When She Wants It More than You Do: How Being the Lower-Desire Partner Changed my Life
Mama and Aunt Marianna, this is one of the two newsletters a month that is not for you; this is a mildly sexually explicit post, as the title suggests. A newsletter about the California recall is coming next!
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Petersen Automotive Museum, Los Angeles
“I want you again.” Kendall’s breath is warm and wet in my ear. She tugs my sleeve, and points to a stairway. “I know where we can go. One floor up.”
My face gets hot. I’m not turned on. Or rather, I’m a little turned on. Mostly, though, I’m angry.
We’re at Kendall’s gala company Christmas party at this museum. It’s 9:00PM on a Friday night. Kendall and I had sex last night, we had it twice again this morning, we had it in her bathroom 90 minutes ago as we got ready for this party. We’ve been here 15 minutes, and she wants it again.
Kendall and I have been dating for two months. I am falling in love, right on schedule, with this tall, brunette, vivacious and bawdy single mom. I am 31; Kendall is 29, but acts a decade older. We laugh a lot. We share interests in country music, college football, John Ford westerns, and working out. We eat an ungodly amount of pizza together. (We nearly break up early on when she announces a preference for Chicago deep dish; I like my pizza crust like I like my own body in the mirror: elegantly thin.)
Mostly, we fuck. We fuck a lot. We fuck more frequently than I have with any other girlfriend ever. Kendall wants sex several times a day, day in, day out. Her horniness doesn’t seem to vary based on where she is in her monthly cycle; in our eight weeks together so far, she’s seemingly never not in the mood. The sex we have is, to a kinkster, vanilla – but a rough and coarsely textured vanilla. I’m rarely bruised, but as fit as I am at this stage of my life, I’m sore and worn out.
Kendall has never turned me down when I’ve initiated. That’s not saying much, though. I haven’t had a chance to initiate since our first week together. That’s left me frustrated, and I’m not sure I can even name why.
Kendall is, in many ways, Hugo’s dream girl: beautiful, dark, funny, strong, and sexually voracious. I’ve never dated a woman with such a consistently fierce libido. In my 15 years or so of sexual experience, I’ve learned to take it for granted that I’ll be the higher desire partner in my relationships with women. (I have sex with lots of men, but hardly ever with any man more than once.) A few of my exes have happily matched my sex drive, but Kendall is the first to wildly exceed it. I have done my best to keep up in frequency, duration, inventiveness. This is as much out of obligation as out of desire: since I was in high school, my self-image has been tied up with this idea of myself as a very sexual person.
With Kendall, I increasingly feel like a worn-out housewife fending off a lustful husband.I haven’t stopped liking the sex. I just don’t like the way this dynamic makes me feel about myself.
So, at this Christmas party, when Kendall proposes we fuck for the fourth time that day, my own exasperation boils over. I hiss it at her, just quietly enough that no one else can hear.
“Can you give it a rest? Is that all you ever want?”
The words are bad enough, but my ungentlemanly tone is harsher than I intend. Kendall takes a deep breath and holds very still. Without a word to me, she turns on her stilettos and walks over to talk to a colleague. For the next hour, she’ll freeze me out, as I force myself to make pleasantries with people I barely know.
Finally, it’s over, and we walk in silence to the car. “I’m sorry,” I say, once we’re buckled in and I can’t stand the tension anymore.
Kendall turns to me. “Do you even know why I’m angry?”
I shake my head.
“Because you made your feelings into my problem,” Kendall says. “And I’m beyond tired of it.”
Kendall’s told me before how her sex drive erupted when she was still in early adolescence, and how it embarrassed and confused her for years. As she reminds me now, her horniness is not because I am so uniquely desirable. It’s part of who she is. If Kendall has chemistry with someone, (which she’s had with plenty of others besides me), she’s gonna want great sex, and she’s gonna want it a great deal of the time.
Kendall’s voice gets softer. She looks out the window. “I’m done apologizing for wanting what I want.”
I can rarely recall feeling guiltier. I’m ashamed. I’m 31, already twice divorced, a women’s studies professor for Christ’s sakes. I’ve taught sex ed for a decade. I’ve already had way more than my share of partners, and to be honest, I take inordinate pride in that. If any man alive should be able to rejoice in a partner with a voracious sexual appetite, it should be me.
And I’ve let myself be intimidated. Worse, I’ve blamed and hurt the girl I’m close to falling in love with, rather than taking responsibility for the way in which her apparent insatiability has bruised my fragile ego.
I apologize, slowly, gently. I have enough sense to be able to name why I’m sorry. “Sometimes,” I tell her, “I don’t feel good enough. I worry I don’t satisfy you. That’s where this is coming from.”
“I’m not a hungry child. Your cock is not dinner.” I laugh, both amused and mildly scandalized by the visual. Kendall continues. “Seriously, sex isn’t feeding me. I’m not trying to get full. If you think it’s your job to fuck me until I don’t want to be fucked anymore, please get over yourself. You can’t. No one can.”
Until that moment I’d never realized how much of the rhetoric of sexual relationship is about satisfaction. I know my Latin; satisfaction is rooted in the idea of having enough. I see, so clearly, how much of my identity as a man has been wrapped up in fucking a woman so long and so well that she’s had enough. If she never has enough, even after she’s come 20 times, then I am in my own mind somehow inadequate. I am stuck at the intersection of machismo and people-pleasing, and I’m not actually thinking about who Kendall is and what she needs.
So, I hear what she’s saying, and I start laughing, and then she starts laughing. I reach for her hand, she squeezes it.
“I need it to always be okay with you if I ask,” she says. I nod agreement. She smiles, and adds: “And I promise to be okay with the…. occasional… no.”
We’re still parked at this point, and of course I try to kiss her, hoping for the quick resolution and absolution I crave. Of course, Kendall pushes me away. “I’m gonna need to take the night off, I think,” she says, her voice a little shaky. I drive her home, walk her to her door. I do not go in.
Because of her schedule with her sons, it is nearly a week before I see Kendall again. She drops by campus after I finish giving a final exam on a Thursday night. Seconds after she steps in, I lock my office door and push her up against the wall, my hands fumbling with the snap of her jeans, my mouth on hers. She pushes me back, grabs my necktie, twists it around her fist. I’m 6’1”; In her cowboy boots, she’s half an inch taller than I am.
“Don’t fuck with me, Hugo,” she says, her lips inches from mine. “Don’t fuck with me.”
She’s playing and testing, but serious too, and I need to respond in kind. I drop my voice, push her back firmly. “I’m not fucking with you. But, girl, I am gonna fuck you.”
She laughs, murmurs a softer “Okay, then.” And I do, and we do and it is very good.
Kendall and I will break up two months later, just after Valentine’s Day 1999, over issues entirely unrelated to sex. Our breakup fucking will last intermittently until June, neither of us quite willing to let go of the other. (She’s remarried, and we remain friends. Judging from Instagram, she still eats the wrong kind of pizza far too often.)
I wish I could say that after that Christmas party, I was always comfortable with Kendall’s sexual appetite, which remained consistently rapacious until the very end.
There were times I said no, and there were times that no was better received than others. We have another intense fight in January, this time over her fondness for starting to have sex with me while I am still asleep. (Cue the basic point that the erection of a sleeping man is not, in fact, prima facie evidence of consent.)
And yet, we made it work. Not just the sex: we made ourselves work through our own fears and insecurities, including fears and insecurities I didn’t know I had. Before Kendall, I had grown too confident and comfortable with my sense of myself as an intensely sexual being. Though on my “guy side” I still slept with older men, I had fallen into a habit of choosing younger, comparatively less experienced women (many times, my students) as sex partners. I got to be a teacher in both the classroom and the bedroom, and I got my ego flattered as a result.
“Kendall got you to step up your game,” a friend told me after the breakup. And my friend was right. I’d dated and married powerful women before. But until Kendall, I’d never dated someone who so thoroughly exposed where my own sexism still survived, and where my old insecurities still lay. I needed that lesson.
I learned so much from the courage Kendall showed in owning, fearlessly, that she was the higher desire partner. I am so grateful that thanks to her, I not only found the courage to accept myself as the lower desire one in this particular relationship — I found the overdue courage to rethink so much of what I knew about women, my ego, my need to please, my sexuality, and myself.
One song Kendall and I both loved was Strawberry Wine, Deana Carter’s chart-busting pop country hit from 1996. There’s a very fine, fiddle-heavy cover by the Wreckers, and I had it on repeat while I wrote this newsletter. (And yes, an earlier and much shorter version of this post appeared on Medium in 2017.)