Are we trading sex for love?
Are we trading sex for love?
We can all understand that having a baby is life changing for the couple involved. Not only do they take on new roles, but their relationship with themselves and with each other undergoes a re-set.
Women particularly experience significant changes in terms of their sense of personal identity. Not only have they undergone changes physically and mentally through the pregnancy and birth, but now they have the adjustment of getting to know and care for their baby, usually on a 24/7 basis. Many men these days do want to be hands on in caring for their infant, but they are also frequently the breadwinners and so the bulk of the baby caring and rearing tends to fall on the woman. Some women love this and others resent it, but while there can be endless debate about gender roles and equality when it comes to parenting, what is rarely openly spoken about are the changes in the couple’s sexual relationship.
As a counsellor working with women with infants and their families, I find that subject of sex after childbirth carries with it a lot of guilt, stigma and shame, but it invariably comes up somewhere along the line in discussions. It is a part of the couple relationship that doesn’t receive much thought or attention initially as both parents are busy settling in with the baby. The woman is also needing time to recover and heal from the birth, especially if it was a difficult birth. But gradually the sexual expectations start to creep in …
Women often say to me that they are too exhausted from the demands of caring for an infant to feel like sex, or that they feel ‘touched out’ from breastfeeding and or carrying a baby around for much of the day or that they simply have lost interest. Their relationship with their partner is then under strain as some men take this situation as a personal rejection. Sometimes they even feel jealous of the baby and the closeness they can see between mother and child. Tensions then arise between the couple with miscommunication happening everywhere they turn. The usual solution is for the woman to comply out of guilt and have sex with her partner, because after all, that is what we are told a ‘good’ woman does when she is in a relationship with a man. But the implications here are far reaching as what is happening is based on duty rather than love and sows the seed of resentment which usually can’t be directly voiced, but none the less, seeps into other aspects of the relationship, whether that be through judgment, criticism, an irritability or a demand elsewhere on their partner over the coming days, months and years.
There is a sense that ‘you owe me’ or ‘look how much I am sacrificing for you, and you are taking it for granted’ type of attitudes that are all feeding the resentment and putting a barrier up to true self-regard and hence, genuine love making.
Men can also be caught up by the myth that men ‘need sex’ and that if they aren’t getting it at home then it is their right to seek it elsewhere, or to use pornography for relief. The feelings of betrayal and hurt felt when a woman discovers that either of these things have, or are occurring, is enormous and I’ve noticed the outplay can go various ways. Some women secretly see it as a relief as now she has the perfect excuse to withhold sex from her partner and withdraw from him in general. However, others take what has, or is happening, as a personal rejection and therefore sink further into shame, guilt and feelings of not being ‘good enough’ to manage to keep her partner sexually satisfied while also caring for the needs of the baby. Then there is another group of women who are deeply attached to the notion of keeping the family intact regardless of the cost, and so will turn a blind eye. The problem with all these responses is that there is still a disengagement happening between the couple and within each person.
Another aspect that I have been finding coming up more regularly in sessions is where women are speaking about their partners as being the ones who lose interest in sex. When this happens, there is an incredible amount of insecurity that bubbles up for the woman. Sometimes there is the fear that he will leave her for someone else based on the incorrect assumption that her partner’s lack of interest must mean that there is a deficit in her. The woman then goes on a fault finding mission, blaming herself, for example, for not having gotten her body back into shape post birth and therefore believes her partner finds her undesirable. Communication about the subject is often very limited to non-existent, so the matter festers and slowly eats away at the fabric of the couple relationship.
Regardless of where on the continuum the man or the woman may sit, the relationship has clearly run into stormy waters with no life raft in sight. But rather than staying lost in the fog, how else can we understand what is happening here?
Sex has commonly been equated with love, intimacy and worth, but is that true? What the above scenarios clearly show is the way we have been taught to think that love is something that is given to us by another and that the actual physical act of sex is proof that someone loves us, therefore we are loveable and will not be abandoned and left behind on our own. We are reinforcing the belief that sex is the answer to any lack of love we may be feeling, regardless of if that may mean we remain living in an abusive relationship or a cold, disengaged but comfortable arrangement where each does what they need to do to maintain their part of the ‘contract’.
Yet, if we are honest, there is still a deep level of emptiness felt inside ourselves that no amount of trade-off between sex or appeasing others in exchange for what we are calling ‘love’, can allay. We know there is something more and can go around and around in circles and even from one relationship to the next seeking this elusive experience of true love.
What is really going on here and why are so many people caught in the same situation, whether that be brought to a head during pregnancy and early parenthood, or at any time within a relationship? We may, at times, feel particularly feminine or masculine, gorgeous, sexy, attractive etc. due to having a new hairstyle or wearing a new outfit or having lost or gained weight, gotten fit and so forth, but these are all dependent on the ever-changing values and standards set by the external world. Inevitably we return to feeling the lack of self-worth and loneliness within and the search for love outside of ourselves continues, as does the build-up of resentment, bitterness and rage that fuel the potential for future revenge-filled separations and divorces. Perhaps we accept this set-up as ‘just the way it is’, our ‘normal’, but the fact that the outside world can only deliver temporary relief but nothing truly enriching, fulfilling and long lasting tells us that we are off track.
While we may have settled for our own form of relationship and sexual activity, albeit based on ideals and beliefs fed to us from society, the real evil is that we have lost the ability to love and cherish ourselves first and foremost.
There is no right or wrong here as both men and women are equally lost. Women have been sold so many lies about what defines them as a woman and a mother, the chief one of which is that a ‘good’ woman/mother is a ‘nice’ person who takes care of others first and that self-care is selfish. Naturally then, being available for sex is seen as part of the deal if we want to fit the idealised picture of womanhood. There is also a saying – ‘toughen up princess!’ which is meant as a criticism for someone who is sensitive to what is happening in and around them and who is not prepared to be constantly busy, pushing on through their days and nights in a driven, hard manner. Anything less than this achievements-based type of approach is viewed as weak, pathetic and if the woman can’t meet these demands, she typically accepts blame and opts to go into withdrawal through depression or other forms of ill mental health or self-harming behaviours, including ‘people pleasing’, to the detriment of her sense of self. However, irrespective of which avenue we go down in our current model of life, availability for sex is seen in a functional, taken for granted way as something that earns a tick on the ‘good’ woman/mother list of expected behaviours. It also promises a form of connection that can be construed as love, but if the woman is honest with herself, she would acknowledge that she is still feeling like it has fallen short of the mark and there is a loneliness and an emptiness within her that lingers on regardless of how much she did or didn’t enjoy the sex.
Men do not escape untouched by everything that is playing out as they too know about the mechanics of sex, but not about the way they are at the mercy of having been fed ideals, beliefs and pictures by the world around them about what ‘real’ men like and how they should behave. Just like women, they do not want to feel like they are the odd one out and so accept the status quo regarding the definitions of masculinity and femininity. Men feeling their femininity – their tenderness, gentleness, sacredness and delicacy is not something that is encouraged. In fact, it is inviting scorn and ridicule, so the vast majority of men seek to display as much male energy as possible so that they are seen as tough, hard, and as untouched by emotions and feelings as possible. Self-love is not even under consideration because society has taught men that they will be judged according to their achievements and everything else comes a distant second. What adds to the mix is the fact that women are frequently using male energy to compete with men rather than leading the way when it comes to showing what femininity and self-love looks and feels like, thereby allowing men to feel safe to feel and express a similar side in themselves.
Most of us have not learnt the meaning of self-love, let alone how to share that love with another … How then do we expect that men and women can find a sacred space to enjoy a truly loved filled intimacy within any romantic relationship when everything we have been taught has been based on the external world’s dictates around how men and women ‘should’ behave and what they can expect from others in return?
"In separation to your inner-heartSerge Benhayon Esoteric & Exoteric Philosophy, ed 1, p 206
you are forevermore left searching for self-love.
This is an energetic fact
that must be known and fully understood.
The separation to self creates
the emotional clinging we have onto others.
This is not union nor connection in-truth.
It is attachment driven by needs.
The need is to fill the emptiness
and so we impose on others to give us
what we refuse to give to ourselves –
When it comes to understanding what self-love means, I find very few people can name even a couple of qualities they recognise and value about themselves, let alone really cherish and appreciate who they are and what they bring to others around them. Instead, we have learnt that our worth depends on how we measure up against others, including as sexual partners, and so comparison, competition and jealousy is widespread.
Learning to love ourselves is by its very nature only something each person can do for themselves when they are ready and willing to do so. Our body offers us a wonderful starting point because it is through our body that we can connect with our inner-heart, or essence. Learning to notice and feel what is being communicated through our body, whether that is by doing a gentle breath meditation® or chewing our food more slowly, allows us to take a breather from all the chatter we have going on in our heads and to instead purposefully focus our mind on what we are doing and the sensations we can feel in our body.
Our inner-heart will never lie to us and while some of what will be brought to our attention are opportunities to correct ill habits, we will also be shown a depth of strength, grace and power that we likely never thought was possible.
What is being revealed is the real ‘you’.
It is beautiful to observe the transformations that occur along the way when women start to connect to their essence and feel and accept their own unique inner qualities and the love that is emanating in and through them. Under the previously insecure, protective shell is a delicacy, fragility and preciousness that are strengths and not personal flaws as women have commonly assumed them to be. The focus shifts from ‘what is wrong with me?’ to feeling their own loveliness, tenderness, and deep inner beauty and it becomes a natural part of women’s daily rhythms and rituals to love, care and nurture themselves. It’s not an instant makeover and it takes time and commitment to get to know ourselves in such an intimate manner, but every step of the way brings with it a corresponding increase in self-worth and a deepening in self-love. The change in women’s relationship with themselves is a catalyst for change in the couple relationship – and every other relationship they have in their lives, including with their baby.
As the woman builds a foundation of self-love she is able to be very clear about what is acceptable and loving for her in her sexual relationship with her partner. There are no ifs, buts or maybes – there are no compromises for the sake of maintaining the status quo in the relationship or to seek reassurance that her partner loves her. It is not about trying to grab control or dominate in the relationship but rather that the woman knows her worth and hence allowing anything less than love is abusive and unacceptable. It also becomes clearer that everything that takes place throughout the day can be considered foreplay for both the man and the woman. Even brushing our teeth can be done with intimacy when the intention behind the deed is to lovingly take care of ourselves and to be open and transparent with our partner.
Sex may happen at a certain moment in time but making love is something that has an ongoing momentum generated through the quality of the interactions a couple have as they go about their day to day lives.
"Love is the source of your power,Serge Benhayon Esoteric Teachings & Revelations Volume II, ed 1, p 474
the fire of your core and the might of your light.
Listen from within, and hear --
love is easy, and there within."
Unless society dramatically changes, we will continue to feel the group force pressure of expectations and the ideals and beliefs that have been imposed on both men and women regarding the meaning of sex and the way it is often equated to love. However, loving ourselves first and foremost allows us the space to bring our all to a relationship without feeling the need to justify, compromise, or seek approval from others. There is no illusion that sex can be a trade-off for love because there is a knowing that we are already enough, imperfections included, exactly as we are. In living this way, sex cannot be used as a form of pseudo intimacy or an excuse for withdrawal or holding back what is innately within us all i.e. love. Instead sex becomes a physical act sitting within a larger sphere of true intimacy and love making, rather than being seen as the ‘must achieve’ end point that proves someone is worthy of love.
Now that would be a real game changer for any romantic relationship, let alone one where the couple were also starting out on the parenting journey together!