Ask Professor Foxy: What Is the Line Between Support and Getting My Needs Met?

This weekly Saturday column “Ask Professor Foxy” will regularly contain sexually explicit material. This material is likely not safe for work viewing. The title of the column will include the major topic of the post, so please read the topic when deciding whether or not to read the entire column.
Dear Professor Foxy,
I have been in a happy monogamous relationship with my partner for five years now. She is my best friend and we have an amazing egalitarian relationship. Sure, we have our disagreements, but we respect each other and work through them and grow for it.
The only thing that’s missing from our relationship is physical intimacy. I was a virgin when we met and the first couple years of our relationship were extremely sexually active and exploratory (and as far as I knew, great!). About two years ago, however, that came to a screeching halt. My partner not only has no desire sexually, but even intimate closeness makes her uncomfortable. No snuggling to fall asleep, no kissing other than a quick hello/goodbye peck, etc.
We have discussed the issue before and she was the one who brought it up. It was extremely emotional. She says she feels pressured to be intimate with me when I try to show her any affection so rather than cuddling/kissing/etc. when I’m in the mood I just don’t do anything so that she doesn’t feel pressured. She brought up a few reasons for her lack of desire and I completely understand her reasons for not wanting any intimacy right now. But at the same time, while every other aspect of our relationship is great having no physical intimacy for two years and not seeing it change anytime soon is definitely hard on me. I have pretty severe self-esteem issues so to not feel ‘wanted’ at all and not have any closeness can be pretty stressful. Being told that I’m loved is great, but having to stay on your own side of the bed and not cuddle at all makes for some conflicting messages.
I completely understand her reasons for not wanting any intimacy: She is an abuse survivor, has fought through eating disorders and body issues, and hates the way that she gets treated as the female in a heterosexual relationship. Her loss of desire started about the time we started planning our wedding (a small, non-traditional service where we both took a new common name) and she claims that is the biggest part of the problem. I work really hard at recognizing my privilege as a male and not letting anyone make assumptions about our relationship, etc. and she recognizes that, but the comments and actions of other people are what eventually seem to get to her. The entire process of planning a wedding — no matter how egalitarian and non-traditional — was really stressful but after the wedding things seem to have only gotten worse.
How do approach this subject without making her feel pressured at all? Am I wrong for feeling like this lack of intimacy should have an affect on our otherwise-idyllic relationship? What can I do to help her, or should I just back off and let her work through the problems that are at the root of the issue herself?
Thanks,
inneedofcuddles

Dear In Need -
I think your sign off says it all. You need something that you are not getting in your relationship. I wonder how fulfilled and satisfied you are in your relationship. I worry about how much you are compromising. Most people need some degree of physical intimacy and it is not just about sex, it is about how our partners and lovers show their feelings through physical affection and how that reinforces what they tell us about their feelings.
You are giving up quite a bit and I wonder if you are giving up too much. She is not be able to give you what you need in terms of physical intimacy, how sustainable is that for you?
What are your minimums to stay in this? Cuddling once a week? Can you hold hands while you fall asleep? Have you tried taking sex off the table? So she knows that when you touch her you are not doing it as foreplay, but just for the pure enjoyment of cuddling? Have you said I am not asking for sex and don’t want you to feel pressured, but I need physical affection.
I also wonder if you should consider opening up your relationship and/or paying someone for the intimacy that you are not getting at home. If you want to stay in this relationship, it may be time to find another way to get your needs met.
I feel the need to separate her being abused and the eating disorders from the marriage/heteronormative society issue. I get that she is working through a lot and that these all of these issues impact her daily. Eating disorders and sexual abuse are not easily recovered from and they can certainly have bearing how she feels about intimacy and touch, but you are a part of this relationship too. You appear to be dissolving into her issues.
You are not wrong. Everyone has intimacy/touch/sex minimums and maximums. How much do you want to be touched? By whom? You also can’t heal her. You can be supportive, but she is the one that needs to go through these issues. What is up to you is how you help her: as friend or as her partner.
Best,
Professor Foxy
If you have a question for Professor Foxy, send it to ProfessorFoxyATfeministingDOTcom.

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119 Comments

  1. nella
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    Thank you so much for saying this. I thought I was the only person who was upset by that suggestion.
    This man paying for sex will make his partners issues with her body, body ownership and sexual boundries 100 times worse, and its clear that what ever happens the LAST thing inneedofcuddles wants is to make his partner’s issues with her body worse.
    As someone with serious body image issues this really made me question prof foxy’s psycholgical insight in that area.
    Its things like that that make me wonder if I’m still on feministing.com.

  2. Amanda Marcotte
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    Or put another way, consent is a two way street. No one should have sex they don’t want. But no one should be held in a relationship that’s ruining their chance at real happiness out of guilt, either. Coercing someone into a relationship with guilt is coercion, just like brow-beating someone into bed is.

  3. beth
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    A couple of people have mentioned counseling, and I think that’s a good idea. It would be a good place to put all the details on the table and have some assistance in working them out. Either go together or have her go alone, but counseling seems like a really good idea.
    I would also say to try to communicate more. It was unclear from the letter how often the couple talks about their sexual/physical intimacy issues, but they shouldn’t be afraid to talk about it to each other. I am willing to bet that there is something else going on with her that goes deeper than her lack of desire. It would seem odd for someone to just completely stop wanting physical contact of any kind with no immediate cause. That is not meant to belittle her abuse experience or eating disorder/body image issues. But it seems as though she was alright earlier in the relationship, but isn’t any longer.
    I was also shocked at the suggestion of paying someone else for his physical intimacy needs. That is a bad idea in this case, I think. In Need wrote that she had body image issues, and if he goes elsewhere for physical satisfaction, is that really going to help her? Won’t him cheating on her make her feel even less desirable, and even more like the female in a heterosexual relationship, where (stereotypically) the man has desires that need to be met and that he can do whatever he likes sexually?
    That being said, no, I don’t think there is anything wrong at all for desiring physical intimacy. It doesn’t make him a bad person, it just makes him human. Sex isn’t a need for an individual’s survival, but for most people, sex is a strong, natural urge. It is good that he is speaking up about his needs and desires.

  4. Tara K.
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    First, I’m so glad to see this addressed. I think many of us (of all genders) experience this at some time or another.
    I don’t think going outside the relationship is the answer. In some cases, that’s great, but I think the OP would still be just as unsatisfied with his relationship, possibly coupled with feeling uncomfortable with his newfound outlets.
    I’ve gone through similar situations with my partner in our 6+ years. He goes through periods where he is unaffectionate and emotionally distant, and they tend to coincide with gloomy weather or a lot of stress. I’ve accepted that these periods are part of our relationship, but during them I feel like the OP. I feel insecure, ugly, unattractive; I feel that I could never leave the person I love, but that I also can’t go without some affection and sex. It’s hard, and I’m glad to see it addressed. Just reading that others go through this as well helps those of us who do.
    I also think that counseling should be a consideration, though I know that can be cost-prohibitive for many.

  5. lemur
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    I think whats worse is people jumping on him for wanting basic human contact with someone he loves. Handholding, a cuddle- those are not pieces of “male priviledge” but a basic human desire.

  6. open_sketch
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    Wait, wait. You’re saying that when she “took back” her agreement to be in a sexual relationship, she broke some kind of agreement?
    By that same logic, changing your mind and saying “no” after consenting to sex is equally illegitimate. I have a feeling that’s not what you meant, but I think you might not have thought it through completely. It is totally her right to change her mind, and he has to comply. That’s the reality of it.

  7. open_sketch
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    No it wouldn’t, because the power gradient doesn’t go the other way. A man’s “demands” have the patriarchy behind it, a woman’s doesn’t.

  8. open_sketch
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    If he doesn’t get intimacy, he’ll probably feel frustrated. If he does, she’ll probably feel violated. Which would you say is worse?

  9. open_sketch
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    As a man, just expressing one’s desires IS pressuring, which is part of the reality of the patriarchy. Try to think of a way for a man to tell a woman he wants more intimacy that doesn’t sound creepy or controlling.

  10. open_sketch
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    But this isn’t an equal feminist relationship. That thing can’t exist in a patriarchical enviroment. People can try for it, but they have to reconize that the relationship still exists in a society with a particular social dynamic. Part of the sacrifice the man has to make is realizing that he can’t express himself as freely as a woman can.

  11. open_sketch
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    Of course it would. The entire point of feminism is that there is inequality between genders, which has to be compensated for. If one were to treat both genders equally without confronting male privelage, then the man still comes out on top. It’s like Affirmative Action; it’s not fair to treat minorities the same as white males, though it may appear to be “equal treatment”.

  12. open_sketch
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    The whole wedding thing did set off some alarm bells.

  13. naomi1978
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    “I understand why those reasons would leave her not wanting to be touched, but I’m curious as to why she’d stop after two or three years if they’d happened before now and she was OK up until a certain point.”
    I suggest you read about sexual abuse and its impact on sexuality. Having sex at the beginning of a relationship is often a lot easier than having sex later in the relationship, when sex involves emotional intimacy. It can be more intense – in a bad way, ie reminding you of bad things. Speaking with some experience here.

  14. naomi1978
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    I agree with most people’s comments that inneedofcuddles is being incredibly thoughtful of his partner’s difficulties and that he deserves to get the physical intimacy he’s craving.
    However, I’m a little frustrated with the fact that despite this being a classic situation that happens in relationships where one partner is a sexual abuse survivor, pretty much no one is directing inneedofcuddles to books/therapy about healing from sexual abuse. Obviously I can’t be 100% sure what’s going on – it could be that his partner is asexual and that’s it, or anything else – but everything he writes suggests unresolved feelings about sexual abuse.
    There are specific resources that offer ways out from the place they are in. I really think they both need to start with looking at them. I’m going to repeat what I said in a previous comment: Please please please read Wendy Maltz’s Sexual Healing Journey and Staci Haines’ Healing Sex: A Mind-Body Approach to Healing Sexual Trauma. I think you’ll find them illuminating.

  15. Melina
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    I do think you’re misinterpreting here, though I also see where you’re coming from.
    There are different levels of need — some of them could be described as desires in that, unlike food or water, you won’t die without them. But there are psychological needs without which one might be deeply emotionally pained. Like friendship. And saying you need friendship isn’t like saying you should force it by kidnapping people. It’s just saying you will be unwell without it and should probably work to get it in your life in some positive way.
    There are also contextual needs. I don’t need sex in gneral, but I do need sex in a romantic relationship in order for that relationship to be one I don’t decide to end.
    In a relationship:
    I need conversation.
    I need smiles and jokes.
    I need a few shared interests.
    I need sex.
    I won’t die without any and I won’t force myself on someone to get any of them, but I also won’t stick around without any of them.
    Check out Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for a kinda primer on need as a scaled thing instead of black and white.

  16. Dawn.
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    Very good point, sara. It sounds like In Need has no serious interest in ending the relationship. IMO he and his partner would both benefit from counseling/therapy with a feminist/egalitarian professional.
    I notice a few commenters are against Prof. Foxy’s suggestion to pay someone outside his relationship to fulfill his intimate needs. I support that suggestion, but I would stress exploring the idea with his partner and a professional therapist/counselor beforehand. He may find that to be a beneficial alternative, he may not. We shouldn’t dismiss it just because it may not fit into our vision of what a fulfilling relationship is.

  17. daveNYC
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

    Dude needs to make a phone call. Whether it’s to a sex therapist or a divorce lawyer is up to him. The status quo can’t be allowed to continue, since it will only result in what remains of the relationship being utterly poisoned.
    I’ll also chime in with everyone else to say that suggesting he get a prostitute is about the worst idea ever.

  18. Lindsay Beyerstein
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

    It might sound crazy, but how about paying for some dancing lessons instead of a sex worker? His wife feels like all physical contact is foreplay in disguise. She also feels self-conscious about her body. What if they found some activity that involves limited physical contact and physical exertion in a community atmosphere? Like, say, folk dancing. Or rock climbing–belaying your partner doesn’t involve a lot of skin-to-skin contact but it’s a physical connection and great way to build trust.
    Just about any kind of physical fitness is a great way to boost mood and body confidence.
    If this marriage is going to survive, these two have to find a way to reestablish a physical relationship. This guy’s needs aren’t being met, and it doesn’t sound like his wife is getting what she needs, either. Until her illness and trauma got the upper hand, she enjoyed sex. She probably misses the good old days as much as he does. She’s telling him that she’s trapped by fear, shame, and pain. It’s not like she’s selfishly satisfying herself at his expense. She’s sick and she needs help.
    Behavior changes through tiny steps. His wife is afraid to start down the path of hand-holding or kissing because she feels like any physical contact is just foreplay in disguise. Maybe she’d feel more comfortable in a group setting where she knows that she can take her husband’s hand or put her arms around him in a non-sexual context.
    This advice might be completely inapplicable to their situation. Maybe they don’t have the time/money/inclination. But since they’re at an impasse, I thought I’d put it out there.

  19. Kathleen Hagerty
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

    It takes two people to make a couple work, and there is never just one side to an argument. Both members of this couple need to take responsibility for the relationship’s problems. If you’ve tried to support your wife, who entered into a monogamous romantic relationship with you, but she hasn’t taken the steps to heal her emotional wounds, you need to tell her that you can’t remain in an un-fulfilling situation hoping that things will just change. They wont. Real action needs to be taken, and you can’t make her do that.
    I kind of wonder why you would want to be in a romantic relationship with someone with such deep-seating baggage. It seems to me that the best and healthiest thing for both of you to do is to take a step back from each other. If she is so uncomfortable with intimacy and you that she can’t bear to have you touch her, it’s not working. I don’t know how much clearer the message could be.

  20. Barbara
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

    why is paying someone a ridiculous assertion? As long as his partner was aware and okay with it, it seems like a completely viable option. Your comment comes off, to me at least, as intolerant of sex work and sex workers.

  21. ElleStar
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 11:32 pm | Permalink

    For me, I would say that a romantic relationship is not a need for me. I can get along fine without one and did for over twenty years.
    However, I’m not asexual. If I’m going to invest the time, energy, and emotions to be a part of a functioning romantic couple, I need there to be sex and affection. It’s not a physical need, it’s an emotional need for me. It’s just, personally, not worth it for me to have a romantic relationship without there being sex and physical affection involved.
    This doesn’t make me selfish. This means that I know who I am and what I need from my relationships. If my SO were to tell me tomorrow that he was asexual and no longer wanted physical affection or sexual contact between us, I’d be sad. I’d also say goodbye. We’d still be wonderful friends, but there is no way that I could make the sacrifices that I continue to make every day to be with him if I wasn’t rewarded with sex and affection.
    I would say the same if I was asexual. If I was with a person who couldn’t meet my needs to NOT be sexual, I’d rather leave the relationship to find another who shared my desires than to to have either of us capitulating and being ultimately unhappy with the physical nature of the relationship. Or I’d rather be alone.
    For me, sex isn’t in any way a physical need. However, in a romantic relationship, is is very much an emotional need for me to continue the relationship.

  22. Kurumi & Cheese
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 12:34 am | Permalink

    I think the most important thing for him to do is to figure out how he defines a marriage. A lot of the replies here seem to indicate that friendship + regular sex = marriage.
    Are you married to her because you love her? Then stay in the marriage and work things out (and remember that sexual “needs” can be met by oneself). Are you married because it allows you to have sex without feeling guilty? Then get divorced and find someone else to have a sexual relationship with.
    Did you marry the person or did you marry her sex drive? I think that’s the question some people should ask themselves when they find themselves in these sorts of situations.
    If it’s simply a matter of physical intimacy at all (kissing, touching) rather than sex, it’s more understandable, and probably more fixable. But I’m addressing the idea of “if there’s no more sex then just get out now” here. I always like to ask someone to imagine what would happen if their spouse had some kind of awful physical problem that made sex impossible. Some kind of cancer of the reproductive organs, for example. I did meet one guy who said, “My wife would still have sex even if it was painful for her, or else I would leave.” But I think most people would stick it out.
    What’s more important, the person? Or the sex? Just something to think about.

  23. Lindsay Beyerstein
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 12:55 am | Permalink

    I don’t think paying a sex worker is a ridiculous suggestion. On the other hand, it could be a great way to end a marriage that might otherwise have a future. If you signed on for a traditionally monogamous marriage, and that’s your ongoing preference for the future, then it’s unwise to start talking about alternative relationship models until you’ve exhausted all other alternatives.

  24. bradley
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 1:27 am | Permalink

    By your “logic”, there’s no way a man could ever express dissatisfaction with anything in a relationship without being aggressive or controlling. You’ve constructed a rhetorical defence against having to acknowledge the legitimacy of any concerns proffered by males. This is a dead end. It eliminates any possibility for discourse.
    And I’m sure heterosexual relationships where fully half the participants are prevented from communicating their feelings will do wonders to end the patriarchy. Good luck with that.

  25. instrumentjamlord
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 2:06 am | Permalink

    He’s not talking about just sex, but _all_ forms of physical intimacy.
    Do you know what happens to babies that are completely deprived of touch? They die. (Go look up the word “marasmus” if you don’t believe me.) We may grow a little tougher and more resilient as we get older, but don’t think for a moment that touch isn’t every bit as necessary for health as, say, trace minerals.

  26. makomk
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 5:51 am | Permalink

    You start off by suggesting that need for physical intimacy is an example of male privelege — what??? So being male means you can’t have any needs, and if you do, you’re just being an ass?
    Probably – this idea seems to have a certain amount of social and cultural force behind it…

  27. Brittany
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 6:40 am | Permalink

    Oh come on, that’s just ridiculous, and like saying that racist slurs towards a white person from a black person don’t mean as much as one towards a black person from a white person.
    Both genders need to be treated equally. This man is aware of the fact that he has male privilege and is writing in about the fact that his wife won’t give him sex, and hadn’t for two years, and is STILL in the relationship hoping it’ll work. As a female, I know I’d be writing in using the same tone if I hadn’t been touched in two years too. If we’re fighting for gender/racial/sexual equality we can’t say “because they’ve been wronged in the past so let’s treat them better” because it’ll lead to resentment.
    I also agree that paying for a prostitute is a terrible idea, and usually Professor Foxy is brilliant. Just get a divorce.

  28. GREGORYABUTLER10031
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    What’s so terrible about that? The obviously still loves his partner very much, but his physical needs are not being met.
    So, perhaps he should stay in the relationship with his partner, on her terms (no sex, no touching) because the relationship still meets his emotional needs, but then go out and hire a sex worker to take care of his sexual needs.

  29. GREGORYABUTLER10031
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    He wouldn’t be hiring a sex worker to get a “fulfilling relationship” – he’d be hiring her to get the one thing that he’s not getting in his current relationship – sex.

  30. Honeybee
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    You just described the exact problem that this man has. It’s a real problem that deserves a real answer. Simply saying he is a man so it doesn’t matter won’t cut it.
    To me it sounds like perhaps he should part ways his this woman. Perhaps remain friends in the hope that one day she will be in a better mindset to have a relationship that meets his needs.

  31. Lindsay Beyerstein
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    There’s nothing wrong with hiring a sex worker. However, if this guy’s goal is to reestablish a physical relationship with his wife, the sex worker talk will be counter-productive. She’s insecure about her body and her status in a male-dominated society. She’s also grappling with a history abuse, which probably makes it difficult for her to trust others. If he starts talking about opening up the marriage right now, all she’s going to hear is rejection and betrayal. He’s not rejecting or betraying her, but that’s what it will sound like to her. And if that’s what she’s hearing, he’s never going to convince her to reestablish a physical relationship.
    However, once he has already done everything he can to resolve the intimacy issues with his wife, and he’s convinced that progress is hopeless, then he can broach the open relationship/sex worker issue. That is, if he decides he’d rather do that than than end his marriage.
    If it were me, and my partner wouldn’t even touch me, and I knew this wasn’t getting better–I’d rather get a divorce than negotiate some kind of alternative arrangement to make this no-contact marriage bearable.

  32. Lindsay Beyerstein
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    I wouldn’t assume that this woman is being manipulative. If she can’t even stand to hold hands with her husband, she’s in bad shape.
    This isn’t like slacking off on housework after you get engaged. This is like someone who used to be pretty meticulous who suddenly stops bathing, washing their clothes, or taking out the garbage for weeks at a time. If someone starts acting so abnormally, and so out of character, my first guess is that they’re sick.
    If she was healthy before, there’s at least some chance she can get better.

  33. Lydia
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    I understand what you mean. You can’t take the balance of power out of the equation but I don’t know relevant that really is in this situation. Feelings are feelings and emotional needs are emotional needs. Most people feel the need to have some physical intimacy in their relationships, and most people feel pretty down when their partner resists all attempts at affection. This man is having very normal human feelings and it’s not fair that they should be judged negatively or demonized just because he’s male. There is a history in human society of men forcing their desires on women and of women capitulating to men’s desires at the expense of their own, but we can acknowledge that and try to change it without automatically dismissing as “male privilege” any desires that any individual man has. In my mind, this particular man has demonstrated himself to be sensitive, considerate, and quite mindful of the hardships his partner has faced as a result of being female. So his feelings and needs must be considered in that context. We can’t just tell all good guys that they’re not allowed to want or need things, just because the needs and wants of guys have been given disproportionate importance in our society.

  34. Lydia
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    And nobody here, not Prof Foxy, not the commenters, and certainly not the letter-writer wants either of those outcomes. Which is why alternative solutions were being discussed. Which is why the letter was written to begin with.

  35. Honeybee
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    If it was just sex your point would be much stronger, but if she won’t even hug him or cuddle with him or even hold his hand for a few minutes then we are talking about something completely different. You can still do all those things no matter your physical condition.
    Also as for staying with a partner who had such an accident I think it depends alot on your age, what stage in life you are in, how long you were together, etc. If you are an older couple with kids it is different then being 22 and only having been together a short time and having a strong desire to have kids. Completely different scenario in both cases. So I think it’s impossible to generalize what people would do, or even what people SHOULD do in such a situation.

  36. MishaKitty
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    I think you’re being incredibly unfair to InNeed who clearly explained the problems and it was CLEARLY not just that he wasn’t getting sex. To just dismiss these problems as someone who’s complaining about not getting any is just wrong.

  37. KBZ
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    As some have suggested, counseling sounds like a reasonable first step. Prostitues or an open relationship are an option if she’s OK with that … but I’m not sure its a good idea for the overall health of the relationship. My guess is that if it goes that direction, it won’t last.
    But, I think the OP needs to come to grips with the fact that this situation may never change, and to decide whether it is a dealbreaker for him or not.
    Neither party is wrong. She has the right to be averse to contact, and he has the right to be averse to a lack of contact. But, there is a compatibility problem when the two are in a relationship. An asexual person cannot be in a relationship with a sexual person any more than a homosexual person can be in a relationship with a heterosexual person. That she displayed a sudden shift to asexuality, and is a victim of abuse, may be problematic from a psychological standpoint … but doesn’t really change the fact that an asexual/sexual relationship is not really going to work over the long-term without significant sacrifices on the part of one party or the other (him, in this case). If he is unwilling or unable to make that sacrifice, then he should seek someone who is more compatible or more inclined to take his needs into account.
    I am a bit dismayed at the above posters that characterize any male expression of physical needs in a relationship as “selfish”, problematic or inherently patriarchal — though it is good that such opinions appear to be the minority. His need/desire for intimate contact, sexual and otherwise, is no more “selfish” than her lack thereof.
    The fact that he has sacrificed his needs in deference to hers for this long is the exact opposite of selfish. But, a more balanced arrangement has to be made if this relationship is going to last … one party in a relationship cannot make all of the sacrifices without resentment and bitterness developing, which will bring the whole thing down.
    kbz

  38. emeyel
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    This question could have been written by me, fifteen years ago, sort of. I’m a guy who was in a completely non-intimate marriage to a woman facing the demons of past sexual abuse. She, like inneed’s wife, had decidedly mixed feelings about being married.
    I *wish* I had been as sensitive and caring as inneed seems to be, which is why I’m entirely disgusted by open_sketch’s low opinion of inneed and his needs. I figure the only thing that open_sketch would accept is for poor inneed to castrate himself.
    That’s basically what I tried to do in my own relationship, by the way. My partner blamed me for my needs, and, while I certainly was deserving of SOME blame (I did not express my needs as sensitively as inneed seems to be trying to), I internalized her anger at me. I decided my sex drive was the problem, and searched for ways to try to destroy it. Being unable to do the deed physically, I destroyed my sex drive emotionally: I assumed I was a rapist and started to treat myself like one. Fifteen years on, I’m still trying to heal myself from the damage I did to my psyche and self-esteem. This letter triggered me beyond belief, but I’m working on it.
    So that’s what NOT to do. Interestingly, I think it might satisfy open_sketch – I certainly never asked for *anything* from my then-wife ever again! If I could do it over, I would have gotten a divorce – but that’s hindsight talking. Inneed sounds far more mature than I was. I think he’ll be OK as long as he stays away from advice like open_sketch’s.

  39. instrumentjamlord
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    “Wait, wait. You’re saying that when she “took back” her agreement to be in a sexual relationship, she broke some kind of agreement?”
    Of course she did. If the two of them had never ever agreed to be intimate, they would have ended up as platonic friends, he almost certainly would be in a romantic relationship with someone else, and this wouldn’t have ever come up as an issue between them. She unilaterally changed the terms of their interaction.
    “By that same logic, changing your mind and saying “no” after consenting to sex is equally illegitimate.”
    Hogwash. Nobody is saying that she has to keep having sex with him. However, she doesn’t get to also pretend that withdrawing her consent doesn’t completely change the the dynamic of the relationship — as you seem to be doing.
    “It is totally her right to change her mind, and he has to comply.”
    Uh, wrong. He doesn’t have to “comply.” He has to decide whether the new conditions are acceptable to him, and if the answer is no, then it is totally his right to discuss why it’s a problem, or to leave. That is a hell of a lot different than “he has to comply” and it’s also a hell of a lot different than him forcing sexual contact on her.
    Funny you should mention not thinking it through completely.

  40. Icy Bear
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    I think we definitely are talking about more than just any form of touch here. I doubt this person’s wife is refusing to let him shake hands with other people, give hugs to friends, etc. (he even stated that they have little peck-on-the-cheek kisses) – what he is lacking is not simply touch, but physical intimacy, as in sex, cuddling, kissing, and so on. Lots of people live without that (like, every person who isn’t in an intimate relationship!) and are perfectly fine.

  41. Unequivocal
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    He is complying. However, you seem to be operating under the impression that he has no right to be dissatisfied with the situation; that seems to be a fundamentally untenable position to hold.

  42. instrumentjamlord
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    “I always like to ask someone to imagine what would happen if their spouse had some kind of awful physical problem that made sex impossible. Some kind of cancer of the reproductive organs, for example.”
    Then you find ways to adapt and participate that don’t require the use of that specific organ. Lending a helping hand is a lot more supportive and intimate than telling your partner to go take care of it himself and not bother you. But you make the effort. You either find alternative ways to be enthusiastic, or if you just can’t, you cut your partner some slack when they go find that enthusiasm elsewhere.
    Consider the alternatives:
    A) they martyr themselves on the altar of your disability;
    B) they call it a deal-breaker and dump you completely,
    C) the two of you continue to share as much as possible and you compromise on the rest.
    Is option C really the most objectionable of the three? Really?

  43. AuntieMay
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    “As a man, just expressing one’s desires IS pressuring, which is part of the reality of the patriarchy. Try to think of a way for a man to tell a woman he wants more intimacy that doesn’t sound creepy or controlling.”
    A huge part of being a feminist is understanding the incredible importance of a woman’s agency in regards to her own body, regardless of her relationship status. Add in the overpowering social and cultural pressure of the patriachy and women are put into serious dilemma regarding how to meet the needs of their male significant others.
    If a man tells me that he needs more physical intimacy (it has happened) in the context of a serious relationship, I absolutely bristle and will think seriously about ending the relationship. Seeing that the personal is indeed the political, I simply can’t abide a man asking me to compromise the agency of my own body, that’s my choice.

  44. naomi1978
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    Wow, you’re unbelievably harsh. Why do you assume she’s being intentionally manipulative?
    I suggest you read about child sexual abuse and its impact on sexuality. For many people, having sex at the beginning of a relationship is often a lot easier than having sex later in the relationship, when sex involves emotional intimacy. It can be more intense – in a bad way, ie reminding you of bad things. Speaking with some experience here.
    Maybe you are lucky enough to be born with an intuitive understanding of your sexuality, but not everyone’s like that.

  45. nattles_thing
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    I can think of plenty of ways for a man to request more intimacy that don’t sound creepy and controlling. I don’t think the OP is being creepy and controlling at all. Neither do most of the people here.
    Maybe the reason you think it has to sound “creepy and controlling” has a lot more to do with you than it does with the dude in question.
    Reading your comments, it seems like you expect men in relationships to never speak up about anything, never express negative feelings about anything, and pretty much accept anything their (clearly superior) girlfriends feel like doing.
    If you switched the genders, that is exactly how some misogynists feel about relationships, except that they are usually more subtle about their beliefs than you are.

  46. nattles_thing
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

    So what kind of solution would you recommend for the OP? Or, for that matter, for any man in a relationship where they aren’t getting enough intimacy?
    What would you say to a woman in that situation? Because I have been in the position of asking boyfriends for more sex, and I did so because I felt sexually frustrated and unwanted.
    If merely bringing up the problem is enough to make you reconsider the relationship, than what would you expect the man to do? Suffer? Break it off without explanation?
    I wouldn’t want to make someone I loved suffer like that, and I wouldn’t want them to disappear because of a problem we could potentially fix.

  47. instrumentjamlord
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    Good for you. By all means, cut him loose. Set him free to go find a partner whose sexuality matches his more closely.
    Just don’t paint him as some sort of patriarchal self-entitled asshole MERELY for wanting more sex than you do. He isn’t a self-entitled asshole unless he is indulging in the specific behaviors that make him one. Sexuality is a continuum. You will always find someone who wants more sex than you do, and someone who wants less. You are not the gold standard of libido-appropriateness.

  48. Siu
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

    Best advice I’ve seen so far, if InNeed hasn’t already taken these steps. From what you wrote in the letter, it seems like she’s feeling an immense amount of pressure to conform to these expectations of what a “female” should be in a heterosexual relationship. Even though you don’t necessarily put pressure on her, there is pressure coming from everywhere else – and even though you don’t reap all the advantages of your “male privilege” per se, the fact that you were born with privilege makes it even harder for you to understand what she’s going through as a female, especially one who survived abuse. It’s an alienating feeling, and at times, she probably sees YOU as the bad guy too. It’s always easier to compromise yourself in the beginning on a relationship, but as time goes on, it burns you out, takes the desire out of you – maybe that is what happened to her, though I cannot say for sure, of course.
    Only you know your own relationship, and what steps you have and haven’t taken to make things work. You give no other possible details as to why she may feel a lack of desire – what about in the home? Did you live together before getting married? If not, after marriage, did you two split the household chores, did she do the majority of it, or did you? Are both of you working tiring jobs alongside these things? I find that living together tends to complicate things if it’s not done equally, but since you didn’t mention any of these things, I will assume they don’t factor into why she’s acting the way she does. From the sounds of it, it seems like you want this relationship. I really don’t think inviting a prostitute into it will help, but that’s just me personally – you know your partner better than any of us do, so it’s up to you to judge whether she’s okay with an open relationship. It seems that you love her, and want the physical and sexual intimacy with HER specifically, so maybe an open relationship is not appealing to you – in that case, think through whether you’re willing to wait this out or try to make this work. See a counsellor, it really does help to articulate your feelings without offending/attacking the other person. If you still feel like nothing is going to change, and it’s that important for you to have physical and sexual intimacy aside from the relationship you have with her now, then maybe it’s time you find someone else and spare the both of you from prolonging the situation.

  49. instrumentjamlord
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    A number of people have commented that it is entirely possible that everything was fine until increasing levels of commitment triggered the issues.
    Personally, I want to know what the poster meant by “hates the way that she gets treated as the female in a heterosexual relationship.” Was he treating her in some specific way that she found objectionable? Or was it about all the societal expectations and reactions? If the latter, she is punishing her husband for the misdeeds of others. This is the bad side of “personal is political.”

  50. Honeybee
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    But wouldn’t you agree most of the people who are single WANT to meet someone? And what is the main reason to be with someone? Physical intimacy. It’s the main component that cannot easily be found outside of a romantic relationship.
    Otherwise we’re just talking about friends. Which is fine it just needs to be called out is all.

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