Embracing Sexuality vs. Finding a Long-Term Relationship

My patient Rachel, 29, tells me: "I’m single and I love sex. I love the skin-on-skin contact, and also the orgasms. But it’s not helping me find a boyfriend. I sleep with men on the first date, but then I find they don’t want to see me again."

Rachel has been single for six years. "I’m a lusty woman in my twenties, and I want to have sex. What’s wrong with that? But I feel judged by men when they don’t contact me again."

It doesn’t sound to me that the men necessarily judge Rachel, but perhaps the men were just interested in sex and not a relationship. That said, when we invite people for dinner, we enjoy receiving a thank you note that acknowledges the pleasure of being together. So I certainly understand Rachel’s disappointment, and her feeling of being dismissed afterwards.

Unfortunately, in our culture we can easily feel disposed of, replaced, and insignificant. Too often people lack the kindness and grace that should accompany a sexual encounter, even if it is a recreational one. So many women (and men) wonder the next day if the pleasure of the encounter was even mutual.

I wish I could say, "What’s wrong with being a lustful woman?" Feminism has brought women more equality, more dignity, and more power. But still, the playing field is not equal. Many women hope that if they offer themselves sexually, love will flourish. I wonder sometimes to what extent the scarcity of sex in the past forced men to be more patient—to romance, to put more emphasis on seduction and foreplay. And I don’t mean the five minutes before the “real thing” i.e. penetration—I mean the entire pleasure dance.

I tell Rachel that if she does not feel 100 percent OK after an encounter, then these sexual trysts may not be for her. If it’s truly pleasurable (and I’m all for enjoying sex and exploring your sexuality), then she should feel good about having these experiences.

I also hear she wants a relationship and she has noticed a pattern. When she has sex the first night, it doesn’t turn into a relationship. To me, if something isn’t working, it makes sense to try a new approach. So if she holds off, she will own the situation. I’m not saying Rachel needs to play hard to get; I’m saying that if a guy is interested in a relationship with her, he’d have the patience to wait for sex (how long depends on Rachel and that guy).

Like Rachel, many women need to start by getting to know the guy, see if they like him, if they enjoy his company. That is quite different from gauging if you are attracted to someone or making sure that he is attracted to you. Discovering your similarity of interests and values, the sense that he is interested in you (the person and not as a means to an end)—all of these are better predictors of qualities that lead to having a relationship.

If Rachel is sexually frustrated after one of these nights of meeting up with a man and getting to know him, I’m sure she knows how to pleasure herself! Maybe think of it as teasing herself until she can have him. Soon, but not now.

It’s just a matter of trying out a different approach—the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over, but expecting different results.

This article was originally published on Esther Perel.

Photo Credit: Sarah Lee