Episode 12: Needing to be Touched

When your partner feels like they can’t touch anyone any more, are cheating or polyamory your only options? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.

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Thank you to Chris Albery-Jones at albery-jones.com for the theme music and a big thanks for the podcast art to Dom Duong at domduong.com.

Podcast transcript


So normally I feel like a snowflake for whatever reason and then I google around and find that I’m just one of many many people with whatever thought or problem I thought was unique. Not so after the birth of our daughter, my wife and I had a great sex life until we started trying to have a baby. A miscarriage and way too many trips to fertility clinics over five years had a very bad effect. But we miraculously got pregnant on our own and I hoped or thought things might change after our fairly happy and normal postpartum phase.

My wife felt touched-out, exhausted, in love with her little nursing. I stepped up in every way possible. Taking over all household chores, and providing any support necessary.  In the words of my wife “you’re great”.  I go above and beyond, all our friends say so. Anyway, my needs are weird, almost exclusively physical. I need touch and get almost nothing from praise or gifts or anything like that.  And my wife has not touched me without me explicitly asking to be touched in over two years.  That’s too long for me to deal with in any way suggested by anyone I’ve talked to..

We’re now pregnant again and I’m trying to figure out what my options are so I can keep being a good dad and husband.  I’ve gotten massage and that helps a bit. But I think I need some sort of intimate sexual connection at least once a month.  That seems to be a minimum for me not just to feel good about myself or have fun or anything trivial like that.  But fundamentally necessary to relieve excruciating tension and  stress.  For example, when this was all at its worst, I ripped my rotator cuff in my sleep from the sheer tension.  All doctors I saw said they never heard of such a thing.

So, I feel like my choices in monogamy are either divorce or ripping my other rotator cuff.  So I turn to polyamory out of fear and hope.  I understand it can be a particularly bad idea in the middle of a vulnerable time for my wife.  I am not trying to abandon her or in any way cheat my responsibility as a dad.  I knew what I was signing up for, she made an incredible sacrifice with the childbirth itself, which is incredible and insane and in my opinion elevates all mothers to the level of superhero.  But, without even talking about fairness, because that’s impossible and shouldn’t be a subject when kids are involved, I just have basic physical needs.

Is there something I’m not seeing?  We talked, my wife and I.  She seems defeated into agreeing that I should sleep with other women.  That makes it even worse.  But I go back to thinking that I’ll just break if I have to store that much tension again.  I did try everything like exercise and meditation and therapy and it’s all laughably inadequate.  I just need to be wanted and to be taken care of physically once in a while.  Doesn’t sound like polyamory has anything like that for me, but I’m at a loss.


So, first of all I want to say the sounds like an incredibly difficult situation to be in and I think that you seem like you’ve explored a lot of different options and the first thing that I kind of want to point out… I mean you said you talk to your wife about this and she seems kind of resigned to the idea of you sleeping with other people. I'm assuming but I haven't really got the sense from your letter that there hasn't seemed to be a discussion about what the options are for your wife to provide this touch.

I mean, that seems like an obvious answer like… obviously me know if you are touch starved, your wife could touch you more often. I'm assuming that's not something that is at a workable for her for whatever reason and I just wonder like it… it's a very difficult situation. Obviously you don't want to pressure her into it and you don't want to… kind of you know… it's already a difficult situation, adding more kids to the relationship. Kids are very stressful and create a lot of stress. You don't want to add that stress by sort of being like you know… oh once a month it's time for you to do your wifely duties.

I can totally understand why you want to approach it that way but like… you know, you said this is a basic need for you and I do think that… it doesn't say you've tried couples therapy. Are there things that your wife can do that may address the problem or make it a little bit easier for you to deal with the situation? Is her lack of touch wanting… is that something that she finds a problem? Is that something that she wants to address with a therapist? Is that something that is from the postpartum depression? I mean, not depression… Is that related to that? Or is that something else?

Because it seems like… I mean obviously if she feels like she doesn't really want to be touched and it's not a problem for her and she doesn't see it as a problem then… you know, forcing her into a situation where she's being forced to touch people in a sexual way where she doesn't want to isn't something that is a solution. And I think you know that. But I don't know as that you've necessarily explored… it doesn't sound like a you’ve necessarily explored all of that together.

Therapy just for you might not be the solution. Maybe you need couples therapy with each other to sort of explore what it is about touch that she is not keen on any more. Is that something that she wants to change? Is that something that she wants to address? I mean… because in my own personal situation like… I am on the asexual spectrum. I totally understand people saying “enthusiastic consent, enthusiastic consent” and I'm really you know… I get why people say that but on the other hand sometimes as person who is on the asexual spectrum I kind of feel like sometimes my consent isn't that enthusiastic.

And it's not to say I don't want to have sex with my partners. It's just that sometimes like… I don't feel like I have the same urge to do it in the same way they do. And so I think for me like sex sometimes has a different type of meaning to it. It's not really about like satisfying a physical urge. It’s kind of more about sometimes even satisfying a romantic or emotional urge and sometimes you know… I don't necessarily feel any kind of urge but I do participate in sexual activities with my partners because I know they have urges or you know… It sounds… it is really hard because it doesn’t… I struggle with it as well. It really sounds very much like I'm forcing myself to have sex with people when I don't necessarily really want to and that's not really what's happening.

Because I've been in situations where I've done stuff where I've not wanted to so… I do know the difference. But if I'm honest about some of the situations like you know… There are times when I do sexual things that I'm not like a 100% into it and I do it because I care about my partners. And I want them to be happy. And I know it's just… it sounds kind of bad but I don't think it is always. I don't feel disgusted afterwards. I don't feel used. If I felt any of those things, it would be one thing but I don't so… I wonder if this is not… like I said I don't think you do and I don't think anyone does want to force your wife into a situation where she's doing stuff she doesn't want to do. But I just feel like there is more to explore there that you really haven't necessarily… it doesn't sound like from the letter that you've explored.

If you have explored that and she just you know for whatever reason doesn't want to touch people, doesn't want to be touched. It's not something that she can foresee herself wanting in the immediate future or in the near distant future… then it does sound like you're at an impasse. Because you have needs, but I think you're on the money with feeling like polyamory isn't really the solution to this. Because polyamory is really… I think you could probably establish relationships with other people but that doesn't really sound like what you want to do.

I do really feel like people who go into polyamory or non-monogamy… I think they should at the very least have their own rationale for wanting to go into it that involves an understanding of wanting multiple romantic partnerships in their life and I feel like that's not really what you want. You do crave kind of what you describe as intimate sexual connection but you don't really talk about wanting other relationships and so I’m not really sure if that's really want you want here. I don't know if swinging is necessarily what you want either because you know… I mean that could potentially work. But I don't necessarily feel like that kind of environment is as is necessarily what you want to go into as a single guy more or less. You know, not “single” but I think that would be quite difficult for you.

One option that you might consider and I mean I think it's worth exploring with your wife as well… you know you said she seems resigned to the fact that you have to sleep with other women and obviously she's going to be disappointed in that because you have a monogamous relationship. You have this kind of expectation. But I do wonder if it’s worth exploring as well. If there's not a way she can help you meet this need, if it's worth thinking about… what are the reasons why she feels dejected about it? Because I do often think that you know… there's going to be an understandable feeling on her behalf that she can't meet a need that you have. That's going to make her…. it's likely going to make her feel quite inadequate and that's totally understandable.

But if this is just a sort of a sexual need and massage has helped then I do think another option you might consider exploring which might be something she's more comfortable with if she thinks about the reasons behind it, is hiring a sex worker. Sex workers do all different types of work and you could even for the first time consider kind of like you know… you can talk about boundaries with your wife in terms of what you do with a sex worker. Like maybe you can just… she can give you kind of a sexual massage and that can be kind of just what the sex worker does. Like you don't have to necessarily have penetrative sex with a sex worker. But she can… I'm assuming you would want a sex worker that goes by “she”. I could be wrong. But the sex worker can provide you with a sort of sexual touch that could help in the situation and it might be more of what you're looking for.

Because you're not really looking for a constant relationship and I do think it would be almost unfair for you to kind of try to pursue that on polyamory angle because the other people… you’re really looking to meet in a sexual need. And there are people who are polyamorous who probably wouldn't mind helping with that. I do think that generally speaking you know… when you talk about polyamory it is about other romantic relationships and those people might want to be more involved and have more involvement than just helping you meet a sexual need. Whereas like a sex worker who you hire who can help you out with that. Then there is a more professional type of relationship there and that actually might take a little bit pressure off your wife.

I mean it really depends. I know that this seems kind of silly to say maybe to some people that hiring a sex worker might make her feel less threatened but if you think about it, it's a professional relationship with a professional in the same way you would hire a masseuse to massage you. They have the experience and the knowledge to help you in this situation and can put you at ease and can help you out with that. Sex workers are professionals so they can help you and I think that, because it's a professional relationship, maybe there is less threat there for your wife because she doesn't have to worry that you’re gonna run off with someone because this is a professional who's coming in to help you. It's not another relationship she has to worry about, which isn't to say you know you can't have a relationship with a sex worker. Obviously people can and do. Sex workers have relationships. What I'm saying is that this is designed to be a professional interaction with someone and so that might make some of the pressure that your wife might feel about you sleeping with other women a little less because it's a professional person rather than just like a person who could steal you away. And that might make her feel better.

And I think that another thing you might consider talking about and exploring with your wife is considering a fixed time. It really depends on the reasoning behind your wife not wanting to be touched or touch anyone. Is this a temporary thing? It could be just as a result of stress and because having children is extraordinarily stressful. So it might not last forever but it could last forever. Maybe she can’t say. But I think you know you can always talk about as well that might help her feel a little more relaxed about the situation is say… ok you know define time on this. Like maybe one week night or a one night a month or something, cause you say about once a month. Once a month, you know you find a sex worker, spend the night. You spend some time with a sex worker and then you can say, “ok I'm only doing this for the next two years, in one year or until certain point”.

I mean you obviously you can’t… it's it's hard to negotiate that if you're kind of putting a timer on her being…  you know after a certain point she has to kinda take over. That can kind of be difficult stressful for her. But it might be something that really takes off the stress. It's really hard to say because you don't really talk about why it is that she's not interested in touching you anymore. But I think you have the right inclination that polyamory really isn't the right solution for this. I mean it’s not to say it can't solve it all. I do think there might be someone who is polyamorous who would be fine in this kind of situation and helping you out, but I do think it’s kind of… when you think about it, because you’re very focused on your wife and your family for an understandable reason. You’re not really looking for another romantic relationship. So I think it's kind of unfair for a person to come in who might be expecting a romantic relationship with you, might be expecting some type of commitment to kind of be put in that situation. So I do think you've got the nose right on the head on that.

But overall, just to sum up, I think firstly it's worth getting a couples therapist to talk about this. Talk about what are the reasons behind her not wanting to touch? Is it a problem she wants to solve? Is there a way you can kind… and I will try and find a, even though you're not interested in a polyamorous relationship, I would still try to find a therapist who is open to  polyamorous relationships, that is open to open relationships or a sex worker friendly therapist. Because if… you know therapists are people just like everybody else and I really feel like if you get a therapist who discriminates against sex workers, this could end up causing more damage. Seeing a therapist could cause more damage than help so definitely make sure that the therapist is pro sex work and pro polyamory and pro open relationships and is open to coming up with alternative solutions for this. Explore the options for your wife or providing it if that is something she wants to address.

And then I think… think about hiring a sex worker as an option and think about talking through that with a therapist with your wife and seeing how your wife feels about that as an option. Because I do think overall that might be the best approach for this. You do have a physical need and that’s valid and I think you don't want to be put in a situation where you tear your rotator cuff. I’m not really sure what a rotator cuff is but it sounds painful. So you obviously don't want to be put in this kind of situation and that's totally valid. I think you need to just have a little bit more to talk with your wife about the situation.

It could be possible… I mean if you also don't say if you told your wife that this is the reason why you tore your rotator cuff. Obviously you've talked to her about the possibly of sleeping with other women but maybe there needs to be more of a discussion about how to address this while also having children and dealing with the stress that that adds to a relationship.

I really hope this helps and good luck.

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