THE BLOG

Is "None-agomy" Grounds for Divorce?

07/05/2011 12:26 am ET | Updated Sep 03, 2011

Being held hostage in a sexless marriage is, to some, nothing short of torture. Sex is not only physically pleasurable, it is also an avenue for intimacy and emotional (and sometimes mental and spiritual as well) connection. It is a stress reliever when relationships are good but it can be the cause of tremendous stress when the relationship is not so good.

Failure to have sex with a spouse who wants affection is considered desertion and can still be valid grounds for divorce in states where fault is assigned to one party or the other (all states have no-fault status, but some continue to include fault status as well). While "fault" doesn't impact financial or child custody agreements, it can be used to expedite divorce proceedings. For more information on fault vs. no-fault divorces, visit Nolo Press. In some places around the world, a wife doesn't have the legal right to refuse sex to her husband.

In 2009, Tara Parker Pope wrote an article for her New York Times column, Well, entitled, "When Sex Leaves the Marriage." This article, which consisted primarily of an interview with sociology researcher, Denise A. Donnelly, who has devoted much of her life to studying these oxymoronic unions.

Donnelly identified the two leading causes of the cessation of sex between husband and wife as being childbirth and affairs.

Stopping sex after giving birth is not only common, it is understandable. Along with taking its toll on a woman's body, bringing a new, highly dependent person into a family can cause everyone to redefine what the priorities are given the increased limits on resources of time, energy and money.

Most primary caretakers would agree that giving all day long without much of a break pushes sex to rank among the last few items on the "to do" list.

Affairs that occur in response to a sexless marriage seem more understandable to me than those that occur in marriages where there is passion and romance. Nonetheless, affairs can occur regardless of whether there is loving happening at home or not.

Having reservations about jumping back into sex once your partner has strayed is common and certainly there are cases where the betrayed spouse cannot overcome the hurt feelings, fear of inadequacy and lack of trust.

There are other causes of one or both spouses losing the desire to be physically intimate with their mate. Just plain hurt feelings that never healed may turn into resentment and not having sex may be a way to "get back at" or feel a sense of power over the other. Working so hard at a new job may drain a person of his or her energy to the point where there is no interest in seeking sexual connection.

Whatever the reason is, the end result is the same: zero sex between spouses.

When couples find themselves in this spot, the choices seem to be stay and suffer in silence, or have an illicit affair, or divorce.

More and more couples are choosing open marriages-- that is, marriages in which they spouses agree that being sexual with someone outside the marriage is okay.

Judith Stacey, professor at NYU and author of "Unhitched," sees fidelity as a function of honesty rather than sexual exclusivity. She believes that authenticity and respect are much more important qualities in a healthy marriage.

In the recently published, "Marriage Confidential: The Post-Romantic Age of Workhorse Wives, Royal Children, Undersexed Spouses & Rebel Couples Who Are Rewriting the Rules," Pamela Haag points out that there are perhaps as many as 21 percent of marriages in which "Ethical Non-monogamy" is being practiced. She further postulates that the numbers of couple choosing this option would likely be much higher if this were as socially acceptable as divorce is.

Indeed, divorce is more accepted as an option than having multiple sex partners. But, for those who get along reasonably well, or who are co-parenting young children, or those who are staying together for financial ease, an open marriage may be a reasonable compromise.

What do you think?