I don't want it anymore. Is that a problem?
April 26, 2019 11:35 PM   Subscribe

We are the stereotypical longterm couple with mismatched libidos. Partner's libido is unusually high for a person of their age (40ish) - they would like to have sex at least once a day. My libido is nonexistent. Whose problem is this? Is a happy resolution possible?

We've been together for nine years. My libido has always been on the low side, especially after the new relationship energy wears off. In the past few years, it has dwindled to the point where I basically consider myself asexual. I rarely even masturbate. Various factors are behind this, including multiple medications, mental health issues, and a chronic pain condition. I expect to take the medications for the rest of my life.

Partner not only has a very high libido, but associates sex with emotional intimacy. When they are not getting it, they feel lonely and sad. They do not blame me for my inability to engage with them in this way, and they do not expect anything from me, but I know it's very hard for them to deal with and I worry that it's damaging the closeness of our relationship.

I have tried the "take one for the team once a week or so" but going through the motions like that brings up some serious emotional trauma for me, so it's a not really an option.

Before I discovered the asexual community a few years ago, I would have assumed that it's my responsibility to continue trying to find a way to meet my partner's sexual needs. Now that I know that it's "okay" to feel this way, though, part of me is resistant to the idea that my partner's way of being is the normal one and that I should try to be more like them.

(Note: I feel this way in all situations, not just in my relationship. I find it alarming and alien when people flirt with me.)

Should I keep trying to find a compromise, or just accept that this is the way I am? (I reiterate that all of the pressure is coming from me: partner is sad but resigned to the situation.)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (27 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

You don't mention anything about masturbation. I am guessing your partner is doing a fair amount of that?

For some cultures / couples / moralities there is a lot of shame or embarrassment around the idea, and maybe an element of secrecy and privacy.

So really hard to say if this can be a partial solution for you guys? If it can be more a participatory thing where you are there, not necessarily needing to participate fully, but hugging or maybe a bit of stimulating by hand as well? With the clear understanding that you do not really need it but that you also are part of the intimacy while partner takes care of their needs?

I dunno, but maybe this is an area you could explore?
posted by Meatbomb at 12:50 AM on April 27

Oh and sorry I was focusing in on the "find a solution" aspect, but for your other questions:

Whose problem is this?

Well it is not something one of you needs to take blame for, it is an issue for the two of you together, as a couple. It is not so different from "I want to go out in nature, they want to stay home all the time" or "I want to eat luxury foods, they like plain stuff". It is a point of incompatibility that needs understanding and compassion and some sort of concession for the two of you to work as a couple.

Is a happy resolution possible?

There is a lot to unpack and so much depends on attitudes of you and partner. The "they are sad" part indicates to me that the current setup is not right for them. What can be done aside from "force myself to do it, for them", also dealing with "they want this intimacy as a sign of love"?

So yeah, my reason for the masturbation topic above is maybe a solution in that 1) you do not need to be too engaged in what you are not interested in 2) you are there and so sharing intimacy with them.

If your partner was way into football, you might not want to sit and watch the game, but you might be willing to hang around read a book while they are watching, congratulate them when they are excited their team is winning, right? Sort of same idea here.
posted by Meatbomb at 1:00 AM on April 27 [5 favorites]

Betty Dodson, Sex For One
posted by parmanparman at 1:02 AM on April 27 [1 favorite]

Low libido is a known side effect of countless drugs. If you have a decent doctor (many of them sadly are not), this is something you can work with them to resolve if that's something you are interested in doing.

It's also entirely possible that your partner would be fine with physical closeness not involving sex but lacks the words to express that, as many people do. If so, it might be worth trying to make time for cuddles.
posted by wierdo at 1:04 AM on April 27 [4 favorites]

I would maybe suggest that you consider how you feel about the way you are. If you're only thinking about yourself, do you want to have sex? If your partner weren't a factor in this, would you be interested in a sexual relationship with someone? If your chronic pain disappeared tomorrow, would you be excited to have the opportunity to pursue sexual experiences?

The phrasing in this question suggests to me that maybe you wouldn't—that it's not worth the time and stress and potential discomfort of it to you. Reading this doesn't sound like you're neutral on sex, it sounds like you actively dislike it and would prefer to avoid it. If that's the case, I, personally, would work on accepting that this is how you are. You don't have to want or like sex! It's ok not to! Finally internalizing that was really amazing for me, and allowed me to figure out a lot of things about my sexuality and relationships that had previously been sort of baffling.

That said, one of the things that I would consider as you turn this over is that right now, your partner is sad but resigned, but they may not always feel like that. Sex is a dealbreaker for a lot of people, and it's possible that your partner may become sad but resentful, or even sad but angry. There's a lot of social pressure that says that people in a relationship have to have sex with each other, or even that they're entitled to sex with each other, and I suspect that this is where your feelings of needing to meet their needs are coming from. But that's a really one-sided way of looking at things. Is your partner's "need" for sex more important than your desire to not be traumatized? Is it more important than your right to feel ownership of your body and sexuality? Societally, we really push the idea that sexual "needs" trump almost everything, and that catering to them is paramount. I would suggest that your own needs are just as important, though, and deserve just as much respect and consideration.

A happy resolution might be possible, but it will likely involve compromise on both sides—maybe you actively initiate sex if you think you feel up to it, and your partner learns to find intimacy in nonsexual things, for example. I don't believe that it's something you can do by yourself, and I don't believe that trying to force yourself to be something you're not will ultimately lead to happiness for anyone involved. Please take care of yourself, and feel free to message me if you'd like someone who's been there to listen sympathetically.
posted by mishafletch at 1:13 AM on April 27 [16 favorites]

I have tried the "take one for the team once a week or so" but going through the motions like that brings up some serious emotional trauma for me, so it's a not really an option.

Yeah, don't do that. Sex with a partner who is not fully into it is not sex, merely a complicated and inconvenient form of masturbation. Sex is the world's best mutual entertainment. If it isn't mutually entertaining it isn't sex and any emotional intimacy it appears to be providing is utterly illusory.

Problem ownership for managing mismatched libidos in a committed relationship is with the person whose libido is higher. Your partner already understands this:

They do not blame me for my inability to engage with them in this way, and they do not expect anything from me

So the problem is not actually the lack of sex. Here's the problem:

When they are not getting it, they feel lonely and sad.

Your partner's loneliness and sadness is not your problem, except insofar as you love them and it's difficult for you to witness.

I know it's very hard for them to deal with

Doesn't change the fact that it is their problem. Managing the behaviour our emotions prompt in us, and managing the stories we tell ourselves about our circumstances in ways that help us respond as we'd prefer to, is simply not a thing that it is possible for anybody else to do for us. Each of us has to to do it for ourself because when it comes right down to it we're the only one in here.

It's completely on your partner to decide whether or not they can deal with having less sex than they think they'd like to. And the fact that this relationship has lasted as long as it has is a pretty strong indicator that they have already accepted that they can.

I worry that it's damaging the closeness of our relationship

You're with somebody who conceives of sex as important to emotional intimacy and has already demonstrated willingness to put that belief aside for years in order to stay partnered with you. I'd say that your relationship is on pretty solid ground.

They love you. You as you are. The complete package.

part of me is resistant to the idea that my partner's way of being is the normal one and that I should try to be more like them.

It matters not a whit what's "normal". All that matters in a relationship is what the people involved in it choose to do.

I can think of nothing more absolutely guaranteed to shut down a libido than a feeling of obligation to perform. If you can get to a point where you genuinely accept that what you feel is what you feel and that you're every little bit as entitled to your own feelings as your partner is to theirs, then who knows what might happen?

When your partner is lonely and sad you can offer them sympathy and comfort (a hug can go a long way!) but you can't offer them sex - not real sex, the kind that provides the emotional intimacy they're lonely and sad for lack of - unless you genuinely feel horny or at least have reason to believe that you would feel horny once proceedings got underway. If the underlying motivation is a desire for genuine intimacy then there is no point faking it unless you know that for you, faking it is genuinely going to help make it.

There may come a day where you actually want to say to them hey, wanna go back to bed and fool around? And that would be a lovely day for both of you. But the only way that's ever even going to have a ghost of a chance to happen is if both of you are completely accepting of the idea that perhaps it never will and that even though that's sad it's OK.

Sexual compatibility is one of those things that's conventionally held to be bedrock necessary for a sustainable long-term relationship; religious compatibility is the other big one. But I know plenty of long term, committed, loving couples where neither of these compatibilities is present. No earthly reason why you and your partner can't be another, if that's what both of you want to keep doing.
posted by flabdablet at 4:02 AM on April 27 [19 favorites]

I don't think you have to have penis-in-vagina sex to take one for the team, but I do think that if physical intimacy is a crucial component of emotional connection for a team member, and you want to be on the team, you need to figure that aspect out. People can be physically intimate without intercourse. You can be naked together while one or both of you masturbates.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:49 AM on April 27 [24 favorites]

In addition to finding additional ways for your partner to feel close to and loved by you, if they are interested in having sex outside of your relationship, I think you should be supportive of that. You should never ever feel obligated to have sex that you don't want, but living without sex is devastatingly painful for some of us, and preventing someone you love from accessing it elsewhere isn't right.
posted by metasarah at 5:13 AM on April 27 [38 favorites]

flabdablet's comment evoked some feelings and thoughts for me. Inasmuch as, sure, finding sexual gratification or any other kind of gratification is on the desiring partner to figure out how to get their needs met, that's not necessarily a charitable way of looking at something that used to be a shared pursuit and responsibility. Relationships change, but while you each rediscover what you respectively need and want or don't want, I think it's important to acknowledge that the rules you mutually agreed upon, implicitly or explicitly, at the beginning of your relationship are changing. You should leave space for them to change even more, if you're willing to radically embrace change together.

Otherwise, this is where monogamy can really become toxic, because from here, it can set up a specific, small set of behaviors that are acceptable. Meeting that need by oneself, with one's own hands and tools, perhaps with erotica or porn but never with someone else emotionally or physically present, and quietly, perhaps, to avoid making the asexual partner feel in some way uncomfortable or inadequate or like a conversation needs to be had, can become the only "OK" way to proceed for many in situations like this, and that can start to feel like the less sexual or asexual partner is holding the sexual partner hostage to a very narrow path forward. It doesn't sound like that's what you want to do, so you need to be aware of that potential dynamic.

That dynamic is probably there in some ways already if you're feeling this, and it probably extends beyond strictly sexuality. It can start to feel like a personal affront to continually feel your needs are secondary to those of the person in the relationship with worse medical issues or greater needs of any sort. You have to talk about that. While as flabdablet notes, it might be OK, it also might be worse beneath the surface than you think. This is like discovering a rotten spot in your wall. You really need to do something about this, to investigate and plumb those depths together.

You're with somebody who conceives of sex as important to emotional intimacy and has already demonstrated willingness to put that belief aside for years in order to stay partnered with you. I'd say that your relationship is on pretty solid ground.

Just to add a data point, though, that doesn't mean things are actually solid or that they will be willing to set aside or simply manage their own sexuality forever. This is a perfectly fine answer, if it's really the answer for your partner, but don't assume it definitely is unless you hear that somehow for sure from them. Assuming that when you're not actually on the same page can be disastrous.

I wanted to note, too, that more context might be useful in a specific regard, because this most likely isn't just about sexuality. It probably involves other areas of your life. This is a very common story for those dealing with mental and physical health issues that impact or change sexuality, and you would do well to read up on the issues faced by caregivers. Beyond your own lack of willingness, they might also be dealing with issues of being less attracted to someone they have to care for or have frequently seen in pain. It could be like a double loss for them, mourning both the loss of your desire for them and their potential loss of desire for you. Don't assume this only goes one way.

One possibility that came to mind was that some of how your partner takes this can also depend on whether they hope (or once hoped) to have procreative sex with you at some point, because while there are other options if your partner is a woman and that's something they would want still and you haven't already had kids and it's not too late, other options may not be what they want. So if that's at all still on the table for you, or if it ever was, consider that they might be thinking through what it might take to be together often enough for laddering up to that to feel like a real possibility for you two. If it's still on the table, there might be more than sex on their mind—they might be thinking through whether, if you did that together, they would have your support in that adventure as well, and perhaps wonder if the pain would make it impossible for you to be an equal partner or support them. And if kids have been taken off the table, even with their agreement, they also might be experiencing a lot of feelings about that major life choice that of course will resonate in this area of your lives. They might be wondering if they set aside any desires they might have had in that regard for a partner who now won't even try to meet their needs.

This is all speculation, of course, but I know people for whom all of the above were part of the constellation of concerns, and it was a big part of what pushed them apart after more years than you've been together, so it seemed important to raise. This all may not be part of the picture for you two, but these are thoughts a partner can have in that age range and under those circumstances. Don't assume you're good here unless you hear it from them. And don't assume it's just about sex, or just about feelings of love and desire and closeness. Other emotions and areas of your lives might be coming into play in ways neither of you expect.
posted by limeonaire at 5:24 AM on April 27 [29 favorites]

Sometimes loving each other isn't enough. if opening the relationship doesn't work for you (as metasarah suggests) you guys can also consider separating over this. I had the best sex of my life near my 40s. it was a combination of confidence, knowing what I wanted, and libido. I can't imagine having been with an asexual partner. and of course for you, you are not a performing seal. You shouldn't be physical when that's not you. Love yourselves, love each other, but realize that different sexual needs is an acceptable deal breaker.
posted by biggreenplant at 5:27 AM on April 27 [33 favorites]

Here are a couple of articles on coping with mismatched libidos.

It might be worthwhile to talk to a sex therapist, not with the goal of "fixing" your libido but to find ways you as a couple can navigate the situation.

If you haven't yet and are open to it, you might talk to your doc about the side effects you're experiencing. You say you don't want it "anymore" which suggests that you used to have stronger desire, but something about your description of the situation makes me think you might prefer not having a libido? I could be misreading.
posted by bunderful at 6:06 AM on April 27 [4 favorites]

You're the expert on the extent of your responsibility to your partner, not us, but I think I can say that you don't have a responsibility to be "like them." That doesn't mean you have no responsibility, either, though.

I feel like you have a lot of guilt surrounding this situation and I'm not trying to pile on. Society's expectations around sex are truly disturbing and I do not mean to reinforce them or recreate them. I do want to gently encourage you to separate them from issues specific to your relationship (and partner). You and your partner love each other, and if you can insulate your relationship from all the messages floating around about other people, I think you can make a lot of progress.

I wish I could link something specific, but generally, relationship anarchists have a lot of good writing about re-imagining relationships to make them better for the people in them. That, to me, is the way to go here. Although society's treatment of asexuality / sex affects your ability to understand and communicate your own needs and preferences, I think that ultimately it is a red herring when it comes to managing this in your own relationship.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 7:31 AM on April 27 [3 favorites]

That doesn't mean you have no responsibility, either, though.

To be crystal clear: I don't think you have a responsibility to do anything specific, sexual, etc. But if your partner's needs aren't being met and you're keeping them from getting those needs met outside of the relationship, that seems to be something you have some responsibility for managing, addressing, etc.

I feel a little odd saying that because it is your partner and I assume you're more motivated than I am to facilitate their needs getting met, so you're probably already doing this! But yes, I think that you should keep treating this as a relationship problem, not a your-partner-alone problem.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 7:34 AM on April 27 [8 favorites]

I've been in this situation of mismatch before and I am also emphatically not wired for nonmonogamy. And it's usually me who's super sexually interested and my partner who is not or who becomes not over time.

It can be frustrating for sure, but I think two things have really helped for me, mechanically, day to day:
1) That my partner has said that masturbation and porn is absolutely okay with them for me to do/consume and I can do whatever/whenever as long as it's not in front of other people. :) To be honest, it turns out I am a shy, furtive creature, so I am not all out with this by any means, but having it be blanket-statement okay has been super helpful to make me not feel cornered and trapped in a sexless/joyless world when I'm super sexually interested but my partner is not.
2) Physical intimacy and closeness, cuddlebunnies, snuggling, even to the point of scheduling it or making an intentional habit of it.
(Actually 3): Casual intimacy, physical signs of affection, even the occasional PDA, but just having it be okay to touch, to pet (shoulder, back, waist, hip, knee), casual public intimacy and having it be welcomed and reciprocated can also be super helpful in not making me feel sad and lonely.
posted by kalessin at 7:39 AM on April 27 [11 favorites]

if your partner's needs aren't being met and you're keeping them from getting those needs met outside of the relationship, that seems to be something you have some responsibility for managing, addressing, etc.

With respect, unless you've physically chained your partner to the wall it's not you stopping them from getting anything at all; their choice to stay in a relationship is just that - their choice - and if they're able to do that, which they clearly are, then they clearly have no needs that the relationship is failing to provide, merely strong desires or preferences or wants.

It's nobody's responsibility to make their partner happy.

Which is not to say that acting in ways that let your partner be happy - in other words, pleasing your partner - isn't a good idea, because it clearly is. But for anybody who makes an ongoing choice to stay in any given relationship, even if they can imagine themselves happier if there were things about their partner that are different from what they are, dealing with any unpleasant feelings they experience as a result of that choice is entirely on them.

Healthy relationships are built on boundaries and clear communication, not on demands.
posted by flabdablet at 8:51 AM on April 27 [4 favorites]

Is it all possible that you're choosing partners that you aren't particularly sexually attracted to or compatible with? You do say that you are sexually involved to some extent with "new relationship energy," but that it you become asexual in those relationships after the fact. I've personally had the experience of becoming basically asexual in a long term relationship with someone with whom I wasn't sexually attracted to or compatible with, but in subsequent relationships, when I prioritized finding someone with whom I was, my libido remainded exceptionally high even long term with those people. It might be worth seriously examining whether you are indeed sexually attracted to and compatible with your partner to begin with. It's sometimes easier to look to place resoning/blame on multiple and complicated external factors, but often times the answers to problems are simple internal ones.
posted by OnefortheLast at 9:09 AM on April 27 [5 favorites]

I can't imagine having been with an asexual partner.

Just for the record, this is the kind of thing people often say to asexual people who are vulnerable and asking for help. It’s somewhat understandable that many people reading this kind of question will choose to put themselves in the shoes of the non-ace partner when framing their advice, but it’s not a helpful thing to tell a vulnerable person that you can’t imagine being stuck with someone like them, as if they’re intrinsically a burden and unsuited to romantic life. If you haven’t spent time in ace spaces or read up much on the kinds of nonsense ace people have to deal with every day, it might not be obvious how many boxes we’ve already ticked in this thread.

There’s nothing wrong with being asexual, and you aren’t broken by feeling as you do or being who you are. You aren’t being asexual at your partner.

To answer your questions more directly, it’s not inherently more ‘normal’ to want sex every day than it is to want sex only rarely, and your partner’s way of being is not better even if it’s more socially lauded than yours. There are two things you can do here that will probably both help you feel a whole lot better in a relatively short timeframe:

1) Accepting and loving yourself the way you are, having kindness and compassion for yourself and not internalizing too much negative self-talk. Take a break from consuming relationship articles and what other people think of your orientation and just love yourself as you are for awhile. Get in some solid self-care time, and remind yourself that you are loveable and deserve to be happy as much as anyone else.

2) Doing some deep introspection and figuring out what you are comfortable with, what makes you happy, what your ideal relationship dynamics look like, and then initiating as honest and open a conversation with your partner about this as you can. Be candid about what you want and don’t want, and open the lines of communication together. In addition to sharing where you’re at and what you need, you’ll also get a chance to see where your partner is in all this. If your partner is fine and happy, that reassurance will probably really help you tamp down that anxiety you’ve been having about this. If there are things that would help your partner feel loved and valued that aren’t sexual and aren’t already a part of your relationship, that’s good information to have too, and can help you navigate your needs and boundaries together. Your needs are just as important as your partner’s, so it’s important to give yourself room to really consider what you want and need from your romantic relationships. What would help you feel loved and valued? Talk about it, touch base and see where you’re at as a couple, and then compare that to the relationship you want and would bring you the most joy. Do they match? Could they match? If ultimately you find that you just aren’t happy together, then separating is perfectly valid and nothing to feel bad about. If things are basically going well, though, I wouldn’t jump to that assumption just on the basis of having a mismatched libido.
posted by suri at 9:25 AM on April 27 [18 favorites]

There’s nothing wrong with being asexual, and you aren’t broken by feeling as you do or being who you are. You aren’t being asexual at your partner.

Quoted for truth.

As a person who has been your partner in two different otherwise great relationships in the past though, I'll say it might just be that even though neither person is wrong, it still might be a relationship that doesn't work. Physical intimacy is important to me. I can intellectually understand, but emotionally still only feel loved 90% without that part. Unwanted. "Taking one for the team" doesn't help, in fact it makes it worse and makes me feel like a gross person for wanting that. I don't want to make my partner feel bad, and I also don't want to have to feel bad for what I want.

And I haven't thought my former partners were bad people or had something wrong with them. Just, I wanted to find the person right for me in the long run.
posted by ctmf at 9:56 AM on April 27 [14 favorites]

A few folks have raised the fact that there's a lot of cultural stigma/expectation around sex, and that may be unhelpful in finding a happy outcome in your situation for everybody.

Maybe it would be helpful to think of this in terms of any other activity or life goal or important aspect of a relationship. If it wasn't sex, how would you approach it if it were something like

- My partner wants to go bowling every night, I don't want to
- My partner is active in a church, I'm agnostic
- My partner is really close to their family and wants to spend lots of time with them, I don't care for their family even though I love my partner

In each of these cases, some couples can agree to let the partner who is deeply interested in bowling, church, or family pursue those activities separately so long as they don't deeply affect the other parts of your life.

In others, a person is only going to be happy if their partner participates too. I have had partners who were super into their family, I was not. We were sexually compatible (as far as I know) and had a great time, but I did not want to spend nearly every weekend at some family activity with her religious, conservative family.

Should I keep trying to find a compromise, or just accept that this is the way I am? (I reiterate that all of the pressure is coming from me: partner is sad but resigned to the situation.)

I don't feel like you need to keep trying if this is coming from you. There's nothing wrong with who you are and if you do not wish to have sex, you shouldn't have to. There's nothing wrong with wanting to have sex with your partner, but if it's off the table it's off the table. "Sad but resigned" doesn't sound like a great way to go through life.

Were I in your partner's shoes, I can imagine having the open relationship conversation, and if that's a no-go, then being sexless the rest of my life isn't something that fits what I want out of life. Nor would I want to make my partner feel pressured, but just closing the door on that aspect of my life isn't really something I'm ready to do.

But I do feel like this is a decision they have to make. It sounds like you have realized what you need and want, and been honest about it, it's just not aligning with what they want. If it's a dealbreaker for them, I think they need to say so. If it's not, then it's up to them to propose workarounds for their sexual desires and you can decide if those work - e.g., non-monogamy, or turning a blind eye to self-gratification on their part, or whatever that doesn't require you to participate in activities you are uncomfortable with.
posted by jzb at 10:20 AM on April 27 [3 favorites]

If you and your partner want to stay partners and be a team, this is a both-of-you-together problem, not a you-problem or a them-problem. I have seen this issue end several relationships, where the person who didn't want to have sex treated it as solely the other person's problem and blamed them for being "pushy" or just generally felt that because sex was not important to them, it wasn't important, period, which was ultimately very unhelpful. If you don't ever want to have sex and they at some level need it as an expression of emotional intimacy, it's a problem for your relationship, and not the kind of problem that "taking one for the team" is going to solve, because what your partner wants is the emotional intimacy of sharing pleasure and not for you to lay back and think of England and tolerate their touch. I would personally find it crushing if I found out that someone I was with thought of sex with me that way, and it's not surprising that your partner finds it depressing.

Talk through with your partner about how you might be able to meet each other's needs. Talk through with your partner what you each need in a relationship, including this, and whether each of you think that it's a better idea to stay in this relationship as is or transition it to an open relationship or a friendship, or some other different shape. Clearly you care about each other very much, but that doesn't mean you need to follow a particular relationship structure when that's clearly not working for you, and it's so much better to end the relationship on good terms than wait for it to turn into a huge mess of bitterness and resentment. If you need a counselor for this, get one. Having had to end a relationship in the interest of preserving the underlying friendship, I get that this isn't always easy, but it's definitely worth doing if you really care about each other.

With regard to your diminished sex drive, talk to your doctor. I also have chronic pain on multiple meds, and this is something you can work with. If your doctor blows you off about this, see a different doctor. There is a lot of stigma around sexuality and disability, and chronic pain definitely changes things about sexual expression, but there's no reason for this to be yet another thing you lose if you don't want to lose it. People with disabilities are as entitled to have and express our sexualities, to have partners, to be in relationships, as currently-abled people.
posted by bile and syntax at 10:48 AM on April 27 [11 favorites]

I could have written your post verbatim, like even down to the number of years together. I think the responses here are well-intentioned but a lot of them are really raising my arm hairs.

First of all, I believe you when you say you need to be on these medications for life. People who aren't in your situation may think it's easy enough to just find another medication but the reality is there are some conditions/medication types for which there is no alternative without libido side effects. Plus, the process of subjecting your body to switching off and on medications to find an alternative can wreak havoc on the conditions you are taking them to treat. For example, I tried switching around brain meds to find one that didn't cause libido issues and the constant weaning off old meds and ramping up on new ones made my depression and anxiety a nightmare.

Telling your partner they can masturbate and watch porn all they want, or have an open relationship is also well-intentioned but not a solution for many people. Masturbation/porn doesn't solve your partner's desire for emotional connection. When I realized this, it made me understand how it was crappy of me to think that was a reasonable solution. As for nonmonogamy, your partner wants the emotional connection with you, not with just anyone. I think these suggestions really do a disservice to your partner's needs.

I don't really have any great solutions as I'm still trying to figure this out myself. I just wanted you to know you aren't alone, and that this situation is complex. One thing I have been trying to do is be more empathetic to my partner and their desire for emotional connection. We are working on identifying ways to build that connection that are satisfying to both of us, not look for quick fixes. I hope you can do the same.

Memail if you ever want to talk more with a likeminded person. Also if you come across an online community that discusses this well, I would love to know about it!
posted by joan_holloway at 11:22 AM on April 27 [17 favorites]

I've been on both sides of this in different relationships (am currently identifying as gray-ace), and one thing I would add to this discussion -- gently of course, and with some caveats -- is that some party in every unbalanced relationship ends up "taking one for the team" -- it's just that the hit looks different. It's unquestionably more traumatic and emotionally damaging to have sex when you don't want to have sex, and that shouldn't happen in any relationship. But if sex no longer happens in a relationship that was formed with all parties being into sex with each other, and it's not mutual, the person who still desires sex ends up in the "take one for the team" position. It may not be as hard a hit, but it can still cause trauma, or dredge up feelings around old traumas or rejections, or cause other emotional harms. The person who still desires sex is not *necessarily* going to feel those things, but if they do, the feelings are valid, and can't be ignored, argued against, or expected to vanish, no matter how much the person who still desires sex may wish they didn't feel those feelings.

I would also say -- again, gently -- that "sad but resigned" is a phrase that catches my notice, because nothing kills a relationship like resignation, in my experience. Feeling resigned about a behaviour in a partner that you don't like (spending habits, self-care, hobbies, anything) starts to eat away at your regard for that person. This may not be fair, but it has happened to me (again, both as the resigned person and as the person at whom resignation was directed).

Frustration, sadness, or anger are a little easier to work with, because some of the intensity comes from hope that the situation can be improved. I have not personally experienced resignation ever evolving into acceptance in any of my relationships, and over time it has always caused the relationship to end. This may not be true for everyone, and "resignation" may be acceptance for your partner, but I do agree with others above that trying to talk through this with your partner is important.
posted by halation at 11:43 AM on April 27 [27 favorites]

I don't know how helpful this will be, but I thought I'd just share some thoughts I've had on sex after having a big realization about my sexuality ~2 years ago. I honestly thought I was asexual in a previous relationship, but being in my current relationship I have started to realize it is *much* more that I need a really really specific and narrow set of circumstances to enjoy penetrative sex where I am the person being penetrated, and a completely different and much wider set of circumstances where I enjoy sex that doesn't involve me being penetrated but does involve me helping another person get off in various ways (especially using toys).

I don't say this at all to negate asexuality as valid, but just to share that if you want to try sexual activity, it does *not* have to involve penetrative sex even though that's kind of what we're taught (especially for het relationships) by everything around us in society. Exploring sex as a top really really helped me find what turned me on that I'd been missing my whole life, and I just hope sharing it here might open up an avenue to explore with your partner if it at all relates to your situation and is something you feel comfortable trying.
posted by augustimagination at 12:09 PM on April 27 [3 favorites]

I would also add that from what I understand of asexuality, it is very different from eventually reaching a state of involuntarily abstinence in absence of a sexual desire driven primarily by new relationship/partner experiences.
posted by OnefortheLast at 12:30 PM on April 27

While I don't think it's your responsibility to do anything you don't want to do with your body sexually, I do think there is a responsibility to try to understand and resolve some of this with your partner. A relationship is work and compromise for each person, hopefully equally in some ways. And saying it's only your partner's responsibility to manage their sex life and their hurt feelings is really strange to me. Like, yes you can't MAKE your partner happy and to a certain degree they can control how they act on emotions. But the emotions are bubbling up because of the change in relationship dynamic that they had no control over. To say it's only on them to figure it out, not to figure it out as a couple managing changes together isn't personally how I work in my relationships. We approach issues as a team to find a solution that can work for each of us.

Like, I assume you went into this relationship with different views about sex. And now things have changed. Yes, it's okay to be the way you are. No you don't have to change yourself. You can accept the way you are. But this newer/long term relationship dynamic may not be okay for your partner and you can't force them to be okay with it. So you need to talk about that change and figure out what your partner really needs. Are they okay with other types of intimacy that you can comfortably provide? Will they never be okay with that and perhaps this relationship cannot proceed as a romantic one for them? What is the best path for each person's physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing?
posted by Crystalinne at 12:53 PM on April 27 [14 favorites]

Partner's libido is unusually high for a person of their age (40ish) - they would like to have sex at least once a day.

You didn't specify a gender and I am not making any guesses, but since you say that as a blanket statement you should know that for women that is profoundly usual. not even a little bit unusual. not that there is anything wrong with a man being like a typical woman in this way, either. it makes me wonder if you're significantly younger than that yourself, to say such a thing.

but it doesn't matter what is typical since there are only two of you. do not force yourself into unwanted sex again; if they are a decent person they will despise themself for consenting to put you through it, and if they aren't, you don't want to have to know that. it is not like masturbation, as someone suggested; masturbation doesn't hurt anybody.

you don't have to, and you should not compromise in that way. if you ever suspected it was the only thing that might save the relationship, you should absolutely not do it. it doesn't just bring up old trauma, it is new trauma. this incompatibility may eventually kill your relationship, it is reasonably likely that it will, but repeatedly harming yourself for their pleasure absolutely will kill it. and sooner.

you might choose to compromise by opening the relationship, although I don't think it would help. you might end up amicably separating, because living with someone you are passionately attracted to who does not feel the same way can be painful. but if your partner doesn't want to do that, don't volunteer to leave them out of some self-sacrificial ideal. if you are or want to be happy with the relationship as it stands, where you are not physically intimate with them and do not have plans to be, do your best to enjoy it and be in the moment. accept that it may not last for always, and then put that thought away.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:39 PM on April 27 [7 favorites]

I thought my libido had died. But it turned out I wasn't attracted to my partner anymore, despite continuing to love them platonically.

Leaving my marriage has been the absolute greatest thing for my life, my mood, my sex life and my mental health. I absolutely think this is a valid and important reason to break up and rebuild yourself and your sexual health.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 6:28 AM on April 29 [3 favorites]

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