How to Do It

I’ve Been Married 25 Years. We’ve Never Once Had Sex.

A couple in bed together, facing opposite ways.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by AndreyPopov/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Have a question? Send it to Stoya and Rich here. It’s anonymous!

Dear How to Do It,

I have been with my husband for 25 years. I love my husband unconditionally, and I know that he loves me unconditionally. The problem is we have never ever had sex. Not even on our wedding night. I have approached the subject with him on many occasions, but he refuses to discuss it. I know that he has a problem getting an erection, because on more than one occasion I have found prescription Viagra in his car and in the house. I confronted him about it because I thought he might be having an affair and that was the problem, but he said no, which I believe, because outside of work, we are almost always together. There is really no time for him to have an affair. His explanation was that sometimes he just likes to feel like a man and have an erection, which is confusing to me because he’s never used it to benefit our sex life. I have no desire to look outside my marriage for sex or intimacy because I love my husband deeply and only want that kind of relationship with him. I’m not even attracted to other men because he is it for me—my heart still skips a beat when he walks in the room. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for him, and he for me. Is it possible to fix this problem, or is it too late?

—Conjugal Complication

Dear CC,

I don’t know whether it’s too late. You clearly love this man. You’ve spent 25 sexless years with him and still only want him. I assume you’ve considered and rejected the option of leaving.

Couples counseling with a sex positive therapist would be ideal, but that requires talking.

Have you tried writing him a letter? It might be easier for him to read, alone and at his own pace. You can express the kind of connection you’d like to have with him, and ask him if he’s willing to work through whatever is happening together with you. You also don’t specify whether you’ve attempted to talk about the lack of talking. That might be worth a try, too. My hope is that he’ll be able to share about why he won’t talk about sex, and that maybe you two can proceed from there.

Dear How to Do It,

I am a straight woman and have been dating my boyfriend for about a year. We moved in together a few months ago and have obviously been spending a lot of time together recently. I have no problem with our sex most of the time—we have sex every day or every other day, and both orgasm pretty much every time. He loves eating me out, and it’s a big part of what we both enjoy.

Here’s the problem: About every other month, in the middle of receiving oral, I suddenly feel the urge to cry, though nothing hurts (in general, it feels pretty great!). When it happens, I always tell him to stop, and he does so immediately. But even after sexual activity stops, I start crying uncontrollably and feel miserable for the rest of the day, plus I feel like I ruined sex for him as well. During our social isolation period, this has been getting more frequent; it’s now happened twice in three weeks instead of twice in three months. I have no idea what causes it! My best guess is stress, but is this normal? What can I do about it?

—Tears of Joy?

Dear Tears of Joy,

Tears during sex can be OK, and are totally normal. They’re a release. They do happen, and they don’t always mean tragedy or trauma. If you have experienced sexual trauma, though, your best bet is a qualified therapist.

I’m curious about the first time the crying happened to you—were you immediately miserable for the rest of the day? Or did that develop later on? Is this boyfriend the only person you’ve felt the urge to cry with? How was the first instance of tears handled? Are there specific recurring themes of your misery, or is it a general malaise?

If your first bout of crying instilled guilt, you might find your distress alleviated by knowing that sometimes tears just happen and accepting that occasionally they happen to you. If there are recurring themes to your misery, you might want to make notes, look at them when you aren’t feeling low, and take action to resolve them.

Many women report experiencing something called postcoital dysphoria at one or more points in their lives—46.2 percent in one 2015 study. Some men do, as well. Postcoital dysphoria is aptly named. It describes feelings of sadness, irritability, and agitation after consensual sex. Hormones and twitches of vestigial patriarchy may be factors. Like many aspects of sexuality, PCD is not well-studied.

As for navigating your post-sex funk, you might take a tip from the BDSM community and try aftercare. Aftercare rituals are as varied as the people who engage in them. It might look like snuggling after sex. It might look like talking about your feelings for each other, or describing the sex that just happened. It might look like your boyfriend bringing you a cup of tea. Y’all will have to look at what you do that feels good to each other and work out what’s best for you.

Dear How to Do It,

I hope you can help me. My wife just informed me that she has been masturbating daily (except during her periods) for the past two YEARS. I am floored. She apparently does it either late at night to help her relax for sleep, or first thing in the morning while I shower for work. She doesn’t own a vibrator or toys or anything, so she uses her fingers and … I am disgusted. When is she washing her hands? Especially when she does this at night? She says she just waits till morning because she does not want to wake me up by using the bathroom (I am a very light sleeper, and this probably would wake me up). But I think this is so gross! When I told her this, she seemed really frustrated that I would “fixate on this” rather than inquire more into her sexual needs and desires.

I am autistic, and for me, sex is a biological urge that I have maybe twice a month, and when it’s done, it’s done. I don’t like talking about sex or having it intrude on the rest of my life. My wife, on the other hand, says she wants connection, and apparently has been relying on getting herself off, and even using lesbian and gay porn and erotica to do it, which I never would have expected. Like, what is going on here? She says she is turned on by the connection, regardless of gender. Is this really a thing? It’s just so foreign from how I experience sex. She insists she loves me and wants sex with me (obviously more than I want it), and she says that through all of it, she was trying to just handle it herself so as not to be an “asshole” about it (she’s been more nagging about it in the past, which is a huge turn off for me). I just want her to wash her hands! Is this a reasonable expectation on my end? Where do we go from here?

—On the Side

Dear On the Side,

I’m curious about whether you wash your hands and/or shower after partnered sex. If not, then I’m hoping you’ll be able to see masturbation and waiting to wash one’s hands as just as acceptable. If so, you’ve got a sexual mismatch—one that’s tiny in comparison to the sexual desire mismatch you and your wife have.

You, a person who doesn’t want to ruminate on sex, have married a person who masturbates almost daily. Such a sexual desire mismatch. I imagine she’s frustrated with the situation. She’s trying to make things work, without bothering you with a subject you aren’t interested in, and is still getting flack for her private solution.

You’ve got some options. You can get a divorce. I assume you love each other, but sometimes love isn’t enough. You can open up your relationship so she can get her sexual desires met more regularly—presuming your wife is interested in establishing other sexual relationships, and that the two of you can negotiate an agreement that works for everyone. You can resign yourself to some genital lubricant on the sheets as the cost of your wife fulfilling her own sexual appetite. You can negotiate for hand-washing.

As for connection being a thing—yes. Very much so. For many people, the point of sex is to connect closely with another human. For others, the appeal is purely physical and sportlike, or biological urge–driven, like with you. I don’t think this is a neuro-atypical thing any more than it’s a female/male thing. Many people who watch pornography search for videos that convey connection. And many people are attracted to and aroused by personality over face or genital configuration.

Dear How to Do It,

I’m a 33-year-old woman who got laid off with the events of COVID-19 in late February. With all the chaos that followed, I was unable to get my last birth control prescription (I was on three-month fills, and it wasn’t my first thought when I lost my job). We’ve been using condoms instead, and I’ve noticed a massive new disinterest in sex on my husband’s part. We had a very healthy sex life prior to this, minimum four times a week and it was fun and satisfying for both parties. When I try to initiate lately, I’m being rebuffed with “maybe not tonight” but lots of kisses and cuddles. He has retained his job, but they’re going through lots of layoffs. I can’t help feeling rejected right now, but I also know that this is new territory and stressful, especially as he’s the only one with an income right now (our savings will see us through quite a long time). How do I feel less rejected while still supporting my amazing husband? I don’t want to push him while he’s feeling so much pressure, but I miss being intimate with him so much, and I can’t tell if it’s because we are now using condoms, the understandable stress of the way life has come at us, or a combination.

—Wrapped Up

Dear Wrapped Up,

Can your gynecologist, or even your primary care physician, send you a new prescription? You don’t mention where you live, but most regions allow people to go to the pharmacy for medication or offer delivery.  That’s too easy of a solution though—nothing is that simple during quarantine—so let’s assume not.

Talk about it. Think about what you’ll say beforehand. Start with the general tone of the room, like “How are you right now? How are you feeling?” Get a sense for whether he’s even in a good place to talk right then. “I’ve noticed you’re less sexually available, coinciding with COVID and the switch to condoms. I’m not sure what’s going on, and I’d like to hear how you’re feeling about sex.” Be prepared to listen and ask follow-up questions. At some point—maybe he’ll ask—it’ll feel appropriate to share what’s happening on your end and how you’re feeling.

I think you’ve got this.

—Stoya

More How to Do It

In high school, my younger sister “Eva” got very intensely into a conservative church, purity pledges and all. My brother “Josh” and I never did. Three months ago, at 22, Eva married her similarly devout husband. This past weekend, Josh informed me that our brother-in-law confessed to him (over too much to drink) that he and Eva hadn’t consummated the marriage despite multiple attempts together. He didn’t mention what kind of difficulties they were having, only that it was also his first time and he felt pretty lost. Josh was focused on getting him sober and getting him home, so the conversation didn’t continue. I feel terrible for them! I’m trying to figure out if I can say something to Eva: Do I give her an adult version of The Talk? Slide a pamphlet in her purse and run away?