I have been happily married for 14 years now and we have two beautiful children. I absolutely love my wonderful bride and she earns the bulk of our income, allowing me to be a stay-at-home parent and pursue my career as a writer.
My question pertains to our sex life. Since the birth of our youngest, 6 years ago we have been less and less intimate. The few times we do have sex (about 4-6 times a month) are often lackluster and leave me unfulfilled as she is distant and more or less just allowing me to relieve myself rather than being an active participant.
Foreplay is more or less a thing of the past and it has been years since she performed oral sex at all. The whole thing feels like it is a chore to get out of the way for her.
I love her and certainly would never cheat on her or seek sexual gratification elsewhere in any form but I still crave an active sex life. We aren’t even in our 40s yet and it feels like we are already in our golden years.
I have discussed these issues with her several times but no solution has come from those conversations.
I would love to hear what you have to say in this matter.
Thank you in advance for your advise.
Frustrated House Husband
I’m going to apologize in advance, FHH, because this is the sort of question that I can’t really answer; there are so many possibilities here – none of them pleasant – that it kind of defies an easy answer… or at least an answer that’s within the reach of a loudmouth with a blog. The problem here is that, short of sitting down with you and your wife and talking with you both, it’s kind of difficult to nail down exactly what’s going on.
Now, with that being said, I can make some educated guesses. One of the things that leaps out to me isn’t the frequency (4-6 times a month averages out to 1/week, which is pretty good for a 14 year marriage with two kids) but the quality. After all, when sex with your partner has more in common with banging a Fleshlight… well, even though you’re technically getting your needs met (i.e., your balls drained), it’s still going to feel kind of alienating and off-putting. After all, it’s not just orgasms you’re after but intimacy and feeling desired, not tolerated or put up with. And let’s be clear: you have a right to want to have sex with your wife. You have a right to want to be intimate with the person you love.Once it feels like sex with someone you love has become a chore… well, nothing good is going to follow that.
So it’s a matter of figuring out just what changed and why, so you and your wife can work together and figure out what to do about it.
The easiest and most likely answer is that your wife’s feelings about something have changed. It might be about you, it might be about sex in general, it might be about sex with you in particular. It could be that she resents being the sole breadwinner of the family – especially if (and I’m not accusing you of this) she feels like you’re not pulling your weight in other areas. Or it could be that she’s exhausted from work in general and just doesn’t feel sexy and so sex is just one. More. Damned. Thing. she has to do. It could be that she has her own version of the Madonna-Whore complex and being a mother means she just doesn’t feel sexy. She might not feel appreciated. Her libido may have changed and now you’re both just not sexually compatible anymore. She may have been asking for a different kind of sexual activity and feels like, since she’s not getting it, that there’s no point in trying any more. It could be that the attraction has faded and, while she still loves you, she’s just not interested in sex or sex with you right now.
Unfortunately, without getting to the core of the issue, I can’t really give you a solution. At the same time, however, this is one of those times when the ultimate answer is going to be less important than how you figure out what the problem is, FHH. By focusing on the sex, I suspect you’re looking at symptoms and not causes. That’s why I’d suggest that you start with talking with her again – not about the sex specifically, but about how she’s feeling. Getting deep into her emotional state and how she feels about you, your relationship, the kids and everything might be how you bankshot the sex issue. It may also help to talk to a sex-positive couples therapist; the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists has a referral page for finding someone in your area who can help. Just brace yourself; it could well be that part of the reason why nothing has come from the conversations you’ve had before is because she doesn’t want to tell you what she really wants… and that may be something you don’t want to hear. I sincerely hope it doesn’t work out that way; hopefully this is going to end up being a speed-bump in what will otherwise be a long and happy relationship.
So talk it out – together and/or with a counselor – and let us know how things are going.
Hi there Doc,
While I know you aren’t a real doctor, and I do need to go find one of those to talk to, I was hoping you could help me out with how to handle a romantic entanglement I find myself in.
I’m going to rip off the band-aid that is required background information – I am a sexual assault survivor. This happened a while ago and I seem to have a pretty good set of coping mechanisms that make it seem like I’m not hiding a gigantic mess of issues related to that.
So I understand that, because I do have this awesome mental illness, this means I have certain “no go zones” whether it be intimacy-related, conversations I don’t want to take part of, or not tuning into Game of Thrones despite more well-intentioned recommendations than I can conceptualize. What trips me up is, in relationships, even if we get to the “I know you well enough to reveal my tragic backstory” phase, eventually, my partner will say something that sets me off on an emotional panic about whether or not I can trust them.
This could be as minor as an ignorant comment about “yeah, I looked at Jennifer Lawrence’s nudes but it’s not like I was the one who leaked them” or teasing me about one of my things-I-will-never-do-in-bed. I’m super sensitive to consent issues because of what happened and I have a tough time distinguishing between the good, supportive person I know and the person who hurt me whenever my partner crosses the line. It’s resulted in massive fights because a simple sentence causes my brain to shove my rational side into the panic room and I start accusing them of being some kind of monster.
I’m better than I used to be at calming down (eventually) and explaining why I suddenly turned on them. But it still really hurts the people I’m in relationships with when I see them in that way. I know I have a strong rationale for my behavior, but I guess my question is, at what point do I have to take responsibility for my actions/reactions? I don’t want to go through the rest of my life blaming what happened to me/my mental health for these or other outbursts. But at the same time, I still need to understand and be with a partner who understands that I am going to be more sensitive to certain things. Any idea where I could find this balance?
Pretty Tired of Stupid Dickbrain
First and foremost: I’m so sorry for what you’ve gone through, PTSD. You’re a survivor and it’s a testament to your strength that you’ve come so far and recovered so much. You also shouldn’t apologize for the fact that you have things that can trigger these moments of panic; you’ve had some seriously traumatic events in your life and those are going to leave scars. That’s not a mental illness, that’s being a human who’s gone through things humans shouldn’t have to go through, and the best thing I can recommend is that you talk to a counselor or therapist who specializes in helping recover from sexual trauma. Just as I recommended to FHH, the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists may be a good place to start when it comes to finding someone who can help you.
Now as for your relationship issues: there’s taking responsibility and then there’s taking on responsibilities that aren’t yours.
When it comes to handling moments like these in relationships, it may help to think of things as your partner having to navigate a minefield of sorts; if he steps in the wrong place, then a mine explodes, but instead of taking out his leg, it traumatizes you instead. If he’s someone who’s good and supportive, he’s going to also be someone who wants to avoid hurting you at all costs – and to be fair, for the person who accidentally hits one of those landmines, it can be pretty terrifying to them too… even more so if they didn’t realize the landmine or minefield wasn’t there in the first place. So the best thing you can do for someone you’re dating is to give them a map to that minefield: laying out what you know tends to trigger these emotions in you. You don’t need to give them the whole map at once; at first, the best thing you can do is let them know the minefield exists in the first place and give a quick warning about things that might come up early on. You don’t need to give the full details about why and how this came about, just that things are the way they are; you can elaborate more as the person has proven to be trustworthy. Issues of consent and portrayal of sexual assault are big ones, and those are ones that should be laid out very early. Your hardline no-I-will-never-do-this-so-please-don’t-ask boundaries are best brought up when sex or activities that come close to those no-go areas are on the immediate horizon.
Once they know these areas exist, it’s on your partner to be aware and to step carefully, lest he hurt you (and to an extent, himself) in the process. You can teach them where these areas are and the best way to avoid them, even how to help de-escalate a situation if they accidently do trigger one of your panic attacks. But at the same time, it’s not your responsibility to hold their hand the entire time or to continually monitor their behavior for your own emotional well-being; they need to take over and make sure that they’re stepping carefully. And that is going to be part of how you filter out the guys who’re good for you vs. the ones who aren’t. How they handle these boundaries and sensitive areas that will tell you who’s supportive and caring and who doesn’t take you seriously and should be kicked to the curb. A comment they don’t realize is triggering may be one thing; teasing you about some of your hard-no’s, on the other hand is a really shitty thing to do and a strong indicator that this person isn’t someone you should be dating. It’s one thing to playfully tease someone who’s not interested or doesn’t like something; it’s another when they won’t do it because of past trauma and thinking about it causes a full-blown panic attack.
And again: your responsibility is to take care of yourself. Working with a counselor or therapist can help you develop the scripts to have these conversations and to separate well-meaning mistakes from people who are best left out in the cold.
You’re incredibly strong, PTSD and you’ve come a long way. You’ve got this. So take care of yourself and write back to let us know how you’re doing.
Dear Doctor NerdLove
My biggest fear is becoming one of “those” guys. The dudebros, fuckboys, manbabies, what have you. Even though I hate everything about them and what those kind of people stand for, I feel like I’m cast from the same mold: white, male, straight, and completely lacking in intelligence and social skills. I’m a 26 year old virgin who has no business being in a relationship with anyone, but my stupid worthless sex drive doesn’t understand that. Any time a woman seems to be remotely nice to me, my stupid brain runs off completely idiotic fantasies about dates, sex and other stupid things. Women aren’t objects or prizes to be won, just because my hormones can’t stop raging doesn’t mean they should be disrespected.
What I want to know is, do you know of any way do suppress or remove the male sex drive that would be available without to much difficulty? Preferably something I can get without needing to see a doctor or specialist? Because if having these feelings means constantly being an asshole to women, then I’m better off without it.
Here’s what you need to do, HI: you need to take a very deep breath. Breathe in to the count of 5, hold it for the count of 3 then breathe out for the count of 5. Now do this again, just focusing on your breath.
The reason why I want you to do this is that I want you to simply calm down. The problem isn’t in having a sex drive or wanting to have sex, have a partner or a relationship. It’s ok to want sex. The problem with assholes, creepers and fuckboys is how they go about trying to get it. The wanting isn’t the issue. You can have plenty of casual sex while still being a gentleman. You can be lustful but still be respectful. It’s the behavior that makes the fuckboy and the asshole – they’re the ones who believe they’re entitled to sex just for existing and who treat women like Kleenex, to be used and discarded.
So instead of trying to get rid of your libido, HI, take some deep calming breaths and remember: it’s fine that you want sex. Instead of treating your sex drive as the enemy, channel it. Work on developing those social skills and becoming the awesome person you know you can be. There’s a very helpful book available to teach you how to do just that. And in the meantime: educate yourself a little on one of the greatest examples of someone who can be lustful, charming and respectful at the same time: Captain Jack Harkness. Watch some Eccleston and Tennant-era Doctor Who and some Torchwood and let Captain Jack be your dating Patronus.