“Only a struggle twists sentimentality and lust together into love.”
– E. M. Forster, novelist
“Can someone love you and still lust after other people?”
Jacinta told me, she and Jacob had been married over 25 years. They had two grown children, Jade and Jafar, who were, for the most part, on their own now. Jade had married recently and Jafar was finishing up his engineering degree.
Jacinta said, she and Jacob worked hard at their careers, hers in business and his in education, and they were doing fine. They both liked their work and enjoyed the freedom that came with their recent ‘empty nest.’
When I asked her what was on her mind that would bring her to contact me, she said,
“I need to understand something that’s become an issue for me lately with Jacob.”
“What issue is that, Jacinta?”
“Can someone love you and still lust after other people?”
“I think Jacob is addicted to porn…”
“Are you asking if love and lust are the same? Would you be more specific, Jacinta?”
“I think Jacob is addicted to porn…which he calls erotica.” she said, with hostility to her voice.
Then she added, upping her scorn even more,
“I think he has fallen out of love with me…even though he vehemently denies it.”
“Are there other things he is doing that suggest to you that he is no longer interested in a future with you, Jacinta?”
“Do you mean is he having an affair?” she asked, surprised.
“That could be one form. But others might be: avoiding you, not making time for you, less affectionate, emotionally distant, missing work, not carrying his end of the relationship with you and others…things that suggest he is focused past you, into another future, without you.”
“The surgery kind of took the wind out of my sails…it’s like I lost interest!”
She paused, thoughtful for a bit, then replied,
“That’s the confusing part, Ken! I don’t see any of those things! I just hear him get up in the middle of the night, come back twenty minutes later and get back in bed and go to sleep. When I asked him about it, he told me what was going on. I was so hurt… but really, just confused.”
“What has your sex life been up to now, Jacinta?” I asked to get a context for what was going on in their relationship.
“Our sex life was fine until about five years ago when I had a hysterectomy after they found cancer. Since then, my sex drive has diminished dramatically. The surgery kind of took the wind out of my sails…it’s like I lost interest!” she said, her voice dropping two notches.
“Jacinta, in nature, there is no loss without gain, so there must have been a transformation of your sex life into some other form. Have you noticed yet what that form has become?”
“What do you mean…my sex life in another form? What other form could it be…its sex!”
“Love begins with an image; lust with a sensation.”: – Mason Cooley, writer
“I never distinguished lust and love that way before…”
“Jacinta, there are at least six other forms of sexual satisfaction. We can get satisfaction from our spirituality, our mental activities, our work, our wealth, our social contacts, our family relationships or our physical well being.”
Then I added,
“Lust is really, just our biological need for sexual release. Love, on the other hand, is the combination of support and challenge, we receive from those around us which helps us survive and evolve…a very different concept.”
“I never distinguished lust and love that way before…or even thought a person could get sexual satisfaction in other ways, besides intimacy. Can you give me a few examples?” she asked, both surprised and curious, simultaneously.
“For example, have you heard of ‘Sex in a Pan!’…a recipe for heavily laden, chocolate squares which some people equate with sexual satisfaction. Or perhaps, sports fans who will pay more money for a seat at an NHL hockey game than they would for a evening out with their loved one.”
“… that would mean my sex life has taken a different direction…”
“Ken, that reminds me of my friend, Jenny, who told me after she attended a U2 concert, ‘It was better than sex!’ So, you’re suggesting there are many ways we can get sexual satisfaction besides physical intimacy.”
“Exactly! Have you ever noticed an elderly couple walking along holding hands? Due to their age and health, that could be their sex life…but it doesn’t mean they don’t love each other. Do you see what I’m getting at here?”
“Yes I’m getting it! But, that would mean my sex life has taken a different direction that I haven’t noticed…or appreciated either!” she said.
“It could have taken several directions. What do you notice as you take this broader perspective on your sexuality, Jacinta?”
“Well I do notice I spend a lot of my time focused only community volunteerism. I’m heavily involved in community development, I sit on our local council and it takes a lot of time and energy.”
“So, you derive a lot of satisfaction from your work there. What else, Jacinta?”
“I do get a measure sexual satisfaction from my reading…interesting…”
“Ken, I love to read…especially historical romance novels…and even movies along the same theme…Jane Eyre…that sort of thing.”
“So, is the attraction you build for a special character in a romance novel different than Jacob’s attraction to erotic images? and, does it mean you don’t love him anymore because you want to read romance novels about men and women struggling through their love life?” I asked her to see if she was connecting the dots.
“ I suppose not!” she said, hesitantly.
Then she continued,
“But, he goes farther…he…I assume…achieves an orgasm! That’s different, isn’t it?”
“It may be a different form, but is it simply responding to his natural sex drive. Have you ever experienced a sexual response to something you read in one of the novels, Jacinta?”
She hesitated, then said,
“Some of the books and movies I have come across frequently generate a response in me by what they describe.. or even what they leave out and my imagination fills in…so, yes, I do get a measure sexual satisfaction from my reading…interesting…”
“Now that you know there are many ways to meet your need for a sexual life, are there other forms of sexual satisfaction you derive from other parts of your life, Jacinta?”
“Love grows. Lust wastes by enjoyment, and the reason is, that one springs from an union of souls, and the other from an union of sense.” – William Penn, leader
“… every person masturbates in some form, to respect their body’s need for sexual satisfaction.”
“There are a couple of men in my volunteer work who flirt with me periodically. We banter back and forth in a friendly and caring way. I’m realizing now, this is also part of how I meet my need to be a sexual being.”
“Are you thinking of leaving Jacob to run off with one of these men, Jacinta?” I asked to see if she was ready to stand outside herself and see the truth of her life.
“No! Of course not! Don’t be ridiculous! I would never do that, I love Jacob!”
“Can you see the parallel here?”
“I’m starting to!”
“Since every human has a sex drive which must be honoured in some way, every person masturbates in some form, to respect their body’s need for sexual satisfaction. Do you physically masturbate like Jacob, Jacinta?”
“Yes, I do, occasionally! But, not nearly as often as I hear Jacob leave our bed!” she replied, in a testy voice.
“…it’s the differences that make the relationship interesting and keep you both growing your self-worth.”
“Perhaps, you have been assuming he has the same sex drive as you. That is very unlikely, since he is a different person with a unique genetic, biological and psychological history.”
“I never thought of it that way before…we are certainly different people, that’s for sure!”
“I expect so…that’s why you’re together…it’s the differences that make the relationship interesting and keep you both growing your self-worth.” I suggested to her.
“And Jacinta, when you masturbate, where do you take your mind to enhance your sexual satisfaction?”
She paused, thoughtful, before responding,
“I go all kinds of places, to scenes from the books I’ve read, movies I’ve seen, people I’ve encountered…all over the place.”
“Can you see it is just a different form of what Jacob is doing? And, it is not related to his love or devotion to you. It is related to his need to satisfy his sexual urges in a way that doesn’t jeopardize other things he values, like you and his family and so on?”
“My surgery did leave me feeling less attractive and less sexual. So, that really makes sense to me.”
“Ken, I can see that now! But, I want to be able to have a sex life with Jacob. I want to be able to have sexual intimacy with my husband. How can I do that?”
“Jacinta, two steps occur to me that would need to happen. And, if you’re interested, I could assist you with both. The first is to resolve any emotional charges you are carrying on your hysterectomy which would free you to appreciate yourself more.”
“My surgery did leave me feeling less attractive and less sexual. So, that really makes sense to me. But what’s the other thing, Ken?”
“The other thing would be a willingness to have a candid discussion with Jacob about what new form of sexual intimacy you both would want going forward. But, we would need to start with you first!”
“The second step sounds really scary…but I can see it would need to happen. How do we get started?”
“We need to go back to the moment of your decision to have a hysterectomy…”
Jacinta did the work and realized she had been devaluing herself for the past five years in ways she had not realized. As she completed this work, her self-esteem resurfaced as did her interest in intimacy with Jacob. They worked together on redefining their marital sexuality and learned there were no mistakes in their past on learning opportunities to evolve themselves and each other.
“Lust is what keeps you wanting to do it even when you have no desire to be with each other. Love is what makes you want to be with each other even when you have no desire to do it.” – Judith Viorst, author