How do you know if/when to end a long-term relationship when everything is great except for the sex? How do you know when it’s irrational to keep trying to make it work?
I’ve been dating my girlfriend Helen (not her real name) for 5 years, and lived with her for 3. We’re both in our mid-20s. Before meeting Helen, I had very little success in the dating and sexual realm; this is my first real relationship and she’s the only person I’ve had sex with more than once (I had a couple of one-time hookups years ago). We mutually decided to be polyamorous from the start, as both of us identified with it, though in practice I haven’t dated outside our relationship.
Helen and I were friends before we started dating, and as soon as we did we went through the typical honeymoon phase, including a deep personal connection and lots of enthusiastic sex. The thing is, even after the honeymoon phase wore off the non-sexual parts of our relationship continued to be amazing. We have similar values and (weird) personality types, share similar niche academic interests, communicate openly and honestly, and have a mutual love of cuddling. We still find ourselves regularly getting lost in fascinating, hours-long conversations. We’ve supported one another through hard times and mental illness. We’re best friends, and until recently I was 100% sure I was going to spend the rest of my life with Helen.
Over the course of our relationship, though, we’ve been having sex less and less, and Helen has seemed less and less sexually attracted to me. Nowadays, we sometimes go months without any sort of sexual intimacy. Even when we do have sex, while Helen still says she enjoys it, I always have to initiate and it’s clear that she’s mostly doing it because she cares about me and the relationship, and less out of visceral desire or excitement (she’s also told me as much, FWIW). It feels like she always prefers snuggling up with me on the couch and watching another episode of a show together over having sex, no matter what I do. We’ve had many conversations where I’ve tried to ask Helen in a lowkey way what I could do to be more attractive or make sex with me more enjoyable for her, but her responses are either unhelpfully vague or that it’s more about her than me.
To make matters worse, it isn’t that Helen’s sex drive has gone down in general, just that it’s gone down for sex with me in particular. While I wouldn’t say she has a high sex drive, and stress sometimes completely kills it for a week or two at a time, generally speaking she still masturbates, and when she has other partners she still enthusiastically has sex with them (this is based on conversations we’ve had, not my own assumptions, to be clear).
This is a problem for me. I have a high sex drive and really value sexuality. I masturbate almost daily, and often 2-3 times a day. And I’m still very attracted to Helen. Even after 5 years. I still feel over the moon every time we have sex, and it makes me feel close to her in a way few other things do.
I know it’s not realistic to expect daily sex in a long-term relationship, and that sometimes people will have a stressful week or month that might dramatically lower their libido temporarily, and I’m ok with that. That said, I really want my primary partner to make me feel desired, to sometimes be enthusiastic about sex with me, and to have sex with them a couple times a week on average. I want to feel like my partner is getting as much from sex as I am. I want my sex life to be more than just a very occasional quickie or handjob to keep me happy.
It really hurts to feel like your own girlfriend doesn’t desire you anymore. I try not to let it get to me too much and focus on the other good things in our relationship, but in some moods this dynamic makes me feel undesirable, lonely, and sexually frustrated, which is how I often felt back in my unhappy years as a college-aged virgin.
At the same time, aside from the sex our relationship is wonderful and I’d be devastated if it ended. When I compare our relationship to those of my friends and family, Helen and I have one of the healthiest and closest I know of outside of the bedroom. That connection feels really special and I feel like I’d be a fool to give it up.
Sometimes I wonder if I should try my hand once again at polyamorous dating to get my sexual needs met now that I’ve been vaccinated, but other times I wonder how much that would really help. And, to be honest, my past experiences with online dating as a partnered, polyamorous, introverted guy have been extremely dispiriting and not particularly fruitful.
My question isn’t so much about how I can be more attractive to Helen or communicate better about sex with her, we’ve been seeing a sex-positive couple’s therapist about that, but rather how do you know when you’ve given it your all and it just isn’t going to work out? How do I even go about thinking about this? What questions should I be asking myself? I feel so lost and uncertain.
Lost in a Relationship