Sexual Negotiation: Creating The DMZ of Your Bedroom

Q. I have a wonderful relationship with my boyfriend; however, there is a noticeable discrepancy in our sex drives — mine is much higher. He says that sex has never been very important to him. While we do have PIV sex semi-regularly, I am always the initiator, and more than 50% of the time, my advances are rejected. When we do have sex, I feel like he’s just humoring me. I feel hurt and unwanted.For me, “sex” is not just PIV intercourse: it can be oral, manual, teasing, orgasm or no orgasm. I just want some kind of sexual attention, and I’m honestly not sure whether that’s too much to ask of my bf given his lack of interest. My question is: how can we reach a compromise? Sex is not a deal-breaker for me, but something’s gotta give. I sense that he is uncomfortable about the subject, so I need to bring it up in a way that won’t make him feel more pressured.

A. The DMZ, or the demilitarized zone, is an area in which ” treaties or agreements between nations, military powers or contending groups forbid military installations, activities or people. A DMZ often lies along an established frontier or boundary between two or more military powers or alliances. A DMZ may sometimes form a de facto international border.” The most famous DMZ in current cultural knowledge? The 38th parallel between North and South Korea.

Not that your relationship is as rocky as North and South Korea’s own tumultuous affiliation, but in fact, the majority of existing DMZ’s are neutral territory, since neither side of said agreement has control over it, even for non-combative reasons. Antarctica, the Aegean Islands, the Preah Vihear Temple, and the Sinai Peninsula are just a few examples of where two parties can’t come into agreement about the intended purpose of said area. Some zones even stay demilitarized after any agreement is made by a state which had given up its original military power. This is more a legal trick, one that often comes years and years after the fact, when no one is really sure what they are actually arguing over anymore, and rather are only interested in saving everyone a bit of time. But the majority of DMZ-based disputes are resolved by peaceful means via diplomatic dialogue. Or, if preferred, the less peaceful, yet also substantial international court.

Perhaps it is obvious the connection I am trying to draw here: You, my dear, are in your own private standoff. Consider it not a war, but like most situations that lead up to a DMZ, a place based on two parties with very different interests, both seemingly valid, yet in conflict with each other. I tend to sympathize more with you, my love, but only due to the fact that it is you giving testimony here and now, and because I too have felt the sting of feeling rejected in that oh-so-spectacular way. However, as painful as that sting is? Can we imagine it if the roles happened to be switched and if in your shoes were the boyfriend, and you the rejector? Power dynamics aside, sexual needs, when in negotiation, are never easy, especially as no one really has the same set of needs at the same time.

But, I’m not here to pitch for one side or the other: It just isn’t the diplomatic way. You may ask, when did you begin to give a damn about diplomacy? The answer? Now. What’s happening in your relationship? It can’t be a situation of mandatory ultimatums given and threats being made. Not that you have resorted to either, but sometimes when it feels like control is just slipping through our fingers and not in a positive way, it becomes tempting to issue the biggest, largest, loudest ultimatum that will somehow finally make the other party realize how stupid/selfish/ridiculous they have been all this time. In this scenario, all it took was the threat of losing you to jar their response? This is far from being an effective method. I’ll swear by it in the worst, worst, worst scenarios, those in which you can see all options depleted and the end in sight, but for the here and now? In your situation? Making ultimatums will just make you a terrorist.

Claiming terrorism is quite the statement to make, not only because standing up for what you want is notoriously difficult, but especially so as a woman. Especially in sex. Especially, especially, especially. The list can go on about why your reasons are incredibly valid and right, and I would more than likely to agree with each one of them, except when it comes down to it, this is not the tribunal court on whether or not you have good reasons. It is a decision that impacts two parties, and two parties must be involved in whatever decision you make. Running into the realm of ultimatums makes you the short-sided victor, caring more about the tenacity of your point and your point alone. Sure, your point is sympathetic, but not enough to hold a hostage to your demands. Plus, everyone knows not to negotiate with terrorists.

But here is something to ponder, just as much as a game plan for when you go into talks. Is it worth it? Is this a situation where you want to fight for what you have, or is it something which you just seem to be flummoxed over and can’t see the future in? Before you set up negotiations, you have to ask yourself, what is the state of the future with this relationship? Not that fighting for something good can’t come in a relationship you know may not last forever, but I want you to gauge the emotional investment you are willing to put in. I certainly have my views on how it should be treated, but we all have to emotionally benchmark where and how far we are willing to go for any one thing, even if it tends to sound unromantic. Believe me, South Korea doesn’t go into talks with North Korea ever thinking, “You know, maybe reunification under a dictatorship will be alright if it means we are back together.”

So it is up to you to set up your own DMZ, your territory of neutrality, where you are both allowed to speak completely on your behalf. More importantly, where you are required to listen without jumping to what it is you want. At the end of the day, the idea of why we are in these quixotic things known as romantic relationships is beyond me (other than to genetically pass on our DNA for a hopefully brighter future?). Perhaps the best goal is to free our partner — to have them at their best self. To do that, you need to break down the real reasons for why sex is so important to you, not because you just want that sweet little orgasm, but because it is a place of intimacy, pleasure, and unfolded desire for one another. It’s a space that allows you both to make each other feel good. Now, don’t be mistaken that just because you have created your own private DMZ that it will be tension free. Oh, far from it. There might even be resistance, on both sides, to negotiations and that’s alright. But, you have to have a space that tries its best to be neutral and get to speaking honestly. It’s only in there that either of you are going to be able to find a place to start from.

And what if talk after talk, there is still no outcome? Much like the investment in emotional currency, you have to be willing to know when and where to concede and when to step away. You can’t get blood from a rock, and you can’t get solutions from anyone who proves that flexibility is for suckers. That includes you, too. But to end things on a brighter side, remember this: In a strange turn of events, several demilitarized zones have also unintentionally become wildlife preserves. This might be to the unsafeness of the general area, perhaps because it has been neutral for so long, that the grass has grown thick again. Think the Bến Hải River, the Hien Luong Bridge and the Green Line in Cyprus. If your negotiations go well, perhaps that stale state of neutral can flower into something greater than itself. It is only when both sides abandon many of their preconceived ideas about “the way it should be” and allow for honest communication that the ground, once trampled by the fight of two territories, is allowed to grow and flourish. Perhaps your negotiations will allow for the same.

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