When no sex feels like I am not desirable
May 10, 2014 6:16 AM   Subscribe

I need help. I am seeking therapy for this issue, but it will take about six weeks before I can get in. My partner (m 36) and I (f 34) are not having sex. It has been about four months. He is dealing with depression and anxiety issues and is on medication for this. This has been pretty hard for me since we greatly enjoyed such an active sex life prior to this. He attributes our sexual issues to his diagnosis and medication. In my head I believe what he tells me, but this is triggering past issues for me that are getting in the way of me believing what he says. The fact that he masturbates at least once a day is hard for me to handle.

I think it boils down to me equating sex with worth. It is very hard for me to even write that. I would like to find some ways to deal with these feelings.

Other factors to consider: we have one child, both have new jobs, and we have recently moved (away from our hometown where both of our families are). His younger brother recently stayed with us for about two months, which was stressful and fun, but he moved to a different city since.

For example, this sounds crazy and it is. I am trying to stop. Every time I come home I look for evidence that he has masturbated. I usually find that he has been masturbating. Basically any time I leave the house. I feel like I am looking for evidence that he doesn't want me, and I find it and confirm my belief. I imagine being in his position and I would feel horrible that my partner was monitoring me like that. It is disgusting. I tell myself over and over that masturbation is healthy and normal, I do it every day, his private time has nothing to do with me...even though I have this message embedded in me that it has everything to do with me or what I don't have.

I have tried initiating sex, giving him space, and I feel that I am very supportive overall. I feel this is my issue triggered by lack of sex. I continually remind myself that this is about me. It helps sometimes. Many times I just want to cry. I feel like he is just waiting for me to leave so he can get off because he doesn't want to have sex with me. I know this is such faulty thinking but I can't shake it all of the time.

I'm wondering if anyone has some helpful thoughts, resources, or insights. I am trying to get through to my therapy appointment by using some positive self talk, trying to reason with myself that his masturbation has nothing to do with us not having sex. That if someone doesn't want to have sex with me, that has nothing to do with my worth as a person.

throwaway email is marygarza79@yahoo.com
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (30 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Is that really a throwaway email address, because it looks like a real name. You may want to ask the mods to substitute a more anonymous email address.
posted by amro at 6:49 AM on May 10, 2014 [9 favorites]

Well it's ok to want sex? I mean I agree with you that carrying on with obsessing over whether he's masturbating or not is not a sustainable or at least healthy way to live- but I think you could just be looking at your needs for sex and intimacy in a partnership as innately pathological when it's not. It's ok to need that and it's hard if there's a reason you can have it. And it IS unsettling when the partner we thought wanted us suddenly doesn't. There's nothing pathological about being upset by this, or even wondering whether your partner really loves you.

If my partner was masturbating and then acting like I'm a freak for wondering why they aren't interested in me AT ALL, I would be hurt and wondering why we even have a relationship.

I wonder if your partner isn't being a bit of jerk about this because it doesn't sound like he's doing anything to support your emotions through this, he just decided you're not having sex anymore because of his issues and he doesn't seem to be discussing how to solve that or validating that your needs matter.

Are you sure you need to wait 6 months? If you feel comfortable sharing your city I would be willing to bet there are sliding scale places in your area where you could get in sooner, and if you have too much income for that I would highly recommend you consider making some sacrafices or rebudgeting to factor in immediate counseling because this doesn't sound healthy at all.

I would recommend for not stop framing this issue as you being disgusting for being really upset and feeling unloved when your partner is expressing zero interest in you. There is nothing wrong with you for this. However staying with a partner who is treating you badly and passive aggresively trying to force them to show you they care is not going to work. Not because you don't deserve love and intimacy but because you can't make people do this. He's not doing it, so you need to figure out what's next and how to initiate a dialogue with him about the fact this is not sustainable for you and there needs to be a plan to get the intimacy back. Four months is one thing but another 6 months of this and your relationship is going to be REALLY wack.

I'm not a relationship counselor so I don't know what you should do, but I can say your feelings sound very valid and you should try really hard to get into some counseling sooner and figure out how to share intimacy with him (even if different than you once did) that let's you feel connected and wanted. Otherwise why have a relationship, shy not acknowledge you're just friends and move on other things? It doesn't sound like he's offering you any intimacy or comfort of validation at all from what you've written, and if that's the case, the problem is him, you just need to figure out a responsible way to handle that he's not treating you well, decide how long you're willing to let him treat you this way, and what your plan is for communication that this will need to change and you can't and won't (and shouldn't) live like this indefinitely.

Even if you're not having sex, he can hug you, he could involve you in masturbation, he could show you he still wants you. I think you're right to wonder if the relationship with you is really NOT still working right because, yeah, why would be be masturbating and cutting your out of his sexuality entirely? He's using the "I'm depressed" to deny the reality he's pulling away form intimacy with you and you have every right to be upset by that.

If he has specific reasons why intimacy is hard for him right now, I think it's fair that you might want to know more about that because this isn't just about him, your relationship includes you and he should at least be communicating with you why the intimacy is hard for him and how he is working on that in therapy-- and if he doesn't know why other than "the meds" he needs to be talking about it in therapy and figuring out why it's so hard because it's clearly not stopping his sex drive entirely, it's just made him not like sex with you? That's sounds like it needs to be explored and not just blamed on "the meds".

So instead of obsessing over whether he is being kind of crappy right now, don't go look for evidence either way, just validate yourself- YES he is being crappy. You don't need to look for evidence of how crappy he's being, it's right in front of you. You know the truth and the part that's driving you nuts is that you're trying to believe his bullcrap lie and you know it's bullshit so the truth that he's treating you badly keeps nagging at you. You have the right to be upset. The solution is not just going to be about you, it will include him needing to work on this too, and if he's not doing that you're not in a romantic partnership, you're roomates/co-parents.
posted by xarnop at 7:07 AM on May 10, 2014 [10 favorites]

I forgot to preface this, I have very little experience with healthy relationships, I just really want you to get some validation that you have every right to be upset. I don't know how you should deal with it but validating your feelings and getting into counseling sooner than 6 months sound like a starting point!
posted by xarnop at 7:10 AM on May 10, 2014

...his masturbation has nothing to do with us not having sex.

Except that it does.

From your question, you've spoken to him about the lack of intimacy, right? You've tried to be supportive. You've tried to help work through this with him.

And from your perspective, he's not making an effort to meet you halfway and clearly, he is finding time to sexually relieve himself without considering your needs.

You're not being selfish at all. But maybe he is. Or he's confused and sad. In any case, you two need to talk and you need to talk about masturbating.

What I do see is a lack of open communication between the two of you. You're bending over backwards, trying to work it out and it looks like you're being shut down on this issue.

He's saying he can't be open to having an intimate relationship with you right now, but he's managing to relieve himself sexually in a way that clearly excludes you. Masturbating is a completely healthy thing. But when a partner is doing it as a substitute for a healthy sexual relationship and excluding their partner sexually, no; it's not okay.

I would think it feels dishonest too.

I think you need to talk to him about it, maybe see someone together. But it looks like he's not really listening to your feelings.

**and FWIW, I knew a couple in a similar situation. The husband was unwilling to work through a long dry spell with his wife because of his depression and other issues (which were all completely valid problems in his life), but he would make a point of masturbating daily. According to him, he did this because he needed to prove to himself that he was still capable of sexually functioning but without the pressure of being physically intimate with his wife and failing. He wasn't able to see himself and his wife as a couple with a workable problem. After a while, it just became about the functioning of his penis. They split up because he was unable to take her perspective.

I'm not saying this is true of you, but I think you and your husband need to have a very serious talk.
posted by kinetic at 7:30 AM on May 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

I feel your pain. My ex had no sex drive at all and mocked me for wanting it more than twice a year. He had many health problems. It is hard to not take it personally. But, your husband did want you once. You do have a sexual history with him. Embrace that, remember that. Start sending him dirty texts while he is at work, when there is no pressure on him to perform right away, reminding him of your more fun times. And stop initiating once he is home. Once the pressure is off of him, he might relax enough to try again. In the meantime, find some girlfriends to go out with. Getting dressed up and getting checked out feels pretty good. Just don't flirt with anyone because that will only make things worse.
Marriages are books with many different chapters. This is not a fun chapter. You are seeking counseling and your previous chapters do have sex in them- try to focus on the future chapters and what they will look like.
posted by myselfasme at 7:58 AM on May 10, 2014

A question what constitutes evidence?

Many many many medications really do plummet sex drive.

I'm glad you are seeking therapy.

In the meantime is their other things like snuggling or holding hands or other activities.
posted by AlexiaSky at 8:24 AM on May 10, 2014

It sounds to me like you were thinking that his depression and anxiety had killed his libido. Now you feel betrayed or like something is wrong with you, as you find out that his libido isn't actually gone.

The thing is, in addition to their potential to decrease libido, depression and anxiety can also make intimacy and even basic human interaction seem really overwhelming and scary. So his decreased interested in having sex is still probably because of the mental health issues, just not in the way you thought.

You say he's on medication -- has he been on them long? If so, perhaps he needs them adjusted because they don't seem to be doing the trick. Is he also in therapy? I'm glad you're going to be seeing someone, but he really should be too. Perhaps it would help if you both saw the same person, so you could have some sessions together as well as individually.
posted by vytae at 8:26 AM on May 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

Masturbation can be quite separate from sex. Sex takes a lot of effort and is pretty emotionally expensive and can sometimes be a bit of minefield (performance, misinterpretations, stamina, ego, timing, etc....). Masturbation is easy and pretty much automatically rewarding.

One way you could possibly bring sexy times back is by suggesting synchronized solo masturbation. That can take away many of the possible minefield issues of sex and get the two of you to re-associate each other with sexual pleasure. One important thing though is to avoid any judgement on the porn tastes issue because that can ruin everything for both you and your partner.
posted by srboisvert at 8:37 AM on May 10, 2014 [15 favorites]

I don't think you should take it too personally. Mindlessly getting off alone is very different from having sex with a partner. It doesn't require almost any libido, and can be done just habitually or as a way to pass time. It negatively affects the desire to have sex though, so asking him not to do that for a while is a way to go. Can you say in the morning: "Partner, would you mind keeping your hands off your dick until I come home? I would really like to get laid - just a little quickie!"?

If you can avoid it, don't let all your frustration pour out on him, but aim to make some brief, low-pressure sexual activities happen. Ask if you can do for him what he'd otherwise do for himself. You can extend and advance once you get from nothing to something, but start with a simple reboot.
posted by Herr Zebrurka at 8:44 AM on May 10, 2014

You're in a relationship which demands exclusivity of sex and intimacy and you're not having any sex or intimacy with your partner even though you need it, and both you and your partner are masturbating on your own on a daily basis. This is not a healthy relationship.
posted by crayz at 8:46 AM on May 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

...his masturbation has nothing to do with us not having sex.

Except that it does.

No, it doesn't. A thousand times over. He's having problems and he's on medication. This can really mess with someone's libido. He's been upfront and honest about that with you.

Lowered or missing libido does not mean someone will stop masturbating. Connecting these two as if it meant he really has a normal libido and is lying to you is crazy. Stop checking for "evidence". Today. Never do that again.

He's having a difficult time that, but he is not hiding it from you. This may be a trying time, and it may not be any fun, but this absolutely does not mean this isn't a healthy relationship.
posted by spaltavian at 9:00 AM on May 10, 2014 [9 favorites]

Data Point. I used to take a similar medication and you simply wouldn't believe how it affects libido. I mean, part of the problem is you don't realize it at the time, at all. It's not as noticeable to the person who is taking the medication. People throw the phrase "affects libido" around like it's a cerebral, cut-and-dry side effect.

"Affects libido" might be, "ruins sex drive and any desire to do anything to fix it." A lot of men may even take "sex drive" as a given and simply not have the tools to deal with or even contemplate its absence.

It practically wrecked my relationship.

Masturbation has nothing to do with any of this, since it's a private, controlled environment where an end result can be forced. I'm sure he's not having a terribly fun time doing it. Speaking as an objective observer, I would recommend pulling out all the stops with regards to not taking masturbation personally, only because it would do you a world of good and maybe open up some new doors of understanding and solutions. You sound like someone who has a lot of potential and self-worth hiding underneath this problem, just waiting to burst out.

I normally provide a lot of "self-help" type advice on this site, so I just want to chime in that it was only after I stopped taking the medication that I realized how much I had underestimated the effect that it had on me. I don't have much else to share and I don't want to preach, so just consider that and make some appropriate changes. I'm sorry you're going through such a difficult time.
posted by phaedon at 9:41 AM on May 10, 2014 [7 favorites]

Medication totally screws up everything, but the solo masturbation is a real source of problems.

If he can't have sex, he can share masturbation with you. If masturbating has to be a solo activity for him, he can commit to participating in your masturbating - touching, engaging with you, talking and otherwise being part of your pleasure.

I'd strongly suggest setting a time to have a candid conversation about this issue. If you're not able to do it yourselves, as for help - it is the obvious go-to on the Green, but couples therapy may be a great place to talk about how you're feeling and collaboratively problem-solve.
posted by arnicae at 9:47 AM on May 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

It's easy to say when you're not in the relationship, but if I were in your shoes, I'd be looking for exits if I tried to fix this and wasn't able to.

A person has to care for your well being. It's, in my opinion, a requirement in a relationship to take responsibility for your partner's sexual satisfaction. I, for one, am perfectly capable of giving someone a BJ even if I don't really feel like it. Or hanging around while he masturbates and tell him dirty stories. Partner A doesn't have to feel like it, or even to have functional sex organs, to be a participant in Partner B's sex life. It's a responsibility, especially in a monogamous relationship.

There are many ways to have sex that don't involve intercourse. There are a million sex toys. A relationship is about being with someone who has your back, who cares for your well being and happiness. Nobody is perfect at this, but there has to be a good faith effort. Sex is a requirement, like healthy nutrition and exercise.

That being said, there has to be a good faith effort on your part to let him know what is bugging you. Being supportive and understanding is not all that's required. You have to say to him, "Even if you're not feeling it, I want us to have some sexual activity. My libido is still here. What are you capable of? What are you willing to do? How can we compromise?"

You can give some options, and appreciate his efforts.

You're being a better girlfriend if you let him know how to meet your needs, rather than keeping quiet and gritting your teeth when, by doing whatever comes exactly naturally to him, he is not meeting your needs.
posted by htid at 10:04 AM on May 10, 2014 [7 favorites]

Nthing hanging around while the other person masturbates. If it's him hanging around you, please state explicitly to him that this is his chance to convince you that you are desirable.

Give him a list of suggested ways he might do this: e.g. talking about how hot you are, visually and in personality and in the sounds you make, how much he loves watching you come; spinning fantasies; etc. Once he's actually doing this, you ought to forget that you ever had that conversation, and he ought to come up with enough of his own material, with sufficient verve, that you wouldn't remember anyhow. If he's too depressed or anxious for that, he can read you some porn/erotica out loud, either stuff that especially turns you on, or stuff that you know he's chosen (e.g. from a collection of short stories he found or you bought) because he finds it especially hot, and/or he thinks you'll find it especially hot, and/or it reminds him of you.

If he's not willing to at least simulate passionate admiration, then it's time to look for ways for you to get sexual validation outside the relationship. (Hookup? Affair? Videochat? New partner? Ashley Madison, for the sake of the child?) That's just a fact, same as if you two couldn't cook so you got take-out. Maybe not as simple to negotiate, but just as firm.
posted by feral_goldfish at 11:00 AM on May 10, 2014

Responding more specifically to your question as you framed it:

You're absolutely right that self-worth shouldn't depend on sexual desirability. BUT IT DOES, for lots of people lots of the time in lots of ways. It's probably more a cultural than a personal pathology. Sure, it's an excellent thing to want to change about yourself, but it's also a pretty huge self-improvement project, for which these circumstances are not ideal.

Do it, eventually, because you want to put your self-worth on a sounder footing, NOT in a spirit of sour grapes. Sour grapes can be an excellent defense mechanism if that comes naturally to you (I use it in lots of situations), but in this case you've already tried it and found that it didn't really help.

Finally, stop calling yourself disgusting. Given a choice between a partner who inspects household evidence of masturbation vs. someone who won't cooperate on getting your sexual/esteem needs met, very few people would choose the latter.
posted by feral_goldfish at 11:08 AM on May 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Are you physically close in ways that don't involve intercourse - lots of hugging, snuggling, kissing, touching, etc?
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:23 PM on May 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

I was actually in your partner's position in my last relationship, although I was the woman in a heterosexual partnership.

I was suffering from anxiety/depression, was on medication, and had zero interest or energy in sex when prior to those two--my partner and I had a satisfying sex life.

I don't recall masturbating at all during that period, but I wouldn't say that masturbation is necessarily a replacement for sex. Masturbation is closer to picking the dirt under your fingernails, rather than an intimate gesture full of complex social communication and feelings with another living being. Even if my partner saw me masturbate, I'd feel gross and unsafe. I just was not capable of sharing my sexuality with anyone at all, it was too exhausting when I needed all my energy to survive the day and preferably not launch into a panic attack or suicidal ideation.

Also, my partner felt rejected, and kept initiating sex when I said that it was out of the table. I knew his needs were reasonable, but they were too much for me to take and made me want him even less, because every time we were alone, he was clearly pushing for sex. In turn, that made me want to retreat more into my own world and made me anxious about being alone with him, and it was just a really really destructive cycle.

In the end, I made some major life changes and broke up with him. I regained my libido after I weaned myself off medication, moved to a new place, recovered from depression/anxiety, and found new people to be interested in. To this day, I don't know what caused the lack of desire for sex... how much of it was the depression/anxiety, the medication, or the unhappy relationship itself? Looking back, I just wish I made major life changes earlier, including breaking up with him. We broke up for incompatibility issues that had nothing to do with intimacy, but that fed into my lack of sexual desire for him.

So given my anecdata, what's my advice?

1. You can see what he's willing to try sexually, but if he's not comfortable, I say don't push it. I was just constantly on edge when I was depressed/anxious, and yes, avoiding a panic attack/suicidal ideation/brain going crazy AND having energy to go to work and take care of myself was just infinitely more important than satisfying my partner sexually. Honestly, I just wanted to get my brain to stop trying to kill myself. I needed all my energy to survive. I had zero energy for my partner's sexual needs, and that is nothing personal. Maybe I was being a bad partner, yes, but I had to prioritize my own survival over my partner's sexual needs.

2. He could try different medication, or seeing if he could get off of it earlier. I got off mine because of side effects that aggravated physical health problems, but I was really unhappy with how my doctor was willing to prescribe me on this medication for like, INFINITY. "You're doing well? Okay, keep taking it for another year!" I needed the medication at the time to survive and be a minimally functioning human being, but my own reaction to the medication wasn't the best. It was like, my brain was wearing sweat pants permanently: it could take out the trash and do basic chores and be okay with chilling at home alone, but it could not go out and thrive creatively or socially. And that included having a fulfilling relationship with my partner.

3. If you have major incompatibilities outside of your sex life, maybe that is a factor in his lack of sex drive and/or anxiety/depression. I think that was the case in mine, and it was an incompatibility that I kept trying to resolve, which took a lot of my energy, but it didn't feel like it was ever going to be resolved and that was stressful. The only way I resolved the dilemma was by exiting the relationship, and I wish I just did so earlier to save us both time and guilt-ridden relationship agony. If you have a core incompatibility that's bothering him, you two should talk about it and see how much of a deal breaker it is. If it's there, there's no sense avoiding it, it's affecting you and him this very moment anyway.

tldr; 1. If his depression/anxiety was as bad as mine, your partner probably doesn't have enough energy to be a good partner. Understandably, his survival, self-care, and mental health is more important than the needs of the relationship. Hard to be GGG if your brain is on the fritz and is on the verge of implosion.

tldr; 2. If you're feeling rejected for reasons beyond your partner's mental health reasons, you should identify it. Don't try to seek acceptance through sex. Even if my partner was the most skilled sexual partner ever, I still would not have sex with him because our core incompatibility was a major deal breaker, but it just took my brain (was on the fritz and on meds) a while to catch up to my body's gut instinct. Identify the problem first, and see if it can be resolved.

You're in a tough situation right now. It's terrible for both sides, but remember, this is temporary. Don't be so invested in a certain outcome (like making things "the way it was"), and instead you should be focused on making decisions that will make you and your partner healthy as individuals first. I hope you'll find some relief in therapy.
posted by Hawk V at 1:27 PM on May 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

Would he be willing to open up the relationship? Would you feel comfortable with that? Having sex with another man could remind you that you are desirable. Because to me it doesn't seem fair to demand sexual exclusivity if you're not actually having sex.
posted by Asparagus at 2:18 PM on May 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Would he be willing to be with you while you masturbate? I know some couples that have mismatched libidos and one of the things that works for them is for one partner to masturbate while the other cuddles them but doesn't actively participate (or doesn't participate very much) in the sexing. It provides the intimacy without requiring both people to be up for actual sexytimes.
posted by rmd1023 at 2:58 PM on May 10, 2014

Does he use porn? It's hardly rare for a man who's no longer showing much sexual interest in his partner to be replacing his partner with porn and masturbation.

You're not doing anything wrong at all. It seems to me that you had a good relationship with this man but at some point it collapsed sexually; this was initially blamed on depression, then on medication, but it hasn't shown any sign of resolving - which tells me that he's happy with things the way they are.

Does he work? Your story seems to say that he's home all day while you work - is that right?

You have every right to a loving relationship with your partner. If he has physical or mental problems and wants to get better, you can help him by getting him - and yourself - counseling or medical attention. If he doesn't have any real interest in changing back to the loving, sexual creature he used to be with you, you can do without someone to take care of for the rest of your life.

Don't be putting yourself down or blaming yourself for this situation. Just face whatever you have to and move forward. I wish you well.
posted by aryma at 3:15 PM on May 10, 2014

Have you explained how the lack of sex is affecting your sense of self worth and your willingness to stay in your relationship?

My partner's sex drive plummeted something like eight years after we got together, and I went from physically frustrated to completely panicked as I contemplated a life of eternal celibacy. I wish I could say I calmly communicated, but the truth is that I bottled it up as long as I could. Then one night while camping, I burst into tears in our tent, woke him up, sobbing, and said, "I love you and I want to be with you forever, but I cannot be married to you forever if we are done having sex," or something like that.

It was a shitty conversation, but I needed to tell him how significantly the situation was affecting me and what it would mean in the long run. He had known I was frustrated by the absence of sex, but he did not understand how it was affecting me or our relationship until we talked about it.

We instituted twice weekly no-expectation-of-sex make-out/intimacy sessions where we touched each other but there was no pressure to perform. Not sex, but still a good way to feel physically connected to my long-time partner. He also brought up the problem with his doctor and they worked together to adjust the medication, though it took a few months to get everything right on that end. They did eventually get there.

Now our sex life is back to normal, if not better than before.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 3:29 PM on May 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

To simplify, let us suppose that the question is not sex, but moving furniture. As partners the two of you have a contract that when either of you needs to move some bulky heavy furniture the other one will help. If he needs to move a couch he is entitled to come to you and ask you to take one end, and if you need to move a couch you are entitled to come to him and ask him to take one end. Should either partner refuse to help move furniture without any good reason the implication is that they are a partner no longer. You can no longer rely on them.

Up until recently your thought was that your partner had thrown his back out and temporarily couldn't help you move furniture. But now you have reason to believe that he is moving furniture on his own and is refusing to help you move your furniture simply because he can't be assed to do so. Worse than his being lazy he appears to be lying to you to get out of his commitment. Instead of telling you he doesn't want to be partners in furniture moving, he is keeping you in reserve to move his furniture while lying to you that he just can't lift anything right now.

There is a very clear implication that by denying you furniture moving rights he doesn't love you anymore and that his behaviour is manipulative and exploitative. Small wonder that you are not just shrugging this off and being patient.

That's the simple version. The much too simple version. The not so simple version includes possibilities like that he is moving furniture in his room, on his own, but only one drawer at a time and by dragging one corner of the dresser, not lifting the thing. Masturbation on his part may be a long, long way from actually having sex and may require only a fraction of the effort.

Perhaps you can get a better grip on how much is won't and how much is can't by asking yourself a few other questions. Does he still love you? Are you willing to go in a relationship without sex if there are other forms of love being provided? If so, for how long? Perhaps taking the focus off him and his problem and looking at you might make it easier to come up with a path of action. It's easy to say "Stop being upset" but that's not a very concrete series of steps. It's closer to telling yourself to stand in a corner and not think of a white bear than it is to finding a direction to go.

So ask yourself is he contributing anything to you? Does he show commitment and affection in other ways? Has he basically just turned into non-functional sludge? Is he able to contribute a pay cheque or is he now only able to live on what you provide? Is he contributing to the child? Has the relationship become so unbalanced that he is providing a lot to the overall household but your contribution is now almost exclusively going to the kid?

If he is still contributing to the household over all then that is evidence that he still has a working commitment and if and when his sex drive comes back he could aim it back at you. If he isn't contributing in non-sexual ways then you have to look at the possibility that your partner is a freeloader. It doesn't mean he wants to be a freeloader. There is a very strong chance that your partner wants to be in love with you, wants to desire you and wants to contribute. A chunk of the problem could be that he is in denial about falling out of love with you because he wants to still be in love with you so much.

It might help to sit down and figure out where your lines are drawn. Could you stay in a relationship without sex? Could you stay in your relationship for another six months without sex?

If he has fallen out of love with you is he interested in building the relationship back based on commitment rather than hormones? Are you interested in doing so?

Is it possible that you are also falling out of love with him and both of you have lost some interest but you are focusing on it being his problem in order to simplify it? Statistically it is extremely common for a couple to lose sexual interest in each other after the kid comes along. There are probably hormones and things happening to both of you while your biology tries to prevent you from getting pregnant again until your kid has that long-limb growth spurt which means he can walk and keep up with you during a five mile hike.

You might also take a look at what you get out of sex. Are you missing the cuddle hormones? Are you missing the sense that your partner is committed? Are you missing orgasms? Supposing that sex provides you with a feeling that your partner is committed and the lack of this is making you agonizingly insecure; Is there anything that he can do to replace the feeling that he is committed to you, for example him making a financial settlement to you such as signing over his car or his inheritance, or faithfully baking bread twice a week, or calling you at work in the morning at ten a.m. every single day? Does he feel he is contributing to the relationship?

What does he say about his masturbation? Would he be willing to change his masturbation pattern in order to reassure you that he hasn't withdrawn from sex with you? For example he could agree to do it only when you are present. Is it possible he has gotten addicted to certain sorts of porn and can't perform any more? Is he sex aversive or just meh? How long does he think it is reasonable for you to not have any sex?

I expect that conversations about sex have become hugely loaded. He could be feeling eaten alive by you over this. Remember how you feel when some otherwise personable guy started acting totally icky and creepy by throwing insistent passes at you? You don't want to set up a situation where he experiences your sex needs like that. So if he says he doesn't want to talk about it you will probably need to respect that and lay off making advances and talking about it If you do declare a moratorium asking for sex and talking about sex, make sure it isn't an indefinite moratorium. Get him to set the date and time you will be back to the conversation.

Also, you might want to consider if his sexual disability has multiple causes - sleep deprivation, pre-diabetes and so on. It is worth finding out if he is finding it harder to masturbate than he used to. If his orgasms are taking a lot of stimulation compared to what they used to take, then you've got a lot of the explanation there.
posted by Jane the Brown at 4:38 PM on May 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Try really hard to get into therapy sooner. Go to six therapy appointments before you make any decision.
When his depression is adequately treated, things will get better for both of you. Do all you can to help him get the best treatment as quickly as possible.
Living with a sick person is very hard. How are you doing on taking care of yourself? You sound like you have a lot of other stressors and not much support. Are there any family support groups near you?
Try to take the long view. This is now but it is not forever. Good luck!
posted by SyraCarol at 7:42 PM on May 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was struck by 'evidence' as well - is this actually evidence? Have you talked with him about it? As in "I noticed the sock/tissue/whatever and when I can see that you've masturbated I feel like you don't want me".

And please, masturbation is not equivalent to sex. He could be masturbating out of habit, as a routine, to wake up, to go to sleep. I can get into a habit of masturbation, and it's nothing to do with my sexual desire for my partner, or even my libido. It's a straight line of physiological release.

And my therapist actually suggested I begin to masturbate regularly, for said physiological reasons, as a way to continue/increase my familiarity and presence in my body, and so that I kept/created/maintained a base line of sexual interest in some way (interest being in general, not specifically aimed at my partner). Because sex is SO much more complicated than masturbation.

Put it this way - think of how you masturbate. You've probably got a routine right? Lay like this, left hand, rub clit for X minutes, Y pressure, vary at intervals, orgasm and move on. Is that how you want to have sex? Because that sounds like perfunctory, emotionless, intimacy-dead sex.

As far as sex = value, that is a really unsettling and unfair way to look at yourself. Seriously. How much other value do you have? You're a mum, you work, you have a partner - that is not based on how many times a person has sex with you. I know someone who is similar, in that she has said that if her partner doesn't want to have sex with her she feels like she's devalued and the relationship is awful. Which, apart from the emotional coercion she has outright admitted to subjecting him to, with forays into really ugly borderline issues that mean I won't talk to her about sex any more, she is devaluing every other aspect of their relationship in order to fulfil her own desires. And how many times has she engaged in unsatisfying sex, because sex is a tool, a thing you do because that's how relationships work, rather than having sex because, well, it's great when you and your partner are both getting into it.

The people recommending cheating, or open relationships, have no problem with your innate sense of value relying entirely on someone having sex with you. I suggest that this is probably not how your partner feels, and is not sustainable as a lifestyle.
posted by geek anachronism at 10:00 PM on May 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

"I think it boils down to me equating sex with worth"

Maybe it is also the opposite: you value sex as a worthwhile aspect of an intimate relationship. Maybe you can't help looking for signs of your partner's masturbation because you're mad as hell that he would choose to medicate his emotional problems--something I view as a cop-out, but I know that's not a popular opinion.
posted by macinchik at 12:44 AM on May 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

"I feel like I am looking for evidence that he doesn't want me"

Could you, perhaps, also be looking for evidence that you don't want him?
posted by macinchik at 12:47 AM on May 11, 2014

Hope you don't mind me posting as a sock-puppet.

I have had clinical depression for a couple of years now, and also have problems with sex with my wife. I thought you might appreciate a perspective from the other side of the aisle, so to speak.

It is tough, for both of us, there's no two ways about it. But we're working on it.

Depression has drastically suppressed my libido. My desire for sex has dropped substantially, and while it has improved with anti-depressants, it's still not even close to where it was pre-treatment. It really isn't about you, or your desirability at all - your brain is all kinds of screwed up with depression, and it's different literally on the chemical and functional level than a non-depressed one, and in my case, it dropped an ocean-worth of cold water on my sex drive.

You can want to want to have sex - which he probably does - but it still feels like a big investment of emotional and physical energy, both of which are in short supply with depression. In some respect, sex comes to feel like work, not relief or happiness, which is not great, obviously, and has an impact on the libido to boot.

That said, the depressed brain is a tricky one, and what you think is going to be hard work often turns out not be. My wife has become much more forward in pushing for sexy times, and when I do feel up to it - even though I wasn't at the beginning - it is still enjoyable.

You do have a right to a reasonable sex-life, and to ask him to take part in that with you. It's probably worth asking him to talk about it, and explain how hard that aspect of the depression is on him in a non-confrontational way. I don't know about your partner, but I do feel very guilty that I'm not keeping up with my wife's needs, and that, frustratingly, saps my libido even further. Frank conversation about it, and giving her permission to much more openly try and entice me to have sex when I wouldn't otherwise have been thinking of it has helped somewhat. Once we get going, it can be more fun than I'd feared. But sometimes it doesn't really work for me, and I just focus on her pleasure instead.

Ok, now onto the really awkward part. Masturbation. It is about sex, but only partially. It's something you can do relatively quickly, to address a physical need, without all the physical effort and emotional and time involvement of full sex. It's sort of the difference between getting a quick snack from the fridge vs getting dressed up and going out for a big meal with a group of people. Even then, with the lowered demand of masturbation, you can start and give up; I do that probably more than I succeed, and nowhere near at the level I used to, and it's more like scratching an itch than any actual enjoyment. And I do my best to keep it from my partner, as I know she feels bad about it. (The need usually arises when I'm tired and she's asleep)

But that low-effort mechanical quickie isn't because it's something I can't get or don't want much more from with my partner; it's because it's all I have the mental energy to do right then.

So one option is to go for simple, quick sex options at times. And give him explicit permission to only focus on your pleasure, and try not to feel guilty if he doesn't cum. It can be a lot easier without having that pressure that I have to orgasm or I'm not doing it right when I'm really not in the mood. There's probably stuff that works best for you, and stuff that works best for him, and it's OK to do both; you don't both have to climax at the same time from the same thing. It also takes me a lot longer to boot.

Sometimes I will, sometimes I'll address it later, but quite often, It's not something I need or can achieve right then, so we just let it go and focus on the emotional closeness and her orgasm. It's not perfect, but it's OK. And sometimes, when you're depressed, that's doing pretty good.
posted by MysteryMeat at 1:38 AM on May 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

As someone who has been on your husband's side of the fence (except I'm F), can I urge you to give most attention to the mefites who have responded from their personal experience with depression/medication/sexual issues that resulted?

Your husband's masturbating is not about you and your desirability. Period.

When I was experiencing depression and on medication, the worst side effect was an inability to cum. I still had a libido (although lowered) but when I did have sex with my partner, it felt interminable and left me feeling all worked up but with absolutely no ability to release. In all, a horrible experience that left me feeling frustrated and resentful of my partner's ability to cum while I felt like crap. In the end we both just avoided sex because it was so fraught for both of us. I am betting your husband is masturbating daily because he feels horribly physically frustrated and needs the release, not because he's enjoying it or prefers it to the kind of sex you used to have. Your old great sex is probably not the sex he is capable of having right now.

Of course this situation caused HUGE problems between me and my partner. It did a number on his self esteem and sense of self worth too. He didn't address it at all and our sex life is still suffering years down the track. Please don't let this happen to you.

I really hope you can find a way through therapy or talking with your husband, or therapy together, to have an open honest communication about exactly what's happening here.
posted by Zaire at 5:54 AM on May 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

[This is a followup from the asker.]
Thank you to everyone for your thoughtful and thorough responses to my question. I have read them all several times over and they continue to be infinitely helpful. We are both seeking help. Having difficult conversations with ourselves and each other. I continue to struggle with looking for evidence; taking it hour by hour, day by day, thinking of it a little less throughout the day. It feels more compulsive than anything.

The email truly is a throwaway, I couldn't think of anything in the moment so I made up a name.

Thank you again, this community is absolutely wonderful.
posted by cortex at 1:16 PM on May 13, 2014

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