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Sex with my husband grosses me out. Help!

July 19, 2013, at 12:30 PM

Dear Starshine,

My husband and I have been married for 25 years, and we have one major problem: I have completely lost any attraction to him. He is a dear man, but I love him like a brother. I am repelled when he touches me romantically or sexually. I never truly had a strong attraction to him and I've always found myself very attracted to other men. But he was (and still is) a good match for me in many other ways, so I don't want a divorce. I have forced myself to tolerate sex with him for many years, but I just can't do it anymore. He is still very attracted to me and doesn't seem to mind much that I'm not. (After hinting at this problem for years, I finally told him the truth about a year ago.) He insists that we have sex anyway, saying he has to have it. But it makes me physically ill. I asked a therapist about an open marriage because I miss that chemistry with a man and I think my husband deserves the same with a woman. But she said an open marriage rarely works. I don't see any point in going to a marriage counselor because nothing is going to make me attracted to him — believe me, I've tried everything. I'm sure this has to be a common problem with long-term couples who are devoted to their adult children and family. We're in our 50s and can't see starting over with another person or living alone. We're both pragmatic, but we're also willing to work outside of the "marriage box" to stay married. Any advice?

Good on you for seeking a creative and compassionate solution — and for recognizing the other-stuff-besides-sexy worth of your repellant better half.

The fact that an open marriage rarely "works" shouldn't dissuade you; what you have now isn't working, and you can't continue like this. With one of you jonesing for chemistry and the other desperate for sex, you're both only a neighborhood key party away from infidelity anyway. Might as well do it above board.

But when I ask you "What have you got to lose?" — as I believe I just did — understand that it's not a rhetorical question. You have to answer it honestly if you're going seek other lovers while remaining committed to one another.

I'm guessing the reason open marriages fail is because few of us are as pragmatic as we think we are. Sure, you and your spouse seem fairly phlegmatic (any guy who can insist on sex with his gagging, recoiling wife is, um, really skilled at compartmentalizing). But in the rope that holds a marriage together, it's really hard to untangle sex from all the other fundamental filaments: love, trust, affection, history, intimacy, self-image.

You don't want your husband's sexual attention, but what about his affection, devotion — even his gushing attraction for you? Are you quite prepared to lose those if he aims his spigot elsewhere? And if you find that "incredible chemistry" you seek with another man, don't you hope to fall in love? What then?!

Climb out of the sexual stockade you're stuck in. Go ahead. Scale the walls of convention, if it'll free you both to find your "God, yes!" I hope it works out. Just don't be surprised if your marriage box comes unhinged.

Send me your dilemmas via email: ToughLove@TheWeek.com. And follow me on Twitter: @ToughLoveAdvice.

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