All or nothing


Dear Andrea:

When my husband and I first married, he was into S-M. I was very inexperienced, while he ... well ... wasn't. Things were interesting for a while until he repeatedly breached our full-disclosure agreement and saw other people behind my back, but came clean about it later. There was also an issue with anal sex (he's hurt me too many times). We've been completely out of the scene for several years and are enjoying a much closer connection. However, three kids later sex is very boring, planned, and short.

I'd love to have fun with him again, but he's so sex-crazy I'm afraid of re-opening the door to trouble. He still uses a lot of nasty porn and Web sites where he exchanges e-mails with subs. I don't like this, but I understand that he's got to have an outlet. He's a pretty all-or-nothing kind of guy. Also, I think that he isn't sure how to approach me anymore after having three children. Who feels sexy with baby puke on their sleeve and no shower? Is there any hope for us? Also, he refuses to go into therapy or ask for help because he doesn't want to be judged.


Want Something

Dear Want:

You may be surprised to hear this, but for a couple who not only have such disparate experience levels and requirements but also three small children, you seem to be doing pretty well. Any number of issues casually glanced on in your letter could easily have doomed you — yet you persevere and even feel closer than when you were doing all that kinky stuff? You're OK.

The S-M obscures things a bit, but the core issues here are no different from ones we discuss in classes (rather imprecisely titled "Is There Sex After Motherhood?") I've been teaching at a local nice-moms-and-their-babies education center. The baby puke, for instance. One of the most disheartening things I heard while awaiting my own babies was, "Oh, I didn't change my clothes for six months. I just wore this ratty old T-shirt full of holes and spit-up." (This from a lovely friend who was only telling me the truth as she'd lived it.) "Forget it, then," I thought. "If it's going to be like that, I'm not doing it."

And it wasn't like that, of course, not for me and it shouldn't be for you. One needs to do whatever it takes not to sink to that barely human state where you figure, what the hell, why bother showering when you're just going to get dirty again? Get enough T-shirts so there's always a clean one! Drag everybody into the shower with you, get up at 5 a.m., pay a neighbor to watch the kids for half an hour, whatever works. Get enough time to look and feel decent. We're not talking about a hot-stone massage, Yummy Mummy makeover here. Grooming enough to bear the sight and smell of oneself shouldn't be too high a bar.

I would like to launch into some ways you two could get back to breaking out the whips and chains and stuff, but I worry. Does he really need to have it all? Is he really insisting on nothing if he can't? I'm hoping a guy starved of all but virtual kink for a couple of years may be more amenable than he used to be to a scaled-down version of "hell-bent for leather." Maybe "leaning toward Naugahyde"?

I do believe he doesn't know how to approach you anymore, so here's the obvious suggestion: you approach him, but only after ensuring that you won't end up with him holding the power, reins, flogger, modem, and lube again, which he didn't use enough of anyway. Take this opportunity to decide which games you liked, which might do, and which are untenable. Given the scarcity conditions that follow the introduction of many small children into the marital equation, I would also suggest that the whole "other partners" thing is right out.

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