Thanks to the Internet and blogging, I became more aware of the plight of people stuck in the quicksand of sexless marriages and relationships. I followed one blogger’s trail of breadcrumbs to several blogs on the topic and read some riveting accounts of this particular kind of loneliness.
It’s tempting to take first impressions and believe that this is just about, well, sex — or lack of it. For many it’s about much more. Sex can be complex, much more than erotic activity. It reaches deeply into our mental, emotional, and spiritual worlds as well. The end of sex often brings about the withdrawal of affection, cuddling, flirting, playing, even communicating. The Ice Age cometh.
Right now I am neither in a marriage nor in a relationship. I am just sexless period. I am also 64, an age where many have already put their sex drive out to pasture.
LOOKING IN THE MIRROR
Whether it is psychologically healthy or not, most of us are conditioned to look to others for a mirror image reflection on how we are doing in life. We are taught early on to seek approval. How people treat us becomes a navigational device we depend on. When people are excited to be with us, especially in the context of love, those bright eyes and promises send out signals to us that we’re doing just fine, thank you. New love relationships can be so intoxicating because we get fresh reflections on our desirability. Someone thinks we’re fabulous!
When a partner withdraws sexually, however, it sends a signal for many of us that we are not wonderful human beings anymore. We’re damaged goods, last month’s news. When we are systematically avoided sexually, it’s hard not to feel rejection. Social conditioning frequently tells us that when things are going well in a relationship, happy sex follows.
I’ve been involved in several relationships where sex halted. Each time I was assured that it was not about me; it was about them. They cited a dramatic curtailing of sex drive and lack of interest in things erotic. While I could accept this information as their truth, I still felt that their withdrawal had something to do with me.
Rationalizations flew fast and furiously: 1) Maybe they were just too nice to say what really bothered them; 2) Maybe my enthusiasm for sex was just natively way beyond theirs; 3) Maybe they were hiding deep-seated hostilities from their past (child abuse, spousal abuse, sex history abuse); 4) Maybe I had turned disgusting and all those “dirty old man” clichés were true after all; 5) Maybe I had blundered again in my relationship choices by choosing someone not into the joy of sex, emphasis on joy.
The blogs I saw were, ironically, all written by women. They appeared to be in their high thirties and forties. Most appeared to be mothers. I felt great compassion to note how lack of sexual interest from their husbands ate into their self-esteem. In their writing they shared various strategies they used to put the adventure back into their relationships — new lingerie, mood enhancement, porn, confrontation. Seduction strategies went nowhere and were often rebuffed with insults.
MAKING UP FOR THE LOSS
In many cases, sexless relationships exist because there are nonsexual reasons to stay coupled. One of the most common is “for the sake of the children.” A break-up would hurt the kids. Economics play another huge role in keeping couples together. One or both could not afford to go it alone, so they hang on. Sometimes health issues have intervened turning an otherwise healthy relationship into a sensual desert, especially for the one left behind. It’s only the lack of sex that is extremely hurtful. Sometimes a supportive friendship or business partnership are the glue, even though the romance has gone.
The problem comes in trying to fill the emptiness created by a sexually disinterested partner. People invent all sorts of polyamorous (honest) or stealth-filled (dishonest) solutions to try. Unfortunately, most solutions turn out to be Band-Aids. Finding a lover (or for some, a fuck buddy) often ends up creating a fractured, compartmentalized lifestyle.
A new love relationship may sizzle out of the gate. It may seem like the perfect solution for a month or two or three. Eventually, however, if sex is great with the new partner, the hunger for more is born. More togetherness, more intimacy, more consistency. This is largely because sex is more than just sexual activity. It’s a seed that grows a love bond. When a new love bond flourishes, the old one usually weakens.
But even that scenario presumes that someone is lucky enough to have found a suitable lover. People ensconced in sexless relationships have the unenviable task of trying to find someone who desires to experience the joy of sex without commitment. NSA (no strings attached) relationships may work for some, but others (like myself for instance) crave emotional content with their sexual expression. Emotional sharing is arguably what makes sexual passion fulfilling. The bottom line, especially later in life, is that far fewer people are satisfied with or are even willing to try alternatives to monogamy. They want all or nothing.
I have noticed in myself a whole ego string of beat-myself-up ideas that flow through me from involuntary celibacy. I walk with less of a spring in my step. I feel incomplete. I feel uninvited to the party others take for granted. I burn up creative energy overcoming these negative feelings using the consciousness-raising, love-yourself tools I know. It’s not that I have a bad time by myself; it’s that I have a better time when I am in love.
THROUGH THE EYES OF OTHERS
I’ve witnessed great sadness and frustration embedded in the lives of others of both genders as they attempt to deal with their deeply unsatisfying sex lives. I have friends stuck in sexless relationships they say they would like to leave if it only weren’t for whatever they’re holding up as their rationale. Sometimes I think that this is a problem not given much sympathy or importance in society because it sounds so trivial — that is until it happens up close and personal.
Please share your thoughts and experiences!