On Fidelity & Dan Savage

by subterfusex

We’ll be posting chats about specific subjects pertinent to sex and the art of subterfuge. We find that it’s good to hash out perspectives. Comment away and add to the discussion!

D: I was thinking the next would be a response to Dan Savage’s column this week, but there’s nothing in it that I want to comment on. You might, it goes into infidelity.

S: Yeah, he’s pretty big on respecting sexual fulfillment. Don’t quite know how I feel about [opening relationships]. I admit it kind of makes me uncomfortable to think about that possibility. Makes me typical, I guess. Hmm.

D: I see it as something for couples who have been together for a long time, are established, are otherwise very happy and do not want to end their marriage.

S: Yeah. it sounds nice in theory. But I’m not sure how I would feel if ever that applied to me. Here, read this: What if you’re one of these and you just don’t know what to do about the problem?

D: It’s confounding. And I think part of seeking external relief is whether or not you and your partner think you’ll ever be able to get back on the same level again

S: Maybe. But since we hear stories of women who go through orgasm-less spells of twenty-odd years. And what happens to the man? I agree that it’s not fair. So is it better to stay together or not, or make it an open marriage? and what if there are children?

D: This complete lack of orgasm confounds me. It really does. There are so many things to try. It has to come with a big mental block, an inability to let go. And there’s Unable To vs No Desire.

The no desire bit I get.

S: I get the unable to, too. It has to do with the level of stimulation required and the shape of the vagina, location of the clitoris, etc

D: Physical form definitely plays a role, but shouldn’t extensive exploration help these women find what does work? I know there are some who are unable to get off in certain ways, but they usually have found other ways that work for them.

S: I mean, we now know of the possibilities. But consider that people didn’t figure out the female orgasm in the sixties and — in the NYker article that I put up on subterfusex — nobody knows shit about the female physiography. There are many women who go through life clueless and don’t necessarily know how to use the resources available to them. And because it’s still considered a shameful subject, they don’t know how to help themselves. So they chalk it up to inability and get depressed. Also, our health system sucks.

D: *sigh* So are we back to centuries of suppression and condemnation fucking things up? Back to being told You Must Please Your Husband and If You Don’t You Are Failing As A Woman? That Dr. Phil episode had a woman whose husband was stepping out on her with men; their church had given them both the impression that he could change if he just tried. And she was left feeling like an insufficient woman. That’s not how it works, dammit.

S: I know. Women get the bum deal. So I don’t think it’s as cut and dry as Savage says. But he has a better idea as to the limits of men to live without sex in their lives, because to men, sex is the way that they tend to relate emotionally. So without that, there’s a severe lack of connection.

D: I think his principle applies most strongly when the less-sexual partner is obstinate about not even trying to change. That shows selfishness. And not that two wrongs make a right, but it can relieve strain if they’re not constantly at each other’s throats about it.

S: At that point I think it’s almost fairer to call it quits. But I know my opinion isn’t all that popular. [My boyfriend] would agree with you in the sense that marriage doesn’t have to be about the sex.

D: I agree, it should be, but what if you have kids? What if your finances are against it? What if your life together is otherwise ideal? You’re great friends, you agree on how to run your home, raise your kids, etc? But when it comes to ending relationships and kids, my bugaboo is that people get married and have kids before they’re really confident that the relationship is going to last.

S: Well, I do think that separation (versus divorce) is all right when finances preclude divorce. And I think that alternate sexual arrangements become even weirder when you have children. Maybe antiquated, but it screws them up a lot. It depends on the people in the marriage, I know. But if your relationship is built on exclusivity, which is part of the point of signing a marriage contract (exclusivity of finances, body, etc) there might be those folks who might find that distrust and bad feeling seep into other parts of the marriage, no matter how well things are up to that point. Again, I have no idea how most people in loveless marriages work. I know my parents are in one, but they don’t work. Indians are also weird and there’s significant social stigma about it. My dad is also much more financially powerful than my mother. That makes sense. But they’re kind of miserable. And that’s the case with most everybody I see. So even if people seem happy, they’re condemning themselves to a secret misery of a marriage not quite measuring up.

D: There’s no guarantee that having one of these non-exclusive marriages is going to make everything hunky-dory. It could make things worse. But I think it’s worth considering. And I think it depends on how you conduct it. If someone takes an extra hour after work on Thursdays to visit a dominatrix and otherwise everything is fine and normal, it shouldn’t affect the kids–unless, of course, both parents AREN’T fine with it. It all comes down to everyone involved being ok with it.

S: Yeah. And if that is possible. There’s a lot on the internet about the subject, but as with most things intarwebz related I feel more confused after reading up on the stuff than I did before I started.

D: *sigh* I think it’s much harder to practice successfully than even people who claim to have it realize. There’s a lot that people repress. The same way they repress their doubts about getting married in the first place, they’ll repress their real misgivings about opening the relationship in the name of making everything work. It may seem to for a while, but eventually it’ll come undone.

S: Read this, this, and this.

D: Woah <> There’s also this phenomenon of marriage abruptly changing the relationship. Like people who get married and suddenly they fight all the time and make each other miserable. Sometimes they divorce and come abck together later, avoid marrying, and they’re happy.

S: Maybe it’s the pressure of having a successful marriage. So what is a successful marriage and why is there a lot of pressure associated with sex within marriage? We know a lot about sex before marriage and why the common religious consensus will tell you that that’s a taboo … so what about sanctioned sex (aka married sex)? And why does it get so much easier to let go when you’re not married? Why doesn’t more time with their spouses mean that couples won’t take advantage sometimes? Is there such a thing as having stale sex?

D: It certainly sounds like it. Falling into a rut and whatnot. Everything becoming rote. Often the advice is to ‘spice things up’ but I think that’s just a way of shaking you out of it. What’s really missing is the intimacy that was shared. Presumably that rut became so deep because both parties were enjoying it; it worked.

S: I’m not married, so I can’t really speak from married experience. But I know that with my sex life, when I was living with B during my junior and senior year, we would make it a point to do it even when we were studying or had really important things to do. I don’t even think that that was related to procrastination, but my friend J and I had this huge discussion about the number of times that her boyfriend would deny her sex to punish her. Reducing it to what, two or three times a month? That sounded like hell to me. It seems like when a couple if unhappy, sometimes the first thing to go is the sex. (Not always.) But I figured if we could have sex all the time, maybe it would keep conflict to a minimum. It had hilarious side-effects but I do think that it was positive overall.

D: No relationship should include that kind of punishment. I want to get my hands on that book about the older couple who forced themselves to have sex EVERY DAY for a year or whatever it was. I can see the risk of it turning into a chore, but it looks like the overall benefits outweighed the possible resentment.

S: Oh, yes, there was a review of it in the Times here. (Happy ending: J dumped the boyfriend, found some other guy, and they’re happy. And no mention of withholding sex from him. I hope they end up together for a good long time.)

D: Much better.

S: It’s an interesting review. And I should hunt for the one about the couple that vowed to stay within a certain distance away from each other. Now that’s a new level of commitment. I’d wonder what they’d have to do when going to work and stuff.

D: Woah, now that’s challenging. There’s a part in Ella Enchanted where Lucinda spells a newly wed couple to ‘be together always’ and they see it as a total tragedy.

S: Hahahaha! APPROACHING sex as a marathon, with its own version of Heartbreak Hill, may not be the solution for every stagnating marriage. Lois Braverman, the president of the Ackerman Institute for the Family, cautioned against couples trying to keep up with the Mullers and Browns. “Some couples are totally satisfied with being sexual one night a week, some twice, some twice a month,” she said. “There’s no number of times that’s right.”

Shoshana Bulow, a psychotherapist and certified sex therapist in Manhattan, pointed out that sex is a lot more complicated than frequency. “There’s all sorts of reasons people lose interest in sex with their partner — disappointments, life cycles, financial issues,” she said. “Just having it isn’t going to resolve those.”

Nonetheless, sex every day seems to have worked for the Mullers and Browns. Charla Muller and Annie Brown both talk about how mandated physical intimacy created more emotional intimacy. “It required a daily kindness and forgiveness, and not being cranky or snarky, that I don’t think either of us had experienced before,” Charla said.

pg 2, from the last link

D: Would be interesting to see how such an experiment could combat “lesbian bed death.”

S: Ah, more groups i don’t know about! You know, I have this weird desire to find out what a powerful lesbian’s sex life must be like; whether say, someone like Rachel Maddow’s is affected by the insane amounts of hours she puts at work.

D: I’m sure it takes a toll as it would with anyone else. WHen you’re tired, you’re tired.

S: Yeah, but then there’s the whole provider-shift in those relationships, and since they’re more fluid in a same-sex relationship, maybe there’s either more communication and things get much better, or maybe there’s less communication and things get much worse. Or it could be the same, I don’t know. But I’ve always wondered what traditional roles have to play in any sort of bed death.

D: See, this is why I considered becoming a sexologist. It’s all so FASCINATING. And there’s so much ground left to cover

S: And it hasn’t been covered yet. Nobody understands women. Women don’t even understand themselves, sometimes. Lots of denial. I think since things are so much more external and more quantifiable with men, they’re the foundation of established sexology.

D: That and men will go to great lengths to make themselves comfortable. -_-

S: Sexless marriages are obviously different from sexless relationships. But if we move onto the latter, what do you think about that phenomenon, and do you think those relationships should be salvaged given that they’re not permanent?

D: Well, on the one hand you have less pressure to fit the ideal of marriaged. On the other, you have less motivation to make it work.

S: So at what point do you call it quits? I guess that should be called, the what, the DTMFA quotient?

D: DTMFA indicates that the other person is a motherfucker, whereas there isn’t always assholery in sexless relationships

S: OK. We’ll take the MF out. Well, the common template for a sexless (married) relationship, is that there was sex for a while and then some time in the marriage the couple stops having sex as regularly or, worse, not at all. So in a pre-marital relationship, not having sex seems to be to be just a little more bizarre.

D: I would think that most follow a similar pattern of being together for years and it cooling over years.

S: It’s all pretty interesting. It looks like we’ve got our questions cut out for us.

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