Two letters arrived the other day in the same envelope. There was an attached note instructing me to read this one first:
I am a het woman engaged to be married to a man I love very deeply. He is a feminist, is supportive and caring, and loves me very much. We've been seeing each other for about three years and living together for the last two. The trouble is sex. I am very enthusiastic about sex and very vocal and demanding. He, depressingly, is simply not sexually attracted to me. At the beginning of the relationship, it was incredible. He's a fabulous lover when he wants to be. Then the frequency slowly tapered off to the point at which I would periodically make an attempt to start the engine, but he rarely did. He then told me that he found my sexual advances to be a turnoff, so I stopped making them.
When we had a discussion that I wasn't happy with the decline in the frequency of our lovemaking, we entered into an agreement for a once-a-week date night, but lately it's really been making me feel rejected, like he's only putting out to live up to the bargain--which is making me feel less desirable than ever. My self-esteem is really suffering because the sexual side of me is so important.
There are, of course, different reasons why someone wouldn't find someone else sexually attractive. He grew up with images of women from comic books and movies, both of which he still avidly consumes. Intellectually, he understands from a feminist perspective what such images do to women, but I don't think he's grasped the idea from a psychological perspective. I guess what I'm trying to say here is that I don't look like Uma Thurman. I'm constantly battling my weight, while he, through unswerving diligence (and good genes, I'm convinced), has a very cut bod.
We've talked about having me take another lover, but I'm really not interested in anyone but him. And the thought of him sleeping with someone else--presumably someone he would find more sexually attractive--really upsets me.
Can a marriage work out when there's a sexual problem like ours going on? It isn't a case of needing counseling or anything--we are able to talk through our feelings very easily--it's just that he doesn't find me desirable. Everything else is great. Think we should call off the wedding? --Wedding Bell Blues
My first thought upon reading WBB's letter was that her fiance probably has a lower sex drive than she does, which she was misinterpreting as rejection, and she shouldn't compound her misery by comparing herself to Uma Thurman. He wouldn't be marrying her if he wasn't in some way sexually attracted to her. Right?
Then I read the second letter, which was from WBB's fiance:
My turn. I'm the het white male engaged to Wedding Bell Blues. We have a terrific home life. I enjoy her company and love coming home to her every day. She is a beautiful person whom I love dearly and am looking forward to spending the rest of my life with.
But whereas we are compatible on so many levels, we just can't seem to work out our sexual problems. I may not have a handsome face, but I am on the buff side of fit, while she is cute, cuddly, and, as they say, leans towards the Rubenesque. She has a strong sex drive (to put it mildly) and is still wildly attracted to my body, while I am, sadly, attracted to a different, more stereotypically pretty body type.
I realize that this problem of ours stems from my inability to be turned on by women who do not fall into the media's conception of beautiful--I get my kicks from the Uma Thurmans of this world--but I don't know what to do about it. When WBB and I are having sex, I fantasize about curvy movie stars or porn queens to get off.
This has led to feelings of rejection, inadequacy, and low self-esteem in WBB. While I am theoretically in favor of taking discreet lovers on the side to satisfy her need for frequent sex and my attraction to a different body type, the logistics of working out secondary relationships don't seem worth it. Of course, STDs would be another problem.
So as our wedding day approaches, we remain stumped and increasingly uneasy. Should we call the whole thing off simply because only one aspect among many is not working in our relationship, or should we go ahead and continue to get off by infrequent sex (for her) and fantasies and masturbation (for me)? --No Sex Please
Hey, WBB & NSP:
DO NOT GET MARRIED! WHAT ARE YOU TWO THINKING?!
The importance of sex in marriage can be overstated. The importance of sex can be overstated, period (especially in sex-advice columns). It is, as NSP says, only one aspect among many. But the importance of sexual compatibility within marriage, at least at the starting gate, cannot be stressed enough. "Sexual compatibility" does not mean going at it like howler monkeys at every opportunity; it means having similar sexual expectations--at least being on the same page.
Listen, Ms. WBB: Your expectations cannot be reconciled with NSP's attitudes. You're in love with him, you're physically attracted to him, and he--BY HIS OWN ADMISSION--finds you physically repulsive. If your sexual side is so important to you, why would you even consider marrying this man?! Some sexual problems can be worked out, but a complete lack of physical attraction on one person's part (to say nothing of a complete lack of consideration or empathy) is one that date nights and cut-rate feminist blather cannot fix. If you do marry him, your feelings of rejection, inadequacy, and low self-esteem are only going to grow worse, and will--if you have a spine in that Rubenesque bod of yours--turn to feelings of despair, anger, and rage. DO NOT MARRY THIS MAN.
Now, Mr. NSP, just what kind of sensitive New Age sadist are you? Is destroying this woman's sexual self-esteem giving you some sort of sick thrill? I can't think of any reason you would be in a romantic relationship with a woman you are not in the least bit physically attracted to, other than the sheer pleasure of making her miserable. You both describe your relationship as open and communicative, but there is such a thing as too open and too communicative--sometimes honesty is thinly disguised malice. When you realized that WBB did not in the least bit attract you, you should have quickly and respectfully ended this relationship, without going out of your way to tell her that it was because, oh, her fat ass makes your dick go limp. By drawing this out, you have turned what could have been a short-lived, fondly remembered affair into a self-esteem-destroying virus that could potentially eat at this woman for the rest of her life. If this is how you treat a woman you profess to love, I'd hate to see what you'd do to a woman you hated.
WBB, you need to get out. NSP, you need to get help. But whatever you two do, DO NOT GET MARRIED.
Send questions to Savage Love, Chicago Reader, 11 E. Illinois, Chicago 60611.