Breaking the Taboo

I’m a loyal wife. So why am I sleeping with another man?

I’ve been committing adultery.  

Married Jewish Female with beloved but impotent husband seeks man to become friend with benefits. I am not young, beautiful, thin, or petite, but I’m still juicy and fun. Man sought is kind, literate, clean-smelling, on the chubby side, circumcised, drug- and disease-free, a nonsmoker, appalled by  Trumpism, and utterly discreet. Forty-year-old virgin okay. 

I never thought I’d post this personal ad. For one thing, where could it run where it wouldn’t attract responses from every creep, perv, and blackmailer within a hundred-mile radius? For another, what man with the least bit of sexual chemistry (who isn’t a creep or a perv) would want to get it on with a larger-than-life woman who, though she presents younger than her actual years, is undoubtedly of a certain age? Plus, my work life involves Jewish religious institutions, and the professional organizations to which I belong take a firm stand against violations of the Seventh Commandment. 

Mine is not the only sexless marriage in the world, of course, nor does my husband deprive me of affection, support, and devotion. He’s as loving and sweet as he was the day we met, more than 35 years ago. He has made possible everything I’ve accomplished during the past two decades. We have a nice, paid-for home and adequate funds. I have work that I enjoy and that brings benefit to the community. I am fortunate and blessed. Not having sex is definitely a first-world problem, and it seems churlish to complain about it. 

But I missed making love. I missed wrapping my legs around my husband’s big body as he thrust into me. I missed riding him, watching his face contort comically with pleasure. I missed the orgasms I didn’t have to produce for myself. Years past menopause, I had none of the dryness or lack of interest for which TV commercials offer solutions. In short, I was still ready to go. 

It has been more than 12 years since we last had sex. My husband and I both understand that this isn’t about lack of desire, but lack of ability. He has experienced physical issues during these 12 years that, while not directly related to erectile dysfunction, probably introduced factors that helped it along. Treatment with testosterone and two different brands of boner pills was ineffective. Other interventions are painful, invasive, or both. He doesn’t want to experience them. I don’t want him to experience them. 

Things were different when we were first together. We had sex again and again and again our first night together, which was also the night of our first date. Once, he was at my apartment erev Pesach, and we got horizontal 20 minutes before guests were due to arrive for seder. For many years, sex was a big part of how we expressed our love for each other.  

And then it wasn’t. 

Of course, there are other ways of achieving satisfaction as partners, but they aren’t happening much either. He doesn’t offer, and until recently, I wasn’t asking—in part because whatever he’s willing to do for me, I can do for myself. When all is said and done, I’m a cisgender heterosexual woman who likes good old, plain old, straight-up, train-into-the-tunnel intercourse. I’m not sheepish about it. The bod wants what it wants. 

Certainly some of this angst over not having sex was unresolved rage about the aging process. I knew we wanted to grow old together, but I didn’t think old was going to happen so soon. My husband’s days now revolve around weather reports and TV reruns; he’s 66 going on  90. Meanwhile, I’ve aged too, but after double knee replacement and regular gym workouts, I’m able to transcend the aches and pains that come with advancing years, and, baruch ha-Shem, I haven’t been afflicted with any debilitating health issue. And my lady parts haven’t aged at all. I wish I’d dried up and lost interest in sex after menopause. Instead, I’m a horny 32-year-old trapped in the body of a chubby crone. 

Jewish tradition doesn’t begin to address this problem. The Sages, in Tractate Ketubot 61b, state clearly that a husband is obligated to have sex with his wife and satisfy her regularly, as frequently as his occupation permits, but the Sages lived at a time when people routinely died before age 50; most husbands didn’t outlive their ability to stand and deliver. And while the Rabbis saw a husband’s failure to have sex with his wife as grounds for divorce, they certainly didn’t see it as an excuse for the wife to go outside the marriage. For them, a woman’s adultery was one of the really big aveirot, sins, up there with murder and idolatry, and punishable, at least in theory, by death. 

At the same time, the rabbis of the early Common Era found ways to support the role of the biblical pilegesh, a woman who would serve as a man’s bed partner without the sanction of marriage. For example, there’s a much-adapted story in The Sages of the Talmud, in Tractate about an itinerant rabbi who is assigned a “bride for the night” in every town he visits. By the medieval period, most commentators were restricting access to the pilegesh to kings, putting her out of reach for your average  Itzik, and almost all rabbis today declare taking (or being) a pilegesh to be forbidden or at least frowned upon. 

In fact, while non-Orthodox rabbis have become more lenient in recent years concerning premarital sex, they have pretty much held the line on extramarital relations. Not until 2001 did the Reform movement’s Central Conference of American Rabbis issue a responsum acknowledging acceptance of premarital sexuality, and that same committee issued a concurrent statement asserting that adulterous relationships, whether conducted in secret or with a spouse’s consent, are sinful and forbidden. Attitudes may have become more gender-egalitarian in rabbis’ disapproval of adultery, but the prohibition against sex outside marriage looms large. 

I might have let the status quo continue indefinitely if I hadn’t experienced a significant libido surge. Out of nowhere, I began to feel an urgent desire to have sex again that I couldn’t ignore. After trying to ignore it anyway, I opened a new email account and signed onto a couple of dating sites, posting a smiling photo, my real age, and a profile statement much like the personal ad above—the one I’d been rewriting in my head for about five years. As I clicked on the button to activate each account, I felt a distinct frisson of “Am I really doing this?”—mixed with a sense of inevitability. 

Of course, the creeps and pervs popped up in droves. You wouldn’t believe the number of guys who asked if my husband would be interested in watching or participating. I fended them off and stuck to my criteria, adding more after I found out that men outnumber women by a wide margin on heterosexual dating sites. He had to be at least a little younger than I am and no more than two inches shorter. No one who had never been married. No evangelizing Christians. No country-and-western fans. He had to be willing to send me a photo showing his face. 

Among the weenie-waggers and weirdos, a few interesting men appeared: the ones who said they not only liked my smile but enjoyed reading my profile. I got props for good grammar and syntax and for honesty. One guy said he was happy to see a woman’s profile that didn’t read like a tortured ransom note. The most likely prospects seemed to be the men who were in a similar situation to mine: married but not getting any. If a first exchange turned into a lively online conversation, I would let the guy know that he was chatting with a graying, overweight woman enrolled in Medicare. The  usual response was “No problem.”  

About a month after I started on the dating sites, I connected with someone who was local, but not too local, and sounded like a nice man. We had a video chat. We met in person for a beer and talked for a couple of hours. He held up his end of the conversation and was pleasantly pudgy, with a friendly face. Two days later, I spent the evening at his place; he was married but, for work reasons, lived apart from his wife most of the time. The moment he entered me, something that had been broken inside was put back together. Sleeping with this man is the most life-affirming sex I’ve ever had. It may be the most life-affirming thing I’ve ever done. 

By the way, my husband knows all about this. Long before I hooked up with the Friend With Benefits, I told him that I needed to end the sex drought and was taking steps to do so. Through copious tears, I related how something just snapped, my sex urge was where it was when we first met, and I was going to go nuts if I didn’t find an outlet other than sex-for-one. I also assured him that he was my beshert: I loved him, would always love him, would never leave him. 

And he understood. He had seen this coming and didn’t know why I’d waited so long. He felt terrible that he couldn’t perform and said there wasn’t any way I could hurt him that life hadn’t already dished out. He wanted me to be happy. “I don’t want details,” he said, “but do whatever you need to do.” His sacrifice out of love only makes me love him more. 

So here I am, a mature woman working in religious life, having joyous, guilt-free extramarital sex. The relationship has been going on for several months, with no diminution of my enjoyment, my FWB’s ardor, or my husband’s tacit support. (Of course, it has to be kept secret from pretty much everyone except my husband.) After all these years, having sex is like a wonderful, unexpected gift: from my lover, from my husband, and, I can’t help but feel, from God. The reach of the Sages just doesn’t extend to my life and circumstances. If my husband understands, I think God does too. 

There’s another benefit to this new world: it’s been enormously healing. For the first 30 years of my life, I was told, explicitly and implicitly, that I was fat and ugly. My husband has always loved my face and body, but I figured he was an outlier, someone with quirky physical taste in women, and I was still fat and ugly. Then, on the dating sites, I found out that my husband’s taste wasn’t so quirky. I tapped into a well of men who like women with brains and big hips. For the first time in my life, I can look at myself in the mirror and like my body, even with the saddlebags and the long ribbons of stretch marks, the knee-replacement scars and the effects of gravity on my breasts and thighs. That’s almost better than multiple orgasms. 

I’m neither proud nor ashamed of looking for sex outside my marriage, of engaging in something so taboo. But it was difficult to undertake something that has such potential for harm, and I don’t recommend it to every woman who hungers for sex in a sexless marriage. Your spouse may not be as understanding as mine, and sneaking around is a drag. I’m not a parent; if you have kids, that might add an extra layer of secrecy and guilt. You may not be as lucky as I’ve been in avoiding potentially dangerous men and situations. Your fear of being exposed may outweigh the pleasure you receive. You may not be able to handle the emotional roller coaster that results from simultaneous intimate relationships with two people, especially if the FWB really is a friend and your spouse is your best friend—but not, in this case, one in whom you can confide.  

That said, I’m not sorry I went this route. Chalk it up to self-care, which religious professionals are repeatedly told to make an important part of their lives. I missed having sex, and having it makes me happy. The only thing that would make me happier would be if my beshert got his mojo back. Then all of me could devote myself to all of him, and only him.  

Art: Berthe Morisot, “Getting out of Bed,” 1885-1886