Mismatched libidos or expectations for sex in a long term relationship?
August 1, 2017 12:06 PM   Subscribe

My partner and I are in our mid 30's, in a heterosexual relationship for less than one year. We both very much want this relationship to be good for the long haul. Last night I initiated a conversation about the amount of sex we're having (not much), which ended with me in tears and him frustrated. I'm hoping for some advice on how to revisit this conversation. NSFW inside.

When he and I first started dating, we had lots and lots of sex, as expected in a shiny new relationship. He was generous with compliments and expressing his attraction to me. He even joked that he wasn't sure I could "keep up" with his sex drive. That was a challenge I was happy to accept, because I have a high drive myself.

But even early on, I was noticing that he didn't seem very adventurous or spontaneous when it came to sex. It was always in bed, and always at night right before we went to sleep, or in the morning right after we woke up. If I suggested that we go fool around midday, he declined. He has gone down on me exactly once. It's not my most favorite thing, so I don't really mind the lack of it, but I'm slightly bothered that he doesn't try, especially since I go down on him almost every time.

While the rest of our relationship is good and improving all the time, the sex has dropped off drastically in the last few months. He often says he's too tired, or not feeling well. He also stopped initiating. No more grabbing or groping me, no more pulling me on top of him. No more making out, kisses are just quick pecks. The only time he ever kisses me deeply is during sex, so I really miss that. It's always me who has to get him in the mood. He also doesn't seem bothered about my orgasm. When we were having sex more frequently, he lasted longer (which I need to be able to come), but now I very rarely have the chance to get off. I have to fish for compliments about my appearance and body. My self esteem has definitely taken a hit.

I don't think he has lost attraction to me due to my physical state. I take care to keep fit, have good hygiene, and dress well. I also give him plenty of compliments about his appearance and lots of affectionate touches. I make sure he feels appreciated and check in with him to make sure he's happy and has what he needs from me. I tried telling him gently that I would really like it if he initiated sex sometimes, and he said okay, but never did. I've tried asking him to tell me what he likes, and what turns him on, if he has any kinks, but he has yet to answer those questions with any more than, "I dunno," or "Just regular stuff."

I know I can't say this to him, but I miss the sex from my previous relationship. That relationship fizzled out for numerous other reasons and I definitely don't want to go back to it, but the sex was mindblowing. His intense attraction for me never waned. He couldn't keep his eyes or his hands off of me. Every time we had sex it only got better and better. He loved kissing me even more than he loved having sex with me. He loved going down on me even though I rarely come that way and never directly asked for it, he just loved tasting me and seeing the way I reacted to his touch. It didn't matter how tired he was, he always wanted me. And he always made sure I got off. We loved talking about sex too. On nights when we weren't in bed together, we'd talk all about the things we wanted to do to each other, new things we wanted to try, old things we wanted to do again and again, all the parts of each other's bodies that we missed. He had nothing but compliments about my sexual skills.

I learned from my ex just how important good sex is to me. I know it's not everything, and I don't expect (or want) my current partner to be exactly like my ex. I would be happy with just regular, reciprocal sex that's good for both of us. But I'm sad and disappointed that sex with my partner has become so mechanical, and almost like a chore for him. There's no more flirting or dirty talk either. Last night I asked him if he ever thinks about me or fantasizes about me, and he said yeah. I asked him what he thought about, and all he could muster was, "I don't know, normal stuff." I tried telling him about the things I think about and he didn't even react. I asked him how often he'd like to have sex, and he said, "I don't know, whatever you want." I said I'd like to have sex 2-3 times a week, and he replied, "Ok then. We'll have sex 2-3 times a week." It was like I was asking him to please take out the trash more often, or something equally unappealing but necessary.

I asked him if he is still attracted to me, if he still wants me. He said, "Of course. I told you, I've just been tired and stressed lately. I've been working overtime every week for a month." But the drop off in sex definitely precedes that. I said so, and he had no answer. I said, "We don't have kids yet, we have lots of free time to spend together even though we both work a lot. What's going to happen when we're older, more tired, and more stressed?" He had no answer. He was obviously irritated that I was trying to talk to him about it, and seemed baffled that I was unhappy enough to cry. He said he's just a simple person and doesn't ask anything of me. It felt like he was saying I want too much.

I guess if he just plain doesn't want to talk about it, there's nothing for me to salvage here, not unless I'm going to resign myself to a lifetime of infrequent and boring sex. But is that what he really wants too? What happened to the man who was all over me and couldn't get enough of me at the start of our relationship? How do I reach back to that version of my partner? Any advice, script, or reading would be much appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (27 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

Sex is important to you and it sounds like he is putting in as close to zero effort as he can - either to initiate or to ensure you're satisfied when it does happen. This kind of inattention to your needs after less than a year and multiple attempts on your part is a clear sign of what you can expect going forward.
posted by notorious medium at 12:27 PM on August 1, 2017 [43 favorites]

I'm sorry if this comes off as flippant. I don't mean to be, but I am making an observation: it sounds like what's going on is kind of like the title of that movie... he's just not that into you.

I say this having broken off a relationship years ago for almost the exact same reason. He was my best friend, we did everything together, but the bedroom chemistry just never was right between us. He would work himself up to the point where he was satisfied, roll over, and go to sleep. It also happened less and less frequently. I remember thinking that I couldn't go on that way, even though we'd talked about getting married. Finally - because we really were good friends and I didn't want to lose that, I delayed the inevitable for a long time, but then ended it. There was no salvaging the friendship. We haven't spoken since.

Fast forward to a relationship where the sex was fantastic, amazing, and which taught me it wasn't me, it was him. You already know this having experienced this in reverse order.

I think you should break up with him, in as kind a way as possible, because you don't sound happy and it doesn't sound like he wants to discuss the matter or make any changes. I had the same issue with my ex - he would never talk about it. And that was that.
posted by Crystal Fox at 12:28 PM on August 1, 2017 [8 favorites]

He sounds either really selfish or really uncomfortable with sex. It is not normal in a long-term relationship to not care whether your partner gets off. Is he as passive in conversations about other things as he is about sex? Did he talk about sex more functionally back when it was more frequent and working better for you?
posted by metasarah at 12:41 PM on August 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

When we were having sex more frequently, he lasted longer (which I need to be able to come), but now I very rarely have the chance to get off.

So...I fully respect that everyone's sexual responses are different and highly individual, and am not saying you "should" be one way or the other.

But...I am puzzled by the inherent assumption both of you seem to be operating under that whether or not you get satisfied has something to do with whether or not he still has an erection. For most women, it really, really doesn't. Women, after all, do manage to get their female lovers off without an erection (or an artificial substitute) anywhere in the vicinity. Latest research is that, for most women, PIV sex by itself isn't even sufficient to satisfy. It's especially weird and inappropriate that he's making the assumption that once he's done, it's all done. Assuming you're interested in staying in the relationship, and assuming you haven't actually demonstrated to your own satisfaction (heh) that it's PIV or nothing for you, have you addressed this with him? Does he know that his hands and mouth don't stop working once he's had his orgasm? Is he aware that modern technology has invented all sorts of mechanisms for satisfying someone with barely any physical effort at all on the other's part?
posted by praemunire at 12:45 PM on August 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

What happened to the man who was all over me and couldn't get enough of me at the start of our relationship?

The pheromones wore off. It happens.

How do I reach back to that version of my partner?

Really sorry to have to tell you this, but I've never heard of this ever having been achieved. You go to bed with the partner you have, not the partner you wish you had.
posted by flabdablet at 12:49 PM on August 1, 2017 [7 favorites]

He sounds lazy and I'm not surprised. Our culture rams down our (womens') throats how to be a sexy, sex-positive, sex-loving partner-pleaser (magazines, media, etc.) and what do men have? Bupkus. They think they learn from porn. Or they don't, and they just expect the sex to come and be great without any soul-searching or research.

I'm sorry - but it's not you.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 1:12 PM on August 1, 2017 [12 favorites]

This sucks! I think all you can do is kindly tell him you're leaving, and why. It's not sustainable unless you're both into the idea of an open relationship. (And even then, his communication style would make me not want to deal with him.) I say this as a person with an average sex drive at best.
posted by jessca84 at 1:13 PM on August 1, 2017

When the "new relationship energy" wears off, it's super normal for sex to become less frequent because the adrenaline rush isn't there any more. It sounds like that natural decline combined with a period of time where your partner is actually physically tired from working overtime, which compounded the problem.

I think you need to have another conversation with him. Let him know how you felt in the first conversation - that you didn't really feel that he was hearing you and taking you seriously. If I had to guess, he became overwhelmed in that conversation when you brought up the far future (kids, getting old) and kind of shut down. Give him another opportunity to talk through this with you. Don't even try to problem solve at first, just take turns expressing your feelings and hearing each other out.

Then, I think you need to ask for what you want. You won't get him to have sex with you as often as your previous partner did, but he may be willing to give more attention to your pleasure and orgasm. He may also be willing to try sex at midday on the weekend, for example.
posted by mai at 1:14 PM on August 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

This is sort of "gamey" but I think there is truth in it, take it as you will:
Often there is a natural distance between two people and it tends to be maintained pretty consistently.

So if Person A "wants" something, it's like they are moving closer to B and eating up that distance, and B will tend to pull away, to re-establish the same distance. Right now you are being Person A- trying to get closer- and he is pulling away.

What if you pulled back a bit? Would he pull closer? The "gamey" version of this is to stop asking for things from him, explore your own interests, dress up and go out more, flirt with other people, deepen your own sex life on your end (if you're not polyamorous, this might be through personal fantasy, etc).

If you pull back, he may want to move closer to lessen the distance between you. You don't have to do it spitefully, either, and I think it's healthier not to. Just be sure that you're fully feeding yourself, separately from him.

This could backfire into growing apart, but if that's what happens it would probably have happened pretty soon anyway. And I guess it can feel manipulative, and I guess in some ways it is, but from my observations it's a real thing that happens and it seems to be a pretty consistent aspect of human nature. Maybe worth thinking about even if you don't put it into actuon.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 1:29 PM on August 1, 2017 [8 favorites]

Tested his testosterone levels? Simple shots will turn him into a 17 year old again.
posted by Freedomboy at 1:29 PM on August 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

You're not compatible sexually. This isn't really going to get better, especially since he seems uninterested in making a robust sex life a priority. Whatever enthusiasm he was able to muster when things were new isn't his usual sexual state. His overestimation of his own sex drive also seems to be in line with his not being in-touch with his preferred sexual state. Our culture has outdated and incorrect expectations that all men have a practically insatiable sex drive while women are expected to be available and enthusiastic about it while not having much of a sex drive apart from pleasing their partner. Obviously this is ridiculous and wrong.

Just as you and your last partner were compatible sexually, but not otherwise, your current partner seems compatible otherwise, but not sexually. You should find someone who is compatible across all your needs, sexual and otherwise. It's not too much to ask.
posted by quince at 1:38 PM on August 1, 2017 [15 favorites]

He was obviously irritated that I was trying to talk to him about it, and seemed baffled that I was unhappy enough to cry. He said he's just a simple person and doesn't ask anything of me. It felt like he was saying I want too much.

I think the more profound mismatch here is about how you approach talking about your relationship. He seems to see you raising this issue as criticism of him, it makes him feel defensive, and he feels that his response has to be to do "whatever you want." His preferred approach -- the one he's taking -- is to "not ask anything" of the other person.

You may be able to work out an approach to discussing things like this that he
is more comfortable with, but IME it's a very hard difference to reconcile, even if both parties are willing to try, and it's the kind of thing that gets worse with time. I think there are other men out there with whom you will be more compatible, and happier with, long-term.
posted by mrmurbles at 1:41 PM on August 1, 2017 [8 favorites]

I'm sorry, but this guy is a dingus. You may have mismatched libidos and he may have a differing communication style, but if he doesn't care whether you get off or not, if sex is done when he is, that says something very gross about his opinion of you. It would be a dumpable offense for me.
posted by chainsofreedom at 1:54 PM on August 1, 2017 [20 favorites]

He also doesn't seem bothered about my orgasm. When we were having sex more frequently, he lasted longer (which I need to be able to come), but now I very rarely have the chance to get off.

I'm a guy, but this is a dumpable offence, certainly. If it happened once in a blue moon, accompanied by apologies and searching for what to do to make it up, then fine. As you describe it, he's just not that into you. Find someone who is.
posted by tillsbury at 2:06 PM on August 1, 2017

While the genders were reversed I was once in a relationship where a guy wanted to have sex with me all the time. I (much later) found out that my libido was killed because of my birth control. However the relevant part of this story is that he would do everything you're mentioning and doing: go down on me, affectionate touches that don't lead to sex, etc. Except that no matter what I felt like he was trying to get me to have sex (even when he wasn't). So those long passionate kisses went out the window because all that was going through my mind was "crap. We have to have sex now." I even told him I needed space but then cuddling in bed all I could think about was "oh crap, he wants me to have sex " even if he had done NOTHING.

You need to talk with your boo and let him know that you're going to let him breathe for a while. Ask him how long he'd like a hiatus for. Then, when that time is up keep waiting until they approach you. Or start a conversation again. Whatever. But give him time to breathe. No one wants to have sex with someone who is smothering them.
posted by raccoon409 at 2:10 PM on August 1, 2017 [6 favorites]

I've gone through almost exactly this - don't think it's you and I don't think you should just accept it. I accepted it for a year and that was 10 months too long. You know from experience that things can be much better than this. You deserve to hold out hope for that even if it's 5 years from now, it's better than never.

I had the same thing with an ex - he saw sex as a chore. I quizzed him a lot about it and it seemed that even with previous girlfriends, he just didn't really seem that into it either. My ex was also a "simple guy"....really, he was almost the same, right down to no kissing and only doing it before bed. It's just horrendously disappointing that someone can be so unspontaneous. My guy definitely had serious issues with intimacy and I'm fairly sure will never change. To him a girlfriend is just someone to have around for company and to cook with. It didn't feel like he was going off just me - I would have understood that! - and it sounds also like your guy is perfectly happy with the situation. Your situation is almost word for word like yours so I understand!

My ex was also super into me for about three weeks (how sad to type that)..but then reverted to type. I think he just really wanted a girlfriend - he needs to always have one - and he put the effort in, but it wasn't his natural state. This can happen. We had an amazing 7 hour conversation the first night where we really connected, and a few weeks of great chemistry - I never saw that guy again after about a month. And believe me, I looked for him! I feel I really went into depth about it with him - and conclusion was, it wasn't important to him, sex and intimacy were totally unnatural states for him, and he was so far from a good match that it's laughable now. I wish I hadn't wasted my time. I hated to hear this at the time but...that guy isn't coming back. And oh god, I feel you on the "bringing out the bins" thing...but anyway, chances are this isn't you, he's probably like this with everyone, and always will be, and can't be honest about it. He should be with someone who is up for this schedule, and you should be with someone who can make you happy.

I'm sorry to have to say but I really think you can do a lot better than this. You deserve that 'can't take your hands off each other' relationship, especially in the first few years! Looking back, I can't believe I put up with that for so long. It was like having a housemate. I feel more attractive single than I ever did with him. Hold out for something better than this.
posted by cornflakegirl at 2:19 PM on August 1, 2017 [21 favorites]

He has gone down on me exactly once. It's not my most favorite thing, so I don't really mind the lack of it

And have you told him that? Because if you have, that could be the problem! Many people like getting a lot more than giving oral sex, and that's a fine preference to have — but they should really try to get over it if both partners in the relationship like receiving oral sex. But not everyone likes it; I've dated a couple women who didn't, and they told me that from the beginning, so I never did it. So if you've ever told him, "It's not my favorite thing, and I don't mind not getting it," he might have taken that as an invitation not to do it.

If you have said that, or you just haven't said much about oral sex, try telling him directly that you want him to go down on you as often as you do for him. If he starts improving, well, at least that'll be an improvement in one area even if it doesn't solve your whole problem. But if he doesn't do it, then you'll have even clearer evidence that he's uninterested in changing.

Beyond that, I agree with everyone who said this seems like it's not going to get better and you should move on. If you had just one of the problems you mentioned (e.g. just timing, or just kissing, or just initiating), but your sex life were otherwise generally pretty good, I could see it being worthwhile to work on that one thing. But there are so many problems that that doesn't seem realistic. What really tops it all off is that he responds poorly whenever you try to communicate about it. A relationship can't work without good communication, and it sounds like you've at least tried to engage with him in discussing it, and he has no willingness to communicate about it at all.
posted by jejune at 4:47 PM on August 1, 2017

One more thought — this is particularly revealing:

He said he's just a simple person and doesn't ask anything of me.

Subtext: He doesn't want to talk about this or change. He "doesn't ask anything of" you, so why should you ask anything of him? It's like saying: stop bothering me with your wants and needs — it'll be so much easier for me if I don't have to think about them.
posted by jejune at 4:51 PM on August 1, 2017 [20 favorites]

One problem I see with trying to fix things up with the current guy, is that it is clear that a big part of what you loved about sex with your ex was feeling wanted like that. And the feeling that sex, and your sex life together, was important enough to him to pay a fair amount of attention to.

And the thing is, you might be able, through therapy or an agreement or an ultimatum, to get your current guy to change his behavior to an extent. You might be able to get him to step up the frequency a bit, maybe persuade him that he needs to get you off somehow if he comes before you do, possibly get him to go down on you.

But you're not going to get that other big part of what you need, and that is the genuine interest, the enthusiasm, being spontaneously generated inside him. He is who he is. The hot-to-trot guy you met in the beginning was high on new relationship energy, and now that he's settled back into his normal self, you're seeing what he's really like when he's not under the influence of limerance and the thrill of novelty.

The problem is not you, therefore the problem is not fixable by you. You're sexy and exciting and sexually sophisticated... your last relationship is evidence of that. And current dude is probably as attracted to you as he would be to anybody. He's just not that into sex. He thinks he is, or thought he was, but he's not that interested. Your definition of a high sex drive and his are miles apart. No matter what you do or say or try, he's probably never even going to meet you halfway. And you are going to be frustrated on an ongoing basis if you stay with him. And so is he, frankly. It's no fun to know you are continually disappointing your partner. It's also no fun to feel pressured for sex. And it's no fun to feel unwanted. It sucks for both people.

I say all this having been on both sides of the fence. I've been married to a sex fiend I couldn't keep up with who was constantly disappointed, and then to a guy who initiated almost never and made me feel like fucking me was an obligation, and once to a dude that was just plain bad at sex and wasn't willing to put any effort into getting better at it because his ego couldn't stand the insinuation that he wasn't already amazing in bed.

You've been together less than a year, I'd give some serious thought to cutting your losses and getting out so you can find someone who is more compatible. Honestly as someone who tried EVERYTHING to get my lower-sex-drive guy interested -- from reading every book on sex issues, to talking to him about it, to trying to be hotter, to trying to be more creative/adventurous in the bedroom, to backing off and busying myself with other things, in hopes that he'd eventually come to me -- nothing really helped and I just felt shitty for years. It never got better until menopause lowered my sex drive to where we are more in sync. (And now the balance is tipping the other way, and I'm the disappointing one... sigh) The point being, though, that that's a long time to feel shitty about your sex life.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 4:59 PM on August 1, 2017 [11 favorites]

It's sounds as if you're just not compatible. Not sexually, but not in other ways, either. I would personally beware of something who says that he is "just a simple guy and doesn't ask anything of you," because that sounds as if any discussions about the relationship will be viewed as criticism, and met with unwillingness and foot-dragging.

For me, that would be a deal-breaker, because no matter how great a relationship is, at some point, it's going to need some work and will almost certainly require participation, difficult discussions, and negotiations to keep going. I flat-out refuse to be the only partner doing the heavy lifting - or the *only* lifting, which is sounds as if you are. I'd rather be alone.
posted by dancing_angel at 5:47 PM on August 1, 2017 [7 favorites]

I have been happily married for twenty years. Alls I can say is that if you are unhappy with your sex life now, time will not improve things one bit.
posted by My Dad at 6:29 PM on August 1, 2017 [4 favorites]

Has he started any new meds around the time his sex drive dropped? Alternately, could he be depressed? Both of these things can lower a person's sex drive.
posted by MexicanYenta at 7:14 PM on August 1, 2017

Sorry, this doesn't get better.

There are plenty of women out there who aren't all that into sex. He needs to find one and make her a great partner. You need to find one of the many men out there who ARE into sex the way you like it and have a great time with him. The two of you don't work together.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:24 PM on August 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

I was your boyfriend in this situation (I am a woman). I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but this doomed my otherwise awesome three-year relationship. I had and have always had a low libido. In the early days, we had sex fairly regularly because things were still new and exciting. As time went on, our sex life dropped off dramatically. He made me aware of it and I tried to do better. As much as I loved him, it was still so difficult for me to push myself to do something that my body just did not want to do.

He broke up with me a few weeks before our third anniversary. At the time, I was extremely hurt and confused, but looking back on it, I totally get it and I can see how frustrating and painful it was for him (and must be for you). We're now good friends.

This is the kind of thing that unfortunately will likely never change, and will just continue to frustrate and hurt you. It may be time to end things.
posted by anotheraccount at 6:29 AM on August 2, 2017 [4 favorites]

It's called Chemistry for a reason, if you have the wrong ingredients it simply doesn't work.

It also doesn't have to Slowly fade. Sure the first months are crazy, but a year in you should still be having as much sex as you want. I'm over a dozen years in, 2 kids and in laws in the in law apartment and we still make it work.

Everyone has their "enough" number. Twice a day? Once a week? Whatever, as long as both (or more) people are getting what they need and don't feel compromised it's working.

What you have isn't working. You know this, you've had better, move on.
posted by French Fry at 6:58 AM on August 2, 2017

Having been in a relationship with mismatched libidos and a boyfriend who didn't want to talk about it, my first thought is to get out before it completely messes with your self-esteem and your sex drive.

But if you want to give it one more chance, I highly recommend reading Mating in Captivity by Ester Perel.

It's basic premise is that desire and intimacy aren't possible at the same moment, and must be carefully balanced.

Desire thrives on uncertainty and insecurity (which is why most couples have great sex at the beginning of a relationship when everything is new and you're unsure what each other are thinking or going to do). Love and intimacy require closeness and safety, but this dampens desire.

I thought if I'd read that book in my relationship I'd at least been more compassionate to myself and my ex, and if I'm ever in that situation again I'll ask my partner to read it and see if it's workable.

Good luck, you deserve a decent sex life with someone who cares about your pleasure and is able to communicate about your relationship l.
posted by Dwardles at 9:08 AM on August 2, 2017

He was obviously irritated that I was trying to talk to him about it, and seemed baffled that I was unhappy enough to cry. He said he's just a simple person and doesn't ask anything of me.

Oh boy, I had almost exactly this experience about two weeks ago. The sexual disconnect is bad but the unwillingness to talk about it is worse.

Sex is a sensitive topic that's likely to hit buttons about shame and inadequacy. And I don't think you can negotiate someone into throwdown sexual chemistry. But that 'simple person', 'doesn't ask for anything' response is a real worry. It's important to you and he dismissed your concerns because he didn't want/know how to respond.

Shutting down a conversation is the bigger relationship killer here (it has been in my case). Does he do this on other relationship topics?
posted by wreckofthehesperus at 12:32 PM on August 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

« Older Is it possible making 50K-70K doing Help Desk/...   |   Adoption group posting "private" email on Facebook Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.