Question: I'm a polyamorous, bisexual woman who's having trouble with her primary partner. My (male) partner and I have been together for nearly a decade and I have had ongoing issues initiating sex with him, as well as accepting his sexual advances. I freeze up when he initiates because I feel uncomfortable, pressured, and anxious (when no real pressure is present or intended). Thinking about my partner trying to initiate sex with me often fills me with dread, even though the sex (when we have it) is fantastic. Even when I want to have sex, I find myself incapable of initiating because I can never seem to find the "right moment.” Because of this we often go weeks or months without having sex, which only increases the pressure and anxiety I feel about the issue. I'm not sure this is relevant, but I've only had this issue with my male partner, never with my female partners.
Initiating and receiving sexual advances are often the source of anxiety and frustration. Television and movies make initiating sex appear seamless that requires no verbal communication:
CUT TO: A dark bedroom in a million-dollar estate. As moonlight shines over the lovers’ faces, their genitals immediately begin to engorge under silk lingerie. This is the signal to embrace and to begin an acrobatic dance that makes Cirque du Soleil look like an elementary school gymnastics team. The couple doesn’t say a word, but they moan in delight from orgasm after orgasm as their bodies meet all of their sensuous and carnal needs.
However, the reality is more like:
CUT TO: A dark bedroom in a 1,200 square-foot home. As the glow of a Law & Order rerun shines over the lovers’ faces, their genitals lie limply under their Kohl’s-bought pajamas. One partner leans over for a goodnight kiss and passively lingers to see if the advance will materialize into anything more. The other partner does not detect this subtle cue as sexual initiation and turns over to go to sleep. Feeling rejected, the kissing partner quietly masturbates while trying not to focus on the nocturnal flatulence emitting less than a foot away.
Whereas this is a common problem faced by many couples, the difficulty is often compounded by the additional communication necessary in polyamorous relationships with bisexual or pansexual partners. And while the complex nature of these problems may need to be processed in therapy, and I will certainly raise more questions than answer, I can at least start opening some lines of communication.
First, has this problem existed for the entirety of your relationship with your primary partner or was there a period of satisfying sex? If there was a period where you felt more comfortable initiating and receiving, what has changed? Any changes in the environment like home or financial stability? Have there been any changes in physical appearance for you or him? What about changes in personality or behavior? Did the two of you once support the same political causes, but recently he started donating money to Pat Robertson’s ministry? These changes may lead to changes in sexual desire, which may inhibit initiation and reception.
Second, you questioned whether the gender of your partners is relevant, considering you do not experience this difficulty with your female partners. Ask yourself similar questions as I posited above, but I wonder if the “sexual script” is implicated here. Often with male-female sexual play, the behavior is very goal-oriented and has historically surrounded male functioning: kiss, stroke, lick, suck (erection achieved), penetrate, thrust, ejaculate (intercourse stops), eat leftovers, watch TV. When everything is based around the rigidity of his penis and the timing of when he will ejaculate, it can create a lot of pressure and anxiety. Generally, female-female sexual play is more flexible and may not be associated with pressure demands, allowing the focus to shift from the goals to the pleasure.
Lastly, being polyamorous is a wonderful and fitting relationship structure for many individuals. As with monogamous couples though, polyamorous individuals can become sexually dissatisfied with their primary partner. For the poly person, this is more noticeable because of the contrasting satisfying sex he or she is having with other partners. Especially if you are cohabitating with your primary partner and sharing financial responsibilities, it is important to keep a healthy perspective on the emotions that are involved in the different relationships.
Your primary relationship is attractive because of its stability, but that stability is also its downfall in the form of over-familiarity. The minutia of everyday living can desexualize someone quickly. You become roommates more than lovers, and you just find yourself building with resentment after finding his pubic hair sprinkled around the toilet rim after his latest haphazard trimming. This doesn’t necessarily occur with other partners, where the time spent together is limited and allocated for more playful activities and not spent bickering over which shower curtain hooks to buy at IKEA.
As you can see, there are a lot of factors that may be contributing to your distress (and this is likely just scratching the surface). If you haven’t already, it’s important to begin sharing your concerns and needs with your primary partner directly. And as with initiating sex, there is no “right moment” to do this. The timing will never be perfect and there will always be excuses to use to prevent initiation. All you need to do is take a baby step (e.g., address only a small concern at first) and see how he responds. If he’s not responsive or the conversations are not productive, getting a therapist involved may be beneficial. But with insight into your distress, asserting your needs, and enforcing your boundaries surrounding your needs, hopefully you’ll soon be able to initiate satisfying sex with a primary partner and have a pube-free toilet rim.