Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

My Fiancé and I Don’t Have Sex. What Can We Do?

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I am a 24 year old gamer lady currently engaged to my very own gamer lad. We’ve been together for three years and decided about six months ago that marriage was in the cards.

He is the sweetest, most thoughtful man I have ever dated, and I look forward to spending the rest of my life with him. He’s funny and intelligent, protective, and an overall Good Person. I know he would do anything in his power for me. I aspire to be deserving of this and reciprocate it as best I can, but there is one thing that does bother me, and that is our sex life.

Prior to this relationship, I have had a number of boyfriends and lovers. Not a large number, but enough to realize that I am both a very private and very sensual person. Unfortunately, my fiancé doesn’t have the benefit of that experience- I am his first girlfriend and his first lover. And he’s come to realize he just… doesn’t have much of a sex drive. At all.

At first, I badgered him for sex rather frequently, but then I turned it around and realized that that was wildly inappropriate of me to do- after all, a guy harasses his girlfriend for sex, that’s horrible! So I stopped doing that. Unfortunately, without me aggressively pursuing it… we almost never have intercourse. We’re talking two or three times… a month. In previous relationships, it was at least once a day, and it would have been more if I’d had my way.

I used to feel rejected and like it was my fault, as I am overweight. But I tend to think he’s really just not that sexual of a person. It’s taken some getting used to, to realize that men can be so disinclined towards sex, and we’ve talked about it fairly extensively, but I still worry that it really is just me or that we have poor chemistry.

We’ve found ways to compromise - we snuggle all the time, he’s very affectionate, we have lots of physical contact; he ‘helps’ sometimes, when I masturbate and he’s not in the mood. My own sex drive has died off quite a bit since we started dating, because in spite of logic I *do* feel sort of rejected. He frequently has erections but his head isn’t in the right place, which is frustrating for me because it’s hard to tell when it’s ‘okay’ to pounce without it being unwanted. We’ve even talked about having an ‘open’ relationship and he’s said he’d be willing to try it, but I really hesitate to even go there - I’m a very private person and I don’t like to open up to people like that without a very high degree of trust, and it just seems selfish of me and risky to our relationship.

I worry that maybe marriage is a bad idea, since our sex drives just seem incompatible, but the fact is, I love this man and I value him more than I value sex… but it’s a daunting prospect, to spend the rest of my life - not getting any, when it has, in the past, been so important to me.

Do you have any ideas on compromises? Anything?


Defying Gender Norms

DEAR DEFYING GENDER NORMS: First things first: you have a right to have your sexual needs met in a relationship. Feeling frustrated and wanting to be desired and fulfilled isn’t selfish. It’s a critical part of maintaining a healthy relationship, and a lack of sexual satisfaction will kill a relationship faster than… well, damn near anything, really.

One issue I stress over and over again is how important sexual compatibility is to a couple. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that yes, New Relationship Energy fades and sexual desire tends to ebb and flow over the course of a long-term relationship – but that doesn’t mean that partners should feel as though that asking for their needs to be met is an unreasonable request.

Sexual compatibility is more than just making sure that all of the appropriate parts line up in a pleasing manner; it also has to do with being interested in the same activities – or at least willing to fake it for the sake of your partner’s pleasure – and, critically, having compatible sex drives. It’s very rare that you will find two people who’s libidos align perfectly; men on average tend to have higher sex drives earlier in life, usually peaking in their 20s and declining as testosterone production declines, while women’s drives are more variable and often depend on cultural factors as much as biological ones.

(Side note: the idea that women’s sex drives peak in their 30s has less to do with biology and more with sociology. It arose out of the Kinsey studies in the 40s and 50s and didn’t take into account that at the time, a more mature woman is much more likely to feel more comfortable and familiar in her sexuality in a way that a younger woman wouldn’t.)

As a rule of thumb, most relationships’ sexual frequency will tend to default to the level of the partner with the lower libido; it’s uncommon – not unheard of, but uncommon – for a partner with a lower libido to try to maintain the level of sexual activity desired by a partner with a higher sex drive.

It’s going to take some digging to get to the bottom of just what the issue is. Your fiancee may just have a low libido normally – possibly even asexual – or me may have outside factors like stress that are killing his sex drive. Or  – and I hate to say it, but I have to:  he may not be attracted to you sexually.

You say that your fiancee still gets erections; that eliminates the first and most obvious question of whether he’s having erectile dysfunction. My next question to you would be whether he masturbates  – that you are aware of – and how often; some asexuals will still masturbate as a way of keeping the prostate drained rather than out of a sense of sexual pleasure. Following that, I’d want to know whether your sex live has changed. Were things hot and heavy early on and then suddenly plunged off a cliff, or was it always as infrequent as you say? When you say his head isn’t in the right place, is it because he has other things on his mind – work stress, financial problems, random attacks of ennui  – or because he’s just really, really slow to warm up to the idea of wanting to bang?

It’s good that you have found some forms of compromise – being willing to give you a helping hand (or tongue) is good, assuming that he’s not doing it grudgingly. But yes, it’s going to be hard1 to feel desired and attractive when the person you want to desire you the most is so unresponsive and apparently uninterested. You are a sexual person and while you love your man, this is an area that’s going to become a bone of contention between the two of you (as it were)… and it may well drive you into the arms (and pants) of someone else. One partner doesn’t have the right to unilaterally decide that both parties are now done with sex; that’s a very good recipe for infidelity at best and the end of an otherwise great relationship at worst.

I’m going to be honest with you: until you’ve worked out a more successful compromise than snuggling and occasional masturbatory help, marriage is going to be a bad idea. If you’re having problems now, getting married isn’t going to magically solve them, no matter how much you may love each other. You and your fiancee need to have a very long, very honest and incredibly in-depth talk – possibly with the help of a sex-positive relationship councilor – about just what his issues are with sex. If the two of you are going to be getting married, you need to know right the fuck now whether it’s a case of he’s not attracted to you or whether he’s not attracted to anyone and how you’re going to work around this. This includes a very in depth and frank discussion about opening up the relationship, even if it’s one-sided. I know it can feel as though you’re betraying him, but you need understand: wanting sexual satisfaction is not selfish. You said it yourself: you’re a sexual person and this is an aspect of who you are that is extremely important to you. It’s unfair of him if he were to declare that because he’s not interested in having sex, you’re not allowed to be either.

Now I do want to say: companionate relationships – ones that are based on emotional intimacy and affection but without a sexual component – can and do work… but they usually entail one or both partners having their needs discretely met on the side. You have to ask yourself which is more likely to ruin a relationship: your being allowed off the leash on occasion with your hubby’s permission in order to get your itch scratched, or years of frustrated desire… which has a nasty tendency to turn into resentment and bitterness.

Good luck.

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