January 4, 2011 8:35 AM   Subscribe

Sexually incompatible, or do we just need to....get over the hump? [Probably NSFW]

In his most recent column, Dan Savage restates one of his favorite ideas:

There would be fewer divorces and less heartbreak if people were encouraged to view sexual incompatibility as the deal breaker it inevitably becomes over time.

I'm a 31-year-old man in a fourteen-month old relationship that, like the person Savage is responding to, seems delightful save for the sex. We're talking about moving in together. We spent Christmas together. She makes me laugh like nobody else. We've both had some career drama since we started dating, and we've been really good supports for each other. We have very similar interests. I love the heck out of her. I think she's beautiful. In theory, our levels of kink are very similar and very compatible. But I just don't enjoy sex with her.

Sex has been perpetually problematic, though. I was unable to reach orgasm the first time we had sex, and blamed it on my antidepressants. We both are strong believers in therapy, and spent quite a few months doing sex therapy with a therapist we both like. This was certainly good for getting communication about sex better between us. But I'm just not that interested in sex. One method I've tried (as suggest by the therapist) was to go about it utterly mechanically -- treat my brain like a pit boss telling my hands and mouth and other body parts where to go and what to do almost like a robot until my mind eventually got into the swing of things. I've had these problems in relationships before, but this is the first time that a girlfriend and I have worked so hard and so honestly to overcome them.

But the fact of the matter is that I don't look forward to sex. It's hard for me to initiate with any sort of believability. And I think about sex constantly -- I fantasize about other people I have been with, other people I haven't been with. I'm not supposed to ever masturbate without her knowing, or to ever look at pornography -- not that there's anything wrong with either of these things inherently, except that they can undo intimacy when I do them by myself. Sometimes I'm good about this and sometimes I'm not. Also note that, despite the daily 20 mg of Lexapro, orgasm through masturbation is quite easy.

It's worth saying that she has some pretty tough body issues herself -- eating disorder stuff.

She can tell when I'm checked out during sex. She always asks me if there's something we're not doing in bed that I want her to do, and I say no. And in one sense that's true -- there's not some secret kinky fantasy that I'm scared to talk about acting out. And I don't know how to broach the issues discussed above -- my general pessimism about our sex life, the fact that in my head I'm sexually voracious, the fact that during those moments I'm "checked out" during sex I'm usually fantasizing about someone else.

Have there been a couple of times when the sex between us was decent? Yes. But I've never been interested in it. I'm missing the other relationships I've had where the sex was fantastic, something I always looked forward to -- of course, in those relationships, other important emotional stuff was totally lousy.

My therapist continually returns to the idea that it's a self-esteem thing -- that on some level I've not yet decided to believe that I'm worthy of a relationship that is satisfying on all levels: emotional, sexual, intellectual, etc. I certainly have self esteem issues, and maybe my therapist is right about this.

I generally want to keep communication open and intimate, and I have (until now) only really discussed these sexual issues either with my girlfriend or our therapist or both. But I don't know how to broach these topics any more. Can I prove Dan Savage wrong? Is it possible to work past these sorts of sexual problems? How can I talk about it with my girlfriend when it, ultimately, is very hurtful territory? Am I just trying to sabotage a great relationship? How do I get over this?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (41 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Are you sure this therapist's methods are working for you? It sounds like forcing yourself to go through the motions is only making it worse. And the ban on porn and masturbation sounds questionable to me. Is that your girlfriend's ban or the therapist's? It sounds like you put so much work into your sex life that its no wonder its a chore.

I think you need to change gears - is there some way you can bring a little of that hotness you get from fantasizing about others into bed with your partner? Many people in healthy long term sexual relationships look at porn or other people to get turned on and bring that excitement back to the bedroom. It's not inherently bad unless it makes one of you feel jealous or upset, and its not going to automatically destroy all intimacy in an otherwise functional relationship.
posted by slow graffiti at 8:53 AM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't want to back Dan Savage on this, but..

It sounds like you've already taken some reasonable steps, and done some hard work to try to make this good.

If that hasn't got you to where you need to be in terms of physical desire in your relationship, then maybe it just isn't meant to be a sexual relationship. Maybe it's meant to be something like a really close friendship?
posted by Ahab at 8:55 AM on January 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

I'm afraid I'm going to have to agree with Dan Savage on this one. If sex with your girlfriend is something you dread and can't enjoy, there really isn't too much hope for your relationship.

Thats not to say that people can't have relationships without good sex (I hear legends about happy couples in asexual relationships), but it's clear that sex is important to both of you but you just aren't enjoying yourself. The fact that you can only enjoy sex with her by imagining other women is another nail in the coffin.

If you are really determined to make this relationship work, then I guess keep going to the sex therapist and being honest with your ladyfriend about your hangups. But if you keep viewing sex with this girl as a chore (and an unpleasant chore at that) you're inevitably going to start resenting her for other things as well and it will poison your relationship.
posted by sarastro at 8:57 AM on January 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

I have had a similar experience with my ex. He was gorgeous and we were compatible on many levels. I found him nice to look at, but he didn't really turn me on. Like you, I thought it was because I had such low self-esteem that I couldn't be turned on by someone who treated me well. Eventually he stopped treating me so well. I became even more unattracted to him.

I strongly suspect my ex and I were a pheromonal mismatch. That's the only way I can explain why a man so attractive wouldn't turn me on, other than aesthetically.

Is your partner on the pill or any other medication that might alter her hormonal profile, or are you? Maybe it's the Lexapro. If so, it might be worth switching meds. The BC pill in particular can affect who a woman is attracted to and who is attracted to her.
posted by xenophile at 9:02 AM on January 4, 2011 [5 favorites]

I'm not sure about the whole no porn idea either. Sometimes when I look at porn is gets me more revved up for some sexy time, so it's actually a positive for my relationship. Try using some porn as a way to get ready for sex.

It's awfully difficult to end a relationship that's otherwise great because of sex, but if you're not happy with the sex, how long will the rest of the relationship remain great? You should ask yourself that.
posted by elder18 at 9:03 AM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

When you've had these problems in other relationships, were they emotionally intimate relationships? That might help pick apart the element of whether this is a matter of not feeling worthy of a whole relationship.

Do you and your girlfriend need your relationship to be monogamous? I know it's off the beaten path, but I have a couple of sets of friends who have an incredibly good, close, friendly intimacy with their life partners, and go off and have hot sex with, in one case, a long term partner, and in another case, a series of flings. This obviously wouldn't work for everyone (myself included), but thinking about how to keep the good while not locking yourself into something that's not tenable long term is the thrust of what you're trying to figure out here, and it's worth thinking broadly about unconventional ways to make it work for the two of you, even if they look weird from the outside.
posted by rosa at 9:07 AM on January 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

Don't give up. At least not based on this destructive myth.

There is this pervasive lie that tells us that sex is indeed a deal-breaker in relationships, like it is a need that is the end-all-be-all. This lie is a central part of our culture. My theory is that it is driven by some desire to keep us all tied helplessly to our animal natures because it is then easier to manipulate us using them if we feel that to rise above them or take control of them is ultimately impossible.

Sex is very important to intimacy indeed, but it is not a need. Needs are things that you will die (or at least live a very subhuman existence) without -- food, water, shelter, human companionship and intimacy. Don't buy into the lie that you two are doomed without good sex.

You are as doomed as you let yourself be. Or as doomed as the lies you listen to tell you you are. Sex tends to be a function of so many things -- your level of communication, knowledge of one another, your and her mental and physical health. Work on those, and the sex will improve.

My idea is that my job is to become the world's greatest expert on making love to this one woman, my wife. It requires study. It requires the humility to simply ask or to say "show me." I find that sex is best when I am totally focused on being the lover my wife needs me to be. Of course this is after years of work in all areas of my relationship. We've had difficulties and dry spells, sometimes lasting many months. And I still have a lot to learn.

Another lie is this idea of the "soulmate." The idea that if you are with "the one," things will just "click." This unrealistic expectation kills more marriages than just about any other out there. A good relationship will require work at many things our culture has told us should come naturally, like communication, handling conflict, intimacy... and sex.

Don't fall for that lie either. There is no "soulmate" for you. "The one" is the one you decide on, not someone chosen by fate. And once you decide, it's gonna involve some work to keep going. But there's a life of rich satisfaction and fulfillment in store for those who push past the learning curve.

Fourteen months is good so far, but give it a few more years of time and effort. After twenty-eight (this week) years with my wife, I can say that it's worth going through some tough times to get where we are. And we're just getting started!
posted by cross_impact at 9:07 AM on January 4, 2011 [37 favorites]

It doesn't sound as though sexual compatibility is the immediate question here. You acknowledge that your girlfriend is, on paper, a good sexual fit for you, but you also explain in some detail that you have ongoing problems combining sex and intimacy. And, in fact, all the issues you describe are ones you'd expect to result from that sort of problem: you've got a high sex drive where porn, fantasies, bad relationships, and other non-intimate situations are concerned, but when it comes to having an actual connection or sexual encounter with someone you love, difficulties crop up.

IANATherapist, but it does seem as though the obvious next step is going to be to make sure you're working as hard and as efficiently as possible on whatever past traumas or personal hangups are creating these intimacy issues in the first place. Do you feel as though you're making progress in your therapy? Has your therapist given you any idea of what to expect over the next few months/years as you work through this stuff? If not, you might want to ask for a referral to someone who's specifically experienced in dealing with sex and relationships. Who knows whether your current girlfriend is The One or not, but if the problems here are fundamentally yours, then simply replacing her is unlikely to do anything except land you back in a similar pickle with someone else.
posted by Bardolph at 9:08 AM on January 4, 2011 [10 favorites]

It's hard to know what, exactly the incompatibility stems from. If it's a matter of her having body image issues that make it hard for her to enjoy sex, and you dwelling on past wild and crazy sexual experiences that are no longer relevant? Those are issues that can be worked through.

If it's a matter of you not being attractive to her? Move on.

Oh, and also the fact that you're not allowed to masturbate without permission seems like a bad idea. Your body belongs to you. You do not need your girlfriend's permission to masturbate.
posted by Sara C. at 9:09 AM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Dan Savage would probably ask if you've tried having a good stiff drink or (much better) smoked some pot before sex. Drugs can do wonders for mental blockages.
posted by pjaust at 9:09 AM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sorry, that "attractive" should have read "attracted". Whoops.
posted by Sara C. at 9:17 AM on January 4, 2011

If it has always been like this with her, it isn't about her, its about issues you might have. How are you with intimacy in general?
posted by Ironmouth at 9:29 AM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, Dan Savage is very often an idiot.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:30 AM on January 4, 2011 [7 favorites]

It sounds like she just doesn't turn your crank, for whatever reason.

This really is something I think of as a dealbreaker in relationships, because inevitably it breeds resentment and you don't need that and she doesn't need that.

You know what, it sounds like you feel like you should want to be with this woman because she acquits herself famously in all the usual arenas. And that's fine, but you don't. Being with someone isn't about how they seem on paper. It's about the way they connect with you. Thing is, if you really want someone and you're really into them then the sex is something you can kind of work on.

I'm not supposed to ever masturbate without her knowing, or to ever look at pornography

Look. You've both got yourselves some issues about relationships and they're kind of playing off each other in ways that are not going to get you anywhere good. You can't be responsible for her self-esteem any more than she can be responsible for whether or not you get to jerk off. But I'd really like you to think about this: If you want to have the odd handy, or watch a skin flick - two absolutely normal desires - and she insists you abstain, acting in a way that runs counter to your you think that's going to get easier over time?

Both of you deserve good, satisfying sex with someone who turns you on. She doesn't do it for you, and it is not her fault and it is not a failing on her part, or yours, and it isn't something which will be fixed by therapy.

Somewhere out there is a guy who'll be excited about sex with her. Somewhere out there is a woman you'll be excited about having sex with, and who will be as wonderful - if not more - in every other way. Quit worrying about sunk costs and start looking for those people.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:33 AM on January 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

Sex is very important to intimacy indeed, but it is not a need

This is true for very, very few people.

Dan Savage is probably right here. Sorry.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:33 AM on January 4, 2011 [13 favorites]

I agree with cross_impact. Instead of focusing on your pleasure focus on hers if you really care about her. And hell yes, smoke a joint beforehand.

If, however, you want sex twice a day and she only wants it twice a month, you've got a serious incompatibility issue.
posted by mareli at 9:37 AM on January 4, 2011

Have you ever been in a relationship that is both emotionally and sexually satisfying?

If not, then it is possible something other than sexual relations with this woman is out of whack.
posted by edgeways at 9:44 AM on January 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'm surprised nobody has mentioned the Lexapro yet, because lack of sex drive and anorgasmia is a VERY common side effect. (When I was taking it, I went from a very healthy sex drive to pretty much nil. Not cool!)

Because you say you've had these problems in other relationships, I figure it's exacerbating the problem, but seriously, its effect is so intense that it's almost certainly a large contributing factor here.
posted by lhall at 10:11 AM on January 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

Well, this seems awfully familiar. I was with a girl for four years and by the end we were having sex twice a month, even though we were both plenty horny; I honestly preferred looking at porn over having sex with her. What ended up cracking this, unfortunately, was when I cheated on her. My sex drive went right up after that but we didn't stay together much longer after that.

Since then, I've kept up great sex with my partner, but we're in an open relationship. I don't really believe that you can open a previously closed relationship, so that can't really help you in this situation, but you could try it next time around?
posted by modernserf at 10:11 AM on January 4, 2011

I think that if you are already feeling this way at 14 months, there is something really off.

I disagree with Savage that sexual incompatibility becoming an inevitable dealbreaker, but it almost always helps is you have plenty of years of real sexual compatibility to draw from -- as a sort of down-payment against the fallow periods.

Sex is more than just enjoying your own kinks, it's also how you physically express love for someone. Even early on, you don't feel like doing that. I think you really really need to pay attention to what your body and brain are telling you in this case.
posted by hermitosis at 10:13 AM on January 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

My guess is that it's related to the antidepressants. The suggestion of making it totally impersonal sounds awful as well.
posted by Slinga at 10:27 AM on January 4, 2011

Before you even consider breaking up over this, at least ask your therapist about decreasing your Lexapro dose and/or adding Wellbutrin to counter some of the sexual effects. The pills may or may not be the cause but it's certainly a possibility. Antidepressants and, for women, birth control pills, can wreak all kinds of havoc on your sex drive.
posted by walla at 10:44 AM on January 4, 2011

Two ideas...

- It could be medication interfering with pheromones and pheromone compatibility

- Have you tried role playing? I ask because, well... in my experience, folks with your psycho-sexual markings respond to that. Not necessarily Domme/sub (although you are halfway there with the no masturbation and no porn rules) but it seems like you can "do it" if you imagine either you or your partner are someone else. Maybe if you did that together?

Kink can be a pretty powerful bridge to intimacy. I'm not suggesting fake nurses outfits and such, I'm suggesting you and your GF go super secret spy and really get into actualizing the fantasies in your head - a chance meeting with a stranger in a hotel lobby, stopping to fix a beautiful woman's flat tire in the rain and ending up at a No-Tell Motel - whatever it is, just go for it. Have training session with your SO and a well recommended Professional Domme? Go to a swinger party together?? I feel like you've already tried the therapy, so you should keep exploring together. There must be something that lights up both of your buttons.

It sounds like you have a great thing going with your partner. I understand the hang-ups you are feeling right now. I hope you can turn this obstacle into an opportunity for both of you, instead of chucking the relationship altogether. Kink can be an incredible bridge to intimacy. Go play.
posted by jbenben at 11:18 AM on January 4, 2011

Here's one theory: reading between the lines a bit, it sounds like you're terrified of hurting your girlfriend emotionally. It sounds like you're keeping pretty tight control on yourself — on what you say, what you do, what you admit to — in order to avoid hurting her. And, you know, it's really impossible to enjoy sex when you're hung up on keeping everything under control like that.

(For what it's worth, it's also impossible to get any benefit out of therapy when you're keeping such a tight lid on things. Given all the things you're hiding from your girlfriend — basic stuff like "this is frustrating as hell" or "sometimes I fantasize about other people" or "sometimes I masturbate even when I tell you I don't" — I'm not surprised that doing therapy together hasn't gotten y'all anywhere.)

You say you've had better sex with crazy assholes. Well, okay, one advantage of sleeping with crazy assholes? Is that you can quit being all cautious and ZOMG IF I MAKE ONE WRONG MOVE SHE'LL BE DEVASTATED and just let loose and fuck. I wonder if that's what's going on here.
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:38 AM on January 4, 2011

So your therapist is suggesting that you dissociate/depersonalize during sex?

I don't know about this therapist. That sounds really psychologically unhealthy. S/he is essentially suggesting that you do what I spent years learning NOT to do (it was a survival mechanism I had used to deal with sexual abuse from an ex).

It kills intimacy. My partners found it disquieting.

Get a second or third or whatever opinion before you do ANYTHING.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:41 AM on January 4, 2011 [6 favorites]

That said, an open relationship might be the way to go. You can, indeed, open a previously closed relationship. If the communication and trust are there--and it sounds like they are--you have a head start.

Sexual incompatibility AND monogamy together make a relationship very challenging indeed, especially for people with high sex drives.

Grab the book Opening Up, it describes couples in similar situations and provides lots of practical tools for negotiating an open relationship.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:48 AM on January 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think sometimes Dan Savage is overrated, especially when it comes to giving advice about heterosexual relationships -- he brings about as much personal experience to bear as a straight columnist would giving advice to a gay couple (which is to say, 'little to none').

That said, as a general proposition I think he is correct that for the vast majority of people sexual incompatibility ought to be treated as fundamentally a deal-breaker.

On the other hand, given how happy you seem to be with the rest of the relationship, it seems worth it to not give up on it just yet. I think you need to have an open and frank conversation with your partner that basically lays out what you've told us. I think she needs to get over her reflexive fear of porn, and while that doesn't mean you have to watch it together, it does mean that you should be able to use it as an outlet or to get yourself into the mood more. I don't think this is a problem you can solve by yourself -- your partnership will either go stronger as you resolve it together or will fail if you don't, but in either case, it's a matter of co-operation. In that sense, it is symbolically much more than just the sexual issue -- it is a question of how you deal with problems as they crop up. As a team? Or as individuals?
posted by modernnomad at 11:54 AM on January 4, 2011

A couple of things stand out about your question. The first is that you mention sex using been a problem in your Austin and that in relationships where it has been satisfying the emotional component was "of course" "lousy. " is there something about conflict that feeds sexual energy for you? Some people think of sex as a transgressive act, something you do to or have done to you rather than a partnered act. The fact that you considered your girlfriend good and lovely and a full partner then would take some of the fire out for you.what did those previous partners have in common besides emotional kisses that your curren partner lacks, if anything? This could just be a matter of your head being ready for something slid and your pattern-induced chemistrynot having yet caught up.

The other hing that grabbed my attention is that you referred to your previous paramours with the gender neutral "people" rather than "women.' Accident or design? If by design and you are somewhere on the queer spectrum, maybe part of the problem is that your sexuality is still evolving or settling, at least physically, on the spectrum where you aren't yet emotionally ready to go. Is your depression something you have already linked to a concrete cause? I ask because I k ow some men who came out later in life and they suffered the same sexual dissatisfaction with them women they loved at the time--everything seeming perfect except for he lack of sexual enjoyment. Coming out cured their depression practically overnight and put them on the path to finding the right love. Obviously moot point if yo have no attraction to men whatsoever, but seemed worth mentionigiven your phrasing regarding those you do actively fantasize about.

In either case I hope you both find something that works for you. As anoher merits mentioned, the one isn't someone you find at the end of a rainbow, its someone you decide on and choose to work toward a happy life with. Good luck!
posted by OompaLoompa at 12:00 PM on January 4, 2011

I guess my fear is that you may be disguising your fear of intimacy with some sort of "incompatibility" between you too.

Have you had a lot of sexually satisfying relationships with women who weren't good for you, who mistreated you, who made you jealous, etc.?
posted by Ironmouth at 12:01 PM on January 4, 2011

Apologies. Stupid predictive text! Sub in issues for kisses, past for Austin, solid for slid, and I think or at least hope the rest makes sense!
posted by OompaLoompa at 12:05 PM on January 4, 2011

So your therapist is suggesting that you dissociate/depersonalize during sex?

I don't know about this therapist.

These are wise words which should be listened to.

I don't know that I would trust any therapist who told me to basically lie back and think of England. Or lie forward, as it were, as an active participant.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 12:18 PM on January 4, 2011

I don't know you, so I can't say for sure that your therapist's advice is wrong, but it's pretty unconventional. Sex therapy usually starts out by changing the emphasis from having-sex to touching each other in enjoyable ways. Do you like looking at and caressing her in any way, or does that also leave you cold?
posted by synchronia at 12:22 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Can I be the bazillionth person to say PLEASE SEE ANOTHER THERAPIST?!?!?!?!?!?!?!? One with experience in treating male issues around sexuality?

Because this therapist sounds like he's, AT BEST, out of his depth here, and at worst advocating some really counter-productive and potentially harmful strategies.

Maybe you can just see another therapist for a second opinion, even if you're not going to listen to us about dumping this guy (PLEASE DUMP THIS GUY ASAP). I feel like you're getting terrible, terrible advice that is just making things worse.

Okay. Now, moving along: It is possible that you aren't interested in sex. You might just have a low libido; your current partner might just not turn your crank; you might be asexual. We don't know. You don't know. Your therapist doesn't seem to be exploring this with you, which I would think would be more helpful than the "fake it until you make it" strategy he's advocating.

If she wants a sexual relationship and you don't, that's an incompatibility that you guys need to discuss. I know people who are happily married (in open/polyamorous marriages) where one party is asexual, so it can be done, but it can't be done unless both parties negotiate actively instead of hoping things will get better.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:26 PM on January 4, 2011

This sounds like a "she just doesn't turn my crank sexually" to me. I think you've done a good job of TRYING to get over this, but in the end it really just sounds like you don't want to do her, personally. Not antidepressants, not that you don't like getting laid, it's doing HER that is the problem.

Which is definitely incompatible, especially if you are monogamous.

posted by jenfullmoon at 12:56 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

IMO the sexual problems in your relationship are more of a symptom than the cause, particularly because of these statements:
    I'm not supposed to ever masturbate without her knowing, or to ever look at pornography... despite the daily 20 mg of Lexapro, orgasm through masturbation is quite easy.
    It's worth saying that she has some pretty tough body issues herself -- eating disorder stuff.
You are perfectly capable of functionally fulfilling sex (alone), so it's not your potential ability to perform that is the likely cause of your grief.

From the sounds of it, it would help tremendously if your girlfriend was confident in her self-worth enough to accept that having individual fantasy lives is part of a couple's healthy sex life. No one person can 100% meet 100% of another person's needs, whether it be socially, emotionally, etc. I don't see how sexual needs are much different although I'm sure many would disagree.

My datapoint: I'm a late 20s woman who LOVES masturbation that is frequently accompanied by my own kinky taste in porn. If I had a partner who put those kinds of restrictions on me, it would be a dealbreaker. All sex is fun - solo or coupled. But coupled sex 100% all the time would be exhausting for me. I'm also an intense introvert, so I need a partner who understands my genuine need for recharge time - both socially and sexually. I need my partner to be the one person I choose to express myself sexually to, just as much as I need to enjoy myself alone from time to time. Perhaps over a lifetime the two vents may overlap more thoroughly (which would be ideal), but not in a timeframe any less than that. That kind of trust does not come easily for me, and that's all there is to it.

FWIW, I'm in the "sex is a need" boat. I have a high sex drive, and would definitely resent a partner who limited my sexual expression to coupled sex only. Your mileage may vary, but masturbation for me is often a safe way for me to explore my kink until I'm confident enough to take little [spontaneous] steps in sharing it with my partner. Besides, the LEAST hottest thing in the bedroom is feeling like you're a trapped sexual deviant because you're forced to force your sex drive on your partner all the time. The MOST hottest thing in the bedroom is when you feel you can be whoever you are sexually (within reasonable bounds) and STILL be totally accepted by your lover.

It's up to you whether the total dominion over your private sex life within the relationship is a dealbreaker or not. But if I were in your shoes, I wouldn't sell myself short of how much this condition is impacting your comfort level (and subsequently, your ability to perform as a loving, spontaneous partner). Working (in therapy) with your girlfriend on de-personalizing your need for sexual freedom within your relationship would probably help, so that she doesn't automatically think boyfriend masturbating = I'm not pretty enough = eating disorder trigger. It would be great if she would at least be willing to try compromising on these rules for a couple months, and see if the sex starts to naturally come easier for both of you. Good luck!
posted by human ecologist at 2:34 PM on January 4, 2011

I have two thoughts, one short, one long.

My concise tip is that in the short term you might simply try not having sex. If you left sex, porn, masturbation and everything else to one side for two or three weeks, you might find that the hunger returns, and that with no distractions you are able to firmly and squarely aim it at your partner. Seriously, give it three weeks and see if you find her attractive again. If you find that you can manage three weeks without your partner fine, but you miss porn and/or masturbation more than you can bear, then that might be an issue you want to think about.

The longer point is a lot longer, for which I apologise (tl;dr - it's not her, it's you. How many people would you have to bang to finally conquer your low self esteem? Answer: Everyone on the planet, and then some. It's pointless to try. Instead, focus on feeling good about yourself, appreciating all the good things both in and outside of your relationship, and conquering the low self esteem. The rest will come in time).

What stands out for me is the way that porn and other people do it for you, but she just can't. For me, this indicates that the issue is squarely with you. There is some kind of block in your mind, an issue to do with how you feel about yourself and how you feel about this relationship. These are what must be addressed. I am outlining my story in the off chance that you find it useful.

I have found from experience that as much as I like a girlfriend, and as attractive as they are, I often lose interest. Like you, this goes back to self-esteem. I don't feel confidence in myself and believe that more sex with more people would shore up my confidence. But that pesky relationship is getting in the way...

It is a low self esteem issue, but not the one your therapist identifies. It isn't a question of feeling uncomfortable because you do not deserve the happiness you have in your hands - rather, happiness always lies with other people who are unavailable. And because they aren't available, that satisfies the feeling of low self esteem - it becomes a weapon in the campaign your psyche wages against itself. "Look what you are failing to achieve", it says. This leads to feelings of distance towards the partner. Not only can they not make you feel better about yourself, they are making things worse by getting in the way. I also found that if the person I am with is actually settling for inadequate old me, then by association there must be something deeply flawed about them, too.

So we break up, and I often manufacture an excuse to cheat as well (I am moving on in a few months, if I say no to this random opportunity I may never sleep with anyone else ever again, we clearly aren't compatible, I'm too young for something this serious, everyone sleeps around...)

Then as soon as we break up, I find my now ex-gf immensely attractive, almost to the exclusion of everyone else, and I rue the fact that I can no longer have her. Again, that ties into my narrative of always falling short of where I think I should be. This is accompanied by the pain of disappointing or causing hurt to someone I am meant to care about... By far the worst part when I look back on my actions.

It's not a biological problem with the "plumbing downstairs". And it isn't that your sexual desire has completely evaporated and you have gone asexual. But you have acknowledged these things. I think that, like me, it is more to do with the worries you have that this relationship is holding you back from something else - something that would finally boost your self-esteem permanently.

"If only I had a different/more sexual partners I would feel better about myself... And look! Savage saying something intriguing which opens a guilt free door to new sexual horizons..."

But other people aren't the solution. Post orgasmic chill last about half an hour. Then they either disappear - which leads to a sense of abandonment and further low self esteem - or they hang around. Lo and behold, they become the problem all over again, just like your current partner.

If you want permission to break up with your girlfriend, you don't need a bunch of strangers on the internet to give it to you. But you do want to make sure that you gave this relationship a fair shot and are absolutely certain you aren't compatible. I don't think you have reached that stage yet, otherwise you wouldn't be asking us.

I might be overstepping the mark and if I am then I apologise profusely and please discard what I have written! But if any of what I describe sounds familiar then concentrate on yourself, not your relationship, as the source of your problems. Remind yourself that

1. Meeting a person who is attractive, funny, intelligent, [insert positive traits here]
2. Convincing them to love you...
3. Hanging onto them...

...totals an EPIC WIN. This is what it is all about. If this describes your relationship, then give yourself permission to find it special and feel awesome about yourself. In the face of such an EPIC WIN, the negative anti-self-esteem voices in your head can fuck right off.
posted by marmaduke_yaverland at 3:26 PM on January 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

You do not enjoy, and never have enjoyed, sex with your partner of fourteen months. Physically you're fine (by yourself) and you're excited thinking about other women. You're asking strangers on the internet if you should stick it out. I think Savage is right, there's something broken in your relationship.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:28 PM on January 4, 2011

Never, ever underestimate the power of SSRIs like Lexapro to create a disconnect between your mental craving of sex and your physical enjoyment of it. *I AM NOT A DOCTOR* might try laying off the Lexapro for 2-3 days and then try having sex. There can be unpleasant side effects from SSRI withdrawals if you go too long however. I'm not giving medical advice just suggesting, from personal experience, that the meds may be having more of an impact than you think. As for the ability to achieve orgasm through self-pleasure, well, when going solo you have complete control which allows you to do what you need to do with having any anxiety about be able to finish etc...
posted by MikeMc at 7:08 PM on January 4, 2011

I can't believe no one has mentioned testosterone and other hormone levels! OP, you might try making sure you're getting enough cholesterol, Vitamin D, Vitamin E, and other hormone precursors - and the same for your partner.

Tim Ferriss has a section on this in "The Four Hour Body", which is a worthwhile read.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 12:38 AM on January 5, 2011

Your girlfriend seems to be a bit of a control freak (eating disorders, wanting knowing when you masturbate/watch porn, questions in bed about sexual performance)

You need a place to express yourself openly and freely. A place where you can say things that you're really thinking even though they'd hurt her feelings. I feel like there's resentment in there and you need to get it out. It wasn't very clear in your question whether your sessions were on your own or with her so seeking out some individual therapy might be helpful. A new therapist would be good too.
posted by p1nkdaisy at 2:41 AM on January 5, 2011

Another thing to consider is possibly transitioning to a different medication. Anecdotally, that specific drug class didn't play well with my sexuality.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:21 AM on January 5, 2011

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