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April 4, 2010 7:33 AM   Subscribe

How to cope with sexual desire in a long term relationship with a partner who is unable to participate due to chronic illness?

The love of my life is significantly older than I am and he has vascular disease. We have been together for over 13 years and he still floats my boat but he can no longer sail it with me. Impotence has gradually crept in. We had a creative and satisfying sex life until about a year ago when arousal became extremely painful for him. He has moved to a separate bedroom to avoid this, and understandably it's not a subject that he wants to discuss.

I have the opportunity to discreetly entertain myself when the need arises, but I'm not finding it satisfying. Solo play feels boring and one dimensional and neither porn or toys are really helping.

Lately I've been feeling aroused by other men and have found myself fantasising about secret sexual (not romantic) encounters with them. I know that this would be a cruel and selfish thing to do and that it would destroy my most cherished relationship but I can't seem to avoid these thoughts. The idea of never having sex again is depressing. What can I do to help myself cope?

mefi.disposable@gmail.com if you need additional detail or don't want to respond publicly.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
I think you need to talk to your partner about this. He may not want to discuss it, but it seems to be damaging your relationship to the point where you're fantasizing throwing it away, anyway.

Is there nothing a doctor can do for him? If you're both committed to being in a non-sexual relationship, is there any way he'd let you seek outside satisfaction, in an open and honest way? This is definitely a discussion you need to have with him.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:47 AM on April 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


There's "wants to discuss" and "has to discuss." You two really need to talk about this, probably with a couple's counselor. Because, yeah, cheating on your partner in this situation would be devastating (since I imagine he's dealing with issues of self-worth, himself), but expecting you to go for an indefinite amount of time without sexual gratification is also "cruel and selfish." Assuming that his sexual functioning will not return and assuming that medicine can't help, as a couple you need to decide how your needs are going to be met as well as his.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:56 AM on April 4, 2010 [8 favorites]


Seconding the above. Communication is key. Maybe he feels embarrassed or deeply ashamed and that's influencing him to hide away, but you need to be open exactly how it's affecting you.

If you're committed, this also doesn't have to spell the end of your sex life together. You can adapt to getting each other off in different ways. Explore and both learn new things and techniques.
posted by cmgonzalez at 8:58 AM on April 4, 2010


Thirding Genjland; Dan Savage writes/podcasts fairly regularly about dealing with sexless relationships, and the need to come to some sort of agreement, either spoken or not, about meeting both parties' sexual needs. That agreement can range from an explicitly agreed upon open relationship, with predetermined rules and limits, to "I love you, but if the opportunity for sex presents itself, I may not be able to resist," which, if it doesn't prompt a real discussion about the topic, is something of a don't-ask-don't-tell agreement of sorts.
posted by sdis at 9:14 AM on April 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


I know that this would be a cruel and selfish thing to do and that it would destroy my most cherished relationship

Are you sure this is true for you and your partner, or do you only believe it to be true because it's what you've been told by others? Be aware there is a big difference.

Obviously the two of you need to talk.
posted by fritley at 9:49 AM on April 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


The answers to in this question (linked below) are kind of scattered, and my situation was different, but there might be some helpful things here, at least for the short-term:

http://ask.metafilter.com/103416/Sexual-without-sex

posted by zeek321 at 10:05 AM on April 4, 2010


There's a whole gigantic universe of things you can do between intercourse with him, and going out to have sex with other people. If he doesn't want to do those things because he doesn't want to become aroused (since it's painful for him) there are ways he can desensitize himself, and all sorts of other ways he could work around the problem. I agree with everyone else that he has to get over his embarrassment and talk about it.

Something else --- I'm fairly certain this will be an unpopular thing to say. But I, personally don't think that we can have everything in life. And I don't think it becomes okay to do something just because not doing it would be difficult or make us unhappy. I think sometimes doing the right thing can potentially leave us in a state of pretty long-term unhappiness. And it's worth it.

So, I don't know what your arrangement with your long-term partner is like, what agreements you've made, the sorts of things that would be okay with him or not. Possibly it would be okay with him if you opened up the relationship. But if not, to bring it back to your question, I find that often, the desire for something goes away if you accept that it is never going to happen. Once you allow that "maybe I could" to creep in, it becomes so easy to start fixating.
posted by Ashley801 at 10:46 AM on April 4, 2010 [17 favorites]


I would be AWFULLY pissed off if my partner all of a sudden was impotent, and decided that that meant no sex for ME, in any way. Jeez! He HAS to discuss this with you, whether he wants to or not. Why does his limp dick = sexy times are over?
posted by tristeza at 12:09 PM on April 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


This is exactly why god invented Viagra. Is there some reason he won't use it? Unless by "vascular problem" you mean "his heart will conk out if he has sex" it seems like this is a no-brainer.

If he simply won't discuss using boner pills because he's embarrassed, well, that's completely unacceptable.
posted by Justinian at 12:10 PM on April 4, 2010


sdis nails it. Here's the direct link to the Dan Savage podcast archive. This subject came up recently; I can't find the exact show, but I'm pretty sure it aired in 2010.
posted by dirk gently at 12:23 PM on April 4, 2010


But I, personally don't think that we can have everything in life.

True. Life is inherently unsatisfactory -- we cannot have everything we want, and, when we get what we think we want, it is never what we thought it would be. That's reality.

However, that's not the situation that Anonymous is describing. Anon signed up for a relationship with many elements -- romance, companionship, sex, finance, etc. At least one of those elements has been removed, possibly permanently. Perhaps, Anon will decide that not being completely fulfilled sexually is worth the rest of the relationship, but Anon has the right to "go back to the table" and renegotiate -- which, as other posters (including you) have suggested, could include a lot of options. And this right should be without any sense of guilt.

I am not advising Anon to ditch the relationship, but, if Anon is going to accept a major change in quality of life, it should be because Anon made that decision and is content to live with it, not because Partner refuses to discuss it or examine all the options. And, since this is a complex and sensitive issue, some neutral, professional help would probably be very useful to both of them.
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:32 PM on April 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Let's say amonymous's partner's junk got blown off in a war zone. The correct attitude to that would be "damn, OUR junk got blown off, what can we do about it?" not "damn, YOUR junk got blown off, I am going to satisfy myself elsewhere." I can't imagine how one can really think it's acceptable to seek sexual satisfaction elsewhere when, by bad luck of one life partner, sex has become unworkable. It's both of your problem --- not just his. And seeking satisfaction elsewhere is not a solution that takes him into consideration.
posted by jayder at 12:53 PM on April 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


And I'm assuming his mouth works ... What about oral?
posted by jayder at 12:58 PM on April 4, 2010


And seeking satisfaction elsewhere is not a solution that takes him into consideration.

But by the same logic, jayder, neither is 'moving to a separate bedroom to avoid this, and refusing to discuss it' an example of taking her needs into consideration. It's pure me-me-me thinking.

I feel sorry for the guy, but he's failing as a lover, and it's not because of his impotence. It's because of his emotional refusal to treat this as a problem that they share as a couple (as you pointed out so well). If he keeps that up, I can't condemn her for seeking the physical love that is so important to fulfillment and happiness for most people.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:05 PM on April 4, 2010 [11 favorites]


"We had a creative and satisfying sex life until about a year ago when arousal became extremely painful for him."

This doesn't sound like the partner is being emotionally insensitive. Sexual stimulation causes him pain. He's supposed to just perform anyway?

jayder: A spouse's junk does not become community property.
posted by gjc at 1:12 PM on April 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


Anon signed up for a relationship with many elements -- romance, companionship, sex, finance, etc. At least one of those elements has been removed, possibly permanently. Perhaps, Anon will decide that not being completely fulfilled sexually is worth the rest of the relationship, but Anon has the right to "go back to the table" and renegotiate,

well, traditionally that's the whole point of the "in sickness and in health" thing. You're supposed to agree at the beginning that you are not going to try to renegotiate when things go bad. As someone above said, you think of it as a mutual problem. If you're committed to each other, you now share a medical problem which makes (traditional, at least) sex impossible. Presumably this is frustrating to him too - just because it causes physical pain to him doesn't mean he no longer has any desire for it or any memory of how it used to be enjoyable. It is just not available any more.

This is exactly why god invented Viagra. Is there some reason he won't use it?

From the description given, the reason he wouldn't use it would be that it would cause extreme pain: "We had a creative and satisfying sex life until about a year ago when arousal became extremely painful for him."

Communication is good, but what would your feeling be in the reverse situation? If sex had become extremely painful due to a diagnosed medical condition, and your partner wanted to talk to you about how to satisfy their needs, what sort of feelings do you think might come up? It seems to me that it's important to emphasize the "we're in this together" aspect of things...
posted by mdn at 1:27 PM on April 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


From the description given, the reason he wouldn't use it would be that it would cause extreme pain: "We had a creative and satisfying sex life until about a year ago when arousal became extremely painful for him."


Pain during arousal from a vascular illness would be something to bring up with the doctor which could very likely be addressed successfully. Also, the OP mentions "impotence" both in the tags and the question, which is very different thing than being able to achieve erection but with pain, so it's not really clear what exactly is going on here. An old guy with vascular problems leading to erectile dysfunction probably means atherosclerosis; in that case there is absolutely no reason for him to avoid talking about this and seeing a doctor to address it.
posted by Justinian at 1:54 PM on April 4, 2010


I don't know how valuable this perspective will be, but when I was pregnant with my first child, my hips slipped out of joint very early on, rendering arousal painful and intercourse excruciating. I also had terrible nausea and heartburn, which made oral not very much fun to contemplate. Arousal was so painful that the only way I could participate in any sexual activity was by not enjoying it at all, which my husband was not even remotely up for.

When I was at about six months and it became obvious that these conditions were here for the duration of the pregnancy, I sat him down and said "Look, this is not why people get married, is so they can be celibate for nine months or more. I wish I could participate in sexytimes, but I seriously just simply cannot; however, this is unfair to ask of you. So if you decide that you don't want to be in this situation, let me know, and we'll pick out a nice hooker on Craigslist or something."

He ended up not taking me up on the offer, but I was serious. And I am a monogamous person. I specifically wanted him to choose a sex worker because I was uninterested in having him maintain an intimate relationship with another person.

All this is to say, yes, really, sometimes someone gets in a position where it is too painful to have loving sex. When I was in that position, I didn't think it was reasonable to ask my husband to give up sex entirely. MOST importantly, you HAVE to discuss it, with a counselor or by yourselves, because it is a big damn deal any way you slice it.
posted by KathrynT at 1:58 PM on April 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


I hope this is not a derail, especially because I do agree that opening up the relationship can be a fine way for some couples to deal with the situation, and the most important thing overall is for the couple to discuss the situation as a whole.

And I do think the OP's partner is absolutely in the wrong to just shut down and not be looking for options. I just think if a man still loved/was attracted to his partner, still had a libido, still wished he could have sex, and simply couldn't do it, it could be devastating for his partner to suggest that then she/he wanted to go have sex with someone else. I'm not a man, but I imagine that could cause feelings of deep shame, pain, and worthlessness for a lot of guys. I just don't know if that is the best first option to bring up.

Personally, I would be destroyed if I were 6 months pregnant and couldn't have sex, and my partner told me that being celibate wasn't what marriage was all about and he wanted to pick out a hooker. I don't think I could continue in that marriage even if I wanted to.

All I'm saying is -- it's not necessarily an invalid thing to bring up. It's fine for Dan Savage and a lot of other people. But please - if you don't know how he'd feel about it, use caution. Some people need to know that their partner would be loyal to them no matter what, and that feeling's not easy to get back once it's gone.
posted by Ashley801 at 2:58 PM on April 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ashley801, definitely. It's a very different statement coming from the incapactated partner than the inconvenienced one. I don't think the OP should say "I want to go knock boots with someone else," but rather "I love you, I want to be with only you, but the no-sex thing is starting to be, uh, a problem, and I need your help brainstorming acceptable solutions."
posted by KathrynT at 6:02 PM on April 4, 2010


Justinian, re-read: it's not that he can't get it up, but getting it up causes him pain. Very, very different.
posted by Billegible at 8:24 PM on April 4, 2010


scratch my post, I hadn't reloaded the page in yonks and missed all the followup.
posted by Billegible at 8:25 PM on April 4, 2010


This is part of the reason I seriously doubt I will choose to marry again. The whole "sickness & health" expectation, the whole "owning his junk" notion. Ick. Ick ick ick.

If your partner is in a coma, you are expected to be loyal and sexless, forever? Bleah. No. This has always seemed like a particularly sick and unhealthy notion to me.

You owe them honest discussion, you don't owe them a sexless life.

Sorry, perhaps I sound like the worst person ever, but sex is incredibly important to me, and incredibly important to my relationship with my partner.

If we couldn't have sex any more, and my partner was unwilling or unable to do what it would take to fix the situation, that would need to be resolved soon. If, even worse, she hid from the problem, then I would regretfully have to either force the issue of an open relationship, or leave.

I'd expect the same, were the shoe on the other foot. In fact, I'd probably insist upon opening the relationship, due to the guilt I'd feel.

I've never cheated in my life, but if somehow I was *forced* to stay in such a relationship, I would. No doubt in my mind. I'd try my best to make it easy on my partner, "plausible deniability" and all that. I can't imagine how that could happen, being forced into such a situation, but it would be better than never having sex again.

A sexless marriage, or (oxymoron) a sexless intimate partnership, is impossible for me, unhealthy for anyone, and isn't something I would suffer for very long. I believe I'm not unusual in this understanding of myself and my needs. In fact, I think that's why you asked this question, for validation that it isn't wrong to acknowledge these truths.
posted by Invoke at 1:45 PM on April 5, 2010


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