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Understanding Intimacy: Should We Open Our Marriage? 

Considering consensual non-monogamy

Dear Dr. Jane,

My wife and I have had problems with intimacy for years. At this point, we're pretty much sexless. I think the last time we made love was before Thanksgiving. What do you think about us opening our marriage to fix the sex problem? She really doesn't want anything to do with me sexually, but we still love each other.

From, Considering Consensual Non-monogamy

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Dear Considering,

A sexless marriage is incredibly challenging for many people. Some people even use the phrase "soul crushing" to describe how they feel about it. People often ask me about opening their sexless relationships as a way to solve the problem—outsourcing physical intimacy.

Consensual (or ethical) non-monogamy involves making an agreement to see other people while still married or in a commited long-term relationship. Sometimes opening a relationship looks like "swinging" or "lifestyling." Swinging is typically defined as sex without emotional connection. Sometimes consensual non-monogamy looks like polyamory, which is typically defined as sex within a loving extramarital relationship. Couples who successfully navigate these experiences are excellent communicators with an ability to handle the strong emotions that invariably arise. Consensual non-monogamy is a choice that works best for couples who have lots of sexual energy between them—almost like they have so much sexual connection that it's overflowing to others. Consensual non-monogamy can also work well in situations where one person is unable to be sexually involved for specific reasons that are outside of their direct control but where they support the partner's need for physical intimacy.

So, back to your question. For many people in sexless relationships, communication about sex isn't working well. There are lots of reasons for this, but in general, sex problems often include hurt feelings and misunderstandings. You may be experiencing feelings of scarcity, resentment, rejection and abandonment. Your partner may be experiencing feelings of guilt, shame and inadequacy and hurt.

We like to think that sexual connection with another person can be just sex. For some people this works. But, for many people, when you start connecting physically with someone else, there's a lot more than mechanical sex in the mix. In a situation like yours, when you feel a lack of sexual acceptance and flow, a new sexual partnership can be very challenging to your primary relationship.

Your new sexual partner is now sharing something with you that you've longed for over days, weeks, months and even years. The experience of receiving pleasure from another person can be profound. You might feel like your wife could give you sex, but just won't. This is particularly difficult to accept.

A willing partner can feel like a candy store with the front door left wide open. It can feel too tempting to resist going all in—past the "just sex" and into a relationship that's completely compelling. It might be very difficult for your sexless marriage to compete with the passion and connection of the new relationship. New Relationship Energy or NRE is very powerful for people in consensual non-monogamous relationships even when they're completely happy with their primary sexual situation. When you're in a sexless marriage, it can be explosive.

So, before you open your marriage, I suggest that you take a deep dive into what's happening in your current relationship. Make every effort to identify and remove barriers to your connection as a couple. I hope that you're seeking the support of a therapist, counselor or coach who specializes in sexual concerns so you're able to navigate this process gently.

You may be surprised that there are specific things in your relationship that could be causing the challenge in intimacy you're facing now. We think of sex problems as one big mountain of "it doesn't work" when in fact, it's often a series of small hills that can be navigated. There are so many things you might like to explore—releasing shame, opening to what you really want and sharing that together.

Maybe you've already exhausted these possibilities and your sex life remains off track. I still suggest that you proceed with extreme caution before venturing into the unknown waters of consensual non-monogamy until you understand what's really happening.

 Xoxo, Dr. Jane

—Dr. Jane Guyn (she/her) is a well-known relationship coach who received her Ph.D. in Human Sexuality and is trained as a Professional Sex Coach and Core Energy Course.

Send her your questions at

thesource@drjaneguyn.com.

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