Confused thinking, clarification appreciated (may be triggering)

(19 Posts)
Keepithidden Mon 24-Feb-14 09:26:54

Hello, I know it's a faux-pas stating this at the outset, but I'm male and I�m posting here, rather than in Relationships, because the sugar coating is even thinner here and I need to know if it�s me being an entitled bastard misogynist or whether my thinking isn�t flawed logic.

DW has got into the habit of initiating Gift Sex, i.e. DTD on Valentines, Birthday and Christmas. Other than that we have zero sex life. I understand this is pretty normal for a family with young children so I�m waiting things out to see if they improve over the next couple of years.

The thing is, I�m uncomfortable with the gift sex thing. I don�t really want to do it despite enjoying it at the time and have tried to engineer situations so she can�t initiate it. I wasn�t successful this Valentines Day (well, I was on the day itself, but not the day after) though and I feel a bit like an abuser and wanted to get some clarification from the Feminist board about what constitutes abuse/rape.

So, I don�t initiate, but I�m reluctant to refuse on the basis that DWs self esteem and body image are rock bottom post DCs. However, thinking about why she�s doing this and from my reading on Feminism I think she could feel pressure from myself/society to do this. As I said I don�t initiate and I try to avoid any pressure, but I guess that doesn�t mean she can�t see I�m gutted about our unfulfilled (from my perspective) sex life. I understand most (all?) prostitution can be viewed as rape despite there being an apparent �choice� by those involved and I can see parallels here.

Sorry this is turning into a bit of a stream of consciousness post. Essentially what I�m struggling with is, is this rape? Is this kind of scenario that the Rad Fems mean when they say �All men are rapists�, i.e. the pressure on women to perform even when they don�t want to that permeates society?

Next time this happens I think I�m going to have to just refuse and explain my reasoning, but I know that�s going to be difficult for me to do and for her to understand. I hate myself at the moment and I don�t want to feel this way, I�d rather be celibate and wait until her libido returns/she finds someone new.

As an aside, any recommendations for easy Feminist reading (style, rather than content), we�ve got copies of the Equality Illusion and Wifework in the house, but they�ve only been read by me. I�d like DD and DS to grow up in a pro-Feminist household.

Keepithidden Mon 24-Feb-14 09:29:11

Shit. Dodgy formatting, hopefully fixed below:

Hello, I know it's a faux-pas stating this at the outset, but I'm male and I'm posting here, rather than in Relationships, because the sugar coating is even thinner here and I need to know if it's me being an entitled bastard misogynist or whether my thinking isn't flawed logic.

DW has got into the habit of initiating Gift Sex, i.e. DTD on Valentines, Birthday and Christmas. Other than that we have zero sex life. I understand this is pretty normal for a family with young children so I'm waiting things out to see if they improve over the next couple of years.

The thing is, I'm uncomfortable with the gift sex thing. I don't really want to do it despite enjoying it at the time and have tried to engineer situations so she can't initiate it. I wasn't successful this Valentines Day (well, I was on the day itself, but not the day after) though and I feel a bit like an abuser and wanted to get some clarification from the Feminist board about what constitutes abuse/rape.

So, I don't initiate, but I'm reluctant to refuse on the basis that DWs self esteem and body image are rock bottom post DCs. However, thinking about why she's doing this and from my reading on Feminism I think she could feel pressure from myself/society to do this. As I said I don't initiate and I try to avoid any pressure, but I guess that doesn't mean she can't see I'm gutted about our unfulfilled (from my perspective) sex life. I understand most (all?) prostitution can be viewed as rape despite there being an apparent "choice" by those involved and I can see parallels here.

Sorry this is turning into a bit of a stream of consciousness post. Essentially what I'm struggling with is, is this rape? Is this kind of scenario that the Rad Fems mean when they say "All men are rapists", i.e. the pressure on women to perform even when they don't want to that permeates society?

Next time this happens I think I'm going to have to just refuse and explain my reasoning, but I know that's going to be difficult for me to do and for her to understand. I hate myself at the moment and I don't want to feel this way, I'd rather be celibate and wait until her libido returns/she finds someone new.

As an aside, any recommendations for easy Feminist reading (style, rather than content), we've got copies of the Equality Illusion and Wifework in the house, but they've only been read by me. I'd like DD and DS to grow up in a pro-Feminist household.

BetterWithCheese Mon 24-Feb-14 09:32:30

Could you not just ask her on those occasions if she actually wants to be having sex or is doing it because she feels she should? It sounds like you need to start talking about your sexlife generally. You sound very sensitive to your wife's feelings so I think you can bring it up without pressuring her.

BetterWithCheese Mon 24-Feb-14 09:34:54

BTW I don't think "refusing and explaining my reasons" is the right way to go - it's a bit paternalistic and as if you already know why she's doing it but you don't until you've asked.

Keepithidden Mon 24-Feb-14 09:52:36

You're so right Better, it's a trait I've been pulled up on MN for before: assuming I know other peoples thinking and reasons.

Time to dig out and reread the CBT books, they stopped me assuming worst case scenarios a few months back.

Hi Keepit

My interpretation of your concern is that despite your wife saying that she'd like to have sex with you on these occasions, you worry that deep down she is only acting this way because she's been conditioned by a patriarchal society to think that she's obliged to provide you with sex? Or perhaps that if she doesn't, you might leave her and it will be all her fault because men need sex and if they can't get it at home then of course they will go elsewhere…?

Can you discuss your worries with her openly? And if she reassures you that she genuinely does want sex on these occasions, not that she feels obligated to perform her duty, will this make things a bit better?

One question that might help you is to reflect on whether your wife appears to be enthusiastically initiating and participating fully in sex, when she initiates it. Is she enjoying it? Do you both feel close and happy afterwards? And are you happy with it? Or do you just feel obligation?

Anyway, I think that this situation calls for less feminist analysis and perhaps more relationship counselling.

Hope that perspective is useful.

CailinDana Tue 25-Feb-14 14:23:04

I think it is a credit to you that you are willing to recognise the deeper social issues that might be at play in this situation. That said as others have pointed out in your keenness to analyse the higher level issues you seem to have completely missed the personal and relationship issues that are going on etween you and your wife. Talk to her.

To address the more political and theoretical questions you pose: this is my take on it. I am a feminist but not a rad fem and don't agree with the idea that all piv sex is rape. However I do think one should only have sex when one wants it, whether male or female. Thing is, especially in a relationship, sex isn't always about being turned on and wanting an orgasm. It isn't always about sexual desire. In fact I think the idea that sex is entirely about libido is a patriarchal viewpoint. Sex can be simply about connecting with a partner or pleasing them (and in turn getting non-sexual pleasure) by giving them what they want. So, "gift sex" can be viewed in a similar way to attending a film you don't really want to see (but won't hate) just because your partner wants to see it and you want your partner to be happy.
It is complicated though, because it can be argued that "

CailinDana Tue 25-Feb-14 14:34:03

Sorry phone issues. It can be argued that because women are conditioned to believe men need sex and will look elsewhere for it that in fact they are pressured into giving "gift sex" out of cear and insecurity rather than any genuine feeling of closeness. This is where I'm torn. I have a 1 year old who doesn't sleep, is clingy as hell and I'm breastfeeding. Over the past year I have definitely had sex with my dh when I really haven't felt like it (unsurprisingly) partly to connect with dh and partly because I feel I'm denying him something he needs and I feel like a bad wife. There's an element of brownie point scoring involved. Is that wrong? Very hard to say.

whatdoesittake48 Tue 25-Feb-14 14:57:42

it does seem to me that almost every time a man comes on to Mumsnet it is to complain about sexual incompatibility - women complain about men not being involved with kids, not helping around the house, not treating them well, not giving them money etc etc.

it does seem to me that if men want to have closeness with their partners, they need to recognise all the other stuff they do which causes us to not want sex.

Hormones and tiredness aside - most of the time if I don't want sex it is because I am unhappy at something my husband has done.

However I still do have sex at those times (occasionally) because I don't want to make the situation worse and sometimes the physical closeness will actually allow me to put other concerns to one side and see them in perspective.

To answer your question OP - if your wife doesn't seem interested in sex - you need to ask her why. Once that is out in the open you won't need to be concerned that you are having sex with her when she doesn't want to.

Give her the space to talk through her issues and make it clear to her that she can refuse sex any time she wants without repercussions. You will find the openness will reap benefits.

Keepithidden Tue 25-Feb-14 21:16:49

Thankyou everyone.

Buffy - Lots of questions there! Not sure I've got any answers to them, and I don't think the FWR board is really the place either (you sent me over to "relationships" last time around!). As you say a lot of it is likely to be relationship issues so it's probably best just to stick to the feminism angle here. However, thanks for your post, there's reassurance there as well as food for thought.

Cailin - I see what you say completely and it's the conditioning you talk about that worries me. I'm very uncomfortable with the concept of gift sex and I think it's the possibility that it is a patriarchal construct that causes me most concern. The implications are far less palatable to DW than me though of course. I think a policy of avoidance would be best for my piece of mind, but I'll be sure to explain it if she asks.

Although the whole libido being another such construct is quite interesting and something I'd never encountered before. Warrants more research I reckon.

Whatdoesittake - Yep, relationship advice heeded. I've started threads before on the relationship board (and here too) and all echo that communication should be a priority.

It's also interesting what you say about men on Mumsnet, and I tend to agree. I wonder if it's because MN is about the most truthful forum around, I went through half a dozen more male dominated fora before arriving here and it is a breath of fresh air. MN is populated by more free thinkers and those who are willing to speak out against social convention than other fora.

Regarding the subject matter: 'complaining about sexual incompatibility' well, I guess that could be because it's the major problem men face. One look at the relationship board suggests to me that women have far more problems with abusive relationships of all types, childcare, parenting etc. such problems men don't face on such a large scale. Maybe it is simply a reflection of society? If things were more equal maybe there would be similar proportions of genders complaining about similar things?

Just my thoughts on it anyway.

FairPhyllis Tue 25-Feb-14 21:41:35

I think if the only times you are having sex are when she calls it a 'gift' then it's a problem. Because even if she's saying it kind of as a joke, as one might in a relationship, it's introducing the suggestion of a transactional aspect to sex, and to all the sex in your relationship, which shouldn't be there. It's the fact that it's not a one-off, that it's the totality of your sex life right now that I think is the problem.

I find it a bit of a misplaced priority that you are suggesting we set you some feminist reading homework here when it seems like what you need to be doing is talking honestly with, y'know, the actual woman in your life.

You say that people on the relationships board have suggested more communication already. So why haven't you done that?

Keepithidden Tue 25-Feb-14 22:13:37

Sorry FairPhyllis, I should clarify, she has never said gift sex, it is more an assumption* on my part in that it only ever happens on those occasions (valentines, Christmas, Birthday).

* I appreciate I have to stop doing this.

Also, another apology, I'm not looking for feminist reading homework for me. I was more looking for something that would encourage a more feminist household as a whole. I.e. DW and DCs (when they're a bit older). Although, having written that it does look/sound very patronising. How does a pro-feminist partner encourage his DW to look into the whole feminism thing? was what I was trying to get at.

PortofinoRevisited Tue 25-Feb-14 22:17:56

You could just trying talking to her and listening to what she has to say, and then explaining how you feel without it turning into a whole big THING, That would be my advise. I don't think the feminist cause is necessarily relevant here.

PortofinoRevisited Tue 25-Feb-14 22:19:45

It does come across a little as you trying to find some feminist argument as to why you should get more sex.

CailinDana Tue 25-Feb-14 22:56:07

What's your aim in getting your DW to look more into feminism?

I have talked a fair bit with my dh about feminism partly because I'm interestedvin it and partly because I want him to understand how life is for me so he can understand me better. If he said he'd read a feminist book and discussed it with me I'd be impressed but if he came along and tried to reframe my experiences for me in a feminist mould I'd tell him to fuck off. Do you see the distinction?

Keepithidden Wed 26-Feb-14 09:03:44

Portofino - Interesting you think that about my motives, can I ask you why you think that? For what it's worth, if anything I'd be arguing for less/no sex. I'd rather be in a sexless marriage than compromising either DW or my dignity/self respect.

Cailin - Yes, I see the distinction. I think my aims aren't very clear, it's partly my own interest I'd like to share more, and partly that it seems very hyprocritical of me to be talking about feminism from my position in society to someone who actually experiences it! A couple of examples:

When we've been watching TV/ a film and I've mentioned the Bechdel Test, DW hadn't heard of it so I tried to explain and that kind of led on to a bit of discussion on how the media reflect different attitudes to gender in society. I felt a bit uncomfortable explaining to DW what the test was and why I thought the way I did (my opinions being informed by stuff I'd read) without having any kind of alternative/independent point of view derived from real life experience.

Another time was when we were talking about Childminder/Preschool pay and costs. My own view is that both are too low considering the level of responsibility attributed to these roles and the only reason I could see why they were so low was the low-status position of these emploment positions in society. DW then pointed out that nearly all were filled by women and I thought that probably wasn't a coincidence but struggled a bit to articulate why. I suppose in that example it is a case of "chicken/egg, which came first" - low status or female majority. Anyway again that started a bit of a discussion about gender sterotyping and I mentioned a few things I'd read. Then realised that again, I was explaining feminism to someone who experienced sexism directly. Isn't that a bit weird? It felt it to me.

Finally, I suppose the DCs are the key reason I'd like her to look into it a bit more. There's already gender stereotyping happening at preschool and in our home, and I guess I'd like her to find out a bit more about this without my input and inherent bias.

I think it's too important a cause not to be taken into account.

There's an awful lot of "me" and "I" in that post...

Keepit you do have a valid point of view and a valid perspective on sexism. Yours is the perspective from the privileged one who can choose to ignore it and who might accidentally reinforce it.

Typically, this is different from a woman's perspective, but that doesn't invalidate it. So long as you don't mansplain to a woman how she ought to feel about something, or try and speak over or for her life experiences, it's fine.

I think it's also fine for you to have developed an interest in feminist theory, read about it and want to discuss it with your wife. You will both have different perspectives, probably, but if you have the knowledge based on your reading, then why not share it? Again, so long as you're not splaining to your wife how she feels about something.

Speaking personally, I'd much rather exchange ideas with a man who was open to the idea that women aren't equal the the eyes of most of the world than one who was convinced that everything was fine and I was just over sensitive of looking for reasons to be angry. smile

Dervel Thu 27-Feb-14 00:37:22

Going back a bit to your original dilemma keepithidden. Can I ask for a bit of context? Particularly regarding non-sexual intimacy. You clearly love your wife, and of course you naturally want to express that sexually. Reading between the lines, and forgive me if I am way off base here, but it feels like you want to share the love in your relationship but there is a blockage somewhere. This is flagged up by the frequency of sex, and how your are reticent to communicate with her.

Sex problems are sometimes (but not always) intimacy problems. Do you have frequent but non-sexual physical intimacy? Was it more frequent in the past? If yes to both of those then you are absolutely doing the best thing by backing off in bed, however try to channel the frustration into creative ways to communicate your affection in as many ways as you can.
I am sure you are aware of the classics like a bunch of her favorite flowers, kisses, massages, snuggling up to a movie, but also pay close attention to anything that makes her feel a priority to you wether it be chores, making sure she gets some downtime with her friendship circle etc.

Language and verbal communication can be crucial too. Be a bit zen about the sex issue, but make sure she knows you still find her attractive, and a particularly effective strategy is to balance areas to compliment her on. A particularly good area is her choice of clothing. On one of those nights she's going out with friends for some fun, just as she's going out the door pay attention to something about her outfit that strikes you, and compliment her on it. It's non threatening and just plain nice. Also in my experience if a woman is down on herself, your not going to fix it by anything you say, but being part of a supportive environment is never going to hurt.

Ultimately you want to be in a space where anything can happen be it hand holding, kissing or cuddles without it necessarily carrying the "sex" tag in the back of everyone's mind. Keep in mind your own personal appearance too, you don't have to go crazy, but being well turned out and generally in good shape never harms anyone. In this mindset sex is not the goal, but the cherry on top of an otherwise great partnership. Focus on the intimacy and the communication will improve, and from the communication you can both work on any underlying worries. Best of luck!

Keepithidden Thu 27-Feb-14 07:50:43

Thanks again for the opinions people.

Buffy - I don't think I have any issues with my own perspective. I'm conscious that it is skewed by virtue of my position as you say. It was more that I was reluctant to persue a line of conversation/discussion based on that skew without having another viewpoint (either her own or those who know far more about the subject than me). If only I could get her to join MN FWR board! Although that would open a difficult can-of-worms if she knew my username.

I spoke to her last night about Feminism as a subject area, and she expressed the opinion that "the pendulum had swung too far in the ooposite direction and that women were expected to do it all". I did mention asking her to read Wifework (she's the SAHP in our relationship) but she said she's quite happy in her role. I also mentioned the impact of sexism on DD and DS and quoted a couple of the stats in the Equality Illusion that surprised me when I read them. It did also surprise her re: the likelihood that DD will suffer sexual abuse/rape at some point in her life. It's a nasty thought to apply those figures to a 2.5 year old.

Anyway, there is an underlying "equality in value" of the genders in our household so I'm not too concerned about the microscopic environment. DS is starting school next year though so it'll be interesting to see what happens at a more macroscopic level.

Dervel - Thank you for your post, it echos much of what has been said previously. I have put pretty much all of it into action over the past year or so, at least that which I have the power to do. We have talked although pProbably not as openly and freely as we should, and these days as I'd like. I've learnt a lot about my poor communication over the past few months.

I've asked how she feels about things, I've asked how I can change, I've changed my behaviour, I've been to counselling, I've done a lot of research (suggested by MNers and prior to my arrival here) to understand why I think the way I do (I still having the occasional struggle between my 'male entitlement' and my logical and rational mind, but what male doesn't?!) and why she does. I think I've exhausted all options and it's now down to her to establish her own happiness (as I suppose it should be for everyone on a personal level). So, I'm just waiting and hoping. DD goes to school in a couple of years so we'll see what happens then.

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