Over the weekend, an advice column in -- where else? -- the Daily Mail tackled the time-honored question of “What do I do if my wife gets fat and I no longer want to fuck her?”
The column handles this delicate issue with all the sensitivity and thoughtfulness you’d expect from the Daily Mail, acknowledging that it’s totes cool for the husband to feel that way and suggesting he either coerce his wife into exercising (the idea is to trick her into exercising "for her health" when really we know it's because she looks bad) or to tell her point-blank that he finds her icky now, as a sort of handy emotional manipulation to get her to lose weight.
The wife’s reported assertion that she enjoys being “curvy” is disregarded except to suggest that she is probably in “denial.” Also, her “appetite” for sex hasn’t diminished, so poor Mr. Fatwife is ostensibly suffering through having to bang a body that has failed to keep to his exacting standards of trimness.
The fact that Mrs. Fatwife’s sex drive has not diminished suggests to me that girlfriend actually isn’t feeling all that badly about her new curves, but I guess how she feels makes no difference when compared with how her husband has to see her.
I’m being glib here, but honestly I have a hard time feeling a huge amount of sympathy for folks who freak out when their spouses put on a bit of weight. Probably because I am a big snobby asshole about my own philosophy of marriage (or any long-term commitment), which does not include the expectation that my spouse should remain physically unchanging as the sea for all of our anticipated years together.
That’s impossible anyway, because there’s something else that will likely affect the sexual appeal of whomever you marry: they’re gonna get old. And an increased sexual attraction to aging bodies does not magically evolve with every passing year; as much as we’d like to imagine that people past a certain age are immune to youth-obsessed standards of beauty of sexuality, that’s simply not true.
Certainly, some people will have a built-in old-person attraction, but arguably the majority of married types don’t get hitched in anticipation of becoming sexually attracted to their partner a few decades later. And old people do still want -- and have -- the sex. Even really, really old people. Even really, really old people you’d rather not think about having the sex. (You’re thinking about it now, though, aren’t you? Sorry not sorry.)
Of course, even the most insensitive and self-absorbed advice-giver would be unlikely to instruct an inquirer looking for help on dealing with an aging spouse to straight up dump said spouse for someone younger, strictly on the basis of their appearance.
It’s also fairly unlikely the advisor would direct their querent to suggest their partner undergo plastic surgery to help bolster his or her sexual disinterest (can you imagine a husband telling his wife that maybe plastic surgery is a fun bonding activity they could do together? Actually never mind, I’m sure this has already happened).
Aging is inevitable, as are other bodily changes (like, for example, pregnancy, which often makes for some significant before and after differences), and I expect that anyone you elect to spend the rest of your life in matrimonial bondage with would be someone you love fully enough that their attractiveness to you is rooted in the person they are, not the body they have today. Or at least, enough that these changes will not be sufficient to kill your sexual desire.
But I am probably the worst-ever person to give advice on this point. Because the truth is, I do not give a single solitary fuck about being sexy to anyone but myself.
Legit. “Sexy” as a mainstream standard has always been a rigid concept in my head -- I know lots of folks are redefining it to include a far wider variety of sexy options, and I applaud those efforts, as I think they’re important and necessary for folks who DO want their unique sexiness to be widely appreciated without engaging with the narrowly defined sexy standard as it currently exists.
But I just don’t care. If I feel sexy, that is good enough for me, and other folks can either recognize, or hit the road. I’m cool either way.
Big surprise, right? I realize I can’t have been a total failure at it, though. I must have been sexy, to some degree, to the people with whom I have engaged in sexual shenanigans. I’m also married to a dude who originally dated me because he thought I looked kind of trampy, albeit in a good way. (I was wearing a lot of terribly short miniskirts at the time.)
I’m not down on sex, it’s just that appearing “sexy” to other people has always implied some degree of pageantry in my head. It always struck me like an ill-fitting costume I was supposed to wear.
So at some point I decided I was just going to be sexy for me, and if other people appreciated it, that would be a nice bonus, but it wasn’t really a goal I cared about.
All of that said, the most troubling aspect of the advice column above is not the idea that a spouse should make efforts to retain the affections of her partner. I may personally find it repellent to suggest that a woman should have to maintain a figure she herself does not prefer simply to please her husband, but ultimately it’s not my place to criticize the internal workings of her particular marriage.
No, what’s most troubling to me is the suggestion that what we find sexually attractive is carved in stone, resolute and uncompromising, by the time we reach a certain age in life.
The fact is we are all hardwired to find certain physical attributes attractive, and human nature means it can be difficult to over-look the loss of those qualities in our spouses. [...] It can be hard to acknowledge that our erotic tastes and triggers are pretty fixed by middle age.
This is just wrong, wrong, wrong. As our own Emily has recently reminded us, sexy is nebulous. And not only does it vary dramatically from person to person, but it can change over time -- preferred sex characteristics are categorically NOT “hardwired,” nor is it necessarily true that they are “fixed” after a certain number of years.
Because seriously? If that’s true? Boringest sex life ever. If by 45 years of age we’re all expected to be having the exact same sexual interests and preferences unyielding for the rest of our lives, then that is one of the most depressing things I’ve ever heard. I mean, why continue having sex after that? With no surprises, no experiments, no exploration? Ugh. I’d rather spend my last 40 years of life masturbating.
Indeed, our concept of what is sexy is powerfully shaped by the culture in which we live; for evidence we need look no further than the wide diversity of what various cultures around the world find sexually appealing. These preferred characteristics are not uniform across all people by any reckoning. And even within a culture with rigid ideas of what counts as “sexy” -- like our own -- these things can be amended with a change in perspective.
I'll use myself as an example. Contrary to the assumption quoted above, I wasn’t born finding fat bodies attractive. Actually for many years, like most people, I found them kinda unspeakable, if only because in everyday life they are generally hidden and shameful. This changed because I started to look for resources that portrayed fat people who were happy and comfortable and who felt sexy in their own skin. I also started hanging out in my actual life with folks like that.
Over time, the forced change in perspective resulted in my now thinking that fat bodies are beautiful and sexy as they are, and even further that all bodies, no matter their size or shape or ability, have beauty and sexiness in them, because diversity is beautiful.
Now this is not to suggest that everyone should be finding everyone else equally sexy, regardless of appearance. That’s neither reasonable nor necessary, since all our little personal preferences will continue to exist and evolve.
But when we’re faced with such bodily changes in a long-term partner, shouldn’t they get a little more effort from us than some rando fat lady walking down the street in a short skirt? You don’t need to find the miniskirt fatty hot if you’re not into her, but I would expect that your significant other deserves a little more work on your part. Because she's not some stranger you're assessing on looks alone -- she's someone you supposedly love as a whole person.
Yes, it may well be a struggle. But marriage and other long-term partnerships often are. After all, if your commitment to that person is so tenuous that a change in their appearance can so thoroughly shake your devotion, then your connection was probably weakened to start with.
And to the wife in the above scenario? Keep digging your body and liking sex. If your husband comes around in time, awesome. If he doesn’t, you’re better off with someone who won’t hold their affection hostage based on you keeping the same exact figure for the rest of your life.