No matter how many chick flicks we watch, sex never looks like it does in the movies. The IRL version can be messy, awkward, and sometimes a straight-up struggle. And sex therapists have seen it all. So we asked Brandy Engler, Ph.D., psychologist and author of The Women on My Couch, to break down one of the most common issues she sees and how to solve it.
This case introduces a common dilemma: When a man introduces a kink or fantasy that doesn’t turn you on (and possibly offends you), what should you do? Can you resolve the difference? Should you break up?
Englert recalls one specific incident involving a man who fantasised being in a submissive role—a very common fantasy that men often struggle to get their female partners to participate in, she says.
Here's what went down: "Isabella* was single, mid-30’s, recently divorced, open minded and had a new lover, Keis*, a much younger musician. They were both feeling chemistry and the excitement of getting to know each other. That's when Isabella came to me with a question. She needed to make a decision about what she was willing to do for this love affair. On one of their early encounters, Keis brought over some toys including handcuffs and a male chastity belt. He wanted Isabella to be dominant while he played the submissive role. Keis was into a scene loosely referred to as 'cuckhold and chastity,' which is not uncommon. And even though Isabella liked kinky sex, she had reservations about this kind.
"When Keis shared his favourite fantasy. Isabella wasn’t in the mood for this kind of role-play. But she wanted to please him. Even though she didn't enjoy the fantasy, she liked that he was sharing his fantasy with her. There was something intimate about having him unveil his secret turn-ons. Though she went along with it, she wasn’t sure she could go along with this for the long run. Ultimately, she wasn’t turned on by it—she’d rather have him dominate her. She felt a bit objectified and somewhat alienated that sex was becoming about his fantasy rather than their connection."
*Names have been changed.
No two people in a couple are going to have identical turn-ons, so the process of coming together can be tough, says Engler. "I’ve always disliked the 'be down for anything' advice I hear other sex therapists promoting." Instead of just going with the flow, Isabella needs to understand his point of view and her own reaction to his fantasy. "I know this kind of reflection isn’t hot, but sex doesn’t have a uniform significance for all," she says.
However, Engler says she didn’t want to tell Isabella what to do, so she introduced her to a process for making smart decisions. Rather than blind rejection or acceptance, there are important questions to ask yourself when deciding whether to participate in a fantasy you're iffy about, she says. These include: What do I want sex to mean? What am I trying to feel? How can I use sex to grow? How can I use sex to express myself? To be more adventurous? Less fearful? More lustful? More loving? How do I want to connect with this person? Do I have a voice in the encounter or am I solely following his script? Am I causing harm to myself or others? "This process is what I like to call conscious sexuality," says Engler. To practice conscious sexuality in the face of an unfavourable fantasy, follow these steps:
- First, know that difference is okay. It’s totally normal. Don't see it as a threat.
- Don’t assume that you know why your partner likes this fantasy. Ask what it means to them.
- Though it can be tempting to judge it or see your way as better, don’t criticise or judge. Even judging without saying anything builds contempt, which is not good for a relationship.
- State your truth. Don’t agree with their fantasies just to avoid conflict.
- Once both positions are stated and understood, then you can begin negotiation.
Notice your reaction to your differences (and soothe any anger) and state your position clearly and directly. There will be some friction, but this is healthy in the long run. Successful couples deal with a difference with humor and respect. Ultimately, Isabella decided to break up with Keis because she knew she needed to be with someone she shared more of a sexual connection with.
This article originally appeared on Womenshealthmag.com.