A wife makes a deal with her husband to try having sex every day for 20 days.
Here’s the problem: my libido is no match for my husband’s. It’s like a plough horse trying to keep up with a race horse (and if you have been reading some of my articles lately this is nothing new).
Still, faced with a problem, I’m a strategic commander-in-chief, rallying friends, acquaintances and colleagues to help me brainstorm solutions to such life challenges as parenting my tween, creative projects in a dangerous stall, or how to best handle my sometimes-obnoxious ex.
But in this situation, where the problem is an intimate and sexual one with my husband, I knew the tactical next move needed to come from me—from deep inside my wise woman geisha girl bones.
Surely, I can draw on this wisdom within even if my meno-brain is fuzzier lately than belly button lint. Thing is, my libido has taken a nose-dive in the last year, as peri-menopause loses ground to the real deal. Seven menstrual-free months later, I’m learning what it feels like when my vagina decides it’s damn well going to dry out like a wino, post binge. Did I mention the ouch factor? No wonder I’m not exactly meeting my partner’s libidinous desire for more.
About a month ago, in a private skype counseling session with my one-time tantra teacher, I brought up my fear that my husband’s sexual need was a bottomless pit. I noticed the fear in my body, a cringe inside that messaged me: “If you give an inch, he’ll take a mile.” That imagined mile would be like, I suppose, a sex marathon (and I’ve always been a sprinter).
My teacher guided me into a meditative state, instructing me to dive into that bottomless pit, heart-first, to explore the terrain of my fears. To my surprise, I realized if I could dive deep enough into the very thing I feared, I would find a treasure.
After this session, I had an-ha moment. I was looking at sex without a sex drive, as a chore. What if I reframed it as play? I would propose to my husband we create a playful sex challenge, in which every day for 20 days, we have sexual contact of some kind. (If not penetration, then oral sex, for instance). I was going to not only not-resist more frequent sex; I was going to make it a goal. Yes, I would do him daily and take on the whole marathon mile.
He readily—ok eagerly—agreed. That was three weeks ago. This is my back to office report:
Days One to Three: Wow, this sex thing is really working. With coconut oil and afternoon rendezvous, it’s not all that bad. Wait, was that a mind-blowing orgasm? Maybe I’m not dead yet. Look ma, three days in a row!
Days Four to Six. Is that the sound of my libido crashing, my whining about how tired I am tonight? Well, it is after midnight; I’ll make up for it the next day with double duty. Thank God for last-minute saves, with pre-nine pm sexual contact on days five and six. Progress report: six hits, one miss.
Days Seven to Nine: I blame him. He didn’t exactly say he was so tired he couldn’t wait up until I got into bed at ten pm. Yet he’s passive aggressively blaming me for not meeting this sex challenge by jumping into bed at 9 pm? Gee, this isn’t as much fun as it was out of the starting gate. I’m bitchy.
Days Ten to 12. We are back on the sex wagon—two nights in a row, and one night, twice. Feeling good about my sexual athleticism here. Oh and kink, yeah! Bring out the ropes and nipple clips. Does the two-fer night roll over as credit into the missing third night? I say it does. He begs to differ. Progress report: nine hits, three misses.
Days 13-15. Trouble in paradise. I realize now why I never go on diets—because ultimately the temporary food habit changes are not sustainable. This sex-diet (or sex gluttony) is clearly not my natural comfort zone. It’s like eating six meals a day, when I naturally eat only two or three. I feel stuffed on sex. And grumpy. I think I read a book about this, the dopamine flooding of frequent orgasmic sex leading to a post coital neurochemical; brain dump. (Specifically, a decrease in dopamine and increase in prolactin.) I’m a super bitch right now, and I’m not having sex.
Days 16 to 18. Turns out we only had 18 nights available all along. (I forgot about my trip to Santa Fe on day 19). Last three days, missed two due to neuro-chemical burn out (mine), nailed the last one. You have to go out with a bang. Final report card: 11 hits, seven misses.
Six lessons from the sex challenge:
1. I have a sexual saturation, a point at which I am simply spent (I don’t get those people who say the more they have it, the more they want it). Two nights in a row, and night three I just want to read a book in bed. My body is as interested in sex as it is in a cold bath.
2. Some sexual encounters surprised me. I thought I was barely interested and then suddenly, I was hot and juicy again, riding waves of pleasure. It was one of those nights I initiated the encore performance. Insatiable for a night.
3. Other sexual episodes also surprised me—I went in with good intentions, hopeful for real interest, and found my body lukewarm and sensation dulled. The sex challenge spurred me onward, even if my desire didn’t.
4. Giving pleasure is pleasurable. But it no longer turns me on the way it used to. What used to work as warm-up foreplay, now needs a reframe as an act of service and a quick lube job.
5. And this might be a tad TMI (too much information) but as menopause encroaches, I have to be vigilant around contracting urinary tract infections (I almost died, I swear, from the last big one that went into a kidney infection a year ago). By day 18, I could gag at the thought of drinking more unsweetened cranberry juice in the name of UTI prevention. Ughhh.
6. It’s not just about my mind and making a choice to sex up my life for my partner’s sake. It’s about my body, and its biochemical hangover response to too much sex and orgasm. Research shows:
Initially, during the honeymoon period of our relationship, we remain strongly bonded by high oxytocin levels, and quickly overcome our hormonal blues by having more sex. Initially sex stimulates us to crave for more sex. This leads to rapid rises and falls in dopamine levels and corresponding rapid emotional fluctuations in our relationship. Later we become less and less interested in sex with our partner (perhaps because we subconsciously begin to associate him or her with the “lows” of the cycle, or perhaps because we grow tired of being used as a fix, and therefore feel less attraction), and now we try to prop up our dopamine level by becoming addicted to some kind of food or drug, or by becoming interested in a new sexual partner. Basically this type of behavior is the same for humans, primates, mammals and reptiles because it originates from the primitive part of our brain.
The good news? The sexual brake (prolactin) that causes depression, bitchiness and resignation post sex-a-thon can be countered with feel good oxytocin, which the body makes in response to physical affection like cuddling, caressing, kissing, hugging.
So, in my hey honey I hate you phase (because we had sex three days in a row) I am now going to insist on regular full body massages from hubby to remedy the situation or better yet, full spa services on his dime. Suddenly, there’s a silver lining to the sex challenge—a medical reason for pampering time at the day spa.
Or there’s a second option to the neurochemical plunge into the blahs that happen from frequent orgasm in a post-falling-in-love relationship.
The time-honored solution to this problem is loving sex without orgasm. This greatly helps to sustain oxytocin levels without producing emotionally disruptive high-low neurochemical cycles of orgasm, and it has been practiced in Indian Tantra, by the Chinese Taoists, and apparently by early Christians. In modern times it has been resurrected as Karezza, White Tantra and various forms of spiritual sex. It heals and holds relationships together rather than driving them apart as frequent orgasmic sex seems to do although, as we will see later, it is also possible to have bonding orgasmic sex.
In the meantime, stay tuned for the next Estrogen Diaries installment, The 18 Day No-Sex Challenge. As of this writing, we are 15 days into it (although I was in Santa Fe for five of them and we are debating if those five days count) and we fell off the abstinence wagon a few nights ago. My fault. It only took 11 sex-free days for my libido to kick in and demand a good fuck.
As for the treasure at the bottomless pit of my fear of endless sex? It just might be a graduation to a Taoist/White Tantra/orgasm-less spiritual sex groove with my man, where together we ride the wave of neurochemical contentment into the land of marital bliss.
I’ll let you know how that looks.
This article originally appeared in elephant Journal.
Photo by rightee.