DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: My fiancé and I have been together (quite happily) for almost 6 years and we are more in love with one another now than we were in the beginning. However, we have not been able to have sex for the last 2 years.
I have a condition called vulvodynia which makes intercourse excruciatingly painful. He has been incredibly supportive and stayed by my side through countless doctors and endless disappointments. I do what I can to keep him “satisfied” but it’s no longer enough and he has requested my consent to sleep with other women. What do I say? Is this a good idea? The thought of him being intimate with another woman makes me physically ill. He deserves to be happy and I feel like I’m keeping him from that. Am I being selfish? I apologize for the barrage of questions. I would really appreciate any insight you may be able to offer.
Thank you for your time.
Rock and A Hard Place
DEAR ROCK AND A HARD PLACE: I’m sorry you’re going through this. You and your fiancé stuck in an incredibly unfair situation with potentially no end in sight. Worse, there are no easy or clear-cut answers to be had to help make things easier.
Before we talk about options that are available to you, I want to talk about what you’ve been doing right. You and your fiancé are trying to tackle this together. He’s been providing you with emotional support through your side and from the sounds of things, he’s been working hard to not make you feel pressured to perform. You, on the other hand, have been doing what you can to help keep him satisfied to the best of your ability, which is admirable too.
One of the hard truths about relationships is that sexual fulfillment is critical to a relationship’s survival. When one or both partners aren’t getting their needs met, the relationship starts to suffer. Now, there will be times when there will be imbalances in sex – one partner’s libido may tank for one reason or another, lifestyle changes may make finding time for sex impractical or even impossible, etc. – and it’s important for one or both partners to find ways to cope in the meantime. Making compromises, such giving your partner an assist as they masturbate, providing some dirty talk or oral sex even if you’re not necessarily in the mood are ways of trying to bridge the gap during these rough patches. The problem is that you and your fiancé, through no fault of your own, are stuck in a situation with no clear cut end in sight… and unfortunately what might work in the short-term doesn’t seem to be working in the long–term. And now, here we are.
There’s always going to be a certain impulse for people to dump on your fiancé for wanting more than you’re capable of giving him; we live in a profoundly sex-negative culture that tends to look at people (frequently men, but not always) with higher sex-drives than their partners as being the problem. Wanting more sex than one’s partner is willing (or able) to give is frequently seen as gauche, inconsiderate or just plain unfair and the issue would go away if the higher-libido partner would just learn to not want sex and be grateful for what he or she is given. The fact that it isn’t enough for him will make him the bad guy in may people’s eyes, possibly even his own. But no amount of cultural approbation or browbeating can change the facts on the ground – it’s not enough for him.
Here’s the thing: the fact that he’s come to you and asked about the possibility of making an arrangement to open up the relationship actually speaks well of him. As painful as all of this can be, your fiancé wants to be honest and open with you. He’s being up-front with his needs and he wants to be above-board rather than sneaking around your back and being a cheating piece of s
t. He doesn’t want to leave you, he hasn’t fallen out of love with you or doesn’t find you attractive any more. All things being equal, he’d rather be with you… but he can’t, not in the way that he needs. What he’s asking for is permission to get his needs met so that he can continue being a good, supportive partner to you because the frustration can and will get in the way of that.
This is one of those times when nobody is in the right and nobody is in the wrong. No, RaaHP, you’re not being selfish. And neither is your fiancé. You want him to be happy. He wants you to be happy. The things it would take for one of you to be happy involves making you the other miserable. And so we come to the crux of the problem: we’re stuck with “which possible solution is going to hurt the least?”
One possibility is that things continue as they are – you doing your best to keep him satisfied. Perhaps adding sex toys to the mix might help; a masturbation sleeve like the ones from Fleshlight or Tenga for example, might make a difference; these can provide a new and intense sensation that can feel similar to penetrative sex. Using it on him – rather than his masturbating with it alone – might be a way of providing the intimacy and connection he wants with the orgasms. You might even be able to simulate traditional PIV sex by holding it between your thighs and letting him penetrate THAT instead of you.
The only problem with this approach is that I suspect it might be a stop-gap measure, rather than a solution, and all that’s happened is that you’ve kicked this problem down the road.
Another possible solution would be to give him permission to sleep with someone else… and then let yourself be in a state of deliberate denial. He agrees to tell you that he hasn’t slept with anyone else and you agree to believe him, while he goes and gets his needs met as discretely as possible. Again, it’s not ideal, but the polite fiction and plausible deniability may be the compromise you can live with.
It may also be worth examining your feelings about his having an affair with someone else. What, exactly, about his being with someone else makes you feel so sick? Is it the sex itself? Does it bother you because you see it as a threat to the emotional integrity of your relationship, that he might start to fall in love with his mistress? Do you feel jealous because this theoretical lover is able to do what you can’t? If you can drill down into what, precisely, bothers you about this scenario, then you and your husband might be able to address it together.
It may also be worth gaming out other scenarios and possible compromises. Would it be as bad if he were given limited permission to sleep with someone else – say, once every couple of months, rather than at will? Would you feel differently if he were seeing an escort, rather than someone from a dating website? What if vaginal sex were off the table – would you be bothered as much his getting oral from someone? What if he went to a masseuse who offered happy endings?
It may well be that you would want to combine these options – using something like the Fleshlight to help prolong things while the two of you work out a possible solution, agreeing to let him get a happy ending from a masseuse while deliberately looking the other way if it goes farther…
I don’t know. And I’m sorry that I don’t know.
If you do decide to look into opening up the relationship, I suggest you and your fiancé read Tristan Taormino’s Opening Up and The Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy; these will help give you the tools to talk about ethical non-monogamy and how to establish the rules to make it work. And no matter what you do choose, don’t be afraid to communicate your needs to your fiancé as well. Just because penetrative sex is impossible for you doesn’t mean that you don’t have a need for intimacy and pleasure as well.
I wish I had better or easier answers for you, RaaHP. I think you and your fiancé have a strong relationship and an amazing connection. Keep those lines of communication open and don’t lose sight of the love you have for each other.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)