Danger Will Robinson! Sex life in jeopardy! Help!
June 5, 2008 12:52 AM   Subscribe

So, my girlfriend and I have been in a long-term (almost 4 years) relationship with one another but, unfortunately, about a year and a half ago our sex life ground to a halt.

I should preface this entire question with the fact that I'm 100% completely and absolutely in love with my girlfriend. She's everything I've ever wanted in a partner and she's my best friend. I'm also 100% positive that the feeling is mutual, but for some reason we no longer have sex.

I've already gone through the litany of different reasons why this could be, and I (in my head) boiled them down to this:

1. She's no longer sexually attracted to me. 2. I'm not fulfilling her desires properly. 3. She's either physically or mentally ill and its affecting her libido. 4. She's had some sort of traumatic past experience with sex that is emotionally affected her.

We used to be hot and heavy. In fact, although I'm not in particularly proud of it, we had sex on the first date. I was immediately infatuated with her and we've been a couple ever since that day. And for the first year to two years things were fine. We'd have sex on what I consider a "normal" basis for two early 20 year olds - which amounted to about twice or three times a week. I realize that "normal" varies wildly from relationship to relationship, but that was normal for us. Things were great. I lived by myself while she was a few towns away at college. We mainly saw each other on the weekend for that first year which my girlfriend attributes to one of the reasons why we had sex so frequently.

About a year and a half ago my girlfriend moved in with me. Towards the end of her collegiate career we tested the waters and we got along fantastically - so we decided to make it permanent.

But thats when things went downhill. Since then our sex life has stopped. We have actual full-on intercourse about once a month. Oral/manual sex has ceased to be. We TRY to have sex about once a week, but for some reason it doesn't work out. This is for a number of reasons: 1. She is completely disinterested, and mainly agrees to have sex because she wants to be a good girlfriend and knows having sex is obviously a priority for me. 2. She has absolutely no desire to be touched or "massaged" in any way. Meaning, if I wanted to rub her downtown she'd get very angry. Cunnilingus is out of the question. 3. She initiates NOTHING. At times its felt like I was kissing a corpse. There was no give and take. There is no desire on her part. Every molecule in her body at that particular moment is screamingL "I don't want to be here". She stiffens up.

All of these factors lead to her not getting wet and after about 15 minutes of trying to get something going both her and I will abort the mission. As far as romance goes - I like to think that we have a pretty romantic relationship. Its not out of the ordinary for me to come home with flowers or for her to blindfold me and take me somewhere special for my birthday.

We approaching the conclusion that she may have some intense emotional distress going on, but we have no way to pinpoint it. Psychologists are extremely expensive and although, ironically, she's a pre-school teacher, she has to personally fund her own health insurance on her already meager salary.

Her moods fluctuate. She has really high highs and really low lows. She's often lethargic in the morning. And although she exercises almost daily, she often complaints of a total lack of energy. I think it goes without saying that something needs to be done. So I ask you hivemind - how can we remedy this situation? How can my girlfriend and I return to a normal sex life?
posted by AsRuinsAreToRome to Human Relations (66 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

I think it is a bit of a leap to suggest that her not being interested in sex immediately amounts to her having 'intense emotional distress' or being 'mentally ill'. From the wording of your question (the 'more inside' option is your friend BTW), it sounds to me you are reading WAY too much into things, and are probably putting a lot of pressure on your partner as a result.

On the..ahem.. practical side of things. Have you and/or her made any lifestyle changes in the last 18 months? Let the diet slip? Working too hard? Too much stress? These all can be libido killers.

I think change will have to begin with you.. not her. Good luck!
posted by TheOtherGuy at 1:21 AM on June 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

It sounds like this coincided with a few major life overhauls - starting her career and moving in with you.
Does she have her own space? Did you make adequate accommodations for her when she moved in? Her moving into your place and getting a place together is completely different. Maybe she doesn't feel comfortable in her living situation, maybe she misses having her own space.
You also indicate that her salary is not great, she might be worried about money (even if its only subconscious)

All these little stresses add up and if you're pressuring her for sex that will also add strain (and make her even less likely to want sex).

You need to stop thinking about this problem as your lack of a sex life. Your girlfriend is clearly going through some emotional problems - your question should be, how can you help your girlfriend. Mood swings and lethargy are clear indications that theres something wrong. You don't seem to be concerned about her, you just want sex. Get yourself some porn and leave your poor girl alone.
posted by missmagenta at 1:34 AM on June 5, 2008 [9 favorites]

Obviously something has changed somewhere: the only thing you mention is it coincided with you 2 living together, so without knowing any other coincidentals maybe it's the constant proximity that's the problem?

Perhaps she's not getting the "arms round the neck" feeling now you're seeing each other every morning/night - seeing each other regularly for short periods might have made a bit more exciting, now you're there everyday. How you change that feeling I don't know.

On a sidenote: I don't think you have to "leave the poor girl alone" or "change will have to begin with you" - it's normal to want to have an active sex life and I imagine very distressing when one has disappeared from an otherwise happy relationship.
posted by selton at 2:24 AM on June 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

don't think you have to "leave the poor girl alone"

To clarify, I mean sexually. Be there for her and be supportive in other ways.

Yes its normal to want an active sex life but if your partner doesn't want sex then you shouldn't force them. Low libido is a symptom of a bigger problem, you need to address that bigger problem or give her space to work it out on her own.
posted by missmagenta at 2:40 AM on June 5, 2008

FWIW: In two long term relationships, reduced sex drive coincided with going on the pill. In both cases, when those women stopped taking the pill (after years on), their sex drive returned (and they commented on the change as well). However, even at the worst, neither of those women were adverse to snuggling (they would initiate that sort of intimacy).
posted by D.C. at 2:56 AM on June 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

She does sound stressed out. I can't even imagine attempting anything with someone putting out the "every molecule doesn't want to be there" thing, ugh. Trying to have sex in spite of that physical message is a huge mistake, IMO -- whatever is going on with her, both of you trying to bulldoze past whatever it means through sheer stick-to-it-iveness isn't going to improve it, and I can't imagine how funky you must both feel in those weird (nonconsensually-entered-into) Victorian roles.

I've already gone through the litany of different reasons why this could be, and I (in my head) boiled them down to this

You don't really need to keep going through them in your head, or even ask what we think is in her head, at this stage of things. You can ask her what is in her head. My random stranger guess is that her job is much more stressful than you think (a roomful! of screaming! toddlers! could turn anyone! off of the reproductive process!), but how the hell do I know? It might take many conversations, over the course of months, for you both to start zeroing in on the mystery of the missing sex drive, so start talking.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 3:36 AM on June 5, 2008

...if your partner doesn't want sex then you shouldn't force them

Yeah, but it sounds like she hasn't shown any interest in sex for one and a half years. It doesn't sound to me like he's "forcing" himself on her. He just wants a healthy sex life - something that goes hand in hand with being in a relationship. Perhaps a trip to the doctor might help. I don't mean to say there's anything physically wrong with her, but there is some kind of mental block there regarding sex. A doctor might be able to point her/you in the right direction to get some help, which needn't necessarily be an expensive therapist. In the UK, there is an organisation called "Relate" for these types of issues. I would be astonished if there wasn't something similar in the US.

You said this all started when she moved in with you permanently. Could this be some kind of commitment issue? (That's just a guess, of course - very possibly wide of the mark).

I'm sure you already know this, but you need to work with her through all this. Frustrating as it must be, any pressure to have sex will not help in the slightest.
posted by idiomatika at 3:57 AM on June 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Following on from DC's comment- in one relationship, her going on the pill resulted in a drop in sex drive as well as moments when she just didn't want to be touched at all.

On another note, you mention that she attributes the weekend meetings to 'one of the reasons we had sex so frequently'. I know that the notion of 'normal' is pretty fluid, but to me 2-3 times a week for young 20-somethings is less frequently than normal. If she considered that to be 'so frequent', then it seems to me that she simply has a low sex drive.

This doesn't mean, of course, that there aren't other issues affecting this, and other posters have commented on what those may be.
posted by twirlypen at 4:04 AM on June 5, 2008

Thirding the pill as a potential problem - from experience, the pill can really reduce your libido. Also, it's kind of insidious in that you don't really notice the difference till you get off it. But I doubt this is the only problem.

My other suggestion is to try and remove the pressure. Right now, it's likely the possibility of failed sex an ever-present turn-off for your girlfriend. I would suggest making June "No Sex Month"; it might stop her feeling like if you touch her at all, she's going to have to go through with full intercourse whether she likes it or not. Then she can enjoy a massage or whatever without thinking "uh oh, in a minute I'm gonnna get poked".
posted by tiny crocodile at 4:33 AM on June 5, 2008 [3 favorites]

You don't mention birth control. If your girlfriend is on The Pill, it may be that it is affecting her moods. What you describe sounds very much like things I have heard from friends who used The Pill. If this is the case, she may wish to speak with her doctor.
posted by terrapin at 4:34 AM on June 5, 2008

The only way you will get to the bottom of this thing is if you talk to her about it. If she can't at least give you an approximate guess as to why she is reacting in the way that she is, it is unlikely that you'll get very far anyway. If she can honestly tell you that it's because she has .. well, any number of reasons really - it could be that she has issues in her past that are coming to a head because she's in a grownup relationship now, or she might think you have bad breath but doesn't know how to tell you, or she's faked orgasm for two years and is sick of doing it but doesn't know how to go about being real, or she's really, really, really tired after looking after children all day (it's very tiring), or she's focusing on some part of herself that she doesn't like and therefore can't believe that you could possibly like or well insert any number of other neuroses here - then you'll have some basis upon which to improve things.

You can't solve this without talking in extreme depth about it with her (it doesn't have to be awful, it just has to be started.)

Living together can be very confusing. You have the paradox of being so close all the time and yet, sometimes completely separated in your heads.

You really have to talk a lot, about everything.
posted by h00py at 4:48 AM on June 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

So I wonder if you don't have two things going on here.

One, the lady is stressed and tired. New job, new city, and the job is a pre-school teacher, which means screaming children, all the time, and she is being touched. All. Day. I hear it's pretty common for new mothers, especially nursing mothers, to get the DON'T TOUCH ME thing, because they have been so physically intimate--whether they want to or not--with another creature and just want a break for a minute. And unfortunately, their sex partner gets the short end of the stick.

Then, little stressors from the home life may add up. Classic questions: Who does the cooking? The cleaning? Who organizes the bill-paying? On top of her job, does she come home and do the housework? If this is the case (and be honest with yourself) it has to change. For 99.9% of the population, arousal is inversely proportional to annoyance.

Two, when a couple stops having sex for a while and it's not cool with one partner, that partner can become extra-sensitive about physical contact. What I mean is, you want to bone her so badly, you, intentionally or no, try to initiate sex or arousal every time you touch her. Or you inadvertently get a boner every time you guys cuddle. This creates a pretty bad cycle where she associates you touching her with the annoyance of pushing you off, at best, or uncomfortable, passionless sex, at worst. This makes you even more hard-up, and you get even more anxious about the not-sexing.

You need to talk to her. You need to figure out if these are issues. And you need to correct these issues. If you don't do the dishes, start doing them. Have a month or two where you give her hugs, foot massages, take showers with her, and have them lead to nothing except platonic physical contact. Try not to get hard around her. OK, I know that's not something you can control, but maybe you can masturbate furiously or something to burn out your libido? Or if she's burned out on physical contact, give her space.

Also, consider that she may be depressed. Lack of libido, tired all the time? Make sure both of you guys are eating healthy and getting enough sun and exercise, and look on finding a sliding-scale therapist if things don't improve.
posted by Anonymous at 5:43 AM on June 5, 2008

One thing you don't mention is snuggling.

My suggestion: stop trying to have sex with her for an entire month. Just put it out of your mind. Work instead on touching her in non-sexual, but snuggly and comforting, ways. Put your arm around her on the sofa. Rub her back (with her fully clothed). Make a personal commitment to touching her many times a day, but always in a gentle, non-needy, non-sexual way.
posted by anastasiav at 5:45 AM on June 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

There's unlikely to be a magic solution here -- it'll take talking and compromise and relearning and so on. The exception to that is if she is having a problem with a medication (eg the pill, an antidepressant, etc) that is sapping her libido, or if she is under a lot more stress than you realize with work or family -- in which case you change the medication or resolve the stress and things might change overnight. And she should (if she hasn't already) see her doctor (GP or Obgyn) to make sure that everything is good from a medical perspective.

You sound like perfect candidates for couples therapy. A lot of places offer sliding scale fees, so if your income is low you may still be able to get care. These things are really, really hard to talk about in a productive way (without yelling or guilt trips or tears); a professional facilitator can really help. And maybe your girlfriend will be more into going if you frame it more in terms of "making our relationship better" than about "we need to be having more sex, dammit."

You are not at all unreasonable to want more sex; you are unlikely to achieve that goal unless you can figure out what the underlying issues are, and it takes talking to do that. There are a lot of reasons less dramatic than mental illness or childhood abuse for a low sex drive -- it is a normal response to a lot of things, including stress, loss of control, etc -- and I think you need to try to be less dramatic about it when talking about it. Adding "do I have a mental illness?" to her list of worries isn't helping, I think.
posted by Forktine at 6:07 AM on June 5, 2008

Don't ignore the emotional things people have mentioned, such as depression or a negative feedback cycle, but just to clarify: it's not just the pill that can cause a sudden, marked lack of interest in sex. Just about any kind of hormonal birth control can do it. I was on Depo Provera, and yeah, aside from the occasional sensitivity that led to not wanting to have sex for physical reasons, I pretty much had zero interest in being having sex,.

I also had the other symptoms you mention -- really high-highs and ridiculously low-lows, moodiness, and profound lack of energy.
posted by joyceanmachine at 6:09 AM on June 5, 2008

You don't mention talking to her about it at all. What does she think is the problem? DOES she perceive a problem? You can approach this in a non-pressuring, non-accusing way, when you're NOT attempting to have sex (say, during a nice dinner at home, that YOU cooked). Make absolutely sure you're coming off as genuine and sincere. "Honey, you know I love you and just want to please you. I'd do anything at all to make you happy. Is there something you'd like me to do for you?" If she's distant and says, "I don't know" - she really may not know what the source of her disinterest is. You can throw out some half-joking suggestions, like your bad breath or your silly haircut, but assure her that you can handle whatever criticisms she has. Say, "I know I'm not always the best listener (or whatever other character flaw you know you have), but I'm trying to be the best person I can be for you" and see where she goes with that. She may say "No, it's not that, it's that you fart in bed and it grosses me out" or "I hate the way you kiss." Or you may run into another stone wall, so you up the ante and tell her that you feel frustrated that you can't seem to please her.

I think others are on the right track by pointing out that this started when you two moved in. When my guy and I moved in together it was definitely an adjustment for me. I think he was thinking "Woo hoo, we can shag all the time now!" and I was thinking, "Oh my god he doesn't even rinse out his dishes or pick up his underwear!" Was she a neat & clean kind of person at the time you moved in together (if you're a slob, she may have just given up by now)? If so, do you make an effort to actually keep it clean? This makes a huge difference in my sex drive, because I can't "concentrate" if there's all kinds of clutter around. I think guys underestimate how important the out-of-bedroom stuff is to our in-bedroom mindset. It's not a problem of lack of interest in sex per se, it's a problem of the dynamic between us. (which has since been resolved, tyvm, and we're getting married in the fall.)
posted by desjardins at 6:22 AM on June 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

I sent you a Mefi mail.
posted by sian at 6:34 AM on June 5, 2008

could be a lot of reasons for this. one of the biggest red flags is that she's tired all the time and has mood swings. also, she's a teacher so almost certainly under tons of stress. all these things together lead to no libido. standard "see your doctor" stuff here.

when you live far apart and only see each other once in a while, sex is always "new" and fun. but after you're living together and seen each other at your best and your worst, and have to deal with the other person not taking out the trash or clogging the drain with their hair or popping their zits on the mirror or....sometimes that level of familiarity really takes away the ability to see someone as a person you want to have sex with.

paragraph breaks are your friend.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 7:19 AM on June 5, 2008

Some truths worth keeping in mind:

You are the latest product of a million generations of sexually reproducing organisms and your behaviors and perceptions have a genetic component that has proven successful. Don't discount the genetic/socio-biologic component appearing in your day to day life.


Hormones affect sex drive.
Boys and girls are different.
Boys have stable hormonal environments rich in testosterone.
Girls have variable hormonal environments poor in testosterone.
Testosterone is thought to be correlated with sex drive.
There is latent sex drive assymetry built into a male/female relationship.


Relationships have phases. (My schema is attraction, infatuation/lust, commitment, contentment, dissolution. If you are lucky, you die before dissolution.)

Sexual intensity is almost always greater at the beginning phases.

When sexual intensity declines, it is gradually replaced by contentment/commitment.

Regardless of when sexual intensity declines, generally, male sex drive remains elevated, compared to female sex drive, somewhat due to the constant male hormonal environment.

Assymetrical sex drive encourages relationship stress.
Relationship stress exacerbates assymetrical sex drive.

Her sex drive may be perfectly normal for her at this phase, as may yours. It may also be a telegraph (as others have suggested), for deeper issues. Conversely, seeking deeper issues may be a waste of time if this is just an artifact of relationship aging.

Social Biology

It is in the species' interest to make one party always ready to breed when the other party is only intermittently capable of being fertile.

Genetic determinance probably feels exactly like free will.

IME, many women will generally get very angry with you if you subscribe to social biological explanations for breeding, wanting sex all the time, or infidelity.

You should study social biology. (Lay authors include David M. Buss, Helen Fisher, Dianne Ackerman, among others.)


Who said any of this was easy?

I suggest that commitment is the poison of passion. If you want a permanently passionate relationship, you should probably stay in that portion of it which primarily contains passion. That part is the 'infatuation/lust' part, but staying there means staying away from commitment. It also costs you and any potential mate long term contentment, so it's not free. It is also not necessarily desirable.

Some will call me mechanistic and sterile after reading this, and it's true, I'm concentrating on the mechanics. Your post sounds like the bewilderment I hear in 10 posts a week on Metafilter, many of which concentrate on nebulous, non-mechanistic, and wishful solutions and ignore the DNA. It sounds devoid of understanding. I took the time to write this to point you in another conceptual direction, and will no doubt, take some heat for being too reductionist. (Fortunately for me, I don't give a happy damn!)

Understanding something makes it easier to endure and change. By keeping an open mind about what may be at the root cause of any of life's problems, one can better design a life that is not slave to these predispositions.
posted by FauxScot at 7:37 AM on June 5, 2008 [6 favorites]

So your girlfriend has had a bunch of changes in her life in the last couple of years, almost all of which resulted in a loss of control for her (college autonomy vs. reporting to the boss, mounds of paperwork, active preschoolers, parents; autonomy at home vs. shared space and compromises; time for herself whenever she felt like it vs. time for herself when it works for you both). She's been under a lot of stress -- even if she welcomed every single one of the changes and wouldn't undo them given the chance.

This may be a combination of initial low sex drive (2-3 times a week in a new relationship at 20 sounds low to me, but apparently seemed high to her), reduction in drive due to stress, and one remaining little corner of her life where she can maintain control and autonomy. I'd suggest finding counseling (there are sliding fee scale, public/county/city, and charitable options nearly everywhere), giving her a break and plenty of opportunities to talk and have you just listen, looking at where you might be able to help reduce stress or give her more control, and making sure the intimacy is there in other ways.
posted by notashroom at 8:17 AM on June 5, 2008

As others have said, stop the pill and witness the magic.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 8:41 AM on June 5, 2008

Best answer: Trying to have sex with her and then stopping is probably making things worse. She almost certainly realizes you guys have less sex than you used to, and she's trying to have sex with you because she knows it's important to you, but that makes the whole thing stressful. She goes into it out of duty and a desire to make you happy, not because she's aroused. Then, when she doesn't get aroused, she probably just feels worse about it. Then, when you stop the sex altogether, she probably feels horrible. Having all those things on her mind makes it difficult to enjoy herself. When I've been in a state where I just have no sexual feelings, I know that's what I go through. That doesn't mean go ahead and have sex with her when she's not interested, but to back off earlier.

So, right, the problem is still that she needs to be interested. Before I get into factors you can't control, let's rule out something you might be able to. You say you have a romantic relationship, and from your description it sounds like it. However, a romantic relationship doesn't necessarily translate into a sexual relationship. Speaking from experience, it makes me very happy when my fiance does things like you describe -- flowers, surprises, spending time together -- and I certainly feel closer to him, but it's not at all a sexual feeling. Your girlfriend might be similar. You need to do your best to be romantic when you go to have sex with her. That's probably easier said than done. All I can say is be sincere, and say things because you want to say them and not because you think she wants to hear them. Don't try to hold back any emotion, because that's the point.

I suggest this for two reasons. First, because plenty of guys don't think this is necessary; lots of people in general can coast by on primarily physical arousal when it comes to sex, even if they're very in love, and they become confused when that arousal wanes in their partner. Also, some people will shove any emotions they have aside because they don't want to embarrass themselves. I think that's a mistake. To put it bluntly, no matter how skilled one's partner is, some women will get somewhat bored without there being a more prominent emotional edge to the sex. Typical suggestions to "spice up" the bedroom really do nothing to solve this. If that's what a woman is after, role playing and S&M and sex toys aren't going to change anything.

Secondly, I suggest it because you have (presumably) not asked your girlfriend what is wrong, so it seems possible that you might have trouble dealing with delicate emotions around her. Your definition of a romantic relationship -- while it's certainly desirable -- also leads me to believe this might be the case, because it's more of a "guy" definition that leaves out the most important part: emotions. It's endearing, to be honest, so I mean no offense. It conjures to mind a caring, well-meaning guy who says, "I get her flowers! I do care about her -- I'm trying and doing everything I'm supposed to! Why isn't it working?" Flowers are a sweet token of affection, and they show you were thinking about her. I'm not saying don't get her flowers. But a lot of guys use them as a prop to show their feelings, or as a stand-in to represent their feelings. When a guy has these things to fall back on, it can actually do him more harm than good if he's rarely emotional with her on his own. The best romantic thing you can do is show your emotions for her without any props at all.

One other thing from your description that brought to mind another suggestion: you say she gets irritated if you rub her genitals. Not to be crass, but lots of guys get aroused just because a woman touches their penis. They can forget that women are often different. Early in my relationship with my fiance I had to tell him touching my boobs or vagina when I wasn't already aroused was actually kind of irritating, even though he really meant well and was romantic about it. Some guys think foreplay means "touch her a bunch before you actually stick your penis in her," but they don't consider, "Maybe I actually ought to touch her other places before I even touch her special bits. And maybe I should do that for more than a few seconds."

I'll try to explain what I found irritating. Basically, it's like saying, "We are going to have sex." Since I wasn't aroused yet, this made me feel like I had to catch up or something, which made the whole thing stressful and counterproductive. Then it struck me as unintentionally rude. Also, a great deal of my arousal, and I suspect plenty of women's arousal, comes from the tension leading into the sex. If you just start in on the genitals quickly, there's no anticipation. If you tease her a bit more before you even touch anything overtly sexual, she might want it more every time you back off. Basically, female desire needs a bit more time to manifest itself, as compared to male desire. I don't think you can ever go wrong with taking your time every step of the way, because if you take too long she'll just jump you anyway. It's a huge improvement from trying really hard just to get her wet, seeing she's still not into it, and stopping.

If you try being more emotional and less direct physically and it works, that doesn't mean you're confined to romantic touchy-feely sex for the rest of your life. It is likely to enhance any kind of arousal. I know that I'm never inclined to just have wild physical sex unless my fiance is a little romantic starting out.

You might be thinking, "What the hell! I never had to do that before!" Neither did my fiance. When the relationship is relatively new, that provides enough excitement to last a while. Then the dynamics often change.

Now, maybe you're already very emotional around her, especially sexually, and you do try to tease her a lot, so none of that applies to you.

Another thing that occurred to me: After four years, I would not be surprised if your girlfriend wonders where the relationship is headed. You say you quit having sex very much a year and a half ago, and you've been together "almost" four years... so you quit having sex much around the two year or so mark? That sounds about right to me. Have you expressed your commitment to her in any way? I'm not saying you have an obligation to marry her, and certainly do not suggest the idea unless you genuinely want to. However, I think a lot of women at that point start wondering if the relationship is going anywhere. She might feel confused and conflicted if you have not talked about your future together in concrete terms, and she might not know how she's supposed to feel when you have sex. In fact, after two years with my (now) fiance, everything seemed to be perfect but he still hadn't expressed any interest in marriage. We never argued and were always blissfully happy together, and he liked the sex, so I was completely at a loss for what to do. My line of thinking was, "He doesn't want to commit to me, so that must mean he wants to be with other women eventually." And so I thought maybe something was wrong with the sex that made him unwilling to shut that door. I wanted to be patient and not scare him away by mentioning marriage -- obviously I was further along that line of thought than he was, so I thought he should bring it up when he was comfortable with it.

I basically had a very stressful two years where sex was way too emotionally confusing for me for me to initiate it. He had to initiate pretty much everything, and I felt conflicted the whole time because I didn't understand what he wanted from me. He proposed at the four year mark right when I thought it was hopeless and that, somehow, I was just some physical fling he was prolonging because he didn't love me enough to commit to me. Obviously his actions outside of sex were extremely loving, so the whole thing was a big mindfuck for me. It turns out that he had in his mind that relationships always start out good and then go bad, because that's what happened with his parents. After four years he realized that wasn't happening, and remembered, oh, right, some relationships don't end terribly. He said he felt very silly about it then. I know you're not trying to mindfuck your girlfriend, just like my fiance was not trying to mindfuck me. That's the line of thinking someone can get caught up in, though. Consider it if you have not discussed your future, because I would be surprised if she wasn't wondering where your relationship was headed.

Maybe you're engaged, maybe both of you have agreed you don't believe in marriage, maybe something else so that doesn't apply to you either.

Here are other options:

nthing the pill. It can be a doozy.

Stress, although I don't know what you can do to change that. When I just want to go to bed, I just want to go to bed, and then I feel especially guilty if my fiance is making all this effort to be romantic. I agree with schroedinger, especially about the being a pre-school teacher thing. If I'm tired, I cannot get aroused, and nothing wears me out like children. I'm not a teacher but I can't imagine that she isn't tired.


Does she have a negative view of her body? For example, has she gained weight since you started dating? You might not care, but she might.

Regardless of whether or not you explore the above options, TALK TO HER. I imagine it would be very stressful not to be having sex, and also not be talking about why you're not having sex. She might feel ashamed or guilty, like she's letting you down, and doesn't know how to bring it up. This is certainly how I felt during my conflicted stage. Be gentle about it and ask if there's anything you can do to help. Even if she says no, press her to try and explain what's wrong. Don't be judgmental or suggest she might be mentally ill or something. (I don't think you mean it that way, but that would certainly come across wrong and won't make her feel better.)

Good luck.
posted by Nattie at 9:32 AM on June 5, 2008 [35 favorites]

She has absolutely no desire to be touched or "massaged" in any way. Meaning, if I wanted to rub her downtown she'd get very angry. Cunnilingus is out of the question.

Outright anger at intimate touching isn't a disinterest in sex, it's an extreme reaction in someone who is otherwise currently engaged in intimate activity with you. I'm assuming that this is in context, not that you go leaping for her crotch to give it a knead while you, say, having dinner.

Any specific strategies are pointless - you need to get to the very bottom level here and talk with her about the fact that this is a situation that you find unpleasant. Does she feel the same way or is this exactly how she'd like it? I think the most important conversation starter you could use is "what would you like to do about the way things are?" If the answer is that she's perfectly content then you need to confront that before anything else.

The other actual change I'd get behind is dropping the birth control. It doesn't sound like there's much reason to be on it and a lot of people have emotional as well as physiological reactions to it. If she doesn't want to do that then she should at least talk with her prescribing doc about this situation - s/he might suggest a different pill.
posted by phearlez at 9:39 AM on June 5, 2008

I hate to be cruel, but get out. If it's this bad and you are both this young and there is nothing you can find wrong with your relationship, get out. If you were married or had kids I would say try and work it out, but you're not.

This shouldn't be this hard. You shouldn't have to be a mind reader desperately trying to figure out what is wrong or what you've done wrong, if she isn't willing to step up after a year and a half and tell you what is wrong there is nothing you can do.

Do you really want to spend your 20's in a sexless relationship with someone that constantly rejects you and makes you feel unattractive?

Also you have to face the fact that nothing may be wrong at all. She may just not be a very sexual person and now that she feels secure in the relationship she no longer feels the need to pretend like she into sex for your benefit. I have plenty of female friends (and yes in their 20's) who have honestly told me they'd be happy having sex once a month or even less. You simply may be fundamentally incompatible.
posted by whoaali at 9:47 AM on June 5, 2008

Response by poster: OP here.

Thanks everybody for the great responses. They've been fantastic to read.

Some points of clarification:

1. There is definitely an open line of communication between my girlfriend and I. We have talked ad infinitum about why we're having this problem in our relationship. In fact, it was last night's talk that facilitated me getting her approval to post this question. The underlying problem is that she DOESN'T know whats going on with her. She's made lots of suggestions about what "could" potentially be problems, but at this point all they are is speculation on her part.

I in now way meant to imply right off the bat that she has a "mental illness". We've been working at this problem for a very long time and the only reason I mentioned possibly having some sort of clinical emotional issues is because I feel like we've tried everything else.

We've done "no sex month". We're very nurturing of each other. She frequently gets massaged by me without the expectation of sex. I handle everything financial thats shared. I pay the bills, pay the mortgage, take her out to dinner several times a week. She has her own finances that she handles as well, but she makes considerably less money than me and can handle her credit card and student loan payments herself. We switch off doing the cleaning and the cooking. Its never been an issue as far as I know. In fact, if we were the Odd Couple, she would most definitely be Walter Matthau.

2. The pill: She's on it. I think this is the third brand we've tried. She's currently on the generic of Ortho-tricyclin, but she's also been on Mircette and 1 other. We've tried life without the pill. Its remarkably similar to life with the pill. She's approached this situation with her obgyn once before and that spurred the most recent switching of contraception.

3. I think a few of the earlier posters tried to paint a portrait of me as a masogonist man-pig who only wants to have sex 24/7 with my girlfriend. Not so. I respect her infintely. Do I make mistakes? Of course. I think the mistake I'm most guilty of is trying to initiate sex without any sort of ramp up period. In our relationship its a catch 22. She often complains that she doesn't want me to let her know that I'm interested in having sex. She wants it to just happen naturally. Bur alternatively, the more prepared she is, like if she knows I want it to happen, the more she prefers it. This often ends in her not getting "aroused" enough and once things start happening, it gets painful for her. On several of these occasions, I've stopped having sex with her because I feel like I'm hurting her. But she says afterward she feels a great sense of sadness because she wasn't able to rouse herself to get the job done. I always tell her its not her fault, but after this has happened 10 or so times, she's become inconsolable.

Any additional suggestions from you guys would be great. I can give "no sex month" another try, but it seems like more of a sort term fix to me.
posted by AsRuinsAreToRome at 9:55 AM on June 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: OP again.

I just re-read Nattie's excellent post and thought I should chime in on the commitment issue:

I have every intention of marrying her. I've known it for a long time. I started seriously thinking about it at about the 2 year mark. But because of our current situation I'm a bit apprehensive. Thats not to say that we won't get married, but I would hope you can understand my hesitance to enter into a life-long relationship with a person when we currently have no semblance of a sex life. 50 years of the status quo doesn't exactly make me want to rush out and buy a ring.

We've both spoken about marriage and I'm 100% sure we're on the same page. But I need to see the light at the end of the tunnel before I make a move. And she respects that because she wants me to be happy. I guess thats what this thread is all about - trying to find that light.
posted by AsRuinsAreToRome at 10:09 AM on June 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

People might disagree with me but i would honestly consider thinking about that she has lost her feelings for you . me and my gf have been going out for about 3 years. we havent lived together but have stayed at each others houses for long periods of time (2 - 3 weeks) and she or me has not lost our sex drive.

I would honestly have a long talk with her. Ask ehr right out if she still cares for you. It sounds like she lost her feelings for you.
posted by majortom1981 at 10:59 AM on June 5, 2008

I'm really, really confused about what you're getting at in point 3 in your follow-up post.

By "ramp up period" do you mean foreplay? If so, that's something that should be pretty easy to work on, and there are a million different ways to do it. If you mean something else, then what?

I'm even more confused by the "catch 22" and "she just wants it to happen naturally" portions. It seems to me that perhaps she doesn't want you initiating sex because you skip the foreplay(see previous paragraph)? If so, who could blame her? Also, how can sex happen more naturally than one partner signalling to the other(via words or actions) that they want to have sex, and proceeding from there?

Are you trying to just drop trou and shove it in? That's the impression I'm getting, and it sounds like you're admitting to it. Just changing that habit could improve things greatly.

I've read over my own post a couple times, and I'm not sure if it's coming off as harsh or not - I don't intend it to be that way. I'm just confused by the way you're describing things here.
posted by owtytrof at 11:07 AM on June 5, 2008

This often ends in her not getting "aroused" enough and once things start happening, it gets painful for her.

Jeez, get to a drugstore already. There's a dozen brands and styles of lube to choose from and no reason in the world for anyone to suffer from inadequate lubrication.

If this falls into the same category as your girlfriend's thing about wanting things "to happen naturally" then she needs to get the fuck over it. Associating being intimate with pain isn't helping anything and there's plenty of benign reasons someone might not get wet enough to be fully comfortable.
posted by phearlez at 11:23 AM on June 5, 2008

Some suggestions in this thread are overly negative, I think, especially the ones that talk about the girlfriend in a derogatory way. If it were that easy for her to get aroused, I'm sure she'd love to do it. She's not doing it to be a bitch or be prissy or spiteful, gosh.

Anyway, based on your follow-ups OP... I commend you for being so patient and understanding. I am so sympathetic to your girlfriend not knowing why she feels the way she does. I'm able to talk about these things in retrospect (two years after the four year mark I talked about) but at the time, I was just confused and felt awful. I hope the slower pace of foreplay helps some. When she says she wants things to "just happen naturally" I get what she means. I know that's probably confusing, like when you tell someone not to think about an elephant or something... how natural can you be when you're focused on trying to be natural? I feel terrible for men sometimes, to be honest, because it's just so easy to get my fiance aroused and I feel like a Gordian knot in comparison. Her words are actually how I described my feelings until I realized that in practice "happening naturally" means slower foreplay; it feels less like "WE ARE GOING TO HAVE SEX, QUICK GET ON THE TRAIN BEFORE IT LEAVES!" so it's less pressure to get aroused.

I will say that Ortho-tricyclen Lo, KILLED, KILLED my sex drive. I never tried any others afterward, although I'm looking into Yaz. Does she have any evidence of hormonal issues regardless of the pill? (Or better yet, is part of her reason for taking the pill medical?) If all else fails and you guys can afford to get a hormonal profile done, it's worth looking into. I will tell you that if you get more than the basic sex hormones done -- and you should, imo (IANAD) because sometimes the problem is with binding hormones and whatnot instead -- it will probably be around $1,000 or more in the U.S, depending on where you go. (Some places are WAY higher.) That might seem like a lot of money to spend if it doesn't turn up anything, but it's a good thing for a woman to know anyway. When she gets older, she will have a baseline to compare her hormones to should she need it. Also, it may turn up something unrelated that she might want to know about anyway. The money wouldn't be wasted, in other words, and you'll have at least narrowed down the possibilities.

Another option is to see a professional about it. There's no shame in that; plenty of women have arousal issues, and it's much better to do that then just stay confused.
posted by Nattie at 12:22 PM on June 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

One more thing I forgot to add about birth control. The hormonal approaches vary, so if she has been trying birth control that all take the same approach then it won't change much. This previous AskMeFi has links to charts that compare birth control by the hormones involved.

Granted, you said it was the same off the pill. However, women can have very different hormones and one birth control can enhance arousal in one woman while killing it in another. Some women have low arousal and end up with much higher arousal once they're on birth control, so your girlfriend might have had low arousal and incidentally picked one that didn't click anything into place for her. Worth a shot, imo. If it doesn't work, you've barely lost anything trying.
posted by Nattie at 12:30 PM on June 5, 2008

Best answer: I would honestly have a long talk with her. Ask ehr right out if she still cares for you. It sounds like she lost her feelings for you.

I hate to say this, but I don't think you should absolutely rule out the diagnosis (above) by majortom1981. (Though the advice is a bit blunt!)

Not all relationships end in horrible shouting matches or a mutual, civilized cooling off. And if I'm reading you right, you started thinking in terms of marriage around 2 years ago, and your gf developed her waning sex drive not so long afterwards? Is it remotely possible her body is telling her something her heart and brain cannot?

It is possible to keep loving someone - and caring very much for someone, and never, ever wanting to hurt them, despite the fact the romantic relationship has run its course. This can be extremely difficult to articulate. I'm trying very hard not to project here (and failing!).

The only objective advice I can give is: if, say, you discuss details of the wedding and she starts coming up with strangely low key ideas even for apparently "practical" reasons, I think you may have a problem about a romantic future together.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 1:23 PM on June 5, 2008

I wasn't in disagreement with Jody Tresidder until this: "...if, say, you discuss details of the wedding and she starts coming up with strangely low key ideas even for apparently "practical" reasons, I think you may have a problem about a romantic future together."

Whaaat? Not all women want a big wedding, or even care about the wedding itself. I would rather go to the courthouse and sign some papers, and the only reason my fiance and I haven't is because my mom would probably die if she doesn't get to design everything and give her little girl a pretty wedding. Plus the economy is terrible, so there's a lot to be said for practicality right now.

There are also all kinds of unrelated reasons a woman wouldn't want what equates to an expensive wedding. I'm getting a man's wedding band, for example, because I dislike looking overtly feminine and dislike jewelry in general. It's considerably cheaper than the traditional engagement+wedding ring combo for a woman, but that's incidental. I dislike gold so that's even cheaper. Some women dislike frilly, complex wedding dresses and like simpler, and incidentally cheaper ones. Some women dislike lots of flowers. Some women would rather have fun food at their wedding than food they think is pompous, which is generally more expensive. Some women would rather have their wedding at home, in the backyard, than rent a venue. Some people don't drink so they don't have alcohol at their wedding. Some people would rather die than have a wedding reception. Etc.

I get the idea behind that, that if she seems reluctant to put a bunch of money behind it, it could be because she's trying to get out of it but... that's just not at all a reliable measure of desire to get married.
posted by Nattie at 1:47 PM on June 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Lots of interesting ideas here. There is of course no way for anyone besides her to know what is going on with her, unfortunately. You need to talk, and if she doesn't have answers, she might try talking to someone else.

However, for me, sexual interest is the first thing to go when I start to realize that I'm with someone who I don't ultimately want as my romantic partner. It's tough because I can be dating my best friend who I love very much, but when he gets close to me I recoil, and that's hard to explain to a friend. I've finally learned that as soon as I feel like that, I might as well end the relationship for everyone's sake. But that's just me.
posted by iguanapolitico at 2:29 PM on June 5, 2008

I totally deserve that! I wasn't at all clear.

I wasn't talking about expense/formality so much as the OP possibly detecting a peculiar change in how his gf was viewing the ceremony and the level of celebration involved?

In my case, my ideal wedding - and my then husband-to-be's ideal too - was already a "proudly" no-frills affair.

Even so, I managed to scale that down to something so furtive, so anti-cheerful, so under-the-radar and charmless that only a total idiot would have been unaware it was a sign of deeper problems.

I was that total idiot. (It was, frankly, pure luck we didn't go through with it!)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 2:46 PM on June 5, 2008

Response by poster: OP here:

As far as commitment and weddings go - she's all for it. My girlfriend has vehemently expressed her interest in getting married. Truthfully, she does want a low-key wedding, but thats just the type of person she is. Non-traditionalist would probably best describe it.

So thats the essential paradox of my situation. She wants life long commitment, as do I, but realizes that this is the state of our relationship at this point.

I've asked her in the past if she's fallen out of love with me and she's said without a shred of hesitation that she does, and I believe her. And I know in my heart of hearts that I love her - its this one section of our relationship thats throwing everything off.

There's no elephant in the room when it comes to how we both feel on this subject. Its a strange feeling to have someone love you and then not want to MAKE LOVE with you. I think thats what ultimately hurts the most.

I think in the past my girlfriend has thought sex was only about my enjoyment, with her enjoyment coming in a close second, but I've explained to her in the past that if she's enjoying it (which she visibly does, once we get going) than I enjoy it 10x more.
posted by AsRuinsAreToRome at 3:11 PM on June 5, 2008

Its a strange feeling to have someone love you and then not want to MAKE LOVE with you.

Not really - those people are called friends.
posted by tristeza at 3:22 PM on June 5, 2008

I'm wondering if this might be some sort of performance anxiety. It sounds like she's pretty down on herself for her lack of libido. It could very well be that she had a problem for a while (possibly related to the birth control or job or just phase of the moon) and that she internalized it to the point that she freezes up whenever sex is on the horizon.

Does she have a vibrator? If not...buy her one! She might need to spend some time with herself to restart her engines.


Have you guys considered a vacation? Some sun, some water, some booze in a different locale might shake her out of it. Just don't in any way suggest that this is the reason for it. She sounds like she really needs to relax.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 3:37 PM on June 5, 2008

Would she be cool with an open relationship?

I'm guessing not, but, food for thought. Love and monogamy are not the same thing.
posted by milinar at 3:42 PM on June 5, 2008

You've got a tough situation here. This passage seemed noteworthy:

"2. She has absolutely no desire to be touched or "massaged" in any way. Meaning, if I wanted to rub her downtown she'd get very angry. Cunnilingus is out of the question. 3. She initiates NOTHING. At times its felt like I was kissing a corpse. There was no give and take."

I'm going to be brutally honest. If what you're saying is true, that is, if she gets "angry" when you try to do some basic foreplay/cunnilingus, and doesn't reciprocate your kisses, then I would have to say that either

1) She's just not sexually attracted to you anymore because
1a) People change and develop different tastes over time
1b) She might be seeing someone else

2) She's dealing with some horrendous sexual abuse from her past.

3) She's just asexual.

Either way, this does not bode well for the future. See a doctor, try going off the pill, see a therapist, do anything you need to do -- but also be prepared for the worst.
posted by Avenger at 4:25 PM on June 5, 2008

Response by poster: 1) She's just not sexually attracted to you anymore because
1a) People change and develop different tastes over time
1b) She might be seeing someone else

2) She's dealing with some horrendous sexual abuse from her past.

3) She's just asexual.

My girlfriend has assured me she's still sexually attracted to me. She confirms her DESIRE to want to have sex, but her inability to physically get herself aroused is whats stopping her.

I've asked if there was a previous traumatic sexual event in her past, but aside from getting burned by a few ex-boyfriends she assured me nothing inappropriate happened in her past. If it had I don't think we would have had such a successful sex life in the past, prior to this drought.

She's not asexual. Asexuality doesn't seem to exist outside of monks and Morrissey.
posted by AsRuinsAreToRome at 4:44 PM on June 5, 2008

Oh, I get what you mean now Jody. If she were to back off from plans she once seemed excited about, it would be worth examining for sure.

AsRuinsAreToRome: You said, "I've asked her in the past if she's fallen out of love with me and she's said without a shred of hesitation that she does, and I believe her." Typo? Do you mean to say that she has said she's fallen out of love with you, or that she has said without any hesitation that she loves you? From the context it seems like the latter.

Anyway, I'm glad you're looking into this and taking her at her word, rather than just assuming she's lying or that she doesn't realize it yet but she only likes you as a friend, etc. Those things are certainly possible, but some of the more absolutist answers in that regard seem to have a simplistic and misleading grasp of female sexuality. (And really, my only issue is with the absolutist answers; it's certainly reasonable to bring it up as a possibility.) Women lose their libido for all kinds of reasons, and it seems almost cruel to me that so many people would say with certainty that she doesn't want to have sex with you. Not cruel as in, "wow, these people are assholes" -- I don't think that -- but cruel that people so egregiously misunderstand her when she is already confused and despairing her inability to become aroused. It's a horrible situation to be in, I know.

When a guy fails to get an erection, especially if he is stressed about sex, this is okay with everyone. We're told to be kind and forgiving and it doesn't mean anything bad, it's just natural. It happens all the time. When this snowballs and the guy has anxiety because in the past he had anxiety, we're told to be sympathetic, and we look at medical and emotional options and whatnot. And we should do all those things. When a woman doesn't, it's even considered bitchy and cold, and we tell her she should be more understanding.

People tend not, at least in my experience, to question his feelings for his SO if he says he loves her and wants to marry her and wants to have sex with her but just can't manage to get aroused. We tend not to say just throw in the towel, it's over, buddy! We do whatever we can to get him aroused again. If a woman came and wrote about her husband in this position, I doubt as many people would tell her just to end the relationship. People are so much more sympathetic to a man's arousal dysfuctions.

So I'm just very surprised that with a woman in that position, giving up seems to be such a popular answer. Woman generally take more time and effort to become aroused than a man, have different needs, are more subject to hormonal and cyclical issues in this regard, etc. and yet there is absolutely no leniency in some of the absolutist responses. Or worse, the response saying she needs to just come out and tell the OP what's wrong already, as if she were purposely withholding it and isn't-that's-just-uncalled-for! They're all based in a flawed assumption that she knows what's wrong and somehow being disingenuous about it. Those responses blame her in some way for her lack of arousal in a way we rarely blame men. Chances are she doesn't know what's wrong. A woman's vagina isn't a fountain that's automatically turned on and off in the presence of true love and proper skill. There's a whole lot more involved than that, some of it out of the woman's direct control and some things that are harder to grasp. She deserves to be aroused as much as a man does in that situation, so I'm glad the OP seems to be willing to examine all the options before just giving up on her.

All I can hope is that if those same people ever find themselves in the girlfriend's position, they're with a partner much more understanding than they are right now. Hormones can and do change long before menopause or andropause, emotional blocks can come up at any time, people's arousal can become more finnicky as time passes, etc. The idea that the OP's girlfriend is in her 20s so it's a huge dealbreaker that she's even having the arousal issues, BAIL BAIL BAIL, is ignorant and unfair. It's no wonder that so many relationships don't work out if so many people are unwilling to work past what are fixable issues, and instead just assume their SO is lying when she says she doesn't understand why she can't get aroused. The OP sounds like he has a great relationship where they care about each other very much, it would be a waste to throw that away because she's confused and still trying to work out why her vagina can't get as wet as easily as it used to. If they exhaust every option with no solution, if she discovers she's attracted to other people but not him, then it might be worth breaking up. To look at the situation and say, "I don't understand how this is happening... RUN!" is a very simplistic reaction. At the very least, they should try and see a professional.
posted by Nattie at 4:48 PM on June 5, 2008 [3 favorites]

She frequently gets massaged by me without the expectation of sex. I handle everything financial thats shared. I pay the bills, pay the mortgage, take her out to dinner several times a week. She has her own finances that she handles as well, but she makes considerably less money than me and can handle her credit card and student loan payments herself. We switch off doing the cleaning and the cooking. Its never been an issue as far as I know. In fact, if we were the Odd Couple, she would most definitely be Walter Matthau.

Ok, so you earn most of the money and do half the housework, give her free massages, take her out. What does she do for you exactly? Except get angry when you touch her...

Look, nothing you have said here indicates this will be one of the 50% of marriages that doesn't end in a divorce; and men get the shit end of divorce, so I hope you are prepared now to get cleaned out by the alimony beast. And God help you if you decide to have kids.

There is a word for people you have a deep, comfortable, nonsexual bond and rapport with: That word is 'friend'.

For some time now, this woman has been your best friend, and nothing more. (well, ok, she is also your roommate)

Hopefully your good and meaningful friendship can continue in the future (after a decompression period) outside the artifice of your romantic relationship.

By corralling this woman into a marriage she tells herself she wants but obviously doesn't, you are not just recklessly and unfairly jeopardizing your own life and happiness, but preventing her from finding the relationship she needs that will make her happy.

Don't be a wimp, and don't be selfish. DTMFFYW*A.

*Fine Young Woman
posted by dgaicun at 4:59 PM on June 5, 2008

Case in point.
posted by Nattie at 5:09 PM on June 5, 2008

My girlfriend has assured me she's still sexually attracted to me. She confirms her DESIRE to want to have sex, but her inability to physically get herself aroused is whats stopping her.

This doesn't even make sense. What you have clearly described isn't "physical" by any conventional definition:

2. She has absolutely no desire to be touched or "massaged" in any way. Meaning, if I wanted to rub her downtown she'd get very angry. Cunnilingus is out of the question. 3. She initiates NOTHING. At times its felt like I was kissing a corpse. There was no give and take. There is no desire on her part.

Not even wanting to kiss you is not "physical". Of course she has a desire to feel desire. You need to let her have that desire again by setting her free.
posted by dgaicun at 5:12 PM on June 5, 2008

Although Avenger's scenario is possible, as a woman I think Nattie is way more on track.
posted by walla at 5:13 PM on June 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Same for dgaicun.
posted by walla at 5:15 PM on June 5, 2008

dgaicun, I mean no offense, but just because something doesn't make sense to you doesn't mean it objectively doesn't make sense. If a woman is confused about her sexual arousal, she can become upset, freeze up, and even become irritated and angry when confronted with the idea of having sex. People often react negatively when they are confused, especially about such a sensitive issue, and especially if they feel they have let someone down. Whenever someone thinks they are doing something wrong somehow and they don't know how to fix it, they tend to become emotionally on-edge.

Take a parallel example of people reacting in strange ways when other things are bothering them. When my father died, my temper had a very short fuse. I would sometimes snap at people who did not deserve it, people who were trying to console me. You might say that doesn't make sense, I must not like them if I snap at them when they're nice to me, I must be lying when I cry and apologize and say I wish I knew why I was so angry. You might wonder how the hell someone can not know why they're angry. I mean, the obvious answer is that I don't like them very much, right? I just need new friends and they're sucking up all my time and upsetting me, how terrible of them to continue and try and help me! That would be a simple answer, and it would also be the wrong answer and entirely the wrong approach. No one would be better off.

When my fiance would initiate sex when I was in that confused period, sometimes I would be so overwhelmed with negative emotions that I would react angrily just because I couldn't think clearly and I didn't know what to do with myself and it all felt like too much. It's completely understandable.. if you want to make an effort to understand people and not assume the worst about them.
posted by Nattie at 5:26 PM on June 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

If a woman came and wrote about her husband in this position, I doubt as many people would tell her just to end the relationship. People are so much more sympathetic to a man's arousal dysfuctions.

This is not true at all, and you're making the common error of equating "gets an erection" with "aroused". A man who can't get an erection doesn't have an arousal problem. The equivalent situation to a man with erectile dysfunction is not a woman who doesn't want to have sex, but a woman who has problems becoming lubricated despite being aroused.

The issue, to me, is that OP's girlfriend doesn't seem to be all that gung-ho to work through this problem. We're told she acknowledges the issue, but that's about it.

How about paying for some couples therapy yourself if her insurance won't pay for therapy? I understand it may be expensive. Is the money worth more than your relationship? Because your relationship will not work out in the long run if your girlfriend won't let you touch her no matter how much you care for each other.

Generally speaking, someone we care deeply about but don't touch in a romantic manner is called a "friend" not a "girlfriend".
posted by Justinian at 5:34 PM on June 5, 2008

When a guy fails to get an erection, especially if he is stressed about sex, this is okay with everyone... The OP sounds like he has a great relationship where they care about each other very much, it would be a waste to throw that away because she's confused and still trying to work out why her vagina can't get as wet as easily as it used to

No one is saying throw anything away. What exactly, except for titles, will be different about their love and respect for eachother when they are allowed to see themselves as simply the best friends that they are?

This obviously isn't about a vaginal lubrication problem, and the comparison here to erectile problems is transparently fallacious. This is about sexual desire, not physical functioning.

if you want to make an effort to understand people and not assume the worst about them.

A total lack of sexual desire for a partner could indicate a medical problem, and it may be worth looking into it, but the grand majority of times, it is simply about a lack of sexual feelings for a particular person. There is nothing wrong with that whatever.
posted by dgaicun at 5:35 PM on June 5, 2008

I really can't have a conversation with either of you (Justinian and dgaicun) about this if you can't understand how a woman can really, truly want to have sex and exhibit the behavior the OP's girlfriend is exhibiting. You say no way, not getting an erection is like not getting wet, but the OP's girlfriend is pushing him away so that means no desire whatsoever. To put it bluntly, and again I mean no disrespect, you just don't get it.

When you say things like this next quote, it's very telling and I don't know how to get around that if I haven't already: "A total lack of sexual desire for a partner could indicate a medical problem, and it may be worth looking into it, but the grand majority of times..." There is a lot that is misguided in that sentence, the least of which is the idea that it must only be medical if it's not a friends-only thing, the most of which is claims like "the grand majority of times," etc.

I think it's incredibly sad -- and I don't mean this as an insult to either of you -- that women have to deal with mindsets like that when they are already devastated by their waning labido. To tell a woman that noooo, she's seriously just friends with her SO and that's the whole problem when she insists to the OP that's not true is heart-breaking. I would be willing to bet the "grand majority" of times when a woman has a labido issue it isn't that she doesn't want to have sex with her SO, and it would be based on my personal experiences and talking with other women, but I would still not be so reckless as to make such a claim. I don't understand why you insist on doing it.

Unless the OP's girlfriend is a liar or deeply deluded, both of which he has brought up with her already and determined is probably not the case, you do not understand her situation. Women who have been in her position are going to know a bit more about this than you do. I wouldn't harp on it like I am if I hadn't been in her position and worked through it VERY successfully, or known other women who had. I wouldn't go on about it if it didn't make me heartsick that someone would imply I must have only wanted to be good friends with my SO when I went through a low labido period, or that my emotions and words were invalid just because I would panic if sex came up. To reiterate, if the OP's girlfriend is being truthful, you do not understand her. Part of the problem women have is that their SOs can be completely misguided about their sexuality and project untrue and negative things onto them because of it, and I think you're adding to that.

It makes sense to say, "You know, consider that it's not working out." Plenty of people did that in a reasonable way. It doesn't make sense to present your answer as The Answer, or worse, to imply the OP is some awful guy trying to wrangle her into a marriage she doesn't want (when his follow-up responses make it crystal clear that's not true) and that she doesn't do anything for him, and all that unnecessarily absolutist and derogatory bent. When I come across an AskMe where I feel like I don't have much experience in that area, I tend not to respond, or at least respond in a way that doesn't overstate my familiarity with the topic. Why do you feel the need to be so negative and absolutist about something you haven't experienced personally? If she tells her boyfriend she wants to have sex, she wants to have sex.
posted by Nattie at 5:58 PM on June 5, 2008 [7 favorites]

do you still let her know in concrete ways that you find her super hot? i dunno, the thing that leads to the common sex slump i'm familiar with in long term relationships on the girl end of things is the feeling you just don't SEE-see each other as new and exciting anymore. i'll remember all the things a guy said when we first got together about how looking at me would blow his mind and he couldn't believe his luck or whatever and then it would also disappear when we cohabitated. and i KNOW it's like, duh, she should know that already, why do i have to keep saying it? it's not a logical thing though. it's a libido thing. i can't get hot if i don't feel wanted, very particularly, specifically wanted. it's just hard to get excited if it feels like my boyfriend see me as the same old same old unsexy best friend life partner. it sounds strange, and maybe I'M the weird one, but i doubt it...for some people you can't stop letting them know they thrill you, etc. this goes too with timing. if you start initiating sex in this sort of chore like, doing-the-laundry-like regulatory thing, it ZAPS the mood completely, at least for me. you should still be seducing each other, simmering, getting your hands all over and whispering how much you can't wait, etc etc whatever you did to begin with. when it becomes this rote, "hey, my boner's telling me i ain't gotten laid in 72 hours, so uh...how'sabout we do something about that?" it's so depressingly unthrilling i can't even describe it. maybe she's like me.
posted by ifjuly at 7:02 PM on June 5, 2008

You say no way, not getting an erection is like not getting wet, but the OP's girlfriend is pushing him away so that means no desire whatsoever. To put it bluntly, and again I mean no disrespect, you just don't get it.

Actually, I think the reason you can't seem to have a conversation is that you're looking for something to fight about. I specifically made the point that your analogy to a man with erectile dysfunction was flawed because erectile dysfunction doesn't indicate lack of desire, and the OP's girlfriend clearly has a lack of desire.

You're telling me "you just don't get it" over a point I was specifically making in my post.
posted by Justinian at 7:18 PM on June 5, 2008

There is a lot that is misguided in that sentence, the least of which is the idea that it must only be medical if it's not a friends-only thing

Maybe it's alien mind-control from the planet Xoth. I'm not sure what's controversial about this to you. An enduring (2 years in this case!) complete lack of sexual desire for your romantic partner is a strong piece of evidence that you are no longer sexually attracted to your partner.

It could be other things: e.g. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from rape or abuse. These causes are rare and come with obvious clues. Here it is made obvious from the OP these are not likely causes.

Meanwhile women totally losing sexual attraction in relationships is relatively common, and it is not related to lower or finicky female sex drive ('lower' does not mean 'absent'), it is related to their romantic evaluation of their partner. Women much more than men have an on/off sexual attraction switch, related to their role as choosers in the reproductive game. (psychologists have proposed that this feature of female psychology is the most plausible reason for greater female sexual plasticity) When the switch turns to 'off' it means the female has ceased to find you sexually attractive for whatever reason.

Most people are not very introspective, or able to comprehend why they feel or don't feel a certain way. It is easy to get married or want to marry a committed partner out of convenience or fear or inertia or social expectations, even if you are not sexually attracted to your partner. In fact this is the positively cliche "I was young and naive" story you hear from divorcees. Especially women.

The OP is welcome to spend a lot of his money on therapy and all that, hoping that lots of idle talk and labored introspection will make his girlfriend horny for him again, but this is simply not likely. I MeMailed some suggestions to him for how this might realistically be achieved.

At the very least I would vehemently recommend the OP does not get married, or even engaged, until this sexual attraction problem is solved completely (as in until they have had sex 1 or 2 times a week regularly for at least 6 months in a row). I would also recommend setting some sort of time table for expected progress and resolution. Sitting around ten years waiting passively for a miracle is not in anyone's best interest.
posted by dgaicun at 8:05 PM on June 5, 2008

Has she had her thyroid checked? Some symptoms of an underactive thyroid include mood swings, fatigue, and loss of sex drive. It's a simple blood test that she can request at a physical. It tends to be hereditary along the female line.
posted by booksherpa at 8:24 PM on June 5, 2008

Hey OP, I'm a woman with experience in LT relationships and think Nattie's posts have been brilliant and spot on, but a few things about your follow up posts make me think the issue could be something more than a lack of sexual arousal.

I watched a close friend/family member go through a painful divorce and I see a few parallels here. I'm not aware of the more intimate details of their sex life, but he sounded a lot like you, OP. Made most of the money and paid the bills. Did half or more of the housework. Took her out. And you're in your early- to mid-twenties, right? I have spoken at length with both parties about what happened which I won't go into here, but he clearly loved her, perhaps not in the way she desired, and was attentive to her needs. And she loved him too, but mostly as a provider and best friend, which for *some* people, is enough for them enter into a financially secure marriage. (This is something no one will readily admit to to their partner.)

No disrespect to you or your partner and I don't mean to project, but do continue to evaluate the relationship before taking the next step of marriage, for both of your sakes. Definitely continue to be compassionate, patient and self-aware, but one person can't be the one doing all the relationship work. It's not just the sex, make sure the both of you are pulling your weight in ways you are capable.

To rule out depression or other dissatisfactions:
Is she satisfied with her own career progression?
Does she tend to go with the flow or has she make big decisions on her own?
Has she ever lived on her own and paid her own bills (i.e. been in total charge of her own life)?
Did she make any big sacrifices to be with you that she could be mourning (give up a lucrative career, move away from friends and family)?

You sound like a good guy, and I'm sure she is too. (A great lady, that is!)
The best of luck to the both of you.
posted by QueSeraSera at 9:50 PM on June 5, 2008

I watched a close friend/family member go through a painful divorce and I see a few parallels here... And she loved him too, but mostly as a provider and best friend, which for *some* people, is enough for them enter into a financially secure marriage.

Bingo. Like I said, there may be obscure psychological or medical causes here - and it may be worth it to you to spend the money to try and rule them all out - but the scenario mentioned by QueSeraSera above is the most common pattern for this and the most likely interpretation for what you are describing.

Michelle Langley's Women's Infidelity has a lot of case studies of this. Pair-bonded females with the mysterious "ailment" of "no sexual desire", magically get this lost desire back pretty quickly when the right man comes along. And you don't want to be married to such a female when this happens:
Women at Stage 1 feel as though something is missing in their lives. They have all the things that they wanted—a home, a family, a great husband—but they feel they should be happier. Over time, many women in this stage begin to lose interest in sex. It is not uncommon for them to spend a great deal of energy trying to avoid physical contact with their husbands because they fear it might lead to a sexual encounter. They frequently complain of physical ailments to avoid having sex and often try to avoid going to bed at the same time as their husbands. They view sex as a job, not unlike doing the dishes or going to the grocery store. Some women in Stage 1 claim they feel violated when their husbands touch them. Their bodies freeze up and they feel tightness in their chest and/or a sick feeling in their stomach. The majority of women in Stage 1 feel as though there is something wrong with them, that they are in some way defective. They are also fearful that their disinterest in sex will cause their husbands to cheat, or worse yet, leave them.
posted by dgaicun at 10:17 PM on June 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

So, yeah, women lose sexual desire when they're with men who're too familiar to them, check. And sometimes they'll have desire for other men who aren't as familiar. But you can also rejuvenate the desire in your relationship. Some of these posters seem to be saying "oh well, I guess no relationship can ever stay happy past commitment". But that's not true.

A necessary part of this is approaching the relationship like it's something new and shiny, and getting her to treat you like you're new and shiny. I don't know how you will go about doing this in your relationship. In mine, it happened somewhat naturally as we both moved into slightly different stages of our lives and could surprise each other not just with what we did but with who we were. He reminded me that he's an artist, which was one of the first things I liked but then later forgot about him... and we started having those impassioned late-night conversations again... and one thing led to another. But it was very important that initiating kisses, even passionate ones, not conjure up the specter of pressure to have more bad sex.

Oh, and it's been mentioned once or twice but really needs to be said again, because not enough men know this: If she's not already aroused, touching her breasts or crotch probably isn't arousing. So it's no big wonder if she doesn't want to be touched down there - it's just a symptom of not feeling desire yet. It doesn't necessarily mean she hates you or is angry with you.
posted by Lady Li at 2:50 AM on June 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

Much has been said here and maybe the OP and GF, by reading and discussing all this, can find something that works for themselves. They say they talk about this problem between themselves, which is good, but there are various statements pointed out that make me wonder if they are actually listening to each other.

So I'm surprised there has been only one mention of counseling. I think a few counseling sessions, even if they have to pay cash, could do wonders here in pointing out where they are not hearing each other, and in suggesting some new strategies. I'd suggest giving the counselor this entire thread to read in advance.
posted by beagle at 8:05 AM on June 6, 2008

So, yeah, women lose sexual desire when they're with men who're too familiar to them, check.

More accurately women gain sexual desire at the beginning of a relationship - and just from being in a relationship (e.g. women in relationships start masturbating more, having more involuntary sexual fantasies, etc). What the OP is describing certainly is not typical of relationships.

Women and men have about equal sexual desire at the beginning of a long-term relationship, but females fall back towards their initial lower sex drives over about 4 years as the relationship moves from infatuation to commitment. But this is a different phenomenon than what the OP is describing. As I said above, 'lower' does not mean 'absent'.

You can put a delicious plate of sushi in front of me after I've already eaten a big meal and I won't eat it, simply because my cyclical desire for food has momentarily been sated. Eventually I will get hungry and be more than eager to eat that sushi - this is like a sex drive. And like a sex drive, some people get hungry more frequently than others even if they love and hate the exact same foods. Women in relationships generally have lower appetites but enjoy the same menu.

On the other hand, you can put a stinky plate of sauerkraut in front of me even when I haven't eaten since yesterday, and I won't ever be happy to eat it - this is what not being attracted to someone is: the wrong menu.
posted by dgaicun at 9:26 AM on June 6, 2008

The more I think about this question, the more concern I feel for the GF's actively negative reaction to being touched. it's not just that she's indifferent or can't get "hot", it's that she actively recoils and stiffens, or gets angry. This is really bad, and is exactly how someone would likely react if their best friend stuck his hand down their pants - "Ewww, jesus, get the hell away from me!"
posted by tristeza at 9:37 AM on June 6, 2008

This whole idea that the only difference between a friend and a partner/girlfriend/wife is the sex is so stupid. There are many things that separate the two besides sex. For example, you don't raise children with your friends. You don't plan for your retirement with them. You're not in love with them. And on and on. Shit, I have even had sex with friends and they were definitely not my girlfriends or wife. This alone refutes this notion.

My point is that just because there is no sex does not mean there is no relationship. Sure it's a problem, but to oversimplify the situation to suggest that no sex means only a friendship remains is just silly.
posted by milarepa at 10:58 AM on June 6, 2008

The more I think about this question, the more concern I feel for the GF's actively negative reaction to being touched.

Precisely. The reality here is that when you take all of the OP's statements together as a whole they don't quite add up right. That's perfectly reasonable - interpersonal relationships are rarely equations that you can balance perfectly, both because of people not knowing their own minds and our inability to perfectly know the minds of others.

But it does call a lot of things into question, particularly any assumption that (a) is based on "no that's not true because she said X" and (b) "I know that Y." I am all in favor of taking people at their word, but there is a difference between someone saying one thing and doing another once versus over and over again for a long period of time. It's what makes this problematic:

I really can't have a conversation ... about this if you can't understand how a woman can really, truly want to have sex and exhibit the behavior the OP's girlfriend is exhibiting. You say no way, not getting an erection is like not getting wet, but the OP's girlfriend is pushing him away so that means no desire whatsoever.

Your objection to this position is completely reasonable, Nattie, as are your possible explanations for any number of things in the OP's story (genital touching & anger because of someone leaping straight for the crotch, inconsistent behavior in stress situations, etc) until we address the fact that this problem has been going on for YEARS. I think what some people may be failing to convey well is that pushing someone away for years on end means something more complicated than sexual dysfunction or even just waning desire.

Maybe she really and truly does want to have sexual desire, in general or for the OP. But after a certain amount of time with no progress or sign of future progress the situation has to be looked at as part of the larger picture. We can state that she has her own problems and conflicts and might have the best of intentions, but she's only 1/2 of this relationship. Asking either partner to completely sublimate their own desires and needs is unfair and unreasonable. After this much time both parties need to have made a serious effort at change or she should have stated that this is the status quo and it's not going to change - accept it or get out.

On the other hand, and making me wonder if the OP is less connected to the real facts of the situation, is this lubrication issue. Female arousal and desire may be complicated, but once a couple decides to make the attempt at penetrative sex there's just no reason to suffer dryness and pain. Maybe she's dehydrated. Maybe she feels no desire. Maybe she is physiologically unable to produce enough lubrication. No matter the explanation, to do nothing but suffer discomfort is either deliberately self-defeating behavior or inexperience and/or ineptitude.

Personally I think at this point the water is so muddy that giving good advice about the overall situation is just impossible. Read one way, the OP's comments paint a picture that sounds like a woman deceptively keeping a man in a sexless relationship, possibly because she lacks feeling for him but refuses to end things. Read another, the OP's factual tellings of the physical events in their sex life can describe a bumbling and clueless man who fails to connect romance with physicality and goes leaping for sex with little buildup and it's no wonder she doesn't respond to him.

Undoubtedly neither of these readings are true, and we can't safely pinpoint any ground in-between or a combination of the two. All we can do by now is point to dozens of good suggestions for small parts of the situation and say that the OP and his girlfriend have to both make a good faith effort to work on this together. She has to acknowledge that the current situation is unacceptable and must change, and be a part of that change, even if that means ending the relationship. He has to accept that just because the current situation is unacceptable doesn't remove the need for him to make changes - possibly significant ones - in his behavior and expectations in order to get to a different place. Both of them have to acknowledge that wanting things and good intentions aren't enough, they have to take real action.
posted by phearlez at 12:23 PM on June 6, 2008 [3 favorites]

I think that about caps things here, phearlez. Perfect.
posted by Justinian at 1:13 PM on June 6, 2008


A lot of great things have been said, but as I'm new here (hi! :), this was a topic I felt I might be able to contribute on.

There’s a possibility this is mainly a physical/hormonal problem that doesn’t require wrenching psychoanalysis.

Physical#1: As many have said she may be depressed, maybe for no other reason than brain chemistry. Besides therapy and medication, exercise (which she's already doing) and Omega-3 supplements have shown to be helpful.

Physical#2: She's “out of touch” with her own body.
* What is her sexual world, apart from you? To that end, how often does she have sexual feelings/fantasies? Does she masturbate? Use toys? Can she get herself off alone? Ultimately, everyone is responsible for their own sexuality. What about some classy, women-friendly erotica or porn? Babeland has cute girly stores and is very non-threatening. She should definitely experiment by herself, so she doesn't feel the 'performance anxiety’ others have mentioned.

Physical#2: Her hormones are out of wack.
Considering the expense of tests, and the general apathy many docs have about women's sexuality, it’s worth trying some natural remedies first:

* Damiana is traditional for women, and I've heard great things about Damiana Liquor too. (Margaritas anyone??). It’s also an ingredient in an herbal tea that got raves in Redbook.

* Maca is a Peruvian root, traditionally used as a tonic for men and women. Since she has energy issues, this might be particularly helpful. The Discovery Channel has an interesting article on it, thought it focuses mainly on men.

* ArginMax contains damiana and L-arginine, known to increase circulation.The women’s formula is not as well reviewed as the men’s, but it does have a double-blind study behind it.

* As many have said, the pill can be killer. (Monophasic in my experience are the worst, but since she has issues, I’d highly consider an alternate form of birth control. If you absolutely MUST use hormonal birth control, there are anecdotal reports NuvaRing has less side effects)

* This article from SELF magazine discusses several natural solutions including the so-called the "Orgasmic Diet". I tried a few of the suggestions and they definitely amped things up. At the very least, eating less sugar, taking fish oil and cal/mag supplements, are just healthy life choices.

Two controversial/potentially silly/what-the-hell ideas:
* Hypnosis. It can be helpful for a lot of physical/psychological issues with fuzzy causes. Here is a general article from Discover Magazine on its medical uses. Since a professional may be too expensive, she could try the well-reviewed but cheezy-titled Instant Self Hypnosis, which has a "Great Sex" script.
* Pheromones. There's limited research that suggests pheromones including Androstadienone, Androstenol, and Androsterone may increase female response when worn by men. This site has some basic information, but they can get expensive, and at best would be an enhancement and not a true answer.

I know I’m chiming in late here, but these are things that worked for me and my friends – best wishes & health to you both!
posted by for_serious at 7:07 PM on June 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

the op mentioned pain during attempts at sex, and i haven't seen anyone pick up on that. that could have a lot to do with why his gf isn't interested in sex - when it hurts, you learn to lose interest entirely. there are a lot of possible causes of physical pain during sex and not all of them are lack of lubrication. yeast infections, vaginismus or vulvodynia are just a few. a trip to the doctor might not be the worst idea.
posted by amandarose at 10:40 PM on July 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

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