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Is lack of sex worth ending a marriage over?
March 23, 2011 10:53 PM   Subscribe

Is sexual incompatibility enough of a reason to end a 15 year marriage? It seems like a lame reason, but she would prefer to do it once a month, while he has the urge once a day (but I'd settle for once or twice a week). Is there any hope for this couple?

I've listened to enough pop psychologists on the radio to know whenever a guy complains about infrequent sex in a relationship, it usually means something else major is going on, but I can't for the life of me figure out what is causing the strife in the bedroom. I help cook, I help clean, I help do everything I can and when she says she's tired I take care of more than enough added chores in the hopes she can relax.

Of course in the first couple years we were together sex was frequent, fun, and done with reckless abandon. It was no big deal and it was great and we did it almost every night. Then adult lives and responsibilities came into being and it slid back to about once a month between work schedules and exhaustion, where it has stayed ever since. There are now children so it took a few years before we could figure out a way to even make time for it (there was a stretch of about 9 months without it completely). Hormones were thought to possibly be a problem but blood work has shown no issues with either of us.

I realized recently that I can't take it anymore, I'm tired of masturbating all the time. I've read Dan Savage and it seems I'm supposed to ask for an open relationship and get a fuckbuddy but that seems pretty much impossible for both of us (we have talked about open relationships a few months ago when a friend mentioned doing it and she doesn't think any sane human could do that, and I can't imagine having a physical-only relationship in my 40s). She's not suddenly going to start giving frequent handjobs ("gross!" she has always said) or blowjobs ("I used to be into giving those, but naw, not much any more" -- it's been nearly two years since the last one), so I'm stumped.

Lately, I've grown resentful after asking each time and hearing an excuse (sometimes the response is a laugh from her). I think it's because I'm equating lovemaking with sharing, giving, and expressing love between two people. Honestly, when I think of it that way I don't know why everyone isn't doing it all the time whenever they can. I think she feels it's a physical activity we just do once in a while and she only feels like doing it once in a blue moon. I know it's dumb but it feels like the most obvious way to express love that I can think of so someone not wanting to do it seems like they don't have that strong of feelings for you.

I don't want to split up over what doesn't seem like a huge part of marriage, since we are parents and I think we're good parents and we communicate well and compliment each other well and if sex was out of the picture an outsider could see two best friends having the time of their lives together sharing in activities and parenting.

But if it boils down to once a month for the rest of my life, I'm not sure I can take that much longer. Is there any hope? Where do we start trying to come to any sort of agreement?
posted by hoodkeyben70 to Human Relations (93 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
 
Have you told her what you've said here, that you miss feeling close to her and are considering ending your marriage? You've expressed yourself really well here, but it sounds as though the two of you haven't really talked about the issue. You need to have this conversation with your wife.
posted by decathecting at 11:07 PM on March 23, 2011 [17 favorites]


Does she know you are so unhappy that you're seriously contemplating divorce? Because she should and then counseling. I don't know if that will fix your problems, but with kids involved and a life built together, I think you need to at least give it that.

You're wife may just not be interested in sex anymore. She may not be interested in it with you. I have no idea, but I really can't tell from your question whether you've really sat down and had a hard, painful, and blunt conversation about your sex life. You both will probably hear some things you don't want to, but it also might be the start of getting to the root of the problem.
posted by whoaali at 11:09 PM on March 23, 2011


Starting point: Does she know that you equate "lovemaking with sharing, giving, and expressing love between two people" and that "it feels like the most obvious way to express love that I can think of so someone not wanting to do it seems like they don't have that strong of feelings for you," or does she think you view it as a physical activity that you want to do more?

A few sessions of couples counseling might help. Sometimes that enables people to talk to and listen to their partner in a different way from their day-to-day interactions. Maybe if she understands your reaction, and you understand her motivations, you can come to some kind of understanding & agreement.

Sex with my partner is tremendously important to me & my relationship with my partner. I understand that not everyone is like that. It's not a deal-breaker for some people, but it sounds very important to you. I would give it my best shot & plenty of talking and time, but this kind of incompatibility is a legitimate reason to split. Whether that is the right decision for you is something that only you can answer.
posted by studioaudience at 11:12 PM on March 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


The New York Times just had a short piece on some new research on this very issue. It sounds like this is a very common problem in marriages.

Does your wife see this as a problem in your relationship or just your problem? Would she like to have sex more often too, at least in theory? Have you tried to talk this out in couple's therapy? I would really encourage you to talk this out with a professional before you leave your marriage for this. Even if she won't go, you can go on your own. (Calling handjobs "gross" isn't a great sign, admittedly.)

I will also ask this: are you healthy and in decent shape? Do you take care of yourself? Do you go to bed clean and not smelly? This might not be the issue, but it can be for some women.

There are always lots of articles, too, in women's magazines, about 'rekindling the romance,' which is usually short hand for 'getting it on.' They suggest a romantic date or, preferably, a romantic weekend at a B&B with no kids. I don't know if you are beyond that point or not, though.

I do think the stakes are much higher when you are a parent, and sometimes you have to suck it, at least while the kids are young. When your kids are adults who have grown up schlepping between two different households, they will at some point ask, "Hey, Dad, why did you leave Mom?" Think a bit about answering that question.

I will also point out that leaving your marriage in no way guarantees more sex. It could be less!
posted by bluedaisy at 11:13 PM on March 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think half the reason you're resentful is because you're pinning all of this up inside of you. You need to let her know how you feel.
I don't think you guys are going to be able to fix this with a conversation but at least it will be out there...it's some kind of starting point. I don't think there is any advice anyone can give that's relevant until you talk to your wife about this and have her opinion on the matter.

Since you seem to have such a deep emotional connect with sex it seems unlikely for you to have someone on the side without it being more of a full blown relationship so I understand your problems there too. But shit, 2 years since you had a bj, you are a more patient man that I.
posted by zephyr_words at 11:17 PM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Studioaudience is SO right!

I think the way you expressed your views on sex with your wife was loving and intimate and romantic. I think you should explain those two sentiments, and only those two, as a way to open the dialogue.

I'd really really like to hear your wife's response. I can't think of any advice or decision that doesn't hinge on finding out where she stands relative to your perspective.
posted by jbenben at 11:26 PM on March 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


There are no good answers for this, and certainly no socially acceptable ones. If you think once a month is not enough now, then consider that by the time you are in your fifties it may well be once a year, and from that point things will start to go downhill (I'm sorry, a poor joke). Coital frequency does not increase with age. This can be a long-term waiting game, in which everyone waits for your libido to die. The manner in which you dismiss any outside relationships makes it sound as if you are not prepared to explore "unconventional" alternatives, but you also seem to believe that conventional arrangements are not something that she wants anymore. The traditional explanation is that there is some underlying resentment on her part which you must discover, but it is equally possible that she just doesn't care about sex anymore, and regards it as your problem, not hers.

Your choices, when you come to talk to her, are clear. For the sake of the children, as they say, you should tough it out. But when you get desperate enough, and before the marriage becomes a vicious game of sniping at one another, you will have to find another outlet. It will be time to use your imagination. Perhaps if you start from that point of view, there may be some movement.
posted by alonsoquijano at 11:32 PM on March 23, 2011


Kinda a generalisation, but some people look at sex as something to bring a couple closer and some people need to feel close in order to have sex. You sound like the former type, could she be the latter?

I help cook, I help clean, I help do everything I can and when she says she's tired I take care of more than enough added chores in the hopes she can relax.

Maybe I am being over-analytical but, as a couple with both of you working and children as well, you shouldn't be "helping". That implies that all of that second shift of housework, childcare and chores are really her responsibility and aren't you great for "helping". A lot, I mean a LOT, of men underestimate how much more work their partner is doing (statistics out the whazoo support me on this). As a working mother I can sympathise with how exhausted she must feel, not only from the physical work but also the mental weight of juggling it all. Does she often get a break, a weekly night out to herself that means she comes home refreshed to a clean house and happy, fed children tucked in bed? Do you have a maid, do you eat out regularly to save her from cooking and cleaning, are you the main liaison for the childcare providers? Equally, does she have financial worries, does she feel secure and able to purchase the things she needs and even a few luxuries.

You also don't mention how your date night and weekends away are going. You ARE doing them, right? Completely planning and arranging surprise weekends somewhere she would like to go so that the weekend away isn't more work for her? Making sure the childcare arrangements are airtight so that isn't a worry for her. You had a lot of sex at the beginning of your relationship, maybe that ties into how much more effort you put into the relationship then?

And uh, about the handjob and blowjobs? That sounds like work, has she also been turning you down when you offer to massage her (or whatever her preference for physical touch with no overt sex) with no strings attached?

I don't have the answers, your wife does and you really need to talk to her about this but it may help you to recognise that just because you equate sex with love doesn't mean that she necessarily does and she needs to feel the love (in a non-exhausted state) before she can enjoy the sex.
posted by saucysault at 11:34 PM on March 23, 2011 [122 favorites]


Sorry, poor formatting in my last sentence, I can't read your wife's mind, just throwing out ideas that may help your conversation.
posted by saucysault at 11:37 PM on March 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Basically, what saucysault said.

(I was going ask when you last gave her an orgasm, because you seem awfully focused on what you're not getting, but didn't mention anything about her needs & desires... Have you asked her what would make her more interested, or just asked what's "wrong" with her?)
posted by MightyNez at 11:44 PM on March 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Is she even willing to hold you while you masturbate?

It is one thing to have lost sexual interest in someone you love. It is another thing entirely to not want to be part of that person's sexual life.

As was suggested above, please talk to her about what this is doing to your marriage, what this is doing to you?
posted by munchingzombie at 12:09 AM on March 24, 2011


"Is sexual incompatibility enough of a reason to end a 15 year marriage?"

Yes. You sound like you love her but not that you're in love with her. She's your best friend and someone you share interests and great parenting with, but from what you've described she's not necessarily your partner/lover.

Some people place more importance on sex than other people - there's nothing wrong with that unless you get one person who wants sex and one person who doesn't. You sound resentful not just that you're not getting laid, but also that you're not getting specific types of sex, which do tend to be initiated and enjoyed more by people who like sex. So even if your sex life were to increase, your wife may never be someone who likes sex as much as you do, and you may still be left unfulfilled.

That said, it sounds like you've asked framed sex to her from the perspective of "you need to fuck me because I need it" rather than "let's be intimate with one another". However, in your question you say sex to you is a demonstration of intimacy and love. So, you probably should articulate it to her in that way first and see how she responds from there. Less blowjob talk, more expressions of love.

If she's not responsive then, yeah, maybe you two can still be great parents together and best friends with similar interests, but you should probably go off and find someone else to be your SO. Life is too short to be this unhappy.
posted by mleigh at 12:37 AM on March 24, 2011 [6 favorites]


Oh man, what Saucysault said. In past relationships when I've shut down sexually, it's because it all felt like too much damned work, where I was a means to an end, and I couldn't be bothered. You can and can't fix that by talking about it - tell her your frustrations, but amp up the touching/intimacy/cuddling/making out with no expectations.
posted by nerdfish at 1:43 AM on March 24, 2011 [12 favorites]


I am a little further along your continuum. I tried and tried for years to re-invigorate our sex life, but he just doesn't have the drive. It didn't matter what I did, the answer was always no, and every attempt crushed me a little more and made him feel pressured a little more.

Finally, at 20 years of marriage, we've called it quits. The kids are adults. We're still friends. But at 43, I couldn't see me being sexless the rest of my life, and he couldn't imagine ever wanting sex again.

We did try the ethical open marriage thing, but it had unexpected consequences, and as you already noted, she's not okay with that.

It was really hard to give up on the marriage. I didn't want to be one of those people who took the easy way, didn't try, wasn't prepared to compromise. Everything else in the relationship was good enough, or tolerable. I felt guilty for breaking up the family, for breaking my vows, for not being tough enough to keep going.

But, we've been split since November last year, I get to move out in about two weeks, and while I've had some massive grieving and sadness and dealt with my kids' feelings about it (and his too, of course), I'm actually quite relieved and happy about my future options.

Memail me if you like.
posted by b33j at 2:18 AM on March 24, 2011 [5 favorites]


I can't favorite saucysault's answer enough. I am (not literally) your wife. Your question and saucysault's answer describe our situation to a tee. I adore my husband and really really really I do want to be intimate with him, but... I'm just too tired.

We have 3 kids under 5 and all the childcare, chores, and financials are my responsibility. From 6am when they wake me up til sometimes 9:30pm (or later) when they go to bed the kid responsibility is all mine. Once they're in bed I have time for some of the chores I missed during the day. Should I list all household chores for anyone who doesn't get it? Making breakfast, making them actually eat breafast, dressing, bathing, diapers, packing lunches, cleaning up messes, potty training a 2 year old, planning crafts, playing outside, settling kids' arguments, talking them into taking (very much needed) naps, finding childcare in the first place, driving to childcare/school, talking to teachers, keeping their clothes sorted for the right size and season, all the while doing laundry for 5 people and sorting and folding and putting it away, cleaning the house, planning meals and grocery shopping, making meals and convincing a picky 2- and 4- year old to eat, starting to feed solids to the baby now, arranging and going to all kids' doctors' appointments (still going monthly with a baby), feeding the dog, taking dog out, giving the dog her medicine, doing the dishes, paying and filing bills, researching and making our insurance decisions each year (health, auto, life), choosing activities for the kids (sports, museums, classes and playdates) and taking them there, bedtime stories, changing out lightbulbs and replacing toy batteries, keeping the house stocked with necessities like toilet paper, soap, toothpaste, clothes that fit and aren't worn out or stained, dog food.

Finding alternatives, like finding a sitter for the younger ones so I can take the 4 year old to an activity where the others can't tag along, like finding someone to clean the house (vacuum, bathrooms, etc), like finding a financial planner because I don't have time sit down and work out our retirement and savings stategy any more, and hiring someone to help with household maintenance like spring and fall lawn cleanups and gutter cleaning. On rare occassions planning a brief family vacation also falls entirely on me (this includes finding the time in my husband's schedule, figuring out where to go that could accomodate and entertain all of us, and making all related arrangments such as reservations, dog care, cancelling cleaning and holding mail, etc).

I'm breastfeeding an infant and I've been getting up at 4am at night lately to pump breastmilk to stock up for when I go back to work in 2 weeks. Yay, I can add my actual job to all this.

All of these require round-the-clock attention and time. Do not underestimate how much time and effort any single one of these takes. My husband helps in the way saucysault describes, sometimes putting them to bed, taking on a meal here or there, or driving them to school once in a while, etc, but his job is time consuming and exhausting and the help he can provide is sporadic and, frankly, I usually have to ask for it.

I have zero time for myself, none, zip, zilch. I can never close my eyes and rest, let alone find time for a hobby or distraction. The closest I have to "alone time" is when I manage to only have one child with me. And no, we don't have time together alone as a couple, and no, we don't have time to spend alone with friends. I only had time to type up this answer because I was up at 5am nursing the baby. But first I had to wipe away the tears I had from reading the question and saucysault's answer. I'm sure I missed some key points that I will later wish I made. I'm sorry I'm too tired for sex right now. I'm exhausted. I haven't had time to shower in 2 days, I was too tired to do the dishes last night, I think I forgot the dog's medicine yesterday, I have mousetraps to set and I'm already late getting the kid's breakfast ready.
posted by ellenaim at 3:57 AM on March 24, 2011 [132 favorites]


The bigger issue here is you guys seem to have entered the "counting favors" zone.

When things are shiny and new, nobody keeps score. You're too busy trying to move heaven and earth to impress them and win them over. Then you win them over, and in the worst case it becomes a race to the bottom to see who can neglect the other best. This isn't just with couples and sex but people vs. work or friends, too.

Somehow, someway, an atmosphere of "what have you done for me lately?" has emerged in your marriage. Probably because marriage is essentially a long term contract and you've both lost the motivation that earned you that contract in the first place.

I think you should talk to your wife. I think you need to call yourself out on your own complacency and hint at hers, gently. I think you should commit yourself to being a take-no-prisoners star in every aspect of your life (man, father, husband, friend, worker-bee, etc.) and invite her to come along for the ride.

Right now, you're probably both coasting some. Live more. You'll very likely wind up fucking more. If not her, then someone who'll want to run with you.

(also, is she on birth control? you might want to look into getting yourself fixed and her off that stuff as it makes a huge difference in many women's libidos)

Good luck. Married with child here and I've been where you were. Strive for more. You'll probably get more sex, and even if you don't, you'll feel better about all the different aspects of your life which you've improved.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 4:02 AM on March 24, 2011 [7 favorites]


Yes, sex is a reason to end a 15 year relationship. I am not so sure about what everyone else is reading into this, but I do think you need to make an effort to resolve it through discussion before you end it. At one point sex was frequent and seemingly carefree. Something changed. I think it is worth finding out what that something is.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 4:07 AM on March 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


If she's tired from doing a million and one things, and you're both doing as much as the other then you need to work out what things don't need doing / don't need doing as often. Sex can be a chore too, but it's important for keeping the relationship solid.

As well as all the stuff other people have said, you need for her to understand this. From what you've said, I don't think she does.

And if you can't work this out, then maybe you do need to be apart. It breaks my heart to type that, but this may be the case.
posted by seanyboy at 4:23 AM on March 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Addendum: That last comment sounded like I was advocating you pressure her into having sex when she doesn't want to. I'm not, and the idea of constantly pressuring someone to have sex with them when they don't want it (with the added blackmail of promising to leave if it's not given) is pretty despicable.

But, everyone (men and women) in a serious relationship sometimes need to do it when they're not in the mood. It's a fine line to balance, but balance it you must.
posted by seanyboy at 4:29 AM on March 24, 2011


It's a very thoughtful question, you sound like a very good man.

I'm going to disagree a little bit with the "leave" crew. I am divorced from a 17year marriage. Looking back, I may have ultimately made the same decision to end it, but I would have stuck with the endgame for longer. Now that are kids are grown and I'm single, I miss having my "friend to the end," or as Joan Rivers says, the person I turn to and say "Remember when ...?" Sex is critical but try everything to make it work before you leave your marriage -- commit years to it! You haven't really given us much about her. Flip your perspective and tell that story.
posted by thinkpiece at 4:34 AM on March 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


Just wanted to note that saucysault's heavily favorited comment seems mostly to be favorited by women... it would probably be good for you to read and reread it.

I'm sorry you're in this situation and recognize that it totally sucks, but I can identify with your wife. The one thing I find troubling about her position is the way she seems to respond to your requests for sex. The laughing it off and the complete refusal to consider HJs or BJs aren't really cool, as it sounds like she's not even taking you seriously. (I'll add the caveat that we're getting only your perspective, and you are probably sensitive about this.)

Given that, yeah, talking to her is your best option.

You need to understand that having a low sex drive isn't something any of us want; it just is, sometimes. And she needs to understand that for most people, sex isn't a take-it-or-leave-it kind of thing, that it's an essential part of maintaining a solid relationship. If the two of you aren't able to meet somewhere in the middle of accommodating both those perspectives, then maybe therapy would be a good idea.
posted by torticat at 5:00 AM on March 24, 2011 [6 favorites]


Is she masturbating? Take away the vibrator for a couple of months and see if she is still not interested.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:08 AM on March 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Honestly, I think most women (I would estimate at least most women of my generation and older) had very very little encouragement in figuring out what they wanted sexually before marriage. In my opinion, women are often socialized to experience sex early in the relationship as a victory--see, I am desirable, I am what a woman should be!--and the feelings of victory wear off, and then because women are socialized to ignore and minimize sexual desire, sometimes there just isn't much desire in relationships. The purpose of sex was to prove that the woman was a good woman, sexy, fun, able to get a man...not to have fun having sex with someone. The purpose of sex was to prove something, to desire being desired because being desired meant being worthwhile.

Again, this is just my personal opinion based on being socialized as a woman and struggling through this in some of my relationships....but I tend to think that at least some of this "women don't want sex" business is more about "women have never figured out what they want sexually or how to want sex for its own sake and so maybe they might want sex, but not with the stable nice guy they married to have kids with". Which is pretty darn sad.

Obviously, you should try therapy and frank speaking before ending a marriage.
posted by Frowner at 5:14 AM on March 24, 2011 [24 favorites]


My first thought on reading the initial post and then the whole thread was "Wow, straight people relationships are just like us gays!" since I find myself in almost the same spot as the OP, but with even less frequency. Nine years together now, and everything else in the relationship seems perfect. Just no sex. Like he's just not interested in me anymore.

But then there's some great nuggets in all the responses, especially from saucysault and ellenaim that really got me thinking about things - ellenaim could easily be my husband (lol).

Thing is, it's hard to really hit home on what you need to do other than counseling without knowing you and your wife's personalities. I see myself in the exact (if not worse) position than you, with your wife bearing the same traits as my husband - but I'd come to accept the way things are with me cause I just figured "That's how he is...".

What I'm saying is, maybe it's not him that's the problem. Maybe it's not me either. Maybe it's both of us? Catch my drift?

You say you help out a lot. I do to - but it's always on his schedule. If I don't do something at his frenetic pace, he'll do it before I get to it. If there's a chore that has to be done, it needs to be done NOW - not in 10 minutes after talking to your mom on the phone. I just feel like I can't do things the way he wants them done, so why bother? Is your wife like my husband in that regard?

I REALLY don't suggest the open relationship thing, as you equate sex with love and emotion (as one should!). Some people think gay men can easily have an open relationship because it's easier to separate the act from the emotions - trust me, most of us can't. It always gets messy. Always. Maybe not the first time, but in six months that fuckbuddy (or buddies) will be something more and your life will have just gotten a hella lot more complicated than you ever wanted. Also - people talk.

So since we aren't really keyed in to your personalities, I'd agree with others - step one: tell her what you've told us, in the way that you've told it. Step two: counseling on your own. Step three: Counseling together.
posted by matty at 5:16 AM on March 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


I help cook, I help clean, I help do everything

This jumps out at me, as it always does. It may not be the cause of your troubles, however, I think you need to stop helping to cook, helping to clean, and helping to do everything. Presumably these are your family's meals that you're cooking and your own home that you're cleaning. Stop helping to cook and helping to clean and just cook and clean. When you say you're "helping" it implies that this is somehow her job that you're kindly helping her with, rather than your own responsibility that you're fulfilling (after all, would you say that she helps cook or helps clean?). It may also be the case that if on some level you see it this way (that it's her job and you're helping) you're doing some, but not doing your full share of this work.

The share of the household work you each do may or may not be part of what's affecting her sex drive (or yours -- would you have the energy for sex every day if you were each doing about the same amount of work?). The way to find it out is in counseling.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 5:22 AM on March 24, 2011 [22 favorites]


Your needs are unimportant. You are unattractive and undesirable. You don't deserve any special effort because you are just not that special. There's not a chance in the world you have the balls to leave.

I can read what the spouse is telling you, even if you can't. She tells you every day. Mask it any way you choose, but see it for what it is. Facts aren't negotiable.
posted by FauxScot at 5:27 AM on March 24, 2011 [15 favorites]


As a woman, but not your wife, I can't favorite mleigh's comment enough. People always think it's the husband's fault; and it often isn't. It's definitely worth counseling, but I just want to reiterate that you may be doing nothing wrong, and your needs are valid.
posted by ldthomps at 5:27 AM on March 24, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'm going to take the unpopular stance: It's time to leave the marriage.

I'm taking you at your word that you've done everything possible to solve the problem -- you do half the chores, you have communicating your needs, you have looked for medical reasons, you take pride in your appearance, you are kind and empathetic. But, if you've tried everything it's hard to be rejected for years. That's what it is, really, isn't it? She approaches the thought of touching you with "gross" and "no thanks!" and laughter. That hurts. At first, you feel that you are just not good enough, and that maybe you are, indeed, gross. Then you start feeling like you've been taken for a ride. In the end, maybe some cute woman smiles at you, and you start thinking you're not so gross after all... and then that anger turns on your wife: You've done everything, you are not gross after all, and she's still cold and withholding.

That anger doesn't go away, even if the sex problem resolves itself. The time to leave is before the anger destroys the friendship you have with her, that makes your roles as parents so good. Leave the marriage as friends, so you can offer good parenting to your children. If you leave after both of you are bitter, the parenting becomes much more difficult.
posted by Houstonian at 5:32 AM on March 24, 2011 [8 favorites]


That you say you "don't know why everyone isn't doing it all the time" makes be think you don't quite understand how women differ from men. For most women, orgasms don't come nearly as easily or reliably as for men. We have to work for them, and sometimes that acts as a disincentive to even start. And then if it doesn't work, that can leave you feeling a little defeated and lame (unsexy). Another factor you don't seem to understand is that being penetrated can just be uncomfortable for women, even in the absence of any physiological problems, and especially if she's not all that aroused. Those tissues are sensitive and easily irritated. It's not the same as for a man.

I've often thought that if women on average could come as easy as men, our preferred frequency of sex would be much more equal. It doesn't have to do so much with desire, but with what actually happens when we have sex. I'm sure if you could guarantee a woman an easy orgasm, she'd most always say yes.
posted by mrs. sock at 5:41 AM on March 24, 2011 [22 favorites]


Take away the vibrator for a couple of months and see if she is still not interested.

Oh yes, because clearly treating her like she's a naughty toddler and taking away her toys to punish her is exactly what this already troubled marriage needs.
posted by elizardbits at 5:49 AM on March 24, 2011 [52 favorites]


It's valid to leave if staying isn't making you happy. That applies to sex, or any other aspect of a relationship.

But I also agree with the people above who have suggested counseling and, you know, just plain communicating. She needs to hear and understand how you feel, and you need to hear her in the same way. It took you a long time to get into this position, and it might take you a long time to fix it (whether that means fixing the relationship, or breaking up).

And remember, it's not like breaking up will magically get you a hot 24 year old in your bed. Once you are single, you might look back at reliable one a month sex, plus snuggling every night, as a pretty good deal.
posted by Forktine at 5:52 AM on March 24, 2011 [6 favorites]


giving frequent handjobs ("gross!" she has always said) or blowjobs ("I used to be into giving those, but naw, not much any more" -- it's been nearly two years since the last one),

Good god. Time to leave, man.

It sounds like she sees you as a friend nowadays.

I guess you could go to therapy or perhaps see if she'll talk to her doctor about her extreme lack of sex drive, though.

Although I wasn't married, when I'm in a LTR and it starts sliding to less than once a month... it's always been bad news.
posted by KogeLiz at 5:52 AM on March 24, 2011


Is lack of sex worth ending a marriage over?

Possibly, but likely not. Obviously something only you can answer and it really depends on whether the good things in the relationship are worth the trade-off. (And, when kids are involved, what is best for them.) But...

(handjobs:) gross!
sometimes the response is a laugh from her

A lack of basic dignity and respect from your partner is definitely worth ending a marriage over.
posted by Dano St at 5:57 AM on March 24, 2011 [8 favorites]


You seem to be copping a fair amount of flack for being a man who wants sex in a world where women often do a lot of chores and you accidentally used the word "help". As a woman who wants sex and also did a lot of chores, while my partner did less, I don't think the problem is that simple. We also can't see how you divide the responsibilities in your household. It may be that your contribution is as timeconsuming and as tiring as hers, or more so. It's unfortunate that you are receiving advice that is coloured by a common (and realistic) stereotype.

I do think it's worthwhile to try counselling, if only to make sure you've gone down every avenue.

Of course you know (as I do), that ending a long marriage does not guarantee the sex with someone else. Of course you may be just as sexless, and now without a companion. I think it's pretty important that you can accept that risk.

Is there any hope? I don't know. I hoped for a long time, and sometimes think I was a fool for hoping so long.
Where do we start trying to come to any sort of agreement? Counselling seems like the best bet. You have a 3rd party who helps each of you understand and kind of referee. I know after counselling, my husband felt he understood more how I felt about the situation (which frustrated me a little because I thought I'd been telling him clearly for years).
posted by b33j at 6:00 AM on March 24, 2011 [17 favorites]


I can understand being disgusted by the idea of giving a handjob. You're tired--you're so tired, even the idea of falling asleep sounds like a burden, and you can't think straight, and you're almost sick to your stomach from the exhaustion. The idea of your own sexual gratification seems like a complete impossibility. And then your loved one says, "hey! Why not give me that sexual gratification? Don't get any yourself, but give me some!" I can imagine being so tired, mentally and physically, that the idea of doing that is disgusting. It's not that handjobs, themselves, are disgusting. But in that circumstance, given those constraints, the request is not at all a small one.

I can also imagine laughing at the idea of sex. Now, I can imagine laughing at the idea of sex in one particular way--you don't explain the circumstances, so I'm just making stuff up. But I can imagine being that exhausted. You know the way that your muscles get when you're so tired, they feel constantly like they're twitching? When you're so wound up that your eyes can't even stay shut? When you're stuck in that anxiety-from-exhaustion loop where you just can't stop feeling like there must be something! Now! Needs doing!!! And you just want, more than anything, to be at peace, but your mind is so warped from the exhaustion that you can't get it? Now imagine being in that state, your mind circling around in a whirlwind without any clear thoughts at all, and then someone comes up and says, "Hey! Sexytimes!" I can imagine being so taken by surprise by that--I can imagine being so amazed that someone who loves me would think I'd be in any state to want that--that I would laugh from the shock of it. Sometimes, a laugh can mean, "Do you really not know what I'm going through?"

Now, I have no clue if that's what your wife is going through. I'm guessing. But maybe it seems like a reasonable guess?

One thing that gets suggested when a man is having trouble with erectile dysfunction is that the couple just completely stop having sex. Not stop having intimacy, not stop having fun-sexytimes, but just not even think of penetrating sex as an option, let alone orgasm. This helps because it removes all of the stress of not being able to perform. The couple finds other ways to get satisfaction and intimacy from each other and, after time, the whole problem with performance doesn't seem like such a big deal. Once it stops seeming like a big deal, the pressure goes down, and it's easier to perform.

Maybe you should try something similar: take sex off the table. You want physical intimacy with your wife, but there is something wrong right now that is making it hard for her to give it in the form of sexual activity. What else can you do to show her, physically, that you love her? What can happen, when the two of you are alone and in bed together, that can be that physical expression of your closeness, your connection? If she can't do what you want her to, what can you do? My guess is that if you can work on bringing the mutual intimacy back, the sex will follow.

That's not a long-term suggestion. Clearly, the long-term suggestion is greater communication, therapy, and closer analysis of how work is distributed in your household. It's not reasonable for you to spend the rest of your life without an adequate sex-life... But, getting to the point where your wife is more willing/able to meet your sexual needs may require spending some time focusing, instead, on alternative ways to meet your intimacy needs.
posted by meese at 6:03 AM on March 24, 2011 [24 favorites]


There are a lot of good guesses and suggestions here, but truly, I think your best hope is to be very clear to your wife that you're unhappy; that your different approaches to sex is part of your unhappiness, but the sense of lack of connection, intimacy, kindness, giving is hurtful, too; that you don't know why this state has come about, but that you value her and your marriage so highly that you want to make it the best it can be, for the *both* of you; and so you need for her to join you in marriage counseling.

If one of you has a problem, both of you have a problem. Chances are very good that she's having problems too but for whatever reason isn't being proactive about them. Or maybe she is and you're not hearing it...

The theories put forth here (division of labor, degrees of attention, your own grooming and presentation) might be right or might be totally off base. There are a million other things that might be playing a role in creating the distance that's manifesting as lack of sexual interest. Maybe she's having a really serious struggle with body image with her post-baby body. Maybe there's something going on in your marriage that is really pushing her buttons, that's resonating in a bad way with some issue from her upbringing. Maybe she's resentful because you don't notice and appreciate things she's proud of. Really, there's no way to know until you have that dialogue.

It can be incredibly helpful to have a wise and insightful counselor as a referee, someone who will advocate for each of you in a challenging discussion.

If you approach it with the attitude that you love her, you want to be close to her, you want to understand what's going on between the two of you, and you are willing to do what it takes to make your marriage the best it can be for the two of you--which is to say, do NOT approach it as "you are broken and what can we do to fix you"-- and she is unwilling to even have that conversation, I would interpret *that* as a really serious red flag for your marriage.

Good luck.
posted by Sublimity at 6:25 AM on March 24, 2011 [6 favorites]


You seem to be copping a fair amount of flack for being a man who wants sex in a world where women often do a lot of chores and you accidentally used the word "help".

I concur. You're getting pounced on unfairly.

Your marriage can probably survive the sex situation. It will probably NOT survive the resentment that's currently in play unless something else (e.g. couples' counseling) happens.

Your wife my be content with the situation. Talking to her about how you feel is the first step. If she doesn't see your situation as a problem, then you will have a better idea as to how you should proceed.
posted by DWRoelands at 6:41 AM on March 24, 2011 [12 favorites]


Have you heard about the game?

Gross, martinmartin; was that a joke? It's bad enough to treat a potential date with that kind of disrespect... but your wife?

Anyway... following on what mrs. sock said, I think it's also easier for women sometimes to feel "used" (for lack of a better word) by sex. It's far more common for a woman to go through the whole process of foreplay and sex without finishing than for a man to do so (unless he has dysfunction or problems related to antidepressants or whatever), even with a loving, giving partner. This can be frustrating, and can lead to feeling like the whole thing is not worth the trouble.

If you add to that that women often feel like they are giving all the time, with kids and work and household responsibilities, sex can definitely end up feeling like another chore.

One more thing, and I know I'm loading on the generalizations here, but I think this is true for a lot of people: in the context of actual intercourse, things like oral sex and hand jobs aren't necessarily things that turn some women on when they're performing them, but they do tend to be a turn-on for men. So that can contribute to the feeling that there's kind of an asymmetrical return on effort.... that is to say, both partners can be "giving," but one is doing it selflessly while the other is getting something out of the whole process, the giving as well as the receiving. I'm not saying this well, and I'm wincing to think how people will respond to this who have not experienced it, but there you go.

I'm probably projecting here, and this may not figure into your situation at all. But possibilities like this are why you need better communication with your wife, to unearth all the factors that are playing into her perspective. And as others have said, a neutral 3rd party may be very helpful in doing this.
posted by torticat at 7:09 AM on March 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


As each other's (presumably) sole provider of intimate affection, you each have an obligation to the other person. She is not holding up her end of the bargain, so you are well within your rights to feel resentful.

The options are:
- She adjusts to your needs
- You find a lover
- You leave

So, she has first option on the outcome of the marrige. After that, it's up to you to take control of your life and happiness.
posted by eas98 at 7:17 AM on March 24, 2011


It's not that handjobs, themselves, are disgusting. But in that circumstance, given those constraints, the request is not at all a small one.

It sounds like she's been saying it for 15 years ("gross!" she has always said) . My guess is that those constraints ("Aww, just jerk me off, baby, who cares about you?") do not accurately characterize the majority of occasions. Halfway into a month-long dry spell is it really too much to ask your life partner for help making masturbation a wee bit more interesting by lending a hand for 10 minutes? I think he'd have to shirk a whole lot of workload for that to be an unreasonable request and I don't read "I help do everything I can" that way.

Which isn't to say she doesn't have her reasons. Of course she does. And OP has received better advice here than I can give on ways to address them. Just that "I'm so tired that handjobs disgust me" probably isn't it. Expressing disgust for your partners needs, especially regularly, isn't a good way to go about a sexual relationship.

If she treats him that way outside the bedroom, he should leave and seek a better relationship. But it doesn't seem that that's the case (nothing "major" is going on), so my money is the marriage is probably worth working through this issue. There are lots of dips and rises during decades of an intimate relationship. I'm pretty sure OP hasn't seen his last rise in this one, no matter how forever deep this dip looks to him now.
posted by Dano St at 7:19 AM on March 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


You need to talk with her, communicate how serious this is for you and without making any threats convey that something needs to give here.

I am going to work under the assumption that you are very serious about housework and being attentive and caring, and tell you that if she brushes this off, or makes a token effort for a few months before sliding back into the current norm then she is not respecting your needs and you need to leave her for someone who will.
posted by BobbyDigital at 7:31 AM on March 24, 2011


As beej has been politely trying to point out, this isn't necessarily a gender-related problem. There are a lot of tired mommy projections going on in the advice here, but we have no idea how young the OP's kids are, or how the household responsibilities are divided.

I'm sure if you could guarantee a woman an easy orgasm, she'd most always say yes.

This just tells me that this person has never dealt with a low-to-no-sex-drive partner. If you offer your low-to-no-sex-drive partner an easy orgasm, they're a lot more likely to say, "Nah, I'm busy on Facebook." So yeah, I don't think this is about women's difficulty in having orgasms.

I also see the advice a lot in these sorts of topics to just "take sex off the table." It doesn't work in my experience. It just creates exactly the situation the low-to-no-sex-drive partner wants and they're perfectly happy to have sex off the table forever. Maybe it could work if taking sex off the table is combined with some sort of couples therapy and exercises in increasing and practicing non-sexual physical intimacy.

From what I’ve experienced, the low-to-no-sex-drive partner becomes incredibly guarded and shut off on the topic. They can’t understand what you’re trying to say to them, and they have no interest in hearing it, working on it, or thinking about it. There’s a very large wall there around that part of their personality. It’s a strange and distressing thing to experience with someone you otherwise are incredibly close with. I wish I had a solution to offer.
posted by Squeak Attack at 7:37 AM on March 24, 2011 [22 favorites]


Would your wife be willing to see a sex therapist with you? There are therapists well-trained to help folks like you.

I hope you get some help. In the meantime, you might consider showing this question and all of the responses to your wife. Can you send the kids to their grandparents or other family/friends for a night or a weekend so that you can both have the space to talk freely?

Is it possible that your wife has belatedly discovered she's a lesbian? I know women who have not figured that out until they were in their forties or fifties.

Good luck, I hope everything works out for you.
posted by mareli at 7:40 AM on March 24, 2011


The expectation of marriage is that it will contain a regular, monogamous, sexual relationship. It is not an unreasonable expectation regardless of gender.

There is contempt in this relationship and frankly, some cruelty (she agrees to get blood work done to assess her libido, finds out she's hormonally OK, and then reverts back to rarely having sex?) She was not looking for the reason why her libido was diminished; she wanted an excuse for why she doesn't want to have sex with her husband.

Sigh...counseling.
posted by teg4rvn at 7:41 AM on March 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think there is this angle that many women don't comprehend or feel until after they are married (and have kids - the kids part seems a big component to it). It's hard for me to articulate it, and I know other women feel it but often I think it's unconscious, because it's so hard to unpack and think about. It's easier to just blame him, or the marriage.

When you're a young, single woman a large part of your worth in society is measured in your ability to be desirable and attract a mate. It overshadows everything else for most people. You have to be sexy, but not be slutty; you have to attract a man but not be too easy; having sex is often more about being desired than having desires - he desires you, therefore your worth is affirmed; you are sexy, and you will feel that affirmation when you have (give) sex. Women - and men - aren't taught, or given space, to view sex outside of this framework. Women are the desired, not the desiring; the object, not the instigator; you are the gatekeeper of what they want, you give it.

Then you find someone, you fall in love, you get married. Everything says "you have achieved what you need for happiness". You have attracted a man, you are desirable, you couple off and you create children with this man. Now everything shifts. Both you and he unconsciously (usually I think it's unconscious because it's just societal roles we've been taught and had constantly reinforced) assume your job is X, and his job is Y. He gets to be who he always was, except now he has a wife and kids; but they are adjunct to himself, he's still himself. Her life, however, is now defined by having a husband and having children. She is the adjunct. (You can see this by how many men vs. how many women define their roles by their children - a man by his career, but a woman by her motherhood, or by her motherhood plus career - SAHM, WAHM, WOHM.)

In our society the most desirable (and the most common) representation of women is "young, single, physically attractive". Once you have kids, your body changes. You won't ever have that young tight body again - if you even had it to begin with. Motherhood marks you as well - stretchmarks, poochy stomach, flatter lower breasts. You are clearly not single, you are clearly not young anymore. Now you are often, in fact, invisible. Your role isn't to attract, and be affirmed in your desirability; your role is to, well, basically, serve. You take care of your family. (Yes, there's the whole "MILF"/"cougar" thing, but it's presented more like a sex/porn fetish, and sometimes object of derision, than about genuine desirabilty - so it doesn't work well, although women will take what they can get and play into it if they have to to get that feeling back - we've been trained to.)

In this space sex is not about affirming your worth, it's about servicing someone else. It becomes just one more demand on you, out of many demands. And you resent this.

We are all taught in our society - everything reinforces this - men just have these physical desires and they just gotta satisfy them and scratch that itch, and that's just how men are, and we just gotta accept that. I think this does a great disservice to men, because yes it is a physical thing but for many men, if not most, sex is about expressing love, emotion, closeness, desire, and reinforcing the bond with their mate - one of the few ways they are allowed to express their emotions. Here is the disconnect. To a husband, when this aspect dwindles, and he needs to recover it - on the surface it's a physical thing, so it becomes about "well if you won't have sex, will you at least have (something not quite sex, takes less time) oral, manual, something so I can satisfy that feeling?" To his thinking, she used to do these things. Why won't she do them anymore? Why doesn't she want to satisfy and please him anymore? Does she not love him as much now?

To her, though, what is she getting out of this? Women perform these things because they have to perform being sexy and desirable. She gives him a blowjob and he is attracted to her and desires her, so she feels desirable and sexy, and that is supposed to be her payoff for that performance. She may enjoy it for the power it gives her, but giving a blowjob isn't going to get her off physically, pretty much. It's not about her, it's about him. We're taught our desires are about men's desires - if we satisfy their desires, we're worthy and that should satisfy us. But now you're married and the shift is from "how can I be desirable" to "I have to take care of you" and a blowjob, or sex or whatever is now just another part of the work you do as a wife and mother. The husband is trying to create something - anything - sexual happening to get not just the physical need met but the emotional need as well. But he doesn't know how to do that in a way that isn't in the "women satisfy what men want" framework. He may not even know how to think about it outside of that framework; and I bet often she doesn't know how to think about it outside of that framework either.

I feel way too wordy here trying to explain this, but anyway, I think this is at the root of a lot of the libido issues/mismatches that come up in a marriage. (Not all; I do not mean to say this is the One True Explanation.) I mean, in my marriage I'm actually the one with the higher libido (he is more affected by being tired and stressed in this area) and even I understand this resentment. I have sex because I want it and because I want to feel close to him but tied very tightly up in that is affirming my desirability - and when I had kids I lost that feeling for a while because I was off the market - I wasn't desirable anymore by the usual representation of desirability out there - I was very conscious of the fact that if we broke up, he could and would go on as he was and be just as desirable to other women, he was still himself, but I was not "me" as I knew myself anymore, I was "mommy" and now I had this role/job of "wife" and "homemaker"; and what's more, my body was now "not as good" for "what men want" anymore so I was reliant on him to stay interested in me and stay with me, or I'd have to brave the meet market again, but as a much diminished offering this time. I got resentful of this unfairness - and I couldn't enjoy sex like I used to because I felt so self-conscious and awkward in a way I would never have thought.

Luckily my husband and I talked (endlessly, for years) about this and I figured out how to feel safe and comfortable instead of used and undesirable. It required a lot of communication and understanding and - unpacking this baggage. It doesn't ever go totally away; we can't help how we're raised. But it helps, and we're stronger for it.

I hope this tl;dr of my opinion on the matter is helpful in providing some insight.
posted by flex at 7:46 AM on March 24, 2011 [156 favorites]


I think she feels it's a physical activity we just do once in a while and she only feels like doing it once in a blue moon. I know it's dumb but it feels like the most obvious way to express love that I can think of so someone not wanting to do it seems like they don't have that strong of feelings for you.

This jumped out at me, because it presents a really narrow view of sex and love. There are any number of things you could be doing, such as flowers, touching, smiles, looks, flirting (this is like a must, seriously, you gotta flirt), take note of what's she's wearing, how she's wearing her hair and telling she looks beautiful or the earrings really highlight her eyes or damn, the way she handles the kids is really awesome, etc,e tc.

It may be frustration talking on your part at this point, but you gotta, gotta, gotta being doing many other things to express love and (this is key) you have to be doing them because you like doing them, not with an expectation of sex.

Otherwise, you really need to express everything that you're written here to her, in several different ways. She needs to hear and be able to respond in whatever way she chooses.

But really, honestly? She doesn't sound like she's into you at the moment. If that continues, it doesn't see seem lame or unreasonable to get a divorce. Having expectations of sex in a marriage is not unreasonable at all and the gradual lack of should definitely bring up questions and concerns.

Good luck though, I hope it works out well for you. Just remember, you have to express your feelings to her about this, and find different ways to express and equate love.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:59 AM on March 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


Most of what can be said here has already been said, but I just wanted to second Brandon Blatcher's idea: it makes sense that you think of sex as the ultimate expression of affection, but that doesn't mean that she does.

She needs to know what sex means to you.
posted by hungrytiger at 8:05 AM on March 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Lately, I've grown resentful after asking each time and hearing an excuse (sometimes the response is a laugh from her)

Ouch. Yeah, that one sounds familiar.

You two need to start communicating, so you can stop building up this resentment and she can stop building up this contempt. At some point soon, if it hasn't already, even the once a month sex will stop being any fun at all because you'll know she's just doing it so you'll shut up already and she'll know she's just tolerating you and at some point that will bleed out of your sex life and into the rest of your life and then it really will be over.

This very thing almost broke up my marriage. It wasn't about one of us doing more housework than the other or being more tired than the other or any of that stuff; yes that happens in some marriages so I can see how some answerers here are jumping on that, but I think we may be reading too much of that into yours.

Even if she is overworked and overtired, that doesn't therefore mean your needs for affection are therefore unimportant, any more than her needs are unimportant. It just means you have two problems to solve instead of just one.

In any case for us it was not about that. It was about us failing to communicate our needs to each other and not understanding how important the issue was becoming. We went into counseling, we learned to talk about it, and along the way rediscovered that sex is fun. For both of us.

It doesn't sound like you two have learned to talk about it. It's not easy, but it's not hopeless either.
posted by ook at 8:11 AM on March 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


That Five Love Languages book gets recommended here a lot, and I haven't read it, but from the descriptions I have heard it sounds like you might benefit from learning the way that your wife likes to receive love and intimacy. From your question I would guess your preferred way is sex. It sounds like hers is something quite different. Maybe you should ask her?

I think reading Dan Savage is not really helpful here, as from what I've read of his advice on such issues, he seems to advocate the theory that sex is an entitlement, and the partner with the lower libido should just suck it up and give it up already. I believe this is counterproductive and makes the partner with the lower libido feel like a sexual object, not a person with agency and a right to decide when or whether to have sex without emotional or other blackmail (and I consider "I'll just have to fuck someone else then" to be emotional blackmail).

I believe a more fruitful path is to *at least* meet your partner halfway and work on making them not feel pressured, positive non-sex-leading intimate touching, asking what you can do to help them feel less stressed, whatever, and that sort of thing (others have stated this much better above). Ask her what she'd like, at least.

As someone who has (sadly, often) had sex just to please/placate someone else, let me tell you, it's not fun. When it's happening, I just wish it would be over already. I hate having to try to sound/fake being interested, just for his sake. It feels like a little piece of me dies. It's wearying, and I just want my body to myself. Bodily integrity is very important. This is why we teach young women not to let themselves be pressured into sex they don't want, right? Somehow you get married and your right to refuse goes out the window or something, I guess. Or you can refuse, but it makes you a Bad Person Who Is Not Worthy Of Your Partner.

Seriously though, picture in your mind, someone you would NOT want to have sex with. A woman who is ugly, or old, or creepy, or smelly, or any of the things you would find unacceptably unsexy. Now imagine you are obligated to have sex with this person on a regular basis, or terrible things will result. Just think about that prospect: sex when you don't want it, frequently. Doesn't sound so nice, does it?

Also, is she depressed by any chance? Is she on antidepressants? These things can have huge effects on libido.
posted by marble at 8:16 AM on March 24, 2011 [5 favorites]


I am female and I was on the other side of this equation. My now-ex- was possibly not very sexually motivated and/or withheld sex manipulatively. I don't think he was unfaithful in the early part of the marriage, but still wasn't very active. It was a great cause of unhappiness for me. Let her know how unhappy you are. Make sure you're in pretty good shape and well-groomed for maximum sexy-fun. Make sure she is really enjoying the sex you have. Make sure sex isn't a means of control. I could have stayed in my marriage and coped if there weren't so many other issues, and I recommend you consider how a separation would affect your kids and your finances. A good marriage is probably worth some sexual frustration. Plus, masturbation is pretty effective.
posted by theora55 at 8:22 AM on March 24, 2011


I can't find remember where I read this, but there was a great book/blog/comment about how being a mother with young kids means constantly touching and being touched. Without any alone time, and little ones always crawling all over you, it can be hard to even feel like a normal human being. It's like her body isn't hers. After too much of that, it's understandable that touch becomes repulsive.

I'm not a mom, so this is just hearsay. From my own experience, couples therapy can work wonders, and the sooner, the better. It may take some time to work through what's accumulated. But to mix metaphors, you want to clean out this relationship wound before it gets infected and turns fatal.
posted by salvia at 8:27 AM on March 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


To her, though, what is she getting out of this? Women perform these things because they have to perform being sexy and desirable. She gives him a blowjob and he is attracted to her and desires her, so she feels desirable and sexy, and that is supposed to be her payoff for that performance. She may enjoy it for the power it gives her, but giving a blowjob isn't going to get her off physically, pretty much. It's not about her, it's about him. We're taught our desires are about men's desires - if we satisfy their desires, we're worthy and that should satisfy us. But now you're married and the shift is from "how can I be desirable" to "I have to take care of you" and a blowjob, or sex or whatever is now just another part of the work you do as a wife and mother. The husband is trying to create something - anything - sexual happening to get not just the physical need met but the emotional need as well. But he doesn't know how to do that in a way that isn't in the "women satisfy what men want" framework. He may not even know how to think about it outside of that framework; and I bet often she doesn't know how to think about it outside of that framework either.

This, this, this, ten thousand times this. When sex feels like a chore, it runs much deeper than "you don't do any chores"; it's about the way in which women are socialized to get their self-worth from meeting others' needs. Since this is exhausting and unsustainable, the most intimate, potentially physically uncomfortable and heavily-judged part (which would be sex!) tends to be the part to fall away, because it's stressful to have to go on being a sexpot and a wife and a mom and a career woman all the while hearing endless messages about how you aren't any good any more because you're old and how your husband probably wishes he were boinking a cheerleader.
posted by Frowner at 9:02 AM on March 24, 2011 [7 favorites]


The purpose of sex was to prove that the woman was a good woman, sexy, fun, able to get a man...not to have fun having sex with someone. The purpose of sex was to prove something, to desire being desired because being desired meant being worthwhile.

Mnn, I don't know. I'm that generation, and I know what you mean, but I don't think it was "the purpose of sex" -- maybe more the purpose of being sexy. Because once I got 'em it was very obviosus to me that my own physical desire was as compelling as being desired and the purpose for a long time became to have fun having sex with ... everyone.
posted by thinkpiece at 9:10 AM on March 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is she masturbating? Take away the vibrator for a couple of months and see if she is still not interested.

Whaaaat? If hoodkeyben70's wife is enjoying alone-time with a vibrator I'll eat my hat.

If anything can revive her libido, it MIGHT be a long weekend alone with some porn 'n' toys and no housekeeping / parenting / husband-satisfying duties . . . but ONLY if that's what SHE wants and asks for. You can lead a horse to water but you can't browbeat anyone into feeling sexy if they really are not interested in sex.

You can offer her massages and alone-time and relief from household chores, but if there's an expectation that she will then be ready and willing to have sex more frequently, she may still feel pressured into sex, and that kind of pressure can kill the enjoyment.

I have a lot of sympathy for both parties in this marriage, and I don't know what the magic solution is. I think the best you can do is talk to each other, perhaps with the guidance of a marriage therapist. Ultimately, if your respective sex drives are incompatible, is it worth getting divorced? I don't know—only you can say what's most important. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that the decline in frequency of sex over the course of a relationship, although not a given, is also not unusual. You may get out of this marriage and into a new relationship, but who's to say the pattern will not repeat?
posted by LBS at 9:21 AM on March 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


When sex feels like a chore, it runs much deeper than "you don't do any chores"; it's about the way in which women are socialized to get their self-worth from meeting others' needs. Since this is exhausting and unsustainable, the most intimate, potentially physically uncomfortable and heavily-judged part (which would be sex!) tends to be the part to fall away, because it's stressful to have to go on being a sexpot and a wife and a mom and a career woman all the while hearing endless messages about how you aren't any good any more because you're old and how your husband probably wishes he were boinking a cheerleader.
posted by Frowner at 12:02 PM on March 24 [+] [!]


This thread is fascinating and also upsetting. I'm going to make one final comment and back away. I find this to be a deeply cyncial perspective (not that I fault you for it, I get the intensity of your frustration). I'll spare you my long-in-the-tooth experiences and anecdotes, but here's some tribal elder wisdom for you to take or more likely leave, since we all have to muddle through our own way but ... Life is long, marriage is a house of cards, and sex waxes and wanes, yes, sometimes for years or forever. And yet. When you get to the other side of ... oh, child-rearing? 50? Cancer? Death of loved ones? A long committed marriage starts to feel like one of those quiet victories -- maybe even a noble one. Yeah, it's not sexy, it's not perfectly balanced, you're angry, he's angry, but goddamit you are still standing ... and I would bet my bottom dollar that the vast majority of husbands are not out there looking for a "sexpot" or someone young or wishing they were "boinking a cheerleader." The OP is a perfect example. No, he is not his wife and yes, he is not walking in her shoes but holy cow, we are Other to each other. He's trying and that's the noble part. Walking away is relatively easy. I've done it.
posted by thinkpiece at 9:31 AM on March 24, 2011 [14 favorites]


As a single, 40ish woman who would kill to have what she has (someone to snuggle with, frequent sex, and help with the chores), I want to punch her in the face. The feminism of the last 30ish years does not mean that women can be as controlling and cruel as men were for the past 100+ years.

Can we not? Can we really, really not? Not wanting to have sex with someone is not "controlling," with rare exceptions, and even then NO ONE is owed sex. Period. No matter how much you (hypothetical you!) help with the chores, how much you love her, how much you want it, how much you've given up for her, how much you're willing to still give up for her, she does not owe you sex.

God, the violence in your statement is really upsetting. You want to punch her in the face because she doesn't want to have sex with her husband, for whatever reason?
posted by lydhre at 9:42 AM on March 24, 2011 [33 favorites]


If you are masturbating a lot, and she knows it, she may figure that you don't need sex with her because you are taking care of it on your own. Maybe she feels like sex is just extended masturbation with her in the room. There are no easy answers to this, but she has to believe that you want sex with HER, that it's important that SHE is involved and that she's not a substitute for or an adjunct to your hand.

I would get a babysitter, book a hotel room and let her have a weekend without lifting a single finger. Take your orgasm completely off the table and make it 100% about her. She may try to reciprocate because she feels guilty about getting all the attention or because she thinks this is all a ploy and you expect it. I'm sure it will be difficult, but nudge her hand away and remind her that it's all about her this weekend.

P.S. Don't buy lingerie unless she specifically requests it. That's not for her, that's for you.
posted by desjardins at 9:44 AM on March 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


No matter how much you (hypothetical you!) help with the chores, how much you love her, how much you want it, how much you've given up for her, how much you're willing to still give up for her, she does not owe you sex.

This is kind of a narrow and honestly, privileged perspective. There are many cultures where giving sex to your husband IS your obligation, along with providing heirs.
posted by thinkpiece at 9:47 AM on March 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is lack of sex worth ending a marriage over?

No, but someone repeatedly blowing off your needs is.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 9:47 AM on March 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


To her, though, what is she getting out of this? Women perform these things because they have to perform being sexy and desirable. She gives him a blowjob and he is attracted to her and desires her, so she feels desirable and sexy, and that is supposed to be her payoff for that performance.

What? No. Just...no. I get what you mean about people playing roles, assuming the role of husband and wife, and that wife/mother sometimes makes demands on you that become chores.

But (for me, at least), sex was not just an affirmation that I was still the same sexy, desirable person I was before I got married and had kids, though it was that. It was not just an affirmation that I still desired him in the same way, though it was also that (and that's important; don't think men don't feel lost in a marriage sometimes too). It was a mutually beneficial physical and emotional experience!

Frankly, the word "performance" in this context creeps me out. Sex in a LTR should be real, not some act you are putting on. Neither partner should have to feel they are "performing." Ick.

OP, there is a lot of armchair diagnosing going on here, and we're all trying to give you the benefit of our own experiences, but this is your marriage, and you will know what resonates the best.

One thing I will say, though, is that I've had issues with my own libodo in my marriage (anti-depressants, hormonal shifts, the whole shebang) and I've been VERY assertive with my therapist, doctor and ob/gyn about keeping that sexual interest going. Because it is important to me (I'm a sexual being, too), and because MY SPOUSE is important to me.

Look, women are cyclical by nature, our hormones shift monthly, and it is natural to have ups and downs in a marriage. But if this is an ongoing problem, and she is insensitive to your needs, I think you need to call her on this.

By "call her on it," I don't mean coerce her into having sex!

I mean explaining to her, "Look, I want to be intimate with you, emotionally and physically. To me, the two are always going to be connected. When we aren't physically interacting, I feel emotionally distant from you. It feels like you have lost interest in sex. This makes me sad, not just because I'm physically rejected, but because I feel like you are rejecting *us*. So, what do YOU need, what can we do together, to bring that interest back? I need you to work with me on this. Because I cannot see continuing our marriage with the way things are, and I do not want to lose what we have over sex."
posted by misha at 9:54 AM on March 24, 2011 [9 favorites]


This is kind of a narrow and honestly, privileged perspective. There are many cultures where giving sex to your husband IS your obligation, along with providing heirs.

Yes, thinkpiece, and that's a gross violation of bodily autonomy that I'm sure the OP doesn't want. Some women live in societies where they are made to feel like they owe sex to their husbands and that's not a justification to state that women SHOULD owe sex to their husbands.
posted by lydhre at 9:54 AM on March 24, 2011 [12 favorites]


and I would bet my bottom dollar that the vast majority of husbands are not out there looking for a "sexpot" or someone young or wishing they were "boinking a cheerleader." The OP is a perfect example. No, he is not his wife and yes, he is not walking in her shoes but holy cow, we are Other to each other. He's trying and that's the noble part. Walking away is relatively easy. I've done it.

No, the point is that the messages are social, not that the husband is sitting there seriously (as opposed to the occasional, normal, light-hearted fantasy) thinking "gee, my wife is old and used up, but I guess she's the best I can do, so I'll just close my eyes and get what I can out of it".

I imagine that there are awful men out there who actually do think this, but it's the messages in advertising, popular narratives about mens' sexuality versus women's, etc etc. Social messages are for me much harder to block out than personal ones; if it's a personal one, hey, that's just one guy even if he's being awful, but if it's magazines and TV commercials and jokes about cougars and how gross fat women are and jokes about how ridiculous it is when a woman is older and sexual, etc etc etc...that gets in after a while.

Social misogyny impacts individual relationships. One reason that patriarchy hurts men (not to reduce this to "think of the men!!!") is precisely that it makes actual relationships with actual women much harder to maintain.
posted by Frowner at 9:58 AM on March 24, 2011 [18 favorites]


Oh for fuck's sake. This is getting awfully battle-of-the-sexes.

I think it's because I'm equating lovemaking with sharing, giving, and expressing love between two people. Honestly, when I think of it that way I don't know why everyone isn't doing it all the time whenever they can. I think she feels it's a physical activity we just do once in a while and she only feels like doing it once in a blue moon. I know it's dumb but it feels like the most obvious way to express love that I can think of so someone not wanting to do it seems like they don't have that strong of feelings for you.

So you say sex is the obvious way to express love. But are there other ways that work for you — other things you two can do together that make you feel the same gut certainty that she cares about you?

My experience is, if I'm fundamentally confident that my partner loves me, it's easier to be flexible about the what and how and how often of our sex life. If I don't have that basic sense of being loved, then my libido's demands start feeling less flexible and more absolute. ("If I don't get a blow job RIGHT NOW it will mean that she NEVER REALLY LIKED ME and it will be TIME TO DESPAIR!" )

It's a little like how moderate eating gets harder when you're really famished. If you've been nibbling all day, then sure, a salad for dinner sounds appealing. If you let yourself get crazy hungry, then you start feeling like NO IT'S A QUADRUPLE CHEESEBURGER OR NOTHING GODDAMMIT.

And I know, I know, right now you're in the cheeseburger-or-nothing zone, and here I am telling you how to be content with a salad, and you don't want to be content with the salad, you want the damn cheeseburger. Still. Infrequent sex really does get easier to cope with if you're getting all your emotional needs met. So if you're looking to keep the marriage working, that's where I'd start — by looking for non-sexual ways to get all your emotional needs met, such that sex can go back to being a fun way to play around together rather than THE ONLY WAY TO FILL THE GAPING EMOTIONAL VOID.
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:01 AM on March 24, 2011 [10 favorites]


Oh, and OP, it is possible your wife doesn't know what she needs to get her libido going. She may not know what's happened to her sexual desire, either, and be just as frustrated as you. So, if you talk it out and don't know where to start: counselling.
posted by misha at 10:01 AM on March 24, 2011 [5 favorites]


When you're a young, single woman a large part of your worth in society is measured in your ability to be desirable and attract a mate. It overshadows everything else for most people.

I'm 43 and a woman. I really can't relate to all the women posting that sex is something women just do to feel desirable and fulfill social expectations. I don't even understand that at all. I have sex because it feels good, because it is fun, because I like or love the guy, because I want to touch him, because I want him to touch me, because I find the contrast between a man's body and a woman's when naked incredibly stimulating. It was never to "get" a man or prove I was desirable. Those are such abstract motivations!

No matter how much you (hypothetical you!) help with the chores, how much you love her, how much you want it, how much you've given up for her, how much you're willing to still give up for her, she does not owe you sex.

Agreed - no. No one owes anyone else sex. But partners who are not interested in sex also need to recognize that how they are proceeding is corrosive and destructive to their marriage if their partner is not on the same page. You can not be interested. You don't owe it to anyone. But if you're not willing to work out a mutually satisfying solution with your partner, you could well end up divorced.

All choices have consequences.
posted by Squeak Attack at 10:02 AM on March 24, 2011 [13 favorites]


No one owes anyone else sex. But partners who are not interested in sex also need to recognize that how they are proceeding is corrosive and destructive to their marriage if their partner is not on the same page. You can not be interested. You don't owe it to anyone. But if you're not willing to work out a mutually satisfying solution with your partner, you could well end up divorced.

All choices have consequences.


Absolutely, the OP - and anyone in his position - is free to communicate with his partner that the lack of sex is a potential deal breaker. In fact, I think what the OP needs most is more communication, not more blow jobs.
posted by lydhre at 10:08 AM on March 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Thank you, Squeak Attack, for expressing in a better way what I was trying to express. If I knew that I was committed to someone who would be perfectly happy not having sex with me for the rest of their lives, I would leave. Not because of feeling "owed" something, or because I was selfish or demanding or whatever...it's because it's what I need, period.
posted by Melismata at 10:11 AM on March 24, 2011


Agreeing with misha and Squeak Attack. I'm having trouble connecting with the experiences of many of the other women in this thread. I'm a woman with a high sex drive, who uses sex as a way to communicate and celebrate love. My husband has a lower sex drive and is only in the mood when he's feeling loved and happy already. All this stuff about how she must not want it because she's a tired woman and he's not helping out enough and society tells her sex is nothing to her just . . . doesn't really hit home for me at all. Though there might be correlations between levels of desire and gender, I really don't think this is a gendered problem, necessarily, but rather a communication problem.

Over the course of our relationship, individual levels of desire wax and wane. There have been times when he was feeling down and rejected me in ways that felt more cruel than he intended, because that happens--you put yourself out there, you're libidinous and trying, really hard, to find ways to make both of you happy. And then you get pushed away. Ouch!

What's gotten us through those times is to talk about it--outside of a sexual venue, of course. To say, "Hey, you know, what's going on with our sex life? I'd like to find a way to make time for it. And putting myself out there again and again only to get rejected hurts my feelings. Please don't laugh at me when I do that, because I'm feeling vulnerable." Funny thing is, it works. Talking is good.

My other suggestion is to make time for sex, via, say, twice monthly sex dates (a compromise between what you guys are doing now and something a bit closer to your ideal). The thing with this is that you have to be brave and ask for it to happen. "Can we schedule some time for sex on Friday?" This will help you both clear your schedules, work together to get the kids taken care of and the chores done. And I've found it helps me hold out a bit longer, knowing that I can look forward to it, rather than leading to epic blow ups of frustrated libidos and pressure, that sort of thing. Generally, because my husband just doesn't randomly think of having sex the same way I do, I've learned to ask for it during neutral times. "Can we have sex later tonight [or tomorrow, or whenever]?" is a totally reasonable question for a grown-up to ask their spouse.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:12 AM on March 24, 2011 [6 favorites]


My other suggestion is to make time for sex, via, say, twice monthly sex dates (a compromise between what you guys are doing now and something a bit closer to your ideal)
No. Don't do this. I was once had these types of issues in a relationship and that sort of thing would have just made me dread Friday and feel stressed out even more.
posted by elpea at 10:25 AM on March 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


Sex for many women is about more than just the physical intimacy. Foreplay is essential. And I'm not talking the kissing and touching and little giggles. I mean things like bringing flowers home unexpectedly. Calling her randomly during the day to say, "Hey, I love you so much!" Bringing home her favorite dessert or making her favorite meal. A surprise date night with just the two of you by packing the kids away to a sleep over or arranging for a baby sitter, or if they're older encouraging them to take the car and go to the movies or something. Or spontaneously planning a dinner at a nice restaurant.

I can't speak for your wife, but I know that I don't want sex when I don't otherwise feel valued. Little but sincere comments like, "You look really cute today," or, "That is a great shirt," or, "Your hair is adorable" go a long way to help build my own sense of sexiness. I want to have sex. But it's sometimes hard to bring myself up to the level of feeling sexy. And I don't want to have sex if I feel like my husband resents me. It can be a cycle hard to break because the less sex you get, the more you want it, but because there was some resentment in her not wanting it the last time, your wanting it now seems a continuation of that, so she says no again, and you resent her more, and she's upset because you resent her and wants sex less. I'm not saying this is necessarily the case here, but I wouldn't be surprised if some of this weren't a little bit true.

Again, I am not your wife, but maybe she doesn't feel desirable or wanted or valued? And that's not necessarily your fault. You don't seem to feel desirable or wanted or valued right now, and with good reason. It's hard after having kids to find that spark of sexual abandon, and you need to communicate with each other to find it again. But I think one way to start is to start with the little things again --- think of things you did for her when you were dating. Did you bring her chocolates? Has it been awhile? Then bring her some tonight.

I also don't think the burden should be on you completely to fix this, but in absence of your wife's perspective or understanding of this situation, it's impossible to say what maybe she could do as well. You can only control your own actions, so try for a little while to make your actions about showing her how much you love her and want her.. Let go of the resentment as much as you can, for a little while, and see if showing her, in ways other than sex, that you love her and want her doesn't help some.
posted by zizzle at 10:38 AM on March 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


No. Don't do this. I was once had these types of issues in a relationship and that sort of thing would have just made me dread Friday and feel stressed out even more.

For what it's worth, the sex date advice is something I got ages ago from a forum for those in relationships where the libidos were inequitable. It seems to me that if his spouse can't come to an occasional compromise with adequate time for planning, ample forewarning, and help to make it happen, that they have some deep problems that only therapy (and probably sex therapy) will solve.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:39 AM on March 24, 2011


This is kind of a narrow and honestly, privileged perspective. There are many cultures where giving sex to your husband IS your obligation, along with providing heirs.

I read that not getting sex was considered reasonable grounds for a woman to divorce a man in New England Puritan culture. It works both ways.

I fail to understand why you would entertain such a double-standard unless you're simply being sexist.


Speaking for myself (as a woman), and at the risk of overshare, for me it's use it or lose it. No sex, no toys = no libido, or at least I can set it aside for years at a time.

Also, more germane to your suggestion, when men lose their libido, the suggestions are always that the guy might want to consider setting aside his porn, not that someone else take away his porn like they were the mom of a 10 year old taking away a toy. Good grief.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:44 AM on March 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Actually, this was the book that the forum was based around, and it might be helpful to you. However, the advice is only really effective if your partner is actively willing to reach some sort of compromise (minimally). If she's happy with the status quo, doesn't see your frustrated desires as problematic, etc., then, yeah, deeper problems.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:44 AM on March 24, 2011


I think she feels it's a physical activity we just do once in a while and she only feels like doing it once in a blue moon.

It sounds like she's already having more sex than she would prefer to have, so she's already compromising on the frequency. Obviously, not as much as OP would like, but let's not accuse her of not compromising.
posted by pajamazon at 10:46 AM on March 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


It sounds like she's already having more sex than she would prefer to have, so she's already compromising on the frequency. Obviously, not as much as OP would like, but let's not accuse her of not compromising.

With this kind of libido mismatch, the frequency is almost always set by the low desire partner. The problem with this compromise in particular is that it's clearly not sufficient to satisfy OP's needs, not nearly. She might be compromising--and if she's compromising as much as she can, it's a pretty sad situation--but she's clearly not compromising enough for this particular partner in this relationship.

If she's not willing to work toward more frequency through reasonable, adult communication, then, yeah, the OP might be right that this is something potentially relationship-ending.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:53 AM on March 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


Melismata, that's completely different from "I want to punch her in the face" for being "controlling and cruel".

Every individual is free to control his or her own life, not that of others, not even their spouses. Every individual is free to talk to his or her partner or partners about how much sex they would ideally like to have and every individual is free to confer with his or her partner about how best to meet everybody's needs, sexual, emotional, physical. Every individual is free to offer suggestions, ask for explanations, express his or her needs, desires, wants, aspirations, ambitions for their relationship. No one, still, owes anything to anyone but themselves.

That's what's vital. Agency. We all have, or should have, agency in our relationship. But we don't owe sex, or love, or affection, to anyone and we are not owed sex, or love, or affection from anyone. If we don't get what we need out of a relationship, and we are done talking about it and thinking, or not, of compromises that would offset us not getting what we need, then we are free to leave.
posted by lydhre at 11:09 AM on March 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


Your needs are unimportant. You are unattractive and undesirable. You don't deserve any special effort because you are just not that special. There's not a chance in the world you have the balls to leave.

I can read what the spouse is telling you, even if you can't. She tells you every day. Mask it any way you choose, but see it for what it is. Facts aren't negotiable.
posted by FauxScot at 5:27 AM on March 24


FauxScot's tone will probably not help your cause, OP - but I agree with the sentiment.

So many of these threads are about what you can and cannot control. You can't compel your wife to have sex with you. No she doesn't owe you sex.

At the same time - what do wedding vows look like? I promise to be true to you. I will honor and love you. I take you to have and to hold. Unconditionally. Too many people take those words as license to take their spouse for granted. Yeah, I can get fat. No, I don't have to be as charming. No, I don't have to fuck you any more. Especially if you're not doing your share of the chores. Etc.

That's all bullshit. Are you a better version of yourself than before you got married? If not, that's what you can control, full stop. They can choose to come along with you or not. If they choose not to, they shouldn't be surprised if you get your needs met elsewhere or you DTMFA. Note the complete lack of gender specific pronouns in this paragraph.

OP, there was a time when you wanted to go out of your way for one another. When the idea of being "inconvenienced" didn't matter. My advice to you is to make a hard effort to go back to that place. Do what you can on your side. If she's comes along, great. If she doesn't, find someone who will.

Seriously, best of luck to you. Stop being complacent. Don't die wondering.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 11:20 AM on March 24, 2011 [5 favorites]


I don't see this in terms of the OP's "Needs." When that term is used in relation to sex, it often has a pejorative connotation. Similar to the (I think) mis-reading of the OP's use of the word "help" in terms of household chores.

I think it is perfectly valid to require that a fully functioning marriage include physical intimacy because it IS a pretty loving and awesome way to share yourself within a good marriage.

I'm lucky enough to know a few much older very very happy couples that have raised children together and still seem to have a spark in the bedroom. One or two of the couples are in their 70's or 80's and have stated it outright that they always have enjoyed intimacy on that level!

I'm still wondering about the OP's wife's perspective. I wonder why she's OK with things the way they have become. We know from the question this couple at one point sought testing with medical professionals. I'm wondering why the process stopped there?

There is something more to this story. We just don't know what that is.

I hope the OP can determine the cause of the disconnect and resolve it or otherwise find total relationship happiness.

OF COURSE THE WIFE DOESN'T "OWE" SEX!

But she does ABSOLUTELY owe her husband a full discussion/explanation and some sort of resolution. Otherwise, it's not really a happy marriage worth staying in, now is it??
posted by jbenben at 11:31 AM on March 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


[Okay, hi, time to start being respectful to each other and the OP and no longer having derails about who or what is sexist. Answer the question or take things to email or metatalk, thanks.]
posted by jessamyn at 12:03 PM on March 24, 2011


> If you are masturbating a lot, and she knows it, she may figure that you don't need sex with her because you are taking care of it on your own. Maybe she feels like sex is just extended masturbation with her in the room. There are no easy answers to this, but she has to believe that you want sex with HER, that it's important that SHE is involved and that she's not a substitute for or an adjunct to your hand.

Can't agree more with this. Sexual desert periods can become vicious cycles depending on the individuals involved and their assumptions about each other/lack of honest communication--I know firsthand there were times we weren't having sex which lead to way more furtive porn consumption/masturbation which lead to a feeling the sex was interchangeable with that anyway which lead to even less plus resentment/a feeling of rejection/failure/being interchangeable which lead to even more solo furtive stuff etc. etc. Talk. Talk, talk, talk. About all the hard-to-say-out-loud bottled up embarrassing feelings and guesses you've got about eachother's feelings and motives. And try to make her, specifically HER, feel desirable, truly wanted more than anything or anyone else sexually. A vague way to put it, I know.

I also have to say I think there is a lot of common truth to the notion upthread women as they age get into this weird zone where they begin to feel they're supposed to be matronly or invisible or servicing sexually in a less steamy, more mechanical provided-without-woo-type sense while being bombarded socioculturally with the message their sexy worth is over, we all just know and laughingly assume all husbands everywhere deep down above all else just wanna "boink some cheerleader" (ie not you, never you) as it was put. That push-pull is pretty damn toxic to the libido and grrreat for simmering resentment and killing one's excitement and personal vim about it.
posted by ifjuly at 12:06 PM on March 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's not a question of "owing" sex so much as she is the only source allowed to him to provide that need. If you can only get a kidney from one person on the planet, they may or may not "owe" you that kidney, per se, but there will definitely be difficulties at best if that person refuses to provide it, and blows off your need to get it. The extremely limited option here is where the problem lies.
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:07 PM on March 24, 2011 [6 favorites]


Wow - read through all of this with cautious interest as the OP and many of the comments mirror current issues within my own marriage. I, too, am treading in unknown waters trying to address unhappiness/sexuality issues with my long-term partner and both of us are trying to figure out how to make it work (child involved). We are unhappy, distant and endlessly tired. The fact that our sex is infrequent is a combination of many factors - each of which is a separate issue that has be resolved.

She is working hard to find her own independence - something she felt she didn't need for a long time when she was comfortable letting me take care of a lot of the "practicalities" of daily life. I think the history of a long relationship makes this psychologically difficult because it is hard to be your own person when your "person" has been defined by the relationship you have grown-up in. I think this also involves some regret of "missed opportunities" and she is experiencing feelings of increasing bi-sexuality. I see this as her "breaking away" from "us" and this includes her needing time away from the intimacy of a relationship - I think there is nothing we (ie, the other partner) can do to stop/change this - but I think this is a really important factor.

I know I am gone all the time - working to pay for a life, house, school and other things we never dreamed of. I also do alot around the house and to take care of the little dude, because I know the childcare responsibilities (on top of work) are a lot for my wife to handle alone. I have also become a stressed out prick. Like some commenters have noted, I do all these things to hopefully make her life easier and make more time for us. Unfortunately, because I value what little time I ever have outside of work I apparently require things be done on my schedule... this is infuriating to my partner. I never intend to treat her "like a child" but it comes across that way. This is something I need to work on to make be a better partner with whom she wants to be with.

I am the hopeless romantic, endlessly ready for intimacy and equating that with the expression of our love. Moreover, for me, sex is what makes OUR relationship special - you don't share that intimacy with others. She is on medication that kills libido... I get this, I don't pressure, but I always have to be the initiator and have to expect that some nights, she just isn't in to it and will call the whole thing off. We can go weeks without sex - and only then it's after she had a couple drinks. I also have to deal with the fact that she's so tired that she can't keep her eyes open at night and the concept of "scheduling" sex grosses her out. I know she realizes we should be having sex more often - while I don't think I create the pressure I know the feeling is there. I have to realize that the fact we are not having sex does not equal that we are not in love - she doesn't view sex with the same importance and emotional charge that i do - this is a hard one for me.

We both unquestionably love each other. We have just recently begun opening up about this - baby steps. Simply having an all-night bender of a discussion really helped - especially because it started through exchanged e-mails where we could really express ourselves wihtout interruption and the ability to think through things before hitting "send." I think starting this conversation "in person" would be hard because there is really so much behind it and it is too easy to get derailed. I think the OP needs to find a way to open the door to begin the process.

The old saying of "don't ask scary questions if you don't want scary answers" is not beneficial to either party in the relationship. Sucks, I know.

You may see it as "her problem" or "your problem" but we all have equal culpability and you can't even begin healing (of any sort whether together or apart) without starting somewhere - bottled up emotions just lead to anger/resentment.
posted by polyhistoric at 3:20 PM on March 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've said this before, but how often do you touch your wife with no expectation of sex? Do you hug or kiss or snuggle? Do you hold her hand while you drive or watch a movie? Do you acknowledge and express appreciation for her body as something other than what you have sex with?

I'm not your wife, but I gotta say, a guy who is only physically attentive to his partner when he wants sex is going to eventually end up as just another outside demand to be satisfied. Because to her, that just tells her you think sex isn't about being closer, it's about you being horny, a condition you are asking her to relieve.

So yeah, find ways to give her time, but also find ways to reduce the pressure to have sex. She'll be mistrustful at first (Oh, he's giving me a backrub. He just wants to get laid.) so you'll have to take it slow. Don't ask her for sex, don't come on to her. Just incorporate more touching into your day. Tell her you feel like you've been drifting apart and you miss her, but don't pressure her for sex. After a month or so (be brave, good man) if she hasn't suggested sex, try suggesting it to her and see what happens.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:05 PM on March 24, 2011 [11 favorites]


Thinkingwoman raises a good point - I'll also admit to following it (for months on end) with no change. Some people are just not into physical touching as an expression of love.... Is OP wife a cuddler before current situation? Has that changed?
posted by polyhistoric at 4:29 PM on March 24, 2011


I think you might find reading Resurrecting Sex: Solving Sexual Problems and Revolutionizing Your Relationship and Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love and Intimacy Alive in Committed Relationships by David Morris Schnarch very helpful.

Basically, you have the right to leave a marriage over infrequent sex. Your wife has the right not to have sex with you. If you want to save your marriage, you need to find a solution that works for both of you.

Some reasons your wife might not want sex as frequently as you do:

* she's tired
* she's in pain (does she have back pain or anything similar?)
* her oral contraceptives are affecting her libido
* the sex that you are having is not very enjoyable/pleasurable for her
* she's stressed about children/work/finances
* she's angry/resentful/sad about a non-sex element of your marriage
* you need to pay more attention to your grooming, teeth brushing etc

Things that might help:

* marriage counselling
* talking to her about her sexual needs/wants and trying to meet them more
* talking to her about her stress levels - can you change anything about your lives so that she is less stressed?
* asking her what you can do to make her feel loved and happy
* showing nonsexual affection - handholding, compliments, etc
* talking about your desires for sex "When we... I feel..."
* doing a shared activity, just the two of you - a cooking class, ballroom dancing, etc.
posted by Sockpuppets 'R' Us at 5:11 PM on March 24, 2011


I read this thread earlier, and just now this I remembered this comment from another thread. Maybe somebody's already pointed it out, I don't have time to read what's happened since I last checked in, but it might be helpful to you. I thought it was a wonderful way to address the problem.
posted by JanetLand at 7:03 PM on March 24, 2011


The good news is that things can change, the bad news is that it's difficult and unpleasant at times.

I highly recommend this.

You're going to have to face this thing head on and be really honest (with your self especially) about it. You may need profesional help, you'll defiantly not have a smooth ride, and you'll definitely have to use your heart.
posted by jade east at 9:41 PM on March 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Does she know how stressed out this is making you? It didn't sound like you'd articulated this to her. I know that for myself (married, 35, female, two kids), sex can be fun, but it's not critical. Not having sex wouldn't particularly stress me out.

And so sometimes if she's got stuff on her mind and you ask for sex, she might say she's not interested and think that her saying no is no big deal---because after all, it's no big deal to her.

So if you haven't serseriously made it clear that it is a big deal to you, then maybe that's where you should start.
posted by leahwrenn at 9:47 PM on March 24, 2011


The therapy term for this is Desire Discrepancy - if you are interested in finding books and resources, Google this term.
posted by lottie at 10:29 PM on March 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


....BTW, my comments above were not directed at you, OP. I am mad on your behalf that this is the message your SO is sending and just wanted to emphasize it via bluntness. (I don't know you well enough to state that you are undesirable and/or not special! I PRESUME you are both desirable and special, and I hope you do, too.)

In Maslow's hierarchy of needs, sex appears in two places, both as a foundation need and a higher order need. Omitting it on one level (the lower) is like forsaking selected nutrients in a diet. You can survive for a while, but it's damaging and eventually, fatal.

I think it's illuminating that sex is given such prominence in marriage, to the point that historically marriage has been the gateway. In the grand order of things marital, sex has to be one of the ones that has some priority, compared to say, pet care. The actual emotional and temporal cost of making it a priority seems quite small, compared to the magnitude of damage inflicted by the subtext of making it YOUR problem.

Not many people actually WANT to go to work, but there never seems to be a problem getting in 40 hours of that a week. Why? Because the benefit of the activity outweighs the consequences of poverty. It's a conscious decision to do something we may not be enthusiastic about in the interest of things that are more important.

I maintain that a mate deserves the same consideration.
posted by FauxScot at 4:58 AM on March 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


She literally laughs at you when you propose sex, and still you "can't. . . figure out what is causing the strife in the bedroom"?

You're getting a lot of answers that project various guesses from their own experiences, and although those answerers are doubtlessly correct that there's more to this story, it hardly matters what. She feels contempt for you and behaves cruelly toward you; those things are the opposite of a functional relationship.

First try to repair the relationship through respectful, gameless, good-faith communication (which is to say, convey your priorities and anxieties and listen earnestly to hers) -- and if that doesn't work, or if you know from experience that one or both of you is incapable of adult communication, then yes, it is perfectly sensible to consider ending a dysfunctional pairing (as opposed to, what, staying together so as not to break a "streak"?)
posted by foursentences at 9:11 AM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


As someone who has (sadly, often) had sex just to please/placate someone else, let me tell you, it's not fun. . . It feels like a little piece of me dies. It's wearying, and I just want my body to myself. . . you can refuse, but it makes you a Bad Person Who Is Not Worthy Of Your Partner.

Marble, that sounds terrible, and I sympathize. But I think it's critical to distinguish between (1) "the partner with the lower libido should always put out to appease his partner" and (2) "the partner with the lower libido (a) should always take his partner's needs seriously, and (b) should sometimes be willing to mess around at least long enough to see if he can get into the mood after all." The first principle is borderline abusive. The second is a foundation for a relationship-bolstering compromise.
posted by foursentences at 9:12 AM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Do you hold each other?

I can't sleep all hugged up in arms n legs, but before we go to sleep we always hold each other for at least a few minutes, or much longer. We're not really good night-time operators so it doesn't lead to sex often but it is an intimate and animal-like closeness. We even make those growly, happy animal sounds. The same in the morning while the alarm is on snooze. Hands run over body bits gently as we wake but it's not that 'desperate' feeling that you have to get to crazy love-making. There's no expectation, it's simply a very 'safe' feeling. In dry spells, it's amazing how a few weeks might go by and there will have only been lazy, semi-asleep-in-the-morning, spooning sex times.

So, um, ask your wife to hold you more, tell her that you need to be held and you'd like to hold her. No expectations of love-making, just being held and maybe get patted or have your hair brushed/combed/twirled round her fingers. If you don't have hair, ask if you can comb her hair while she watches TV (I LOVE that).

Kiss her when you see her at the end of the day, kiss her when you part in the morning. Lean into her and tell her that you'll be thinking of her during the day, or that you can't wait to see her later. Don't go to bed/sleep without a kiss. Couples forget to kiss, hold hands, pet/squeeze/pat/stroke/hold each other in the course of daily life. Think about how much you used to do that when you were first together.

Setting up greater intimacy, including sex, starts well before asking for a blowjob or a handjob. Have you tried practising your kissing? Sometimes the most amazingly intimate thing is to kiss, without expectation of sex, with your eyes (literally) open. It's a reminder to keep in the present, to feel really known and I dunno, feel like we are really in this whole life thing together. Sex stops feeling like it's for the movies or a scorecard - it meets deeper needs.

Saying all of this though - if you can't gain cooperation when you ask for or initiate these things, and you follow through on 'safe' [sorry, can't think of better word] intimate acts for awhile, then um, that is more difficult. That's territory that would make me question the marriage and its viability.
posted by honey-barbara at 3:45 AM on March 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


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