How can I help my wife want sex?
August 9, 2010 1:20 PM   Subscribe

How can I help my wife want sex?

Where to start. She lost her virginity to me back in high school. We dated for a couple years and broke up. Mingled with some other people and eventually got together, engaged and married. We have been together for 8 years, 3 of that married. We are relatively young (Me 23 her 24) and have a 7 month old (Surprise!). During our dating years we had great sexual chemistry. Once we got engaged and we got busy with life I started to wain a little. We got married and after a year she said it was rough for her. So I stepped it up and I forgot how much I missed it. Fast forward 2 years and now the tables have turned. Her father recently passed suddenly, she is not working her ideal career (And is unable to despite all of our attempts), we bought a house a month ago, raising a 7 month old and I theorize she might be depressed. She also just started on BC for the first time since we found out she was pregnant. The problem is sex only happens MAYBE once a month now.

Our life is busy and the only downtime we have is an hour between 10-11pm. By then she is way too tired. I have made sure I think she is sexy (I still think she is), and how attracted I am of her. I have been trying my best to do her share of household tasks to ease her stress load. Nothing seems to happen. She offers out of what seems like guilt to have sex, but I have such a hard time saying yes. I dont want to just do my thing and have my wife like a dead fish, not sexy. We kind of talked about it last night. She said she wasnt depressed, didnt think the BC was to cause, she still sees my as attractive, and still wants to have sex but dosnt want sex.

What can I do? I am getting pretty frustrated in this whole thing. Our anniversary is coming up and she has said no gifts. No its not a trap, she means it. I am almost thinking of getting some practical lingerie, and maybe a toy for the bedroom but dont want it to be wasted if she is not interested. Is this just how marriage and being a parent is all about?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (39 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

Our life is busy and the only downtime we have is an hour between 10-11pm. By then she is way too tired.

Yeah, I hate before-bed sex for this reason. Sex just seems exhausting by this point.

still wants to have sex but dosnt want sex.

What can I do?

Rearrange your schedules so that you both have more free time during the times that your wife feels sexy. For me, that time is 2pm (which is very awkward considering I work a 9-5). For her, it might be in the morning or at noon. Hire a nanny or at least a baby sitter. If you're both working, arrange some flex time or take a long lunch.
posted by muddgirl at 1:24 PM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

For the anniversary, could you get a babysitter and a hotel room? She'll probably be anxious about being away from the baby so it has to be a babysitter she trusts.
posted by maurice at 1:27 PM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Is she nursing? That---or even just the exhaustion of dealing with a baby---can really kill the libido dead. Plus the birth control? Bad combo.

It'll probably come back, but I agree that 10-11PM is a hard time to try to schedule into.

So, this doesn't answer the immediate frustration, but maybe should give you some hope for the future...
posted by leahwrenn at 1:27 PM on August 9, 2010 [3 favorites]

Anything that you could do unilaterally would be experienced as pressure from you. This would include sex-related gifts.

She needs to hear that you are not happy with the situation, and that you want, and deserve, to have sex with someone else in your life. You might need to find a counselor to say this in front of, so your wife will REALLY hear it and be prompted to respond.

You need to decide whether, even with the child, you need to be somewhere else.

But, honestly, with all that is going on, including her father dying, buying a house, etc. 1x per month is not really way outside of the average. So it could be a matter of ebbs and flows, or this could be who she is.

But you can't help her to want sex. She has to arrive at this on her own. Or not.
posted by Danf at 1:28 PM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Is this just how marriage and being a parent is all about?

Often, yes. Everyone goes through it to varying degrees.

If it makes you feel better, it bounces back after the kids leave home. You're gonna be rocking it come 2029.
posted by unixrat at 1:29 PM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yes, interesting suggestions by muddgirl. A change of schedule or a change of venue might be helpful - you could even go on a vacation (much like a honeymoon) if the finances are manageable and someone can be found to take care of the baby (do you have helpful relatives?) Beyond that, many people are sexually repressed, perhaps they have sexual interests which they fear might be regarded as inappropriate by others. Ask your wife if there is anything else you can do, any technique that interests her, anything that she thinks may be missing from your relationship, even if there is anything that she has been hesitant to discuss with you. But there may be nothing of that sort; she may just be tired out from the demands of raising a 7 month old baby, which is a demanding activity. If so, perhaps you can still cuddle. That is easy to do, even for very fatigued people.
posted by grizzled at 1:31 PM on August 9, 2010

Anything that you could do unilaterally would be experienced as pressure from you. This would include sex-related gifts.

Yeah, this.

Look — there's definitely hope for y'all's sex life. But the solution is going to have to come from the two of you — not from you alone, and certainly not from a bunch of strangers on the internet. There isn't some magic spell we can give you that's guaranteed to get you what you want. You've gotta talk to each other and be patient and sort this out.
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:37 PM on August 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

and still wants to have sex but dosnt want sex.

Take penis-in-the-vagina sex of the table for the moment. Take a shower together in that 10-11pm hour, or a bat. Maybe try naked massage with each other. During all of this talk, not so much about sex, but just talk. It's hard when a kid arrives, it takes over the relationship and the two parents become secondary to it. Plus she seems to be going through a rough patch. Shift your gears into low and just try to be there for each and enjoy it each other's company and presence without the overriding concern of sex.

See how that goes for a couple of months, talking and touching, and whether things get better.
posted by nomadicink at 1:37 PM on August 9, 2010 [21 favorites]

She also just started on BC for the first time since we found out she was pregnant.

Sometimes birth control pills can entirely shut down any interest in sex. Could be something she should ask her doctor about. If you know what kind she's taking someone here might be able to give you more information about how likely that is.
posted by dilettante at 1:38 PM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Beyond all the other issues, the birth control may very well be a major culprit. Every single time I have been on BC my libido stops dead, and it takes several months to fully return. It is like night and day. There are a lot of potential issues here (hello, 7 month old baby!), but my experience (and many others) on BC was so stark that it's something to consider. It could be turning a difficult set of challenges into a dire situation.
posted by asimplemouse at 1:40 PM on August 9, 2010

I'm sure you know that sex, for many women, is connected to their emotions. so if you've rule out any medical conditions, you might want to seek out a good couples therapist or an individual therapist for either or both of you. it sounds like you've checked in, asked all of the right questions to make sure she is where she wants to be (wanting to have sex with you) and take on more responsibility in managing your lives but sometimes there might be underlying reasons that she might not be readily aware of that can creep up and become barriers as well. of course i can see all of the recent issues in your lives (father, house, child) could be a contributing factor as well.
posted by UltraD at 1:42 PM on August 9, 2010

Ignoring all other factors, hormonal birth control reduced my libido to nothing. It was as if it rendered me completely asexual. I recommend an IUD as a method that's mostly free of undesirable side effects.
posted by halogen at 1:45 PM on August 9, 2010

You have a 7 month old.

Is she breastfeeding? That KILLS sex drive.
Is she breastfeeding at night? That is terrible for one's sleep.
Is she home with the baby all day? She must be exhausted.

Seriously, give it time.
posted by k8t at 1:47 PM on August 9, 2010 [10 favorites]

don't give her sex gifts. that won't make her want to jump your bones. she'll see it as evidence that you just aren't hearing her. in the context of your question, i almost wonder if her no gifts stance is her saying in yet another way "my romantic/sexual relationship to you isn't a priority right now."

how does she relax? does she watch tv? take a bubble bath? play video games? go for a walk? if she was given a week without a husband or a child, what would she fill her time with? encourage her in those activities. encourage her to see herself a woman, not just a wife or a mother or a daughter or an employee.

she has a mountain of expectations on her and you trying to shove yours to the forefront will not have the ending you desire. whether you meant to or not, you've already made sex a chore. so, step back. stop asking for it or hinting at it or even trying for it. focus your energies on relaxing her - and i mean really focus - don't do them thinking "hey, this might get me laid!" - spend 3 months on making you and your relationship the thing she goes to in moments of turmoil and stress. if you become her safe haven, the thing that doesn't pressure her, then you'll see if she can get to actively wanting sex again.

new house, work stress, less than 1yr old baby, father died, on birth control (so no ovulating) - i think you should count your lucky stars that you're having sex once a month. if i heard about your situation, i'd assume you were on a "birthday and anniversary" schedule.
posted by nadawi at 1:50 PM on August 9, 2010 [9 favorites]

Hormonal birth control turned me into a constant horn-dog.

The OP's wife has already stated that she doesn't think it's related to birth control, so I don't see how it's productive for the OP to continue down that avenue.
posted by muddgirl at 1:51 PM on August 9, 2010

She's been pregnant or caring for an infant for 16 months now- and the last 3 months of her pregnancy were likely hard on her physically, not to mention the birth, and the endless sleep interruptions before the baby came and after. She probably hasn't had a full night's sleep in nearly a year. It's probably the same with you. It's damn hard to be GGG when all you can fantasize about is 8 hours of shut-eye.

This is normal.

It gets better.

I'd suggest onanism as a primary coping skill, at least for the next 6 months.
posted by jenkinsEar at 1:53 PM on August 9, 2010 [5 favorites]

i didn't know birth control was the reason for my depression or decreased libido until i got off of it. i think a lot of women have the same experience. that seems a productive thing to note.

OP - are you guys done having kids? have you considered getting snipped so the burden of birth control isn't on her?
posted by nadawi at 1:54 PM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Help her feel more sensual and pleased with her body, and a desire for sex might naturally follow. I know that when I (31 yo married woman) get stressed and overwhelmed, taking care of myself quickly falls by the wayside. Showers are perfunctory and just to get clean, food is quick and easy, sleep is the bare minimum. A new fancy lotion or shower gel that she loves, a tasty dinner that she doesn't have to prepare while someone else watches the baby, an hour-long massage--help her be in touch with the pleasure her body can feel.
posted by epj at 2:12 PM on August 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

Definitely step up your own masturbation. You clearly love her, and want her to be happy, and only want sex if she wants it too. Since she doesn't want it right now, take some of that internal libido pressure off yourself. Believe me, I speak from experience.

If she *is* starting to feel pressure from you, then I recommend that you do like nomadicink said and take penile-vaginal intercourse off the table -- at least from your end. Don't ask her for sex, don't try to initiate sex. Let her initiate it when she wants to. You don't *like* the sex that you have with her when she's just having sex because she feels guilty, right? So don't let her feel guilty.

*DO* touch her, flirt with her, kiss her, show her that you feel affection for her, but don't try to get the touching and flirting to end with sex. She knows you're available and that you want sex, so you don't have to tell her. If she wants to have sex and initiates it, you can have sex. Otherwise, keep it platonic.

And for your anniversary, let her know ahead of time that you're not expecting sex, that you're only interested in sex if she is. Spend your anniversary time talking with each other, playing games together, or cooking together -- something that you both enjoy doing. Cuddle and watch a movie.

Everyone, everyone, everyone experiences times in their long term relationships when one partner wants sex more than the other. You even point out that you were the less-interested partner in the past! This is totally normal. When I experienced it last, I did some introspection and realized that I was strongly associating sexual intercourse with intimacy and affection from my partner, so I start taking care of my own sex needs myself, and worked on building different ways to give and receive affection with my partner. This really worked out well for us, and I think made our relationship better. Especially since my partner *is* so affectionate, and I was missing out on that because it wasn't in the format that I thought (at the time) it ought to be in.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 2:20 PM on August 9, 2010 [9 favorites]

For me, sleep was the new sex after our kids came around. Seriously, I fantasized about it. You are doing the right thing by letting her know you find her attractive. My sex drive returned somewhat after I stopped breastfeeding and as I began sleeping through the night on a regular basis. Please, no sex-related gifts. You've talked about it, she's aware. All that will do is put more pressure on her. And have faith and patience that things will come around!
posted by ms.v. at 2:22 PM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am not speaking for the sexual response of all women, but not all of us have the same 'instant on' switch that men do. The fact that you have a free hour doesn't necessarily mean that she can turn everything off and become an instant sex kitten. All the reassurance in the world doesn't help. It's great that you are doing household chores but she has a very very very full plate right now.

Forget trying for sex, try for INTIMACY. In that free hour, do NOT make moves. Do not light candles, do not put on romantic music. Do not use the time for straightening the house or running another load of laundry.

Sit down, look at each other, and talk to each other. Play cards or some kind of board game. Try to avoid watching tv or movies, someone will just fall asleep. Even if you sat next to each other and read a book or a magazine you're in the same space together and you have a chance to connect. Snuggle NON SEXUALLY. Hold hands. Scratch her back. DO NOT, do not, take any return gesture on her part as a sign that she wants sex right now. Make her feel that she can connect with you intimately without it automatically turning into sex.

These interludes will make you two feel more connected to each other and you will both look forward to them and you have created a space in which sex can happen, instead of "okay, the baby's in bed, let's go for it" which, while it can be fun sometimes, I just think is a recipe for disaster in this situation.
posted by micawber at 2:24 PM on August 9, 2010 [30 favorites]

Lots of great advice above.

One thing you can do is keep the intimacy connection going without adding to her pressures - do kind things like rubbing her feet or back without having it lead to sex. Give her brief caresses and cuddles when she's not otherwise occupied then walk away. Unexpected, quick, hot kisses at non-inconvenient moments. That sort of stuff. Maybe even offer to get her off without any other obligation, just as a relief valve sort of thing. Don't be relentless about all this, either. Keep it as close to casual as you can.

Not to deny you your own relief and attachment, but to show her that you still feel physically connected and want her to feel good, too, regardless of her ability to engage in coitus right now.
posted by batmonkey at 3:03 PM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

I agree with others that plenty of hugging, kissing, hand-holding, etc. is a fantastic idea. She needs to know you find her attractive. If she already does, she needs to know it more.

You'd be surprised how often non-sexual physical contact can lead to sex, and even if it doesn't, it's essential for a relationship.

I'm saying you should do this to manipulate her, but it really seems like you care for her, which is great, and expressing that to her more often than you might already can to wonders for your marriage and your sex life, especially considering some of the things you two are going through right now.
posted by elder18 at 3:05 PM on August 9, 2010

micawber: Men don't have that instant-on switch that men are supposed to have, either. :) Some people can be ready for sexy time nearly any time. Some people can't.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 3:19 PM on August 9, 2010

May I make a suggestion? All of the intimacy stuff is great, but if you don't explicitly tell her that you are not doing it as a lead-up to sex (and mean it) then she may not enjoy it at all. I know that for my (thankfully short) period of post-baby sexual disinterest, any sign of foot massages, cuddles or whatever from my husband would have just led me to thinking that he was doing it to get me in the mood, whether that was the case or not. Then I couldn't relax and enjoy it because I was tense waiting for the moment when I would disappoint him, yet again.
posted by gaspode at 3:41 PM on August 9, 2010 [9 favorites]

It will get better. I remember it like it was yesterday, because 7 months was only 11 months ago for me. She will start feeling more like her normal pre-baby self as the months go on and your baby starts sleeping more. Seriously, once a month unfortunately sounds about right. But oh god, once he/she sleeps through the night and you get some real sleep? It's back on.
posted by kpht at 3:47 PM on August 9, 2010

How often does she get up at night to feed the baby? at 7 months I was still up every 2-3 hours. Unless she's getting at least a solid 5 hour stretch of sleep at least once a night, imho it's unreasonable to ask her to want to do anything else in bed BUT sleep. Plus the nursing totally whacks up your hormones; the hormonal profile of a breastfeeding woman is similar to that of a post-menopausal woman.

If she's not getting that minimal 5-hour chunk, you're probably best off doing everything you can to ensure that she DOES before you go buying fancy bras or whatnot. Nothing is ruinous to my libido like insufficient sleep.
posted by KathrynT at 3:48 PM on August 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

Take penis-in-the-vagina sex off the table for the moment.

This times a thousand. It is actually one of the best pieces of advice I received upon a time. Don't focus on what you're not getting (and her, on what she can't give) but focus on what you are getting (and her, on what she can give).

Translation: clearly the two of you both want intimacy but p-in-the-v at 10pm given the parameters you've described... well it just isn't going to happen. So the two of you need to figure out what you're up for at that time of night. Stroking, holding, nuzzling into your chest, ____, ______, ______...??? I'll let you fill in the blanks but naked massage and showering together are great places to start.

I think she needs to know that you want to be intimate but that there's no pressure to perform like you're teenagers again. Redefine sex in your relationship so that it lowers the pressure and expectations for all concerned: masturbating together, or while she holds you, reading some erotica together, reminiscing about some of your best times in bed together, all of this will go alot further than ultimatums, guilt trips or unilateral decisions.
posted by braemar at 4:02 PM on August 9, 2010

Oh, and for the anniversary? Write her a letter about how awesome she looks, what you love about her, and how amazing she is especially now that she's a mom. It's very easy for two new parents to just forget all about being a couple because they're focused on being parents and making the household run somewhat smoothly. Flowers require care and upkeep and will die, she may not want candy, but a really heartfelt letter will at least most likely make her feel more supported and a little happier. A sex gift to me at that point would've signalled that you just wanted sex and were starting to get pushy about it (not that you mean it that way) - but a letter would say hey, I love you no matter what, let's not worry about the sex.
posted by kpht at 4:25 PM on August 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

--Father died
--Doesn't like job
--Birth control
--New house
--Only an hour of free time a day
--Possibly depressed

I know that sex is really important, but compared to the killer combination of all of the above, it doesn't stand a chance. Be patient, be kind, be helpful, don't expect much sex drive from her for at least a few more months, or until a major life change that makes things easier.

I'm shocked she even finds time to eat!
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 4:34 PM on August 9, 2010 [9 favorites]

--Father died
--Doesn't like job
--Birth control
--New house
--Only an hour of free time a day
--Possibly depressed

Yeah, this is pretty much what I was coming to point out, as well. Her dad just died? She has an infant? This is not an easy time for anyone in that position. You need to be patient and not buy any lingerie or sex toys. You can't purchase your way to sex with someone whose life is complicated and exhausting right now.
posted by oneirodynia at 4:46 PM on August 9, 2010 [3 favorites]

Come home early every day for a week and take the baby away from her for a while. Set her up on a comfy chair in the other room with dinner and some of her favorite DVDs or a new book. When she falls asleep at 8pm carry her into a clean bedroom and tuck her into a bed which you have made up with fresh sheets and is an appropriate temperature and fluffiness, ignoring her attempts to get up and "clean the kitchen". Go and clean the kitchen. Clean the baby. Feed the baby. Take the baby in the yard out of earshot and walk in circles if it so much as thinks about crying while your wife is trying to sleep.

Then Saturday do all the laundry. Clean the kitchen again. Clean the floors and the bathroom and her car. Hell, clean the dog while you're at it. If there's something unpleasant she has been putting off do it for her (buy cards+ envelops + stamps for her to thank people who came to the funeral and then mail them after she writes them maybe?)

If that isn't the kind of thing that makes you fall in love all over again I don't know what is.
posted by fshgrl at 10:47 PM on August 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

Is anybody here giving advice that actually worked for them personally?
posted by effugas at 2:41 AM on August 10, 2010

Yes, although I didn't have a baby and a recently-deceased father.

Taking sex off the table and re-scheduling so that I was less stressed with more sleep did wonders for my libido.
posted by muddgirl at 5:44 AM on August 10, 2010

Her dad just died? She has an infant? Either of those alone would be enough for me to suggest that you chill way out. You've had a great sex life in the past and likely will again in the future, but now is not the time.
posted by salvia at 7:01 AM on August 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

You might benefit from reading Hot Monogamy by Pat Love or The Sex Starved Marriage by Michelle Weiner-Davis. Might give you some insight into the physiology and phsychology involved.

To start, do NOT listen to your wife about the anniversary. Don't spend a lot of money, but do something nice she didn't ask for. Make her feel special.

First order of business is to find out what makes her feel special and desirable. When are her high-energy times? What does she need in those low-energy times to feel loved and cherished? Do what you need to do to get with her during those times and do those things she needs.

It is different from person to person, but with my wife sometimes she needs a full body massage, focusing on her feet and back after a long day. Washing her hair can be a very sensual experience for the two of you. It could be something as quotidian as having coffee and doing a crossword puzzle together. Dancing. Tell her about the time you knew you'd fallen in love with her. There are lots of kinds of intimacy, so start with the non-sex kinds.

And with your schedule, making time requires being creative. We've been married with children at home for 18 years and we find we have to make time. We always took advantage of day care, taking "long lunches" at home while baby is still in care. We took vacation days off together during the week. In fact for many of our small child years vacation time was taken in 1-2 day getaway bursts instead of as long vacations. Cultivate a babysitter you can trust or enlist your family. Find a chunk of your "first fruits" time for intimacy, whenever that is, instead of waiting until the last hour of the waking day.

And remember, this is a just a season in your marriage and it too will pass. If you stick with it and keep trying. Focus on the incredible gift of each other and find ways to keep giving it to each other, however small, every day.
posted by cross_impact at 7:04 AM on August 10, 2010

Oh Hell yes (minus the baby part). Nothing makes me want to jump a man's bones like him taking care of me in some sweet and thoughtful way or helping me get through a seemingly impossible task with generosity and good humor.
posted by fshgrl at 9:53 AM on August 10, 2010

Wow lots of information. Let me see if I can answer some questions, but I dont know if it is necessary. I had to re-read everything just to make sure I got most of it and it has helped with perspective.

-She is not nursing, has not been for about 4 months now.
-I get up with my daughter 95% of the time so my wife can rest. I can operate on far less sleep than she can.
-Re-arranging schedule is hard. We just had 1/2 my dept quit at work so my flexibility is on hold until we hire more. We both work at the same company, but she works from home 3 days a week.
-We are possibly having at least one more kid, so no snipping for me. Also IUD with our insurance is $800 so my wife said no way.
-We are a pretty touchy feely couple already: Hold hands in car every AM, cuddle every night just before bed and in bed, most of the time sneak kisses and hugs at work when we can, etc. So stepping up the physicalness will be tough for me I think.
-Great idea on the during the week vaca thing. However closest family is 4 hours away and wife dosnt trust anyone for an overnight stay with little girl. Wife also dosnt have any vacation time right now.

I think what would help the best would be to put my daughter in daycare 5 days a week instead of 2, with my wife working/watching her the remaining three. I have brought this up before and my wife has told me we cant afford it so it is not an option. I feel that would help her the most. No raise @ work for me (Already went down that road), esp not for her either.

It seems like from the above this isnt too abnormal. I am beginning to wonder if I am being a bit more selfish/detached with everything going on in life than I should be.
posted by NotSoSimple at 4:40 PM on August 10, 2010

You know, sex is a basic human need, and when you don't get it, you can start to focus on it and bump it up on the list of priorities. Sometimes that means that part of you will think "I don't care if you're tired, I need sex!!" just like part of you will think "I don't care if you're tired, I need to eat!" That doesn't make you a bad person. It makes you a person.

What you do with those feelings is important. If you are too insistent now, it could really make her crabby about sex, make her feel pressured, make sex not a fun thing but more of a duty. The long-term health of your sex life says for you to wait it out, because this isn't going to last forever. Think of the big picture.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:10 PM on August 10, 2010

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