Thomas Fiffer explains that making sex a reward for a man’s good behavior not only cheapens the experience but also devalues the relationship.
You know the drill. You took out the garbage. Unloaded the dishwasher. Fixed the burned out light. Watched a movie that wasn’t your thing. Or gave your partner an expensive gift. And then you hear, “You’ve been a good boy, so I’m going to reward you.”
You’d think the offer of sex, no matter how it’s presented or was arrived at, would be appealing to men. After all, we want sex all the time, right? We’re just waiting for the OK to turn off the lights, strip, and get down to it. But men wanting sex constantly is one of many prevailing stereotypes, and it’s far from the truth. Men do want sex, as do women, not as payback but as an expression of love and intimacy with our partners. And we’re willing to “work” for it, as in, invest time and effort in building and nurturing a committed relationship. But we don’t want sex to be our reward for specific instances of good or desired behavior. Here’s why.
1. Transactional sex devalues both partners and the relationship. The truth is, men in relationships don’t want transactional sex. If a man actually prefers to pay for sex, he can. If he’s in a relationship, he wants sex to be a celebration of the closeness he enjoys with his partner, not an exchange for something he gives or sacrifices. Rewarding men with sex for desired behaviors devalues a woman by effectively making sex something a man buys from her, instead of something she gives freely. It also devalues a man by saying to him, “You are only worthy to receive sex from me because you have done x, y, or z.” Every day, men and women engage in dozens, even hundreds of business or financial transactions. Sex is one of the few areas where the transactional model can be cast aside in favor of the beauty of two people willingly coming together to renew their love and connection. When you remove the transactional model, you get, “We are having sex with each other because we love each other.”
2. Making sex a reward sets up expectation and leads to inevitable disappointment for both partners. The majority of men no longer consider sex on demand a right in a relationship, nor do they withhold money or deny things to their partners if sex is not regularly provided. Most men also consider upholding their end around the house as a standard relationship requirement. So today, a man’s expectation of sex in exchange for something he provides—paying for dinner and a movie, completing household chores or a to-do list, or giving an expensive gift—is more often linked to a woman’s characterizing sex as a reward for those things than to any lingering shadows of male privilege. The problem with the reward dynamic is that we’re all human. So if a man doesn’t consistently do the desirable behaviors for which he’s rewarded with sex, he loses the joy and relationship-cementing of sexual intimacy. And he will inevitably screw up. Conversely, if he does meet the requirements but his partner isn’t in the mood, she simultaneously disappoints him and withdraws one of the critical foundations of an intimate relationship. Men and women show our love all the time by doing nice things for our partners, and this flow of love creates trust and intimacy. And while there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging the love embodied in a gift or a sacrifice, a kind or generous gesture, with an expression of and invitation to the physical intimacy of lovemaking, there is a vast difference between acknowledging love (or its tangible representations) given freely, and reciprocating with sex as a kind of obligatory payment. The latter only leads to unhappiness for both partners.
3. When women give or deny exchange-based sex, they take on the role of a punisher and link sex to pain. What, you ask?, When a woman gives sex to a man in return for something nice that he’s done, she’s giving him pleasure, right? Physical pleasure, yes, but she’s paving the road for emotional pain. If a man feels he’s only getting sex because he’s done something good, whenever a woman says no—for whatever reason—he will begin to feel that he has done something wrong or bad. He will self-assess, self-criticize, self-flagellate, and often engage in grander gestures or greater sacrifices to regain sexual intimacy, and if he succeeds, will set the bar for his future behavior even higher. This in turn makes the relationship less about mutual connection and trust and more about proofs of love. The man’s behavior becomes the proof that he loves the woman, and the woman’s reciprocation with sex becomes the proof that she loves the man. Sex by itself doesn’t prove anything, especially not love. Sex is a reflection of love that is already present in the relationship.
Caveat: There are times when having sex with your partner may not feel appropriate, particularly after breaches of trust. Withholding sex in these cases, by either partner, is a unilateral acknowledgment of the injured party’s vulnerability and boundaries, and not an exchange-based action. It says, “You’ve hurt me, and I don’t feel good about being close to you right now.”
The takeaway here in simple terms is that sex is not a dog biscuit. It’s an act of mutual intention and intimacy between two loving people. Making sex conditional corrupts the relationship and debases the true gifts that each partner can provide.