Office Diaries

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Does Cheating Pick Up Where Sexless Marriage Leaves Off?

It does seem odd that partner-imposed celibacy is not looked down upon in the same way cheating is. Read More

Avoidable harm

Thank you for your focus on the immorality of the person witholding sex and for some acknowledgement of the degree of harm caused by it. This is a more important topic than any consequent adultery (there is a morally incoherent knee-jerk reaction to "cheating" in these circumstances). The sufferer is often blamed by society, whereas the converse should be true.

There is a fundamental immorality to the structural refusal of sex in an exclusive relationship, but this is not because of denial of sex on its own. A person may morally choose to avoid sex for all kinds of reasons. However, there is an irreducible moral problem which applies in almost all cases of refusal, because there is serious harm caused to another person, and there are actions the refusive person can take to avoid or ameliorate those harms. So, here's what they might do:

a) be utterly honest from the outset about what is happening and what they will or will not do - no lies, excuses or obfuscation;
b) immediately explore any issues and raise any changes the refused spouse can make (without the standard gaslighting and shifting goalpost excuses), maybe improve their own desire levels or change their attitudes;
c) bust a gut to help their partner be satisfied in whatever way they can - e.g. if they do not want intercourse, can they really claim that "lending a hand" is so impossible?
d) if they are unwilling or unable to help their partner be satisfied, then they must unconditionally and without penalty release their partner from any expectations of fidelity.
e) if none of the above apply, then they must proactively facilitate divorce, again, without penalty or manipulation.

Now, let's return to the real world a moment. Refusive spouses almost never take those actions, they lie, blame the sufferer, self-justify with autonomy, or trivialise the issue. It is incredible to assert that they cannot take those steps. That is why their behavior is morally reprehensible - they can act otherwise to lessen harm. And as part of their loathsome self-justification, they will point to their absolute autonomy to do what they want with their body - whilst simultaneously neglecting that they are constraining the autonomy of another person and directly leading to severe harm to another.

What's more, they are supported by society's strange attitude to personal autonomy, put-downs that it's "just" sex and trivialising the harm involved (which is extreme in my experience); and there is the blanket condemnation of adultery, which is what Mark was shifting. And finally, if they grasp the nettle and seek to leave, society says that the sufferer is breaking vows and destroying a family just because of sex.

On a more positive note, can I suggest a better approach than the destructive autonomy-extremism meme, that helped me reinvent my marriage with a worthwhile mutual goal:-

"we help each other get what we want with high priority, no exceptions, particularly in areas of emotional, intimate and sexual exclusivity"

This is an equal, growing, and challenging goal for a marriage. We are beholden to each other and have a duty (and joy!) of care.

A few simple thoughts

If you refuse sex in a marriage, and refuse to make a good-faith effort to resolve the problem, you should assume that you have given your spouse permission for an open marriage. Otherwise you're an idiot.

If you give as a reason that sex is unimportant to you, then it should not matter to you if your spouse has that unimportant activity with someone else. If you claim otherwise you're an idiot.

People are sophisticated, not idiots!

Regrettably, I don't buy that their behavior is a symptom of idiocy.

Instead, it's a sophisticated and manipulative strategy to gain advantage for themselves while not bearing the costs - and it tends to be successful for way too long. This is a not-uncommon successful strategy IRL - think of the bankers.

What's more, their strategy receives backing from a society which endorses having sex when YOU want it(the partner can get lost otherwise), whilst simultaneously condemning adultery and divorce. So they are able to self-justify and maintain their reputation (which is very important in a social context).

So, you could say, the people who are not behaving smart are those who put up with this behavior way too long (raises hand).

History repeating itself?

Well, in the Bible, not having sex with your partner is frowned upon. Sex and reproduction is encourage and what marriage was about in the first place.

But it is rather odd that today a partner withholding sex is accepted and that sex life dying between married couple is seen as 'normal.'

Well, after all, people seems to start tolerating and accepting more and more. Maybe this is just a step? Maybe soon adultery would be acceptable.

Wait! That had happen in latter years in Ancient Rome. Essentially, married people have lot of sex but not with the people they are married to. Sex between the couple is actually very rare. This might be where this is heading. First part: Married couples don't have sex that much (not having sex with spouse is accepted), is already here while the second part: having lots of sex outside marriage (cheating is accepted) is coming soon!

Well, it seems that nothing is really new under the sun! It has been done before!

On that note...

You might enjoy the book, "I Don't," by Susan Squire. It gives an historical account of exactly what you propose!

Thanks for the input!

Ms Flagg, you ask repeatedly

Ms Flagg, you ask repeatedly if so-called 'cheaters' are moral, yet you fail to define morality. I assert that the term morality is a fiction used to control others and nothing more.

If you have something more, then by all means, flesh out your article. Why do you harp on 'morality' and what exactly is it?

I believe that marriage morality is empty fluff used to shame honest people just wanting to live their lives. I believe morality is a leftover half life of religious repression. I believe morality doesn't exist except as a manipulation of others. Morality is something ppl impose on others, not themselves.

"... his or her own sexual

"... his or her own sexual life...."
People should put these gender words in alphabetical order, rather than using the sexist male word first convention by default.

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Donna Flagg is the author of Surviving Dreaded Conversations and a New York City-based dancer.


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