When we talk about passion within a relationship, we focus on quantity: how many times a week do you do it? The number counts, statistics says it all: more or less.
But there are women among us whose experience of sexuality within their relationships is somewhere between 'I don’t want to' – 'but I have to'. There are two parts living inside of them: the part that says that they have to, and the part that avoids sex. The part that says she "has to", knows what is the right way to keep peace inside the home, inside the relationship, the duty of having sex. The part that "doesn’t want to" speaks of the difficulty: a very personal difficulty that is different for every woman, but it resembles in its experience of avoidance: something inside of me doesn’t want to be touched, penetrated, asked. The part that says "no" is the guardian that knows why it is really wrong for me to have sex.
Many women live with these two parts simultaneously existing inside of them, but since there is mostly no real room for the part that asks "no", they find themselves having sex unwillingly. In their daily lives, these women are trying to keep the peace at home, but the part that says "no" grows as it receives less attention. These women effectively stop, either completely or almost completely, having sex and come to the Focusing session when there is already no other choice but to listen.
When S's husband comes over to the bed and tries to touch her, she shrinks, "like there is something inside my stomach that collects all my organs into one pile and contracts". S's husband, is a gentle man who has been attracted to her since the day they've met but S feels that contraction every time her husband tries to initiate sexual intercourse: "There is a part inside the stomach that pulls and contracts just like a reaction to danger" she says.
-"What is it afraid of?" I ask during the session.
-"Mostly that he will touch me, it keeps scanning the area I'm afraid to miss something, don’t let me miss', it says.
-"It has a huge responsibility…"
-"Yes, it is afraid, it is making sure I am not taken advantage of… that I don’t experience aggression… it serves as protection against rapists"
Listening to S I sense she is experiencing post-trauma. I have known her for over a year now and I know that she didn’t suffer from any sexual assaults, and yet the feeling is clear.
-"Since when has it been keeping watch like this?" I ask.
-"I don’t have a recollection of a specific moment in time or any event that comes to mind, but my body holds a very strong felt sense of aggression. I feel in every cell in my body this memory, it's as if I shoved it to the edge of the cell, of every cell in my body. Like a bodily experience, so that in each cell there is a condensed and aching part… Every time my husband comes near, it feels like he is raping me. Every single time. I can practically see it now, when he comes close, the contraction appears. The feeling is that I am being raped every time we have sex… it's a legal rape…"
S, as well as Y – a Focuser who came to me with a Vulvar vestibulitis– are both married to gentle men who don’t understand their wives' withdrawal from them. "My husband doesn’t really threatens me", Y says "he will never do anything I don’t agree to, but this is my reaction to male energy. My role as a woman who has to satisfy… it's around sex", she explains "there is a legacy the woman in my family have been carrying for years," she said after remembering her parents' relationship "It has nothing to do with him, he doesn’t disgust me. On the contrary, all I want from him is for him to save me from this".
When we remained with her felt sense a little more, she tells me "sex is an experience of humiliation for me. Something that I learned how to do, in order to satisfy a man, to preserve peace. I have been doing it for years." She explained.
In the next meeting, Y continues to be with the part that needs a supporting man, "I would want him to be with me without wanting anything from me", she says. "Knowing that there is a place for me in our relationship, even if I am not sexual".
R, with whom I have been working for several months, says similar things when we talk about her difficulty to have sexual intercourse with her husband. "The image that comes to my mind", she says "is walking on a thin rope. I wish he'd leave me alone, I have to supply, and I am in between, walking a thin rope, trying to remain balanced, for so many years…"
"What do you need, when you are in this position?" I ask.
"To have someone on the rope in front of me. To stand with me and hold it, as well. Only standing here, you can really understand what it is like, from here you can truly comprehend what I am going through".
In this equation, the men experience the humiliation of the constantly repeated rejection, certain that the problem lies in sex; when in fact, it is an experience of a much deeper inner damage. The three women are saying 'no' to sexual intercourse, but the 'no' comes from a different place of hurting inside. All three of them require empathy from their partners, and two of them realized that in order to heal the wound, they require a specific type of support from their man.
And what about the men?
The rejected men often are not aware of the complexity that is at the core of the word 'no'. They experience the pushing aside on the surface as personal ("she doesn’t want me" / "she is not attracted to me") and the refusal or the feeling that their woman is 'doing them a favor' when she accedes, turn into the heart of the problem within the relationship.
From their point of view, their suffering is unbearable and each man turns the inside hurt in the direction of the aching parts within himself. Some feel how it all adds up to a de-legitimization to connect to their sexuality, others require an in-depth process connected to the male image, some turn to other women or porn and develop a rift between the need for realization and the feeling of guilt and self-abomination, and there are other responses as well. Those men experience the same distress as the women, but since the most difficult topic of conversation for us is our sexuality, the situation only grows more and more complex when not interacting.
The thing is that we all have experienced, are experiencing, or will experience these things within our relationships, as men and as women. Some of us for longer periods of time, and some for shorter (around pregnancy and birth, medical problems, traumas etc.). For most of us, the sexual discourse is not accessible within the relationship and the social discourse shallows it through the insultingly reduced perspective of 'how many times a week do we have sex?'
The in-depth experience of loneliness and pain that each of us has in those moments of choosing not to have sex – is shallowed by our society into insulting statistics in women's magazines, together with embarrassing tips and suggestions to buy lingerie and go on vacation.
Those of us that already feel the intensity of disconnection within themselves and inside the relationship, will not get better thanks to these tips.
So what is the solution?
The Focusing tool refuses to provide instant solutions, making sure that each process receives deep attention to its specific solution. There are no magic answers. One woman's avoidance is not identical to another's, and therefore the change in the relationship is not identical either. The same goes for men too: the hurting of one is not identical to the hurting of another, and therefore the solution that will provide healing is different too.
Among the couples I have met, some had separate in-depth processes – each diving into their own personal wounds, returning to a mutual conversation from there.
For some, one partner's encounter with the core issue was enough to allow for the beginning of an open discussion within the relationship; while for others, only achieving an in-depth connection to their sense of security in the relationship enabled a renewed learning of sexual touch etc.
Change doesn’t come from blaming one another, but through a prolonged observation of the pain. The personal sexuality and the sexuality within the relationship require empathic and tolerant attention – each woman into her own pain, each man into his own hurt.