DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m in my late 30s, married to my husband in his mid-40s. We’ve been together for 12 yrs, married for 7. We were long distance for the first 5 years. During that time the sex seemed great/fine. Not the most chemistry I’ve ever had in a relationship but certainly not bad. A year after getting married (and moving in together) sex started to dwindle. I didn’t think much about it, initiated and made sure we were having sex at least 1x/wk. We had some sense that he had some hang-up or maybe it was low level anxiety (which is now resolved). We explored it superficially. I wanted to respect his mental space and didn’t push too hard. Then we had kids (now 3 and 5).
During the last 5 years our sex life was minimal. We didn’t have sex for 2 years, then maybe a few times a year for a few years. It was a combination of kids, work stress, and other random factors. I lost my libido entirely after having kids (which was very confusing for me as I have a HIGH sex drive, but I have since discovered that can happen). Having kids was so stressful for him that he was terrified to have more and didn’t want to have sex for fear of getting me pregnant (despite me having an IUD).
Over the past year, life is mostly great. The kids are good; we’re committed to not having more. His job is mostly good, sometimes stressful. My job is good. My libido came back about a year ago, slowly at first and now I feel myself again!! We are having sex again… initially once every few months, and sometimes more… but something doesn’t feel right.
It seems luke-warm. He SAYS when we have sex it’s really great. He’s a little bothered that I had to ask him if it was good. He still isn’t initiating. He says he just has so much going on and it’s hard to get in the mental space to think about having sex… so he likes when I initiate. But is this really it?
When I think about what’s wrong and what I want… I want to feel like he WANTS it and he wants me. I want to feel his attraction and his arousal. It’s ok if we don’t have the same kinks, but I want whatever we have to feel steamy.
He’s in his mid-40s. Healthy and fit. I know it can be normal for men to not want it ALL the time… but is it a low T thing? I wouldn’t think so since he works fine and says he masturbates three times a week. He says he’s attracted to me… but I wonder if maybe I’m not his ideal type. He has kind of acknowledged that he has had prior relationships with better sexual chemistry. I started to ask what his ideal is and I’m starting to realize he’s a vanilla kind of guy. He said he likes sensual, intimate sex. He likes being there for the pleasure of the woman.
It sounds so dreamy and perfect… except I like being there for the pleasure of the man and being submissive. I like kinky sex, submissive sex, dominating sex, being tied up, exploring different things. He doesn’t want any of that. I tried to dig deep and be more sexually assertive in the way that I think he wants but I’m not sure if it is adding anything my perception of our chemistry.
I asked him what he thinks about when he masturbates to try to figure out if I can make his fantasies come true, and did preface it by saying it was ok if it wasn’t me. He answered the above, but somehow I felt like there was more he wasn’t saying.
I think he also has it stuck in his head that I want to have sex with multiple people because he randomly emphatically said he doesn’t want to introduce other people into our sex lives. Even though I have NEVER asked for this. Once, in the beginning of our relationship I told him I fantasized about having sex with multiple people. But fantasies are fantasies and doesn’t mean I have to or want to make them real. Plus, I have fantasies about everything. I’m very comfortable with myself, my sexuality, sex with men/women/single/couples. Sex is beautiful! I am open to things like polyamory and swinging, but only if it’s right for the relationship. It is not right for our relationship so I don’t want it. It’s also nothing we’ve really talked about. I’m not sure why he keeps bringing it up every few years, as if it’s something I once asked or pressured him about.
So, I don’t know. Is this just stress on his part, preventing him from being sexually assertive? He doesn’t have any underlying mental health/substance problems. Is it a chemistry thing? He says it’s not and I know I should believe him, but it’s hard not to when he when he rarely initiates. Is it just a difference in sexual styles and what turns him on isn’t exactly what drives me pleasurably mad, and v/v? Do I sexually intimidate him? Is he secretly gay? He says he’s not, I have no real reason to think he is, but sometimes I’m at such a loss that I don’t know what else to think.
We tried sex therapy a few times but it wasn’t too helpful. I’ve been in therapy and it hasn’t helped our sex life. He won’t see a therapist. I have no desire to end the marriage.
Any help would be appreciated,
Trying to Make it Steamy
DEAR TRYING TO MAKE IT STEAMY: One of the most important components to the long-term health of a relationship is sexual compatibility. Sex and sexual desire are among the most powerful drives in humans, and we’ll break ourselves to pieces to get it. And if it’s not there in a relationship, then, well… that relationship is going to be on incredibly shakey ground. Even when everything else is great, that lack of sexual satisfaction can erode the foundation of the relationship. The key then, is to resolve the incompatibility. If, for an example, it’s an issue of mismatched libidos, then compromises need to be reached, where both partners need to be willing to give ground. The partner with the lower libido needs to be willing to help the other partner get off – which doesn’t necessarily mean penetrative sex. Meanwhile, the partner with the higher libido needs to learn to be cool with the fact that they’re not necessarily going to be having sex as often as they’d like.
But differing libidos isn’t the only kind of sexual incompatibility that couples run into. Case in point: you and your husband. It sounds to me like the issue here is about the kind of sex you two like to have… and that can be an issue.
There are two things that I think are likely here. The first is that you say the two of you never had a really intense sexual connection and that you both have had relationships with more chemistry. You two spent the first five years in a long-distance relationship. These two things, I feel, are related. One of the things that doesn’t come up often when we talk about LDRs is that distance can often cover a lot of sins. When you only see one another so many times per year, it’s easier to overlook things like a weaker sexual connection because you see each other so rarely. I suspect that if you two had more time together in the early years, this wouldn’t be as much of an issue because… well… I don’t know if the relationship would’ve made it to the married-with-children stage.
But you’re here now and you’re facing the fact that what you want from a sex partner isn’t necessarily what he wants. This is going to be a problem, especially because what you want conflicts with one another. You’re a human that wants to go adventuring and he’s a hobbit that likes the comforts of home. You want Cinemax Late Night and he wants Lifetime Original Movies.
Now maybe there’s a way to bridge this gap. If what he wants is to be there for the pleasure of the woman… well, letting him know that what you want is that bed-rocking, I-can’t-keep-my-hands-off-you kind of bangin’ may be what gets him into the headspace to give you what you need. At the same time, kinky and passionate don’t have to be separate from sensual and intimate. Being tied up and teased is still being tied up and teased if it’s with silk scarfs and a feather instead of leather and a flogger.
The other possibility… isn’t as easy to work around. The issue might be less that you’re sexually incompatible and more that he’s just not attracted to you any more. This might stem from being unable to make the leap between “sex partner” and “mother of my children” or it might come from the fact that you two didn’t have a strong sexual connection from the start and it simply faded over time. That might explain why he feels like he’s holding back or why sex therapy didn’t help. If the problem is a lack of desire for you, then no amount of talking with a sex therapist is going to fix things; he’s simply not going to be participating in good faith, even if he wants to. And actually saying “I’m not attracted to you any more” is, obviously, something that he doesn’t want to do. Not only does it hurt you but it’s also the sort of thing that tends to end relationships.
I can’t say which is more likely; only your husband can. And right now, he’s not talking.
I hate to say it, but this is a case where the only real answer is couple’s counseling and a willingness to be absolutely honest with one another. And frankly, it may come down to your having to lay down an ultimatum and make going to counseling a condition of staying married. Because if he’s not willing to do his share of the work to make this relationship work…well, at that point, you’re going to have some decisions to make.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)