I want more sex than my partner does. How do I get my needs met without pushing her boundaries?


Meeting differing sexual needs and desires might be hard, Kai says, but there are practically infinite ways of giving and receiving pleasure

Ask Kai: Advice for the Apocalypse” is a column by Kai Cheng Thom to help you survive and thrive in a challenging world. Have a question? Email askkai@xtramagazine.com.

Hi Kai,

I’m non-binary and my partner is a trans woman. Our relationship is wonderful; we understand each other, love to be around each other and have the most wonderful conversations. I love her a lot. The only area where our relationship is lacking is our sex life. 

Since the beginning, it’s been pretty one-sided: she enjoys receiving head, but not giving. Now that she’s been on estrogen for a month, it’s started to kill her sex drive. I’m really happy for her, but I’m also a sexual person who isn’t getting their needs met. 

The last thing I want to do is make her uncomfortable or trigger any dysphoria for her, but every time we start making out and getting aroused it feels like we’re “stuck.” I’ve tried to talk about adding in sex toys, but I get shot down with a “maybe, not right now” response, and I don’t want to push.

It’s gotten to the point where I feel insecure about being sexual at all, especially about my own body. I feel like I’m weird for having a vagina and wanting to be intimate in ways that benefit me. I want to have sex that we can both enjoy. I want our sexual relationship to be a two-way street, but I don’t know how to make that happen. I’m willing to try anything. How do I get my needs met without pushing her boundaries? 

Sincerely,

One Way Street 

Dear OWS, 

Your questions are tender, vulnerable and powerful, and show profound care and compassion for your partner’s needs and for your own erotic self. To read them is truly moving and inspiring, because I long for a world in which all of our sexual selves can be held and nourished without the shame, fear and coercion that the dominant culture forces upon us. In the dominant cultural norm, the pleasure or comfort of one is often emphasized over that of another. When we ask how we can get our own needs met while also honouring the boundaries and pleasure of our partners, we create a microcosm in which a new sexual culture becomes possible.

 

Before we can begin to work effectively to address unmet sexual needs in a partnership, it is often important to do some private, personal work as well to investigate and tend to our own desires and sense of self so that we can enter tough conversations with clarity and self-compassion. As a somatic sex educator, I suggest that you begin this process by giving yourself permission to exist as a being with an erotic self and erotic needs—that is, permission to acknowledge the sexual feelings that arise within your unique and precious body, with its singular experience of gender and desire.

As an exercise, you may want to consider the following questions and reflections: Where do you feel desire in your physical self? What are its colours, textures, words, images? Can you breathe into desire and welcome its wisdom? What does desire tell you about what you need and who you are?

What might happen if, as an experiment, you tried visualizing your desire as a literal person or living being and said to it: “You are welcome here. You are worthy. There is nothing wrong with who you are”? If you find this exercise helpful and would like try more, I strongly suggest looking into somatic sex educator Caffyn Jesse’s book Science for Sexual Happiness, which contains over 100 science-based practices for deepening sexual self-awareness and erotic joy.  

Doing this kind of work is part of the process of coming into a deeper relationship with the erotic self; the part of all sexual beings that yearns to know and be known in desire and pleasure. In getting to know our erotic wants and needs through the lens of welcome, permission and compassion, we can de-shame sexuality and create strength and confidence around the erotic self. Armed with this confidence, we can, in the face of rejection from others, remain safe in the knowledge that rejection does not mean we are bad, shameful or unworthy of sexual attention, love or pleasure. 


In short, OWS, I am inviting you to practice loving yourself and your sexuality—a process that can be accomplished through meditation, masturbation, journaling and creating art, along with many other methods. I am inviting you to embody the knowledge that your partner’s preferences, dysphoria and sex drive (or lack thereof) are not a reflection on you or your body. I am inviting you to let yourself know that there is nothing wrong with wanting what you want—just as there is nothing wrong with your partner having boundaries and preferences of her own. This work is yours to do, and it may help you to feel more grounded and secure in conversations about sex with your partner, should you choose to have them.

When it comes to having those (potentially hard) conversations with her, I suggest considering a container approach: establish some guardrails and limits to keep the conversation focused and to provide you both with a sense of security. Can you intentionally set aside a pre-determined amount of time to talk about sex? What boundaries and supports can you put in place to create greater safety and comfort for both of you? What kind of closure will you each need to end the conversation, and what care will you need afterwards—either together or individually (like a walk, a bath or journaling)?

One strategy that I often suggest to partners who are navigating tricky sexual discussions is to have an agreement that no actual sexual activity will take place on the day of the conversation. This can help relieve some of the pressure and ensure that no one is caught by surprise or feels pressured in the middle of a sexual activity. Similarly, by setting up a time to talk in advance, you’re giving your partner the space to sort through her feelings first, which might help her feel more open to discussing your sexual relationship.

When asking for what you want and need, OWS, I encourage you to stay rooted in the framework of “I” statements and focus on your subjective experience, while also clearly acknowledging that your partner’s boundaries are valid. Your own questions (“How can I get my needs met without pushing [your] boundaries?” and “How can we have sex in ways that we both enjoy?”) might actually be very useful to ask your partner directly. It may be helpful to assure her that she doesn’t need to have concrete answers; rather, you can use the questions as a jumping-off point to brainstorm solutions together.

It’s important to remember (as if you could forget!) that conversations about sex and sexual satisfaction can be triggering for all involved, even when everyone is being extra careful to respect each other. This isn’t because talking about sexual needs is bad—it’s because many of us have complex emotions about our bodies and, even at the best of times, our ability to give and receive sexual pleasure often feels very connected to our ability to give and receive love.

When we aren’t getting what we need sexually, it’s easy to feel that we are bad and unworthy. When we aren’t able to give a partner what they need sexually, it’s easy to feel that we have failed at giving love. These narratives are often particularly charged for queer and trans folks, who are already told all the time by the dominant culture that our desires and our bodies are bad, shameful and undeserving. 

“When the fear of being ‘bad’ is taken off the table, whole worlds of possibility can open up.”

OWS, I would encourage you and your partner to acknowledge these fears if they seem to enter the room. Reassure one another that you love each other, that meeting sexual needs and desires is hard for most couples at some point or other and that there are many ways—practically infinite ways—of giving and receiving pleasure. Stay curious about the other’s experience. Neither of you is a failure, and neither of you is inherently bad or wrong. 

When the fear of being “bad” is taken off the table, whole worlds of possibility can open up: role play; sex toys, as you’ve already suggested; intimacy exercises such as the “three minute game”; sex therapy or coaching; ethical polyamory. The options are endless, but essential to all of them is clarity about what you both want and need, as well deep compassion and appreciation for your erotic selves. 

Don’t give up hope, OWS. Don’t give up on your sexual needs or your pleasure, either. Growing through romantic partnership necessarily involves difficult conversations, including ones about sex! The fact that you love one another is a solid foundation for moving forward. 

Yes, you may encounter difficult feelings and frustrations with one another. But healthy conflict between partners carries an erotic charge of its own, and it can be an opportunity to strengthen intimacy. Breathe into what you want, speak its truth with confidence and compassion. The power of your desire just might surprise you in the very best of ways.

Want more Kai? Check out her latest “Quick Tips” video. 

Kai Cheng Thom is no longer a registered or practicing mental health professional. The opinions expressed in this column are not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content in this column, including, but not limited to, all text, graphics, videos and images, is for general information purposes only. This column, its author, Xtra (including its parent and affiliated companies, as well as their directors, officers, employees, successors and assigns) and any guest authors are not responsible for the accuracy of the information contained in this column or the outcome of following any information provided directly or indirectly from it.

Kai Cheng Thom is a writer, performer, and social worker who divides her heart between Montreal and Toronto, unceded Indigenous territories. She is the author of the Lambda Award-nominated novel Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl's Confabulous Memoir (Metonymy Press), as well as the poetry collection a place called No Homeland (Arsenal Pulp Press). Her latest book, Falling Back in Love with Being Human, a collection of letters and poetry, is out now from Penguin Random House Canada.

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