Too Close for Sex?

IMG_2976“This may sound strange, but sometimes I wish my partner were less available. More of a jerk sometimes, even. Not so willing to and ready to connect all the time. I guess I wish he would let me come to him sometimes,” a client shares.

“I feel like we’ve seen too much to be sexual with each other, like we’re more like family now. It’s almost like we’re too close to have sex,  having seen and heard everything about each other. Is that strange?” another client shares.

None of this is strange at all. In fact, these sentiments are reflected quite often in my practice, and emerged particularly strongly on the last Open Your Heart forum. They come from the fact that most people in this culture are wired to equate love with longing, so when there’s no longing the person misses the intensity of feeling, passion, and certainty that normally accompanies being the one in the pursuer position of the common pursuer-distancer dynamic. To rectify the problem, my client, as expressed in the first quote above, is hoping that her partner will withdraw or act like a jerk in the hopes that this will activate those “in-love” feelings that she’s missing. While this tactic may work for an hour or a day, it’s obviously not a longterm solution to what my client is perceiving as a problem.

Her idea is reflected in a popular theory that is making the internet rounds via a Ted talk. In this talk, the author poses that we need space or air in relationships to fan the fire of desire. It’s a fascinating video and will help you feel less alone if you’re struggling with the “too close for sex” issue, and while I agree with this to a point – meaning that when each person values their separateness and spends their alone time filling them inner well of Self so they can bring this passion to the relationship – I don’t agree that it’s realistic to infuse mystery and forced longing into an established, committed relationship. Great in theory but I haven’t figured out how to execute that in practice. (To be fair, I haven’t read her book so it’s quite likely that what she’s proposing is entirely feasible in practice. If anyone has read it, please comment below; I’d love to hear your thoughts!)

But the truth is that I’m not particularly interested in trying to create more distance or mystery.  I’m interested in helping people feel turned on by the closeness. I’m passionate about helping them re-wire their conditioning that says “longing equals love and passion” and instead teach them to equate presence, availability, and kindness with love and passion. It’s never easy to re-wire beliefs and patterns of behavior, but if we’re going to create a new template for relationships where people are actively seeking closeness instead of dynamics that replicate old models that are dependent on separateness and even drama, we have to teach the principles that will result in the new, healthy wiring.

So if creating more distance isn’t the solution, what is? This is an excerpt of my response on the Open Your Heart forum when this topic emerged:

You wrote in your initial question that the closeness feels overwhelming and scary and that’s why you don’t have sex. If he pulls away or shuts down, you feel safe again. I understand this completely, and again, it’s really what this program is about: It’s the classic pursuer-distancer dynamic, and when you identify and work with your fear walls, you’ll be able to feel them but not let them control your behavior. In other words, you can feel the fear and do it anyway (great book with that title, by the way). And, in fact, it’s THROUGH having sex that the fear walls start to melt. Making love from a heart-centered, non-goal oriented place can be such a powerful way of dissolving fear walls as you see through action and evidence that it creates safety and additional closeness, not danger. But you have to work through those first signs of fear that arise when you start to have sex, and they will almost always be there. 

So your walls are NOT caused by the familial-like closeness you feel with your partner but rather your fear of loss, as you shared in your initial question. You can’t force your partner to play “hard to get” or pretend to be a jerk, right? For me it’s about learning how to create real sexual desire between two people who are fully available, and that occurs when both partners are connected to their own fire individually. Her theory rests on the assumption that it’s your partner’s “job” to turn you on, and I don’t agree. It’s your job to connect to your sexuality and aliveness, and from there you bring that energy to your partner. If your partner is willing to meet you there, you’ll nurture a creative, alive, exciting, evolving sexual relationship together.

This is echoed in a wonderful book called The Intimate Couple, by Jack Rosenberg and Beverly Kitaen-Morse, where the authors write:

“Many people look toward others, rather than within themselves, for the source of their sexual excitement. “You just don’t turn me on anymore ,” is an implied demand. The notion that sexual charge should be generated by somebody else is a fib we love to believe. We can, of course, be stimulated by others at time. But if we come to believe that our excitement must come from our partner, we are left without the empowering sense of self necessary for heightened sexuality. In long-term relationships we each must learn how to keep love and sexuality alive within us…” (p.9)

This. This is it. This is where we find true power in ourselves and in our intimate relationships. While the Open Your Heart program doesn’t focus on sex specifically (although it comes up frequently on the forum), through practicing the Love Laws and Loving Actions outlined in the program, the participants learn to connect the dots and begin the process of rewiring the faulty conditioning that says, “Love equals longing.” If you want to learn to love the one you’re with and create a sex life  and feeling of love based on closeness instead of distance and mystery, this program is for you. You can learn more here:

Open Your Heart: A 30 day program to feel more love and attraction for your partner, begins February 8, 2014 and spaces are filling fast!

18 comments to Too Close for Sex?

  • Jennifer

    Sheryl, I swear you are in my brain. I was in the process with my partner and stopped earlier because a HUGE fear wall hit me and I was flooded with depression. I voiced it to my partner and I cried because these feelings are not only familiar, but they are confusing, and frustrating. He never withdraws or leaves, he just waits, holds me, and listens. And due to the fact that I have had many traumas, I regularly shut down, disassociate, and/or avoid sex because of these very real statements you have laid out. I can feel so much passion and love underneath the surface but my fear walls are high and heavily guarded. I want nothing more than to break them down because I am worth it, and this beautiful creature of a person that has taken the time to love ALL of me is worth it as well. I am so excited to be in your program, thank you once again for your words and your impeccable timing <3

  • Tam

    First let me begin by saying THANK YOU for talking about this issue and I hope you will address it more in your future posts. My biggest anxiety trigger has always been the thought “What if we’re just best friends but not lovers?” I get this because I am always so connected with my boyfriend (of 7 years now)in all areas but I have alot of emotional problems sexually; I keep postponing it, i never feel like it and I sometimes have the crazy thought that maybe we don’t have that attraction.

    This post reminded me of how our main sex organ is our brain and how much we have the power to make or break our sexual experience just by embracing that we are responsible for our sexual feelings and not our partner.

    • Yes, the brain is essential but it’s also about learning to embrace your own sexuality and your own body awareness. I highly recommend the book “The Intimate Couple” which will help you, through specific exercises, take responsibility for your sexuality. From there you can bring your new awareness to your partner.

  • Antonella

    Sheryl,
    This is the second time I have had an argument with my husband about our sexual life and you have posted something about sex…I love how the universe works..yes…so scary being married and wanting to be mysterious but present and close..hard to work it all out!
    I said to my husband yesterday that I hate our sex life, truth is I just wanted to say I feel fear creeping in and it breaks my heart as I just want us to connect..and at times the more I do this the harder is to re connect! He said he thinks our sex life has gone stale..and that really broke my heart..I feel down about it as at times it feels like being married is trying to work our sex life out and it’s draining…I’m tired of trying to be mysterious, sexy, this and that…I just want “to feel” my husband…whatever that may mean..
    Thank youx

    • You’re in the same boat as many, many couples in long-term relationships. It’s entirely possible to reignite your sex life when you learn to take responsibility for your own spark. Again, I highly recommend the book, The Intimate Couple, as quoted in the article, as well as my Open Your Heart program!

  • Sheryl I abslutely loved your synthesis “love is not longing” as I rephrase it and it came to me that this false belief must come from our primary relationship with probable our mother who we learned to love via longing as she might not have available to us as we needed her. If this is so we nEed to heal by mothering ourselves via our own resources or looking for mothering relationships (non sexual I would propose) that can fill in those continuum gaps of love we missed out on.
    My experience with my husband is that we found love via closeness, connection and intimacy and that is something both of us have committed ourselves to provide. In my case I propose walks in nature in which after a while our minds let go of everyday issues and we can connect more deeply, we also do touch for health to each other and massages that may or may not end up in sex there is much caring from it, and also having fun! We discovered that we both loves playing cards as kids and we could use that game loving to help us connect and laugh together. We even buy each other games to explore together. It started out timidely and now we are in full practise of taking responsibility of creating speace of intimacy and connection (instead of distance and longing).
    Why would we want to create miserable feelings of loneliness if we can create love and joy?
    Thanks for opening my heart
    With love and gratitude
    Denise

  • This post is so interesting. I never thought of myself under this heading before, but I know now that I must be the distancer and my husband the pursuer. I feel uncomfortable unless I am the one to initiate sex, kisses & cuddles etc. It’s the same with hearing the words, “I love you”. When I feel my husband may say it, I’m thinking in my head, “no no, please don’t say it. Let me say it first!” But the panic has made me unable to say it in that moment. When I fantasise about my husband and imagine us together in our ‘safe place’, I never picture him making a move on me, but on the contrary, he’s reading a book, lost in his own thought, looking beautiful & sexy, but completely un-focused on me. THAT turns me on! Real life is a contradiction between these two needs – a need to keep him at a bit of a distance, approaching him on my own terms when I’m ‘ready’ (ie. when my fear walls are down) and also a need to actually FEEL pursued just a little, knowing that if he comes too close at the wrong time, I’ll probably back off. My husband now rarely initiates sex & kisses etc and I’m usually the one to say “I love you” first. Part of me does want him to initiate the moves more regularly though and that part feels sad when it doesn’t happen. But then the other me feels relieved when he doesn’t approach me. I guess my husband is torn too….whether he realises it or not, it’s become our way. I feel I’m entangled in my own dichotomous behaviour. My husband himself has said before that when I get down and as a result, clingy and needy for reassurance, he then feels no option but to back off. He senses my desperation for that instant connection and it puts pressure on him – and me! So have I suddenly become the ‘pursuer’ and he the ‘distancer’? Or is it just that I have inadvertently caused him to retreat, thereby causing a huge wedge of distance that is even more uncomfortable than closeness when the walls are up? I always know it will be ok and I am getting so much better at recognising what’s happening. But it still confuses me, frightens me and makes me feel at a loss. Our little family bubble that can feel so happy & perfect feels threatened and under a looming shadow. As a result of this temporary disconnection, I feel isolated and unattracted to him. Yet, I know that in a few hours/days time, I WILL fancy him again. I WILL feel connected again. And I WILL feel safe & secure again. It’s exhausting – and I just want to feel safe ALL the time!! Sorry if this has been long-winded. But hope people can relate to it. Looking forward to your course Sheryl. I’m so ready to work hard – like you say, just need the exact tools! Also, sounds like that book would be brilliant for us. Will get a copy. Much love, xxx

  • Danielle

    I agree in principle with the idea that it is not your partner’s “job” to turn you on. On the other hand, if I am feeling connected to my own sexual nature what do I need him for?

  • Kristen

    I have been reading your blog for a couple months now. I have been with my boyfriend for almost 2 and a half years. I have known him for almost 10 years. When we first got together he was the pursurer and i was always use to the ‘unrequited” kind of love. I decided to give him a chance and enjoyed every moment we spent together. I feel like we had a long honeymoon stage and i moved away for school, but still saw him on weekends. For almost 2 years everything was great! Then about 6 months ago, i started getting bad anxiety attacks to the point where i couldn’t sleep. I felt empty, angry, and heartbroken because i couldnt feel my love for him anymore, but i wanted to so badly. I ended up becoming depressed and through all of this, he has stood by me. Turns out the depression and anxiety was mainly do to the birth control i was on, so i eventually stopped taking it. I am now trying hard to come out of my depressive state and can feel myself getting better. The hardest part is all the intrusive thoughts that came along such as “what if i dont love him enough? what if i have fallen out of love? how come i do not feel my in – love feelings anymore?” i have read many articles stating that the in – love feelings tend to go away after a certain amount of time, but i always wonder then how come everyone else doesn’t seem to have the same anxiety as me? why am i the only one that seems to be dealing with this?
    I look at my parents and although they are still together, they have never had a great marriage. This is my first long term relationship along with my boyfriend so neither one of us know what is normal in a relationship to feel and what isn’t. I feel like the more i try to feel the feelings, the farther and farther they go away. I want nothing then to feel the way i did before all the anxiety and intrusive thoughts happened. I feel like i live in my head 99% of the day.
    Sometimes i get a glimmer of loving feelings, but usually not when my boyfriend is around which makes me sad.I guess one the biggest consquences of this is that since i dont feel loving, i am never in the mood for sex. i am constantly turning him down. Sometimes i do it just because i know he wants it. Even worse it is hard for me to makeout with him because i just feel so empty.

    I just want my feelings back. He is everything i have ever wanted. He is my best friend, we have the same core values and ideas about the future. He isnt religous but said he would get baptized for me so we could get married in the church. I think of being married to him and i think we could have an great marriage and family together, but then i freak out because i am scared. What if my feelings don’t come back? what if i fell out love? Can i fall back in love with him the right way? Are we destined to fail? I just dont know what to and would love any type of advice! please!

    p.s. when i get really anxious, i keep some of these articles on my phone and i go into the other room and read them, so thank you Sheryl because you do help me!

    • Susannah

      Hey Kristen, just quickly letting you know that your relationship/boyfriend sounds fantastic, he is certainly not your problem and I HIGHLY recommend you join Sheryl’s conscious weddings eCourse. I am in a very similar situation to you (even down to elements such as birth control) and have learnt and grown more in the space of a month that I ever have before in my life with the help of the eCourse! There is hope/help available and I know it seems pricey at first but the information you learn is actually invaluable.

  • Estella

    Hello Sheryl.
    I have been following your posts for almost two years now and have found them hugely inspiring. I practice Inner Bonding and I am active in that community. I find your writing ‘open’ and very pure. You have a very powerful yet gentle voice. I like the fact also that you seem to espouse various spiritual traditions, offering a western and eastern perspective. You have introduced the works of writers in your articles (Thomas Moore, David Richo, Rumi and so many others) that have become teachers from the distance to me and literally, as well as your mother’s work, opened a whole new world to me and helped me changed my vision of life (and career!). So thank you so much.
    Your last post resonated so much with me so I have finally taken the courage to post this reply.
    I am single and working very hard to heal my attraction to distant and unavailable men.
    I have healed many areas in my life and feel I am transforming. This is the one area that is proving a real challenge for me. My issue is seemingly in reverse to what you discuss but I think it is the same. I was involved with a guy with whom sex was amazing at all levels. We liked each other a lot and at the time we were not ready for a relationship. Very quickly as my healing work was deepening I realised we had to end it as I wanted to create one with him but he just could not despite saying he did. I allowed him to not treat me like a convenience but I kept strong in my resolve. My problem is the same as many others. I have never experienced love of the quiet, not distancing/pursuing type. There has always been drama and distance. I am working hard to rewire this inner programming by learning to love myself. It is such a big challenge to not get excited by lust and superficial chemistry.
    Thank you for your article and for giving me hope that there is another, more fulfilling and loving way.
    Best wishes
    Love
    Estella

    • Thank you for sharing your struggles, Estella. And thank you for your kind words about my work. I’m so glad it’s resonating with you, and I’m sure if you continue on this healing path you will find the loving connection that you seek.

  • Marissa

    This is a great post Sheryl, thank you. I am very attracted to my husband and we are extremely affectionate every day. Being this way comes naturally to both of us (giving and receiving), and being physical – and not necessarily sexual – is a strong connective thread in our relationship. However, I find that in the past few months, I want to be physically intimate out of a desire to be closer to him, and not necessarily out of sexual desire. Or perhaps more specifically, I don’t often have that “raw” desirous feeling for him, but more of what I can describe as intense love that I feel in my bones. This lack of “raw” desire used to make me feel anxious – because he is very often desirous of me – but your work has helped me work through that. I also believe that my husband, like many men, need sexual intimacy to feel close. Whereas I, like many of my female friends, are often content and filled with kissing and intimate cuddling.

  • Kristin

    Thank you so much for your write up. So much of my experience has been others playing distancer, and simply because I’ve learned to not be in relationships with people who make me feel insecure (yes some of it comes from within me but with people who aren’t distancing, while I feel some fear, I feel secure in the relationship and trusting of the person and don’t let my fear cause ME to distance to the level I would if I were not conscious. so this tells me that people who distance, especially to trigger my insecure response aren’t coming from a place of love and I am better off without them), I’ve been alone alot. My gut knew that I needed someone who loves me and doesn’t distance, and while I sometimes get scared and distance, I am falling more deeply in love with the woman who comes closer even when I resist out of fear, and never plays distatnce or hard to get to get a rise out of me, and this is exactly what brings me feelings of security and passion with my partner. You are a wise woman!