Balancing patience & readiness in sexuality
December 4, 2016 11:15 PM   Subscribe

My partner is slowly working back towards sexuality/desiring sex (1-2/year). I'm being patient/respectful of her timetable, & can generally handle myself in the interim alright. Last time she felt up to being interested though, it was a bit out-of-the-blue for me and I had trouble going zero-to-interested quickly enough. Avoiding my dry-spell routines would probably help, but holding off for 0-12 months with uncertainty isn't exactly sustainable/pleasant. How do we balance this mis-sync?

In more detail:
We're both mid-20's, been together for about 3 years, engaged. She was more interested in sex when we first met, well before we dated, but between then and when she started dating that kinda fell away (as she describes). So this's generally been the pattern since we started dating. Not ideal for myself or either of us, but I'm definitely happier with the relationship as a whole than this is an issue, so it's been an ongoing question rather than "Should we continue this relationship?" sort of stakes.

When the topic comes up, she says that she's trying to relearn desire/wanting sex/sexuality on her own and that it's not a matter of me needing to do things to entice her. So I leave that alone, given that I don't want to be nudging/coaxing/bothering her, figuring that whatever's going on she's figuring it out for herself and if she did want my involvement she'd ask.

On my side I can generally, well, handle myself in the meantime. Again, not ideal, I miss the tenderness & physical connection, but it's a pattern I'm familiar with. I avoid videos, any sort of porn hedonic treadmill, etc.

However, the last time she was feeling up to things, I'm going from "Used to myself, strange time of night, recently ate, etc" to "Tell me what you want". And I want to be accommodating, this is a rare enough event and all, but I'm not in the right headspace. (And in general I have trouble with wanting any sort of thing for my own gratification anyhow, I'm more focused on "What can I do for my partner?", but that's a different sort of question)

So ultimately, I figure that we're in a non-ideal setup where I could try to be more readily in the right mindset, but given the uncertainty of "Maybe something'll happen in the next 6ish months?" that's not great. As far as helping her, the only thing I've gotten is "Be patient", which I can do but doesn't leave me feeling like I can help break the deadlock. She hasn't wanted to talk with anyone else about it in a therapy-type sense, so I come to the community for advice.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Can you talk to her about this?

My partner and I frequently get into a groove where life gets too hectic, despite the fact that we would both like to have more sex. So we just... talked about it recently and came up with some things we can both do (along the lines of making time for each other, setting a bedtime rather than sitting up late watching TV, etc). We don't talk about it in a "therapy type sense", more pragmatic and frank like two people who like each other and are on the same team about stuff.

It's understandable if her process involves not ever talking about sex in any way, no matter what. But your only real options here are to become more flexible in what works for you, or to talk to her about what to expect and how you can work together to figure out this aspect of your sex lives.
posted by Sara C. at 11:28 PM on December 4, 2016 [3 favorites]

My partner is slowly working back towards sexuality/desiring sex (1-2/year).

Define working. Is she seeing a therapist and talking with a doctor about it? Or just thinking about it inside her head? There's various medical conditions ranging from thyroid issues to depression that can cause lack of interest in sex as well as side effects from medication, but there's also many people with low sex drives.

I would strongly encourage you to not marry her unless this is actually resolved. It doesn't sound like you're sexually compatible, and despite your careful wording, you sound more like you're trying to convince yourself that you're OK with the situation than actually being fine with it. A lack of sex is a huge problem in many relationships and many relationships die a slow painful death because of it, even if everything else is fine. Being legally entangled before things work themselves out one way or the other just makes it worse.

in general I have trouble with wanting any sort of thing for my own gratification

Are you seeing a therapist about this? It's fine to support a partner, but you deserve to be happy too.
posted by Candleman at 2:29 AM on December 5, 2016 [19 favorites]

Recap: you've been together three years. It's been like this the whole time. She's not in therapy or talking to you about it, but she's "working on it".

I know this sucks, but you should not expect anything to change. Maybe it will! You never know! The universe contains infinite possibilities! But dude, it probably won't. In the course of your relationship she's never wanted sex, even though she did before you two started dating, and nothing's changed in three years.

Unless you're actually cool with sex 1-2 times a year, forever, Candleman is right - do not get married until this gets worked out.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 5:16 AM on December 5, 2016 [25 favorites]

It's fine for you to not want to be in the mood. Everyone has those moments. If it had happened several times, it would be different.

How is the rest of your physical relationship? Do you cuddle/kiss etc? This person may really like you in many ways, but not be sexually into you.
posted by Kalmya at 6:03 AM on December 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

I miss the tenderness & physical connection

My partner and I have slightly mismatched libidos but even when we're not having sex (like Sara C says, sometimes it's challenging when life is hectic and it's been really hectic lately) we're very affectionate with each other. And by that I mean a lot of kissing, touching, affection (verbally and physically) and snuggling. I love him and love being with him and show it in a bunch of ways and vice versa. So you sound like you're being really understanding about this, but I'd be wary of falling into the sort of cliché routine where you're saying "Everything's great with this relationship except we're basically not having sex" since that is, by all accounts, a friendship.

To your direct question, I agree with others that "working on it" should mean more than just thinking about it and the normative state of a partnered monogamous relationship should not be that it's set to one person's libido entirely. And I know its weird since you don't want her to have sex when she doesn't want to (obviously) but there are a LOT of ways to be sexy with one another or even say "I appreciate you sexually" that can be compromise positions, such as

- masturbating with/near each other
- having one of you get the other off without thinking about reciprocating
- bathing/massage together
- dirty talking and/or overt romantic interactions

And the question people often ask in this situation is whether this is a her thing (that is does she have a sex drive otherwise, does she masturbate, is she a sex-positive person in a general sense) or a you+her thing (some sort of bad fit or thing that the two of you can actively work on together) because addressing a generally low libido is different from addressing a partnership mismatch. Best of luck.
posted by jessamyn at 6:16 AM on December 5, 2016 [5 favorites]

Agreeing with those above. Get yourselves to a happy place in your sexual relationship before you get married. Surely she would agree. And if she doesn't—and if sex is important to you—then I'm sorry but you are a poor match unless you find a solution. A mature partner would, I hope, come to the same conclusion.

Therapy is an excellent idea.

Do you read aloud to one another? Try erotica!

Do you need to become more comfortable talking about sex in general? Try listening to the Savage Love podcast together while cooking dinner, cleaning house or driving. Make it a point to actively talk about it.

Together or on your own, masturbating is a good thing, healthy and recommended! Porn can be fun too. Good luck.
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 6:18 AM on December 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

in general I have trouble with wanting any sort of thing for my own gratification

If any of your partner's disinterest or distaste for sex come from abuse, it is certainly understandable that you would be very reluctant to do anything that makes your partner remember their abuse/abuser.
posted by puddledork at 6:42 AM on December 5, 2016

..Man. i'm legit taken by how understanding you are in this situation. This type of self-effacing love is very rare (and beautiful) .. and its easy to see how much she means to you.

That being said, if i were in your shoes, i'd find it insanely difficult not to be, on some level, resentful towards my partner if sexy times/affection were only to happen on my partners terms. Because you are equals. So for me, its not hard to imagine not being in the right head space at all, come that time. I'd rather decline and go do a goddamn sudoku, and i really suck at them.

I dunno if there is some trauma, undiagnosed medical thing (like someone said, a lazy thyroid will punt your libido right into the hudson if it gets bad enough), stress, anxiety or other thing at play here, but you guys have to resolve this before it starts eating away at you in a big way.

Sex, making love (!), snuggling up, touching, the warmth – all that good stuff is usually a pretty integral part of a healthy relationship, and i don't think its cool for you to not be 'allowed' to do those very natural, wonderful things with the person you love and have them reciprocated (!!!) until further notice (and at least for me, 'until further notice' feels like fucking eternity). From where i'm stand, it seems like you're doing most of the work here – again, i could be totally wrong, and i'm just thinking way too much from how i would feel in a similar situation.

i kind of see twenties as pretty much the best time to roll around in the hay (at least energy-wise), and i dunno, maybe your situation is a quality over quantity thing, and you two are legit okay with the status quo, but it seems like you're just kind of left wondering, and thats not alright.
posted by speakeasy at 12:20 PM on December 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

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