How to hit the reset button on our sex life and libidos?
May 14, 2016 6:57 AM   Subscribe

Our sex life has been lackluster for a long time and I want to change that, but there's a long and complicated history.. Wall of text inside.

My boyfriend (29/m) and I (26/f) have been together for 4 years, living together for the past 1.5 years. We get along very well, and I consider him my best friend. He’s funny, smart, and fun to be around, and I find him very attractive in a non-sexual sense. It’s not that he’s not physically attractive (he’s incredibly handsome, although he has put on a little bit of weight since we started dating)—he just doesn’t get my motor going anymore. Actually, not much gets my motor going anymore. I don’t know whether it’s normal to feel this way at this point in the relationship, or whether it’s a sign of serious sexual incompatibility, or both, or how to fix it.

In the beginning of our relationship we had a lot of sex. It wasn’t mind blowing*, but it was fun and exciting. We only saw each other on weekends, so we made up for lost time in the bedroom. He had always had issues with getting and keeping an erection, but we chalked it up to combination of having one too many drinks and condom insensitivity. There would often be times that he wouldn’t orgasm (despite lots of effort from both of us) but would still always make sure I finished. If anything, not coming would just make him hornier, and so we’d often “revisit the issue” the next morning.

About a year and a half into our relationship, I got an IUD. I was incredibly crampy and painful for the first month, and I think that kind of freaked him out. He told me that he was scared of hurting me, or that it seemed like I was only able to tolerate certain positions (which I think was true for the first month or two afterwards). We stopped using condoms, and that helped tremendously with his ED. He still needed a very specific type of stimulation in order to orgasm, but he was able to reliably get himself there now.

I think we both were so preoccupied with chasing orgasms once condoms were out and my uterus stopped screaming that we both just kind of disconnected from sex. It very much started to feel like a job (we both haven’t orgasmed yet this week!) vs. a pleasurable activity to connect with your partner. At some point I realized this, and started trying to talk to him about it. “Hey, I’ve noticed this.. How do you think we can fix this?” type conversations would happen monthly. He was really closed off and difficult to talk to, so it was usually a one sided conversation where I would suggest that we change things up somehow or talk about things that turned me on. It was never my intention to make him feel like he was responsible for our lackluster sex life, but these conversations made him feel attacked and like he was the problem. As a result, he said that he started “dreading” having sex with me, because he felt like he wasn’t good enough or kinky* enough for me. He stopped initiating completely at this point.

Sex dropped to about 1x/month, always at my request, and was very perfunctory. My attempts at initiation were almost always brushed off (not in a mean spirited way, usually playfully dismissed) and my self-esteem took a nose dive. The monthly conversations about our sex life turned into monthly crying sessions where I sobbed about how low and disconnected I felt from him and how unattractive/unloveable I must be. I would beg him to tell me what I could do or change to turn him on, but he claimed he was very “standard” in what he liked and never had anything to suggest beyond just letting it happen organically. This of course made matters worse, and I tried everything I could think of to try and be attractive for him: expensive fancy underwear, expensive sex toys, sexting and photos, offering anal or another sex act he might be into. It worked maybe 10% of the time. He claimed nothing was wrong. I asked if maybe he should go to the doctor to get his testosterone levels checked, but he drunkenly said he would and then later avoided the issue.

After repeating this cycle one to many times, I basically snapped. I stopped trying and my libido dropped to nothing (this also coincided with a bout of depression). It took a while for him to figure out I was done initiating, but he never struck up a conversation about it (which I took to mean that he was cool with the lack of sex). I struggled for a while dealing with the loss of my libido and my sex life, and felt anger and resentment towards him. I felt trapped in a relationship with someone who I felt completely sexually incompatible with, and who had no interest in fixing our sex life or opening up the relationship. I considered breaking up with him several times, thinking that if I could just FEEL another human I would instantly feel better.

Eventually I got through my depression, did some reading, and stopped blaming and resenting him. I realized his libido was naturally a lot lower than mine and he just wasn’t as kinky as me and that there was nothing inherently WRONG with either of those things..Just that maybe we weren’t right for each other. At the same time, I continue be impressed by what a solid, kind, and wonderful partner he is in every other aspect. I LOVE this man, and even if sometimes it feels like we are two best friends living together who sometimes kiss and touch each other’s butts, I don’t want to go through this world without him. I think about growing old together and goofing off in a retirement home with him. I wake up every day feeling that my life is 1000% better for having woken up next to him. We’ve talked about open relationships before, and he is firmly against it, whereas I’m open to the idea. I actually understand now how someone could cheat on someone they love—I want so badly to be touched and to connect with someone sexually—but given his requirement for monogamy, I either need to end the relationship or keep my hands to myself and stop selfishly thinking I can have my cake and eat it too.

Which brings me back to my question. TL;DR: I want to get back to how things were in the beginning, when sex didn’t come with all of this baggage and we both were just excited to see each other naked. I realize trying to recapture that heady limerence feeling is pretty much impossible, but I need some ideas for how to reboot our sex life together. I’m down to see a sex therapist or couples counselor, but getting him on board will be difficult.

*I am fairly kinky, while he is very vanilla

Throw away e-mail:
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (33 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

I opened this question expecting your typical "things got stale as they do after a few years, how to spice it up?" question. You seem to really, really want to convince yourself that's what's going on here.

This is not that situation, at all. Your boyfriend's approach to your sex life is seriously dysfunctional, he will not communicate, will not compromise, and probably has either ED or porn addiction or something along those lines. I would not be surprised if his bluster about monogamy only goes one way and he will eventually cheat on you, if he hasn't already.

This is not normal. I'm really sorry, but you need to break up. My first long term reationship was with a man like this. I can't tell you how relieved I was after we broke up and years later, he admitted to me his next serious girlfriend also broke up with him over the lack of sex. It was never me, it was him all along. Now I'm dating a guy with whom sex is easy, natural, and abundant and will stay that way for years.

You can have that, too. But you have to leave him, first. I'm sorry.
posted by quincunx at 7:16 AM on May 14, 2016 [25 favorites]

My assessment: Yes, incompatible.
The two of you can't get back to how things were in the beginning and reboot your sex life together when he checked out of the sexual relationship as soon as any work on his part was required. You want a sexual relationship, and are willing to work on it. He may or may not want one with you, and he is definitely not willing to work on it.

This is how you described his actions: He had always had issues with getting and keeping an erection. This is in the halycon beginning days, mind you, and it's not that erection difficulties are a problem, but it'd be nice if you could talk about them. Could you? No.
He was really closed off and difficult to talk to but only later did he explain that conversations made him feel attacked and like he was the problem. He doesn't take responsibility for his feelings or changing that, but simply started “dreading” having sex with me. He stopped initiating completely. he claimed he was very “standard” in what he liked and never had anything to suggest beyond just letting it happen organically.

In contrast, this is how you described your actions: I realized this, and started trying to talk to him about it. My attempts at initiation were almost always brushed off and my self-esteem took a nose dive. tried everything I could think of to try and be attractive for him. I’m down to see a sex therapist or couples counselor, but getting him on board will be difficult.

Your perfectionism as well as the way you've allowed this man to treat you for years are far bigger problems than your claimed "selfish[ness]" in feeling trapped with "someone who had no interest in fixing our sex life or opening up the relationship." You can find a decent partner who will respect you *and* want to sex you up with abandon-- but only if you don't waste your time letting this guy treat you badly.

I speak as someone who dumped my partner of 3 years last year and could not be happier:
DTMFA and direct your efforts towards yourself instead. I suggest therapy.
posted by saveyoursanity at 7:20 AM on May 14, 2016 [6 favorites]

I was in a relationship sort of like this - sex drive imbalance, kink imbalance, never feeling like I could bring it up, trying to convince myself that my needs didn't matter. I was also very very in love with him and vice versa.

Break up with him. I did, and I don't regret it. You can't spend the rest of your life erasing this part of yourself in order to keep him.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:26 AM on May 14, 2016 [9 favorites]

You could love him enough to let him go and see him happy with someone who isn't constantly disappointed with him in bed.

You could move out and resume dating, to see if that sparks things up again.

You cannot force him or coerce him into being who you want him to be. You've bruised his ego and he doesn't seem to be able to recover from it. Maybe he has low T, maybe he has something wrong with him, but, all the pushing you have done has made it impossible for him to find out. He just feels like less than a man. All you can do now is to let him go or wait patiently, watching your behavior and words, until he finds something that can build him up again. Sex toys and fancy underwear won't fix what is broken inside of him. Kind words and activities that don't include sex, that build him up as a man can help but, there is no guarantee. You are both better off moving on at this point.
posted by myselfasme at 7:29 AM on May 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Given everything you've said, the odds of this working out, to your satisfaction, just on its own, without change, are effectively zero. People just don't pull out of power dives like this.

It's time for you to change your conversation with him. Start talking to him about doctors and counseling and a timeframe. As in, "This is serious, this is a problem for me, it's not going away by itself, it's not getting better, so, this summer, we're going to do XYZ." Show him how an adult handles problems like this.

And if he's resistant to that, then he's told you everything about himself, and you should believe him and move on.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:36 AM on May 14, 2016 [4 favorites]

It is possible that alcohol is a contributing factor/entwined with your sex and communication issues? You only mention it offhandedly, but you do so twice. Maybe I'm projecting from my own relationship, but I some similarities in the pattern that emerged with my soon-to-be ex-husband where a drinking problem (which I define as a level of drinking that creates problems, whether or not it's textbook alcoholism) both covered up underlying sexual insecurities and communication difficulties, and created new ones, in addition to creating a lot of bad "clumsy lover" incidents that caused additional damage to the sexual side of our relationship.
posted by drlith at 7:37 AM on May 14, 2016 [8 favorites]

This won't get better, you'll just get depressed again when doing ALL of the work at making things work weighs on you again and you get fed up, or you'll cheat on him or go crazy trying not to.

Break up with this guy (and watch how he makes attempts to fix things once you're leaving), and when you date in the future make sure the dude is open to talking about sex and into pleasing you, you can test that out fairly early on, like "I really like X, and Y, is that something you're open to trying?" and see if he tries it out. You'll be shocked and amazed at the difference you'll likely find in men around your age who don't have so many sexual issues, they will be eager to have sex with you and delighted that you like sex, want to please them, and know what pleases you.

I don't think it was the way he felt "attacked" that created this issue, or he wouldn't be able to relate comfortably to you the rest of the time, and he probably wouldn't be able to "playfully" reject you repeatedly. If he wanted to have sex he'd be having sex. The issue is his refusal to be interested in pleasing you, and his apparent comfort in withholding sexual gratification from you. I have had conversations with partners where I made requests that probably bruised their egos, but the sex got better because they changed their behavior and I was being truthful in terms of what I needed, so they were immediately happy that they were making me happy, and I was happy and thus even more motivated to make them happy too, win-win. When hints and attempts to be playful in bed don't work there's no way around having a conversation or two, and I think it's those vulnerable hard spots that are where you really see the true strength of the relationship.
posted by lafemma at 7:49 AM on May 14, 2016 [7 favorites]

Oh man. I was your BF. Loved smart sexy women, loved the day to day with them, waking up with them, all that, but sex would always drop off. I just wasn't into it.

It took a couple of amazing women to leave me, to realize something wasn't right. And it took years of therapy to get at my intimacy problems.

You can't do any of that. He has to. But it's going to take him years to get there. I'm so sorry - you are going to have to leave to get what you want and need. And if he's interested enough in his own wellbeing this will help him too.
posted by miles1972 at 8:22 AM on May 14, 2016 [34 favorites]

This sounds like an insurmountable sexual incompatibility, not in the least because he won't/can't talk to you about this. It also seems like you may love him dearly as a FRIEND, but not as a lover/intimate partner. Please consider if this situation is even worth a reset. You deserve a much better and more meaningful and rewarding sex life. And more importantly you deserve to have a partner that is interested in communicating with you and solving problems together. This guy has not done that. Do you really want to wait around for him to decide if he ever will?
posted by fourpotatoes at 8:43 AM on May 14, 2016 [5 favorites]

You're going to have to leave him. You can't do all the work yourself. I mean, he's not even willing to talk about this. In a good compatible partnership you should be able to discuss everything, especially sex. My ex did something similar to me as your situation. It took me years to leave him but it was the best decision I've ever made. I'm married now to someone else who is amazing in bed and we talk about everything and he's also my best friend. You can have this too. Just not with this guy. In the future you should find out tear lay in a relationship if a guy is open about discussing these things or not and is willing to please you. If they aren't, move on.
posted by FireFountain at 8:48 AM on May 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm really sorry this is happening.

I wonder if this is a combination of him not being into you quite enough to put the effort in along with him lacking the maturity and drive it takes to keep a sexual relationship working when things aren't 100% easy.

Sometimes moving in together changes the sexual dynamic negatively, especially for guys who are somewhat immature and not great with emotional labour. He might see your requests for him to be more mindful of the sexual dynamic in your relationship as yet another item on your chore list for him, and he might resent you for it but not really know how to honestly express that. But that's on him, not on you.

Really, though, take back your dignity and end this relationship.
posted by blerghamot at 8:58 AM on May 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

In case you're looking for someone to go against the tide of responses thus far, I'm going to give it a try. It's a cliche to say that a couple's sex life goes down the tubes once they get married and/or have children. It is also a fact. In the long term, you should be with someone with whom you will get along in the *absence* of regular sex.
There is no reset button and perhaps a break from this guy is the closest thing to it. But, before you go there, ask yourself how important sex is to you.
posted by originalname37 at 9:40 AM on May 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

If he can't talk to you about your mutually unfulfilling sex life, he's probably going to avoid most other difficult conversations longterm couples encounter. It's difficult to maintain a relationship without that sort of communication.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 9:50 AM on May 14, 2016 [32 favorites]

I don't think any of us can advise you to break up with your boyfriend and indeed, most of the answers thus far have driven me a little crazy. Monogamy is hard, we are hard-wired to seek sexual variety, and sex does drop off a few years into a relationship.

Honestly, his unwillingness to talk to you about sex is a much bigger problem than the lack of sex.

I hear in your question pain, frustration, and confusion. You love this man. You get along with him. You describe him as your best friend. You want to grow old together. You're just not fucking. The question is: is not having a good sex life with your partner a dealbreaker for you?

You can't control your boyfriend, but I would recommend that you go to individual counseling for a few sessions to try and figure out the answer to that. And if your boyfriend is willing, going to a sex-positive couples counselor together. There are other relationship models out there than standard heterosexual monogamy.
posted by Automocar at 9:56 AM on May 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

Why do you think this person is awesome and loves you when your very valid and healthy-for-relationship-intimacy needs are ENTIRELY off the table even as a topic of conversation for him? The person you share a home and a bed with won't touch you sexually and won't really talk to you about it in a truthful or constructive way. In fact, he watched you cry for months over the issue without helping or even helpfully breaking up with you so you might find what pretty much everyone needs and deserves in a romantic relationship!

He's not caring for you in a responsible manner. Don't share your home and your heart with someone who won't care for you in a responsible and mature manner.

He's a roommate you're close friends with. Dump him as a boyfriend. Stay friends if you want. Move out so you can date freely and find a new romantic partner.
posted by jbenben at 10:06 AM on May 14, 2016 [21 favorites]

Oh, and forgot to add: your boyfriend's insistence on monogamy is emotionally abusive behavior. If sex isn't important to him, then you fucking other people shouldn't matter. If sex is important to him, then he should be fucking you. It's bullshit for him to insist on monogamy.
posted by Automocar at 10:06 AM on May 14, 2016 [11 favorites]

Oh, and forgot to add: your boyfriend's insistence on monogamy is emotionally abusive behavior.

I don't think that's fair. He's allowed to have his own wants and needs and limits. The problem with the boyfriend is his lack of communication, not his desire for monogamy.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:13 AM on May 14, 2016 [21 favorites]

Not everyone stops having sex once they move in together, have children, or have been married a long long time.

Ask me how I know.
posted by jbenben at 10:15 AM on May 14, 2016 [14 favorites]

You can't get back to where you were with him all on your own. He has to want it and work at it EXACTLY as hard as you do. It doesn't sound like he wants to do that. So, you either need to give up or move on. :(
posted by pazazygeek at 10:23 AM on May 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Even if everyone does stop having sex once they move in together/get married/have kids (this is DEFINITELY not true and I think this narrative convinces a lot of people to put up with sub par relationships- hell, there are 80 year olds who still have sex) it's usually because they're tired or busy or bored, not because the fundamental communication and emotional connection is broken between them and marred by secret resentments. That's a next level problem.

YOU ARE 26 YEARS OLD. Jesus. You should NOT have to just accept that "sex goes away" when you are 26 freaking years old. These should be the best sexual years of your life and don't let him cheat you out of them. Go down to the freaking bus stop and I guarantee you'll find like ten guys who desire you and are willing to fuck you, and a lot of them are probably older/in worse shape/have better excuses than your boyfriend.
posted by quincunx at 10:25 AM on May 14, 2016 [27 favorites]

I don't think any of us can advise you to break up with your boyfriend and indeed, most of the answers thus far have driven me a little crazy. Monogamy is hard, we are hard-wired to seek sexual variety, and sex does drop off a few years into a relationship.

Ok to clarify what I said before about why I'm sure leaving him is the best option:

1) Boyfriend refuses to communicate. This kills relationships. One person can not do all the work in a relationship. Both parties must be willing to communicate about all the things.
2) Boyfriend won't seek help, such as therapy.
3) Sexual intimacy is clearly a priority and a need for the OP, as it is for a lot of people and boyfriend doesn't seem willing to engage in behaviors to address this.

Those three things lead to having to end the relationship. If you can get the boyfriend to communicate and want to work on stuff, then maybe it stands a chance, but it sounds like you've gone down that road and he's basically watched you cry for months. The same thing happened to me and there comes a time you just have to pull the plug.

Also- I STRONGLY disagree with the whole idea that sex just drops off a few years into a relationship. NO. It does not have to be this way and I hate this fucking trope. It gives people a lame excuse to stay in shitty relationships. My husband and I have a LOT of sex by most people's definition and we've been together awhile now. I know other long-term couples with the same experience. But - we talk about it a lot. Make it a priority for us. It can be done and I fully expect to still be fucking my awesome husband when we're both 80.

Agree with quincunx. You are 26!!!! This shouldn't be so hard and you shouldn't just accept that, oh well, it's been a few years, guess there's no more sex left in this relationship. That's bonkers.
posted by FireFountain at 10:43 AM on May 14, 2016 [6 favorites]

I was you only I stayed. For 20+ years. I started having the best sex of my life in my 50s with men who actually enjoyed sex, actually enjoyed sex with me, and were also kinky. I am so, so, so sorry to say that what you have is an intimate friendship. If you want to have a companionate relationship and fuck other men plus him, go for it. But do not let your passive partner decide for you that you don't get to have sex anymore. That's not true. Only you get to decide that. And I strongly advise against it based on my own experience. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 10:47 AM on May 14, 2016 [13 favorites]

"Oh, and forgot to add: your boyfriend's insistence on monogamy is emotionally abusive behavior."

"I don't think that's fair. He's allowed to have his own wants and needs and limits."

I think that 2nd statement is the sort of double-speak that is confusing the OP, when really, I get the point the first statement was making.

Lack of sexual intimacy caused the OP many tears, heartache, and eventually depression. The boyfriend just did.... Nothing. He refused to address the issue, discuss it productively. He watched his partner cry. A lot. He watched her cry like he wasn't involved with the issue. He did nothing.

To me that's the definition of emotional abuse. Making monogamy a relationship deal breaker is just the icing on the cake. It's more messing with the OP's head and heart, exactly along the same lines as watching her cry about their lack of sexual intimacy.

There's been a lot of explaining away of what's not truly excusable in this relationship.

OP, you don't need to settle for a soul-crushing lack of sexual intimacy! It's not cool to put your faith in someone who chooses to coddle their own discomfort above maturely addressing relationship issues.

It's appropriate to use your words to address relationship difficulties. I'm sorry your boyfriend won't meet you halfway. If he was being mature, he'd tell you directly he's not going to improve your sex life, instead he's told you by default. He's forcing you to either suck up your own important needs (what you've been doing so far) or be the mature person and break up with him. He will not weigh your needs against his needs and break up with you. He will continue to do nothing.

"I'm never going to meet your needs, stay or go. Your choice."

People who defacto give you that choice aren't mature or responsible enough to warrant the effort a lifetime romantic commitment takes. OP, you are in your 20's. Successful romantic relationships worth lifetime effort are deeper and more fulfilling than "your needs don't count - stay or go, but I won't put any extra effort into this relationship or connecting with you." Nuh-uh. That's not how relationships work when they are worth it. Not at all.
posted by jbenben at 10:49 AM on May 14, 2016 [17 favorites]

Don't believe that one answer up thread that says this is your fault for "pressuring" him and that you made him feel like "less of a man." That's sexist 1950s-type woman-blaming nonsense. He won't even communicate with you and doesn't even care that he's making you cry? He takes it personally when you try to work things out? Sounds like a pouty teenager, not a man nearing thirty. This is not the normal pattern of sex frequency lessening a bit in long-term relationships. This is a guy who simply won't take responsibility in his relationship, for whatever reasons, and he doesn't care and doesn't want to do the emotional labor that is required of every adult who wants a relationship.

It sounds like you've done your due diligence and it's time to cut your losses. Whatever his problem is, it isn't you. Don't stay so long that you end up convinced you're unattractive. You can find someone you're sexually compatible with who will be up for the work required in adult relationships.
posted by Beethoven's Sith at 11:26 AM on May 14, 2016 [16 favorites]

"Oh, and forgot to add: your boyfriend's insistence on monogamy is emotionally abusive behavior."

"I don't think that's fair. He's allowed to have his own wants and needs and limits."

He's allowed to assert and enforce his sexual boundaries. He's not allowed to dictate someone else's.

If his partner wants more sex, and he absolutely does not want to have sex more often and even discussing it is off the table, he doesn't have to have sex with her, obviously. Nobody has to have sex with anyone they don't want to. But he does NOT get to dictate that she also can't have sex with anyone else, ever. That's controlling beyond reason.
posted by babelfish at 11:45 AM on May 14, 2016 [5 favorites]

I'm going to start this with: I do think you should consider ending the relationship if you feel that communication about sex (and anything else) has become impossible. You are young, beautiful, and the problem here is not you. There are plenty of great partners you could be having a more mature and communicative relationship right now, and they are out there waiting in droves.

The fact that you're questioning yourself so much is, I think, because your partner is too insecure to realize that wanting to have a conversation about sex and what could make sex better for both of you, does not equate you saying he's bad in bed. This is his problem. I also think he's too emotionally immature to recognize that sex is more than nonverbal and may require conversation to better explore. Again, this is his problem. It sounds like his rejection of your effort to address your sexual problems, has turned into an exacerbation of some self-esteem issues you may already possess. This may or may not truly have anything to do with him, but I don't believe he's helping. I think if you were in a good place with your self-esteem, you would have ended the relationship shortly after realizing that he had no interest in reciprocating your efforts to discuss and resolve the sexual issues in the relationship.

Either way, it does not sound like he's hauling or wants to haul his share of the emotional labor. It's also important to consider if you have have a form of codependence. I bring this up because of all of the effort you were putting into trying to get him aroused, without his seeming input or genuine interest. There are many types of codependence, some of which are not as well known as others. Melody Beattie's Codependent No More is a really mind-opening read on this and she talks specifically about people who don't think they are codependent, or our behaviors that we mistake for empathy that are in fact codependence.

That being said, sometimes it helps to think through these issues in more than one way. I just want to share some things I've learned.

I think sex is still, for many (certainly not all, but many), one of the most difficult topics for a couple to discuss. To discuss sex, you have to be emotionally open and communicative; or, you have to find the courage within yourself to start being that way. Bringing up an issue with sex - or lack of sex - can feel like you're admitting that the root of your relationship is at risk of or has already been uprooted.

Even when I was 26 (which was not too many years ago), I was in a very long term relationship with a very communicative person who - like me - reached a point where the pop and magic of sex had fizzled. And so rather than attempt to discuss sex, both of us ignored it instead. In hindsight, I regret that I didn't bring it up until we broke up, because that was the moment I realized I had the strength to talk about it - and that he seemed to have that strength, too. But it was past the point of repair because we'd both allowed the lack of sex to create a lack of intimacy in other ways, and I was done.

Since then, in my current relationship, it's happened again after being together three years. Like you, I have an IUD that's made arousal more difficult to come by for me (although it's certainly a step up from what I dealt with when I took depo provera, which seemed to produce false menopausal affects in me at barely 25!); also, myself and my partner - him especially - work long hours that wear us to the point that it's only natural we fall asleep the moment our heads hit the pillow.

The other issue was that I think we'd both been afraid to admit that we felt sexually insecure. I still exercised but I wasn't in the same shape I was when we started dating; he quit running and put on a few pounds. Throughout this I still found him very attractive, but I could tell he felt like he wasn't - he'd make comments about his own appearance here and there. I felt less attractive because I was less physically 'powerful' and I also tended to wear pajamas or yoga pants if I wasn't at work - I'd become much less of a style peacock than I was before. The things that he equated with his own sexual prowess were, in his mind, gone; the same for me and what I thought contributed to my sexual prowess.

So instead of me looking at it as, "How can I be more attractive to him?" I set that aside and asked myself why I didn't feel confident - independent of whether I was in a relationship, or having sex or not - and realized it was because I wasn't caring for my body the way I was when I exercised and did yoga more intensely; consequently, the fifteen pounds I put on made me feel uncomfortable in most clothes I owned. It wasn't because I wasn't attractive to him; it was because I didn't feel attractive because I wasn't showing myself the same love or care I had before. No one else told me this; I realized it on my own when I realized I was letting my grueling job destroy the person I'd worked so hard to become. I was sick of my job wearing me thin; sick of working through my lunch instead of lifting weights or sprinting; sick of wearing dull work clothes because I hated my job too much to bother dressing well. I let all of this infect me and it's only natural that an infection, untreated and uncontrolled, spreads to the rest of the body and mind.

When I realized this, I started small to repair things. I built up to doing yoga twice a day again, went for more runs, and started playing 'dress up' with the wardrobe I already owned. I got more excited about feeling good; which in turn made me confident again.

Being confident made me feel more connected to my partner - and just about everyone in my life. I started to notice I was laughing and flirting with my partner more; teasing each other and joking around felt just as intimate as sex, and eventually it led right back to that. Almost as if it never went away.

It's still a work in progress, but it was a reminder that when things aren't 100%, I need to consider myself and my own happiness before I address the happiness of my relationships. Sometimes this means you need to leave the relationship to start the work of becoming happy again; at other times it may mean staying in the relationship but taking better care of your mind and body so that recapture your spirit, your grit, your courage and heart. If I had regained my self-love and self-confidence and there was still no spark or increase in communication with my partner, I would have taken that as a sign to end things.

It depends on how much effort you feel your relationship is worth. There are relationships worth fighting for, and there are relationships where no amount of effort can become anything other than a futile sacrifice of self.
posted by nightrecordings at 12:52 PM on May 14, 2016 [18 favorites]

It’s not that he’s not physically attractive (he’s incredibly handsome, although he has put on a little bit of weight since we started dating)—he just doesn’t get my motor going anymore. Actually, not much gets my motor going anymore. I don’t know whether it’s normal to feel this way at this point in the relationship

This is a normal response when initiating sex leads to rejection, talking about sex leads to non-response and aggression (your anger and resentment are a result of his refusal to stop hurting you), and now he's shaming you ("dreading") for trying to heal. There is nothing wrong with you, there is something wrong with this situation and your body is reacting to that. Respect what your body is telling you.

Of course this situation doesn't turn you on. You're exhausted by it. Being dismissed like this makes you put up protective walls that make it difficult to relax. Sex is now bound up with fear and anger and shame and frustration and rage. I'd be willing to bet that you have a lot of anger coming out in ways you don't even recognize, because that is how women are socialized. And the fact that this is being done to you by someone you love makes it cut deeper.

And maybe he has reasons to be so tangled up about this! But you are not his therapist and he is not willing to go to therapy anyway.

It doesn't have to be this way, but you have done everything you can do here. You can't make him care about this. You can't make him talk. You can't make him go to the doctor. You can't make him care more about you than his fear of dealing with this. Only he can do these things and he is choosing not to do them.

You're more than justified in saying, "I have tried and I am out of options that only require effort from me. If you want to stay with me, you need to do everything you can do to fix this."

And if you'd like an anthem, I'd recommend getting a copy of Lemonade. Bey's courage and rage is helping me deal with my own anger over similar things. Find your version of Don't Hurt Yourself. You are worth it. Love yourself. Find a healing space.
posted by sadmadglad at 1:01 PM on May 14, 2016 [7 favorites]

You've demonstrated a willingness to make yourself really vulnerable to him (discussing a difficult, emotional, sometime embarrassing issue that can make a person feel super inadequate, that is awkward to talk about, that has made you cry) and to KEEP making yourself vulnerable even after you were repeatedly rejected by him. His refusal to have an open and honest conversation with you despite all this feels like he's keeping a door closed and locked on what's going on with him. You're never going to have a happy relationship -- or especially a happy sex life (which is all about vulnerability and honesty and true, deep connection) -- as long as he's refusing to open that part of himself up to you.

Before you leave him, I suggest going to him and saying as directly as possible that he needs to be honest, open, and willing to talk to you and work with you to fix this, or you are going to leave. I think if you don't give him that one final chance you may think back and wonder what would have happened if...

But if he continues keeping that door locked, go.
posted by sallybrown at 1:38 PM on May 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

If he doesn't like talking about sex, or talking about relationship issues in general, then is it possible that he genuinely doesn't realize what a huge issue this is for you? If I were you, I would tell him clearly that you can't live your life this way, and that if your relationship is going to continue he needs to go to counseling with you and commit to doing some serious work on this together so that you can have a mutually satisfying sex life. If he still hems and haws, or outright says no, then I'm sorry, you have a choice between intimate friendship or breaking up.
posted by chickenmagazine at 6:14 PM on May 14, 2016

You're doing all the emotional work here. Disregard the sex for a minute — I wouldn't want to stay with a partner who makes me shoulder his baggage.

My standard rec for sexual intimacy: "Come As You Are" by Emily Nagoski.
posted by fritillary at 6:42 PM on May 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

I've been married 22 years. The sex just keeps getting better, honestly. We have had drier spells and more active times, it doesn't get like you are describing, no tears and trying to talk people into getting help etc. not even the dry spell that was months of (some) weekends of PTSD flashbacks.

However I do have a friend who is married to her best friend. She hasn't had sex in years. She is shut down and bitter. She is an amazing person who has let this thing wreck the passionate, loving side of her. It's such a diminshment. Because it wasn't that she chose to be celibate and embraced it. She's still waiting. It's on her, I think, at this point. Don't be her.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:28 AM on May 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

Oh, hey. I am so sorry. Your relationship sounds a lot like my sexless marriage (which also started out a lot like your relationship -- with lots of sex that was /fine/, but not mind-blowing). Around the time my marriage (which was good in so many other ways) was finally falling apart, I read somewhere right here on the Green itself this really simple but transformative claim: Everyone deserves to be in a relationship with someone who wants them.

You deserve to be in a relationship with someone who wants you. Not just someone who wants to have sex; someone who wants to have sex /with you/.

And because sex waxes and wanes in a relationship and sometimes people are tired or stressed or in a rut and things happen, I might also put that claim this way: at the very least, you deserve to be in a relationship with someone who likes the /idea/ of having sex /with you/.

I hope you really hear that. Because you talk a lot about the nature and state of your libido and the responsibilities you have or work you can do to reboot your sex life, but all of that is nothing if deep down the truth is that your partner is not particularly interested in having sex with you or in the idea of having sex with you. You frame this as a mismatched libido thing, but in my experience - a mismatched libido affects the actual amount of sex you're having; it doesn't diminish the pleasure your partner takes in the idea of having, planning, talking about, and thinking about sex with you.

Shit the fan in my marriage when my ex found someone he did really want. Ours was not a mismatched libido problem; neither was it an ED problem; neither was it a problem that I had somehow exacerbated by communicating, pro-actively addressing, and then withdrawing in order to solve the problem in the first place (all of which it sounds like you have done, too). And my divorce hurt a lot, but then I found someone who I really wanted, who also really wanted me, too. And now lots of years into that second partnership (and in middle age with demanding kids and careers), I would blush to tell you exactly how much amazing sex we have, and how easy it is to talk about it and figure it out. These days, I think that sexual incompatibility is a dead deal breaker.

But your question was about what you might do to reboot your sex life. And here's what my marriage counselor proposed for us. (It is pretty standard advice :))

1. Schedule sexy time, but try not to worry about the actual sex/orgasms. You should consider designating one weeknight evening (or weekend afternoon) when you turn off the screens, get naked, and climb into the bed together to hang out. Is it kind of awkward? Yep. But do you end up talking and touching? Yes. This worked best when we could laugh about it, and also when one of us could muster whatever good grace we had deep down to give a compliment to the other person, or to make a loving gesture, or to share a fond memory. Did we usually end up having some kind of sex? Mostly. Was it great sex? Frankly, no. But the trick was to celebrate having taken some time to be in our bodies alone together and to embrace and enjoy the kind of intimacies that did emerge in those moments and which were distinct from our daily grinds. Added bonus: a renewed familiarity with my body and a clarification of my sexual likes and dislikes.

2. Find something new to do together: plan a trip, start a home improvement project, volunteer, explore a new hobby, create a list of restaurants you'd going to try once a week for the next two months, have a board game night, sit down and make a Netflix cue for a weekend tv binge, take a cooking class... Research shows that relationships get stronger when you have shared experiences together and when you continue to develop new skills and interests together. The "newness" off to invigorate other aspects of the relationship. Added bonus: a sense of things I might like to try out and take on.

3. Give what you'd like to get. It sounds a lot like you've tried this, but I wonder if there isn't a difference in mindset between going all out to get his attention (the lingerie, texts, offers for anal, etc.) and giving him your attention. This second kind of mindset travels in and out of the bedroom -- you offer genuine compliments, you express gratitude and appreciation, you think about the things you can do to make your partner's life easier and better. Some scripts for this might look like: "I really admire X about you;" "I really appreciated it when you...;" "I really like how you Y;" "You're good at Q;" "I was just thinking about that time you did A, and it blew my mind;" "Just so you know, [this thing about you] really turns me on/makes me happy." Chores or acts of kindness can work well, too. The trick is to be willing to just give your partner these things, to put them out there and not to worry about reciprocity. At least not right now.

Our therapist called this, "putting cookies into their cookie jar."

By no means, however, do I think someone should do this emotional labor in perpetuity and without reciprocity. But sometimes all of us can be low on cookies, it feels really good to get a cookie, and it's worth trying to figure out if your partner isn't really contributing to the relationship (or, to be more specific, able to enter into the vulnerable, intimate spaces of giving that can characterize sex) because they don't have any cookies to spare. Added bonuses: remembering the pleasures of giving, an enhanced appreciation for the cookies others put into my jar; a better sense of boundaries and equity of emotional labor in a relationship.

4. You have to fill your cookie jar. Even though I think it's important to give your partner some cookies when they're running low, I think relationships run best when each person is taking personal responsibility for filling their cookie jar. You want to do what you can to make sure that you're not caught in the terrible dynamic of a closed cookie jar system where all you're doing is exchanging the same stale cookies. So consider pursuing stuff that's just for you and that makes you feel good: a weekly night out with friends, a yoga class, a regular spa treatment, coffee in the coffeeshop with just you and the Sunday Times, whatever floats your boat -- or even something that was on the table of new things you could do together that didn't make the together cut. Ideally, this will take some of the pressure off of the sex to make things "feel better," which ironically usually frees the sex up to feel better. Added bonus: self care.

5. Counseling. Whether or not he will go with you. Added bonus: all of it.

Doing these things helped my ex and I feel like we had tried - really tried - to save our marriage.

But /you/ can only do so much; a relationship takes two people. And if your partner isn't willing to do these things with you, then I think you know what has to happen.

And the secret truth is, too, that doing these things may reboot your sex life and strengthen your relationship, but they will also shore you up in case the relationship goes south (added bonuses).

Good luck.
posted by pinkacademic at 1:20 PM on May 15, 2016 [12 favorites]

Read what Bella Donna said and take heed. In four years you enter your fourth decade. Libido goes way up in those years. If it's painful now to be stuck in a platonic, afghans-and-tea-in-front-of-Doc-Martin relationship, it will be intolerable then. Walk. You can stay friends and revisit the idea of cohabitating and making some kickass crafts at the retirement home once you're 80+. I wouldn't have one last heartfelt unburdening, either. He's had sufficient time to figure this out.
posted by Don Pepino at 1:27 PM on May 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

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