An old friend of mine, now in his 50s and married for three years, recently told me that he finds himself resisting his wife's eroticism. "I love cradling her and caring for her in a fatherly way, but when she wants to go to a lustful place during sex, something in me can't quite give over to it." His feelings are so compartmentalized that his desire to take care of her prevents him from being able to "take" her. He walks a tightrope between feelings of love toward his wife and the lustful feelings he only feels in the presence of other women.
A female acquaintance admits that her fiancé's tenderness is wonderful, but it comes at a price. When she asks him to be seductive, he simply can't. She needs to feel desired, but he can't get past the feeling that such behavior would be disrespectful to her. Meanwhile, he feels hurt because she's the one who has difficulty expressing tenderness. The result is that they rarely have sex at all anymore.
These conversations left me feeling very sad, especially since I know such struggles are far from uncommon. What's going on? Is lustful passion so objectifying that it negates tenderness? Is it so difficult for us to accept all that we are? Why can't we be mothers and fathers, needy children, able businesspeople, and also vixens and studs when the time is right? Advice: We Have Less Sex Than We Used To
If we take our cues from the way sex is portrayed in films, we see the split between lust and tenderness very clearly. Picture any sex scene in any film—take your pick. He pushes her up against the wall (or she pushes him), presses his lips to hers in a bruise-inducing kiss, she wraps her leg around his waist, and it's oh, so hot. Cut to another scene in another film—again, take your pick. This one involves a married couple in a bed. He turns to her and gives her a kiss on the cheek. She snuggles her head into the crook of his neck. It's tender, but about as hot as a trek on an iceberg. With few exceptions, this is how sex is depicted on-screen, and both examples are extremes.