Just the Tip is a sex and relationship column hosted by queer non-monogamous kinkster Jera Brown. Here you will find interviews with sexuality researchers and educators as well as smart and compassionate responses to anonymous questions. If you would like to be interviewed or have a sex or love question you’d like Jera to answer, email email@example.com or DM Jera on Twitter @thejerabrown.
My girlfriend and I have been together for 5 years. We live on a small hobby farm together and she helps me manage it. I asked her to marry me last January. This November she gave me a ring back. I was happy that she reciprocated.
We are very different people. I am an acupuncturist /massage therapist. I like to connect with people. I’m more of the heart. She is a corporate, analytical quick thinker great at fixing things.
I can accept how we are different and the ups and downs of that. But I have concerns about getting married or continuing because she doesn’t want to have sex with me. She doesn’t initiate or reach out to touch me in a sexual way. She tells me she stopped having sex in her last marriage because they became companions.
I always initiate the idea of sex or intimacy and every 6 weeks she might agree. She orgasms and enjoys herself but over the years with her I have had difficulty orgasming. I think I’ve progressively become more disconnected from my own sexual energy because of the lack of sex and passion between us. In past relationships, I was very passionate and had great sex.
I have brought up my need to have a more intimate connection. Not much has changed and she becomes irritable when I try to ask or talk about it. I’ve experienced so much rejection as a romantic partner that I feel deep sadness and cut off from a feeling of passion or intimate heart connection with her. I love her dearly but I don’t know if it is too much of a loss to marry someone who does not desire me sexually or want to sleep in the same bed and prefers to read on her phone instead.
The lack of sex does not bother her because she does not crave it or desire it. Over the past year she mentioned she will work on it but so far has not taken action to try to improve this area of our lives.
I wonder if companionship and stability are enough to be happy in a marriage or if marriages often become sexless? Or if it’s a reasonable expectation to have sex and passion within a marriage or long-term relationship?
— Frustrated on the Farm
I have been with my girlfriend for over four years now and in these long years I have never been able to pleasure her or sexually satisfy her. Let me start by saying that I took her virginity and I am the only partner she has ever had. We met as teenagers, started off as friends with benefits, then eventually took things seriously. Three years later had a baby.
For over three years I had learned that every time we had sex, she would fake her moans and constantly give off the illusion that she enjoyed sex. I knew from the beginning that I had never made her orgasm, and while it bothered me I thought, “Well at least she still enjoys the sex,” which obviously wasn’t true at all.
When I say my girlfriend doesn’t enjoy sex, I literally mean she gets nothing out of it. She tells me she doesn’t feel a single thing while we have sex. I truly love my girlfriend and would do anything for her and I hate how this sex problem is affecting us.
She acts more irritable, angry, depressed and often snaps at me over the smallest things. She used to be crazy obsessed with me and the kindest person in the world, now it seems like she’s just tolerating me. We have tried every sex position known to man, foreplay, vibrators, yoni eggs, even seen multiple doctors, enrolled in sex therapy but nothing has worked. With each new failed attempt, I feel the love of my life slowly drifting away from me. We still have sex (rarely) but she tells me she only does it for my pleasure as she gets nothing out of it.
I truly feel selfish when we have sex knowing I’m enjoying every bit of it, while she just looks bored and aggravated. She was patient and kind and understanding for three years before she finally snapped, and I don’t blame her.
Both of us are so stressed; the least I can do is pleasure her in bed, let her release her sexual tension and energy. My girlfriend feels as though something is wrong with the inside of her vagina as well as her clit; neither of them seem to “work”.
We have a very open relationship meaning we tell each other everything and I know she has never had any sexual trauma or abuse of any kind. She was raised with strict parents but still grew up in a decent household. She has tried masturbation of all kinds, even before she met me, but still has felt nothing. It’s as if her nerves are dead. In the past, I was able to make her wet just by a simple look. Now it’s as if she’s disgusted by me and never wants to touch me. But she has still stuck by my side through thick and thin and always remained faithful which I truly applaud her for. So my question is…how can this problem be fixed? How can she feel pleasure?
— Eager to Please
(Questions edited for brevity and clarity).
In both situations, the root issue seems to be what clinicians refer to as “desire discrepancy,” a situation in which one partner has a higher need or desire for sexual intimacy than another.
Throughout this piece, I’ll specifically address the folks who have a stronger desire for sexual intimacy, such as both people asking the questions above.
Your Partners’ Relationship to Sex Is About More Than Their Feelings For You
A person’s relationship to sexual intimacy can be impacted by past trauma, pain or other physical conditions, religious and cultural values, how sex has been positioned or approached in current and past relationships, as well as issues related to body image and gender.
In addition, people can need different conditions and approaches to feel comfortable and inspired to be intimate. (Check out my post about responsive desire).
It can feel like your partner’s sexual response is all about you, but it’s not. And a lack of sexual desire is not always an indicator of a lack of romantic love.
When you’re feeling hurt that your partner is not reciprocating or matching your desire, it may be helpful to step back and ask yourself why you’re hurt and what assumptions you’re making.
There is Nothing Wrong with Low Desire or Asexual Partners
Some people are simply less interested or not at all interested in sex. Some people want to be more sexual and something is standing in the way, while others have no desire to be more sexual.
For those who fall into the latter category, no amount of communicating or cajoling will make this person more interested.
There’s a lot of pressure to be sexual beings – in society in general, and in relationships. If you’re in a relationship with someone who identifies as asexual or has a very limited desire for sexual intimacy, they may need space and support to be able to accept this part of themselves.
There is nothing wrong with people who have less or no sexual interest. This is just who they are. There are other ways to experience intimacy, show love and affection, and have whole, meaningful lives and relationships. It just might not work out with a person with a higher sex drive, or it will take creativity and compromise.
Find Your Own Answers Before Approaching the Topic Again
So how can you know what’s going on with your partner? Especially when it has become a particularly sensitive topic?
Before talking to them again, I think you’ll need to figure out what you can accept for yourself. For instance, what if your partner does not want a particularly sexual relationship with you, but they still feel all the romantic feels? Will this be enough for you?
Frustrated on the Farm asked “if companionship and stability are enough to be happy in a marriage.” We often look to others to see what’s “normal” and to offer hope for our own situation. But it might not be all that helpful to know if others find contentment in relationships with dwindling passion. Everyone is so different! The question is whether you can be content that way.
Remember that it’s okay to need a sexual relationship. If you need things that your partner can’t give you, it’s a compatibility issue and no-one is at fault.
Until you can answer these questions for yourself, I suspect you’ll be putting the burden on your partners.
Then Approach Your Partner with Fierce Acceptance
When you’re ready to talk to your partner about sex again, approach them with fierce acceptance about who they are.
Consider how you’ve approached it in the past. For instance, if you lead with how it affects you, try asking how it affects them. Try taking yourself out of the equation as much as possible to give them a loving, non-judgmental space to talk about their relationship with sex and desire.
Remember to approach these conversations in a very non-defensive way. You love each other and you want to be on the same team.
Set Boundaries Together
I suggest initiating some best practices around communication. For instance, if you learn that your partner is avoiding any physical intimacy out of fear that it will lead somewhere they don’t want it to go:
- You can set a policy that you will stop and ask if moving ahead in a certain direction is okay before proceeding.
- Or you can set a policy that cuddling will never be expected to lead to sex without the other person initiating.
In other words, create a non-pressured environment for other types of physical intimacy to flourish.
It May Take A Completely New Perspective and Approach to Sexuality and Sensuality
If the desire to maintain the relationship is still there, you may need a new approach to sexuality.
Perhaps your partner has been waiting for the opportunity to show you affection in ways that feel more comfortable to them! Or perhaps they’ve been showing you this affection all along, but you didn’t recognize it because it looked different than what you were expecting.
We’ve been taught that sex needs to be the pentacle of intimacy (it doesn’t) and that it’s not sex if it doesn’t involve the genitals (not true).
Many people have a hard time articulating what they want. And what feels good will vary wildly between two people. What kind of touch (sexual, nonsexual, sensual, etc.) carries with it the best feelings of affection and pleasure; what boundaries make someone feel safe exploring intimacy — it all varies. But we’re not taught to navigate and articulate what works best for us as individuals.
So get creative about it. Approach with playfulness and curiosity.
You may find a new world of love and affection together. And it’s equally okay to realize you’re not compatible and walk away.
Cautiously Consider an Open Relationship
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention this solution. Many couples with incompatible sex drives make relationships work by being open. But being open comes with a new set of complications you have to be willing to deal with.
Opening a relationship will not magically fix relationship issues. But it can take pressure off low-desire or asexual partners if you have amazing communication and it’s something they want, as well.
Disclaimer: As always, there’s no perfect solution to any relationship issue and you may benefit from the help of a neutral, trained professional. Jera is not a licensed mental health professional, just a writer living as authentically as they can.