Do people seek sex outside marriage when they are not happy with their spouse? Does it mean one is sexually dissatisfied? Or, is it because they are incompatible? Or, is it an indication of some unresolved issue with one or both partners?
It may be due to one or all of these reasons. But, then again, none of these reasons may hold good for those who just don’t think monogamy is for them.
Also, not everyone who is polyamorous wants to walk away from the marriage. Some believe they have a solid marriage while some might want to maintain the status quo despite marital problems. That is why they prefer to keep it under the radar because their spouse might not see it the same way.
I spoke to a few people who consciously chose to be sexually involved with one or more partners outside the marriage to know how, if it all, it affected their relationship with their spouse.
Each of them knew their partner would not approve, but they went ahead anyway. They don’t want their spouse to find out and they don’t want to break up the marriage either.
Compatible at last!
Kevin Rodrigues, a 46-year-old writer from Mangalore is polyamorous but he has not always been that way. Kevin and his wife fell out of love and their sex life was almost nonexistent when he looked for someone outside the marriage. “The trigger was incompatibility with my wife, which also extended to our sex life. After I had sex outside marriage, for a brief period, our sex life picked up. But it went right back to being nonexistent because we are not compatible and that never changed,” he says.
That is one of the reasons he refuses to discuss it with his wife as it would make life tougher for them.
“It is not just sex,” he adds, “Otherwise, I would seek a sex worker. I seek the company of someone with whom I am compatible.”
In such cases, the incompatibility comes first and the sexless marriage is an outcome of that. It may be easier to repair one's sexual relationship with the spouse, but does it solve the basic issue?
Not according to 44 year-old Shweta Tiwari, a homemaker from Mumbai. Shweta always found sex painful. While she enjoyed foreplay, she hated the idea of sex. Even a pap smear was a big No. Naturally, she found it difficult to have sex with her husband. She always blamed it on the pain and discomfort. But, after a decade or so of being married and being a mom, she met this guy at her gym, who she was instantly attracted to. Something that she had never experienced with her husband. She also enjoyed the guy's company. He made her feel young.
Shweta decided to act on that attraction and it was a life changing experience. For the first time in her life she didn’t feel any pain and the whole act was enjoyable. “Thanks to him, I can even go get a pap done,” she exclaims.
Shweta’s shrink told her that it is ok to enjoy a little bonus on the side if you respect your salary, by which he meant her husband. He advised her to be safe and keep both aspects of her life separate. But, for Shweta chasing the bonus on the side would mean a lot more than just a bit of sex. So she decided to skip it for a while because she wasn't ready to deal with the consequences of being caught. "I know it would be apparent in my demeanour and I won't be able to hide it from him," she adds.
What’s good for the gander is good for the goose and vice versa!
Does this mean that her sex life with her husband is different now? "Yes" she agrees, “My husband noticed that I didn’t complain anymore. I told him something about growing older and things being different from the way it was when I was in my 30s. I am not sure if he believes it, but I don’t want to find out.”
However, in Shweta's case, her ability to have sex with her husband finally doesn’t mean that everything is hunky dory because she still isn’t attracted to him due to their emotional incompatibility. So she would rather avoid any physical intimacy with him because of reasons unrelated to sex.
Shweta also claims that she should be happy if her husband also had an amorous relationship outside marriage as it would keep the pressure off her. Kevin echoes her sentiments. Not only would he not mind it, but goes ahead and says that he would be glad as well, “If my wife were to tell me that she has gone out with someone, I would actually feel good for her because in some way she would be getting what we couldn’t give each other.”
Swami Iyer, a 48-year-old management consultant from Chennai, is all about polyamory regardless of the gender. “We are monogamous due to social mores, otherwise all human beings have always been polyamorous,” he adds.
Free to choose
Swami doesn’t feel the need to justify his amorous activities by saying that he is straying because there is something wrong with the marriage. He feels that is just an excuse many people use.
He seeks sexual gratification outside because that’s what he wants to do and it has nothing to do with his sexual relationship with his wife. “In fact, it has made it better,” he explains. Swami brings his experience to the marital bed without even thinking about it consciously or deliberately acting on it. He says, “I am more charged. There is more variety. In most marriages, sex becomes perfunctory after a point because there is no communication. Sexual expression is limited to the bedroom, you’d be lucky if you get any other expression of interest or romance, let alone variety.”
The Plus Side
For him, it is the thrill of romance right from the flirtation to the sex which keeps it exciting. According to Swami, being free to express himself and seeking sexual gratification with other partners makes him a better human being. Unlike most men who are his friends and contemporaries, he doesn’t engage in any locker room talk and is respectful of women. He does not have any repressed urges which make him prone to any “deviant behaviour” as he puts it.
Despite the many benefits, he is not willing to broach the issue with his wife. “I think my spouse is conditioned in such a way that she wouldn’t accept so there is no point in bringing it up and causing unnecessary strife. It is ok to have multiple partners but not ok to break up the family unit.”
The best of both worlds
Raji Subramanian, a 45-year-old business consultant from Bengaluru, craved the attention of someone whose company she enjoyed. She is quick to point out that she doesn’t blame her husband for what she sought even though she felt neglected at the time. She believes that she took charge of her life by getting what was missing. Up until then she had never focussed on her desires and needs.
“When I was with this man, I felt in control of my desires. I knew what I wanted and he was able to satisfy my needs. It was like this huge gap had been bridged,” she says.
Raji enjoys a stable relationship with her husband and is able to express her needs more openly and her husband is happy to comply with her wishes. She is satisfied with her husband’s efforts in the bedroom too, “He may not always ace it or be 100 per cent on the mark, but he tries.” She gives him brownie points for effort and a pat on her back for finally taking control of her sexual pleasure, her way.
But is it possible to have your cake and eat it too?
Years ago, I was interviewing a sexologist and asked him whether an open relationship was the only way to put an end to the debate about cheating. If the couple agreed that polyamorous relationships worked for them or if they consented to their spouse having multiple partners, then neither would feel cheated I reasoned. But, the doctor pointed out that is not the case.
Also read: 40-year-old virgin?
In fact, couples in open relationships also cheat, he said. For example, some agree that they would only have partners outside the city where they live, while some agree that they would share everything with their partner and so on. But, what happens when they don’t do what they agreed to do? Their partners feel cheated!
Given so many definitions and possibilities, how does one look at cheating? Well, if one were to put it simply, it is cheating if your partner feels that you have done something that went beyond the scope of what you both agreed to do in the relationship.
One of the most common reasons offered by those who have sex outside marriage is that human beings are not meant to be monogamous. Whether you buy this theory or choose to believe that you are conditioned to only be with the partner you are married to, the question here is: What does your partner feel?
Bottomline: An affair or relationship outside the marriage may not be the only thing that makes the marriage better or worse