The double-bind that destroys sex in loving relationships
Why getting your sense of safety from the wrong place can make it impossible to have a fulfilling sex life. Why you aren’t getting your sexual needs met, and why it is so hard to communicate what those needs are, even when you both desire each other, and are both self-aware, considerate lovers.
In order to become turned on, our egos need to feel safe. If our egos are threatened, our feelings of being turned on go away. No matter how evolved we are, egos are skittish primal things. It is the ego's whole job to create and protect our sense of self, our identity, worth and status. They cannot be convinced by reason. Egos either feel safe, or they don't.
Sharing our authentic sexual expression is always vulnerable on some level. Egos are against all forms of vulnerability. While the right level of risk and safety can be a very big turn-on, if our egos feel too much threat, our sexual desire and arousal shrivels up and runs away.
Our unconscious mind knows this is how egos work and sends us sexual fantasies that conjure lovers that make us feel like the most special person ever! And who just magically want to do exactly what we want them to.
(Yes this is the case even when someone's fantasies are of being used and turned into a slave who has no needs of their own, but more on that another time).
Artemisia de Vine's theory is:
Sexual fantasies are the exact story needed to appease our egos into letting go so we can enter the vulnerability of authentic sexual expression.
Why does this matter in real-life sex?
When asked to describe real-life peak sexual experiences, most people say they felt seen as they really were - and desired, warts and all. They felt special. And their lover was turned on by exactly the same acts/sex-styles/power dynamics etc. It felt real.
In other words, during peak sexual experiences, the same conditions that sexual fantasies create, were met in real life.
The thing is, the stars aligning like that is rare. Real humans aren’t fantasies and our pattern of sexual turn-ons are never the same as the next person's. That is because each person’s ego needs different things to be convinced to let go, so we need different styles of sex to achieve that. Your patterns of turn-ons are as unique as your fingerprint.
A real lover is not a mind reader, nor do they want exactly the things we want them to want. At least not most of the time. So how can we convince our egos to feel safe and tell each other what really turns us on? It's a tricksy line to navigate.
So many of us (probably the majority of us) get our ego safety from clinging desperately to wanting our flesh-and-blood lovers to resemble our fantasy lovers. I don't just mean appearance-wise. We need to believe that our sexual partners are turned on and satiated by our unique erotic wiring in order for us to feel safe enough to let go.
We enact this unconsciously and in a myriad of ways. In fact, most of us don’t even realise there is another way to feel safe enough to let go.
When we get our source of safety from the wrong place like this, we stay locked in a double-bind that blocks us from getting those very sexual needs met. It blocks us from accessing more peak experiences on purpose!
Let me give you an example of how this double-bind can play out between a couple where one partner is expected to lead by default and the other to be pursued and surrender. This is a heterosexual example using more-or-less traditional gender roles, but the same dynamic can play out wherever one partner is expected to lead.
As you read, take note of how each partner is unconsciously pressuring the other to just magically want the same things.
Mei Ying and Dillan's Story
Dillan turned up with chocolates and flowers, wearing his best casual clothes. He’d obviously put a lot of effort into making himself look and smell nice for date night. He hadn’t asked Mei Ying what she liked because that would ruin the spontaneity and surprise. He wanted to be her hero.
Mei Ying didn’t like dark chocolate and was trying to eliminate sugar from her diet, but nonetheless smiled and acted delighted to receive his gifts. She could see the vulnerability in his eyes and how much it meant to him. He’d put himself out on a limb, and she couldn’t bare to hurt him. He was her newish boyfriend, and she cared about him and wanted him to feel good.
Besides, she genuinely appreciated that he demonstrated his care for her. She really did like it when he took the initiative like that. It made her feel cared for and special. In other words, there was a payoff for playing along. Her heart swelled affectionately, so she focused on how sweet his gesture was and let her appreciation for the intention behind the gift glow on her face. She even ate a mint dark chocolate in front of him, while making the appropriate sounds of enjoying herself.
At this point in the story, I am reminded of my beloved childhood cat, Googy Egg, who would catch wild animals and bring them to me as gifts. I’d act all grateful, cover his eyes and secretly get rid of the body.
“I just want to spoil you and make you feel like a princess,” he said. “I’ve hired a hotel room with an amazing view and a hot tub.”
That sounded pretty good! What a lovely surprise! So she went along for the ride.
They wined and dined and then went upstairs to the hotel room. Mei Ying did really feel like a princess sitting naked in that hot tub with Dillan as they overlooked Sydney harbour, speckled with night lights. It must have cost a fair bit to hire this room. He must have saved for it on his chef’s wage.
He kissed her ever so tenderly on the neck and then her shoulder, working his way slowly and deliberately all over her breasts. He looked up at her with big brown worshipful eyes glowing with appreciation for her body. He was having a great time exploring her curves, but he also watched for her reaction because he wanted her to like it. He considered himself pretty adept at reading the situation and took pride in being able to be guided by his lover’s nonverbal responses.
Honestly, while Mei Ying very much enjoyed feeling desired by him, and being close to him, his touch was not turning her on. In fact, it felt vaguely irritating. She’d never enjoyed feathery light touch. It felt insipid and ticklish to her. At that moment, she would have preferred passion to worshipful kisses. She wished he’d just grab her hair and forcefully pull her towards him and kiss her hard, but she tolerated the soft butterfly touch and told herself it was for his sake, thinking things would speed up soon enough.
Unconsciously, part of her felt that if she had to ask him for what she wanted, then it would be fake. Just acting.
Mei Ying didn’t initiate what she wanted during sex with Dillan because she didn’t want to have to ask for it. She wanted him to want to do it. She wanted to be ravished by a man who desired her so much he turned primal in his need for her. How special that would make her feel! It would certainly convince her ego it was safe to let go so she could surrender into pure experiencing - whereas if there was a whiff of fakeness, she’d unconsciously remain guarded.
It was her ego, not her reasoning mind, that needed to be convinced that his desire for her was real and that he wanted to do it her way - and egos are primal things that are not at all logical. You have to show an ego, not tell it, or just won't believe it.
She also did not want to speak up because if she asked for something different, then she risked Dillan feeling like she didn’t magically want the same things as he did either, and that would make him feel unsafe to be vulnerable enough to share this part of himself with her.
Speaking up felt like a risk that he would feel offended, and then he wouldn’t feel safe to lead! He may even get defensive, but even if he didn't, his turn-on might disappear. Afterall, his ego was just like hers!
Dillan thought he was doing everything to please Mei Ying. He was unconscious that he needed her to be turned on by what he was gifting her and that he was getting his sense of safety by her believably demonstrating that she was excited by the same arousal style that got him turned on.
He was a considerate man who had thought of Mei Ying's delight the whole way through planning this surprise for her. He didn’t want to inflict himself on Mei Ying, so he needed evidence his sexual style was welcomed by her. If he didn't feel like his efforts were turning her on, he would not be able to maintain his erection.
If she needed a different style, he defaulted to thinking they were sexually incompatible and may even break up with her!
Hello sexual double-bind!
Damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Even just acknowledging that their turn-ons were different meant the sense of safety to enter into the flow of sexual pleasure was at risk. Not acknowledging that their turn-ons were different meant that Mei Ying's sexual needs would never be met and she would eventually lose interest in having sex with Dillan.
On the surface, Dillan's sexual needs were being met but they weren't really. He yearned to share authentic sexual intimacy with Mei Ying and no matter how he tried to mind-read to lead, he couldn't achieve that. He may have had orgasms but what his heart yearns for most felt cut off from him.
What a tangled mess! Two people who love each other and are attracted to each other, couldn’t fulfil each other’s sexual needs because they did not understand the logic of the erotic mind and are trying to get their sense of safety from the wrong place.
If this common no-win situation plays out long term, it results in bed-death:
For Mei Ying this would result in:
- Her desire shutting down, so she couldn't even recognise her own turn-ons anymore.
- Unconsciously believing it is dangerous to have her own desires.
- Learning that sexual needs must be sacrificed if she wants to be loved.
- Losing interest in sex.
- Feeling responsible for working out Mei Ying’s turn-ons even though she won't/can't tell what they are.
- Feeling like a failure when he senses her lack of interest.
- Resentment towards her for appearing to refuse to tell him what she likes and “faking it”.
- Powerless to fulfil his partner’s needs.
- Feeling guilty that his sexual desire towards her is a burden to her.
- Grief that his pathway of loving her is broken.
- A strong drive to be sexual with her but no way to do that without it coming across as pressuring her.
It doesn’t have to be this way!
Guess what? Mei Ying and Dillan did work through their double-bind and found more sexual satisfaction than they ever had before! Breaking the double-bind let them be the most real they had ever been and to be truly be seen and get their needs met.
They did this by working with me to take a closer look at their sexual fantasies and understand how they work. Ironically, even though on the surface, sexual fantasies created this problem, it was sexual fantasies that also provided the solution.
Together we unpicked the confusion about what is fantasy and what is real and how to create another source of safety for their egos. This then allowed them to be completely honest about what truly turned them on. Their desire reignited, and they now feel genuine delight in taking turns creating date nights to meet each other’s needs. None of it is fake.
Of course, this didn’t happen overnight. I often work with people for a few months to:
- Re-wire their relationship with desire itself.
- Shift the source of ego safety.
- Understand how sexual fantasies work
- Uncover their unique erotic pathways to letting go into the flow.
- Skills to deliberately communicate.
- Skills to deliberately create tailored experiences that hit all the right spots on date nights.
This results in a lifetime of satisfying sex and intimacy!
Are ready to make an exciting and fulfilling sex life your priority?
Then book a discovery call and we can talk about how that might look for you.
Is it cheap? Nope. But it's cheaper than a divorce, and better than a lifetime of serial failed relationships because you keep trying to fix this problem in all the wrong ways.
But I get that is a risk on your part so there is a trial period. I get you to commit to 4 coaching sessions to begin. This way, we can ensure we are a good fit.
Then a monthly ongoing fee for regular coaching after that. This goes for as long as is needed. Think 3-6 months. Each case is different.
(Yes you can come get coaching from me even if you are not currently in a relationship. Then you will know how to set things up right from the get-go next time.)
Does this really work?
I am currently coaching a gorgeous couple who are only part way through their process but they’ve had some big breakthroughs! He says:
“If I had this set of skills and understanding years ago, I wouldn't have lost my previous relationships. Even though we had pretty good sex and loved each other, problems arose that stemmed from not really understanding our unique and sometimes diametrically opposed erotic wiring. Artemisia showed us how to identify the precise things we need to be sexually satisfied. There is joy derived from giving our partner the exact experience they need.
I feel so good because I know that I can now work through anything with my current partner. Nothing will separate us because we now understand how to be different people with different sexual needs and instead of that being a source of dissatisfaction, it can be the opposite. I know with certainty that our relationship will last and is unbreakable and if I don't live forever I will die in her arms.” - Roger, Australian executive in his 50s.
Artemisia de Vine is an international online sex coach, based in Australia. Former sex worker and professional dominatrix who created sexual or BDSM experiences for thousands of clients based on their unique erotic wiring. Creator of The deVinery Method.
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