. Then w/o asking moved to put the peen in my mouth. I was SHOCKED but the moment steam rollered right over me as I disassociated – yup, Adverse Childhood Events reared their ugly memory heads. Then he shoved my face down, gripped my hair and told me I was a bxxx, cxxxx,whxxxx and that I “liked to be called names”. I felt really sorry for him and repulsed. Then I peeked over his shoulder late one night as he’d been “playing video games” in his study every night. Yup. I was so shocked that he enjoyed seeing women hurt. I wasa offended he’d tried out that commercial enactment of ritual abuse on me, and, in my ignorance had ALLOWED him access to my sacred physical intimacy world. THEN I did the research (Porn Harms, etc) and learned of the full extent of this gonzo porn. That man was also a very slow orgasmer, had to get a LOT of stimulation from me during his escalation of acts I now realize are porn based. So, I decided to marry myself and be auto-erotic and that’s been my lifestyle for over a dozen years. When I got freed from male intimate domination it was a big relief. I did not have to live my mother’s live of submitting to the military husband and enduring six births due to inadequate birth control, him denying her the diaphram and having yet another unwanted pregnancy and her inability to support herself due to lack of education/marrying young/having 6 kids.

    Women are enduring ritualized abuse that is performed for profit by sell-out women who smile, wink and model abusive sex masquerading as “sex”. Penetrative sex the sex-du-jour. I am so angry at these sell-outs who feed the unnatural and artificially cultivated behaviors that are now modern sex.

    My younger daughter is asexual. Her second “boyfriend” ended with rough sex, and her 20 year old eyes filled up with tears and said she did not understand why boys thought they had to be so mean. She’s celibate for 3 years, her girlfriends have started a Millenial blog they hide in plain sight with a name that you’d think was an MRA site but has now attracted 650+ followers sharing between them their truths and their utter disgust with porn-based male entitled idiots. I will not blow their cover, but, it heartens me that they are as radical as I was at that age. No fem lites and fun fems there. 3 of them met IRL and now share the apartment and feed each others creative spirits. I wish my daughter were lesbian to keep her safe from these average joe predators.

    I resent our culture, every day in my face tits ass and smiles. Since I experienced the porn addict guy I now experience revulsion for males that is enduring. I am also angry as hell.

    My generation got the Miss America pageant to skip the bathing suit competition. Remember that?

    I now believe in the Beguine solution – live together as women, create economies to support ourselves, and exclude males. You can meet them in the outer world, but they do not live and work with us and our children. Have any of you read about the middle-age Beguine phenomenon? So many men were dead from teh Crusades that women and children flocked to the nunneries that then took on a life of their own as Beguine communities until the church obliterated them and that option.

    Remember Lysistrata? They kettled those boys in their government chambers, physically restricting them by mass female opposition until they stopped war. I like that. Having enduring the co-optation of and backlash against feminist gains in my lifetime I’m so fried that I want to conceal carry. Touch my ass and I’ll bang yours back.

    You’ve hit a nerve Meghan. 3 out of 4 American housewives on anti-depressants? Why? What’s underneath the depression? ANGER. Women are voting with their libidos and men have got to be put in their place. Well, they are destroying the planet through extractive and polluting capitalist enterprises. Our earth mother body scoured, drilled, fracked, excavated, pulverized, processed, and shoved into plastic bags at Walmart for ignoramus consumption.

    I’m on board. Start a group, get a web, having women-only meetings. Let’s get the Helen Reddy roar revved up.

  • Stephanie

    Thanks for the article! I can attest to having similar experiences. When sex was being used primarily as a way to get my partner off (who used porn), overtime I grew disinterested in sex and felt unsafe about it since it wasn’t really about me or coming from a loving context, but about that other person getting off primarily and using my body in a porn way. Now I’m in a relationship where I want to engage in sex more frequently and my partner does not. That’s really hard for me because I really enjoy sex, even when I’m not horny, because I find it an interesting and creative way to be close to someone and share love, time, affection and attention. It is definitely a balancing act for me, to respect when the other person is not in the mood and to settle for maintenance sex which my partner provides because he knows its important to me and he wants to make sure I am satisfied. Maintenance sex isn’t as good as “wow i really want to be with you now!” sex. I think being a feminist has made me more sensitive to the dynamics of sexual relations and power issues and the need to feel safe when it comes to differences in sexual desire. But that doesn’t mean I don’t personally grieve about wishing he was more sexual. My love for him balances that out and I try to connect with him in different ways. sex isn’t everything.

    On the other the hand, I am a little critical of knowing that when my current partner was using porn he was having sex, albeit with himself, more frequently. but when he stopped using porn and started having sex with me, overtime his drive and interest diminished. That bothers me that he was more interested in watching people having fake sex and touching himself than he has been overall in having sex with a real person. In my opinion, porn inhibits sexual maturity.

    • Meghan Murphy

      “On the other the hand, I am a little critical of knowing that when my current partner was using porn he was having sex, albeit with himself, more frequently. but when he stopped using porn and started having sex with me, overtime his drive and interest diminished. That bothers me that he was more interested in watching people having fake sex and touching himself than he has been overall in having sex with a real person. In my opinion, porn inhibits sexual maturity.”

      Totally. At the same time, I tend to think of porn as a kind of ‘fast food’ version of sex. It obviously takes more emotional, physical, psychological effort to have sex with your partner –a real woman you are in a relationship with — than it does to jack off to this fake scenario that men have been trained to jack off to since they were children. Certainly I agree that porn inhibits sexual maturity and completely warps men (and women’s) understanding of sex and sexuality.

      • It’s absolutely true that porn inhibits maturity and warps men, and with accelerated frequency of access and omnipresence of the imagery/ideology, those effects are also intensified. I started having sex with men before the internet and while there were fewer of the disturbing porn-driven demands that we hear so much about now, I recall that after the initial excitement, men very frequently just got lazy – like you were a fuck machine: “twist this knob, push this button then I get to put my peen in”. Overall, the fear and contempt for the female sex, distain for traits labeled “feminine” that is built into our sociality leaves men disabled when it comes to the sort of attention and responsiveness that is entailed in sexual pleasure (and women much less likely to ask for it).

        Quite simply: patriarchy makes for lousy lovers and bad sex all around.

  • pbutterfly2000

    The problem is not the sex per se but the man’s view about the woman and her rights. If doesn’t treat you as a friend and an equal, then it is going to be just as torturous to try to get him to have sex as it is to get him to understand that you don’t want any sex. A lot of men feel that whatever they want is what goes. And that includes rejecting their partner sexually because they are mad at her, because she is not being feminine and submissive enough, because he is bored with her, or because she has gained a few pounds or aged a few years. As couples age, women having to give maintenance sex to please their partners often shifts to women having to worry constantly about having to stay young-looking and slim in order to maintain his flagging attention.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Well yes and no. I think many men don’t necessarily think about it in terms of our rights (despite the fact that it is, in part, about our human rights) but that a lot of it comes down to messages they receive from media, from porn, and from other men. That is that there is something wrong with women who aren’t ‘up for it’ all the time (they are prudish) and that men are entitled to sex — it is their right. I believe many men think this is just the natural way the world works and don’t necessarily go so far as to think ‘she doesn’t have the same rights as me.’ You’re right, of course, that it is because many men don’t see their female partners as friends and equals… Only men can be true friends and equals, after all, because men are not to-be-fucked.

      • pbutterfly2000

        I don’t mean that they think about it in terms of women’s rights or men’s rights, just that they do what they want to do and don’t do what they don’t want to do. So while it may not be traumatic or painful or degrading for a man to have sex when he doesn’t feel like it, he is not very likely to attempt to have maintenance sex to please his woman because it would just never occur to him to have to go out of his way to do something just to please her. Many married women are in relationships where their man won’t have sex with them, won’t kiss them, and won’t even look at them. They’re half-dead and emotionally absent. It’s a form of passive-aggressive control. Lack of sex in a long-term marriage is ALWAYS a red flag, no matter who is refusing, because it means one partner has emotionally checked out, is hurt, angry, or refusing to address the feelings of the other or to communicate properly.

  • Ellesar

    Agree with just about everything you have discussed here, and this makes me SO glad that I am celibate, and also primarily attracted to women!

    I have only done this as a teen – 30 years ago, and it was dispiriting and love destroying. I cannot understand it in a mutually respectful relationship – ditto the porn use.

  • Birdsy

    Thank you so much for writing this. I wish I had read something like this when I was married. I feel so sad remembering me mourning my poor libido, wondering where it went when my husband was cheating on me, lying about porn & saying horrible things about women…

    And I can really relate to what Elbee said. I know I literally can’t marry or even date again because men who don’t do that shit don’t exist.

  • susan

    Why do men allllllllways want sex? Is it because it affirms them as a person? As a subject, an agent, a conquerer?

    Men are told all their life to hate women, use them, and put their “bros before hoes.” When they fall in love with a woman and take her on as their love, best-friend, and life partner, it can cause some weird feelings. Luckily, they can reaffirm their position in the relationship as the dominant and more important one through the ritualized repetition of sex.

    • Meh

      I think that men are socialised to be sexually pathetic/desperate, and therefore, to reinforce the bullshit sex-poz stereotype that “Women have all the sexual power.” That’s why 70s comedies are based on men chasing lingerie-clad women – because there’s something “funny” to men about being desperate/predatory.

      It’s just a big game at the end of the day, where men pretend that they’re powerless through this “desperate” bullshit.

      • Meghan Murphy

        Yes it’s a very useful way to trick us into believing we aren’t the oppressed sex.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Well then they’re getting something out of the deal, right? Not just a very close, loving, supportive, intimate friendship with a woman…

  • Dave Shark

    Most of the discussion in the comments is about relationships where the man wants sex and the woman doesn’t. I’d like to ask what all of your thoughts are about the reverse situation, which Meghan briefly touched on: “women who have been left feeling unloved, undesired, and unsatisfied” because their male partners don’t want sex as much as they do.

    There are a lot of ways that can happen, other than the obvious culprit of a steady porn diet–after all, plenty of men watch a lot of porn and still end up quite aggressively demanding sex from women. Job stress can do corrode a man’s libido. Life changes–maybe a serious health change or a death in the family–can compromise sexual interest. So can kids–most of the men I know who became fathers experienced sharp drops in their sex drive, and frequency of sex, afterwards. Or maybe she’s become interested in a type of sex that he’s not comfortable with, e.g., she wants to be on top and for whatever reason he’s not into that.

    What is to be done in that situation? Patriarchally imposed constraints make it disproportionately difficult for a woman to seek alternate means of satisfaction (women who seek other partners get slut-shamed, while men who do so get commended for being studs) if her lover is inadequate, so does a man therefore have a moral obligation to provide sex to his female partner if he doesn’t want to, even though the reverse is not true? That seems sort of fair–a kind of sexual restorative justice–but then we run into the problem that any sex that occurs under manufactured consent isn’t really happening under consent.

    So what to do? Should we say that a man should leave if a woman wants sex that he can’t provide, or doesn’t feel comfortable providing? That solution seems tantamount to the threat that if they really want to have a well-functioning relationship, they’d better be sexually conservative so they don’t drive men away with their wildness. That reeks of patriarchal fear of liberated womanhood.

    On the other hand, is a man who doesn’t want sex actually a radical feminist issue? Since nobody, men and women alike, is entitled to sex, a sexless relationship isn’t really attacking the rights of women as a class–it’s just a disappointment on an individual level. It may not be fun, but is “fun” really the goal of feminism? Or is it harder to smash the shackles of patriarchy if you’re not getting sex on a regular basis, and therefore not being validated as a woman with healthy sexual needs by the man that you’re emotionally closest with?

    I also wonder how the politics of “maintenance sex” manifest in a lesbian relationship, so that male supremacy is not a factor, but I’m _way_ out of my depth there.

    • Meghan Murphy

      “On the other hand, is a man who doesn’t want sex actually a radical feminist issue? Since nobody, men and women alike, is entitled to sex, a sexless relationship isn’t really attacking the rights of women as a class–it’s just a disappointment on an individual level. It may not be fun, but is “fun” really the goal of feminism? Or is it harder to smash the shackles of patriarchy if you’re not getting sex on a regular basis, and therefore not being validated as a woman with healthy sexual needs by the man that you’re emotionally closest with?”

      Hmm, no I wouldn’t say it was particularly a “radical feminist issue”… But it is certainly an issue or a frustration for the women I know who have experienced this (being in a relationship with a man who has a very low sex drive)… I think it’s more of a personal/relationship issue than anything else. Personally I think that if a woman is extremely sexually frustrated and her male partner is aware that the lack of sex is a problem and doesn’t try to work on it, it makes sense for her to seek out another sexual partner (preferably she’d be open about this with her current partner….). But hey, I have different standards for women than I do for men… Because of the whole context of history/male domination, etc.

      • Dave Shark

        This is a case, then, where the personal is not actually political?

        • Meghan Murphy

          Well, you can analyze anything from a gendered/feminist perspective — this issue too, clearly. I just meant that I don’t know that hetero relationships wherein the man has a low sex drive and the woman has a high sex drive is an issue radical feminists need to take on.

          • Dave Shark

            I suppose that, like any form of class analysis, it depends on whether or not a woman’s ability to successfully engage in political struggle on behalf of other women is affected by the extent to which she is sexually satisfied. And whether or not a lack of sexual fulfillment is problematic when viewed intersectionally–e.g., do poor women suffer more from sexless relationships than wealthy women because they have less access to therapy (as they can’t afford it)? Does it disproportionately impact women whose cultures have a greater demand for childbearing?

      • pbutterfly2000

        In most cases though, a man who is not interested in sex is NOT be open to her having sex with other partners. This is the man who believes he owns his partner’s body, but does not want to use it himself. Therefore he is demanding for her a life of celibacy, which keeps her on a pedestal, and reserves his lust for the “whores” out in the world. Many women will remain with a man like this because the alternative is far worse (being coerced all of the time to have sex with an inconsiderate, overly demanding partner). It’s just as patriarchal for a man to refuse sex, it’s just the other side of the coin. In this sense it is an issue radical feminists might want to address.

        • Meghan Murphy

          Yes, this is very true…. good point.

    • “That reeks of patriarchal fear of liberated womanhood.”

      So, having and wanting lots of intercourse is liberating? That reeks of male sexology.

      • Dave Shark

        “Having and wanting lots of _consensual, sex-critical_ intercourse is liberating”


        If two or more people want to have sex with each other (or with themselves) and are prepared to take responsibility for how their actions affect others who are helplessly involved (e.g. by being an unwilling audience), then yes, I would say that is a profound act of autonomy. Pursuing one’s own happiness means that the greater society need no longer struggle under the burden of providing pleasure for the sake of maintaining social cohesion.

        Nonetheless, as so many here have mentioned, a woman who would make such pursuit in escape of involuntary celibacy’s confines faces many systemic challenges.

        • I’ll reiterate: This reeks of male sexology. You really aren’t saying anything new.

          I highly recommend “Intercourse” by Andrea Dworkin and “Anticlimax”/”The Spinster and her Enemies” by Sheila Jeffreys. They basically argue that intercourse, and with it pornography, prostitution, marriage etc., is one of the main tools with which men oppress women. The words “consensual” and “happiness” are therefore beside the point, in fact they are convenient, because then the male who penetrates women can opt out of any responsibility.

  • Here some wisdom from the S.C.U.M. Manifesto:

    “Eaten up with guilt, shame, fears and insecurities and obtaining, if he’s lucky, a barely perceptible physical feeling, the male is, nonetheless, obsessed with screwing; he’ll swim through a river of snot, wade nostril-deep through a mile of vomit, if he thinks there’ll be a friendly pussy awaiting him. He’ll screw a woman he despises, any snaggletoothed hag, and furthermore, pay for the opportunity. Why? Relieving physical tension isn’t the answer, as masturbation suffices for that. It’s not ego satisfaction; that doesn’t explain screwing corpses and babies.”

    “Men cannot cooperate to achieve a common end, because each man’s end is all the pussy for himself.”

  • pbutterfly2000

    But Thomas said this:

    “So, having and wanting lots of intercourse is liberating? That reeks of male sexology.”

    Then he quoted this:

    “Men cannot cooperate to achieve a common end, because each man’s end is all the pussy for himself.”

    He is in essence saying that intercourse is apolitical because of how men control women. It’s one thing for lesbians and feminist separatists to say that. It’s another for a man to say that. When a man says that he is imposing an earlier form of patriarchy on women. How a woman deals with intercourse is her personal choice. These texts are helpful for women who wish to resist men and intercourse. They are not helpful as texts to be preached and taught to women who enjoy sex. .

  • Miranda

    Something happened to the comments/formatting on this post, Meghan : My replies don’t fall into place as they did a couple of days ago and one of my comments failed to show up at all.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Oh no! Sorry about that… I’ll see if I can look into that…

      • Miranda

        Meghan, even our comment thread right here is out of order from other comments – check out the dates of the comments directly below:
        “January 9th, 2015 at 2:14 pm”
        “January 11th, 2015 at 8:46 am”

        Pretty weird 🙂

        • Actually, at least 10 comments are completely missing.

          • Sabine

            Yeah, my comment didn’t show up!

  • FormerLurker

    I was taught in school that sex (aka “the marital act”) is the acting out in flesh of the marriage sacrament between a man and a woman whereby the two come together and (literally) become “one flesh”. It is the ultimate act of sharing their love, trust, and the most intimate part of themselves with each other…and in this act their love for each other is so great that the result could very well be the springing forth of new life!

    That’s what I was taught and I never found reason to question it. YMMV

    It was also said that a person should not deny his/her spouse their conjugal rights unless there be good cause. So for example, a wife might refer to her “wifely duties” to her husband in that area. This was all worked out over many generations and found to be the best way to organize society, from the ground up.

    So, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” indeed.

    • bella_cose

      “This was all worked out over many generations and found to be the best way to organize society, from the ground up.”

      Without any input from women, of course. We women are so lucky to have men to figure all this hard stuff out for us.

      • Morag

        FormerLurker was on other threads promoting “the surrendered wife” and Hitler’s Mein Kampf.

        • Sabine

          He (FormerLurker) is actually demonstrating his case of “surrendered brain”….

    • Morag

      Yeah, there are definitely some technical glitches affecting this thread. Not only are some comments out of order or missing, but we’re actually getting comments from entirely different blogs altogether.

      Very weird.

      • Meghan Murphy

        Hmmm, that’s weird. Sorry about that — I’ll try to see if my web person can check it out….

        • Morag

          Oh, shit. Forgive me. Yes, there seem to some glitches: out of order and missing comments. That much is true.

          But, the part of about “comments from other blogs” was for the troll, above. The one who says intercourse is a wife’s duty. He’s the apparent neo-nazi from another thread, called “FormerLurker.”

          Sorry, I should have been more clear.

          • Meghan Murphy

            Ohhh. Indeed! Ok good. That confused me!

      • Mar Iguana

        Ha!! Perfect, Morag. I wish I could give you a whole bunch of likes.

    • Laurel

      It’s broken, though. For a lot of women, it’s really, really broken.

      What are non-Christians meant to take away from your comment?

      • FormerLurker

        Laurel, I would assume non-Christians also believe in marriage and family, do they not? I mean, don’t most women dream of a loving husband, the happiness and joy of children, the consolation of grand-children into old age, etc? It seems that we are hard-wired for these things, which is why girls dream of their wedding and being a mother from the time they are little.
        I don’t know…I hear so much about the “evils” of patriarchy. But since patriarchy at its heart is the organizing of society thru the building block of the nuclear family, for the benefit of women and children, I would be very cautious in condemning it. Remember, a man with a wife and kids has every motivation to work hard to provide for them, to love them, and to take care of them. It’s really such a beautiful concept.
        Again, at the risk of dating myself…in school we were taught to look to the Holy Family as our example to emulate. And I can’t help but feel that somewhere along the way we’ve lost something…something beautiful and precious.

        • Meghan Murphy

          “I mean, don’t most women dream of a loving husband, the happiness and joy of children, the consolation of grand-children into old age, etc? It seems that we are hard-wired for these things, which is why girls dream of their wedding and being a mother from the time they are little.”

          What???? NO. They don’t. Did you get lost on the internet? I’m Meghan Murphy and this is Feminist Current.

        • Laurel

          I don’t give a rosy rodent’s rectum what “most women dream of,” I don’t give damn about the Holy Family, and I do not give a fiddler’s fart about your education. I was not born to be some man’s f*ckable mommy. I did not dream fluffy pink taffeta dreams about my wedding day. The only reason I see for “caution” in rejecting the patriarchy is the fact that doing so might cause a man to kill me…probably some man who claims to love me.

          The nuclear family is a relatively recent invention. And I turn fifty in a few weeks, so don’t give me this “you’re too young to appreciate being a man’s property” foofooraw.

          Run hard-wire that.

        • bella_cose

          You’re an idiot. No, not every woman grows up dreaming of children and weddings. In fact, to some of us, marriage and children seems more like prison than a dream. For many women, death would be a better option than a traditional, patriarchal marriage. Luckily, thanks to feminism, women don’t have to choose between the two.

          Why do you waste our time here? It’s a blatant show of male privilege and entitlement that you think you can.

        • marv

          “Remember, a man with a wife and kids has every motivation to work hard to provide for them, to love them, and to take care of them. It’s really such a beautiful concept.”

          Religion and marriage are as sexist as porn and prostitution. Your patriarchal romanticism is extreme misogyny.

          By your logic we should embrace altruistic monarchies and slavers.

        • I would imagine that as living beings that reproduce, women in any culture would dream of having children, but a loving extended family is a fine replacement for all the loving things your average husband is supposed to do but doesn’t.

          An extended family is more stable than a nuclear family and a matrilineal extended family even more so since it’s not constantly being broken up by men marrying into it.

          And it’s curious how many men with wives and kids, *even stay-at-home Christian wives*, do NOT have “every motivation” to provide for them, love them, and take care of them. The trouble with beautiful concepts is that they are only concepts.

    • It is broken. It’s also sick. If the only reasons a man marries a woman are getting children and getting laid, marriage should be abolished yesterday. Just because you willingly cling to your chains doesn’t mean anyone else should have to. And if all this stuff really were the natural order, you shouldn’t have had to have been taught it in school and we shouldn’t have to had to “work it out over many generations.” It should be instinct and second nature. It isn’t.

    • ohffs was namesareirrelevant

      Hahahaha! Brilliant comedic response.

  • bitingkiss

    There was that thing the other day about the woman whose husband sent her a sex spreadsheet, basically a list of dates he attempted to initiate sex, whether they actually had sex, and what her reason for rejection was. I couldn’t help but think that if he had included a column “did she orgasm?” after the “had sex?” column then it might have gone a long way to explaining why the “had sex” column was mostly filled with N’s.