Moving Beyond “Lesbian Bed Death” And Bridging The Libido Gap

Okay, are y’all ready for the longest sex question I’ve ever answered? Because this one’s a doozy. Normally we edit the questions down to a nice size, but there’s a lot going on here and I think all of it’s valuable. So we’re publishing most of this question, almost intact:

I have been in a relationship with a bisexual girl for more than 10 months. We have a pretty okay relationship, we have our strong differences but there are things about her that I do adore. However, we are having some bedroom issues.

In February 2013, she went for an operation to remove a couple of cysts in her womb and she has been put on the mini-pill ever since. And since after that, our sex life has gone from hero to zero. We have had many chats (both peaceful and heated) about the lack thereof and she has said on many occasions that she will decide when we have sex. She said it’s her body and she has a right to decide what someone else can do with it.

I definitely have a higher libido than she does and here, I’m not sure if it is because she has had sex with men or women (I’m not her first girl) who have been demanding and have forced themselves on her. But all this is making me afraid to initiate sex in fear of rejection and yet I feel that it’s unfair that sex should solely be on her terms. She sees penetration as an “invasion” of her body and it is getting increasingly frustrating for me.

I do not want to jeopardize the relationship—I know sex isn’t everything but I don’t feel the intimacy with her. She says that I always want instant gratification that I get from sex and I always want it when I want it, which is not true. It seems that she only wants sex when she’s drunk or when she feels like it. Please help. I don’t know what else to do.

Alrighty, dear reader. This is going to be a multipart opus, because you’ve actually asked a lot of questions here, not just one.

I want to start, though, by commending you for not calling this lesbian bed death. I feel like that term gets bandied about a lot and it implies that a difference in libido is somehow a lesbian-specific phenomenon. It’s not. Any couple, no matter how they identify, can face this issue.

So now let’s start by picking apart these questions, one by one, and see if we can’t unwind this tangled ball of string into a more manageable spool.

Medications Make A Difference

You’ve acknowledged that there might be an external cause for the gap between your libidos. Medication, hormones, stress—these are all things that can make a difference in one’s desire to have sex. So it could be that this is a storm that you can weather—is she on this medication temporarily? Or it could be that she’s on the wrong medication for her. I don’t know enough about her medical condition (or about medical conditions in general) to tell you if that’s the case, but it’s something about which she can certainly talk to her doctor. However, some medications are long-term and have unavoidable libido side-effects—which might mean that this is the new normal. So what could that mean for you?

Her Body Is, In Fact, Hers

She says that her body is hers and she can decide who does what with it when, and that’s 100% correct. Even in your horniest state, it would be super ultra mega no-good to pressure her into having sex. Remember that consent counts only when it’s enthusiastic. You have the right to pursue a sexually fulfilling relationship, but that doesn’t mean that your girlfriend is personally obligated to sexually fulfill you even when she doesn’t want to.

But there is another side to that equation—your body is yours, and you are allowed to want things done to it. And you’re allowed to seek out those things. It’s normal and wonderful to want sex and to seek it out. So let’s talk about the ways you can do that within the parameters you’ve described.

The Price Of Admission

Before everyone gets on my case for using an idea that Dan Savage popularized, let me be clear. Dan Savage has said some VERY problematic things in his career, as many have. But he has helped normalize talking about sex and has contributed to the culture of being open and honest about our wants and needs. And this particular idea of his, despite so many problems with his other ideas, is a real winner.

Basically, think of your partner as a ride (while still thinking of them as a person! I’m not suggesting you objectify your partner!). There is a price you pay to ride the ride, and that price is often a compromise. I’ll give you an example from my own life: my girlfriend is wicked smart. Like, the kind of smart you cannot even believe exists. But she does have this weakness. And that weakness is Say Yes To The Dress. Sure, most of the time we’re watching thought-provoking documentaries or really excellent foreign films or any number of other things that are WAY MORE INTELLIGENT than Say Yes To The Dress. But the price of admission for my girlfriend is that sometimes we are gonna marathon this show and there’s nothing I can do about it. If there is a Say Yes To The F*cking Dress marathon, that is what we are watching. Instead of fighting against it, I go with it and we have fun critiquing the wedding industrial complex together. I’ve even come to grudgingly love it and find my inner Monte.

(My girlfriend’s note here: YOU DID NOT SPECIFY SAY YES TO THE DRESS ATLANTA! SAY ATLANTA! I HAVE MY STANDARDS.)

You can apply this idea to sex as well. I’ll give you another example from my own life: I cannot keep my mouth shut during sex. I dunno, I just let forth a torrent of filthy talk every time I get naked. That’s the price of admission for me—I don’t necessarily need someone to reciprocate it, I just need someone who’s okay with me doing that. Because I like it and I really don’t want to not do it.

Sometimes price of admission can change — it sounds like her boundaries about sex and penetration might be more recent, and may not have been there when you began this relationship, but that doesn’t make them less valid.

In your case, it sounds like you both have different prices of admission when it comes to having sex at all. Your price of admission is frequent sex. Her price of admission is no penetration, or only when she’s completely into it. Thus the apparent libido gap. Which brings me to my next point:

Sex Can Be More Than Penetration…

In your question, you state “she sees penetration as an ‘invasion’ of her body.” But if penetration is your criterion for sex, I’d challenge you to broaden your definition. Sex is a huge category that covers a bunch of different acts. Here are a few suggestions for things that could be considered sex that are not you penetrating her.

  • Using a vibrator on her.
  • Her using a vibrator on you.
  • Mutual masturbation!
  • Non-mutual masturbation/watching each other masturbate!
  • Her penetrating you (fingers, dildo, back door or front door if ya catch my drift).
  • Oral sex!
  • BDSM acts without penetration. (Yes, you can just flog someone and leave it there! Totally a thing!)
  • And much much more!

Whenever someone, a couple of someones, or multiple someones talk to me about a perceived libido gap, I always have to check and make sure they’re on the same page when it comes to defining sex for themselves as an individual, couple or group. Everyone has certain things they’re into, and when you’re having sex with someone else, you’re going to do the things that you’re both into, the acts where your interests intersect. Think of it as a Venn diagram.

01

It could be you’re both thinking you’ve got a huge libido gap because you’re both defining sex as acts totally on the opposite sides of your circles, but actually there are certain things you’re both into doing together that fall smack in the middle and are totally still sex acts. The only way to find out about that is to talk about it. For a more complete list of sex acts to peruse, I recommend this list on Scarleteen (yes, yes, I know, I am always talking about it, but that’s because the yes/no/maybe list is so good!) or this (admittedly a bit cheesy) interactive sex questionnaire. Your libido gap may not be as large as you think, you might just be looking in the wrong place on the diagram.

Or you discover that no, in fact, your libido gap (the difference between your respective prices of sexytime admission) is exactly as large as you think it is and it is truly a difference in how often you want to be having the sex in the intersection. You still have other options.

…And Relationships Can Be More Than Monogamous

Another valid way of addressing a libido gap is to consider sleeping with other people. If you’re both into it and you want to keep the non-sexual parts of your relationship going, you can always negotiate a less traditional relationship structure. You know, one that allows you to take your yayas outside the two of you and get your rocks off with someone else. Or many someone elses.

Now there’s a bit of a misconception I hear often—a non-monogamous relationship doesn’t mean you both have to be sleeping with other people to make it equal. It sounds like that wouldn’t be really happening for her if you all decide to go this route. No, what makes this kind of relationship egalitarian is that both partners’ needs are being met and both of you are happy. That means that, if you both agree on it, you could sleep with other people and she could sleep only with you, when she feels like it. Totally cool.

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Or perhaps she really likes her nonsexual relationship with you, but would like to also have a sexual relationship with someone else.

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Or! Maybe she finds that her libido increases when she gets her yayas yaya-ed by someone else and you are also bumping hoo-has with another human and then you come together for a sextravaganza. Some couples find that INCREDIBLY SEXY!

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Or! OR! She might want to watch you fuck someone else. Some couples find THAT incredibly sexy.

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The point is that there are options for bridging a libido gap. And those options can safely and respectfully include non-monogamy. For more thoughts on this subject, I highly recommend The Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy and Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships by Tristan Taormino.

Regardless of what you decide, you should still feel okay talking about sex with your partner and asking for sex from your partner (if you both agree that you still wanna be having sex). So—

There Are Ways of Bringing Up Sex Without Pressure

I’ve actually written about this before, but let me do a reader’s digest version.

  • Always talk about sex at a time and in a place where you’re not having sex, or intending to immediately have sex after the conversation. Noisy coffee shops are my favorite. Driving in the car is my second favorite, though some have told me that location doesn’t work for them because it distracts them from driving. Regardless, pick a place that your partner won’t feel like you’re pressuring her to have sex right this second.
  • Ask permission to talk about sex and give that other person a chance to reschedule the conversation. If they say they don’t want to talk about it right now, say something along the lines of “that’s totally cool, no pressure. But this is a really important conversation to me. Can we work out another time to talk about it?”
  • Assume positive intent. Assume your girlfriend wants to make you happy. Assume that she is not mismatching y’all’s libidos on purpose. Because unless you’re dating a mustache-twirling cartoon villain, she’s not. If you are dating a mustache- twirling cartoon villain, pics please.
  • Be prepared to compromise on one of those above solutions. Be prepared to make an actual change in the way you’re doing things, and not expecting her to be the only one changing.
  • And I’m going to add another bullet point here, specific to you. Your partner seems to be not super into the way you’ve asked for sex in the past. So make sure to include this question: “How would you prefer me to express my want for sex in the future?” And again, really listen to what she says here, and be prepared to do what she asks.

Always Be Masturbating

Well, not always. You’ve got to eat, sleep and go to work. But yeah, masturbation is included in every You Need Help I answer because it’s important. And in this case, it can be an important tool for filling the libido gap with some spectacular orgasms. It can also be a sex initiator—many people get turned on when their partner starts touching themselves, and not wanting sex can turn into wanting sex totally organically.

However.

May I speak frankly?

I generally try not to give really specific advice because even though I answer the You Need Helps on Autostraddle sometimes, my relationship isn’t your relationship and the way I have sex isn’t the way you have sex. Things are different for everyone. But I want to point out a few things I read in your question:

“I have been in a relationship with a bisexual girl for more than 10 months. We have a pretty okay relationship, we have our strong differences but there are things about her that I do adore.”

“I do not want to jeopardize the relationship—I know sex isn’t everything but I don’t feel the intimacy with her.”

First off, you’ve only been in a relationship with this woman ballpark ten months. That’s not a very long time and already you’re experiencing problems—I want you to think about spending the next year this way. How about the next five? You also describe the relationship as only “pretty okay” and you don’t say you adore her, but rather you say there are things about her that you do adore. That sounds like a pretty ambivalent way to talk about what should be a fairly new relationship. It sounds like you’re compromising pretty hard here, and not just in the bedroom but outside it as well.

You also state that it’s not really about the sex, it’s about the intimacy that you’re not feeling. Which brings up yet another reason for a libido gap: that there are deeper problems with the relationship. Problems like not truly having feelings for each other, or not trusting each other. Or perhaps more personal problems for one or both of you (think depression or anxiety). And it’s these issues that are the problem—the mismatched libido is merely a symptom, not the cause. It’s up to you whether or not you want to work through those problems. But I need to be honest with you—if I were in the relationship that you have described here, I would end the relationship. I would be breaking up with my partner.

Which brings me to my last point. Sometimes a libido gap isn’t a libido gap. It’s just a gap, plain and simple. An everything gap. And that gap can be too big to bridge. We need to reframe breaking up in our community—everyone talks about it like the worst thing that could happen to a relationship. It can actually be the best thing. It means both of you get to be honest about what you’re truly feeling, instead of keeping up a charade and wasting time y’all could be out courting people who are fulfilling your needs. It could mean that you remain friends because you haven’t ventured into the place where your relationship (not the romantic kind) is irreparable. It could mean that you never speak to each other again, and that’s okay too! But whatever the case, we don’t have to look at it as a thing that has to get ugly. Or a moment that has to be entirely sad. Endings are beginnings too, and I recommend you end this era and begin something new and different.

Good luck, dear reader. I’m rooting for both of you.


Have a question about sex? Email me at ali [at] autostraddle.com, PM me on Autostraddle or for a completely anonymous experience you can ask me a question right here.

Please keep your questions to around, at most, 100 words. Due to the high volume of questions and feelings, not every question or feeling will be answered or published on Autostraddle. We hope you know that we love you regardless.


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Freelance writer and fiction author, Geekery Editor for Autostraddle.com and Fiction Editor for qu.ee/r Magazine. Keep up with her at her website.

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59 Comments

    • Thumb up 2

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      I’m feeling all the feels of the last paragraph. I’m in a situation where I know it’s over but I haven’t ended it. I care deeply about the other person, but not in that special way anymore. Our lives are so tied together(we’ve been together three and a half years) that I know the break up is going to be awful. It’s going to be my first major break up which makes it harder. I needed this article.

    • Thumb up 1

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      Props to you, Ali. Your writing style is supreme. I was literally laughing out loud when reading about your “Say Yes to the Dress” advice, as well as your girlfriend’s commentary. This is the first real article I’ve read on Autostraddle and I’ll definitely be coming back for more!

  1. Thumb up 11

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    “Sometimes a libido gap isn’t a libido gap. It’s just a gap, plain and simple. An everything gap.”

    This. As someone who’s experienced that, I think it’s much better for both parties’ mental health to end the relationship. Sometimes it’s just not worth the (endless) headaches.

  2. Thumb up 28

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    When I read the title to this I excepted to be saying “oh I wish I’d been able to read this a few months ago, it could have saved my relationship” but actually it made me realise that there was really nothing we could do. There are some great considerations in this article but none that could have helping me and my ex. And knowing that makes me feel better, in hind sight. This is weirdly like closure.

  3. Thumb up 26

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    “We need to reframe breaking up in our community—everyone talks about it like it’s the worst thing that could happen to a relationship. It can actually be the best thing. It means both of you get to be honest about what you’re truly feeling, instead of keeping up a charade and wasting time y’all could be out courting people who are fulfilling your needs.”

    ^ This is so real and thank you for addressing it personally, along with everything else helpful here. :) I think we’re conditioned on a lot of levels to view working through difficult points in relationships as succeeding, and breaking up as personally failing (the underside of viewing communication as a way to connect/work through almost anything, which it can be). Changing isn’t failing. Thanks for this.

  4. Thumb up 13

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    in the book “sex at dawn,” the researcher who coined the phrase “lesbian bed death” was quoted as saying she doesn’t really believe this exists. she said if she had known then how the term would catch on, she would have been more careful. she then went on to say that what she meant was that women in relationships with other women tend to need less physical intimacy over time because (she believes) they share more emotional intimacy. just a thought.

  5. Thumb up 8

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    This article really reminded me of a relationship I was in, especially impressed with the way Ali picked up on the “gap is just a gap” thing. Tried to “salvage” a relationship with the polygamy options but at the end of it all, we just weren’t right for each other. Also, from my experience medication that effects your libido doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t get turned on if your partner initiates the sexytimes but sometimes it does… and then it’s terrible and horrible and oh I feel so guilty and hot damn this article helps.

    Wait a minute — we’re allowed to ask sex questions to Ali? *retrieves sex-questions notepad*

  6. Thumb up 8

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    When I ended things with my fiance (we were together for 12 years)I knew it was the right thing to do but it was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do. It took us 4 years of being a part and me telling him that I was gay to actually have a friendship. Now he is one of my best friends and we are both better people because of it.
    What I’m trying to say is that sometimes a break up is the best thing for both people, even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time.

  7. Thumb up 14

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    You are so wise, Ali. I want to send this to a younger version of myself (or, you know, every version of myself except the current one) to show her it’s okay to leave a relationship that isn’t giving you what you want, even if what you want is sex. Don’t know how I got it into my head along the way that mediocre sex was something I couldn’t complain about even though physical intimacy is very important to me, and that it wasn’t a legitimate excuse for ending a relationship. Breaking up isn’t the end of the world, and had I broken some off sooner because we meshed on an intellectual level but not a physical one, I might have a few more great friends today.

  8. Thumb up 3

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    I seriously love everything Dan Savage has said (that I’ve heard/read) about women and sex. He completely normalizes other ways to have sex besides the penis in vagina, and often, they’re really pro-woman. Sex doesn’t need penetration. Actually, studies show that other ways of getting off are actually more pleasurable than penis in vagina for people with vaginas, which is true in my case and for a lot of lesbians I know. There are so many ways to have sex. Experiment.
    I sound a lot like this person’s girlfriend, although I’m not bisexual and I’ve never had sex with a guy. I do, however, have a pretty low sex drive and I am very anti-penetration when it comes to my own body. I think it drives my person a little bit crazy but we’re learning. This article hits close to home. Thanks for it.

  9. Thumb up 4

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    I read this as “I lack the ‘spark'” with her.

    Which in IMHO mean it’s time to move on…

    Regarding penetrative sex. I don’t know. This could be a function of me being bi, but I don’t really value penetrative sex with women. There is so much more to be down that gets me off that involves your lady bits on mine and such lol.

    It kind of seems like the spark is gone in this relationship on both ends. No more butterflies.

  10. Thumb up 6

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    I love the importance you place on communication, especially when non-monogamy comes into play. Also, for sure don’t stay in a relationship just because it’s easier than breaking up and/or you don’t want to be alone.

    I was in a similar situation in a past relationship, in which I was the one who wanted more sex. My partner claimed she just wasn’t that into it, so I did a lot of solo play to keep myself from jumping off my fourth-story balcony.

    But then I found out that she was engaging in sexual activities with other partners outside of the relationship, which was, obviously, devastating. I think I already knew deep down, but I ignored the “gap” because I was afraid to be alone. Her excuse was that she didn’t know how to tell me, and didn’t want to hurt my feelings, so she just kept it a secret, and blah blah blah. In the end it backfired because my feelings were hurt a lot more when I found out she’d cheated, than they would have been had she just talked to me about it.

    Since then I’ve come a long way in my views on non-monogamy. Now, I can see how it would work and benefit certain relationships, but only when communication is of paramount importance. I’ve learned now that it’s never worth it to stay in a relationship that isn’t fulfilling for either/both partners.

  11. Thumb up 16

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    I love so much about this post and a lot of the way you addressed it. You often do a great job with this and this post is a good example.

    I guess that’s mostly what I wanted to post, but I kinda also had some feelings about how the original asked emphasized that her partner was bisexual and seemed to draw a lot of significance from that? It is really easy to feel that issue is more significant than it is and while there’s a bunch of small perspective differences that came crop up between partners with different orientations, the way she phrased this troubled me a bit. I tend to only find women attractive, so maybe I’m not the best person to analyze this one, but it seemed like this was the one thing that jumped out at me as not getting addressed in your answer and I think there’s a lot of interesting things to say about sharing differences in perspectives that crop up between partners over what types of people they’re attracted to and sharing those differences *respectfully* in a way that actually feels good and useful.

    • Thumb up 4

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      I agree. I think the letter writer has some lingering insecurities about her girlfriend being bi that she needs to address. Also, it sort of sounds like her girlfriend has lingering insecurities about having a sexually aggressive partner. I think they need to have a frank talk.

    • Thumb up 2

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      yeah, identifying her girl as bisexual seemed like a red flag to me; that would never be the cause of their sexual problem. on the other hand, remaining parts of the introductory paragraph could have been reticence to publicly discuss what she does feel about this girl, so I’m not sure I would judge the quality of relationship on a two line description. I wish them luck in dealing with their sexual problems, because they must, but advising a breakup on the basis of a letter isn’t something I would do.

  12. Thumb up 6

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    This was great advice and I especially love the ending. I also liked how you pointed out there might be some equivocating of sex and penetration in their conversations. I am a bi woman who has no interest in penetration (of course that could change), and think it is important to acknowledge that sex =/= penetration. Everything about this response was great and brilliantly worded.

  13. Thumb up 7

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    I want to send this advice to 2011 Hansen.

    I think we put a lot of weird guilt on breaking up because of sexual incompatibility, and I think you knocked this one out of the park with awesome suggestions and advice, Ali. <3

  14. Thumb up 4

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    I swear Ali is one of my favorite writers. It’s official. All the talks about sex and misadventures! You know why I love this community? Because of how open we are.

    Ok back to the the topic. I agree with almost everything in this post. Especially the coffee shop and the car ride. Man, I use the car ride for some of my most important convos in life.

    It’s very true though that it may be a plain and simple ‘gap.’ I’m sure that bringing up sex is awkward in every relationship but a good opening line will always do ya good. Try to find some level ground that won’t get you into hot water right away because that’s the last thing you want to do. It’s like walking the tightrope. Don’t lean too much on either side or you’ll be in trouble. I do however understand how frustrated you get but always keep in mind that you are in a relationship. There’s the whole compromise thing. Per Ali ‘price of admission.’ It’s true. I do the dishes and sweep the floor. Watch a movie. Foot massage. You do have to learn to go with it in a relationship. Remember it’s the BOTH of you =)

  15. Thumb up 4

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    This was awesome, Ali!! I love how gentle and compassionate you are while throwing in hoo-has and yayas all over the place. This article has validated both my current experiences, and previous ones that I wish could have been answered with this right here. Good job <3

  16. Thumb up 3

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    Overall solid advice, but I bristled at this “reframing breaking up” stuff. Break-ups comes in all varieties. Sometimes they are easy. Sometimes they are hard.

    In my experience it’s hella easy to break up with someone you’re not that into (maybe I am a callous jerkwad, or maybe I just value honesty more than most?). And if a girl you are not that into breaks up with YOU, it’s more difficult than being on the other end, but it’s only “the worst thing ever” for like, a week or two.

    If I thought there were a line of suitors who could meet my needs better than the girl I was with, just winding up around the block waiting for me to court them, then Hell yeah, it would be pretty easy to “reframe” a breakup with her as “the best.”

    Alas, it’s much harder on both sides when one or both of you IS really into the person. That’s when we bargain, compromise, write into Autostraddle, feel like the world is ending, etc. We may use minimizing language to describe the relationship – it’s “going ok” – because we actually are kinda terrified. And in my case it’s because I care deeply about the person, and because they are indeed special – they are attracted to me, I am super attracted to them, they want to have sex with me (even sometimes!), they are intelligent, they are interesting, they share my values, they’re kind and intentional, shit, this doesn’t happen every day!

    And really, a break up is when you can “finally be honest and quit the charade”? Actually can we all commit to attempting to be more honest BEFORE a break up? To not play games, to tell a person when you’re into them, to not act like you are into a person that you are not that into, to tell a person when you feel a gap and want it to close, to tell a person when you want to feel more intimate with them?

    Letter writer may not be that into her gf. I admit it would baffle me if she needed someone else to tell her that. It would doubly baffle me if they are not breaking up because they view breaking up itself as horrible, rather than because they truly value each other and want to make it work. But this wouldn’t be the first time human interaction has confused/frustrated me, so.

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      I guess that’s what makes it hard though, right? Breaking up when you think you’re still into this person; breaking up when you don’t know if or when a connection will happen again (though I often think of Grace’s beautiful piece, ““I’m never going to meet anybody new.” Only if you never try again.”); breaking up when everyone around you holds onto the belief it can always be fixed with more compromise, more communication. But in all that, for whatever reason, the gap is too far for you to bridge. Even if it’s a gap other people think is “so small”, even if you think you should want to compromise but when you look into your heart, you realize you don’t.

      In the end, yeah, you’re right. It’s just hard sometimes.

  17. Thumb up 4

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    This would have helped me a couple months ago but I’m glad it’s here regardless. My last relationship was riddled with problems, but a really big one was our sex life. We had very different sex drives, and I almost always cried afterwards. After going through that for 3 years, I feel pretty strongly that a couple needs to have a positive sex life (not necessarily exciting or frequent sex, just positive) in order to thrive.

  18. Thumb up 5

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    I think the most important parts of this article are when you address bringing up sex without pressure and that her body is in fact hers. I found the original question slightly triggering because I perceived it as framing sex as an expectation/right. Everything else you said was also super informative also, but I needed you to address those parts of the question that I found scary and really emphasize them. I think you did a good job with addressing it, I just hope it didn’t get lost in the shuffle with everything else!

  19. Thumb up 6

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    I think this is probably the best sex advice I’ve ever read. Sex columnists generally infuriate me (including Dan Savage) but this is full of win, particularly for suggesting respectful non-monogamy as a potential solution to a libido mismatch. However, there is one important detail in the original letter that has been overlooked: the girl had fibroids in her uterus. Since they had to be surgically removed, it’s reasonable to assume that her uterus also had to be repaired (or even rebuilt).

    As someone who has had fibroid/uterus reconstruction surgery I can testify that these are extremely painful, and even without estrogen pill interference, tend to wreck havoc on your hormones. Once they reach a certain size, it’s painful to even sit down. It took me six months to recover fully from this surgery, and during the recovery period I had little interest in sex, and every menstrual period was agony. Trust me, the last thing I was thinking about was getting some. While I understand the irritability that comes from being horny as hell and not finding a receptive partner, I also understand getting pissed off because your partner fails to understand that having growths hacked off your womb before it’s stitched back together by a robot might be a boner killer.

    Another thing: she says she was with the girl for ten months. She had the surgery in February 2013, and indicates they were together before the surgery. Has this letter been in ye olde inbox for awhile, or is my emotive math misfiring?

  20. Thumb up 11

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    I waited a few days to comment on this so I would have time to process and oops! this is going to be a pretty heavy first Autostraddle comment but…

    Ali, everything you say is great and true, but as someone with experience being the lower-libido partner in an emotionally abusive relationship, the specific question was triggering and raised a lot of red flags for me. So while I don’t disagree with anything you said, I’d like to add a few things:

    To the question-asker:

    You are entitled to seek personal sexual satisfaction; you are never, not for one single second, entitled to a specific sex act from a specific person. Your girlfriend has the absolute, unquestionable right to decline sex for any reason, and does not need to justify that decision.

    You are allowed to calmly, respectfully discuss your frustration, in a place and time where you both feel safe, and where you are able to work together as a team to find solutions that will make you both happy.

    The following actions, however, are unhealthy, and may constitute abuse: repeatedly pestering another person for sex/refusing to accept “no” as an answer, expressing anger at another person for refusing sex, shaming another person for their lack of interest in sex, making another person feel like they are a bad partner, don’t love you or aren’t committed to the relationship because they don’t want to have sex, threatening to end the relationship if your partner doesn’t have more sex with you, interrogating your partner about their sexual history or sexual orientation out of frustration, acting as if your partner owes you a specific type of frequency of sex to be “normal”, questioning your partner’s assessments of their own body and pleasure, repeatedly complaining about your partner’s sex drive to them or to others.

    As you mentioned, your girlfriend’s sex drive may have decreased for medical reasons, or due to difficult/abusive relationships in the past. If this is the case it is particularly important that you be respectful, patient and compassionate. As she encounters physical and psychological health challenges she needs support, not selfish sexual pressure. It is also possible that your girlfriend just has a lower libido than you – that’s totally normal too, and is not something that needs to be changed or fixed! You can leave the relationship or you can lower your expectations of her, but it is not fair to expect her to have sex she doesn’t want just to please you.

    And as one last note – it’s weird how you repeatedly bring up your girlfriend’s bisexuality when it doesn’t really relate to your problem. I don’t know if you think that’s somehow related to her lower libido, or if you think that because she’s had sex with men she should be up for penetrative sex or what, but stop. Her past relationships have nothing to do with your current one.

    To the question-asker’s girlfriend:

    I know the queer community is small, and that couples often read the same blogs and visit the same websites. I also know that the question-asker included personal medical and relationship details that would make it easy to recognize yourself in her question. And I know it could hurt to read your partner’s complaints about your sex life aired so publicly.

    So if you’re reading this, please know that you’re totally normal. Whether your libido drop is temporary or permanent, no matter what caused it. You have done nothing wrong by refusing sex. Your body belongs to you, and you get to decide who touches it and how. This does not make you a bad person or a bad girlfriend, because it is absolutely the right thing to do, for you and for your relationships.

    You sound like a very brave person, who knows herself and her body well and isn’t afraid to advocate for herself, and I wish I’d been more like you about five years back. Basically, rock on – maybe with a different partner. You deserve partner(s) who respect your boundaries, and relationships where sex is always mutually pleasurable.

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      Thank you so much for this thoughtful comment. It is reassuring to know that I am not the only one who felt triggered by this question and saw red flags in it. Thank you for your articulate explanations and sharing some of your story.

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        No problem. I wrote it hoping that it might help someone who felt similarly icky, so I’m really glad.

        I actually intended to write more about my personal experience, but the comment was already so long! Basically, I had way too much sex that I didn’t want and made me feel shitty about myself because it was easier to just give in than put up with my ex’s whining, begging, insults and threats. There are some things you can compromise on for the sake of a relationship, but I don’t think feeling good about sex is one of them.

        About a year after we broke up my ex called me to apologize. He’d done some serious soul-searching, I guess, and now felt like a shithead because a lot of our sex life hasn’t involved enthusiastic consent. I wish he’d come to that conclusion one of the million times I’d tried to explain it while we were dating, but I’m hopeful he’ll be more careful with his next partner, I guess.

        I’m in a much better relationship now, and because she respects me and doesn’t push we have better and more frequent sex! It’s still a huge relief to frame it as an optional fun thing we can choose to do together, not as some kind of obligatory service.

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      Thanks for addressing the girlfriend of the question-asker; I can imagine she’s figured it out by now and felt hurt to find her question posted here. I do identify with her a lot, and have on occasion felt shamed for not wanting sex as much as my partner.

      Especially when medical issues are involved, empathy and respect for the other person’s experience are crucial.

      Also, thank you for calling out potentially abusive behaviors, such as pestering or prying about past sexual history/orientation. Although sometimes it may come from a genuine place of trying to understand the other person, there are ways to air concerns that are respectful.

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