How can I revive my sex life with my girlfriend?
October 16, 2013 7:59 PM   Subscribe

My girlfriend and I have lived together for about a year and a half. We're a solid couple, we love each other a lot and generally communicate well, but our formerly awesome sex life is just non-existent now. We've talked about it, but she's just withdrawn and apologetic whenever I try to initiate things. Help?

My gf is bi, I’m a straight guy, and we've been living together for about a year & a half. This is after us being a long-distance couple for two years (she went across the country for an art school), and a year of semi-serious dating before that. We're both pushing 40. Gf medicates for clinical depression and panic attacks. We have no kids and she has had surgery to make sure none will turn up.

In most ways, we're a really good couple. We communicate well, we hooked up through shared hobbies and we are both sensitive of each other’s previous relationship scars. She's an introvert and I’m generally an extrovert, but we're also both really patient with those differences. We've never had issues of jealousy or trust.

For our first year of dating, there was a lot of sex. We were both pretty enthusiastic about it, as things seemed very healthy and uplifting. More than once, she talked about how I had re-awakened her sex drive after a bad long-term relationship and how great that was. The long-distance period was very hard on her because she had little physical contact with much of anyone and had a hard time making friends, and that made our time together during visits that much more important. Then she came home and we moved in together, and at first things were great. I got comfortable enough to try out a couple of her kinks; at first, even breathing a word of it would get her interested and ready to go play, and we both had a great time.

Since then, we've had sex maybe a handful of times in the past year. It's hard to even know how to approach her. Often when I get saying or doing romantic or mushy things she'll try to play it off like I'm being weird, but I know that in part she feels bad because she usually doesn't come up with such things to say on her own (again, introvert, I don't expect much).
I find her curled up on the couch or on the bed reading, but when I try to approach her it's like everything is physically awkward and I'm interrupting something.

In past relationships, I have gone six months or more without sex and not made waves about it because there was a health thing going on for my partner or something, and my gf knows this. Long stretches of not having sex aren't a relationship-buster for me, but it's still a serious bummer.

There are, of course, stresses involved. My gf has been working a crappy tech job for the last 8 months just to get health insurance, and has been so wiped out at the end of every day that she has no energy to work on her art. Conversely, I have monetized one of my hobbies and that income has rapidly eclipsed the money from my day job; I hardly even go in to work anymore, because it’s silly when I can reliably make more money by working for myself. That contrast has plainly been hard on her despite her never grousing or complaining about it. So now we're economically stable entirely based on me, when we had come together with lots of financial worries and concerns about sharing our burdens (we’d both been financially burned by previous partners). We have both put on a little weight in the last couple years, and while nobody would call either of us heavy-set, my gf is very self-conscious about it… but while I've gotten back to the gym, she’s not doing anything to address her health, either, which only makes her beat herself up more. It doesn't matter that I still find her very attractive; she thinks she’s fat and ugly.

I don’t think this is a problem of me being lame in bed. I would be more than willing to face up to that if it were the case. I have once or twice had trouble getting it up when it was time to go in the past couple years and she needs a lot of foreplay to get ready (so much that she is frustrated by it), but these are not insurmountable problems nor are they constant. Half the reason I've gotten back into the gym is just to make sure everything's working properly on my end.

Lately, I've tried to initiate things playfully, or through open dialogue, or through cuddling, but either she says she's not up for it because she's tired or not feeling well, or she just gives me this sad look and says she's sorry. It doesn't seem to matter if it's morning or evening or the weekend or whatever; it's the same result.

I know she's beating herself up over this. We've had that discussion. She says she’s treating me terribly, but doesn't know what to do about it. I don’t make advances or bring this up every day, or even every few days, and I have certainly never said anything resentful or blown up at her over it... but it has weighed on me a lot in the last few weeks. The last time we had sex was in the middle of the summer when she thought her tech job would be going away and despite the financial concerns, it was a sort of light at the end of a tunnel… but her job hung in there, and so now we’re still in the same situation.

She’s concerned that her medications are having some impact on her sex drive (and weight, and other things), and she has spoken with her doctor about it. They’re also concerned that her thyroid might need some attention. But we don’t talk a whole lot about it, as the prospects of changing meds are kind of unpleasant.

I have no intention of leaving her. If she had some injury or something where she couldn't have sex anymore at all, I wouldn't even consider leaving her. She is far and away the greatest girlfriend I've ever had. But this is something that used to be great for both of us, and now it’s like it’s just gone. I really don’t know what to do, and part of me feels like a selfish ass for even making this much of an issue of it.

(FWIW: I don’t think her being bi is a significant factor here. We've talked about that pretty openly.)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (28 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

If her job is causing mental health problems for her, is there any chance she could switch to something else that she'd enjoy at the end of the year, and get coverage through the ACA instead of her job? It sounds like she's depressed- not because of the sex drive thing by itself, but just the way you describe her in general- and it sounds like the job is a huge factor in that.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:19 PM on October 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Check her meds. See which ones have sexual side effects. Did she go on or off a med recently? Birth control? pre- or menopause? I also got a possible depressed vibe here. Exercise, good eating, and stress reductions are all good starts. But it might be up to her doctor... check all the hormone levels like t4, thyroid, estrogen, testosterone. Internet people can't really diagnose this, but I would bet some money on a combination of physical and mental.

If you can afford it, her quitting the not so good job to look for a better one might be workable.
posted by Jacen at 8:28 PM on October 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Glad everyone is concerned about the meds. Is anyone doing anything about it? When is her follow up appointment?

Your needs are legitimate. Your needs are not being met in this relationship. Dismissing yourself as being a selfish ass is not only keeping you unfulfilled, it is also harming your relationship. You hiding your needs isn't helping. Her shrugging and looking sad when you initiate isn't helping.

To bring out the canned Metafilter answer to all of these questions, talk to her about seeing a medical doctor and get the two of you to couples therapy. You say you communicate well, but the opposite seems to be true. Recognizing that and discovering ways to actually communicate needs is something a pro should handle.
posted by munchingzombie at 8:40 PM on October 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have no intention of leaving her.

... then you've already per-disqualified a lot of good advice.

if i were to guess, i'd say she's not attracted to you any more, but she's too afraid to break up with you. the too tired for work thing is a red herring. in other cases it could be relevant, but the part of your story that makes me think this isn't the case is that she rejects no matter if it's the week or the weekend, she can still find time to read a book, and she's aware of the problem.

you could negotiate you being able to have sex with other people, but still be her boy friend.

do you financially support her? this could also be a reason why she is too afraid to break up with you.

at the end of the day, she's ok with the status quo and you're not getting your needs met.
posted by cupcake1337 at 8:47 PM on October 16, 2013 [4 favorites]

I have ... heard ... that marijuana acts as an aphrodisiac for some people, especially if they have low sex drives. Not sure how it would interact with the other meds, though.
posted by leahwrenn at 8:48 PM on October 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Oy, this is tough. I have been your girlfriend, and I'm not sure there's anything my partner could have done to change my behavior or responses. This is partially about your dynamic together, but mostly about her and you just can't change other people.

For me there was a combination of factors: I have some sexual issues that make it very vulnerable for me in a way that it isn't for most people, I have some sexual wiring that I had a hard time even articulating to my vanilla partner, and maybe the biggest of all, I got into a habit of saying no, instead of a habit of saying yes.

My partner was supportive, loving, patient, etc. I thought she was wonderful about it. In retrospect, more than 15 years after the relationship, I think she would have been quite justified in being much more upset about it than she was.

I know there are many, many, long-term relationships with little or no sex, and that is acceptable for many of those couples, but it's also valid for that to be unacceptable to you. Personally, now, I'm not sure I would stay in a relationship with someone who didn't want to have sex with me almost ever. Not to say you should break up, but to say it's valid for you to have needs about this.

If I were you, I would think very clearly about what exactly you want. Go through the exercise of making yourself list what you want, and don't think too much about how that would work or not for her. When you really have figured this out, I'd suggest a conversation where you simply and directly talk to her about your needs. If I was in your position, I might say something like this:

"Having a sexual connection with you is important to me. I want to have a regular and active sex life, and I want to be able to share that with you. That's part of what draws me to you, and it's important to me."

Obviously, it's important to show her that her needs are valued. You're not going to make her do anything and you can be clear that is not your intent. And you can be clear that you're open to different ways of expressing sexuality that might work better for her. (For example, maybe she can penetrate you instead of vise versa. Maybe you can have mutual masturbation. I'm throwing out some ideas that may feel less vulnerable to her.) But ultimately, I think it's important that you clearly express what you want, and let her figure out for herself whether and how she can make this work for herself. I'm trying to say, you can't fix this. This is her thing, and I think you'll have more success letting it be her thing, but clearly expressing your needs, instead of trying to find the solution for this for both of you or for "the relationship".

A good, sex-positive therapist who you both resonate with could definitely help.

I totally agree with others here that meds could be a or THE major factor, but even if so, the decision to change her meds or not is really up to her.

So to recap: Show her you value her and will not pressure her. Explicitly state your wants and desires without apology. Make clear that this is important to you and request help from a therapist if you think that would help.

Good luck, this is a tough one.
posted by latkes at 8:48 PM on October 16, 2013 [10 favorites]

I'm a little surprised at some of the comments here suggesting OP should leave a girlfriend that he clearly cares for because of this. She is being treated for clinical depression, she shows symptoms of depression, she's on medication, and she's exhausted from a job she hates. These are all common reasons for a diminished sex life, and none of them suggest that she is "no longer attracted" to you and is just staying with you because you support her financially. Sheesh.

It sounds like no matter what you do - and to me you sound like a sensitive and caring partner - this is unlikely to go away unless she feels better first. Better/different treatment for her depression and a different job sound like they'd help a lot if you can afford them. The last time things were good was when she thought she was getting out of that job, right? And if you can manage it, it sounds like both she and your relationship would benefit a lot from an extended vacation and a different environment to shake things up a bit.

One other thought - do you think you're helping her as much as you could be? She's exhausted from her job - do you do things around the house? Other things to make her life a little easier? That could make her feel better, and helpfulness is a potently attractive trait in a mate.
posted by walla at 9:09 PM on October 16, 2013 [18 favorites]

Response by poster: MeMail me (or ask the mods to provide an anonymous email).
posted by Anonymous at 9:42 PM on October 16, 2013

What a fascinating spectrum of responses.

OP, does it really matter why the house is on fire? Is inaction a good response?

OP, your GF is not bi. She's currently asexual. Her preference is irrelevant.

OP, you aren't in a loving relationship. You are in a bound friendship. It fails the "mutually satisfying" part that makes it a healthy adult relationship. It is codependent.

OP, rephrasing your question into the more generalized form "Q: Things are different now. Why aren't things the same anymore?" A: Because things are different. What do you expect? (I built a fire. Then I poured water on it. Why is the fire out?)

You coupled under Circumstance A. Conditions back then disposed your relationship to have a sexual component. You have accurately described those conditions in your exposition.

You are now in Circumstance B. Conditions no longer dispose your relationship to have a sexual component. It is obviously no longer a necessary device to maintain the bound nature of your friendship or to entice you into that relationship. This state can endure as long as you both are willing to tolerate/accept/endure it. How long is that? There is no gradient that will move the ball. If you quit pursuing it, nothing will happen. If you telegraph that it's acceptable, no motivation will spontaneously arise for her to change.

In order for change to happen, something has to change, right? What will that be? It can be you, of course. Are you able, really (really?) to just switch off this need of yours? It's a valid choice and will maintain your friendship with your SO. More power to you, bud.

Can you get back to where you were? If it was so great, why did you leave there? What were you thinking? (Hey, I LOVE this! Let's change it! ?)

Your condition is sometimes called DeadBedroom. There's a reddit subreddit with 10000 stories (literally) like yours. Spend some time there and meet your unknown friends. Some of them fixed it. Most did not. Might have some pointers.

I have maintained that in most cases, commitment is the poison of passion. Many here will disagree, but there is a huge difference in a new and old relationship. Since most folks are on the spectrum of 100 characteristics, the chances of finding a mentally healthy person (high scores on most of them) is low. You should expect something different to materialize from before the commitment event (or any other arbitrary temporal marker) and after. Change, after all, is the rule, right? Or is your hair not going to turn gray? Shit happens. A lot of folks have a basal libido that is minimally adequate or at least matched. You don't.

Is there a cure? Not a reliable one. Personal libido isn't under willful control, usually. Pay attention to relationship posts here and see. Ask why most relationships fail. Libido is one of many disconnects encouraging breakups. But it's analogous to diet.... is your diet great and perfectly nourishing if you leave out, say, calcium? Eventually, the missing nutrient makes itself known.

We're apparently serial monogamists. Nature doesn't want us happy, it wants us to get into relationships, breed, and get out of relationships. Society and nature aren't the same, though. Society (and its personally manifested norms) want us to stay in them. Nature usually wins.
posted by FauxScot at 9:58 PM on October 16, 2013 [11 favorites]

Getting rid of hormonal birth control made a ridiculous amount of difference to my sex life - I wouldn't have said it had that effect but it really really did. I still get a low-ish libido in high stress times (and if you consider reading a book to be the equivalent of sex I would side-eye the sex you're having) but once the stress is dealt with I'm good to go. I even sometimes deal with the stress by having sex. While I was working a job I loathed, to the point of mental illness, my libido took a dive.

Not having sex just to make my partner happy has made a big difference too. The 'if you've got time to read you can fuck' and Savage-esque rhetoric ignores the way having unfulfilling, unwanted and crappy sex (which can include sex where you orgasm - an orgasm doesn't make it good) leads to not wanting to have sex. Even if you normally have great sex, if you go through a patch where you have sex out of obligation (or pity, or whatever) it tends to be pretty dismal and is a bit of a vicious circle. It becomes easier to say no, because the reward of sex is getting less and less attractive (even if you love your partner) (and even if you're orgasming every time). In times of low libido, forcing oneself to have sex can make the problem worse - it always did for me, even though the sex was perfunctorily orgasmic for both of us. The difference between the dutiful sex, and sex when I actively want it, is enormous but it took a while to get here - not just a while without sex, but without pressure* and with other factors being addressed (job, birth control, house stuff).

Has she had a chance to develop her own libido without you? In that has she ever had the chance to want to have sex but not have sex being immediately on offer? The foreplay thing makes me feel like maybe not - if you're starting from a super-cold engine, getting it hot takes a lot longer than if it were already idling (to use an awkward and ick kind of analogy). I get annoyed with foreplay too, primarily because it gives me a lot of time to catastophise, get distracted, get triggered, move from 'good to go' to 'this is ridiculous' and so on. Being able to be aroused, or pre-aroused, without the expectation it will lead to sex has made a big difference.

Mostly? Getting rid of hormonal birth control, the job that was killing me, respect and space made our sex life blossom. It took a while, but if we're here in this relationship for life it's a good investment.

*The pressure doesn't even have to come from you! The 'fuck or he'll leave you' story/section, every single advice columnist seems to think cheating/leaving/sexual performance contracts are the best way, and when your partner comes on to you, it's in that environment, where you already suck because you aren't jumping their bones, because you aren't smiling through the thrice-weekly blowjob Savage recommends, because you're already horrible at being a woman and this is just another reason.
posted by geek anachronism at 11:18 PM on October 16, 2013 [30 favorites]

You haven't mentioned if that is the only time where you have physical contact. Do you give her squeezes throughout the day to keep the intimacy "idling" like geek anachronism said? Do you give her footrubs or back massages or any other touch without expecting sex in return? I think what's most important is giving her the space and time to come to you. If she's feeling like she has to meet your needs instead of fulfilling each others' needs she might have associated making love to you with sex as a chore.

Being turned on before the act is a huge component of sex that extensive periods of foreplay can't really address if all she's thinking about is the goal at the end. It should be about the journey to that magical finish line and it might help her spark that passion again if you touch each other without expressly expecting sex to come from that. Explore each other again like in the beginning as if you were two love-struck teenagers. Go back to being satisfied or at least revved up from first base and work your way up. It may seem lame, but it's a no pressure situation that puts her back in the driver's seat and she might want to lead the sexual encounters instead of just succumbing to your advances.

She probably hasn't initiated sex in a while and it seems she's lost interest due to life situations, however, that is definitely not a reason to never have sex again. But give her a chance to get her fire going so to speak, even if you've been burning for quite a while, it seems as if you have a lot going really good for you (job, personal fulfillment, etc.) and she may very well be super bummed and fulfilling your needs is the last thing on her mind. Try to ease her burden and see if she can get another job or what else is going on in her world that is bothering her or occupying a lot of mental real estate. Sometimes a candlelit romantic bath with some music and wine is all you need. Make sure she knows that yes you find her sexy, but also that she is valued and cherished and that you're ready when she is.
posted by lunastellasol at 11:45 PM on October 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've been your girlfriend. It wrecked relationships because I didn't know how to deal with it. (And it wasn't the only thing wrong with those relationships so ymmv.)

This caught my eye: [she] has been so wiped out at the end of every day that she has no energy to work on her art. Then she's too tired for sex. This is probably the crux of it, and she internalizes a bunch of guilt for not being in the mood when she's just so damn tired, then gets awkward, and it turns in to a cycle.

Sexy times, especially for those of us with depression (compounded by hormonal birth control!) is a LOT of effort. I mean, we have to get there mentally, then physically, and if she's so tired from work + depression, it's seriously going to be a chore. That's go nothing to do with you or her affection for or attraction to you, but it's like asking someone to come home from work and run a marathon. It's just not going to happen.

The only thing I can really suggest is not to pressure her. I get irritated 0 - 60 when a partner pressures me for sex when I'm too tired or depressed (and he knows it). And not just "Hey baby, let's do it," but if I consistently get treats, dinner, a footrub, etc., all of which usually ends in a move to get some sex, I get irritated because I feel (1) sad that I'm not in the mood (2) guilty that I'm not in the mood and (3) manipulated with affection in exchange for finally getting sexy times.

On the other hand, you should also be having your needs met in a relationship. Is she open to bringing in other partners? Is she open to couple's therapy or sex therapy for herself? Is this the trend with her previous relationships (a year or so of bang-up rollicking sex followed by a gradual decline in the sexies and an increase in the comforting relationship routines)? Are you OK with this routine continuing indefinitely?

Make it clear that you're supportive of her because you have her best interest at heart, not because you want her better so you can have more sex. I think this is apparent in your post, but she or actually, the little depression devil on her shoulder) may fear that since she obviously doesn't deserve to be happy, no one would actually encourage her peace and happiness without self-interest.
posted by mibo at 12:09 AM on October 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

It's very hard to answer the question here because you are the one asking how to solve the problem, but solving it is out of your control. How can you get her to want to have sex again? In a way, only she can answer that.

You can make some guesses: she hates her job (but isn't trying to change jobs). She is jealous of your success (but in order to catch up with you, she'd have to change jobs). Her meds may vaguely be having some bad effect on her (but she doesn't want to change them). Furthermore, she knows and you know that you are willing to endure unhappiness indefinitely.

But at least you're both equally unhappy, right? Just about different things.

You're the one going to the gym, you were the one adjusting to her kinks at the beginning, and now you're the one who's here asking this question. What is she doing? What would she theoretically be willing to do?
posted by tel3path at 12:10 AM on October 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

Conversely, if you're approaching her when she's sitting reading a book and trying to recharge her introvert self, well I'd turn you down too. Have you tried scheduling time to truly focus on each other, both in sexy and non-sex ways?
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 12:12 AM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

The last time you had sex was in the summer when she thought "her job might be going away" and you were looking forward to this despite the financial concerns (including loss of health insurance) but then "her job held on". Well I guess you're going to stay in this situation until her job decides to get up off its ass and leave, then?

All this puts her in an extremely passive role, doesn't it?
posted by tel3path at 12:20 AM on October 17, 2013 [13 favorites]

It's very hard to answer the question here because you are the one asking how to solve the problem, but solving it is out of your control. How can you get her to want to have sex again? In a way, only she can answer that.

I want to emphasize this because I think it is important. You can't solve this problem; only she can do that. People are giving you suggestions which are well-intentioned (do more chores, give backrubs, etc) but a romantic partnership isn't generally something where you just have to find the right buttons to push and sex will come out.

But you can communicate! You need to express how much this is hurting your relationship and ask for suggestions on how to improve the situation. But those suggestions need to encompass your SO working with you on the problem. Which will likely involve talking to her doctor again or maybe couples counseling. Still, you need to make it expressly clear that this is not something which can be ignored and that you guys need to act together to solve it even if that is hard work.
posted by Justinian at 12:34 AM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

What a fascinating spectrum of responses.

No kidding. I'm sure meds and depression play a huge role. And low self image doesn't help. But not much mention on the subject of exercise. It's a HUGE booster to sex drive and overall energy. Does she have any interest whatsoever? What if you suggest to her that you start the Couch to 5k program and you do it together? You could change together, go out for your 30 minutes and then return and stretch to the Savage Lovecast or something like that. Make a ritual of it. My vote is absolutely to entice her out to do some regular cardio.
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 2:46 AM on October 17, 2013

The trouble with these solutions is that even if you're right about depression -> no sex, and you hit on the right combination of, say, exercise -> less depression -> more sex, you then have another problem, which is how to input the willingness to exercise into another person. And what if you get the right combination of inputs, but the wrong sort of output? Or what if it works for a while, and then something else changes - how will you face the long slog to once again identify the correct combination of inputs and then input the willingness to do those things into another person?

These things all might work if the OP's GF wanted to do them in the service of improving their sex life. Or she might want to do them, succeed, and proceed through life rejoicing as a happy, nondepressed, but still asexual person while the OP continues indefinitely in his own state of dissatisfaction. As things stand, there's some indication that the GF knows this is a problem but no indiçation whatsoever that she's willing to do anything other than shake her head sorrowfully and say she feels bad about it.

The OP could put his back into finding his GF another job, readjusting her meds, taking her to the gym, but what would be the point of dragging her all over town like a reluctant bag of jello in search of a solution that apparently only the OP wants to find? And then the next time there's a problem, once again do all the work of problem-solving for a passive recipient?

Right now, it looks like only the OP is willing to lift a finger to solve this serious problem in the relationship. The only way (that I see) is for him to insist on couples counselling and to make it clear that the problem is that serious and that the two of them must work on it together. This may be a slow process, but it can't be any slower or less effective than "Come on honey, let's go to the gym [so we can have sex]. Come on honey, let's get you a new job [so we can have sex]. Let me massage your feet [so we can have sex]. Let's adjust your meds so we can aargh! Can we just finally have sex already!!!!!1!!!" That's nothing but a strain on him and on her.
posted by tel3path at 3:13 AM on October 17, 2013 [6 favorites]

During a stressful time for me, I have also been this person. I was still plenty attracted to my SO, and I had a desire to have sexual desire, but the actual desire just wasn't there. It's just one of the ways depression manifests for me. It wasn't that my medication stopped working, rather it was that my negative attitude pushed through the effects of the medication. CBT helped immensely.
posted by gjc at 5:39 AM on October 17, 2013

Belgian psychotherapist Esther Perel discussed this topic in her frank and fascinating TED talk "The secret to desire in a long-term relationship".

Key takeaways:

The very ingredients that nurture love — mutuality, reciprocity, protection, worry, responsibility for the other — are sometimes the very ingredients that stifle desire.

Sex isn't something we do, it's a place where we go.
posted by Dragonness at 6:24 AM on October 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

What a fascinating spectrum of responses.

Ok, so it is POSSIBLE that the girlfriend simply has no interest in sex and never will again. It's also possible that this is caused by depression, job stress, medication, medical issues, or one of a million other things. Only by eliminating those possibilities can the OP hope to know whether this sexual relationship has any hope. But why not actually put in the effort to find out, first? Why jump immediately to "your girlfriend is asexual now and there's nothing you can do so dump her immediately"?
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:27 AM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Woody Allen observed that 80% of life is just showing up.

The best way to awaken a sex drive is to engage in sex, but how to engage i sex when you don't have the drive? You solve this chicken and egg problem the way old married couples often do by having sex on a schedule - and not wait for some spontaneous urge (that doesn't arrive) to overcome you.

Long stretches of not having sex is no way to live your life. Especially when you are in a supposedly sexual relationship.
posted by three blind mice at 6:27 AM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hae you tried scheduling sex?

You are willing to try this and that to change things, but it doesn't sound like she is. Does she want to? Maybe you need to explain to her that this is a big deal for you, and that you need her to work on this with you. Maybe she needs a kick in the pants. She definitely needs to change something, because the status quo is not working.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:31 AM on October 17, 2013

I have been in your girlfriend's shoes. Sex was once every few weeks and felt like an obligation, like taking out the garbage or paying the bills. Similar circumstances for me as well: work was stressful and I was taking an SSRI (Celexa) and hormonal birth control. I felt like I was letting my partner down but I was too lethargic to do anything about it. Finally, with his support, things got a lot better. It was a series of baby steps, but here is what changed:

1. I joined a fitness group. I made great friends and the social aspect made exercising a lot more bearable. I'm still it at two years later, exercising at least 4-5 hours a week. I look forward to it now.

2. Got diagnosed with hypothyroidism last year. It truly was one of those "you don't know you're feeling crappy until you're not" things. Now that I'm on the correct dose of Synthroid, I feel great.

3. Got off oral contraceptives and switched to an IUD.

4. Weaned off the SSRI a few months ago. This one had what felt like a very big impact.

The result of all of this? My sex drive is back, baby! I also lost the 50lbs I had packed on very fast during that low period. It really, really helped that my partner never made me feel guilty about it. His take was "You seem really down lately and I think you should talk to your doctor about making some changes." He persisted in making this point without making me feel like I was being guilt-tripped or judged.

You seem like a good partner, like mine. I am so glad he didn't give up on me. It took time, but I eventually came around. This is not a lost cause by any means. Good luck to you and your partner. Feel free to MeMail me if you have any questions.
posted by futureisunwritten at 6:38 AM on October 17, 2013 [8 favorites]

I have been your girlfriend, too.

On the most basic level, she has to want to do more than feel bad about it. It sounds like you've talked about the fact that there is a problem, but I didn't get the impression that you've talked together about the fact that there are solutions. Have you?
posted by sm1tten at 9:30 AM on October 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Favoriting very hard the answers that you can't change her, she needs to be willing to accept this as a legitimate problem and put some effort behind a solution.

For me the biggest red flag here is that she won't engage with you in a meaningful way about the issue. Saying "sorry", shrinking away, blowing you off is avoidance, avoidance, avoidance. She's not dealing because she doesn't want to deal.

There are lots of totally valid reasons for having no or low libido, but being totally avoidant about a problem in your relationship, any problem, is going to sink you. Even if it's a really tough subject, loving grown ups get in there and deal. I might add as a pet peeve that being an introvert doesn't give someone a free pass on dealing with conflict although I think sometimes people try to use that as an excuse.

The book Intimacy and Desire by David Schnarch might help you both get some insight into this dynamic--suffice to say sexuality is part of what's going on but not all of it. I think it'll be helpful quite a bit to you, OP, and it would be really interesting to see if your bookish girlfriend would be willing to read it too.
posted by Sublimity at 11:00 AM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

A lot of people fail to realize that physical attraction is actually very different from sexual attraction.
You can find a person aesthetically pleasing to the eye without being aroused by them, and you can be aroused by someone who you may actually find visually unattractive.
Sexual attraction is mostly based on body chemistry and pheremones; does the other person create within you a sexual craving in touch, smell, taste.
These things are altered by hormonal birth control and SSRI's.
This may be a hard question for you to face as a couple, but are you actually sexually attracted to each other? Is there the tension of desire present, or was there before the birth control and medications? Those questions will give you insight as to whether this is something that can be fixed and where you want to go from there. Long term relationships generally aren't successful without a mutually satisfying sex life.
posted by tenaciousmoon at 11:16 AM on October 17, 2013

I was once your girlfriend.

Hormonal right control was a huge libido killer for me and also made me very depressed.

I have also had low libido when I was working long hours at a stressful job. During that time, the best time to have sex was a weekend afternoon - no rush, after a good night's sleep.

Now that I am not working at that job my libido is much, much higher. So take heart that things can improve.
posted by mai at 10:38 PM on October 23, 2013

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