Is “maintenance sex” any different than maintenance dish washing or yard mowing or watching the kids? Is it any different than maintenance listening or maintenance talking or maintenance going to the in-laws for Thanksgiving?
I don’t think so. Marriages and relationships take care and maintenance to make them work regardless of which aspect of a life together we’re talking about.
There are plenty of times no one really wants to clean the house or shop for groceries but we do it anyway. The same goes for sex. Sometimes all you really want to do is watch “Sons of Anarchy” in real time rather than DVR it and catch it two days from now but your husband asks you to come to bed. And you do. Or he is watching his umpteenth Sunday football game when he realizes (because you have made it obvious) that the two of you haven’t had sex in a couple of weeks and football comes around every Sunday but a moment for an hour in bed together might not.
Anyone who has ever been in a long-term relationship (which is anything over a year, after that heady sexual passion becomes slightly more … realistic) knows about maintenance everything, including maintenance sex. And yet, like badly behaved children or the way we stuff things in the closet when company comes, no one wants to talk about it. Because we are all perfect: our children are well-behaved, our houses are spotless and our sex lives are awesome.
Even with that reality, some feminists are up in arms over Amy Poehler’s list of sex advice in her new book, “Yes Please”, which includes this:
“You have to have sex with your husband occasionally, even though you’re exhausted. Sorry.”
Some women have suggested this sets up a possible rape scenario for later in the relationship or makes women feel as though they need to force themselves to have sex.
But Amy isn’t talking about rape or force. She’s talking about love. And maintenance. Like a furnace that needs a tune-up every year, a car that needs its oil changed every 5,000 miles or anything else which needs regular upkeep to stay in working order, long-term relationships are all about the day to day, the week to week, the year to year. And being realistic. It simply isn’t possible to keep up the captivating romance of those first few months (or years, if you are lucky) of overwhelming desire once a house is bought, jobs are won and lost, children arrive, illness sets in, parents sicken and die, and the world’s issues encroach no matter what you do to keep them out.
We are all exhausted. We are all spent. We are all ready to settle in to bed with Words With Friends or a good book or ten back issues of the New Yorker. But we can’t always do that if we wish to continue living with the person who climbs into bed next to us.
Sure, sometimes we head to the bedroom at 9 p.m. to stave off the amorous desires of our partner. Or we pretend to be asleep. Or we announce a headache or an early morning and a hellish day. We also overlook the dishes in the sink and the garbage sitting at the front door and the Legos on the floor. Life is all about selective ostrich mode. But it’s also about seeing what the other person needs, hearing what he or she is really saying, understanding what is wanted. That’s when maintenance sex can help, when we turn toward our partner instead of away when he/she places his/her hand on our leg. When we stop the flow of ‘to-do’ lists in our heads and go with another flow instead.
I was married for 20 years and frankly I would have loved a little more sex of any kind, even maintenance sex. Many months went by when I longed for a touch or a kiss or an embrace. Yeah, the dishes were washed, the yard was raked, and the kids were taken to school, but none of that was for me alone. And we went without so long it became impossible to get it back. By the time I left I had forgotten what sex, any kind, felt like. Discovering it again was like getting the most wondrous gift. But I have also learned that asking for what you need is imperative. If you can say: “Please do the dishes” you can also say “Please touch me. Please come to bed.” You can also see past your own exhaustion or indifference on any given day and focus on the desire in your mate’s eyes and just go for that. It doesn’t mean you are giving in or putting out or compromising yourself or setting yourself up for future violence. It just means “I love you and I hear you and I will have maintenance sex with you.”
To schedule an interview with Lisa, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.