Sex for dummies
January 23, 2013 5:59 AM   Subscribe

Should I try to fix our sex life? If so, where do I start?

My husband and I are both about 30, and we've been together 6 years (married for 1). We have both had previous sex partners, but nothing serious or long term.

We are both active, in good shape and generally very happy, healthy people. We have no physical problems in the bedroom (meaning, all the parts work fine- no trouble getting hard, staying hard, we both are able to orgasm, no pain or discomfort, etc.).

When we first started dating, I initiated sex 80% of the time and he turned me down about 50% of those times. We still had sex pretty frequently. Over the years, I started initiating less and less. I think part of it was because I got to know his patterns and I knew there were certain times he just wouldn't be in the mood. But at the same time, I think my sex drive must have taken a major hit along the line because after awhile, I didn't really miss it. And if I'm really honest with myself, I wonder if I ever even liked it all, or if I just did it because I thought healthy relationships included sexual intimacy.

I can probably count on one hand the number of times we've had WOW sex. I think, for me, what I remember most from those times was that he seemed to have an insatiable desire for me right at that moment, no delay - he was just totally immersed in the moment in a way that made me feel great. Most of the time, he is totally ambivalent about sex, which makes me feel pretty ambivalent too. If we decide to have sex, he'll enjoy it, but he doesn't seek it out. And in isolation from his enthusiasm, there's nothing really about the mechanics of partner sex (in almost all its forms/aspects) that makes me feel particularly good. It doesn't hurt or feel uncomfortable, it just feels like...whatever. I do feel bad about this because I want to rely on my own desire, not his desire for me. I do like watching sex, talking about sex, and thinking about sex... But I don't know if I actually like sex.

If I didn't know that sex was supposed to be good/fun/awesome none of this would bother me because our relationship is great in all other respects. I just have this nagging feeling that our relationship has this huge weak spot and that we are really missing out on intimacy. We've communicated about this, and while he would like to make me happy, he says he is perfectly fine with the type/frequency of the sex. I think I want more sex, but not the kind of sex we are having. And even if I was able to rev up my sex drive, I would still have to deal with HIS sex drive.

For what it's worth, we are very physically affectionate, we cuddle, hug, kiss, hold hands, etc. We are always, always touching; it feels sexual sometime but it's definitely never intended as foreplay.

Am I causing trouble when I should be grateful that we are two low drive people partnered together? Or are we missing out on some wonderful experience? Help.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (13 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

Am I causing trouble when I should be grateful that we are two low drive people partnered together?

I think rather the question is that you may not be a low drive person, you've just convinced yourself that you are. Or - you're not sure if you are. Or - you're not sure of a lot. I actually hear a lot of second-guessing of yourself when it comes to sex, and am wondering if that's clouding things for you - and whether it always has been ("should I be liking this much? This little? What should I do?")

I think rather than figuring out whether you as a couple should be having awesome sex, I would think just about yourself and what you think about sex, independent of all other factors. It could be that you do indeed both have the same drive, but you just want to do different things. Or that you do have a higher libido. But I think that by trying to figure out what you as a couple should be doing before figuring out what you as an individual want to do is doing things a little backward; start there.

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:08 AM on January 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

I just have this nagging feeling that our relationship has this huge weak spot and that we are really missing out on intimacy.... For what it's worth, we are very physically affectionate, we cuddle, hug, kiss, hold hands, etc. We are always, always touching;

I mostly want to tell you that you do, in fact, have intimacy. What you describe is intimacy.

FWIW I don't think you have a low sex drive; I think you have a higher drive than your partner, on top of which you guys have been together for a while and you're six years older than you used to be. So I think some mellowing is par for the course for most couples.

But at the same time, it doesn't sound like what you guys do have is working for you, and I think maybe you guys need to have a frank conversation about what it is you, OP, really want in the bedroom and if you can't make any headway, seek some professional guidance or take a trip to Good Vibes or buy the Lovers Guide DVD series or whatever.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:13 AM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Also, please note that the best time to talk about bedroom issues is as far away from the bedroom as possible (i.e., where the discussions is the least threatening).

My wife and I have many of our discussions about bedroom stuff over email. It allows us to compose our thoughts carefully, to choose our words and not get caught up in an emotional face-to-face conversation where things can be said that aren't meant. This may not work for everyone, but it's great for us.
posted by DWRoelands at 6:36 AM on January 23, 2013 [6 favorites]

After many decades of marriage, my wife and I are having the best sex of our lives. There were periods when we had ordinary sex, and a period of several years when we had no sex at all. The important thing has been, like you and your husband, we've always had a great, loving, intimate relationship. If you ask me, in a mature marriage, sex is a nice bonus, not an essential. Don't worry about it. Let nature take its course. Be happy that you and your husband found each other.
posted by markcmyers at 6:56 AM on January 23, 2013 [10 favorites]

If I didn't know that sex was supposed to be good/fun/awesome none of this would bother me because our relationship is great in all other respects. I just have this nagging feeling that our relationship has this huge weak spot and that we are really missing out on intimacy.

Differing sex drives kill intimacy more because they breed secrecy than because of the lack of sex. People are embarrassed to talk about the situation openly, and the lack of discussion turns it into this major thing that's not being talked about. That makes it even scarier to ever bring up, not just a subject to discuss like "Could we try eating vegetarian twice a week," or "Would you want to join a gym with me," but more like "I can't tell him he has spinach in his teeth now because we've been talking for 3 hours and he'll freak out that I didn't bring it up earlier." Except it's worse, because our culture has a lot more hangups about sex than about spinach, and people wait years rather than hours to say anything. In any case, secrecy and avoidance breed feelings of shame, which makes people avoid the topic even more. And then once you're avoiding this big topic, it starts to feel like a potentially serious problem for the relationship, because we instinctively know that healthy relationships don't make us feel ashamed. But the serious problem isn't the lack of sex, it's the lack of communication, because it drives a wedge into your relationship. It's a dimension of life in which you no longer feel comfortable connecting with your partner -- that's the problem that comes up if you don't face the sex stuff openly.

So: keep the lines of communication open. Be willing to be honest and also playful in your discussions, so the topic doesn't become scary to approach. Finding solutions together is another way of building intimacy in your relationship.

If I didn't know that sex was supposed to be good/fun/awesome none of this would bother me

Current research actually doesn't hold this "fact" to be true. Jack Morin is one sex researcher who has a lot to say on the topic, but I'm having trouble finding any good sources for free online to link to. His research shows that long-term couples who have healthy sex lives after many years tend to have a lot of "maintenance sex." That's not to say it's awful sex, just that it's not mind-blowing, but it happens fairly often (whatever that means to each couple). If you expect sex to be awesome every time, that's a lot of pressure to put on yourself and your partner, and a lot of likely disappointment when it turns out to be not true. But if you're open to having OK sex, it takes the pressure off each individual episode so that you have a chance to maybe have the super-awesome sex once in a while. Popular culture pretends that life isn't like this, but as usual, TV and film and even books like to make things more exciting than they usually are for real people in real life. Hopefully you don't worry that something is wrong with you for not having hair like a movie star, or ambition like a TV character, or even the ability to clean your house perfectly and get the kids to soccer without breaking a sweat like the mom in the detergent commercial. So don't let fiction tell you that your sex life is lacking either.
posted by vytae at 6:58 AM on January 23, 2013 [28 favorites]

Try and reframe your question, but replace "Having Sex" with something with less cultural baggage. "Rock Climbing" or "Soaking in a Hot Tub" or "Playing Board Games". All of those things are awesome, fun things that married couples enjoy together. Do you feel like you are missing out because you do not play board games more often?
posted by Rock Steady at 7:03 AM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Maybe after six years, you are stuck in a rut. Maybe try something new. There are books, toys, naughty board games, videos, role-playing games etc. You might go to a store like good vibrations (online or in person) or actually even amazon will have some toys, books, and adult board games. Give it a try. Also having a little alcohol to loosen you up is okay too.
posted by bananafish at 7:42 AM on January 23, 2013

While I agree that mind-blowingly-awesome sex is not the everyday norm for most long term relationships, I do think that what the OP is describing is a pretty significant incompatibility with the potential for harm.

Because if you are mostly turned on by the other person's excitement, and the other person is rarely (actively) excited, rarely initiates, and acts like they could take it or leave it, then you start turning your fantasy-world elsewhere and getting resentful. At least, I do. I don't think you have a low libido at all, I think that your sexual needs just include a certain type of response from your partner that you aren't getting. You were initiating a lot in the early years because, well, you love your husband, and you do want sex (of a certain kind), and you don't get immediately discouraged, you keep thinking maybe this time will be better, and surely that's what loving partners do.

Unfortunately I don't have a shortcut or magic solution for you (if you find one, please, let me know). In my experience the solution is, as per vytae's comment, lots and lots of level-headed non-threatening communication. Make it 100% clear to your partner that what you need is active, not passive interest. Make it clear (in as positive a way as possible) what that looks like to you. Tell him that while you like your ordinary sex life, you REALLY LOVE when he is all-out about it. Find out if there is anything he especially likes you to do that would help encourage that response. And then (this is the hard part) cut back your expectations and anxiety about it. Give it some time. Talk, talk, talk. Have patience, but work towards your goal. As long as he is open to you, and you can talk about it, and work with each other, you can improve this. On the other hand, it might never come natural to him to be the initiator, or to be dominant or leading or whatever, and you might have to decide how much that is worth to you.
posted by celtalitha at 10:05 AM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

If I didn't know that sex was supposed to be good/fun/awesome none of this would bother me because our relationship is great in all other respects.

You'll find that sex is like every other human thing. It is alternately, great, boring, cringe-inducing and lukewarm.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:29 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Are you happy with the way things are, and is your husband? Then you're good. If one or both of you are not happy with the way things are, then seek to change it.
posted by davejay at 3:33 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Sounds like the first 6-7 years of my marriage. Our sex life is much, much better now due to a couple of factors. First, I found out that when I'm having lots of sex I want it more. And when I get out of the habit I barely miss it. So you might try increasing the sheer quantity of sex you're having for awhile and see what happens.

The other thing that made a big difference to us was talking about some fantasies we each had, and actually acting on a few of them. Turns out we each have some kinks and when we worked up the nerve to start talking about them, and eventually adding them to the repertoire, our enthusiasm for sex in general went through the roof. It also added a whole other layer of intimacy we'd been missing out on.
posted by TallulahBankhead at 11:11 PM on January 23, 2013

I'm just going to be super blunt, and if this doesn't apply, ignore it: You sound like someone with an average-to-high sex drive who feels ambivalent about sex because the sex you do have with your husband is ambivalent and lukewarm, and you've lost your taste for that kind of sex (which is the only sex you plan to have, because you're faithful).

I have an average-to-high sex drive, except when I was in a relationship with my last ex-boyfriend, who only wanted to have sex in one specific way that I got really tired of really fast. I could basically go without sex in that relationship-- I knew when we'd have it it would be unsatisfying, so I just masturbated a lot and eventually broke up with him when I realized that I felt stifled and unsatisfied and much more alive with someone I was sexually compatible with.

It sounds like you're much more content in this situation than I was, but sex drives do kind of adjust to circumstances sometimes. For me, sex does increase intimacy quite a bit-- it's not like board games, it creates a new dimension to the relationship that I really value. If you miss this and miss feeling desired, you should talk about it as a couple (maybe with a counselor). If you don't really mind and just feel self-conscious about what you're "supposed" to be doing-- don't do that!

I think the kink advice is kind of useful, because some people just lose taste for or get bored with vanilla sex, and exploring fantasies makes it really compelling (addictive!) again. Good luck.
posted by stoneandstar at 8:09 PM on January 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

Also maybe this is due to the fact that you seem a little unsure of what exactly you want in your question, but I feel like in a lot of Asks about men not getting enough sex/feeling desired enough, the advice is much more strongly on the side of "you need to fix this right now it is an important part of your relationship and your partner needs to work on this with you." If you feel at all weird about being a woman with a high sex drive while your husband has a low one, that doesn't mean you're wrong if you eventually decide you want more sex.
posted by stoneandstar at 8:12 PM on January 25, 2013

« Older Is "hypochlorhydria" scientifically sound or...   |   VAT misstep Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.