I wrote an article yesterday for the February issue of Natural Awakenings, a free publication in the Charlotte area that covers Healthy Living. I wrote about desire since it’s been a hot topic as of late.
As I was looking for a quote by David Schnarch (something along the line of “if you don’t desire sex, it’s probably because the sex you’re having isn’t very desirable” – I think he wrote that in Passionate Marriage), I came across an interview he did. I bookmarked it so I could come back to it later. I try to ingest as much Schnarch as I can. Which reminds me, I really have to get his new book, Intimacy & Desire.
Tonight as I was reading the interview, I was reminded again how much I appreciate his approach to relationships. I thought I’d share this specific answer with you because it pretty much sums up my whole article.
Q. You propose that the very way we think about sex and sexual desire sets couples up to have difficulty. Please explain.
A. People have been taught that “sex is a natural function.” However, the sex that comes “naturally” is reproductive sex; intimate sex is an acquired ability and developed taste. The notion that “sex is a natural function” leads couples to believe that sex and intimacy emerge full-blown unless some “blockage” is in the way. But usually, getting the sex and intimacy we want doesn’t involve removing a block, it involves growing up. Usually we just think of sexual desire as physical cravings (like horniness and “blueballs”). Desire involves wanting your partner — not just wanting sex — and we often don’t want to want our partner because it makes us vulnerable.
As we get older and as our relationships mature, we can’t sit around waiting for desire to suddenly show up at the end of a busy day. We need to take the initiative to make space – physical, emotional, mental and spiritual – for desire. Too often, people assume that they just aren’t attracted to their partner anymore, that they’re too old/fat/busy for sex, or that the solution to their lack of desire is to get a new partner. Instead, Schnarch would argue (and I would agree) that this apparent impasse is actually a time for growth.
Q. What do you mean when you say that intimate relationships are “people-growing machines?”
A. A good marriage is not smooth, and marriage is not reducible to a set of skills. People have difficulty with intimacy because they’re supposed to. It’s not something to be “solved” and avoided. Problems with sex and intimacy are important to go through because this process changes us. These are the drive wheels and grind stones of intimate relationships. The solution isn’t going back to the passion of early relationships because that’s sex between strangers; it’s about going forward to new passion and intimacy as adults. If we use relationships properly they make us grow into adults, capable of intense intimacy, eroticism, and passion-having sex with our hearts and minds, and not just with our genitals.
What do you think of Schnarch’s assertion that problems are important to go through? How might the frustrations or conflicts in your relationship be an opportunity for growth?