Partner's struggles with anxiety have killed our sex life
July 13, 2016 1:19 PM   Subscribe

I am really struggling with my partner’s anxiety and its impact on our sex life. I am 33, he is 25, and we are a gay male couple.

I am really struggling with my partner’s anxiety and its impact on my relationship of two and half years.

I am 33, he is 25, and we are a gay male couple. We met two and half years ago and have been in a relationship ever since. About nine months of it was long distance, as he had to return to his home country to finish up school. Since January 2016, we have been living together again. He quit his job, left his country and moved back here, which puts another dynamic of pressure on the relationship.

My partner suffers from an anxiety disorder. When we first met, and throughout the long distance portion of our relationship, I wasn’t aware that he was struggling, He kept it from me in a way, as the only time we would really see each other was on Skype.

I also don’t believe he knew he had an anxiety disorder either, until he started suffering anxiety attacks and started seeing a counsellor and taking medication. That was in the Fall.

Since he returned in January, and we have been living together, we have been having a serious issue about sex. We used to have a great sex life, and had sex several times a week. He never had any problems ejaculating, and always seemed to really enjoy it.

But over the past seven months that we have been living together, the sex has slowed to the point where we are maybe only having it every two weeks at best. When we do have sex, he can no longer cum, unless he is masturbating and watching porn, and he seems distant and disconnected.

He blames his anxiety, and the medication he is taking. He says he worries he cannot satisfy me, that my sex drive “scares him,” and that he just isn’t interested in sex anymore.

When I ask why it wasn’t an issue before, he says he was trying to please me and wasn’t in touch with his true feelings around sex.

This makes me feel sad, and is resulting in me not being interested in sex as much with him either.

Because of these issues, we agreed I am free to have sex with others but that makes me feel uncomfortable, because I feel that even letting him know that I am going to meet up with someone, will cause even more damage to our already fragile relationship. I also don't want to have to go outside the relationship in order to get my needs met.

He is a great person, a loving and caring partner, but this issue is tearing us apart. He is seeing a counsellor and still taking anti-anxiety medication, but I feel things are not getting any better. I love him so much but I am at a loss. I feel I am sliding down the slippery slope of depression and anxiety because of his struggles.
posted by ninefour to Human Relations (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

This is a rally common side effect of anxiety meds and he should talk to his doctor about trying a different medication.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:25 PM on July 13, 2016 [12 favorites]

This is also potentially a lifelong struggle so you and your partner need to individually decide feelings about sex and entitlement and what is livable and what alternatives are acceptable from a quality-of-life standpoint.

If your partner not being able to provide you with as much/the kind of sex you want is a dealbreaker, it's a dealbreaker. Don't put him in a position of having to provide sex without enthusiastic consent to keep you, that's not fair.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:35 PM on July 13, 2016

Response by poster: Lyn Never - I am trying not to pressure him into sex by not asking for it, and letting him initiate it as much as possible

PhoBWanKenobi - he did go back to his doctor but unfortunately, the doc increased the dosage of the same medication
posted by ninefour at 1:38 PM on July 13, 2016

He should really be very open and honest about the effect his meds may be having on his sex life and how that's affecting his relationship. You're describing VERY common side effects of a lot of medications for anxiety and/or depression. His doctor should be willing to try a different medication that may not have those side effects.
posted by erst at 1:47 PM on July 13, 2016 [10 favorites]

Can he get a second opinion on medications or see a different doctor? Is this the first anxiety medication he has ever taken? It is common to have to try a few before finding a fit. There are many different types of drugs and he should not have to keep taking one if this side effect is so overwhelming.

Did something trigger his anxiety attack, or have you ever discussed some underlying issue? I ask this to make sure he does not have a history of sexual abuse or something that might make sex particularly difficult.

Is he satisfied with his counselor/therapist? Sometimes it's hard to dump a bad therapist but if he hasn't felt any better since last fall with a combo of a therapist and anti-anxiety medication, or at least feel like he has greater insight into his anxiety, that would be concerning and he should get another therapist.

On the short term, can you both consider going to counseling together?

There's not really a replacement for sex, but are you both able to be intimate in other ways?
posted by mmmleaf at 2:02 PM on July 13, 2016

Response by poster: He can, but the struggle is, he does not have very good health coverage, so he is reluctant. I agree though, perhaps he should try another treatment. We have discussed his anxiety, and as far as I know, nothing specific has caused the issue - no history of sexual abuse or anything like that.
We can try to go to counselling together again.
We are still hugging and cuddling and kissing here and there, but like you said, it's no replacement for sex.
posted by ninefour at 2:40 PM on July 13, 2016

Best answer: It sounds like you are both starting down the a vicious cycle where your partner feels anxious and that is killing his sex drive, which is leading to guilt over not being able to participate in one vital aspect of a relationship (sex), which leads to more anxiety and so on... And you feel upset about not getting to participate in a vital aspect of a relationship, but don't want to stir up more anxiety, which means that it's getting hard to talk about this issue, which means you aren't finding some resolution. And on and on this will go until you both crack under the pressure. Not good.

I really think you might both be helped by agreeing to take sex (not other parts of physical intimacy) off the table for a set period of time. During that time you both need to agree to seek counseling and trying out other meds. And then find other ways to not just be intimate (cuddling, kissing, etc), but doing things that make you both happy. You both love foreign films, make a regular date to watch some classics. You both love hiking, set up some regular hikes. You both love sport, treat yourself to some tickets or pick a time to go watch the Olympics somewhere fun. Bringing some lightness and creating opportunities for connection may help you both start a virtuous circle where activity (as opposed to non-activity of the sexy time nature), leads to relaxation, which leads to less anxiety, and which may help to lead to renewed interest in sex.

As a side note, I would not enter into any outside relationships until you are both in counseling and in a slightly more stable place. Seeing other people could easily create even more anxiety and guilt, which will just kill things. I don't think there would be anything wrong with opening up your relationship if you both end up discovering that there is some sexual incompatibility, but everything else is great and worth maintaining, but you need to make that decision from a place of stability not a place of desperation.
posted by brookeb at 2:59 PM on July 13, 2016 [10 favorites]

Revisit the medication issue. Medication side effects very much have a mind of their own.

When I ask why it wasn’t an issue before, he says he was trying to please me and wasn’t in touch with his true feelings around sex.

Granted, I am only seeing a tiny slice of information from one side, but I would not be too quick to call the relationship fragile. I get that it is hard to forego sex but the above suggests that his past is the root cause of the problem and his relationship to you is making it possible to face things he hasn't before. This suggests you are a good guy and he trusts you and feels safe. That can be the basis for working things out.

I don't think I really talked about my frigidity with my first boyfriend. He was some asshole dropping by my place for sex on his way to work. I should have been saying "Do you want fries with that?" when he showed up. And I kind of thought he was an okay guy because he wasn't doing drugs or slapping me around. So it took me awhile to dump him because it was a step up from what I understood men to be.

I did tell my second boyfriend that I just couldn't reach orgasm in bed with a man. I trusted him. He treated me a lot better than the previous boyfriend. We did work on it, without benefit of guidance because we were just teenagers. It took 10 or 11 months before I could reach orgasm with him and there was more work to be done. But I married him and we were together more than two decades.

So, I think it would help if you viewed some of what he has told you as evidence that you are treating him better than he is used to and he feels more secure with you and able to trust you and at least talk about things that were previously unrecognized or "unspeakable." Relationships where they cannot even speak of the issue are kind of doomed. If you can discuss it, that's at least a starting point. That doesn't guarantee it can be resolved, but it at least gives hope, something that doesn't exist where there is no trust and no ability to communicate.

So, rather than saying the relationship is fragile, I would say he is fragile and trusts you enough for this information to come out now.

The fact that he cannot cite a specific cause of his anxiety does not mean there isn't one. It is common for people to block traumatic memories or be unable to consciously remember incidents that happened prior to a certain age. Some of my blocked memories did not come out until I was in a secure situation where I could cope with facing them.
posted by Michele in California at 3:40 PM on July 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

If health insurance coverage is an issue this may not be very helpful, but I just wanted to mention that as a straight guy around the same age I was in somewhat similar circumstances (I was taking multiple psychoactive medications and had difficulty cumming but no problem getting an erection) and was prescribed Viagra by a urologist when I described the symptoms. It didn't totally fix the problem, but seemed to improve the experience for both of us. (My partner had expressed worry that I wasn't really interested in her or didn't find her attractive enough, when that was not the case at all.)
posted by Sockpuppet Liberation Front at 4:35 PM on July 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

There may not be a lot to be done about the medication side effects. Long term treatment for generalized anxiety involves SSRIs, which all have reduced sex drive and anorgasmia as side effects. And the dosages for anxiety are higher for anxiety than depression. For some people, Wellbutrin can counter those side effects, but for many it will not.

Your partner may find a therapeutic approach like CBT to be helpful. It may even be enough to reduce his baseline anxiety to tolerable levels, such that he can just take a short-term med like Xanax as needed.

Needless to say, I'm just a random guy on the Internet, and your partner should be talking to his psychiatrist about his options. And if he doesn't get taken seriously, he should consider getting a second opinion.

Finally, note that while libido mismatch can be really tough, one can have good sex without achieving orgasm, especially if you stop making it a goal. Getting sexual release separately with porn and masturbation is also fine. But I wouldn't try to mix the two. It just leads to frustration and makes sex less about intimacy in-the-moment.
posted by serathen at 8:09 PM on July 13, 2016

When we do have sex, he can no longer cum, unless he is masturbating and watching porn

So he does have a sex drive, but he's anxious about doing it with you? How often does he jerk off, and in an ideal world, would he want to have sex with you that often?

As a person with anxiety around sex, I think brookeb's advice is very good. I also think that anxiety with no readily apparent cause is a physical problem and needs to be addressed physically. You can be as patient and forgiving as possible but his amygdala is still going to tell him DANGER DANGER!!! People have already suggested switching medications, so I'm going to suggest adding whatever makes him physically relax enough to have sex. Could be as simple as a hot bath, could be a glass of wine, massage, pot, whatever it takes. He needs to trick his brain so it stops sending danger signals..

I know some people will freak out about mixing drugs & alcohol with medication, but barring other medical issues, and as long as you don't overdo it, it's not likely to kill him. It can reset the brain so it doesn't associate sex with anxiety. Right now he's in a loop where since he was anxious about sex last time, he's anxious that he'll be anxious this time, which produces... you get the point. He doesn't have this anxiety around masturbation, so there's no vicious cycle.

tl;dr : try getting drunk or high a few times and fucking.
posted by AFABulous at 8:18 AM on July 14, 2016

It sounds like a combination of medication side effects and a worry spiral about sex. I think the second aspect has the greatest potential to be fixed. I also think you're a lot more likely to solve the problem if you're willing to go to counseling together, not just separately. Related to that, I would do my best to think of this as a relationship problem and not just "his" problem; his anxiety is certainly his own, but on the other hand, that doesn't mean the resulting dynamic is necessarily totally his creation. That's the kind of thing counseling can help you parse out.

I also think he should talk about the side effects with his doctor, but I very much don't think you should ask him to agree to switch meds for the sake of the relationship. Switching or adding meds can be a big prolonged process with a lot of potential for negative impacts throughout someone's life (making it hard to focus or behave appropriately, worsening the problem you're trying to treat, even causing serious new problems like mania or seizures or suicidal ideation in some cases, etc.). I feel pretty strongly that except in specific types of emergencies, decisions about psychiatric medication should really remain between the professionals who are going to be prescribing them and the person who's going to be taking them.
posted by en forme de poire at 4:15 PM on July 14, 2016

Does he have a job and the means to support himself? Is he even legally in your country? The answers to that may go a long way towards explaining why the poor man is anxious to begin with.

Perhaps the meds are not the solution to more practical issues in your life? Just saying...
posted by Kwadeng at 4:08 AM on September 11, 2016

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