Fifteen years. That’s how long I spent in relationships with a dissatisfactory sex life. After my last stint of seven-year itch, I said, No more. Excuses like “He’s a really great guy otherwise” and “Maybe it’ll get better after we heal our own intimacy issues” masked my real feelings. I felt selfish and ashamed for breaking up with someone over sex. But all of those excuses I told myself were boxing out my fiery desire from within. Now, I see that deep down, I was settling for my almost perfect partner, rather than the one I truly deserved.
At the age of 40, I was single and looking, and decided once and for all to make sex a non-negotiable in my dating life. If I didn’t jive with my partner in the down and dirty department? Time to move on.
A non-negotiable is an absolute must-have quality in a relationship or partner. Making a short list of these qualities when you’re dating helps you eliminate incompatible suitors so you don’t waste your time. Common non-negotiables include honesty, a sense of humor, or financial stability. Those are par for the course, but good sex? It doesn’t always make the list.
I have to admit that publicly talking about my sex life isn’t my favorite thing in the world; it’s pretty darn embarrassing for me, but someone’s gotta talk about it. After finally experiencing the joy, ecstasy, intimacy, and depth of what it’s like to have a relationship that is sexually fulfilling and so much more, I feel it is my divine duty to be an advocate for sex as a non-negotiable. People must know! Get me a pin that says, “Ask me about why sex should be a non-negotiable,” and I’ll stand on a soapbox with a mike, and shout it out: Yes! You can make sex a priority in a relationship!
Making sex a non-negotiable isn’t just about the sex. After setting this intention, the Universe heard my call and delivered me a new growth cycle; what ensued was unexpected, eye-opening, and life-changing. Buried in what seemed like a simple shift in priorities were much-needed spiritual lessons and healing waiting to break through.
Here are some of my discoveries.
As a serial over-analyzer, I used my rational mind to decide who to be in a relationship with. Analyzing whether someone is an ideal partner isn’t all bad. Considerations like lifestyle and attitude can help maintain a peaceful relationship. Compatibility on paper is nice, but feelings are also a guiding system that signal our desire, pleasure, joy and love. Not only do we need feelings for romance, we use them in all aspects in a contented life. Of course, this wisdom wasn’t revealed to me until after 40+ years of trial and error.
There were a few times in my younger years when I let my desire take over, and I didn’t know how to handle it. Toxic codependent behaviors manifested for both me and my partner at the time. Little did I understand that I was trapped in a repeating cycle: By locking away my desire, it was always banging on my door wanting acknowledgement. And when I ignored it, the desire tried to get my attention through outbursts and neediness, jealousy, anger, and volatility when he didn’t do exactly what I wanted him to. After getting to know “desire” in this extreme way, I wanted nothing to do with it and opted to lock away my desires in a tiny box and put my logic in charge, which left me in a constant state of confusion over what I wanted in life.
After much healing, I was finally ready to listen to my desires with equanimity and I deemed sex as an important facet of my romantic partnership, I opened a connection to my inner need I had trapped for so long. By giving myself permission to express my sexuality, I allowed myself to desire. That, in turn, opened the gates that had kept me from my true self, and led me to not only my sexual self, but my purpose as a healer, motherhood, and my voice as a writer. I had kept all of that desire locked up because I was afraid of what might happen if I let myself have it: What if I desire, only to fail? But to keep it locked up would have meant never reaching my potential and living an inauthentic life.
I discovered that desire is a seedling for joy, creativity, goals, and purpose. Without desiring something, we don’t know what to do with our lives. It’s the starting point for possibility. We have to want to pursue a hobby, career, or goal in order to experience fulfillment. Feeling this propulsion to pursue new dreams showed me what I had previously thought was desire wasn’t desire at all. Those old goals were actually analytical constructs of what I thought I should want based on what others suggested. For example, I want to make more money and get that promotion, and then I’ll be happy. All this pursuit did was give me anxiety, and I couldn’t figure out why I didn’t feel joyful. Listening to my seedlings of desire allows me to experiment, explore, and be playful with life. When I give myself permission to desire, I don’t crave what I don’t have. Instead, I allow myself to explore it — to fill up my cup of curiosity to see if that path is for me.
A conundrum I wrestled with for years was my spiritual perspective: Is it okay to want a fulfilling sex life? Despite being a spiritual seeker who wasn’t religious, I still had a “good girl” complex and wanted to do the right thing by whoever actually occupies the fluffy clouds upstairs. My Google searches were not helpful, yielding everything from the ultra-religious telling me that I’ll burn in hell to sex therapists’ advice to free your inner sex goddess, without any reassuring spiritual perpective.
Conservative Christian perspectives often put so much shame on sex, and Buddhism touts desire as a root cause of all suffering. But this noble truth is often misunderstood. The desire Buddha warns against is that which is addictive, controlling, or used as a crutch to avoid truth or our own pain, and leads to more suffering. Desire with the intention of kindness, compassion, and love is necessary. As Buddha promoted to his disciples, one cannot reach enlightenment without the desire to achieve enlightenment.
If we’re using sex addictively, as a way to avoid healing wounds that keep us from self-love, then I can see how unhealthy desires can lead to suffering. The more I tune into the “god” or Universe that loves unconditionally — which is the “god” I believe in — the more I realize that “god” is non-judgmental and doesn’t care what we do. Even if we use sex addictively, “god” still loves us. She only wants us to love ourselves the way she loves us — with kindness, compassion, and respect for ourselves.
Shame around sex, especially for women, has been an ingrained part of society for so long, it seems that all we need to do is breathe to be inflicted with this shame. As I begin the process of letting go of this shame, I can see how, spiritually, sex is the union of duality. It’s a way to experience our pursuit towards wholeness — the coming together of two energies, such as yin and yang, giving and receiving, heaven and Earth. As humans, we are not god, and god, by the way doesn’t get to experience earthly pleasures like sex or the sweet taste of a strawberry or the fragrance of lilacs and lavender. As humans, we, unfortunately, have to feel all of the uncomfortable feelings, like pain and sadness, but the perk is we get to feel pleasure. I, for one, would like to take pleasure in sex for as long I’m able to here on this good Earth.
After I made sex as a non-negotiable, COVID-19 hit. My now-husband and I dated under the early regulations of lockdown. Our first few dates were over Zoom and our in-person dates required us to social distance — not the most passionate beginning. These conditions created endless frustration, and given my non-negotiable, I wanted to know if we had any chemistry. I liked him, and could feel some physical attraction, but I needed for us to “do the deed” to know for sure.
Despite a previously dissatisfying sex life, I’m no prude. I have no problem having sex on the first date or one-night stands. Now that I look back, I am really glad we didn’t end up having sex until six weeks after we began dating. The forced restrictions of the pandemic meant slowly getting to know each other, building a connection, and developing open communication. When he asked if we should take COVID-19 tests, and I said, “Yes,” we were both revealing that we liked each other enough to be in each other’s pods — inklings of intimacy that often gets overlooked in dating nowadays. He was showing me his respectful character by taking it slowly, especially at a dicey time, and I was able to witness his carefulness in dealing with unsafe conditions, which made me feel safe with him.
I’m not advocating for “no sex before marriage” or even close. But it did show me how in the past, I wanted to be desired so much that I jumped into bed with someone before I knew whether this was a person I could feel safe being with. And I’m not talking about just STDs, but someone who is considerate, respectful, and shows concern for my well-being. I can see now how I had been with men who were great in bed, but not all that respectful, and I kept going back for more because I was addicted to that good sex, when I should have just shut the door.
Everyone does sex differently, and that’s okay. In my sexually incompatible relationships, I constantly teetered from blaming myself to blaming him. My brain was overwhelmed with frustrating questions: Am I not attractive? Why don’t they want me? Why can’t they be passionate? What’s wrong with them? For years I searched for an answer to our sexual problem. Now that I’m on the other side, I realize that it doesn’t matter why we weren’t compatible — we simply weren’t.
Looking back, I can see how this lack of sexual chemistry was actually trying to get my attention to let me know that he simply wasn’t my person. But I wanted him to be, so I kept trying to make it work. It was like our energies clashed and sex was one of the ways my body was trying to show me, but I didn’t listen to it for a long time. Now that I am married to my person, I can feel how congruent our energies are — sexually, emotionally, mentally. Being with him feels right in every way.
Of course I’m not saying that every couple who is having a sexual issue should break up. Situations take us to different places, and as we grow older, our sexual appetites may fluxuate as hormones change and relationships take on new forms. Old flames can be relit and rekindled, or so I hear from sex therapists. But also, sex isn’t important to everyone, and that’s okay, it doesn’t need to be. But for that curious soul yearning and wondering, Is it okay to break up with someone over sex? I want to say, I don’t know, but I know I have. At the least, give yourself permission to desire whatever it is you desire and allow that seedling to grow into a new possibility.
Read more about sex and relationships on Jumble & Flow.
Rev. Bonnie Ho is a spiritual counselor, energy reader, and author of the Living in the Third Eye column for Jumble & Flow. After spending most of her adult life trying to prove her own worth through an analytical career, Bonnie found a spiritual path that led her back to herself and her own heart. Now, Bonnie aims to help others heal their wounds, find their joy, and embrace their intuition and true desires, in a grounded, balanced way.
Bonnie is available for spiritual guidance and energy readings. Visit bonniehoinsights.com to learn more.
ON THE BLOG
In My Prime: interviews with women thriving in midlife
Pregnancy test and pregnancy over 40
Pelvic health: Everything women need to know
Adventures in Perimenopause, essays by women in perimenopause and menopause
What is perimenopause? An empowering guide to everything you need to know
Art prints, home decor,
and apparel on Society 6
36 gift ideas for every Zodiac sign and horoscope-loving friends
Women's Health Glossary of Terms
6 of the best self-care techniques you’ll never find on Instagram
Ageism in the workplace
Tarot card readings (a PDF to keep)
Ready to find your flow?
What is middle age, and what age is officially old?
Inspiring 2022 calendars
Get a 1-card reading for only $30