I have been in a pre-engaged relationship with a great guy for over a year. He’s caring, incredibly loyal, and quirky. We also share a lot of the same values socially and politically. The only downside is the sex: it’s bad and unsatisfying. And yes, it’s something we have talked about and been trying to work through via communication, better foreplay, toys, weekends away, etc., but to no avail. I feel very torn and frustrated. I feel like I’ve finally found this person who would make a great life partner and future father, but who will likely never be able to satisfy me sexually. My question is just how much does sex matter in marriage? Are there people who marry their partners and make it work even if the sex was bad to begin with or is that already a recipe for divorce?
Meg here. I took a timeout from my I-actually-haven’t-answered-an-advice-question-in-a-few-years schedule to talk to you because, well, we need to chat. So here comes the tough love, which I’m ninety-nine percent sure is what you wrote in for anyway.
So let’s start here. Way back in college I had a boyfriend that I thought was amazing. (He turned out to be kind of a dick, but ahhh college, and that’s really not the point of the story anyway.) The point is, we felt like soulmates, and we liked all the same things, finished each other’s sentences, and laughed at all the same jokes. But one thing was missing: Chemistry. On the most biological level, I remember that he didn’t smell that good to me. (In fact, writing this I can still remember his smell, that’s how deep into the brain this shit goes.) And I also remember writing in my diary that I didn’t really like kissing him. On some fundamental biological level, we were just not compatible.
Fast forward to my life partner. We’ve had periods where the sex has been good, and meh, and really fucking great… because life changes and your body changes and how stressed you are changes, and… all the things. But the fundamental building block of chemistry has always been there. Like he literally smells amazing to me. PHEROMONES, can’t beat ’em.
So here is my question for you: Is there chemistry? Like when you smell his sweaty gym shirt do you want to jump him? (Gross, but also a fact of human biology.) When you see him (and you have energy and are in the mood and all that noise), do you WANT him? Because if the answer is yes (and be honest), then you can work it out. You go to a sex therapist, you rent some porn, whatever. But if the answer is no (and my suspicion is that it’s no… because you’ve clearly done the dirty work and gotten the toys and porn and such), then… in my opinion? You have to leave him. Because you both deserve better, and life is long.
To answer the question you asked though, “Just how much does sex matter in a marriage?” I think you know the answer, or you wouldn’t be asking it.
It matters a lot.
Sex is what makes a marriage different from just a working partnership, or a good friend. Sex is what allows you to reconnect over and over again, even when life is hard. Also, good sex is just something humans are built to want. And while you both might think that you are game to sign up for a lifetime of bad sex, at some point one of you is going to get sick of it, and once you’ve built a life together, chances are that’s not going to end well.
But while you might be setting yourself up for divorce (and again, I think you already know that). I worry more about what you’re giving up on the day to day—a primal connection with the person that is closest to you. A smell that makes you feel like home every night of the week. Because yeah, sharing political values matters too (at least to me). But it has to come with the whole package. And chemistry is the glue that binds it all together.
And now I’ll let some commenters tell me I’m wrong, which I’m fine with. Because whatever the answer is, you already know it in your heart. And I don’t think you would have written us if that answer was the one you wanted it to be.