In my first two posts on Dead Bedroom Syndrome, I offered suggestions for getting past the challenge that arises when partners have discrepant sexual needs. In my first post, I recommended focusing on intimacy, connection and fun instead of confronting the sex challenge head-on. In the second, I proposed ditching the negotiation paradigm for mutual gift-giving, in other words, for what some have called a ‘love’ or ‘gift’ economy.
But what if your best efforts don’t work? Is there another option? There is, and it will work great for some, okay for others, and not at all for quite a few.
It’s an aspect of what, in my book Love and the More Perfect Union, I call Tiny Country Creation. One of the best-kept secrets about relationships is that partners are in the business of creating their own wee country with its own laws and codes of conduct. Is flirting allowed? How about emotional intimacy with someone else? Every couple reaches its own understanding about these and a host of other issues.
Relationships are organic entities and are constantly evolving over time. So long as we’re in a relationship, we’re practicing Tiny Country Creation.
One of the key areas where we do this is around who we’re allowed to be physically intimate with. Monogamy is the rule in Western culture. It’s so deeply entrenched that there’s a widespread tendency to view any other options as inherently deficient. If you open up a marriage, the thinking goes, you’re afraid of intimacy. Or morally deficient. Or just plain doomed, as in “Non-monogamy never works.”
But let’s get real here. If you can’t get your sexual needs met with your partner, maybe you can get them met elsewhere. There’s an indisputable logic here, right? Especially if you drop all your “why it’s wrong” stories about non-monogamy, just as a thought experiment.
From where I sit, it’s something to consider.
Before continuing down this admittedly fraught path, it’s important to note some crucial points:
- I am not recommending cheating. Infidelity kills trust. It kills intimate relationships. (It can keep the relationship alive, but it has a murderous effect on the intimacy piece of it.) To work, what is now usually called polyamory (a weird coinage meaning, more or less, ‘loving many’) has to be freely negotiated and transparent. No secret screwing, no secret anything!
- Polyamory requires a high level of relationship skills. A high level of self-knowledge, too. It’s got its share of challenges and isn’t for everyone. (But then, as our high and rising levels of divorce show, monogamy isn’t for everyone, either!)
- Polyamory can and often does work. Really well. It can switch people’s emotional set and setting from a paradigm of scarcity (love is limited—if you give it to someone else, I’ll have less) to a paradigm of abundance (love is limitless—loving someone else doesn’t mean there’s less for me). But, like I say, it’s not for everyone.
In this short post, I can’t possibly give a short course on the complex topic of polyamory. Nor am I here to proselytize. Polyamory is tricky. But monogamy is tricky, too. What I am suggesting is that it may be something to consider if you’re in a relationship with discrepant sexual needs.
The starting point is to ask yourself why you’re in an intimate relationship with that special (and sometimes especially annoying) someone. Is it fundamentally strong? Are there compelling reasons to sustain it? If the answer to these questions is yes, and if your sexual challenges are getting in the way more than a little, it just may be that you can keep all the good stuff and also address your sexual challenges by exploring polyamory.
Let’s say you don’t give oral sex and she wants it … a lot. Well, maybe someone else can provide that service! Maybe giving her this gift will even increase the quantum of love you share with your partner. It might make you happy that this person you love is getting this need met, and it might make her feel really loving toward you because you’re supporting her pursuit of happiness.
I know this may sound absurd. Unrealistic. You may be asking yourself, ‘But what about jealousy? What about the risk of her falling in love with that other person?’
Yes, polyamory can be challenging. But these challenges can be overcome. Lots of people practice polyamory happily and successfully.
It may or may not be for you, but it’s something to consider.
For the sake of your love.
For the sake of the relationship.