Women who feel sexually alive and use sex as a pathway for connection can feel out of place in a society that tells them – women don’t/shouldn’t want sex as much as men. Laurie and George discuss healthy women who are in touch with their bodies, their desire for their partners and long for physical intimacy. When rejected the relationship can be strained, she can feel crushed emotionally and she can question her very attractiveness. Co-hosts affirm her right to have her needs met.
George Faller: Welcome back to Foreplay Radio. This week we’re going to explore, I heard there was such a thing as a female pursuer. Is that true?
Laurie Watson: Yes, that is true.
George Faller: That is a joke. We do know that.
Laurie Watson: Hey, you’re listening to Foreplay Radio for couples and sex therapy, and I’m Laurie Watson, your sex therapist.
George Faller: And I’m George Faller your marriage therapist.
Laurie Watson: We want to take a wide lens on sexuality and talking with you about what we’ve learned as experts in the field on how you bring your body, your mind, and your brain to the sexual experience.
George Faller: We want to expand people’s perspective of just talking about sex, that it’s not something to be avoided. It’s actually something to embrace and to lean into with an openness to be changed by what you hear.
Laurie Watson: Yes, it is true. It’s about 25% of women are, are more oriented sexually than usually their male partners, but who find themselves comfortable in the body, comfortable with sexuality and who are moving toward their partner. So it is true and the joke is that that doesn’t exist. That men are always saying, “Well, can you sign me up with one of those? You know, can we find one of those?” I mean I think the fantasy for any pursuer, emotionally, sexually, whatever, is always to find their equal in pursuit.
Laurie Watson: I think what I’ve seen is that two pursuers may get together, but there’s always a little bit of a toggle. One seems to take the lesser role or the more distancing role. So unfortunately might not be, the fantasy might not be able to come true.
George Faller: Well, let’s look at that 25%.
Laurie Watson: Okay.
George Faller: I always found it helpful. Dr Sue Johnson, my mentor, in her book Hold Me Tight, talks about different types of sex, and she says there’s solace sex, which is really more of this anxious I’m having sex to calm me down and make sure you want me. There’s more sealed off sex, which is more of this, we talked about the last time this avoidance sex where sex becomes, you know, something I distance with, and then there’s the idea which is synchrony sex, right? There’s more attuned kind of working for both partners type of sex, which is the goal of that great sex we’re working towards.
Laurie Watson: Exactly.
George Faller: So that 25% of women pursue is what percentage of them you think are coming from this more synchrony kind of healthy place versus this more anxious place?
Laurie Watson: That’s a really good question. I don’t know that I’ve ever thought about that in a breakdown. I don’t know. I think that certainly for some women it’s about being reassured that they’re attractive and that they have glue with their partner, that that is some of why they initiate. I also think that that’s why it falls off, so maybe in dating they approach more, they initiate more, and then once they feel safe, they don’t do that. They somehow or another have secured the desire of their male partner, but I’m really thinking about women who continue, who are sexual pursuers who continue in that and continue to feel that in relationship. I think that’s different. I think it’s more typical for the woman to pursue in dating and then there to be a drop-off.
George Faller: For me, I’m trying to assess is that pursuit coming from a place of anxiety where I feel reassured because you won’t leave me and you want me versus it’s coming from a place of longing, that this just enriches my life and I want this to unleash this vitality in myself.
Laurie Watson: Yeah, it’s a good question. I really don’t know any kind of breakdown on that. I see it with women who really want to feel their vitality because by that time, by the time they get to me, they’re kind of past all the earlier stages of deciding whether or not their partner finds them desirable. Although there’s a component of it, which in the world with male pursuers, men who traditionally pursue sexually, they kind of have some camaraderie. They can look up their body and say, “Yeah, you getting any? No, of course not.” There’s this sense of, yeah, this is our lot.
Laurie Watson: Whereas with women who are truly interested in sex, they don’t have anybody to talk to about that. I mean, all the girlfriends at the cocktail party are saying, “Oh gosh, you know, my husband, he won’t stop pawing me. He’s never letting up. He always wants it. You know, when is he going to give me a break?” And she’s sitting there silent thinking, “Man, my guy doesn’t want me. He doesn’t approach me. He doesn’t paw at me. I would love, I would kill for that.” And it often becomes toxic. “You know, what’s wrong with me? Am I not attractive?”
Laurie Watson: And I have a guy friend, I’ve said this on the podcast before, he says, “You know, you show me a woman who her husband isn’t going for it and I’ll show you an ugly woman.” And it’s like, it’s so painful. That’s what she begins to believe about herself because that’s essentially what the world joke is. And I’ve got to say, I’ve seen tons of female sexual pursuers. It seems to be something that comes through my office frequently. And a lot of these women are beautiful and fit and good looking and they’re gorgeous women. And I think it’s so painful to them to live in this space without any kind of comfort about what they’re going through.
George Faller: Just to stretch that a little bit, regardless of what they look like, right? Emotionally, to want more and get rejected is just a really painful place to be.
Laurie Watson: It is. I think that having desire is vulnerability. We have to, it’s such a exquisite place of staying open. If you desire your partner that’s saying, you can disappoint me, you can reject me and I’m still wanting. And I just think that that is, it’s a beautiful thing to see. And frankly, I think it’s a beautiful thing in men too, when they want their partners. I mean, but I think in women it’s rarer.
George Faller: Well, how do we help these female pursuers that are coming from a healthy place, also see the messages of failure and blame that they kind of wind up sending because they’re chronically disappointed and how that really then discourages their partner.
Laurie Watson: Right. So I’m thinking of a one woman who was a lovely woman and she always wanted sex, and she did a lot of really creative things to get sex. I mean she, she tried everything. She wore lingerie, she approached him physically. She approached him verbally. She did a lot of lovely things. One particular incident stands out for me is she came to her husband who was standing in front of the mirror, brushing his teeth. It was at night and she slips her arms around him and says something kind of sexy. And he throws down the toothbrush and basically says, “You know, you’re always wanting so much of me.”
Laurie Watson: So it was hard for her to begin to see that there was a part that she was participating in, in this cycle. In the beginning, it was hard for me to see as well. It was like, wow, that should have done it. But it didn’t. She was also emotionally volatile, particularly with the children. She would yell at the children.
George Faller: Stay with that for a second because it’s a great image too. She’s coming up, she’s making a move. She’s wrapping her arms around his stomach. How does she not, of course rejection we take personal, but how do we make space for his reality in that moment where whatever’s on his mind, he’s not in a mood to have sex. He don’t want to be put on the spot and called out. If she doesn’t come up to him, he’s kind of safe and he can just kind of do what he’s looking to do, right?
George Faller: But that move, which we see is so beautiful is also a big trigger for him that says, now I have to confront this ugly part of myself. I have to feel like I’m disappointing you and hurting your feelings. And you know, it all came about because you had to come towards me. Can she still keep her eyes focused on that too?
Laurie Watson: Yeah, that’s what we got to help with. I can hear that. And I think that that’s how we help people. I think it’s difficult when you are the pursuer to remember again, that when your partner is triggered, there’s something below that that is not necessarily personal. And I think that over time it’s harder to hold that because you’re rejected. And also because it’s sex. I mean, where are you going to go get sex if you’re committed to monogamy and fidelity, this is it. So this becomes I think, a very, very charged issue because they can say, “Yeah, you know, I can hold this space,” but you know, George, how long is she going to have to hold this space when she hasn’t had sex for a month or two months and she’s been rejected? It becomes more difficult.
Laurie Watson: So, but I think you’re right nevertheless, I think you’re right.
George Faller: They were trying to hold both, right? That can he see how hard that is for her to have a healthy need and constantly be rejected. And then she’s put in a position where she has to kind of point it out all the time, and it’s a great thing that she’s doing, yet she’s set up to fail. And what does it feel like for the person who’s doing the rejecting that also feels set up to have to keep saying no and they’re not in the mood. Right? Can we get both of them to see that negative pattern they’re falling into to try to unite against it, to reach out and hold each other’s hands and just say, even if for two partners to say, “Hey, this sucks for both of us. There is no winner here. We both lose every time we miss each other.” What’s worse, the person being rejected or the person doing the rejecting?
Laurie Watson: That’s both terrible. And when I was working with the couple, I did come to see his alarm and we can come back on the break and talk about that.
Speaker 3: Speaking with certified sex therapist, Laurie Watson from Awakening Center for Couples and Intimacy. Laurie, what is an intensive?
Laurie Watson: So an intensive is 12 to 14 hours of therapy all in one weekend, and it’s a way to really make fast progress compared to weekly therapy. I mean, there’s just so much more you can get done when you have a chunk of time.
Speaker 3: Overcome the challenges in your relationship and your sex life. Learn more about intensives and Awakening Center’s other services at awakenloveandsex.com.
Laurie Watson: Hey, I want to let you guys know all about George. He’s written and contributed to several books, and I’d especially like to draw your attention to his book Sacred Stress, a radically different approach to using life’s challenges for positive change. His book is about a mission on how you adopt new strategies and turn stresses into a positive force in your life. And who among us doesn’t live with a lot of stress these days? We’ll keep you posted as to all he’s doing, but George and other EFT therapists all around the country and the world hold couples retreats called Hold Me Tight, which is developed by Sue Johnson, and it helps secure your own relationship. If you’d like therapy with George, find him at georgefaller.com.
Laurie Watson: We’re back with Foreplay Radio, and talking about the sexual pursuer, the female sexual pursuer. So George, we’re talking about how can we help her sort of hold on, not get angry and become curious about what her withdrawing partner is going through, who more than likely is also the emotional withdrawer. So I have not yet come across that pattern where the woman is sexually pursuing, but she’s not very emotional. I mean, I don’t see a whole lot of that. So she wants both things. She wants more closeness emotionally, sexually, physically, and usually married to a guy who doesn’t want either, who both parts are somehow or another shutting down in him.
Laurie Watson: And in the case that I’m thinking of, this guy was shut down and some of what was difficult for him was that he had had really hot relationships with women previously, very conflictual and the conflict heated up for him for some reason or another, the sex. But then her conflict, his wife with his children, who she didn’t really see it as huge conflict. She was a yeller and so she yell at the kids and for her she’s like, “You know, the kids and I are great. We’re fine. You know, don’t worry about us.” But he would walk into that and hear something that would just cause them to want to distance from her, even though he had come from these other conflictual relationships. It was confusing.
Laurie Watson: And as all these cases are, I think it takes a lot of patience to figure it out and go slowly. But we’re asking her then to imagine that he has good reasons for withdrawing.
George Faller: Let me just interject. So much of what I hear is that just happens inevitably with time, right? As the marriage goes over the years, the price you pay for the safety in the routine is the loss of desire. And I really appreciate the way you’re describing it, that it was the distance that started to crush the desire.
Laurie Watson: Exactly.
George Faller: It was the fighting and not knowing how to repair and resolve that caused him to stop pulling away, and she got more anxious and they fell into this predictable negative sexual cycle where both of them lose. Right? So that’s not a natural product of long-term relationships. That’s just a natural byproduct of a negative cycle.
Laurie Watson: Right.
George Faller: But for couples that can keep their bond strong and vibrant, that’s the greatest place to find playfulness and curiosity and keep kind of stretching your edges as you’re getting deeper and get to know yourself and your partner even better.
Laurie Watson: Right, because I don’t think that you can necessarily have great sex until you know another person, kind of their soul and body inside and out. That’s something really special. But I do agree, the myth is that sex is just going to get duller, more boring somehow or another with familiarity, we can’t, we can’t enjoy it in a new way.
Laurie Watson: But I mean this woman, she wasn’t a wild and crazy or wanting things that were out of sort of the marital bounds or anything like that. She was just a healthy person who said, “You know, I want my husband,” and this was like in a 25-year-old marriage and she still felt it. She was probably mid-50s and still really felt it and wanted him.
Laurie Watson: And I think that one of the things with withdrawers is their sense of space is really important to them and the appropriate amount of distance where they feel like they can breathe. And in sex it’s so intimate, it’s so close, it’s truly right on top of each other. And so there’s this painful kind of sense of suffocation, even though it’s ecstasy or it could be to be bodily close, they can’t do it. And what I think is, and I’m sort of back to the withdrawal, I’ll just say this last thing and we’ll go back to the pursuer, but I think that it’s that longing that somehow or another got shut down in childhood and if you reawaken it, they’re going to have to go through all this grief and mourning of what they’ve lost. And so that’s what they don’t want to face. They don’t want to face this painful loss in their life, so they keep it locked away.
Laurie Watson: So, maybe that’s what we’re asking her to see is that this man is facing an internal dragon, that if it awakens, he’ll be in pain. It’ll be hard for him to feel that vulnerability of want and desire because then he’s needing in the same way that he needed as a child. And that’s just untenable.
George Faller: It sounds familiar. I want to make sure I hear what you’re saying that in the first part is you’re certainly connected with this female pursuer, and how difficult it is to have a healthy want and to keep finding yourself rejected.
Laurie Watson: Yes.
George Faller: So they need to be seen and witnessed and heard. And then you’re trying to get them to take a little less personal this withdrawer is shutting down that just like if they had ED or physical elements, I mean a lot of this isn’t a choice, it’s just a matter of survival and protection. So you’re trying to get them to be more curious that help them with their blocks to become a little bit more patient, to become aware of how they might be pushing, you know, they don’t realize it. They’re constantly suddenly a message that they’re disappointed because it’s not happening enough.
Laurie Watson: Sure, and she’s definitely sending that message.
George Faller: Right, and then you really the work that you want that pursuer to do intrapsychically or, you know, within herself is what?
Laurie Watson: So I want her to, like you said, imagine that he’s up against something that is unseen probably both by him and certainly by her, and to begin to tenderly talk about her feelings of rejection, what it’s like to be rejected over and over. If she can do that without necessarily presenting an ultimatum, but saying, “This to me is marriage. This to me is partnership in terms of us bonding physically and sexually, and I feel so alone in this.”
George Faller: Is it helpful for the male to try to comfort the pain and the fear and if they can’t get to the place of performance sexually?
Laurie Watson: Sure, sure. We’re not talking about necessarily just performance like in the classic sense of sexual performance you mean of wanting.
George Faller: Right.
Laurie Watson: Even if he can’t get to wanting, he can comfort the fact that what it would be like to always want and want to be close that way, close sexually. He can imagine with her what that’s like. But I think in order to imagine that we’re almost there, once the imagination comes in and we see the need of the other, I mean when we love somebody that moves us toward that.
George Faller: That’s a great point that when this shutdown male withdrawer can keep his focus on his wife’s pain and fear, he is actually engaging instead of retreating and shutting down.
Laurie Watson: Right.
George Faller: So that wife looks in his eyes and sees reflected back his pain for her. Her body starts to feel like he’s close, he’s there. Right.
Laurie Watson: Yeah, and then that is often healing right there.
George Faller: And let’s not overcomplicate this. You were saying this earlier that the force we’re trying to tap into is the healthiest natural, to want to be intimate and physical with somebody you love. Once you start identifying those blocks, you start to free up that process. They start finding their way back towards each other.
Laurie Watson: I think so too. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, libido is a life force. I would say that in this particular couple, that is what happened. He really got ahold of how lonely she had been their whole marriage, and he was tied up in a lot of knots about his own performance, how good he was. I mean there was just a mass of things that he was telling himself. But I think the thing that broke through was when she started talking and tearfully and adamantly, but like from her heart about how she loved him and she completely loved him, but she needed this so much and what it was like to be so lonely without him, and somehow or another he like got it, got it in his heart. And he started to initiate, which was pretty miraculous because it had been 25 years where he hadn’t done that.
Laurie Watson: And he started to initiate with her and she, I actually saw her in the coffee shop fairly recently and I was just kind of checking things in and saying hello and you know how you doing? And basically it had held, they were still doing good. And this was about, I don’t know, a year and a half later. So it felt like whatever he took inside from her, it changed his heart and he was able to see her vulnerability and then give to her. She became, I guess, safe enough in some ways in her vulnerability that he could give to her that way.
George Faller: Awesome, and to me that’s the hopeful part of the message that marriage and relationships are people growing machines and even your partner’s rejection gives you some space to understand yourself better. It sounds like this lady really understood her own vulnerability, her own anxiety, her own rejection. She was able to use that as a doorway to let her husband in and that touched him, and that was enough to kind of shift some of his blocks that have him engage more, which was all she was really looking for. And the strength of that move really brought the two of them together in a much more powerful way that lasted a year and a half later.
Laurie Watson: Yeah.
George Faller: Exciting stuff.
Laurie Watson: Foreplay Radio sex and couples therapy.
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