Sexual Intelligence, written and published by Marty Klein, Ph.D.
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Each month, Sexual Intelligence® examines the sexual implications of current events, politics, technology, popular culture, and the media.

Dr. Marty Klein is a Certified Sex Therapist and sociologist with a special interest in public policy and sexuality. He has written 6 books and 100 articles. Each year he trains thousands of professionals in North America and abroad in clinical skills, human sexuality, and policy issues.

Issue #210 – August 2017


When a Man Should Say No to Sex

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When sex is discussed these days there's a lot of talk about consent (very important), as well as everyone's questions about desire (also important).

But in between these two, there's another topic that's rarely discussed: even if consent, opportunity, and desire all seem present, when is saying "no" to sex still a good idea?

Many men have soaked up the traditional cultural idea that sex is scarce, and that pursuing it is an important expression of manhood—whether they want a given sexual experience or not. I've heard men say that there's no such thing as bad sex (which is as ridiculous as saying there's no such thing as a bad meal). Too many men still learn that unwittingly passing up an opportunity for sex is worse than asking and being turned down, even ridiculed.

So men need support to say no. That's what I want to provide today. Ladies, feel free to say "Amen!" right to your guy's face.

Here are some situations in which sex may be an option—and a smart (or caring) guy might want to say no.

* One or both of you is drunk
Legally, a drunk person can't consent to sex. But she can definitely want sex, request sex, demand sex. What's a man to do?
Say no, of course.
That's not so easy when the woman is belligerent. But you have to say no. And yes, you may even damage the relationship. But honestly, has there ever been sex with a drunk woman that was worth the effort? It's like wrestling a large sack of cats. It's not only illegal, it's just a dumb idea. It only seems smart if a guy thinks "yeah, but this may be my last chance ever to get laid." Of course, that's never accurate, either. It gets even trickier if the man is drunk, too—a really common occurrence among single people, especially college students. Somehow, if both people are drunk, the man is responsible for preventing sex. If a drunk man has sex with a drunk woman, and she complains sometime afterwards, he has absolutely no defense. Now why a man would want to have sex if he's drunk—other than because he's not thinking clearly—is a mystery. Trying to control your arms, legs, mouth, and pelvis when you're drunk is an enormous hassle—like trying to shave on a rowboat in a storm. Getting and keeping erect is a matter of chance, and the more a man drinks, the less of a chance there is.
How do you have enjoyable sex when you're drunk?
You don't.

Note: I am NOT saying that all, or even most, drunk women demand sex. There is no possible way to infer that from what I just wrote. Anyone complaining that the above paragraphs are disrespectful to women is simply wrong, and needs to read them again.

* You're not in the mood
It's bizarre that in 2017 we actually have to say out loud that sometimes a woman's in the mood for sex and a man isn't.
When that's the case, sex is not a good idea—just like it isn't a good idea when the genders are reversed.
Neither male nor female bodies are wired to respond sexually when we're not in the mood. A lot of so-called erection problems are simply penises functioning reasonably when a man pushes himself to have sex he doesn't really want.
Why might you not be in the mood? It might have nothing to do with her. It might have everything to do with her. It might be about sex—performance anxiety, unsettled issues about contraception, disagreements or confusion left over from previous sex. It might have nothing to do with sex—an upcoming tax audit, an upsetting day at work, a recent unwanted weight gain, the humiliation of Jeff Sessions.
Men ask me all the time, "How do I respond when I know she wants sex and I'm not in the mood?" My brilliant answer is, "You tell her you're not in the mood. And if you know why, tell her that, too." When women ask "What does he mean when he says he's not in the mood?" my brilliant answer is, "Maybe he's not in the mood. If you wonder why, ask."

* Intercourse is physically uncomfortable for her
Obviously, if a woman says "that hurts, please stop," any reasonable man would stop immediately.
But I've seen hundreds of couples in which the woman says "Go slowly; it's uncomfortable, but I can manage." What's a man to do then? I say, don't have intercourse. If you both want sex, have sex, just no intercourse.
No matter how much she says she can manage the pain, don't do it. It's hard to enjoy anything—NASCAR racing, a Jay-Z concert, sex—when we know our partner isn't enjoying it, too. And every time you have intercourse that's uncomfortable for her, you're reinforcing the expectation that sex will always hurt a little.
Sex should never hurt. When it does, the problem is almost never the size of the penis or the size of the vagina. A doctor, nurse, or PA should look and diagnose—which won't hurt. If you're in a couple, you should both go together.

* You don't really trust this person
Modern life requires a lot of trust. We trust strangers with deadly machinery every time we drive on the freeway. We trust building inspectors every time we ride an elevator. And we trust the people with whom we have sex—to care about our health, our safety, our pleasure, our reputation, and our future.
We trust our sex partners to be discrete, to be honest about the fertility-contraceptive situation, to be careful about controlling their limbs during the throes of passion (people can and do get hurt!), and to let us know if they are hurt or bored or scared.
Kinky sex, especially BDSM, is all about trust. Will you honor our safe word? Will you pay careful attention to both of our bodies—the subtle cues as well as the blatant ones? Will you say yes if you mean yes, and no instead of "yuck" when you mean no? And will you not use BDSM to act out some angry thing you have going on, whether with me or someone else?
This adds up to a lot of questions. Because sex involves a lot of trust. Mostly we don't think about it; like tying our shoelaces every day, if we think too much about it we get self-conscious and paralyzed.
All that said, if you don't trust someone—because you're in the middle of conflict, or because they're giving off odd vibes, or because you don't even know their name—saying "no" to sex might be the best choice possible.

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Nine Things I Wish Everyone Knew About Sex

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People pay a lot of money to go to sex therapy. And people spend a lot of time reading self-help books, blogs, and magazine articles, not to mention watching YouTube videos. It's all to find out one or more of the following about sexuality:

* If they're normal
* If their partner is normal
* How to get their body to do what they want it to
* How to get their partner's body to do what they want it to
* What their partner wants in bed
* How to tell their partner what they want in bed
* How to tell if their partner is cheating

As it happens, getting answers to these questions doesn't empower people to create the sex they actually want. The problem is that these are the wrong questions, so no matter what the answers, people still don't have what they need.

Since not everyone can go to sex therapy, and since most self-help doesn't actually help, here's what I wish everyone with a sexual question knew. This would save a lot of heartache, encourage effective communication, and help people to define sexuality in a life-affirming way.

* "Men" and "women" are not helpful categories to better understand yourself or your partner.
These two categories each contain three billion people, of all shapes, sizes, and backgrounds. You and your partner are unique individuals. Understand your own and your partner's uniqueness, not the ways in which you're supposedly like everyone else.

* When people have a conflict about sex, it usually isn't about sex.
It may be about power, or about grief, anger, loneliness, guilt, shame, abandonment, or the terror of getting old. Next time you and your mate argue about sex, ask yourselves "what are we really upset about here?"

* Sex is meaningless unless we give it meaning.
To be satisfying, sex doesn't need to be meaningful, but a lot of people want it to be. They say we shouldn't "have sex like animals," or use sex to distract ourselves from our problems, or have sex outside of "meaningful" relationships, or "have sex just for the sake of having sex."
Why not? If both people agree on the reason they're having sex, and both people enjoy their experience, and no unintended pregnancy is created, exactly why should sex have more meaning than anything else we do? Sex isn't "supposed" to be intimate, meaningful, spiritual, or anything else. If people want to create sexual experiences with those features, they can go right ahead and do so. Sex won't mind.

* Intercourse is only "better" than other sexual activities if you want to conceive.
99% of the sex people will have tonight around the world is NOT intended for baby-making. Therefore there's no reason for all that sex around the world to include intercourse. If we could get rid of the cultural prejudice that intercourse is "real sex," we'd be less dependent on erections, vaginal lubrication, and fitting body parts together that might not want to fit together. That would leave more time and attention for enjoyable sex in whatever form it took.

* Orgasm is not the point of sex.
Orgasm usually only lasts five to ten seconds. If all of sex is just a buildup to that moment, you've just wasted a lot of time. That would be like depending on dessert to make your meal worthwhile. Orgasm doesn't prove anything about you or your partner's adequacy, and it doesn't mean anything about your intimacy or connection.
The muscle contractions or orgasm may feel better than hiccups or sneezing—but they're sometimes way more trouble than they're worth. And no matter how enjoyable, no orgasm can redeem sex that was boring, annoying, painful, or anxiety laden.

* No one "needs" sex, and no one "needs" a certain amount of sex.
Many people want sex, and some people want it so much that they get very unhappy when they don't have it. But no one dies or is traumatized from lack of sex. People who can't control their upset when they don't have "enough" sex don't have a sex problem, they have an "I'm not really a grownup" problem.

* Contraception is not an intrusion—it's part of intercourse.
If you can't handle contraception, just have other kinds of sex. There's a kind of sex for everything you might want—for example, pleasure, closeness, submission, feeling graceful, feeling competent. If you don't want to mess with contraception, just find sexual activities that don't require it that are satisfying. If you can't find one, you don't have a sex problem, you have an "I deserve to have every single thing I want" problem.

* Our genitals (penis, vulva) are just another body part.
Our genitalia don't know that they're "different" from every other body part. Like the rest, they have names, functions, and requirements to perform those functions (like don't be drunk or anxious). They are exactly as clean and attractive (or dirty and unattractive) as the rest of your body.
Christian theologian Tertullian said that a woman's body is "a temple built over a sewer," but that seems both judgmental and overly idealized, doesn't it?

* Whatever your faith tradition, you can find scriptural justification for any inhibition, prohibition, or enthusiastic participation you wish.
Don't blame your religion if you're uncomfortable with sex, or don't enjoy it. Almost all adults discard parts of their religious upbringing. If you insist in believing in God or gods, just make it a deity who's cool with sex and your body. If you believe in God, I think he/she/it/they are way too busy with climate change, overpopulation, L.A.'s freeways, and the Yankees' desperate need for a left-handed relief pitcher to worry about which place you put which finger during sex.

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Husbands Watch Porn, Wives Despair—But Why?

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"I caught him betraying me," wailed the email from a stranger named Mary. "He's been watching porn. Why? And how can I ever trust him again when he watches women do anything he wants?"

I get this email from Mary, or Maria, or Mishti every single week. The questions and themes are remarkably consistent:

* Why do men watch porn?
* Why do men promise to stop watching, and then keep watching?
* Why don't men understand how their porn-watching breaks women's hearts?
* How can I make love with a man who watches porn?
* How can I trust a man who watches porn?
* Aren't there any men who don't hate women?

I feel sympathetic toward anyone who feels betrayed, and so I responded the same day.

Dear Mary:

* Men watch porn because it's entertaining to watch naked women (&/or men) while they masturbate. It generally has nothing to do with how they feel about women (or men).
* Men don't watch porn because their partners are inadequate.
* Some men are jerks. Some of them watch porn, others don't. Most men aren't jerks. Some of them watch porn, others don't. Porn-watching doesn't predict jerk-itude.
* Men promise to not watch porn because they don't want to deal with their partner's pain or anger. It's an inappropriate promise to ask for, and it's a foolish promise to make.
* Men shouldn't break their promises.
* Women shouldn't go hunting for evidence of men's private behavior. * Almost all conflict about porn is actually about something else. If your partner never watched porn, would you two have an ideal relationship? If so (which I doubt), let go of the porn issue and enjoy paradise. If not, talk about the stuff you really need to talk about. If he refuses, let him know that's a deal-breaker for you.

Some women seem to feel that there's an implicit contract that their partner won't watch porn, even though he never suggested such a thing. Therefore, they feel betrayed when he "breaks" the "contract." That's a mistake. You can dislike his porn-watching without deciding it's a betrayal.

Some women seem to feel that because their partner watches porn they find disgusting or scary or confusing, they have a right to demand he stop watching it. A woman has no such right, any more than he has a right to patrol the TV, novels, or videos she watches. In an adult relationship, whatever objection she has to his porn shouldn't carry more weight (or less weight) than his objection to her CSI or romance novels or cat videos.

Some women seem to believe their partner has "left" them for porn. No sane person does that. People do withdraw from sexual relationships for many reasons, often passively or without adequate discussion. That's a legitimate thing to complain about. Criticizing a man's porn watching as the "cause" of a couple's poor or missing sex life is as cowardly as a man withdrawing sexually without explaining his dissatisfaction.

I would never, ever blame a woman for a man's porn watching (as in, "Well honey, if you won't let him come on your face, what do you expect?"). And while a few men do, most men don't (they don't think porn watching needs an explanation).

So why do women blame themselves? Why do women say "his porn watching makes me feel fat?" Or "I won't do what those actresses do, and it's not fair to compare me to them"? Unless a man looks at a woman and says she should look or perform like a porn actress, a woman shouldn't say it to herself. And if the man says that, don't blame porn. The guy is a jerk.

Plenty of couples manage a satisfying sex life while one (or both) of them is involved with porn.

Other couples can't manage a satisfying sex life even if neither of them watches porn. To those couples, I offer my sympathy, and my 2012 book—Sexual Intelligence: What We Really Want From Sex, and How to Get It.

For couples who just can't resolve their conflict about one partner's porn use, I again offer my sympathy, and my new book—His Porn, Her Pain: Confronting America's PornPanic With Honest Talk about Sex.

Some ways of thinking maintain that conflict. So to help—not to criticize—I also offer the following questions for women who are in agony about their mate's porn use:

* Why do you feel you have a right to a porn-free house, and why is that right more important than your husband's right to have porn in his house?
* Why do you give your husband's porn-watching meaning that he doesn't give it? And why do you believe that your interpretation—of HIS behavior—is more accurate than his?
* Why is it OK for you to hack into your boyfriend's private stuff?
* Why would you wreck a good relationship over his private behavior?

And most importantly, If you're unhappy about your sex life, why not talk to him about that instead of talking about porn?

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"Reprinted from Sexual Intelligence , copyright © Marty Klein, Ph.D. ("
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