Why is maintenance sex such a complex issue?

The vulgarity of maintenance sex will vary depending on how you take it to play out (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Maintenance sex is when someone puts out for their partner, particularly in long-term relationships, at times they don’t feel like being sexual.

Though ungendered in definition, the idea is usually put to women – have a quick Google of the term and you’ll see it recommended to women as a strategy to keep a marriage going.

It’s an old term that has come back into the spotlight after model Caprice said she does this with her husband.

Speaking to OK! Magazine, she said: ‘You can’t say, “I’m tired” or “I have a headache” – no! Take one for the team, because it’s between five to 10 minutes of your life.’

Since then, plenty of people have shared opinions on the matter and comment sections are a mix of men who agree with this, and others raising issue with the concept.

Maintenance sex touches on the fringes of many other big societal issues: gender politics, gender stereotypes and consent.

Due to this, we need to look at the nuances and complications around it – what maintenance sex means to one person will mean something else to another.

Psychosexual and relationship therapist Ammanda Major, who works for Relate, a charity providing relationship support, says many couples engage in maintenance sex. It’s a common issue sex therapists will come across.

She says: ‘People have sex for all sorts of reasons and there are lots of ways of being sexual with a partner.

‘For some it’s to have that orgasmic experience, but for many people it’s that closeness, that bonding.’

Sometimes that’s what maintenance sex is about, finding the connection rather than an orgasm.

Ammanda adds: ‘For most couples that have been together a long time, they report just cuddling up to someone and seeing what happens without the the clear intention of becoming necessarily sexual.’

A lot of sexual response is based on receiving an advance, even if the person wasn’t aroused before.

Often in a long-term relationship sex is a matter of ‘getting things started’, with one person initiating and foreplay getting the other person in the mood.

This is the side of maintenance sex that many couples will resonate with – but there are concerns around the idea of having sex when you’re not initially keen.

‘The key thing is not to be pressurised or do it because if you don’t your partner will sulk, become controlling or abusive in some way,’ Ammanda says.

‘If it makes you feel bad about yourself, don’t do it to yourself. If it makes you feel bad, then that’s telling you something.’

Dr Audrey Tang, psychologist and author, reiterates this point, telling us that sex when a partner isn’t sure or doesn’t feel like it is not something to be celebrated.

‘Sex is often one of the most loving, intimate acts you can share with someone,’ she notes.

‘It is something that is rewarding for all parties involved, because of the emotional and physical connection.  

‘When you change the narrative to where this beautiful gift of the self is offered “to keep someone in a relationship”, this devalues not only the act, but worse, your personal value, likely eroding your self worth with it. 

‘If someone is expecting you to “put out” in order to remain in a relationship with you, the question is not “Should I do it?” but rather “Do I even want that sort of energy in my life?”‘

Another issue that comes up when we talk about maintenance sex is the notion that this is a woman’s duty, because, so goes the stereotype, men want to have sex and women aren’t fussed.

Women have long been told they want less sex than men, and that their sexual desire isn’t a priority.

In practice, maintenance sex and fluctuating libidos are experience by all genders, regardless of sexual orientation.

So how do you navigate having a different sex drive to your partner? Is maintenance sex the answer?

Ammanda says communication is the only way you’re going to make true headway in the issue. An occassional maintenance sex session can be okay, but if you’re regularly feeling like you have to have sex, whether because your sex drives are mismatched or you’re not feeling loved up, that’s a larger issue that needs to be tackled.

‘Bear in mind sex drive levels change – we tend to talk a lot about how that’s a very static piece in a relationship, but actually for many couples it’s something that fluctuates and varies over time,’ she explains. ‘It swaps around – many men will report a lack of sex drive.

‘The key thing is to take away the sense of shame some couples have, either for wanting to have lots of sex or for not wanting to.

‘A lot of this comes down to developing good communication between the couple.’

Nurturing trust and respect will make these conversations flow easier, and therapy can be a good route to find a middle ground.

‘Historically you had to get the person with the lower sex drive up,’ Ammanda says, but this isn’t your only option.

Finding a compromise that fulfils both parties sexually is the best way couples can deal with unequal sexual drives, but the difference can also be a fair reason to end a relationship if it’s making either side unhappy.

Amanda says to figure out what sex means to you both and what you individually want from it, then go from there.

Most importantly: ‘Don’t do anything you don’t actively want to do.’

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Get in touch by emailing MetroLifestyleTeam@Metro.co.uk.

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