My husband will not have sex with me. Can I hear it from the men?
March 18, 2015 10:43 PM   Subscribe

I have been married for 8 years. We have one son, he is 6. I would love to give him a sibling, but it is very hard to get my husband interested in sex. Apart from the procreative goal, it is very lonely and hurtful living with someone who to all intents and purposes does not find me attractive. I am slim, reasonably fit and look good for my age (late thirties-he is a few years older). He is otherwise loving and affectionate. What do you men say? Why would you go off your own wife sexually?

This started right after we got pregnant the first time. Before my pregnancy sex was not an issue. He did grow up with mostly sex-negative parents who had a terrible relationship, so I think he had issues reconciling the "mother" part with the "sexual being" part. We basically did not have sex for 3 years after I got pregnant all because of him. Then it was on/off and unreliable for a long time. No amount of crying or pleading would change anything, plus who wants pity sex anyway?

Last year we decided to try for another baby (I had terrible postnatal depression with my son and all sorts of other issues so we didn't have the courage to try before that, plus sex was a rare occasion!) Things were good for a bit and we did get pregnant last year but unfortunately lost the baby. I would like to keep trying for another year but I feel disgusted telling him "honey I may be ovulating, would you mind...?" I might as well be cattle getting impregnated.

Talking to him does not work, I have done it for 7 years. Counselling is not an option he will consider (plus I'm not sure it would work anyway). When our son goes to bed, which is after 9pm anyway, my husband usually parks himself in front of the TV and that's it. He is not overweight and is reasonably fit and happy. He is otherwise a wonderful man, husband and provider, polite and considerate. He says he is just distracted with work and renovations and all that. His man bits work fine when it happens, apart from being too...quick, way too quick. He masturbates occasionally but not obsessively and rarely watches porn. I know this as when he is not at work he is with me. I am perfectly ok with both masturbation and porn (how do you think I get by? sorry tmi) so no issue from me. Generally I have no issues with sex whatsoever but I have been questioning monogamy the last few years as the "perfect" and "ideal" default state and would consider divorce but I love my son so much I don't want to stuff up his life because of sex. Plus I'm currently unemployed unfortunately. He is all for monogamy and cringes at the thought of an open marriage, so that's not an option. I don't particularly want to have a secret affair, I would rather be with someone who likes sex and wants me at home (he says he likes sex and wants me, but will not actually show it most of the time).

I just think women have been undersold in this monogamy business, labelled as sluts or saints etc, and are not given a legitimate voice or a choice, the only option once married is have sex with husband or nothing. If the husband will not, the societally acceptable options are:
1) divorce and go live under a bridge (unless you earn big bucks) and destroy your child's life (usually the recommended option on the internet)
2) have an affair, which is tantamount to being a slut with no hope or morals and no redeeming excuses because you made the mistake of being born with a sex drive (usually the least recommended option on the internet)
3) shut up and put up (I don't have enough WTFs for this one).
And I don't even particularly consider myself a feminist but this is how I feel.

Gentlemen, have you ever gone off your own wife? Why? Is there anything the wife did do/can do? Would you consider an open marriage when you are the withholder? Why/why not?

Many thanks guys, any input is appreciated.
posted by millionpieces to Human Relations (37 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

Oh, honey. This is awful, and I feel for you.

First, don't have an affair. An open marriage is one thing, but cheating on somebody is just wrong. It can wreak havoc on your life in all kinds of ways. Just don't.

I kept waiting for you to say how your husband answers, when you ask why he won't have sex with you, but we never quite heard that. Does he just say he's tired? Did he say he's turned off by you being a mom, or are you just guessing that? If you're going to work on fixing this, you need to press him for a real answer. As your spouse, he owes you that much!

There are so many possibilities, and a lot of them have nothing to do with you. He may just be borderline asexual. He may be more attracted to men. He may hate his own body. He may have a fetish for dragon girls or something.

He has to tell you what's wrong, and work with you to fix it. And depending on how that goes, he has to be willing to talk to a counselor. He is neglecting you, and this is a legit grounds for divorce. You're not a bad person for wanting a healthy sex life with your spouse!
posted by Ursula Hitler at 11:00 PM on March 18, 2015 [13 favorites]

Since any input is appreciated.... I'm not a man, but I am a Student of Life....

This is about INTIMACY.

What can I say to both comfort and enlighten you? You mean so so well, but you have everything almost backwards, and I almost don't know where to start. Truly.

You're son's life will not be stuffed up if you get divorced, even with your employment concerns. Let's start there!

This is true. Clearly you are the type to get organized and make child support and employment work for your son - c'mon! Family law is generally on your side and you'll be able to find employment, and you will enjoy having a fuller impact on your own stability by not being (eventually) so dependent. Nothing but good in the Worse Case Scenario.

You can and should lay down all the ultimatums to try counseling and whatever with your husband. But then again, it doesn't sound promising on his end -- is that your perception or his truth?

One way or the other, you have to find out. NO. You can not stay married to someone who won't be intimate with you. Nope.
posted by jbenben at 11:01 PM on March 18, 2015 [5 favorites]

This may be difficult to absorb or even believe, but it could be that your husband has certain sexual fantasies that he just can't see you in- you don't fit into them because you're the wholesome woman he's married to and he does well by (hence the affection and wholesome loving but lack of kink). Just an example, he may love to fantasize about being dominated by women he feels are out of his league, because he sexually imprinted on that scenario by watching too much porn, or it simply excites him. Either way it sounds like he's getting off elsewhere. If not the aforementioned scenario, it could be that his testosterone levels are dropping, he has ED, or he's really stressed out. I would simply ask him to be completely honest with you about why he isn't interested in sex with you. He needs to feel safe- i.e. he needs to feel like you aren't going to flip out or attack him if he shares the real reason with you. And you need to honor that- no arguing, no emotional outburst, just absorb what he tells you and accept it. Prepare yourself beforehand because his answer might shock or hurt your feelings, but remember that it's his issue firstly, and that you're doing the right thing as his partner by trying to find a solution.
posted by Avosunspin at 11:03 PM on March 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

You don't have to get divorced. You can live as co-parents in the same house with complementary lives. You can go to therapy on your own and learn how to either live with the relationship or make changes that you can cope with. Your son deserves a happy mother as much as an intact family - maybe even more. Memail me if you want to talk, but therapy on this one issue ended up revealing many more problems and a separation that has been so much happier and healthier.

Denying sex and refusing to talk about sex problems can be a way to control the relationship passively. Especially if they say one thing (I love you, I want you, nothing's wrong with you) but don't act that way, so that you are unable to trust what they say or blame yourself completely.

Are you really best friends without sex? Can you share parenting problems and financial problems? Does he share his problems and hopes and dreams with you too?
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 11:05 PM on March 18, 2015 [28 favorites]

I didn't even make mention of the fact that he is neglecting you, and I think that is unfair. Refusing your spouse a sex life is quite selfish, regardless of who is doing it. I would ask him point blank if he is keeping you in the loving wholesome box, and then turning to his fantasy box to achieve sexual gratification. He may be watching more porn than you think, or (let's really hope not) having affairs. I could be totally off, but that's what my initial thoughts were when I read your post.
posted by Avosunspin at 11:16 PM on March 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

As a former professional kink specialist (pro domme) and with experience in committed polyamory -- your situation is not analogous to either camp. This is an intimacy issue. Seek counseling or legal advice. This is not a good situation for polyamory. Your husband's withholding is not excused by kink or sexual fantasy issues.
posted by jbenben at 11:41 PM on March 18, 2015 [10 favorites]

I knew a couple who went through the EXACT same thing. And I mean- exact. The only part of the story that would be different is that for them it was 6 years instead of 7.

She eventually divorced him because she finally figured out that he had been getting plenty of sex from other women for those 6 years. In his mind she was now "mother" so he couldn't find her sexually appealing any more. So he satisfied his needs elsewhere- usually during the work day. During those 6 years he just kept telling her that he just was having issues involving his parents that made him unable to have sex. The sad part is that everyone knew what he was doing except for her. All of us did. The only person he actively hid his conquests from was her. He really made a fool out of her. She believed him all those years. Some of us tried to get her to see that he was lying, but it took her literally walking into his office at work one day unexpected and literally seeing him and a girl half his age in the act for her to finally realize he was full of it. But if she hadn't walked in on them he would've had no problem wasting more of her life and keeping her dangling like that for even more years. She's been having plenty of sex with her new boyfriend since her separation and divorce.

Your last paragraph are ideas that are all in your head. If you have a secret affair no one is going to call you a slut because it's secret. If people find out then maybe. I don't know what country you're in, but in the west a guy who goes around cheating on his wife isn't exactly considered a stud either. so I'm not sure why you think there's not as much of a huge difference between the sexes in this regard. The way I see it- this is a case of you're not likely to be entirely happy no matter what happens so you just have to pick the thing that is going to make you the Least miserable. Later on the thing that makes you only least miserable could turn into something that actually makes you happy..but either way, least miserable is better than more miserable isn't it?
posted by rancher at 11:57 PM on March 18, 2015 [4 favorites]

One of my most beloved family members was married to a man who would only have sex with her for procreative purposes. He was also a horrible monster in other ways that didn't have to do with the sex. It turned out that in addition to all his other problems, he's gay. He's never come out to anyone in our family (we just know because of other messy things that happened during the horrible divorce) and clearly sees his own sexuality as something to deny and fight and feel shame for. My lovely family member, after a protracted divorce, found a man who loves her sexually and emotionally. They are blissfully married and the transformation in this woman has just been amazing. Even though the divorce left her in dire straights and took every ounce of emotional strength she had, she would be the first person to tell you how much it was worth it. The look on her face when she told me a little about the first time with her now husband! The fact that she's wanted the way she'd like to be wanted has allowed her to finally find happiness for herself and her children.

It sounds like you're in nowhere near as bad a situation as her. Your husband doesn't sound like a vindictive and cruel person even if you were to leave him. And if that's worst case scenario, trying anything you can to get what you need out of life with him sounds worth it.

Even if he won't go to therapy himself, can you go for yourself? Therapy will give you a unbiased person to bounce things off of, and maybe give you a better vocabulary to try and communicate with your husband. They might also be able to give you resources on taking care of your kid during these hard times so he's not as affected as he otherwise might be.

I don't think that your husband is definitely gay or anything, but there are so many different things it could be that have absolutely nothing to do with you. What it does have to do with you is that you deserve pleasure and happiness from your husband. If he can't provide this to you (and you to him) then there's something that must be fixed. It sounds like polyamory is not the fix for you, but there are lots of shades in between an open marriage and a sexless one, for the both of you, to explore.

It could be a medical problem (forties is when these are increasingly common) and he's dealing with shame on top of a physical thing that can be addressed. His claims of stress and (I assume) tiredness are perfectly legitimate, if true. But that doesn't mean he can just neglect your needs. There are lots of ways to have sex that don't require a man to have an erection most of the time. Would he be open to trying any of these with you? What about sensual touch, like cuddling and massage and just kissing? If he's into that sort of thing with you as long as the pressure's off to give you an orgasm, there's so much there for you to work with! It could also be a time of day thing. Have you ever tried arranging your schedules to make some space for morning sex?

If it turns out the problem lies in something unchangeable about you that he thought he could convince himself wasn't going to be an issue, like, say, your gender, or that you're only one person and he really isn't sexually monogamous, then there are many success stories of happy co-parenting between two people who just didn't work out sexually. But first you have to suss out the problem, and give him a chance to feel safe about sharing the problem with you. And before that there's lots of things you can do to work on yourself. You deserve to feel desired, and to have sex you think is great! And you deserve a husband who is honest with you. If marriage is about compromise, he's not compromising at all.
posted by Mizu at 12:02 AM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

2) have an affair, which is tantamount to being a slut with no hope or morals and no redeeming excuses

i dunno about this. times change. sex-positivity is a thing.

columnist Dan Savage (who has fans and detractors here on the green) has a take on cheating:
Cheating is permissible when it amounts to the least worst option, i.e., it is allowed for someone who has made a monogamous commitment and isn't getting any at home (sick or disabled spouse, or withholding-without-cause spouse) and divorce isn't an option (sick or disabled spouse, or withholding-without-cause-spouse-who-can't-be-divorced-for-some-karma-imperiling-reason-or-other) and the sex on the side makes it possible for the cheater to stay married and stay sane. (An exception can be made for a married person with a kink that his or her spouse can't/won't accommodate, so long as the kink can be taken care of safely and discreetly.)
as to *why* dude is withholding...nobody knows but him.
posted by j_curiouser at 12:03 AM on March 19, 2015 [10 favorites]

Having been the guy in a situation like this, I'll share some of my own experience.

We had a frightening amount of sex before we got married, and it tapered off somewhat after we got married, but not a lot.
A few years in, we discovered there were fertility issues (hers, not mine; testing the guy is one of the first things they do), and the mood around sex changed.
That wasn't the only factor, but I'm pretty sure it was a major one.
We each had our issues with self-confidence, but also our work schedules were very different, and our libido schedules were way out of sync.
We both wanted sex, just at different times. It was difficult, largely because we were rarely at home and awake at the same time. The Ladyhawke schedule, even all other things being equal, doesn't leave a lot of room for sexytimes.
I started to feel like I wasn't what she wanted, not just sexually, but as a partner, and it made me lose interest in sex at all.
Even after we had signed up with an adoption agency, once we knew our own biological kids were off the table, and that particular cloud had lifted, we never quite got back on track.
I had probably picked up some undiagnosed depression, what with the night shift and other factors, and eventually we grew apart.

But it was never a question of not finding her attractive. Her finding herself unattractive was really the only unattractive thing about her, and that was easy enough to talk through.
It was more about my own feelings about myself, with regard to sex. Something else that changed, that I still don't have a good explanation for, is that before her, sex lasted a lot longer than it ever did with her. Like, never less than half an hour vs. nothing over ten minutes.
I can't even chalk that up to getting older, because I've had marathon sessions with other partners since we got divorced.
So, I think I had some anxiety around sex in that relationship, and it wasn't something I ever wanted to talk about, because, frankly, anxiety can lead to more anxiety, and I wasn't that comfortable talking about sex under the best of conditions.

A guy will probably never say, "I just don't feel sexy," to his partner, even if it's what he's feeling. But that might be what he's feeling. That's how I felt a lot of the time.

I don't have any concrete advice, but if you can get him to agree to counseling, that's the best thing I can recommend. It might be not only the best way for you to figure out what's wrong, but also the best way for him to figure it out, too.

Best of luck to you both; it's a difficult thing to face, and I hope you find a way to work it out.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 12:17 AM on March 19, 2015 [21 favorites]

So, here's the thing. He won't agree there is a problem, he won't agree to an open marriage, he won't seek counseling, and reading between the lines I suspect he also won't talk to his doctor about a full workup.

Why this is happening--and it could be anything from low testosterone to being in the closet to kinks to cheating--doesn't matter one bit if he won't do anything about it.

So your choices are:

1) Live with it
2) Find someone to have sex with, without permission
3) Find someone to have sex with, with permission (perhaps by saying something along the lines of "I need sex. I am going to have sex. I would prefer that would be with you, and you have no interest, won't talk about it, and won't consider counseling. Your choices are to either work this problem out, or accept that I will be having sex with someone else. Which is it going to be?")
4) Find someone to have sex with via filing for divorce. Yes, divorce sucks for everyone. And kids are way, way more resilient than you might think. I find it pretty telling that nowhere in your question do you say anything about how you feel about him, nothing like "I love him and everything else is great, it's just the sex."

At the end of the day, there are two basic truths here: first, that marriage is a team effort on all fronts, and he has abdicated part of his responsibility; second, that the only thing you can do is control your behaviour, as he's uninterested in changing his.

Frankly, after this many years, I'd leave. Best of luck to you; you deserve better than this.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:51 AM on March 19, 2015 [35 favorites]

Going off sex is not always psychological!!! People really underestimate male hormones.
(Although several years of not being able to productively talk it through so that both people feel secure and attractive IS A BIG problem.)

Anyway- If a man has low testosterone it can present the way you describe. Its entirely possible that a man with low testosterone can feel aroused sometimes, for example in the mornings, but not other times.

Then if you've had some occasions where you both tried to have sex and he didn't get hard- it becomes a vicious cycle where he doesn't want to try full stop.

ALSO, around pregnancy men's testosterone drops so that his brain can focus on bonding with his new child.

It is entirely possible that a man's hormones might not recalibrate like they should.

It's really important to see a doctor...

(although testosterone replacement kills sperm counts- fyi)
posted by catspajammies at 1:00 AM on March 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

Does he know you're contemplating divorce? You say talking hasn't helped, but if you've never said this, I'd try saying "Husband, I really love you, and I'm open to different kinds of solutions around it, but this never having sex thing is very serious to me, enough that I'm thinking about breaking up. If you won't address this with me, I don't know that I can stay in this marriage anymore."
posted by feets at 4:34 AM on March 19, 2015 [19 favorites]

The steps here are:
1) See his medical doctor to talk about low sex drive and check for physical problems
2) See a marriage counselor to talk about intimacy and lack of sex

If he won't participate in 1 or 2, do the next three steps on your own.
3) Explore your options, possibly with a lawyer
4) See an individual therapist to talk about your options
5) Make YOUR decision

Personally (as in, I am this kind of person, and my spouse doesn't always get that things are important unless I MAKE him do them; this may not work for you and your marriage), I would call and MAKE him the appointment with his doctor and MAKE an appointment with a marriage counselor. I would tell him he is a husband and a father and this could be indicative of a serious illness and it's irresponsible for him not to talk to a doctor about it; and that I don't care what HE thinks about marriage counseling, *I* need to go to marriage counseling and so he needs to go with even if he just sits there like a lump.

If he flatly refuses either of those, then I'm not sure it's a marriage any longer, and I think at that point you need to consider your legal and personal options, and talk through some of this with a therapist.

Unfortunately you can't control his actions; you can't force him to have sex with you, you can't force him to be okay with an open marriage. Your question has a lot of frustration that your husband won't "play ball" and so you can't make the decisions you'd prefer to make. But you are going to have to make decisions FOR YOU and that are within YOUR power and don't rely on his cooperation. And, yeah, he's not going to be happy about it if you decide to separate from him, or to seek sex outside the relationship while staying married. But you can't control him or his reactions, and if he won't even talk about it so that the two of you can make decisions together, you are going to have to make those decisions for yourself and accept that he may be very unhappy with what you decide.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:14 AM on March 19, 2015 [14 favorites]

Talking to him does not work, I have done it for 7 years. Counselling is not an option he will consider

What does "does not work" mean? He won't talk to you? He take what you say seriously? You initiate conversations and he shuts them down?

I ask because talking has to work if you actually do it. By "work" I mean you'll tell him that this is unacceptable in a way that he'll hear you. That "distracted with work" is not an acceptable answer.

Similarly, counseling not an option is like sex is not an option. Why can't you say "no sex is not an option" ? Counseling might be an option just for you so you can learn how to talk to him, or is he in charge of that option as well? It sounds like you can't challenge him but he has no trouble challenging you. That's not a good situation even with sex.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:14 AM on March 19, 2015 [4 favorites]

I had this problem with my ex. We had a 9 year relationship with the last 3-5 years mostly sexless due to him. We tried talking about it - he'd usually just say he's tired. Eventually this was one of the reasons I broke it off from him, because as others pointed out it's an intimacy withholding thing and that's so damaging. We've spoken since the breakup and it seems like the major reason, according to him, was that he just wasn't ever interested in sex, with anyone. Who knows maybe it was hormonal or he's asexual. Some friends of mine actually thought he was gay the first time they met so it could be that and maybe he hasn't even admitted it to himself. He has a new girlfriend now who lives hours away and he basically told her he likes to have very little sex and she's ok with it. He also wasn't open to counseling when we were together. Anyway the point is, if you've tried talking and he isn't open to any solutions then you need to decide what you can live with. Sometimes breaking up is the best thing because you may be happier with someone more sexually compatible (which is what I did and it's been great). Good luck and I hope things work out for you.
posted by FireFountain at 5:15 AM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Ask him if he thinks the current situation is OK. The Meta-question, if you will. If he responds that he thinks your sexless but otherwise affectionate marriage is appropriate, you have your answer.

If he agrees that it's not appropriate, then tell him he needs to figure out how to change it.

[It's the question my wife asked me, and damn if it didn't snap me out of...whatever it was I was in. Turns out I was depressed and my own body dysmorphia was the heart of my lack of libido. But (and it did take time and prodding from my wife, once I admitted there was a problem) I did get help. For my part there's still much work to be done but now I'm seeing improvement and the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, and that in itself is quite a good thing.]
posted by notsnot at 5:43 AM on March 19, 2015 [10 favorites]

I'm not a guy, but I was the person in my former marriage that wouldn't have sex. I didn't understand why at the time, but I didn't want it - and forcing myself to do it out of some sort of duty left me feeling empty and more than a little violated.

In the conversations that eventually led to the end of the marriage, what we learned is we had problems. Piles and piles of problems. And while my ex wanted intimacy/sex as a start to fixing those problems, I needed those problems to be fixed in order to open myself up to intimacy. For us, it was a mis-matching of our fundamental human needs.

Think about what you need, and why you need it - and then have an open, ongoing conversation with your spouse about it. Of course talking *to* him doesn't work - this needs to be a dialogue with both of you involved, and equally invested in the outcome. (If he's not willing to have a conversation about something that could end your marriage, then maybe you're looking at divorce anyway.)
posted by okayokayigive at 5:55 AM on March 19, 2015 [16 favorites]

your child's life will not be ruined because you left a marriage where your needs went unmet/ignored for years. i know many amazing adults who were children of divorce and grew up to have great lives (i am one). our lives were not ruined, but we did have to do things differently than households with two parents. even when i was a very young kid i would rather see my mother happy & alone than with my father when it was clear he wasn't showing up for her/meeting her needs.
posted by zdravo at 5:56 AM on March 19, 2015 [14 favorites]

I am a married straight male in my 40s, and I cannot relate to your husband's stance. I'm so sorry you're going thru this situation.

Dan Savage, mentioned above, wrote something the other say that stuck in my mind: it's one thing to live in a sexless marriage; it's another to live a sexless life. You husband is withholding sex, and yet will not even discuss it with you.

I agree with others that having an affair does not at all make you a slut, but while Savage might approve, I would hesitate. For one thing, an accidental pregnancy might be possible, to say nothing of other potential complications.

But your husband has been having things entirely on his own terms and your needs -- even for discussion, and for intimacy, as jbenben mentioned -- are not being met. He is making you bear all the burden. That situation isn't fair. You are entitled to have your needs met too, and if your husband won't agree to at least discussion or counseling, I would not blame you a bit for considering leaving. You're in your 30s; you're entitled to live the rest of your life in a loving and fulfilling relationship. Your husband needs to ask himself if he wants to be the one who provides it.
posted by Gelatin at 6:03 AM on March 19, 2015 [8 favorites]

If we could please stop with the "suggesting a man is gay when he's not interested in sex with his wife" meme, that would be great. The two things are not at all related.

Before my pregnancy sex was not an issue... We basically did not have sex for 3 years after I got pregnant all because of him... I would love to give [our 6-year-old son] a sibling... we did get pregnant last year but unfortunately lost the baby. I would like to keep trying for another year but I feel disgusted telling him..."

My goodness, that is so awful. I am terribly sorry for your loss. The current dynamic between you could be your husband's way of expressing his feelings of ambivalence and possibly fear around the idea of you having any more children. Might be his own personal way of dealing with some unresolved trauma around your recent loss.

I don't know - we're all kind of guessing what's on your husband's mind here as a way to explain his behavior. The typical American MeFite thing to suggest for both of the intertwined grief episodes you're experiencing: 1) the loss of physical intimacy in your marriage, and 2) the loss of your baby, would be therapy, of course --- but it doesn't really work properly if you're both as resistant to the idea as this Ask reads, and if you won't fully engage with the therapy process and work really hard at it. (What is your culture's therapy equivalent?) You say "talking to him does not work, I have done it for 7 years. Counselling is not an option he will consider" but obviously you two just talking there at home amongst yourselves with your young son there with you, too, and without a professional guiding the process is absolutely not the same thing as the talk therapy one receives in counseling. Better to have tried it first before you conclude there's no possible way at all that therapy can be of any help to you.
posted by hush at 6:34 AM on March 19, 2015 [8 favorites]

If we could please stop with the "suggesting a man is gay when he's not interested in sex with his wife" meme, that would be great. The two things are not at all related.

Hush, while a sexless marriage doesn't mean a man must be gay, there are still plenty of closeted men and women in heterosexual marriages where one of the signs is a lack of interest in sex and denying that they are gay up until the end of the marriage, and the possibility can be considered. Especially in communities that aren't supportive of gay people in families.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 7:14 AM on March 19, 2015 [10 favorites]

It seems to me you have several options you haven't tried yet, most of all couples' therapy. If he won't go, I'd start with individual therapy but work my way up to an ultimatum around "things aren't working for me. If you won't consider couples therapy, I feel my only other real choice is to consider divorce."

It doesn't sound like you want to cheat or be polyamorous. It sounds like you are having major needs not met by this relationship. Fixing those or divorcing as gracefully as possible might be better options than either cheating or introducing the complication of another person.

I think you guys may well be able to get back on track, but you two have a lot of stressors -- a young child, unemployment, a lost pregnancy -- and you apparently aren't able to communicate about this issue in a way that gets to the root of the problem. If at all possible, get a sitter once a week, go to therapy, go out for dinner afterwards (or have pre-made something nice at home?). The cost is probably lower than divorce.
posted by salvia at 7:35 AM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Last year we decided to try for another baby (I had terrible postnatal depression with my son and all sorts of other issues so we didn't have the courage to try before that, plus sex was a rare occasion!) Things were good for a bit and we did get pregnant last year but unfortunately lost the baby.

You had "terrible" depression and "all sorts of other issues" for five years, then a miscarriage last year. While refusing to have sex is not the automatic response to that, it certainly may be related.

Even if your husband won't go to couple's therapy, it may help you to see a therapist on your own to untangle what's going on.
posted by jaguar at 7:43 AM on March 19, 2015 [5 favorites]

I am going to skip to my bottom line suggestion, which is: Lawyer up in preparation for a divorce. Ideally, you will never, never need this option. But, if nothing changes, this IS where your marriage is heading, and askmetas advice always seems to be: Go into a divorce prepared with your lawyer.

A well done divorce is not significantly traumatic to children. A bad nasty divorce can be, yes. One way to avoid nasty divorces is preparing.

Also, having an affair on record hurts your side of the divorce case, I feel. I'd strongly suggest divorce over affair (and I hate divorce! Working out things is actually way easier! )

Now, as to your actual question: He's got a hormonal problem he is not addressing. Quite possible!

He has a lifestyle problem he is not addressing: Orientation, stress, sex desires not syncing, too much masturbating (and it is surprisingly easy to stealth masturbate, even in a small home) but again, he seems unwilling to work on this with you, per your askme.

He has some significant psycho-sexual dynamics going on here, perhaps related to sexy wife vs mothers =/= sexy, the grief, guilt, and general trauma of a miscarriage and postpartum depression, his childhood, your dual interactions Re: everything there... Which, again, again, he's not discussing with you/the proper doctors.

Lastly..... he might very well be having an affair. He seems to be in a prime situation for it, sadly. And the serious answer here is almost certainly LAWYER UP.

I'm really sorry you have to deal with this, but you are absolutely capable of taking all the necessary steps to protect you and your child.
posted by Jacen at 8:09 AM on March 19, 2015

I believe that, based on a person's psycho-sexual makeup, something can happen where the person just loses their attraction for certain partners after they become really familiar with each other. I don’t really know why the attraction vanishes … there is something about certain people’s personality, their way of being in the world, that is a turn-off. That’s not a value judgment, it’s just something in one's psycho-sexual make-up that is turned off by their partner's way of being. Since everyone sort of has to learn their psycho-sexual makeup on their own time, piecemeal, almost by accident, in their own way, people can make wrong decisions in selecting a partner, and end up with someone whom they are sexually incompatible with because long-term sexual attraction will be impossible. The newness of a relationship can temporarily fuel sexual energy at the beginning that will flag once you get to know your partner really well.

For me, I’m not saying that the partner is repulsive, at all, but that there is something obscure in them that turns me off once I get to know them fully. For me, a requisite for a sustainable continued attraction is some withholding, mystery, distance on the part of my partner. And it took me a while to recognize this, but certain types of physique/appearance "speak to me" sexually ... they are more amenable to a continued, raw, primal attraction over the long term, and if the physical attraction for the person fades, there is no way you can reason yourself out of it. And I don't believe any amount of intimacy will solve this. In fact, too much intimacy/openness could actually be part of the explanation for the dying attraction.

And, no matter what one thinks about the obligation to have sex with one’s partner, it is borderline torture to have sex with someone you’re not attracted to. So, if what’s going on in your relationship is the kind of vanishing of sexual attraction I am describing that is based on a fundamental incompatibility, it’s really infeasible to expect him to have sex with you out of duty.
posted by jayder at 8:30 AM on March 19, 2015 [6 favorites]

Hey, listen: there are literally millions of single moms who do NOT live under bridges, and millions of kids with single moms whose lives are not destroyed.

I wonder if you put that in such catastrophic terms because, if you allowed yourself to believe divorce was legitimately possible, you'd have to admit that you want a divorce.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:35 AM on March 19, 2015 [23 favorites]

I agree with the suggestion to ask him if he is happy with things the way they are, then make your choices based on that answer.

Sex is so difficult to talk about; we barely have the emotional vocabulary to understand our own needs, much less communicate them to someone else without destroying their self-esteem. So this is one case where I'm with everyone suggesting therapy-- each on your own, together, any which way. You have nothing to lose.

Since we're playing guessing games, here's what I thought when reading your question that I don't think anyone has suggested: Maybe he doesn't want another baby, or is traumatized by your post-partum issues and the miscarriage? Maybe the results of procreative sex for him have been so traumatic that he can't think about recreational sex anymore?
posted by kapers at 8:38 AM on March 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

The answer to "how can I make my partner fix this problem" is always "you can't." More insight into what he's thinking isn't going to help you. It doesn't matter if he's got low testosterone or mental health issues or work stress if he's not going to take the initiative to fix these things. He already knows it's a problem! He knows that counseling exists, he knows that doctors exist. This is not news to him.

The only thing you can do is make sure he knows the severity of the problem, and the consequences of his (in)action. This still won't make him do anything; he's still going to have to make the decision on his own. But you will know where you stand, and you will be able to determine your next course of action, which may be divorce. It is totally possible to be much happier after divorce, because you don't have the constant stress of dealing with this kind of crap.
posted by desjardins at 8:43 AM on March 19, 2015 [4 favorites]

Lots of good advice so far. I think your situation is sad and ultimately untenable. Your husband will either have to identify the problem and help you find a solution, whatever that might entail, or you'll end up getting more and more miserable until you divorce.

One thing that really struck me about your question were your references to "sluts" and "no morals." Wanting sex does not make you a "slut." It makes you human. I think you'll find it much easier to advocate for yourself and to make choices that work for you once you get rid of your worthless and pointless shame surrounding sex.

I'll nth recommending Dan Savage. Look up his podcast. Even when his advice doesn't relate to your situation specifically, I believe you'll find his clear-eyed attitude toward sexuality to be enlightening. A sex-positive counselor couldn't hurt either.
posted by Leontine at 9:15 AM on March 19, 2015

Just to chime in on part of this, as a child of divorce, although I wasn't exactly happy with it, I'd still way rather it happened than that my parents had stayed together in an unhappy marriage.
posted by Drexen at 9:59 AM on March 19, 2015 [4 favorites]

I'm surprised that you are interested in having another child when you're being denied sex. If your marriage isn't meeting your needs, and you're not independently wealthy, adding another dependent doesn't seem like a great idea. I know that's not the main point of your post, but it sounds like it's what has set you off to get your needs met, and I'm concerned that you might focus on that and potentially get him to put out enough to get you pregnant but without solving the underlying issues here first.
posted by metasarah at 10:30 AM on March 19, 2015 [11 favorites]

Your husband always has the right to say no to sex. Trying to hassle someone into sex when they've said no is really not cool. Nobody is entitled to or deserves sex from their partner. Suggesting a man is gay because he doesn't want sex is a pernicious lie (along with other such nonsense as "men are always horny" and "men are always capable of getting erections and if he doesn't get one, it's somehow about me") and is as ridiculous as suggesting a woman who doesn't want sex with her husband is secretly a lesbian. There are a good many other things that are far more likely to be causing the problem.

That said, it's completely OK for you to want sex. Wanting sex doesn't make anyone a slut any more than not wanting it makes anyone frigid. You just have to find a willing partner. If you've been trying for seven years to sort this particular problem out, then I think it's time to accept that he's just not up for it and go find someone who is. If this situation had arisen a few months ago, it might be more sensible to write it off as one of the normal ebb-and-flows of a relationship, but there's been plenty of time for things to change. There's not a lot you can do to alter someone else's libido, especially when they don't seem to have much of one in the first place. His libido (or lack thereof) isn't about you, see his lack of masturbation and not viewing porn as supporting evidence.

Please don't stay in a relationship that isn't working for you just because you have a child with someone. You deserve happiness and your child deserves a loving, happy, emotionally healthy home. Tell your husband that you're considering divorce. If that doesn't work, then start the process. I think the main problem with affairs is not the fact that you're having sex with someone you're not married to, but more that you're creating a gigantic problem within a relationship, either your own or someone else's. You could spend a lot of time and emotional energy on trying to get your partner to be the person you want to be, but you could also get yourself back into the dating game and find someone you don't need to coddle into changing.
posted by Solomon at 11:16 AM on March 19, 2015 [4 favorites]

I remember something I read on a forum some years back from a woman in your situation. She got dominant on her husband one night and really laid it out on the line. Got all dressed up, and turned off the TV and told him it was going to happen that night. Let him know that it was critical to her that something happened that night. It did and it was the beginning of the end of the problem.

Don't think of it as "honey, would you mind." Turn off the television and tell him tonight's the night. Go ahead and look sexy too, and be more assertive than you normally are in the bedroom; it may change his response. At least it will be a stop gap and a place from where you can open a real conversation. Even if it doesn't work.

Tell him you are a sexual being and this is important to you. If that doesn't work then tell him its counseling or an open marriage, which might mean divorce. You have to really assert yourself and see how he reacts. You'll know where you stand on all of this.

But really, you have to draw a line for him and assert your needs. Eventually, it will be an ultimatum if he continues to not respond. Either an open marriage or divorce if he does not go along. You are not required to maintain a romantic relationship with anyone who will not be intimate with you.

You could also try Reddit's Dead Bedrooms.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:03 PM on March 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

What do you men say?

Well, the first thing I'd say is that "men" are not a monolith, there's no one-size-fits-all answer, and without us actually knowing your husband there's no way for us here on the Internet to give you anything but guesses about what's going on in your husband's head (and you're getting some pretty wild ones above, IMO.)

Speaking as a cis-hetero-dude, my libido has definitely waxed and waned for a whole variety & mix of emotional, psychological, and physical reasons. (Heck, I tend to get extra horny right before I get sick, like my hormones are yelling, "PROCREATE NOW WHILE YOU STILL CAN BECAUSE YOU MIGHT NOT SURVIVE!!!")

While I've not married (yet), I tend to get into long-term relationships with gaps of varying lengths in between, so in any of my below comments you can substitute "Serious Girlfriend" or "Significant Other" for "wife." (And yes, I know lots of people think For-Real Marriage is significantly different than Serious Girlfriend, to which I say, "Pfffft. Haters to the left. These relationships were often more serious than other people's marriages.")

Why would you go off your own wife sexually?

A big reason would be because there are problems with the relationship besides the sex. Sex is intimacy, and if we're in the middle of a conflict, even a fairly low-level one, I'm less inclined to want that intimacy.

Sometimes this was the start of the break-up, sometimes just a rough patch that we worked through.

He did grow up with mostly sex-negative parents who had a terrible relationship, so I think he had issues reconciling the "mother" part with the "sexual being" part.

You may be right about this, but there's no way for us to know. The only person who might know is your husband, and likely only with a large helping of self-examination. Which he seems unwilling to do, which is likely a large part of the problem.

We basically did not have sex for 3 years after I got pregnant [. . .] Last year we decided to try for another baby (I had terrible postnatal depression with my son and all sorts of other issues so we didn't have the courage to try before that, plus sex was a rare occasion!) Things were good for a bit and we did get pregnant last year but unfortunately lost the baby.

Just for starters, while I don't have kids myself, a whole lot of my friends both online and IRL have noted that pregnancy then baby then toddler has caused some real changes in their sex life for years, as in "not much sex." This is not NO sex, but you didn't say "NO sex." So this might actually be more "normal" than you think. I'm not saying it's good, but there are certainly possibly some very practical reasons why your sex life took a dive in that period.

Then, all the things I bolded above? Yeah, y'all have gone through a lot, and just because he wasn't the one with depression or had the miscarriage or went through whatever "all sorts of other issues" means doesn't mean this all hasn't affected him deeply, and changed the way he views the marriage or your relationship. Again, no way for us to know - he's got to be the one doing the work to figure out if and why this might have happened.

Talking to him does not work, I have done it for 7 years.

Are you talking with him, as in asking questions and listening to the answers? Or are you just talking at him?

If he won't participate in an actual back-and-forth conversation about what's going on, then that's a problem - one that you, personally, can't fix.

Counselling is not an option he will consider

Then you have a serious problem. None of us can give you a definitive answer about why he is withholding sex. Only he can. And he seems unwilling to undertake the process of self-examination (and communicating the results of this process with you) on his own, which means the only way he's going to get some resolution here is with professional help. Which he is unwilling to do.

So now you're stuck - it honestly doesn't matter WHY he's withholding sex if he won't put in the effort to figure it out and fix it. It does seem like you're at the ultimatum point - either he participates in the process to figure out what's going on and resolve it, or the marriage is over.

I just think women have been undersold in this monogamy business, labelled as sluts or saints etc, and are not given a legitimate voice or a choice, the only option once married is have sex with husband or nothing.

Yeah, there are enormous cultural pressures and problems with gender relations and sexuality, but I think you are really catastrophizing the actual real-world options available to you, especially if you're in the U.S. or another "first world" country.

1) divorce and go live under a bridge (unless you earn big bucks) and destroy your child's life

OK, seriously, there are literally millions of single moms who have raised happy and healthy children who grew up to be happy and healthy and productive adults. It might not be easy, but it's perfectly do-able, no living under bridges required.

And a whole fuck-ton of people (myself included) would point out that living with two parents in an unhappy marriage likely caused just as much if not more damage than living with divorced parents.

A divorce is not guaranteed to destroy your child's life. Seriously.

2) have an affair, which is tantamount to being a slut with no hope or morals and no redeeming excuses because you made the mistake of being born with a sex drive

Yeah, lots of people are willing to be Judgey McJudgerson about affairs (especially about people they don't actually know in real life) - but lots of people aren't, and lots of people are willing to be sympathetic when it's someone they know having an affair because they're in a loveless/sexless marriage. You can't take the cries of "slut!" that you see on TV (especially fictional TV) or on the Internet as a guaranteed sign that all of your friends and acquaintances will do the same in real life.

Besides, "affairs" are supposed to be secret, so until and unless your affair stops being a secret, all of these judgmental voices are in your head.

The thing to realize is that lots of times people caution against having affairs because often they don't stay secret, which tends to cause all sorts of complications and damage.

3) shut up and put up (I don't have enough WTFs for this one).

You're right about the WTF, but the people likely suggesting this as the best option are likely also the people who tend to think that divorce will destroy your child's life and will force you to live in abject poverty, and/or who think anyone having an affair is by definition an immoral slut.

IOW, if you can recognize that your first two "societally acceptable" options are bullshit (they are, as stated), than that takes care of the third.

TL:DR - I'm a man, and I would not even begin to guess why your husband is withholding sex. It's way too complicated. The only one who can figure that out and fix it is him, and if he won't do it, then you are entirely justified in ending the marriage and moving on, hopefully to someone better. Divorce will not destroy your or your son's life.
posted by soundguy99 at 12:59 PM on March 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

One thing I want to add to my last answer:

I think for a lot of people, sex with the same person, and only that person, year after year, gets boring.

And some of the solutions offered up to make marriages "hot" again, are panaceas that don't work for everyone.
posted by jayder at 6:12 PM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Michelle Weiner-Davis has written and talked about lack of sex in marriage. In a large fraction of situations, like a third of sexless marriages, the man is the low libido partner. You are definitely not alone. It is a far more difficult situation to get out of because typically both partners feel more shame about the situation than when the genders are reversed, and because women tend to stop initiating when their husbands don't respond, sooner than men do when their wives are reluctant.

She wrote a book called The Sex Starved Marriage that may help you. She also gave a TED talk under that title that will be easy to Google. Another excellent resource is David Schnarch's book Intimacy and Desire. And therapy, therapy, therapy.

Good luck.
posted by Sublimity at 7:20 AM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

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