One reader of this blog recently left a comment wondering how to start such conversations. He jokingly suggested that in such a situation, a guy might say to his boyfriend "By the way, seeing as we don't screw each other any more, what would you say to us screwing other people"! But as the reader implied, there must be better ways of approaching the subject.
Given that this subject has arisen here recently, perhaps it's no co-incidence that I've also received an email about precisely this topic. The email was as follows:
I'm in my early thirties and have been with the same man for almost ten years. He's slightly younger than me. When we first met, we learned all about each other - what we were in to, what we liked etc, and we learned all about each other's dirty little secrets.
It was very clear that I was entering in to a monogamous relationship. I said that I'd be up for things like threesomes - he said absolutely no. I enjoyed going out on the scene - that wasn't allowed any more (not prohibited - just not something he ever wanted to do). We ended up having to spend a few months apart early on in the relationship and I said that if he needed to get his rocks off I wouldn't mind, provided he still loved me and wanted to be together - he said definitely no, and said he thought that was my way of saying I wanted to sleep around. So parameters were set very early on - and these have been followed ever since.
We're happy now. I think we're very happy really. I have everything I every wanted on the home front. He is great in every single way - but there's one thing that has been playing on my mind for years - that I have no idea how to approach - sex.
We hardly ever have sex any more. Once a month maybe. Even in the old days when it was regular, I'd always have to be the bottom (which I didn't mind at first, but never got the chance to change as I was, and still am, 'too big'). Now it doesn't happen at all. We just go to bed and sleep. I have to resort to sorting myself out when I can... We never discuss it either... It never comes up. I get the feeling that he thinks this just happens with old couples and that it's part and parcel of married life.
I'm a bit surprised as he used to have a crazy sex drive - and I wonder if this has really dried up. Most of me thinks it has, but part of me wishes he was getting it somehow somewhere else (which would make me feel less guilty for wanting what I want, and ideally change the dynamic slightly).
I've toyed around with the idea of playing around with other people - without him. I used to travel a lot so could have done it regularly - but he still checks my emails sometimes (big trust/insecurity issues) and nearly caught me out once or twice. I also think that I'm too old now for the dishonesty of doing this. I'd rather not lie and dream of some hypothetical lifestyle we could live.
Another big issue I have is that another product of this insecurity issue is that we are totally non-scene. He hates it. We don't have any gay friends at all. All our friends are straight. It kind of feels like I'm back in the closet and I hate it. I want to go out to places like Fire. I want a circle of gay friends (even ones I don't sleep with - which I don't think he thinks is possible).
I guess I really wish we could have some kind of open relationship - like I know some other old couples seem to do. I just don't think he would ever go for it - and I could never bring it up because he'd freak out and accuse me of all sorts.
I also wonder about the logistics of it. It's not that I want to go around screwing other people without him - I want to do stuff with other people with him (from time to time you understand, not daily/weekly!). It'd be awesome and would satisfy my needs... But moving from where we are now to that seems impossible.
So I suppose I have two questions about the same thing... How on earth do I bring this up, express myself and move things on? I keep waiting and waiting, getting older and older. I only get desperate like this and lose sleep over it once every couple of months when I begin to question what we have. 99% of what we are and what we have is perfect - but maybe I'm wrong. Maybe that 1% is actually a lot bigger of an issue than I think.
I do love him and know he loves me. I want to spend the rest of my life with him. I just feel that the roles we've assumed need to change. We need more honesty. I need to stop being made to feel like I'm the only one who could screw things up - like I'm the only one who has sexual urges and desires beyond what we have. I just don't want to get much older and regret things.
Apologies for the mind-dump. I hope you can make some sense of it all. Any advice welcome - before I explode and potentially risk losing a person I care too much about.
Thanks as always.
Thinking about this email, it seems almost impossible to me that the reader's boyfriend could have gone from having a "crazy sex drive" when he was a bit younger to no sex drive these days. Sex is a natural human need. Although one's sex drive decreases with age, these guys are still under 35 so if they're healthy they should still be having lots of sex!
The working assumption for this reader should be that his boyfriend still needs sex and may even be getting some from elsewhere. If that is the case, a big problem for the reader is going to be getting his boyfriend to be open about his desires, because given his original views the boyfriend won't want to lose face. If the reader wants to keep his man, he somehow needs to move their relationship on, but avoiding any desire to win the old argument and prove that his boyfriend's original ideas don't work any more.
Probably even harder than having a difficult conversation is getting a difficult conversation started. To have the desired effect, and also keep the long-term relationship alive, I think it's important to try and move the thinking forward together, as a couple. So it's a problem that the guy who wants to have the difficult conversation has already done a lot of thinking about the issue, because he needs to help his boyfriend catch up somehow. For this purpose, I reckon that it's best for the guy to first introduce the subject to his boyfriend somehow, and talk around the subject but without actually relating things to their own relationship. Relating it to their own relationship would be the next step, perhaps a few days later. Even at that point, it's probably then best to suggest a future discussion, to give the boyfriend time to prepare himself. Springing a difficult conversation on a guy with no notice is likely to mean that it won't go well.
As an example, suppose Adam and Steve have been boyfriends for ten years, and that Adam would like to have a more open relationship. Suppose they've just finished watching an old episode of "Sex and the City":
"Do you think many women in real life are as promiscuous are the girls in that series?" asks Adam casually.No need to go any further at that point. Another approach might even be:
"Probably not!" replies Steve, not really paying attention.
"But think about it," continues Adam, "even gay guys, how many get as much sex as the women in that series?"
"I dunno," replies Steve, getting a bit concerned about where the conversation might be heading, "I haven't really thought about it!"
"Well, neither have I really. Although sex is a basic need for all of us. I certainly wish I got half as much as those women!"
"Hey Steve," shouts Adam from in front of his computer, "do you ever read blogs?"In that situation, if he wants to be direct Adam might even consider sending Steve a link to this posting!
"Not often, why?"
"Well you really should read a bit of this one! It's written by a gay banker and he's got some quite interesting ideas, I'll send you some links to a few of his postings."
Having woken up the subject in quite a harmless way, the next step would be to start relating it to their own situation. So imagine that to avoid a long conversation on the subject, for which his boyfriend would be unprepared, Adam decides to time it so that initially they'll only be able to talk for a few minutes. They're driving to meet some friends in their car, and they're just a few minutes from their destination when Adam starts to talk.
"I've been thinking a bit more about how much sex those women in Sex and the City seem to have compared to me!" starts Adam, speaking very calmly, "Do you ever think about that kind of thing?"Although this approach puts a tension into the relationship which will last until they do actually talk about things, I can't help thinking that the tension is necessary. If a couple has got used to avoiding this kind of subject, the guy that wants to talk about this needs to force the other guy to think about it seriously, and this approach will do just that. Indeed, guys in healthy relationships are able to discuss these kinds of issues.
"How do you mean?" asks Steve, immediately worried by the topic.
"Well we're both still quite young, and if we're normal, we should still have quite reasonable sex drives. I think I'm pretty normal. Aren't you?"
Steve doesn't immediately reply. Even though he's driving, Adam looks at Steve briefly and shrugs his shoulders to indicate that this subject isn't really a big deal.
"I don't know," continues Adam, "we are boyfriends after all, shouldn't we be able to talk about these things?"
"I guess," concedes Steve after a brief pause.
"Well anyway," replies Adam, still speaking calmly, "We can't talk much about it now because we're almost there, but if we don't get a chance before, let's try and talk about this next weekend. I'd like to anyway!"
Throughout this process, it's important to try and anticipate all the possible responses of the other guy, and even his responses to one's responses to his initial responses etc! The more both guys have thought about things, the easier the process is likely to be. The sample dialog illustrates another important point, namely that since the two guys are in a long term relationship, there's no immediate rush to sort things out. The goal should be to try and make progress together, rather than for one partner to have all the ideas and forge ahead leaving the other guy behind.
My suggestion for the next stage of the dialog would be to find a way to assert that because everyone needs sex, if they're not having it together they must be finding it elsewhere or doing a lot of wanking! Indeed, if they're both wanking a lot in private, even that is something that boyfriends in long term relationships should be able to discuss with each other. There are many ways the conversation could lead on from there, however if a couple reach this stage then the dialogue will have to continue until some kind of understanding has been reached.
A guy called Rob from Sydney left a very useful comment on this subject recently, where he said "I found being fully honest in a sensitive way (i.e. not being angry and abusive) was the best approach. The reality is that it made my thinking clearer and also helped my partner." Indeed, that sounds like excellent advice to me :-).
Do any other readers have any other thoughts on this subject?