A colleague on LinkedIn asked a provocative question: Should a spouse use sex as a reward or punishment? Of course, the short answer is no. But the topic got therapists, including me, chatting it up about how people use their sexual relationship to manipulate their partner.
When someone is stingy with sex and only has sex when their partner has done something they want them to do, that’s using sex as a punishment and reward. They may think to themselves, “You rat. I’m not having sex with you because you annoy me.” Possibly, they aren’t even aware of their thought. They just know that they don’t feel like having sex. They may find excuses or ways to avoid an encounter. This is what’s I call “withholding sex.”
Usually the person withholding sex doesn’t say out loud, “Hey, you fixed the drain today after I bugged you for the last three weeks, so I’m going to have sex with you,” or, “You gave in and we got the sofa in a color I wanted instead of that horrid tan, here’s a blow job.”
Doling out sex like M&Ms to a child who is learning to tie their shoe doesn’t make for a very loving way to approach sex. Sure, there’s such as a thing as celebrating with sex. Got a raise? Let’s have sex! Christening a new mattress? Let’s have sex! Whoo hoo!
But manipulating a partner with sex? A no.
What I have learned is sometimes the person who withholds sex feels powerless in other areas of the relationship. They may have poor communication skills, holding in negative feelings like anger or sadness. Sex is a powerful way to control someone’s behavior. And it works–until one’s partner gets aggravated or catches on to the game.
Here’s a bit of sexual relationship advice: To be loving, intimate, enjoyable, sex needs to be given freely. Sex needs to be shared. Sex is like a Hershey bar, to be broken in half and enjoyed equally. Honesty and assertiveness are all that’s required to make it so.