Is sex an expression of love for both men and women?

Sex as expression of love

I have often heard the statement: ‘Man gives love to have sex and woman gives sex to have love’. Many academics speak about the gender differences in the experiences of Eros (sex) as an expression of love. Some argue that men express their love both in practical ways – such as assisting with household chores – and in sexual actions. Others believe that both men and women find intimacy in verbal and sexual intimacy as this is in line with the cultural script of love. However, the majority of work that I read state that a few years into the marriage, gender differences appear as men will continue to find intimacy in sexual fulfillment but minimize their verbal intimacy, whereas women will tend to increase their need for verbal intimacy and decrease sexual intimacy. Consequently, men express and experience love when having sex, whilst women experience being loved in other ways: for instance, in kind deeds, talking and help with household chores.

I would like to challenge this point of view. During my research on sexually unhappy marriages, the co-searchers confirmed my suspicion that this idea may be another patriarchal discourse taken as the truth. The women who researched with me, all regarded sex as a way in which they experienced being loved and giving love. Sex for them was not reserved to the male experience of love. They also shared that when their sexual needs were neglected, they did not feel loved, no matter how many times he did the dishes. Practical help in the absence of sex did not build their intimate relationships. It would seem that sexual intimacy is an important expression of love to both men and women and cannot be replaced by practical deeds.

Sex should not be reserved to the male experience of love. We need to challenge gender discourses regarding sexual intimacy. Sex is important to both men and women, as is communication, practical help and deeds of kindness. Why do so many people insist in holding on to these gender stereotypes which are so life-restricting to both men and women? What is your take on this?

Extract adjusted from my doctoral study: Spies, N 2011. Exploring and storying Protestant Christian women/s experiences living in sexually unhappy marriages. DTh thesis, University of South Africa, Pretoria. 

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