romance

In Defense Of Boring Sex

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The beginning of February is upon us, and with the start of the new month, businesses and advertisers have lost no time in reminding us that Valentine’s Day is right around the corner. Originating from stories of martyrdom and religious feast days, Valentine’s Day (or “Singles Awareness Day” to many of us who view it less favorably) has developed into an annual celebration of love and romance, commemorated with the exchange of cards, flowers, and chocolate. Every year, romantic partners flock to various date locations to express their affection for one another, and the world is momentarily adorned in various shades of red and pink. I, however, want to talk for a moment about what happens after the dinners, and the couple’s massages, and the flowers and chocolate. For where there are demonstrations of romance, sex is usually not far behind.

Working with sexuality in a clinical capacity, I often hear stories of sexual thrill-seeking and the search for partners who inspire electricity, chemistry, and passion. These stories are appropriate and understandable; sex can be fun, exciting, and passionate, and in a lot of ways, many of our sociological influences orient us, in one or another, toward the pursuit of really great sex. Media outlets display quests for sexual fulfillment, industries thrive on the marketing toward “spicing up” sex lives, and even religions that teach abstinence before marriage often do so with the promise of “mind-blowing” intercourse post-wedlock. While sex can be mind-blowing, spicy, and fulfilling some of the time, however, it can also be complicated, awkward, routine, and quite frankly, unremarkable at others.

Now, I am not a person you will ever hear demonize partners’ attempts to keep things interesting. Quite the opposite, in fact. If everyone’s full, non-pressured consent is involved and nobody is in danger, have at it. I would say, however, that those experiences are only ever part of a sexual relationship. Sex is sometimes boring, especially if you’re having it with the same person over a long period of time, and especially if you’re having it with only that person. Sometimes it’s a little lackluster rather than mind-blowing, and sometimes in the pursuit of really great sex, you wind up having really mediocre, ordinary sex, instead.

That being said, I would propose for your consideration, dear reader, that in every sexual relationship, there is a place for mediocre, ordinary sex, too; that boring sex can, in and of itself, still be really great sex. Author Lauren F. Winner suggests that many of the elements that can be

“important about sex {are} nurtured when we allow sex to be ordinary… Sex needs to be clumsy. It should at times feel awkward. It should be an act we engage in for comfort. It should also be allowed to hold any number of anxieties – the sorts of anxieties, for instance, we might feel about our child’s progress in school, or our ability to provide sustenance for our family. Sex becomes another way for two people to realistically engage the strengths and foibles of each other… If we allow sex to be ordinary, we might better understand that human love is forged in, say, time spent cooking together, or in picking up our loved one’s laundry, or in calming our children’s fears. Through sexual practice, we come to find each other fallible, and we come to love each other for the way we see each other creating very human lives out of those very fallibilities.”*

As we approach a holiday that commemorates romantic love, it seems important to also acknowledge the atmosphere in which this type of longstanding love grows. If you are cultivating a committed, long-term relationship with your partner, it is likely built upon a foundation of shared experiences that are fairly mundane, and the relational components that must be nurtured for a lasting, successful relationship are often the very same components that strip away some of the thrill. The type of intimacy that truly sees and knows another person in all of their beauty and flaw usually develops through the unsexy day-to-day moments of paying bills, getting groceries, and doing the dishes. Developing a secure attachment to a partner means less of the titillating, risky, and anxiety-producing energy that gathers around the uncertainty if they will call you again or not, if they’ll become “clingy” afterward, or if you’ll still like them once you know the history of mental illness in their family and in which direction they replace the toilet paper roll. The more openly and effectively you communicate with your partner, moreover, the less racy cultural taboo and unspoken sexual tension sex and sexuality will carry in your relationship.

Like much else in our Western world, sex has not remained untouched by our culture of consumerism. Many of us are fortunate enough to have the option of seeking personal fulfillment, new experiences, and low investment entertainment, and there is always a wide array of option for us to do so. We purchase items that provide a variety of personal benefits, and if an upgrade comes along, we can trade in the familiar version for something new and innovative. Relationships, however, often require a different mindset of us. Relationships demand more giveback, malfunction, familiarity, and repair, and in the midst of our cultural pursuit of ease and comfort, push us into difficult and uncomfortable spaces. When sex becomes about more than infatuation, consumption, and intensity, some of the thrill and passion gives way to make space for deeper connection, comfort, and intimacy.

In the same way that we don’t linger over courses or experiment with new, exotic recipes for every meal, our sexual appetites are sometimes best fulfilled with the comforting, the plain, or the on the go. Sometimes we simply need the connective sustenance to keep our relationship healthy and strong. So, if you are planning an elaborate dinner and spicing things up this Valentine’s day, linger and enjoy. If it fits better for your relationship right now to order takeout, watch Netflix, have vanilla sex, and go to bed early, then celebrate the work you’ve put into your relationship that’s allowed your sex to get occasionally vanilla in the first place. If you’ve taken the time and put in the effort to cultivate a deep intimacy, communication, and comfort, you may just find that your boring sex is the best you’ve ever had.     

*Lauren F. Winner, Real Sex: the Naked Truth about Chastity (Grand Rapids, Brazos Press, 2005), 81-82.

About the Author:

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Zach Verwey, MA, LPC, NCC holds a Masters degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from a CACREP accredited program and is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Colorado. In his clinical practice, Zach has worked extensively with LGBTQ+ concerns, eating disorders, holistic sexual health, values and identity, and grief and loss, and he is Prepare/Enrich certified in working with couples. He is especially passionate about addressing the ways in which body image difficulties impact the LGBTQ+ community and regularly works with clients and provides education through writing and public speaking on this topic. Zach believes deeply in the power of interpersonal and intrapersonal relationship work in the therapeutic process, and offers a holistic and integrative approach that honors the mind, body, and spirit. In his spare time, Zach enjoys reading the memoirs of comedians who also happen to be women, experimenting with new bread recipes, and exploring Denver’s latest hot spots with a friend or two.