In a new twist on Lalalaletmeexplain's hit column, readers ask for her expert advice on their own love, sex and relationship problems.
Here, she offers advice to a woman who has been 'the other woman' for three years. Sign up below – for free! – to see what Lala has to say…
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Dear Lala, I have been with my current boyfriend for four years next month, we live together (have a mortgage) with my son who is seven years old from a previous relationship. I am 31 he is 30. He is loving, kind, funny, hard-working & supportive, great with my son too. But we have an issue with our sex life.
For the first two years or so there were no problems – normal regular sex (around 2/3 times a week) But for the past 2 years it’s become less and less, now we only have sex once a month. This may not be an issue for some couples, I understand everyone is different, but it is an issue for me. I feel I have a higher sex drive than him and want to have sex a lot more often than he does. I have had many, many discussions with him about this, being open & honest about how I feel. He listens, takes on board what I say, says he will make an effort & ‘try’ but then literally does nothing about it.
When we have sex- it’s only when HE wants it. When I initiate sex, he will turn me down every single time saying he’s ‘tired’ or ‘just doesn’t feel like it’. He hasn’t performed oral sex on me for a year, whilst I do it for him every time. I have discussed this with a few of my close friends who find it strange that he doesn’t want sex (as a typical man). It really upsets me that my close friends seem to have regular sex with their partners while I am constantly deprived.
I have begged him to be honest with me & just tell me if there is something bothering him, that I would support him & help him through whatever it is – but he says nothing is wrong. I have tried surprising him by wearing sexy underwear – he still turned me down, which just make me feel so embarrassed and rejected. When he has said no because he is tired – I have suggested certain positions/sexual acts which involve him not having to do much of the work, but he still says no. I have tried not initiating sex at all with him, which doesn’t change anything, we still just do it when he wants or initiates.
Basically, I am at my wits end and would really appreciate any help or advice you could give me, I worry that if we stay together and get married, we would be in a sexless marriage which is what I dread. The thought of ending it with him because of the lack of sex doesn’t seem like a legitimate reason to end a committed relationship with someone but I don’t know what choice I have if things don’t improve.
This is very tough. It sounds like the worst thing about it for you isn’t actually the lack of sex, it’s the feelings of rejection and uncertainty that the lack of sex is causing. I think that if you were having infrequent sex, but you were certain that he found you incredibly hot and sexually desirable in the meantime, then it might not feel so crushing. It seems there are a few things that are really messing with your head – like the fact that you believe that men should automatically be hornier and up for sex more than women – I consulted Dr Karen Gurney to give her expertise on this. She said: “ There’s a bit of a misconception that men want more sex than women, in fact almost 2 in 5 men in the UK are concerned about their lack of interest in sex.”
It is a myth that men have higher sex drives than women. It’s another one of those ideas that has been borne out of the patriarchy, that sex is for men, that it’s their thing, not ours. Women with high sex drives have long been seen as ‘whores’ and ‘sluts’, whilst men have been praised and applauded. Having lots of sex ties in with toxic masculinity myths about Alpha males conquering women.
Many men have presented with high sex drives, not because they are actually brimming with desire but because they feel that they have to have sex to display their masculinity. If you strip all the social conditioning back, gender does not impact on how often one might want sex, so don’t allow this myth to contribute to your feelings of rejection. Dr Karen says: “ Regardless of gender, we can often internalise someone having less interest in sex as being about their feelings towards us, which it often isn’t.”
It also sounds like you are putting some pressure on yourself with your belief that there is a ‘normal’ number of times for couples to have sex. Dr Karen Gurney says: “ Firstly, sex 2-3 times a week is often what people think is ‘normal, regular sex’ but it’s a myth that sex more often is the marker of a good sex life. Less frequent sex, which is fun, connecting, and makes you feel great about yourself, is more important than how often you are having it.” I realise that you want it more often, which is very reasonable, but perhaps it will feel like less of a catastrophic issue if you remind yourself that there is no normal when it comes to frequency of sex, and that quality is preferable to quantity (though from what you have said, particularly about oral sex, the quality is also lacking at the moment).
I also understand that a lot of your concern about this has been caused by the fact that things started out differently, you were satisfied with your sex life, but it has dwindled down to unsatisfactory levels which is making you feel like something has gone wrong. It is very common for sex to happen less, or even die out completely as relationships progress. Life can get in the way, the excitement and passion subsides, and mundane household tasks begin to take priority over bedroom antics. It doesn’t necessarily mean his feelings for you have changed. His waning desire could be caused by a number of things, including illness, stress, debt, depression, medication, low self-esteem, alcohol, or drugs, excessive porn consumption and masturbation….he may not even be able to pin point what has caused it. The important thing is not to take it personally or internalise it as meaning that you are lacking, or that he has gone off you.
Dr Karen Gurney recommends thinking about exactly how we feel about sex because it can then help us to think about whether we can get what we are missing from our partners in other ways. She says “ It can be helpful to work out what sex means to us (what we get from it – so is it about wanting to feel wanted, craving pleasure, wanting connection, a release/distraction from life, to feel normal?). This gives us a big indication of what we feel we are missing if we don’t get it. It can be easier for partners to hear the importance of this if communicated this way, for example ‘I feel closer to you when we have sex’. It can also be easier for partners to know how else they can try and meet this need if not with sex.”
You have clearly tried communicating with him to no avail, so I don’t think that there is any point in going round in circles. I think it would help you to read @thesexdoctor bookMind The Gap: The truth about desire and how to futureproof your sex life. It may help you to communicate your needs in a different way. I learnt so much about sex and desire from this book. One of the most interesting things Dr Karen talks about is this false expectation we have that desire just suddenly appears at the time when we decide to have sex. Desire needs to be built up and maintained even when we are nowhere near having sex. It’s not just something that you switch on, instead it’s something that is cultivated. I think this book will help you to think about ways in which you can be sexy and sexual with each other day to day, which may lead to more action at night (or whenever!). I would recommend reading it together. You could also do one of Dr Karen’s online courses together- there’s one on understanding desireHomepage | The Havelock Clinic Virtual Workshops (teachable.com)
The ability to compromise is one of the foundations of any healthy relationship. It is important when it comes to sex too – though I should be clear that if you really don’t want to have sex then you shouldn’t. If you are in pain, or unwell, or sex would be traumatic for you then you must never feel that you need to compromise. If you just can’t be arsed to have sex and it is impacting on the needs of your long-term partner, then it is something that is worth compromising on if you can.
However, we don’t owe anyone sex, even if we are married to them, and you should never compromise because you feel forced, pressured, blackmailed, manipulated, or coerced into it. It doesn’t sound like he is doing much compromising, nor does it sound like he is really grasping how much this is impacting on your relationship and on your self-esteem. To me this is a pink flag. He could be doing a lot more to reassure you, and he should be doing a lot more to find ways of meeting your intimacy needs, even if he can’t manage sex.
The issue really isn’t the lack of sex, it’s that he is doing very little to make you feel better about it all. Not making you feel appreciated when you put on lingerie was cruel, he didn’t have to have sex with you, but he could have still made you feel sexy. It feels like he needs to be more willing and enthusiastic about working on this.
How important sex is to you is very individual. Some people can cope with sexless marriages because sex isn’t high on their agenda, for other people, a sexless marriage would feel like a dark and lonely place. You are clearly in the latter camp, and I think that it is incredibly important for this issue to be resolved before you commit to marriage. Lack of sex is a very legitimate reason not to marry someone if sex is important to you.
It’s OK for sex to matter to you, and it is OK for you to express that to him to try to improve the situation. It would not be unreasonable for you to throw in the towel if it becomes clear that nothing is going to change, but it is important for you to explore all avenues before you reach that decision. Read Mind The Gap, do the online courses, try some couples therapy, and if all of that amounts to nothing, then you have a big decision to make. Whatever happens, at least you’ll know that you have tried your best and that this is not on you.
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