By Kelly Wilkins
You may have read the story about the husband who sent his wife a detailed Excel spreadsheet chronicling all the times she’d refused to have sex with him over a three week period. It was all over the news aggregation sites, Facebook, Twitter and the blogosphere.
Like most people I read a few of the articles, read some of the comments, watched the flame wars and the very earnest, honest discussions people were having about how much sex one spouse should be willing to have with the other and what to do about it when there’s an ongoing mismatch.
Now I’m going to tell you what it feels like from over here in Straight Spouse Land.
For me, that mismatch was nearly every day of my 18-year marriage. I can remember breaking down in tears in the wee hours of the morning because my new husband was in our bedroom asleep, having given me a brief kiss good night, turned his back to me, and drifted off to sleep, while I was awake, sitting at our office computer, spilling out my pain in an early electronic journal that only I could read. I still remember the aching, hollow feeling of feeling ugly, feeling unwanted, feeling rejection. If I’d made a spreadsheet for the first year or so of my marriage, it would read “Didn’t have sex, no reason given” for 300 of the 364 days at least. Some of the remainder would have entries saying “Didn’t have a sex, had a fight about it.” Although I can’t pin down an exact number, I’d guess that my actual sexual contact may have topped out at about 20 days in the early going. It would become less and less as the years went on, as my ex-husband got better at finding ways to make it my fault, or where he just wouldn’t answer me at all. We would fight about his lack of sexual desire for me, he would promise things would change, apologize, cry, and then he’d wait for things to blow over.
After a while, I gave up and stopped trying. I accepted that my husband didn’t want me sexually, but I loved him and was determined to focus on the good things we did have. I forced my own sexuality into the closet he pushed us both into. I was a still a straight woman with sexual needs, but I chose to keep them very tightly in check for the sake of my own well being and the sake of my marriage, even though it was slowly killing a part of me every day. Constant rejection of the most basic, essential part of yourself and your needs from your marriage partner will do that to you.
There is nothing as painful or destructive as being rejected when you are offering the most of yourself you’ll ever be able to give another person – emotionally invested sex. Nothing. Not my ex-husband’s coming out, not the realization that he was cheating on me with more than one person, not his emotional cruelty during the end of our marriage, nothing. Only for so many of us straight spouses, it goes on for so long that it just becomes background. It just IS, and you restructure your life around it so that you can continue on as best you can. After a while, you start to forget that you were ever someone else, someone who felt free to express desire for your partner and could count on that desire being returned.
So I watched the discussion on the “Sex Spreadsheet” with interest, but I did not read too many articles or get involved in the discussions then. I needed time to think, to breathe, and to separate myself from the remembered pain of all those years of constant rejection and countless small destructions to my sense of self as an adult, sexual woman. And while I wholeheartedly and without any reservation agree with the arguments that no one owes anyone else sex, regardless of who they may be to each other, I also wholeheartedly believe that each partner needs a clear, honest, loving answer as to why they are being rejected and give them the choice to make a clear, informed decision on what to do about it. It’s the least anyone can do for the person they love.