The Weekend Sexperiment: Ideal Vs. Acceptable

April 19, 2013

Welcome to The Weekend Sexperiment! Each Friday, I alternate between The Weekend Sexperiment and Reader’s Request Fridays. In TWS posts, I offer a simple sex therapy homework assignment to try out over the weekend. Some experiments are geared towards couples, but others are suitable for single folks. As always, please feel free to contact me if you have a certain topic you’d like to see covered. If you’re interested in counseling, call (415) 658-5738 or visit my Appointments page to schedule a consultation.

I’ve written before that mismatched sex drives is one of the most challenging aspects of romantic relationships. I have never met a couple who wanted sex at exactly the same time, in exactly the same way, every single time. There’s always one person who wants sex more in any particular moment than their partner does, and attempts at intimacy are often rebuffed. Sometimes couples can navigate these rejections gracefully, but more often, the rejection feels like just that – a rejection. Rejection has a sneaky way of instantly transporting us to early childhood memories of being picked last at the soccer game, of sitting alone at lunch, or of a parent who didn’t love us enough. It’s easy to react to our partner from this young, hurt place, and turn a simple, “I’m sorry, I’m too exhausted right now” into a fight. Just as quickly, a handful of spurned sexual advances can turn into what feels like a massive and unchangeable problem.

This week’s sexperiment is designed to help you and your partner take a closer look at exactly how mismatched your sex drives truly are. When couples start thinking that they have a “problem” with their sex life, they rarely take the time to step back and take an honest, objective look at the situation. If you’re too triggered to notice what’s actually going on, you have no way to identify possible compromises and solutions to the issues at hand. One of the best ways to circumvent these tendencies is to compare your Ideal sex life with your Acceptable sex life. Your Ideal sex life is the sex life you would have in your absolute fantasy world. You would be the king of the universe, you would have no other obligations, and you could have whatever you wanted whenever you wanted. Your Acceptable sex life is basically what would be “good enough”. It takes into consideration the real world and all of its interruptions. Note that this is not the “bare bones” version of your sexual desires; the Acceptable version still has to feel good, rewarding, and fulfilling.

When couples are fighting about sex, I’ve found that each partner tends to be pitting themselves against what they perceive as the Ideal version of their partner’s desires. This is problematic for several reasons: one, because your perception of your partner’s desires is not always going to be accurate, and two, because your partner doesn’t always need to have their Ideal sex life. Your partner’s Ideal version of receiving oral sex might be twice a day, but their Acceptable version might be twice a week. You may be feeling resistance to your partner’s request to get oral sex more frequently because you’re picturing needing to perform the act multiple times a day. Recognizing that your partner would be perfectly fine with twice a week may come as a huge surprise and an even bigger relief.

Print out the chart at the bottom of this post (click to enlarge). This is a simplified version of the exercise I do with my clients, but I’ve included extra spaces for you to fill in other desires. Take some time alone to consider each of the topics, and respond honestly. Keep in mind that just because you label something as Acceptable doesn’t necessarily mean that you will get it. If you are in a relationship, schedule a time to discuss your list with your partner. Are you surprised by any of your own answers? Surprised by any of your partner’s answers? How disparate are your lists? If you are single, use this as an opportunity to examine what you are looking for in a partner.

hey there!