Sex & Relationships

Ask Joan: When Is Casual Sex Ok?

Frustrated in Australia” asks, “Is a casual sex partner appropriate when there is no sex in our marriage?”

A reader asks:

My wife and I, both 68, have had no sex in the last 10 years and only 13 times in the previous decade. “We’re too old for sex,” she tells me. Maybe she’s not attracted to me sexually anymore. Maybe she never was. She knows sex is important for me. Long ago she subtly suggested finding sex elsewhere.

We’ve been together almost 50 years. Up to the birth of our first daughter in the mid-’80s, our sex life was okay, but seldom mind blowing. It steadily declined and died in 2013. My wife knows the lack of sex is a major problem between us. Recently she referred to “the huge white elephant in our marriage” and confessed to feeling guilty. But she won’t deal with it and refuses counseling.

What to do?

I get to see her gorgeous 68-year-old body naked every day and I still find her immensely desirable sexually. I tell her frequently that she still excites me physically. I no longer ask for sex or initiate because I’ve been refused too often. Even if she said, “Let’s do it,” how would I know she wasn’t giving in because she felt guilty or pressured?

My question: what can I do when she totally won’t?

She told me last year that intercourse is painful. Let’s say that’s true and not a convenient excuse. You and I know that there are lots of ways to be intimate and have fun without intercourse, but she’s not interested. Basically, I’m trapped. I’m able to cope because my faith keeps me focused and positive. Masturbation helps.

A few years ago, a 58-year-old divorced woman and I began an affair just for sex. She was like an oasis in the desert. She loved her body and loved sex. With her, I experienced loving intimacy that I hadn’t known before. She knew I would not leave my wife, nor did she want me to. After five meetings, the relationship ended because she met a younger man with whom marriage was a possibility. I knew that was bound to happen.

Other than no sex, my wife and I are great friends, and financially in a good place. We do lots of activities together. Everyone thinks we have the ideal relationship. I will not leave her. I won’t cause the immense pain for my immediate family, friends, her, or myself. I do love her.

My question: what can I do when she totally won’t? I want a lady my age to meet for friendship and sex or an online friend to play with. I’m very tactile and like to give and receive. Is a casual sex partner ever appropriate?

Frustrated in Australia

Joan responds:

Your wife feels done with sex – you’re not. If she won’t go to counseling, won’t discuss options that don’t give her pain (you’re right — there are plenty of ways to give and receive sexual pleasure besides intercourse), and feels guilty without being willing to take any steps to resolve the decades-old issue, I won’t blame you or shame you for seeking a casual sex partner.

Companionate Marriage

You have what’s called a “companionate marriage.” You love each other, enjoy each other’s company, don’t want to leave the marriage, but there’s no sex. Is it okay for you to get sex outside of your marriage? It sounds as if she gave tacit permission, but it would be better to get a clear, direct statement of permission. By refusing to discuss it but “subtly suggesting” years ago that you could find sex elsewhere, I’m interpreting her suggestion to mean a “don’t-ask-don’t-tell” hall pass for sex elsewhere.

Clarifying would be best, though. Do you think you could ask something like, “I’m not willing to give up sex for the rest of my life. If you are, and I respectfully and privately seek a casual sex companion outside our marriage, would you be okay with that? I love you and I’ll respect any reasonable boundaries you suggest.”

Give any future casual sex partner respect and honesty, too.

She may want you not to meet in public, for example, so there’s no chance a friend of hers might spot you. You’re the best judge of whether she’d be willing to discuss this — from what you’ve said, maybe not.

Give any future casual sex partner respect and honesty, too. Make it clear up front that you’re married, and you want to exchange sexual pleasure on a casual basis – if that’s also what she wants. There are plenty of women who want what you want. They may be in similar companionate marriages. They may be grieving a partner’s death or a breakup and want to experience a safe, no-strings sexual connection. Make it clear what you have to offer — her pleasure — not just what you want — your pleasure.

Masturbation gives you a physical release, and that’s a fine solution most of the time. But if you’re craving the touch of a partner, the intimacy and warmth of a human combined with sexual release, as sex advice columnist Dan Savage often says, “Sometimes cheating is the least-worst option for staying married and staying sane.”

Your Turn!

Some will disagree, but you asked me! Bring on the comments, readers.

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Joan Price has been Senior Planet’s “Sex at Our Age” columnist since 2014. She is the author of four self-help books about senior sex, including her award winners: “Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud about Senior Sex” and “Sex after Grief: Navigating Your Sexuality after Losing Your Beloved.” Visit Joan’s website and blog for senior sex news, views, tips, and sex toy reviews from a senior perspective. Subscribe to Joan’s free, monthly newsletter.



16 responses to “Ask Joan: When Is Casual Sex Ok?

  1. At 82 and 76, respectively, my husband and I have wonderful, very active sex life, both with each other, swinging partners as a couple and also with other solo, sexual partners. We both insist that our partners, outside of our marriage are either not married or their spouse is aware of our sexual encounters. We both make it very clear to our play partner that we love our spouse and we are not interested in anything but an occasional, fun, non-committal sexual relationship.

  2. I am in such a a relationship too. I have been with my wife for 25 years and we have been married for 20 years and we absolutely love each other, but sex has been absent for many years, and was sparse before that. 5 years ago I started a long term affair with a lady who was more than 25 years my senior and a widow. We adhered to ABC throughout the relationship and still remain very close friends after the sex came to a natural conclusion. Most of our sex wasn’t penetration but was still awesome.

  3. Research has shown that only 25% of women have orgasms through intercourse alone, yet that is what many men view as the ultimate goal of sex – getting in there and going at it. At the same time, many women are not very in touch with or relaxed with their bodies. So you end up with women who don’t feel a lot of pleasure during intercourse, and don’t know how to tell their partner what works. Years of that becomes a turnoff for women, who also end up feeling guilty.

    1. My wife has mainly been a missionary position only lady. I agree with you that orgasms in that position are uncommon. I consider myself a considerate lover and wanted pleasure for her. I think guilt has been a huge issue for her especially with her adultery in the beginning.

  4. I have been married for 48 years. My wife has lupus and suffers from vaginal dryness, making intercourse uncomfortable. We turn to oral, hands and toys. I purchased a collection of toys for her. We make it work for both of us. Denying sex only leads to bitterness and being resentful. I think that wife is being selfish. I love your discussions.

  5. I am in pretty much in the same situation as “Frustrated in Australia”. My wife and I have been married for 49 years, we are both in our seventies, and we keep fit by walking two miles every morning with our pet dog. Everything about our marriage is perfect, except we don’t have sex. I have explained to my wife that I regard sex as being a very important part of any marriage. My acknowledges my feelings but will not do anything to resolve my frustration. I miss everything about sex. Help!

    1. My partner of 50 years and I both enjoy sex. Still, after all those years. We travel to somewhere warm, take showers together, float in a jacuzzi. Use your imagination. Start with deep kissing and you will go from there.

  6. As an older sex worker for the past 7-8 years, I cannot count how many married men visit me because their wives are no longer interested for whatever reason. Some confess to me that I actually save their marriage. Most are very hungry for touch, cuddling, being skin-to-skin with a woman. And because it’s transactional and time bracketed, no one interferes with the other person’s daily life. There’s a friendly emotional component but my offerings have very clear boundaries. Great article. Thanks!

  7. Vaginal atrophy is the elephant in many many rooms. For some it is a reason to find other things to do with ones life. But I never heard any but the mildest hints of it all my life. When someone says he thinks pain in sex is fake… he needs to be corrected. He does seem to get that that is not the only problem, but it seems like his statement shows he is not going to have the real conversation about poly without cataclysmic consequence.

    1. Hi. Michelle,
      I do think vaginal atrophy has been in our lives for many years now. Our history is so much more complicated. When in her early twenties she had regular sex with a work colleague. He was good looking, charming and know for being a womaniser.
      It started in the year we got engaged. Neither of us would ever contemplate poly as it goes against everything we hold dear.

    2. Please be a bit more specific on this condition. My partner and I abstained while she was battling cancer, and now we find sex is painful for her with only a few inches of penetration. She says she has always been ‘shallow’ but my seven or eight inches was never a problem years ago.

      She attributes this to her post-cancer medications. Could it be atrophy? If so, what to do?

  8. I am in such a relationship. It his keeping both him and me sane. The spouses are neither capable nor want to satisfy our needs. We are very long acquainted. There is a long term risk. One can not always control their feelings for the other regardless of what you intended or agreed to. And the future is unknowable. There is always risk of exposure and the pain that could come out of it.

  9. Men do not understand the pain that a women can have with sex during and post menopause and in reality there is very little you can do about it. And men’s erections that are semi soft make it even worse. It may not be that she isn’t interested in sex but painful sex is not enjoyable. There is much more to intimacy both physical and emotional that excludes penetration sex. To be honest kissing has always been my favorite but men usually only like that leading up to penetration sex.

    1. Liza, I’m a loud and happy proponent of non-penetrative sex, but as Frustrated said, “You and I know that there are lots of ways to be intimate and have fun without intercourse, but she’s not interested.” She isn’t open to other options, either.

  10. If she is not interested in sex as Joan said have the discussion and let her know you are going to find a casual sex partner to take care of your needs.

    This sounds like one of the rare occasions where the rest of the relationship is good, this is typically not the case.

    Men can turn this around but it is not easy and yours is gone on so long it’s unlikely.

    If she objects I would reconsider the whole I will not divorce her situation. She hasn’t been your wife for a long time in my mind.

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