Archive for the ‘Clashing Libidos’ Category

It’s All About Managing Anxiety

January 18, 2009

Marriage is a people growing operation in more ways than one. In the biological sense, the child rearing comes to mind, but it also helps raise the parents as much as the kids. It stretches and extends us in ways that we never would have imagined. When we see marriage as an environment that fosters growth, perhaps we can stop seeing it as something that is always broken and always needing to be fixed. Marriage involves the most fundamental unit of common culture and society because it represents the closest commitment that we may ever have with another human being. But that sort of closeness and commitment is not without some challenges.

Aphron recently posted about the need for control, and postulated the reason why people feel like they need to be in control. It all comes down to anxiety. I define anxiety as a heightened state of physiological arousal that is antagonistic to comfort. In other words, anxiety causes DIScomfort. That can be physical, psychological or both at the same time. In fact it is difficult to have physical discomfort apart from psychological discomfort. The two go together.

Think about stealing the first kiss. How did you feel? Chances are, you experienced some anxiety before, during and after that first kiss. And even if you’ve kissed a person a thousand times, you may feel that same anxiety again when kissing someone new. Generally, whenever we do something new, we experience anxiety. So most of us like it when things don’t change very much. We feel comfort in routines and the sameness of our surroundings. We like coming home to our own house. Control is about maintaining the sameness and managing our anxieties. The more anxious a person is, the more they tend to be very controlling. In Aphron’s case, Sybil seems to like sex but she likes it strictly on her own terms. She is terribly insecure and anxious and while she wants to have an illusion of surrender. But if Aphron ever truly took charge and made her truly submit, she would feel terribly anxious and would no doubt accuse him of betraying her trust in some way. So her illusion is basically the tyranny of the submissive; you take charge but ONLY as long as it does not threaten me.

But here is an astounding fact: couples are always evenly matched in how well they handle anxiety.

And right about now Aphron is feeling insulted, as are the rest of you. Each and every one of you probably think you handle anxiety better than your spouse. But you don’t. I didn;t say you handled it the same, I said you handled it equally well. In Aphron’s case, he tends to internalize his considerable anxiety. But it is definitely there, and Sybil effectively dominates him by externalizing her considerable anxiety. Whenever Aphron asserts himself, he can pretty much count on a whithering counterattack designed to put him back in his place. She tends to be extremely reactive, but Aphron reacts internally in almost an equal degree as she does externally.

Back to that first kiss, it provoked a lot of anxiety but you did it anyway. And lo and behold, we may have eventually came to like it. We like sameness, but we also crave novelty. But we tend to like our novelty to be fairly well controlled. We basically want to have our cake and eat it too where we have sameness and novelty at the same time which is impossible. This is how the two-choice dilemma plays out in reality. We’d like to have the good rush without the anxiety but the universe doesn’t work that way. God programmed us in such a way that boredom produces its own discomfort and causes us to to seek out new frontiers where we grow. And we face new anxieties. Facing anxiety is most often a way to open the door to new joys.

FTN’s recent post about his forays into eyes-open orgasm is a case in point. He and Autumn had to confront some serious anxiety in order to get to that point but once it happened it was electric. It wasn’t just the fact that their eyes were open but it was also that they made a leap into greater intimacy together. At that moment, it was more than physical it was spiritual. Most problems people have in relationships have to do with managing anxiety and discomfort. I’m not talking about real pain, just the anxiety around the possibility that there might be some pain involved. Some of us have spouses that are uncomfortable with certain sex acts. It’s not that one act within marriage is more perverse or dirty than another, it is more personal development and anxiety.

It was interesting how Aphron put his introduction to his follow-up/quote of my post about returning to Schnarch.

He tends to be a very introspective person and is struggling to obtain more sex.”

I can plead to introspection, and the struggle to obtain more sex has been a recurring theme. But it is really more intimacy that I really want. I can have sex if I want. If I ask Arwyn for a hand job, she’s willing to make that sacrifice. But I don’t want that kind of autistic sex where she stares into space and thinks about laundry while rubbing my magic lamp. So my dilemma is that if I really want sex that is good, I have to work harder and wait longer than I would normally want.

Going long periods without sex is a painful existence. Having sex is equally painful because then I get anxious about when it is going to end or stop. I can’t have it both ways. I have to choose which anxiety to face, and then I have to face it like an adult. And that’s really the hard part. The brat in me feels entitled to complain and throw a tantrum and most people wouldn’t blame me for it. But I don’t want to be a brat who sulks and pouts and tantrums. So in the final analysis this has less to do with Arwyn than it does with me. True, it is our interactions that bring out a lot of these internal conflicts with myself, but ultimately they are my own self-defeating thoughts and beliefs that cause so much of my anxiety and pain. Using her to medicate that pain through sex isn’t a terribly loving thing to do. But at the same time, there is my own integrity to contend with and how much I can allow her to violate it by allowing her anxieties to rule over both of us. And that is the beauty of marriage in that we are forever given new opportunities to manage our anxieties while staying close to another person. It’s probably the hardest thing any of us will ever do.

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Advice on Counseling

July 20, 2008

07/20/2008

So after returning from vacation, I decided to catch up on a few of my favorite blogs. I’m still working on catching up on my reading, but I also have some catching up to do on my writing and posting. This is going to involve all 4 blogs, one way or another.

Check out RR Blogspot for a video/podcast. R&R WordPress has a bit of an update. And UA Blogspot might even have something new.

But this entry is a bit of unsolicited advice for FTN, after reading of his frustrations with Autumn. A lot of folks really glommed on to the idea that he should see about getting some counseling for the two of them. It was like deja vu all over again from a short time ago only it was FTN pounding out the steady drum beat of how I really needed to get us into counseling. Now he’s on the receiving end of his own advice and he doesn’t like it so very much. He raises all the same objections that I did:

– Money/cost

-work schedule

-The qualifications of available counselors

– child care

– Autumn wouldn’t be too thrilled about going

I might be missing a few excuses, but these are all valid while being a bit of a smoke screen. So let’s look at these objections, one at a time.

Money: this is no small concern. The going rate for counselors is about $100 per hour per week, which is an additional expense of $400 per month. It’s like having another car payment! But it is still cheaper than an attorney. In a minute I’ll discuss what you’re getting for your money, but first you have to dig around for the cash to make it work.

Most insurance will not cover marriage therapy, or if they do, they cover only a certain number of sessions and only if one or both people have a diagnosis of some sort. It is not a sure thing by a long stretch. I recall FTN might have given me some cost cutting advice to come up with the money, and he might want to consider giving up the cable, cutting back on the pizza or other nonessentials. For me, the opportunity arose as I got out of debt and had less going towards payments. Some counselors will have a sliding fee scale which might also help reduce the cost. Also there may be a cost of childcare to consider, which I’ll address later.

Work Schedule: Most people have fairly rigid work schedules, except self-employed and people like therapists. Evening and weekend hours are not uncommon for these folks. Let’s face it, if you want to go into therapy or counseling as a profession you’re going to have to work when other people have disposable time because counseling is not a top priority like food and shelter. Even though people going through a foreclosure might benefit enormously from marriage counseling, they are not going to do it. Convenience = clients and counselors try to make it as painless as possible. Most will take appointments up until 6:30-7:00 P.M. during the week. Most employers will be fairly flexible about taking one hour off early for physical therapy and the like, as long as you can make up the work. This is one of the weakest excuses of the bunch.

Qualifications of available counselors: I made kind of a big deal out of this one when voicing my own objections. I wasn’t interested in a lot of pop psychology, Mar/Venus stuff or psychotherapy where we talk about our parents. What we got was a counselor who seems to be totally into Mars/Venus, pop psychology and talking about our parents. While he’s familiar with Schnarch, he’s not familiar enough to use it. He’s also not at all skilled with Rational Emotive Therapy. So sometimes I feel like I’m flushing $75 per week down the toilet. However, anyone reading my blog over the past year will be able to see that some progress has been made. And I’m not sure it has anything to do with the skill or qualifications of this therapist.

So what do I get for 75 bucks per hour? Accountability. Arwyn is keenly aware of this other person who will want to know how we are doing. I’m aware of it, too. I think that one small thing has made more difference than anything else. Arwyn has bought into it, which totally helps. What if she didn’t buy into it? I’ll get into that in a moment. But suffice it to say that so far I’m game to keep it up just on that basis alone. Progress is progress, even if it is at a glacial rate. So qualifications are important, but just making the move is important in its own right, no matter how much of a nOOb the therapist might be.

Childcare: This was a real concern of ours, and it still is. We have one child who has high functioning autism, so finding willing and able people who work out is not always easy. Then there is the business of how much to let other people into your business. Tricky thing, but Arwyn has managed to find a good-hearted person who is willing and able to step up and who also knows the score. Otherwise, I might palm it off as some sort of parent support meeting, which is sort of true but doesn’t carry the stigma of marriage counseling. Make it a part of a regular date night, and it isn’t a bad deal. Arwyn and I often go out to eat after our sessions, just to make it more worthwhile. Childcare is doable. Plus, we have twice as many individual sessions as joint sessions, so that takes care of that issue most of the time. Again, this is about making our marriage more stable and enjoyablle which pays dividends for the development of our kids.

What if your spouse won’t go? First off, that takes care of the childcare issue as long as you can do it after work. But my advice is to do what I did. Tell her that your’re going to set this up. Do not ask permission. She can either buy-in or not. If she doesn’t that will say volumes in and of itself. It will also give you something to work on by yourself. Facing rejection and dealing with it constructively is a big part of this. Be prepared to follow through and go it alone, if necessary. I was already lonely and anxious enough as it was, Arwyn not going would simply be par for the course. The same applies to Autumn. By setting up the counseling session, you force her into a two choice dilemma that does not involve divorce. She may feel threatened by this move, but the purpose is to overcome the gridlock. In this case, feeling threatened is sort of what is needed to overcome the avoidance instinct. If she refuses to go, you still have a basis on which to work with a therapist. Even an incompetent one.

Now I’m going to throw out one more option that knocks down all of the above objections, except the first one. I looked into this while pursuing what turned out to be our present set up. This fellow by the name of Mort Fertel runs a sort of marital boot camp and does it all online and over the phone. I registered for his email newsletter and got little pearls of wisdom several times a week over a period of months. Of course, he pitched his tele boot camp every time, but he also said things consistent with what I already knew and had read in Schnarch’s book. There is a “Lone Ranger” option that allows a person to go it alone when the spouse refuses to participate. It is not specific to sex therapy, unfortunately, but we all know that it is pretty much impossible to separate sex problems from other marital conflicts no matter how we try.

FTN and most other people going through marital conflict have to ask themselves: how hard am I willing to work to make this the sort of marriage that I want? Marriage is not an easy thing to maintain let alone improve. It’s going to take a serious investment of time, cash and sweat. This why most marriages don’t even go into counseling until they are on the brink of disaster. This is also one reason why marriage counseling has such a poor track record.

One more thing I’ve discussed with FTN before. He regards their sexual conflicts as mostly Autumn’s fault or because of her issues. This is because he does everything he possibly can to accommodate her limitations, boundaries and issues. He’s a pretty easy going and flexible guy. Why should he see a therapist?

For a couple of reasons. First of all, anyone who reads him knows he is frustrated with Autumn’s seeming inflexibility. Job #1 is to get guidance on how to deal with his own feelings on this. I feel his pain and it is real and valid. Forgetting about it, avoiding and moving on are all ways to deal. So is escape. But are those the most productive ways that he has available? I don’t know, but learning the truth isn’t a bad goal.

Secondly, there is no possible way that Autumn can be so rigid and dysfunctional without affecting the sanity of everyone else in the house. Job #2 is making sure that he can hold on to his own sanity in light of being around someone who seems so obsessive about things all having to do with her own body or sex. Most dysfunctions in one married person has some sort of companion dysfunction in the other. Just like any addiction, it gets to everyone around; especially those they love most.

D.

A few comments on “The View”

March 4, 2008

I have the ability and pleasure to read a blog or two courtesy of Google Reader, mostly because anything by Blogspot is blocked by the workplace Goonware.  That also means that I’m not reading comments by most of you.

But Joe Flirt, who I read often (and I need to comment more, since I CAN comment on his WordPress blog) had an interesting post about something written by Bunni, who needs to be added to my Google Reader Club.  But I find that there are many people who seem to share Bunny’s sentiments, that they think that since they enjoy sex so much that all women must enjoy it as much as they do. 

But that’s not the primary thing I’m commenting on.  It’s the concept that men say they want a freak in bed, and then when confronted with that freaky chick, they run like scared bunnies.

 

There are two aspects of this that are equally troubling.  The obvious one is the scardy-cat men who are running away.  Or hopping away, if they are being like bunnies. The other is the heavy weight the women put on the view of these apparently weak-minded men.  If the guy is running off because you are being true to yourself, then nature is doing her job, right?  Weeding out the less confident, less fit and less capable?

 I’m trying to think if I’ve ever scampered off in the face of a more confident woman.  I’m trying to think of a time where I’ve ever scampered off.  I do think in my younger days, being massively inexperienced, I may have definitely been scared of women who were too womanly for me.  I was a total virgin until the age of 25, so there were a lot of years where I could have been running.  But once I got some experience, my first series of experiences were with younger women who were themselves insecure and inexperienced.  Even the one who had naked pictures of her taken by a professional.

The first time a gal wanted to go down on me, yeah I was uncomfortable with that but it was my own insecurity that made me a lousy lay.  It wasn’t until I dated someone several years older and who had been around the block a number of times that I became sexually confident enough to do and be done by my partner. 

Would I be a bit freaked if confronted by a bedsheet freak today?  Maybe.  But that’s all my own insecurity and doesn’t make me think less of any woman who likes to get down and dirty.  Unlike Joeflirt, my fantasies involve the demure school marm who wants to go down on her boyfriend and take it up the ass in her spare time or while grading papers.  Part of that is me being often perceived as being as straight and vanilla in real life as can be but knowing that I have a latent kinky side dying to be expressed and explored.  I don’t automatically assume the other Sunday School teacher down the hall from me is any different.  Another factor is just maturity.  As I get more comfortable with myself I’m able to feel less threatened by someone else’s differentness.  Many of the bunny-men are not as mature and will almost always feel threatened by anything that looks like it might make them feel inferior.  And that makes sense to me.  I’m not saying it’s right, but it makes sense.

Which leads me to the second thing; why are women all strung out about what the less mature and more inferior men are thinking about them?  I sort of get the sting of rejection when the guy might suddenly go limp, grab his clothes and go running and screaming down the hall.   But there seems to be a prevailing feeling that most men are like that.  Is that true?  Are most men freaked out when confronted by a sexually confident woman?

It could be true.  Confidence is a two-way street.  One must have it in order to appreciate it.  I think a lot of men want women who are sexually confident in order to raise their own confidence and esteem.  However when faced with the developmental task of being confident, they find they are not up for it, and go hopping off.  This relates to the topic of emotional fusion and borrowed functioning that Schnarch talks about.  A man wants the confident woman who will somehow make him more confident but ends up making him feel exactly the opposite!

A sexually confident woman who gets bunny-like because some bunny-men went hopping away in fear, isn’t really as confident as she is letting on.  I do understand why she might feel deflated, though.  When a woman decides to get sexually adventurous, she is practicing a form of disclosure which requires a certain level of trust.  However, the women act as if this disclosure is somehow riskier or more novel than what men have always had to endure.  Rejection and ridicule is a two-way street and it hurts no matter the gender of the person who is inflicting it.  The other-validated confidence game also goes both ways.  It takes a lot of courage to put oneself out there, and to endure the rejection when or if it comes.  The only real way to build that sort of fortitude is to actually do it, and step outside the comfort zone.

Spirituality and The Ultimate Differentiation

January 27, 2008

This is the final chapter of Passionate Marriage but probably not my final commentary on the subject.  But at least I’ll be able to index it properly.

 

Schnarch covers two major theme in this chapter; spirituality and death.

 

At first he was surprised as his clients seemed to exhibit a couple of characteristics during therapy.  One was the fact that they seemed to experience a greater spiritual awareness and hunger.  The second was that the more successful they became the more therapy they wanted.

 

Schnarch seemed to be a bit disarmed by the increasing spiritual awakening of his clients when he first started.  As I’ve gone along, I’ve been connecting some of the spiritual dots along the way.  Deeper intimacy seems to naturally incline us towards a deeper spiritual orientation.  As we become better acquainted with ourselves we begin to grasp a truth that we are greater than the sum of our parts.  Just as sex becomes more than just a grinding of body parts, people become more than a collection of organs.  We discover that there is a soul in there.  In us, and our partners.  As we stop depending on our partners to fulfill our deepest longings we discover an Other that was there all along and only through lifting the fog of fusion can we see Him more clearly.

 

When one reads this section of Schnarch’s book, it is advisable to tread carefully.  In other words, the reader has to differentiate enough to realize that Schnarch’s views do not have to become your own.  Schnarch takes an eclectic approach to spirituality that gives equal credence to pretty much every faith.  From a marketing standpoint, it makes sense because he wants to have the broadest possible appeal.

 

Fusion happens pretty much in any and every cult,  In fact, it is pretty much a defining characteristic as these beliefs become progressively more works-based.  God does care about what you do, but only inasmuch as it is a reflection of who you are.  The paradox is that only after throwing off the oppression of man-pleasing do people finally discover God.  Differentiation is a process that involves putting the old self to death and bringing forth a truer more Spirit-led person. While I don’t necessarily agree with his writing on specific spiritual points I do see merit in meeting people where they are. 

 

While this book has some spiritual content and implications, it is still a secular work.  Anyone reading it should be aware of that and treat Schnarch’s treatment of spirituality with caution.  I think he makes several concepts extremely accessible to a wide audience and in this performs a great service.  It opened my eyes to a lot of things.

 

Is this scripture?  No.  I think it is consistent with several key scriptural themes but Schnarch uses secular terminology.  For instance, disclosure is akin to confession.

 

  I see differentiation as being akin to repentance.  At least for me, that was what it felt like.  I confronted my flaws and insecurities and resolved to turn myself around.  You can not repent for someone else’s sin.  You can’t even really confess another’s sin.  The process of confession and repentance is a uniquely individual experience that each person must do for themselves.  Schnarch’s terminology points towards a sort of self determinism or individualism but that is not what it is in practice.  It’s the much more rigorous process that comes from the crucible.

 

The crucible itself is a process that involves putting the old sinful self to death and becoming a reborn being.

 

D.

Sexual Desire: Wanting to Want

January 1, 2008

 

As one might guess, this is the chapter I really wanted to get to.  It was tempting to skip over the previous sections just to get to this part.  But I persevered.  And the payoff is an encompassing theory that goes a long way in explaining low sexual desire. 

 

He starts off by being a bit flip in suggesting that the low desire partner is frequently the one with the best adjustment since they simply don’t want sex that isn’t worth having.  Okay, he has a point.

 

Biological drive is often over emphasized in today’s attitudes about sex.  In fact, for most of western civilization’s history, the emphasis was on decreasing sex drive.  It’s only been in the past few decades that sexual desire was seen as a healthy human expression.  The problem is that the pendulum has swung over so far that now low desire is seen as a psychopathology.  Sexual appetite is seen as natural as wanting food, hence the term sexual anorexia for those with low desire.

 

Oops.

 

Longtime readers will recognize that I followed that one up for quite awhile.  The problem with this, according to Schnarch, is that human sexuality resides in the frontal lobe of the brain, the neocortex, where the most complex of human thinking takes place.  Some still resides in the base area just above the spinal chord which he calls the reptilian thinking area or the more primitive thinking.  Gosh, I’ve bandied the reptilian analogy around a bit, too.  Who the hell wants to have sex with a reptile?  That’s where the biological drive lives, and people who are going after the basic biological instinct are appealing to that lower functioning area which isn’t terribly flattering when you think about it.  But the good news is that we really aren’t living there, sexuality-wise, even though we may talk and act like it.

 

The problem with the higher thinking type sex is that it pretty much makes us prone to some type of sexual dysfunction.  Because we seem to always set ourselves up for emotion fusion, low desire is apparently almost an inevitable byproduct of long-term relationship.  Differentiation can only really happen within the sexual crucible model and low desire is one of the major engines for this type of growth.

 

I’ll speak to more of what this looks like in my other blog.  It really, really fits my personal experience.   I should have known.  So should many of you.

 

So I’m reading along and then Schnarch has a subtitle:

 

The Person with the Least Desire for Sex Always Controls It.

 

My mental reaction to seeing that was, “No Shit, Sherlock!  Tell me something I don’t know!”  This has ramifications beyond the problem of frequency.  It has to do with the how and where of it, as well.  The low desire person is the gate keeper of what is allowed as far as specific activities.  So even if sex is happening regularly, it may involve an amazingly narrow repertoire of allowed activities.  Or the attitude behind it is so awful that it makes the other person feel objectified and disconnected.   Even if orgasms are happening, sex can still be aversive thus short circuiting the whole operant conditioning that I might expect as a behaviorist. 

 

This last is a bit troubling for me.  But it stands to reason that operant conditioning works in the mammalian sense, which is better than the reptilian sector but still below human thinking and functioning.  Basically humans are capable of attaching a lot more to sex beyond the pleasure drive/pain avoidance model. 

 

Basically, we have 3 choices in regards to how we handle sexual tension in the form of differing desires:

1. Emotional detachment

2. Emotional engulfment and smothering (either by us or by our partners)

3. Greater differentiation.

 

Any of the first two involves emotional fusion.  Even though #1 looks more like differentiation it is simply the result of emotional fusion.  As our partner becomes more and more significant to us, we have more to risk and lose through either lack of acceptance or even total loss of our partner.  Our capacity to handle this increased significance of our significant other directly correlates to the idea of differentiation.  Differentiation is basically this: how do I handle the anxiety and tension that result in my partner’s growing significance in my life?  I’ll answer that elsewhere, later, for me.

 

Finally, Schnarch goes into the idea of wanting to want.  In the reptilian sense, we want sex in order to satisfy our lizard-like desire to spread our genes hither and yon.  It also satisfies the biological tensions of not having sex e.g. blue balls.  On another level, we want it in order to validate ourselves.  We want to be wanted and we want to be needed.  We want our partner to desire us with passion.  In fact, the complaint of many HL persons is more often a lack of passion in sex than frequency or specific activities.

 

Wanting or not wanting sex is a function of wanting or needing to feel wanted and desired sexually.  The low desire partner might feel objectified because they feel like the partner simply wants sex for sex sake, that whole reptilian thing.  Any hole will do.  The other part of the equation is the fear of loss and/or abandonment.  The anxiety caused by the fear of losing the other person can be so great as to actually inhibit sexual desire and passion.  This is why sex can be so fast and furious in new relationships and one night stands.  There is some tension there but there is no emotional fusion and no anxiety about emotional dependency from which a person must withdraw from.   

 

Both higher desire and lower desire partners are missing out on the intimacy potential of sex but from seemingly opposite sides.  But the marital system is designed to produce greater emotional growth in both partners no matter which side of the libido fence they are on.

 

D.

Schnarch: Passionate Marrriage Chapter 1

December 3, 2007

Wow. I can see why Schnarch comes so highly recommended, or at least so recommended to me. In the first chapter he verified a few positions that I thought were suspect and then challenged a few that I had held close to as well as opened some doors that hit upon some themes I’ve been hitting recently though not in the same exact way.

Passionate Marriage is fundamentally a spiritual book by nature. Many of the revelations can easily be applied (and are sometimes meant to be applied) beyond the realms of marriage and sex. And for those of us that can think in those terms, marriage and sex are meant to be spiritual exercises. As Rod said in a recent article, sex is as much an act of worship as driving to a building on Sunday morning. For most of us, this is revolutionary thinking that is difficult to wrap our minds around.

My urge to write about this probably is similar to the more academic and sophisticated approach that 2amsomewhere has taken when he has discussed the book. While he does not take on many spiritual themes, he does incorporate the emotional and rational emotive aspects of Schnarch’s writing into his marriage. Or at least what’s left of his marriage. I do think that not having a personal theology is akin to 2am having only 2 legs on a 3 legged stool that also includes his substantial intellect and his emotions. I think spiritual work could really enhance the personal work he has already done.

Rod was wondering about why Arwyn and I have different church group affiliations. Having only read one chapter, I can already see that Arwyn and I may actually be differentiating in a spiritual way that is congruent with what Schnarch talks about. Neither of us is really asking the other to conform to the other’s way of practicing Christianity, but we do have similar enough core beliefs.

In the religious sense, we are actually getting along better than when we were attending the same church, either the Methodist or Saddleback East groups. We often will discuss the sermon she heard or the Sunday school lesson I heard or taught when we get back together on Sunday afternoons. When I attended her CGM church, I had its flaws and shortcomings in my face and felt my integrity constantly under attack. While at the mainstream church, Arwyn felt her own integrity under assault. What we have now is a spiritual harmony born out of our differences but bound by similar convictions. I’ve come to accept that God wants her where she is, and God hasn’t told me to move on, yet. We can move independently without each other feeling under attack or under each other’s constant judgment. There’s actually more unity and community here than there has been previously.

And this is a terribly odd thing that defies conventional wisdom, thought and belief. But this is exactly the sort of challenge that Schnarch goes about doing in his book. He challenges the biological imperative of sex, in that it actually inhibits intimacy and kills sexual desire. For someone who wrote about sexual anorexia (which Schnarch challenged as a notion stright away) and who has a fondness for the food analogy of sexual desire, this was a big deal. He challenges the ideal of emotional enmeshment, comparing it to a procrustean bed where we each try to fit the other into a comfortable size and shape to fit ourselves. He challenges the idea of psychodynamic work, where a therapist spend years uncovering past unresolved and unconscious issues that may be replaying in adulthood. He prefers dealing with the issues as they appear in present circumstances and moving beyond them instead of forever revisiting and revising our history. He challenges the idea of better communication being the key, as it is simply a fiction we promote because we like the idea we can talk ourselves out of any tough situation.

He strips away a lot of dead wood, here, as well as hacks away at some very sacred cows.

His is not a formula/skill based approach. It is a growth approach, which is where the spiritual component really has the potential to kick in. Our character is shaped by our trials. Schnarch doesn’t explicitly quote scripture but anyone familiar with it would recognize that which is written in the book of James about the relationship between trials and character.

Schnarch repudiates a one-size-fits all approach, which is where this clicked for me. It’s my main beef with Christianity the way it is practiced today. Jesus Christ used a crucible approach to teach His disciples about the kingdom of God and about how to exercise their faith. It was relationship-based, practical, and based on who those disciples were while they were with Him. Today, the one-size-fits-all prescription is so entrenched that each group feels threatened by any follower that does not explicitly toe the doctrinal line perfectly. Heresy, apostasy and blasphemy are not threats to a body that is healthy, growing and thriving. It is only a threat to a sick, weak and withering institution.

But getting back to Schnarch, he’s on to some good things here. At least that’s what I’m thinking so far. However, one troubling aspect is that while his work is based on some impressive qualitative experience, he has not presented any quantitative findings in his research so far. Maybe I’ll see some in later chapters, but for me this is a pretty glaring weakness. I appreciate his insight, but I want to see more tangible results, which is the behaviorist in me. We need to be able to see something measurable in order to be convinced that the intervention is the key to the progress being made and not just some sort of placebo effect.

I’m looking forward to reading and sharing more.

D.

RXNs

August 29, 2007

I managed to Hoover up a few more of Finished Last’s blog before it went dark, and it’s a pity he had to take it down. But I do understand as his real life seemingly comes crashing about his ears, one can’t afford to be all sentimental about a blog. I was interested in his posts about his job and family as well as his phenomenal weight loss program. Who sets out and loses 50 pounds in 6 months? That really inspired me to seriously attack my diet and I’m seeing major results. So if yer readin’, FL, tanks!

I just finally had a chance to download that FTN-FADKOG podcast. That was interesting and a bit surreal to actually be linked in a podcast. Thing is, each of them had voices similar to what I would have imagined them to sound like. FTN had a certain whimsical quality to it, while FADKOG had a sexy sarcastic quality that comes through in her writing.

Seriously, I do find sarcasm to be sexy sometimes.

And now let’s get to the premiere reaction post of the week, which would be to Xian Husband’s post “Disfunction.” In it he takes a decidedly pointed jab at various unnamed bloggers who happen to claim to have wives with low libidos and tells them that they need to be real men and suck it up and fulfill their God-given roles as husbands to love their wives just as they are.

My first reaction was to rip the guy’s head off, and take a crap down his neck. Figuratively speaking, of course.

But if one can get past a few of the smaller issues and minor prescriptive over simplifications, there’s some truth to what he says. quite a lot actually. In fact he resonated with his question, “Why are you wanting to have sex so bad, anyway?”

Why indeed! That’s fodder for a future blog post.

I may return to this in a moment, but first I do need to clarify a couple of things. First off, XH has made no secret that he has problems with labeling anyone low libido (LL). He simply rejects the notion that people just might have a temperament that is asexual or perhaps even aversive to sex. This view threatens to undermine all of his credibility since hypo sexual desire disorder is a pretty well known and documented condition amongst those in the medical profession. I call it low libido and perhaps that’s an oversimplification but I do it mostly out of convenience. LL certainly casts a wider net than HSDD.

My Top Ten list is designed to be sort of diagnostic rather than prescriptive. In fact, I rarely offer much in the way of prescriptions for sexual dysfunction because I’m all too familiar with the complexities of the topic. I was on iVillage getting a female perspective (both LL and HL) long before blogging.

When XH suggests that a guy do more household chores in order to obtain more intimacy and affection, this is equivalent to asking the ladies in the same boat to wear sexier lingerie. It’s a bit insulting and a gross over simplification. There is even less cause-effect here than with the lingerie.

One really surprising thing in XH’s suggestions for solving the “imaginary” CL problem, is that he omitted the single biggest thing that contributed to him getting his own relationship turned around. Why he omitted all of the work he put into implementing Harley’s Love Bank principle’s, I have no idea. But it was when he began spending real genuine quality time with his wife that it appeared he was gaining some real traction in his quest for better intimacy.

He suggests loving a wife exactly as she is as the perfect prescription, but again that is not exactly where XH went, himself. Again, he omits his very important decision to sacrifice his sexuality to God in an attempt to draw closer to God. Perhaps these two things happened in tandem, and one would seem to follow the other. I do think his spiritual dedication played no small role, here.

I’m not prepared to discount his entire post,though. I think rededicating ourselves to mutual service (even if done unilaterally) isn’t a bad thing. It’s pretty much what God did for us through His Son.

I think I would be much, much more interested in reading Zanaleigh’s take on this topic. Afterall, she’s in a much better position to talk about when the light bulb went on and what it was, specifically, that began turning things around for her. Was it the extra housework? Was it XH’s selflessness in the face of her selfishness? Was it XH’s steadfast determination and faithfulness in the face of constant rejection?

Perhaps there will be a follow-up to this later.

 

Post edit: Oddly enough, FTN was the only one to really challenge XH in the comments and he certainly would have cause. His dedication towards his wife has made more than one female blogger pretty much swoon or at least become very envious. And most of us guys feel fortunate that our wives don’t read him. Otherwise, XH’s unsolicited advice was pretty favorably received.

This book caught my eye and the title sort of reminded me of XH’s position:

If You Don’t Die to Self, I May Have to Kill You: An Extreme Marriage Makeover

D.

The Ow Factor

April 24, 2007

 

This is it.  This is conclusion of this little project of looking at identifying a person with a low libido and looking at various factors with some serious depth.

 

This is obviously a companion to an earlier entry about the Eeww Factor.  I’ve seen a writer or two attempt to borrow and sample from that concept and rename it the Ick Factor but this is where the pay off is from that earlier name.  Eeww and Ow are companions that only made the list after it was initially created and posted on iVillage.

 

The Ow factor is actually from a little entry done a while back by a blogger by the name of FATSO.  Even though he’s pissed at not getting a Thinking Blogger award, perhaps this will meet his need for significance.  I see this as actually a bit bigger since I see the list and its significance enduring longer than the Thinking Blogger award.

 

So what is the Ow Factor?  Fatso does a good job of introducing the topic and when I saw it I instantly knew I would be adding it to the list.

3. low discomfort threshold. I hate it when someone goes “OW! My leg…Ow…my cervix…OW…my arm is cramped..OW…not so (whatever)” Yes we have to take our lover’s feelings into account. But, shit, do we have to walk on eggshells when you are doing something as delicious as having sex?

 

Obviously Fatso has some experience with this and so do I.  At the beginning, it seems a bit endearing to be with the delicate flower.  But when it comes to sex and just making out, this complaining and fragility gets old really fast.  And over time, it seems to only get worse.  For instance, in an early encounter a partner may complain about a certain position being painful for some reason.  Okay, that’s fair.  But over time, more positions become painful.  Noises become painful.  Ideas become painful.  Thoughts about things become painful.

 

It’s amazing how selective this pain can be, though.  For instance, I know of a woman who will think nothing of hiking and climbing all day long.  Perhaps running and jogging half marathons.  But at any given moment in time, she is too tired or too sick for sex. In the beginning a partner will be cajoled into waiting and over time they will find themselves waiting longer and longer for a smaller and smaller malady.

 

Fragility and poor health can affect the relationship in other ways, for instance when it comes to housework, taking care of the kids or having a job.  Desperate Husband’s situation is an object lesson in what happens when a spouse becomes empowered by their disability and uses it to manipulate.  His wife is too sick to hold a job, take care of the kids or do things around the house.  However she’s not too sick to demand an ever-higher standard of living and to make other demands.

 

Early on in a relationship, one tends to overlook a lot of things.  The LLs themselves endure more than they will later if the commitment is deepened.  This is why complaints and whining early on should be heeded and taken seriously.  Someone with a minor ailment who uses it as an excuse to avoid sex will likely keep using it over and over and will expand their list of ailments over time.

 

If the following becomes a major part of your sexual conversation, you’re becoming a slave of the “Ow Factor.”

 

“Ouch!”

“Oops, sorry.”

“Ow! Hey!”

Oops!  I’m sorry….how’s that?”

“Better…Ummm…wait….no, that’s still not working.”

“How about now?”

“No….wait….no, try again.”

“Now?”

“Okay.  Yeah, that’s better.”

“Good?”

“Better.  Not too bad.”

 

And repeat as necessary.  The hallmark of the Ow Factor is centered around some degree discomfort that is seemingly small and gradually becomes more acute.

 

There is another side to this that is more serious and is definitely more deeply grounded and legitimate than any other single item on this entire list.  Pain during intercourse can be because of lack of lubrication and this can be lessened by lubrication if one can get past the Eeww Factor.  However fibroids and endometriosis can also be sources of pain and these tend to be more serious.

 

Pain during intercourse can sink a libido faster than anything else and for a longer period of time.  Even if the underlying medical condition is dealt with and treated, the psychological aversions can and do usually remain.

 

There are obviously some men who are not all that into sex.  It stands to reason that such men would be well suited to women who are similarly inclined.  However, due to the cocktail of hormones nature produces early in a relationship, no one seems to notice or care about the early signs of a low libido.   They naively believe that love can conquer all and that such differences are insignificant.

 

I’m not saying that LL people are not worthy of being loved.  In fact, I’m saying the opposite.  They deserve to be loved by people who can appreciate the alternative aspects of their personality without the sex being such a huge issue.  Faking interest in something doesn’t serve anyone well over the long run.  If you don’t like onions, why would you pretend to like them in order to marry an onion lover?  This sounds silly but this is exactly what many LL people do all the time.  They pretend to like sex with someone who apparently loves it and then spends the remainder of the commitment making up excuses to avoid it.

 

Which is why I have a list like this.  A person can have a characteristic or two on the list and still enjoy sex tremendously.  However, if a person has several of these things and seems to have a terribly low pain threshold, I would be cautious.  If they have half or more of these characteristics and you really like sex, you are in for a world of hurt just as you might if you hooked up with someone who hated anything you had a real love for.

 

I’d say if you hear “OW!” more than once or twice during a particular activity that you really like, you may have to be willing to give it up or give the person up.  The Ow Factor can be a definite indicator that the other person isn’t into what you like.

 

Since I sometimes deal in kink, I feel like I need to at least mention this.  Other items on the list will deal with kink friendliness and being willing to explore, so obviously this isn’t the same.  However, it can be somewhat of a factor when paired with other factors.  For instance, if the person is a bit shy about trying something new and instantly responds to a new position or activity with “Ow” beyond any reasonable expectation of pain, then there might be an issue.  When you are applying lube and hear an Ow-like response, there could be an issue.

 

If you are stuck with someone who employs the Ow Factor regularly, a referral to a medical professional may be in order.  This might be difficult if #10 comes into play.  I like the approach of Berman and Berman, whose clinics work on both the physiological and psychological factors at the same time.  It’s unfortunate that such clinics are few and far between as there seems to be a great need. 

 

Otherwise, some painful times are ahead for each partner regardless of which one is employing the Ow Factor.    

 

 D.

Effort

April 6, 2007

 

 It’s on to the next post about identifying a LL partner.

We’re getting close to the end, aren’t we?  But not quite as close as you think, because I’m going to add another one at the end that I’ve never discussed before.  That mystery should help a bit with the suspense of this series.  On with the show…

 

9. Sex is not worth the effort. Often there are many obstacles to having sex, including work, schedules, physical stress, children, intramarital tensions and other factors that make sex a goal that seems far away. For the LL person, there is a very finite amount of energy that should be expended towards sex. If there are conflicts or obstacles, sex quickly gets put on the back burner. Circumstances sometimes warrant this, but the HL partner will almost always find ways of overcoming or working around these obstacles. The LL person will allow circumstances control and ultimately crowd out time, energy or thoughts of sex. They are often too tired for sex. The HL is more often too tired of NOT having sex!

 

If you want to see people jump through all sorts of hoops and expend a ton of effort for minimal return (if not misery) watch them at Christmas time.  Going to the mall around the holidays is an exercise in watching people attempt the impossible; buying happiness.  And they persevere and persist year after year.

 

Recently, a radio station and Six Flags Over Georgia got together and decided to offer free admission to the mega amusement park for the day.  People started arriving at 3:30 in the morning and they had to close the gates by 6:30!  The interstate system was backed up in both directions for miles as people drove in sometimes from neighboring states!  These people were willing to endure a lot of inconvenience and hardship to save $30 or so.

 

And that is what this one is about; a willingness to overcome inconvenience and obstacles in order obtain pleasure or even for the pleasure of others.  For a HL individual, sexual pleasure could be compared to getting a free ticket to Six Flags only without the long lines.  However, those of us in clashing libido relationships, we still have to endure a considerably long wait before we can get to the actual ride.  Now imagine getting up early, enduring the traffic and the crowd and the long lines only to get to the roller coaster and discover the ride is closed.  This happens all too often to many of us.

 

The LL individual, when it comes to sex, has virtually no perseverance at all.  Anything can supplant naked time and it almost always does.  The slightest sniffle, the slightest disturbance in the environment, or the slightest slight will transform the promised experience into a cruel disappointment. 

 

For the most part, a typical HL person will jump through countless hoops to satisfy a long list of conditions and preconditions erected by the LL in order for them to be approachable on a sexual level. But it all must be done carefully in order to avoid the slightest appearance of prrreeessssurrre! 

 

A very frequent complaint from LL individuals it this supposed pressure that the HL individual puts on to them through expectations.  So even if a HL person satisfies the conditions, such as having all the chores done, setting the right mood, having the kids in bed at a decent hour or hiring a babysitter or making sure everyone is adequately fed or making sure the LL has sufficient energy and reduced stress, this can all come to nothing because the LL perceives this as adding pressure to them.  In other words, by intentionally removing obstacles and stresses the HL unwittingly ends up adding stress to the situation.  Too much effort, planning and preparation ends up derailing the whole thing.  Planning a romantic sexual encounter seems to be unique among all other experiences where there is such a thing as too much preparation.    This basically puts the HL in an impossible bind where they absolutely can not win.

 

Many HLs will back off entirely, in the name of decreasing the pressure only to find themselves in the imitation bind.  Sex is forgotten entirely, and while the LL experiences less performance anxiety this does not translate into more sex.  It turns in none.

 

The prize for effort and hoop jumping goes to our good friend FTN.  The man goes through rings of fire, using superhuman imaginations and efforts and the best he can hope for is a side salad.  He seems to put the best face he possibly can on the situation, and more than once has gotten caught in the prrrreeessssurrrre bind.  Cabin in the woods + hot tub = pressure.  Kids to the grandparents + hotel room = pressure.  Scavenger hunt + hotel = pressure.  Tent in the living room + scattered rose petals = pressure.   Romantic music + candles = pressure.  Pressure, pressure, pressure.  FTN’s imaginative effort is the Jan to Autumn’s Marcia Brady psyche.  It’s all about her, but she gets wigged out if it is too much about her.

 

The Low Libido is the most fragile and delicate of things.  Doing too little can be damning.  Doing too much can be even more damning. 

 

As if this wasn’t maddening enough, consider what happens on the extremely rare occasion that the LL initiates.  In this situation, the HL usually reacts with some amount of appreciation if not enthusiasm.  But at the same time, if they open their mouths, they could get themselves in serious, serious trouble.  The HL is still totally in the power and at the whim of the LL person.  Say or do the wrong thing and the whole thing can come to a screeching halt.  I’m thinking of a scene in American Beauty where Kevin Spacey’s long suffering character looks like he might finally get something from his wife when suddenly she became preoccupied with the beer bottle he had in his hand:

 

Lester is sitting on a chair, his feet up on the coffee table. She asks him whose car is out there, and he tells her that it’s his – it’s the car he’s always wanted. She asks where the Camry is and he tells her he traded it in. She starts to continue their argument, but he cuts her off, telling her she looks great. She sits and asks where Jane is. He tells her that she’s not home, and goes to sit next to Carolyn on the couch. Suddenly, in a softer tone than he’s ever used with her before, he asks her when she “became so joyless.” With a teasing undercurrent to her voice, she tells him that “there’s plenty of joy in my life.” Lester asks her what happened to the girl she used to be, reminding her of the crazy things she used to do. He starts to kiss her neck, and she moans softly. She begins to lean into him, but then suddenly notices that he’s holding a beer bottle and comments that he’s going to “spill beer on the couch.” He gets up, the mood killed, and tells her it’s “just a couch!” She tries to justify herself by emphasizing how expensive it was, but he shouts again that “it’s just a couch,” slamming a pillow into it repeatedly. He unleashes a torrent of words at her, trying to get her to see that this “stuff” is not more important than life. Carolyn runs upstairs, looking like she’s about to cry.

 

 

The wife was screwing someone else, so one could argue she wasn’t a LL per se, and the argument could be made that Lester was the one who got off track.  But you can see how easily it can happen.  Why the hell does she care about the beer and the couch?

 

The biggest problem with the Low Libido becoming derailed is when the derailment is never fixed.  Often, life gets in the way.  The kids get sick or the car breaks down or something happens.  When things like this happened while dating, the couple would either make alternate plans or take a rain check.  That rain check would be ultimately cashed at a later time thus the lost opportunity would be made up.  But this is not the case with the LL in a clashing libido situation.  The rain checks go uncashed and the HL person is left dangling and hurt.

 

Anyone else heard this one?

“I would have been willing tonight, if you would/wouldn’t have _________?”

 

This is the ultimate bind.  We never know when the LL might be approaching readiness, and often we are lead to believe that we have done something to upset and ruin our chances.  For my part, I do not buy that lameness.  It is a cruel ploy, even if it might be true.  I was once told that she might have been ready except that I happened to yell at the cat.  My reply of “I don’t believe you.” wasn’t appreciated but at least I was spared from that particular ruse again.     

 

Initiation and effort represent a couple of double binds where it is damned-if-you-do and damned-if-you-don’t.   About the only way out of these binds is to sit down, talk about it and have it out.

 

But then, we run into the ultimate of the LL binds, which we’ll cover in #10. 

 

D.

 

Love Language

April 5, 2007

It’s on to the next post about identifying a LL partner.

 

#8. Talking about sex is different. The LL partner generally talks about “giving it up” or “giving the person sex” or “giving in”, and refers to the other partner as the one “getting it” as in “I just gave you some (last month), and I can’t believe you are interested in getting it again!” While the HL person may use similar language, such as “Pleeeze?! Can I pleeeeze have a little somethin’?” they are more likely to refer to it as a shared experience. The HL partner’s fantasy includes being with someone who truly enjoys being with them, finds them sexually exciting really, really wants to jump their bones and responds with lust, desire and passion. All of these components indicate a more shared experience from the HL standpoint. Our partners frequently view it from the standpoint of enduring it and wanting to get it over with.

 

 

The language a person uses can often be a strong indicator of there feelings about a thing.  For instance, if asked you to write something about cats, I could tell how you felt about them based on your writing.  If you write about their personalities and how cute they are, you probably like cats.  However if you write about their annoying habits or write a very bland essay, I can assume that you’re just not that much into cats. 

 

It’s a fact that we tend to interject some amount of extra enthusiasm and description into discussing things we like.  So how do we talk about things we don’t like?

 

First off, we’ll try to avoid discussing subjects we find distasteful altogether.  But if we must discuss it, we will try to keep it as far away as possible, figuratively holding it away and making it as least personal as possible.  We will try to be clinical and objective.  We don’t want to talk about it, so if forced by circumstance we will do our best to fill the obligatory rhetorical space with as little of ourselves as possible.  It needs to be a very small investment of time and emotional effort.

 

So first off, notice how a LL person refers to sex as “it.”  “I don’t want to do it.”

 

By not naming the act, it provides a bit of emotional insulation as opposed to saying “I don’t want to fuck.”  The sexual anatomy is similarly minimized.  “No, I don’t want to touch it.” as opposed to “I’m not in the mood to stick your cock in my mouth right now.”  

 

For a stellar example of this, saunter over to Hazel’s blog and see how she describes “it.”  She’s totally reluctant to write about it at all, but when she does you can tell straight away that this is anything but pleasant for her.  The entire act is an exchange of her time in return for her husband to be less annoying than he is when he is horny and hasn’t “gotten it” in a long time.

 

Sex in a clashing libido relationship can all too quickly become a commodity that the LL person gives in return for something from the HL person.  It is something us HLs prize so much that it is easier than gravity to fall into this.  We’ll be nice, we’ll do extra housework, and we’ll generally be more cheerful people if we are getting some sex.

 

But that is not what we truly want.  No matter how equal the exchange, it is still cheapened by the fact that this is not a shared experience.  If it is anything less than joyful for both people, the entire experience is diminished.  In the case of Hazel, she either deserves an Oscar for acting or her husband deserves a kick in the ass for insensitivity.  Or perhaps this is simply the compromise they have and neither is very happy with it.

 

There are many things in marriage that can be divided and conquered separately as each partner has different strengths.  There are many hobbies activities and interests that can be enjoyed separately and with other people.   But sex is not one of those things.  It really and truly is a central act of marriage.  Unless a couple agrees explicitly to an alternative arrangement it is generally understood that sex will take place within the marriage and only within the marriage.  There’s no other act that can consummate a marriage or destroy it just as quickly as the act of sex.

 

Looking at the sex bloggers and how they write, you can tell they have a deep appreciation and enthusiasm for sex.  Else they wouldn’t be writing about sex, would they?

 

One other blog I want to look at is So Gone.  If you look into her archives, you will see some very, very hot posts about her various sexploits.  She posted on a fairly frequent basis.  Her posts were fueled by a lot of angst and drama but sex was a big part of her content.  Now if you check with her since she’s found herself in the position of being the one with the lower libido, posts are less frequent and totally, totally less explicit.  It’s as if she is putting more distance between her and the experience.

 

Some people are just naturally shy and they won’t be explicit no matter how much they are liking it.  I was with one of these women for awhile and it was one of the most sexually fulfilling times of my life.  It was a naturally shared experience.  So her “language” was largely nonverbal.  She put my hands where she wanted and her body responded to my touch.  People who didn’t know her would think she was totally innocent, yet she had a very frisky side that enjoyed sex.  Talking for her was an effort regardless, so her language was neither favorable nor unfavorable.  So while this can be a strong indicator for someone naturally talkative (the topic of sex shuts the LL ones up) it may not apply to the shy ones.  Personally I’ll take a shy, quiet freak over a loudmouth prude any day.

 

D.