Shortchanged by monogamous culture

I read the subject [of your ‘Is Polyamory Worth The Risk’] article with great intensity. You see, I have been married for over forty years and less than two years ago I confronted my wife with the news that I had been, for most of our marriage seeing sex workers and engaging in sexual activities with others. We went to counseling and resolved some of our issues dealing with deception on my part and lack of sexual interest over the many years on her part. Counseling did not however, make me wish to change my behavior nor my sexual explorations.
I now feel even more free than ever to explore my sexuality, and the sexual options available for me. I have even invited my wife to join me in the exploration, but so far the answer has been negative. The passage below struck me almost physically when I read it. It describes so very well what I have felt for the many years of my marriage. I (we) made a commitment to a monagomous life before we had the mental capacity to do so. We had no idea what we would like or dislike, what our sexual values would be, or how to deal with differences in libido and desire. We just wanted to fuck, and in our community and time that meant you had to get married.
“It’s like I was short-changed… I didn’t even get the option to explore that and see if it could work for me. I signed on the dotted line of monogamous life before I could even drive, let alone know anything about myself and my sexuality.”
For me, it was not quite before I could drive but almost. So this passage struck me as particularly meaningful in terms of the developing sexuality of a young person. It has been a difficult passage for me and for my partner dealing with sexual growth, repression, changes in attitudes as we are exposed to more and more different options, and learning to be comfortable with changing sexual needs, options, and practices. Polyamory seems a viable option for partners that are committed, but exploring their changing sexuality. The problems seem to arise when sex and love are bound together as one and the same. True, sex is often the ultimate expression of deep emotional love for one’s partner. But sex can also be recreational and engaged in for the sake of physical enjoyment without the emotional bond of love to interfere.
My partner is now much more sexually active and attuned, but I still want to go further and explore other sexual options. I want to have a threesome with her and another woman, with her and another man, perhaps try some light BSDM, anal intercourse with her, sex with a transgender girl, exploration of swinging and swing clubs, etc. You get the idea that my list goes on and on with the endless possibilities of activities that can be engaged in and enjoyed.
So the question becomes whether polyamory is for us, and how do we get there. I wish to continue to explore while still loving my wife and having that emotional commitment to her that we have had for so many years, but if she is not willing to join me in my explorations I want the freedom to do so alone, or with another more interested partner.
Your thoughts?

There are a couple of things going on here that I want to address:

  • Cheating as an introduction to polyamory
  • Sexual needs and differences
  • Transgender people and sex

Can you start polyamory with cheating?

First and foremost, I feel like you’re not really grasping the reality of what your previous behaviours will mean when it comes to the relationship you are in now. You were married to this woman for over 38 years when you broke the news to her that you had been dishonest throughout the entire marriage. And in being dishonest, you not only gave her a false understanding of the issues in your current relationship but also put her health at risk without her consent.

You mention how you feel free to explore your sexuality, but you’ve put little to no detail in this about your wife’s feelings or motivations — just that she has responded negatively to your invites into explorations. You seem almost surprised by this but what’s really striking to me here is that you don’t seem to express any remorse for lying to your partner. In fact, despite attending counseling to resolve your dishonesty, you seem very uninterested in your wife’s needs or your wife’s feelings — just how you can satisfy your sexual curiosity.

You’ve given me so little information about your wife that it is hard for me to surmise what her mental state must be like but… if someone had cheated and lied to me for 38 years and then decided that they wanted to continue that behaviour, but thought inviting me to participate was something of a benefit… I’d probably be really angry at them.

It is not your fault that polyamory and non-monogamy were not introduced to you as options earlier. I completely understand why you related to that line in the previous article. Perhaps you married before you really understood if you were sexually compatible — but this is no more your fault than it is your wife’s and it doesn’t excuse dishonesty. At the very least, you should hold some amount of remorse or regret for the hurt you have caused your wife in the process of not being honest with her and yourself about your sexual needs.

Cheating isn’t always maliciously intended and I don’t think that it’s impossible to begin polyamory in a healthy way even if the catalyst was infidelity. But in order for that to happen, the person or persons who cheated must at the very least be able to empathise and feel remorse for the pain that their dishonesty has caused their partner. It’s not to say you’re not feeling this at all but you don’t mention it once here. And that doesn’t sound good.

Sexual needs and differences

People vary wildly on the spectrum as to what their sexual needs and wants might be. Social mores and convention have the power to make people who do have differences outside of the mainstream (that involve consenting adults and do no lasting damage) feel ashamed of those desires and hide them. There are many people who may reach the ages of 40, 50, and 60 who have never tried some of the things which they are sexually interested in because of these conventions. You might count yourself among those types of people who are re-discovering their sexuality in a way they would have done when they were younger.

I’m not convinced that your wife is one of those people, however. And even if your wife was interested in the exact same things you are interested in, I don’t always recommend that couples do everything sexual together. So many people have the misconception that jealousy or cheating will not happen if people do all of their sexual activity together, but I think that either postpone some of those feelings or it just causes some unbearable tension while people struggle to be into it and hip even if they aren’t.

You may very well be able to separate love from sex and many people can, but your wife may not either be able to or want to at this point in her life. For many people, sex and love are bound, and that is not inherently a problem, it’s only when society insists this is how everyone must operate that it becomes a problem, though I would highlight that society gives men plenty license to see sex and love as separate without being punished for it, even if polyamory or non-monogamy are not presented as potential solutions.

What it comes down to is establishing whether or not your wife is vaguely interested in exploring any of these options and if she wants to do that. You need to keep in mind though that, regardless of however you present it, for your wife the choice may very well be to force herself into these sexual situations she may not be that interested in or lose a marriage she has invested 40 years of her life into. That’s a really difficult position to put her in. And I feel like if she has already indicated that she is not interested in exploration, you should take that as your answer.

At this stage in your life, you and your wife do not seem sexually compatible. I do not think polyamory is the honest solution to this because polyamory is not about being able to have sex however you want with whomever you want. Sure, there are plenty of polyamorous people who have sexual relationships with people that don’t involve love, but I’m not confident that you are going to be able to be there for your wife emotionally when you seem to focus so much on your own needs and not hers.

It might be better to end your relationship with your wife and give her the ability to find a partner who is more sexually compatible with her.

Transgender people and sex

This was a small mention in your question, but I feel the need to respond to it not only for your benefit but for the benefit of anyone who reads my column. Transgender people are not sexual experiences for you to try out. You say you want to have sex with a transgender girl (and really you meant woman, not girl) but any of the number of people you’ve already slept with could have been transgender.

What you’re trying to say, I believe, is that you want to have sex with a woman who has a penis, which isn’t necessarily a problem within itself, but to assume all transgender women have penises is the first mistake to make. Not all transgender women do. The reason it’s important to point this out is because people tend to make statements either for or against their interest in “transgender people”. Like they say, “I won’t ever date a transgender person” while making vast assumptions not only about what genitalia transgender people necessarily have but how they use them in bed.

My concern with your interest in ‘sex with a transgender girl’ is that you are not only making an assumption about what genitals a transgender woman would have but that you’re also probably projecting a lot of your assumptions about what sex might consist of in a way that fetishises transgender women and turns them into an object.

I think that people can have a genuine interest in interacting with different people sexually or a genuine interest in different sexual experiences, but you must not assume that people under one massive umbrella of identity are exactly the same in terms of that sexual experience. It’s also important that you examine your reasoning behind this, especially if what you find attractive about the scenario of having sex with transgender women is the ‘forbidden’-ness of it all.

While you may find a sex worker willing to engage with your interest, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t engage honestly with this thought process as it’s a thought process which results in the reality that many transgender women are not only murdered by men who discover they are transgender but also find it difficult to find work and housing due to discrimination.

In summation

Overall, I honestly get the feeling that unfortunately you have the interests of exploring your sexuality and I doubt that your wife does. I think presenting her with an ultimatum will put her in a situation where she might feel she has to agree to do things sexually she doesn’t really want to do or risk losing her marriage — even if that’s not what you’re demanding she does. To avoid further heartache and wasted time, I think it’s best if you separate from your wife and explore all of the things you want to explore on your own.

I suggest you also continue seeing a polyamory friendly therapist on your own and work on building more empathy and understanding with partners. I’m not trying to say that you’re wrong for wanting what you want, but the way you tunnel visioned on what you want and included barely any details about your wife, her emotions and what she’s gone through makes me concerned that, even if you do try polyamory in a sense of having multiple romantic relationships, you are going to struggle to provide the emotional support you should provide to partners.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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