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Do I stay or do I go now?
September 15, 2011 3:05 PM   Subscribe

This week Pat Robertson (controversial as always) addressed an uncomfortable question. What are we obligated to do when our spouse becomes completely incapacitated? This is a relatively common situation for the elderly, one person declining faster than the other, but the same questions remain as with a couple in their thirties. Do you live with celibacy, divorce or commit infidelity? Dan Savage’s rules on cheating include a pass for caregiver/spouses in this situation to preserve the marriage. Things can become more difficult when the sexual relationship does not end after a partner becomes infirm.
posted by Blisterlips (96 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yeah, that whole "til death do us part" thing is such a nuisance.
posted by localroger at 3:11 PM on September 15, 2011 [12 favorites]


Americans are far too preoccupied with sex.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:13 PM on September 15, 2011 [15 favorites]


> Things can become more difficult when the sexual relationship does not end after a partner becomes infirm

What's mentioned in that link is such a weird outlier that I don't think it's reasonable to forge any kind of meaningful ethos from.

Also, what is Robertson on about is he saying it's ok to abandon a longtime spouse that develops dementia? Few people can afford "custodial care" other than shuffling off that person to a managed care facility. Goddamn I hope my wife loves me a tad more than that. Robertson is a joke.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 3:17 PM on September 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


Infirmed doesn't mean unable to speak or express a point of view. How about listening to what that person has to say on the matter? And how is being infirmed different in this regard than a partner who just straight up declares, "I don't imagine I'll be interested in anymore sex"? Do your marital obligations end there? If not, why?
posted by stinkycheese at 3:17 PM on September 15, 2011


Er, a question mark and new sentence start in that last comment clearly didn't get communicated from my brain to my fingers. Must be Alzheimer's.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 3:20 PM on September 15, 2011


Infirmed doesn't mean unable to speak or express a point of view.

In the last link, it does mean unable to speak or express a point of view.

Declaring "I don't want to have sex ever" is a choice. Physically being unable to have sex involves no choice.
posted by benzenedream at 3:22 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, that whole "til death do us part" thing is such a nuisance.

Unless you think Alzheimer's is "a kind of death." (Not saying that's my view, but it's Robertson's.)
posted by John Cohen at 3:25 PM on September 15, 2011


Pat Robertson is wrong.
I won't judge someone who does what Pat said but it isn't consistent with Christian ethics. Since marriage is an illustration of the relationship between Christ and His church that would be just like saying Jesus would abandon us. He would never do that.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 3:27 PM on September 15, 2011 [15 favorites]


Americans are far too preoccupied with sex.

Humans throughout history have understandably been preoccupied with sex.
posted by critzer at 3:29 PM on September 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


Americans are far too preoccupied with sex.

Yeah, I'm gonna move to that country where they're not so preoccupied with sex!



uh...
posted by overeducated_alligator at 3:31 PM on September 15, 2011 [29 favorites]


I always LOL at Christians who think homosexuals are going to burn in hell, but allow people to have sex with other people than their original married partner. Jesus himself says : "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery" in Luke 16:18). I like how church leaders conveniently explain away that by saying "oh, he meant you can't have sex with someone other than your current spouse" but when you try to explain that the one mention of homosexuality in the New Testament probably refers to male prostitution, they are aghast.
posted by melissam at 3:33 PM on September 15, 2011 [14 favorites]


To me, this is less of a 'controversial' question and more of a completely unimaginable one. I can't imagine my spouse just giving up on me and walking away if I became incapacitated any more than I would just give up and walk away from him. I don't know anyone who would waste the time getting married if they weren't prepared to carry out their vows. That said, in REALITY I don't know what I would do. If he were incapacitated, permanently, would he want me to waste away caring for him with no companionship/sex/happiness of my own? Would I want him to do that for me?

These are the kinds of ethical questions that make my head explode. So I resolve to wait and cross that bridge when we build it.
posted by pink candy floss at 3:33 PM on September 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


Oddly, I'm going to defer to Pat Robinson, himself, for the best advice on the subject:

"Get some ethicist besides [Pat Robertson] to give you the answer."
posted by gurple at 3:33 PM on September 15, 2011


(oh, dear. c/Robinson/Robertson. Yeesh.)
posted by gurple at 3:33 PM on September 15, 2011


I'd just like to say that although Dan Savage often has some good ideas and advice, his rules on cheating are bullshit and he shouldn't be held up as an authority here.
posted by rocket88 at 3:36 PM on September 15, 2011 [15 favorites]


Jesus would never beat us, either, but it seems to me that some Christian ethics would speak against divorce in that situation.

Also (as much as I hate to say it), I think this post mischaracterizes Roberts answer - he doesn't say "It's OK to divorce your wife only in this situation." His response is that the man in question, rather than cheat on his incapacitated wife,
if he's going to do something, he should divorce her and start all over again, but make sure she has custodial care and somebody looking after her
posted by muddgirl at 3:36 PM on September 15, 2011


So basically Robertson supports divorce over having an affair, which shouldn't be surprising to anyone who knows anything about Christianity.
posted by muddgirl at 3:36 PM on September 15, 2011


And if people who are incapacitated are dead, it makes me question why Robertson opposes divorce and assisted dying...
posted by melissam at 3:37 PM on September 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


As always, John Darnielle puts it all in perspective for us.
posted by Rangeboy at 3:40 PM on September 15, 2011 [8 favorites]


Unless you think Alzheimer's is "a kind of death.

Hey, this has all kinds of applications! Let's try:

Not having health insurance is kind of like playing Russian Roulette.

See? Ron Paul isn't a dick after all, it makes perfect sense!
posted by localroger at 3:40 PM on September 15, 2011


Robertson is often a giant turd, but his veiw that a divorce is better than infidelity isn't uncommon.

It's a hard thing to think about- but the other choice- stay married and just be celebate and lonely is a hard thing to accept if you are looking at another 10 or twenty or fifty years.

I'm also going to point out that i don't think robertson represents all christians, as most of them are just dandy, and not turds at all.
posted by Blisterlips at 3:43 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I used to work in a geriatric hospital. Dementia can erode the personality even as the body remains vigorous. There are no easy universal answers here and I think Robertson is trying to acknowledge that.

The last link raises even more difficult ethical questions. Good FPP.
posted by anigbrowl at 3:45 PM on September 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


I cannot possibly imagine in what world it's okay to have sex with someone who is too incapacitated to give consent (much less indicate discomfort, distress or refusal), simply because there was an established sexual relationship prior to the incapacitation. I am so completely squicked out right now I can't even.
posted by Ink-stained wretch at 3:50 PM on September 15, 2011 [13 favorites]


I'm wondering why Christian ethics are relevant to this discussion. I mean, I know the Pat Robertson piece provides a great starting-off point for discussion, but what Scripture has to say on the subject seems to be a bit of a red herring here.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:51 PM on September 15, 2011


This is probably a good thread to post the recent Bloggingheads conversation between Dan Savage and NYT's Ross Douthat on monogamy and marriage. Yes, I know: if you have a pulse, chances are you hate at least one of those guys (maybe even both!), but hear me out for a second: that people on total opposite sides of the "culture wars" such as they were willing to sit down and have this conversation, for an hour, with a minimum amount of yelling and with zero anger, speaks pretty damn highly of both of them. You'd be hard pressed to find better representatives of either position - surely, it'd be hard to find two people to debate this issue who are as well-humored as Dan and Ross are about it. So, if you've interest in this topic at all, go watch this. Getting to the heart of both ideologies - especially the one you disagree with - is of tremendous value.

Still not convinced? Ross says "dick" in it. At least once. I promise.
posted by Apropos of Something at 3:57 PM on September 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


Declaring "I don't want to have sex ever" is a choice. Physically being unable to have sex involves no choice.

Fair enough, but even a chosen declaration may have mitigating circumstances - perhaps one partner has had a traumatic experience and gone off sex, perhaps their religious views have changed, who knows? I guess my point is that the real issue isn't the physical limitations of being infirmed so much as the knowledge that you will be no longer having sex (because of choice or circumstance) possibly affecting your obligations to your partner.
posted by stinkycheese at 4:00 PM on September 15, 2011


Robertson is often a giant turd, but his veiw that a divorce is better than infidelity isn't uncommon.

Maybe, but marriages can survive infidelity (and sometimes said "infidelity" is with the consent of all parties). By definition, marriage does not survive divorce.
posted by Gelatin at 4:02 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


By definition, marriage does not survive divorce.

Elizabeth Taylor might disagree. Although it didn't survive two divorces.

I also know a happily married couple who divorced for financial reasons. They later broke up, although over other issues.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:07 PM on September 15, 2011


Also, what is Robertson on about is he saying it's ok to abandon a longtime spouse that develops dementia? Few people can afford "custodial care" other than shuffling off that person to a managed care facility. Goddamn I hope my wife loves me a tad more than that.

Could we give this a rest, please? Putting someone with dementia in a nursing home or other facility is not "abandoning" them, it isn't "shuffling them off," and it certainly doesn't mean you don't love them. It means they need specialized care that you can't give them at home. How, precisely, is my 5'0" 80-year-old mother supposed to care for my 6'3" father (who's in a wheelchair and has a chronic autoimmune condition that causes large open blisters to form on his limbs) in their non-wheelchair-friendly home? We all want him home but none of us can care for him at home.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 4:08 PM on September 15, 2011 [43 favorites]


I'm wondering why Christian ethics are relevant to this discussion. I mean, I know the Pat Robertson piece provides a great starting-off point for discussion, but what Scripture has to say on the subject seems to be a bit of a red herring here.

Well, Christian ethics are relevant to the internal discussion occurring among Christians right now, and naturally you don't take part in that. Externally, Christian ethical teaching is only relevant if someone thinks Pat Robertson said something representative of Christian ethical teaching thus making a comparison necessary.
posted by michaelh at 4:12 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


What if a person included in their healthcare directive consent for their spouse to continue having intercourse with them if they become incapacitated in any way that prevents them from verbally giving consent?

Wouldn't that solve any ethical issues?
posted by perhapses at 4:19 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hey I'm an atheist but I have to give Robertson his due. He's struggling to come up with the right answer. There are no easy answers to the question he was asked.
posted by Pararrayos at 4:22 PM on September 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


rocket88 wrote I'd just like to say that although Dan Savage often has some good ideas and advice, his rules on cheating are bullshit and he shouldn't be held up as an authority here.

and Pat Robertson should???
posted by any major dude at 4:22 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I am a queer atheist, and I am more like Jesus than Pat Robertson.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 4:27 PM on September 15, 2011 [20 favorites]


Is there any guideline as to when one can legitimately determine/declare that, yes, one has been abandoned? I'm thinking it's unlikely to be as long as two thousand years.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:28 PM on September 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


2nding WorkingMyWayHome, sometimes people need 24X7 care and I don't care how super human you are a single person can't provide that. Heck two people would be hard pressed even if they weren't working.

Ink-stained wretch writes "I cannot possibly imagine in what world it's okay to have sex with someone who is too incapacitated to give consent (much less indicate discomfort, distress or refusal), simply because there was an established sexual relationship prior to the incapacitation. "

It's an interesting situation. One one hand the squick. On the other hand the able bodied partner is going to be making all sorts of decisions for the incapacitated partner. What they eat, sleep, live;, where they go; medical procedures; recreational activities (TV, travel, whatever); etc. There isn't much I like better than sex, sure would suck to lose that just because I was incapacitated. Maybe this should be covered in my living will.
posted by Mitheral at 4:31 PM on September 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


"In sickness, and in health".

We didn't say it during our own wedding, but I plan to follow it.
posted by Deathalicious at 4:36 PM on September 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


As far as a sexual relationship goes after incapacitation, I can't really imagine condemning your spouse to absolutely no sexual relationship. As Mitheral said, perhaps this should be considered for living wills, for I'd certainly give consent.
posted by Malice at 4:39 PM on September 15, 2011


Who ever really *believes* that the "in sickness/in bad times" parts of the marriage vows are actually going to happen? While I knew I'd be a caretaker to my husband one day due to our age difference, I never expected it to happen *now*, when I'm in my late 30's and he's in his late 40's. He has chronic pain from degenerative disc disease. His pain is undermedicated because we're in the "can't afford health insurance because we're self-employed" camp, and doctors often will dismiss a white male patient with long hair who comes in complaining of an invisible illness as someone merely out for drugs. *sigh*

Each caretaking situation is unique, and each caretaker has their own limits. Just 'cause I'm sticking around doesn't mean everyone with a chronically ill spouse should stay, too.
posted by luckynerd at 4:41 PM on September 15, 2011


Is it OK to spank your incapacitated partner? PIV sex, like other kinds of physical interaction, isn't net-neutral for someone who's too incapacitated to consent.
posted by muddgirl at 4:43 PM on September 15, 2011


(I specified PIV sex because that's the kind of sex under consideration in the question, not because I think it's OK to jack off on your incapacitated partner).
posted by muddgirl at 4:44 PM on September 15, 2011


Just 'cause I'm sticking around doesn't mean everyone with a chronically ill spouse should stay, too.

I think if someone loves their spouse, they won't just abandon them.
posted by Malice at 4:46 PM on September 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


The whole issue of consent is really important.

A person who can't speak can't say if they are having a pleasurable or a painful experience. Facial expression is not necessarally an accurate
guide to what what a person having sex is feeling.

It is not fair to have sex with anyone who can't consent or refuse.

Anyone with any sense or decency or love would not do that.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 4:55 PM on September 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


Of course, the irony here is that Pat Robertson's public statements of late kind if make it sound like he has Altzheimers.
posted by 4ster at 5:00 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, what is Robertson on about is he saying it's ok to abandon a longtime spouse that develops dementia? Few people can afford "custodial care" other than shuffling off that person to a managed care facility. Goddamn I hope my wife loves me a tad more than that. Robertson is a joke.

Well, since divorcing your spouse and letting them become destitute may be the only way their care can get funded... how's that for an ethical puzzler for all you ethicists at home.
posted by ennui.bz at 5:02 PM on September 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


What about "incapacitated" (say through Alzheimer's) spouses that begin having affairs? Such is the case with retired SCOTUS Justice Sandra Day O'Conner, whose husband forgot her and fell in love with someone else. What is the forgotten spouse to do?
posted by stonedcoldsober at 5:05 PM on September 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


Well, the Virgin Mary didn't have sex, and she and Joseph got on very well, didn't they?
posted by Vibrissae at 5:06 PM on September 15, 2011


I would much rather have my partner cheat on me then leave me! I am always surprised when people think the solution to cheating is divorce, without any consideration for what the wronged partner actually wants.
posted by the young rope-rider at 5:08 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


The situation in the last link is almost certainly illegal in Canada. The Supreme Court has said (albeit with dissent) that consent must be given throughout the sexual activity, and if it's not possible to give consent right then and there, there is none. So, sex with someone who is asleep constitutes a sexual assault. Even a detailed agreement spelled out and agreed to beforehand isn't enough. I don't know if that's the right decision, but it's been the choice made in Canada.
posted by smorange at 5:18 PM on September 15, 2011


I'm going to be ending a temp job at a nursing home, and the level of devotion shown by the spouses who visit is humbling. I think by the time the spouse is encumbered or confused and knows or remembers very limited things about your relationship, in a way, you have already started to say goodbye & your perception of that person has changed.
posted by TrishaLynn at 5:18 PM on September 15, 2011


The question he was answering was about a husband divorcing a wife with Alzheimer's. I'm kind of curious if Robertson's opinion is the same if it's a guy with Alzheimer's and the wife does the divorcing.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:19 PM on September 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


A pretty damned good musician, with religious views of her own, is married to a legendary magazine editor who suffered a traumatic brain injury. She deals with this issue every day
posted by timsteil at 5:21 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Until sex do us part."

Not just Americans - although we are way up there near the top of that dreadful list for sure - but human beings in general are simply far too obsessed with sex. I have never in my life understood this mentality, but it has always revolted me and it has never done the human race a bit of good, either. Sex causes far more trouble than money or religion combined ever has. The attitude that sex is pretty much more important than anything else in life ever explains why I will probably never be married. There are simply too few people out there who feel the way I do about this, and I dont expect to ever be fortunate enough to meet that like-minded man.

This does not mean I do not enjoy sex. I do. I have had a fair amount of it, and out of those experiences I've tried a hell of a lot of different kinds of it with some very different kinds of people. I know what I'm saying when I say it's just not all that big a deal. At least not if you have a passion for living and experiencing in the world around you. Going to a really good concert or museum or traveling to a beautiful country is far more wonderful than sex. Hell, even reading a really outstanding book is better than the best sex I've ever had - and it lasts a LOT longer.

And for those who say "understandably so" with regards to the necessity of sex and why people would leave an incapacitated or terminally ill partner so they could have a sexual relationship, I'm sorry, but that's just a crock of shit. There are so many things that are so much better. There are so many things that are so much more important. And you'd throw it all away just for the sake of having a bit of extra laundry to do on wash day. Christ, what a boring, shallow asshole.

Perhaps back in the dawn of humanity it was a vital function, but it isn't now. The survival of our species is secure. We will survive and thrive. And to be honest, we'd all be better off if there were a hell of a lot fewer of us around. Sex is no longer a necessary function. Everyone having babies everywhere you turn has now become a real problem. We are procreating ourselves into a disastrous future. Yet we flatly refuse to rise above our basest instincts and evolve as we should. Why? Because sex feels good? Because it's fun? Give me a break. You've got to be kidding me.

People with that mindset make my flesh crawl. I could never bring myself to trust anyone that shallow and selfish that they would discard virtually anything and everything of actual value, anything actually worth having, in favour of something as ridiculous and fleeting as sex. Honour, respect, loyalty, true love - they mean nothing to most people.

I would never leave my spouse / partner / soulmate just because they became ill or incapacitated. If I had to spend the rest of my life caring for them, then so be it. If one of us became ill, I would expect to talk about our future and decide together what the plan should be. For those people who agree that a divorce so that the healthy partner can build a new life with a new partner is the best way to go, then more power to you. I respect that mutual decision. But as long as the person I consider the love of my life is alive, I am not ever going to be interested in anyone else. I dont want to waste my time with anyone who doesnt feel the same way.

I dont consider hospice care or any other type of long-term or permanent facility care to be "abandonment" at all. Caretaking is a back-breaking, heart-wrenching job that can ruin the lives of both the incapacitated and their loved ones. People become ill. Sometimes, those people need that kind of care. Sometimes, they fall into comas for years and become utterly incapacitated. To me, that is the MOST horrible time to abandon a partner - when they are totally helpless. There is nothing that could ever convince me to do such a thing.

THAT is abandonment. You do not agree to enter into a lifetime partnership with a person and still carry the expectation that you can just waltz out of it when things dont go your way or begin to inconvenience you. You remain steadfast. You remain true. Or you're just not worth the effort in the first place. As far as making some kind of legal agreement that states that a partner, if permanently incapacitated and rendered insensible, permits their partner to continue to have sex with their unresponsive body makes me want to vomit my guts up. That right there...that's what sex means to most people. All they want is a willing receptacle that will lie still long enough for them to get their rocks off. My god. What the hell is wrong with people?

Sex means nothing without love and passion and devotion and commitment and care. If you dont have these things, you dont get with me and I certainly want nothing whatsoever to do with you. If you are my partner and we are committed to one another, that means forever. Anyone who would abandon a lifemate - especially if it's over something as vulgar as needing to get laid - when they needed you to be there for them the most is the most despicable creature on the face of the planet.

And people wonder why I despise my own species.
posted by perilous at 5:31 PM on September 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


Ok... but tell us what you really think...=)
posted by stenseng at 5:43 PM on September 15, 2011


Okay.

What I really think is that people who say "Tell us what you really think" after I say something desperately need a fork in the eye.
posted by perilous at 5:47 PM on September 15, 2011 [17 favorites]


"marriage is an illustration of the relationship between Christ and His church"

This barely begins to scratch the surface of why we should be looking elsewhere for answers.
posted by sneebler at 6:08 PM on September 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


False dichotomy; having sex outside of marriage is not the same as abandoning or divorcing your incapacitated spouse.
posted by bq at 6:10 PM on September 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


Well, the Virgin Mary didn't have sex, and she and Joseph got on very well, didn't they?

This depends on what type of Christian you're asking--there's a long-running debate about just how Jesus wound up with siblings (adopted? half? full? step?).

posted by thomas j wise at 6:19 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's incredibly lonely to be the spouse of someone who has lost their mental capacity. My grandmother cared for my grandfather in the ten years he lived after he was struck down with a devastating stroke. He never regained his mind- and she was devoted to him. But she was so very lonely without the person who had been her companion for fifty years, and I can't imagine how unfair it must have felt to have his body there.

I would have never judged her if she would have looked outside the marriage for a little comfort. Sex is as much a mental need as a physical itch to scratch. It makes you less lonely. It makes you feel noticed. It's intimacy at it's very basic sense. Maybe we shouldn't need it to make everything less bleak- but it's just the way a lot of us work.
posted by Blisterlips at 6:21 PM on September 15, 2011 [8 favorites]


Pat Robertson and Dan Savage have found common ground. That's a sign of the apocalypse, isn't it?
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 6:27 PM on September 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


I found the story in the "sexual relationship" link much more interesting than the Pat Robertson quote.

While it's entirely possible that this guy's is taking advantage of his wife's disability, I also think it's possible that this is a kind, caring husband who is honestly acting out of love for his wife. We can't know which. I also wonder how much of the horror and disgust at this situation comes from a societal uncomfortableness around the sexuality of people with disabilities.
posted by marsha56 at 6:28 PM on September 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


If you read far enough down in the comments section of the second link you will find this:
Eric, by the way, if you read the text of original case, you might have found (apparently you didn't) an editorial error which casts an entirely ethical/legal face to the story. I found the error (though not even considered by the three groups of commentators) and have reported it to the publication editor. He admitted the error in a return e-mail.

In the original story, the family had 4 year old twins! 5 years ago the wife had the accident. That would start her pregnancy with the twins after the accident!
So woman is incapacitated. Husband gets her pregnant and she delivers twins. Husband gets her pregnant again but this time terminates the pregnancy. What the hell? Could he not at least practice birth control?

One judge weighs in with this analysis:
What all of this leaves are four possibilities: 1) his assessment is correct and it is something she would have wanted (and perhaps even enjoys now but cannot express it), 2) she is sufficiently physically and mentally incapacitated that she is unaware of what is happening, 3) she is aware of what he is doing, but unable to express her refusal and, 4) she is aware, doesn't particularly like it, but since it takes only a few minutes a few times per week, is "OK" with it because it keeps her and the family together. Since there is no way to reasonably assign a probability to any one scenario, let's assume they are all equally likely. That means we can assign a probability of 25% to each. In that case, there is a 75% probability that the wife either enjoys his actions, is "OK" with them, or is totally unaware. In other words, there is a 75% probability that he is doing no harm.
So he arbitrarily assigns percentages and then makes a judgment based on that arbitrary assessment of the situation. I find this stunning, particularly that #4 (doesn't like it but puts up with it) is assigned an equal weight with #3 (doesn't like it but has no way to say "No.") In other words having sex forced on you is the same to him as you deciding for your own reasons to have sex even if you are not "in the mood."

Frankly I love sex, I love it more than anything else my husband and I do whether it is hiking, going to concerts, reading, doing crossword puzzles, you name it. Sex with my husband is phenomenal. But I would never be comfortable signing a legal document that says he can have sex with my body no matter how incapacitated I am. There are times (v. rare) when I don't want to have sex for whatever reason and I would rather reserve judgment for myself on whether or not we have sex. Anything else is creepy, reducing me to a puppet or sex doll with no imput into the situation.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:32 PM on September 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


This does not mean I do not enjoy sex. I do. . . . Hell, even reading a really outstanding book is better than the best sex I've ever had - and it lasts a LOT longer.

so do you or don't you?

and frankly, your assessment of what should constitute proper and improper sexual behavior for people other than yourself is what is the crock of shit. that you don't think sex is a big deal i'd say renders you the least qualified to preach to the rest of us about our passion for living, etc.
posted by fallacy of the beard at 6:39 PM on September 15, 2011 [12 favorites]


thomas j wise writes "
"This depends on what type of Christian you're asking--there's a long-running debate about just how Jesus wound up with siblings (adopted? half? full? step?).
"


Holy crap it's true. Mary and Joseph would have had to have been the two most devout Christians _ever_. Joseph especially. Here's a guy who no only isn't getting any but is raising proof that his wife is (if only spiritually). And in a time not really known for it's enlightenment. Has there been any debate around whether Joseph and Mary were in a lavender marriage?
posted by Mitheral at 6:47 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is why I've pretty much decided I don't want kids and I don't want to marry.
Because I don't believe myself emotionally capable of loving someone enough that, due to whatever circumstances, I would have to face the choice to give up the rest of my life to taking care of them.

It's obviously incredibly selfish to think this way, but I also -really- like my independence. Maybe other people can love another person so much that they're willing to possibly give up so much that's enjoyable in life, but I don't believe I could.

I mean...sex (go ahead and lie about -never- wanting sex ever again, but I'll look for your toy drawer or a strong right hand, no offense), travel, being able to have enough financially (now that you're paying all of those hospital bills and home medical equipment or nursing home payments)....

And if you think you could handle someone's every meal, every urge to pee or shit, every physical therapy session every day, their bed "bath", transporting them out of their bed to change their linens, trying to spend time with them when they could be so out of it that every request of theirs is nothing more than anything from a finger twitch to an incoherent scream or wail, to the overall upkeep of trying to make sure their body functions -for- them and that you meet their needs in order to provide a humane and loving environment? Every hour. Of every day. Of the next who knows how many years of their life?

Seriously, seriously consider that with some deep thought. It's no casual thing to just say "Oh, sure, I'll be there for when you need me." Because that needing you may never stop until they die, and even then you could end up paying the bills until -you- die, if they even die first.

Again, I don't think I'm personally capable of that kind of devotion. But then, I'm kind of a bitch.
posted by DisreputableDog at 7:04 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


The sexual relationship link caught my attention because it seems to me when all the positing is over, it is just some guys trying to find a situation in which it is perfectly acceptable to have sex with a woman without her consent. Maybe I am just not as impressed with ethicists and preachers as I was a long time ago, but I don't see any way that position is not poised on a slippery slope. It doesn't pass muster with me.
posted by Anitanola at 7:09 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I just had a quick conversation with my spouse, and each of us agreed that we would take care of the other incapacitated spouse for as long as possible. But we also agreed that if one of us were long-term mentally incapacitated, it would be best for the family that the healthy spouse should find happiness where s/he can, even if it means a relationship with another.

For those of you who say you would never do such a thing to your soulmate, imagine if you were the incapacitated one. Would you not want as much a happiness for that person as possible?
posted by nasayre at 7:09 PM on September 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


how much of the horror and disgust at this situation comes from a societal uncomfortableness around the sexuality of people with disabilities.

She's not a person with a disability who is an active and willing participant (in any sense of the word, whether that means she has almost full use of her body, or can simply blink a 'yes'). She's someone who cannot indicate if she is being raped.

Honestly, my horror and disgust comes from the idea that he would have sex with someone who cannot either say, "Yes, beloved, hold me and touch me, you give me pleasure," or "Please, someone help me, stop stop, that hurts, I feel violated, I am trapped and feeling brutalized and invaded." Just because the man is married to her, and even though he cares for her feeding, etc, does not mean he gets some sort of full access to her body like she's a sex doll. Only, she's not. She's in there, unable to protest or invite the act. It's like something out of a horror movie. He has no idea what her experience is. Why not err on the side of NOT possibly raping her?

What's the difference between that situation and my drugging my partner with a paralyzing agent (if, say, it wasn't illegal) and having sex with his body, because we have an established relationship? How is that different? He didn't give consent and can't give consent, but it's okay because we're married - ? It's a total violation of someone who is vulnerable.
posted by Ink-stained wretch at 7:15 PM on September 15, 2011 [9 favorites]


Nobody has mentioned Breaking The Waves yet? I suppose because it's such a soul-crusher:
Breaking the Waves tells the story of Bess McNeill, who has psychological problems, marries Norwegian oil rig worker Jan, despite the apprehensions of her community and Calvinist church. Bess is somewhat simple and childlike, and has difficulty living without Jan when he is away on the oil platform, where he is scheduled to work for ten days. She prays for his immediate return, and when he returns the next day paralyzed by an industrial accident, she believes it is her fault. No longer able to perform sexually, and mentally affected by the accident, Jan urges her to find and have sex with other men and then tell him the details.
posted by melissam at 7:44 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think that when my spouse gets home tonight I'll tell him that should I be rendered mentally incapable, he is free to have sex with anyone he wants/needs to - except me, because that shit is creepy.

Also holy hell it is not cool to impregnate your semicomatose wife with twins. If you can't stop sticking it in at least put a wrapper on it. Asshole.
posted by bq at 7:52 PM on September 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


I am going to provide a little subtext here vis a vis that scum bucket Pat Robertson. Reading the link what Pat was actually asked wasn't with regard to spouses in general but rather he was asked what a man should do with his incapacitated wife and he answered just as Newt Gingrich or any other sociopathic right wing jackass would which was dump her. Now how much do you want to bet that if he were asked what a dutiful wife should do regarding her incapacitated husband the answer would be much different?

I loathe these people.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 8:44 PM on September 15, 2011 [12 favorites]


I have made it explicitly clear to my husband on several occasions that if I become physically or cognitively unable to be a sexual partner to him, he is not just free to take another partner, but is actively encouraged to. I think I'll do so again right now.

(Heh. I just did so, and he said "Oh, is this about Pat Robertson's latest fuckstickery?")

But yes. I can envision many circumstances, and have seen a few with my own eyes, where a person can still be a loving and supportive spouse and yet desperately need a separate intimate partnership. Not just for sex, either; caretaking a debilitated spouse is hard work, and the caretaker needs someone to give back emotionally, to go out with, to enjoy things with, to be equal to. That might not be a choice everyone wants to make, but I can't see condemning anyone who does make it.
posted by KathrynT at 9:20 PM on September 15, 2011 [9 favorites]


we flatly refuse to rise above our basest instincts and evolve as we should.

Please do not misuse the word "evolve" in this manner. Also, your comment is the most judgmental thing I have read on MetaFilter for a long time. Please consider that your perspective may not be the absolute divinely revealed truth; that you may not be RIGHT and everyone with a different opinion or hormonal makeup is just WRONG, WRONG, WRONG.
posted by adamdschneider at 9:26 PM on September 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


Remove the system of inheritance and allow spouses to legally kill one another. In one swoop we'll decrease divorce rate and return a sense of commitment to the institution.

Another problem solved by TwelveTwo.
posted by TwelveTwo at 9:47 PM on September 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


There's the side that's pretty much afraid of her being raped, but what about her own sexual happiness? Again, this woman cannot say yes or no, however she is married to this man and has two children. Assuming they're his, they obviously have an established sexual relationship. So instead of going off with another woman, he occasionally has sex with his wife, most likely plain old missionary. I would think that on a very basic, logical level, if she has any realization of what is going on, she might be .. I dunno.. enjoying it? Why condemn her to a life of never feeling her husband touch her again? That would be horrible. Her life's bad enough. This isn't some stranger coming into her bedroom, it's her spouse.
posted by Malice at 10:22 PM on September 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


My partner has impregnated me and there are times when he would probably think sex was a good idea, and I would find it uncomfortable, unpleasant, or simply not desirable at that particular point. And vice versa.

Intercourse is very invasive and can be uncomfortable for various reasons, not all of which would be immediately obvious to a partner.

So while she might be enjoying it, she might not, and that's the problem. We don't really know and she can't tell us (or him).

It seems that a gentle massage, holding her hand, or a hug would be much less risky ways to show physical affection.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:29 PM on September 15, 2011 [7 favorites]


If seeing someone on the side is what keeps the marriage going, I'm all for it.
posted by CuriousCassandra at 12:11 AM on September 16, 2011


RE: Marriage and Alzheimer's and being like a death...

My mother is succumbing to Alzheimer's. I've watched the malady take hold and grow from a barely-perceptable oddity in her behavior, to were my mother is no longer my mother...she's the disease, and we relish the moments where my mother peeks-through for a couple of minutes. Luckily, my father long-ago passed, so there is no spouse to deal with.

In the course of learning to deal with the disease, I've joined a local Alheimer's support group, run by a regional hospital. We've recently been joined by an older gentleman whose wife of 50 years is afflicted by Alzheimer's. It's heart-breaking to listen to him tell his latest adventure in caring for, and living with, his long-time love and partner as she slips inexorably down the hole. You can hear the fear, despair and fatigue as he tries to make sense of what is happening to his wife. And the growing sense of isolation and loneliness, as his wife slips-away from him, her memory failing, surely and irreversibly. He's a strong old guy, but you can hear it in his voice that he's scared and tired and lonely.

In the end, it's our shared memories that bind us together as couples. The life you lived together. The intimacies only the two of you know. The joys and fears you shared. After 50 years together, those memories are the bedrock of what has made you a couple. When Alzheimer's strikes, its main effect is to erase those memories, slowly but surely. As the spouse of an Alzheimer's sufferer, it can be as if your own memories are being erased, as your ability to share them with the one you lived them with is taken-away from you.

Alzheimer's isn't just the loss of memory, of course. The sufferer gradually loses the ability to care for themselves, as well. They can eventually stop eating on their own, cleaning themselves, dressing themselves, etc. They relieve themselves where they sit. And there's the mood shifts and increasing paranoia as the memory issues progress, often resulting in fits of anger and pure rage directed at loved ones. Medication can help with this, but it's only a stop-gap. The disease always wins. Always.

So, I can actually understand and sympathize with the whole "kind of like a death" idea. At least when it comes to one adult needing the comfort and security of another adult's arms. Sex might enter into it, eventually. Though, I might still have an issue if sex is the main reason one runs to another adult. AS I said upstream, we are far too preoccupied by that aspect of our characters. But, in the case of the gentleman in my support group...I would never fault him for seeking the support and contact of another woman outside his marriage. He's caring for his wife as best he can. She's physically there and demanding every spare minute he has for that care. But, the individual he's known for over 50 years is gone. Finding someone outside his marriage to speak with, to share his fear and heart with is a small mercy that should be afforded him.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:11 AM on September 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


perilous wrote: Okay.

What I really think is that people who say "Tell us what you really think" after I say something desperately need a fork in the eye


I'll tell you what I think, then. I think you mistake personal preference for universal truth.
posted by wierdo at 7:58 AM on September 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


r she is married to this man and has two children. Assuming they're his, they obviously have an established sexual relationship.

The children were conceived after she became incapacitated.
posted by KathrynT at 8:29 AM on September 16, 2011


I find the weirdest thing about the linked story to be the fact that apparently the husband enjoys having sex with someone who just lays there and can't respond. Geez, does he ice her down first?
posted by Kokopuff at 8:52 AM on September 16, 2011


Who ever really *believes* that the "in sickness/in bad times" parts of the marriage vows are actually going to happen?

Adults do, luckynerd.

Seriously. That's more-or-less a rough guideline to the difference between childlike and adult long-term planning.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:28 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's no casual thing to just say "Oh, sure, I'll be there for when you need me." Because that needing you may never stop until they die, and even then you could end up paying the bills until -you- die, if they even die first.

No, it's not a casual thing, and I suspect that if people really thought about what that's like, fewer people would get married (or have kids, since it comes with a similar level of responsibility). But along with the responsibility comes safety; I may have to be a caregiver for my partner as he ages, but then again, he might be my caregiver. So there's both a potential risk and a potential benefit.

But also, do you really want to organize your life around not doing anything in case something bad should happen? So you'd never have a pet because the pet will eventually die? You'd never start a great new job in case you might not like it or you might suck at it? Personally, I'm willing to risk a lot for the joy that my partner gives me. YMMV.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 10:02 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


IAmBroom wrote: Adults do, luckynerd.

Seriously. That's more-or-less a rough guideline to the difference between childlike and adult long-term planning.


I disagree with that characterization. If you insist on using the adult/child dichotomy here, I submit that it's childish to believe that in an environment where over half of marriages end in divorce that it's more likely than not that the "..in sickness and in health.." part has any real meaning.

IMO, facing reality as it is and not as you want it to be is one of the hallmarks of thinking like an adult should, while sticking your fingers in your ears and wishing that things are as you think they're "supposed" to be is childish.
posted by wierdo at 11:10 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Borowitz Report has a definitive statement on the matter.
posted by fuse theorem at 12:54 PM on September 16, 2011


I don't know anyone who would waste the time getting married if they weren't prepared to carry out their vows.

Hugh Hefner, for one.
posted by liketitanic at 1:32 PM on September 16, 2011


The story in the last link is really sad.
posted by TheKM at 6:22 PM on September 16, 2011


wierdo: If you insist on using the adult/child dichotomy here, I submit that it's childish to believe that in an environment where over half of marriages end in divorce that it's more likely than not that the "..in sickness and in health.." part has any real meaning.

So, since over half of marriages end in divorce, it's childish to believe your vows have any meaning?

Sorry, you lost me there.
posted by IAmBroom at 6:50 PM on September 16, 2011


IAmBroom wrote: So, since over half of marriages end in divorce, it's childish to believe your vows have any meaning?

It's childish to believe that for the majority of marriages, vows have real meaning, since they clearly don't. Your marriage may be an exception to the rule. Clearly, "'til death do us part" doesn't end up meaning squat in most marriages. Why should I believe "..in sickness and in health" be any different?
posted by wierdo at 7:23 PM on September 16, 2011


The children were conceived after she became incapacitated.

She became pregnant and gave birth to two children while incapacitated?
posted by Malice at 9:56 PM on September 16, 2011


She became pregnant and gave birth to two children while incapacitated?

That's what the timeline suggests. Accident 5 years ago, twins 4 years old.
posted by KathrynT at 10:07 PM on September 16, 2011


That's what the timeline suggests. Accident 5 years ago, twins 4 years old.

That can't be right, because the family found out he was having sex with her after she became pregnant, and the pregnancy was terminated.
posted by Malice at 10:16 PM on September 16, 2011


Obviously, the forward-thinking person will say marriage vows with fingers crossed behind back just in case.
posted by localroger at 6:19 AM on September 17, 2011


Pat Robertson's wife should divorce HIM --- after all, he's apparently suffering from dementia.....
posted by easily confused at 6:49 AM on September 17, 2011


That can't be right, because the family found out he was having sex with her after she became pregnant, and the pregnancy was terminated.

In reading the original case, it's not clear if the twins were four years old at the time of the accident or the time this subsequent pregnancy was discovered. (Free registration required to read the entire article, but the timeline information is in the excerpt.) But the interpretation I gave above is one possible one.
posted by KathrynT at 7:52 AM on September 17, 2011


But the interpretation I gave above is one possible one.

Easily misread as it's not very clear, but nah, it's not possible only because it would negate the shock of the family finding out through this last pregnancy.
posted by Malice at 1:59 AM on September 19, 2011


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