A Sexless Marriage

QUESTION: You have a book titled "He's Just Not Up for It Anymore. Why Men Stop Having Sex and What Women Are Doing About It," but my problem is the exact opposite! My wife never seems to want sex anymore -- it simply seems like lack of interest -- and I cannot continue handling the rejection. I am on the edge of looking elsewhere, even though I do not really want to. Where do I go from here?

ANSWER: The place not to go is to the cheatin' side of town; it won't solve anything and is guaranteed to complicate matters exponentially. Wisely, you say that's not what you want anyway -- you just want to understand what made your wife walk away from the intimate side of your marriage.

There are a number of reasons why a woman may no longer make love to her husband -- so many, in fact, that we're about to begin researching a book about low-sex marriages from that side of the bed. Of the approximately 20 million married couples in America that suffer from hypoactive sexual desire disorder, (HSDD) most experts agree that the decision to stop the passion is split equally between genders. You are not alone in your confusion and pain.


You don't mention your wife's age, but if she is perimenopausal or post-menopausal, that can result in a sharp decrease in desire. She may be embarrassed to tell you she is lubricating less, or not at all, making intercourse painful and something to be avoided. Or, she may no longer feel attractive, and a woman unsatisfied with her appearance won't feel very sexy. She may be depressed, which often leads to a loss of libido. (Ironically, so do a lot of antidepressants.) She may have another type of hormonal imbalance that is preventing passion. Is it possible that she's angry at you? Repressed rage is like sexual Novocain -- it numbs feelings of love or affection.

You have to sit down and discuss all of this with your wife. If she is going through menopause, there are excellent, very low dosage estrogen products available that work to alleviate problems of vaginal pain and lack of lubrication. If she is angry, talk about it and really listen to her side of the story. You mention feeling rejected, so you clearly have some anger yourself. The two of you might be riding an emotional seesaw. Or, she may have reached a time in her life when she is content in her marriage and everything else, but just doesn't want to make love very much anymore. If that is the case, you will have to be open and honest about your needs, and establish a way they can be met within your relationship.


You don't mention how long the two of you have been married, or how long your wife's lack of desire has been a problem. It is certainly possible that you have both fallen into the common pattern of "married sex." By this we mean same time, same place and same way -- never anything different. Imagine yourselves dancing the exact same Pas de Deux for 25 years. Once it was exhilarating, now it's just old; not for you, perhaps, but for her. There's no easy cure, although sometimes a change of scenery can work wonders to jump-start passion. However, telling her you still desire her, think she's beautiful, and want to really connect with her on an emotional and spiritual level might work even better.

Your feelings of rejection are perfectly understandable, especially if you both shared a strong intimate bond in the past. Most men invest a lot of their self-worth in their sexuality, so from your point of view, it would seem that she's not only saying no to intimacy, she's saying no to you. That may not necessarily be the case. Her loss of interest in sex may have nothing at all to do with how she feels about you -- she may still love you, be happy with you, but no longer be sexually motivated. A pill to counteract female loss of libido is the pharmaceutical company's Holy Grail -- right up there with one that takes weight off fast, effortlessly and without side effects. Unfortunately, neither is available.

You can't solve the problem until you stop masking it with silence. If intercourse is painful, you might consider broadening the definition of lovemaking to include oral sex and mutual masturbation, and exclude intercourse until she and her gynecologist find a solution. If she is angry, or feels unattractive and unloved, you may need couple's counseling to mediate and understand what is happening. If she is suffering from HSDD and doesn't have any idea why, she should certainly begin with a complete physical examination.

We sympathize with you, and congratulate you for not giving up. It's painful to be the only one in a marriage who wants to be intimate; to consistently be rejected is putting you in a very uncomfortable position. Unfortunately, you have to accept the fact that whatever you are currently doing isn't working, and do something else. Asking "where to go from here" is a good start. Now, you have to begin talking and listening to your wife with clarity and compassion.


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