Talking about abstractions—ideals and civilizations and the wisdom of keeping it in your pants generally—is easy. Giving useful advice to real people? That's hard. Take the below letter from a miserable, sexually-deprived, but faithful married man. I'm curious what the adultery-is-always-wrong crowd would advise him to do:
First, I love my wife. Sadly, she’s been ill for many years, however not to the point where she’s not able to work or do many normal activities, but she is in pain, so I can understand her not wanting to have a dick inside her. But honestly I’ve been very supportive and would accept any sort of sex (and I’ve asked). I think she feels very un-sexy, but she is really very pretty and I tell her that often. I’ve done everything I can think of to entice her to want to have sex. Romance, flirting, sex talk, counseling (years ago)… but we just fail. We’re pushing 18 years of marriage and sex has not
been a part of this relationship for most of that time. I am very sexual and have always been so. I feel really guilty most of the time because of my intense desires, but I feel that life is so short and time is running out. I’m 40 and not getting any better looking. Since I married her I feel I made a deal to stay no matter what, I believe in our marriage, but I thought sex would be a part of that. What do you tell other’s in my situation? Do I just deal with it, since I agreed to stay “for better or worse,” or is “no sex” a deal breaker?
I wrote this guy back and asked a followup question:
Has your wife ever given you the okay to get your sexual needs met elsewhere? To do what you need to do? And what's your honest opinion: would your wife rather be divorced or cheated on
He wrote back:
I know she would divorce me if I cheated. There’s no doubt. I feel pretty confident that having open marriage would be off the table—she is very jealous. She takes fidelity very seriously. As do I. I’ve been thinking about trying to ask if there’s anything we can do, but history has been very tough on this subject. As you can imagine, she becomes very defensive and will typically cry and say that she fears that I'll leave her. As time goes on the subject seems to become more and more taboo. I know she feels bad about the situation (she loves me) but I’m not sure if after all these years anything will change.
My advice for him:
Do what you need to do to stay sane.
I'm curious what the monogamusts blogging at the New York Times, weighing in at the Dish, and lurking here on Slog would advise this guy to do. He says he's been patient, loving, supportive—and just as a thought experiment, monogamusts, try giving the guy the benefit of the doubt. (When confronted with a sex-deprived spouse, monogamusts will often insist that the sex-deprived spouse has to be doing something terribly, terribly wrong. Just this you're not allowed to argue that this guy, for instance, would be getting laid if only he were a more patient, more helpful, more loving, more understanding, etc.) And this couple has already gone the counseling route, years ago, and it didn't get them anywhere. Talking about sex upsets his ill wife, makes her feel insecure and unhappy, and her misery has made his misery a taboo subject. That's pretty typical: the misery that sexually-deprived spouses endure—to say nothing of emotional violence that 15+ years of constant sexual rejection represents—is rarely acknowledged. Try to acknowledge it in your response. Also: What if there are kids involved? What if the ill spouse relies on the deprived spouse for health insurance?
To recap: I told him to do what he needs to do. What would you tell him to do, Ross?