August 17, 2022

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Q: I am in my late 40s with children. In my otherwise happy marriage, my...

Q: I am in my late 40s with children. In my otherwise happy marriage, my spouse has lost interest in sex completely and is happy with this (even though they have orgasms and still find them pleasurable). They tell me they still love me. For me, self-stimulation doesn’t replace sex with my partner. I think it is unreasonable to leave a marriage because of this. As long as they didn’t know (and if I made sure that other people never found out), they have said they wouldn’t mind if I met others for sex. I see no reason why people in similar situations should not be able to meet secretly for sex only. But how can this be done without the shame of misunderstanding or lying? I will never pay for sex. I might have to lie to make an excuse to meet someone. Should I expect to be having less or no sex as I age? Are there sites for what I want? What do you think?
Dr West replies: The difference between your letter and others that I receive from people who are in a similar situation is the element of communication. This changes how you can move forward. People experience sexual desire in many ways over their lifespan. It can change with menopause, mental health experiences, medication, stress levels, exhaustion, or many other factors. It is a deal-breaker for some, but other people find solutions. Sex therapy, scheduling sex, or accepting the situation might be options. For others, a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy can work, but only under certain conditions.
You ask how it can be done secretly without shame or lying. The best way forward on this is to establish boundaries with your spouse. Talk to them and ask what they expect this arrangement to look like, and what they expect of you. For example, they might expect that you get regular STI checks, to go to hotels in a different county to avoid being seen by anyone who knows you, or to keep a low profile online. For many people who have this kind of relationship, having any kind of encounters in the marital home would feel like a betrayal, as well as risking the neighbours seeing what was going on. If you are paying for hotels, is there a certain budget that your partner is comfortable with spending each month on your extracurricular activities? If you don’t want to lie about where you are, perhaps you can have an expression or code word so that your partner knows what you are up to without you having to lie about your whereabouts.
Make sure that they know what this arrangement entails, and that they aren’t just saying this as a throwaway comment. It may change the dynamic in your relationship, and you will need occasional check-ins with each other to make sure you are both happy with how things are going. It would be a disaster if your partner felt resentful toward you for going forward with this plan, so they do have a responsibility to speak honestly about their feelings about this.
Something else to consider is the question of emotions. Many people have great sex without becoming attached to the person, but many others also fail at emotional distance and do develop feelings. To attempt to mitigate this, some people have rules about never seeing the same person more than once. You and your partner will have to be prepared for any emotional fallout if you develop feelings for someone and want to pursue this. Does this mean an affair is acceptable to your partner, or is it only no-strings-attached sex that is acceptable? How will you feel if this is the line in the sand for your partner?
There certainly are sites out there for what you are looking for. Some are specialist sites for married people, but some people just use regular dating sites. However, it is extremely unethical to not be upfront about your marital status on these. It is toxic behaviour to deceive people into encounters when they think they are dealing with a single person when the reality is different. It can have a huge impact on them, and it is a betrayal of trust.
Paying for sex is often an option for people in your situation but you have stated that is not for you. Take a moment to reflect on this — is it a moral approach, or does it hint at a deeper need for more than sex? If you know transactional sex is strictly about sex, is there something else that you are looking for? For many people, sex is about more than the physical interaction; it is about the emotional side, the cuddles after, or just touching someone else. Sex meets many needs and highlights other needs that we have that we aren’t as confident talking about. If this is applicable to you, it would be worth considering what it is that you are looking for deep down.
Even if your partner is okay with this, you do still need to be conscious about maintaining your marriage on an intimate level. While this may or may not include sex, intimacy comes in many forms and can be the glue that keeps a relationship going. Ask your partner what a non-sexual but still intimate marriage would look like for them. It might be hugs, cuddles, or emotional intimacy, but it will need to be maintained or you may risk drifting apart as committed people.
These are certainly a lot of questions to ponder, but if you want to move forward with this, there are a lot of considerations to take account of. It may change your relationship forever, but it could change it in a negative or positive way. The risks do need to be discussed as well as the positive aspects. You won’t know until you talk to your partner and discuss what you envision the realities to be.
Dr West is a sex educator and host of the Glow West podcast, which focuses on sex. Send your questions to [email protected] Dr West regrets she cannot answer questions privately
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