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Help me help my husband get his mojo back.
February 20, 2013 6:50 PM   Subscribe

My husband is suffering the sexual doldrums of early middle age. Unfortunately, it's a catch-22: you have to be motivated to seek help...but when your sex drive is that low, you really don't care. How can I help him even want to have sex again?

My husband and I are in our mid-forties, married for two decades. No kids. (He got a vasectomy about a decade ago, and I am no longer on the pill.) After all this time, we are very much in love, have always encouraged and supported each other, and are very close emotionally and on each another's wavelength intellectually. However, our sex life has never been quite as good as I would have liked--I love having sex with him and he's all that I think about, but I apparently want it a lot more frequently than he does, which has been frustrating to me.

I realize that part of this may simply be his age. Another part of the problem is that he has been continually under stress for decades--since he started graduate school, actually. He also suffers from depression and has been taking various medications both for that and for high blood pressure (a side effect of the antidepressants) for a couple of years now. Finally, he got tenure and is pretty much at the top of his academic game, which has taken a lot of the pressure off, but it has taken kind of a toll so that now not only does he have trouble getting and staying hard, but he also just doesn't really have much interest in sex anymore.

This, of course, has been very upsetting to me. We've had a number of discussions about it: he assures me that he is indeed attracted to me and likes to watch me undress; he gropes and fondles me frequently when we're alone, whether I'm naked or clothed, and we are very physically affectionate with each other both in private and in public (within the bounds of good taste). It's true that I have gained some weight over the years, but so has he, and he insists that my body is absolutely not the problem. I am fairly sure he is not having any sort of sexual identity crisis; he tells me that he is very straight and has always been. And he is not having an affair with someone else--I am as absolutely certain of this as any wife could reasonably be--he's a good man and has never given me any reason to doubt his commitment to me. I've even asked him, point blank, and he's said no, absolutely not, and I believe him. Our marriage is otherwise very loving and affectionate, and we both look forward to growing old together.

He tells me he's happy to pleasure me, but I can't imagine it's all that interesting for him if he can't get aroused, and if I don't think he's enjoying it, then I don't enjoy it, either. When we do manage to have sex, it's very cut-and-dried--he fondles my clit and tries to get me wet, but I can't really enjoy it much because I'm constantly worried that he's going to lose whatever erection he has, and so is he. He's also lost complete interest in oral sex, which he used to enjoy both giving and receiving.

I had a kind of sit-down, come-to-Jesus talk with him about a month ago and told him that he needed to talk to his doctor about this. He seems to be under the impression that the only option open to him is taking something like Viagra, and he really doesn't want to have to take another medication--and it's not clear to me that Viagra will solve the problem, anyways. But he has agreed to talk to his doctor and ask her opinion. We have both begun exercising and eating better and have become somewhat more physically fit, but so far that doesn't seem to have made much of a difference to his sex drive.

So, in the meantime, I'm trying to figure out what I could possibly do that might help get him in the mood, enjoy sex, possibly get him aroused effectively, without exerting too much pressure on him to perform. I realize that everyone is different and responds to different turn-ons. But have you ever succeeded in coaxing a reluctant erection into existence? What did you do? What helped? I want to do whatever I can to help him enjoy sex again, for both his sake and mine. The Internet is abysmal in this regard--all I'm finding are superficial suggestions like, "Tell him you're not wearing any underwear!" And I'm getting to the point where I'm actually afraid to try anything unusual, because I don't want to face rejection and humiliation.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (30 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
This could very well be due almost entirely to the antidepressants, if he's taking an SSRI. They completely destroyed my husband's sex drive and function when we were still very young, in our mid-20s. He stopped taking them and everything returned to normal very quickly. Has he talked to his doctor about that possibility? There are other drugs that may work to treat his depression without causing this issue.
posted by something something at 7:02 PM on February 20, 2013 [9 favorites]


He definitely needs to talk to his doctor. The meds he is on are very possibly causing part of the lack of libido. Also he should have his testosterone checked, low levels can cause all sorts of problems in men, including depression. He needs to be honest with his doctor, and look into alternatives for depression as well as high blood pressure, as meds for both could be behind this.
posted by batikrose at 7:03 PM on February 20, 2013


+1 to all who are mentioning SSRIs. There are other antidepressants that do not affect sex drive. Wellbutrin (bupropion) is one example. Worth investigating.
posted by dudeman at 7:11 PM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not caring about things one used to enjoy is also itself a symptom of depression. His lack of motivation to fix this could just be the depression talking. In addition to it being a side effect of his medication it could be a sign that his medication or other treatments (therapy?) isn't totally helping.
posted by bleep at 7:16 PM on February 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Could be the depression or the SSRIs. Just for the record though, I've definitely gone through periods where I appreciated my very, very conventionally sexy partner's very sexy body, but just didn't care about sex-- and it was usually when I was depressed or very distracted by professional/academic pressure. So thought it's hard not to let it get to you, it's really really not you!
posted by stoneandstar at 7:19 PM on February 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


This has nothing to do with his age. The boner mechanism (technical term) does not go kaput in the mid-40s. Not in the slightest.

I think that the onus is on him to deal with this, because it matters to you. Good news! He should be seeing a psychiatrist to monitor his medication and mental health from time to time anyway, so this is something that he can begin a discussion about there. And then he can triage with his medical professional of choice.

You are, quite reasonably, now in a position where this is starting to eat away at you, and I'm glad you want to head that off at the pass.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 7:22 PM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Agreed that that doctor's appointment can't come quickly enough, and it would be useful to consult a psychiatrist, not just a GP, to sort out the possible overlapping issues.

Note that the problem may be amplified by the meanings both of you are attaching to it: he NEEDS to maintain an erection in order to pleasure you both physically (by fucking) and emotionally (by proving he's interested). In such situations Dan Savage actually suggests taking intercourse off the menu until the problem is resolved -- you might want to experiment with that.

Ask him to use his words to convince you he's finding you gorgeous and sexy while he fucks you with his hands or a vibrator. And be willing to be convinced! All that watching and groping suggests to me he IS still into you, and that giving you pleasure gives him vicarious access to sexuality -- you're his channel.
posted by feral_goldfish at 7:31 PM on February 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


You make it sound as though you're unconditionally committed to him and the relationship. I don't think it's possible to expect passion of anyone in the face of that kind of commitment. A part of the thrill of sex is the drive for conquest. He thinks he already has you no matter what, so what does it matter whether he performs? (To me, it sounds like he's losing you and he doesn't realize just how precarious his situation is.)

Despite what he says, he might also wish you were prettier. He might be more afraid to hurt you, or to open up a subject where you can retaliate with hurtful things about his aging body.

I think the surest way to inspire passion is to be magnificent: Improve your game, physically or spiritually. He might respond to your good energy, or to the insidious feeling that someone else might snatch you away, both of which are strong incitements to passion.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 7:35 PM on February 20, 2013


But he has agreed to talk to his doctor and ask her opinion.

This is great, this should be your first step here.

So, in the meantime, I'm trying to figure out what I could possibly do that might help get him in the mood, enjoy sex, possibly get him aroused effectively, without exerting too much pressure on him to perform.

Nothing, because whatever you do to arouse him is in fact pressuring him to have sex with you. Back off the physical, focus on the medical, and if there is no encouraging result or serious addressing of this issue from your husband's doctor, see a sexual health therapist together because you are going to have to learn to negotiate a new kind of shared sexuality in your relationship.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:44 PM on February 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


You make no mention of his physical health, other than that you've both "gained some weight," which can mean anything these days. Start here, start anywhere. Go for walks. Hold hands. Just move.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:51 PM on February 20, 2013


I wonder if it is age. My wife is in her mid-forties, and I have never found her to be more attractive than I do now. It sounds like both the condition of mild depression/anxiety he is living with, combined with the medication he takes for it.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:01 PM on February 20, 2013


I can't imagine it's all that interesting for him if he can't get aroused

This is not necessarily the case. Even when I'm not aroused I derive great pleasure from sexual activities. The pleasure comes from making my spouse happy.
posted by obol at 8:01 PM on February 20, 2013 [7 favorites]


If he says he's having fun, believe him. If you need help believe him, watch Annie Sprinkle's Soft Cock manifesto.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 8:03 PM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


It sounds like, over the years of stress and depression and medications, he's lost the headspace for sex. Together, you need to go find it again. I'd suggest a vacation, from home and meds, mostly to take him out of the sexnull milieu that has grown up around your household, but with ABSOLUTELY NO prestated expectations that it is about the sex. He needs to see what's there between you two, absent all the exterior pressures and past sacrifices that got him to a stage of relative comfort.
Academia, generally, is a bitch on your self worth and sense of priority, especially because it tricks you into thinking that all your sacrifices are necessary and worthwhile because, hey! you've gotten this far. And then it's very difficult to claw back to the less demanding or stressful lifestyle because you think that's what's sustaining you. In this case I'd suggest that he's given up a sexual existence in favor of the drugs that stave off depression which in turn stave of professional floundering. Now that he has tenure, this is a perfect time to break those routines of self denial and reinstate himself into the relationship more fully.
Unlike esprit de l'escalier, who I think is completely off-base/projecting themselves into this, I believe that there is love and trust and will abounding in your relationship. Don't subject yourself to that level of self-doubt. It's completely uncalled for, given your descriptions.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 8:48 PM on February 20, 2013 [7 favorites]


Just to clarify that I didn't mean to be harsh:

Is he going to gym at least a few times a week? Is he eating and sleeping well? Does he have time to withdraw from his analytical mind into reading or art or conversation? Does he have a timeline on getting off the antidepressants? These aren't things that you can do; these are things that he has to do. (Yes, it sounds like he's working on these things.)

How will you inspire him to pull himself together? How did you inspire his love when you met? Be magnificent. What other answer is there? Striving to be greater is never a slight on who you are.

Also, people talk about love and trust as if these always lead to sex. Yet when a romantic relationship starts resembling a familial one, it's no wonder that the sex dries up. Do you remember how you courted each other?
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 9:40 PM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


My ex had /has severely low testosterone due to a combination of medical and health factors. Less than that of the average woman. For some reason he chose not to undertake hormone replacement therapy.

As for any answers putting the onus on you, my anecdata is that I did everything suggested and more, weight loss, lingerie, make up, education, weekends away, marriage counselling, individual therapy,, everything. The issue wasn't with me and I couldn't solve it.

I recommend you go together to his doctor and explain the lack of sex drive, get the results of tests, and discuss ramifications of treatment
posted by b33j at 9:50 PM on February 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


Does he still get the "test launch" boners through the night or in the mornings? Those things can be raging hard a lot of times. If he gets those, maybe you two can try to catch one of those and ride that wave. Of course, I'm not sure how you both feel about either of you being awakened by sex with the other.

Best of luck to you both!
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 10:41 PM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Note that the problem may be amplified by the meanings both of you are attaching to it: he NEEDS to maintain an erection in order to pleasure you both physically (by fucking) and emotionally (by proving he's interested). In such situations Dan Savage actually suggests taking intercourse off the menu until the problem is resolved -- you might want to experiment with that.

I'm pasting this here because it needs to be read again, anonymous. I've listened to and read a lot of Savage Love, and if I were to channel Dan Savage, he would say "Leave his dick alone!!!" Or something along those lines. The initial issue with maintaining an erection could be due to the antidepressants, as was noted above. But when you said this:
now not only does he have trouble getting and staying hard, but he also just doesn't really have much interest in sex anymore.

This, of course, has been very upsetting to me.
Upsetting to you? What about him? Do you tell him, in so many words, that he's a lame-o limp-dick? I assume you wouldn't say it quite that harshly, but an additional (and IMHO very very likely) problem for him is your clear disappointment with him in the sack. All this just feeds itself into an endless cycle.

The first thing you should do, or rather he should do, is go back to the doctor. You said he got on the meds because he was stressed from his school/job, but now that he's in a better place, maybe he doesn't need them anymore? At the very least, the doctor can put him on a different antidepressant; there are many, many different brands/kinds.

Second, whether you do step one or not, experiment in the sack. You say he wants to please you, so let him. If he doesn't want any reciprocation, so be it. Let him use his hands, his mouth, his whatever on you, to pleasure you. If he knows the pressure to perform is completely off the table, he will get a lot of pleasure "just" getting you off. And who knows, maybe that's what will break the spell, as it were.
posted by zardoz at 11:14 PM on February 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Since, as others have noted, you seem to have a tendency to take his erectile dysfunction as a personal insult, perhaps Viagra is just what he needs to take that out of the equation for a while: for him to get his confidence back and for you to realize that this is likely to be purely biochemical.
posted by ptolemy chennus at 2:40 AM on February 21, 2013


I am an academic, and have a chronic pain/fatigue condition, so can have difficulties getting in to sexy space even though I love my husband dearly and find him to be the sexiest man alive. Academia, depression, and for me pain/fatigue, really distances you from your body - a lot of things are going on in your head, and the connection to your body and thus sexy feelings can get disrupted or plain lost. I am a big believer in "making friends with your body" for reinstating the connection. For me, this means my husband giving me a massage, or engaging in physically intimate and enjoyable but not necessarily sexual touching/caressing to remind me/my body that sensation is pleasurable. The key is that there is no pressure to have sex - if it leads to sexytimes, then fantastic, but this is not the point of the making friends exercise. Also, doing things which get me out of my head and back into my body - yoga, going to the gym etc. - really helps me connect with my body as a sensual, powerful entity, which then parlays into getting me into the sexy zone more easily.

Nthing medical check up, alternatives to his current SSRIs (they certainly do mess up libido!) and exploring additional avenues for depression management (exercise, as you're already doing, can help so much).

Like you, I find it hard to enjoy sex/sexual activity if I'm thinking my partner is not in the zone with me. There's not much I can suggest for you here, but you are not alone with this feeling. Taking yes for an answer when your partner is pleasuring you but you're not so sure he's enjoying it is hard to do, but worth trying. As someone who - although female - is the one who finds it difficult getting into sex at times, despite my genuine passion for my husband, please do not take his boner issues as a personal slight. The body does not always follow through on the genuine desires of the mind. However, personally, I would take it as an insult if my partner did not seek treatment/things to ameliorate the situation since sex is, naturally, an important part of a relationship.

It sounds as if you have a great relationship overall, and are a strong couple. I think you can get through this, if he is more proactive in dealing with it.
posted by thetarium at 2:50 AM on February 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


You make it sound as though you're unconditionally committed to him and the relationship. I don't think it's possible to expect passion of anyone in the face of that kind of commitment. A part of the thrill of sex is the drive for conquest. He thinks he already has you no matter what, so what does it matter whether he performs? (To me, it sounds like he's losing you and he doesn't realize just how precarious his situation is.)

This is terrible, terrible advice. The last thing either of you needs is more anxiety! 'Drive for conquest'? What is this, the 14th century?

I agree with everyone who's telling you that what you need to do is take the pressure off him to 'perform', and get used to the idea that sex can happen without him having an erection at all, ever. That way, if/when they do happen, they're an added bonus, not something you're trying desperately to keep alive like a dying baby bird.
posted by Acheman at 3:17 AM on February 21, 2013 [10 favorites]


+1 on ignoring esprit de l'escalier's advice regarding the "drive for conquest" its an extremely simplistic (and somewhat immature) explanation to a very large complex array of dynamic variables that account for any given person's sexuality. Some people confuse passion with lust.
posted by postergeist at 4:44 AM on February 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


I just came to say that you guys sound like you have a very wonderful relationship, and that that's amazing. So many people are looking for a life partner like you both have, and for good reason. It can make life a lot better.

I hope that you figure out the sex part, too. But I urge you to notice when he does one of the things that make you love him, and to exclaim or murmur or think, "if this isn't nice, I don't know what is."
posted by the thing about it at 5:25 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Go to the doctor, discuss the meds and have a test to see where his hormone levels are.

I'm on HRT and it's a delicate balance.

Some folks are just wired differently for sex, but I suspect a lot of this is physical and a result of medication.

Go with your husband into the doctors appointment (our doc sees us both together) and tell the doctor what your husband may not.

If it's a result of meds, there are changes that can be made, if it's low T, he can get a cream, if it's just that he has a low libido, at least you'll know.

Good luck!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:23 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I took antidepressants for a few years, but am now taking New Mood, which I've found to be a more than serviceable replacement for the antidepressants, without the unpleasant side effects.

Of course, consult with your doctor before making any changes to your medication, and as with any medication (or in this case, supplements), YMMV.
posted by areodjarekput at 6:59 AM on February 21, 2013


He tells me he's happy to pleasure me, but I can't imagine it's all that interesting for him if he can't get aroused

Are you assuming that if he can't get hard, he can't get aroused? Because that's a common myth. Erections are a super-handy rough guide, but they're imperfectly correlated with arousal itself. The pertinent Wikipedia article notes that "After their mid-forties, some men report that they do not always have an erection when they are sexually aroused", citing this 2008 study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior. The article is unfortunately paywalled, so I've only read the abstract, but it's based on what 50 straight men describe in focus groups, when they're presumably not worried about hurtful discussions with their sex partners (contra esprit de l'escalier). Also cited is Barry Singer's 1984 article (also paywalled) in the Journal of Sex Research, arguing that erection is not even the only physically measurable sign of male arousal -- just the most reliable and convenient to measure for the population as a whole.

From what you say, your husband does indeed need to reconnect to his own sexual mojo (e.g. you point out he's lost interest in oral sex). But don't assume that mojo is completely absent, just because it's invisible.
posted by feral_goldfish at 9:45 AM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


He seems to be under the impression that the only option open to him is taking something like Viagra, and he really doesn't want to have to take another medication

Would he consider ginseng? No doctor visit needed, not exactly a medication, and it definitely helps my (also mid-40s) mojo.
posted by 0 at 12:10 PM on February 21, 2013


From the OP:
Thank you so much for the almost unanimously helpful and sympathetic, non-judgmental responses to this question. Yes, he needs to see his psychiatrist about this--he's currently traveling and has an appointment when he gets back. I may ask him if it would be all right for me to go along to talk with her about this particular subject (we've done this before, usually at his request or hers, with a few depression-related relationship issues, and it has been helpful). He's fairly sure it's mostly the medication that is the problem. However, he really feels as if he needs the medication. Rereading my question, I realized that I left out one important concern: that I really don't like the idea of putting him in a position where he has to choose between a satisfying sex life (for me) and being able to function at his best cognitively and intellectually.

zardoz: if the current state of things was upsetting to him, he would have done something about it long ago. He's had plenty of opportunities. It's not the lack of sex that upsets me, but the fact that it just isn't important to him anymore, and that my feelings about it just haven't been important enough to motivate him to do something about it. That is what really hurt. Again, it could be that he worries that changing his medications would compromise his ability to function at a high level, and I certainly understand and sympathize with him on this, but he is reluctant to seek out an alternative that would not result in such a compromise. It's gotten so that any affectionate touch is starting to feel a bit hollow, and I find myself thinking, "Maybe this is all you need, but it's not all I need." And that is painful.

I realize this could very well be his depression talking--maybe the medication he's on isn't working as well as it used to, and it's time for a change. There are other things that suggest to me that he's struggling with depression more now than he used to be, too. And I know he suffers from seasonal affective disorder--maybe with warmer weather and more sunny days he'll just feel better all around. I'll make sure to make him get out and enjoy the sunshine whenever possible. He's kind of a hardnosed skeptic when it comes to supplements, though.

CoolPapaBell--walking (and holding hands) is already a favorite pastime of ours. :-) We've got pedometers and try to get 10,000 steps in every day. It's amazing how much that helps. He has been motivated lately to try to prevent cognitive decline in the long term, and I think that goes hand in hand with general health. He suffers from a minor complaint or two that are effectively treated with medication (and I won't go into them here) but his checkups usually go well overall. I recently got him to start logging calories and he is eating better now that he knows just how much hidden fat and other bad stuff there is in foods he used to eat on a regular basis. Neither of us is grossly overweight--just thicker than we were in our salad days, and I suffer from thyroid issues besides.

As far as what to do, other than see the doctor--thanks to all who suggested that we try having "sexytime" without intercourse, and that I proceed on the assumption that he really is enjoying it no matter what. This should be an interesting challenge. Maybe it's finally time to buy a vibrator (I have never used one in my life). I will also do my very best not to pressure him at all. Intellectually, I know this isn't my fault; emotionally, I don't think I've quite yet accepted it. I'll work on that.

Incidentally, I would really hate for some other younger, more vulnerable woman who is battling major feelings of insecurity and reads through this question and its responses looking for advice to encounter a comment to the effect of "if your husband isn't interested in sex, it might be your fault, no matter what he says! You just need to try harder!" without rebuttal. Although I'm sure the commenter's intentions were good, that is an incredibly harmful message. Learning to accept my husband's unsolicited, freely-given compliments at face value took years and years--and during that time he was really frustrated by my attempts to second-guess him and discount the things he said in all apparent sincerity. I already hear from him frequently that I am extraordinary, and I try to live up to that. I can't do much more. The rest, it appears, is up to him.
posted by jessamyn at 2:41 PM on February 21, 2013


I'm sure you know what depression is like as your husband has lived with it so long, but you really shouldn't take his lack of interest in improving things personally. Depression makes it hard to do anything: hard to have a bath, hard to leave the room, hard to go to bed, hard to wake up. It's not a feeling, it's a no-feeling. It's incredibly difficult and tiring, and the thing is, you can't envisage anything different. I actually thought I was losing my marbles, because I couldn't remember anything, and I couldn't summon up the energy to get a glass of water if I needed one.

Also, SSRIs. Yes, they are a mysterious libido killer. And I would bet, just as you are feeling insecure about whether he still finds you attractive, he may be feeling twice as insecure. Our sexuality, and ability to perform, is an intrinsic part of who we are and how we see ourselves - losing it is like - well like more than losing a hand, because a hand isn't your personality - say like losing the nose off your face. And SSRIs do this. Yet compared to depression they may be a good bargain, at least for a time.

If he loves seeing, and holding you, give him that. It's genuine. Have you ever masturbated in front of him? Try it, he might like it. Temporarily his body isn't working for him, it's let him down even more than it's let you down. Let him hold on to you for a bit, swimming, not drowning. Good luck.

Oh, and not everybody needs a vibrator to get themselves off - try exploring some of that old-school 70s feminist how-to-discover-your body literature.

And totally see if he can come off the SSRIs yet. You have to be weaned off them slowly and carefully.
posted by glasseyes at 3:24 PM on February 21, 2013


This is a zebra in a sea of horses -- the SSRIs and his stress levels are definitely very, very common libido-killers -- but if this is a reasonably recent and dramatic change, well, a benign pituitary tumor can cause loss of libido, as well as other depressive symptoms. Mathowie had one that he's managing with medication.
posted by KathrynT at 3:51 PM on February 21, 2013


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