Reading too much into a gift

Valentine’s Day is approaching, meaning yet another holiday where gifts are mandatory for relationship peace and harmony. So let’s talk about gifts.

And it seems that the one area where guys should definitely be cautious when shopping for their significant other is with gifts involving sex. And I can understand why. Giving any kind of gift that revolves around sex or your sex life can breed feelings of insecurity, especially if the woman in question is not into that kind of thing.

However one argument with which I have a problem was given in a list of (primarily Christmas) gifts to not give a woman on Yahoo! Shine by Jennifer Romolini. On the list after a cleaver (yes, a cleaver) was a "sexy" costume, and the description for it caught me the wrong way:

Um, yeah. Let me tell you why this is a bad idea. It made me feel self-conscious that the boyfriend who bought it was unhappy with our love life. Also? It wasn’t my taste at all. Also? It was really a gift for him.

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The second point of this is key: it wasn’t her taste or style. Any product revolving around sex should always be purchased as a joint decision. There are exceptions to this, but not many, and this rule especially holds true for costumes or lingerie where size and style are the main considerations.

But then there’s the fantasy itself. You should not just spring a fantasy on your significant other. You should discuss the idea to see if they’re into it. Acting out fantasies should be fun and sexy, not a surprise that turns them off. This also means if you’re going to go the costume route, you definitely should not just buy the costume without talking about it. What if her role-playing fantasy has been to act as a police officer in an interrogation wanting to tease information out of a reluctant suspect, but you bought the French maid outfit instead?

The right fantasy for both of you is one you mutually decide to try after discussing it. And there is definitely nothing wrong with wanting to indulge in the fantasy.

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The first point of Jennifer’s description is what caught me wrong: the implication that he was somehow unhappy with their love life. Wanting to indulge in a sexual fantasy is not a sign of unhappiness or dissatisfaction. Wanting to try something new is also not a sign of unhappiness or dissatisfaction. To demonstrate the fallacy behind this, let me use something else: cooking. I think it’ll be a lot easier to explain using this analogy.

From the point of view of the girlfriend, let’s say you have a boyfriend who has marvelous cooking skills. Then one afternoon you come across a new recipe, a variation on something he’s already cooked for you, or perhaps something completely new. If you were to show that recipe to your significant other, do you think he’d be offended at suggesting a new recipe you think would be something great to try? Would you for a moment consider that making such a suggestion would be taken as you not being satisfied with his cooking skills? I would hope not. In fact, he’d probably be thrilled that you want him to cook it for you rather than, say, finding a restaurant in your area that serves it.

So then, why the exact opposite with regard to sex? Why take a suggestion on trying something new as a sign of dissatisfaction? It should not be, as that is not what it means. Now if it is sprung on you at the most inopportune time – examples being as a Christmas, birthday, or anniversary gift or while you’re in the middle of it – then it could be disconcerting, but it still shouldn’t be taken as "oh he must not be happy with our sex life".

Sex is like cooking in many ways, of which this one is key: you need to try new things to keep it exciting. If you don’t switch things up every now and then, eventually you’re going to get to the point where your sex life becomes as routine as making the same thing each day of the week – this doesn’t mean same recipe either, "Oh we always have fish on Thursdays…" And once your sex life falls into routine where it’s "same thing, different day", eventually it becomes boring and that’s where problems can arise: either you fall into a sexless marriage or relationship, or affairs start entering the picture.

This is why there must be an open dialogue.

Sex should be a topic you can discuss without feeling any kind of embarrassment, being discrete where necessary of course. Even a notion as simple as buying a bottle of personal lubricant from Wal-Mart should be easy to discuss. And if you’re a woman who thinks that such a purchase means there’s something wrong with you, that is not what it means at all (I’ve seen women actually attempt to claim this). Not every woman is going to be as wet as a river when aroused, and this may be especially true in the days during and after your menstrual cycle. Post-menopausal women are also susceptible to vaginal dryness that can affect intercourse, so a bottle of lubricant can definitely go a long way to helping your own sexual comfort.

But the simplest way to keep your sex life satisfying is by talking about it with each other. Yes, discussing sex with your significant other without embarrassment is necessary.

And part of that discussion should include trying new things. Just as there are books, articles and websites for cooking, there are books, articles and websites discussing sex and new things you can try – and no, I’m not talking about porn sites. If you’ve typically glossed over those, give them a read every now and then and discuss what you’ve read with your significant other. Or read them together.

If you are genuinely unhappy with your sex life, unsatisfied in what you are getting, then dialogue must be opened. After all, your significant other won’t know that you’re unhappy unless you say you are unhappy. And if you are unhappy, there are plenty of suggestions of what can help once the root of the problem is found – which can really only occur with an open dialogue.

But you should not automatically take the suggestion of employing something new in your sex life as a sign of unhappiness. After all your sex life is very similar to your cooking life in many ways. If you won’t take the suggestion of trying something new in the kitchen as a sign that your significant other is not satisfied with your cooking, so too you should not take a suggestion of trying something new in the bedroom as a sign they are not satisfied sexually.