Thumb Sucking and Sex


I recently received a call from a distraught client. She wanted my help to become more open to her boyfriend’s sexual needs. This is not an uncommon occurrence in my world. People have been coming to me to work out their sexual issues for years. What’s new is that I finally made those relationships professional. But, I digress.

I asked her to tell me what was going on. “Gary wants to have sex at least once a day. I’m just not that into sex. Sometimes I just want to read a book or snuggle, and it’s getting worse. Now we’re fighting about sex. The more he pushes, the less I want it. I just feel awful. I really love him, but I don’t know if this is going to work out. The other night, for instance, I was in bed reading a book. He came in and started groping me. I told him that I was tired, maybe we’d have sex in the morning. He wasn’t happy, but went to sleep. At 4 a.m., he woke me up and said, ‘I have an erection and you need to take care of that.” She already had several red flags in the air, but I let her continue, realizing we weren’t so much dealing with sexual issues as boundary issues. Of course, that’s not uncommon in the intimacy arena.

When she reached a stopping point in her story, I asked her a question, “If you woke him up at 4 a.m. and said, ‘I’m hungry, you need to take care of that,’ how would he respond?”
Sometimes a new perspective is just the ticket. “I would never do that!” was her immediate response. “Nor would he,” I replied, “but if you did, what would he say?”
“He’d tell me to take care of it.” Of course.

“So, tell him to take care of it.” I have yet to meet a man who doesn’t know how to take care of his own erection. The issue here was not that he needed her to take care of his erection. Something deeper was going on. I got an intuitive hit and said, “He’s thumb-sucking.” Naturally, that met with a bit of confusion. Sometimes confusion is the best method to get people to slow down and get out of their story. It’s a necessary evil. There is simply no way to see things clearly when we’re stuck in the middle of our own story.

I proposed the theory that he was using sex to self-soothe, thus the thumb-sucking analogy. That means he’s also using her  to self-soothe, and that may be where her sexual disinterest stems from. I asked her how that fit with what she was feeling. It only took a moment of contemplation (and a small flash of anger) before she took responsibility for her part in the drama.

She realized that she was allowing him to use her, and that she needed to have an open conversation with him about her own needs, including that he address his underlying needs with a professional.

The two most common points of contention in intimate relationships are sex and money. Rarely are either sex or money the actual issue. Gary is a reasonable, mature man who is reacting from unreasonable, immature energy. If she refuses to join him in that dynamic, he will be forced to deal with it (or not – he may choose to leave & find someone else who will participate in his drama.) I suggested she have him contact Corey Folsom, who specializes in Men’s Intimacy.

7 Responses

  1. Cinderella says:

    I think that you absolutely hit the nail on the head with the emotional reassurance-thumb sucking analogy.

    On the other hand, people have different levels of desire.

    I think it is definitely tied to intimacy, but when I used to want sex twice a day in my twenties, if a man had told me to take care of it myself, I would have hated his guts and felt very rejected – and still horny.

    Touching yourself to get off doesn’t assuage the connection you get with the sweet heat of sex with someone you love.

    People need to be compatible.

    Healthy boundaries were violated here by him, but I can also understand his frustration and see it a bit of a power play on her part. Tired yes, but could he have gotten her in the mood with more slow romantic foreplay instead of just immediate groping?

    I wasn’t there, don’t have an answer. It is a bit complicated.

    • So many good points!
      I agree that it is essential that people be compatible in their levels of desire. I was stunned when I read (can’t remember where…) that roughly 1/3 of people desire sex 3 or more times per week, 1/3 once a month, and 1/3 once a year or less. Where are all these over-sexed stories coming from if 2/3 of the population is once-a-month or less? Dare I say… Hollywood?
      Self-soothing is certainly not the same as when I’m able to bury myself in my lover’s soul. And, as you said, there’s a way to get there that engages my lover’s desire (slow romantic foreplay is a luscious example.)
      The deepest issue I saw in this scenario was that both of them were engaging in a drama that said she needed to take care of his needs for him. That is the essence of codependence. I refer back to section 9 of The Standards of Presence for this one:
      It is my intention to practice self care and self responsibility, and allow others to do the same.
      ■I maintain a safe space for myself. I take care of and honor the wisdom of my body, heart, mind, and source of inspiration, allowing them to guide me.
      ■I empower others by allowing them to take care of themselves.
      She could not honor his needs without dishonoring her own, so it was best for her to refrain. (See Self Care is the Highest Form of Care)
      Also, the last line of section 9 is extremely powerful, at least for me. The first time I read it, I felt like I’d found the key to my Universe. I’d taken care of others (raging codependent) for so long. It had never occurred to me to let someone else take care of themselves. Believe me, many relationships disintegrated when I started practicing allowing others to take care of themselves. They didn’t want to take responsiblity for themselves, their needs, their lives, or anything else. They left me! Abandoned though I was, they took their drama with them. It worked out well in the end.
      And, you’re right, it’s complicated, and we weren’t there. Even if we were, we’d have a different perspective. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. We are each on a path, travelling along, either consciously or not. I am my own best expert in my life; I’m the only one who’s been here the whole time. Same is true for you, them, and everyone else. Tuning in to find that answer… ah! That is PEACE! Maybe that one does fit all?
      Oh, and as to your probable reaction in your 20′s… sometimes I still do that. Just because I know better doesn’t mean I always do better. I’m learning & growing. I still get my feelings hurt; I just remember who’s responsible for my feelings a lot faster than I used to.

  2. Cinderella says:

    Good points, Joanna.
    Healthy boundaries are essentail.
    So is knowing who is responsible for your feelings (you).

    This couple just seems sexually incompatible because of their differing levels of desire.

    He may have been rude in waking her up at 4 am and saying what he did.
    She may have been correct in feeling like she had a right to a good night’s sleep.

    However, those are both surface points that don’t get to the true issue underneath – they are sexually incompatible and that’s not something you can compromise on long term with either party being happy.

    People sometimes act like because they “love each other’ that is all that is needed. Not so.
    First you need to know if you are compatible and share the same values – and sex is a major area not a minor one. This is something to have looked at in the first place – and not down the road where they are, if you wanted to have a reasonable chance of seeing if your realationship had real potential.

    I don’t think him going in the bathroom to take care of himself solves the dynamic long term.

    What is the CORE issue rather than what is being presented on the surface?
    Thumb sucking is certainly true to a point, I just think it goes even deeper.
    So we agree – and yet it continues to evolve:)

    • OMG! YES! YES! and YES!
      There is so much going on with this relationship. One blog post certainly can’t address it all, and I am bound by confidentiality so I don’t disclose underlying details that would give more insight. Sexual compatibility is certainly important in relationships. I know that from my own experience. How important sex is in a relationship is an individual priority. Again, I can’t/won’t make their decisions for them. I don’t ever want to take on that much responsibility again!
      And, you are absolutely right; there is no way that self-release will fix the issue long-term. I really do hope he will seek the support of an intimacy expert such as Corey Folsom. They are currently discussing seeing a counselor for other relationship issues.
      Ah, relationships! They look so appealing from the outside, and bring so many opportunities for growth from the inside.
      Thank you again for your thoughtful responses! I love the dialogue! What a GREAT way to explore! <3

  3. Cinderella says:

    Good Sunday to you Joanna – and thank you for liking me on Facebook and passing the word along!

    If people would adress their own relationships with themselves first and truly do the long term work involved with that process, it would then make having a healthy relationship with someone else less complicated down the road.

    But that is the 60 second ‘fix’ that most people want to have happen. They want to be happy because someone ELSE makes them happy.

    They don’t think about WHO they have chosen as a partner, and that if you want to change them, why are you with them?

    Solutions come from making choices that work for you – as compared to making choices that don’t work for you.
    And acknowledging that everything you do as an adult IS a choice.

    There I go on my soapbox again. Nothing worse than a formely emotionally blind person who now thinks she can see:)

  4. Corey Folsom says:

    Hi Joanna,

    Here’s my off-the-cuff thoughts in response to this article: People would be well-served to consider their partner’s needs first. If one person is horny that’s a great time to consider what might help the other person to feel really good (and even turned on).

    It is also helpful for a man (I believe) to feel into his lust and connect it with his desire to be with his chosen mate. Example: Couple his passion to his love and express to her directly how he is really glad to be her man. He would be well-served to channel this feeling into an action that gives pleasure to her in some way (touching her in a way that she enjoys, holding her close, asking her to eye-gaze and/or breathe together). Show her you’re glad to be with her, show her you want to provide pleasure FOR HER, let her feel the depth and power of his “want” for her.

    Just touching her in a way that “takes” or to create a “turn-on” so that she’ll give him what he wants is not going to feel so good to her as feeling his desire more deeply and allowing her to feel him from a powerful, loving place and him wanting a connecting that feels like giving to her vs. taking from her.

    • Ah, Corey, this is EXACTLY why I hope he contacts you!
      She had previously had a conversation with him that covered most of what you suggest here. Obviously, hearing it from her has not helped.
      Thank you for BEing the BEing you are!

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