Bedtime woes

Dr. Daley on Sex and Relationships

Dear Dr. Daley: I’m 25, female, and I’ve been with my boyfriend for three years. Though our relationship is healthy – we only fight occasionally – I just can’t get in the mood to sleep with him anymore. I love him and want to be with him (there’s no doubt in my mind), but when we get in bed, I really just want to go to sleep. I’ve had sex with him even when I’ve felt like this, hoping I would eventually be able to get into it, but I couldn’t. What’s my problem?

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photo / Simon Pearson 

My Dear. Although I try so hard to be kind, patient, empathetic, caring, and attentive, I must say that reading about your relationship pretty much put me to sleep. But a couple of cups of nice opaque Kenya have restored me to consciousness for the moment. I’ll type fast, before ennui overtakes me again.

The first thing we’re all dying to know is, has your sweetums always had such a soporific effect on you, or is it more recent? Because if the two of you have never had an incendiary connection, I am of the belief that such chemistry will be hard to come by at this point. But who knows? Maybe even two stultifyingly polite and nice individuals can make well-mannered love in a way that causes their neatly-manicured, sweet-smelling toes to curl. “Thank you, my dear, for such a pleasant interlude of sexual intercourse. I particularly enjoyed your kind attention to my labia minora in the plateau phase of sexual arousal.” Then the two of you can get up and go pay some bills that arrived in the mail this afternoon.

What I’m getting at, obviously, is the idea that hot and nice don’t always go together. I just don’t picture your sweetums trying to sneak a finger up your ass while you’re too aroused to notice. Whatever became of the good times?

Let’s imagine for the moment that the two of you used to go at it all hot and heavy, but the quotidian has proved to have a dampening effect on your ardor. Work, school, bills, grocery shopping, video games, mall marathons, wiping hair out of the drain, same old same old same old. This is the part of adulthood we weren’t anticipating. One of John Berryman’s “Dream Song” poems opens with a shattering, inescapable pronouncement: “Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.” Maybe you could paint this over the bedroom door in a lovely calligraphic design.

But maybe there are other ways to rekindle passion, if this is something both of you would find a suitable goal. It will take both of you, because part of rekindling passion involves re-awakening intimacy. See, intimacy entails a kind of newness. Discovering new or long-forgotten aspects of one another. Exploring new terrain, or old familiar terrain in new, strange vehicles. Getting a little edgy. A little Wow. Done correctly, this can set off flames. Or at least sparks that can be nurtured into flames. You have to start somewhere.

Not that many people who’d rather fall asleep at bedtime are going to be up to sex as A Project. You’re going to have to figure out if you want to invest this much time, energy, and vulnerability with dear sweetums. Do you still like how he smells? Get out of bed right now, walk up behind him, and smell the curve of his neck below his ear. (I don’t know why, but in my imagination he is in the other room playing video games. Isn’t that a sad stereotype? Surely there isn’t a red-blooded straight male who would rather play video games than go to bed with his favorite girl!)

If nothing registers for you, the two of you need some professional help. Find a couples’ therapist in your area who has expertise in sexuality, and go buy a few sessions. There are some conversations the two of you need to have about how distant you’ve become, how lonely you’ve been, and how resentful you feel. Then you’ll be able to move into the physical aspects of rekindling passion.

These exercises can be fun. They’re supposed to be fun. First you make a rule prohibiting orgasm and sexual intercourse. Then you start to play all kinds of sexy games as if you had never tried any such thing before. You include things like massage, fantasy enactment, feeding one another yummy juicy sexy foods, experimenting with smells, flavors, textures, blindfolds, feathers, ribbons, silky liquids, exotic locations, costumes, dominance and submission, surprise, dirty words, sexy phone calls, books, videos, written fantasies, ancient sex manuals, body paint, forbidding your partner to move or make a sound while you touch them from head to toe over the course of an hour to discover where their especially sweet spots reside. Do you like this? Or this? What about if I put my tongue here? Hmmm. Show me.

You get the idea. There a plenty of books out there to suggest step-by-steps. Good sex involves play, and play requires a safe space. I suggest the two of you start talking about the sexual part of your lives, what doesn’t work, and what you’d like your sex life to become. Talk about the roadblocks, the anxieties, the unpleasantness between you. Figure out how to behave with love and naughtiness, and get down to some serious play.

About the author Dr. Nancy Daley is a licensed psychologist and adjunct assistant professor who teaches Human Sexuality at The University of Texas at Austin. If you would like to submit questions for her to answer in this column, please send them to drdaley at thatotherpaper dot com.

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