A letter full of bile
Dear imaginary amalgam of all my girlfriends ever,
Do you remember that time when I got pointlessly annoyed about a grocery trip taking longer than expected? It needed to be done, but everything was just taking so long and you were finding more and more things we need, and I was more and more impatient… In the end, we got into some stupid argument over whether we need more napkins or something.
It wasn’t about the napkins.
It wasn’t even about the shopping.
I just wanted sex.
You see, I know that after shopping you’re tired, and the longer we’re shopping, the less likely you will be up for sex when we get back. We didn’t have sex for a few days and this was the one free evening we had in a while, and I was really hoping… I was trying to joke about it and gently suggest we could make this a quick trip, dropping hints and all. But with every minute in the supermarket I just saw the chances slipping away further and further. I know you, I knew it wasn’t going to happen now. You’ll be acting as if you didn’t catch any of my hints, and all my fantasies about those cucumbers I’m putting on the till now are a fool’s dream: they will go straight to the cupboard, and we will go straight to some stupid Netflix show. Well, doesn’t matter now, not after the napkins argument.
Or remember when I came back from work acting a bit stroppy, you asked if something happened and I was all like ‘no, no, just thinking about all the things I need to get done,’ and went off pretending to be busy in the other room? I didn’t have much to do at all, we just didn’t have sex for a while and on the way back I saw some really hot girls and got aroused, then I got annoyed that I’m aroused because I knew you won’t have the time tonight, and then I started thinking about those girls and what it would be like, and then got even more annoyed at myself for thinking that, but I couldn’t help it, it got me even more aroused and even more thinking about how we didn’t have sex for a while… so I just made myself very busy for the rest of the evening hoping I wouldn’t have to deal with my desire and the growing resentment.
Or the time when I was quite reclusive and grumpy for a few days, saying I’m tired and want space? I wasn’t tired, I was just deeply under-fucked. Because it’s been two weeks and there was always something. One day you were stressed about work, then two days of toothache, then you had some bad family news and really weren’t in the mood, then we had guests, later you just had a couple anxious days, and when everything seemed like the stars will finally align and the days of my miserable quiet wanks are over… You spilled some hot tea on your inner thigh and it’s not that bad but it’s exactly there and it hurts when rubbed, so…
As I hide in my room ‘tired’ (but actually desperately trying to bottle up my frustration), I can feel the bitter bile build up in my stomach, poisoning my thoughts and making me see my sex life as a series of dice rolls, except my die says ‘sex’ on 15 out of the 20 sides, and yours has 19 sides with reasons why not, and one which says: ‘re-roll.’
Why am I writing this?
Yes, I know. There are bigger problems in the world. Yes, I know. People of all genders can have higher or lower libidos, but women specifically are socialised in a way which can supress their sexualities. Yes, I know. This and many other problems are essentially created by the patriarchy and the best way to resolve them is by empowering women.
I know all that and I apply it in everyday life. I am a supportive partner and a vocal feminist ally. I want to build a world where girls can grow up free, equal and empowered, unburdened by the crap women have to face now.
So why the hell am I writing this? Sounds like I’m just going to bitch about all those frigid women withholding what is rightfully mine in light of the glorious fact that I have a penis. Like a first-class jerk.
I am writing because I am very aware that there is a strong disconnect between what I believe in, and my desires. I’m writing to do what men are so bad at — talk about my feelings and help others deal with this disconnect. Because I don’t think I’m particularly unusual here — I think that many, many men deal with the same issue.
The issue that with all our best intentions to build a better future in which the patriarchy will be dismantled and empowered women will own their sexuality, we personally can’t wait another 50 years. And frankly, my dick can’t even wait two weeks.
My dick is a dick
I admit it, I haven’t been my best self when I’m sex starved. I have been irritable. I have been passive-aggressive. I have said things that made my partner feel inadequate, and I have done it in the full awareness of the fact that this not only hurts her, but also makes my problem worse: she definitely won’t want sex now and the feelings of inadequacy I’m creating will make it harder in the future. I have been literally watching words come of my mouth thinking: ‘What the hell are you doing?! Stop now!!!’
And I didn’t stop.
And I feel so ridiculous for it. I am an educated, cultured person, I have an interesting, complex life full of creative hobbies and fantastic friends. My partner is my best friend and our love is so much more than sex. I am a proud feminist who wholeheartedly condemns male entitlement and sexual exploitation. Am I really so basic, so brutish, so coarse as to let my most primitive animal desires trump over all I believe in and have such an influence over my life?
Doctor Freud is laughing in his grave.
So is David Hume, who wrote that reason is only a slave to the passions. In my first responses to the problem I employed my reason aplenty — mainly to post-hoc rationalise what I did out of passion, to justify why I’m right and others are wrong, to come up with all the strategies on how to ‘help’ my partners change. It took me a while to consider the possibility that maybe the problem is not with my partners, and maybe my ‘helpful’ actions are really quite dickish and only make it worse.
The next step was just a bit better. I started researching gender differences in approaches to sexuality, looking into evolutionary biology and psychology, reading statistical data on sex life satisfaction and on what men and women do when not relying on the other gender. Did you know that men masturbate several times more often than women and watch the vast majority of porn, even controlled for the fact that most porn is aimed at men? Moreover, women largely report that they watch porn with their partner to spice up their sex lives, while men, single or in a relationship, report mostly watching it alone as replacement for lack of sex. Did you know that the 9 London gay ‘saunas’ where men can have casual sex, are open for a total of 1005 hours each week? There are no lesbian ‘saunas’, and after hours of searching I found just two regular sex events which, on a generous estimate, would offer women a grand total of 3 hours of casual sex opportunities per week.
I set off on this research in a misguided attempt to find some sort of vindication for how I feel, but in the end I found something else. I found that I am not alone, that there must be thousands, millions of men out there who are also regularly under-fucked and don’t know what to do about it, and likely develop some really questionable coping mechanisms. I also found that I really wish I was gay now.
Meanwhile, I read a lot of content written by women who hear plenty often that men want more sex. It must be really horrible to be constantly bombarded with expectations and unwanted advances, particularly when you’ve been brought up in a culture that normalises sexual abuse and expects women to provide sexual pleasure, not to experience it. So I can really understand that most of what I read was very critical. Frankly, I kept reading and agreeing: of course we should stop thinking about our own desires and focus on empowering women and helping them express their sexuality freely! Pushing it is so horribly unfair, damaging and completely counterproductive!
And you know what? Disconnect. It was like trying to convince a starving person that they should save their last grains to plant them for the next year. My brain was totally convinced. My dick still wants what it wants.
A need for a better narrative
Finally, I started looking into what psychologists call ‘sexual deprivation.’ Turns out that the main recognised symptoms are: higher blood pressure, general irritability, low mood, and a loss of perspective where thoughts about sex start becoming more and more intrusive and the whole thing seems more important than it really is. Well, that sounds awfully familiar!
On the whole, I’m cautious with such labels. It sounds too much like ceding personal responsibility: ‘oh no, I’m not a bad person, I just suffer from this darn asshole-syndrome!’ Reading about deprivation did not make me feel absolved for all the bad things I’ve said and done at all, but it did give me some vocabulary to describe my experience and to talk about it without instantly placing myself on the lost position.
Because you see, it’s really hard to talk about this topic. For us men-folk brought up in the boys-don’t-cry world, talking about anything personal is hard enough and talking about personal experience with sex is harder still.
Talking about being unsatisfied with your sex life is next level hard. That’s because it’s near synonymous with admitting you fail at some basic tenant of maleness: you can’t secure a mate, you can’t satisfy her, you’re powerless. However woke you are, however strongly you denounce all the alpha-male narratives, those things have been bred into you from early age and admitting failure is still hard.
But the hardest problem is at the next stage: other people’s reactions and the narratives they build to explain your words and actions. What responses would I expect?
People ridiculing me for being a failure.
Haha, maybe she doesn’t want to have more sex with you because you’re shit in bed and your dick is tiny!
Being labelled as part of the problem.
We are fighting for gender equality here and all you can think of is your dick. Nobody owes you sex, asshole, stop acting like you’re the victim!
Being told off for being so shallow.
Really? Is this your main problem in life? Relationships are about love, partnership, family! What are you, 16? Focus on the important stuff!
Being treated with disgust and disdain.
Oh yeah, he’s one of *those* guys who can’t keep his dick in his pants, he’s probably mentally undressing every woman he sees, yuck!
So yeah, I can’t say it’s easy to talk about it. Basically, it seems like all the narratives where a guy discloses having unsatisfied sexual needs, are really shitty for that guy.
But if you start thinking about this with the notion of deprivation, maybe there is some way around it, some way to create a better narrative. Because I doubt you’d get a similar response if you were talking about deprivation related to anything else than sex! Take this example, call it travel-monogamy.
Imagine you’re with an absolutely amazing person. You have the best times together and you’re madly in love. Somewhat oddly, your partner has a thing — they really don’t want you to travel or even go out on your own. You can travel anywhere together, but you can’t go anywhere on your own — not even to see friends in a pub. You absolutely love travelling, but you thought: ‘it’s worth it, my partner is awesome and why would I ever want to travel without them anyway?’
But after a year it turns out that your partner is increasingly becoming quite a home person. They just don’t feel a great need to go out — leaving the house a couple times a month is more than enough for them and they prefer to spend their holidays at home, too. You can sometimes entice or convince them, but it’s not making much of a difference. You plead, but they rightly say that you have no right to force them to travel and you agreed to the deal, so there’s nothing that can be done here, you just need to adjust. After all, it’s not like your life depends on it, you have no God-given right to going out or travel, so what is even your issue. It’s time you just get used to it, ’cause this is your life now.
I bet that if you told this story to anyone, they would be rather sympathetic: ‘Man, that’s tough, to be deprived of travel…’ They might not have any solutions for you, nor should you expect any, but at least they might offer some support, understanding, or just basically listen without ridiculing or judging you.
I wish it could be like that with sex. If anything, this should be even more understandable: sex is, after all, a basic human need that’s a bit more primal than a need for travel, and as such it should be no wonder that it’s strong and can lead to frustration if not satisfied! Certainly, deprivation in other basic needs such as safety or human contact can lead to frustration we have no trouble understanding and sympathising with.
But there is a danger in using the term ‘deprivation’. It implies that there is a person there who is doing the depriving, and it’s hard not to see that person in a bad light or start blaming them. Normally, when someone deprives you of something, they either take what is rightfully yours, or don’t give you something they owe you. I hope I don’t have to tell anyone how harmful applying that sort of thinking to sex can be.
Finding words that are me-focused and don’t involve blame-placing is not easy! Humans are very much into blaming. In the end, I settled on ‘having a sex deficit’ or ‘being short on sex’. That seems much healthier and goes with a bunch of metaphors and examples I can use to make it easier to explain how I feel.
I might be regularly short on sleep because my partner is a snorer. This can make me irritable and I might wish they didn’t snore, but it’s not like they are maliciously depriving me of sleep, so I can’t seriously hold a grudge against them. You might find your diet has a meat deficit if your partner is a veggie and you’re not, or that you’re short on parties if your partner is a big introvert, or you have a deficit of free-time if your partner becomes ill and needs regular care. All of those things might be a pain, they might cause you irritation and bad moods, you can go bitch about them to your friends — but they’re not the sort of things that can be ‘solved’ or for which you can seriously blame your partner. They’re just a fact of life that you mostly get used to, learn to work around, or leave if you can’t, because none of us have it all without any downsides.
Being short on sex is just like that.
How does any of this help?
So what is all this for? Am I going to give you any solutions?
If you started reading this hoping I’ll tell you how I found some awesome way to get more sex, I’m afraid I’ll have to disappoint you.
But finding this narrative really helped me a lot. I can now think about this problem in a way that doesn’t make me feel horrible. I can experience the effects of being short on sex and just say to myself: ‘Aha, this is what’s happening! No need to go around being passive-aggressive at your girlfriend, no need to hate yourself for being an animal.’ In fact, since I started to think about this, I have been finally able to actually talk about this with my partner in a way that doesn’t make it sound like I have a problem with her, or she is inadequate, or I’m horribly unhappy. And she can actually offer some understanding and comfort, rather than becoming defensive and feeling crap about herself.
If you follow this narrative, you will see people who feel short on sex more like those who had to take care of a sick child and miss having a rest, or feel a lack of job security because their work is undergoing restructuring. They experience a deficit in one of their basic human needs and it is causing them distress which is entirely understandable. We still wouldn’t excuse them if in this distress they do something mean or horrible, but we kind of get it and won’t judge or ridicule them for how they feel.
In the end, my dick still wants what it wants and I still wish I had more sex than I do. But now I have a way to feel less horrible about it. It doesn’t frustrate me quite as much and I don’t take out my frustration on anyone. My partner feels less pressure, which in fact makes our relationship and our sex lives better. Having a good wank is still the best way to cope, I just don’t feel quite so pathetic about it.
And being able to talk about it openly, that’s pretty liberating, too.