Clio WoodWed, 31 March 2021, 1:24 pm
All men love sex, don’t they? Women put up with it, while men are itching to leap out of their pants and into bed. Well that’s the received wisdom.
Sure, more recently women have taken greater ownership of their sexuality, starting to erase the supposed shame of loving sex. But teenage discourse is often a little behind the times – as the emerging school “rape culture” scandal has highlighted in the past couple of weeks. That’s where we form our initial ideas of sexual appetites – what’s appropriate, what’s not; what’s expected; what lends you kudos, what’s not cool.
My husband and I were in our teens in the 1990s, against a background of lad culture and girl power. So perhaps it’s not surprising that, though we consider ourselves pretty balanced in the passion stakes, we’ve definitely worked through some things in our 13 years together. There have been ups and downs, but in general we’ve considered our sex life to be pretty healthy. More of a none-for-a-month-then-three-times-in-a-week couple than a standing Saturday night appointment, but nothing to worry about.
Yet, even years into a marriage, you can still make new discoveries.
My sex drive is a little unpredictable, especially now, when I’m pregnant, and we’ve all been locked down for a year. So when the mood takes, it’s usually best to strike while the iron is hot. But after a recent roll in the hay, I felt disjointed and distant from my husband. I was somehow dissatisfied and a bit sad. I couldn’t put my finger on why. Having (of course) simmered for a day or so, we had a conversation about it the next evening – and it turned out to be revelatory.
My husband is a feminist. As far as our careers allow, we have an equal relationship and share household and family duties. He’s a sensitive soul; a truly modern man. He doesn’t even have a toolbox for DIY – that’s mine.
But for him, adolescent peer rhetoric and cultural dialogue around sex had been coloured with an unrealistic porn-industry tone. Girls experience this all too openly and often, but boys are not immune to the discomfort and long-term impact. My husband, and I’m sure many other men, just didn’t see themselves reflected in it. Lad banter isn’t his thing. He knew that his natural inclination was for more caring sex, connection and mutual satisfaction, not just a quickie round the back of the science block.
So he went the other way, always focusing on his partner’s experience (it can often be harder for women to climax, after all, and we experience an orgasm gap) and putting his own enjoyment second. Apart from some dark postnatal years after our daughter was born, we’ve always had fulfilling and definitely mutually satisfying bedroom gymnastics – so it had completely passed me by that maybe my husband wasn’t as relaxed as I was.
He hid it well, and I hadn’t realised that he went into our encounters confident, but fixated mainly on whether I’d be able to orgasm or not. Sometimes he’d rather avoid sex altogether; it just felt easier than always thinking forward to his next move for my pleasure, and working out whether it was OK for him to climax yet.
I inadvertently made it worse, too: I get cold easily and we’ve always lived in drafty houses, so I like to be warm in bed. My husband, it turns out, sometimes likes more than an under-duvet tussle, which I often wouldn’t be up for, for no other reason than it was too chilly, but my gentle refusal felt like I was ignoring him when he did try and express his desire.
No wonder I’d started to get the brush-off, given that sex felt, partly, like a chore. We’d passed off his as a lower libido than mine, and even he hadn’t allowed himself to privately acknowledge the reason for his reticence.
When we finally talked about it properly that first time, the conclusion was a complete surprise to both of us. It was as simple as the fact that we needed to pay more attention to him, and perhaps not leave things unvoiced for 13 years.
We’re open and honest with each other in all parts of our marriage, but it turns out there’s always something to learn about your partner, always a way to improve your relationship and, thank goodness, keep your sex life fresh.
And you know what? Sometimes it’s as simple as turning the radiator on.
Clio Wood is a women’s health advocate, passionate about honest wellbeing. Find her on Instagram @itscliowood