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Is Maintenance Sex Sexist?

Model Caprice Bourret recently landed herself in hot water when she encouraged women to have ‘maintenance sex’ with their husbands. 

In an interview with OK! Magazine, Bourret discussed why she thinks sex is so important in a marriage and why it’s important to have sex with your husband, even if you aren’t really in the mood.

“You can’t say ‘I’m tired’ or ‘I have a headache’ — no!” said the 49-year-old reality star. “Girls, my advice — even if you aren’t in the mood because it’s been a long day — it’s just ten minutes of your life. Ha ha, or 15!” 

While some women agreed with the message, others took offense by Bourret encouraging women to just take a ‘grin and bear it’ approach to their sex life. 

Behavioral scientist and author Dr. Pragya Agarwal writes that the idea of maintenance sex is heteronormative and encourages women to view the male sex drive as their responsibility. 

“The very idea of “maintenance sex” is based on a heteronormative idea of relationships, where male sexuality is epitomized by a higher sex drive than women; where their impulses are beyond control,” she writes. “This notion that women and men’s sexuality and sex drive has an inherent biological difference – and that women’s role is to lie back and be passive, while men are the go-getters – is also seeped into our medical and biological textbooks.” 

As a sex therapist with decades of experience in this field, I can say that male sexuality and female sexuality are not one and the same. Now, whether this is due to evolution, hormones, socialization, or all of the above, I have found that the way women approach sex and the way they experience sex is often very different from the way men approach sex and experience sex. 

This doesn’t mean that only men have high sex drives, or that only men can be the dominant ones in the bedroom. In fact, in my experience, one of the main things men tell me is that they wish their partner would take more control and be more confident during sex. The idea of a shrinking violet who meekly submits to her husband isn’t a fantasy shared by most men. Instead, they want to know their partner is having just as much fun as they are and that they actually want to be there, not that they’re simply laying there doing their wifely duty. 

I also think it’s important to acknowledge why men crave sex or seem to have higher or more insatiable sex drives than women. It’s not just because they’re out-of-control beasts, but because they often need that physical touch and intimacy in order to feel connected to their partner. Having sex is one of the primary ways men feel seen, valued, and cherished by their partner.

On the other hand, women often feel seen and cherished in other ways. Affection, romance, and emotional intimacy all contribute to helping women feel stable in their relationship and connected with their partner. 

But here’s what happens. When sex falls by the wayside, so too does romance. And when romance falls by the wayside, so does sex. I call this the sex-romance stalemate. Neither partner is getting the intimacy they need and therefore they are unable to offer the intimacy their partner desires. So having maintenance sex isn’t just about pleasuring the man with nothing in it for the woman: When you keep that sex part of the equation alive, the romance will also be robust as well.

And, when I encourage couples to have maintenance sex, I am not telling women that their pleasure doesn’t matter or that they should engage in sex even when they really, really don’t want to. Consent is mandatory, and it has to freely given, and it can be taken back at any time. 

But what I have noticed is that for many women, they often need a little time to ‘warm up’ before they realize that, “Oh yeah, I actually AM in the mood for sex right now.” So when your partner initiates foreplay, don’t shut it down right away just because you’re not 100% in the mood that very second. Give yourself a chance to see if you might develop that desire if you just stay open to the possibility. 

Now remember what I said above: Consent can be taken back. If you start to indulge in foreplay, and your body is still saying, “Nuh-uh, not today,” it’s okay to put up a red flag and tell your partner, “We need to pause for now. I am not up for this right now.” Your partner is a big boy–they can handle the no, and ahem, probably take care of themselves on their own. 

Last, while some critics complain that 10 minutes of maintenance sex isn’t enough for a woman to reach orgasm, leaving her pleasure-less while her partner gets to cross the finish line, I would say this: Not every woman has sex for the sole purpose of orgasm. Connection-driven women who crave physical touch, affection, and just that feeling of closeness with their partner can often be deeply fulfilled by intimacy even when it doesn’t end in orgasm for them. 

This might not be true for you: You might really need an orgasm to feel like the sexual intimacy was worth it, and to that I say, good for you! I applaud you for knowing your body and advocating for your own pleasure. I would advise investing in a sex aid like a clitoral vibrator to help you reach orgasm quickly, even during those times when you are really short on time and energy.

And the more you have maintenance sex, the better you will get at knowing each other’s body and helping to ensure that you both see fireworks. 

For me, maintenance sex isn’t about giving your husband maintenance sex or solely having sex just to satisfy his needs. Instead, it’s about maintaining your relationship and your physical connection, and satisfying BOTH of your needs.


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