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The Un-Enthusiastic Partner

Posted by: Andrew Aaron on 8/27/2010


The pain caused by an unenthusiastic sexual partner can be substantial enough to harm or possibly end a relationship, even if it is unintended. What does the label "unenthusiastic partner" mean? It means a partner who is uncomfortable with sex. While an enthusiastic partner is eager and excited to participate in uninhibited sexual play, the unenthusiastic partner may be willing to join in but does not give and receive freely. Instead, he or she, pulls back in discomfort from being touched, caressed and stimulated and probably will not return the favor.  Enthusiastic partners tend to interpret the other’s luke-warm sharing as rejection.

      The unenthusiastic partner is inhibited and may avoid sex. He or she is a passive partner who rarely initiates and is inactive during sex play; only responding to the other's orchestration of which pleasuring activity happens when. An inhibited sexual partner will rarely ask for a specific pleasure, but, which is sure frustrate the more eager partner, is assertive when it comes to saying "no" to sex or particular sex acts.  Partners who enjoy sex and are excited by the prospect of more free-flowing, passionate and adventurous sexual experiences grow frustrated.  The quality of the sex with an unenthusiastic partner is poor; it lacks the mutuality required to be satisfying.

     To ward off sexual advances by the other, an unenthusiastic partner may exhibit a variety of creative excuses, which may have the hint of legitimacy but thinly covers a deeper layer of fear, anxiety and discomfort. The unenthusiastic partner may hesitantly have sex, but do so with just half-hearted involvement. One behavior pattern of the hesitant female partner, which can be the source of confusion to the other, is her wish to bypass all foreplay activities and engage immediately in intercourse.  Initially this may appear as eagerness, but is actually a strategy to keep the sexual encounter as brief as possible. Procrastination is another strategy employed by an unenthusiastic partner to avoid sex; by rejecting the other’s initiation, and promising sex later, he or she will offer an excuse at that later time which defeats all potential for a sexual encounter.

     Many analogies well illustrate this dynamic in which the unenthusiastic partner emotionally does not show up: a one-sided conversation in which the other will not speak; one who will sit at the card table but not pick up the cards; a friend who will accept an invitation but who never calls to invite; a tennis player who appears on the court, but refuses to chase the ball.  The unenthusiastic partner is likely to be saddled with sexual challenges, such as the inability to relax, to achieve orgasm, to enjoy sex, and to feel good about his or her body.  If he is a man he is likely to be challenged with ejaculatory control problems.

      Encouraging greater sexual enthusiasm by this partner is no easy task, and a challenge that may achieve success after patient, lengthy, and careful effort.  Only a loving approach may meet with any success...other efforts, such as those laced with control or anger will only backfire; causing the inhibited partner to becoming even more avoidant. Steady, kind, loving, assertive, incessant, gentle, respectful pressure may bear fruit over the long haul, while also letting the hesitant partner know that sex is healthy and important; that he or she is loved, desirable and valued, and that you will never give up or back down. Good sex is more than allowing your partner to use your body.  Loving and pleasing your partner through touch, excitement, as well as high loving involvement is what good sex is all about. Sex is not the biggest part of a love relationship, but without a satisfying sex life, the value of a love relationship may be vitally diminished.  Andrew Aaron, LICSW, AASECT is a love relationship and sex therapist who practices in the New Bedford Seaport.

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