It proved to be an explosive and controversial statement. Loose Women presenter Saira Khan confessed on air to telling her husband she is not interested in sex and that he should go to someone else for it. On social media the idea of sex outside marriage appeared to strike a chord as many women expressed similar feelings and perspectives.
A (more) common issue
Losing your sexual desire is much more common than you would think. Various factors and influences can create such a scenario ranging from illness, stress and medication (e.g. anti-depressants), to being the result of negative messages about sex that you have grown up with. More commonly, the busyness and pressure of modern life leaves us so tired and exhausted that sex becomes almost a duty like household chores.
Closeness does not begin and end with sex
One of the more positive aspects of Saira Khan’s story is that she and her husband appear to understand there are other ways to be close. The qualities that create and cement a great relationship are combinations of love, trust, friendship, mutual interests, having fun together and feeling secure and safe.
In the aftermath of the revelation, the BBC asked ‘is it possible to keep your relationship going with one partner having sex outside of your partnership?’ Those watching Netflix drama ‘House of Cards’ recently (spoiler alert!) will know that Claire has taken on a lover and her husband Frank agreed to it. But theirs is a relationship now built on an agreement to seek power at all costs; which is quite different from what most of us want from our closest relationship.
As media agony aunts tell us, all things are possible if you agree. But as to a marriage where one partner goes outside the relationship, this presents real and dangerous risks.
It’s not a one-sided decision
Firstly, poor husband Steve. Aside from having his private life publicly broadcast, does he even want to have sex elsewhere? Some men might respond: ‘Hey ok. Let’s go for it!’ Many will recoil from the idea and start to question, often inwardly, why their partner no longer wishes to have sex with them.
The partner who is told to go elsewhere, might feel rejected and unloved then begin to feel resentful or their confidence may go. Subsequent headlines and an appearance by Steve on Loose Women highlighted how damaging the decision can be if it is decidely one-sided. He admitted feeling ‘devasted’ at the suggestion by his wife on-air that she would even need to consider making such an offer to him.
Such a process also distils the existing relationship down to a single interaction – sex. Our closest relationships are so much more complex. Emotions are central to a relationship, They are the single most binding bond between two people in terms of how their relationship went from casual to formal – whether that be in marriage, civil partnership or committed cohabitation. Bringing a third party into your relationship creates a great risk that the partner may move from a purely physical bond to an emotional one. He or she may fall in love with them and your relationship is in jeopardy.
Sex outside marriage: Is it the right solution to the real problem?
For the partner/spouse granting ‘freedom’ to have sex outside marriage, the act may in the short-term seem like a selfless one designed to maintain their relationship or marriage. Yet this potentially overlooks what might be an underlying issue that has caused the initial loss of interest in sex.
An underlying problem may be negative body self-image, stress or depression. Unless the individual is clear and comfortable about why they are no longer interested in sex, granting their spouse permission to seek it elsewhere could just be papering over more serious cracks.
Through counselling we would ask a couple to consider what really does lie beneath this loss of interest in sex first, before exploring other options like sex outside marriage. Do both partners have such highly stressed careers that they feel overwhelmed and that life is out of control? Being a great parent, partner, employee, friend and more takes its toll. Are there issues from an individual’s past that have damaged their perspective on sex within a committed and loving relationship?
Once sex outside marria has started, aside from the concerns about whether it may progress to something more than physical, other issues and potential sources of anxiety can emerge. Will the partner end up wondering what the ‘extra’ relationship holds? Will they agonise over how engaging the other person is? Whether they are better looking, more fun to be with, smarter, more caring and so on. Suddenly what appeared to be a marriage saving act, starts to look like a marriage breaking one. Ultimately sex outside the relationship has the power to break it.
If any of the issues in this article feel familiar or have affected you, The Spark Counselling can help you and your partner work through these issues. It may feel embarrassing to speak to a stranger about such issues but our therapists are experts in their field, and are here to help and not to judge how you are feeling.
Freephone 0808 802 0050 to discuss counselling and to make an appointment. Alternatively e-mail our appointments team.