Q: I’m a married man in my mid-40s. We have three kids, have been together for 18 years and, on paper, everything is great — good jobs, good health and a nice home. In short, I’m bored silly with my wife. She is an amazing person but seems to be transitioning to middle age while my sex drive is going the other way.
When we met, sex was great. We even went to a few swingers clubs to exhibit to others. We have sex frequently but it is so boring. I now often sleep in another room where I can relieve myself with porn.
The sex is so lame that the other night we did it and I decided to have sex without even touching her, and I don’t think she even noticed. She is more interested in her hot water bottle than prolonging a sex session. This is disappointing as she is good looking, and I really fancy her. I have asked about making the sex more interesting — some bum play and so on — and there was no interest. I put forward the idea of a threesome with a stranger as an idea. Again, no interest.
We’re not financially strong enough for me to move out and get a place of my own. Also, why would I do that when I would miss my kids. I have been messing about somewhat with escorts and the occasional man, but such actions merely serve to further highlight how bland my home sex life is. At this stage, I feel I will just clock in the years with her until the kids are raised and then break up. My question is whether that is a wise decision?
Dr West replies: Well, there is a lot going on here, to understate the obvious. Your comment about having sex without touching is just so desolate. Sex is meant to be about intimacy, fun and connection with another person. Using it as a weird kind of test is not healthy on so many levels. What were you hoping to prove?
Some reflection is necessary. What do you bring to your sexual lives together? Is she left feeling satisfied? Sex doesn’t have to involve threesomes or anal in order to be satisfying. What kind of sex does she want? Does she get it? If she is not interested in sex, how do you have sex with each other? I am concerned that she is having sex when she doesn’t want to, and if that is the case, it’s no surprise that she feels this way. If you pick up that she doesn’t want to have sex, why are you having sex with her? There needs to be some reflection on consent and feeling obliged.
If she isn’t interested in sex with you, having sex with strangers is hardly going to appeal either. It’s not realistic to suggest a threesome if this is where the relationship is at — it would hardly be exciting to watch you have sex with someone else when she is struggling with her own sex drive. Life does change, and when you met 18 years ago, you were young and adventurous. Now you have full-time jobs, three children, and the responsibility of running a house. That is exhausting for many. How is this labour split. Who does the childcare and the household maintenance? If it is not equal and left to one person, they may feel exhausted and not in the mood for sex, as well as feeling resentful that their time is spoken for, all day every day.
You don’t give your wife’s age, but if she is around the same as you, she may be entering menopause or perimenopause, and this will impact her sex drive too. Additionally, porn is never a good marker of realistic sex that reflects everyday life — it’s an escape from it. Porn performers are professionals doing a job, and the sex on screen is fantasy sex in a world devoid of responsibilities and exhaustion.
It sounds like there needs to be a conversation between you two about the emotional side of sex. What do you want from sex with her, and what does she want? Is there a desire for wild positions or for a nurturing calmness? Is there space for compromise? If she doesn’t want to have sex, is there space for you to have sex with others once it is discreet? This works for some people and doesn’t work for others, so needs careful discussion.
On a practical note, if you are having sex with others, you need to be having regular STI checks. You are currently putting your wife at risk by having sex with others and then with her, and you are violating her right for informed consent by doing this. Condoms do not protect against all STIs, therefore you are putting your wife at risk of catching herpes, warts, syphilis or lice.
It sounds like you need to decide what kind of life you want — lying and cheating on your wife, or to be single and have the kind of sex that you want to have. Your comment about ‘clocking’ in the years just sounds miserable, to be frank, for both of you. Spending decades living full of resentment is not healthy, and children pick up on this. It’s a myth that children don’t know what goes on with their parents. They are aware of the atmosphere in the house, and it can shape their approach to relationships, their mental health and their physical health.
Talk to each other and make the decisions that need to be made. The short-term pain and honesty has to be better than living like this, as both of you sound like you aren’t happy with your intimate lives together.
Dr West is a sex educator and host of the Glow West podcast, which focuses on sex. Send your questions to email@example.com. Dr West regrets she cannot answer questions privately