Can polyamory fix a sexless marriage?

I’m a 66 year old male and “happily married” for 26 years. I’ve got the perfect relationship except for one small thing, I’m stuck in a sexless marriage. I’ve always had a high libido and my wife had a low libido. Somehow we made it work, but over the last couple of years, she has no libido.
I went to counseling and my counselor recommended self pleasure as a way for me to find sexual pleasure without depending on my wife. This makes sense except for two small snags. First, I grew up Catholic and I was brainwashed into believing that self pleasure was sin and ended in eternal damnation.
Yes, that’s right I grew up in a time when self pleasure was considered abnormal and my mother scolded me when she found me playing with myself. The only acceptable sex in those days was PIV sex. And here’s where matters get worse. I’m so well trained that I rely totally on my wife to initiate.
Since my wife has no interest in sex, I can’t depend on her to initiate sex. I cheated in the past with extramarital affairs and don’t want to do it again. I want to be faithful. I’m looking for non-monogamous alternatives, something like friends with benefits. Someone to trade emails and talk about sex online. I’ve talked to my wife about this and she is OK with it as long as it’s anonymous and there is no contact IRL. I like reading, writing and listening to erotica and I’m looking for a collaboration partner. I set up boundaries and I think I’m on the right track, but some counselors have warned against it. They say I’m just deluding myself and taking a big risk of sliding down a slippery slope into an affair.
Also, I’m concerned that I may be hooked on the thrill of new relationship energy. When I meet someone online, I have all of these high hopes on how they will be “the one”. An understanding woman. A sexy woman. A seductive woman. A woman who can figure out what I want and gives it to me. I seem to be searching for the feelings that come from this kind of friendship. It feels like the excitement from “puppy love”.
Please share your thoughts.

There are a few things going on here that I want to address but the first question I think that’s worth asking is this — and it might be a tricky one:

Why are you still married?

I get that you love each other and maybe everything else *but* this really works for you, but it doesn’t seem like you have a business together and you’re 66 so I’m assuming that you’re not still taking care of small children. You may both own property together, but there isn’t really anything here tying you together to the point where separating would be incredibly difficult or impossible.

Which is not to make light of the fact you’ve been married for such a long time or trying to make it seem like it’s easy to break up a marriage that has lasted for so long. But I do think it should be considered as one of the possibilities you have to solve this issue. Especially since being in your 60s really isn’t the end of the world and you could, as you worry about in your letter, find someone who is more aligned with your needs.

And one of the biggest reasons I’m asking you this is because of your fear. Almost everyone has a fear they will be replaced, but the things you’re highlighting here go beyond just pure libido issues. You don’t just worry you’ll find a woman who has a similar libido as you — but that they will be “understanding” which makes me really wonder about the broader issues in your current relationship and if you’re really compatible.

You say you’ve been “happily” married and somehow you’ve made it work… it just doesn’t sound like you’re all that thrilled by your partnership to begin with. You don’t talk about any of the positives of your current relationship. And I have to wonder if part of the upbringing you mentioned has pushed you into this traditional type of marriage and kept you in it… when it doesn’t seem like what you genuinely want.

It’s hard to say if non-monogamy will actually solve the issue, but I’m not convinced that it’s some “slippery slope” that will lead you into real life cheating. I feel like that’s really almost taking the onus and agency out of your own choices in life. I would instead describe it as a band-aid over a gaping wound. I feel like if your deeper need is that you want more sex, then only satiating yourself in some small way has the risk of making you even more aware of the lack of it in your life, rather than solving it. It’s hard to say at this point or until you try it if it will “solve” the problem, but I also feel like pushing you into a situation where you can realise that this need is actually greater and this small solution won’t solve it might give you the motivation to realise that perhaps the current relationship you have just isn’t tenable in its current state and you and your wife are ultimately incompatible.

One other thing I want to add is that I do think that you should apply the same effort to solve this problem as you do with the conditioning you have that makes it difficult for you to initiate sex or take care of your own physical needs. Those are both things which you can work on with a therapist and, they may take awhile, but it’s not impossible.

I would consider finding a therapist who both deals with this specifically and is also open to non-monogamy and isn’t going to automatically deter you from finding solutions — especially since I feel like the “slippery slope” argument sounds almost too aligned with the condition you’ve grown up in. They could just as well have said “forbidden fruit” and this type of thinking really just discourages and disempowers you from feeling responsible for your own actions — which you ultimately are. And especially if you feel divorce is not an option for you, you should really apply yourself here.

Because really, even if you break up with your partner and find a new person, it’s really unfair and not on for them to be solely responsible for fulfilling your sexual needs. And perhaps this is why you haven’t yet considered divorce as an option — because you’d go for a period without a sexual partner most likely. But really, you need to be able to handle some basic things on your own and you need to be able to initiate things at least instead of relying on your partner to do so.

To summarise, I think that initially some of the comments you made made me wonder if there are aspects outside of just a mismatched libido that make you and your partner inherently compatible and it is really worth you considering why it is you’re still married if you’re not happy. In terms of solutions to this, I think you need to primarily work on being unable to meet your own physical needs and initiate sex with partners — because this is a problem regardless of what type of relationship style you’re in or who you’re with.

And lastly, I doubt that the solution you’re providing is a “slippery slope” but you also need to be aware that it may not solve everything and may, in fact, demonstrate to you exactly how incompatible you are with your partner. I don’t think this is necessarily a problem because it might encourage you to do what may make you happier, which is ending your marriage. And there is a risk of you being tempted to meet someone in person, but that’s something I think you should take full responsibility for instead of blaming the solution, especially since it seems like this is a critical issue and with or without this, you may end up being unfaithful again anyway if nothing is done.

I hope this makes sense to you and I don’t take it lightly to say you might have to consider ending your marriage, but I also don’t want anyone to see divorce or breaking up as inherently a failure. Don’t get stuck into a sunken cost fallacy where you think you should stay married just because you’ve been married for so long.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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