Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Question of Relationships

Well, here it is. My long and (hopefully) thoughtful post on a subject larger than my crisis du jour. Truthfully, you won't be able to tell much difference.

Among life’s many questions for which I don’t have answers, the following conundrum is on my mind lately. It has to do with sex within marriage. I suppose the question that all of my thinking boils down to this rather general question: When the two partners are far apart in what they want from their sex life what is a reasonable expectation for each partner?

From this general question I then branch out into several different specific scenarios for it seems, at least on the surface, that different circumstances could produce different answers to this question. Then again, I wonder just how true that assumption may be. Well, let’s look at some scenarios and see. Also, for the time being, let’s assume the problems/discrepancies are sexual only, that they are occurring in a genuinely loving and caring relationship. I think that the answers change if the loving and caring is lacking in the relationship, but I’ll address that later maybe, but not in this post.

Scenario #1: One partner is temporarily physically unable to engage in sex.
For me personally, this is a pretty easy one to deal with. If the situation is temporary and the end to the situation can be reasonably expected then one should be willing to sacrifice their sex life for that temporary period, turning to self pleasure if need be. I certainly understood after W was diagnosed with colon cancer and underwent surgery and treatments for it that there would be an amount of time when sex would not be part of our lives. I even told him that as far as sex was concerned I would not approach him but would wait for him to approach me so that we could wait until he was ready. I would imagine a similar circumstance after a woman has given birth. There would be a few weeks where sex would be off limits, and if I were a man, I would allow the wife to initiate the resumption of sexual relations.

Scenario #2: One partner is permanently physically unable to engage in sex.
I imagine this to be the result of some accident or disease, after the couple is already together, rendering one partner incapable of physically engaging in sex. This is a case where it was not the intention of either party for the marriage to become sexless but has happened due to circumstances outside their control. This is a tough one for me. Looking at it from the side of the person who is still capable and desirous of sex, I would have an extremely difficult time giving it up. From the side of the incapacitated person, I would want to do as much as possible to physically pleasure my partner. However, I do believe I would also give my partner my permission to seek sexual pleasure from others. I don’t think I could feel good about myself if I were to force someone else to have to give up something as essential as sex.

Scenario #3: One partner wishes to engage in certain specific activities just between the two of them that the other partner refuses to do.
I’m thinking here of the partner squeamish about engaging in oral sex as an example though you could substitute whatever you wanted in place of my example. I have a hard time getting my mind around this one. On the one hand, nobody should do something that feels wrong or bad in any way to them no matter what someone else wants. On the other hand, to completely cut the other partner off from an activity that they consider to be quite pleasurable doesn’t quite seem right either. I guess one could argue that if it’s that important to you then you shouldn’t marry someone who isn’t on the same page, but what if you don’t find out until after the marriage is undertaken? I don’t know. This one is difficult for me because although I can live with less oral sex than I’d like (and goodness knows I will always have to do that no matter who my partner is), I truly don’t think I could give it up altogether. As a matter of fact, that’s the one thing that could have kept me satisfied with W if he’d been willing. A good oral session once or twice a month would have been enough to keep me happy enough to put forth a lot more effort at resolving our other issues.

Scenario #4: One partner wishes to engage in activities including other parties when the other partner wishes for the sex relationship to remain exclusive.
In this case, I really think that the two people are not of the same mind and probably ought not be together unless the desire to bring others into the mix is something that the partner wanting it can set aside without feeling like they’ve made too big a sacrifice to the relationship. As for me, I can go either way. I would be happy to remain in a truly monogamous relationship if that is what my partner desired and if that partner was willing to provide some intimacy within our monogamous relationship. Remaining in a celibate relationship would be virtually impossible for me. I would also be happy to include others in our sex life on an occasional basis as long as we both agreed that our relationship was the core relationship.

Scenario #5: Both partners are interested and able to engage in sex, but one partner wishes to engage in sexual activities on a much more or less frequent schedule than the other partner.
In this case, I’m all about compromise. I would try to meet somewhere in the middle where one partner is having sex a bit less than desired and the other is having sex a bit more than desired. While this may not be a perfect solution at least it means that the sacrifice is not one-sided. As long as both partners are taking one another’s feelings into account and working towards a middle ground it seems like this could work. If however one partner (and it generally seems to be the one wanting more frequent sex) is making all the sacrifices then it wouldn’t be unexpected that this relationship would crumble under the weight of resulting resentment.

Now my views may be tainted by the fact that I tend to have a voracious sexual appetite, a willingness to explore, and a pretty open-minded attitude. Perhaps I’m way off base here. Oh well, I’m sure this post will garner at least a few comments from people with opinions divergent from my own. Let the discussion begin!


John said...

Interesting getting your thoughts on this. I agree with many of your points, and offer the following ideas:
1. The person with the low libido always controls the frequency of the sex.
2. If someone is unwilling to engage in a specific form of sex with their partner (oral, in your example) I think that the reason for that refusal is important. Most often there are ways that the resistant partner can overcome their aversion to many sexual behaviors. I'm thinking of things that are pretty mainstream here, like oral sex, not necessarily more extreme fetishes, which might represent an issue that the other partner needs to resolve (is wearing diapers in an adult healthy behavior?)
3. The partner being permanently physically prevented form having sex is the toughest dilemma, in my mind. Can a healthy partner be expected to give up sex completely? OTOH, is it reasonable to think that a partner could go out and fulfill their sexual needs with others without causing problems within the relationship, or with their children (Daddy, are you really sleeping with Ms. XXX and not Mommy?)

Trueself said...

John - Obviously this topic was not as interesting as I had thought it might be since you were apparently the only one interested enough to comment. Ah well, so we dialogue, just the two of us.

1. Why does the low libido person always get this perogative? Why should they not bend and participate just a tiny bit more than they would desire on their own. Why are they allowed selfishness when the high libido one is castigated for it?

2. Yes, I definitely see a difference in "normal" vs. "fetish" behavior. I do think it is something that should be discussed prior to marriage and that both parties ought to either come to agreement on limits and boundaries or concede that they are incompatible and not enter into marriage.

3. Yes, that is definitely the stickiest wicket. If one were to fulfill their sexual needs elsewhere I would think that the utmost discretion would be called for.

Glimmer Man said...

You covered quite a few scenarios here, some of which hit very close to home for me.

1) Yes I've also found that happening as well. The person with the low libido controls the frequency. Think this is due to all the issues around abuse and rape. No means no. That said, I've got to agree with TS here. I've got a high drive and this lack of compromise directly led to the undoing of my marriage. Period. I was made to jump through hoops to get the basic necessity of sexual companionship, eventually dwindling to only a couple times of year. Quite frankly because I plum gave up trying to figure out the rules. At one low point she said, "You wouldn't ask for sex so much if you loved me." to which I replied, "You'd give me more sex if you loved *me*."

2. Normal versus fetish. Everyone has their boundaries. However, having the boundaries shift arbitrarily or a complete unwillingness to explore is unacceptable. What was "normal" between two people, suddenly becomes "disgusting" or "perverted"?!? If you love the person and find them sexy, aren't you likely to compromise or find alternatives or simply just play?

3. Permanent physical injury... well not to be funny or gross but someone would have to make my penis, tongue, and all my digits not to work before I gave up on sex. Quite frankly I was born with something like 15 or 16 sex organs... and know that toys are my friend. But yes I can understand how this happens with people who have MS and other debilitating diseases. Not sure how I would handle the situation from either side of it.