CW: This question contains explicit sexual discussion.

I love my husband, we met almost 20 years ago now. We met online on an Alternative Lifestyle website. He was listed as a submissive and I a switch.

We are the best of friends and I love him dearly. We were engaged after only 5 weeks but it took us 11 years to actually tie the knot.

The truth is our sex life has never been brilliant and it tapered away to nothing, we went for years with no sex for one reason or another. Now he has had cancer for the past 4 years and he is now totally impotent. Even with 200mg of Viagra there is nothing happening.

I have stayed faithful, with only 2 encounters with other people, one female one male with the full knowledge of my husband. He was in the same room.

I did not have full sex ie penetration with the guy. I am a very sexual and sensual person and I crave intimacy and ultimately a hard cock!

My husband and I have discussed me getting sexual gratification elsewhere but he does not want me to leave him and quite honestly, I cannot imagine my life without him in it.

I guess what I’m asking for is advice about how we move forward into a non monogamous relationship?

I have had sex once in the last 7 years and I feel like I’m dying inside!

There are a few things here to go through:

  • Opening to solve incompatibility
  • Reframing and defining sex
  • Trust and opening relationships

Usually when people encourage opening a relationship to solve an incompatibility within a relationship, I advise caution because, depending on what the incompatibility is, it can be a recipe for serious and intense jealousy.

In this case, it seems your husband is open to the concept of you seeing other people. It’s possible that, with the stress of coping with cancer, he has little interest in sex overall. But I am wondering, especially if he’s open to taking Viagra, if that is fully the case. If he’s willing to take that, he’s willing to try and it’s going to be hard for him to realise that he is not capable of meeting your needs and it’ll be hard for him because part of that, especially, you know, having cancer — is not his fault.

I worry that sometimes people are too quick to jump to opening a relationship to solve the problems in one relationship.Polyamory is about finding multiple fulfilling relationships, not about collecting a bunch of semi-fufilling ones until you reach a level of stasis. As much as we don’t enjoy breaking up with people, if you’re opening up because your relationship on it’s own can’t stand, then it’s likely that the stress of opening up is going to break what little foundations you have.

If you do open to address an incompatibility, then I think that it will only work if that individual is okay with reconciling that incompatibility and if you can focus on what makes your relationship work and have that work wonderfully.

What concerns me is that you’re craving intimacy and sensuality… which you don’t need, as you put it, a “hard cock” to have. So I’m wondering why those things aren’t happening in your own relationship with the partner you have and whether you’re both putting the work in to solve this instead of trying to find others to solve the problem.

Following on that point on building intimacy in your relationship, I’m wondering if you are a little focused on penetrative sex in a way that is disempowering your partner, especially if he is a submissive. While I totally get and understanding preferring or liking penetrative sex, he doesn’t always have to use his own body for that. There are loads of options available where he could satisfy that without everything relying solely on his body.

It’s possible that, if you’re heavily focused on him maintaining an erection, he’s going to really struggle to perform and that will likely take the interest away from him, especially if he’s recovering from cancer. I don’t mean to be harsh here, but you seem really caviler about that — that’s a huge deal and a massively scary and stressful thing. It’s unsurprising that your partner isn’t exactly feeling in the mood. And if you’re adding pressure to that, it’s unsurprising that it’s only the situation that’s getting harder.

I am assuming he is interested in continuing to try to provide things for you because he’s taken Viagra but if he’s completely uninterested in this type of interaction and feels more asexual now than anything, then that’s totally understandable in terms of you wanting to seek outside stimulation — but asexual people are plenty capable of providing sensual experiences and intimacy. If he’s uninterested in intimacy all together with you then there is a wider issue that should be addressed with therapy.

Another issue that’s cropping up here is a common thing a lot of people do in their first forays in open relationships — thinking their partner has to be in the room when they have sex with other people. I don’t, unless you have a partner who is a voyeur, you do this. Mostly because it’s just not necessary.

You have to work together to trust one another and he has to be able to trust that you are going to stay with him even if you are getting a penetrative sex need met somewhere else. This is why I think it’s so important to not just find another person when another relationship isn’t working because it’s rekindling what you have together and building intimacy together that will help secure what you have together and make him feel less anxious and grounded.

If you start from a foundation of distrust, then it doesn’t tend to lead to great places. Even if he does trust you not to cheat, he has to also trust that you care enough about your relationship together to build on it and work with it. And if that work is not put in on either side, you’ll both struggle to communicate in the future.

I think that you could pursue non-monogamy, but I am worried in this instance you’re only delaying an inevitable breakup if you and your partner aren’t willing to put the work in toward building intimacy and sensuality with each other. There are so many things he can do and things you can try together that could meet your needs and I’m wondering if that has actually happened.

Opening up a relationship to solve an incompatibility can work — but there has to be other aspects of that relationship that fulfill you. And you shouldn’t keep a relationship that’s unfulfilling just because you don’t want it to end. But also, you need to apply a little less pressure to your partner to perform in that specific way and open up to other ways of him being able to build a connection with you that aren’t dependent upon him having an erection — asexual people have intimate and sensual relationships without having sex at all, so it is possible.

Last but not least, if you do open your relationship, you don’t have to do things in front of him to prove you’re faithful. He needs to trust you but you also need to demonstrate that you are willing to bond with him and build intimacy together in other ways, even if you desire penetrative sex with a person with a penis rather than toys. Because there’s not really a reason that can’t happen.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Comments from the therapist

I am wondering if their difficulty with intimacy is in some ways impacted by lingering or unprocessed emotions related to going through cancer together. That illness has a HUGE impact: anticipatory grief, helplessness, powerlessness, anger, caretaking dynamics, new functional limitations, etc. If they haven’t unpacked and digested all that — separately and together, then it could really stop fulfilling intimacy from happening.

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