A dry spell got you down? Coping with periods of sexual inactivity

While in a couple the lack of sex can lead to guilt, celibate singles tend to feel frustrated. However, those moments could be used for self-exploration, and should be lived with calm and confidence

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During times of sexual abstinence, it is advisable to learn about your own tastes and limits, and to engage in self-exploration.Monica Ninker (Getty Images)

Many would agree with the idea that people really get to know each other between the sheets; that nothing quite reveals the erotic self like our behavior in bed, our performance as desiring and desired beings, our capacity for seduction, our ability to innovate and even the gymnastic feats that we manage to pull off without hurting ourselves. However, very few will notice that another important marker to get to know anyone sexually is paying attention to the way they act when sex is off the table. When a dry spell turns into an outright drought. That void is always full of highly enlightening messages.

Pepa, 62, has already thrown in the towel. Although she would like to have a partner, she is convinced of one thing: “Men my age look for women in their forties.” Thus, she has resigned to a life of solitude that she pairs with Netflix series and her newest sex toy. Mary and Ruth, 42 and 39 years old, have lived together in peace and harmony for five years without sex. They have discussed it and their conclusion is that for the moment they don’t feel like it, but it’s fine. Still, on this desireless island, even though Ruth doesn’t want sex, she would like Mary to want it, so she would feel desired. Óscar, 55, has been on an erotic hiatus since his divorce. He masturbates, but every time he does it, the feeling of emptiness and frustration is greater. He feels that finding a partner is almost impossible. He feels that, for him, that ship has sailed. He feels that his abilities to approach his object of desire wither with each passing day.

The periods of (voluntary or involuntary) abstinence through which every human inevitably passes, often come accompanied by various doses of underestimation, as befits a world that capitalizes on sexuality. “Sex is the consequence of successful behaviors,” a seduction coach used to say. Therefore, if you do not have sexual relations, it must be because you are a failure. “Just like in the 1970s we were sold the idea that social freedom was achieved through sexual freedom, now we have assumed the idea that your sex life is a reflection of your status. It is an asset whose value should never stop rising. Thus, periods of inactivity have a bad press, as they are synonymous with failure,” explains Guillermo González, doctor, sexologist, specialist in bioethics and law and vice president of the Spanish Federation of Sexology Societies. “In any case,” he points out, “I think that, after a period of much sexualization, we are now moving towards a more moderate era that aims for a middle ground.”

Usually, the lack of intercourse in a couple causes feelings of guilt (especially in the one that does not want it), while those who do not have sex because they have no one to do it with tend to feel frustrated, according to Antoni Bolinches, sexologist and teacher of the masters in clinical sexology and sexual health at the University of Barcelona, as well as author of several books on the topic. “We don’t know how to manage these dry spells because we associate quantity with quality. However, sex has been devalued by excess.” Bolinches cites the French writer and aristocrat Ninon De Lenclos (1620-1705), who said: “Love never dies of starvation, but often of indigestion.”

Sociologist and sexologist Delfina Mieville states that, first, we would need to know what we understand by having sex. “If it is coitus, if there must always be an orgasm or ejaculation or if our concept encompasses many other things. Starting with the senses, focusing on the body and not directly on the genitals. For the pleasure of inhabiting yourself, which is always healthy,” she explains. If you cannot find the right person to practice it with, the expert recommends patience: “Better not to find it than to find it wrong.” In the meantime, she says, it is advisable to learn about one’s own tastes and limits, and to practice self-exploration. “The fertile void is a concept that is used in Gestalt therapy, but also in other currents. The void itself scares us because it is the transition between what is no longer and what is yet to come. It’s letting go of a rope before grabbing the next one. But if we live this emptiness with awareness instead of just covering it (knowing that sometimes it is uncomfortable and painful), it can be very fruitful. In fact, it’s in mourning when we bring out and discover qualities that we didn’t use to have.”

Having a partner and not having sex is an increasingly frequent duality in a world in which contradictions get along increasingly better.
Having a partner and not having sex is an increasingly frequent duality in a world in which contradictions get along increasingly better. Yuri Arcurs peopleimages.com (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

That emptiness becomes harder to bear when one lives in company. Having a partner and not having sex is an increasingly frequent duality in a world in which opposites get along better and better. “All couples can go through asexual phases, but if they last a long time they can arouse a lot of suspicions,” says Bolinches, especially because this lack of appetite usually does not affect both members equally. “People accept that work stress, child care and other duties can inhibit the desire or take time away from other, more pleasant activities, but the unanswered questions are the ones that erode coexistence the most. On the other hand, it is also true that there are couples that have completed their sexual cycle, and others that can do without sex for long periods, as long as both members are comfortable in that situation.”

Enduring the sexual hiatus in a healthy, creative way

In the English series Wanderlust, an unmotivated couple reignites their desire thanks to their consensual non-monogamy. Unfortunately, that story is not always imitated by life. “For most of the couples that I have seen in consultation, that is just one more problem; if one member doesn’t agree with this philosophy, adopting it at a critical moment is not the best idea. In any case, more than resorting to being an open couple, what is usually done is taking part in games of liberal sexuality. My advice is always the same: you have to learn to walk before you run,” says Bolinches.

Expecting the spontaneity and fire of the first encounters and discarding everything that does not measure up is another mistake of long-term lovers. As much as we think so, there is nothing spontaneous about sex, Mieville emphasizes. “Desire is a combination of having and not having, of attachment and emptiness. Most couples don’t have the same kind of desire. At the beginning of the relationship we get ready, we primp, we fantasize and we’re already horny by the time we leave the house. However, over the years, we have to take on the challenge of becoming good lovers, because hormones are no longer doing all the work. A lover is the one who loves, the one who does it, the one who wants to know what the other is like. It is present continuous, and there is no universal good lover. We are somebody’s lover. And for that, it is important that we see who the other is, their specificity, their changes and evolutions.”

Practicing self-pleasure is engaging in sexual activity, even if it is with yourself.
Practicing self-pleasure is engaging in sexual activity, even if it is with yourself.SimpleImages (Getty Images)

A golden piece of advice for couples in a period of abstinence is to never lose bodily communication, because it is very difficult to recover. A person will sooner touch a stranger than the one who one day decided not to caress their skin again. “It’s hard because the one who feels rejected stops asking for attention, and the most indifferent one ceases all gestures of affection in order to avoid misunderstandings. In this way, physical contact gradually disappears, and it is very hard to reestablish it,” says González.

The world is full of single people looking for stable sex and companionship. As time goes by without finding the right person, erotic self-esteem declines, becomes flaccid and loses its strength. Seductive girls and masculine boys can end up becoming insecure teenagers, looking for a chance to lose their virginity that never comes. A friend in her early fifties told me that she had already put up the “closed for retirement” sign on her sex life. The secret to not falling into this is knowing how to endure the hiatus in a healthy, creative way. According to Bolinches, “practicing self-pleasure, without frustration, already is engaging in sexual activity, even if it is with yourself. But, in addition, you have to look for substitute pleasures, a gratifying leisure, and practice creative sublimation, directing sexual energy towards the world of creativity, with which it is so closely connected.”

Relationships come from opportunities, and opportunities come from situations. There is no need to shut yourself in, but to add dynamism to life. It also wouldn’t hurt, says González, to learn to use some social tools. Also, the expert recommends, “if you don’t have anyone to have sex with, have fun with your fantasies, write down your experiences and get a good coat for the winter, knowing that spring comes every year.”

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