Q. My husband is being more attentive, which is wonderful, but when it comes to sex, this seems to mean endless foreplay. If I'm not busy, that's fine. But how can I tell him I haven't always got time?
A. Trying to have sex when you feel stressed is self-defeating. If you are open to the idea of sex, your brain transmits the signals that start the cascade of reactions that lead to arousal, but your brain is equally capable of preventing that cascade. Female sexual arousal is heavily influenced by moods and emotions, and if you feel anxious, distracted, exhausted, unloved or angry, you can't override those emotions to have sex.
Men find it much easier to get aroused than women. There is no single explanation as to why this is, but Dr Cindy Meston at the University of Texas suspects that it is probably down to the fact that the signs of male sexual excitement are simply more obvious than female arousal. Stress is also less likely to impact male sexual arousal. In 2018 researchers at the University of Michigan found that higher levels of perceived stress increased sexual desire for men, but the opposite was true for women. The more stress a woman was under, the less likely she was to want to have sex.
When a man is getting nowhere during foreplay, talking is a much better strategy than pointlessly persevering with "more of the same", so you need to be honest with your husband. Explain to him that you love having sex with him, but you need to feel relaxed first. If you are under pressure or have too many deadlines to meet, he can rub all he likes, but that genie is not going to budge from the bottle.
The boundary between wanting and not wanting sex is sometimes blurred by the fact that female sexual desire can be responsive to touch. Occasionally, you might not be in the mood when your partner first begins to make love to you, but the combination of affection and sensation help to relax you and a flicker turns into a flame.
At other times it becomes increasingly obvious to you that your brain and your body are refusing to respond, and the more he tries to turn you on, the more turned off you feel. Instead of "feeling" the sensation, you obsess over its absence, and the likelihood of you achieving orgasm decreases by the minute. It can be awkward when this happens, but if you try to switch the focus to him for a while, it can take the pressure off you and create a space for your arousal to grow.
I suspect that one of the problems is that he is the one that usually initiates sex. Although lots of women believe that men prefer to take the lead, most men don't want, automatically, to be the primary initiator and would prefer their partners to participate equally when it comes to initiating sex.
Taking control of initiation would enable you to choose times when you feel that you have the bandwidth to relax and really enjoy it. That might be weekend mornings, early evening before dinner, or after the children have gone to bed, but if speed and intensity are your agenda, taking things into your own hands is guaranteed to help.
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