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.
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, passion 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 indulge in 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; a number of factors will affect an individual’s libido from medication, to diet, to comfort within the relationship, to stress levels, and even age.
(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.)
The common wisdom — which I don’t necessarily agree with — is that most relationships’ sexual frequency will tend to default to the level of the partner with the lower libido. While this makes things easier in some ways on the less active partner, it can also be a source of frustration, even resentment in the partner with the higher libido.
This is why it’s important for the couple to find some form of equilibrium, where everybody feels satisfied even if they’re not getting 100% of what they want.
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 that are killing his sex drive.
Or – and I hate to say it, but I have to put it out there for completeness’ sake — 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 life 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 hard 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… and it may well drive you into the arms 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 Hell 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.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m a husband and father in my mid-thirties, and my wife has multiple sclerosis, which has left her with permanent muscle pain and fatigue such that she can’t work or do housework. However, what I’m writing to you about is, simply, the fact that my libido won’t shut up, to the point that I occasionally wish I was dead just so the craving for sex (or at least heavy petting and mutual oral) would stop.
Even before she developed her disability, my wife’s libido had been on a serious downslope almost from the moment we got married. Within weeks of our wedding we were down to once or twice a week; within a year, once or twice a month; now, nearly 11 years on, it’s two or three painful, awkward, guilt-ridden times a year.
I have what was until very recently called Asperger’s Syndrome and is now just very high-functioning autism, but I wasn’t diagnosed until last year ( stupid Southern medical community) and was too terrified of conflict of any sort to stand up to my wife about anything, least of all sex. Now I’ve finally found a great psychiatrist, therapist and therapy group who help me a lot, but my wife is too mired in hopelessness to think about anything but how unhappy she is. I wish I could just stop wanting sex, but my therapist has gotten me to understand that if I don’t take care of myself, I become unable to care care of my wife and our son as well.
My therapist and psychiatrist have urged me to tell my wife that my needs are my needs, they’re not going away, and if I can’t meet them with her I need to get them met some other way. I mean, we do cuddle a lot, but she’s so miserable about her own body that she shies away from kissing or anything explicitly sexual, no matter how much I assure her that I am coming in with no expectations or preconceptions. She is very closed to any open discussion of emotional or sexual needs and pooh-poohs the very idea of talking about feelings (beyond telling me when she thinks I’m overreacting to something) and is very inclined toward giving up, hiding and escapism (we play Eve Online together, but I can’t fap to that, much less squeak a mattress with it).
So it’s very unlikely that I would ever be able to convince her to “open up” the marriage. But my gonads just won’t shut up no matter how much else I have going on, and porn and hand lotion just get me depressed and lonely these days. And it should go without saying that anything that would endanger the welfare of my family is right out. So while the process of elimination would seem to suggest that I *have* to go behind my wife’s back to keep my sanity, I’m just having a very hard time countenancing doing that – hiding things from the woman I love, lying, diverting more time and money from caring for my family… I mean, you’d think just about anything would beat “become a suicide risk” in a cost-benefit analysis but… I’m hoping like crazy there’s just an option I’m missing here.
I have no trouble socializing with people – I have pretty good (hard-won) social skills, am comfortable striking up conversations, and have asserted my need to at least go to jam sessions at bars a few nights a week, but hanging out playing music is one thing and illicit snu-snu is quite another.
(And I’m already overweight so no castration.)
Dirty Not-Old Man
DEAR DIRTY NOT-OLD MAN: Well here’s a letter that’s going to get me in trouble.
DNOM, I sympathize with both you and the wife. Having a chronic, debilitating condition, especially one that results in constant pain is hard on everybody involved and it’s going to take a psychic toll on the relationship no matter how committed and loving you both are.
That being said: being handicapped in this way isn’t license for being an a
But let me back up a little here.
Let’s start with the obvious: you’re not a dirty old man and your libido isn’t something to be ashamed of. You love your wife and find her attractive. It’s completely natural that you want to have sex with her. It’s good that you still find her attractive; all too often, people with chronic conditions or physical handicaps start to feel as though they’ve been branded as “nonsexual”, as though having MS rendered somebody as only half-human. So quit stressing over the fact that you want to bone.
But – and here’s the part you’re not going to like – right now you’re well on your way to getting a messy divorce. It’s easy to get a little torn up about this because of your wife’s condition, but you said something significant at the start: Your wife’s libido cratered BEFORE she developed her condition.
Now it’s natural for sex to slow down over the course of a long-term relationship – that’s the Coolidge Effect and it’s part and parcel of being a mammal – but it’s another entirely when it suddenly drops off a cliff. However, it would help if we had more info to work with here. I have several questions about whether she was feeling the symptoms of MS before she got diagnosed, or she’s always had a lower libido than yours and didn’t key you in until after you were married.
Some people – men and women both – will be willing to bang more frequently than they would normally like right up until they’re married. As soon as rings are exchanged, they decide that they’re done with sex for now… and unilaterally deciding that their spouse is too.
And because we live in a sex-negative culture, the person with the higher-libido is shamed for wanting sex; they’re told that they should be willing to sacrifice for their partner, that breaking up with or divorcing someone because they wouldn’t sleep with you as often as you’d like is selfish and that they should be willing to just suck it up and deal because love is so much more than just squishy noises and orgasms.
Of course, sex is unimportant right up until somebody decides to seek it elsewhere… at which point it’s justification for blowing up a relationship without a second glance. Even if the other person has been driven to it.
As I’ve said before: monogamy ain’t easy. All monogamy means is that you CHOOSE not to; it doesn’t say a damn thing about not WANTING too. And despite what culture and movies tell us, romantic love doesn’t turn your libido into single-target sexuality. Humans are novelty-seeking creatures, and that includes our sex lives. Being attracted to other people, even when we’re madly in love, is absolutely, perfectly normal.
So let’s look at your situation in particular, DNOM. You’re horny. Your wife isn’t, and hasn’t been for years. This alone is going to cause problems that will ultimately undermine your marriage.
Now, let’s be clear: this isn’t just someone saying “I’m going to withhold sex because SCREW YOU PENIS, THAT’S WHY.” There are very real, serious underlying causes to her lack of libido: loss of sexual desire, chronic fatigue and pain during intercourse are all symptoms of multiple-sclerosis. Throw depression on top of that – another notorious libido killer — and you’ve basically ensured that she’s not going to be DTF any time in the near future.
One of the keys to making a relationship work is for both partners to be willing to be giving in bed — and this means making some compromises, like I told Defying Gender Norms earlier. If for whatever reason they won’t or can’t, then the only ethical thing to do is have a conversation about the possibility of having one’s needs discretely met elsewhere.
In your case, DNOM, you have a couple of immediate problems. Your wife’s condition makes it difficult for her to participate in your sex-life at all and even harder to want to. That’s entirely understandable.
However, her condition doesn’t mean that she gets to abdicate her responsibilities to the relationship. Even setting the sexual component of your relationship aside, there is still the companionate and emotionally intimate side. And the truth is: she’s neglecting that too.
First of all: your wife desperately needs to get into therapy. I realize the T word gets tossed around here often, but she’s sinking deep into depression and it’s affecting not only her life but yours and your children’s. It’s only going to get worse for the both of you if she doesn’t seek psychological treatment to help with her emotional and body-image issues. Hiding from it isn’t going to help.
Neither is avoiding talking about the giant erection in the living room.
Your therapist and psychiatrist are correct: you need to talk to your wife about this. You have emotional and physical needs that aren’t being met and it’s causing you pain too. She can’t just dismiss your emotions or your needs like they’re unimportant; if she loves you, then she needs to be willing to listen to you and work with you on this.
So you have some choices to make.
First of all: your sex drive isn’t going to go away and your wife doesn’t have the right to tell you that you’re just going to have to go without sex for the rest of your life. That’s not how relationships and partnerships work. She’s been unwilling to consider opening up your relationship or even discuss your need for intimacy.
So you have your first choice to make – and one that’s going to get me into trouble for suggesting it. You can continue to try to make it work with porn and sex toys – I recommend either getting a Fleshlight or a Tenga Cup – or you can get your needs met elsewhere.
Frankly, it may be less risky to your relationship to go out and get your needs met discretely by a professional. Finding a sex-worker to help you get your rocks off periodically may be a better answer than trying to keep a relationship going on the down-low. A once-a-month appointment is less difficult to do discretely than an ongoing affair — and they’re far less likely to bring drama to your door, and by extension, your marriage.
This will help release your tension and it’s easier to fix your relationship when you’re not bubbling over with backed-up sexual frustration and resentment. It’s not the most romantic or socially “acceptable” solution, but it may be what you need to do if you want to actually stay married to your wife.
Which, incidentally, brings us to the next choice. This is the hard one: you have to decide whether you want to stay in this relationship.
I realize that there are huge issues that would come with getting a divorce: disrupting your children’s life, your wife’s need for physical care and the social stigma of being “the guy who divorced his crippled wife”, but frankly your wife has abdicated her ENTIRE role in your relationship and that ain’t cool. I have nothing but sympathy for her and her health issues. But at the same time, the fact remains that this is an untenable situation and it’s one that’s ultimately going to damage not just you but your children if it’s left unresolved.
I understand you have a hard time with confrontation. And it is important to reiterate that your wife has very real, very dire problems… but she would rather try to pretend that they don’t exist, and that’s a recipe for universal misery. You need to have a long, blunt and honest talk with her about all of this, especially getting her into therapy. She needs to get help and if she doesn’t, she’s going to be dragging you and the kids down with her.
And you have to decide whether you’re going to let this happen. I wish I had better advice for you, DNOM; sometimes there are no good choices, only ones that suck to different degrees. But sometimes you have to be willing to ask which is going to cause the most harm, not just to you, but to your family.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)