The most common sexual problem is low desire, according to a research study we recently published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine. Around 40 per cent of the women we asked, and 30 per cent of men, reported experiencing problems with low desire during the last six months.
Many women also reported difficulties reaching orgasm (15 per cent), as well as problems with vaginal dryness (29 per cent) and vaginal pain (17 per cent). Nearly a quarter of the men had difficulty ejaculating and maintaining or acquiring an erection.
These rates suggest that a variety of sexual problems are quite common among midlife Canadians. Our findings are also largely consistent with published research from the United States and the United Kingdom.
I am a PhD candidate in family relations and human development at the University of Guelph and my research typically focuses on “keeping the spark alive” in long-term relationships. My main interest is the intersection of relational and sexual elements within romantic relationships.
This study was co-authored with Robin Milhausen from the University of Guelph, Alexander McKay of the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada and Stephen Holzapfel from Women’s College Hospital Toronto. It was aimed at addressing a lack of available data on the frequency and predictors of sexual problems among midlife Canadians.
Novel sex enhances desire
Individuals who are married are more likely to report low desire than those who are not married, according to our results. Married men are more likely to report ejaculation difficulties.
These are interesting findings, and not unexpected. Other research has shown that sexual satisfaction decreases over time in long-term relationships. Together, this suggests that over-familiarity with a partner in some cases may lead to the sexual “spark” burning less bright, which may also contribute to sexual problems.
Our research also suggests that participating in novel sexual activities may enhance desire by breaking up routine and therefore enhancing the spark.
We also examined the effect of menopause — finding that postmenopausal women were more likely to report low desire and vaginal pain. This is consistent with other literature showing declines in desire for postmenopausal women. It complements other research, which suggests that physiological changes like thinning of the vaginal walls and reduced lubrication that can occur after menopause may lead to vaginal pain.
When doctors don’t ask
We conducted this research with a large national sample of 2,400 Canadians aged between 40 and 59. Our findings showed that sexual problems are very common in this age group. This is one of the largest Canadian demographics and will continue to grow. More national Canadian data is needed to understand the health-care needs for this group.
One important limitation of this study is that we based our research on participant self-reports and did not assess whether they met the diagnostic criteria for a clinical diagnosis of sexual dysfunction (e.g. erectile dysfunction).
Sex and relationship therapists say infidelity is more complex than most of us are inclined to believe.
For example, couples can sometimes find renewed honesty and intimacy after the discovery of an affair.
Cheating = bad. Fidelity = good.
This is the logic to which most of us subscribe. And yet if you ask a relationship expert, they’ll likely offer a more nuanced perspective, both on people who stray and on the implications of affairs.
Over the past year, I’ve spoken to a series of therapists about infidelity among modern couples, and they’ve all surprised me with their insights. Below, see three of the most intriguing observations I heard about cheating:
Couples sometimes reconnect emotionally after the discovery of an affair
Couples therapist Esther Perel would never recommend that someone deliberately cheat on their partner in order to improve their relationship.
But she has observed the way some couples find renewed honesty and intimacy after it’s revealed that one partner has had an affair.
Perel told Business Insider, “It’s a reevaluation of what happened: How did we become so estranged from each other? How did we lose our connection? How did we become so numb to each other? And the galvanizing of the fear of losing everything that we have built sometimes brings us back face-to-face, with a level of intensity that we haven’t experienced in a long time.”
Most people who cheat don’t actually want to leave their relationship
Some people who cheat on their partners really do want out — and having an affair is the only way they know how to begin that process. But other people are simply looking to spice things up.
That’s according to Tammy Nelson, a sex and relationship therapist and the relationship expert at Ashley Madison, a website for people seeking affairs.
Nelson shared a hypothetical example: “Maybe their marriage gives them physical and emotional validation, but they’re not getting the sexual risk-taking that they would want. So they get that from the affair.”
In fact, Nelson said some people may only see their affair partner a couple times a year — “but when they do, it’s like a full blowout, and then they come back to their marriage and they’re perfectly happy.”
Don’t discount your gut feelings about your partner’s attraction to a ‘friend’
According to marriage and family therapist Sheri Meyers, it’s important to listen to your intuition. Maybe you’ve noticed your partner changing the way they act when the other person is around, or maybe they’ve been weirdly critical of that person.
If you feel like there might be something not exactly platonic going on between your partner and their friend, that’s worth exploring — even if ultimately you’re wrong.
Monogamy;— to have only one partner at a time — is considered a social standard in modern human society. But is it a necessary component of a satisfactory relationship?
Canadian researchers present new findings, suggesting that it may not have to be the ideal relationship structure. People in open relationships report feeling just as happy and content as those in conventional, monogamous ones.
The study titled “Reasons for sex and relational outcomes in consensually nonmonogamous and monogamous relationships” was published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships on March 23.
“We are at a point in social history where we are expecting a lot from our partners. We want to have sexual fulfillment and excitement but also emotional and financial support,” said lead author Jessica Wood, a Ph.D. student in applied social psychology at the University of Guelph.
“Trying to fulfill all these needs can put pressure on relationships. To deal with this pressure, we are seeing some people look to consensually non-monogamous relationships.”
While monogamy is omnipresent, Wood said that open relationships are actually more common than most people would expect. Currently, somewhere between three to seven percent of people in North America are said to be in a consensual, non-monogamous relationship.
For the study, the team surveyed around 200 people in monogamous relationships and around 140 people in open relationships to compare the data sets. Both groups were asked questions regarding how satisfied they felt, whether they considered separating, general happiness levels, etc.
Research has shown that many people tend to have a negative perception of open relationships. Some find it to be immoral, some equate it to cheating or sex addiction, and some simply believe it offers low levels of satisfaction.
“It’s assumed that people in these types of relationships are having sex with everyone all the time. They are villainized and viewed as bad people in bad relationships, but that’s not the case,” Wood said. “This research shows us that our choice of relationship structure is not an indicator of how happy or satisfied we are in our primary relationships.”
The results of the study revealed that people in open relationships actually had similar levels of relationship satisfaction, psychological well-being and sexual satisfaction as those in monogamous relationships.
Sexual motivation appeared to be the biggest predictor of satisfaction, regardless of relationship structure. This was because of how closely sexual satisfaction is tied to our psychological needs.
“In both monogamous and non-monogamous relationships, people who engage in sex to be close to a partner and to fulfill their sexual needs have a more satisfying relationship than those who have sex for less intrinsic reasons, such as to avoid conflict,” she said.
You’re not going to be into it every night, but you shouldn’t make your partner feel bad if they are.
Men are always down to get it on while women are more reluctant, at least that’s how the assumption goes. But it’s not true. Sometimes men are tired/sick/not in the mood — and that’s very OK. But if you’re having sex with your partner just because you want to avoid letting them down then you might be doing more harm than good.
Researchers conducted two surveys of 642 adults. In the first, participants were asked how they feel when they’re rejected with frustration or criticism. Then they were asked how they feel when their partner says ‘no’ and then states something like: ‘I love you, I’m attracted to you and I’ll make it up to you in the future.’
As you might have guessed, participants preferred to be let down gently.
Study author James Kim of University of Toronto said people often to try to avoid upsetting their partner to avoid conflict, but it’s really not so bad to say no.
“Our findings suggest that rejecting a partner for sex in positive ways (e.g. reassuring a partner that you still love and are attracted to them) actually represents a viable alternative behavior to having sex for avoidance goals in sustaining both partners’ relationship and sexual satisfaction,” Kim told PsyPost.
In the second study, Kim and his colleagues asked 98 couples to complete surveys every night for four weeks. The researchers found that — shocker — people were more sexually satisfied when they had sex. But, Kim says you can say ‘no’ sometimes while keeping up the tension. Just make sure you do it kindly and with some positive reinforcement.
“When people are not in the mood for sex and find that the main reason they are inclined to ‘say yes’ is to avoid hurting their partner’s feelings or the relationship conflict that might ensue, engaging in positive rejection behaviors that convey love and reassurance may be critical to sustain relationship quality,” the researchers said in their article.
Own The Conversation
Ask The Big Question
How often can you gently say no before it becomes a problem?
Drop This Fact
Both men and women lose interest in sex, but women are more likely than men to be turned off, according to a recent study.
Location: Springfield IL
My parents were Laurel Canyon hippies of the first order, free love, drugs and all that stuff. I used to be disgusted by all the sex my parents were having with other people. I just couldn’t understand why they didn’t just want to be with one another or divorce and remarry someone else. As soon as I could, I left the west coast for the Midwest. Now all these years later my own marriage is in trouble. My husband unilaterally ended our sex life after the birth of our last child three years ago. I haven’t let myself go. I’m still very attractive and have even improved my body after the babies. But nothing I do brings him back to bed. He said that we have children now, and people with children don’t do that sort of thing!
To spite him for shutting me out, I turned to another man for sex. I just wanted to feel desirable again. I fear my affair will be found out and it will destroy my marriage. Funny thing, my parents with all their multiple sex partners remained happily married for 51 years till my father’s death two years ago. They were honest about their lives; I am not! I feel ashamed, but I am also having the best sex of my life and I won’t give it up.
My husband is a decent man and a good father. How can I continue to live this lie? If I come clean it will likely break up my family and I’ll look like a cheating slut. Is there any other option? I wish I could have been more accepting of my parent’s lifestyle; maybe the karma wouldn’t be so rough now.
[A]hhh, bad luck doll! That karma thing sure enough can be a bitch.
If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard this same story from a frustrated and desperate man or woman trapped in a sexless marriage, I’d have enough money to lay down my keyboard, give up my status as the most fabulous and revered sexpert in the universe and retire to Maui. Unfortunately, by the time I hear from most of the people they have already suffered through years of abstinence, all the while begging and pleading for the sex they want and need. By the time they write to me it’s often way too late. The die is cast. They’re married with kids and often have a stray affair workin’ on the side. As you suggest, Tammy, it’s a pretty unbearable situation.
My first thoughts are that by the time things get to the point of sheer desperation, a happy ending is virtually impossible. A lot of people are gonna get hurt regardless of how this resolves it self. If that’s a given, maybe you should be asking yourself; what can be salvaged from the impending wreck?
Tammy, you write something very telling in your message when talking about your parents. You say, “They were honest about their lives; I am not!” In the end, if you can reclaim your integrity, regardless if it means the demise of your marriage and family, as you currently know it, you will have regained something of inestimable value.
I also want to address your comment: “If I come clean it will likely break up my family and I’ll look like a cheating slut.” Perhaps, but at least you’ll no longer be a lyin’, cheatin’ slut. Come on, how could what others think of you trump what you already think of yourself. You are down on yourself because you expect sex in your marriage. And when that disappeared, you didn’t shut down as a sexual being. Does that equation make you so bad, a slut even?
I wholeheartedly believe that married people deserve a rich and fulfilling sex life, unless there’s mutual agreement for another arrangement. Unilaterally depriving a spouse of a rich and fulfilling sex life is an act of sexual violence. It’s the kind of sexual violence that will cause frustration, anger and desperation. And inevitably lead to infidelity, which in turn destroys the marriage and traumatizes the kids. So Tammy, if you are a cheating slut, what does that make your husband? Neither you nor your old man is without blame. So time to buck up, darlin’, and do the right thing. Regardless of how the chips fall.
And one more thing, you say you were disgusted by your parent’s hippy, free love lifestyle — at least they were open an up-front with you about who they were. Consider the trauma your kids will experience when they learn dear old mom was bumping someone other than dear old dad. What kind of example are you setting for them? You see where the honesty thing is a good idea right from the get go, huh?
Ok, so I think there’s a consensus that the truth must be told. I suggest that you generously offer your husband the first right of refusal. He may not deserve it, but that’s the way to go nonetheless. Offer to stay with him and raise your kids together, but not in a sexless marriage. If he can’t bring himself to bone you the way you need it, when you need it, with vigor and passion; then he needs to free you up to find that bone in someone else’s drawers. And if he can’t live the cuckold life he ought at least to be man enough to leave the marriage with as little stink as possible.
[Z]hana Vrangalova had hit a problem. On a blustery day in early spring, sitting in a small coffee shop near the campus of New York University, where she is an adjunct professor of psychology, she was unable to load onto her laptop the Web site that we had met to discuss. This was not a technical malfunction on her end; rather, the site had been blocked. Vrangalova, who is thirty-four, with a dynamic face framed by thick-rimmed glasses, has spent the past decade researching human sexuality, and, in particular, the kinds of sexual encounters that occur outside the norms of committed relationships. The Web site she started in 2014, casualsexproject.com, began as a small endeavor fuelled by personal referrals, but has since grown to approximately five thousand visitors a day, most of whom arrive at the site through organic Internet searches or referrals through articles and social media. To date, there have been some twenty-two hundred submissions, about evenly split between genders, each detailing the kinds of habits that, when spelled out, can occasionally alert Internet security filters. The Web site was designed to open up the discussion of one-night stands and other less-than-traditional sexual behaviors. What makes us engage in casual sex? Do we enjoy it? Does it benefit us in any way—or, perhaps, might it harm us? And who, exactly, is “us,” anyway?
These alarms have sounded before. Writing in 1957, the author Nora Johnson raised an eyebrow at promiscuity on college campuses, noting that “sleeping around is a risky business, emotionally, physically, and morally.” Since then, the critiques of casual sexual behavior have only proliferated, even as society has ostensibly become more socially liberal. Last year, the anthropologist Peter Wood went so far as to call the rise of casual sex “an assault on human nature,” arguing in an article in the conservative Weekly Standard that even the most meaningless-seeming sex comes with a problematic power imbalance.
Others have embraced the commonness of casual sex as a sign of social progress. In a widely read Atlantic article from 2012, “Boys on the Side,” Hanna Rosin urged women to avoid serious suitors so that they could focus on their own needs and careers. And yet, despite her apparent belief in the value of casual sex as a tool of exploration and feminist thinking, Rosin, too, seemed to conclude that casual sex cannot be a meaningful end goal. “Ultimately, the desire for a deeper human connection always wins out, for both men and women,” she wrote.
The Casual Sex Project was born of Vrangalova’s frustration with this and other prevalent narratives about casual sex. “One thing that was bothering me is the lack of diversity in discussions of casual sex,” Vrangalova told me in the café. “It’s always portrayed as something college students do. And it’s almost always seen in a negative light, as something that harms women.”
It was not the first time Vrangalova had wanted to broaden a limited conversation. As an undergraduate, in Macedonia, where she studied the psychology of sexuality, she was drawn to challenge cultural taboos, writing a senior thesis on the development of lesbian and gay sexual attitudes. In the late aughts, Vrangalova started her research on casual sex in Cornell’s developmental-psychology program. One study followed a group of six hundred and sixty-six freshmen over the course of a year, to see how engaging in various casual sexual activities affected markers of mental health: namely, depression, anxiety, life satisfaction, and self-esteem. Another looked at more than eight hundred undergraduates to see whether individuals who engaged in casual sex felt more victimized by others, or were more socially isolated. (The results: yes to the first, no to the second.) The studies were intriguing enough that Vrangalova was offered an appointment at N.Y.U., where she remains, to further explore some of the issues surrounding the effects of nontraditional sexual behaviors on the individuals who engage in them.
Over time, Vrangalova came to realize that there was a gap in her knowledge, and, indeed, in the field as a whole. Casual sex has been much explored in psychological literature, but most of the data captured by her research team—and most of the other experimental research she had encountered—had been taken from college students. (This is a common problem in psychological research: students are a convenient population for researchers.) There has been the occasional nationally representative survey, but rigorous data on other subsets of the population is sparse. Even the largest national study of sexual attitudes in the United States, which surveyed a nationally representative sample of close to six thousand men and women between the ages of fourteen and ninety-four, neglected to ask respondents how many of the encounters they engaged in could be deemed “casual.”
From its beginnings, sex research has been limited by a social stigma. The field’s pioneer, Alfred Kinsey, spent decades interviewing people about their sexual behaviors. His books sold, but he was widely criticized for not having an objective perspective: like Freud before him, he believed that repressed sexuality was at the root of much of social behavior, and he often came to judgments that supported that view—even when his conclusions were based on less-than-representative surveys. He, too, used convenient sample groups, such as prisoners, as well as volunteers, who were necessarily comfortable talking about their sexual practices.
In the fifties, William Masters and Virginia Johnson went further, inquiring openly into sexual habits and even observing people in the midst of sexual acts. Their data, too, was questioned: Could the sort of person who volunteers to have sex in a lab tell us anything about the average American? More troubling still, Masters and Johnson sought to “cure” homosexuality, revealing a bias that could easily have colored their findings.
Indeed, one of the things you quickly notice when looking for data on casual sex is that, for numbers on anyone who is not a college student, you must, for the most part, look at studies conducted outside academia. When OkCupid surveyed its user base, it found that between 10.3 and 15.5 per cent of users were looking for casual sex rather than a committed relationship. In the 2014 British Sex Survey, conducted by the Guardian, approximately half of all respondents reported that they had engaged in a one-night stand (fifty-five per cent of men, and forty-three per cent of women), with homosexuals (sixty-six per cent) more likely to do so than heterosexuals (forty-eight per cent). A fifth of people said they’d slept with someone whose name they didn’t know.
With the Casual Sex Project, Vrangalova is trying to build a user base of stories that she hopes will, one day, provide the raw data for academic study. For now, she is listening: letting people come to the site, answer questions, leave replies. Ritch Savin-Williams, who taught Vrangalova at Cornell, told me that he was especially impressed by Vrangalova’s willingness “to challenge traditional concepts and research designs with objective approaches that allow individuals to give honest, thoughtful responses.”
The result is what is perhaps the largest-ever repository of information about casual-sex habits in the world—not that it has many competitors. The people who share stories range from teens to retirees (Vrangalova’s oldest participants are in their seventies), and include city dwellers and suburbanites, graduate-level-educated professionals (about a quarter of the sample) and people who never finished high school (another quarter). The majority of participants aren’t particularly religious, although a little under a third do identify as at least “somewhat” religious. Most are white, though there are also blacks, Latinos, and other racial and ethnic groups. Initially, contributions were about sixty-per-cent female, but now they’re seventy-per-cent male. (This is in line with norms; men are “supposed” to brag more about sexual exploits than women.) Anyone can submit a story, along with personal details that reflect his or her demographics, emotions, personality traits, social attitudes, and behavioral patterns, such as alcohol intake. The setup for data collection is standardized, with drop-down menus and rating scales.
Still, the site is far from clinical. The home page is a colorful mosaic of squares, color-coded according to the category of sexual experience (blue: “one-night stand”; purple: “group sex”; gray: the mysterious-sounding “first of many”; and so on). Pull quotes are highlighted for each category (“Ladies if you haven’t had a hot, young Latino stud you should go get one!”). Many responses seem to boast, provoke, or exaggerate for rhetorical purposes. Reading it, I felt less a part of a research project than a member of a society devoted to titillation.
Vrangalova is the first to admit that the Casual Sex Project is not what you would call an objective, scientific approach to data collection. There is no random assignment, no controls, no experimental conditions; the data is not representative of the general population. The participants are self-selecting, which inevitably colors the results: if you’re taking the time to write, you are more likely to write about positive experiences. You are also more likely to have the sort of personality that comes with wanting to share details of your flings with the public. There is another problem with the Casual Sex Project that is endemic in much social-science research: absent external behavioral validation, how do we know that respondents are reporting the truth, rather than what they want us to hear or think we want them to say?
And yet, for all these flaws, the Casual Sex Project provides a fascinating window into the sexual habits of a particular swath of the population. It may not be enough to draw new conclusions, but it can lend nuance to assumptions, expanding, for instance, ideas about who engages in casual sex or how it makes them feel. As I browsed through the entries after my meeting with Vrangalova, I came upon the words of a man who learned something new about his own sexuality during a casual encounter in his seventies: “before this I always said no one can get me of on a bj alone, I was taught better,” he writes. As a reflection of the age and demographic groups represented, the Casual Sex Project undermines the popular narrative that casual sex is the product of changing mores among the young alone. If that were the case, we would expect there to be a reluctance to engage in casual sex among the older generations, which grew up in the pre-“hookup culture” era. Such reluctance is not evident.
The reminder that people of all ages engage in casual sex might lead us to imagine three possible narratives. First, that perhaps what we see as the rise of a culture of hooking up isn’t actually new. When norms related to dating and free love shifted, in the sixties, they never fully shifted back. Seventy-year-olds are engaging in casual encounters because that attitude is part of their culture, too.
There’s another, nearly opposite explanation: casual sex isn’t the norm now, and wasn’t before. There are simply always individuals, in any generation, who seek sexual satisfaction in nontraditional confines.
And then there’s the third option, the one that is most consistent with the narrative that our culture of casual sex begins with college hookups: that people are casually hooking up for different reasons. Some young people have casual sex because they feel they can’t afford not to, or because they are surrounded by a culture that says they should want to. (Vrangalova’s preliminary analysis of the data on her site suggests that alcohol is much more likely to be involved in the casual-sex experiences of the young than the old.) And the old—well, the old no longer care what society thinks. For some, this sense of ease might come in their thirties; for others, their forties or fifties; for others, never, or not entirely.
This last theory relates to another of Vrangalova’s findings—one that, she confesses, came as a surprise when she first encountered it. Not all of the casual-sex experiences recorded on the site were positive, even among what is surely a heavily biased sample. Women and younger participants are especially likely to report feelings of shame. (“I was on top of him at one point and he can’t have forced me to so I must have consented . . . I’m not sure,” an eighteen-year-old writes, reporting that the hookup was unsatisfying, and describing feeling “stressed, anxious, guilt and disgust” the day after.) There is an entire thread tagged “no orgasm,” which includes other occasionally disturbing and emotional tales. “My view has gotten a lot more balanced over time,” Vrangalova said. “I come from a very sex-positive perspective, surrounded by people who really benefitted from sexual exploration and experiences, for the most part. By studying it, I’ve learned to see both sides of the coin.
Part of the negativity, to be sure, does originate in legitimate causes: casual sex increases the risk of pregnancy, disease, and, more often than in a committed relationship, physical coercion. But many negative casual-sex experiences come instead from a sense of social convention. “We’ve seen that both genders felt they were discriminated against because of sex,” Vrangalova told me. Men often feel judged by other men if they don’t have casual sex, and social expectations can detract from the experiences they do have, while women feel judged for engaging in casual experiences, rendering those they pursue less pleasurable.
Perhaps this should come as no surprise: the very fact that Vrangalova and others are seeking explanations for casual-sex behaviors suggests that our society views it as worthy of note—something aberrant, rather than ordinary. No one writes about why people feel the need to drink water or go to the bathroom, why eating dinner with friends is “a thing” or study groups are “on the rise.”
It is that sense of shame, ultimately, that Vrangalova hopes her project may help to address. As one respondent to a survey Vrangalova sent to users put it, “This has helped me feel okay about myself for wanting casual sex, and not feel ashamed or that what I do is wrong.” The psychologist James Pennebaker has found over several decades of work that writing about emotional experiences can act as an effective form of therapy, in a way that talking about those experiences may not. (I’m less convinced that there are benefits for those who use the site as a way to boast about their own experiences.) “Often there’s no outlet for that unless you’re starting your own blog,” Vrangalova points out. “I wanted to offer a space for people to share.”
That may well end up the Casual Sex Project’s real contribution: not to tell us something we didn’t already know, or at least suspect, but to make such nonjudgmental, intimate conversations possible. The dirty little secret of casual sex today is not that we’re having it but that we’re not sharing our experiences of it in the best way.
[S]cientists have uncovered the secret to a happy sex life – time and effort.
A new study has found that individuals who believed in ‘sexual destiny’ expected satisfaction to simply happen if them and their partner were meant to be.
The team had discovered that these individuals saw a lack of chemistry in the bedroom as a sign of incompatibility and instead of working to resolve the issues or giving it time, they simply ended the relationship.
‘People who believe in sexual destiny are using their sex life as a barometer for how well their relationship is doing, and they believe problems in the bedroom equal problems in the relationship as a whole,’ said Jessica Maxwell, a PhD candidate in the department of psychology at the University of Toronto.
‘Whereas people who believe in sexual growth not only believe they can work on their sexual problems, but they are not letting it affect their relationship satisfaction.’
Maxwell collaborated with a team at Dalhouse University to explore how ‘people can best maintain sexual satisfaction in their romantic relationships’.
Together they conducted six studies during their analysis to uncover the factors that impact a couple’s relationship and sexual satisfaction, reports Psychology Today.
During the study, researchers interviewed a range of couples, a total of 1,900 participants, who were at different stages of their relationship – some individuals were still in college, others lived together and a few were new parents.
Each couple was asked a series of questions that reflected either their ‘sexual soulmate’ or ‘sexual growth’, the idea that sexual satisfaction takes time, ideologies.
The team found that couples who followed the ideas of sexual growth had more of a connection during sex, higher sexual satisfaction with their partner and even a better relationship than those who endorsed the sexual destiny belief.
And people who were firm believers ‘that two people are either sexually compatible or they are not’ reported lower relationship quality and less sexual satisfaction.
It was also found that this group viewed sexual performance as playing a key role in determining the success of a relationship – which may have added pressure during sexual encounters and affecting performance.
But the other group, sexual growth believers, were much more open when to sexual changes from their partner – even if they were not compatible.
This has suggested ‘that individuals primed with sexual growth are not threatened by incompatibility information and still think it is important to work on the sexual relationship in such cases’, reads the study published in APA PsycNet
‘Those primed with sexual growth may be deeming sex to be more/less important to maintain their global relationship views, but their belief in effort and work allows them to remain committed on working to improve their sexual relationship.’
Maxwell said there is a honeymoon phase lasting about two to three years where sexual satisfaction is high among both sexual growth and sexual destiny believers.
But the benefit of believing in sexual growth becomes apparent after this initial phase, as sexual desire begins to ebb and flow.
‘We know that disagreements in the sexual domain are somewhat inevitable over time,’ she said.
‘Your sex life is like a garden, and it needs to be watered and nurtured to maintain it.’
[Y]ou might know about the type of non-monogamy that gets most mainstream media attention. But do you know about these other relationship styles outside the status quo?
This comic sheds light on the types of non-monogamy that tend to get ignored.
Whether non-monogamy’s for you or not, you can probably learn something from these examples of how people create options to put feminist values at the core of their relationships and reject oppressive expectations.
Do they challenge what you think a healthy partnership means?
New research shows that couples who are responsive outside of the bedroom have more interest in sex
By Elizabeth Bernstein
[H]ow can a couple keep their sexual desire going strong for the long haul?
Be nice to each other.
New research shows one way to keep desire strong is to be responsive to your partner’s needs out of the bedroom.
People who are responsive do three things: They understand what their partner is really saying, validate what is important to their partner, such as his or her attitudes, goals and desires, and care for or express warmth and affection toward their partner.
“Responsiveness creates a deep feeling that someone really knows and understands you,” says Gurit Birnbaum, a social psychologist and associate professor of psychology at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), a private university in Herzliya, Israel, who is the lead researcher on the new studies. “It makes you feel unique and special, and that is very, very sexy.”
In the beginning of a relationship, neurotransmitters such as dopamine push the partners to have sex as much as possible. Scan the brain of someone in this early, passionate stage of love and it will look very much like the brain of someone on drugs.
The addiction doesn’t last. Research suggests the chemical phase of passionate love typically continues between one and three years. Desire fades for different reasons: the chemical addiction to a partner subsides; people age and hormones decrease; emotional distance can cause passion to drop.
The new research—by psychologists at the IDC, the University of Rochester, Bar-Ilan University, in Ramat Gan, Israel, and Cornell Tech in New York, published this month in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology—consists of three studies of more than 100 heterosexual couples each. In the first, partners rated each others’ responsiveness and their own feelings of desire after a back and forth in an online app, where one person described a recent experience and thought his or her partner was responding. It was really a researcher.
In the second study, researchers reviewed videotapes of couples as one partner told a positive or negative personal story and the other responded. Then they were told to express physical intimacy. Researchers coded the subjects’ responsiveness and their expressions of desire.
In the third study, couples were asked to keep a daily diary for six weeks, reporting on the quality of the relationship, how responsive each partner felt the other was, and their level of desire. The participants were also asked to rate whether they felt their partner was valuable that day—someone others would perceive as a good partner—and how special he or she made them feel.
The studies showed that both men and women who felt their partner was more responsive felt more sexual desire for their partner. But women were affected more than men when their partner was responsive, meaning their desire for their partner increased more. The researchers believe women’s sexual desire is more sensitive in general to the emotional atmosphere than men’s.
The new research contradicts a decades-old theory that psychologists call the Intimacy-Desire paradox, which proposes that desire drops as two people become more emotionally intimate. It purports that people seek intimacy in a relationship, but desire thrives on distance and uncertainty.
Dr. Birnbaum says that certain types of intimacy are better for your sex life than others. Impersonal intimacy—familiarity without an emotional component—does kill desire. Think of your partner shaving in front of you or leaving the bathroom door open. But emotional intimacy that makes the relationship feel unique can boost it.
Tips to boost desire in your relationship by being responsive:
Start now. It is better to prevent a decline in desire than to try to revive it when it is lost, Dr. Birnbaum says.
Listen without judging. Don’t interrupt. Don’t spend the time while your partner is speaking thinking about how you will respond. “Most people want to give advice,” says Dr. Birnbaum. “It’s not the same as being there as a warm and wise ear.”
Pay attention to details. Look for ways to show your understanding and support. Does your wife have a big interview coming up and need solitude to prepare? Take the children out to dinner. Is your husband’s team in the playoffs? Don’t ask him to clean the garage right now. Being responsive is often expressed by behaviors, not just words, Dr. Birnbaum says.
Talk about your desire. Share your fantasies. Watch a sexy movie and talk about what parts you liked best.
A new study says non-monogamous couples can actually be closer, even as critics of open relationships argue humans are unable to separate love and sex
By Spencer Macnaughton
Hugh McIntyre, a 26-year-old music writer, and Toph Allen, a 28-year-old epidemiologist, are in love and have an “amazing” relationship of two and a half years. One of the keys to their success: sleeping with other people.
“We wouldn’t change a thing,” says Allen, who lives in New York City with McIntyre. “We get to fulfill our desire of having sex with other people. We avoid cheating and the resentment that comes in monogamous relationships when you can’t pursue sexual urges.” Their relationship is not unusual among gay men. In 2005, a study found that more than 40% of gay men had an agreement that sex outside the relationship was permissible, while less than 5% of heterosexual and lesbian couples reported the same.
McIntyre and Allen say the strength of their bond is built on clear and open communication. And while that assertion will be perplexing or even taboo to many monogamous couples, a new study into gay couples in open relationships suggests that this skepticism is unjustified. In fact, the study says, non-monogamous couples can actually be closer than their more faithful counterparts.
In June 2015, Christopher Stults, a researcher at The Center for Health, Identity, Behavior, and Prevention Studies at New York University, launched a qualitative study of 10 gay couples in open relationships. He conducted 45-minute, individual interviews with each of these men and their partners, who ranged in age from 19 to 43.
The study, funded by the Rural Center for Aids/STD Prevention at Indiana University, had multiple aims. “We wanted to see how these relationships form and evolve over time, and examine the perceived relationship quality, relationship satisfaction, and potential risk for HIV/STI infection,” says Stults, who finished coding the interviews this week at NYU and hopes to have the study published early next year.
So far, Stults says his finding is that non-monogamous relationships can lead to a happier, more fulfilling relationship. “My impression so far is that they don’t seem less satisfied, and it may even be that their communication is better than among monogamous couples because they’ve had to negotiate specific details,” Stults says.
And open relationships “don’t seem to put gay men at disproportionate risk for HIV and other STDs,” Stults says. “To my knowledge, no one contracted HIV and only one couple contracted an STD,” he says.
But despite Stults’s findings, there’s stigma associated with these kinds of relationships. In 2012, four studies from the University of Michigan found that participants’ perception of monogamous relationships were “overwhelmingly more favorable” than of open relationships.
“Gay men have always engaged more often in consensual non-monogamous relationships, and society has consistently stigmatized their decision to do so,” says Michael Bronski, a professor in the department of women, gender and sexuality at Harvard University.
McIntyre and Allen say they’ve experienced the stigma themselves but that an open relationship is the most honest way for them to be together. “We’ve run into gay and straight people who have assumed our relationship is ‘lesser than’ because we’re not monogamous. I think that’s offensive and ridiculous,” McIntyre says.
So what makes an open relationship work? Participants in Stults’ study emphasized that success is predicated on creating rules and sticking to them. For McIntyre and Allen, two rules are key: “Always tell the other person when you hook up with someone else, and always practice safe sex,” Allen says.
For David Sotomayor, a 46-year-old financial planner from New York, sticking to specific rules is fundamental to the success of his open marriage. “They’re built to protect the love of our relationship,” he says. “We can physically touch another man and have oral sex, but we can’t kiss, have anal sex, or go on dates with other guys,” he says. “We attach an emotional value to kissing – it’s special and unique.”
But sticking to the rules isn’t always easy. Sotomayor has broken them multiple times, which has caused conflict. “It creates a sense of doubt of whether someone is telling the truth,” he says.
Critics of non-monogamous relationships argue that humans are unable to separate love and sex. “Sex is an emotional experience,” says Brian Norton, a psychotherapist who specializes in gay couples and an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s department of counseling and clinical psychology. “There is emotion at play, and even in the most transactional experience someone can get attached,” Norton says.
Further, Norton believes that going outside the relationship for sex can lead to emotional insecurity. “I think it is a difficult pill to swallow that we cannot be all things to our partners,” he says. “A relationship is a constant balancing act between two conflicting human needs: autonomy and the need for closeness,” he says.
But Allen thinks it’s more complicated: “It’s true that love and sex are intertwined, but they aren’t the same thing. Love is about so much more than sex. [There’s] intimacy, friendship, mutual care and respect.”
That gay couples are leading the way in sexually progressive relationships shouldn’t be surprising, according to Bronski. “Because they’ve been excluded from traditional notions of sexual behavior, they’ve had to be trendsetters and forge their own relationship norms,” he says.
Norton believes the facility with which gay men engage in open relationships may be related to a fear of intimacy. “The experience of coming to terms with your homosexual identity can often be associated with emotional abandonment, shame and rejection,” he says.
“So our experience with love and intimacy at an early age is often broken and compromised, so when someone tries to get close to us as an adult, defenses get close,” he says. “It’s human nature to avoid revisiting feelings of abandonment, and open relationships may be a way of keeping a distance between another man.”
But Allen says that being open has strengthened his relationship with McIntyre and brought the couple closer together. “I feel a greater sense of connectedness with Hugh because I get to see him explore his sexuality with other people and I feel gratitude to him for giving me the same leeway,” he says.
Location: San Francisco
Dear Dr. Dick: I read your response to someone having trouble making gay friends. You said casual sex tends to be the norm for making friends in the gay community. I actually agree, but I wish that weren’t the only answer. My boyfriend and I have been happily together for over a year and a half. We lost a lot of “friends” because we are in a monogamous relationship. It seems they were friends to the extent they had a chance of sleeping with (or dating) either one of us. So now we have significantly less friends, which tends to happen I suppose when a couple takes the time to grow together and bond. But now we want to re-emerge to the social scene, go out more often and have fun. We don’t want to make friends vis a vis threesomes or on open relationship. Are you saying we’re doomed to never have gay friends again unless we put out? Honestly, that’s how it often seems in SF, and frankly, it’s not acceptable. I’d rather just be with my boyfriend. Thanks!
What an interesting predicament you present. Would you mind if we examined things a bit closer? You’re tellin’ me you guys used to have friends before you got together in the sexually exclusive relationship you’re currently enjoying, right? Then these former friends…and I think it’s pretty safe to assume these were mostly single friends…began to drop away when they realized they no longer could compete for either of your affections, right?
Well, do ya blame ‘em, darlin’? I sure don’t. I mean why would any self-respecting single gay man stick around? Just to enjoy your little nesting experience from afar? Gee, no thanks!
If these former friends were also suitors to either you or your current husband, why would you want them to hang in there? You are making such a big deal out of the exclusivity of your nest, wouldn’t these others just be unwelcomed 3rd wheels, as it were? I believe these other, not so exclusively encumbered as you, gay men would be much better served by taking their leave of you and your current husband and trying to find their own nesting situation. On top of the sexual tension that would continue if they did stick around, they’d also not be positioning themselves very well to find their own mate. Would you not agree?
So, ok I hope we cleared up that part. Now you say that you and your current husband are through with the first stage of nesting, the really exclusive part. And you now want to increase your circle of friends. Ok, that’s not a particularly tall order to fill! You’d probably do well to look to other couples for these new friendships, right? I mean, what would you old married guys have in common with single queer men…other than your youthfulness?
First Name: Beth
Location: New Jersey
Your question or comment: My husband and I have swung in the past and have had an open marriage for a short time about 5 or 6 years ago. We have, for the most part, been monogamous for the past few years. He now tells me that the only thing that will make him interested in having sex with me is if I find men to have sex with and send him pics of myself in the act with other men. I have no desire to do this but am considering doing it if it will help my sex life with him. I have read about Candaulism (a sexual practice or fantasy in which a man exposes his female partner, or images of her, to other people for their voyeuristic pleasure) and am beginning to think he may be a latent homosexual or bisexual and trying to fulfill his desire to be with a man by living vicariously threw me. He says that the torment of knowing that I am with another man is exciting to him and I don’t understand how that can be a healthy thing for him. I am desperate for guidance in this area. Your thoughts??
Well then, Beth, things are gonna get very interesting in your life real soon, huh?
Before I get to answering your query, let me ask you some questions. You say you and the hubby used to be swingers and even had an open marriage for a while some years ago. Why, after all that nontraditional relationship stuff, did ya’ll go back to sexual exclusivity? Did you both agree to go back to the straight and narrow, or did one of you decide for the both of you? This is an important point. If one of you decided for the both of you, the one tagging along with the decision may not have been totally on board from the get go. And when that happens, what looks like domestic tranquility is actually nothing of the sort.
It appears to me that your marriage has somewhat of a cyclical pattern to it. You guys have vanilla periods and kinky periods. Would that be an accurate representation of the dynamics? If so, let me ask a few more questions. Who or what determines the swing, you’ll pardon the pun, from vanilla to kink? Is it a boredom thing? And who determines the swing back to vanilla? And does that have anything to do with fear and jealousy? Do you guys discuss the transition before hand? Or is the migration from vanilla to kink and back again more of a follow-the-leader sort of thing? And who leads whom into kink? And does the same person lead out of kink back to vanilla? These questions are all very important and I would want to know the answers before I suggest a path forward.
Now I know you are not here to answer my outstanding questions, so that means I need to punt. From what you tell me, I discern that the hubby is in need of a little spice. And maybe he is the one who traditionally leads the marriage out of vanilla into kink. You appear to be resisting this migration for whatever reason. Maybe that’s your traditional role in the marriage. I’m also guessing that you guys don’t talk things through before a momentous change is in the offing, but ya should. A lot of the heartache and misdirection could be avoided if you did.
I also think your husband is not veering into particularly dangerous or uncharted waters with his Candaulism. Seems to me you’ve been there already, at least in spirit, with your periods of swinging and open relationship. It also occurs to me that your hubby has a big fat cuckold fetish that he is trying to itch. And in terms of fetishes, this is a relatively harmless one, especially if everyone involved is on board for the fun and games. Check out my How To Video Library for some swell movies on that theme.
Is his cuckold fetish latent homosexuality? What a funny question to ask considering your relationship history. Isn’t it more likely that he might have a bisexual streak? And the fact that you are puzzled by all of this suggests, at least to me, that you guys don’t know each other very well. And that’s astonishing considering what you’ve been through together.
What I’m getting at though all of this is, if you want to restore some balance and harmony to your marriage, the answer is not simply hanging out at the vanilla end of relationship spectrum because it’s comfortable and safe. At least not until there is consensus on the part of both you and your husband. The big mistake many couples make is to assume that if one person is along for the ride, just to make peace, there is consensus. That’s not consensus; that’s conciliation.
Again, because you guys aren’t here to discuss this stuff with me, but I’d still like to help, let me turn you on to an exercises that will facilitate the open and honest discussion you need to have with your man and he with you. What follows comes from a workshop I developed called; The Gospel of Kink. I’ve also conveniently packaged this workshop into a workbook with the same title. You can find the book HERE!
Both the workshop and book are designed to help people, like you and your husband, develop the skills they need to effectively communicate with one another and improve their problem solving skills. The workshop and book, as the title suggests, are specifically geared toward folks in kinky, BDSM, and alt-culture relationships, but even vanilla couples will find what I present very helpful.
Even the strongest relationships go through periods of distress and turmoil. Disagreements, misunderstandings, and personal foibles can cause contention and conflict. So let’s see if we can come up with some practical tools and techniques to 1) handle common alt relationship related issues, and 2) successfully navigate our relationship conflicts.
EXERCISE 2 — Tools and Techniques for Navigating Alt Relationship Conflicts
Begin by jotting down a half dozen or so key words or phrases that identify the issues and problems you’ve encountered in your alt relationships. And then see if you can come up with a list of a half dozen or so key words or phrases that suggest possible solutions to those issues and problems.
Once both of you have completed your lists you’ll need to set up a time for a formal discussion of those lists. With a little luck, this exercise will help you identify the stumbling blocks that both of you see and help you develop a strategy to overcome them.
Of course all of this will depend on how well you listen to and absorb the message coming from your partner. Need help with that too? Never fear, The Gospel of Kink has exercises for that as well.
I recently discovered that my GF has been cheating on me. She wants me to forgive her but it’s been really hard. Just dealing with the fact that it happened is overwhelming. It feels like I could never forgive her. I don’t know if there’s a solution or not. I know I still love her but the truth is I feel dirty being around her. It also makes me feel stupid for putting up with this and letting it happen in the first place. I feel like a total sap. I’d love any advice you could give me.
Before we turn to chastising your vixen girlfriend for her behavior, let me make a quick observation about you, Paul. You sure are a ball of contradictions, aren’t you, darlin’? How can you say that you love a person who makes you feel dirty and stupid? Simply put, you are deceiving yourself about one or the other of these emotions. And pardon me, but there’s no way that what you describe here can be love. An obsession, heart sick, wounded pride, sour grapes…absolutely. Love…ahhh, not so much! So stop saying that you love this woman, Paul, it’s just adding to the confusion.
Here’s a tip for us all. Let’s, each of us, promise, right here and now, to save the “L” word for those feelings that are a little less desperate and debilitating, OK? Because if we don’t reserve the “L” word for feelings that are uplifting and life-affirming then we will bandy it about, like Paul here. Let’s try not to over-use the term to describe any and all our fixations. If what we are experiencing tears us down instead of building us up, then it ain’t love no how, no way. Period!
Ok Paul, I ’m gonna try not read too much into your brief statement, but there appears to be some important information here that we should consider. When you say your girlfriend…“is been cheating,” that suggests to me that her indiscretion may have been ongoing. Because you could have said…“she cheated on me,” which would imply a one-time thing.
And what an interesting word choice “cheat” is in this context. This makes fidelity sound like some kind of sport, or that you own something of another person. I don’t think fidelity is sport, nor do I think it is always a genital issue. Lots of couples are faithful to one another even though they have open relationships and/or multiple sex partners. But I digress.
Since you can’t supply me with more of the gory details, Paul, I’m gonna go with the first option. I’m gonna assume you’re telling me that your GF has been doin’ you wrong and it’s not a simple…“Whoops, I don’t know what came over me. One minute I was like all normal, and the next there I was with my dress over my head and some guy, other than you honey, was bangin’ me like there was no tomorrow”…sorta thing, OK?
Since I don’t know how deep or exclusive your relationship with your girlfriend is or was supposed to be, I can hardly advise you on what you ought to do next. I can, however, point out that a secret ongoing affair suggests the trouble with your relationship runs pretty deep. Maybe your girlfriend has you pegged as a sap, and she knows that you will tolerate her indiscretions. Which in turn, gives her permission to do carry on in whatever manner she might like. Maybe she doesn’t think that your relationship with her is all that substantial in the first place. Who knows!
Hey, I don’t suppose you have a cuckold fetish, do you? Imagine the fun you could have with that. But again, I digress.
If you’re not a total sap, and you’re serious about reigning in your wayward GF, you’d better come up with a clear, unambiguous message about what you will and will not tolerate in the future. Until you do that there’s no point in even imagining there might be a future.
If, on the other hand, the two of you did agree to live in an exclusive relationship, and she’s still taking her business elsewhere, then I suggest the bond between you is pretty busted. Is there something salvageable here? Your guess is as good as mine. What is perfectly clear is that both you and your girlfriend need to step back and take a sober look at yourselves. There is a reason for her behavior, just like there’s a reason for your response. To get to the bottom of all of this both of you will need to invest a good deal of time and energy, most likely with a professional therapist, and hope that the bank of goodwill between you, if indeed there is a bank of goodwill between you, is enough to carry the day. However, if I had to guess from the tone in your message, I’d say there was precious little goodwill left. If so, why not be a man about it. Just call it quits and move on. No recriminations necessary.
I like your site very much. Thank you for some much honesty. I have a question; do open relationships really work?
Well gee, thanks for your kind words, darlin’; I appreciate it.
To your question about open relationships, I guess that depends on the maturity level of the people considering opening their sexually exclusive relationship. And how much work they are willing to put forward to communicate with one another through all the details that such a decision entails.
That being said, there are a few things us sex researchers know for sure. In most cultures, people claim to practice sexual exclusivity, which is commonly referred to as monogamy. Although I think that’s a misnomer. Monogamy literally means having one union, which, as we all know, tells us nothing about sexual expression of either or both partners.
Lifetime sexual exclusivity (being sexually involved with only one person for one’s entire life) is rare. Serial sexual exclusivity (having a series of exclusive relationships over one’s life) is much more common. And despite knowing that we humans do not mate for life, we continue to presume that sexual exclusivity, or monogamy is the only legitimate kind of coupling.
This, unfortunately, leads to our culture’s obsession with cheating — that is, having sex with someone outside of a monogamous relationship. And frankly, what I know about humans, human relationships, and human sexuality; I can say for certain that fidelity is not necessarily a genital issue. One can indeed be faithful to someone else and still have the freedom to express him/herself sexually with others. It happens all the time. In these cases, fidelity is to the relationship and the agreements, parameters, and boundaries mutually agreed upon by the partners. Which get me back to my opening comment about the need for communication. Of course, it’s much easier to presume that everyone in a relationship is working under the same rubric, but that kind of presumption is a fool’s paradise.
Another shortcoming of setting up sexual exclusivity, or monogamy as the only legitimate kind of coupling is that it diminishes all the other types of relationships that flourish albeit in a more covert sort of way. And here I’m talking about an array of open relationship models and polyamory. The fact that we don’t hear a lot about these non-traditional relationships shouldn’t suggest to you, or anyone, that they don’t exist or that they aren’t practical or practiced my a lot of people. They are! It just means that most people in non-traditional relationships know not to go public in a society that would denigrate them for their lifestyle choices. That’s how things are here in the good old US of A; and I’ll wager it’s also true for you Italians. Am I right, or am I right?
Open relationships and polyamorous relationships work because the people in them adhere to some basic tenets about how to conduct themselves.
First among them is the notion that these alternative relationships must be chosen; they can’t be mandated. If one or another of the persons considering an open or poly relationship is being pressured to go along with the flow, or is fearful that he/she will be alone if he/she doesn’t comply with the will of the other(s), that kind of duress is not gonna work.
Each person in the relationship needs to take responsibility for the choices he/she is making. If you’re not up for the task, or if this kind of arrangement is not compatible with your personality type, don’t attempt to override that. You will only jeopardize the relationship for the other(s) involved. However if the idea appeals to you, give it your best shot. I can guarantee it will be a learning experience. Just remember, exploring something and having it carved in stone are two very different things.
Second, communication is key. The more complex the relationship structure the greater the need for open lines of communication. Know your boundaries and express them clearly. Ask questions; never assume you know something when you don’t. If you will allow me some shameless self-promotion, I’d like to direct your attention to my latest book, The Gospel Of Kink — A Modern Guide To Asking For What You Want And Getting What You Ask For. It’s a communication and relationship-building workshop, for folks in nontraditional relationships, in workbook form. I think you will find it most enlightening.
Third, know yourself! You must be able to deal with your emotions, particularly jealousy, in an up-front, adult way. This is often much easier said than done. If you need to be the center of attention just so you can feel good about yourself, or you have serious territorial issues — this is mine, this is mine, and this is mine! Alternative relationships are probably not for you.
Know what keeps you even keel in terms of what you need and what you are able to give. There has got to be a healthy tension between these two things. If you’re the kind who gives too much and resents not being rewarded for your gifts, stay away from alternative relationships. Or if you are so needy that you can’t stand it when someone else is enjoying his/her time in the sun; open or poly relationships are decidedly not for you.
You should also know that alternative relationships, of whatever stripe, are, for the most part, on the fringes of what society will accept. And some are outright taboo. This doesn’t mean you will have to slug it out on your own, in a vacuum of support. On the contrary, you will no doubt find that the people who are living contrary to the expectations of the popular culture are often a whole lot more generous with their support and compassion then those following all the rules.
You will find that your support system will shift from more traditional sources like family, church, and community to alternative sources like clubs and social groupings of other like-minded individuals as yourself. A common mistake made by those in non-traditional relationships is to take their problems and issues to their traditional support systems. This rarely works because the traditional support system will inevitably blame the non-traditional relationship setup for the problem. This is not true, of course, but how would those in traditional relationships know otherwise.
I always suggest that those in non-traditional relationships bring their issues to their non-traditional support system. Here you are less likely to encounter judgments about your life choices and more help with overcoming the problems at hand.
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Name: Needing help badly
Age: late 30s
Location: North America
Good day, and hoping this email finds you well. Me and my partner of nearly 10 years are experiencing a problem, it goes something like this. I am always interested in having sex; he is almost never interested in having sex.
Initially we started out with the typical “honeymoon” period where there was sex nearly every night and twice on Sundays (grin). After a brief while this preceded normally to a couple times a week maybe a little less. After a few years it has deteriorated to me almost always having to beg for even a hand job and perhaps we do more (oral/anal) a handful of times a month and I only get to top once or twice a year.
My partner almost never initiates sexual interaction and complains that I am “always asking.” We are very compatible in other respects and really love each other, but I have a 20 libido on a scale of 1 to 10 and he has a 1 or 2 on the same scale.
This is starting to lead to tension in other parts of our relationship even though we try our best not to allow it. We are currently in a closed relationship, with my partner citing, in the past, personal beliefs about monogamy and monogamous relationships. Recently he has been entertaining the idea of opening the relationship up to allow me to seek relief for my sexual needs through other channels. He states that of late his views have changed and that he is taking a more realistic view at how we should proceed.
We just discussed rules for the opening of the relationship and are in the process of looking at our options for secondary partners. The rules we have thus far are as follows:
Either of us may play with other people outside the relationship.
The primary partner has ABSOLUTE veto powers over the choice of another play partner.
Safe sex must be observed at ALL times and absolutely no transfer of bodily fluids outside of the primary partnership.
If a play partner comes to our house to play and the primary partner is home, an offer to allow them to join in must be made.
As soon as possible after an outside encounter, or preferably before, the primary partner must be told of the play session. Not the gory details, just “hey me and _____ had some fun last night” to keep the lines of communication open.
More discussion may be initiated at the request of the non-playing partner, but not readily offered.
You always, always, always come home to your primary partner at night.
Secondary play partners must maintain discretion about our play sessions and respect the boundaries established by the primary partnership.
Can you advise me on the following:
Do you think this will help or hindering our relationship?
Do you think the rules we have set down are adequate?
Any other suggestions for the rules.
Any other comments or suggestions in general?
First, I’d suggest you guys rethink your choice of words when taking about your relationship. Monogamous means one wife…ya know, as opposed to polygamous, meaning more than one wife. Since neither one of you is a woman, that word doesn’t fit your situation.
I know, I know, the popular culture uses that word indiscriminately to describe any sexually exclusive relationship, but we don’t have to misuse words just because everyone else does. Language is important. And in some instances, like this one, precise language is not only helps with clarity, it helps you better understand what is possible between you two. Besides, as we all know, some monogamous relationships are not sexually exclusive.
Try using the less culturally encumbered word “exclusive” as opposed to the culturally laden “monogamous” when speaking about your primary relationship. I think you’ll find that it will free you up from outdated ways of thinking about your relationship. It will also help in dispelling guilt associated with violating cultural norms. Don’t believe me? Try it yourself. Say out loud — “Ours is not an exclusive relationship.” Now say — We are not monogamous.” There is a big difference, huh? I told you so.
And the best part about all of this is you get to define what “non-exclusive” means. For instance, you guys seem to want your primary relationship to be emotionally exclusive, but not necessarily sexually exclusive. In other words you are not considering polyamory, right? Nothing wrong with polyamory, it’s just not what you are considering at this time, I’m guessing.
I applaud your negotiating skills. I think you guys have come up with a viable framework for launching out in search of satellite relationships. You will probably find that some fine-tuning is necessary as you make your way, but I believe your foundation is sound.
There’s one thing for sure, your bullet point #8 is completely outside of your control. You will learn, in short order, that you won’t be able to manage your satellite partners’ behaviors. Expecting discretion from a casual hook-up or even a newly found fuck-buddy is unrealistic. The “girls” are gonna talk, hun, no matter what you say.
Finally, I suggest that you and your primary partner keep an open mind about it all. You’d also do well to maintain a sense of humor.