The results are in. See what you had to say when sex is not on the table – or under it for that matter.
Wow! This article stirred up a vigorous debate in the comment section. In one week we had over 3,000 shares and 63 comments. For those of you that haven’t read the original article you can see it here.
Before I delve into the results, I would like to thank Mrs. X for being willing to put her concerns into print and have the world comment on her life. I don’t know about you, but when I have written personal stuff and put it on the web, part of me is very uncomfortable – I never know how people will respond.
Mrs. X feels this is an important topic to discuss. I do too as 1) all women go through menopause and 2) almost all men will have to deal with an enlarging prostate gland as they age and many men will end up with some sort of procedure to deal with prostate cancer. The end of sexual intercourse is a potential reality for both men and women individually and as couples. Even though the protagonist in our article is a woman, as we will see from some of the comments, it could just as easily have been a man.
To recap Mrs. X’s story, menopause has created a dramatic downward shift in her need for sex. Concomitantly, she has had a rise in creativity and focus on work. The disappearance of her sex drive has had an impact on her relationship as Mrs. X and her husband work to redefine a marriage with little or no sex. In a recent communication with her, she wanted me to know that it is a work in progress and she is deeply committed to understanding and working through this process for herself and with her husband.
We don’t get a manual on what to do when our mate no longer wants sex. You, the readers at GMP, do have opinions on what one should do when faced with this situation. Interestingly, the comments have their own story arc. In the beginning, there was a focus on Mrs. X being selfish to just cut off sex and her seeming to not appreciate that her husband might not find the offer of going outside the marriage for sex appealing.
This sentiment is demonstrated by Joseph’s comment:
I think she underestimates what a big ask the “go get a lover” bit is. I used to be in a relationship where my partner encouraged me to sleep with other women, not because her libido had run dry but because she found it a turn on.
Two problems I realized very quickly – I couldn’t give myself fully to another person, because I was in love with my partner, so I felt I was short-changing them and had nothing to offer – I certainly didn’t feel I could initiate because then I’d be taking responsibility for trying to sell something that was less than it seemed.
Secondly, I’m a man and given the reputation we have, to what degree would you trust someone saying “don’t worry; the wife is okay with it and really doesn’t mind!”?
Thirdly, you can’t tell everyone because people will judge your wife for her aberrant behaviour, so you choose only to tell trusted confidantes, but nevertheless people see you flirting and think he’s married, isn’t he? What conclusions will they draw about you, given that a) they don’t know your arrangement and b) as before, given the reputation men have?
Similarly, Brassyhub stated:
It is SO hard to make relationships work; of course there’s an element of selfishness, but there’s also give and take, or give and give. My wife sounds much like this lady: no need for sex, no desire for me at all. That’s no problem for her, but it is for me. And my wife’s said to me, ‘if you’re not happy, look elsewhere, take a lover’. But for me, sex isn’t just about sex; it’s about closeness, love, an exchange of desire, a deep contact, a self-giving, a vulnerability. And I’m deeply monogamous. And deeply frustrated!
This feeling of frustration in relationships where sex was minimal or non-existent was echoed by both men and women. At least 8 men mentioned this and 3 women.
AnaisNot had this to say:
I spent a decade in a celibate marriage due to a severe medical issue (my partner’s); I would not do it again. In that relationship, everything was gone, and I was caregiver, in a very parental role. The experience gave me sympathy for anyone in that situation. Man or woman, I would understand if my partner, or anyone’s partner, elected not to remain in a celibate marriage. I think conscious affairs are a viable option if the communication is good, but my husband wouldn’t abide by it, and I was unwilling to go behind his back. My sex drive his high, and I love being back in a relationship where intimacy is expressed in many ways, including physically. I have a hard time even comprehending closeness that does not include that dimension. I was lonely beyond reason. But satisfying relationships take many forms, and I have no doubt that there are people who are able to make it work in a variety of creative ways. Vive la difference!
Other comments from women focused on the very real effects of childbirth, unhappy relationships and menopause on their sexuality and their relationships to their partner. This leads us to another POV where the writers saw Mrs. X’s behaviour as not selfish, but honest and courageous. This position was well articulated by Cat:
. . . . This is a woman who has found her sexual energy is now being channeled to something greater than sex – a sensual relationship with life that brings high creativity. It has been so long since women have had the ability to speak their truth and make these kinds of decisions, I applaud her for being clear and honest. She states that she does not know how she will handle her partner finding a new lover, but none the less gives him permission to do so – BECAUSE SHE IS NOT BEING SELFISH! Just because you think relationships should look a certain way doesn’t mean they have to be that way. We are breaking out of thousands of years of oppression (both men and women); sex has never been allowed to find its’ own way – it always has some kind of religious or cultural structure in which we are all expected to participate, whether it suits us or not. For myself, I find that as I age (I’m 60) sexual energy is a complicated web of different things – a need for conscious intent, for a sacred environment, [and] for some kind of physical play beforehand that raises the passion . . .
Cat’s comment seemed to further the conversation and it moved to a deeper and more expansive place.
Some comments looked to polyandry as a solution and the importance of owning one’s reality. Remember, Mrs. X didn’t ask for this, yet, she has to deal with it in the best way she can – with most comments suggesting that involving her husband in the process was crucial.
There was a burst of support for Mrs. X at this point. And, a reminder by Trixie Hobbit, that this conversation had a “monogamy” orientation.
Ok, so a lot of these responses are real monogamy oriented. Friendly reminder, lots of people have functional, healthy, non-monogamous relationships for lots of reasons. So, I would disagree that telling him to take a lover is uncaring. Plenty of people would say I am not interested, so you have to go without, which is infinitely more selfish. Second point. It’s not always the woman who loses interest. My husband has 0 interest in sex with anybody, he’s pretty much asexual. We spend time cuddling skin to skin to preserve intimacy, and I have lovers. We are very happy.
The most recent comments talk about the frustration of men who have been in long-term relationships with their partners and, for the moment, have chosen to stay in the marriage. From SS:
. . . . I’ve pondered a lot on what is going to happen. I love my wife, I’m being supportive, [and] it’s just hard not taking it personal. . . . I don’t know what the future holds. I want that closeness and connection. She just wants to lay close and not be touched. I’ve thought about a sexless future and how I would respond to that. I fear having affairs to meet my needs and I never thought I would be “that guy”.
Andy G, in a similar fashion stated:
I’ve currently been married to a wonderful woman for almost 10 years. We’ve been sleeping together for around 13, but in reality, we have had more sex in the first six months of our relationship than we’ve had since. She had a partial hysterectomy around a year ago, but now will be undergoing a full hysterectomy in around a month. I’m not happy and don’t know what I should really do. She’s told me several times that I should either leave her or find a lover, but I honestly love her. A day knowing that I will be able to fall asleep next to her is a good one, even if I feel as lonely as I imagine one could feel. When we had kids (2) I promised myself that I wouldn’t end up like my father, who, when their marriage went downhill moved out and got a job halfway around the world. I don’t blame him, he was doing his best to support us financially and to distance himself from a terrible relationship at the same time, but it was devastating to a small boy. I can’t put my son through anything like that. I know they say staying for the kids is a bad idea, but I’m not really. I’m staying for my wife. Like I said. I love her desperately. I just wish I could make love to her as well.
There is a lot of pain and suffering in these comments. I hear men and women who love their partners and some have found a solution, but many have not. Here is a list of the themes that have emerged:
1) There is more than just a lack of sexual desire that leads people away from sexual intimacy
2) Hormones can have a major impact on sexual desire
3) Anger and frustration: with dissatisfied partners, both male and female, staying in essentially sexless relationships for long periods of time (10-18 years). Some have left and some not.
4) Selfishness: positive and negative
5) Solutions a) leave, b) therapy, c) polyandry, d) acceptance with intimacy e) educational videos
The question I originally asked was, what you would do if sex suddenly became unavailable? I notice that many of the responses focused on what Mrs. X should or should not do. Another set of responses focused on the commenters’ situation, and what they are, or are not, doing (i.e., leaving or staying). Some explored the complexity of the situation and the need for both partners to assess their needs and see if a solution could be found. Furthermore, his may mean looking outside the “norm.”
Re-reading all the comments reminded me that this is growing problem, or challenge, depending on how you look at it. In the past, I believe there was a quiet acceptance that people were not supposed to be sexual as they aged. If they were sexual, they dealt with this set of circumstances by having affairs, taking on a mistress, or seeing prostitutes.
Today, I hope we are more willing to talk about what happens when one partner no longer desires sex. It is a challenge for sure, but where there is love, commitment and a willingness to have it work for both people – there is hope.
Photo: Flickr/Adam Jones