How to start finding other options for intimacy
August 8, 2017 12:33 PM   Subscribe

I am in a basically sexless long term relationship, which for *reasons* needs to continue for the time being. I would really like some advice on coping with this along with help on how to start finding other partners for sexual contact.

I have been in a relationship with my husband for 16 years, married for 3, and we have a school age child. It has now been four months since we last had sex, and we only have sex on average every 1-3 months.
Looking back on our relationship I see that this has always been an issue and even in the early days of our relationship he didn't seem to have a very high sex drive. It wasn't too bad though and as it got worse I stupidly blamed myself and thought I could fix this issue myself somehow.

It has grown steadily worse and has been like this for years now. We have talked about it fairly openly and he says that he knows it is an issue and makes promises but nothing really changes. He is generally fit and well and his testosterone levels are normal according to his GP. When we do have sex it is good, if a little vanilla, but often he comes quickly because he is so out of practice, leaving me more frustrated than before. When he wants sex his usual words are that 'we are getting back into it' but then we go months again, I feel like I would rather not have sex at all because it just makes me realise what I am missing out on and I also don't feel comfortable satisfying his desire and ignoring mine. I would rather just try to live without than have to cope with reawakening my desire just to let it drop again.

I haven't had a lot of partners but in previous relationships I would have sex at least every other day, I know desire drops but I am now at the point where I know that I can no longer live with this. I feel so lonely and detatched from myself. I know I can orgasm alone but it isn't enough, I need physical and sexual contact with another person. Last time we set a date (something we have tried without success) he wasn't up for it again and I told him then that I can't continue like this and that I wanted to have a conversation later about my needs and opening up our relationship. He seemed open to this idea but has since then made very half hearted efforts to set a date again, but I think this lack of interest and concern speaks volumes. He basically wants sex on his terms, and I can't bear the thought of him forcing himself to have sex with me. I feel my desire shrivelling up because I know I am not truly wanted by him. I love him but I need to respect my own needs more. Our marriage is ok although not great, and really we have little sex regardless of how well we are getting on in other ways. I am in counselling to address issues relating to this and other things. For various good reasons ending my marriage currently is not an option.

I have known for a long time that I need to find other partners, but I have absolutely no idea how to go about this safely and respectfully. I don't feel bad about wanting this because I am not taking anything away from him that he wants and I have no other good option except giving up on my sexual desire. I do however want to do this openly and decently, I just have no idea how. The thought of dipping my toe after so long plus working this with a full time job plus everything else involved in running a household feels overwhelming. I know that the internet is probably the best option. Any help or suggestions on where to start would be so much appreciated. If its relevant I identify as bisexual. On preview:sorry this is so long and rambling, I often find it hard to express feelings on paper.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I'm going to pull a couple things out of what you said, since they jumped out at me:

I told him then that I can't continue like this and that I wanted to have a conversation later about my needs and opening up our relationship. He seemed open to this idea but has since then made very half hearted efforts to set a date again, but I think this lack of interest and concern speaks volumes.

May I ask why, when you were telling him that you couldn't continue as things were, that you stopped and said you wanted to have a further conversation about this later? He's just taking the opportunity he was offered to put off the conversation and continue to live in denial.

I suggest a place to start would be to actually have that conversation at long last, where you tell him everything you told us, that you feel like you've talked about it but nothing changes, and that you are now at the point of looking outside the marriage. I get the sense somehow that that honest and frank "this is how I am feeling, in black and white and in no uncertain terms" conversation hasn't happened yet. If it hasn't, it needs to. You lay out your feelings, and he listens. REALLY listens.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:41 PM on August 8, 2017 [13 favorites]

Sorry, this sucks. It would seem the problem isn't just infrequent sex, that's surmountable. Rather it's infrequent, bad sex. Sex that makes you feel worse. Sex where he gets off and you don't. Sex where he apparently does not know how to pleasure you, and furthermore does not seem interested in learning. I would probably tell him that, but maybe you don't have to.

Anyway, as for how-to info, check out The Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships & Other Adventures .
posted by SaltySalticid at 12:45 PM on August 8, 2017

First, read "Come As You Are" and The Dirty Normal (same author's blog... Emily Nagoski is a fantastic sex researcher) to learn more about asynchronous desire. May not fix anything, but at least learning the science behind it will give you both some empathy for each other's positions.

As for finding playmates, when the time comes check out OKCupid and FetLife! You'll find like minds in poly, kinky & queer communities. You can PM me for profile advice.

I think the important thing to work out with your husband is what both your boundaries are and how you'll negotiate outside people. Have you both had recent STI panels? What about safer sex? Is this "Don't Ask," "Quiet Check-in" or "Ribald Storytime" territory? What if he gets jealous, or you fall in love? How will you get your needs met but also honor your family commitments? Can you hire a maid or babysitter to give you a break running the house?

The more explicit you are now, the fewer troubles you'll have. Personally, I don't recommend setting hard locked rules around desire, you don't know how this will evolve. Just keep an open line of communication. Tristan Taormino's "Opening Up" is good for this.
posted by fritillary at 1:28 PM on August 8, 2017 [6 favorites]

Before someone jumps in with the Ethical Slut recommendation (on preview: too late!) I wanted to recommend that you connect with a liberal, queer-friendly sex therapist who can help you explore whether you want to open up your marriage and have an open relationship where you have multiple concurrent loving partners (some of whom you'd have sex with), or whether you are just looking for outside sex and don't need the loving interchange, or some combination or variation of these things.

It's hard to figure out what precisely you need when you're so used to stuffing your feelings! And that's what's happening here; you have these needs that aren't being met but you've been sublimating the way that makes you feel for the sake of... the marriage? The kid? The something important. But paying attention to your own needs is a habit, and to get back into the habit, you may need assistance. So I'm saying, get the assistance first, figure out what the needs actually are, get to writing them down, trying them on, saying them aloud. THEN figure out how to actualize them.
posted by juniperesque at 1:59 PM on August 8, 2017 [3 favorites]

I have known for a long time that I need to find other partners, but I have absolutely no idea how to go about this safely and respectfully.

If he is not ENTHUSIASTICALLY okay with this, you don't. You might have to agree with him that you break up but stay married and living together or something if divorce is "not an option" for either of you, but sleeping with other people without the actual, and importantly uncoerced, consent of your partner is not okay. This isn't prelude to polyamory, this whole thing is written like you're engaged in a breakup-in-process. You're totally entitled to a life in which you aren't living like this, but coercing someone into an open relationship, especially someone who you don't seem to be enthusiastically happy with, is not an okay thing. If you want to split up, split up. Don't use an open relationship as a temporary stand-in for splitting up until you can do so in a way that's more viable for your lifestyle or finances.

If he's happy with that as the new arrangement, great! If he's not really actually happy with this idea, it's not okay to unilaterally, drastically change the terms of a relationship when the other party believes or is made to believe that they are not free to walk away from their side of the commitment. The openness is not the bad part here, the bad part is that he seems not to be allowed to say that this isn't the relationship he wants to be in.
posted by Sequence at 2:09 PM on August 8, 2017 [39 favorites]

Lots of good advice so far about where to find potential partners online. I'd also encourage you to find poly community near you. There are a lot of people with a lot of really unconventional relationship configurations who are being aboveboard and ethical. Also, who enjoy processing and talking about relationships, so if you would benefit from meeting folks in person who understand where you're coming from and can offer a sympathetic ear, that's where you'll find 'em.

Last suggestion--I'd urge you and your husband to each read David Schnarch's book Intimacy and Desire. Lots of longtime couples come to marriage crisis around sexuality and it's often a canary in the coal mine about other issue of intimacy and maturity. I think it could help the two of you open up conversations about sexuality and also the other, deeper stuff that's undoubtedly at work here, for both you and him. Good luck.
posted by Sublimity at 2:19 PM on August 8, 2017

If he does agree to let you pursue other partners while staying together, you may find your relationship with him will vastly improve. You may be better friends (and that's even if you are friends now) than ever before. Sometimes sex asynchrony is the breaking point between people who otherwise have a very strong bond for one another.
posted by Crystal Fox at 3:15 PM on August 8, 2017

Your narrative fits my relationship and marriage to a T (minus the kid). We solved the problem by getting divorced.
posted by halogen at 3:27 PM on August 8, 2017 [14 favorites]

Is there a middle place where you can be physically intimate with each other without penis in vagina sex? In fact, physical situations where "sex" is off the table? Can you take a bath or shower together? Have a pillow fight? Take turns massaging each other's scalps (or feet or hands, whatever) for 15 minutes with a timer? Take a walk together and hold hands?

Sex is great. I'm sad for you that you are missing this important part of a relationship. It sounds to me like you are both treating the "goal" of physical intimacy as orgasm, and let me tell you, there is so much more to gain from physical contact with a person you care deeply for.

As a person who is non monogamous, let me tell you with great foreboding, if there are problems in a relationship, adding more people does not help. Whether that person is a baby or a new lover, the problems in the established relationship will be magnified, not disappeared. Absolutely read the books, but with a boulder of salt.

Try reading the Gottmans books about strong marriages and work on cultivating those healthy habits with your partner. And work on decreasing the unhealthy habits on your own. Of course, if your spouse is being contemptuous of your desires, that's another ball of wax. You may be able to work around stonewalling and other problems. Better still, get antherapist who is trained by the Gottman Institute. Sort out what physical intimacy means to each of you and where you can compromise.
posted by bilabial at 3:30 PM on August 8, 2017 [5 favorites]

Opening up your marriage will solve nothing if the underlying relationship dynamic sucks, which it sounds like it does, and he's not totally into the idea, which it sounds like he isn't. Not that it's wrong for you to want to have a more fulfilling sex life, but I think the fundamental problem here is that you and your partner just aren't great together. I would be looking for a way to change whatever it is that is stopping you from breaking up with this guy, and in the meantime I'd probably resign myself to not having sex for a while. Lots of people don't have sex for long stretches, it's not the end of the world. There are other good things in life.

In your situation an open relationship is just going to give you new problems without solving any of the old ones.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:37 PM on August 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

You say that your marriage is just ok and the few times you do have sex, your orgasm isn't important to him, leaving you frustrated. It sounds like there's a lot of resentment there (not a criticism! I've been there!) so what happens if you do open up the relationships and you meet an amazing generous lover who is open to everything you need? It sounds like a recipe for destroying your marriage. You sound ripe for meeting and falling for someone who gives you what you crave. If keeping your husband is still important to you, I would go to a sex positive couples therapist and thrash it out first.
posted by Jubey at 4:30 PM on August 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

I think I would see if he's willing to find a specialist to see if there's anything physically causing his low libido. Lots of doctors believe that "normal" levels of testosterone are normal-for-your-age. An anti-aging doctor believes normal should be at your physical peak, like when you were in your 30's. They were a lifesaver for us when my husband had a medical problem that had been traditionally handled for 10 years with poor results.
posted by summerstorm at 7:10 PM on August 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

A thought: what if you told him you crave intimacy, and that you know he's not interested in sex most of the time, so you'd love it if he would join you and hold you and be intimate with you in a non sexual way while you masturbate?

I ask, because you'll probably have one of two reactions to my suggestion: either you'll think "I could try that", in which case give it a go, or you'll think "no that would be terrible", in which case more sex with him -- even if he didn't orgasm quickly -- might not really be what you want. Just a thought.
posted by davejay at 7:13 PM on August 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

sleeping with other people without the actual, and importantly uncoerced, consent of your partner is not okay.

Maybe it is okay if the OP is honest with the partner. The OP, after all, did not consent to a sexless marriage.

Hey OP, my marriage was like your marriage. The lack of sex wasn't the only reason I separated from my husband but it was a big part of it. I remember being upset one day when I realized that if my husband had been allergic to ice cream or simply didn't like it, nobody would have expected me to stop eating ice cream myself. But because my husband no longer liked sex, with me or anyone else, I was supposed to stop having sex, which is a hell of a lot more important to my well being than ice cream.

I didn't sign up for a sexless marriage, and neither did you. I don't understand why people who no longer want to have sex with their partners are considered innocent victims when their partners understandably want to have sex with other people. I don't think anyone is obligated to have sex with their partners but if they stop having sex, they should be understanding and accommodating if their partners need to go elsewhere for sex so the couple can maintain an otherwise loving and companionate relationship if other things work well for them.

Please don't feel guilty or bad because you need and want sex. For many of us, sex is critically important to our health. I couldn't agree with my husband about sex, money, parenting, or alcohol. That's why I left. If our only disagreement had been about sex, I would have told him that as much as I loved him, I planned to find a lover. And that I accepted him as he was, and needed him to accept me as I was, a person who needed sex.

Honestly, I have no idea what you should do. But I was in a similar situation and please don't let anyone make you feel shame or guilt for needing a sex life. Good luck, OP!
posted by Bella Donna at 11:14 PM on August 8, 2017 [9 favorites]

How do you do this? Date like an adult.

1. Tell your husband your plans.
2. Create a profile on OK Cupid. It's not perfect but it is friendly to non-straight and non-vanilla folks.
3. Be upfront with potential partners about your situation.
4. Get tested for STIs, including herpes (which is not part of the standard panel), before you start dating.
5. Don't take anyone's word for their sexual health. Show them your actual test results; unless they are willing to show you recent test results, don't have sex with them.

Here's why: I told potential lovers, in all honesty, that I didn't have herpes--because I didn't know I had herpes. Eventually a health clinic worker explained to me that herpes required a separate test and was not part of the standard panel. I got that test, and felt terrible not because of me but because of people I'd exposed to herpes (not that any of them got it from me, luckily).

The problem isn't so much that people lie, although some do. The problem is that many people who have an STI don't know it. And that is why asking for STI testing results before you have sex with someone is a self-loving, adult act rather than an unreasonable demand by a suspicious, nit-picky person.

Mind you, it takes practice to offer and ask for STI results without feeling embarrassed or awkward. But I've found that the kind of individuals I want to date and, potentially, have sex with are not threatened or put off by my request. It's a great filter for assholes. As one guy told me recently, "Thanks for bringing that up. Isn't great to be older and to be able to just take care of things like this?" And the folks who are annoyed or weird about it are people I don't want to date.

That's all I can think of for now, OP. Feel free to PM me if you have other questions.
posted by Bella Donna at 10:46 AM on August 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

The thing is, it's not just not-okay to make the unilateral decision to take a lover because of the husband, it's not-okay because a lot of potential poly partners will be basing their decision to have sex with you on the idea that you are in an open marriage, and would not be okay with being involved in a relationship with you where your spouse is vocally opposed. I cannot stress enough how much of a tire fire it is to try to solve a sexual dysfunction problem by opening up your marriage even without adding the lack of consent of your spouse.

It sounds like the problem is that when he is working on the problem, it doesn't work for you because you know he's approaching it as working on a problem rather than being crazy with desire for you. This makes me suspect that a lot of traditional answers-trying to meet at your 50%, masturbating together, etc - won't work for you either, because the problem is that you need to feel more desired.

I think maybe you need to examine the Reasons why you have to stay together as a married couple. Maybe you need to live together for the kids, or stay legally married for the healthcare, but is there a Reason you need to actually be in a romantic relationship with this person?
posted by corb at 6:16 AM on August 11, 2017

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