Married and celibate: Adjusting my relationship expectations in a sexless marriage

Guest post by Anonymous
Photo by spablab – CC BY 2.0
Photo by spablabCC BY 2.0

My husband (let’s call him H) and I have been together for seven years, and I am still madly in love with him. I find him just as smart, funny, and sexy as I did in those first heady days of flirtation and courtship. I would happily make love to him as often as he liked. Unfortunately, this means that we have sex only a few times a year.

We’re barely in our thirties, but H and I are currently in a “sexless marriage” (defined as a couple who have sex “10 times a year or less”). I’m writing this because I want other partners in similar situations to know that they aren’t alone. Most media representations portray men as crazed sex-beasts with insatiable needs. So when you’re rejected by a supposed sex-beast, it can seriously shake your own sexual confidence.

In the first two years of our relationship, we had amazing, beautiful sex. I didn’t expect that giddy passion to last forever, but I was totally unprepared for the sex to stop almost completely, as it has in the last several years. At first, being rejected by my partner confused me. I spent a lot of time worrying: What’s wrong with me? Does he still love me? Does he still find me attractive? Is there someone else?

I have a pretty healthy sexual appetite, but H no longer desires any form of sexy kissing, touching, or physical intimacy. Sometimes we hold hands… but that’s it. And I’m not going to lie: I grieve for this loss.

Losing our sex life has felt like a small death. Though I still deeply love and respect H, and I’m trying to accept him for what he can and cannot give right now, I don’t want to live like this for the rest of my life. At times, this loss feels unbearable. I stay up for hours after he goes to bed — reading, doing work, looking at Facebook — because I’ve had my hopes crushed too many times. If we’re awake in bed together, there is a small chance that he might touch me or kiss me.

But he very rarely does. And since the occasions are so infrequent, when we do have sex, the stakes are much higher. I make dark jokes to myself in my journal (“the old ‘180 days without incident’ sign is hanging up by my vagina again, ticking off the days”), and I can talk about the problem with one or two close girlfriends. But mostly, I feel very alone.

In desperation, I have tried to find explanations/solutions online. Most of the advice is truly terrible. Most sex advice boils down to incredibly superficial solutions: Surprise him with lingerie. Make the first move. Massage each other. I wish it were otherwise, but desire can be so much more complicated than that, especially in long-term relationships.

After a series of painfully awkward rejections, it became clear to me that H was not waiting for me to “initiate desire.” Nor did he give a damn about lingerie, coy suggestions, or frank proposals for sexytime. If anything, I learned that this pressure made things worse. It took me a long time to realize that there was really nothing that I could do or say that would make a difference and that in fact my overt attempts to seduce him were huge turn-offs.

If one partner is suffering from physical/emotional exhaustion, stress, or depression, pressuring them into sex is only going to lead to heartache and resentment for both partners. I am sure that H did not enjoy turning me down. Though perhaps it would have been easier if he had just talked to me about how he felt, I understand in retrospect why he didn’t. Trying to explain why your desire has disappeared, when maybe you don’t understand exactly why yourself, is probably a pretty fraught task. Especially when your partner feels hurt and angry about being repeatedly rejected.

Despite this heartache, I still fiercely love H. There are some really good reasons why he has just not been interested in sex, though I won’t go into them here. But in general, dealing with death, financial hardship, and stressful work/life situations are all pretty big boner-killers for everyone. Though it has been very difficult, I have initiated long discussions with him about how we can get rid of some of these stresses and hopefully one day get our sex drives back in sync. Having these conversations was really scary; we both cried. But over time, these conversations also have made us more emotionally intimate and comfortable with each other in a new way.

In a few weeks, our lives will change significantly: new jobs, new schedules. We’re planning to take a short vacation together — something we’ve never before had the resources or time to do. If these big changes aren’t enough, our next step is counseling.

I hold out hope that things will eventually get better. That there is some light in the dark. That no matter what, I will keep choosing to love and respect my partner, the person I cherish above all others.

Sex without the sex? Lots of masturbation? Writing of sweet letters? How do you cope with a sexless marriage?

Comments on Married and celibate: Adjusting my relationship expectations in a sexless marriage

    • Hey yall, 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 suspects (presented in the order to be suspected)…

      1. The Porn
      2. Childhood sexual trauma
      3. Same sex sexual template

      • Josh, what about low testosterone? My husband has low T and doesn’t want to address it at all with injections or anything else because he fears side effects. He says it will get better naturally when he loses weight and I’m not sure that is true plus he isn’t really doing anything to lose weight. Despite the fact that I know via blood tests that he has low T, I still wonder if your usual suspects contribute too. Namely, porn, but maybe others as well. When I was pregnant with our first child and super horny all the time, I would wake up to him watching porn even though he knew I was ready to go all the time. That was the beginning of the hurt. Now we are 10 years in and he blames the kids, busyness, etc. but I know it’s been a problem for much longer. He has had exactly one moment of admitting the problem lies with him and it’s when I was ready to be done. But nothing has changed since then and he still repeats the party line about it being normal and a side effect of being busy parents. It’s so hard.

        • I had the reverse problem, my xwife was on social media 16-18hrs a day came to be 3-4 hours after I did. When I touched her she played the im going to sleep or im tired act. she was a stay at home mom too the kids now teens have online video game addiction playing minecraft for 95% of there awake hours. Well its been 4 years since she touched me and 3 years since we had sex. I left and moved out, the cozy stay at home mom now needed to get a job.

          Now I’m with a new girlfriend who is a mom, works has kids and she does everything my xwife didn’t and she does it for free and wants me loves me needs me. Things my xwife never did. My take on this is don’t marry and people try harder to keep things good, when you marry people get cozy and crap and think marriage is forever and the fact is , its not. I left my xwife of 18 years because she deliberately withheld intimacy, affection, and sex.

      • Josh It was not that neither my husband or I did not want sex. Prior to marriage it was fantastic and I had hopes when the Navy was done with him he would come back and we could starte a family, Three and a half years after our wedding I had been diagnosed as Bi Polar, I was at his fathers house the last six months before his discharge and outside pressure started from his father and I chose the wrong side In a family squabble that had started a decade before over respect and rights on the Job hhe was returning to off a military leave, It was a big three automotive manufacturer in the mid west under a UAW contract He was moving way to fast to get his way. . I admit His first morning home I should have ran out and lead him back out of his fathers house and taken him to a hotel or motel. and let him have the 30 days he had by contract to go back But his father and others wanted him back in the military and started our marriage that day instead of trying to get him under control or what I thought was a need for control. 24 years latter he’s in a TSA office being told his father and I had canceled his vacation on the orient express That we knew that it had been since 1981 when he had his last day off without being on an operating table> But his coworker with 32 years less seniority Needed the Vacation for himself and his four month pregnant bride we were offering the same vacation slot the next Mid winter we had always tried to get him to take since 1987.

        HE had always refused that time frame saying it was useless In 2009 We had tried to make it a less useless time to him by arranging for his then five week vacation to take off on January The Second for Five weeks on ST Croix I had never used the vacation pay from 24 years for my vacations to Europe I just saved out of his weekly pay for them. That time however he was not letting us get away with it He wanted the refund for his canceled time and He did not want me to take any vacation that year unless he went. He dislocated my shoulder getting The Check The money and credit cards I was going to take and ripped my boarding pass in half. Then he bounded across the room yelling he was going to take the direct flight and make our life hell all the way across to the golden horn> HE was screaming at his father where is my passport As he strangled him and he got his passport leaving me needing my shoulder set and his father needing o2 to regain conscious thought. I could not believe he was willing to kill us because we had prevented sex and a day off for 24 years.

        I knew we were not reasonable about his time but had hopes for years he would take options he had for different times instead of trying to take the prime vacations just because he had seniority and Hoped we could work a way out for personal time to be used for holidays But he felt that time was his to use as he pleased and he did not have to use it as dictated to him. He wanted the decision to be his and his alone. He made himself so depressed he was not getting what he felt he had earned He compromised his immune system before we could tell him we had made a vacation he would like. We had been told our use of intimidation would not get him into work any longer on holidays The Company was locking his card out during them. Them He bruised his back deep and developed a MRSA abscess in his spine That was October 2009 And It finished him working in the plant and left him crippled with no nerve impulse from leg top down We were told that he would be in a wheel chair the rest of his life For three years and to major surgeries and a set of strokes he fought his way out of that wheel chair telling the doctor he was not letting a one third micron bug beat him and from then on he was not letting anything hold him back from what he wanted,

        The doctor told us privately he was not going to beat this, We were the ones to get a huge surprise three years latter when he came home walking with the help of a cane, He also had to relearn how to use his hands, To do that a nurse had bought in a red oak branch that had broke off a tree in her yard for two years he carved and turned that cane into a work of black art, It was toped with a Dragons he with old titainium drill bits for teeth, it has red inset crystal eyes and the tail runs from near the floor to the head. Is done in Black laquer and Is truly an evil thing, It stands 4’4″ tall and weighs 13 pounds.

        I was pretty down since we came back the year before from the mid east vacation, We left after a bad fight with my husband about what he was going to have rights in the family and our marriage, It was bad enough that His father went with his face black and blue from a bed pan hitting him thrown by my husband yelling get out of his room. He was not waiting for any thing any longer. I came back and put my trip on my face book account and I got a contact from a man I had not heard from in 35 years an old boy friend. HE asked me for my phone and email and we started corresponding He told me about a week into that he was coming to my city on a work trip the next week and he wanted to get together for a dinner. I know I was feeling sorry for myself, Kept thinking I was never going to have a real marriage and it was my fault for not having one, Thinking like lady chatterly I was going to be caring for a man in a wheel chair and I started seeing this old boy friend every few weeks and sleeping with him. The affair lasted until the day after my husband came home from rehab and much to every ones surprise my husband came home as he said he would walking with the help of that cane. .

        I was out with my friend that day and when we arrived at my house the next morning my husband was waiting to spring a trap I begged to take the coming argument off the street, and into the house My friend said watch this as my husband went past leaning heavy on his cane My luggage was packed and The guardianship that had forced him to stay in our marriage he was going to make my friend assume He sweept my husbands cane from under him dropping him on his chest tio the floor, I could tell he was hurt, when he roled over after getting to a place he could sit up against the coffee table He Took the Rubber grip off showing the ice spike as I tried getting my laughing friend calling my husband a pathetic looser I was trying to get him at least out of sight when that cane flew past my face and fractured my friend right behind his left temple. My husband was in such a rage He took out 31 years of abuse on me and my friend I was slapped to the area beside the phones as he continued a beating om my friend screaming whos the pathetic looser now. I was forced to call 911 to keep my husband from murdering my friend. My husband was taken to a stress center for his rage and my friend to a hospital.

        His father and I were asked to come talk to the lead doctor at the center the next week. We were in that office while his mother went to try and talk to my husband in the day room. The Director had My husbands history both from work, the navy and the army. He had the time keeping and notes from his job he was retired from and he had my husbands statement of fact , and he started off by asking if it was a delusion my husband created or was he emotionally, mentally and physically abused for over four decades His father started speaking in our defense telling the doctor he did not understand that the community needed my husband to be in a certain place, to keep him there we had to use every method we could to see to it he was never able to disrupt the lives in the community with his wants.

        The doctor looked at both of us and said so you abused your son and husband to let everyone else have what they wanted, his father said it was not abuse it was seeing that he was a man and looking to the needs others had.

        He really made us feel an inch tall telling us he was sending his findings to the DA about the long term abuse of an adult.

  1. Oh, I can sympathize. The last four years or so, we’ve had sex once a month in a good stretch, once every three or four when it’s bad. I’m at the point where I don’t even want to bother anymore. My body is so unused to that kind of intimacy that it’s painful and not fun anymore. I love him, though, and I understand that there are medical things likely at the root of this. He apologizes for never having the energy. And we do have other kinds of physical intimacy – snuggling before bed, lots of hugs and kisses. But I miss the wonderful sexy-times we had at the beginning of our relationship.

  2. This was a sad read. As the one whose sex drive has dropped significantly in my relationship, (though not to this extent) I can completely understand how life can sometimes get in the way of desire and sexy times, and clearly no one is owed anyone else’s body. At the same time, I have a harder time understanding not really wanting to touch one’s partner at all. Sometimes I’ll go weeks without any desire to have sex or be sexually intimate with my husband, but we still touch one another — cuddles, hugs, back rubs/scratches, holding hands, face caresses (yes, I like to touch faces), etc. Touching doesn’t have to be sexual, and it almost seems like the author would be more content with the loss of the actual sex life if other forms of intimate touching were a still a part of her life. I hope the job change/vacation helps, but I think it’s likely this couple is really in need of a good therapist/sex therapist.

    Then again, what do I know? I dumped the last guy I dated before my husband after about a year and a half because of this very problem. My mental health just couldn’t handle all the rejection. I’d like to believe I’d hold up better if it was my husband, but this issue can take a huge toll on any relationship.

    • Disclaimer: I’m gonna make some gender stereotypes based on anecdotal evidence. I realize they are not sweeping and do not apply to everyone.

      I think women are more strongly conditioned to think of those things you mentioned as separate acts that are occasionally followed by sex.

      Whereas men like my husband think of all of them as foreplay. Sometimes it’s foreplay that doesn’t pan out, or foreplay that happens a few hours before there will be any chance for follow up, but it is all thought of as stuff meant to lead to sex.

      If you really, really, don’t want to have sex, then all of those other things start to come off as unpleasant as well.

      There was definitely a time where my husband cuddling up to me or petting me would make me irritated. As much as I loved the sensation and the (perceived) intimacy, I knew that if he was doing *that* then in a few minutes he would be trying to have sex with me.

      My aversion to the latter made me incapable of enjoying the former. Since then my husband has put more effort into occasionally petting with out expectation, and my sex drive has largely recovered and things are pretty great right now. But it was definitely a rough patch.

      • I totally agree with ” If you really, really, don’t want to have sex, then all of those other things start to come off as unpleasant as well.” I am not really a touchy, feel, kind of person and it is really hard for me to even let people “in my bubble” without feeling violated. Being in a sexless relationship makes me NOT want to be touched or cuddled by anyone other than my son, giving me hugs and kisses. It has ruined relationships for me and made me feel as though I will never please anyone sexually again so there is no point in trying. It does make me feel 100% better that I am not the only one in that kind of relationship but it saddens me that others are going through it.

        • My husband and I went through a similar situation, except I was the one who never wanted sex. It did get to a point where I didn’t want to be touched at all either. It took my husband going out and finding someone else for me to realize what an issue this was. We had talked about it, but I did not understand just how much the lack of intimacy was hurting him.

          The first thing we added back into our relationship was touching. We made sure we held hands if we were out together, we cuddled all the time. All of this was done with the understanding that it probably wouldn’t lead to sex.

          I also worked very hard on myself and figuring out why I was so turned off by sex. For me a large part was an issue with pain during sex, I got off hormonal BC and it got much better. Except for right after my period, Now I also stopped using tampons and switched to a cup and I have zero pain ever and sex is amazing. It turns out that I am extremely sensitive and not broken. I really thought I was broken for a long time.

          I hope changing up your lives a bit will help put some spark back, but in my personal experience it took both that (vacation, changing up routines) and a lot of hard work. Therapy was the best thing I ever did. I think our situation was more complicated because of the infidelity, but I really think therapy is awesome and that most people would benefit from finding the right person to talk to.

      • this is what i have been trying to explain to my hubby.. i am the not so much interested in sexy time in our relationship.

        He is always touching and grabbing and poking and prodding and expects that it lead somewhere , and gets mad when i am not gushing all over with a ass squeeze or a boob grab. I have a 4 yr old son who rough houses me all day, i am just over touched. I feel like my body isn’t mine! and when hubby touches and grabs, its what HE LIKES squeezing my boobs or butts, and I am always saying OW cuase it doesn’t feel good.. and he gets mad and says I can’t ever touch u. I try to explain to him that he does what HE LIKES to me, instead of thinking if i would like it, tho he THINKS he is doing it for me, when its not sexy or romantic becuase he does it to me ALL DAMN DAY!
        he expects any moment we are alone or semi alone its supposed to be sexy time.. i have a bad back and prefer sexy time just in bed, but when our son shares our room its hard to make sexy time after fighting him for a nap~ most time i just need a mental break to put myself back together!

        i try to explain how i feel and what causes me to not have interest.. stres, being tired.. i am a SAHM so i am the primary care giver.. sometimes i don’t get a break to breate its a break for my Direct sales events, or a PTA mtg but life just gets in teh way! he would do it as many times a day every day if he could but i am not there anymore. we have been together 10 yrs now, married 6 in sept. pregnancy was hard on my body with my bad back (i had to have herniated disc surgery last year) and I am still not lost the baby weight nor fully recovered my back. Sometimes being intimate causes me pain or being uncomfortable, so then we are not as fun sex wise as we used to be. He makes me feel guilty and i feel like i have to give in becuase he turns it into how awful it is for him and i just get tired of fighting over it.. i am pretty easy going and then he will drag it out forever it seems, and then it becomes painful for me so then that is a turn off….

        reading this and comments gives my feelings some validation and new ways to explain how i feel to him… thanks everyone

        • My most recent ex treated my body somewhat similarly to what you describe. The question to be asked of him is whether he wants to touch you, or whether he wants you to WANT to be TOUCHED. If the former, then this is the result. If the latter, then he needs to touch you in a way that is pleasing to you, not just how he thinks ‘should’ make you respond positively. That means listening when you tell him about what feels good and what doesn’t and not whining because he thinks he should be able to do whatever he pleases and have everything work out perfectly.

          Personally, I wish I’d responded by breaking my ex’s damn fingers when he treated me that way, but that’s my baggage, not yours, and I completely understand if that isn’t how you choose to respond.

          More practically, I’d ask him why he apparently thinks you would feel sexy being touched that way when you have clearly asked him to stop and explained why it doesn’t work for you. Then I would ask him why he thinks you would be comfortable being sexual with someone who clearly doesn’t respect your stated boundaries and preferences for how your own body is treated. Ask him how he would feel if you just reached out and grabbed his testicles really hard or stuck a finger up his butt (pick a method of touching you think he wouldn’t like very much), and then got upset when that didn’t make him feel sexy.

          NO ONE should feel guilty for not wanting sex, particularly when their bodily autonomy is not being respected.

      • This is exactly my situation! I’m a man, married for over 20 years in what has been a virtually sexless marriage (maybe once a year if lucky) and I have just recently decided that instead of struggling with it, I’m going to be OK with it and now I don’t seek sexual contact any more. But neither do I want to touch or be touched, nor do I wish to physically express affection, such as holding hands etc. She has always felt sex was a chore and wasn’t important… comments like “you want sex but you don’t NEED sex” have been the norm. Now I have a way forward, but unfortunately it doesn’t involve affection or touch. She wants touch, but she doesn’t NEED it, right?

        My new mental place has me a whole lot calmer and happier!

      • Which is all fine and good if you’ve chosen to be in a relationship with someone else who doesn’t like it, but if they started off having physical intimacy (not just sexual) in their lives and that has dropped off too, that’s probably not the case.

        I could probably live without much sex, but I couldn’t live without cuddling and touching. So many studies have shown how important touch is to wellbeing (at least, the vast majority of us.) To the extent that they recommend that people who don’t get touch elsewhere at least get regular massages or pedicures or SOMETHING where someone is touching them.

        OP, if he hasn’t already your husband might want to rule out medical causes, but if not that… it does sound like some couples therapy might be a good thing. Or even individual, to help him with the stress. I’m usually the partner with the lower sex drive, and I can sympathize with that, but your needs are important too.

        • My husband and I take turns and it feels like we are rarely on the same page at the same time.. I have several health conditions that result in me sleeping a lot when I’m not working, having pain, and require a couple meds that really interfere with my sex drive.. And my husbands sex drive is closely linked with his stress levels and he’s even had some issues uh keeping it going when he’s stressed.. He’s been going thru some depression the last couple years which obviously doesn’t help.. So what we are left with is VERY mismatched moods.. And I suck at initiating things at baseline, so when I finally bite the bullet and try, it usually coincides with one of his really off days and I’m left feeling rejected.. Even tho I know it’s not personal.. It’s just hard to deal with and keep trying.. He was cheated on a lot previously so he also has paranoia that if we don’t have sex enough, I’ll find someone else though that’ll never happen (I AM content to take matters into my own hands and did just fine by myself in the years before him lol).
          Now we have life, stress, mismatched sleep schedules (complicating things I also work night shift), teenage step kids(we always have more sex when they are gone in the summer cuz we can be more spontaneous and spend way more time Nakked I think)..
          I like the idea of wearing sexy underthings and he’ll appreciate them but it always feels like when I get the urge or try to be bold.. It’ll be off day for him, which adds more pressure.. No good. Anytime we’ve tried to PLAN, it never works out.. Our sex drives never fit together.. Been together 7 years, married for 3.. We probably average 2 times a month?
          We are very touchy feely so least we have that.. And esp with my decreased libido it doesn’t bug me as much as it probably should.. (My meds also end up making it so we need lube every so often and I always feel.. Odd about that, or guilty or something.. )
          I haven’t talked to anyone about all this.. It’s hard to talk about.. I just wish we could be on the same page more often..
          (It did get bad enough at one point that he went to the doctor and found out his testosterone levels were low and he had low thyroid but the thyroid meds didn’t make a difference).

          This is long but one thing I found has helped my sex drive… Has been my new found love of reading Pervy books on my iPad lol gets me thinking about sex more I think tho he misunderstands and thinks it’s a replacement for him but really it just gets me in the mood a lil easier/better, esp if it’s one of MY off days and his on days lol who wouldda thought I’d be interested in reading books about alien and vampire sex lol..

      • Haha. That statement is so funny, how you said it. Are you a germophobe? Why do you “seriously hate kissing?” Can’t say I’ve heard anyone say this. O man. Maybe you don’t love this person or are attracted to him?

        • Hey Karen that came off as really insensitive. My parents are very much in love in their 70s, but my mother has a real aversion to kissing open mouthed or any kind of spit sharing. She’s not a germophobe – you can’t be a primary school teacher and not come into close contact with all manner of gross. I find any kind of proscriptive ‘If you really love ‘X’ you’d do ‘Y’ thing social coercion at best.

  3. I’ve been on the other side of this issue. Early on in my marriage I spiraled into a crippling depression and anxiety that stemmed from things outside my control. I withdrew into my head and pretty much shut out my husband. When we were first together I’d enjoyed and craved sex but now my anxiety made sex terrifying. I couldn’t enjoy it and my sex drive plummeted. My husband was convinced that I no longer loved him or found him attractive. Neither of those things were true but I also couldn’t explain why I didn’t want to have sex. We had horrible fights about it that left us both angry and crying. The issue pushed us apart, and neither of us were happy, and there was no end in sight. For months I considered getting a divorce if it meant he’d be happier. But the thought of my life without him was unbearable. I knew if we wanted to stay together something had to change.

    Eventually I sought therapy for the depression and anxiety which helped. I figured out how to explain to him how the anxiety was affecting me and learned ways to cope with it. When he saw that I was willing to work on the issue he was very supportive and started opening up to me again. We were able to reconnect with each other. It took almost two years for our sex life to return. It’s still not perfect but we are at a much better place in our relationship now. For us the keys were understanding, communication, patience, and persistence. While it was a stressful and painful time to go through, in the end it brought us closer together. (I realize this isn’t everyone’s experience but it was ours.)

    • Thanks for posting. I have chronic illness mixed with depression and anxiety. As I’ve been feeling better through therapy, my drive has come back, but my husband remains distant. You give me hope that with time it will get better.

  4. Thank you for posting!! My situation is the other way around. Having a chronic illness has taken all desire away. When you’re hurting all the time it’s kind of hard to feel like this beautiful goddess who wants sexy time. Again, thanks for telling your story and making me (and others) feel like we’re not alone.

    • yes i agree with my back problems since giving birth my back hurts ALL THE TIME.. the surgery i had for herniated discs lessen the pain, but i still have sore back, cna’t lay on my back for long time, nor my stomach, when i lay on my side my hips hurt, so i am constantly uncomfortable and he gets so MAD hearing it, he says he understands my pain (he had back surgery in 2000) but becuase it keeps him from sex with me, he turns it into i never care about anything he wants.. all becuase of sex.. and yet he says our relationship isn’t about just sex, but our fights start about sex and turns into you don’t clean the house enough (i have a 4 yr old!) to you are too hard on my stepson, to money to we stay at home too much on the computers…etc.. every fight is about sex, yet he says its not the only thing in a relationship but he will start every fight over it. its just exhausting dealing with a 4 yr old and a hubby acting like a 4 yr old not getting his way….

  5. As someone who has been in this situation – but on the other side – I urge you to take the step towards therapy now, before everything changes. That way you can think about enjoying your vacation, rather than risk being disappointed if things don’t magically get better.

    A few years into therapy, we’re not perfect but it’s a lot better. The therapist helped me realize that just because I don’t feel like having sex doesn’t excuse me from showing love and affection to my partner. My husband learned that sometimes I’m just not into it, for whatever reason, and that’s OK. It was awkward talking to a stranger about our sex life, but it was worth it for the improvements in our marriage. My only regret is not doing it sooner.

    • Yes. I have been through this, and therapy helped tremendously. And it is not a straight line. Sometimes it gets far far better and then we backslide awhile. I spent years going through this, and therapy was a turning point on what has been a very long road.

  6. Thank you for writing this. I went through this and have never felt so alone or so like there must be something wrong with me that my husband had absolutely no desire for me, even though I knew there were other reasons. After 9 years of a sexless marriage and only having sex twice in the last three years I realised that I had to choose between never having sex again and leaving my husband. I left. I really hope you can work things out – my husband wasn’t open to communicating or counseling or any of the things I suggested. Believe me, I tried it all. We are now good friends and co-parents and my new husband of three years and I have a consciously committed sex life. I realised reading this though that I still carry some hurt from those sexless years – they took a toll on me and my self esteem. Leaving was the right choice for me but there were other issues in our relationship too. The sexless marriage is something no-one talks about so I appreciate you opening the conversation and helping me to heal some of that baggage that I still carry from those years and realise that maybe it really was his thing and not about me.

    • Proud of you for leaving because you weren’t sexually fulfilled, especially because you’re a woman. There are lingering fucked up cultural beliefs that make the assumption that it’s usually the woman who shuts down the sexual relationship in a marriage, and that because “men have higher sex drives” it’s ok for them to leave, or cheat, because how can a man live without sex? Bullshit. While a healthy sexual relationship is more important to some people than others, if it’s important to you and you wind up in a sexless marriage, your partner needs to be open to finding a solution that works for BOTH of you. On person shouldn’t have to suffer forever, it’s unfair. And if they aren’t willing to communicate or try to find a solution, then although I’m sure it’s always a tough decision, you should feel free to leave. So good for you, Cat.

    • Oh wow Cat I could’ve written that comment. This was similar to my situation compounded by having a miscarriage & various medical issues on both sides. We both kind of gave up & I had to leave – there were other issues but until reading this the lack of sex wasn’t something I focused on. Irony – my job involves training professionals to teach Sex & Relationships Education (SRE) to teenagers. 4 years on & I co-parent with my ex husband & my relationship with my current partner is so much more open & honest around sex and emotion & it’s had a profound effect on me as I’m considering training in relationship counselling to help other people going through the same.

    • “Consciously committed sex life.” I love this phrase. My husband and I both had prior relationships that turned sexless due to rejection from the other person — his ex wife stopped sleeping with him as their marriage dissolved, and my partner’s sex drive took a back seat to addiction. It was intensely painful for both of us. We were in our 30s when we got together, and in the 18 months leading up to getting engaged, we talked about everything relationship-related, like finances and parenting and core values and sex. We’re both pretty sexual people, and we agreed over and over again to have a consciously committed sex life. Our marriage vows even included a safe-for-grandma line referencing it — “I will joyfully share my heart and body with you.” It was really informed by our experience of how much it sucks to be sexually abandoned by your partner. We agreed to honor each other as sexual beings. And we agreed that part of our marriage vows included being a good sexual partner. That doesn’t mean forfeiting our right to say no — sometimes we’re tired or we have a headache or we’re not in the mood. But it means that overall, since we’ve promised to be sexually faithful to each other, we have a duty in the marriage to provide for the other person sexually. For us, in our marriage, going months without sex, barring a significant medical issue, would be a violation of our marriage vows. And it’s been great. We’ve been together 5 years, married for 2, we have 2 kids including a young baby, and we still get down at least a couple times a week. We’re also very physically affectionate with each other and affirm our connection through touch. This it what works for us, and I know it wouldn’t work for all couples.
      I know a lot of people who identify as asexual, and I wonder if that’s the author’s husband? It’s a really difficult situation and I hope counseling and life changes help.

  7. I’m currently having this issue in my relationship. But it’s me that’s the problem. I’ve never been a very sexually orientated person and my partner and I have been together for 3 years now. At the beginning we had fun, but him being rather well endowed and me being a very small person it made things very uncomfortable. It’s always been the case for me with previous partner too. As time went on our sex life diminished, everytime we do anything I stress, anytime sex is mentioned I feel myself getting anxious. Even the thought brings me to tears. He feels like I don’t love him or want to be with him, but I do. I’ve just pushed myself into a level of anxiety as soon I think about it. I’ve been offered therapy but the waiting list is between 6 months a year where I live unless I found private and it costs a hell of a lot of money. I’m not happy within myself, even though I’m young, healthy and successful I know my issues stem from something locked inside me. I don’t quite know how to get past it to be completely honest but he’s still with me, supporting me and loves every bit if me. I constantly feel awful when I have to reject him. Even the thought of it brings me to tears. I wish I knew what to do x

    • Have you talked to a dr? I know you said you’re on a waiting list for therapy, but it sounds like you may have an actual physical, medical issue as well.

    • Also, I wonder if making non-penetrative sex the focus of your sex life would really help. If the size issue is causing you to associate sex with pain and get nervous any time it seems like a possibility, why not take awhile to do other things–whatever you both like– that don’t involve penis-in-vagina sex at all. It might take awhile for you to understand emotionally that the presence of sexual touching and arousal will not lead to this painful experience (which I imagine is causing the intense anxiety you feel), but if you completely decide to have NO penis-in-vagina sex AT ALL for several months, or a year, or until you say so, I think your body might start to believe that sexual pleasure is possible again and doesn’t have to be scary. There’s so much sex that isn’t this particular act! And that way, if you want to work penis-in-vagina back in eventually, you will already know that it’s just one part of a really satisfying sex life, not the thing without which sex doesn’t exist.

      • I agree with this 10000%. I also have a partner whose genitals don’t quite match up with mine, although not to the extent that you seem to be experiencing. But it was made way worse when I gave birth – let’s just say I needed a lot of time to heal. It was 8 months before I could have sex comfortably, and even then it wasn’t always great. During that time we had very little penetrative sex, but we still tried to enjoy each other’s bodies in other ways. Knowing that I didn’t have to feel anxious about painful sex (because we were going to feel good without it) made dealing with that dry spell a million times easier.

      • This! We have a similar issue. We’ve been together 7 years and are still technically virgins, but I just can’t do penetrative sex. I’d be really anxious and cry when I thought we’d “try” again, but after talking it out and explaining that it literally can’t happen (I’ve self-diagnosed myself with Vaginismus or something similar, but it’s hard to find doctors who know anything about those), we began to do non-penetrative things. Mostly with vibrators. And hands 🙂 I’m no longer terrified of condoms and intimacy anymore like I had been, because I know the penetration won’t be coming. It’s a really, really long process (we’ve been 100% not trying penetration for like two years now), and I still don’t think I’ll be ready to try again for another year. But things ARE improving. I actually instigate sexy times much more now than before!

        • I have vaginismus and 2 chronic illnesses that affect my pelvis, so TRUST me when I say you’re not alone! There’s a large large large portion of the vagina-owning population out there who have painful or impossible intercourse who don’t know why. Vaginismus is a very little-known condition but there is some help – a referral to a local women’s health physical therapist is a great place to start. This goes for the OP, too. 🙂 It’s taken me years and years to find an answer, but with support and help, I know my body and what I want/need more than ever, and that more than anything makes our sex life sexy!

        • Like J said as well, you are not alone. I’m a sexologist and have spoken to many women who have vaginismus, so I highly recommend finding a sexologist or sex therapist in your area if you want to explore that further.
          Additionally, PIV (penis in vagina or penetrative sex) is not the be all and end all of sex. Sex can take many forms and can all be equally as (if not more!) pleasurable, so don’t let anyone convince you that you’re “missing out” or “have to try it”. Like I mentioned before, if you DO want to explore PIV sex again, a sexologist can help you come up with ways as to how to try to overcome and improve your vaginismus.

    • I agree with all the comments you’ve received. This sounds like it could be vaginismus or vulvodynia. I have vulvodynia/vestibulodynia and a bit of size mismatch too, but I’ve recently been able to really significantly decrease the pain through physiotherapy. Seriously, it’s been amazing: I went from not having sexual intercourse for years to being able to do it with very little/no pain. I really really recommend finding a pelvic floor physiotherapist. It’s not cheap, but usually you don’t need many sessions and you’ll be able to do exercises from home. If you want any more information let me know.

      In the meantime, I also agree that focusing on non-penetrative sex might really help. My partner and I had only non-penetrative sex for years (like 7 years!) and he was very understanding.

      I really hope you find a solution. You are definitely not alone, and I think there are lots of avenues you can explore, if you haven’t already and if you are interested. Good luck!

      • Pelvic floor physical therapy! I had issues with vestibulitis/vaginismus and PT was life changing. Not all doctors even know to refer you to it, but be persistent! It was covered just like the PT you would get for a back injury under my insurance.

  8. This must be very tough for you, and you have my sympathies.

    You describe how your husband doesn’t even touch you anymore. That sounds so cold. I’m not attacking him, just stating how the situation comes across to me. Is there a way to convince him to start touching you again, without the pressure of sex? I.e. you don’t expect it and he knows you don’t expect it? That can be a first step to restoring intimacy in your relationship.

    I am going to assume you’ve considered finding sex somewhere else, but if you haven’t, it might be a way to save your marriage. You don’t have to tell him. Your husband, right now, is forcing you to be celibate and sexless because he is/wants to. This is not fair to you. Naturally, you have all the nuances and viewpoints I lack, so there’s only one person who can tell whether having sex with someone outside your marriage may work to preserve it, if that is what you really want.*

    I hope the changes in your life are going to make things better between the two of you, however, I do want to counsel against getting your hopes up too much. I understand you love him very much, but it might be necessary to set a deadline for yourself and divorce him if things don’t improve. Doing so would NOT make you a heartless shrew. Again, I hope things improve, perhaps with therapy. Best of luck.

    *Full disclosure: I didn’t think of this myself, this is wisdom I pass down from Dan Savage of the Savage Lovecast.

    • Dan Savage does suggest that cheating on your partner (i.e. getting sex somewhere else without telling them) can somehow save relationships.

      This isn’t a sex positive outlook, it’s advocating for selfishly betraying your partner and putting your sexual needs before the foundation of trust that a relationship is built on. It’s not cool and frankly, can be abusive.

      OP, you may eventually find that an open relationship is the right fit for you and your partner, just remember that in order for that decision to be made in a healthy way both of your have to be in on it.

      • Yes to this a thousand times. I think open relationships are a great solution for so many different relationship difficulties, but I believe opening the relationship HAS to be built on honesty, even if what you and your partner decide is, “Yes, we are allowed to pursue other sexual partners and no, I never ever want to know about it.

      • Actually, Dan Savage says something more like: if you are in a sexless marriage (which you reasonably assumed going in would be a sex-ful marriage), and you have tried everything else, and you have been shot down every time, and divorce is undesirable/impossible, going discreetly outside of the marriage for sex might be the only option you have left, and taking it instead of forcing yourself to go insane doesn’t mean that you’re a horrible person.

        This is, as far as I understand about this position, valid ONLY in situations where someone is really trapped. Where the person denying sex has either flat-out refused every other option to deal with the issue (including discussing an open relationship), OR keeps making “promises” to work on/try things, but is moving super slowly or deferring any work until “a better time” so that the promises are actually just a passive way of keeping the status quo.

        Basically, if the person who is being denied sex is effectively being emotionally abused, then it’s absolutely inappropriate to suggest that finding a release valve is abuse. That’s blaming the victim. HOWEVER, if the person who wants more sex is falsely inhabiting the “victim” position as an excuse to manipulate or lie to the person who wants less sex, obviously that is, in itself, abusive.

        It all depends on an “objective” look at what those dynamics look like, which is obviously impossible to get. According to the OP’s letter, though, it sounds like they are talking about stuff, trying to work out solutions, AND that there are extenuating circumstances that will resolve after awhile. If the OP’s husband is genuinely trying and working to get better, and their job/stress situation is in the process of changing, for the OP to find sex outside of the relationship without discussing it with her husband is probably rather shortsighted, and also not really consistent with what Dan Savage says about the conditions under which you can “cheat” and feel totally okay with it.

        I agree, though, that counseling NOW is a much better idea than putting it off.

    • Um, no. Taking this advice will most likely only make a bad situation much, much worse. Unless you have an open marriage, seeking out sex outside of it will probably end it. If that is what the OP is hoping for, then that’s fine, but it really doesn’t seem like that’s what she wants at all.

      • Well, obviously the OP should make sure no one ever finds out. I’m not a big fan of cheating either, but it’s unfair to label cheating as abusive while the OP’s husband’s cold withdrawal from her bed could, in my eyes, be labelled just so. She’s being refused, cold-shouldered and it has been going on for years. If he’s really all she wants in life in most other aspects, then she has to find a way to make this work without suffering herself. Sure, a relationship that’s open with mutual consent is better than cheating but something’s gotta give.

        Gabrielle, you mention “This isn’t a sex positive outlook, it’s advocating for selfishly betraying your partner and putting your sexual needs before the foundation of trust that a relationship is built on. It’s not cool and frankly, can be abusive.”
        At this moment, the husband is selfishly putting his sexual needs or rather the lack thereof before his wife’s obvious hurting. Yes, it may be the result of a hormonal imbalance or mental problems, but those problems are now shouldered by the OP as much as they are by the husband and as far as he can tell, that’s fine by him. Just because the OP chose to marry her husband doesn’t mean she has to put his needs before her own in all cases all the time. Sex is something many people actively want in their lives. Perhaps if the OP finds it outside the relationship then the pressure is off for her (no pun intended) and she may be able to help her husband in a more constructive way.

        • “Well, obviously the OP should make sure no one ever finds out.”

          A marriage based on dishonesty is a really, really crappy one. Would getting sexually fulfilled at the expense of her partner’s trust really make the OP happy? I’m sure only she would know the answer to that question.

          We don’t have the whole story because she has chosen not to share the details, but it sounds like her husband IS being honest with her about his feelings, which says to me that the two of them really do value trust. She has mentioned counseling as the next step, and I think that is a really, really excellent idea, but I think that he should start NOW, and not “wait and see if it gets better.” Nope. He already has a very negative reaction to stress, and the changes that will be occurring shortly will not automatically make it go away after so many years.

        • I’ll preface by saying that I really enjoy Dan Savage’s essays, but I tend to break from some of his Lovecast listener advice, which seem like they make assumptions about a couple without much context and come off a little old-man-yelling-at-clouds at times.

          The OP mentioned that this isn’t an often-discussed topic, so you could be completely right that her spouse is emotionally withholding and refuses to engage and discuss what’s going on upstarts and below the belt. It’s also possible, as we’ve read from other posters, that when you are deep-down in the trough of sorrows, you don’t have words for what your feeling, much less the ability to tell your spouse what they are. We can name a lack of intimacy as the problem, but the isolation is from a lack of communication about the problem. I think most commenters don’t object to an open-marriage arrangement (if you both still want to be together but have different needs, this is definitely one way to address that) — but do object to no-tell sex because it’s seen more as a pile-on to the we’re not communicating problem that’s worsening the intimacy differences problem. I also think people find it problematic to start putting ultimatums out there by stating a deadline and indicating divorce. I think ultimatums are something that Dan Savage typically advises against too.

          • Carolyn Hax (the Washington Post’s advice columnist) recently had a discussion of ultimatums that I found really helpful. She says, basically, that giving an ultimatum involves actively creating a “punishment,” which is different from informing someone of a natural/necessary consequence. There’s a big difference between saying “do things exactly my way by this deadline or else I’ll divorce you,” and “I think I can emotionally hold on until around this deadline, but we can’t find a way for me to feel better by then I will have to protect myself by removing myself from this situation (i.e. divorce).”

  9. It’s really good to see someone write on this subject. I feel like according to the media, not only are we getting the idea that men are insatiable sex-beasts but that everyone really should be, like a high libido is a virtue. It’s really easy for some of us to get cock-blocked by life. I’m surprised to see the definition of a sexless marriage as “less than 10 times a year.” I guess we have that, but I think it’s misleading, because it’s not sexless (i.e. with no sex). If I bake nutless brownies with 9 peanuts, it could still kill someone with an allergy! Apart from my quibble with the definition, I’m interested in knowing how anyone else with a low-sex marriage deals with trying to get pregnant. Some couples just stop using protection, but that doesn’t work so much if you only have sex every few months to begin with.

    • Track fertility, figure out your peak days, and suck it up and do the deed when you’re ovulating? Or, yeah, you could turkey-baster it. (But I’d hope this is a situation where both partners aren’t into sex, or I’d worry more about those issues before trying to bring a child into it.)

    • My husband and I have both a very low sex drive, and with the “less thant 10 times” a year thing, we’d probably count as a sexless couple. We’re both ok with it, though.

      When it came to trying to conceive, we did track my fertility and then just “did the deed”, at least most of the time. There were occasions when there was just too much going on, one or the other was or had been sick and/or we didn’t feel like having sex at all, and on those occasions we did use the “lesbian way” (it’s on this site, seach for it).

      By now we’ve given up trying it naturally because I have diagnosed endometriosis plus, apparently, hostile cervical mucus, so we don’t even bother any more. After going through 3 IUIs without succes, we’ll soon be starting our first round of IVF.

    • Once we had addressed the libido/anxiety issues we still had trouble making time for sex. For us trying to conceive helped us get back into having sex regularly. We ended up having more sex more often (also during non-fertile periods). I know it’s not that way for everyone but for us it got us back on the sexy times train.

    • It’s frustrating how popular culture has gone from compulsory abstinence to compulsory sexuality (not even neatly; both ideas exist together in many places, it’s incredible).

      I don’t understand why society is proving to be so resistant to the idea that it’s being pressured one way or the other (or both), rather than having open and compassionate negotiation between oneself and ones partner/s, that is wrong, rather than how in/frequently anyone is having sex. (I mean, I guess much of the media thrives on creating insecurity in its consumers so that’s probably its motivation.)

      I think also there’s still a lot of confusion about asexuality; it seems usually to be believed that how high your sex drive is automatically translates to how often you want to have sexual intercourse specifically or even, weirdy imo, how many people you find attractive*.

      When actually someone can have a fairly high libido but never want *partnered* sex at all, but want to be in a romantic relationship. I think not realising that it’s even possible to feel that way gets a lot of people into very hurtful situations.

      Also I would agree with the quibble over the definition of “sexless”; I think it’s disrespectful and invalidating both to people who have sex rarely and to people who never have sex. (Not that it should stop anyone self-identifying that way if it feels right, of course.)

      *As someone who does want lots of partnered sex, but hardly ever meets anyone I want it with, this misconception irritates me enormously.

    • My husband has a very low sex drive and it definitely led to problems with us conceiving. We met in our late thirties so we knew our reproductive years together were limited. From the beginning our sex life was also pretty erratic. Trying to match my cycle with his willingness/ability to do the deed led to one failed pregnancy. After that, the frequency of sex dropped from “every now and then” to “almost never”.

      Now I’m past the age of baby-making and I had to learn to accept that having a biological child was not in the cards for us. It wasn’t easy and I did sometimes feel resentment but we’ve worked through that. There is so much more to our relationship and for that I’m grateful.

  10. This was really beautifully written. I feel you–having been the partner with the lower libido for all of my past relationships, it was a shock to me to have my partner turn me down. We also qualify with a sexless marriage, and have agreed to counseling if it becomes something that is causing me significant pain. It helps that when we do have sex the sex is good. It’s difficult to talk about because there is so much personal value tied up in being desirable, and for my partner, he has so much social pressure to be the ravenous beast that it isn’t something we discuss with others.

  11. Hi Writer, thanks for sharing your story.

    What you are going through is rough, and there’s nothing I or any internet person can say to make it better. But there is one way to say it that you, I think consciously avoided, but it’s the only accurate place to start from, and thus the only way to begin the process of healing.

    What your husband is putting you through is rough. It’s cruel. It’s abusive.

    I know all the reasons you will want to push back and dismiss this way of looking at your plight. It doesn’t take into account the many wonderful things about your husband and your marriage. It doesn’t make allowances for the struggles he’s going through. It takes someone who you love, someone who is hurting, and makes him into an instigator. It turns you from a partner trying to help to a victim trying to endure.

    I know all these justifications, because I have used them. But that’s just what they are. Justifications. They are smokescreens put up between you and your feelings of hurt, anger and betrayal, and there is no moving forward, at all, until they are cleared away.

    Touch is the first method of expressing love we learn. To withhold touch in a romantic relationship – and I don’t mean just sex here, you make it clear in your post that he is withholding nonsexual physical contact and condemning you when you try to initiate any – is to deliberately visit cruelty upon a romantic partner. Because our culture is so deeply sex-negative, this kind of denial and withholding is rarely held to the same standard of harm as things like saying cruel words or causing physical pain. But it is harm nonetheless.

    No one, of any gender, in a relationship should be expected to be a fuckbot or a tap for sex that the other partner can turn on and off at will. But this level of physical denial – where he is acquainted with the pain his rejection causes you AND MAKES NO GOOD FAITH EFFORT TO ALLEVIATE IT, FOR FIVE YEARS – is abuse. A friend who would not give you a hug would not be a friend. A parent who would not kiss their child would be cold and unnatural. It is not different when it’s a spouse – except in that most spouses will do anything, jump through any mental hoop, to excuse this kind of behavior, because we are told from such a young age that it’s wrong to regard sexual fulfillment as a requirement in a relationship.

    I am not saying he’s a monster, or you should leave him. I believe you when you say you see that he is worthy of love, and only you can make the right decision for you. But all the romantic vacations and therapy in the world won’t begin to address the problem if you cannot first come to terms with it – look at the state of your marriage boldly in the face and say that you are worthy of being loved and touched by your husband, and that his doing so is an absolute prerequisite for you being satisfied in your marriage.

    You deserve to be satisfied in your marriage. You deserve to be loved and touched. Please take those two truths forward with you as you determine your course of action.

    • Just quickly as someone who works in the anti-violence field – withholding touch is not automatically abusive.

      This behavior is abusive if it is being used to punish or control the other partner. But that isn’t what OP has told us.

      From what OP has shared, their partner is dealing with a lot of outside factors that are making sex (and presumably other touch) difficult or undesirable. The fact that he is not forcing himself to give and accept touch he does not want is not abusive, it’s setting a boundary, which he has the right to do.

      At the same time, OP your needs are also important. It sounds like getting help from a therapist might be a great opportunity for a 3rd party to help you two negotiated between your needs and boundaries.

      • Everyone has bad times and rough patches. Five years is not a rough patch. Five years where you refuse to acknowledge the harm of your physical absence from a relationship IS a form of punishment and control.

      • Well interestingly there is a post further up from a woman (judging by the name she gives here which is Sara) where she says that she realised that she had been neglecting to give her male partner any kind of love and affection in during times when sex wasn’t right for her, and that she had come to realise that she still needed to do this as he had an understandable need to be loved.

        Sometimes we can’t have sex, sometimes we have become so withdrawn any touching is hard and much as no one should be pressured beyond their boundaries the only way out is for BOTH people to take a step towards each other over those boundaries. If one person is downright refusing to do that or even talk about it over a significant period of time (not same as being honest about feeling unable to in the current short term) or using promise of it to manipulate, then yes I think abuse is one ( and possibly the strongest) of several terms that could be used here, whatever the genders of the people involved. It’s hard to move forward from that label though so it’s not always helpful, after all if hurt and scared enough we are all capable of demanding too much in our pain. It’s impossible to know what the situation is for the OP though, the post is understandably light on detail. Only she knows her situation and her boundaries, I wish her luck and strength.

        • I should add that I brought up Sara’s post not to imply in ANY way that she was being abusive but to point out that there is discussion occurring here about women experiencing lack of sex drive and as well as men. Should have made that clear….

      • The lack of, and shunning of, affection, is what is being called abusive – not the lack of sex.
        She’s actively asking for affection, and he is refusing.
        Yes, we can get into dangerous territory of people’s desire for sex being rebuffed. Some humans need sex. Most humans need affection.

      • I would agree with this, simply because of how our culture is delineated.

        That being said, I do not think that it’s per se abusive for either gender, as the person above points out.

        It is true that the sex-rejecting partner is controlling the sex life — particularly if there’s an insistence on monogamy. But, it may not be their intention to be controlling (or punishing) and as such, as the previous poster asserted, isn’t abusive.

        But even unconscious, the process is hurtful — and it’s important for both parties to beware of this hurt.

        We can all agree, I believe, that body sovereignty is important — no one wants to pressure someone into sex, no one wants to rape anyone (i assume!) and ultimately, people want their lovers to come to them with joy and excitement, rather than a sense of duty or being a ‘task.’

        the real cruelty comes in — in my mind — when the resisting partner will not hear the other partner’s needs. This is the double-hurt. And, in addition, when the resisting partner also resists seeking help or treatment.

        In my own relationship, it was the overwhelming anxiety of my partner that inhibited our sex life. Because my partner refused treatment (medication and counseling), we struggled for years. I hadn’t even realized how hurt and frustrated I was, but when I finally spoke it, and spoke that I needed to be released from monogamy (but not our relationship), that my partner finally sought help.

        My partner went to therapy; I went to therapy; and we went to therapy together. And it made a huge difference.

        My partner wasn’t intending to control the relationship, or control me — it wasn’t intentionally abusive. It was just hurtful — and people from both sexes and all genders who are in this situation report this experience. One party is simply unaware of how their rejections ‘land’ on the other person — how that person feels with the on-going rejection.

        With help, it really did get better.

  12. well, you just summed up my marriage. i’ve always had a very healthy sex drive and my wife could happily move through the year without having sex at all. i’ve tried talking to her, i’ve attempted seduction, blatant requests – you name it. at the beginning of our relationship, our sex life was active and fun and (damn!) hot! but then marriage and life … i’m completely in love with my woman. she’s ridiculously sexy. but, i spend more time pleasuring myself than i do her. she has a crazy stressful job which makes it difficult for me to bring up the subject as the last thing i want to do is add stress to her already stressful world. but i do wonder – in the dark when all i want is to feel her – if a lifetime marriage to my wife without sex and intimacy will be fulfilling for me.

  13. I get that he might not know himself what’s going on, or it might be stressful or fraught for him to try to explain what little he does understand.

    But, seems to me he owes it to you to try and figure out what’s going on and explain anyway, even if that’s difficult for him.

    It isn’t clear from your letter whether you have really talked this out with him and made it clear that while you don’t expect intimacy right now, you can’t go on like this forever and you do deserve an explanation and an attempt to make things right.

    All the best 🙁

  14. Similar problem here for our first few it’s of snuggling and kissing but not actual sex. Since he’s had a lot of changes and stress, I decided DE d not to worry about it yet. For my needs, I kept my vibrator and invite him to join me with figure less stress for him and lots of stroking and touching. If it continues after he has a job and more confidence, I’m dragging him to a doctor Just to make sure but I’m fine with the status quo. Just want him to be healthy

  15. God yes, thank you! I’m lucky if I get laid twice a month, and trying to convey to my husband that I want more or want other options than just sex (with him) makes me feel super selfish.

  16. I think because this is something people are afraid to talk about, it is probably much more common than we realize. My guess is that many long term (10+ years) relationships have gone though this at one time or another, including the issue of not touching at all. Because we’ve romanticized “happily ever after”, we worry that there is something wrong with our relationships when this happens. However, there is a reason the vows include “for better or for worse” – life is messy. Job loss, a death, illness, or even just the sheer number of tasks we have to accomplish everyday can cause long-term disruptions in our ability to share physical intimacy at many levels.

    Whether the cause is financial, medical, or emotional the important thing is to keep talking to each other – about everything, not just this problem. A medical exam and counseling are important. I would caution you to avoid expectations about the vacation. I can say from experience this can lead to more disappointment. Use the vacation to just relax enjoy each others’ company without the pressure to perform. A new job is also very stressful even when it is a vast improvement over a bad one. It may take more time than you hope to get past this. However, real intimacy is much more than sex and a good marriage can survive this issue.

  17. I can speak from the other side of this situation, as well. But my sex drive problem stems entirely from taking birth control! Every kind I have tried (not just pills, but also implants, nuvaring, etc) have destroyed my sex drive. I often joke that must be how they work – by making you not want to have sex. I am too young for doctors to consider sterilizing me, and I take the birth control partially for medical reasons (PMDD). It’s really a crappy situation and I feel like there’s not much I can do about it.
    Luckily (well, not really) my partner has recently had to start taking a medication that reduces his sex drive too, so it’s less of a problem now, I guess.

    • I was going to recommend the copper IUD but I guess that’s no good if it’s to treat PMDD too 🙁 Mirena supposedly has fewer hormoney side effects, but I also don’t know if that would treat PMDD. My sex drive was DEAD when I was on any kind of hormones – getting off them was a lifesaver (though in my case my husband got a vasectomy, so I didn’t have to come up with another option.)

      If you really want the sterilization, though, don’t take no for an answer- try different doctors. It’s bullshit that they’ll give a 24 year old dude the snip with no questions asked but they give women a bunch of shit about it.

      • My sex drive was DOA when I took hormone-based birth control, too.
        I hope your docs find a way to correct the PMDD without hormones (which mess up our system in more ways than just libido. UGH). Good luck!

    • Hormonal birth control murders my libido! Especially depo provera, that’s the worst. It’s an anti-androgen and it’s literally used to chemically castrate sex offenders. I really love my copper IUD, although it sounds like it wouldn’t cover your medical needs.

    • I was on various types of birth control pills for a little over a decade, partly for birth control and partly for horrific PMDD. A doctor suggested I try going off them to see how my periods were without them. I was terrified, because PMDD is awful–then I got my first non-pill period, and it was totally normal.

      I’ve been off the pill for over a year now, and I have a regular, non-event period. Like the hideous cramps and torrential bleeding and rollercoaster mood swings and back pain and total irregularity and all the other horrible things–they’re just not there. I have a little bloating, sometimes get a little moody, and have occasional cramps, but my flow and cycle are regular and not life-alteringly hideous. And I have a sex drive again! Halleluiah. I wish a doctor had sat me down and truly explained what a toll HBC can take on your sex drive and sexual enjoyment before I’d spent so many years wondering if there was something wrong with my libido. Loss of libido is a critical side effect of HBC that our culture just doesn’t talk enough about. Having a side effect of total loss of libido is just as important to discuss as possible blood clots and gaining weight, I think.

      All this is to say that there is hope! Your body may be able to regulate itself and its cycle so that you eventually can go off hormonal birth control and have a non-hideous period, and have increased sexual desire.

      For now, I track my fertility and my husband uses condoms, although he’ll be getting a vasectomy in the near future. It’s not the greatest solution, but wanting to have sex and needing a condom is better than not wanting sex and not needing a condom.

      And if you want to be sterilized and are having trouble finding a doctor who will do it, search online for childfree-friendly doctors who will perform sterilization–there are databases/lists/sites out there with lists of doctors who won’t give you the sexist excuse that you’re too young to know your own mind. Good luck!

  18. 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.

    To OP, your husband actually sounds REALLY selfish. Your post breaks my heart, since you are very clearly not even getting your basic needs met. You guys need counselling now, not post vacation (uh hello pressure!!!). His libido is not going to spontaneously recover overnight… I hate to say it, but it sounds like he may not be attracted to you anymore… Best wishes for the future (and lots of sex!)

    • Quadruple seconding the medical exams, especially the hormone tests.

      We were expecting a thyroid problem, testosterone was only tested “per spousal request.”

      Don’t be afraid to try different doctors if the first one isn’t very responsive to questions, or if valid concerns about things like libido get dismissed.

      That, and avoid Androgel like the freaking plague. Nothing like having your spouse on a drug that kills what little libido he has while at the same time sending yours through the roof. That was… “miserable” is too mild a word, but I think most of the ones I want to find are best left unsaid.

      Current medication isn’t covered by insurance at all, but it’s worth every penny. Things aren’t perfect, there’s still a lot of baggage being worked through, but it’s better.

  19. I’ve experienced this from the side of the person with little to no desire. I recently picked up “Come as you are” by sex therapist/PhD Emily Nagoski and it has been INCREDIBLE both for helping my relationship and helping me with my guilt and stress about not wanting sex more. It is specifically addressed to women who lack or have low desire but there is some universally helpful sex science and information in there. I really highly suggest it for anyone dealing with this situation.

    • I’m working my way through this book too, and it’s been incredibly helpful. I’m still recovering from a borderline abusive previous sex life, and struggle with my libido being lower than I’d like it to be. There have been several times when reading that I’ve said out loud, “Oh shit, is that what that is?!”

    • I was just coming on here to recommend that book too. I haven’t finished it yet, but it has already led to a big improvement in my sex life and just my overall understanding about sex. Her sections about the stress response made me be like, “Why isn’t EVERYONE learning about this stuff in school?”

      Her voice is also fun and funny so that even though there’s lots of science in the book that could seem intimidating or confusing if you’re a lay reader (no pun intended), it’s enjoyable to read.

  20. Like many others here I have experienced periods of slow-down in amount of sex in a long term relationship, sometimes I have been the one that slowed down as it were and sometimes my partner has. What didn’t ring true to my experience and what others have picked up on is other non-sexual physical intimacy also stopping and I can’t help but notice how little emphasis you place on that, when for me that would be massive, bigger than loss of sex.
    I agree that pressurising a partner who is experiencing loss of libido is not helpful or fair but intiating, or attempting to is not in and of itself unfair pressuring and you shouldn’t feel bad for trying. It’s not nice to have to tell a partner that you don’t want to have sex but it’s sure as hell not the partners fault for offering you pleasure! Clearly when things hit a slow/difficult patch it’s a good idea to back off and not pressurise both of you, it can be a great relief all round to actually jointly declare that there will be no sex attempts as it were. It usually gives you back the other physical intimacy as that is now safe as it won’t lead to unsuccessful sex initiation attempts. In my experience it’s getting back the safe unpressurised physical intimacy that is the gateway to the sex eventually coming back, in fact I’d go as far as to say getting sex back is pretty impossible without getting non-sexual physical intimacy back first.
    It sounds like this kind of sex ban is where you are in effect although I’m not sure if you decided that together or if you’ve accommodated your partners position and ended up here on your own, but there is still no non-sexual physical intimacy between you. While everyone is entitled to their own level of comfort it’s massive to withhold all physical intimacy so unilaterally and asking a partner to live with that is a huge ask anyway let alone without any kind of explanation or acknowledgement that is this is a temporary emergency situation that you are both committed to moving through. I honestly don’t think it is unfairly pressurising (acknowledging totally that like all requests it carries some pressure) to ask for this commitment and if you are getting the message that it is then the sender of that message is not being fair. This is not about one partner adjusting their expectations it is about movement on either side. Good luck and take care

  21. I have struggled with a partner who does not want physical intimacy as well, and I also strongly encourage you both to see a therapist, because from what you’ve said there is still a lot of room for compromise in your current situation. The right therapist can help you both communicate your needs better. Also I think a lot of people with a lower sex drive do get into the mindset that they have to be very turned on before initiating sexy times, I have had good experiences after my partner gradually became more comfortable with the idea of “seeing what happens” during foreplay. And we never would have made that realization with out the communication skills I learned in therapy

  22. Thank you for this! I am in your boat… Actually tried again last night and heard “we just had sex” after I complained. We “just” did 3 months ago. Getting into lingerie is about the most depressing thing because it’s one thing to be turned down without any effort but I’m sure you understand that getting turned down after putting in that much effort is so much more depressing. I think the worst part to me is that I can’t go to a bar without being hit on…so basically with my husband is where I feel the least sexy and attractive. I live with a roomate who loves me and that’s more than a lot of women can say. Like you, I do love him but the hurt continues.

    • That sucks. I’m repeating what earlier posters have mentioned, but please check out what Dan Savage of the Savage Lovecast has to say on the matter. He addresses this issue on a regular basis. Your partner should at the very least be willing to have open and honest communication with you on this issue, and be willing to find a solution that satisfies BOTH of you. If he loves you, he should be willing to do that. He’s causing you to suffer and it is unfair.

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