How to Do It

My Husband Can’t Figure Out the Glaringly Obvious Reason I Don’t Want to Have Sex With Him

A woman looks skeptically at a man.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by master1305/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!

Every week, the crew responds to a bonus question in chat form.

Dear How to Do It, 

I’m a woman who’s been married to my husband for six years. Every few months or so, we get into an argument because he feels like we don’t have sex enough and I don’t initiate enough. Honestly, he is right. But it’s because his hygiene is downright repulsive most days. I have to ask him to brush his teeth in the morning. I have to ask him to wipe the leftovers dripping from his chin after every meal, and wash his hands after he uses the bathroom. Every. Day. And he just laughs it off and calls me a “germaphobe.” If I push the issue, he gets defensive and pissed that I’m bothering him about it. I don’t feel like I’m asking too much, and I can definitely tell it is affecting our sex life. How can I get it across to him that if he cleaned up his act, I would want to be more intimate with him?

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—Grossed Out

Stoya: You know, people frequently focus on romantic and sexual compatibility. And there’s all this other stuff—for instance, hygiene—that can be just as much of a relationship mismatch.

Rich: I think what the husband is missing is that hygiene is for everybody. Yes, what you do with your body is up to you, but a certain amount of upkeep also amounts to civility.

Stoya: I’m having a really intense reaction here, and feel I should disclose my bias: Deodorant gives me a distractingly uncomfortable rash. Most toothpastes make my mouth burn. He might have sensitives she doesn’t know about.

Rich: That’s a good point. Me, I’m not overly concerned with deodorant, and in fact, I prefer men not to wear it. But I’ll tell you what I don’t want to ever smell: unflossed teeth.

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Stoya: I will always floss before I see you.

Rich: I’ve never once smelled plaque on you. I would remember. Sometimes my boyfriend’s breath is hellacious, and I’m very glad to have the kind of relationship where I can tell him that it is and then he can fix it, and that’s that.

Stoya: To that point … I’m wondering if “clean” is less important than “mature.”

Rich: My thoughts exactly. At a certain point, you realize you aren’t perfect, and reminders of such become helpful instead of hurtful, or something you brush off as a “joke.”

Stoya: The heart of the matter is his entitlement, and maybe obliviousness.

Rich: I’m of the mindset that feedback is a good thing. I rely on my partner to let me know when my transmissions aren’t coming through well.

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Stoya: If quitting analog cigarettes has taught me anything, it’s that the world frequently stinks.

Rich: Stinks!

Stoya: Like, real bad. And it seems like our writer’s husband wants to live his slovenly life and be pursued by a woman who is put off by slovenliness.

Rich: It’s ridiculous. I wonder if the writer has ever really spelled it out: Your constant funk is diminishing my lust for you. Being direct, and stating how serious you are in no uncertain terms, can be incredibly beneficial. I think it’s important here to approach the husband with some sensitivity, because this seems like a sore subject for him. But it’s pretty cut and dried. “You smell like hell, and heaven is right through the bathroom door.” You are not your stench.

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Stoya: What you’ve written here might be an example of the bluntness required to get through to the husband.

Rich: There’s a thing with some men where they just stay teenage boys in certain areas and need to be taught. Sometimes the lessons are rude awakenings, but that doesn’t make them any less essential.

Stoya: Given the history of defensiveness and reaction when our writer broaches the subject, she may want to think through how she’ll respond to different potential responses. If he is sensitive to various products

Rich: Yes, one thing that’s important is to not escalate. Don’t accuse, don’t get personal. This is a fixable issue and should be framed as such. Self-awareness is a rare commodity, so it’s not his fault, necessarily, that he doesn’t realize he stinks. But ignoring the feedback would be his fault.

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Stoya: I’ve found that a genuine question can go a long way. There’s a difference between “Why do you avoid hygiene!” and “Why do you avoid hygiene?” Maybe it’s too sore of a subject at this point, but it feels worth a shot.

Rich: Something’s gotta give, and hopefully it will be the husband giving in to the power of soap.

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