We’re always hearing that we could be having better sex, a better orgasm, or a better relationship. But how often do we hear the nitty-gritty of how we can actually better understand our deepest desires and most embarrassing questions? Bustle has enlisted Vanessa Marin, a sex therapist based in San Francisco, to help us out with the details. No gender, sexual orientation, or question is off limits, and all questions remain anonymous. Now, onto this week’s topic: What to do if you find yourself in a sexless relationship.
Q: I’ve been with my girlfriend for about a year. When we first met, we had sex every single day. It was great, and we both talked about how happy we were. But a few months ago, she stopped wanting to have sex. It was like a night and day difference. I don’t understand what happened. I have tried everything I can think of to get her interested again, but nothing is changing. Every time I try to talk to her, she changes the subject, tells me she doesn’t feel like talking, or says stuff like, “I don’t know what to tell you.” I’ve asked her if she wants to break up, but she says she sees herself spending the rest of her life with me. I love her so much, and have been trying to be as patient as possible. I’m just not sure how much longer I can wait.
A: I’m so sorry to hear about your situation. I get asked variations of this question on a surprisingly regular basis. It’s normal for sex to slow down in a relationship, but experiencing such a dramatic shift can be scary and frustrating. The fact that your girlfriend won’t communicate with you makes things even worse.
Let's get right to my advice.
Here's What Might Be Going On
Drastic drop-offs like this almost always happen for a reason. It’s not your responsibility to figure out exactly what happened, but here are some of the most common reasons I see with my clients:
She might be scared. Recognizing that the relationship has become serious and has potential for a life-long partnership can cause some people to pull away.
She might be stressed. Our sex drives are very susceptible to shutting down because of stress. She may have been stressed at work, having a disagreement with a friend, or experiencing family drama.
She might be depressed. Depression is another big libido-killer. Or if she recently started taking anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medication, those medications might be the culprit.
She might have a health issue. There are plenty of health conditions that can dampen your sex drive. She may want to meet with a doctor to suss out some potential causes.
She might have experienced sexual abuse. I work with a lot of sexual abuse survivors, and one very common pattern is that once the woman feels attached to her partner, sex actually starts to feel a lot more vulnerable.
She might be responding to relationship stress. Had you guys been fighting around the time when her sex drive disappeared?
She might be cheating. She might be pulling away from you because she has been or is continuing to be unfaithful, even emotionally.
She might have lied to you about the sex you guys were having. At the beginning of a relationship, most people try to put their best foot forward and impress their partner. She might have been trying to make it seem like you guys were the perfect match sexually. Sex is hard to talk about openly, so she may now be feeling unsure about how to let you know that she wants sex less frequently or wants to have different kinds of sex.
So what do you do now? Here are six steps to consider.
1. Reset Her Expectations
Your girlfriend may be thinking that you’re expecting to carry on the bunny-rabbit like pace of your first few months together. That could be creating some pressure for her, which may be leading her to pull away. You may want to talk to her about what you want from your sex life at this point, and make it clear that both of you get to determine what feels right for your relationship.
2. Tell Her That Communication Is Necessary
Your girlfriend is putting you in a really unfair position of asking you to stay with her in a sexless relationship, even though she’s not willing to even talk about your sex life. It’s torturous!
My job wouldn’t exist if talking about sex was easy, but that doesn’t mean communication isn’t important. You can’t have a healthy relationship with someone who isn’t willing to talk about sex. Tell her, “I know this is hard to talk about, but I can’t stay in this relationship if you won’t even try.”
You may also want to consider writing her an email, and giving her the chance to express her thoughts in writing. Sometimes writing out our feelings can be a lot easier than saying them out loud.
3. Tell Her What Sex Means To You
Sex means so much more than just getting our rocks off. It’s a way to connect, show love, develop trust, be vulnerable, be authentic, or soothe each other. What does sex with your girlfriend mean to you? Telling her what you’re missing about your sexual connection can be a great way to help her understand why it’s important to get things back on track.
4. Work As A Team
Since you’ve been raising this issue for some time now, your girlfriend might be feeling a lot of pressure to change things on her own. She might be feeling embarrassed, guilty, or unsure of how to start.
Make it clear to her that you’re more than willing to work together to get your sex life back. Offer to go to couples counseling or a doctor’s appointment, schedule date nights, read a sexual technique book together, or act out one of her fantasies.
5. Explore Opening Things Up
I’m not sure what your stance is on monogamy, but one option to consider is opening up your relationship. It may not be worth ending your relationship if there’s the possibility that you could both be satisfied with you getting sexual fulfillment elsewhere.
There are a lot of different non-monogamy options, ranging from one-night stands to serious relationships with other women. If non-monogamy sounds interesting to you, I highly recommend checking out Opening Up: A Guide To Creating And Sustaining Open Relationships.
6. Be Willing To Walk Away
I know you love your girlfriend, but this pattern is not sustainable. You can’t be expected to stay in a sexless relationship with no communication. She’s not showing respect for you or your needs.
I hear from people all the time who say, “but everything else is so perfect. I don’t want to have to end my relationship just because of sex.” They talk about sex as if it was some minor incompatibility, like, “everything is perfect, but I sure do wish she liked rock climbing.”
It’s hard for many of us to give value to our sex lives, but sex truly is one of the most important aspects of a relationship. You’re never going to find someone who is your absolute perfect match in the bedroom, but there has to be enough compatibility to sustain a future together. Breaking up will be painful, but it will be way better than wasting years of your life being lonely and unfulfilled.
Images: Rowena Waack/Flickr; Giphy