I appreciated your recent column where you talked about an open relationship not being great for a couple where they weren’t having sex with each other and were growing apart. But what do you suggest for a couple where one person wants to have sex and the other doesn’t? I’ve been with my boyfriend Richard for more than seven years and he has really been shut down sexually for the last five. He is more than satisfied with some kissing and occasionally playing with each other while we watch porn. Oral sex and intercourse are totally out of the question for him. When I have tried to press him for more, I have gotten absolutely nowhere.
I, on the other hand, am an extremely horny guy and this is absolutely not satisfying for me. I’ve thought about leaving but we are very compatible in all kinds of ways (have a house together, a big group of friends, close to each other’s families, enjoy the same things — except sex!). So I have been playing around a lot for a while to get my needs met. He’s made it extremely clear that he’s only interested in monogamy and would leave me if I were unfaithful, so I’m not telling him. I’m not sure I feel good about this, but I don’t want to live without sex, and I don’t want to end what is in many ways a good relationship. Given that my boyfriend won’t really put out, what else could I try?
Think of your relationship as a system in which the two of you are contributing equally to this homeostasis. You both won’t talk about a huge problem that you are having in your relationship and you are both contributing to the lack of intimacy in your relationship, because neither of you is letting the other know what is going on inside of you.
You may be undercutting what you say is your goal — a richer sexual relationship with Richard — by not telling Richard how important it is for you to have a sexual relationship with him. As things now stand, Richard gets to avoid the question of whether he would rather have sex with you or be alone. Neither one of you is pressuring him to decide how important this relationship is to him, just as neither one of you is pressuring you to decide whether the lack of sex is truly a dealbreaker issue for you. You avoid dealing with that question by having sex outside of your relationship without telling Richard.
Obviously, I don’t know why Richard has shut down sexually, nor do I know how sexual he was in the first few years of your relationship. People grow less comfortable having sex with their partners for all sorts of reasons. Having sex with your long-term partner can simply feel too intimate for some; for others, it’s hard to feel erotic with someone you have to pay bills and negotiate household chores with.
Whatever the reason, Richard is not taking himself on about his avoidance, preferring to live a pretty sexless life (as far as you know). You cannot, of course, force him to work on himself, but you can take yourself on about your own avoidance of this issue by letting him know how important sex is to you and how much you would like to have a sexual relationship with him.
In deciding whether you want to speak to your boyfriend about your bottom line, you would need to get clear about what is most important to you, just as you would be asking Richard to get clear about what is most important to him. Would you rather be with Richard or would you rather have a sex life with your partner? You may not get to have both.
One final thought: Given that you have tolerated this situation for as long as you have, that you have not pushed Richard much on this and that you are apparently enjoying having quite a bit of sex with other men, is it possible that you are ambivalent about being sexual with Richard or about having a monogamous relationship?