Straight Talk Blog

If Sex Isn’t Everything, Is It Anything?

If Sex Isn't Everything, Is It Anything?

By Kristin Kalbli

“After all, sex isn’t everything.”

At various times throughout my 12-year marriage to a closeted gay man, I found myself saying those exact words: sex isn’t everything. “We are best friends!” I reasoned. “There’s so much we love to do together, surely I can overlook what’s not happening in our bedroom can’t I? Who am I to be so greedy as to want a robust sex life in addition to all the fun we’re already having as besties? Don’t be so demanding, sister. Nobody gets everything they want in a relationship. Sex isn’t everything.”

I’m well beyond divorced now, and although I’m no longer the person saying those words, I still hear it from other Straight Partners in Mixed Orientation Marriages. Most of the time this is spoken, the Straight Partner has recently learned that their spouse or partner is LGBT+, and they are still negotiating the new parameters of the relationship, including what will or will not happen in the bedroom.

“I love my wife/husband,” they say, “he/she is the best man/woman I know. Maybe we can still make this work. After all, sex isn’t everything…”

I am not here to question if you love your spouse, or if they are the best human being you know, or whether you can make it work (2/3 of Mixed Orientation Marriages will try to make it work post disclosure). All those things are possible. But I will enthusiastically question whether “sex is everything.” Of course, it’s not literally everything. There is affection, respect, communication, how well a couple co-parents together, how well they solve life’s daily predicaments together, from the large to the small. No, sex is not everything, but it is…a thing. Quite a significant thing.

And so is the lack of it.

I wonder where the idea that “sex isn’t everything” comes from. When we say it to ourselves, it seems designed to minimize our own desires, our own longing for intimacy, pleasure, and connection with our partner. Why are we making those things wrong? Is that some cultural belief grounded in (many forms of) religion that encourages us to keep ourselves in relationships at all costs? Is it promulgated by those who fear the disintegration of society if too many people get divorced? Is it designed to keep people obedient and willing to settle for less than they desire or deserve? For less than they truly need?

Of course, it is perfectly legitimate to decide that sex truly isn’t everything for you. Sexual appetites vary widely among humans, and not all of us have the sex drives of Samantha Jones or Steve Stiffler. And to the degree that sex is genuinely not that material a need for you, your Mixed Orientation Relationship may weather that particular deprivation rather well. The key is to ask yourself if “sex isn’t everything” to you? Is that your authentic belief? Is a healthy, fulfilling sex life part of your authentic value system? Part of your legitimate needs in a relationship? And is it something you authentically desire?

We get to question any ethos that tells us we are greedy or oversexed or high maintenance for unapologetically stating that yes, a robust and fun sex life is something I both need and desire. Those shaming voices are just more of our cultural baggage around sex. So many Straight Partners grapple with what sex and intimacy mean to us. And it’s a big damn deal because if we are in a marriage to someone who cannot meet our sexual needs and desires, and sex is a priority for us, then some scary decisions may have to be made. Decisions we may not be ready to face.

In my own marriage, the outings to quaint restaurants and cooking dinner together, walking our dogs, restoring our house, going to cocktail parties and occasional travel were enough for me for a while. Until they weren’t. In the end I left before I even knew for sure he was gay. Even though I couldn’t articulate it at the time, I left because I came to realize that sex, sensuality, and pleasure are a huge part of how I express myself, my love, and how I build intimacy and connection with my partner. Frankly, without it, I was like a plant deprived of water – wilted, undernourished, and brittle. I was so bereft I thought I would crack apart and float away on a light breeze. You see, “sex isn’t everything” was indeed a belief, but it wasn’t my belief. It came from somewhere outside of me; and I needed to banish it back to wherever it came from.

I did eventually learn (years after our divorce) that my ex-husband was indeed gay. But in leaving before I knew for sure, I claimed what was true for me – that I wanted a fulfilling sex life whether my husband was gay or not. And by claiming that truth, by putting a stake in the ground for what I really wanted, even though that stand begot a brutal, harrowing divorce, I had a far greater chance of creating a life and a partnership in the future that could truly meet me in all the areas of life I wanted to be met, including in the bedroom.


8 responses to “If Sex Isn’t Everything, Is It Anything?”

  1. Galifornia says:

    Kristin, Thanks for this blog. It’s comforting.

    Sex is the way to foster and mature in emotional intimacy with your partner. Two become one, and it is a big deal. His disinterest in marital sex caused his overall lack of caring for me. He stopped helping around the house, he became abusive, he failed to offer care for me when I became sick. He was having affairs with men.

    Procuring sex outside of marriage is the problem, wanting sex with your spouse is not.

  2. jennifer brooks says:

    By the time we returned from our honeymoon I had already blamed myself for our lack of sex: I wasn’t pretty enough, not smart enough, not good enough for my husband who was perfect in every way. In effort to be worthy of him, I set about becoming the super perfect wife. He was so clever that he taught me to take my temperature to know when I was ovulating. Then I could call him and let him know so he could come home from work to have sex. It worked every time. I never questioned him. I never formulated the questions, Am I ok? Am I happy? I didn’t deserve him, I was so inferior, grateful he didn’t kick me to the curb.
    I knew “sex isn’t everything” because sex with him was worse, more demeaning, than no sex at all. Living sexless with him was much more doable. After all, if ever he happened to do something with me that I found pleasurable, he would never do that again.
    In the 26 years between our first date and his coming out, I never knew love and in my marriage I wasn’t even a woman. I was a mother and a professional wife. In the 15 years since, I divorced and grew into my adult self. I like me very much! It turns out that I am pretty enough, smart enough, I laugh with abandonment, I ski like nobody is watching. I know joy, jubilation, and love.
    Sex isn’t everything… making love with a man who loves me truly and intimately is something I never had felt before, never knew would ever happen.
    Gee… this blog sure jogged my memory and re-balanced my gratitude.

  3. Rebecca says:

    Thank you for this. I’m a few years out and have actually been thinking this way. You helped me get out of my own head.

  4. Florian says:

    My “wesbian”, the term we used to use for our lesbian wives back in the day, all but convinced me I was the problem in our sex life. I was too needy, oversexed. For 18 years we battled that issue. We were great in every other department. She convinced me most women don’t care much for sex. I never knew the truth until I met other straight spouses. The lies will mess with your head.

  5. ANONYMOUS says:

    Así me siento, lo escribo en español, porque es mi mejor amigo, es una buena persona… pero ese contacto, esas caricias, ese deseo no lo hay… Los busque porque he decidido ponerle fin a mi matrimonio, duele, me duele horrible… no me casé para sentirme así, estaba ilusionada pero tal cual siento que vivo en el aire, jamás me va a dar lo que yo quiero, no porque no quiera, sino porque no pueda. No sé ni siquiera si decirle creo que eres gay, es tan religioso que creo que no lo puede aceptar, y a veces siento que me falta voluntad para terminar con este matrimonio donde no soy feliz, ya no duermo ni siquiera pensando en que él es gay, en que no tuvimos relaciones por 4 años, tal vez algo de toqueteo pero no relaciones y yo lo atribuía a su religión, a que me respetaba… pero no es así, y por eso quiero escribirlo

  6. Eve says:

    Que triste. Parece que me estoy leyendo a mí misma. Espero que hayas podido salir de esa relación. El mío también es religioso y ahora, después de 29 años, acaba de salir del closet. También el matrimonio me ha consumido. Espero que algún día podamos ser amigos para no ser lastimada más de lo que estoy.

    • Kristin Kalbli says:

      How sad. It seems that I am reading myself. I hope you were able to get out of that relationship. Mine is also religious and now, after 29 years, he has just come out of the closet. Marriage has also consumed me. I hope one day we can be friends so I won’t be hurt more than I am.

  7. M says:

    I always felt I was too needy in the bedroom, that my sex drive was too much. He was perfect for me in every other aspect. We’re best friends, we’ve gone through hell and back together. He calls me his person. His soul mate. It’s hard to stand for what you want when you convince yourself he’s all you need.

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