It's an extremely dangerous habit that RUINS marriages.
"Most women are socialized to be led sexually, to be chased and to follow the desires of their partners rather than to tap into their own wants and express them." — Amy Jo Goddard, Woman on Fire
Men are physiologically different from women and their sexual needs tend to be more immediate, more frequent, and less nuanced. Women's arousal takes longer, leading marriage counselors like myself to advise heterosexual male clients to begin foreplay with their ladies far in advance with pre-planned date nights, caresses, and small, thoughtful gestures — priming the pump, so to speak.
Women are often encouraged to "do it even when you don't feel like it," not as a form of ignorant submission but as an act of enlightened self-interest. As Nike beseeches (the corporation, not the Greek Goddess): Just Do It — you'll get into it later.
Besides, you have a great guy. He's generous, tolerant of your eccentricities, your occasional panic attics, and your weird family. He listens and cries and changes diapers and even threw away his favorite pair of hideous stonewashed jeans all for you.
Don't you owe it to him to honor his urges and help him through his periods of blue-balled irritability? How hard is it to spread your legs a little wider even when you're not in the exactly right mood? Just re-frame his grunts as opportunities for self-transcendence until he reaches the final crescendo and — whew! — finally, it's done. If that doesn't work, try closing your eyes and practicing those helpful beach visualizations.
The problem is, this approach isn't sustainable. It has long-term risks to your own mental health and to the health of your marriage.
One of the major risks of the men-need-it-more-so-I'll-just-grin-and-do-it approach to conjugal sex is that human sexuality — particularly female sexuality — doesn't take well to being used, even by the woman it belongs to.
Female sexuality is stubbornly, maddeningly, exquisitely its own force of nature. It can't be tricked, bartered or convinced. Not unlike the clitoris itself, a woman's sexuality does what it does best when it's working purely for its own pleasure.
Of course, we can (and sometimes do) try to harness our sexuality for other purposes: as a status-quo maintainer, a bargaining chip, a peace offering and even as a weapon ("Your career is more important than I am? Well my new trainer doesn't think so."). When we misuse our sexuality, there's a price to pay.
In our marriages, too much practical, charitable sex erodes our connection to our husbands but also to our own erotic selves. We feel like frauds. Don't get me wrong; now and again, a QFF (Quick Friendly F*ck) has helped many a couple through stressful or tough times when opportunities for creative lovemaking are scarce. But when QFFs become MMFs (Mundane Mercy F*cks), the fun and spontaneity die.
No fun in the bedroom, most experts agree, contributes to affairs, addictions, divorce and just plain old existential misery. MMFs are dangerous when they become habitual, particularly if they serve as a way of avoiding necessary conflicts that would help you both grow. Even in a stable marriage, MMFs make it harder for you to know what you feel and want.
Ironically, satisfying your man's sexual needs with too much kindness can also breed anger and resentment. It's the flip side of the When-Harry-Met-Sally-orgasm-argument: actually, they DO know when we're faking it. Our acquiescence feels infantilizing. It's insidiously hurtful.
Even if the research shows that women's desire is more receptive and men's is more spontaneous, their true heart's desire is OUR desire. They want us to want it, too.
In the sexual arena, at least, they're not interested in being managed the way we manage the house, the kids, the bills, and the social calendar. "You have to keep the pilot light of your own sexual desire lit," insists sex therapist Dr. Megan Fleming.
So what do we do if we just don't have it in us? If we're tired and have a headache, if we can't work up the energy, initiative or drive, if we love our husbands oh-so-much but we're not feeling all that libidinous since the kids were born, the weight was gained, or the ex-boyfriend liked us on Facebook?
We have the option of doing it even when we don't want to, keeping our fingers crossed, and hoping desire kicks in. Or we can make a much more challenging choice: we can decide to embark on a personal journey of erotic self-discovery. We can get curious about what it means to be a sensual being in a female body right now, at this point in our lives, in our relationships, families, and communities.
We can think about what good girls do and what good girls don't do, and start toying around with the idea of what it would be like not to be so good. We can expand our erotic vocabulary, deepening our capacity for uninhibited sexual conversations, with or without words.
We can dance more, dress differently, experiment with what makes us feel vulnerable, powerful, creative, and alive. We can become more responsible for our own complex adult female sexuality. It's our choice.
We can surprise ourselves and make our erotic selves a priority, not the last thing to worry about at the end of another to-do list.