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D. A. Wolf

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Do We Owe Our Spouses Sex?

Posted: 10/15/11 02:40 PM ET

Are we still swooning over the smooth-talking, ever elusive, charismatic catch? Mr. Perfect, Mr. Right, My One-And-Only?

Maybe so, but most of us fall for real men -- with thinning hair or a little paunch, with a broken tooth that's never been fixed, with a tendency to posture when provoked and ramble when tired. And if we're lucky, he has a hankering for us that seems insatiable -- at first.

We're delighted, we're flattered, and we reciprocate -- finding his fervor and his foibles endearing. We adore them. We marry them.

And then things change. We change.

So let's get right to the heart of the matter -- sex, followed by babies, and work-life challenges we can't possibly imagine until we're mired in them, as we muddle through the months and years of little ones fussing, job worries, and schedules that grind us down.

Hubby?

Sometimes he gets short shrift. Often, he gets no sex.

Maybe we realize that mothering shouldn't nudge lovemaking out of the picture, knowing that human touch and sexuality are critical conduits for well-being and intimacy. Yet we're reluctant to just "do it." There are conflicts. Shuffled priorities. Fatigue. And sometimes, rumblings of resentment when we feel when we're carrying the greater load. We have a hundred reasons to say no, and a hundred more for waning desire. Libido? What libido?

We tell ourselves (and our husbands) we'll perk up when the babies can toddle, when the toddlers can talk, when the talkers hit preschool -- and meanwhile, once a week falls off to once a month, then once a quarter, then once in a blue moon.

I won't say I've never declined a partner's advances, because I have. In my marriage, by virtue of a traveling spouse, by virtue of the exhaustion of juggling job and kids, by virtue of the growing distance between the two of us which of course exacerbated the, well... growing distance. The loneliness that resulted was palpable.

So let's talk sex -- sex as marital glue, sex as physical necessity, sex as a reminder that we are alive, no matter how complicated our daily struggles may seem.

In that light, do you recall the column about the woman in France who sued her husband over failing to provide sex? The judge ruled in her favor, which the article's author, Dr. Yvonne Fulbright, takes exception to. She writes:

The French judge's decision, and justifying comment that, "By getting married, couples agree to sharing their life and this clearly implies they will have sex with each other" is disturbing.

She goes on to explain:

Whether married for two years or twenty, husbands and wives have the right to control their bodies, including abstaining.

Mulling over her viewpoints, I disagree. I don't believe the judge's ruling condones marital rape, which Dr. Fulbright mentions in her arguments against the decision. I do understand that circumstances and time change us, impacting both sexual appetites and capabilities. And of course we control our bodies, and there will be times when "no" is appropriate. But if there is virtually no affection or no sexual contact in marriage - then what?

Isn't turning a blind eye to alternative arrangements an option? I don't mean accepting the disrespect of a womanizer when you're sharing an active marital bed. But in a sexless marriage, isn't infidelity inevitable?

Consider this.

How would you feel enduring one year, three years, five years -- without being touched by the person you love? What happens to your self-esteem, to your outlook, to other aspects of your emotional and physical well-being? What if your spouse loses interest in sex, refuses to have sex, or for some other reason - cannot have sex?

Sure, apathy sets in. The challenges of daily life, health issues, and medications can take their toll. But I suspect the preponderance of sexless marriages (and divorces that result) is due to the former and not the latter.

In a Huffington Post discussion on marriage and divorce a few months back, men cited lack of sex as a legitimate reason to terminate a marriage, as one reader makes the following remark with respect to wives who do not satisfy their husbands' sexual needs:

For the woman, perhaps she could be instructed... that despite the fact that she will want to curtail sexual things greatly, she should not.

Another reader says:

And why should a man stay married to a woman turned cold?

That question stopped me cold. Might that mean that we owe our spouses sex?

If we're talking about those first few years of child-rearing, it's a perilous period. Women need help -- not indifference, and not attitude. This is especially true with millions of us bringing home a paycheck on top of domestic duties.

Young children aside, there are times in every relationship when one wants sex and the other doesn't. Some of us turn our backs and opt for sleep. Some participate, aware of the many roles of sexual contact, not the least of which is emotional intimacy.

In the years since my marriage ended, I've become reacquainted with the importance of sex as a fundamental element of loving, and being loved. When in a committed relationship, it's rare that I don't happily respond to my partner's advances -- passionately -- tired or not. Out of love, not duty, and cognizant that every encounter needn't involve two hours of Tantric tumbling or gymnastic gyrations. There are times when ten minutes of giving in other ways -- and we all know how -- can reassure the one we're with, and allow us to make sex a priority.

I believe it's a matter of being caring -- and smart -- if we want to keep our relationships intact.

 

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