by Dan Savage
on Fri, May 3, 2013 at 4:38 PM
I'm a straight married woman, recently separated from my husband while we work through some serious issues in our 10-year marriage. One of the big issues, for me, is that he's always been barely so-so in bed. For the last three years, I can count how many times we've had sex on one hand—and it's been really, really bad sex for me.
Now, I really love this man, and it's been worth it for me to try to work on our other communication issues. But in the back of my head I can't get over the potential horror of spending the rest of my life with a guy who has a fairly-low libido, is less-than-lackluster in the sack, and who—ohmygod—I actually TOLD was bad in bed during a heated fight.
I am a healthy, attractive, pleasant and well-groomed woman, and never had this problem with any past partners. I've always been told I'm desirable. My husband has no physical problems (I've had him get regular checkups), and he is definitely straight. He occasionally looks at porn but he only seems to be tangentially interested in sex even when we're not having problems. Oral sex is especially poor, and the lack of interest/desire makes me reluctant to ask him to play with toys with me. I am not interested in sex that feels like a chore. How do I get past this? Can I get past this? Or is our marriage doomed by the disparities in our respective sex drives?
My heart is breaking, and I'm begging for any advice you can give me.
Needs It Bad
Forgive me for this, NIB, but I get a lot of letters like yours—tons of them—and I'm going to be blunt, okay?
I don't have any magic beans. I can't create a sexual connection where none exists. I can't magically crank up your husband's libido. I don't have the power to endow your husband with sex skills.
It's clear that—at least where sex is concerned—you and your husband are not a match. You are not sexually compatible. There are women out there who want a lot less sex than you do (I get letters from their frustrated husbands every day), and there are women out there who aren't into oral or toys (ditto), and one of these sexually-non-adventurous, not-very-sexually-demanding women might've been fine with your husband's lovemaking "steez," ATKS*. But your husband isn't married to one of those women. He's married to you and sexual incompatibility is making you miserable. If you had it to do over again—if you knew then what you know now—you wouldn't have married your husband. But you did marry him. And you don't want to hurt him. And you love him and he loves you. But even if you manage to solve your other marital problems, NIB, you won't be able to solve this one. Because sexual incompatibility is not a problem that can be solved. It can only be lived with or worked around.
Living with it = you suck it up, you stay married and you stay faithful, and you live with the misery.
Working around it = you either have an honest open relationship (you two remain emotionally and socially monogamous, but you can have sex with other people) or you have a dishonest open relationship (you tell him what he wants to hear while getting your sexual needs met elsewhere discretely).
I think you should try for the second option—honestly working around it—because what have you got to lose? It's clear from your letter that you are not going to stay in this marriage if doing so means decades of sexual frustration. "I want an open relationship" is a hallelujah pass, NIB, but I see no reason why you shouldn't throw it. Again: what have you got to lose?
But if it turns out that neither option works for you as a couple—because the first option sucks for you, the second option sucks for him—then you'll have to end this marriage.