What to do when your partner doesn't want to have sex

My boyfriend and I have been dating for nearly 4 years. For about the last year and a half we have had little to no sex. I used to try to initiate sex with him, but was always turned down. When I turned to friends for advice everyone had the same answer: he is either cheating on me or he is gay. I know for a fact that he is not cheating on me. We have also had an in depth conversation about his sexuality. I have asked him over and over to seek out therapy or get some kind of help so that our relationship can thrive sexually, but he has yet to do so. I have tried everything, but nothing appears to work. What should my next move be?

~At A Loss


First let's get one thing out of the way. Contrary to what you may have seen on Jersey Shore, men are not merely fleshy-looking f**k machines. Just because a dude is not always chomping at the bit to drill you doesn't mean he's cheating or gay. In fact, low sex drive is about as likely to mean someone is gay as owning a meat thermometer. Not only is it too simplistic, it dismisses the larger issue at hand, which is that you and your partner's sexual needs are out of sync.

Mismatched sexual desire is such a bummer—it's by far the most frequent question I've gotten as a sex columnist—and, speaking from personal experience, it sucks for everyone involved. It sucks to get rejected by your partner. And it also sucks to feel guilty or pressured into doing something you don't want to do. The fact that it's common doesn't lessen how hugely frustrating, confusing, and craptastic it can be, even when it has absolutely nothing to do with you.

On the flip side, it's not just about you either. It takes two to bang-o. Ensuring your own happiness should not come at the expense of your partner's. I'm sure you've had some discussions about this, as it's been an issue for some time now, but try not to do so from the point of view of "fixing" anyone. I'm not knocking therapy, but if having a lower sex drive is not considered a problem for your partner, it can feel pretty condescending to be like, "You are broken! Go pay a calm-voiced person with many spider plants to fix you!" When you talk about the issue, it should come from a place of empathy and non-judgment.

Of course, that's easier said than done. Since you don't specify, I can only speculate what you mean when you say you've "tried everything." Naked yoga? "I" statements? Vagina puppets? With that in mind, here's a short list of ways to try and change things up. This is by no means a be-all-end-all list, just some options.

The first is to carve out a set space and time to be intimate. This doesn't have to mean sex—it can be anything: a massage, a fantasy exchange, a high school-style make-out session, etc. This may feel forced at first, but it isn't about fulfilling a quota. Making time to simply be together, to be playful and explore, can sometimes get lost in long-term relationships. Also, it puts the onus on both of you to work together, versus one person initiating and the other getting rejected, which we can all agree sucks.

In a similar vein, take a look at what you mean by sex in the first place. If the sole emphasis is always on ye olde bump ‘n' grind, it can help take the pressure off to opt for a different menu item. When me or my ex were feeling lazy, we'd take supporting roles in each other's orgasms, like with one partner jerkin' it while the other simply kisses, touches, or talks dirty to the other one. You could watch porn together if you're into that. There are lots of ways to be involved in sex that aren't so labor-intensive. Rethinking your approach, your expectations, who's initiating, how important affection is, what it would take to make you both feel satisfied, etc. can also be helpful conversation starters.

I'm reluctant to mention opening the relationship up because I'm of the mind that non-monogamy should come from a place of curiosity and excitement and not when there are serious problems looming. However, I'll throw it out as an option, since it does work fabulously for some people.

Lastly, if your sexual incompatibility persists and is distressing enough that it outweighs the great aspects of your relationship, you might have to consider the reality of a break up. But that, of course, needs to be hashed out between the two of you, and not a rando from the Internet.
CHICAGO

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