Obligation sex: should you fuck when you’re not in the mood?

Image by the brilliant Stuart F Taylor

A few years ago I went to a PR launch for a sex thing. Alongside the free champagne (woo!) there was a discussion about ‘obligation sex’ – whether you should make yourself shag sometimes even when you’re not in the mood, to keep the spark alive in your relationship. A sex blogger who I respected a lot was there (she, along with the free champagne, was what tempted me out of the house), and during the discussion she argued that you should have obligation sex. That making yourself shag could be the glue that held your relationship together even when other things were falling apart. I remember being shocked by her answer, because my gut instinct was to disagree. But I really liked her, and there’d been a lot of free champagne, so all I left with was a fuzzy head and a vague feeling that ‘obligation sex’ didn’t sound like much fun at all.

When you’re not in the mood

For various reasons, I don’t want to fuck right now. I’ve been quite ill for a long time, and busy, and exhausted. My mental health is in the gutter. I’m tongue-tied and struggling to communicate, plus it’s hard to feel sexy when all I can see in my mind’s eye are the problems with my body, and the sadness that turns everything grey and blank.

There’s a distance between my partner and I, and over the last few months that distance has grown from a crack to a chasm. I don’t touch him as much as I used to, although I try to offer cuddles when I remember. The natural, simple ways we used to brush past each other and physically connect – squeezing shoulders, smacking bums, pretending to hump each other’s legs like bored puppies – don’t happen so easily any more. We’re more likely to clash elbows and mutter tentative ‘sorry’s, these days.

So I don’t want to fuck.

But although I don’t want to fuck, and I struggle to make myself remember what it is I like about fucking, deep down I know I do really like it. I know that if I’m feeling distant from my partner one of the few things that can help build a bridge over this yawning chasm is the feeling of his dick growing hard in my hand. The warmth of his hands round my throat. The sight of his lips parted in an ecstatic ‘ohhh’ as he comes. The feeling of power and success and pleasure that comes from knowing I did this to him.

I don’t want to fuck, but I want these things. I want to be able to work him into this state, but without having to make myself vulnerable. Without having to face the way I feel about my own body, trying to cajole myself to wetness where everything feels Sahara-desert-dry. Submitting to nakedness like I’m dragging myself to a 9 am GCSE maths exam in the rain.

Do you fancy…?

We’d had the discussion earlier that evening: do you want sex? It was tentative, because neither of us is quite sure the other one will match our mood at the moment, so what used to flow easily is currently stilted and hard. “Fancy a fuck?” has become “I’m in the mood if you are – no pressure, though. Just thought I’d raise my ‘in the mood for sex’ flag in case you fancied raising yours later on.”

It’s not perfect, but it’s something.

He’d raised his flag, and all I knew was that I absolutely, definitely, 100% did not want to get naked with him. The idea of fucking sounded exhausting, intimidating, even heartbreaking. The thought of stripping off my clothes and exposing a body that doesn’t really feel like my own made me shudder. I did not want any of that.

But later in the evening I did want to do something. I wanted to see his ‘O’ face, and do something that made him feel good. I wasn’t horny, as such, but I wanted to be. I felt the ache of longing that isn’t quite desire so much as wanting to feel desire.

So I asked:

“Do you fancy watching some porn while I wank you off with a Tenga?”

I wanted to remind myself of why I like this stuff. I wanted to do something sexy, even though I didn’t feel desire.

He looked surprised. He knows how I feel. But he’s also not one to look a gift-wank in the masturbation sheath, so he let me run upstairs and grab one of our Tengas (the ‘air tech’ ones on this page if you’re wondering). While I rummaged for dick toys and lube, he lined up some porn, got hard and settled in.

It was fun. I should give you more than that really, but that’s really all I have: it was fun. It was hot to watch him watching porn, delightful to lube up his dick and slide it into the Tenga, and positively joyous to see his face twisted as the spasms of his orgasm thrummed through his cock. Hearing him grunt and feeling him twitch was no substitute for him dumping gallons of jizz inside me, but right then it was just what I needed to give me a small boost of joy.

So…

Should you have ‘obligation sex’?

No.

It might surprise you that my answer’s ‘no’ given the interlude above, but there you have it. My answer is still ‘no’. I don’t think you should force yourself into sex when you don’t want to have sex – whether it’s to please a partner or to ‘keep the spark alive’ or for any other bullshit reason.

Consent is vital, and that includes self-consent: not forcing yourself to do things that make you feel terrible just because you think that it’ll be good for you in the long run. Especially not because some random sex blogger has told you to.

The reason I felt uncomfortable about the first sex blogger’s assertion that ‘obligation sex’ was part and parcel of a healthy relationship was because ‘should’ always sits uncomfortably when we’re talking about pleasure. Good sex isn’t about what you ‘should’ do, it’s about what you want to do. As Meg John Barker and Justin Hancock point out in Enjoy Sex:

“It’s important for us to tune into ourselves and what we find pleasurable or fulfilling, rather than assuming that we should have sex, or should experience the sex we do have in particular ways.”

Should you have ‘obligation sex’? No. But that doesn’t mean that if you’re feeling the way I was, you can’t do anything sexual. I do this shit because I like it – because sometimes my brain will shrivel at the thought of getting naked but spark up at the idea of wanking someone off. I know that if I listen to what my mind and body want, alongside ‘crisps’ and ‘white wine spritzers’ there’s usually ‘spunk’ in there too.

I think the reason the original discussion rubbed me up the wrong way was because I instinctively hated the term ‘obligation sex’, but I also recognised, in me, a desire to experience sexual power and playfulness even if I don’t feel that gutpunch of sexual desire.

If this doesn’t sound like you, that’s cool. Maintain intimacy in your relationships in ways that fit you better: cuddling up while listening to podcasts, talking over a bottle of wine, bringing each other sweets or badges or flowers or snippets of poetry, whatever. But I bet there are other people out there like me, for whom ‘beating someone off with a Tenga’ will technically count as ‘self-care’. Choosing to do this (if it’s a genuine, consensual choice) can be a nice way to access joy, without having to tackle the insecurities or illnesses that are otherwise spoiling our fun.

Most of the time, when I’m feeling this way, the intimacy and connection I crave from my partner is all about words. I need him to talk to me, listen to me, reassure me. Makes jokes and reminisce about cool things we’ve done together: remind me of what things are like when they actually work. And sometimes we cuddle, or listen to podcasts, or play MtG Arena on the big telly in the lounge. And sometimes I’ll choose to wank him off. The reason I get annoyed by ‘obligation sex’ as a concept is that it takes away this element of choice – making people feel that they ‘should’ do something they don’t want to do. Which is even more annoying than being told we ‘shouldn’t’ do something because ‘OMG but aren’t you sad and isn’t it weird to fuck when you’re feeling angsty?!’

The important thing isn’t learning what we’re obliged to do, but tuning in to what we want to do. And tuning in to my needs I realise that although I’m too tired and sad to perform mind-blowing sexual tricks, I can still enjoy the simple pleasure of milking jizz from the guy that I love.

 

17 Comments

  • Golden Hare says:

    This is a great post.

  • Nero says:

    Have you considered allowing him to ‘have sex’ elsewhere?

    • Golden Hare says:

      Yowza. That’s quite the leap from what was actually written. Are you new here?

      • Phillip says:

        Wouldn’t it be nice if we were all Saints and loved by everyone? I went back and reread the post. First I want to say that if a person is sick that in my book they get a pass. Someday, if not already, each of us may have to devote maybe ALL our precious time to careing for a loved one. Even if the ‘love’ may have acquired a few rough edges over the years. It could be you or I who becomes the ‘burden’. In my mind the person who is sick isn’t required to do anything just the please my biological needs. However, maybe they will want too! Never having been there, I just don’t know.

        Not knowing just what is going on with Nero in his life, I feel that he might be able to be both right and wrong in the same breath. Maybe his significant other, that he has depended on for ‘the joy of sex’, has decided for reasons not shared with him that sex is out. How is he supposed to feel? First it is a week and then it is a month and then a year and then ????. He doesn’t know why this is happening. He wants to be a good person and be true to his wife (?), but he doesn’t want to do just nothing until his hair turns grey, or falls out as well. Just what would any of us do when it feels like one is beating a dead horse?

        On a bright note…..’sick’ is often not forever.

        Changing directions in the middle of the stream is not an easy thing to do. As far as ‘Obligation Sex’ goes? If the person is sick, then they have no obligation for sex and many other things as well. If one can’t unravel the reasons for the rejection, then I wish all of us the ability to become instant Saints.

        • Golden Hare says:

          Philip, this is a rather tangential and rambling comment. Nero specifically asked GOTN if she had considered this for her relationship. Pretty rude. He said nothing about his relationship or even about the general question of seeking sex from others. Quite how you have bent that to wax lyrical about Nero’s relationship, I don’t know.

    • Girl on the net says:

      Umm… I think the post was pretty clear that I’m not having sex with him because he is nagging me for sex, but because this is a thing that makes us both feel good. It’s a way for us to connect intimately that both of us enjoy. Honestly, it’s quite weird that you would read this and your first thought be ‘he should fuck someone else.’

  • fuzzy says:

    You are 100% right from my perspective. There is a vast chasm between “obligation sex” and “i’m not horny at all but you get sex anyway because I’m in the mood to …(add reason here)”. There are times I’ve told my spouse “I’m not horny but if you are I’m thrilled to pleasure you, or even let you pleasure me” … because i enjoy the sharing.

    “Sharing” has been my word for sexual play for decades. I prefer it to “fucking” or “making love” as a generic statement of intent; though there are times when “fucking” is what I want, and times when it is “love-making”. It fits in with my “invitation” model of consent, rather like the “would you like some tea?” model, or the “would you like some pizza” model, which I often find easier to explain than the tea model though i adore the video about the tea model.

    • Girl on the net says:

      Ah yeah I like the word ‘sharing’ =) I think I often see sex as something a bit like a game of tennis or a boxset marathon: it doesn’t always have to be a horny thing, sometimes it’s a playful/casual thing too. And yeah I like your invitation model!

  • Widower says:

    A lady of my past acquaintance took another point of view: namely, that we each were 100% responsible for each other’s sexuality. (Masturbation being out of the question, as “no different from adultery”.) So a morning erection had to be dealt with. I couldn’t say just leave it, because it “might just end up in the mouth of another girl”. In the same vein, if I was going to be away for a few days, I had to be completely emptied first. This practice led to some totally weird things that I won’t relate, as they wouldn’t be believed. Yet if sex was apparently sometimes a chore for her, it was a chore that she seemed to enjoy.

    Unfortunately, a lot of (wholly unjustified) jealousy and suspicion played a big part in this.

  • Aaron says:

    There’s a lot to unpack here, and I’m very glad I read it. Firstly, G, I hope that your mental health improves soon. On reading that it wasn’t great just now, followed by such a thoughtful and open post, reminded me of an expression that I read years ago, in relation to cricketers, of all people. (Insert innunendo-based jokes about stumps and balls, here.) It was that ‘It’s not the runs that you make when you’re in form, that matter. It’s the ones that you make when you aren’t.’. I am absolutely not saying that mental health is a matter of ‘form’ or mood, but that doing things well in spite of adversity, as you did in writing that post, is more satisfying, and perhaps in the long run will matter more, than the same level of achievement in happier times. One of the things you said was that you’re struggling to communicate. Without wanting to diminish that feeling or its importance, in this post at least, you communicated very well.

    Although you didn’t use the word ‘depression’, and of course it’s not for anyone else to throw labels around, parts of what you wrote reminded me of my own experiences while I’ve been depressed. The feeling that although you don’t want to do certain things just now, you know that ‘deep down I know I do really like it.’. It spoke to me of a really weird state of mind, when you’re almost two people – the one you are in the moment (don’t want it) but the one you know you are at other, happier times – the ‘real’ you, not the one whose mental health forces you to be, just now.

    I’m also touched at how mature and healthy your relationship seems, that even though there is this chasm between you at the moment, you’re still able to find ways to deal without it. Thank you for being so open about such sensitive things, and I’m confident that there are others out there, that will find what you’ve said, helpful in a lot of ways.

    • Girl on the net says:

      Hi Aaron – your comment made me v emotional, thank you. It’s really kind of you to say so and yeah I totally see what you mean. It does often feel like there are 2 people (or maybe even 3 if ‘GOTN’ counts as one, because GOTN is often ‘the person I feel I *should* be’ alongside the person I want to be and the person I am at the moment). I’m failing at giving an adequate reply to your comment here, but I just wanted you to know it touched me and it means a lot – thank you <3 xx

  • Thomas says:

    Hard to say anything after Aaron, but he is right all along. Especially about your communications kills! I too hope you get better soon, as I am sure many of your readers do.

  • Luv Bunny says:

    100% do not have obligatory sex. It’s damaging for your sense of self and mental health. If you don’t want to do it then don’t feel you ‘should’ to keep your partner happy. Let them wank to porn or whatever they need to get off, and give them a cuddle to make them feel wanted and help re-bond, but your body is yours. Exactly that.

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