It's A Pleasure

Help! I Don’t Feel Desirable Anymore — Is My Sex Life Doomed?

Consider this a great opportunity.

I have no sex drive. Am I doomed?

Q: I’m a 25-year-old woman and have been in an amazing relationship with my 25-year-old boyfriend for a little over three years. We’ve talked about marriage and planning our future together, and I love him so much! Something we have been struggling within our relationship, however, is sex. I have gained some weight over the past two years for a myriad of reasons and have some serious body image issues I’m trying to work through. This has completely dampened my sex drive, to the point where I basically never want to have sex, which is a huge change from my previous libido, even before my boyfriend and I got together. I don’t feel any drive to have sex, fantasize about sex, or even masturbate. I just don’t feel sexual or desirable anymore.

My boyfriend has been very supportive, but the conversations basically go nowhere because I don’t know what I need from him. He asks me if I want him to initiate sex more, and I honestly don’t know. He asks if he can buy me some lingerie, and I feel like it might make me feel worse. He reassures me that he still finds me incredibly sexy, and my brain tells me he’s lying. He says he loves me no matter what and he wants to help me work on this together, but I feel even worse every time we talk because I don’t know what to ask for. I read books about sex, I read erotica that used to turn me on and attempt to masturbate, and I try to practice body neutrality and be kind to myself and my body, but nothing I’ve done in the past two years has helped. When we do have sex (infrequently), it’s when he initiates, and I never feel like he’s pressuring me but more like I’m pressuring myself. I never orgasm because I’m just too in my head. I feel like I’m approaching rock bottom right now. Every night when we go to bed, I start to feel anxious that he will want to initiate and I’ll have to turn him down or try my best to get in the mood. Everything else about our relationship is amazing, and we used to have really great sex! Now I just feel broken and sad, and it makes me resent my body even more. I’m scared that I’m in my 20s and that my sex life might be effectively over.

A: I’m here to be the bearer of good news: Your sex life is not over. The truth, however, is that it might not ever be the same as it was before. Arousal might not come as easily; the things that turn you on might be different; your response to touch might have shifted. All of those things happen to all of us over time. Everyone’s sex life and desires and horn-dog levels (a technical term) change across our lives. Especially in relation to and in conjunction with our mental health.

So, let me be super clear: I don’t think you’re up celibacy creek without a paddle. I don’t think you’re f*cked. (Not a pun.) None of this is meant to minimize what’s in front of you right now, which is, most certainly, a mountain. I’m just reminding you that many, many people have figured out how to climb mountains — this is not impossible or irrevocable. It’s just frustrating and hard and bullsh*t that you even have to deal with it.

The first concrete thing that I want you to do is to give yourself a month off from sex. Tell your lovely sweetie boyfriend, too. I sincerely hope you’ve been sharing some of this with him — I’m sure he has an idea that things have changed, even if it’s just him noticing you aren’t as horny anymore. But you actually have to talk about hard things with the person you plan to one day marry. And one of those hard things is here!!! Woo! Time to practice some of the whole “living life together and having big, excruciating conversations.” Consider this a great opportunity. (Or loathe this process the whole time and be negative about it, but still do it, please). Say to him something like “I’ve been having a really hard time recently with my body image, and it’s affecting how I feel about sex. The whole thing is stressing me out, so for a month, I just want to take sex off the table completely.” There is nothing magical about a month, other than it’s long enough to actually give you a little break; pick a duration that works for you. The point of this is, as I said, to give your brain a rest from thinking about this. Brains are really good at thinking about things we’re scared of or worried about. They love reminding us what we’re freaking out about, which it turns out is not all that helpful when you’re trying to solve the problem. It’s a little bit like a fire alarm going off while you’re trying to get out of a burning building — very helpful to alert you to the problem and then incredibly not helpful as you focus on solving the problem. During this month, if you find yourself worrying about your body or sex or whether you’ll ever feel horny again (you will), please respond to those thoughts with “This is not my business.” Or “This is not my problem right now. I’ll worry about this next month!” If you feel like it, you can do other not-sex things like making out and holding hands and showering together, but only do things that don’t make you feel like you should be having sex. Give yourself a month of just living. Enjoy your partner; have a nice dinner; have your best friend brush your hair; adopt a mini pig; go to a disco-themed bar. Have some fun that is not about sex and try as best as you can — tall order alert! — to make it not about your body.

Society has, unfortunately, made a lot of things about our bodies. It’s such a waste of time and energy and hotness and money and everything. It’s so unfortunate because bodies are, at the end of the day, electric meat sacks. And yet we ascribe a whole lot of meaning to how they look and work and occasionally don’t work. Weight and mental health are often, unfortunately, intertwined. I say unfortunately because weight is neutral. There is nothing virtuous about any body type. Of course, after years and years of messaging that says otherwise — of course! — your brain is a little confused. It’s totally fine to have feelings about gaining weight, not because gaining weight is bad (it’s not, it’s normal! Bodies gain weight!) but because we’ve been told that it’s bad. This is an important distinction to make, I believe. A lot of people pressure themselves to feel nothing about their body changing because they are accepting of other people’s bodies and want to be accepting of their own, but it often doesn’t work that way. And then they feel extra frustrated or guilty or ashamed for feeling bad about their body. It’s OK to not like the ways in which your body changes no matter what those changes are! The question is what are you going to do with those feelings?

I strongly recommend that you talk to a therapist about them; a good therapist will give you a safe, nonjudgmental space to say things that you might not want to admit to people you know. But please know that it’s OK to hate your body on occasion; obviously, it’s not ideal. I wish we could all just be totally into the bodies we got. But bodies are frustrating, and it’s OK to be really really pissed at them. It doesn’t have to be appearance-related either. Sometimes my hips hurt when I sit on certain chairs and I’m still in my 20s, and I’m like… dude! Come on! One year, I got a bunch of UTIs for no reason. Those are some of the many times I have not liked my body that had nothing to do with my looks. Please don’t bully yourself for your feelings!

On top of just being a good place to get out some of the feelings you have about your body, a therapist might be able to talk to you about your overall mental health, which I have a very strong (although not medically professional) hunch is affecting your sex drive. Mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and eating disorders all are famous for changing libido. The fact that you’re having a hard time getting turned on while masturbating suggests to me that there is something bigger and brain-related going on. Besides seeing a therapist, I also recommend doing things that feel good with your body whenever possible, to try to sort of “reconnect” yourself to it. That might be a massage, that might be a bath, that might be hacky sack! Down the road, that might be masturbating. Try things out!

Please know that even if you start seeing a great therapist and doing things that help you feel better, this is unlikely to be a speedy turnaround to want-to-pound town. It’s much harder to build your mental well-being and libido back up than it is to break it down. Please also know that your progress is not going to be linear. There may be moments where you feel turned on followed by weeks of frustration when you feel nothing. Keep putting in the work, keep moving forward. Not everything you try is going to work, and not every single moment needs to be trying things. Give yourself a break, please.

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