My wife and I have been happily married for fifteen years, and we have two children. Even at the beginning her sex drive was much lower than mine, but over time it’s dwindled away to nothing at all - she told me once that she’d happily never have sex again. She’s never been into kink or BDSM, either, which I have always wanted to explore. Recently, she’s given me permission to “look elsewhere” for sex - but I think she’s still conflicted about it. I love her very much and I definitely don’t want to leave her, but sex is really important to me and this has become a major problem. Is there a “safe” way for a long-term couple to go poly with this sort of imbalance, and how would I even go about acting on it?
Loving but Lustful
The first thing you need to figure out is why she’s given you “permission”. That’s a very specific way of putting it, and it doesn’t sound quite the same to me as “she’s said we can explore having an open relationship” or whatever. If it’s because she understands how you feel and she wants the two of you to work together to reach a place where you’re both fulfilled, then that’s great - but if it’s because she’s afraid you’ll cheat or leave her if she doesn’t give the sign off, then you need to do some work on your marriage before you start adding new people to your sex life.
Assuming for the moment that her reasons are more like the former, though, try not to think of it just as “going poly” or “opening the relationship”. No matter which umbrella term they fall under, all relationships have rules. Some relationship rules say “don’t watch porn” or “don’t think sexually about anyone other than me”; some say “I don’t mind who you flirt with at parties or have deeply emotional friendships with, but sexual contact is just for us”; some say “text me in advance if you’re not coming home tonight” or “don’t fuck anyone who would be cheating on their partner if you did”. All you and your wife are doing here is renegotiating the rules by which your relationship is run, which can be both extremely difficult and extremely rewarding.
Your first task, then, is to figure out what the new rules are. Would you like to have an ongoing relationship with someone else in a caring consistent way, while still leaving your primary relationship with your wife centre stage in your life? Would you like to have a series of one night stands, or a very casual friend-with-benefits arrangement? Whatever you decide, it’s important that both you and your wife are clear and explicit about it, and that you work on figuring it out together.
There’s something else you need to remember, too: putative new people in your life are real people. When you fantasise about sleeping with someone else, the character in your fantasy is pretty much a prop - and that’s totally fine, but it’s not like that in practice. Your new date, secondary partner or fuck-buddy will have needs, desires and preferences of their own, and trying to force them into a stricture you’ve set clearly out in advance is probably a bad idea.
Polyamory and other forms of non-monogamous relationships are hugely rewarding, and can add a great deal of love, joy, sex and happiness to your life. You need to take things kindly and carefully, though, and remember that communication is the golden rule.
My girlfriend really likes to be talked to in bed - insults, humiliation, some really dark kinky stuff. It’s a huge deal for her, and she confessed to me recently that she has trouble getting properly into a sex/kink headspace without it. I want to fulfill her fetishes and fantasies and I have no problem with it in theory, but in practice I keep feeling awkward and unsure and like I don’t know what to say. Have you got any advice that might help me find my voice?
The Silent Dom
You feel awkward because you’re afraid you might screw it up, so I’ve got news for you: you’re going to screw it up, and that’s okay. Not everything you say - especially the first few times you try - will be perfect. You won’t tap straight into her deepest, darkest desires the second you open your mouth. Sometimes you’ll say things that don’t work, or that sound stupid; sometimes you’ll lose your flow or stumble over a sentence or come across as uncertain. The trick is to bear in mind that those things will happen, and to remember that she knows that too. She’ll be so pleased you’re going there for her that she won’t mind the occasional misstep - and besides, she’ll be too turned on by what you do get right to care.
Watch those reactions. Pay close attention to her as you speak: how she moves, how she responds, what she says, the expression on her face, the cadence of her breathing. She’ll let you know through her responses what she wants more of and what doesn’t work so well for her. Once you know something in particular gets her going, you can add it to your repertoire and use it as inspiration for further remarks.
I can’t tell you what to say - everyone is different, after all - but she can. Have a few conversations with her about what she most wants to hear. This works best if you make it a part of foreplay: “would you like me to call you this? Or this? Or this? We both know you’re this already…”.
If you’d like to start with something that might be a little less daunting, wait till sometime when you know she won’t be answering her phone - because she’s out at a party or in the cinema or something - and leave her a voicemail. You won’t be able to judge her reaction immediately, but I bet she’d love to have it to listen to later and you’re bound to hear what she thought of it once you’re with each other again!
I’m a twentysomething woman who until recently was in a relationship with another woman of around the same age. About six months ago my partner started the transition process - he now presents exclusively as male and has asked everyone in his life to use male pronouns and his new name, etc. I’m bisexual, so it hadn’t occurred to me that there might be a problem - we’ve been together for several years, he’s always been quite butch in presentation and quite self-conscious about his body, and I just want him to be happy and comfortable in himself. Much to my horror, though, as the process wears on I find that I am becoming less and less attracted to him - both sexually and personality-wise. I don’t know what this means; is it latent transphobia of mine? Do you think there’s anything I can do about it?
A Concerned Ally
Anything that creates huge changes in a person - including a major shift in presentation, any surgeries they may have, and the effects of hormone treatment - are going to have an effect on their relationships. Hormones can affect a person’s moods and responses, as well as create some pretty major physical changes; surgery and clothing choices make a major difference to how someone looks. The physical and emotional upheaval of a transition tends to have a huge impact on the transitioner’s life even though it’s the right thing for them to do.
Only you really know if your reaction to your partner’s transition is the result of internalised transphobia, but from what you’ve written to me here it doesn’t sound as though it is. I suspect this is just the response you’ve had to someone you’re in a relationship with making major changes to their life and their body, and it could happen no matter what those changes were.
You might find that things settle down after a while. As time passes and you adjust to the changes in your partner’s looks, life and (perhaps) sexuality, it’s possible that you’ll feel differently. You need to think carefully about how likely you think this is, though, because if it’s just that you’re really not so attracted to him any more it isn’t fair on him to keep that a secret.
Ask Abi is a bimonthly sex advice column written by Abi Brown. Email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Abi is a freelance writer and general pen-for-hire devoted to genre fiction, social justice and M.A.C lipstick. Follow her on her website or @see_abi_write.
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