Dear Prudence: My Wife Doesn’t Want Sex, So I Visit Prostitutes. Should I Stop?

Advice on manners and morals.
Oct. 6 2011 10:05 AM

Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places

My wife doesn’t want sex frequently, so I visit prostitutes. Should I stop?

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photograph by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudie,
I consider myself a decent man, but for the past year I have been cheating on my wife about twice a month with prostitutes. We’ve been married for more than a decade and have three young children. Since the beginning of our relationship, my libido has exceeded hers and she frequently refused my overtures. Now we have sex about once a month, only when initiated by her, because I became so resentful about being rebuffed constantly. It’s mutually satisfying (she has an orgasm and is not the type to fake it) but bland. Over the years, to increase the likelihood that my wife would be in the mood, I cooked, did chores, and helped as much as possible with child care. She would frequently say she was too tired for sex, although she would not be too tired to stay up late reading or watching TV. We get along reasonably well, and our children are our chief priority, but we are emotionally disconnected. Out of despair and frustration, I saw an escort last year. The thrill of seeing prostitutes and the variation from my usual sex life made me feel better, and I think it’s more honorable than an affair, but it is the worst thing I’ve ever done. If my wife found out it would lead to the immediate dissolution of our marriage. We have talked about counseling, but she’s not very interested. If we divorced it would devastate my children and would deprive me of seeing them every day. My plan right now is to continue what I’m doing until the children are in high school and college, then get a divorce. Is there another way out of my dilemma?

—A Decent Adulterer

Dear Decent,
Young couples with mismatched libidos, please consider this testimony of how physical frustration can kill affection. What a terrible dynamic you two have always had, with your wife constantly swatting you away like a mosquito. But you went ahead and married someone who you knew wouldn’t meet your sexual needs. From her perspective she probably feels you’re pretty lucky. She initiates sex, and when you have it she’s among the minority of women who easily have an orgasm. Meanwhile, your wife does the domestic duties because they need to be done while you do them for barter. That is not a turn on. Try to understand that at the end of a day of attending to the emotional and bodily needs of three little people, for her the best release is a few blessed hours to herself. It’s good that you stopped begging for sex, but it’s bad that your withdrawal has led to the end of all intimate communication. You two are partners in a child-rearing enterprise, not partners in life and love. I agree a divorce would be a terrible for thing for your family. But as bad as your patterns are, I don’t think your marriage is hopeless. To change, you need to have some difficult conversations with your wife about your desire to reconnect. Sure, you want more in bed, but you also need affection and emotional intimacy. You must tell your wife that while your relationship has a placid exterior, you feel desperately lonely. Say you don’t want to plead with her about anything, but you would like her to join you in seeing a counselor to help you two restore your connection. If your wife won’t respond to a heartfelt attempt to make your marriage better, then she’s tacitly saying she doesn’t want to know what’s really going on with you. Only you can decide how to handle that dilemma. And while I am making the case for more honesty, I think you should keep quiet about your extracurricular activities, which are a symptom of your problem, not the cause. The sex may be exciting, all the more so for it being illicit, but think of the risks you run. You could be arrested or robbed, and even if you use protection, you could contract an STD. You repeatedly note what a decent man you are, but you’re just another tawdry encounter for the strangers you hire.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence: I Married a Peeping Tom?

Dear Prudence,
I am in my late 70s and feel uncomfortable with the fact that my high-school class of about 400 students voted me "most likely to succeed." If success is defined by "wealth," then I am not successful. I was a professor at a small liberal arts college. My wife and I are leading a comfortable life in retirement, but we are by no means successful moneywise. Next year my high school class will hold its 60th reunion. I have been to only three reunions in the past, and those were a very long time ago. How do I overcome my feelings of inadequacy because I am not "successful"?

—Not in the 1 Percent

Dear Not,
By the time of one’s 60th high school reunion most people would agree that success could be defined by simply being able to show up. Think about what you’re saying here: You have been haunted for six decades by a stupid photo caption in your high-school year book. I assume, professor, that over the years you have counseled many despondent young people. Surely you have told them that whatever crisis they are experiencing (a bad grade, rejection from a graduate program), in time they won’t even remember this small failure, let alone be gripped by it. But you were lying because in the back of your head you were thinking, “But I’m supposed to be ‘the most likely to succeed,’ and they’re all going to laugh at me at the next high-school reunion!” You had a long, satisfying career as a teacher. You didn’t invest your pension with Bernie Madoff or take out a home equity loan that has ruined you. You and your wife are still game and enjoying life. That sounds pretty successful. Do you really think anyone else who manages to make it to the bash is going to pounce and say, “I guess when it came to you, the yearbook people really blew their prediction”? However, if you went to high school with Warren Buffett, think of the yearbook as a cosmic joke.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
My wife died when my youngest son was 10. He’s now 30. I visit him three to four times a year, and he comes to see me about as often. We have a good relationship, except he is sometimes less than responsive to my weekly calls. In planning my most recent visit, I checked to make sure it was convenient before I made reservations. The evening that I was to fly out, we talked. After hanging up, I got a misdirected email meant for his girlfriend stating: "F--k , my dad arrives tomorrow morning. Arg. Arg. I am sorry baby." I was stunned and upset. I sent the email back with a reply that I had canceled the trip. He left me a phone message saying the only problem was that I was arriving a day earlier than he had realized and that I should have called him when I got the email. We haven’t spoken since. Did I overreact, and if so, what should I have done? But more importantly, what should I do next?

—Wounded

Dear Wounded,
You and your grown son see each other frequently and talk just about every week. That means there’s a lot of affection between the two of you, but maybe it’s getting a bit suffocating for your son. Of course that stray email hurt, but it hardly means your son wants you out of his life. It's likely he was telling the truth—that whatever he and his girlfriend had planned had to be scrapped because of your visit. It would have been better for you to have sent the email back with a deadpan, “Glad to hear you’re looking forward to my visit.” Then your son would have apologized, you two would have had a laugh, and he probably would have been a very attentive host. He still should apologize, but to get past this impasse, be the one to say you've blown this out of proportion and would like to drop it. Tell him you want to reschedule your visit, but only for a time that's really convenient and definitely not "Arg."

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
A friend has been organizing her 24th birthday "weekend." There will be a big party Friday night at a bar with about 40 friends, followed by a girls’ night on Saturday at a sketchy bar for dancing. She informed me that she would crash at my apartment Saturday since it's walking distance from the bar, and she'll be too drunk to drive. (She drinks a lot, and occasionally I end up being her baby-sitter.) My boyfriend and I can see each other only on the weekend, and I’m not comfortable going to the bar my friend picked. I asked her whether it would be OK if my boyfriend and a few of our guy friends joined us on Saturday. She got all pouty and told our other friends about my suggestion. They said I was wrong because it was her birthday and she should get to celebrate how she wants. I can't even back out now since she's staying at my place. Was I way out of line asking whether boys could come to girls’ night?

—It’s Her Party

Dear Party,
I assume that when the queen of England turns 90 she will get an entire birthday weekend, and I won’t begrudge her. But for people in their 20s, give me a break. It’s fine for your friend to throw herself a celebration and it sounds as if many of your gang are looking forward to this 48-hour bacchanal. But it’s not a command performance, and if you’re uncomfortable with a venue, give your regrets about Saturday. You’ll just have to miss fun activities your friend is planning, like the “wipe the vomit off my shoes” game. If she’s the kind of person who thinks a good time is making you responsible for her safety while she loses control of her faculties, that's another reason. Tell her she’s welcome to crash at your place at the end of the night, and you’ll be listening for her knock.

—Prudie

Emily Yoffe is a regular Slate contributor. She writes the Dear Prudence column.