The not-so-funny paradox about sex in our lives is that we are swamped by it but honest, intimate conversation about our desires is hard to come by. Sex sells it all, from toothpaste to car insurance.
We are advice-d to death about it via endless columns in glossy magazines. We endure countless, stupid jokes about sex everywhere from the bus stop to the office to the club.
And yet, when the moment finally comes, we find ourselves struggling to articulate and act on what we really want. We are often unsure about how to navigate desire, consent and our health. So, let’s bust some of the most damaging myths out there about our desire.
1. Everyone has it.
Desire is variable. Simple enough. Then why do we expect that our lover’s desire will be a match for ours? Many, many people have little to no sexual desire and yet live in thriving partnerships. They achieve this because the level of honesty in the relationship is equal to the level of commitment to meeting each other’s sexual needs, even when they are widely divergent.
2. Desire doesn’t matter.
We choose our partners with such careful attention to detail: How do they think about family life? Money? Movies? Politics? Spirituality? Friendship? The list goes on. Why on Earth do we believe that how they experience their desire is not critically important? If my partner doesn’t like the movies I like, I can pick another movie buddy and not have it threaten my relationship. If my partner isn’t interested in my sexual desire and what it means to me — they are unlikely to be my partner for very long. Living with a lover who is indifferent to or repulsed by our desire is a draining and deadening proposition.
3. Our desires are ‘wrong.’
Two essential ingredients in any sexual encounter are these: consent and respect. Consent is a process of engagement, not a transaction, even in a hook-up situation. Anyone who makes you feel like they are trying to push past your boundaries to ‘win’ something is not respecting you, your desire or the consent process.
When respect and consent are fully operating, no desires are ‘wrong.’ How we pursue our pleasure is a unique path built on chemistry, temperament, culture, history, and the context in which we find ourselves. Under capitalism and patriarchy, we are all experiencing psychic and physical violence as we form our sexuality. Some of us are surviving extreme violence. How we make sense of this history as we pursue pleasure matters. Many of us are brilliantly transforming trauma by sifting through the remnants of our abuse for desires that we chose to pursue without apology. And we know when we’ve chosen well in our partners because they are awed and compelled by our healing path and our desires, not frightened or repelled by them.
4. The narrative of ‘who we are’ and our desires MUST match.
This is one of the most damaging myths about desire because it means we have internalized all of the sex-phobic messages in our culture and are now policing ourselves. There is a rack of research noting that the gaps between attraction, behavior and identity are significant. How we think about ourselves: feminist, equality-minded, strong; and what we want in bed: submission, domination, and a Daddy; do not need to match up to live lives of integrity. As a sex coach, if I had a dime for every str8, football-playing dude who fantasizes about being [email protected] by a bunch of soldiers — I’d be a very rich woman.
5. We should act on all of our desires, or conversely, never act on them.
Few of my clients who fantasize military gang [email protected] (you’d be surprised how common that one is) have ever acted on this. But many of my clients reporting Daddy fantasies have tried them out. Some fantasies are meant to stay between our ears. They enliven and intensify parts of us, they tap into our vulnerabilities. These fantasies can point us to ways we want to engage and be engaged by our lovers. But desires don’t have to be literal. We realize this in so many other arenas (I am never going to pitch a World Series game, for example) — why is it so hard for us to appreciate and draw on our sexual desires in shaping the lives we want?