Ask Kimberly: My Partner Has a Low Sex-Drive

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“Ask Kimberly” is a biweekly blog post series in which a reader question about relationships, parenting, and/or general mental health is answered. You can submit a question through the “Contact” form, on Facebook, or Twitter.

Dear Kimberly,

How do you handle a husband with a low sex drive? I’ve heard my whole life that men are always turned on and ready to go, but my husband just isn’t one of these men. At first I felt ugly and that he wasn’t attracted to me, but after several conversations, tears, and counseling myself I know that isn’t true. If hurts to be the initiator 90% of the time and to even be rejected from time to time, and I continue to feel like he’s not attracted me or doesn’t love me enough to make this a priority. Thoughts? Advice?

— L

Dear L,

I won’t give you a single answer, because this is usually a very complicated issue. I will, however, give you some things to think about, and concrete actions that you may want to implement.

PSYCHOLOGICAL CAUSES

First off, if your husband also feels frustrated with the variation in drive between the two of you, has he been to his doctor for a complete physical? Hormone levels would be the first thing to check, but there are other physiological causes of low libido that could be investigated. Worst case scenario is that everything is fine. Best case scenario is that there is something contributing to the issue that may possibly be helped by his physician. It certainly doesn’t hurt to check.

COUNSELING

If this is an issue for you, and one that keeps coming up in your relationship over a long period of time, it’s time to bring up the idea of couple’s counseling and/or sex therapy. For a great article about what good sex therapy looks like, read this post on Psychology Today.

Many men (and women) are reluctant to talk about sex with someone outside of the relationship, but there are a lot of good reasons to do so. If, for example, you are met with protests because “talking about it implies something is wrong,” you can argue that:

  1. something IS wrong. You’re BOTH probably frustrated by what I assume feels like a lack of compatibility in this area. You may get into arguments; you may get hurt feelings. It’s an area of your marriage where the two of you are not cohesive, and therefore, it’s an area that deserves some attention.
  2. Saying that something is “wrong,” doesn’t mean it’s “outside the norm.” This is actually a very common problem – and one that can be improved. Don’t think of this issue as something that is “wrong” or “right,” but merely an area of your marriage in which the two of you are having trouble connecting.

Many people are also wary of talking about something so private, but, let me assure you, a trained professional has a code of ethics that requires complete confidentiality around such subjects. You won’t be the first couple to walk in with such an issue, and you certainly won’t be the last. You may be anxious or uncomfortable talking about sex, but your therapist is not.

If this is a significant issue in the marriage, it is worth the time and effort of seeking outside help. Good relationships don’t just happen, but are intentionally cultivated and grown.

MASTURBATION

While you’re figuring out how to talk about this with your partner, or are waiting to meet with a therapist, it’s totally okay to use masturbation to fulfill some of your sexual needs. Masturbation within a monogamous relationship does not equal cheating, though I do think it’s important to have discussions with your partner about ways in which they can participate in physical intimacy with you without having to become aroused themselves (giving you oral sex, watching you masturbate, etc.) If your partner is okay with you having a vibrator, by all means, go out and buy one. Orgasms are good for you, and if you have a high sex drive, it’s not unreasonable to pleasure yourself when your partner is not feeling sexy or “in the mood.”

IF ALL ELSE FAILS

Ultimately, you can’t make someone else change or even make them come around to your point of view. If you’re at the point (or get to the point) of feeling as though there is nothing else you can try to remedy the situation, you have two options:

  1. Change your thinking about the situation
  2. Have some serious discussions about whether or not this is an issue you can live with

If your partner won’t go to counseling with you, go to counseling by yourself. A counselor can help you identify and process your feelings about the situation, and can offer alternative ways of thinking about it.

For example, doing The Work may be helpful. (Click here to see a detailed explanation of The Work, along with free handouts to aid you.) There is even a “Do the Work” helpline to call if you can’t find a therapist or, for whatever reason, are unable to use one.

You might also talk with your counselor about whether or not this is a major issue for your marriage that will be difficult to overcome. While many relationship problems can be improved, and even solved, it is very difficult to do when only one person in the relationship is investing time and effort into the issue. You said in your message that you were concerned that your partner “doesn’t love you enough to make this a priority,” and that is a concern worth paying attention to.

Have you made it clear how much of a priority this is for you? If so, do you feel like your partner wants things to be better and doesn’t know what to do? Or, does your partner disregard your feelings and trivialize the issue? Those are two very different responses from a partner and can make a huge difference in how the issue is resolved (or not).

FINAL THOUGHTS

Sex, despite what you’ve seen on tv, is not something that is wonderful, magical, and physically fulfilling with no effort. A healthy sexual relationship depends on emotional intimacy, knowledge of your body and your partner’s, the ability to communicate openly about your sexual relationship, and attention to issues that may arise over the course of a relationship. It’s okay to seek help from a professional in the name of improving your relationship. It’s also okay to feel strongly about what you need from a partner in the form of physical intimacy, as it’s an inherent part of who you are. Your relationship may not be perfect, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fulfilling and meaningful. What makes a relationship work well is how two people work together when problems come up – not the absence of problems.

I hope this helps, or at least gives you a starting point for discussions with your partner. Thanks so much for your question!

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