Forced Intimacy and Desire Without Enjoyment

Photo by Alexis Fauvet.

One more post about Emily Nagoski's excellent book Come As You Are: forced intimacy and desire without enjoyment. (The two earlier posts are here and here.)

In the book, she talks about how most people, when they are stressed, have a decreased sex drive, but for a small number of people, their sex drive increases. The interesting thing is, for those people, there usually isn't an increase in pleasure or enjoyment from sex, just increased desire.

I had never thought about the concept of desire being separate from pleasure before. Whether the context was sexual or not, I had always assumed that pleasure was a pre-requisite for desire, or at least the expectation of pleasure. You had to at least think you were going to enjoy something to want it, right?

Turns out, nope.

At this point, it's more of a compulsion than anything else, and is about Nagoski refers to as "forced intimacy": any kind of intimacy-producing activity that's done to fill a hole inside of us, instead of out of a desire to connect with the other person.

This concept of forced intimacy was a huge lightbulb for me.

In a past relationship, I went through a really stressful time. I asked my partner to sit on the couch and cuddle for five minutes every morning before we went to work. It wasn't about him or our connection, it was about this giant ball of stress inside of me that I was trying to calm. Or really just smother.

Cuddling is typically my favourite thing to do in a relationship, but this time it didn't actually feel all that enjoyable. Now I know why! I was trying to use them to fill an entirely different void in my life. I was taking one of my favourite intimate activities and trying to make it into an anti-anxiety pill.

Unsurprisingly, my partner didn't particularly enjoy it either. Who really likes being used to try to fill someone else's unfillable void?

I'm pretty sure forcing intimacy to try to cover up or fill a hole in our hearts is a fairly human thing to do, and that I'm not alone in this one. The big question is, what do you do instead?

As per usual, it's probably that you face down the giant hole inside of you and work through it instead of trying to use someone else to cover it up. Sigh.


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