DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: My husband and I (he’s a straight man and I’m a bi woman) have been together for 25 years, and most of the time I see him as the best partner possible. Loving, kind, thoughtful, funny, and a wonderful father. Where things aren’t so great is our sex life.
Up until last year my sex drive was at an all time low. I was dealing with a misdiagnosed mental health disorder, and the medication I was taking meant my desire completely tanked. So having sex once every month or even less was fine by me. I wasn’t even masturbating, which I’ve always enjoyed, so it wasn’t like my lack of interest had anything to do with him. But things have changed and it’s becoming a big problem.
Now that I have a proper diagnosis and am taking the right medication, my sex drive has skyrocketed. Sex once a month isn’t enough. I masturbate every day, sometimes more than once, but I miss having sex with my husband. And it’s not just the physical act, but also the closeness and emotional connection that I’m looking for. But he doesn’t seem interested. At all.
I’ve tried everything I can think of. I initiate sex regularly, but the majority of the time he says he’s too tired. I’ve bought sexy lingerie, suggested we watch porn together (what kind is his choice), bought books, offered to do a strip tease, role play etc etc and nothing seems to work. At this point I’m not sure if it’s that he’s no longer attracted to me, that he really is too tired, that he’s getting it somewhere else, or that he’s unable to keep an erection (more on that shortly).
We’ve talked about this outside the bedroom when we’re both calm and he swears it isn’t a lack of desire or attraction to me. He says he’s especially tired at night, which makes sense because he works a physically demanding job. But I’ve tried initiating sex in the morning or on the weekend and that doesn’t work either. So I’m left with the last two possibilities …cheating or ED.
The last few times we’ve had sex he’s had trouble staying hard. I’ve given him oral, tried manual, stimulated everywhere I could think of, dirty talk, dirty movies, and no dice. The last time it happened I asked if everything was OK and he said that having trouble staying hard is just what happens to 50 year old men. But from everything I’ve read that just isn’t true.
He doesn’t want to see a doctor, which I find frustrating. I know that vaginal penetration isn’t the be all and end all of good sex, but not being able to get him off at all is driving me crazy. And yes, I miss good old fashioned screwing. But most importantly of all, there’s no cuddling, no physical connection, and now he’s sleeping on the couch.
I’m starting to think it really is me, or that he’s getting it elsewhere. He’s been working in a woman’s house over the last month and he’s been talking about her a lot…how nice she is, how smart, how much he admires that she’s raising her daughter alone after being widowed. Ok, so he also said he thought I’d like her, but the repetition of her virtues made me uncomfortable. When I flat out asked if there was anything going on he snapped and said just asking him that was insulting. When I pushed for an answer he said there was nothing going on, that he wasn’t cheating, nor would he ever. I’m almost sure that’s true, but there is a small part of me that wonders.
So what do I do? No matter why this is happening, I don’t want to spend the rest of my life in a sexless marriage. Leaving or cheating are not options…I love and respect him too much for that. Please help, because I’m –
Hot, Bothered and Missing my Husband
DEAR HOT, BOTHERED AND MISSING MY HUSBAND: This is a hard one, HBMMH, because… well, because there are a lot of possibilities here, and frankly it may not be any one thing. When we look at problems in our relationships and we start to list out potential causes, it’s very easy to try to pick a singular cause and assume that if we fix this issue then everything else will fall into place.
Except, that tends to be a false choice. It doesn’t have to be one issue at the exclusion of all others; many of those possibilities can be true. Or some of what we assume are causes are, in fact, symptoms; treating those wouldn’t actually fix the underlying issue. If, for example, your husband went on ED medication, that might mean that he can get hard, but if the issue is that he’s just not attracted to you any more, then he may get hard but still won’t want to do anything about it.
With that being said, the thing that leaps out at me is the absolute lack of intimacy; not just sex, but physical intimacy. No touching, no cuddling, and now he’s sleeping on the couch.
That, I think, is the biggest tell. But before we get to that, I want to dig in a little to root causes.
What I suspect is that this is a cascading issue that stems from the way your libido tanked on the medication. This is a really common issue with mental health care; even when you’re getting the right medication for the right diagnosis, a lot of psych meds will kill your libido deader than disco. This has caused a lot of problems with couples, and it’s one of the reasons why I’m a big believer in being willing to tell your doctor that the side-effects are intolerable and you need to switch to something else.
The problem is that sometimes this initial issue can spiral outwards and carve a groove that it’s hard to get out of.
Now keep in mind as I lay my suspicions out: I am absolutely not blaming you for what’s going on — I am just describing what I think is a likely process that lead to where you are now. This is more about how your husband responded to the situation, and it doesn’t seem like he covered himself in glory here. But to be fair to both of you: you found yourselves in difficult circumstances, and the common advice is not only frequently unhelpful, but wildly inconsistent. In fact, it tends to vary drastically depending on who has the higher libido.
As it stands, it sounds like you and he made the best decisions you could under the circumstances with the information you had at the time… even if the outcomes are far less than ideal
You don’t say how long that your libido had been in the tank, but I’m willing to bet that this is the root cause. If your sex life had been robust before you went on your medication and it suddenly fell off a cliff, then I can see a point where your husband started to, for lack of a better term, give up. For all that (some) men like to position themselves as creatures of logic and clear thinking, the truth is that we’re emotional as hell… fragile, even. When we feel undesired by our partners, it can be really difficult to keep a level of distance and recognize that it’s not about us. Even when we know intellectually that your disinterest in sex has an external cause, it can be hard not to take it personally. There can often be the nagging voice of the jerk-brain saying “well… what if it is you, after all?” That can be incredibly damaging to one’s self-esteem because it feels so incredibly plausible. And because that doubt whispers in your own voice, it is very easy for that to create a crack that can spread and grow.
Alternately, there may have come a point where he just resigned himself to the fact that this relationship was no longer sexual, and he was just going to have to accept this. That can be equally as frustrating and cause folks to pull back. Men, in particular, are prone to equate physical intimacy as a prelude to sexual intimacy, and so it’s all too easy to fall into a rut of thinking “why bother cuddling if it just means I’m going to be left frustrated?”
And while yes, we need to normalize casual physical intimacy being decoupled from sex in general… if that’s been his mindset, I can see why he’d pull back physically too. It’s not helpful, it’s isolating and it makes the whole situation worse… but I can understand the why of it.
If things had gone on for long enough that this has become what he thought was his new normal, then expectations change, frustrations grow and it gets hard to pull back from things. Now that you’ve gotten the correct diagnosis and treatment, your libido is back, but he may still be in a place where his has tanked just because he’s been thinking “well what’s the point?” for so long that it’s hard to shift gears again. While he may not want to admit it, he may be feeling a certain amount of resentment and anger about that low period and he hasn’t worked through it. Hell, he may even realize that the way he feels isn’t fair to you. He may know, intellectually, that this was a case of medication and not about you or him. But again: emotions don’t listen to logic, especially when it feels personal.
And that could manifest in other ways. Remember what I said about how fragile dudes can be? That hits us in a lot of ways, including erectile dysfunction. Dicks are divas, and when s--t is even slightly off — including emotionally — they tend to throw a fit and refuse to work. If he’s been feeling unwanted or rejected (which, again, is not what you were doing, nor is it fair to you) for a while, then he may be having a hard time getting things to work again. Doubly so if his job is physically draining.
And ED can be a mindf--k of its own; when you feel betrayed by something that used to be so reliable, it can cause its own anxiety, making you feel like less of a man. And since guys have been taught never to engage with our emotions, it’s easier to try to avoid potential triggers than it is to actually deal with the issue. Talking to a urologist would mean having to admit to the problem and that can be a world of NOPE, even though doing so would actually, y’know. Solve his under-inflated boner.
Then of course, there’s the other woman. It definitely sounds like he’s got a crush on her. This, in and of itself, isn’t a big deal. Crushes happen regardless of relationship status or satisfaction. All getting a crush on someone means is that you’re a primate with dopamine and oxytocin receptors. Now, with any potential feelings of rejection and frustration and the way the sexual component of your relationship had fallen off, it’s certainly possible that this crush feels a little more intense or tempting than it might have been before. It’s very easy to look at a relationship of years or decades, with all of the natural ups and downs and find that crush to be much more interesting because it’s so shiny and new, without all the dents and dings that come in every relationship. There may well be a part of him that keeps thinking about what it would be like to just cross the line and go for it.
Is he cheating? I dunno. It’s certainly possible; the non-denial denial sounds like the sort of wordplay that folks engage in when they don’t want to lie but don’t want to tell the truth either. It’s slightly more likely that he’s had some sweaty jerk-off fantasies and that’s as far as it’s gone. But I can’t say one way or the other about whether he has slept with her or just really wants to.
(To be fair: his wanting to sleep with her is, again, separate from his relationship with you. Regardless of whether things are good or bad and regardless of gender, humanity is a novelty-seeking species, including in sexa partners.1 Monogamy just means we choose not to sleep with other people. It doesn’t say that we won’t want to.)
So with all of this in mind, what do you do about it? Well, it sounds to me like you and he need to have a series of Awkward Conversations… and preferably ones that’re facilitated by a sex-positive marriage counselor. Of course, just bringing up the topic of going to counseling is going to be an Awkward Conversation in and of itself. My recommendation is that you both carve out time to talk, time when you won’t be distracted or have to run off to do other things. Sit down with him and ask him to let you speak without interruption until you’re done so you can get it all out. Explain that you’ve been worried about bringing this up because things have been uncomfortable lately and you want to make things work between the two of you again. Let him know that you understand how frustrated he had to have been while you had the wrong diagnosis, how you want to rebuild the intimacy you two had before and that you feel like talking things through with a counselor to guide things would help. This way you two could make sure that you’re both being heard and understood and find a way to get your relationship back on track and be happy and intimate again.
Then, give him space to ask questions and to share his side of things and how he’s feeling. Give him the same respect of letting him speak without interruption or questions until he’s done; it may be hard for him to figure out the right words to say or even how to express how he’s feeling right off the bat. Letting him work through it without your jumping in — even if there’re long pauses to think — will make it much easier for him to figure out what to say and how.
Then find a sex-positive couples counselor and make an appointment. If you need help finding one, the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists has a referral directory to help you find someone in your area. Talking things out with a trained third party will help you both work through issues, give voice to the way you’ve been feeling and help you work together to find solutions. And it may also help your husband decide to talk to his doctor about his ED issues… assuming that those don’t resolve on their own as you all work through things.
This is all a difficult place to be in, and you have my sympathy. There may be some difficult conversations ahead… but hopefully you and your husband will be able to work through them and come out stronger on the other side.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org