Roe McDer­mott

The Irish Times Magazine - - INSIDE -

Dear Roe, I am a 45- year- old wo­man. I am mar­ried. I have four chil­dren aged 10 to 15. I am menopausal. I haven’t had sex in a long time. I dis­cov­ered my hus­band was us­ing porn sev­eral years ago which has had a detri­men­tal ef­fect on our mar­riage. No one knows about this. We are friends but in­ti­macy is fraught with upset, so we just avoid it. I’m fed up and don’t want to spend the rest of our lives like this. How can I for­give him and can our re­la­tion­ship ever re­cover af­ter all this trauma and time? You used the word “trauma”, and I take that se­ri­ously, and am sorry for how dif­fi­cult this has been for you. So when I tell you that some of th­ese is­sues have been of your mak­ing, I say it not to shame or blame you, but to let you know that you have agency. You have con­trol. You can undo some of this dam­age and pain – but only if you are pre­pared to do the work, both on your­self and your own thoughts and ac­tions, and on your re­la­tion­ship with your hus­band.

You don’t in­di­cate whether your re­la­tion­ship be­came sex­less be­fore or af­ter you dis­cov­ered that your hus­band was watching pornog­ra­phy, and in some ways it does not mat­ter. Try­ing to ban your hus­band from watching pornog­ra­phy was never go­ing to work, and to re­cover from this, you’re go­ing to need to work on re­spect­ing his right to sex­ual de­sire.

When sex or re­la­tion­ships oc­cur be­tween two or more peo­ple, rules re­gard­ing fi­delity and sex­ual ac­tiv­ity must be es­tab­lished and fol­lowed for the emo­tional, phys­i­cal and sex­ual well- be­ing of ev­ery­one in­volved.

But when it comes to in­di­vid­ual fan­tasy and mas­tur­ba­tion, which is one in­di­vid­ual ex­plor­ing and en­joy­ing their sex­ual selves on their own, no one else gets to set the terms of that ( bar­ring nec­es­sary laws around im­ages such as pae­dophilia).

If your part­ner’s sex­ual habits are neg­a­tively im­pact­ing on you in a tan­gi­ble way, of course there can be con­ver­sa­tions about that. If your part­nered sex is neg­a­tively af­fected, th­ese is­sues need to be ad­dressed. If their pornog­ra­phy is con­stantly vis­i­ble when you don’t want to see it, or if they are mas­tur­bat­ing in front of you with­out your con­sent, that con­sti­tutes sex­u­ally abu­sive be­hav­iour.

But if your hus­band is merely en­joy­ing adult pornog­ra­phy and mas­tur­ba­tion in pri­vate, as a huge ma­jor­ity of adults do ( not just men, women too), de­mand­ing that he does not is an at­tempt to shame and con­trol his per­sonal, in­di­vid­ual sex­ual ex­pres­sion, and that’s not okay.

As a hu­man be­ing, he has de­sires and a sex­ual drive that ex­ist in­de­pen­dent of you, and he is al­lowed to en­joy that. I would say the ex­act same thing if he was protest­ing your use of sex toys, erot­ica or fan­tasy.

If your hus­band agreed not to watch pornog­ra­phy and did, that breach of trust could be hurt­ful. He should not have agreed. But you should not have asked.

You may per­son­ally have is­sues with pornog­ra­phy, and I un­der­stand that. Don’t watch it. You may also have con­cerns about the type of pornog­ra­phy your hus­band is con­sum­ing, and you can talk about how he can watch pornog­ra­phy in a crit­i­cally en­gaged and eth­i­cal way. I would rec­om­mend read­ing The Fem­i­nist Porn Book by Tristan Taormino to explore how pornog­ra­phy can be pro­duced and con­sumed eth­i­cally – and how it can be a healthy part of mas­tur­ba­tion and in­deed re­la­tion­ships. This may help you to think about pornog­ra­phy from a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive. But you don’t get to out­right ban him from a very nor­mal part of adult life and sex­ual ex­plo­ration.

And you can’t have a healthy sex­ual re­la­tion­ship with some­one while hat­ing their per­sonal sex­ual de­sire or ex­pres­sion. Read some sex- pos­i­tive lit­er­a­ture to help you explore why your hus­band’s mas­tur­ba­tion and use of pornog­ra­phy hurts you so deeply. This isn’t just about his ac­tions, it’s about your emo­tional re­sponse to them, and you need to un­der­stand those re­ac­tions fully to com­mu­ni­cate them and ad­dress them.

Which brings us on to the lack of sex in your mar­riage. Most long- term re­la­tion­ships go through pe­ri­ods with­out sex. But dur­ing th­ese pe­ri­ods, it is vi­tal to keep com­mu­ni­cat­ing about how your re­la­tion­ship is be­ing af­fected, and how you will be deal­ing with it, to­gether. How will you stay emo­tion­ally and phys­i­cally con­nected? Are there some sex­ual ac­tiv­i­ties you can still en­joy to­gether? How can you re­spect each other’s sex­ual de­sire, or lack thereof?

By not speak­ing about the lack of sex in your mar­riage, and by sham­ing your hus­band’s per­sonal sex­ual ex­plo­rations, you have es­sen­tially com­mu­ni­cated that you ex­pect both of you to not be sex­ual, to­gether and in­di­vid­u­ally – in­def­i­nitely. This isn’t ten­able.

You and your hus­band need to have a frank, open con­ver­sa­tion about your sex­ual needs, how you both can feel re­spected and how you can emo­tion­ally re­con­nect.

Avoid­ance is not an op­tion. Avoid­ance in­creases dis­tance and height­ens prob­lems. I would rec­om­mend couples coun­selling to help you nav­i­gate the dif­fi­cult con­ver­sa­tions ahead. But they are nec­es­sary.

At the other side of th­ese con­ver­sa­tions lies the chance for rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, ful­fil­ment, re­spect – and a re­la­tion­ship where you un­der­stand each other more. You both need to reach for this, and work to try pull your­selves across the chasm. I hope you can.

You and your hus­band need to have a frank, open con­ver­sa­tion about your sex­ual needs, how you both can feel re­spected and how you can emo­tion­ally re­con­nect

IL­LUS­TRA­TION: ISTOCK

We are friends but in­ti­macy is fraught with upset, so we just avoid it.” “ ■

ASK ROE ROE McDER­MOTT

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