We've been married 10 years now, but after my husband was unfaithful five years ago I've never wanted sex with him again. We've settled down to quite a happy modus vivendi – we have a seven-year-old son – and we're very companionable and happy in a way. The problem is that I've started to wonder whether I was a bit hard on him – and I do rather long to start our sex life again. But I'm terrified that if I suggest it it'll rock the happy balance we've got now. Should I risk broaching the subject?
In my own experience, it's rare that a woman feels sexy in the presence of a man she knows well without his picking up on it. Or, indeed, without finding that her sexual feelings are promoted by sexual stirrings on his side. So it could be that the desire to rekindle a sex life isn't all one-sided. He may well be very much up for it, too.
You could, of course, be rather cack-handed and ask outright whether he feels the same, but these things are usually done in more subtle ways. The odd touch on the shoulder, moving slightly closer while doing the drying-up, holding eye contact a little bit longer than usual. It would take a real pudding of a man not to pick up pretty swiftly what was going on. And in that way you could possibly restart your sex life without anything being said at all. In many ways it would be nicer that way, and more romantic, than sitting down and saying, baldly: "Well, do you think resumption of intimate relations between us would upset the balance of the status quo?", a leaden inquiry which is enough to turn anyone off.
It could be, of course, that he's having a totally non- emotional secret sexual relationship with someone else – five years seems rather a long time for a bloke not to have sex – and I think you have to take that into account. Or it could be that the way in would be to open up the discussion of his affair in a dispassionate way. You could say that, upsetting as it was at the time, you felt you overreacted to his affair and that you were sorry. Just that admission would open up an entirely new future. But you should bear in mind that raking up the past might release a lot of anger on his part. Be prepared for it.
You could, of course, ask him whether he'd go with you to see a Relate counsellor and start opening up in front of a non-threatening third party.
But before you do anything, do be certain that a sexual relationship is really what you want. Perhaps, for you, a sexual relationship opens up cans of worms that inevitably end in scenes of great closeness followed by great rejection. The pushing and pulling is all part of the scenario. And lovely as it would be to feel closer again, it's not worth risking repeating the fury of your feelings of rejection – and this time it might be prompted simply by a glance your partner takes at another woman – particularly if a little boy is part of the picture.
Virginia Ironside's book 'No! I Don't Need Reading Glasses' is out now (Quercus, £14.99)
Scratch that itch
I suspect I was not the only man who had difficulty suppressing a chortle over Briony's dilemma! What she seems not to recognise is that the males of the species – all males, all species – exist for one reason and one reason only, which is to fertilise eggs. That is our only biological function, which is why, allegedly, it is the only thing we ever think about!
Any male who is not getting sex in the usual way, with a conventional partner, will find some other of way of "scratching his itch", which is undoubtedly what Briony's husband has been doing for the past five years at least. I suspect this will have developed into a habit and my advice to her, if she has also now developed an itch, is to do what he is probably doing: use the internet and a bit of DIY. Otherwise, you would both be advised to seek sex outside the marriage. Sorry, but there it is.
Peter, by email
You are a bit shy, aren't you? Just tell him you fancy him again, as you clearly did once. Have a little fun while you are young. And remember, when you are old, the things you regret are more likely to be the things you didn't do.
June, by email
Next week's dilemma
Ten years ago, I was left a small flat by my parents. I let it to relations and have friends staying there for holidays. My partner says we should sell it so we can get a bigger place but although I've often tried, when it comes to it, I can't bear to sell it. Worse, I can't bear to do any repairs or repaint it inside and it's getting to look really run down. I feel it would be disloyal to my mother. I have started having panic attacks and crying just at the thought of it. What can I do? My partner's getting understandably fed up.
What would you advise Paula to do?