Q I'm a woman who married young (21) and I've been with my husband for seven years. In the last year, I've realized my falling libido is probably because I'm not turned on by our boring vanilla sex routine. I get so little fulfillment I'd rather not even do it. I've tried talking to him, but he says he prefers sex without foreplay or a lot of "complicated stuff." I had some great casual sex before we met but it turns out I'm into BDSM, which I found out when I recently had a short affair. I've kept the secret and guilt to myself, but I have told my husband I'm into BDSM. He wants to make me happy, but I can tell he isn't turned on doing these things. He denies it, because he's just happy to have sex at all, but a butt plug and a slap on the ass does not a Dom make.
I've tried to ask him if we can open up our relationship so that I can live out my fantasies. I would like to go to a BDSM club and he isn't interested at all. He was very upset and said he's afraid of losing me if we go. He also felt like I was giving him an ultimatum. But I told him he was allowed to say no, and that I wouldn't leave if he did.
When I was younger I thought there was something wrong with me, because everyone else wanted monogamy but it never seemed important to me. I'm not a jealous person and I wouldn't mind if he had sex with other people. (The thought of it turns me on, but he isn't interested.) I know he loves me and I love him. At this point my only solution has been to suppress this urge to have BDSM sex, but I don't know if it is a good long-term solution. What should I do? —Want The Hard Truth
A One point before I bring out the big guns: Marrying young is a bad idea. The younger two people are when they marry, according to a mountain of research, the likelier they are to divorce. It makes sense: the rational part of the brain—the prefrontal cortex—isn't fully formed until age 25. We shouldn't pick wallpaper in our early twenties, WTHT, much less life partners. And with that out of the way...
"WTHT might be surprised to hear she is just a normal woman being a normal woman," says Wednesday Martin, author, cultural critic and researcher. "Like a normal human woman, she is bored after seven years of monogamous sex that isn't even her kind of sex."
In case you have any lingering "what's wrong with me" feelings, WTHT, you're gonna want to read Untrue: Why Nearly Everything We Believe About Women, Lust, and Infidelity Is Wrong and How the New Science Can Set Us Free, Martin's most recent book.
"We know from recent longitudinal studies from Germany, Finland, the US, the UK and Canada that among women only, relationship duration and living together predict lower desire/boredom," says Martin. "The Finnish study found that even when they had more/better orgasms, women in monogamous relationships of several years duration reported low desire." A straight man's desire for his long-term female partner also decreases, but nowhere near as drastically as a woman's does. "Contrary to what we've been taught, monogamy kills it for women, in the aggregate, more than it does for men," says Martin.
So that's what we know now—that's what the research shows—but very few people in the sex-advice-industrial complex have wrestled with the implications. Most advice professionals have chosen to ignore the research. They continue to tell unhappily sexless couples that they're either doing something wrong or that they're broken. If he would just do his fair share of the housework or if she would just have a glass of wine they'd be fucking like they did the night they met. Not only isn't this advice helpful, it's harmful: He does more housework, she drinks more wine, nothing changes, and the couple feels like there's something wrong with them. In reality, nothing's wrong. It's not about a more equitable division of housework (always good!) or drinking more wine (also but not always good!), it's about the desire for novelty, variety and adventure.
Zooming in for a second: The big issue here is that you got bored. No foreplay? Nothing complicated? Even if you were 100 percent vanilla, that shit would get tedious after a few years. Or minutes. After risking your marriage to treat your boredom (the affair), you asked your husband to shake things up—to fight sexual boredom with you—by incorporating BDSM into your sex life, by going to BDSM clubs and by at least considering the possibility of opening up your marriage. (Ethically this time.) And while he's made a small effort where BDSM is concerned (butt plugs, slapping your ass), your husband ruled out BDSM clubs and openness. But since he's only going through the BDSM motions because he's just "happy to have sex at all," what he is doing isn't working for you. And it's probably not working for him, either.
At bottom, WTHT, what you're saying is that you're gonna need to do BDSM with other people if your husband doesn't get better at it, which is something he might learn to do at the BDSM club he refuses to go to. Which means he has it backwards: He risks losing you if he doesn't go.
"She once put her marriage at risk to get BDSM," says Martin. "WTHT's husband doesn't need to know about the affair, in my view, and he doesn't need to become the world's best Dom. But he owes her acknowledgment that her desires matter. Get to that baseline, and other things tend to fall into place more easily. The discussion about monogamy becomes easier. The discussion about needing to be topped becomes easier. Working out a solution becomes easier."
I'm not suggesting that an open relationship is the solution for every bored couple, and neither is Martin. There are lots of legitimate reasons why two people might prefer for their relationship to be or remain monogamous. But two people who commit to being sexually exclusive for the rest of their lives and at the same time wanna maintain a satisfying sex life—and, open or closed, couples with satisfying sex lives are likelier to stay together—need to recognize that boredom as their mortal enemy. And while the decision should be mutual, and while ultimatum is a scary word, in some instances, bringing in reinforcements isn't just the best way to fight boredom, it's the only way to save the relationship.