From Monogamy To Open Marriage is a weekly column devoted to the discussion of pursuing sex and love outside marriage.
While I was married to my ex-husband, I stayed monogamous and “faithful” to him the entire time. We met when I was 21, single, and promiscuous. At that time, my perspective of my own sexual needs was still a little unclear. I did what I wanted, but shame and worry often invaded my conscience. Sex felt good, and I wasn’t hurting anyone, but at the same time, I couldn’t shake the belief that a woman enjoying a promiscuous sex life was wrong and inappropriate.
I was afraid to associate with people who were doing what I was doing.
I didn’t want to be known as “one of them," so I often chose to indulge with people who were anything but sexually adventurous. I chose the shy guys and the “nice” guys who never went home with anyone. My ex fell into these categories.
Because I was half convinced that there was something wrong with me, I was always trying to convince myself that I could be “normal” if I found the right person. I met Roy at work. He was a cooperative, quiet, and very private person. My naivety made me presume that these were sure fire signs that he was “healthy” and “normal,” and possibly a good match to help balance me out. (Now that I’m 20 years older, I realize that I had no basis for my presumptions.)
Being distracted by a new interest didn’t make me impulsively decide to leave my marriage and change the lives of my children. The door had been inching open, a little at a time, for years.
He was 24, and I was the second person (ever) that he had sex with. I was adventurous, spontaneous, and exciting to a person like Roy, who was careful, deliberate, and reserved. He was floored by my seemingly insatiable sexual appetite. We enjoyed day-long bouts of drunken sex on our days off. On the nights we spent together, we barely slept. I was excited to meet a “good” guy who was “normal," and who wanted to fuck as much as I did. I thought that he was my answer to ending my sexual promiscuity. I thought that maybe we could be together and I wouldn’t want to stray outside of the relationship because of this.
Little did I know, our sex life was no different than that of any new couple.
The eagerness Roy displayed early on was typical of a new relationship. We married a little over two years later and before we exchanged vows, our sex life changed dramatically. What I assumed was a temporary shift in priorities (new jobs, a new home, wedding plan stress, etc.) that caused a drop in our sexual frequency, actually became the new normal. We went from having sex every day down to twice a week. Most of the time, I was the one who initiated.
After our first anniversary, I was secretly proud that even though I was perpetually unsatisfied, I never cheated on Roy. When our second anniversary came and went, I was almost surprised with myself that I had never so much as tried to make any of my secret fantasies a reality. By the third year, while I was ever aware that suppressing my sexual needs resulted in a dull but consistent agony, I had my version of sad, lonely, monogamy down to a science.
Years passed with more of the same, and the intimacy (along with the raw, primal, fucking) that was missing from our relationship fostered incredible tension which made it impossible to communicate and be honest about our feelings. I tried to talk myself out of my sexual needs, reminding myself that my family (we had three children) should come before the trivial gratification I could get from sex.
It didn’t work.
Roy and I walked on eggshells around each other. Eventually, I felt like I couldn’t even ask him for sex. I masturbated in the shower daily, while fantasizing that someone would open the shower door and finally rescue me from this sparse and desolate sex life that I had in my “normal” relationship with my “normal” husband.
Our marriage ended in the same cliché way that many marriages end. I suddenly found myself interested in another man. I know that it wasn’t that simple. The other man didn’t make me suddenly stop wanting my husband. Being distracted by a new interest didn’t make me impulsively decide to leave my marriage and change the lives of my children. The door had been inching open, a little at a time, for years. I was not a lying, conspiring, cheating harlot that just couldn’t hold it together and stay faithful to one man.
Roy and I were unhappy and uncomfortable. We tried counseling. We tried anti-depressants. We tried prayer. We tried making time for our relationship: dating, courting, taking up new hobbies, romantic bullshit. We tried all of it. In the end, I was still unsatisfied and I know that it was because our sex drives and our needs were so different. When I found myself interested in someone else, I assumed that was the point of no return. I thought the “right” thing to do was to tell Roy and to leave the marriage.
This afternoon, I sifted through 80 different messages from an ad I put on a swinger’s website seeking a single male or a couple to meet with next week. Roy and I have been divorced for almost 12 years. I don’t regret the choices I made because they lead me to where I am right now.
But all too often, I hear about marriages like the one I had with Roy. One partner is terribly dissatisfied and the other seems unaware of the fact that the person they love has deep needs that are unfulfilled. I hear about mismatched sex drives where one partner is practically begging for sex and the other finds this burdensome and annoying, yet many other aspects of their relationship seem to work very well. Is monogamy right for these couples? Would it be so terrible if sexual needs were met outside of their relationship?