How to Do It

My Husband Makes Every Excuse Possible Not to Have Sex

We’re not even 30! What now?

Photo illustration of a woman sitting up in an otherwise empty bed.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by tampatra/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Send your questions for Stoya and Rich to howtodoit@slate.com. Don’t worry, we won’t use names.

Dear How to Do It,

My husband and I haven’t had intercourse in more than two years. When I first noticed our “slump,” he told me he was too busy and tired from work to have sex. After the first sexless year rolled by, he said he needed to lose weight to feel confident enough for sex.

Since, we moved to a new city last year, and he has indeed lost weight and gotten a job that requires much less take-home work. Now at least he’ll use a vibrator on me every few months, but it’s not enough. When we discuss our sex life, he’s adamant that he wants to have sex with me and promises to make it happen—this weekend, or after a particular work project is done—but those deadlines pass by without comment. I’ve stopped trying to initiate sex because the constant rejection was affecting my self-image. Other than sex, my husband and I are on the same page about every aspect of our lives, and we truly enjoy each other’s company. Leaving him would break my heart, but I can’t stand to be celibate before I even turn 30. I hate ultimatums, but is it time for that? What else can I say or do to save our relationship?

—Not a Monk

Dear Not a Monk,

Something is up with him, and he’s not saying what. I think the ultimatum doesn’t have to be, “Either hit it or hit the road,” but I do think it’s time to confront him and not let it go. An apparent lack of a sex drive could mean so many things, from low testosterone to stress to an identity crisis to … stuff I don’t even want to speculate on that I’m sure you’ve already worried enough about it as it is. He has some discernible level of guilt and he keeps putting off sex, which means he knows he should want to do it, but for whatever reason he just can’t bring himself to. That’s bad enough, but not providing you answers is worse.

You have to really pin this down, but beware: Sometimes these matters remain unsolved mysteries, and you don’t even get to enjoy Robert Stack’s spooky narration declaring them as such. In a past relationship, I tried to get to the bottom of a similar matter (the sex hadn’t completely halted, but it slowed down dramatically). And when I say “tried,” I mean years of couples therapy. Never got an answer! Never got more sex. Finally couldn’t deal with it any longer.

I hope this isn’t your outcome, but I also hope you don’t stay in a marriage that isn’t giving you sex or at least substantial answers for its absence. So yes, you’re more than justified at this point to amp things up. You deserve a good sex life, and he knows this. It sucks that you have to chase it down, and I’m glad this burden hasn’t killed your spirit. You also sound like a wonderful partner, and I worry a little that he’s taking you for granted. He should be the one asking about what he can do to save the relationship.

Dear How to Do It,

Ever since I became sexually active, I’ve always had what I would call pretty weak orgasms—pleasant relief, but really nothing special. Doctors told me that that’s just the way I’m wired, so while I enjoy sexual intimacy, I’ve accepted that mind-blowing climaxes were just not in the cards.

A few years back I started hearing more and more about the “P spot” and the pleasure that a man might enjoy from prostate stimulation. Intrigued, I’ve purchased several devices over the years—dildos, plugs, vibrators, etc.—but despite many hours of focused stimulation, I’ve never achieved much besides a few tickles and a little … dribble. There is always another device out there that promises to deliver the goods. Is there a different approach I should try to reach the promised land? Or should I just accept that this is another dead end?

—Damn Spot

Dear Damn Spot,

I feel your P-spot predicament and truly, it feels like not much! I was also once curious about the prostate-released, earthshaking “super-O” that I’ve read so much about, and now, in the advent of readily available amateur porn, seen plenty of people doing little more than lazing on their bed, breathing heavily, and waiting for the waves of pleasure to wash over them. They seem to enjoy this. But I’m in the same boat as you, and the waters are still. I’ve experimented and never had anything beyond an inkling of pleasure while lying around with a prostate stimulator. There are people who seem awfully convinced that hands-free prostate release is very real and very good, and so for the sake of giving them the benefit of the doubt (and not suspecting that this is all just an elaborate sex-toy advertising campaign), I assume that the guys who get off this way are also just wired that way. Some guys cry at Rudy, some guys come hard from prostate stimulation. I have collected enough evidence from bottoms who can orgasm during sex without jerking off to suggest that this variation is real.

So, unfortunately, this could be a dead end. But doesn’t mean that you need to throw out your prostate stimulator. Usually, when it comes to prostate stimulators, I give it the college try, get bored, and then jerk off. I notice those orgasms are usually stronger though. Have you ever tried forgoing the mythical orgasm that tears up the space-time continuum and just used a prostate stimulator to enhance penile masturbation? Give that a whirl.

I do hope that you’ve made absolutely sure there’s nothing contributing to your pretty weak orgasms, which can have physiological and psychological origins. Make sure you see a specialist like a urologist if you haven’t. And keep in mind the P-spot isn’t the only one. Are you curious about certain activities and/or fetishes that you haven’t allowed yourself to enjoy? You may very well have a spot after all, and you just haven’t yet hit it.

Dear How to Do It,

I am a 24-year-old woman who has been in a relationship with my girlfriend, also 24, for over a year. Prior to our relationship I had had a string of bad and abusive relationships, complicated by the fact that I was sexually abused as a child. In all my previous relationships, I dissociated, drank, or took drugs to make myself have sex. It sucked, and early on in our relationship my girlfriend and I agreed to put sex on the back burner while I did some pretty intense therapy so I could be present and enjoy myself.

Fast-forward a year or so, and I want to try having sex again. I told her that, and she said she’d let me take the lead. Which is great, right? She loves me and respects my boundaries and knows my relationship with sex is really messed up. Except for the fact that because of the aforementioned history, I have absolutely no idea what I want or how to ask for it. You can’t just say “Wanna have sex?” right? How do you start that conversation? How do you “take the lead”? Sex is something that has only ever been done to me, but I want to start doing it for myself. I do masturbate, and I don’t think I’m asexual—just really messed up.

—Leadership Training

Dear Leadership Training, 

Kudos on your progress, on your resilience, and on your resolve to not let your past trauma define your present. This is so admirable, and it sounds like you’re well on your way to sexual healing.

Your girlfriend also sounds amazing—she’s been with you for over a year that I am inferring has been mostly (if not entirely) sexless. Patience is a virtue, one you clearly need in a partner, but: I think she could be erring a little too much on the side of caution. By saying, “You take the lead,” she’s saying you can set the pace and try out the kinds of things you might be into. That’s great. But the issue may be that you’ve been bestowed too much responsibility in terms of initiating, and that’s OK, too. Just ask her to help get things started. And keep asking. Ask for whatever you want—it sounds like she will be receptive and beside, nobody’s out here parsing your every word and judging your every move.

If, in fact, you do want to take the offered lead, you literally can say, “Wanna have sex?” The nice thing about having a partner is you can cut out all the games and dancing around that people do out of politeness and insecurity when they don’t know each other very well. “Wanna have sex?” is a great way to cut to the chase. The earth is overheating, time is of the essence, and who knows how much longer we actually have? “Wanna have sex?” is an efficient way to maximize the amount of times you can have sex before our species is exterminated.

But seriously, if you feel like that’s unsexy or too direct for your taste, to initiate you could say that you feel turned on, or specifically describe what being turned on at that moment feels like for you. Tell your girlfriend about the last really hot fantasy you had or porn you watched. On the flip side, you don’t have to speak at all, really—rub her back and parlay that into a make-out. Or just take all of your clothes off and give her a saucy stage wink. Maybe not that, but whatever! There’s no wrong way to do this, as long as you feel ready and your girlfriend’s willing. You’ve been through so much that if you feel OK taking a direct route in which you state exactly what you want when you want it, you’ve absolutely earned it. Go for it.

Dear How to Do It,

I’m a first-year college student, and for the past couple of years, I’ve been in recovery for an eating disorder. I’m a lot better than I used to be, but I still deal with body dysmorphia, which isn’t helped by the fact that I’m neither thin nor muscular. Suffice it to say, I’m a guy with body-image issues, which negatively affects how I interact with others and feel about myself. At the same time, I definitely want to explore having a healthy sex life, or at least building the confidence to have a healthier social life. Any advice on navigating this thicket of anxiety?

—Ready to Try

Dear Ready to Try,

I see in front of me a vicious circle. You feel insecure, which negatively impacts your social life, which makes you more insecure. You’re going to have to break that cycle. But I think you can do it. You’ve taken control of an eating disorder; you’ve got this.

One way you can prompt self-confidence is by working on yourself. Anything from meditation to investing your time into learning a new area of expertise to dabbling with CBD oil to take the edge off your anxiety—there are many options. Because you’re still dealing with body dysmorphia, I’m not going to say that you should work out, but I’m not going to not say you should work out. I bring it up as the faintest of suggestions only for the effect it could have on your mind. A few years ago, I taught myself how to do double-unders while jumping rope (that is, the rope passes under your feet twice). I still feel a sense of accomplishment when I complete a workout that incorporates them. If you do take up this suggestion, forget body-building or burning fat or anything along those lines. Don’t even consider such fitness goals for now. Do, though, consider what being active can do for your self-image. My body is far from what the ideals of porn and mean gays on Twitter would deem perfect, but I tend to see myself as much more attractive after I’ve gone to the gym, especially if I’ve been going consistently over the past few days. I think it has something to do with taking care of myself and endorphins. I’m not sure exactly what to make of it, I just know that it’s therapeutic. It might be for you, too.

While you do that work, you can also, frankly, fake it until you make it. Practically speaking, there is no difference between confidence and the convincing pose of confidence—both attract and impress people. And so much of what makes a man attractive is the way he carries himself, and so much of how a man carries himself comes down to confidence. To start, hold your head high, your shoulders back, chest out, and walk the walk so many men do, regardless of their worth.

When it comes to sex, there are plenty of people who are into guys who are neither thin nor muscular—taste varies so widely. What you aren’t is way less important than what you are, which, I am assuming from your ability to write a letter soliciting advice, is a human capable of introspection. So let people see who you are. That may sound contradictory to my suggestion that you project a false confidence, but think of that false confidence as a slight cheat that will allow people to discover the real you. My hope is if you project confidence, it’ll attract people, and then that validation will make you feel even more confident, and the cycle will be reversed. The twist here is that true happiness really has nothing to do with external validation, but because these corporeal vessels we’re living in are weird and contradictory, sometimes the way in is through the way out.

—Rich