We Aren’t Having Sex. Is It OK That I’m OK With It?

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We Aren't Having Sex. Is It OK That I'm OK With It?

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Estimated reading time: 11 minutes

Hi Doc,

Hope you’re well! I hoped to run something past you. Perhaps not so much of a problem rather than wondering if something should be a problem.

My partner and I have been together around five years now, and I’ve been around the block enough to know that the novelty of sex with a new partner fades. However, we don’t really have sex at all these days. The thing is, I don’t really care – but I am perturbed that I don’t care.

I still look after my own needs, but it’s very much like scratching an itch or having a glass of water. Just a body chore that needs taken care of.

This is all relatively recent, I’ve enjoyed it in the past and craved it, but after the first few months, sex with my current partner felt kind of awkward after the NRE, they don’t like discussing their wants, and a combination of that and medication making some outcomes more difficult for them meant my confidence broke, I couldn’t perform how I hoped, and I’m happier not trying.

 

I always thought that would be a relationship death knell for me, but I’m otherwise pretty happy. There’s a cursed monkey paw element to this: when I was single and convinced I always would be, I cursed having a sex drive for making me miserable, but now it feels like time and mental energy has been cleared up for doing things I want to do, rather than feel driven to do. Kind of like seeing through The Matrix rather than wanting to disappear into a hole in terror whenever a pretty girl is around.

But I can’t shake the feeling this should bother me more – I’m still relatively young; no spring-chicken, but certainly not over the hill. There’s maybe a medical element with some meds I used to take reducing how enjoyable things are for me, but it seems a reasonable pay-off considering how miserable I was, and I certainly had enjoyable short-term relationships after being on those meds.

Me and my partner let each other know we think the other is attractive, but it does feel like in an abstract way, mostly. They’re largely happy to take care of their own needs and claim they’re the only person who can.

If I’m happy, which I largely am, am I fooling with a Pandora’s Box by thinking about this, or does it even matter?

Don’t Want What I Don’t Got

Alright, there’s going to be a long bit to come after this, but in and of itself: this isn’t automatically a problem. If everything comes down to “you’re not interested in partnered sex and your partner isn’t either and you’re both cool with that”, then you can rest assured that there is no problem here. 

Now, having said that, there’re a few things in your letter that give me pause and I feel it’s something to be mindful of because this is less about sex and more about relationships in and of themselves. 

As much as we talk about sex being an important part of a relationship, it’s less about sex in and of itself being important but that everyone is satisfied with the sex they’re getting… or not getting, in your case. As we’ve seen over and over again, regardless of rules, restrictions, laws or the threat of death: sex always wins in the end.

This is the classic dilemma with partners with mismatched libidos; if both partners can’t find a compromise that satisfies them both and that they can both be happy with, the relationship doesn’t have long to go. It’s also why it’s good to prioritize sexual compatibility when you’re looking for a partner in a relationship. If the sex isn’t working, the relationship rarely does, especially if it’s a closed or monogamous commitment.

But the operative word is compatibility. If you’re ok with not having a sexual relationship with your partner and they’re ok with not having sex, blessings on you both. There are plenty of romantic relationships in the world where the connection is about companionship, affection and shared lives, but where sex just isn’t a priority. These companionate relationships don’t get as much air time in our culture as more traditional romantic relationships, but they’re just as valid, just as important and meaningful. It sounds like you and your partner have landed there, which is excellent.  

I do, however, have some questions about how you’ve both ended up here. There are a couple aspects of your letter – both about your side of things but also your partners’ – that don’t exactly raise alarms as such but do make me cock an eyebrow. They’re not necessarily things that I would say need to be addressed, but I think they’re a little akin to the check-engine light suddenly coming on in the car. It may mean that you just need to screw the gas cap a little tighter or you may want to bring the car in for an inspection. Nothing dire, but something to pay attention to.

The first is your relationship to your sexuality. The way the sex had gone from great during the NRE to awkward to “oh thank God we’re not doing it any more” makes me wonder if this is about your coming to terms with possibly being asexual (which is absolutely a good thing, don’t get me wrong) or if there’re other issues under the hood.

You make comments about how having a sex drive at all makes you miserable, but also that the final straw was losing your confidence because (reading between the lines here) you apparently were having issues – the likely candidates being getting and staying hard, getting your partner off, or getting off yourself.  

The former tracks for a lot of folks who are among the many flavors of asexuality; they have a sex drive but they don’t like the act of sex and would really prefer not having to bother with it at all. However, the way you phrase it and other things you say – like how you’ve previously enjoyed and craved sex – seem out of keeping with this. This is why it seems a bit odd to me that you’re both relieved that sex doesn’t seem to be a priority in your life but also that not being able to perform for your partner has thrown you off.

I wish you’d said more about why you cursed having a sex drive, because that might help give a little more insight to things with you and your partner. Maybe it’s the toxic ideas of masculinity that’re putting a whammy on your brain that says that if you can’t get your partner to orgasm, that you’re not rock hard at a moment’s notice or that you need particular levels of stimulus to get off, you’re not much of a man (or a partner, for that matter). Maybe there was a disconnect between your desire and your feeling like you had the skills to fulfill that desire. Maybe it was the combination of – again, reading between the lines and filling in the blanks – what sounds like depression and antidepressants either lowering your libido or making it harder for you to get off that made it less of an issue. But it’s information that, while it may not change my ultimate advice, would be good to have.

The same goes with what you said about your partner: that they don’t like talking about what they are into. That, too, raises an eyebrow, because that covers a lot of territory. This could be almost anything from “doesn’t actually like sex, but doesn’t know how to bring it up” to “is uncomfortable with their own sexuality” to “doesn’t like the sex you two are having but doesn’t see the point in trying to change the topic.”

This is another example of a check-engine light to me in part because it could explain a bit more about how your partner feels about things. You say that they say they’re the only person who can really handle their needs. This phrasing in particular makes me wonder if it’s something akin to having a kink that they’re afraid to bring up (or can’t fulfill except in their own head) or if they need a particular level or intensity of stimulation, pressure or friction that can’t be easily achieved during partnered sex or what. You don’t say if they’re happier this way or if it’s more of a resignation. That’s… a pretty significant difference. One is the relief you mention: that now they don’t have to devote the bandwidth to it and that makes life easier. The other is… well, something that sounds more like they’ve had issues around with previous partners and have more or less given up trying.

I’m very much of the opinion that relationships benefit from more communication, not less and areas where you have a hard time expressing yourself are ones that’re worth addressing. After all, if you’ve been together for five years, there should be relatively few things that you can’t talk about together. If there’s a communication issue around their sexual needs or wants, that may be something that warrants your attention.

Now, I’m not bringing all of this up because I want to try to talk you or your partner out of transitioning to a more companionate relationship or because you need to be having sex OR ELSE. I mention it only because if it is more one-sided – you feel relief while they feel resigned – or more about your and your partners individual relationship with your own sexualities then that can still be a cause of concern within the relationship. Even if things are working now, that may be a temporary thing, especially if this is coming from a place of resignation rather than relief or acceptance. So this may, and I stress may, be something to keep an eye on.

But if it’s the case that sex being less present in the relationship is a benefit to you both and it makes you happier, less stressed or more content? Fuck it, take care of your needs individually and let other aspects of your relationship take the forefront. That’s the great thing about relationships; at the end of the day, you’re allowed to let it be about what matters most to you and your partner. It’s your relationship together, not anyone else’s.

Good luck.


Hello! I wrote in previously as Foreign Affairs, about my trip to see a guy in Germany I was crushing on. I am writing because my trip is nearing its end!

So, I ended up not following your advice to say something in advance– I’d only met this guy in person once before, over a year ago, and wanted to make sure that any in-person chemistry was still there before I made any definite moves. However! Your observations that I wasn’t secure in my game, that I didn’t feel comfortable expressing myself, and that I didn’t know for *sure* whether he liked me back were well-made. I spent the weeks before the trip boning up on these skills, which mostly consisted of:

— Searching your archives for “how do you tell if someone is interested.” Very helpful; thanks!

— Searching Reddit for “German men dating norms” and “how do you know if German guy is flirting.” This was an absolute hoot, highly recommended for entertainment value, tons of people writing some version of ‘we stayed up and talked until 2 AM and then he hugged me and left??? wtf I can’t even’ with all the responses saying OH WOW SO ROMANTIC! <3 <3 <3

— Whining to more-experienced friends, who sat there during my brain-meltdowns and very patiently explained to me that yes, it was acceptable to just kiss the hot guy already.

— More flirting, which did a lot to clear up ambiguity. Closer to my trip I was saying things like “No one will mind if you bring a nice dress!” and I was suggesting we build a blanket fort and read novels under it. S-u-b-t-l-e.

Anyway, I arrived. He was hot in person and we spent the first day hiking around various fields gathering edible plants, then stayed up until 2 AM talking about everything and anything. How romantic!

The next day was more of this, and as we were leaving a party (and after more whining via text to my friends), I decided to, uh, do something. I told him that I’d only been there two days and already he was my favorite person, and he said he felt the same way. I was so proud! Look at me, I managed not to die inside. I even made him hold hands with me as we were walking back to the car. It was evening and the party was outside and my hands were really cold, right? Right. Absolutely right.

Then, as we were driving back, German Guy pointed out some random castle on a hill, and thought it might be nice to go walk up there and explore for a bit, even though at this point it was well past 10 PM. But I like adventures, so we climbed up the castle and sat and talked for another couple of hours, with the lights of the city below sparkling in the distance. At one point when he seemed rather moved by emotion I asked if he would like a hug, and that turned into far more than a friendly hug, and at the end of that– you’ll be so proud– I once again did not die inside, and instead I asked him if he would like to kiss me, also.

HE DID!!!!!!

Anyway, it turns out he had been completely smitten by me for a while, but didn’t know how to read how I was behaving, whether I was just a super friendly person or whether I was interested, too, and appreciated me taking the initiative.

GO ME!!!!!!

As I said, my trip is coming to an end, but I’m trying to find a way to move to Germany now. <3 <3 <3 Thanks for all your help! Couldn’t have done it without you.

Foreign Affairs

Hey, thanks for writing in to let us know not only how it went but giving a play by play of your prep work as well as how things went. I honestly appreciate that level of detail. It sounds like an amazing time and an incredible experience, so here’s to hoping for more incredible adventures together.

Thanks for giving us this update!

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