DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: My husband (to whom I have been married for nine years) and I haven’t had sex for more than two and a half years. When the dearth began, it seemed mutual. Our physical connection had never been strong, and he was highly interested in his hobbies (mostly watching movies and television). Because our connection had not been strong, I didn’t mind a short break. I just never dreamed it would last as long as it has. It is looking as though I will never have sex again, barring an affair or a divorce. (We do not plan to get a divorce, not so much “for the sake of the children,” but because we both wish to remain an intact family with those children. We like our family life, appreciate each other’s co-parenting, and could not afford to live separately.)
I have known for longer than the length of this dry spell that my husband is a porn user. I never liked it, but I also didn’t predict that it would cause an absolute end to our sex life. The very young women featured in his preferred porn look nothing like me; however, his choice does, at least, indicate that he is heterosexual, and I was under the impression that very many men managed to enjoy porn and also have sex in real life.
My husband is highly apologetic for his inability to have renewed interest in sex. I remain confused about his absolute lack of sex drive. His testosterone was somewhat low when tested a few years ago, and it probably became lower with age. However, it seems to be the case that his interest in porn is deep, but sporadic. He is trying to quit because he says it is a bad use of his time and he feels bad and dirty about it; he is politically progressive and does not (intellectually/politically) support the porn industry. He can go a month or two without using, but when he does use it, he maintains a real web presence about it, sharing with other men on various social media sites. He has a screen name and a persona. I would normally think that someone with such a deep interest in porn would, after denying himself for a few weeks, be willing to try real-life sex, as an alternative to nothing.
Based on what you know of men, sex, and porn, does this add up? I keep wondering if there is a reason for his reluctance that he is not telling me. I can see that he is lacking the vitality and lustfulness I have seen in other men. In a way, it is believable that he has no libido. Why, then, the very strong interest in porn?
FWIW, I spent the first half of this year trying to press the issue, by forcing him into a discussion that he strongly resisted. I then decided to seek therapy (just for myself), and through self work, I have reached a level of acceptance. I have learned to be nice about it. His answer is “no,” and I no longer press for discussion. I am largely focusing on other areas of my life, with the idea in the back of my mind that I will treat myself to a discreet affair once per decade until I am so old that it is impossible. That’s at least three affairs, if I maintain The Golden Girls as my inspiration. (I could have up to five if I channel my inner Sophia.)
I understand that you will not be able to endorse my plans for infidelity. Can you, though, offer insight into my husband’s sexuality?
Puzzled Over Porn
DEAR PUZZLED OVER PORN: There’re a few things to keep in mind when it comes to people and their porn consumption, PoP. The first is that the porn they’re watching isn’t necessarily the sex they want to have or the people they want to have it with. One of the quirks of the human psyche is that we’re novelty-seeking creatures. We get a dopamine rush from new experiences… including new sexual partners. This is part of why that initial passion tends to wane over the course of a long-term relationship; our brains don’t get the same rush of feel-good chemicals that they do with a brand-new partner. For many people, porn is how they feed that desire for novelty without necessarily cheating on their partner. While they certainly wouldn’t say no to a night with the cast of My Sister’s Hot Friend, that doesn’t mean that’s who they’d rather be banging. It just (usually) means “in addition to…”
Similarly, the TYPE of porn is often less of a “this is what I’d rather have” as much as “this is also something I like”. For a lot of folks, porn is how they explore fantasies they may have that they wouldn’t want to actually replicate in real life.
Now someone call Sir Mixx-A-Lot ‘cuz there’s a big but coming.
I don’t think the problem is that your husband’s libido has waned or that he’s gotten addicted to porn or that his testosterone is low – which actually has far less to do with . As much as I hate to say this, I think the issue isn’t that he’s not interested in sex. I think the issue is that he isn’t interested in sex with you.
Like you said: the two of you never had a strong sexual connection to begin with. That’s a pretty good indicator that, in all likelihood, the two of you were not sexually compatible to begin with… or even that attracted to one another, for that matter. And while it’s possible to muscle through a fundamental lack of attraction, especially in the beginning when it’s all still new and exciting, there’s going to come a point where, frankly, it’s harder work up the desire for an even half-hearted roll in the hay. Certainly not when it’s easier to just crank one out in front of XHamster.
And if he’s just not that into you… well, there really is no amount of couple’s therapy, pole dancing classes or sexy lingerie that’s gonna bring that back. At best, talking with a couple’s counselor will get him to a point where he could actually admit to what’s going on… but that also means upending his life in ways that he (and you) don’t want.
Now this doesn’t mean that I don’t think you two shouldn’t talk to a counselor… I just think your goals should be slightly different. I’m not a fan of “staying together for the kids”, to be honest; more often than not, this actually is more harmful to the children than divorce would be. Kids aren’t dumb; they can tell when things aren’t right in the family, and they do better when their parents are actually happy. And that means even if they’re happy with different partners, respectively. But if you’re going to stay together, then I think your goal when talking to a counselor shouldn’t be trying to rekindle an extinguished fire.
It should be about finding an arrangement that works for the both of you.
If your husband truly isn’t interested in you any more, then it makes more sense to negotiate the potential of an open or non-monogamous relationship than it does to go sneaking around behind his back. Not having to sneak makes it easier for you to get your needs met, and with less risk to the relationship; just because someone isn’t into you doesn’t mean that an affair can’t damage things. Plus: it means that you could get action more than just once a decade.
So do yourself a favor, PoP: find yourself a sex-positive marriage counselor. The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists has a referral directory on their site that can help you find a counselor in your area. Have a few sessions with them and then do your due diligence by checking out Opening Up by Tristan Taormino and Building Open Relationships by Dr. Liz Powell. Hopefully you and your husband can find an arrangement that works for both of you… and your kids.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, email@example.com)