It's A Pleasure

Help, My Boyfriend Isn't Interested In Having Sex Regularly Anymore

I feel painfully unwanted.

by Sophia Benoit
Caroline Wurtzel/Bustle; Getty Images

Q: How little sex is too little? My boyfriend and I have been together for a little more than four years (we're both in our early 30s and just moved in together) and we just... don't really have sex anymore. It'll be like a couple times a month. We're both busy and stressed with normal work and life stuff, so I know that's part of it, but the lack of sexual intimacy is really bothering me, even though the rest of the intimacy (cuddling on the couch and in bed at night, hanging out together, talking about all sorts of stuff) is still there, as warm and loving as ever.

The few times I've tried to initiate sex he's either apologetically shot me down or gone along with it, but I can tell he's not into it. He says it's because he's distracted by all the work he has to do, but I'm starting to feel like there's something wrong with me or something I'm doing wrong. I'm just not sure how to fix it. I know it's a normal thing in long-term relationships; everyone wants "the spark" back. But among my girlfriends in relationships, they're all having sex like once a week at least. And I'm so jealous! I want to feel desired again, because I desire him! And I'm hoping to marry and have kids with this man, but that can't be a good sign that our sex life is already unsatisfying! How do I approach this conversation with him without being a pathetic beggar?

A: This is — I’m assuming from your letter — the only sexual relationship in your life. And it’s not satisfying! And you think it’s small or pitiful to want it to be good?! I’m going to light a patio chair on fire!!!

If you are with someone long enough (and I mean like eight months), you are going to have meh sex with them. You will lose momentum or have surgery or lose a parent or have body image issues. There will be lulls. If there’s a long-term couple out there for whom this is not the case: DO NOT WRITE IN TO TELL ME.

I absolutely recommend having patience — love has a long arc — but I also caution against letting that turn into acceptance. There’s no hard rule about how much sex is “too little.” It’s subjective. What matters is that right now, you’re not satisfied. It isn’t frivolous or wanton to require that your sex life be good.

It’s smart of you to note that this is a pattern your relationship is falling into before the stress of children or the potential monotony of being with someone for 24 years. Unfortunately, patterns tend to repeat themselves. Couples tend to have the same problems again and again, so I think it’s likely that you two will not only deal with this now, but in the future, too.

Which means, it’s worth putting your chest waders on and wading into the bog.

Of course, you’re going to have to talk to him about this. And you’re going to have to really lay your sh*t out. It will feel like you have jumped into an ice-cold river with all your clothes on. It will not be fun. But it’s necessary!

I would say something like this, “Tony, I am feeling dissatisfied with our sex life at this point. The fact that we have sex so infrequently makes me feel like you do not desire me and it makes me feel distant from you. You make me feel loved in other ways, but I’m not feeling wanted or sexual, and you’re the only person I share sex with, so it's important for me to tell you this. Why do you think we’ve had less sex recently and what can we do about it?”

Mention not just the problem (less sex) but how it’s making you feel (like something is wrong with you). That gives your partner better insight into the stakes of the situation.

As an outsider with only a quick peek into your life, I would also strongly suggest couples therapy. Sex brings up lots of emotions, insecurities, and needs that are often difficult to communicate to our partners. Our culture discourages people from talking about sex for the first 18 years of our lives, so most of us aren’t used to having these kinds of conversations. It can be helpful to have a professional as a guide.

Your desirability in no way correlates with your partner’s sex drive. At all. Your sexuality is innate and untouchable; it exists independent of your partner.

Also, it occurs to me that your boyfriend might be dealing with depression. It’s very common for depression to majorly reduce a person’s sex drive. While it’s absolutely normal for someone’s libido to wane, or for two people to disagree on how often they’d like to have sex, if he used to want sex and now has difficulty getting turned on, he might want to consult a therapist or his primary care doctor.

There is a chance that you two are just a couple where your libidos don’t match up right now. If — after you two have had thorough talks about your sexual needs and desires — that’s where this lands, focus on enjoying the sex you do have. Focus on making it feel full and hot. Explore sex-adjacent things you’re both into, like showering together or sexting. You both will have to make an effort here.

There is, unfortunately, some chance — albeit small — that the decrease in sex is related to a different issue he’s having with your relationship. If that’s the case, firstly, he should have been able to bring that up and talk about it. Withholding intimacy is not effective communication. But I think it’s worth being aware of the possibility that this could be connected to how he’s feeling about your life together. That doesn’t make this your fault. It does, however, make it important that you listen to him, and that you are both making a real effort to address this. If you feel like he doesn’t care to make things better for you both, that is a bad sign.

One thing that is extremely hard to actually internalize but that I want you to hear is this: Your desirability in no way correlates with your partner’s sex drive. At all. Your sexuality is innate and untouchable; it exists independent of your partner.

I’m not suggesting you step outside your relationship or anything (unless you’re both on board with ethical non-monogamy), but could wear hot lingerie, take nudes, buy a new solo sex toy, take a pole-dancing class with your friends, read or listen to erotica, make a collage from vintage Playgirl magazines, watch porn — anything that reminds you that your sex life is not dictated by your boyfriend and his appetites.

I also very much recommend the books Laid and Confused by Maria Yagoda and Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel.

You aren’t alone. This is common and addressable. But it’s also thorny and painful. It will probably stir up insecurities for you both. On the other side, however, is knowing and loving each other better. And possibly more sex!

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