My husband and I haven't had sex, not even on our wedding night

September 27 | offbeatbride
DTF card by sweetperversion
I am a straight female in my mid-thirties, and I have been married for almost two years now. I have been with my husband for 11 years. But… he has not wanted sex at all for the past four years. To clarify: We have not had sex, not even on our wedding night. And our sex life was okay before!

I have given up trying to initiate as the rejections got me down. My husband doesn't want sex, he just wants to cuddle. Having raised the issue multiple times, he said it isn't my fault and that he needs to sort out some things (family issues apparently). And recently, he finally agreed to go to therapy, although it's yet to happen.

I can't do this anymore. After going through self doubt, I have cheated. And I don't feel guilty. If anything it made me realize that I should be happy (it was nice to finally feel wanted).

I love my husband, and he is my world, but there is a lot of resentment in me that makes me believe that it isn't fixable. I now stand in front of possibly breaking up my whole life not knowing where to turn. I don't think I have the energy to go through the months and years of "it might get better." What should I do? Am I wasting my time? I need help. -Nancy

A few years ago we ran this post:

It was written by a woman in her thirties, currently in a “sexless marriage” (defined as a couple who have sex “10 times a year or less”). She wrote the post because she wanted other partners in similar situations, like you!, to know that they aren't alone. But it was the comments on that post that made is SUPER clear that people like you are not alone.

Among the comments of support were some really helpful insights that might help you out, especially this one from a reader named Josh with some men's sexual health experience:

Hey y'all, as a man who sits in many sexual brokenness groups with other men. A low sex drive FOR MEN in a heterosexual relationship comes down to three usual ssspects in the order to be suspected:

  1. Porn
  2. Childhood sexual trauma
  3. Same sex sexual template
    -Josh

And this comment about Dan Savage was echoed a lot:

I have no idea if you read Savage Love, but Dan Savage addresses mismatched sex drives on a nearly weekly basis. The solutions he brings up:

  • Have the low libido partner be medically tested for anything that could be wrong (ie, HORMONES!).
  • Get a sex positive therapist (there is a list somewhere, Google?)
  • If the mismatch can never be overcome, either the high libido person needs to lump it, they need to split up, or the low libido person needs to allow the high libido person to get their needs met elsewhere (let's be VERY clear that sex is not a "nice thing one does in a relationship," sex is a human need) through opening the relationship. (It can be a don't ask don't tell kind of thing if that's how you want to frame it.)

By just kinda coasting along and never dealing with it you doom your relationship, as the high libido person eventually becomes resentful. -Allison

But I thought I'd post an update from the original writer of the sexless marriage post:

I just wanted to thank all of you for the support and love; on difficult nights, I would sometimes read your comments and cry because I still felt deeply sad, but now I also felt understood. I just wanted to tell you that [my husband] and I have been in therapy for a year now, and it has been amazing. Thank you all for urging me to seek this counseling…

We were lucky enough to find a compassionate therapist who specializes in sex/intimacy issues (and also lucky that our insurance covers regular visits). I won't say that this year has been easy — there were many dark days when we left therapy and I felt shattered. I won't say that our sex life has returned yet, either; it's been two years since we last had sex, which was very infrequent before that.

BUT I want to stress that therapy has helped us find ways to give each other strength, and to keep reaching towards each other. If you have been in my situation, I would strongly recommend specifically finding a sex therapist who uses cognitive behavioral therapy. Though it has been useful to talk about our feelings and figure out how to communicate better (like, actually communicate), it has been even more important that our therapist gave us intimacy-building homework exercises (as well as doing these exercises during a session).

I have also figured out one very important thing: though I still fiercely love my husband, and obviously am committed to him, I have also made the choice to love and care for myself. I do not mean seeking sex outside the marriage… I mean that I make a point every day to try to take care of myself — getting enough sleep, eating healthy food, painting my nails, taking a walk, going out with friends. Instead of being sad because I miss being touched by my partner, I try to tell myself why I am awesome and deserve to be love and cherished. This has made me free in a way that I had not imagined.

But above all, fellow readers, I have a lot of hope for the future. We are making more lifestyle changes, with the support and guidance of our therapist. Obviously I hope that he figures his shit out and realizes how amazing his partner is (and truly, I have put up with a lot of crap), but I am taking care of myself and preparing to live my best life without him if he chooses otherwise.

I hope that we all find our happiness, whether it is with ourselves or with our partners.

Anyone else with advice or similar stories?

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  1. My husband and I mostly stopped having sex almost five years ago, when our living situation changed for the worse and we both started becoming more unhealthy than ever before in our lives. I think we do it three or four times a year, now, at best. We are over thirty and dreadfully unhealthy: malnourished, overweight, depressed, never get outside, rarely socialize (or never, in my case). These factors all contribute to the various physical and emotional issues blocking our intimacy. We both feel very strongly attracted to each other still, but our bodies simply do not respond very well to amorous feelings, so we have mostly quit trying. I get monthly hormonal spikes which increase my interest a lot, but he barely responds because he always feels like shit. I just mostly feel like shit. We hate our bodies, too, and it is hard to feel sexy when you don't think you look it.

    Another problem is that he is hung like a bull, and I apparently have a narrow vagina. I tore every time we fucked when we were teenagers, but we blazed through it because–well, teenagers! I quickly adjusted and never tore again, right into my late twenties. Now it's been long enough since we regularly had sex that my vagina has lost its toughness, or my age and poor health have brought a loss of elasticity…. But he rips me a new one ever time we try, now, unless I have trained diligently with a toy I bought for the purpose…. But, though it is a bit less girthy than his member, it is likely to tear me, too. I admit that my fear of injury leads to anxiety, accompanied by shame, neither of which is conducive to erotic pursuits.

    Overall, though, our basic quality of life is so bad, of course we always feel too poorly to touch each other like we used to.

    I know how to fix almost everything here: stop eating sugar, start eating vegetables, get proper nutrition, exercise, spend time outside, take care of the home, pursue and stick with a damn hobby, socialize, love ourselves! But I wonder if we need counseling at this point, too, because we both feel deeply broken and there are strong issues of shame and guilt.

    Lack of intimacy has been destroying us. I would not wish this hell on anyone.

    3 agree
    • I am so sorry you're going through all this. I absolutely think therapy is a good idea. Therapy can be an amazing tool for so many. I hope it helps. And remember, it mah take a few tries to find the right therapist. If someone doesn't click you can keep searching.

      8 agree
    • Please, Roselle, if you haven't done it yet, please see a doctor. There are SO many possible causes for what the two of you are going through and treating the source may take you a long way toward resolving the symptoms.
      Counseling may help you and your husband create a new way to share your relationship as well as treat the depression you both seem to be suffering. You've already taken a first step, now take another. We would love to have an update in the future.

      8 agree
    • I second the comments about seeking medical and counseling advice. But your words hit me:

      "I know how to fix almost everything here: stop eating sugar, start eating vegetables, get proper nutrition, exercise, spend time outside, take care of the home, pursue and stick with a damn hobby, socialize, love ourselves! "

      Roselle, that sounds like an awful lot to take on all at once, especially if you're not feeling great. Have you considered setting some achievable micro-goals in the meantime?

      OBH had a great post called "How to get out of bed" which touched on this. Search it out.

      Running a marathon would be great, but for now, how about just taking a walk to the corner? If that's too much for now, how about just sitting outside on a sunny day and get 20 minutes of sunlight?

      Sure, you could revamp your whole diet, but for now, how about having one of those little packages of carrots and dip for kids' lunches a day? Maybe while you're watching your favorite TV show? You can work up to salads later.

      Cutting out sugary drinks is great…but for now, how about just having a glass of water before cracking open a soda? A whole glass is too much? How about just 5 or 6 swallows?

      The idea is not to try to win a war…or even a battle. A little skirmish is a big enough fight for now.

      A tiny victory is still a victory.

      I hope you and your husband find happiness.

      42 agree
    • Have you guys tried sexual activities that are not penis-in-vagina intercourse? Oral and digital sex or playing with toys does not have to be foreplay, and enjoying them as an end to themselves might take some of the pressure off and help you enjoy intimacy again without being scared of getting hurt.

      1 agrees
  2. To answer your very last question, yes, there people with advice and similar stories.
    If you are an inhabitant of Reddit, there are a couple pretty good groups there that you can seek advice and read about other's struggles.
    r/sexover30 is a very good and supportive community of people over the age of 30 who have, celebrate, and struggle with sex. A related group is r/deadbedrooms which is a dedicated support group for that issue.

    That said, I'm sorry to hear about your struggle. It's really hard. I think there are several strategies and paths you can explore to see what is right for you and your husband. Based solely on what you have written, has your husband gone to seek medical help for a variety of problems which can kill libido? Or is he on a medication? Is his testosterone really low? Is he actually asexual? Is he even interested in finding out any of these things? These are important bits of information he needs to know so that the two of you can make good decisions about your future as a couple.

    What to do?

    If sex with your husband is no longer an option and you choose to not accept that, then leaving him may be the only option to keep your sanity and wellbeing intact.

    If sex with your husband is no longer an option and you choose to accept that, Where you go from there, is going to be what the two of you work out. Continuing to not having sex is going to be a a very bad option for you and your marriage. If the two of you are happy with everything else in your life and you want to stay with your husband, you could consider opening your marriage if that is something you both are comfortable with.
    What form that takes will be up to you guys. It could just be dating or a FWB so that you get what you need at a basic level. It could be some degree of polyamory with a committed relationship with someone.

    I put forth the above options because cheating and sneaking around are terrible choices for your relationship. Making the above options work is a *LOT* of work and comes with some bumps, but people do make it work well for them.

    3 agree
  3. Since he has agreed to therapy, maybe he'll agree to couple's counseling? I think you would both benefit from it, and I think it would help you feel like there's some forward progress.
    An added benefit might be that the counselor will probably recommend your partner (or you both!) seek individual therapy, which would help reinforce the urgency for your partner to do so.

    1 agrees
  4. Facing down relationship difficulties is tough but everyone has to do it. It's great that your husband has agreed to counseling but that's pretty hollow if he doesn't GO. Seeking therapy for yourself may help you answer the questions you have about whether the relationship is worthwhile. It is important that you feel wanted and connected, if not with sex there are other ways. Remember that you are a whole person and your wants and needs are valid. I hope you find what you need.

    1 agrees
  5. Nancy, are the two of you being honest with each other?

    Have you made it clear to him just how miserable you are?

    Has he made any visible effort to help your pain (not just lip-service, but actual deeds, even if it's offering to masturbate you, or saying he's OK with you taking a lover)?

    Are you willing to compromise at all, or are you done at this point?

    I've always thought that almost any kind of marriage can work – even marriages of convenience.

    But – and this is big – only if both parties are honest and acting in good faith. You agree to act as a team.

    Marriages can survive a lot, but when the interest in being a team disappears…well…that takes a lot of work and commitment from both parties to get that back. And sometimes, it doesn't come back.

    6 agree
  6. Been there. My husband once told me it made him anxious to hug me because he was afraid I was going to want to have sex – and he meant hugging me hello in the kitchen when he came home from work. I knew when we got married that I had a higher sex drive than he did. I'd previously been in an emotionally abusive relationship where the sex was amazing; I figured that a kind, smart, funny guy who treated me with respect and clearly loved me was a good deal even if sex was uninspiring. Over the first five years of our marriage it went from "uninspiring" to "bad" and we stopped having intercourse. We were also in graduate school and (in retrospect) both struggling with undiagnosed and thus untreated anxiety and depression.

    For a variety of reasons including my own self-esteem issues and my conviction that I knew what I was getting so I deserved what I got, I stuck it out. Eventually, after I'd been in therapy for a while, I flat-out asked him if he was gay. He said "no" and then finally admitted that he has a kink. His lead-up was "I want something really awful and disgusting and I'm afraid to tell you" and then he took a deep breath and said "I like spanking." I said "is that all?" I'm not even sure that qualifies as a kink, since he's not interesting in BDSM. It's just spanking. He was using spanking porn and that was occupying pretty much all his sexual energy.

    It still a loooong time (as in years and years) to sort all this out because he could not seem to move past the shame and the conviction that there was something wrong with him. We worked hard on our communication in other areas and were in couples counseling around parenting issues but never brought up sex. Finally, about two years ago, I found out he was corresponding with another spanko about fantasies. That had been my line in the sand: no seeking sexual satisfaction with someone outside the marriage. For the first time, I was completely honest with him and told him I had married him knowing that sex wouldn't be great but that I thought I could at least trust him. It had apparently never occurred to him (or at least never really registered) that I was not sexually satisfied. He finally decided that he wanted to change for him because he didn't want to feel ashamed any more. He went into therapy with a sex-positive therapist (who also said "is that all?" the revelation that he liked spanking) and slowly, gradually, things have gotten much better. Sex is not perfect. He still has too much performance anxiety to attempt intercourse, but we can talk about it and we have found other ways to connect and build physical intimacy.

    What I've learned is not rocket science: as with any other relationship issue, the key is open and empathetic communication and good listening. Both partners have to commit to really hearing and understanding the other's experience. Sometimes we have needs our partners can't meet. That's really sad – and we are not required to stay in that relationship. I don't regret staying. I do regret hiding my true feelings.

    3 agree
  7. Although no partner is "entitled" to sex, you are entitled to know why that spigot has been shut off.

    He needs to give a CONCRETE reason. "I have to sort out a few things," simply doesn't cut it. Not for four year's worth of forced abstinence.

    Similarly, his less-than honesty doesn't make your cheating a good thing, no matter how loved, valued, and guilt-free you feel. It's like spanking a child to make it stop crying. It's an act of frustration masquerading as a solution, that only makes a bad situation even worse.

    To quote the song, "it's cards-on-the-table time." For *both* of you. I don't know if he needs to know about the affair, (was it a one-off never to be repeated misstep or the start of a trend?) but you two can't tiptoe around the 800 pound Celibacy Gorilla in the room any more. Discuss!

    It doesn't have to be a fight – nor should it be – but if either of you can't be honest about this, then that reticence has to be figured into your relationship's likelihood of survival.

    Love is easy.
    Respect is hard.
    Honesty can be an utter bitch.
    Nevertheless….

    3 agree
  8. HORMONES. Check them. And get second, or even third, opinions. Your partner has to see a specialist–an endocrinologist–or the checking is, essentially, useless. GPs aren't qualified to correctly diagnose and address hormonal irregularities.

    I say this as a woman whose natural sex drive is about as high as they come. Then I developed PCOS, and started taking birth control as treatment. I wrote off my decline in libido to aging (which was nuts; I was in my 20s) and the PCOS, until I went to a specialist. The BC pills decimated my sex drive. Took it to zero. (So sidenote and caution: If someone with my sex drive can be flat-lined by standard, over-the-counter BC pills, then anyone can. No amount of reducing or changing the dose or brand made any noticeable difference.) The PCOS didn't make me lose the drive, as my gynecologist had told me; it came back within a year of going off the pills. I had completely knocked my hormones out of balance chemically, and our relationship suffered for SEVEN YEARS because of it. Because I let a GP and gynecologist, both of whom I still respect, treat my PCOS. They were just out of their depth.

    If it isn't hormones, then it's likely caused by guilt (cheating, porn, ect). Actually, even experiencing lowered libido causes a TON of guilt. I felt like a monster because I couldn't give my partner the sex life he wanted and deserved, and he felt like a monster for asking me to. We loved each other enough to work through it and stay together, mostly because we were both aware that the problem was physical and couldn't be helped. We had the cause wrong, but just the knowledge that it was my body and not my heart affecting my libido… it completely saved us. We're still working through all that frustration and hurt, years later, but I can't stress enough the importance of a qualified professional examination.

    Good luck.

    2 agree
  9. I volunteer for a sex-positive/kink organization, and we are part of the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSFreedom.org) which, among MANY other things, maintains databases of kink and alt-sex friendly professionals, from lawyers to doctors to therapists. Even if you don't think your issue is kink related, these are people who are trained and experienced in hearing "I'm into Spanking" and responding " …and?" If anyone needs a professional who can deal non-judgemenally with non-normative sex of any kind, I suggest you have a look at the NSCF website.

    3 agree
  10. It's incredibly tragic that nobody has mentioned asexuality yet.

    I don't know if this is the case with the OP's husband or not, but the fact that nobody has asked "could he be Ace?" is disheartening. Some people don't like sex, and that's okay. Communication is important, yes. Compromise is expected in any relationship, and there are definitely certain kinds that will have to happen in a relationship where one partner is allosexual and one is asexual, but implying that a person is broken or sick simply because s/he isn't interested in sex is downright wrong. It is possible that something is going on with OP's husband, and I hope that if that's the case, he's able to find some treatment or a solution… but IT'S OKAY TO NOT LIKE SEX. PERIOD. #DontEraseTheAce

    7 agree
    • I was wondering about this too. Asexuality is real, and there are a lot of resources online about maintaining a healthy relationship with someone who is ace.

      My gf has had a low sex drive for years, enough that she considered herself effectively asexual. (We now are fairly sure it's due to an ovarian cyst she had removed a few weeks ago, too recently to be sure if that was the cause.) We still have an amazing sex life because we communicate. She encourages me to discuss my fantasies and interests (and participates in the discussion), she helps me with some of my non-explicitly sexual kinks, and she buys me sex toys she thinks I'd like. It's possible to make it work if you want and if you're able to adapt your definition of a sex life.

      1 agrees
    • I think the reason the PERFECTLY VALID Ace orientation isn't being discussed more on this thread is:
      "I have been with my husband for 11 years. But… he has not wanted sex at all for the past four years. To clarify: We have not had sex, not even on our wedding night. And our sex life was okay before!" confirming that they used to have sex, regularly, and suggesting that both seemed the quality and frequency were mutually pleasing before.

      This isn't just a mismatch of sexual preferences/needs/patterns; an appreciable and drastic change has occurred. The spouse also seems to corroborate this:
      "Having raised the issue multiple times, he said it isn't my fault and that he needs to sort out some things (family issues apparently)," suggesting that there is a problem causing him to not want sex, a problem that he does not want to address.

      As a Gray Ace myself, I think it's vital to acknowledge asexuality and all its permutations, but that doesn't seem to be what's happening here. If sexual monogamy is part of their relationship, then it isn't inappropriate to address the issue and I don't think it's insulting or erasing to asexuality et. al. to do so.

  11. There's a whole bunch of things going on in your question, and I'm going to address them from my personal viewpoint of being a queer, married, polyamorous woman.
    1. The question of sex "drive." For this one, I recommend reading Emily Nagoski's Come As You Are (link: https://www.amazon.com/Come-You-Are-Surprising-Transform/dp/1476762090) which talks about the context necessary for sex to happen. It's possible that you and/or your spouse has trauma, a specific picture of what sex needs to be, or any number of other difficulties with context. As Margie pointed out above, asexuality or demisexuality (the extremely context-dependent little sister of ace-ness) may be in play here, which is also entirely valid. There's also the possibility of your spouse being gay, or transgender. My "husband" and I had an entirely dead sex life by the time we'd been married just over a year, and it turned out that the issues were that she's actually my wife, I'm a lesbian, we're both demisexual, and I have a (non-sexual) trauma history. (The sex got a lot better once we realized those things, by the way.) Figuring out all of those factors took a lot of trust, a whole lot of good communication, and going over our struggles and reactions many, many times, with as little judgement as we could muster. For us, all that work was definitely worth it, but it's also worth noting that we both got very lucky in finding, in one another, someone willing to do that work in the first place.
    2. The question of the relationship. My experience of relationships is that, unless everyone is open and honest with each other, and that's clear, the relationship will crash and burn. Maybe not immediately, but definitely eventually. With that in mind, I suggest you do a couple of things: first, talk to your husband and explain how left out you're feeling. You said that he's been wanting cuddles, which might mean that he hasn't realized that you have a framework of needing sex to feel connected and wanted, especially if he has a different framework. Then, I think that you need to tell him that you cheated. The longer it takes to do that, the harder it will be, and the more trust that will be broken. Especially if your goal right now is to reinitiate a sexual relationship, he deserves to know on both an emotional and practical level. This might be a deal-breaker for him, it might start a conversation about relationship expectations, and no matter what, he has a right to know about the risk of any STIs that might be present (no matter how careful you were.)
    You said that he's considering a therapist, and I'm going to echo earlier commenters and suggest that you find (a different) one too. They can help you think about your next steps, how to have difficult conversations, and what you're ultimately looking for.

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