When a cycle of continuous arguing coincides with self-described ‘great sex’, many are left to question why. So today, we are going to take a quick look at toxic relationships, and solace sex as its byproduct.
First, I want to define what I mean by toxicity. Sometimes it can appear as emotional or physical abuse. However, when I refer to it, I am discussing the wide range of experiences that can make up an unhealthy relationship. I want to be clear that if you are in a toxic cycle that is contingent on abuse, please seek professional help. The definition that I have outlined above is not meant to minimize those experiences. Rather, this post is to give sexual clarity to people who are in, or have come from, unhealthy relationships and are dealing with confusion in their sex lives.
The Emotional Context
Arguments bring about a feeling of distress. The distress leaves individuals craving their ‘safe-haven’, which commonly takes the form of a significant other (we can start to see the problem here…). Solace Sex is a common result of this emotional loop.
This type of sex is often soothing and providing of comfort and relief. However, it isn’t necessarily pleasurable or erotic, like it would be in a healthy, grounded relationship (1). For a deeper definition:
“[it] provides emotional engagement and reassurance. But the focus is mostly on seeking comfort and approval from our partner to avoid anxiety or fear around potential rejection and abandonment.... Sex, or possibly just the physical intimacy of kissing or cuddling during sex, becomes a measuring device to indicate that you are wanted, valued, and loved. Instead of sex being a tool to genuinely and emotionally connect with your partner, it becomes a way to acquire what you really want, which is emotional validation (2).”
Therefore, the reason you might continue to return to an unhealthy relationship is because you are mutually triggering each other and activating the need for attachment, with that same person being the ‘safe-haven.’
Many people aren’t even aware of what is happening. Nagoski, author of Come as You Are, further explains that “it gives rise to a sexual experience that was intense but ultimately unsafe and unhealthy” (1). It’s common to recognize the intensity as passion and revel in the reward of relief and the perception of closeness. Some people have a hard time even getting used to sex in a healthy relationship; the strong need for sexual activities isn’t as apparent, making it feel like there is a lower level of desire in the new context.
If you have or are currently going through this, try not to be hard on yourself. It is natural to crave this type of intimacy when relationships are unstable. Furthermore, these relationships are far more common than one might realize (1). The ultimate trickery is that they can often be double-sided:
However, if you are getting stuck in a situation, there are many resources online that offer information and tips on how to move forward. And finally, something I find important to remember is that getting out of an unhealthy relationship can be really painful, but it’s worth considering…
- Nagoski, Emily. Come as you are: The surprising new science that will transform your sex life. Simon and Schuster, 2015.
- “The 3 Types of Sex .” 3 Types of Sex - Sex and Intimacy Problems, 2017, www.allrelationshipmatters.com.au/insights-healthy-relationships/3-types-of-sex-sex-intimacy-problems.