My wife and I click on just about every level -- parenting, money, religion, politics, etc. -- except for sex. After our last child was born, my advances were increasingly rejected. To avoid pressuring her, I stopped initiating. One week passed, nothing. A month passed, nothing. A YEAR passed, nothing. Depression and anger set in. But I was committed to being the "perfect husband," so I did not pressure her, hoping her libido would return. It didn't. After two years, I finally lost it and confronted her. I expected that an open dialogue would improve the situation, but a month passed and she never brought it back up.
I'm lucky to be happy and fulfilled in just about every area of my life, but I've become fidgety, short-tempered and hypersensitive. I do not want to have an affair and I do not want a divorce. I love her and our children, but I'm at a loss as to what to do. I am mourning the loss of intimacy and connection with another person.
Please Advise Troubled Husband
I'll get to you in a minute, PATH, but first ...
MTV has elected to speed the moral collapse of the United States by putting me on television. My upcoming sex-advice program is tentatively titled Savage U. (My preferred title for the show -- Dan Savage's Alaska -- was rejected by the program's co-executive producer, Piper Palin.) This news has upset not only my son, who has been in the MTV stage of his development for roughly three years, but also Maggie Gallagher, the head of the National Organization for Marriage, who has been stuck in the raving-bigot stage of her development for nearly three decades.
"Renowned sex columnist Dan Savage, who is an openly gay man," Gallagher wrote on her blog, "will be taking his popular sex and relationship advice column to MTV in a show appropriately called 'Savage U' where he intends to educate your college student about the importance of honesty over just about anything else, including fidelity."
Gallagher, who once had a child out of wedlock, speaks for the fidelity-over-anything-else crowd. Now, some people (but not Maggie) are capable of abstaining before marriage and being faithful to one partner for life. But these people represent a tiny minority. And while those who make this aberrant lifestyle choice should not be discriminated against, the rest of us should be free to engage in grown-up conversations about sex and desire without being shouted down by the monogamously correct.
I'd like to address Gallagher's two main objections to Savage U in some detail:
"Savage, for all his experience, does not know what women are like," says Gallagher.
I may not know what women taste like, but I do know what women are like. My mother was a woman, my sister is a woman, my first sex partners were women, and many of my friends, neighbors and coworkers are women. And as someone who is in a long-term relationship with a man, I know what straight women have to put up with.
Ironically, Gallagher is a practicing Catholic. But not knowing what women taste like has never stopped the pope from offering his unsolicited advice to women: no birth control, no abortions, no oral, no anal, no handjobs. It seems a little hypocritical of Gallagher to suggest that I'm not qualified to offer advice to women.
"The possibility of taming one's sexual desire for the sake of another, or of a vow, is not in the Savage moral imagination," says Gallagher. "Libido will have out, and honesty about that is the best policy."
The possibility of taming one's sexual desire for the sake of another most definitely exists within the Savage moral imagination. I frequently discuss the "price of admission" -- the personal sacrifices, large and small, that make long-term relationships possible. For some, the price of admission includes "taming one's sexual desire for the sake of another." If anal sex is something you enjoy but you're in love with someone who doesn't do anal, going without anal is the price of admission. If you're not into monogamy but you're in love with someone who insists on it, then monogamy is the price of admission.
Two people in a committed relationship should be honest with each other about their sexual interests, turn-ons, drives, etc. Sexual compatibility and sexual satisfaction have a huge impact on the health of our relationships and marriages, Maggie. People who can be honest with their partners are likelier to have their needs met, and likelier to meet their partners' needs. And when needs are met, people are less likely to cheat.
Some needs can't be met. But sometimes just having our sacrifices acknowledged is good enough. Getting some credit for going without anal, along with the green light to jerk off to anal porn now and then, can make going without anal easier. Indeed, it can make going without anal virtuous, something that speaks well of the going-without-anal partner's character.
But there are times when monogamy -- its pressures, its discontents -- can destroy an otherwise decent marriage.
Take PATH's marriage. If his wife doesn't come around -- if her libido doesn't kick back into gear after mental or medical intervention -- this couple is surely headed for divorce. PATH is not only feeling depressed and resentful, he's also contemplating an affair (even if he's in the dismiss-that-idea stage). Sooner or later, he's going to cheat or walk. But this marriage, a marriage that works on every other level, could be saved if Mr. and Mrs. PATH openly discuss their sexual disconnect. If Mrs. PATH is done with sex, Mr. and Mrs. PATH should be encouraged to come to a reasonable accommodation, one that allows for Mr. PATH to get his needs met elsewhere, if that's what he needs to stay sane and stay married.
I'm not sure what to call someone who places a higher value on preserving monogamy within a marriage over preserving that marriage itself, Maggie. But I wouldn't call that person a defender of marriage.
Find the Savage Lovecast (my weekly podcast) every Tuesday at thestranger.com/savage.