There’s a magnet that I bought during the first flush of my marriage because I thought it was funny and ironic. On it, there’s an image of a smiling, retro June Cleaver-esque lady and her husband happily proclaiming: “Porn Saved Our Marriage!”
My husband and I didn’t have kids then. We made out in corners at parties (remember parties?), had sex on our stairs and couldn’t count the orgasms—and we were convinced that this would last forever. We didn’t need porn. We were hot, hot, hot all by our very own selves.
What I didn’t know then was that magnet was a premonition. Almost 10 years later, porn has saved our marriage — well, it’s helped, anyway. And I’m grateful for it.
You see, we have a problem that plagues many long-term relationships. My husband—let’s call him Jeff—is really, really horny. I, on the other hand, am not. Two young kids, a stressful job, getting older and being tired all the time, mixed with a splash of boredom and a soupçon of “but I only have one hour until bedtime and I kind of want to watch The Crown” has mostly squelched my desire to screw on the staircase.
I would be perfectly happy having sex once a month, as long as other forms of intimacy were still on regular offer: cuddles! kisses! foot rubs! (Oh my god, am I a terrifying Valentine’s Day Teddy Bear wearing an “I Wuv You” apron?!). My husband would prefer sex once a day. You can see our dilemma.
Enter my co-wives. Jeff has a lot of girlfriends, and they all live in Special Movies that we find on the Internet that are saved in a folder on our hard drive labeled, simply, “X”. Sometimes we watch the Special Movies together, and I like it.
Here’s the thing about sleeping with the same person for a decade: Even if they’re the best lover you’ve ever had (and Jeff is), sex can get a little routine. Watching some light entertainment while getting a little jim-jam on after the kids are asleep makes sex more exciting for both of us. It also, quite frankly, speeds things along. (Is my 45-year-old vag up to the task of a marathon sex session? No, it is not. Be nice to the 45-year-old vag!) But mostly, Jeff watches the Special Movies by himself.
I know some women would be disgusted or insulted to know their husband watches porn. Disgusted because a lot of porn is distasteful and demeaning; and insulted because they feel they should be enough for him. Consuming porn is a personal thing and everyone has their own comfort level (and issues of exploitation within the industry are a subject for another article). I’ve always had a pretty open attitude towards sex and variations on sexual desire, however, and porn—even the really filthy stuff—doesn’t faze me. I had friends who put themselves through university doing sex work, as strippers or on phone sex lines, and I even appeared in a couple of art school smutty movies myself when I was in my 20s. As a result, I’ve never equated an interest in sexually explicit material as shameful.
As for being insulted by Jeff’s on-screen companions, I’m not. I know I’m not enough for him—or rather that my interest in sex isn’t enough for him—and that’s neither my fault, nor his. Our desire is simply mismatched.
I met Jeff when I was 35. By then, I’d been a bridesmaid several times over (thanks for the f–king brown dress, Michelle!) and a spectator to the cracks in the youngish marriages around me. Many of those fissures seemed to come as the result of my friends putting all of their eggs in one man basket—expecting their life partner to simultaneously be their bestie, their smoking hot lover, the father of their children, their in-house laundry folder and the person who would watch Grey’s Anatomy with them. Inevitably, their husbands came up wanting.
Having been single-ish longer than many of my contemporaries, I was used to getting different things from a variety of people, and I never expected Jeff to be my everything. I didn’t have any illusions that I was going to be the be-all and end-all to him either, sexually or otherwise. The notion of an uninterrupted level of all-consuming passion and connection seemed starry-eyed and immature to me.
Esther Perel, a couples therapist, public speaker and the bestselling author of Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence and the State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity has written about the intense pressures facing modern long-term relationships and the near inevitability that they will fail if those expectations go unexamined. In a TED talk that’s been viewed over 13 million times, she describes how couples successfully sustain desire and connection. For one, she says, “they have a lot of sexual privacy. They understand that there is an erotic space that belongs to each of them.” (Preach, girl!) And this: “Erotic couples also understand that passion waxes and wanes. It’s pretty much like the moon.”
I want to stay married. So a solution needed to be found.
To me, encouraging Jeff’s porn use feels far less damaging than other options. Some of my friends have opened up their marriages (which is too complicated for us), while others have simmered in resentful, mostly sexless and affection-less, pass-the-Doritos relationships, or have wound up divorced. Porn feels much less threatening than an affair, which is what I’m afraid would happen if our mismatched sex drives had no safe outlet. As with so many aspects of marriage, we’ve had to find a compromise that addresses both our needs—mine to go to sleep, and his to get it on.
Am I disturbed that most of my celluloid co-wives are at least 20 years younger than me, and that many resemble a younger version of myself, the woman who, like a perfectly ripe avocado, was just “on the turn” the day Jeff married me? A little. Does it make me wonder how he could possibly still find my aging body attractive? Yes, but I was wondering that anyways and it hasn’t seemed to be a problem so far. Do I worry about how long a man can watch porn featuring 21-year-olds before he’s officially a creepy old man? Hell, yes, but it turns out there isn’t a lot of porn featuring average-looking middle-aged wives.
Sex is like exercise for Jeff—when he doesn’t do it, he becomes a grumpy, snappish misery that affects how he interacts with me. Our relationship becomes strained, distant and less affectionate. That makes me even less interested in sex. I believe this is what’s called a vicious spiral, one that sends me running for the “X” file. Where are my co-wives, goddammit? I need them—now.
When we do have sex, about once a week—which is reasonably frequent in my opinion—it’s still fun and hot because I haven’t already been pressured into three other nights of erotic gymnastics that I wasn’t in the mood for. Absence makes the vag grow fonder? In my case it certainly does.
That “Porn Saved Our Marriage” magnet is still on our fridge, next to a goofy photo booth strip of our family on vacation and another one of Jeff and I at his company’s holiday party last Christmas. We’re wearing kooky hats, moustaches and plastic glasses and mugging for the camera. We look happy. Why wouldn’t we be? We probably went home and watched some porn.