Let’s say you’re in a long-term marriage, one that’s pretty satisfying. You love your spouse, your spouse loves you, but you have a lot of things on your plate — work and kids and other things — and you’ve lost your sexual mojo. Would you tell your spouse, “Please have sex with someone else?”
That’s exactly what Saira Khan, a panelist on the popular British show “Loose Women,” told her husband earlier this year.
“I’m 46, I have a busy life and have two kids. I am so lucky. … We used to have a fantastic sex life. I still love my husband, we cuddle up and it’s lovely. We’ve been together for 11 years, but I’m not interested [in sex]. I don’t want to. … I’ve lost the desire and I find myself making excuses from around 6 p.m. … As soon as he comes home, I panic and start saying, ‘I’m so tired!’ I’m embarrassed to say this but I said to him you can go with someone else if you want. I want to make him happy. He’ll kill me for saying this … Am I the only one?”
That’s a rather brave thing to do, although perhaps some might say ill-advised or worse. (For the record, hubby Steven Hyde would have nothing to do with it.)
But it does offer a rather interesting — if not generally socially acceptable — solution to an age-old problem: sexless marriages.
Sexless marriage heartbreak
Of all the blogs I’ve written here, the comments on Sexless marriage: Cheat, divorce or suffer make me sad. Same with the blog post I wrote on The New I Do website, Sexless marriage or cheating spouse — what’s worse? There are 365 comments on that post, and most of them are heart-wrenching. Many people, men and women, are struggling because they have a spouse who is either unable (understandable) or unwilling (not!) to have sex with them.
So the choices are cheat (some do), divorce (some do) or suffer (what the majority do). Of course, we suggest in The New I Do that couples consider opening up their marriage, which assumes both will partake of extramarital couplings with each other’s blessings and according to whatever parameters they set up. But, it just as easily could be one-sided — a hall pass, as it were.
Khan’s confession caused a kerfuffle, but Hayley MacMillen at Refinery29 wrote an article that could have been taken out of the pages of The New I Do — all of us have options but when they deviate too far from what marriage is “supposed” to look like, watch out — especially if you talk about it publicly:
[W]hen we depart from the monogamy script — first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes dutiful once-a-week sex with no one but each other until death do us part — we are supposed to keep quiet. But those whose sexualities — whether that means their libidos or orientations or preferences — are mismatched with their partners’ understand that relationships are not one-size-fits-all. … Her husband didn’t happen to be interested, and that’s fine — but Khan recognized ethical non-monogamy as an option that might help satisfy their needs. And that’s what we’re not talking about when it comes to marriage, and relationships in general. There are more options than we acknowledge in public, more options than we are led to believe.
Yes! Mismatched sexualities, ethical non-monogamy are all part of the marital conversation. But, are we talking about them publicly?
‘So, how’s your marriage?’
Emma Johnson, aka Wealthy Single Mommy, says we should be. In a recent post, not about sex per se but about busting marital myths, she advocates for more of us asking, “So, how’s your marriage?” and more of us sharing truths, not facades:
[L]et’s normalize discussing marriage. Stop pretending like it is this blissful, sacred, impenetrable institution, because of course that is horseshit. Your marriage, just like parenting, career, finances, friendship, health and any other part of life has its ups and downs. Nuance and complications. Misunderstandings, heartaches, joys. Cordoning off marriage from the mix of acceptable conversation topics only heightens the pressure for couples to hide behind a perfect facade, pretending all is always well — while affections, trust and respect crumble, privately. Meanwhile, truth and vulnerability are barricaded from friendships and other relationships outside of the marriage — relationships that are critical to supporting both the individual and the couple.
I’m cool with people asking about each other’s marriage — it’s what usually what newlyweds have to deal with anyway, until they’ve been married long enough for everyone to realize that they’re most likely in the same miserable marital boat as everyone else.
If you Google “marriage is hard,” up pops 133 million results; try “marriage is boring” and you get more than 20 million results. It’s not like people aren’t writing about marriage’s downsides.
But just look at what happened to Khan when she spoke honestly about her marriage; I’m tired, I’m busy, I’m not interested in sex right now but I want my partner to be happy so I told him he could bang other women.
How’d that honesty work out for everyone? Hmm …
If we really want people to talk honestly about their marriage, we’d have to promise that we’d hear what they say with an open heart and mind, and understand that monogamy is a choice, not a dictate. I just don’t see that happening yet — at least in mainstream heterosexual conversation. No wonder why talking honestly about monogamy and sex with our partner is often challenging.
Which gets us back to our original discussion. If you weren’t interested in sex, or were unable to have intercourse for whatever reason (not that there aren’t other ways to be sexual), what would you be willing to do to make sure your spouse was sexually happy? And how open would you be about your decision? If you’re squirming at the thought, well …
Want to explore consensual nonmonogamy? Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). Order the book on Amazon, follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.