A woman no longer interested in sex with her husband wonders how to rekindle the passion. Mariella Frostrup says it is monogamy’s greatest quandary
The dilemma I have been married for just over three years to my second husband. He is a kind and caring man, with no malice or underhand agenda (unlike my first husband). However, I have stopped finding him attractive. I care about him, I love him, but I don’t feel remotely interested in being physical with him any more. It may be that turning 50 and the menopause have a part to play, but I feel switched off – for good. He is patient with me, but I can’t see how he can put up with it for much longer. It was good when we first met – but isn’t it always? I felt liberated by being with him but now there is nothing. We may have had sex three times in the past three years. I want to be switched back on to having a good all-round relationship but don’t know how.
Mariella replies I’ve been dreading this question. So high does interest run in this particular conundrum that if I had the answer I’d be on the cover of Timemagazine and choosing what to wear for my Nobel acceptance speech. Imagine the social revolution we could kickstart if we could ensure that the person we’d chosen to pool romantic resources with, forsaking all others, still turned us into drooling, passion-crazed obsessives eager for physical union after 20 years together, or in your case three.
People find all sorts of ways to add a bit of oomph to their coupling, from dogging and swinging to shopping sprees in sex shops. But who feels like getting up to any of that when there’s a nice warm body to snuggle up to and a box set to watch in bed after a long hard day? Just a lingering degree of sexual frisson, a desire to rip off our long-term partner’s clothes once every new moon, would be helpful, but world peace and eternal youth can seem easier to achieve.
Among both friends orand correspondents, there are few living together long-term who profess to be driven by anything much stronger than affection and duty in keeping up the bedroom business after a few years together. It’s why serial monogamists get hitched so many times and why so many marriages end in the tawdry arena of adultery rather than the impossibly chic but highly challenging“conscious uncoupling”.
I’m not going to offer you sex tips, as it really isn’t my terrain, but the obvious cure for no sex is to have sex – and you can’t just sit around and wait until you feel like it. The menopause doesn’t help, and if you haven’t looked into hormone replacement that’s the place to start.
Yet you say you “feel switched off – for good” and that’s more of a mission statement than a disclosure of symptoms. Prolonging passion requires the same resolve, dedication and commitment we employ in other areas of our lives. If we only did what we felt like, would we go to work, cook dinner, phone our parents, shave our legs, or attempt politeness?
There is a duty of care to a partner that we are responsible for living up to. Few of us simply feel like having sex after a few years together, so that’s when we roll up our sleeves, grit our teeth and live up to our promises. Once you’re back in the saddle, so to speak, having sex on a regular basis is like having a snack. You don’t necessarily need it, but you don’t mind if you do!
If you’re really stuck, there are plenty of ways to rekindle animal instincts. The bedroom is a place which, from its initial tantalising promise, too easily becomes a location of dread. One sexless night follows another, slowly merging into a lifetime of absence rather than abundance. So maybe the first step is moving away from any prescribed place for passion.
Some think a loosening of the ties that bind holds the secret to keeping passion alive, but I’m not convinced. Seeking sex with strangers while continuing to cohabitate simply posts a sell-by date on your union. Once your physical attention is up for grabs it’s only a matter of time before your brain caves in too. The law of averages is that if you have a sex with enough people you’ll eventually fall in love with one of them and you’ll be back at Year Zero, with past promises to previous partners just an echo.
How to continue to have sex with your partner is the great quandary for those favouring monogamy in long-term partnerships. I’m an advocate for the philosophy echoed in the Nike ad: Just Do It. Familiar sex may not boast the blood rush of post-pubescent passion, but there’s a whole new world of exploration and adventure to be embarked on once you set your mind to it. None of us can afford to only do what we feel like. Relationships, like jobs, children, in-laws and extreme sports, need investment. If you want only to please yourself, stay single; if you want to spend your life pleasing someone else, get hitched. Neither’s perfect!
By Mariella Frostrup