This three letter word holds so much power, doesn’t it? Sex is what connects and bonds a relationship together and sex is what can tear a relationship apart. Traditionally, when you enter into a relationship you promise to only have sex with that one person, becoming monogamous with that person for the duration of your relationship. If you or your partner go outside of that marriage or relationship and have sex with another person you automatically break that bond. You break that promise to that person and destroy the love and trust that person has for you because you shared the one thing that makes your relationship intimate and special. Just that one thing makes or breaks any relationship. You can share a home, kids, pets, money, and everything in your life with that person, but as soon as you make the choice to have sex with another person all of those things can be undone. That’s a powerful thing. That is the foundation of every relationship, but yet people give it away so freely and carelessly.
Ironically, in a long term relationship or marriage, sex can be viewed as a chore. Sex can become obligatory, routine, unsatisfying for many (especially women). So many married women I’ve talked to say they would rather not have sex with their husbands, yet when you are divorced, you miss that intimacy more than anything. That old saying that you only miss something when it’s gone, holds true. This is an interesting dichotomy that plays out time and time again in marriage and divorce.
A woman can be in a sexless marriage for years and be perfectly fine with it. However, once a man strays and goes outside of the marriage to find sex and to feel wanted, the woman feels betrayed and it often ends the marriage. Conversely, sometimes it’s the man who is no longer interested in sex. They may get bored with sleeping with the same woman and prefer to watch porn than make love to their wives. This is a growing epidemic in today’s marriages according to recent studies.
Part of the problem is how women view their bodies and their sexuality. Often times after having children, women start to view themselves as “mothers” and feel they have to let go of their sexual desires to fit into the role of being a caretaker and nurturer. That and they’re just too damn tired to think about sex anymore and they don’t feel sexy when they haven’t lost the baby weight. Men also look at their wives differently after having children. The focus is no longer on just them and the relationship, it is now focused on the children. They feel the same exhaustion when raising children and sex takes a back seat.
According to a 1993 study from the Washington Post, 72% of married men cheat on their partners while 70% of women have cheated. These are alarmingly large numbers. This same article uncovers the myths about why people cheat. It is not about finding someone more attractive or falling out of love with the person, instead it is more about not feeling as though your needs are being met and wanting to fulfill those needs outside of the marriage.
Sex after divorce is a whole other dynamic. After the marriage ends because of infidelity, a woman often goes through a period of deep depression which causes her to lose her appetite. (This is often the case for men as well). They call this the “divorce diet”. The woman ends up losing a bunch of weight and once she is able to peak her head out of the dark hole of despair she has been living in for months, she starts to realize that more and more men are paying her attention. Typically, after divorce, women start to see themselves as sexual beings again and they go out on the town to prowl for men in order to feel better about themselves. Women go through feelings of not being good enough or sexy enough or blaming themselves for not being attentive enough. It causes them to seek attention from men, as a way to heal those wounds.
Casual sex becomes a way for women to feel attractive again and for some it helps them through a tough time while others feel used and empty when they realize that sex without true intimacy actually makes you feel worse. Not for everyone, but for most. The most important thing to remember is not to judge others going through this period after divorce. Everyone copes with this pain differently. Until you are walking in their shoes, feeling the heartbreak of betrayal and the end of your marriage, you will never know what that does to the human spirit. Some look for comfort in a stranger’s arms just to numb the pain, others turn to alcohol, shopping, food, work, or other vices that help them get over the hurt that consumes them. Sex is just another drug in the long list of things that distract us from feeling the emotions we are so desperately trying to avoid. Eventually we come to realize that it is putting a band aid on the wound that’s hemorrhaging.
I feel that women try to lie to themselves and think that they can have multiple partners (just like men do) without feeling slut-shamed, but eventually we realize that all the sex in the world is not going to make us feel better about ourselves. In fact, it will make us feel worse. Even if the guy is a total D-bag, and we don’t really want a relationship with them, we wonder why they are not falling head over heels for us after we have sex with them. All those feelings of not being good enough come flooding back. We start to wonder what is wrong with us? Why doesn’t he love me? It’s our nature. It’s how we have been wired and there is no getting around it. Call it low self-esteem, blame it on generations of women being objectified as sexual objects. Whatever the reasons are, we suffer from it in one form or another.
For some, it’s serial monogamy with the wrong kind of men and for others it’s sleeping around. I chose to be celibate after a few casual encounters with men that didn’t deserve it. Even though I was married at a young age and didn’t “play the field”, I didn’t want to have sex with a lot of men, but I did seek out attention from them. You see, I view my body and my sexuality as a gift. A gift that only a few rare men will receive. I don’t give it out to just anyone that shows me attention. I have to feel a connection with them. I don’t want to feel used and then discarded when I’m no longer desired. It will only make me feel less of myself.
I love equating everyone’s various approaches to love and heartbreak to an episode of Sex and the City. This show is so brilliant in its simplicity and captures the true nature of women across the world. Some people relate to the ultra-conservative Charlotte, while others love sex like the horny nymphomaniac, Samantha. I’m kind of a mix between the ever-so-cynical Miranda and the dreamy writer who still believes in love, Carrie Bradshaw. Each of them share a journey through the ups and downs of relationships while supporting each other no matter what path they take. That is what I strive for in my friendships and I always need to be reminded that it’s not a one size fits all process.
We may go through times of being Samantha or we may go through times of being a goody-two-shoes like Charlotte. I can sometimes battle between the two personas. I was definitely raised to think sex was dirty in my Irish Catholic upbringing. As I grew older, I realized that your sexuality was nothing to be ashamed of, but I still hold on to those core beliefs that sex is not something to take lightly. It doesn’t mean the desire isn’t there, it just means that I’m more selective with who I’m going to share that with.
Sex is a powerful thing that people underestimate and don’t value the way they should. They don’t value it in marriage and they don’t value it after marriage. I’m not trying to be all virtuous and shit, I just know for me, sex is something special, that I only want to share with someone special. That’s all. If you give something away doesn’t it lose its value? Does being wanted for sex make you special to that person? No, it just makes you accessible. I don’t want to be accessible. I want to be loved and cherished. We all want that.
To all my married friends and readers, I envy the fact that you get to enjoy sex with someone who loves you. Don’t take it for granted. You don’t realize how wonderful it is until you don’t have someone to share that with anymore. To all my single friends and readers, enjoy whatever it is that brings you pleasure, but don’t confuse that with the need for true intimacy. The real deal is far better than the allure of sex that is portrayed in the movies and tv shows like Sex and the City. Whether you’re a man or a woman, we all need to feel that connection and we should work to make sure we don’t let it slip through our fingers because of the intoxicating lure and seduction of what is on the other side. Love is the real power; sex is just the illusion.