How to Do It

My Girlfriend Rarely Wants to Have Sex. I Think I Know Why.

I’m getting the sexual short end of the stick.

Woman looking off with a tally floating next to her head.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

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Dear How to Do It,

I’ve been dating a wonderful woman I’ve known and been in love with since we were both teenagers, what feels like a lifetime ago. I’m even getting ready to propose to her. However, a problem has recently come up surrounding her job.

She’s a cam star. Now I have no problems with her job choice. We’ve talked extensively about it, even matches our respective sex drives. She has one of the highest sex drives I know. Mine is relatively low and I’m fine with having sex once a month. She was doing it before I started dating her, so I knew what I was getting into, and I really want her to be happy with her job. And she is.

The issue that has arisen is that often as part of her job she has or is faking orgasms. And I had to take medical leave for a problem. To balance things out, she started working longer hours. This means in her free time, the last thing she wants is sex, which nine times out of 10, I’m absolutely fine with. Unfortunately, the last tenth leaves me feeling as if I get the sexual short end of the stick when I do want to have sex.

What I want to know is how I approach this conversation without coming across as being accusatory at her or dismissive of her job. Too many people have left her or unintentionally insulted her because of her job. I don’t want to be one of them. Any advice on how to approach this tactfully would be appreciated.

Stoya: Let’s remove the sexual labor aspect from this for a moment as a fun thought experiment. So I’ve been dating a wonderful woman I’ve known and been in love with since we were both teenagers. I’m even getting ready to propose to her. However, a problem has come up. She’s working harder because I wasn’t able to work for a while. Her job requires a lot of energy and effort and she’s doing that much more of it right now to help us continue to live comfortably. When she’s home from work, she doesn’t want to have sex. And as the person with the lower libido in the relationship, I don’t know how to understand, navigate, and sit with having my sexual interest denied. Do you think that’s a fair take?

Rich: Yes.

Stoya: So he can say something like,  “I know you’re working extra hard. I’m not sure how to handle what feels like sexual rejection. Can we have a discussion about your feelings and responses” or “Hey, I know you’re tired. I’m feeling this. I need this. Is there any way that you can give that to me?” But, there’s no need to make it about her job at all.

Rich: I agree. And also, I understand feelings are what they are and you feel what you feel, but as somebody who has a lower sex drive in the relationship, I think that it might be useful to remind yourself that when you’re not in the mood for somebody, which it seems like that happens quite frequently, it’s not a personal knock against them. It’s not an actual rejection. It’s about you. It’s not about them, not necessarily, at least. And so what you’re seeing here is just what has played out inevitably in your life in reverse. That could still suck and be frustrating and it could still be like a thing where it’s like, “Okay, yeah, I get it. I just want to have sex sometimes. I want to have sex once a month and I’m not getting that.” Fair.

But I think that the better you can project the empathy that comes from being in the exact same situation in reverse, I think the better off you’ll be, the more understanding you’ll be. And the easier it will be to choose your words because you’ve been there inevitably. What you lay out suggests that you have been.

I don’t think it’s unfair to talk about achieving work-life balance and to talk about, or at least to check in like, “Look, you’re busy at work, etc., but do you think that sex is important in terms of our connection?” And maybe the girlfriend doesn’t think that. Maybe it’s just not a thing. And in that case, look, nine times out of 10, ain’t bad. It seems like what you have is this really good connection you found, you found each other and you’re very complimentary. But for that one time out of the 10, you’re doing pretty well. I understand that you want to get it to the perfect point, but this seems like a pretty good match to me.

Stoya: Yeah. And then, the sign-off before I put a ring on it, I’d say, go for it. I think this is so navigable. I think it’s just about having a conversation about here’s how I’m feeling, how are you feeling? How can we make this comfortable for both of us right now? And also, I assume the writer had to take medical leave for a problem. I assume they will return to work and their partner’s work-life balance will be more balanced, giving them more sexual energy to put into their relationship with the writer.

Rich: And look, if you’re somewhat paranoid about seeming stigmatizing, then you can absolutely go out of the way when it’s appropriate to affirm the partner for her career choices. You can make that explicit and you can make yourself clear by saying, “Here’s what I’m not trying to do in this conversation.” I wouldn’t necessarily lead with that. Sometimes when you set things up to say, “Here’s what’s not going to happen,” you’ve already put that into the world. And then that becomes a sticking point, even when you didn’t mean it to be.

So I would talk about the actual issues going on, which are irrespective really of her job, but then whenever you get a chance or if it feels appropriate, you can highlight that as something that you’re not trying to stigmatize. Reinforce that it’s really not about that. It’s really about the sexual connection and what we can do about it. And look, you can ask her point blank, “Are you interested in this connection? What is your stance on this? Is this not important to you? Do you want a partner in which you have all kinds of connections, but the sexual ones?” Because like I said before, you’re almost there.

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