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How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Have a question? Send it to Stoya and Rich here. It’s anonymous!
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a 44-year-old married man with a wonderful wife with whom I have a great relationship. We generally communicate well, work as a team, and have five kids between us. So life is really complicated. On top of that, she’s involved in a ton of activities by choice, both academic and social. This was the case up until COVID, and since has gotten a lot worse. So much that it has taken a toll on her mentally and physically. It’s making me consider some drastic measures.
Our sex life is, well, non-existent at this point. Once a month would probably be the average. On occasion, it is good, albeit generally brief. But the rest of the time she’s too tired, stressed, doesn’t have or won’t make time, on her period (I don’t mind, but she does), etc. So, that eliminates 29 days a month. I’ve been very open with her about the fact that I need and want a lot more. I would be OK with two times a week, but more would be better. We’ve discussed this several times and all I get is a matter-of-fact shrug. Her disinterest is genuine.
At this point, I haven’t found an excuse that hasn’t been made. So, here it is. I’ve been having fantasies about cheating. She also knows this and absolutely doesn’t want me to, but is not willing to try to make the situation better. I regularly surf escort sites with a lot of interest. Would consider a sugar baby or just straight-up sex. I don’t want to hurt her and get plenty of alone time, see above, and take care of it alone regularly. This is pretty frustrating, but in the current world, that’s all I’ve got.
My fantasies are getting more frequent and vivid, so what do I do? Counseling is not an option. No time. But she knows the issue and will not even try to address it. I need more and just can’t find a way to get it that turns out well. Do I sneak around and just do it? Do I suck up and accept sex as a solo sport most of the time, or something in between? I appreciate the help.
Stoya: Whoa, cough. Pointed cough. So many pointed coughs. First, blue balls.
Rich: Yes. That’s his name.
Stoya: Is this a medical condition?
Rich: Kind of. Medical name: epididymal hypertension. It can cause temporary aching, but it’s generally not a serious issue.
Stoya: So, perhaps I’m being uncharitable, but let’s just scroll. I’m skipping over some very relevant ones to go back to the very, very top. “She is involved in a ton of activities by choice.”
Stoya: “This was the case up until COVID and since has gotten a lot worse.” So, you’re framing your wife’s engagement with society, academically and socially, as bad. That strikes me as very controlling and entitled.
Rich: Yes, I agree. I think the whole thing is controlling and self-entitled. And also, do you think this time we’re going to be like, “Well, here’s the case where we co-sign cheating. Definitely cheat on her.” I mean… What? What? Do you know who we are?
Stoya: Do I get to use one of my favorite lines?
Stoya: I’m not sure it’s printable, but I’m going to go ahead and do it. I am not your whore priest. I am not going to bless your shitty shenanigans. My eyes can only see this line, “Counseling is not an option. No time.” So you have time to surf escort sites regularly. You, in theory, have time to spend with a sugar baby or just straight up sex, but you don’t have time for counseling. Pull the other one, sir.
Rich: OK, so one thing I’ll say is that I thought maybe he meant couples counseling, and because of her busy schedule, they don’t have time to go together. That said, what I would do then is take the one time that they have sex a month and devote that to counseling. Find the time that you do have, because it would be useful here, clearly.
Also: “I have a wonderful wife.” You say that at the outset, but then I don’t get any of that from the rest of the letter, which is just a litany of complaints. So, do you really think that? I mean, it sounds to me like this is an active person within her family and community, but that is not really truly appreciated.
And I know, obviously, this is a sex advice column. It’s not a civics advice column. But at the same time, I’m not really seeing that appreciation in these words. And so, “are you living these words?” is my question. How do you show her that? Are you engaging her at all in a way that would even make her interested in having sex with you?
Stoya: And also, people are not life support systems for genitals. We’re whole people.
Stoya: And so frequently, the scope of our column involves everything from barbers to therapists who comment on the relational aspect of things. Sex doesn’t exist in a vacuum, no matter how much you cite Foucault’s History of Sexuality Volume One—society tries to pretend it does. These things are all integrated. And thinking holistically, I mean, maybe this guy actually would prefer his wife do nothing but maintain herself in a state of sexual readiness for him. But if that’s the case, he’s got a problem.
Rich: Yeah, I agree. And look, what he describes is a kind of negotiation that has already taken place. It seems to me like she’s giving all she can, which is once a month. Then you say as a partner, “OK, is this worth having this wonderful person in my life, who is so wonderful, by the way, that I introduce her using that adjective?” That’s the kind of negotiation that’s taken place. They are both where they are and she is still “wonderful.”
Once a month might be her limit. And if you accept her at that, then maybe you could make your decisions with a clearer head. That shouldn’t be, “I’m going to betray this person who’s taking care in some capacity of five kids.” Don’t do that.
Stoya: There’s another line. I want to be done with the righteous anger, but I’m not, because that’s another line. “I haven’t found an excuse that hasn’t been made.” People shouldn’t have to make excuses to say no to sex.
Stoya: That’s not consent, right?
Stoya: Running out of excuses and allowing it to happen because your partner expects it to… That is not OK. She’s giving you reasons that she doesn’t want to. She’s giving you reasons for her no. And all she owes you is that no.
Rich: It’s true.
Stoya: And then you’re taking these and framing them as excuses.
Rich: I think that you’re right and I think that there is probably something in the approach that’s coming out in the relationship, or at least it’s fair to infer that what he’s showing us in his approach is probably spilling out into the relationship.
That said, it is a conundrum. You’re with somebody for a long time, you’ve built this life together. Their interest in sex takes a dip. There’s nothing seemingly that you can do about it. You’ve talked about it, you’ve expressed it. You’ve talked about actually having sex with other people, which I think shows the level of the communication, at least on his part, is in-depth.
But then it’s like, OK, so what do you do? You look for other ways via counseling or whatever, you accept it, or you decide that this is not the relationship for you. I really don’t think that cheating is a good way to show somebody your appreciation for them and what you think of the relationship.
Stoya: I have this feeling that this guy doesn’t have friends that he can speak with about this. And I don’t think he’s in any kind of counseling or therapeutic relationship where he has an outlet. I think he just put all his frustration down on the page. And I’m being uncharitable, but also, who do you think you’re writing to?
Rich: 100 percent. I understand where you’re coming from, totally. I think to one of your original points, yeah, maybe there’s no time for couples counseling because of the wife’s busy schedule. But that means that he can take his time—like you said, pursuing all of this stuff, doing all of this stuff, searching escort sites—and invest it into seeing a therapist once a week. It sounds to me like he has enough free time that he can organize that stuff. And he might get a lot more out of that.
Stoya: He can speak with a person who has the training to help him get from where he is to where he needs to be to connect with his wife And take his time and work through how he feels, why he feels that way, get some gentle pushback over the course of several weeks. And then make a real decision, as you’re advising, about whether he wants to stay in this relationship or whether he wants to end it, work out a co-parenting situation, and be free to date other people who might be more interested in sexuality.
And if he’s going to do that, please, please, please, make sure this person is an actual sexual match for you before you go making significant commitments, such as a shared home, legal agreements, or creating more children together.
Rich: Yes. And understand too that you may think that you’re gaining your freedom sexually, but what are you giving up? Well, you’re giving up this connection, this situation that you have found livable, at least, if not domestically blissful, with this person. And there’s no guarantee that you’re going to find another one of those out there.
So yeah, you might be giving up this committed, loving relationship for the sake of sexual pleasure, which you very may well find, but there’s no guarantee of it. Every decision is a negotiation, is making concessions. The perfect situation does not exist.
Stoya: Good luck.
More Advice From Slate
I have a recurring thought that might turn into a problem. I’m married to a man I adore, and we have an incredible sex life that I wouldn’t change for the world. Passionate, fun, multiple orgasms per session. However, while my body is overjoyed, my mind is struggling. My husband is slightly shorter than average, and his dick is slightly smaller than average as well. This is something I’ve always known and has never impacted our sex life. But I had a friend complaining about a below-average-sized lover, and it got me all in my head.