Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

We’re Still In Love. So Why Aren’t We Having Sex?

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I really enjoy reading your advice. You hit the nail on the head every time. Hoping you might have some for me. 

I’ve been seeing for someone for about 8 months who’s an absolutely wonderful person; she’s 28, I’m 33. We met on Hinge. Our relationship has been great. We see each other every day and sleep over at each others houses every night. Here’s the problem I’m needing your help with: when we began our relationship we had a healthy, normal about of sex but about a month ago it all kinda stopped. I think it’s me honestly because she’s done nothing wrong, I just don’t have a ton of interest in having sex with her. I love our time together. I love doing everything with her. She and I have such similar interests and outlooks and ways we want to do things and I just love her. BUT I’m only very rarely interested in having sex with her. Like more than a week can pass with me not being interested. To be clear, she is always down to bang, but she doesn’t really initiate it and hasn’t really complained about the lack of it. 

I have an extensive sexual history so I’m not sure what’s happening here but it’s happened in past relationships too. Tonight I cleared the air and brought up the fact that we haven’t had sex in two plus weeks. It didn’t go over very well. We were really honest with each other and she told me that she feels like she’s not good enough for me/feels insufficient. It’s not true because I love her and when we do have sex it’s awesome.

Should I stay with her and maybe schedule regular sex sessions? Should we get some counseling? Do I belong in a relationship at all? I really love her but sex is an important part of a relationship. 

Sorry for rambling, any advice you can provide would be appreciated.

-Love Her but Can’t Seem to Make Love

DEAR LOVE HER BUT CAN’T SEEM TO MAKE LOVE: It’s a biological reality that passion fades over the course of a relationship LHSCML, because we’re a novelty-seeking species. When we’re first having sex with a new partner, our brains crank out oxytocin and dopamine, which flood the pleasure centers of the brain. We are, quite literally, getting high off being with our new partner. However, as we get used to being with that person and the novelty starts to fade, our brains stop producing as much dopamine as it did in the beginning. When we start having sex with another partner, our brains go back to cranking out those higher levels of dopamine again because, hey, new partner! New experiences! Novelty!

Now we are by no means slaves to our biology, but that dip in desire is something that happens to virtually everyone. Part of making a relationship last is learning how to work around those changes and keep the spark in your relationship going.

The thing is… that’s usually something that couples face over the course of years together. Not months. Eight months is, frankly, really goddamn soon to be having these problems, my dude. The way you phrase it — that things were great, and then there was a sudden drop-off — makes it sound even more unusual. That would be the sort of thing that would make me look for external sources for a cratering libido — depression, a change in medication, new and unexpected stresses at work, that sort of thing.

If you mean that there was a tapering that you didn’t really notice until after things cratered… well, that’s a little more understandable, even if it’s unusually fast. That’s the sort of thing that makes it sound like you might have overestimated the level of sexual compatibility or interest you have with your partner. This is something that happens surprisingly often; we hook up with a new partner and because the sex is good — or even amazing — we tend to round up the connection to being more than it actually is. We turn what would have been a hot fling into a relationship… and then are surprised to discover that the passion dipped out.

This is one of the reasons why it’s important not to get caught up in the initial chemical rush — that New Relationship Energy, as the poly folks call it — and make more of a commitment than you’re actually ready for. It’s easy to get in over your head before you realize.

However, part of your letter leapt out at me:

“I have an extensive sexual history so I’m not sure what’s happening here but it’s happened in past relationships too.”

That makes me think that there are two strong possibilities here. The first is that you have a history of plunging ahead into relationships before determining if there’s long-term potential — both sexually as well as emotionally. The other strong possibility is that you’re someone who has a strong need for sexual novelty, and that the newness of your partner is something that fades fairly quickly for you.

If it’s the former, then your best practices would be to slow your roll and not leap into things with someone early on. Getting together every day and every night in a relationship that young is a great way to burn things out fairly quickly, especially when you barely know someone — and at 8 months, you’re still very firmly on the “on our best behavior” curve of the relationship. You might also want to do some serious interrogating about the various women you’ve dated and look for commonalities; are you unconsciously picking people you aren’t as compatible with or into? Or are you getting caught up in the thrill of the new?

If it’s the latter… well, that would necessitate giving some serious consideration to your relationship style. It may well be that you’re the sort of person who’s a dedicated serial monogamist; your relationships are passionate and dedicated, but last for a year or so before ending. That’s not a moral failing or a sign that you’re Bad At Relationships somehow, it’s just how you work. As I’m often saying, a relationship isn’t a failure just because one or both of you didn’t die in the saddle. The duration of a relationship isn’t an indicator of success; plenty of people have been in relationships that span decades… and were miserable through most of them. THOSE would be a failure, especially in comparison to a series of short-term relationships where everyone still has respect and affection for one another.

Alternately, you may need to look into some form of ethical non-monogamy. Having an emotionally intimate relationship with someone while also being free to get your need for new partners may be the compromise you need to make a long-term commitment. If that’s the case, then I’d strongly suggest doing your research; I highly recommend Opening Up by Tristan Taormino and Building Open Relationships by Dr. Liz Powell as a starting point.

(Full disclosure: Dr. Powell is a personal friend and occasional contributing professional both here at at my Kotaku column)

But those are long-term solutions, ones that will require a great deal of soul-searching and long conversations with your partner. In the short term, if you want to try to bring the sex back to your relationship, then part of what you’ll want to do is combat the boredom and same-ness that drains interest and saps your desire. If you’re having sex the same way, in the same places and at the same time, then you’ll want to switch things up.Exploring mutual fantasies, experimenting with light kink, adding complications or restrictions are all ways of injecting some much-needed novelty into your sex-life. Even taking it out of the bedroom or watching porn together might be a start.

But all of that’s going to depend on your having a serious conversation with your girlfriend about your sex life, including addressing her concerns about feeling inadequate. Because if she is feeling like she’s not enough… well, that’s going to be another complicating factor. Because — as cliche as it is — the brain is still the most important sex-organ.

Good luck.

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