How to Do It

My Husband Says I’m “Withholding Sex”

He hasn’t bathed in two weeks.

GIF of a woman holding her nose while a man sits on a bed with his head in his hands. Flashing no entry signs are in the background.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by imtmphoto/iStock / Getty Images Plus and VladimirFLoyd/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.

Dear How to Do It,

My husband and I have been married for seven years. We started out very strong sexually, but over the past few years he has stopped bathing and brushing his teeth regularly. Nothing I say or do seems to compel him to wash. Sometimes he goes more than two weeks without bathing. He’s dirty (he works a manual labor job) and he smells awful. I don’t want to be in the same room as him, and the thought of kissing him or being intimate with him horrifies me. So we aren’t having sex and haven’t been in a while. I tell him that I can’t consider a physical relationship with him because of this, but he doesn’t believe me—he tells me that it’s my problem, that I lack confidence, or I don’t love him, or I’m not attracted to him. He is very angry a lot of the time and blames his attitude on me “withholding sex.” He sees a doctor regularly and is treated for mild anxiety, but nothing seems to get through to him about this. I want sex back in my life, but not with someone who is dirty and/or who is mean to me, and I’m not sure what to do.

—Rank

Dear Rank,

I just have to say it: gross. I’m sorry your husband is neglecting himself. At a certain point—this exact point—you may need to evaluate how much you’re willing to put up with. That’s up to you. You decide when enough is enough. You decide what you’re willing to tolerate. You decide how many days a person can go without showering and still share a bed with you. You decide how much misplaced blame you’re willing to shoulder. You decide how much of his anger you’ll allow him to take out on you. You decide at what point you sit him down and plainly tell him his hygiene habits are not only killing your sex life but also, it sounds like, threatening your marriage.

Like all adults, you have to make these decisions for yourself. Only you can say how much longer you’re willing to put up with your husband’s literally stinking attitude. Good luck.

Dear How to Do It,

My wife and I have been married for 14 years and been swinging for six. We started as people often do—adding a woman from a swinging dating site. We progressed comfortably to full swap with couples and then into playing solo, mostly because we have little kids and both of us getting away can be hard. About a year ago, my wife made a connection with a guy and they went on a date and had sex. It was fun for us to talk about after and share the pictures and videos they made. (He knew they were for my enjoyment, too, and consented.)

About a week after this, my wife went out to have some drinks with friends, and afterward she went to his house. She did this without checking with me, which is against our rules. She came home after and immediately told me what she had done. I had been reading her conversations with this man (we both have unlimited access to each other’s phones because we enjoy watching the other flirt), and they were talking a lot more than usual and that it seemed more intimate than other similar relationships. So she told me what she did and that she hadn’t asked because she didn’t want to risk me saying no, even though I have never said no to a rendezvous before. I said that couldn’t happen again, but I didn’t want to keep her from this relationship because I didn’t want her to be bitter and feel that I’d denied her the experience. But after a few months of this relationship, I grew more and more uncomfortable and jealous. I talked through it as best I could but finally asked her to break it off. She said she would and that would be the end of it.

After a few months, I found that she was talking with this man again. We talked and decided she wouldn’t talk with him anymore. We also worked very hard to repair our relationship and got to a very good place again. Well, I recently discovered that she had started talking to him again. (She says that they never met but only chatted, and I have no reason to think that she’s lying about that.) I’m thinking about letting her pursue this relationship because I don’t want to set her up for failure again, and I feel like she won’t be able to cut this man from her life. They’ve become very good friends and their conversations are 95 percent pedestrian and center around their jobs and kids, etc. I’m hoping to get advice on how I can be more accepting of her relationship. I don’t want to leave her—we are very much in love, and every other part of our marriage is great—and I don’t want to be lied to. I’ve started seeing a therapist who works with non-monogamous relationships, but it’s only been a month and I’m still having a hard time dealing.

—The Other Guy

Dear The Other Guy,

Your wife repeatedly broke your rules, and you’ve decided to bend those rules to suit her. So I think you have to accept your own decision. Look inward: If her conversations with this other man really are 95 percent pedestrian, have you considered why your wife might need an extra person to talk about jobs and kids with? Is it possible that you’re not meeting her emotional needs? Think about what she might not be getting from you and ways that you could meet those needs.

If you’re seeing a therapist and still having a hard time dealing, you might need a different therapist. Or you might need to be more honest and present with the therapist you already have. You’re going to have to evaluate that yourself. You might also consider taking your wife with you.

For now, sit down with your wife and talk with her about your boundaries, what she’s doing, and the disconnect between the two. Ask her if she’s getting things from this ongoing connection that you don’t provide. Ask her if there’s anything she needs that she isn’t getting from you. Good luck.

Dear How to Do It,

I’ve been married to my husband for 13 years, and we have four children. Lately, my sex drive has gone way up, and my husband is so grateful for this. The problem I’m having is that I can’t get my husband to share his fantasies with me! I’ve asked him what they are, and he told me that he already acted them out before me and that he doesn’t have any. I have a hard time believing that. I’m wondering if he’s thinking his fantasy is too far out for me? I am a little vanilla, but I’m willing to experiment. I slept with a lot of men before I married the love of my life, but most of them were one-night stands or short relationships. How do I get my husband to open up to me?

—In His Head

Dear In His Head,

You might be prying where there’s no gold to be found. It really is possible that your husband has enacted all of his fantasies. I speak from personal experience that it is absolutely possible to have had all of one’s fantasies fulfilled and have none left to long for. Presumably you have a decent relationship that involves trust. Do you think you could exercise some toward your partner regarding this specific issue?

If you’re looking to explore and get some sexual diversity, your own fantasies can serve as a source of inspiration just as easily as your partner’s. And sharing your own might embolden your husband to open up himself, in the event that he does have a lurking lustful thought or two.

Dear How to Do It,

I’m a cis straight woman in her late 30s. I’ve been sexually active since I was 15, but more as a “everyone else does it, so I should too” manner than because I wanted it. It was sort of a preventive measure, as rapes and assault were frequent in my neighborhood, so I figured I might as well go through it willingly. I’ve had stable relationships, and I’m currently in a long-term relationship (almost four years) with a great guy who happens to be in the Navy and is therefore away from home quite often.

Sex-wise, I think I’m actually asexual. I’ve been lurking on forums and it seems that I fit the definition of sex-positive ace. While the label is in a way a relief, the asexuality bugs me. I’ve been trying to be interested in sex and experimented with fetish play, BDSM, pegging … I’m a regular at the fetish parties we have here, but I rarely do anything. I love the community, but I have zero interest in sex itself. My poor boyfriend usually comes home horny as a goat, and we end up having sex, but quite frankly I’m not actually enjoying it. I do it because he needs it.

I’ve never had a sex drive, and if I’m single that’s not a problem for me because it doesn’t even cross my mind. But whenever I’m in a relationship, of course sex has to be on the table. And it is slowly eating my soul. I’ve started to mention the ace stuff more to the boyfriend, but he’s dumbfounded at the idea that people can not have any sex drive or sexual attraction. Is it OK to finally come out and say “enough”? I’m worried it would be the end of the relationship. Or is there any way to train myself to enjoy and look forward to sex? I do orgasm, but it’s somehow not satisfying enough to make me want more. What can I do?

—Acing It

Dear Acing It,

Do some soul-searching. See a therapist if you can afford it. You seem to have had a preemptive reaction to the sexual demands of others and may have never had the opportunity to decide what your sexuality is. You need to take some time to figure this out on your own terms.

For now, stop having sex that you don’t want to have. Tell your boyfriend what you told me. If he takes issue with it, you’re going to have to decide for yourself what’s more important: his companionship or your exploration of how much sexuality you have. If you’re ace, you’re ace. Maybe you’re somewhere else on the asexual spectrum. The guy who doesn’t have the space for that might be the wrong dude, or you might need to do some educating to get him up to speed. It’s up to you to decide how much teaching you want to attempt.

You might find solace on the asexual message boards, or at least examples of how other people have navigated their own questioning or realization of their sexual identity. Mostly, I hope you can determine your sexuality free of the pressure you’ve always felt from others. It’s OK wherever you land.

—Stoya

More Advice From How to Do It

A couple years ago—about 10 years into our marriage and amid our trying to fix some desire discrepancy issues—my wife confessed that she cheated on me with a good friend of ours, someone who was in our wedding party and has since made moves on her. This took place about a year before we were engaged, so a long time ago. While we have come a long way, it’s taken me a long time to get over this because of certain details. The biggest of these details is that she told me he performed a particular act for her, one that she enjoyed—an act she won’t let me perform on her. I’m very attracted to my wife; I couldn’t feel like a luckier guy. I’m quite happy with our sex life, except that one thing. I’m slightly obsessed with it. Simply put, I’m not going to do something she says she doesn’t want. At the same time, I really want to shed my insecurity about her getting freaky on the low with our old friend but not me. The male psyche is a little ridiculous, I realize. What should I do?