We all want something more.
We started Conscious Girlfriend to help lesbians and queer women find the path to happy, healthy, intimate relationships. That's why we love our advice column — it helps us find out exactly where our readers are struggling and gives us a chance to point the way.
She writes, "My girlfriend wanted sex and multiple orgasms whenever we had free time over the course of years. She got angry when I told her it exhausted me. I had already 'been there, done that' and wanted a deeper spiritual connection. Evidently that was not reciprocal and I didn't feel heard or understood. Eventually, our relationship ended because the drama was too much for me. It has been a year since the breakup and I'm not ready to start something new because I find that most women think sex is love."
Ouch. That's a hard one. Most of us have been on one side or the other — either wanting more sex than our partner does, or wanting less. Both sides are so painful. But even more painful is the feeling described of not feeling heard or understood.
Reading the letter brings up several different issues:
- Women have genuine differences in our sex drives. And that, like all other differences, is something to work out in an atmosphere of love and compassion, both for our partner and for ourselves.
- Some of us find it hard to feel connected or close, except through sex. Whereas others of us need to feel connected and close in order to want to have sex. Again, this is the kind of difference that can definitely be worked with, when each partner is able and willing.
- Sex and a deeper spiritual connection are not mutually exclusive. There are some paths, like Tantra, that specifically aim to help women use sex as a way to become more spiritually connected.
- Many of us find that our sexual needs and desires change over time. This can be a difference to navigate, since each woman is on her own trajectory.
Apart from all of that, this brings up the issue of intimacy. Intimacy is feeling seen, heard and understood (and ideally accepted and appreciated, too). And, of course, also providing that same quality of seeing, hearing, understanding, accepting and appreciating to our partners.
Often in partnerships we get polarized around one issue or another. And usually, no matter what form the issue takes on the surface, the real issue is a lack of connection. So whether we find ourselves fighting about sex, or time together, or cleanliness, or money, or other personal habits, our fights are actually pushing us further away from what we actually want.
So, how do we build real intimacy? We've created another an intimacy-building process we call CLASP. That stands for:
C: Connection, compassion, communication
A: Acceptance, appreciation
P: Presence, permission
It goes without saying that both people have to want to build intimacy. If they don't, some work to repair previous damage might be necessary first. But when both people are on board, there are lots of ways to use the CLASP process to do so. Here are a couple of quick steps to take:
1. No one wants “drama.”
It emerges when we feel our needs aren’t met. So a good place to start is by giving each person space to name her needs, desires, hopes and dreams for the relationship.
2. Remember that love isn't a power struggle in which each person tries to wrest what she needs from the other.
Rather, love is about each person wanting the other person to have her needs met. And also, wanting her own needs to be met, but not at the other’s expense.
3. Listening, acceptance and appreciation can help a lot.
Sometimes our partners are different from how we might have wished them to be. Part of the challenge of intimacy is reminding ourselves that relationships are not about being with “the perfect person,” but with another human being who, like us, is imperfect — and imperfect for us — and yet choosing to love her, and allow her to love us, anyway.
4. We also need to give lots of space.
Space for our own feelings to come up. Space for her feelings, too. Space for her to be whoever she is. Even space for us to conceivably realize that we’re not compatible as partners. But the more space we allow each other, the easier it is for us to be together, even when there are significant differences.
5. “Presence” means we bring our full selves to the conversation.
We’re not thinking about who we’d rather be with, or emotionally exiting. We’re staying there, even when it’s scary or painful. And “permission” means we give ourselves, and our girlfriends, a chance to be who they are.