I want to explore

"Am I Normal": A married reader is unsatisfied with his sex life and feels the itch to stray

Topics: Salon -- After Dark, Am I Normal?, Love and Sex, Sex,

I want to explore (Credit: iStockphoto/HeikeKampe/Salon)

I enjoy reading your columns and use them to some degree to allow myself some reassurance that my sexuality is not something to feel negative about. It is rare for me to see a woman who has complete comfort in her sexuality and makes it her purpose to explore. I spent a large portion of my younger years doing that and, now that I’m married and a father, I find it difficult to satisfy those desires in the way I used to.

There is part of me that wishes that I was not tied to the relationship I have so that I could continue exploring. It is not that my wife is not interested in joining me so much as it is that we are at different stages. I have a firm grasp on what I want coupled with a bit of fearlessness while she is still coming to know her wants and desires and is not entirely comfortable with where they sometimes lead. What I have been struggling with is: a) Will we ever be at the same place and b) What I am supposed to do in the meantime?

I want to be supportive and I get immense pleasure from guiding and giving someone an amazing sexual experience. My goal is to provide a safe environment so they can open up and ask any question or do any thing and not risk feeling ashamed or embarrassed about it. But that is often not enough. On the other hand, I want that to be reciprocated and if there is hesitation and anxiety about my, um, “needs,” then I lose the ability to enjoy it on the level I want to.

In my marriage, we have an ebb and flow in a pretty consistent fashion. Inside I begin to build up a large amount of sexual tension that is craving to be released in a manner that is not easily obtainable. I begin to push for something that will amount to that release and when it doesn’t happen it’s like sticking a cork in a volcano. I will spend a few days getting edgier and edgier until finally there is some blown-out-of-proportion conversation that ends up with everyone feeling inadequate and generally bad. We will then promise to work on it and things will go well for a few months until life gets in the way and the cycle starts again.

I want to break this cycle and we are currently doing an immense amount of work to try to bridge the gap. But until that happens, I’m still left with the need to reset my libido and I have few, if any, options available. I do not want to go outside of the marriage but if that is my only option I will.



Besides our sexual gap we have a fantastic relationship, but I am getting to the point where, after five years, I feel like I’m never going to achieve what I need. Any thoughts?

So this is funny: You’ve written such a smart, interesting and lengthy email, but I have no idea what you actually want. I see only amorphous sexual wanting. You don’t list a particular desire, like wanting to have more sex or to explore a specific kink. Instead, I’m left trying to read in between the lines in search of what’s missing from your sex life.

I wonder if your wife feels the same way. I wonder if you feel the same way.

There are a handful of words and phrases that stand out to me from your letter. The positive ones, the ones that seem to represent what you want, are “exploring,” “safe,” “open” and “do any thing.” The negative ones: “ashamed,” “embarrassed” and “anxiety.” You seem to believe that your wife is repressed — and that may very well be true, because, who isn’t? — but freedom from sexual shame can look very different on different people. For some, open exploration means joining a local swinger’s club; for others, it’s losing themselves in the pleasures of monogamous sex. There are as many personal definitions of sexual freedom as there are people. How does your wife’s definition compare to yours?

If you use the same abstract language when talking to her about what you feel is missing, it’s very possible that she is picturing a different goal than you are. Your strap-on fantasy might be her dream of bubble bath cuddles — or vice versa. There’s a tendency to expect our partners to know what we want, to intuit what we mean when we say, “Let’s explore” or “Let’s get kinky!” In part, that’s because the idea of our partner wanting exactly what we want is a compelling fantasy, right? But it’s also just damn hard to talk about these things. You gotta do it, though.

This is my personal take — and I’m just an unmarried, childless 28-year-old with a sex column. Marty Klein, a sex therapist and author of “Sexual Intelligence: What We Really Want From Sex, And How to Get It,” took a look at your email and determined that therapy — preferably with your partner — is the way to go. “Without that, or something like a near-death experience, this couple will split up (or he’ll have an affair),” Klein, who has over three decades of experience counseling couples, wrote in an email. The man tells it like it is.

I went to sex therapist Ian Kerner with the question of how one can tell the difference between a relationship that is hopelessly sexually mismatched and one that can become sexually compatible and satisfying with work. He said that there are two types of people: “thrill-seekers and comfort creatures.” This is a broad generalization, sure, but it can be useful to spark discussion around a tricky topic, he says. “Thrill seekers often crave a high degree of novelty and tend to get bored rather quickly, while comfort creatures believe that less is more and enjoy the familiarity of a sexual routine,” Kerner explains. “Part of the problem is that in the early stage of a relationship, the infatuation of falling in love provides a level of excitement that often masks real differences in our sexual types.”

Are these differences insurmountable? “Not at all,” he says. “But dealing with the issue is going to require creativity and communication.”

Tracy Clark-Flory

Tracy Clark-Flory is a staff writer at Salon. Follow @tracyclarkflory on Twitter and Facebook.

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