Engaging with a wife that doesn't seem to have a sex drive?
March 18, 2013 6:04 PM   Subscribe

Resources, books, tips, anecdotes for a man dealing with a wife that doesn't seem to have an inherent sex drive?

My wife doesn't seem to have a sex drive. As if it's just not part of her operating system. But of course it's more complex than that.

Sex is had, sure, but a little less than once a month, coming quite close to meeting the clinical definition of a sexless marriage.

Sex (and in fact all physical initimacy -- hugs and kisses) is initiated only by me.

But ... she likes sex. And so do I. In the moment, the sex is good. She's fully GGG. Kinky, even. This is what really confuses me. In the moment, we're great.

She just doesn't seem to have an actual sex drive. I fear that if I stop initiating, the sex and physical contact would simply and instantly fall to zero, and she wouldn't miss it or even notice it was gone.

When we talk about this, she recognizes that sex is infrequent by virtually any measure, and expresses her desire for more and her willingness to work on it. But she's unable/unwilling to vocalize what could be done better or even what she likes. What turns her on? She can't or won't say. So we make some plans, I try some things. But it all just peters out.

It's like ... If she were an oven, I'd wonder if the pilot light was out. Everything works. But there's no spark, no light, nothing there. This is like lesbian bed death without the, you know, actual lesbians.

Additional info:
* She's 40, a mother of two, and in perfect health. She weighs slightly less than she did when I met her. She recently had a physical exam with full blood work, and the numbers were great across the board. I saw the report myself, and she said her doctor literally said he doesn't often see people with her quality numbers. She's apparently going to outlive us all.
* There are no health issues on my side. I get a clean bill, too.
* I've point-blank asked if it's me. Am I horrible looking? Do I stink? Something I said? Is there something you want to tell me? Another man? Answers are always no, no, no, and I fully believe this all to be true.
* She doesn't masturbate. Ever. Sure, she's done it in the past, mainly to see what the fuss is, but she says she simply has no desire to do so. She knows my sex drive is much, much higher than hers, and accommodates my self-pleasure very well (almost ... too ... well ... I think in my most paranoid moments).

I'm not looking for the magic button. I know this doesn't get solved with a bottle of wine and a copy of 50 Shades of Grey.

I just want to try looking at all the ideas before I say we need couples therapy.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (48 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

Has she brought it up with her doctor? I see that she had a physical exam, but did she say to her doc, "My sex drive is very low, can you help me?"
posted by bunderful at 6:19 PM on March 18, 2013

In all honesty, I think you've got the answer right there at the end, couple's therapy.
posted by advicepig at 6:23 PM on March 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Is she on the pill? Decreased sex drive is a really common side effect of hormonal birth control.
posted by mon-ma-tron at 6:25 PM on March 18, 2013 [14 favorites]

Are either of you familiar with the spectrum of asexuality? I know you say that she enjoys sex when she has it - but maybe she enjoys it for different reasons than you do (say, emotional intimacy rather than orgasmic release) and is able to meet those needs elsewhere?

I'd look at the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network website. They define an asexual person as "someone who does not experience sexual attraction." Seems to me like this might be part of the equation.
posted by Betty's Table at 6:25 PM on March 18, 2013 [8 favorites]

Did you have more sex at the beginning of your relationship? Is this how it's always been or a somewhat more recent change?

When you initiate, does she go along with it, or does she say no? If she goes with it, can't you just initiate more often? I get that it sucks not to feel desired, but if she's perfectly willing to have sex with you and just doesn't start it on her own you could at least be having more sex.

The answers to these questions might help you/us understand your situation more, but if you've already tried talking with her and it's not gotten better then couple's therapy is sort of your only option, as far as I can tell.
posted by krakenattack at 6:25 PM on March 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Maybe she just likes it when you initiate all the time. If you're okay with initiating almost all the time, it sounds like that is actually working pretty well- when you choose to initiate you have a good time. Sure, it could be more fair and maybe it would be nice of her to seduce you now and then as a favor. But if what you're doing works and every one is healthy, why worry about how driven she feels about it?
posted by steinwald at 6:26 PM on March 18, 2013 [9 favorites]

What kind of birth control does she use? Has she changed it recently - either type or dosage?
posted by bgal81 at 6:27 PM on March 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

I know it's kinda lame, but scheduling in "physical time" once or twice a week can be a great solution...

I actually got this tip from my friends who have kids ( I don't have kids yet) but when things get busy, and sex drives get out of whack, it helps to have, say, 1-2 times per week when my husband and I, well, schedule sexy times. Say Wed evenings and Saturday morning. (weekend mornings are the best for us because we are both relaxed, it may be different for you.)

The thing is- we don't actually have to have sex if we don't feel like it. But we Do have to at least have time to be close, just relaxing often times in bed with our clothes mostly off, sometimes just cuddling, sometimes making out and kissing, sometimes giving each other massages... and yes, it often leads to great sex, too.

I never thought having a sex schedule would be important :-)... and often times we don't stick to it and just have sex whenever, but it does create the space for it sometimes when it's not there otherwise.
posted by Rocket26 at 6:28 PM on March 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

One tactic that is sometimes recommended is to actually schedule sex. Sure, it's not 'romantic', but if it's on your calendar, that takes some of the pressure off of 'when will this happen'. You could alternate who is supposed to initiate.

I suspect that might not work in your case, though, because my prediction is that you would end up reminding her/initiating each time and would feel like you were nagging, and get more resentful towards her.

I'm not sure why you are resistant to couples' therapy. She clearly needs serious help with communication if she cannot tell you what she likes in bed nor why she 'wants more sex' but doesn't take any action towards achieving that goal.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:29 PM on March 18, 2013

I fear that if I stop initiating, the sex and physical contact would simply and instantly fall to zero, and she wouldn't miss it or even notice it was gone.

Why is this scary to you? What does her lack of willingness to initiate mean to you? What does it signal to you about yourself, about her, about your marriage, and/or about your future?

Right now it sounds like you're working from the idea that this has to change, and you are putting a lot of effort towards making that change happen, but with something so complex and out of your control as someone else's sex drive, that might not be a productive place to put your "fixing" energy. I think that looking more specifically at why this is a problem for you, and deciding what to do if it never changes, is a good place to start doing work individually.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:29 PM on March 18, 2013 [23 favorites]

Quite possibly hormonal. I don't believe that most Western medical doctors deal with this topic very well. A good exam doesn't mean that her hormones are balanced.
posted by icanbreathe at 6:32 PM on March 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

How busy is she? The second you mentioned two kids, I found myself wondering how tired she is. Being chronically exhausted is going to change her libido, and it could eliminate a libido that's already on the low side.

Make sure you're doing your fair share of household/kid chores and then attempt a scheduled date night. If you can't communicate about this very effectively, then try couples therapy.
posted by quince at 6:32 PM on March 18, 2013 [7 favorites]

Although, I will say that if she's kinky that might be worth exploring, especially if she's on the submissive side. If she's willing, there are a lot of online kink questionnaires/checklists that cover a lot of ground and you could see if anything there appeals to her. The idea is that you can each have privacy and time to read it and think about it without the pressure of having to say what you want out loud. I can't recommend one myself but it might be worth a shot.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:38 PM on March 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

(You know what, scratch the "especially on the submissive side" part of my answer. I was thinking that sometimes people who like submitting during sex can be reluctant to voice their desires, but frankly, so can many people who like being dominant or who like both. Sorry about that!)
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:41 PM on March 18, 2013

Jumping on the young rope-rider, Mojo Upgrade is a pretty good sex/kink questionnaire if you decide to try that route. I've gone through it with an ex-boyfriend and it was slightly awkward but also pretty interesting and helpful for opening up more discussion.
posted by krakenattack at 6:43 PM on March 18, 2013 [6 favorites]

I humbly suggest you read "The Married Man Sex Life Primer" by Athol Kay.

About couple's therapy: I would find talking about why you're not having sex to be unproductive. It is like talking someone into dating you, or talking someone into taking you back. You cannot reason with attraction. Barring something medical, you said it yourself: you're not having sex because she's not attracted to you.

About tiredness: No one is too tired for sex for months at a time. People living on a dollar a day find time for sex. Your sensation of her lack of desire is indisputable. Don't fall for this excuse.

About scheduling sex: Can you imagine anything less romantic? A date night is one thing, but talk about making a chore out of joy. In any case, surely you want more than just sex. Don't you want the feeling of being desired by someone you are crazy about? Do you remember the passionate moments when you thought: "yeah, I can marry this girl"? Scheduling sex won't give you that, and you know it.

You asked whether your breath stinks and if you're horrible looking. Is that the limit of your ambition? Do you remember when you inspired her to marry you? Ask yourself honestly if you're achieving everything you wanted to as a man. Are you meeting your physical goals at the gym? Are you emotionally independent or do you lean on her for validation? Are you spiritually courageous, or do you rely on her to shoulder your emotional burdens?

Unless it's a medical condition, the one thing you can do is be a great man. If it doesn't inspire her lust, then it will give you options if you decide this marriage isn't worth it for you.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 6:47 PM on March 18, 2013 [6 favorites]

Seconding the asexual thing. The pilot light is a pretty decent metaphor for it. Everything else can still work, and when someone else provides a spark, there will/can be heat, but that spark is pretty much never going to be internally created.
(Note: asexuality and kink aren't contradictory)
posted by rpbtm at 6:52 PM on March 18, 2013 [7 favorites]

The sex starved marriage. Terrible name, but I am currently halfway through and it completely addresses this issue. I would recommend both of you reading it, but it's informative for people on both sides. It specifically talks about people who have little drive but enjoy sex when it's happening.
posted by dpx.mfx at 6:53 PM on March 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

Is she sex positive (that is to say, does she view sex in a positive, healthy, happy light)? Does she come from a family of origin that might view sex as being for procreation only and not recreation? When you broach this topic with her, is she passive and avoidant or does she engage fully in discussion? Have you ever possibly made her feel like she owes you sex or that she is obligated to have sex with you by virtue of being married to you? When you initiate sex, are you alone in the house or are the kids around? Could she have low-grade depression? Was she sexually assertive before you got married? Do you share chores and household responsibilities evenly or does most of it fall to her? Have you had a frank discussion about love languages and whether or not you adequately meet each others needs in that area?
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 6:56 PM on March 18, 2013 [8 favorites]

Is she on SSRI's?
posted by radioamy at 7:06 PM on March 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Two children can kill a sex drive dead pretty fast. You don't say how old your children are but 2 young kids that need touching, nursing, handling and dealing with every day can wear a person out not just mentally exhausting, but some people can just get touch overloaded. That can really put a dampener on wanting anyone else to touch you, no matter how much you enjoy the sex, it can at times just make loving hugs feel like just one more invasion of personal space, especially if , and I'm not saying this is the case, you only hug her when you want sex.

Also are you sure your wife isn't trying to seduce you? As much as I love my husband if I say or do anything other than ask him directly if he wants sex he seems happily oblivious to the fact that I'm interested too.

Do you and your wife spend any time together just the two of you without the kids so she can feel closer to you emotionally, hugging is nice and all but you might be missing the step before that where you remind her she's not just a mother and that you two have a connection, that can be a big part of some peoples libidos too.

You don't say what her sex drive was like when you first met, or before the kids but if this is a sudden change look into birth control or ssri's. BC can kill a libido dead in the water.

Honestly I'd start with couples therapy before looking for other ideas. Why fumble around with advice off the internet, when a couple of sessions with a professional who deals with this everyday might give you the tools you need to work the situation out together.
posted by wwax at 7:20 PM on March 18, 2013 [11 favorites]

Does she have orgasms? Its very possible to enjoy sex without them, but you're less likely to have a real drive for sex without them. Could she possibly be bored of faking it?
posted by Kololo at 7:22 PM on March 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

Also -- why go to couple's therapy? What about going to a licensed and reputable sex therapist instead?
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 7:29 PM on March 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

It seems relevant to know if she has always been like this or if she used to initiate/want sex.
posted by AppleTurnover at 7:36 PM on March 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

Nthing that is may perhaps be a side effect of hormonal birth control. Every single time I've gone on some form of hormonal birth control, no matter the kind (pill, patch, ring, IUD), my sex drive has gone from 90 to 0 miles an hour in no time flat.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 7:43 PM on March 18, 2013

I think you just have incompatible sex drives. Once a month isn't that much of an outlier. Plenty of people, especially at the age of 40 with 2 kids, quite happily only want sex once a month. There is nothing wrong with either of you and therefore nothing that can be "fixed." I realize that probably isn't the answer you're looking for, but I think this is just simple sexual incompatibility.
posted by whoaali at 7:44 PM on March 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

I feel like I'm missing something here. If she likes sex when you initiate, why don't you just initiate more? Bam, fixed. If its about you needing her to initiate for you to feel desirable, I'd gently suggest that it might be more productive for you to work on getting past that.
posted by Salamander at 8:04 PM on March 18, 2013 [9 favorites]

I strongly recommend checking out Intimacy and Desire by David Schnarch. The tricky bit about "just initiate more if you're the one who wants it more" is that the unequal interest in sex sets off all kinds of dynamics of its own. Really thought provoking book. Read it and discuss it with your counselor--also strongly recommended.
posted by Sublimity at 8:09 PM on March 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

There is some advice I disagree with in this thread:

- A spouse that does not initiate sex does not equal a spouse that finds the partner unattractive. There can be physical or emotional reasons for lack of libido. Being under a lot of stress is a common emotional reason.

- People seem confused about the relevance of asexuality here. If we take the OP's wife at her word, she is not asexual. It is stated in the question that she wants more sex and enjoys having it.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:40 PM on March 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think she just has a low sex drive, and added to that she might also have some inhibitions about sex. I don't think those things should be seen as something that needs to be fixed, because she's presumably content being that way, it's who she is. But clearly that's not a good situation for you. So what it comes down to is you have a high sex drive and she has a low sex drive, and that's a fundamental incompatibility. I don't think any kind of therapy is going to change that, especially since she's presumably not motivated to change (including not motivated by the fact that you are unhappy with having less sex than you desire). Does she seem sympathetic and concerned about your plight? If so, would she be open to you having sex outside the marriage (if you want that)?
posted by Dansaman at 9:02 PM on March 18, 2013

A lot of girls don't really learn to initiate sex when they're young because guys do it for them. I was 31 before I even kissed a guy first, I've never asked a man out. Always they've made the fist moves. If a guy only initiated sex with me once a month I'd probably think he only wanted sex once a month. I don't think that's uncommon at all for women.

So have you tried initiating sex more often? I know that might not be ideal for you but you getting friendly might be the only thing that makes her think 'hey sex! that sounds like fun!".
posted by fshgrl at 9:22 PM on March 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

2nding it maybe being a script/competence, vs desire/drive thing. (Also possible that your wife's previous partners may have explicitly or implicitly put the kaybosh on her initiation attempts, not even necessarily in the context of a bad relationship.) Women have been taught in many ways that being wanted is better than wanting. That can run pretty deep (and hot, believe it or not!).
posted by nelljie at 9:50 PM on March 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Couples therapy isn't going to ignite her sex drive.

My guess is that she doesn't come during sex... without that there really isn't a whole lot of motivation for it, once you're past the first desperately-in-love part.

Reading this question I kind of feel like your expectations are unreasonable. She isn't all that into it; but you still get sex every month (less than you want, but MUCH more than "sexless") and you even say it's good. Sexless means you get turned down or your partner lies there gritting her teeth. Bullying her into couples therapy could mean the end of the good times you do have.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:55 PM on March 18, 2013

Once a month is NOT sexless okay, lets just put that there. Between very normal things like - 1 week period, a cold, stress at work, kids sick, it's really easy to go a month without sex without it being a conscious choice. Just a 'I want to sleeeeeeeeep' choice. So don't use that (completely unscientific) measure as to how 'sexless' your relationship is.

And I tend to say this in most sex threads, but have you tried stopping the pressure? Not asking, at all, for however long it takes for her to make a move? Because almost every woman I know lives under this invisible pressure to constantly have sex. It may not be actively what you do, but it's certainly a societal pressure ('fuck him or he'll leave' - Dan Savage and every other sex columnist in the world). And you may be pressuring her, whether you mean to or not, and that pressure can kill your sex drive. Removing it can do wonders.

That said, the no masturbation thing kinda points to a low sex drive. But depending on how old your kids are, that can be a HUGE factor. It took about 9 months out from total weaning (she was 3, so we were into sleeping through the night territory too) for my sex drive to actually resurface from the hormonal blanket that is pregnancy, birth, nursing and child-rearing. Stress does a number on it as well. Same with birth control. And emotional stress (fights with him about anything are bad, but even fighting with other people can do a number on my sex drive because I just want to hide).

Mostly? DO NOT LISTEN TO SEX COLUMNISTS. Their recommendations are almost universally daft and utterly nonsensical applied across the board.
posted by geek anachronism at 1:20 AM on March 19, 2013 [10 favorites]

For some reason the posts in here that basically equate having a problem with her not initiating as some egotistical problem of "not feeling desired" that needs to be gotten over bother me.

It seems to present it as if that is the only plausible reason, or the root of any sort of negative feelings towards that fact.

If you take the same "I always have to initiate X" thing and apply it to any other relationship question or activity it suddenly sounds like the frustrating point it is, that no one would be trying to get all Freud on. There's just something about initiating sex specifically that seems to make people get all bubble-pipe-ish.

Even right there in the post he says its general intimacy(hugging, etc) and not just sex, but everyone focuses right in on the sex.

I don't think the frustration here stems from "not feeling attractive" or some vain, easily to kick over "maybe you need to work on that then" thing like that. This is more of a "my relationship no longer feels like an equal give and take exchange, but like I'm the one wheeling the cart along".

This of course, ignoring the fact that I completely disagree with the concept that not feeling wanted/attractive is something to "get over", but that's both contentious and not really what I think is even the primary crux of this.

I don't have any great insight to offer as to how to really solve this situation, but the direction everything else was going just bugged me a lot.
posted by emptythought at 3:00 AM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Are you doing 50% of the child care? Which part? Everyday or mostly on weekends? How often do you check in about the division of labor? Does she have to initiate most conversations and decisions about your children? How proactive are you about giving her frequent, expected and unexpected breaks?

How old are your kids? Were they both planned? If she does work outside the home, how is that balanced with child care? Does she do any care taking for her parents or other elderly grandparents?

What are your working hours? Does she work outside the home? Did she work outside the home before having kids? Have her friendships withered since having kids?

Are you physically close to either of your parents? Do they ever help out with the kids? How often? Other babysitters? How is that arranged?

Does she do most of the shopping and cooking? Household cleaning? The organization of household maintenance? Finances? Vacation scheduling? Keeping up with teachers? Keeping up with extended family?

If my point isn't obvious, being a woman and mother often correlates with doing the lion's share of child rearing and household maintenance, whether or not she works outside the home, and whether or not that labor looks equitable to yours.

In heterosexual families it is usually (like approaching 99% in our western culture) much more physically taxing on the mother, as kids want and need nurturing and engagement on a different level than they tend to with their fathers. And she may be internalizing it even more than you think. Or be having a harder time than you think.

A friend of mine is a high-level executive with a global NGO. She has a nanny. And a housekeeper. She has called me (more than once) in tears because she still carries much of the physical and emotional nurturing of their children and the decisions about their care, schooling, relationships to extended families, etc. should she ask her husband to take on some of those aspects? Yes. But it's one more thing for her to organize. She looks great, has a sunny disposition and as her children get older, some of the labor is starting to even out. But at the moment, she is so tired of making sure everyone else is ok that she just can't even fathom having the emotional energy to initiate or care about sex. She's told her husband that she loves him, and is frequently ok with having sex, but he has to initiate for the time being.

In summary: investigate the actual level of household labor: what does it take to keep your family healthy, fed, clean, educated, cared for, connected to friends and family, clothed, financially secure, and organized for the future? Have MANY talks about this. The end goal is a happy household and impressed and beloved wife. Sex might be the side benefit to that. It's not the goal of those conversations themselves.
posted by barnone at 5:53 AM on March 19, 2013 [8 favorites]

Take more responsibility around the house, and don't expect to be praised for it all. However, tell her how much you appreciate all the little things she does. Take more responsibility with the kids, no matter what age. Having kids pull at you all day takes its toll. At the end of the day you don't want anyone to bother you, you just want to go to bed and sleeeeep. Do something that doesn't lead to sex. Draw her a hot bath. Give her a back rub, foot rub, whatever. Pay attention to her all day. A kind word, a hug, a kiss, a silly text. Something, so that at the end of the day she's not just seen as a vagina.
posted by PJMoore at 6:24 AM on March 19, 2013 [5 favorites]

I am seconding what emptythought said.
posted by floweredfish at 7:06 AM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding Married Man Sex Life Primer. Changed my life (and my wife's.) He has a blog and a forum.
posted by feelinggood at 7:53 AM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think too many comments here are glossing over a fundamental incompatibility. She doesn't masturbate, which to me indicates low sex drive. If she is not having much sex with her husband or anyone else, it seems she would likely masturbate if she had a high sex drive. For all intents and purposes, you can't change her low sex drive unless it's the result of some medical issue.
posted by Dansaman at 8:30 AM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's nice of you to be concerned, but if you want sex, and she's game, and you both enjoy it, then have sex.

No reason to get wrapped around the axle about who initiates sex, or her feelings about it per se. If you're both having fun, but she's just not all that concerned one way or the other, then you be the boss of your mutual sex life.

Husbunny really likes this Chinese place by our house, it doesn't do a thing for me. But, we go about once a week. I don't mind, I can always find something on the menu and he really likes it, so that's enough for me. If he gave a shit about whether or not I LOVED the food there (not really) then he couldn't enjoy his fried rice. And what would that accomplish? Your dilemma is exactly the same.

In every marriage there are agreements and compromises and different likes and dislikes. So what if your wife isn't all that into sex? It's not like she's denying you or anything.

I suppose you could discuss it with a sex therapist, but what if you're right, your wife has no sex drive. As long as she's willing to please you, is it so hard to accept that sex just isn't her thing?

I know, it sounds weird, but if it works for you, then it works.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:15 AM on March 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

Whereas you seem to have a spontaneous sex drive, hers may be responsive. People with responsive sex drives tend to enjoy sex when it happens, but they don't initiate. Her libido itself may be perfectly fine. You might try reducing her load of house/kid work and initiating more often for the next few months, then re-evaluate and see whether it has worked for you both.

(My current partner has a responsive sex drive, whereas I'm definitely spontaneous. I empathize with your confusion as to whether your wife is actually attracted to you given that she doesn't initiate sex but seems to enjoy it when it happens. It was difficult to not take it personally. When I asked my partner, I was reassured that I am indeed smoking hot, the sex is indeed fantastic, and he does indeed enjoy sex; it is just that he tends to not initiate and is occasionally stressed.)
posted by nicodine at 9:48 AM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

OP, I gotta disagree with many of the above answers and agree with emptythought. It is perfectly reasonable to be desperately unhappy with sex maybe once a month. That would be way too infrequent for many people. It is also perfectly reasonable to be unhappy with your wife never initiating sex. Wanted to be desired is healthy, natural, and normal.

I strongly urge you to go to couples counseling with your wife where you can make it clear in a safe environment the effect this is having on you and your marriage. If your wife is invested in the relationship she will work with you to solve the problem. If she is unwilling to do that you have to decide whether you can live with the current state of affairs (or even sex becoming more and more infrequent.)

There is nothing unreasonable about deciding you can't live with it. There is also nothing unreasonable about deciding that you can.
posted by Justinian at 12:06 PM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm so sorry you are dealing with this. I thnk sometimes, when people jump in to answer a question like this, they gloss over the frustration and helplessness the asker is feeling, and may have been dealing with for quite some time. You don't deserve to feel like you are somehow less--less desirable, less attractive, whatever--just because you have a healthy sex drive! It sucks that you have come to doubt yourself like this.

If it helps, after reading through this question several times, I don't see any evidence that your wife is not attracted to you any more. It sounds more like her sex drive is characterized by "responsive desire". I really think you will both get a lot out of reading this short piece, Do you know when you want it? Be sure to check out the comments, too.

The real problem here is that you ALWAYS have to initiate, which makes you feel rejected before you even approach her. The thinking goes: If she wanted you, too, she'd be all over you sometimes too, right?

But your wife feels that her responsiveness when you initiate should be proof enough that she wants you. She said yes, didn't she? There you go.

So when you talk, and you say, hey, am I unattractive to you? She says no, everything's fine.

And when you say, why aren't we having sex more? She says, I don't know, but I would be okay with having sex more, too. And you're both frustrated at this point. Unless she is rejecting you every other time you ask, she thinks she is already doing what she "should", by agreeing to sex. Meanwhile, you die a little each time you have to go to her and implore her for sex, wanting her to approach you and make you feel wanted instead.

And then finally you say, okay, so can we please make more of an effort to make sex a priority, because it's important to me. And she says, sure, and she's sincere--but she's also puzzled, because she feels like you should just ask her more often.

So nothing changes. And the cycle repeats.

The old joke about the definition of insanity (doing the same thing over snd over and expecting a different result) applies here; this kind of recurring issue in a marriage can make you both feel a little crazy!

If she has never given you reason to believe that she is willing to initiate sex, I think you are going to have to accept that your wife doesn't have it in her to do that. She really doesn't think about seducing you because that's just not who she is, sexually. I'm sorry. I know you would like a "fix" here, but I don't think this can come from your wife; she isn't wired that way. She doesn't get off on turning you on, she gets off on you putting the moves on her. I know that always having to initiate would be very hard on my self-esteem, too, and I can sympathize.

The good news, I guess, is that if you can accept that for her simply agreeing to have sex means she finds you attractive, and be okay with always being the one to initiate--which, honestly, I don't know that I could--you can just initiate more. BANG! you're having sex more often (unless she is also rejecting you frequently, but you didn't say that).

Or you could--and I really think this is something you HAVE to talk about before it is even likely to come up, not when you are already attracted to a specific person!--suggest that you open up the marriage. Emphasize that you need more (no-strings-attached) sex, NOT emotional entanglements that might jeopardize the marriage. For this to work, of course, it has to go both ways. Although you are the one who wants more sex, and she may never exercise her right to stray, if you can't in good conscience even consider allowing her to have sex with other men, you would be out of line to request she let you have sex with other women! These arrangements don't work if one of you selfishly demands the upper hand.

Finally--this is So long, I know! I really am trying to give your problem the serious consideration it deserves and not just echo the usual chorus of "do more around the house and get couples therapy"--let's discuss the elephant in the room: people's expectations don't just come out of nowhere. If you are frustrated because your wife DID initiate sex in the past and doesn't now, I think you have a much bigger problem.

Sadly, some people see sex as a way to manipulate others into doing what they want. I suppose traditional gender roles are partly at fault. Women were supposed to 'wait' to have sex if they wanted men to marry them, so some women came to equate withholding sex with power over men. I personally think it is more common if the woman has also been sexually abused in the past, because she needs to feel like she has some control sexually after that kind of trauma. Anyway, people who equate sex with power simply withhold or provide sex to get what they want. This can be overt or subtle, and it is a really dysfunctional relationship dynamic (obviously).

Has your wife used sex in this way? For instance, did she convince you the two of you were "meant to be together" by initiating sex when normally she NEVER does that? Does she divulge bad news right after sex because you're more amenable then, or 'reward' you with more frequent sex when you give into her on some contentious issue? Does she have a habit of "granting" sexual favors, like oral sex, only on "special occasions", or when she wants something from you? Did she suddenly become more sexually aggressive right around the time she brought up the idea of having children, or become pregnant "by accident" after reluctantly agreeing to wait to start your family?

A few instances, of course, could be happenstance, but a pattern indicates a serious problem. No one wants to be the mule with the carrot dangled in front of its nose! That unequal relationship dynamic is something you might actually address with couples' counseling (if you are both willing to give it a try).

Or it might be a glaring red flag that the two of you are just fundamentally incompatible sexually. It sounds like you have faced this possibility before. Better to accept it now than to keep knocking your head against that wall, though, right?
posted by misha at 12:19 PM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

@ esprit de l'escalier : In defense of scheduling sexy times: I just have to add, it's really about creating a time for intimacy-- maybe that's a date night for you, or maybe it's just getting naked and hanging out in bed with a bottle of wine and some Sam Cook. Which can naturally lead to great sex. In fact, it's one of the most romantic things I've ever done with my partner! We get naked, talk, cuddle-- the sex is just something that happens as a part of it.
posted by Rocket26 at 1:12 PM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm not a sex-scheduler but for friends who are shiftworkers with kids, it's about the only way to do it because the window of 'kids occupied, both home' is small enough that it's use it or lose it. And sometimes the chance is lost because having small kids is an emotional sinkhole and being almost solely responsible for their care (making the decisions AND physical care AND emotional care AND being the one who organises the rest of it when you can't) is horribly draining.

And her nature is what dictates how to alleviate that pressure - I cannot stand it when my husband suggests 'have sex!' as a way for me to unwind after a difficult day (so he stopped doing it when he realised that not only was it never going to happen, it made my day worse and made me even less likely to have sex because I was hurting me that he had paid so little attention to the kind of person I am). It is not at all how I unwind, or get energy back. I enjoy it, yes, but my god it is emotional work for me to have sex! I have issues, but it isn't just 'get in the mood'. If I get a bit of time and space to myself, get to do something actually relaxing for me, then sex is on the cards. It's never really a first line of relaxation thing (honestly, it's likely to hurt if I'm still wound up) and when it is, it's almost entirely because of hormones (pregnancy and ovulation) and my partner and I have no control over that.

Also, I would suggest trying every single thing in this thread BEFORE the conversation about 'opening up the marriage' - I know it's a Dan Savage favourite but it's a whole lot like emotional blackmail (I need sex, you aren't 'giving' it to me, therefore I need to go elsewhere soooooooooo either pony up with the goods or let me fuck other women) and that pressure can break a relationship. Because nothing says "I don't care about our marriage" like "I only get sex once a month and you don't perform the way I want you to so I'm going to fuck around elsewhere". Because some people take the concept of marriage seriously and do think you're in it for life together so the whole 'other people is a great solution to us not fucking' can be incredibly hurtful, destructive and, like I said, something akin to emotional blackmail. It kind of explicitly removes the 'together' aspect of the marriage if it's in response to 'I want sex more'.

I mean, don't get me wrong, it can be a great solution if all parties are on board, but bringing it up specifically as a 'you don't have sex with me enough/the right way' is awful. Because as much as you might think it's a solution, it can also look a lot like leveraging her trust/faith in you, and your fidelity, to get her to have sex or do sexual things that she does not want to do.
posted by geek anachronism at 1:56 PM on March 19, 2013 [7 favorites]

If I am reading correctly, your wife would be willing to have sex more often, she just doesn't initiate.

Start having sex more often!

Either schedule it, or take it upon yourself to initiate more regularly.

Wanting her to have more of a sex drive, I don't know if that part is solvable. She is 40 years old with a couple kids. She probably has a pretty good idea of how sex works for her. Maybe you can explore and figure out something new, or maybe this is something you need to accept. (I am sure that making her feel guilty about her low sex drive won't assist the cause. Be supportive, if you try to go here.)

Count your blessings. You have a wife that you seem to like, who is willing to have sex, and who enjoys sex in the event. It could be so much worse.
posted by mattu at 5:57 PM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would *not* recommend The Married Man's Sex Primer. It's written by Athol Kay, who relies heavily on the old 'Game' strategy, i.e. alpha and beta males (or traits displayed by males) and how they supposedly affect women's sexual desire for them. It's about 'taking the red pill' - just look at this entry on Athol's blog for some gems on what it takes to be a 'red pill woman', like these:

(5) Understands that men are the gatekeepers of commitment and that committed men place extreme value on sexual loyalty.

If this would work for your wife, wonderful, but if she has half a brain, I'd advise against it.

"Sex (and in fact all physical initimacy -- hugs and kisses) is initiated only by me."

Did she ever initiate sex on a regular basis, or was she always that way, it's just gotten more frustrating to you over time?
posted by HopperFan at 7:08 PM on March 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

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