When it comes to being sexually ungenerous, some people make a distinction between gate-keeping and refusing. I often seem to use the terms interchangeably, and I’ve been asked why I do so.
Although I think there are differences between gate-keeping and refusing, I describe my past wifely behavior as gatekeeping/refusing. I’ve done both. There were times of outright refusal (“you’ve got to be kidding me”) and times of gatekeeping (“not until the kids are gone/my stomach settles down/aren’t you done yet/no way am I doing that/keep your mouth up here, buddy/not with the light on/I agreed to Fridays and it’s only Wednesday”).
There would be long stretches of time when gate-keeping was more predominant, and a few shorter stretches that were mostly (but not completely) refusing. Mostly, my husband didn’t know what he was going to get. And just to really confuse things and keep the control in my hands, every now and then I’d choose to let go and enjoy the experience in unpredictable ways that made him yearn for more.
In my experience, the differences between gate-keeping and refusing are in degree more than in kind. Both kinds of behaviors involve one spouse controlling the marriage bed. Both stem from selfishness, with an inability to see from the other spouse’s point of view and/or unwillingness to step outside one’s own comfort zone and point of view. (That said, I do know that there are many different reasons and experiences that lead to this selfishness. Edited to add: To say that it is selfish is not necessarily negative. Sometimes selfishness is a matter of self-protection from discomfort or pain.) I know that in many marriages, the predominant response to sexual initiation is either gate-keeping or refusing. If I had to choose which one would define my lack of sexual generosity, I honestly don’t know which one would be more accurate.
For me, they were fruits of the same rotting tree of intimacy in my heart. This rottenness manifested itself sexually, sometimes by outright “no” and sometimes by being restrictive about what sexual acts would be allowed or when. My thoughts and feelings during both were exactly the same. When my husband tried to initiate a sexual encounter, I didn’t always know what the outcome would be any more than he did. I did, however, know what would be going through my mind and heart, and that was always the same regardless of the outcome.
Not only was my heart the same with both gate-keeping and refusing, the effect on my husband was pretty much the same. Both made him feel undesired, unloved and unlovable, and sexually restricted. One allowed him physical release, but it was usually at an emotional expense to him.
For us, gate-keeping and refusing were on the same continuum. They were both about me controlling our marriage bed.
I’d love to hear from you. Is there gate-keeping and/or refusing in your marriage? Does it matter to you whether there’s a true difference between the two?
Image adapted from morguefile.com