How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Have a question? Send it to Stoya and Rich here. It’s anonymous!
Every week, the crew responds to a bonus question in chat form.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a straight-ish thirtysomething woman who’s been with the same man since college. He is my ideal partner in every way, and the best possible father to our young kids. But. It’s been years since we’ve had a satisfying sex life. In the beginning, we explored our kinks and had sex regularly. It slowly tapered off with our busy work schedules and the births of our kids. Now we’re going on three years with very little sexual contact, or even basic intimacy. He was always the initiator, but he has largely given up because he knows I’ll say no. I’ve beat myself up for years over this, trying to find an answer: Is my lack of libido due to my antidepressants? Breastfeeding? Stress?
I’ve finally realized something: I’m just not attracted to him. When we do have sex, it’s great, but I don’t crave it. I’ve never really been into him physically, but now I see that I’ve been actively avoiding sex because he just doesn’t turn me on. I feel like I’m at a total loss. I want to stay married, I want to make him happy, and I want to feel lust again. We hardly even have time to talk about sex anymore, and when we do, I can see how discouraged he is. We both deserve better. Where do I go from here?
Rich: What really grabbed me here is that she says the sex with her husband is “great,” and yet she isn’t turned on. I’m curious about what she means by “great.”
Rich: “Great” like an old Ford—a functional, well-oiled machine—or is there actual passion? Is she able to sort of attain a joy in the moment that otherwise seems unfathomable when she isn’t having sex with him? Or it merely not awful?
Stoya: I think this is a case where therapy might be useful. I want to know why this woman is describing a man she isn’t attracted to as her ideal partner in every way. Clearly she values sexual connection and desire. There’s a disconnect, and I want a lot more information. I want to know about her idea of what great sex is, her idea of the role of the wife and its obligations, and how well she advocates to get her needs met outside the bedroom
Rich: Another thing: The sex life was previously satisfying when they were exploring their kinks. Is that the missing piece here? Is she effectively saying that such an exploratory environment is key to her satisfaction? And was his willingness to do so, in fact, a turn on?
Stoya: I wonder if they’ve successfully had a discussion about sex recently. She says he’s given up initiating, but did they talk about that? Broaching the subject of lack of attraction with a spouse seems terrifying, but sometimes we have to do the scary thing.
Rich: “We hardly even have time to talk about sex anymore…” I mean, you just have to make the time. Most problems don’t get solved by sitting around and waiting for them to work out.
Stoya: And she has to be proactive. She has to express that what’s happening right now isn’t working for her.
Rich: I think framing it by leading with the satisfying sex they once had would help soften the blow.
Stoya: For sure.
Rich: But also, irrespective of that, she says she’s just not attracted to this guy. So then what? A relationship in which your partner satisfies your every need but sex, which you pursue with other partners, is certainly a possibility—a best-case scenario here, really. I don’t think a lack of sexual attraction/chemistry is necessarily grounds for split if that can be managed ethically via outside parties. But that’s a big ask for a lot of people.
Stoya: On the other hand, he might be thrilled at the idea of maintaining his functional partnership and getting sexual interaction with people who want to have sex with him.
Rich: He is discouraged and can likely read her lack of enthusiasm. It’s kind of hard to miss when it’s staring at you in the face, two inches away. There are only two immediate courses of action that I can see here: Accept a lackluster sex life or start talking about how to change things for maximum satisfaction.
Stoya: And that maximum satisfaction can take so many forms. I’m getting a hopeless sort of vibe from the writer, as though she feels like she’s in a corner, when so many options are on the table. Set the time aside, have the talks, and figure out what will actually work for the two of you.
More How to Do It
I am a 43-year-old man, and my wife is 41. She never had sex before we got together, not even masturbation, because of her conservative upbringing. On my part, I started masturbation in seventh grade, and I first had sex while I was 16. We enjoyed ourselves the first few years. After that, she seemed to lose interest. I think she had a few real orgasms, but mainly faked them. Now, I always suspected this was because I am not very big—I’m about 3.5 inches erect, and I tend to ejaculate quickly. I told her she could try another man, since I had 13 to 15 sex partners before we were married and she had none. I wavered on this a few times as I got insecure and jealous, but in one of my more permissive times, she met a man and liked him. I tried to call it off, but she wants to go forward. Should I let this happen? I’m afraid he will be much bigger and she’ll enjoy him better, and I don’t want to lose her.