Dear Dr. NerdLove:
I’m a cis woman who has been happily married to a kind, gentle, cis man for 3 years. The only area where we are mismatched is our libidos — mine is very high and his is not. But we’ve made it work and for the most part and sex has been enjoyable, if a little dull.
Over the past couple of years, I have developed a serious interest in “rough sex.” Without going into too much detail, there are several things I would like to try that sound very enticing to me.
During our last sexual encounter, I talked to my husband about this beforehand and asked him if he would incorporate a few of these things to try them out — like biting me and slapping different parts of my body. He agreed, and it was the best sex we’ve had in a long time. It did not hurt me, and I found everything incredibly enjoyable.
The next day, I was talking with my husband about this to see how he felt and if he liked it. He said it was alright, but he’d prefer to just have “boring sex” (his words) from now on. I was disappointed, but didn’t know what to say.
The rougher sexual encounter has made me hungry for more. I want to do it again. But, I know it made my husband uncomfortable so I won’t force him to do anything. I can’t stop running scenarios around in my mind of things I really want to try, none of which I can do because I know my husband won’t be up for it.
Why can’t I just let this go and be satisfied with what I do have? Is there something pathologically wrong with me?
Counting The Bruises
So let’s get this out of the way right off the top: nothing’s wrong with you. You like rough sex; that doesn’t “mean” anything other than hey, you like rough sex. This isn’t revelatory of some deeper truth, it doesn’t mean that something is wrong with you or that you’re acting out some sort of abuse that was inflicted on you.
As far as kinks and interests go, this isn’t all that unusual. A lot of people fantasize about or actively enjoy rough sex; a study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found that people reported engaging in and enjoyed includes choking, spanking, hair pulling, spanking, biting, being pinned down and being tied up. And just to be clear: this was referring to consensual sex, where the rough play was agreed to by both partners, rather than the desire or attempt to actually harm someone.
What’s interesting is that, considering how common it seems to be, how stigmatizing people find it. And a lot of that comes down to the fact that we live in a culture that’s still incredibly sex negative.
It seems weird in a post-50-Shades-of-Gray world, where more and more people are open about the non-standard-issue sex they enjoy, but there’s still a persistent myth that “good people have ‘good’ sex”; non-traditional sex practices are still seen as being unusual, taboo or a sign of deviancy. People, even people who see themselves as being sex-positive and open-minded will often equate enjoyment of rough sex as being suspicious at best. Some see it as being indicative of hating or wanting to degrade women, some see it as a sign of an overall violent nature or that it’s the mark of someone who’s compensating for trauma in their lives. Lots of people will point to aggressive and rough porn — especially porn that may involve slapping, choking and the like — and insist that this is inherently bad and that the popularity of rough sex in porn is a troubling sign of… something.
All of this often comes as a surprise to the folks who enjoy having rough sex with their partners. And most of them came to it the same way you did, CTB: they had fantasies they wanted to explore or they were curious and interested in trying something new and asked their partners to indulge them. And, it seems that most of the folks who gave it a shot really liked it. According to Archives of Sexual Behavior, of the participants who tried rough sex with their partner, only 1.3% said they didn’t like it at all. 14% liked it “a little”, 46% liked it “somewhat” and 39% liked it “very much”.
This isn’t that surprising. The physicality and intensity of various forms of rough sex are literally exciting — it gets the heart pumping harder and the nervous system firing faster what we might consider to be “romantic” sex, and that excitement transfers to the intensity of the experience and increases arousal. The sex tends to be more vigorous, both partners are more engaged and participatory and — importantly — it tends to be a new and novel experience. In fact, a lot of people who report trying and enjoying rough sex mention that they tried it as a way to shake up their sex lives and get out of the routines they’d fallen into. Humans are a novelty-seeking species after all, and changing up our sexual repertoire is a key part of keeping the spark alive and the passion high in a long-term monogamous relationship.
Of course, I don’t need to explain this to you, CTB. You already know this; you had the best sex you’d had in years after your husband agreed to get rough with you. It’s hardly a surprise that when you’ve had some bed shaking banging that shook the pillars of heaven, you want more. Why wouldn’t you? That doesn’t mean that anything’s wrong with you, it just means you had really awesome sex and you’d like more please.
The complication, such as it is, comes in the fact that you loved it and your husband wasn’t that into it. That can be a problem, but it doesn’t have to be. It all comes down to you and your husband having an Awkward Conversation about sex and sexual satisfaction. You and your hubby should set aside time for the two of you to sit down and talk about this, at a time when you know you won’t be interrupted. You want to preface this with the fact that while your sex lives have been enjoyable, you’ve found that you need a little more variety than what you’ve been doing. Explain that the time you and he switched things up was incredible; let him know how much it excited you and how it made you feel and why. Did it make you feel more desired? Did it feel more intense and passionate than normal or more engaged and in tune with one another? Then tell him that. Make it clear that it was the rough sex with him that got your motor running, why this would make things even better between the two of you and how you might see this work. Then give him time to share his side of things. Was this something he just wasn’t into, or was it something he actively disliked? Did this scare him or make him feel like he’d done something “wrong”?
After he’s shared his side of things — and presuming that this wasn’t a hard “no” for him — see if you and he can work out a compromise. This is something you clearly enjoy and crave more of; is this something he can do for you on occasion, purely because you enjoy it? Doing things for your partner in bed specifically for them, even if it’s not your thing, is an important part of maintaining a strong relationship. Studies in The Journal of Sex Research have found that sexual transformations — that is, making changes for the benefit of one’s partner — improve the quality of relationships. It makes one’s partner feel heard, valued and appreciated; their partner is going out of their way to do things that make them happy, just because it makes them happy. That’s a pretty important factor in relationship satisfaction after all. Feeling neglected or like your needs are ignored, unimportant or (worse) shameful, on the other hand, negatively impacts the quality and longevity of a relationship.
Now, this can be a difficult conversation to have; it’s called an Awkward Conversation for a reason after all. It may help to have a third party guide and facilitate the conversation. Finding a sex-positive relationship counselor may make it easier for the two of you two talk things out and find an accomodation that works for the both of you. If you don’t know where to start looking, the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists has a referral directory that can help you find a counselor in your area. But what you shouldn’t do is just assume that this is forever off the table for you — not without at least talking things out with your husband first. Don’t make assumptions; talk to him and find out where he stands. If you can draw out his feelings on this and help him understand your side of things, you might be surprised. It may not be every time the two of you bang, but you may well be able to work an arrangement that will mean getting some prime black and blue marks on occasion.
Hi Dr NerdLove,
Only found your site today and rather than mulling over contacting advice columns as I have in the past I thought I’d just jump in and give it a try.
I have been reading through a few of your articles, and find myself relating a lot to the issues present. Bit of background: I’m a 34 year old male virgin in the UK. I’m not particularly handsome, although when not on depressive cycle I wouldn’t go so far as to say I was particularly ugly, and I am an endomorph, so fall on the overweight side of the scale no matter how much I try and watch my intake. I also fall into the category of not feeling like I have much in the way of outward skills, I like a lot of the standard geek/nerd stuff, got into video games thanks to primary school bullying, and anime thanks to Shonen Jump’s links through Toonami.
I don’t necessarily have an issue talking to people, although large groups of strangers do give me some anxiety, and have friends both male and female, yet can’t seem to find anyone who wants to see me as more than a friend.
I’ve been on numerous dating apps, as well as a few specifically designed for hookups, but get very few notifications that I’ve been liked and even fewer that end up with matches (I don’t just swipe right on everyone) and on nights out I feel like people just look through me or past me rather than anyone trying to get me to notice them. As you can probably guess self confidence is a major inhibitor to me approaching someone and making the first move, especially if trying not to come across as creepy.
I spent 10 years in a long term but ultimately loveless relationship with no physical intimacy whatsoever thanks to the other party not being honest about their asexuality until much later in the relationship, and my not wanting to be alone again preventing me from moving on much earlier. We’ve had an amicable break but I still find myself wondering if I will ever find someone at my age who likes me for me and wants a relationship and family.
Everything I’ve come across on getting back out there seems to come down to being ultimately anyone but me. I’m not particularly ambitious or confident, I’m trying to get more physically active post lockdown, but again, more as a means to see if it helps romantically than because it’s something I actively want to do as that seems to be the advice everywhere.
I don’t believe I dress down, but am limited on what I can afford, and always make an extra effort if I’m going out but nothing seems to work. Because I had, when younger, looked to be more settled at this time of life, I see myself as a failure at life and it does affect my mental health at times.
What’s worse is I’ve had female friends both past and present give the usual well intentioned lines such as ‘You’ll make someone very happy someday’ or ‘Why can’t I find someone like you’…you did, it was me. As such I genuinely feel worthless most of the time and if it’s not the other person’s fault (because there be incels) then it must be something wrong with me.
I can’t say I’m expecting much from this, as I’ve spoken to friends about this multiple times without any change, but maybe writing it down will act as some form of catharsis and, as someone with more of a professional than personal view, maybe you can shed some light where others have failed.
Thanks for reading at least
Getting Out There
Not to point out the obvious, GOT, but I think you’d be better off talking to a mental health professional, not a loudmouth with an advice column. You lead off with a line about “when you’re not on a depressive cycle,” and mention that you spent ten years in a loveless relationship that quite clearly has done a number on you and your self-esteem. That’s not something to just wave off like it’s unimportant; you spent a decade in a relationship that left you feeling unwanted and unloved. That’s going to affect… well, damn near everything, really. That’s also not really the sort of thing you just “get over” because enough time went by or because you willed yourself out of it. This is the sort of thing that you should talk to a counselor or therapist about and — as I’m always saying — Dr. NerdLove is NOT a real doctor.
So my suggestion for a first step would be to make an appointment with a counselor who can help you unpack your (real, valid and understandable) feelings about your relationship and and your history — the bullying, the isolation, the fear of being alone, all of it. That’s going to go a lot further towards helping you in the long run. If you have a chronic depression or other mental health issues, they can help you with that as well; they may well feel that you would benefit from antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication. There’s absolutely no shame with asking for help or getting medication that will help you get your head right. That’s not a sign of weakness or not being man enough, it’s a sign that you’re strong enough and brave enough to know you can’t do this on your own and you’ve got the courage to reach out to others.
One thing I can say with some certainty is that you’ve got a bad case of jerk-brain, taking the worst possible interpretation out of what others have said. When someone says “Why can’t I find someone like you,” that’s not an indication that there’s something wrong with you; they’re explicitly saying that you have qualities that they like and admire and would love to have in a partner. They may not love you the way you might wish they did, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t care for you, nor does it mean that there’s something wrong with you. It just means that they don’t have sexual or romantic feelings for you. That’s not because of some deficiency or judgement against you, it just means they don’t feel that particular way. Think of the women you see every day — your friends, your co-workers, the folks who give you your morning brew on the way to work — that you aren’t attracted to. You don’t think they’re horrible or deficient, am I right? In fact, I’m willing to say that there’re many women in your life who you think are awesome… but you aren’t attracted to them. That doesn’t mean they’re awful or unloveable or undesirable; you’re just not into them and that’s ok.
That jerk-brain is affecting other aspects of your life as well. The fact that you’re not married or settled down at your age doesn’t make you a failure. Things didn’t work out the way you hoped they would; that’s always a shame, but it’s a world of difference from being a failure. Failing at something doesn’t mean you are a failure, it just means that you didn’t succeed. There’s a world of difference, and it’s an important one. I didn’t succeed as a comic artist; that doesn’t mean I’m a failure, it just means I attempted something that didn’t work out and I learned from it. The same goes for you. Yeah, things aren’t where you would like them to be, but you’re in a position to make changes and do things differently. You can attack your goals from a different angle, you will realize that maybe what you wanted isn’t what you need or that now that you’re older and wiser, you have a better idea of what you do want.
But the important thing to remember is that your past choices don’t define you. You made the best choices you could with the information you had at the time; now you know differently and you can make different choices.
In the meantime, I think something that will help — besides talking to a counselor or therapist — would be to focus less on dating and more on doing things purely for yourself. The things that make you attractive or “dateable” are holistic parts of your life, not separate pieces. The things that make your life better over all are what help the most when it comes to finding relationships. Rather than focusing on being more physically active because it might make you more attractive for example, focus on being more physically active because it makes you feel better. Our bodies were designed to move; the more physical activity you engage in, the healthier and happier you will be overall. Even just going on regular walks can make a massive difference in your health and your emotional outlook. It might help to take on a challenge like the Couch-to-5k program or one of the many virtual races out there — having a goal to work towards will help keep you motivated, and achieving it will boost your confidence as well as your health.
The same goes for how you dress; focus less on trying to impress and more on finding your style and dressing in a way that makes you feel like a sexy bad-ass. This doesn’t need to cost a lot of money; you can put a sharp wardrobe together through thrift stores and some tailoring. When it comes to clothes, fit is king, followed by quality, and then by price. Keeping things simple with an investment piece or two goes a lot further than a closet full of expensive stuff that doesn’t fit right or that you don’t like wearing. The more you do the things that make you feel good and accomplished, the more it boosts your overall confidence and the quality of your life. That, in turn, makes it much easier to meet people — people who would be thrilled to meet a guy like you. By putting the emphasis on feeling good and having a life that you enjoy, you make it that much easier to find people who would love to share it with you. But by letting your focus be the love of your life, you don’t demoralize yourself by making your happiness dependent on others. You are teaching yourself that you deserve happiness, that you deserve good things and — importantly, you’re capable of going out and making those good things happen.
But again: these are in addition to talking to someone, not instead of. You sound like you’re carrying a lot of pain around, GOT, and it’s time for you to put that burden down. Find a counselor and start to unpack those complex and understandable feelings; you’ll be much happier in the long run.
You’ve got this.
All will be well.