RSS Feed

What to do if you’re in a sexless marriage

This should probably go in the What Would Kat Do category, but since that page doesn’t allow comments (as if!), I decided to post it here.

A fan (and I still have problems with that; shall we just call him a reader) recently wrote to me, and after a few back and forths, he agreed to let me tell his story. It isn’t a happy one.

“Jay” is a 46-year-old man, fit (by his definition), kind (ditto), smart (ditto) and, self aware (and given the exchanges we’ve had I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt on that). Jay isn’t happy because his wife of 20-plus years — whom he loves and with whom he has kids with — is no longer interested in sex. The problem is, Jay is — very much so. In fact, he thinks about sex a lot, especially since it happens so infrequently. And he’s wondering at some point if women lose interest in sex entirely.

Good question, Jay. And the answer is … yes and no.

But, before I get ahead of myself. Let Jay put it in his own words:

Dear Kat:

I’ve been reading your blog for a while now a one thing I really appreciate is that you seem to be a woman who loves and enjoys sex.Boy , do I need to know that exists! It gives me hope that there are middle-aged women (and please don’t take that the wrong way) who still like sex.

The problem is, I’m a middle-aged man who enjoys sex, too — very much. But my wife doesn’t — although she did in our early years — and that has created a lot of stress in our marriage. I’m not ready to give up sex yet, but I can’t seem to get my wife to feel the same way. She’s just not interested in sex — in any variation— but I still am. And I’m attracted to her, even though she’s put on a few pounds; at 45, she looks good.

I asked her to go to couples counseling with me; she says we don’t need it (she suffers from depression, but doesn’t like the way meds make her feel). I asked her to talk to her doctor about it, but she says there’s nothing wrong with her. I’ve tried getting her to watch porn; intimate nights of just touch and cuddling; romancing with candlelight, soft music and her favorite food. I’ve done the “daddy porn” thing — cleaning the house, doing the laundry and taking the kids (11 and 14) out so she can have time alone. You name it, I’ve done it.

Not even a blowjob.

I’m not asking for crazy sex like the “rear door” (not that I’d mind); just the old missionary would be fine.

I don’t want to get a divorce, but short of having an affair , which I’m morally against, and pleasing myself (which I do, but it can only go so far), what can I do? It’s making me feel a little crazy. And very, very frustrated.

Signed: A normal sexual man.

Dear Jay:

Thanks for writing. Wow— that’s one of the saddest stories I’ve heard in a long time. But, you know, not all that uncommon. A lot of women lose interest in sex, but I just don’t understand that! What’s with you gals?

I can tell you that an affair isn’t going to make things better; oh, sure, it will be fun and exciting, but it won’t help your marriage.

But rather than me tell you what to do, Jay, I’ll let my readers — who are infinitely wiser than I am — offer their advice.

Readers, what say you?

Bring on the comments

  1. Steve says:

    Hi Jay;

    Sex advice columnist Dan Savage answers this kind of question a lot. Savage doesn’t give stock answers and he has an entire philosophy behind his answers, a philosophy that make you a happier person if you reframe your situation in it. I would write to him and read the old posts on his site if he stores them.

    Women unconsciously tend to see men’s issues and needs as “less valid”. It might be useful to have a conversation with your wife where you reframe the issue in terms of a woman’s value system in order to get through to her that this is a serious issue.

    First, let her know that you are not giving her ultimatums, that you love her and that you value the marriage.

    Then reframe the issue from you simply not getting the sex you want as A SIGNIFICANT PROBLEM FOR THE HEALTH OF THE MARRIAGE. Which, it is.

    Once that is accomplished than the problem becomes one of her getting her desires back ( better diet, vigorous exercise, treating her depression without drugs ).

    If that isn’t possible, you can talk to her in the spirit of keeping the marriage afloat about an arrangement for you to have your needs taken care of outside of the marriage or divorce if that isn’t acceptable to her ( and a sexless life isn’t acceptable to you ).

  2. Steve says:

    The word “site” in the first paragraph of my first post in a link.

    Kat, it might be helpful to change the CSS for your theme to have hyperlinks in your comments look different than ordinary text.

    Here is where folks can read Dan Savages useful and entertaining column online:

    http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/SavageLove?oid=7655085

  3. brian says:

    divorce
    he is being used to provide her with a standard of living she likely can’t afford on her own and she is using their children as weapons against him

  4. A dude says:

    Brian- why do you assume he is the only bread winner? And there is nothing to indicate there is any battle in which the children are being used.

    That said- no sex would be a deal breaker for me. If she were not willing to go to counseling to address it and/or things didn’t improve, I’d say the marriage is at an end. Sexless marraige before you become elderly is not a marriage in my book.

  5. Jay,
    You must be missing the point. Your lack of sex is not the problem, but the symptom of a much larger problem.

    Apparently, she is not happy in this marriage.

    My divorce should be final in a few days. It has been over, though, for over 11 years. Over the past several years, my husband and I had sex each year less than the number of fingers I have on one hand. I certainly was not disinterested in sex (I’m enjoying having sex with my boyfriend 5 nights a week!), but I was absolutely not interested in having sex with him.

    I could not stand him! That is it in a nutshell, but seriously, neither one of us were happy. Couple that with his ED and premature ejaculation, and there simply was nothing in it for me.

    I did have an affair, and as mentioned above, it will not help your marriage. I have absolutely no guilt whatsoever, but the experience was emotionally painful for me (for other reasons). The good thing it did for me was make me realize I did not want to live in an institution where I was emotionally and sexually dead, and it prompted me to file for divorce–not to be with the other guy (as I knew that could never be) but it re-awakened me.

    So I have to say, Jay, there must be something seriously wrong in your marriage, and unless that gets fixed (if it can be fixed) your situation won’t change.

    Sorry if that isn’t what you want to hear.

  6. Steve says:

    @Segway

    This is from Jay’s email


    I asked her to go to couples counseling with me; she says we don’t need it (she suffers from depression, but doesn’t like the way meds make her feel). I asked her to talk to her doctor about it, but she says there’s nothing wrong with her. I’ve tried getting her to watch porn; intimate nights of just touch and cuddling; romancing with candlelight, soft music and her favorite food. I’ve done the “daddy porn” thing — cleaning the house, doing the laundry and taking the kids (11 and 14) out so she can have time alone. You name it, I’ve done it.

    If there is a problem in Jay’s marriage aside from sex, his wife is refusing to work on it.

  7. Kat Wilder says:

    What to do if you’re in a #sexless #marriage http://bit.ly/fDS5tw

  8. NL says:

    This is the saddest story I heard in a while indeed.

    Jay,

    From medical standpoint, your wife needs to switch anti-depressant if she didn’t like the side effects of the one she is currently on. Drugs affect patients differently. She needs to talk to her internist to get her psych consult who will work with her in finding the right Rx for her. Also, anti-depressant takes 2-3 weeks to work. And by no means she can quit SSRI cold turkey. It needs to be tapered or she will come down in more serious depression.
    Next, she needs to have her thyroid panel checked. Low thyroid level can affect hormone production, can make.her feel tired all the time, gain weight, and LOW to NO sex drive.

    Having said all that, it is ultimately your wife’s decision to acknowledge she has a problem and it is affecting you marriage. If she is not willing to take the first step in helping herself I don’t think she will make an effort to salvage the marriage.

    Nic

  9. Kat Wilder says:

    Steve — good advice (and Savage is a gem). And you are right; women do not always consider a man’s needs as valid. “It’s just sex!”

    As for hyperlinks, etc., I am clueless when it comes to anything other than basic HTML; can anyone help?

    Brian — Divorce is an option, but a tough one. That said, I couldn’t stay in a sexless marriage, either.

    Segway — wow! that’s a story. I agree that a lack of desire can be a symptom of a bigger problem in the marriage, but I do think many menopausal women lose interest (and their body hormones don’t help, either). The key would be getting help — if she’s not interested and is OK just “cuddling” (which is what that famous Ann Landers study indicated most middle-aged women prefer), then something might be wrong with the marriage. Good luck, and you are smart not to remain with your lover; better to experience who you are now, as a divorced woman, and figure out what you want. Can’t do that with the lover hanging around.

  10. Kat Wilder says:

    Nic — good point. We often run to the doctors for all sorts of silly reasons, but, yes, there are many things that can affect sex drive. Thanks for that suggestion. And, you are right — if someone isn’t willing to help change a situation for him/herself, then no one can make it happen and the situation remains — or worsens. Then, you have to go to Plan B, whatever that is!

  11. BloggyDaddy says:

    I can tell you firsthand that depression medicine can have a HUGE impact on sex drive. I was on it for about 6 months and it absolutely killed my desire for sex. I ended up getting of the medication and started exercising and changing my diet, but sometimes just changing to different medicine can have a huge impact, as they all affect people differently.

    Sex is important in marriage and I think you need to do whatever you can to impress upon your wife just how important it is to you and that your marriage may not survive if she isn’t willing to try to make an effort to figure this out with you. Marriage takes TWO to work, so you should be open to hearing anything she might be saying that you’re not as well. There may be something you need to change as well.

    At the end of the day an affair will catch up with you in one way or another, and I hope you don’t go that route. At the end of the day though you have to respect yourself enough to know that divorce is a possibility but you may regret it if you end up feeling you didn’t do enough to make things work before making that decision.

    Best of luck to you Jay!

  12. The Observer says:

    Jay, and a host of other couples are facing this challenge. Differing libidinal issues seem to be magnified as time goes by. Jay, you’re not alone. The “Good in Bed” site is another resource for dialog about the issue and the moderators, especially Dr Castellanos, are very well informed…there are books (“Sex at Dawn”, eg.) that point out the somewhat academic view that us humans just aren’t geared toward monogamy. You don’t have to agree or disagree on that.

    I, personally, have some experience with this subject. It doesn’t help to ignore it and I deeply sympathize with Jay in his quest to mediate his wife’s issues. Both marriage counseling and a sex therapist are recommended. If she won’t go, then he should go alone. Google “AASECT” for a referral.

    Kat, you are right, the hormone and post menopausal aspects are obvious. The depression issues complicated by Rx side-effects with Jay’s wife are no small matter. Prolonged research, investigation, education, and his wife’s understanding that this is no unimportant trifling matter are key to any resolution. A satisfying sex life is a natural right for any relationship or partner. There are alternatives such as “outsourcing”, poly-amory, etc. that keep the marriage intact. Not a true solution, but this seems to be a pretty one-sided argument he’s having with his wife. Keep the faith, Jay. You didn’t mention how the rest of your relationship is going, whether you have deep emotional feelings of love toward you wife, but don’t give up before you’ve tried it all. Divorce is just another way of living. To be avoided, if possible, but still a solution. Sorry to hear of other blogger’s repulsive relationship with their ex-spouse. Hope that’s not what’s happening to Jay, et ux. Ciao.

  13. Chopper Papa
    Twitter: chopperpapa
    says:

    One could make the argument, and medical research backs that up that she should be in her sexual prime at 45. Segway is right, the no sex is a sign of a bigger problem with her.

    Depression may very well have something to do with it but I feel there is much more than jus that. It seems that she is refusing to even acknowledge that there is a problem in the marriage and isn’t interested in making it better and even worse she isn’t honoring her husbands concerns about their marriage which points to an even more challenging problems.

    Jay, if she isn’t going to get counseling or help, I think that you need to be candid with her about your feelings and how her actions are impacting you and your marriage. Certainly not in a threatening stance but she must realize that you have concerns and if she refuses to acknowledge those issues then your hill has become all the more steep and eventually tough decisions will need to be made.

  14. HogWild
    Twitter: hogwild
    says:

    #1 Look at yourself. Do you still give reasons to be attracted to you?

    The main reason a woman loses attraction to a man is because she LOSES RESPECT for him.

    Did that happen? If it did, earn it back. Then her hoo-ha will magically regain its vulva-vivaciousness.

    #2 Once you have corrected your side of things, tell her that infrequent sex is unacceptable. Be a man. She will desire your balls once you start using them.

    Latest post: If a Woman Wins this Mind Game, then you Both Lose

  15. I very much agree with what Chopper has said. I don’t think the real problem is lack of sex here; it’s that she won’t even try and address the problem! It seems like he is doing all of the work to try and solve this and she is treating it like ‘his’ issue. It takes two to tango and all that. She may be depressed, she may need to change drugs, etc etc but if she’s not even willing to take a step over to his side and see that it is an issue for him, then what kind of relationship is that?

  16. KC says:

    It’s been a while since I’ve blogged but I thought I would put in my two bits here…
    I’m going through something like this right now. Only different…
    I haven’t wanted to have sex with my girlfriend lately… and I’m a sexual maniac! There are a couple of reasons, one being that she’s gained 40lbs. in the last 3 months… I’m not a “skinny” chaser, but 40lbs is 40lbs… I’m just not attracted to chubby… I think there are other things going on with her (hormonal) and she isn’t dealing with them along with taking care of her home… (can we say MESS)
    Anyway, I’ve been busy taking care of my needs and doing things with my boys so I’ve been OK about the no sex.. at least right now. BUT, if she doesn’t get some of these issues under control, I may have to make some tough decisions….

    As for Jay…
    You might as well start preparing for the inevitable… Your wife is probably already talked to ALL of her girlfriends about leaving you and you’re going to be the last one to know…

  17. Kat Wilder says:

    Bloggy Daddy — what you say is very wise; you must explore all ways to preserve the marriage first. Too many people skip out on too quickly.

    TO — Monogamy — one of the great killers of a satisfying sex life!

    ChopperPapa — indeed; 45 is a wonderfully sexual time for a woman (can you say, cougar?) It was for me, and I’m on the extended plan! But if there have been complicate feelings about sex all along, throw the aging beauty thing into it and all the premenopausal stuff and … it can be just the opposite.

    lifebeginsat30ty — It’s always dicey to make an issue for one person’s. Some people just don’t have that kind of understanding. Too bad.

    KC — wow, your GF has some stuff going on. Do you know what it is? Hopefully you’re talking it through. And, yikes! you might be right about Jay’s wife; the hubbies are often the last to know …

  18. kjb says:

    I went through something similar several years ago and it ultimately ended my marriage. I did not want to have sex with my husband. Period. It got so bad that I was afraid that I was either not attracted to men at all, or had become asexual. Neither turned out to be true.
    We had many, many issues aside from the lack of sex and they contributed to me not wanting to be with him sexually. But specifically, he was not very in tune with my needs in bed. He watched a lot of porn (I don’t have issues with porn) and he masturbated a minimum of 3 times a day every day. He also expected me to give him 45 minute blowjobs and got upset if I didn’t perform the acrobatic maneuvers he saw in his porn movies. I am not a prude by any stretch, but I am also not a porn star (PS: he was 31 and I was 32 at the time). This and other issues (his temper and newly acquired racist attitudes) contributed to be not even wanting to kiss him let alone have sex with him.
    My point is this: is Jay unknowingly doing anything in the relationship to alienate his wife? Maybe he doesn’t realize it? She sounds depressed and needs help; but is he really helping her or making her feel worse? I am not trying to blame Jay at all, but I have enough experience that unless it is a bona fide medical issue, there are usually emotional reasons for a woman to not want to have sex with her partner. Good luck to you, Jay!

  19. Amy says:

    Now in my case its the opposite! Married 40 plus years and been sexless almost 30 years.
    My husband developed E/D early in his life and high blood pressure,cholesterol, ulcers, and sleep problems and the drugs he takes totally ruined his libido.The sad part hes happy that he doesn’t want sex with me or any one else.So I was left out in the cold, no sex and no intimacy. I can’t tell you the last time he touched me or we kissed , and he just wants me to leave him alone. Were more like bother sister or just friends. I should have left him but we haven’t any kids or friends that could help me out. PLus I couldn’t make the money he makes to live by myself. So I’ve suffered through these years being very depressed, hurt, angry and miserable. Maybe it will go away.

  20. Kat Wilder says:

    Amy — Sorry, this comment went into spam so I just now saw it. I feel for your situation. I’m no shrink but, is your hubby depressed? I imagine he would be (and the drugs to care fro these things are a total libido killer). Would he try therapy? Because, I doubt things will “go away,” and intimacy is important! Good luck!

  21. Cari says:

    As a married female on the other side of the bed, I have to agree (in my opinion)with previous comments that there are underlying reasons for her lack of interest.
    Are you meeting her expectations in all areas of your life? Health, wealth, community, family, communication?
    There are many habits that can kill sexual interest over time. Do you take your financial obligations to family seriously- do you work full time. Do you enjoy or barely tolerate her family/friends/interests. Do you make dinner on school nights and have time for her when she is depressed. Are you sarcastic about her efforts?
    There are clues in the habits of your interaction. Habits are insidious, we often don’t see them or the harm they cause.
    If sex is important to you, then what is at the top of her priority list. Ultimately, start talking, and maybe the other ing will follow.