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I Want Your Sex…Why Don’t You Want Mine?

Apr18

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Hi Amalah,
I read your blog, your column, your everything and I totally trust your advice. Hence this letter. It’s something that I don’t feel like I can share with my friends so hey, why not unload on to a total (but perfect) stranger (bring back Balki Bartokomous) and the interweb?
My situation is this. I am in a relationship with a lovely, lovely man. We are both 33 years old. We have been together for three years, living together in sin for nearly two. The problem is is that there is not a lot of sinning going on. Our sex life is practically non-existent and every night we go to bed and he gives me a pursed-lip kiss like we are a married couple from the 1950s. This is not my choice and I promise, not for lack of trying on my part. It hasn’t always been this way – we used to have a great time between the sheets.
This has been going on in earnest for about six months (yes! six months!) and I put my foot down and insisted that we go to a sex therapist in February. This has helped in that we are no longer arguing about the lack of sex, but still – no sex.
We have had a tricky time over the last year or so due to an ongoing conflict over where we live. We live in his home country and I want to move back to mine with him, which he says he wants to do. We have the visa and everything. I realise it is a big deal and that’s something that we have talked about a lot in our therapy sessions so we’ve kind of worked through that.
I am at my wits end and feel as though we are entering the world of friends instead of hotness and I don’t know what to do. Please don’t suggest the foxy lingerie (been there, no luck), watching porn together (he is not interested – yes! A man! Not interested!), non-sexual massages (our therapist suggested that and we have done it a total of three times at my suggestion, not his). He says he loves me, he wants to be with me, he wants to have kids together (yes! I’m not sure how that will happen either!) there’s nothing he wants more than to have a fulfilling sex life with me…but it’s hard to believe when he isn’t making any effort and I am beginning to feel a little resentful that I have to be the one to suggest things. Because it’s not hot when you have to beg, right?
I’ve been down the road of Is He Gay, turned left at He’s Having An Affair, lingered at Maybe It’s Me, I’m Hideous and now I’m beginning to think Hello, He Has Depression. What should I do? I want to support him but I also want to be with someone who is going to rip my clothes off every now and then. It would make the next few decades together kind of fun.
You have been married for awhile and I get the impression that you and Jason still have a glint in your eye for each other, which is awesome. Is it something you have to work at sometimes or if it doesn’t come naturally (oh dear, you know what I’m saying), does that mean that you’re sexually incompatible? Is it normal for a guy to not wake up with morning glory, as Oasis say? Could it be something physical, as well as mental?
I feel as though I am in the man in this relationship trying to persuade his uptight, frigid wife into sleeping with him and it is driving me bananas. He says everything will be fine when we move because he’ll be less stressed, but I’m not so sure. I figure leaving your job, your family and friends and moving to a new country isn’t exactly rancho relaxo.
If you can offer any advice, insight, wisdom that would result in me getting laid, I would be eternally grateful. Yes, I know I sound like a pig but lack of sex is making me that way. Are there any other women out there who have been through something similar and have you been able to get through the other side? I really don’t need to hear any ‘Oh, my Barry can’t keep his hands off me, if he had his way we’d be having sex morning, noon and night’ stories either.
Faithfully yours,
Hot and Definitely Bothered
P.S. I’m sorry this is so long, I think you get the drift that I would really appreciate your help. Thank you.

Oof. OOF I SAY. This is…an interesting break in the moisturizer talk, don’t you think?
So first of all, let me say that I really admire the steps you’ve already taken to help the situation. Sometimes I get these loooong life dilemma problems that basically boil down to “I’ve tried nothing and I’m out of ideas, help!” More people should treat questionably-qualified Internet advice columnists as the last resort that we really are.
But the fact remains that you’ve taken all the right steps and still haven’t gotten anywhere. So, long hard look time — were you EVER satisfied with your sex life? Did he EVER demonstrate the kind of healthy libido that would jibe with your own? Do you really have evidence that this is, in fact, a temporary problem that can be resolved? And I mean OTHER than the early days of newness and infatuation and wheeeeeeee-sex-with-someone-new-and-shiny phase that wears off for all of us eventually? Was there ever a period of just normal, healthy, regular, mutually satisfying sex, particularly during the time you’ve lived together?
If you answered “no” to more than one of those questions, then I would guess we are looking at flat-out basic sexual incompatibility here. Which is no small thing.
Since you DID mention that things used to be great and fun, and if you can really and truly answer all those questions with a big YES, and if this really is a recent phenomenon of six months or so, then my money would be on depression and/or anxiety. Which is also no small thing.
First up, in the interest of covering all the bases, the sexual incompatibility option. For some reason a lot of women prefer to blow this off, like they’re afraid to end an otherwise decent relationship over something trivial. Except that sex is not trivial. It’s the rest of your life, and if it’s driving you batty at 33, it’s going to drive you batty at 43 and 53 and so on. It’s not fair for you to sit there and hope that YOUR libido will drop with age and childbirth so that someday, somewhere, you’ll be okay with your non-existent sex life. It ain’t gonna happen, and if your guy really IS okay with a non-existent sex life now…well. Is it a deal-breaker or not? Are you prepared to live with the very likely possibility that this will be as good as it gets?
If it is and you’re not, I’d advise being honest with him (possibly in a therapy session?) before the big move. Obviously you’ve been jumping up and down and waving your arms and screaming at him that THIS IS IMPORTANT TO YOU, but maybe he needs one last reminder of just HOW important it is before he rearranges his life because you haven’t been clear on the end result of your doubts.
And sadly, from where I’m sitting (on a plane! en route to San Diego! holla!), there are only two possible endings: you put up with things as is and stop pushing him to “change” (ah, that common folly of us women!) or you break it off because EFF THIS, you deserved to be desired and regularly ravished and there is nothing wrong or superficial about that.
If it’s depression, on the other hand, it’s time for a different sort of confrontation. You make excellent rebuttal points to his “I’m just stressed and will be less stressed after the move.” Stress is a constant, and depression and real anxiety are generally not cured by a change in scenery. The lack of…ahem…normal morning-type male reflexes does suggest there’s something physical going on, although (to me) it further cements the theory of severe depression or anxiety, which can most definitely manifest in a variety of physical ailments.
Since joint therapy does not seem to be getting at the core of…whatever it is that’s bothering him…firmly suggest he see a therapist on his own. Regular psychotherapy. Medication. Something. But again, this needs to be dealt with ASAP, for both of your sakes. Otherwise, nothing will truly change, and you’ll very likely be experiencing bed death every time life gets stressful or the seasons change or whatever his depressive trigger is.
Uprooting to a different country would probably wig the best of us out, and I’m wondering if he’s bottling up his real feelings and fears about it. You seem like a very open and direct and “let’s FIX this” sort of person, so perhaps instead of focusing on some presumed sexual incompatibility, your therapy and discussions should focus on really getting to know and understand how the other reacts to conflict and how you each approach problem-solving. I suspect you two are very different in those areas. The more you try to “fix” him, the more he may retreat inward for whatever reason. He might need a different kind of support.
He also needs you to stand your ground, because this is your life too. Tell him you’ve tried everything and you’re truly, honestly, all out of ideas. You love him, you want to spend your life with him, but not. Like. This. Whatever the issue is — depression, anxiety, erectile dysfunction, crippling panic and doubt — it is time for him to root it out and confront it. And if he wants to make the move with you, he needs to make some kind of effort before it happens. No more hitting the mental snooze button with the “things will be better after we move” excuse.
Good luck. I think most couples end up going through similar things at one point or another (hello, first trimester of pregnancy), but not to the extent you’re describing. That’s not a phase, that’s real dysfunction, and I hope you two can work it out.

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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16 Responses to “I Want Your Sex…Why Don’t You Want Mine?”

  1. Alison Apr 17 at 1:46 pm Reply Reply

    I think amalah is totally right that you need to ask yourself: If you knew this was never going to change, would it be a deal breaker for you? And if it would be, you need to tell him that. There’s a very good chance that he doesn’t realize that. If you let him know it’s a deal breaker for you, you give him the chance to either up his efforts to address it or to let you know that this is how he is and he’s not likely to change.
    Also, don’t feel like there’s something wrong with you for making this into a big deal (or even a deal breaker). Sex is an important, healthy part of life, and for many people, it’s a huge part of intimacy. Otherwise you’d just move in with your best friend and forget about finding the right guy. Sex matters. You shouldn’t feel like there’s any shame in the way you’re feeling about this.

  2. thora47 Apr 17 at 2:31 pm Reply Reply

    I have a “friend” who is dating a man with depression – and it’s especially bad in winter months. (My “friend” lives in Minnesota – which means six months/year of particularly bad depression.)
    During the exacerbation phases of this man’s depression, there’s no sex.
    My “friend” tried seducing her man, initiating sex – he was completely uninterested. She verbally told him her needs, blah blah blah – still no action. She screamed and cried – for some reason that didn’t work either.
    The couple saw a therapist (and this is where I think her story differs from yours), and the therapist told the wonderful, caring, considerate man that he had a wonderful girlfriend who wanted intimacy with him, and sometimes you just have to be open to being seduced, even if you’re not in the mood – maybe if you didn’t push her away when she kissed your neck, you would find yourself with an erection (a very useful thing in having sex)… really it’s just a physiological response to stimulation.
    So his job was to go with it – allow the sex to happen, even if he didn’t have any initial desire to do it.
    Her job was to accept the sex that was offered without going into the, “well why am I still the one always initiating it? Why doesn’t my boyfriend want me? Men are supposed to want it!! WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME/HIM?!?!?”
    And their job together was to respect one another’s needs; meaning she couldn’t demand sex three times a day, citing the therapy session as a requirement for him to give it to her, and he had to offer his intimacy to her while still being aware of his own needs and boundaries.
    …or something.
    That was 1.5 years ago. Two winters down, and the couple has been happily doing it on a semi-regular basis.
    (And sometimes she has to turn him down, even in the winter.)

  3. Noelle Apr 17 at 2:45 pm Reply Reply

    I dunno Amy. I think you kind of missed the mark on this one. I am reminded of Dooce, who has struggled with depression and her one theme has been that you cannot force or yell someone into help, you can only support them as they decide for themselves. That is, I think, a repeating theme with her relationship with Jon. Her husband has a very profound post on his blog about loving someone with depression and forcing the issue is not something I recall him emphasizing. Maybe that will work for this poster, but then again, maybe not. And many treatments for depression can make sexual dysfunction worse – what if that happens here?

  4. Lori12309 Apr 17 at 3:33 pm Reply Reply

    Dear HDB:
    Run, honey. Run like the wind.
    I know that wasn’t particularly helpful or insightful, but I have been there, done that and gotten the T-shirt. I am ascribing the behavior I confront with passive-aggression and it is dispiriting. It is even more dispiriting when you have kids and a mortgage.
    It sounds like you have done everything in your power and that you value the relationship, but sometimes wisdom dictates that you cut your losses.
    Good luck.

  5. Valette Apr 17 at 5:09 pm Reply Reply

    Oh sweetie, let me give you a hug. I’ve been there, and it’s so hard to find someone who understands. I had friends flat out tell me how good I had it because my husband didn’t want sex. It’s a very important part of a relationship, and usually an indicator of other problems. Unfortunately for me, our other problems were big enough that we decided to end our marriage.
    I wonder what kind of good your sex therapist is doing – have you told the therapist all of this? Said how unhappy you are with the progress? Has your guy seen an actual doctor to make sure his testosterone levels are A-Okay?
    If you really feel that you have done everything in your power, it may be time to let go. Which is horrible and awful, I know. Let me give you another hug.

  6. BridehoodRevisited Apr 17 at 6:16 pm Reply Reply

    Wow, what a difficult situation. I agree with a lot that Amy said. I would also encourage HDB to seek counseling on her own to help cope with this situation.
    You’ve been to a sex therapist. That is not a place men go willingly. Even if you’re not fighting about sex, there’s still a problem: you’re not having sex and you’re not happy about it.
    You need to see a therapist so you are able to talk with someone and feel supported within this situation. You have some decisions to make. You need to be able to talk with someone about whether or not you are able to live with this, and what should you do if you aren’t.
    As Amy said, there are peaks and valleys in every relationship, and they should be expected, but you shouldn’t resign yourself to being in a valley. As a couple, you have to respect where the other person is. You are clearly not happy, and it doesn’t sound like he’s trying to do… anything.
    Also, as someone who’s not married, I tend to follow the advice of Dan Savage, a sex advice columnist, who says that dating each other is the easy part. If it’s hard to be together when you’re dating, it’s not going to get easier when you add substantial responsibilities and stressors to the situation.
    So, that’s all to say, there’s a lot of stuff ahead of you. I wish you the best and hope you are able to do what best makes you happy.

  7. chellebelle Apr 17 at 7:05 pm Reply Reply

    It stands out to me where you said that he “says” he wants to move with you. Perhaps he is only trying to please you in this and supression of his feelings about it is causing suppression of other feelings as well. From your writing is seems as though you are a strong personality who goes at things head on. More passive personalities can find it hard to exist in the force of that. It makes the less assertive personality build up a shield to protect themeselves and that shield causes distance in many areas of the relationship. Anyhow, that is how my therapist described it.

  8. Elissa Apr 17 at 10:11 pm Reply Reply

    Oh my GOODNESS. I was just talking about this issue yesterday. From pretty much everyone I’ve ever talked to, and everyone my mom has ever talked to, it’s always the woman who wants sex and the man who is not giving it up. It is so frustrating. So, while I can’t really offer any advice, you do have my sympathy. Sex IS important and I hope you two work this out. Here’s a hug, honey. Good luck!

  9. the ass editor Apr 18 at 3:51 pm Reply Reply

    HBD, I just wanted to sympathize with you on this. I’m in a very similar place, and my boyfriend and I are only in our 20s…the fact that we are already pretty lackluster makes me feel totally disappointed and hopeless…not to mention what it does to my self esteem. My answer to all of Amy’s compatibility questions was a big no, so I guess I have to assume that we’re sexually incompatible and that it’s not a temporary problem. But it’s so hard to decide if that’s enough of a reason to throw an otherwise wonderful relationship away! Personally, I’ve pretty much decided that it isn’t, but man, can it be frustrating decision to live with.
    Phew! I guess I needed to vent. I agree, this stuff is really hard to talk about with friends. Anyway, I don’t really have any advice, but wanted to thank you for asking the question and Amy for answering it…you actually may have given me some new ideas to try out.
    Oh wait! I may have found the answer to our problem!
    http://thosearentmuskets.com/sketches/clitter.html
    =)

  10. Melissa Apr 18 at 3:58 pm Reply Reply

    All kinds of very good advice has already been given, so I can only add my own 2 cents worth of experience. My now-husband went through the same thing a few years ago when he was having issues with his job. I contemplated not marrying him because really months between sessions was a little ridiculous, especially since everything had always been so wonderful between us. He swore that as soon as his job situation changed. And it did but not a lot. He finally had to admit that he is slightly high strung and when he gets stressed, he shuts down. He has learned to better deal with his stress and anticipate potential stressors. Things are better now but he had to take the initiative to change…that I think is the key.

  11. TasterSpoon Apr 18 at 5:15 pm Reply Reply

    Yesterday I wrote two novel-length comments that got eaten by Typepad, probably because I was trying to anonymize them. If you come visit me on my blog I’ll e-mail you back some personal anecdotes that might shed a little light.
    You are completely not alone in this situation, and I’ve seen it coming up in several advice columns lately, only it’s a woman, 15 years into marriage with an otherwise perfect husband and father who is not interested in sex but whom she loves, and she’s become so desperate she’s debating whether to have an affair/get a divorce. Only she’s that much older and further invested and has kids to think about. Oy! Wouldn’t that be an even more desperate situation than the one you’re in now?
    I can’t speak to medical problems like depression or something physical, which might be fixed. But I get the sense that if your libidos are way different, there’s not a lot you can do except seek significant compromises by one or both parties. Which makes Amy’s question of, “Is this a deal breaker if nothing changes?” a good one.

  12. MS. T Apr 18 at 7:44 pm Reply Reply

    I must admit that I am the husband in this situation. I have little to no sexual drive/desire. I’m in my mid-twenties, don’t have self-esteem/body issues, and am living a wonderfully happy life– just with little sex. I have been married to the same man for 3 years now, after dating for 7. We have a wonderful relationship and he is completely understanding about my feelings regarding sex.
    Obviously I cannot speak for the man in this post, but please do not jump to crucify this man. I think Amy addressed many of the issues that could be going on, but that’s all it is, speculation. There are some people, such as myself, who just lack any real sexual desire. Does that mean I’m not physically attracted to my husband? No. Does it mean I love him any less? No. Are his sexual needs met? You bet. It’s the one thing we’ve willing come to a compromise on.
    My suggestion, take it for what it’s worth, is to follow your heart. If you cannot come to a conceivable compromise between you and your partner that makes BOTH of you happy, it may be time to pave new paths. Only time will tell….

  13. Lindsey Apr 19 at 11:41 pm Reply Reply

    I didn’t notice that anyone else mentioned it, so I feel that I must specifically suggest his seeing an MD as well. I’m in grad school to be a counselor, so I definitely am a huge proponent of therapy, but sometimes a physician is going to be the most help. And if not, then, hey! Clean bill of health!

  14. sazzle Apr 20 at 11:55 pm Reply Reply

    As someone who has actually been there, done that, I felt compelled to comment. My husband is British and I am American. We got married and spent three years with him in the UK.
    About half way through my time living in the UK we decided to move to the US. We went through the whole visa situation, which I know from experience is an entirely different kind of stressful situation that no one on this planet other than someone who has been there can ever understand.
    Our sex life declined almost as soon as we were married. When we had sex it was alright – nothing really meaningful. Sex was so rare that I could hardly remember the last quarter we had sex, let alone the last month! At one point I think we approached at least 8 months without sex, it could have been longer. When it gets to be that long, you just kind of loose track.
    The relocation to the US went well all things considered, but the emotional toll on the both of us was unexpected and profound. Do not believe for one second that moving to another country will sort out your problems. In many cases it only makes things worse. My husband and I continued to suffer, to the point that I was seriously considering divorce on several occasions, for a further three years after we moved. Moving does not cure the problem or relieve the stress – it creates more stress and causes more problems. The only way to get through that is to know that both partners are committed to getting through them. If there’s any doubt, the relationship will shatter under the added pressure. That doesnt mean you shouldnt move, but you SHOULD evaluate your feelings AND his, and try to address the problem seriously before you move so that you both realize getting through the move and all the stress of the aftermath (it can take months and years to recover from an international move) you will both have to participate equally in making the relationship work.
    I suggest you read up on Culture Shock, and if you’re an expat of a two years or more also read up on Reverse Culture Shock or Repatriation Shock. This will help you prepare for the trauma of the move.
    Also read Rabbi Shmuley’s Kosher Adultery. Its the book that, in all seriousness, saved my marriage. I did not agree with some of his advice on how to revitalize a relationship on the brink of collapse, nor did I put into action many of his suggestions. However, he describes with a great amount of empathy and understanding, why relationships break down and why sex IS a legitimate and vital need in all good relationships. The information contained in the book is invaluable. Once you’ve read it, talk about it with your partner. The only way you can fix things is by laying it out on the table and saying … “If this doesnt get fixed, I cant stay with you – but Im willing to try and make it work and I think I have the tools to help US get through this. YOU are not to blame – WE are, and we will fix it TOGETHER.” Blame is the killer of all relationships. If you shoulder part of the blame, you are half way to making things better.
    Like your partner, my husband was severely depressed, and confided in me that he had come very close to suicide the day after his farewell party in the UK. Fortunately he chickened out! I say this though to impart just how much stress and depression makes an impact on the lives of not just the person suffering directly, but also everyone around him or her. Addressing the possibility of medical need first is a great way to start. If he’s not willing, DONT PUSH, just support.
    After the move it was my turn to hit rock bottom. And boy did I. It was after reading Kosher Adultery that I finally snapped out of it and got myself better. I didnt do it with meds or therapy, just determination to make my marriage better, including our sex life. I addressed our mutual resentment and taking each other for granted. That went a long way towards recovery! If these things arent addressed properly, they bottle up inside and it gets harder to think rationally and get things back on track.
    But it CAN be done. It takes love. If either of you no longer have any love for each other, unfortunately there’s no help. But if you still have love, just enough to want to try, it can be done.
    When I was considering divorce I trusted Dr Phil enough to give me some good advice. So I went to his website and read up on the subject. There’s a little self test there – just a few questions to ask yourself to see if youre ready for divorce.
    Here’s what the website says and I think it applies to all relationships, not just divorce. Because what is marriage anyway but a piece of paper – its the feelings that count…
    “”You know you’re ready for a divorce when you can walk out the door with no anger, frustration or hurt. Otherwise, you’ve got unfinished business,” says Dr. Phil. “Unless and until you look each other in the eye feeling peace, no hatred or resentment, you’re not ready to get a divorce.”
    Do not make life-changing decisions in the midst of emotional turmoil. Such consequential decisions should not be made when tensions are high. Get on flat ground first so you can look at things more rationally.
    Ask yourself:
    * Are you still in love with your spouse?
    * Are you hurt?
    * Are you scared?
    * Are you angry?
    * Are you confused?
    If you answered yes to any of those questions, you’ve failed the test. This is not the time to make life-changing decisions. You have more work to do.”
    Hope this has helped a bit. Best of luck and know that it can be done. My husband and I have an amazing relationship today. Although our sex life is still a bit slow (thanks to work slamming on us both!) its way way way better than it was and its GREAT when it does happen. We have a strong and happy relationship now and all I can say is, Im so freaking happy someone recommended Kosher Adultery to me. Without it I would have lost hope.
    I hope you both make it through.

  15. hot definitely bothered Apr 21 at 8:00 am Reply Reply

    Hello Amy and my God, everyone else. You are all lovely. I logged in last night and was thrilled (Amy wrote to me!), horrified (everyone knows my problem now!) and above all, totally grateful and overwhelmed at the heartfelt and carefully considered advice you have all given me. Thank you. You don’t know how much you have helped me, but I do, so thank you again.

  16. Francie Apr 24 at 6:05 pm Reply Reply

    I am in the same situation! I actually wrote to Amalah about it awhile ago and am glad a similar question has been answered. I’ve been married for nearly 3 years to a wonderful man and we have had a very happy marriage, except for his lack of sexual desire. We had a normal sex life when we were first dating but things went downhill after we moved in together. We do have occasional sex, but I am always the initiator and I think if I didn’t initiate we would never have sex. I don’t talk about this with ANYONE, because I’m somewhat ashamed of it and feel like people will judge him or our marriage. He can’t really articulate the reason for it – I try to talk about it with him but he just says he doesn’t know the reason. He obviously still has some sort of libido because I believe he looks at porn and masturbates when I’m not around, which I am fine with. I can’t get him to see a doctor or go to counseling though I think if I really set an ultimatum then he probably would do it. I know what you’re going through and really struggle with it myself – I’m 30 and feel like I’m too young to go the rest of my life with no sex. I don’t agree that you should just drop him like a hot potato – I agree with much of sazzle’s advice. Dan Savage had a caller on his podcast discuss this issue recently and he told her to get a divorce, which I thought was a bit harsh. In my case, I really love my husband and am not ready or willing to leave him – I think he needs help and will support him and try to get him some help. Good luck and I’m glad to see that I’m not alone.

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