Is Marriage a Promise of Sex?
I have a question for you. On the surface it’s a simple question, but dig about just a little and you’ll find a network of emotionally tricky, ethically ambiguous answers. Nevertheless, I’ll ask it anyway, because that’s the kinda party I like. Here you go:
Is marriage a promise of sex?
Let me loosen that up a bit: If you’ve chosen sexual monogamy as your relationship model, to what extent are you responsible for your partner’s intimate satisfaction?
It’s a question that’s been bumping around my head ever since I wrote the column we sportingly called ‘miserable married sex’. Yesterday, the question started bumping about too loudly to ignore.
You might’ve heard about the man who made an Excel spreadsheet of all the reasons his wife gave him, over the course of a month or so, for not having sex with him. Of the 30 times he propositioned her, she agreed three times. Her excuses ranged from being tired to feeling ‘gross’ to wanting to watch TV.
I’m not going to go into a discourse about the state of their relationship (shit), her attitude (shitter), his response (shittiest), but I think it’s a good place to kick off this question.
Because, while this particular piece may have oozed its way from the depths of Reddit, the sentiment is hardly unique.
There are many people – men and women – who feel rejected, unsatisfied and lonely in marriages and commitments that bind them sexually to one person. And society more happily defends the person doing the withholding. They’re legally, politically and morally more comfortable for us to deal with that, say, the person who cheats, challenges our ideas of possession or whines about being sex or touch starved.
The commentary camps that form around this Reddit wife and her Excel-spreadsheet husband are quick to shape themselves around gender lines and politics, around tired ball-‘n’chain stereotypes and, unfortunately, questions of consent.
Entire books can be written about each of these.
But let’s imagine that two adults who agree to a sexually monogamous relationship take equal responsibility for their choice. Let’s imagine that these adults, who have agreed to be gatekeepers on their partner’s genitals and desires, take their job seriously and don’t become manipulative, mean or lazy about it.
Let’s imagine a relationship structure where as adults we are able to behave like adults; that we don’t take our partners or our intimacies for granted.
Let’s imagine, oh the horror, that we don’t actually own the people we say we love.
Adult relationships understand sex, commitment and building a life together as negotiated spaces where both partners are equally accountable to the outcome.
And yes, part of that space is sex and physical intimacy. You’re not physically committed to your brother, after all.
If you’re tired, overworked, sad, unhappy with your body (or his) or not liking the sex your partner is giving you, you speak up, get out or get help. You don’t claim to be Queen Of All The Land and then go hide in your chamber.
Reddit wife and Excel-spreadsheet husband didn’t just raise a question about responsibility in a sexually monogamous relationship, they made themselves – and those capable of choosing their circumstances – into victims when they’re not.
You are responsible for what you choose.
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