I’ve spent some time recently contemplating the nature of marriage. Everyone seems to unconsciously internalize ideas from childhood about what it means to be married. I’ve been trying to look at what those concepts are for me and decide if they are useful in my relationships. What makes a good marriage? And what about sex – how important is sex to marriage?
These are difficult questions to answer without good models for marriage. My parents separated when I was seven. I don’t know what their sex life was like, but I can remember both of them having affairs. How many people fill in the holes in their broken marriage by secretly having sex with other people? I can see how my parent’s fantasies about marriage trapped them in roles they didn’t really want.
My grandparents were married for almost 50 years, but longevity isn’t necessarily a measure of marital success. I do think they were still in love when they died. They raised 3 children together, but had different interests and hobbies. By the time I came along, they usually slept in separate bedrooms – did they ever have sex? What allowed them to share their lives for so long?
Part of my problem in looking at marriage is that you never know from the outside what a relationship is really like. I remember growing up, my best friend’s parents – they were quite respectable, did all the right things, but when I spent the night they were bitter and nasty to each other. They wouldn’t get divorced because they were Catholic. How many people stay in miserable marriages because it’s the right thing to do? How many people are miserable and you can’t even tell?
My first marriage is a good example. I got married young, at 22. I was a single parent working hard to heal from childhood abuse. He had financial stability, a secure job, physical fitness, and he wanted a family. I knew that I was kinky, even then, and introduced him to bondage and caning. Aside from his mom worrying about the sadomasochism, everything seemed promising.
After the wedding and after having a baby together, things started to fall apart. One of the problems for me was that sex quickly got tedious. He refused to do anything that might hurt me. He was jealous and over-protective. I became expert at avoiding sexual contact with him. I could pretend to sleep or try to keep doing housework until he was asleep. I knew exactly how far I could push it until I really had to have sex. Then I prided myself at being able to get it over as quickly as possible. It seems odd to me now that I would live like that, but at the time I felt trapped.
None of our friends knew how hard it was for me. It wasn’t something I knew how to talk about or they knew how to hear. He was very controlling and I wasn’t often allowed to do things without him, so I didn’t get much of a chance to talk anyway. When I suddenly decided to leave him, many of our friends were shocked. It didn’t help that I was already in love with Joel. After knowing what it felt like to be in love, there was no way I could have stayed in my marriage. So for me, love is a the most important part of marriage.
Sexual fulfillment has also become an important component to my relationships, marriage or not. But that’s not about whether or not I come, it’s about respect and consideration. My sexuality is an important part of who I am and I don’t want to be in a relationship where I have to pretend to be someone I’m not. That means that I need room to be poly and kinky!
But is sex important to a marriage? Traditionally, a union isn’t valid without being consummated, however, lots of people come to live in sexless marriages over time. I use sex to help communicate the love, respect, and closeness I feel for my partners. Although I believe in sex, I could find other ways to do that. I wouldn’t stop loving Joel or Harold if either were suddenly unable to have sex. We would still be good partners in other ways.
I think every couple makes their own marriage. I’ve had commitment ceremonies with both Joel and Harold and our vows were different for each. Every relationship is unique, with different agreements. I’m still thinking about this, but basically, I think that as long as both partners feel happy, loved, respected, and supported it’s a successful marriage. With or without sex. But I’ll take mine with sex please!