The last night we spent together ended in frustration after we got into a fight over our favorite topic to argue about: sex.
Our argument started while we were having sex, when I told him that I needed a minute, that — as much as I was enjoying the way he was going down on me — I wasn’t going to come, and could we please just take a quick break.
I was hoping that my “quick break” would actually lead to the end of our sexual escapades for the night, that we could just kiss and cuddle instead, but I didn’t want to explicitly say that. It seemed rude to tell someone, “Hey, could we please wrap it up down there” when their head was between your legs.
He did come up when I asked for a minute, but not to kiss me and express his undying love, as I was hoping he would. No, what he expressed was frustration that — once again — I wasn’t able to orgasm when I was with him.
This wasn’t the first time we had this argument, although it would turn out to be the last.
Sex had been a point of contention for us ever since our relationship began. It wasn’t that either of us was bad in bed, or that we weren’t putting in an honest effort. We tried to communicate about our desires in bed, but we never seemed to make much progress; neither of us would feel satisfied afterwards, a condition that manifested itself in post-sex conversations filled with hurt and disappointment.
I couldn’t grasp why we kept failing. I couldn’t grasp why every time we had sex, I felt like it pushed us farther apart rather than closer together. I loved this person — and he loved me — so why didn’t we love having sex with each other?
I didn’t find a satisfactory answer until long after we had that final argument, when I discovered a theory known as Sexual Configurations Theory, or SCT.
Created by Dr. Sari van Anders, a sexuality researcher at Queen’s University, SCT was born of the desire to find a different way of mapping sexuality. SCT recognizes that sexuality is a diverse landscape, and that a number of different factors can affect how we’re attracted to folks.
One of the areas that SCT explores is the difference between nurturance and eroticism, or what society usually describes as love and lust. While our traditional societal scripts say that these two feelings should be exclusively entwined — if you have romantic feelings for someone, you’re supposed to be erotically interested in them as well — SCT acknowledges that these are sexual subsets that can be felt together, or not.
SCT describes eroticism as the desires that are more sexual in nature. Things such as bodily arousal and pleasure — including orgasms — fall under the umbrella of eroticism.
Nurturance, on the hand, refers to feelings of intimacy and closeness. It can be found in both romantic and platonic relationships, and simply denotes a warm and supportive connection that can potentially be paired with commitment.
When I read this, it suddenly clarified the confusion that had plagued me throughout our relationship. Since we never seemed to click in bed, I had always figured that we were simply terrible partners for each other and that our romantic relationship was not meant to be. But after learning about SCT, I realized I had been wrong.
We weren’t the problem; the expectations we held for our relationship were. We assumed, like most people do, that in order to have a successful romantic relationship, we needed to be compatible on an erotic level as well.
Trapped by our expectations, we didn’t notice that our relationship improved every time we took an intentional break from having sex, and that our periods of celibacy didn’t diminish the romantic feelings we had for each other — a realization that feels obvious now, in retrospect.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with wanting both eroticism and nurturance in a relationship. Nor is it incorrect to have one feeling, and not the other.
If I had learned this while we had been together — had I known that there was nothing inherently wrong with the way our relationship worked — I would have recognized that our relationship thrived when it came to nurturance, even if we lacked feelings of eroticism.
Nurturance explains the love I had felt in our relationship, the magic I had felt in the nonsexual moments we shared together.
It was nurturance I felt in those late nights we would spend together, where I would watch him cooking arepas for me at midnight and know that he was someone I wanted to spend my life with. It was present in the way he’d kiss me during our walks alongside the ocean, and during the quiet moments we would share, sitting next to each other on bookstore floors.
Sex may have been a defining topic during our relationship, with our sexual struggles always seeming to dominate our conversations, but the memory of those nurturing moments, imbued with caring and romance, are what stick with me.
When I reflect upon them, I realize that although eroticism may have always been missing from our relationship, nurturance — love — never was.