What can I do about severe sexual incompatibility?
February 15, 2014 12:34 PM   Subscribe

I have a high sex drive, my partner has a low sex drive. This incompatibility is making me depressed to the point that I feel like I can't stay in the relationship, despite everything else between us being really, really great. I don't know what my options are or what I can do to try and work with this.

Both in our twenties, both have had multiple past sexual partners, together for a year.

Partner says: self masturbation always feels better than sex regardless of partner (9 or 10/10 on the pleasure scale versus 4 or 5/10 for penetrative sex). When he first lost his virginity it was lackluster, he wasn't impressed. Even masturbation feels like a chore that he has to "get out of the way" when he's aroused. Has never reached orgasm from oral sex, reports "it feels nice like a massage" but is indifferent. Is still aroused often, but doesn't do anything about it if he can help it. Doesn't do the death grip thing during solo time.

As a result we have sex maybe once every 2-3 weeks. I know he's attracted to me because the, uh, physical results are there, but that fact doesn't keep me from feeling worthless, unwanted, frustrated, and rejected at the infrequency of intimacy. The times I've tried to initiate sex he's never really up for it, so I end up just waiting until he is. I have a high sex drive anyway (in past relationships 1-3 times per day was average) but this is killing me because I can't seem to do anything to A: make him feel as good as he can make himself feel, or B: inspire him to want me more often.

Is there a way I can decrease my sex drive so maybe this isn't an issue? The sex we do have when we have it is awesome, though I've never managed to reach orgasm.

I'm at the end of my rope, MeFi. I feel like this is a deal breaker but I don't want to throw this away over something trivial like sex. Is there any hope?
posted by Vrai to Human Relations (33 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

I agree it is a deal breaker. It is hard to change someone's sex drive and hard to change your own.you may always feel bad when you are not loved in the ways you want to be.

It is hard, but there are plenty of fish in the sea. You can find someone else who makes you happy.
posted by Jaelma24 at 12:42 PM on February 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm at the end of my rope, MeFi. I feel like this is a deal breaker but I don't want to throw this away over something trivial like sex.

First off, sex isn't trivial if you value and need sex. It's not trivial to you, therefore it's not trivial. Don't try to subvert your needs to meet the needs of others. This way resentment lies.

Is there any hope?

Sure. There's nothing wrong with either of you. You both have different drives. Assuming it's nothing medical on his part (and honestly, if this is the way he's always been, there's n reason to believe it is), you have to decide for yourself if this is a dealbreaker for you. It's perfectly okay if you do. It's okay if you don't.

But if you feel that the base relationship is worth salvaging and you can separate sex from your primary relationship, perhaps opening your marriage is a potential solution. If would allow you to have your sexual needs met while also remaining with the person you love. You'd have to have a frank discussion of your respective needs and fears. There's other threads in the past about this sort of thing.
posted by inturnaround at 12:49 PM on February 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

I don't think you (anyone) are ever going to be happy in this kind of situation.
posted by thelonius at 1:27 PM on February 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

Yeah, it's time to move on. I agree with the above comments.
posted by Specklet at 1:43 PM on February 15, 2014

Sounds pretty bad. I'd find a new relationship.
posted by Slinga at 1:44 PM on February 15, 2014

Not only do you have mismatched sex drives, but I would personally feel pretty put off if my partner definitively said that masturbation was always better than sex with another person. Of course, it's fine to feel that way, but it's so far from how I view sex and how I'm guessing you view sex that I don't think that's compatible either.

I think that if you're considering doing something to yourself to diminish your sex drive, that's a sign that you need to consider moving on. Also, sex is absolutely not trivial. You are not shallow for wanting to have frequent, intimate, enjoyable sex with your partner. It's a big issue. If you BOTH had low drives and were not really into sex with a partner, that's great. But that's not the case and it's causing you a lot of pain. I'm sorry you're going through this.
posted by Aquifer at 2:21 PM on February 15, 2014 [5 favorites]

Maybe I'm just completely weird or insane or something, but people who are like "sex is just physical sensations" do not compute at all for me. They speak a language I don't understand. For me, sex is about wanting someone. Not wanting to "get off" or wanting to "scratch that itch" or whatever. That might happen very infrequently when I'm aroused by something totally random, like an erotic dream or a movie or me ovulating or something, I don't know, something else I am not thinking about or expecting but just happens to be arousing. But that's kind of an irritating feeling, like, "Hum, this is inconvenient and uncomfortable." Solo sex is more about relaxing to me than anything else, and that's also a totally different feeling- like I'd compare it to a massage or, I dunno, a hot bubble bath or something comforting like that. (I mean, primarily.)

Both of those feelings/motivations are TOTALLY AND COMPLETELY different from the "partner sex" feeling/motivation, which is MUCH more about butterflies, anticipation, build-up, does-he-like-me, was-that-on-purpose, we-really-shouldn't, wow-he-smells-nice kind of stuff, etc. etc. etc. It's just...different. Way fucking different. It is about the PERSON and wanting THEM. It's a longing to connect with them.

He seriously doesn't even feel that? He's just like, her body is like an annoying inconvenient thing that happens to arouse me? Ho hum better take care of it?

That's just...off. Do you flirt? Is there any excitement in the relationship, I mean, emotionally? Intellectually?
posted by quincunx at 2:38 PM on February 15, 2014 [16 favorites]

There's nothing trivial about sex to those of us who enjoy it and want lots of it. Having a high sex drive is a gift -- it means you are motivated and energized to have lots of really cool, exciting, intimate experiences with one (or more) other people. It's kind of like having a super power.

To deny yourself the full use of this superpower just seems like a crying shame to me. I think it's time to consider reconfiguring your relationship in some way -- either downshift to friendship, or open the relationship up so you can have other partners (if that is something you are even into...). Those are two ways you can keep this guy in your life.

He of course may not go for either option, but that doesn't make him (or you) a bad person. It just means you're fundamentally incompatible for a long-term, monogamous intimate relationship.

I would be super-duper frustrated in your shoes, and would probably opt to walk.
posted by nacho fries at 2:42 PM on February 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Perhaps your partner is gay and unaware or in denial about it? What he has described to you is fairly far from normal.

Regardless, not a good situation for you and unlikely to get any better. Time to pull the plug on the relationship.
posted by killdevil at 2:54 PM on February 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

I think it's important, and helpful, to avoid pathologizing your partner's sex drive and habits. There's nothing inherently wrong or not-normal about how he is. Unless he has expressed a wish to change himself, he is just fine as-is. There's no one way to be "normal" re: sex.

In the same way, it's not helpful for you to pathologize your own sex drive, or contort yourself to diminish it to fit your current guy.

It's simply a matter of compatibility, or lack thereof. No need to layer on shame or arbitrary cultural "norms", etc.
posted by nacho fries at 3:19 PM on February 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

We have a great time together as partners. We flirt, we make-out, he says that he thinks about me when I'm not there. I really don't think he views my body as an annoyance because, as I said, we do have sex sometimes and it's lovely. He tells me of having the longing feeling when some time has passed between seeing one another. (He misses my presence, he misses me physically, etc.) We're affectionate and as far as relationships go everything else is really great. Maybe my wording was too severe on this question, but the way he views sex reminds me of the way someone with an eating disorder views food. I don't doubt that he cares about me, I'm just wondering if this is indicative of a medical issue or if anyone in a similar situation has found a way around this incompatibility. Part of me is starting to wonder if he's maybe somewhat asexual. Obviously this is causing me distress, but the very last thing I want to do is simply pull the plug without exploring all the options. I am very in love with this man.
posted by Vrai at 3:35 PM on February 15, 2014

Sex is not trivial. To be in your position is deeply hurtful even if he is not trying to hurt you. You might want to see a sex or couples therapist, and I would also recommend reading Emily Nagoski's writing about two partners with different sex drives (look here.)

But even though you love this man, staying with him is hurting you, and I think you should leave him so you can find someone whom you love that desires you right back. When I read this "Is there a way I can decrease my sex drive so maybe this isn't an issue?" I felt worried for you because that would make this already painful situation even more painful.

"Is still aroused often, but doesn't do anything about it if he can help it." This points to a possible medical, psychological, or in-the-closet issue. Or some kind of asexuality. And in order for him to address it/understand it, he needs to WANT to do that. (not just you wanting him to address it.) from what you have written it doesn't sound like that is the case.
posted by zdravo at 3:51 PM on February 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

There is no way I would stay with someone who was so sexually uninterested in me. I would cut my losses and move on.
posted by OneHermit at 4:20 PM on February 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hm. Random shot in the dark: Was he raised Catholic? I ask because I knew a guy like that once who could never shake the guilt surrounding sex even well into adulthood.
posted by quincunx at 5:00 PM on February 15, 2014

You can always stay with him until the "very in love with this man" begins to fade and the resentment from feeling sexually rejected as less exciting than masturbation intensifies - because it will.

As time goes by, you'll pull away from this man because even though you share great times together and much fondness for each other, there's a big, big part of your relationship that's simply missing. In time, that will become the focus and you'll decide that you can find someone else - someone who finds you sexually exciting and vice versa.

Your relationship is the cupcake without the frosting.

I wish you a speedy recovery and real love and peace right around the corner.
posted by aryma at 5:03 PM on February 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Also, if he was really serious about fixing this, a good place to start might be completely cutting out porn and masturbation, and getting more exercise. Try that for a few weeks and see if some more sexual energy doesn't get pent up.
posted by quincunx at 5:05 PM on February 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

The very basis for pairs of us getting together is sexual desire (which itself is driven by reproduction, but the urge is to merge, with or without gametes). Even when it's gay couples: their lust doesn't line up with reproduction, but it's still about sex.

Never, ever, ever pretend that sex isn't a powerful part of your happiness in life. (And for those who are asexual, AFAICT from what I've heard, not having sex is what makes them happiest, so: sexuality is still an issue!)

Be happy. Find love that makes you happy, not makes you compromise on "happy except for this one huge, unfulfilled motivation in my life".
posted by IAmBroom at 7:55 PM on February 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

Hm. If you're in your twenties and have been together for just a year, I would strongly advise that this is a fundamental incompatibility and that you split up.

I'm curious about your observation that when you do have sex it's lovely...but even after a year of being lovers, despite your high drive and I presume pretty good understanding of your responses and all because of your experience, that you've never had an orgasm with him. Doesn't sound so lovely to me.

Really--think about that a bit: you aren't hitting 9/10 or 10/10 on the pleasure scale with him, either. Sounds like he gets off anyway when you two have sex, even though it's not his favorite...but it is your favorite and YOU aren't getting off.

Do you see something wrong with this picture?

Maybe he's just so self centered or lazy that having sex with other people is a drag, because he is supposed to put some effort into pleasing his partner, but he really can't be bothered?

Who knows? But I do concur with the general sentiment on this thread that this is not likely to become less important as an issue. Usually the first year of a relationship is the I-can't-get-enough-of-fucking-you part. Really: move on.

One last thought. Please, please, PLEASE do some work to get yourself out of the headspace that his lack of desire reflects poorly on you. You are NOT worthless or undesirable because your lover has a low drive. His sexuality is his and yours is yours. So is is with this lover, so it is with every lover you have ever had and every lover you will ever have. I know that love relationships and sexuality reflect powerfully on oneself, but truly, a huge part of personal growth and growing into full adulthood comes from realizing that your own inherent worth, desirability, etc, are NOT dependent on what your partner does or thinks. David Schnarch's book Intimacy and Desire may be helpful to you here, although it's intended for people who are long married and reconciling themselves about marital difficulties and sexual incompatibility in established relationships. Not quite where you are, but the personal growth and differentiation parts might resonate.

Good luck.
posted by Sublimity at 8:39 PM on February 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'd leave. It gets into your head and hurts, you wind up carrying a little poison with you all the time.
posted by ead at 12:36 AM on February 16, 2014

From my point of view, the sex that we do have is fantastic. Without a doubt it's some of the best sex I've ever had (and my number of partners is a long way into double digits), even without the orgasm. My main issue isn't the sex that we do have, it's wanting to have it more frequently. Which is maybe made worse by the sex being great but so rare.

Admittedly, I fail to reach orgasm sometimes when masturbating (and when I do we're talking after like 40 minutes+) and have only had one partner ever that could consistently help me reach climax. When I'm with my current partner, it feels like I'm 'edging' basically from beginning to end. I get close, fast, but for whatever reason I can't push over that edge.

In the years prior to this relationship I was married to someone who was so ridiculously sexually compatible that our incompatibility in basically everything other area of life was overlooked for over five years. With my current partner, it's like a breath of fresh air. All the pieces that I'd thought I could never have with anyone just came together. And even within the past year those pieces have been tested and remained firmly in place. It's like 9 out of 10 boxes of my ideal relationship have been ticked. For someone who lived with 1/10 for a very long time, that's a lot.

I realise the general consensus is "you're young, just split", but there must be something we can do or try before that needs to happen.
posted by Vrai at 2:34 AM on February 16, 2014

Sex becomes less of a priority as you age anyway so if everything else in your relationship is perfect then I understand why you wouldn't want to break up over it.

"Is there a way I can decrease my sex drive so maybe this isn't an issue?"

I don't think this is the best way to approach this, but since you asked, yes, you could probably decrease your sex drive by getting a prescription for an antidepressant that has decreased libido as a known common side effect (e.g., SSRIs like Prozac or Zoloft).

If I were you, I would try some sort of couples counseling specifically for this issue (you may even want to look for a sex therapist for couples instead of a generic couples counselor), getting him checked to make sure there isn't anything medically wrong with him that's depressing his libido, and trying to find more fulfillment from erotica and masturbation first. Some couples in your situation agree to open their relationship to allow the sexually frustrated partner to have other lovers but based on what I've seen that tends to cause more problems than it solves, so I'm not actually suggesting that just noting that it's a thing some people in your situation do. (He would have to be fine with an open relationship too -- cheating on him behind his back is definitely NOT a solution.)

But if you try all that and you are still frustrated and unhappy yet committed to staying in a monogamous relationship with this man, then maybe antidepressants are your least bad option. They have risks and other unpleasant side effects so do your research first and decide if its really worth it.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:07 AM on February 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

What does he say when you tell him what you wrote in the OP? If it's anything other than some flavor of, "Let's see what we can do to find a better solution," well, that tells you what you need to know about how that guy values what's important to you.

If you haven't told him what you wrote in the OP, and are just expecting him to know how you feel or for this area of life to just magically work if you're right for each other, well, I think that signifies some unrealistic expectations on your end.

As far as sex becoming less important as one ages, this is clearly a huge YMMV area, but I can say as a woman in my 40s who enjoyed my libertine 20s to my fullest, sex is no less potent and important to me now.

It sounds like there are many, many wonderful things about this man....but there are many, many wonderful men in the world. It may never be possible to find someone who is absolutely a perfect fit in every way, but it's definitely worth holding out to find one who recognizes the value of working together as a team to deal with the areas of conflict.
posted by Sublimity at 6:58 AM on February 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I had a long, tearful conversation with him only yesterday about how intensely I felt about the lack of sex. It's something I've mentioned and hinted at before, but it took me a while to find the words to articulate it directly. He was really sad, and he's not unaware of his sex drive. He said he couldn't stand the thought of me being unhappy, he never wanted me to settle, and that he loved me. He seems more than willing to work on this, which is what largely inspired the OP because I hadn't the faintest idea where to really start.

I can't imagine this is easy from his perspective either. It's one thing to want something from a loved one that feels like it's just out of your reach, but it's another to be unable to give your loved one something when you're fully aware of their wanting.

If we could just find a happy medium between our respective drives, I think I'd be OK.
posted by Vrai at 8:51 AM on February 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

That happy medium doesn't exist, read the dozens and dozens (hundreds?) of askme's on this subject.

There is a medium, but it's not happy. There is happiness but it's found in other people.
posted by French Fry at 9:25 AM on February 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

I was in a nearly identical situation a few years ago and my biggest regret is that I stayed so long trying to find that "happy medium". The attempt made both of us miserable and resentful of each other. Worse, because it was a slow decline, I didn't realize how much it was crushing me until we broke up and the weight was suddenly gone. If I'd known, it would have been so much easier to leave earlier.

Sexual compatibility is not a trivial thing. If you can see a clear path to improving things, by all means, give it a shot. If there is no obvious problem that can be fixed (medical, sleep, depression, stress, etc), let me assure you that things won't spontaneously improve. On the contrary, they're very likely to get worse. Sex drive is not something anyone can consciously change, unfortunately, no matter how much they love you.
posted by randomnity at 11:41 AM on February 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding the was he raised Catholic question? Myself and friends had a few experiences that seemed to be rooted in this when hanging out with Catholic boys...
Sex therapy seems like good stuff.
A friend of mine was in a situation with some similarity for several years.. turned out the guy had a hernia (?) v near his groin and had been to shy to tell her.. she was gobsmacked... just saying..
posted by tanktop at 1:21 PM on February 16, 2014

It seems unlikely to me, but is there a chance that he's depressed? Feeling like you want to do something, but it just seems like too much effort, is a common sign of depression.

He's not very motivated to seek his own sexual satisfaction, but would he be willing to help you with yours? Would he be willing to help you get off--oral sex, manual stimulation, helping you masturbate, masturbating with you--a couple of times a week? And could you live with that?

You both seem to want to make it work between you, so maybe that is worth a try.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 8:08 PM on February 16, 2014

This is what sex therapy is for. Exactly.

He's not feeling the thrill, and he should be; the sex therapist can figure out why and what can be done about it.

You need to have mind-blowing orgasms and your sense of being sexually fulfilled would be much improved - and you'd probably be too tired to require it so frequently; the sex therapist can solve that problem, too.

Get thee some help. So much important stuff is already in line in your relationship, you need to seek out the expert to fix the rest.
posted by aryma at 10:26 PM on February 16, 2014

It's one thing to want something from a loved one that feels like it's just out of your reach, but it's another to be unable to give your loved one something when you're fully aware of their wanting.

He may not be able to change the fact that he thinks masturbation is far better than having sex with you (or the fact that he told you that, which I think was a very unfortunate thing for him to do - saying something like that definitely seems like something that could get in the way psychologically of you having an orgasm), or the fact that he does not want to have sex frequently, but he COULD do something sexual for you to satisfy your sex drive, such as giving you oral or manual stimulation until you are satisfied or hopefully orgasm. He could use a vibrator or a dildo on you. He could do a lot of things.

If he chooses not to do these things that he would be able to do to satisfy you sexually rather than having vaginal intercourse, then I definitely think you need to either find another partner, or arrange an open relationship with this man.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 11:59 PM on February 16, 2014

Your boyfriend is pinging my asexual-dar, a lot. Masturbation feeling better than sex with a partner, check. Masturbation being just a way to get rid of arousal, check. Ignore arousal rather than deal with it, check.

I define as asexual, and I have a hard time associating sex/arousal with other people. In my head, sure. In my guts? nope. I get aroused pretty often (depending on my monthly cycle), but I don't specifically enjoy the process of masturbation. I do it mostly for the rush of endorphins at the end (that, I like a lot).

Maybe you can direct it to aven.org for a read.

That said, I think that's a deal breaker : you may find a compromise, but a compromise is just a way to leave everyone unsatisfied, which is not the best basis for a relationship :(
posted by snakeling at 2:17 AM on February 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

If he sees this as your problem - he's basically dumped you. You thought you had a one type of relationship and he's willing to make a unilateral decision to redefine. Him being sorry that you are sad is not the same as being willing to work with you.

Frankly, I am not hopeful. If two able bodied adults are in a long struggle to find sexual compatibility the likelihood of working it out is low.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 9:59 AM on February 17, 2014

Since you asked for potential medical issues - this is a way longshot - but he may have a testosterone deficiency.
posted by Ardea alba at 11:34 AM on February 18, 2014

Has he tried abstaining from masturbation? It sounds like he may have physically desensitized himself and/or trained himself to be aroused in such a way that only he can satisfy. If he wants to work with you on this, that'd be the first thing I'd suggest - get him to agree to abstain form masturbating for like 60 days and see if that helps.
posted by eustacescrubb at 1:23 PM on February 18, 2014

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