This post is not about virtue. It is not an ask for sympathy. It attempts to explore what I've learned about sex and sexuality since sex ended within my long-term relationship. I won't say much about why, because half of it is not my story to tell and I have no right. Just know that because of illness and after sharing a normal, monogamous, sexually active relationship for nearly a decade, my spouse suddenly lost the need, desire, and passion for sex.
When sex disappears like that, you don't necessarily know it at the time. There's no announcement. No resetting of hormones for each of you. No discussion that starts with, "I'm thinking I'll never want to have sex again. Are you ok with this?" It's just gone. One day, perhaps months or years later, you realize that the last time you had sex together was the last time you’d ever have sex together.
As I’ve gone through these years without a sexual connection to my spouse, sexual desire did not fade within me. I still think about sex and long for it, I still dream about it, and fantasize. I do try to minimize overt exposure to what can make it harder. I don’t read the OS dirty haikus on Thursday and I never read sensual erotica. I look away during sex scenes in films. I no longer engage in “how’s your sex life” conversations with friends. And yet, even with these rules and a relationship devoid of sex, sex remains a part of my life, in my mind, in my dreams, and in my writing.
As I’ve gotten through these last eight years, I’ve thought a lot about sex, sexuality, and relationships. Here is some of what I’ve discovered:
Sex is vital to a good life. What? You thought you knew that? So did I. I knew sex reduced my stress level, added to my joie de vivre, helped me sleep more soundly, and that it made the mornings after sweeter. I knew that dependable, good sex was very important, even imperative to a good life and relationship. Going without sex led me to understand its meaning even more: I understand how it nourishes and comforts, touches the soul, sustains our natural rhythms. All of that was happening before, so I never examined the ‘how or why”. Going without sex now, I can see how the lack of it upsets each of those things.
Sex may not be a need like air, but it is needed. Yes, I can live without sex, I pretty much do, but I don’t live joyfully. It’s gotten harder, not easier to go without for so long. I need sex to live the life I wanted to live, to feel happiness to the potential I have within me, to carry me through life’s challenges and sorrows. I need sex like I need friends and conversation, like I need the sun and spring, like I need books and music. I need sex to make all of those things better, too. Some nights, sex is all I can think about. I ache to be desired and wanted, to give way to joy and abandon. There is no substitute for the moment when your lover reaches out for you with passion, or with love. Trust me on this, there is no substitute.
Sex holds you together when everything else is pulling you apart. Another given, but think about it for a gentle moment. How many times has that tender caress, that kiss that lingers just a bit longer, that flirtatious glance made you feel closer, safer, connected, a couple, united? How often has it been the bridge from anger to forgiveness, from stressed to relaxed, from lonely to loved? It works. Sex does the job it is supposed to do, fusing you as a couple. Sharing sex means exposing vulnerability, intimacies of the heart and body. You know secrets about each other that are beyond naked and truer than fact, learned during uncensored moments of bliss. Honoring and protecting those secrets is a gift to each other.
Sex makes me feel like a woman and nothing else really does. My career doesn't do that for me. Spending time with friends doesn't. Volunteering doesn’t. Wearing skirts and lingerie helps, but still.... sex? Oh yes. That's when I feel womanly and confident, aching to express my desire and eroticism, and ready to reveal the mysteries of my gender. Nothing else asks me to reach in and grasp the inner femaleness that flows so deep, that yearns to surface. Going without sex now, I sometimes feels less of who I am, less connected to my friends and other women, a little less relevant in the world. I feel distant from myself.
Our sexuality continues to evolve over time, even after many years. About five years into this, I realized something very new about my sexual desire, something I had not considered before. How could this be? I wasn’t in an active sexual relationship, I was making every attempt to de-sexualize myself, and suddenly a new sexual idea came to me begging to be explored and experienced. How unfair and cruel! This revelation thrilled, stunned and scared me. How and why this came to me during the sex-free years of my existence remain obscure to me, and yet there it is. Just another reminder that sexuality, that basic human drive, has a life of its own.
Sex allows you to communicate in ways that you cannot replicate in any other way. What you can do with your fingers, your mouth, your hips.... all those luscious areas of the body that allow for expression that can't be articulated any other way. During sex you can whisper and tease and demand and beg with intonation and nuances that are not appropriate in any other setting. I miss this language so dearly and with such a vengeance that I have to continually monitor myself to be sure I don't do it in the wrong setting. I have to say, honestly, this is probably what I miss the most – the language of sex.
Masturbation is nice. And I am a pro. I swear to all of you, none of you are better at this than I am. I always knew masturbation was nice, but before it was just a warm-up or a way to tide myself over between couple-sex events. Now it is sex.
Masturbation gets to be very, very lonely. Not lonely enough to totally stop, but lonely enough that sometimes an orgasm from solo masturbation ends in tears and a feeling of profound solitude.
Sex gives us some hope. Sex makes us hope, for more, for better, for different, for the same. During the good years, we had sex pretty regularly, as couples do. Thursday night? Always. Again on a weekend night and a weekend morning, even both weekend mornings. And then there was Tuesday, the bonus day. Tuesdays felt a little hopeful, a little romantic, a little sexy. I miss that feeling, wondering if it will be a ‘sex Tuesday’. I miss counting on sex on Thursday, and looking forward to weekend sex. Going without sex all the time adds a layer of drudgery to the week. Now it's just work, time after work, and then sleep. Same thing tomorrow. Same thing next week, next month, and next year. Sex adds that soft glitter to the winter’s gray, a soothing balm to the end of a long work day, a benevolent barrier to the world outside.
The less I had sex, the more I thought about it. During the first few years of this, I thought about sex all the time. There wasn't a conference room table on which I didn't imagine a lewd image during a business meeting. I couldn't enter an elevator without seeing myself pressed against the wall by a lover and kissed passionately. When I traveled, hotel rooms kept me awake at night as I thought about all the options therein. I have consciously worked to mitigate those thoughts and that’s helped, but even that ‘success’ feels like a loss.
Sex makes me love my body. Watching, feeling, hearing a lover take pleasure in my body and receive it from my touch, these feelings are inimitable. A lover’s certain touch affirms me emotionally and physically. Knowing that my body and my own touch produce exquisite gratification and joy tell me I am a sexy, sensual woman. I appreciate my body and am glad for it, but I ache to express and enjoy its sexual potential.
Our sexuality is a gift of comfort and passion that we offer the world, an offer to sustain a love, to convey our essence from our soul.
There is more to say, but even a non-sexual relationship deserves some privacy. Thank you for respecting that. Please remember these are just my lessons. They may be meaningless to others who face this, and to those of you who are sexually active. I honestly can't predict what will resonate for anyone. I beg you not to tell me I am wrong, but to trust that this is what I think and feel.
(I know this is very long. My apologies.)