Advice,  Feelings Involved

Feelings Involved #2: (no) sex on the beach

Dear Kitty,

My girlfriend of two years doesn’t seem to want to have sex when we’re on holiday. We’re not even fighting or having a bad time. We always have a great time on holiday together, I just think we could have an even better time…

The last time, we were 2 weeks into our holiday and no sex yet despite having very nice private accommodations. I tried to talk to her about it but she got defensive and felt like I was blaming her. Maybe I was, but I didn’t mean to. I just wanted us to have sex in our beautiful holiday flat. But that didn’t happen for the rest of the holiday, because then we were both feeling very self-conscious about it. Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything in the first place.

During regular life, our sex life is pretty consistent. More lulls than when our relationship was newer, but overall we’re both satisfied. Except for this holiday thing.

Any advice?

Horny on holiday

Dear Horny on holiday,

First of all let me say that you’re not alone – and neither is your girlfriend. Sex on holiday, or the lack thereof, seems to be a relatively common source of disharmony for couples, especially in long-term relationships. Why might that be?

It seems like vacation is a perfect setting for bountiful sex. Spending quality time with our partner, away from the stresses and responsibilities of daily life, often in beautiful surroundings, we should feel super sexy! And there, I suspect, lies the problem: should, the word that will kill desire faster than you can say “room service”.

“The perfect setting to have sex” can very easily feel like “a ton of pressure to have sex,” and a ton of pressure to have sex is extremely unsexy. Whether you’re the partner who’s feeling frisky, or the one who’s just not in the mood, the inherently time-bound nature of trips away creates a particular urgency: “only 4 more days of the holiday and we still haven’t had sex… only 3 more days and we still haven’t had sex…” and so on. This can lead, as you experienced, to both parties feeling self-conscious, whether feelings have been voiced or sex is the elephant in the hotel room.

Given that your sex life at home is consistent and satisfying for you both, I wonder if some of this holiday-specific pressure may be affecting your girlfriend. I think it’s great that you brought the topic up with her, even if the conversation didn’t go as you might have hoped. It’s tempting to bury dissatisfaction or confusion about aspects of our sexual relationships, perhaps especially so if we’re happy overall. But holding these things back can hinder intimacy, or even lead to resentment down the line. I wonder if you can gently raise the topic again, to try to shed more light on things. You both know what’s happening: good sex at home, none on holiday. But you may both be in the dark about what that means for the other.

There may simply be differences in what you and your girlfriend each need and respond to in order to be open to sex or to get turned on. Many of us have a connection between the erotic and the novel, so seeing our familiar partner in an unfamiliar setting – such as your beautiful holiday flat – can quickly spark desire and arousal. Look at all that furniture we’ve never had sex on, we may think. So many possibilities. New is sexy; different is sexy; the unknown is sexy. But those things aren’t true for everyone, or to the same degree.

We also need to feel fundamentally safe in order for our physiology to even allow sexual feelings to surface. Being away from our home base can throw up all kinds of uncertainties: how soundproof are the walls in this Air BnB? Where can I get emergency contraception in this country if our condom splits? Have the hotel staff clocked that we’re a queer couple and are we at risk? Am I going to be able to come without my vibrator and why oh why didn’t I pack the power adapter? Concerns like these can stop desire in its tracks – or prevent it from even getting off the starting blocks. While a frisson of danger may be hot, a sense of dread is definitively not, and the distinction between the two is highly subjective.

Communicating with our lover/s about sex is often easier and more constructive away from the context, so rather than wait until you’re next on holiday, I’d suggest initiating a further chat at home – maybe on a day after you’ve had good sex and are feeling particularly connected. Defensiveness is a common reaction if we feel like we’re disappointing our partner, being criticised, or doing sex “wrong”. Emphasising how happy you are with your sex life in general – and with your vacations in general – may help. I wonder if you told your girlfriend what you told me: that you have a great time on holiday together, and just think you could have an even better time? Remember that pressure is the enemy here: your girlfriend may simply need reassurance that even if the hotel is 5-star, the sex can just be regular!

The goal of the conversation isn’t to ensure you have sex on future holidays, but rather to create understanding. It’s possible that sex on holiday is a no-go for your girlfriend, for her own, perfectly valid, reasons. If that’s the case, knowing that it’s off the menu will likely ease that self-conscious feeling you mentioned, and free you up to focus on enjoying one another’s company in other ways.

But if, after talking it through, you’d both like to make holiday sex a possibility, there may be concrete changes you can make to facilitate that. 10 hours sightseeing might be very stimulating – and leave you aching for sleep once you get back to your accommodation. Scheduling in some unscheduled time might be important to ensure you have energy for one another. Some people find sex, which you can have any time at home, a waste of precious hours in a country you may visit once in your lifetime. If that’s the case, alternating far-flung locations with trips to lower-stakes destinations (or even booking a night in a hotel in your hometown) might help both partners feel their needs are being met. Try to approach any changes you make with a spirit of playfulness and experimentation, with appreciation for what the two of you already have – an at-home sex life you’re happy with and a great time together on holiday – in the foreground.

Good luck, intrepid traveller!


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