Note: This is an updated version of an article I wrote for The Huffington Post.
For the last few days, a copy of Spreadsheet Guy’s chronicle of sexual rebuff has been circulating. First off, yes. This is a big “dealbreaker.” I think sending something like this to your partner is a big problem. But second, I think our efforts to ridicule him are also problematic. What I see in this image is not a man who feels his wife “owes” him sexual favors, but a man making a desperate cry for help. This is his attempt at salvaging his relationship, and I feel sympathy and sadness for him.
A friend recently told me that they “should know by now that whatever you post on Facebook is NSFW (not suitable for work).” I write about sex and relationships because that is a strong interest of mine, and yes, I share my interests publicly, just like my friends share their interests with me about art, music, religion, and politics. To be singled out for my interest in sex is part of a long cultural narrative. People who are interested in sex – whoever, wherever, whatever they are in to – are seen as threatening or are made a point of social humor.
Coming back to Spreadsheet Guy, what I see here is a man who, if his data is accurate, has been turned away repeatedly. Clearly, mismatched libidos are present in this relationship. Men often use sex as a way of connecting with their partner, and this husband is “connecting” with his wife about twice a month. It’s like payday. Mid-month and at the end of the month are when he’s allowed to feel loved, cared for, and connected to his spouse.
Personally, I sympathize with the guy. Again, I’m not saying sending a spreadsheet is a great idea. As his wife says, it’s “immature” and “inflammatory” – but it’s inflammatory to whatever long-standing issues these two individuals have between them. For the wife to publicly shame him by sharing this information is just as egregious an offense as the husband’s and we are curious spectators because, if we’re honest, we relate. Most of us have had this same experience. We want it too much, or we don’t want it enough, and our partner gets frustrated. They feel unloved. And whatever issues we have had in the relationship suddenly become more exaggerated.
Men especially are victims of these kinds of issues. We are raised to “fear” intimacy because wanting (or god forbid, needing someone) makes us as weak. We are taught to be John Wayne Pilgrims, needing no one, wanting no one, because we are supposed to be self-reliant. Often, our desire for intimacy can only find a socially-accepted outlet in sexual expression. We channel all of our desire for human contact into sexual contact, because “boys will be boys.” But then the Catch-22 swings on us. By wanting, even “needing” sex, we are punished for being “immature.” Most recently, coming back to my friends comment, to even re-post an article on Facebook makes us dirty, naughty little boys. To share with our friends that we –gasp – read something about sex is taboo. That’s supposed to be a private matter, right?
But we have no issue with shaming a husband who send his wife a note, pointing out the number of times she has turned away his efforts to be intimate with her. That’s perfectly fine to make public because it reinforces the social narrative of boys behaving badly.
Likewise, women are shamed if they desire sex. This isn’t just an issue with men. For the last few years, women have been “slut-shamed” because they are also becoming vocal about wanting, even needing, sex. A study released by the Univ. of Michigan and Univ. of California revealed that “definitions of ‘slutty’ behavior and the act of slut-shaming was largely determined along class lines rather than based on actual sexual behavior.” In other words, if you are a wealthy woman, more people will ignore your sexual appetite. If you are poor, it is expected and people will also ignore your behavior because you’re trash. Which leaves the average woman caught in the cross-fire – her desires are hidden because, like her male neighbors, she either wants it too much or too little. Put another way, 50 Shades of Grey wasn’t buying itself. The book’s key audience was women – women whose desires had been driven underground because there was no socially-acceptable outlet for them to say, “Ya know what? I have fantasies too.” Women have fantasies and want to have sex just as much as the “boys” do. And yes, even women make spreadsheets.
Coming back to Spreadsheet Guy, I think this is a good opportunity for us to talk with our partner about mismatched libido and the desire for intimacy. Rather than make fun of this couple, maybe we should look inside our own glass houses and actually talk to our partner about the state of our relationships and expectations. As long as we continue to shame people for wanting sex, the longer we will be shamed for wanting to have it ourselves.