Q: I feel bad writing to you as some people would tell me to take this opportunity and others would look at me with disgust. My partner has been struggling with his health for a number of years and finally got a diagnosis a few months ago. While not fatal, it is life changing. Our sex life was non-existent for months as they were not doing well and I was mostly fine with it, if a little frustrated at times. They told me last month that they just couldn’t see sex as a priority right now and that wasn’t going to change for a while as they didn’t have any energy or desire to have sex anymore. They said that if I wanted to have sex with someone else, they would understand, on the condition that I would be discreet and not enter into a relationship with anyone. That was the line they didn’t want me to cross as they felt it posed a risk to the long-term nature of our relationship. But if I accept her on this offer, I worry that there will be repercussions and that others will judge me when they find out.
dr West replies: You’re right. People could take this in different ways. Some might be understanding given the circumstances, and others would see this as a deep betrayal, regardless of your partner’s permission. It’s hard to win, but to be fair, it’s really nobody’s business since they aren’t the ones in the relationship. It might not be a conversation you should have with your family and friends, but obviously you need it to speak about you writing to me keep secrets or Not being able to talk about a pressing issue can be a strain in itself, and when it comes to something this intimate, it can be difficult to know how to handle the pressure and decision you are making you can meet, should deal with.
I’m not going to tell you what’s right or wrong in this situation as it really is between the two of you. However, I will suggest not to react to anything immediately. Your partner may have said this out of guilt or shame at not being able to “offer” sex as part of your relationship. You may not want this, but feel obligated to make the offer. If this is the case, your partner could get hurt if you accept this offer and it can cause rifts in your relationship later. It may not be an offer made with full consent, but rather under duress and a sense of guilt. Many others have this type of arrangement and it works for them, usually because of a strong foundation, healthy communication, and deep consideration for one another’s feelings. For others, sex isn’t a big deal and they’re happy to forgo it once the other partner is present and busy with the rest of the relationship. Out of sight, out of mind can work well for some but can be a disaster for others.
Sex and intimacy takes many forms, but we often think of physical sexual acts like penetration, and when that’s removed as an option, we can have a hard time contemplating what sex may be like in our new reality. This reminds me of an episode of my podcast with sexologist and cancer survivor Tess Devèze (episode 105). She spoke about how some of her clients struggle with sex and pleasure after life-changing diagnoses like cancer, and how they often find new and more satisfying ways to connect. developerèze has written a book on the subject entitled A Better Normal: Your Guide to Rediscovering Intimacy After Cancer, which is sex positive and does not value the many ways people seek intimacy in difficult situations. Although you don’t specify your partner’s diagnosis, I think the advice in this book may be applicable if you want to work together to find ways to maintain intimacy at the level that’s right for both of you.
If you decide to move on, and after discussing boundaries with your partner and what the reality of that agreement would be like, you need to make several logistical considerations. They would need to get frequent STI checks, find out where those encounters would be and who they’ll be with. It’s not fair not to be honest with potential partners, but you may also find that you don’t want to reveal your private life to others. This is a tricky line as people don’t want to be lied to or hope that one encounter could lead to more so you have to be honest that anything you are offering is a once in a lifetime encounter. You also need to prepare and be honest with yourself about the potential of developing feelings for someone to sleep with and what that would mean for everyone involved.
As you can see, it’s not a black and white situation and decisions don’t have to be made immediately. In fact, it would be better if they weren’t. Even if your partner made the offer, it might still hurt him if you jump into bed with someone else. Or maybe they feel relieved — or even happy for you. I don’t know how they’ll feel, and maybe they don’t even know themselves. Reality is often very different from our thoughts, and we often react in ways we don’t expect. So it’s not a hasty decision and tough talks need to be had. You can bring these together in a space like a counseling session or find online forums of communities of people having the same issues. You may find that these conversations bring you closer and help you create the kind of intimacy that works for both of you.
dr West is a sex educator and host of the Glow West podcast, which focuses on sex. Send your questions to email@example.com. dr West regrets that she cannot answer questions privately
video of the day
https://www.independent.ie/style/sex-relationships/asking-for-a-friend-my-partner-has-no-desire-for-sex-they-say-i-can-sleep-with-someone-else-will-others-judge-me-41479725.html Asking for a friend: “My partner doesn’t want to have sex. They say I can sleep with someone else. Will others judge me?’