“When one is pretending, the whole body revolts”.
This is a brilliant quote by the early 20th century erotic author Anais Nin. What it means is: when people pretend during sex, when it's an act rather than true expression, then over time their body (and soul) revolts.
While this applies to both sexes, it particularly applies to women. This is because physically it’s easier for women to pretend and/or put up with pretense than it is for a man, and because historically under patriarchy it was the expectation that women would 'put up' with sex, so it's ingrained in our social psyche.
This ‘pretending’ can come in two forms:
1) It can be what I call “obligation sex” - when someone has sex simply because they think they “should”, that it is in some way an obligation on them. It might be to keep their partner happy (or to stop them whining about it), it might be because they think that’s part of the marriage contract, it might be because they’ve had five dates and now they feel they have to “put out”. It can even be well-intentioned, but unfortunately, it’s still destructive.
The trouble with obligation sex is that over time it deadens the person who feels obligated. And yes, I mean the whole person. I find that if you have sex that you don’t enjoy it saps your essence, your vitality. Naomi Wolf in her wonderful book “Vagina” cites some interesting research around how sexual abuse numbs people, so they lose focus, joy and meaning in life. I believe this happens in a subtler way with on-going obligation sex, creating low-level sexual trauma which numbs a person, so they lose the joy in life.
I have no doubt that was in part how women were kept as second-class citizens for so long, stuck in economic marriages, with no knowledge of their sexuality, being dutiful wives meeting their husbands' needs. It sounds old-fashioned, but I see modern versions of this all the time.
2) Then there are the people who think that sex should be a certain way, and so act that way when having sex, even though they don’t really like it. I see this particularly in people who think that sex should be like in the movies, lots of action and passion, doing wild and crazy things. Now, there is nothing wrong with action and passion and wild and crazy things if it is real for you at that time and in that moment!
But if it’s not real, if you’re having wild sex with one person or many different people, especially if it’s drug or alcohol-fuelled (as it so often is), then it will build up that ‘revulsion’ that Anais Nin refers to, and sex will become a distasteful thing.
I see this particularly in younger women who’ve bought into the porn-star approach to sex. So they have had lots of sex with lots of people, and have become jaded and repulsed by the whole thing to a point where they often start buying into the myth that women don’t like sex. Hey! They’ve tried acting like porn stars and that didn’t work, so the opposite must be true! (Which is not to say you can't have sex with lots of people, just make sure you do it because it's real for you!)
The key is to be in touch with yourself, which is why I don’t advocate drug or alcohol-fuelled sex because drugs are all about being out of touch with yourself. You need to be in touch with yourself so that you know if what you are doing is right for you. Too many women, and a lot of men too, get drunk so that they can put up with obligation sex with their partners, and way too many people get off their faces so that they can put on a good act with their regular partner or the “randoms” that they pick up while they’re out. Neither approach is sex-positive, both build revulsion and harm the individual engaging in it.
You must trust yourself and your body. You must know your boundaries and stay within them. You must know what you need to enjoy and benefit from sex, in the moment, and be able to communicate that with your partner, whether that’s a long-term partner or a passing encounter. That's how sex stays a wondrous form of self-expression that enhances all aspects of your life!