My partner and I have been together for nearly 3 years, living together for two (we are both 40). Even at the beginning of our relationship it was clear that our sex drives were out of sync with each other’s. My preference would be for sex around once a week, whereas my partner would be happy with once a month. Since lockdown happened we have only been intimate twice and I feel like what was already a problem for me has become a huge issue in our relationship.
My partner semi-identifies as a stone butch and when we do have sex she often does not want to receive. Over time I feel like our sex life, even when more regular, is so limited and that I get little say in what we do, because if I try to make suggestions of what we might do it gets shut down (although I should say it is always enjoyable).
I love her so much, and in the past our sex life has been fantastic, but now I feel like I have to convince her to have sex at all and then I feel like I’ve coerced her. But I think if I didn’t suggest it we might never have sex at all. Now it’s become a huge sticking point and she says that I’m pressuring her too much, and I know I am and it makes me hate myself.
I know that some of my feelings come from the fact that year into our relationship I caught my partner messaging an old flame. It wasn’t sexual but there was something there and she did end it but my trust was broken as she had lied to me about the nature of this friendship for a long time, and now all I can think is that it’s just me she doesn’t want to have sex with. Also, the only other time I’ve been in a relationship where one person didn’t want to have sex was when I was in a relationship with a man, and was still coming to terms with my sexuality.
I feel so hurt, rejected and frustrated that it makes me question our whole relationship, and we are supposed to be buying a house together this year, but how can I take that step if this continues to be such a problem for us? Any advice would be gratefully received 💜
It is absolutely normal for sex drives to change in any relationship. But it sounds like you might be hoping for a magical solution here. More specifically, it sounds like you’re hoping that your partner is going to wake up one day and suddenly have a higher sex drive. Or that you’ll wake up one day and suddenly have a lower sex drive. Technically, those things could happen, but they’re not solutions, because they’re not something that you can really count on. Your letter opens with a really key part of your problem. As you put it, it was clear that your sex drives were out of sync at the very start of your relationship. And yet, you made the choice three years ago to continue on with the relationship despite this detail.
Look, people make choices like that all the time. Especially in the beginning of a relationship with someone, it’s easy to overlook some of the downsides and incompatibilities because you’re so swept up in the excitement and ecstasy of seeing someone new. But here you were presented with this massive piece of information about you and your partner and your dynamic in the bedroom, and you actively chose to ignore it. You knew what your preferences were, and you knew what your partner’s were. Maybe you convinced yourself that it wouldn’t be a big deal or that things would change. But they haven’t changed, so now you’re stuck with the same decision you were presented with three years ago: Do you accept this difference between you and your partner and actively go against your own preferences or do you end the relationship?
I’m sure that sounds harsh! I’m sure you are hoping for a solution that doesn’t involve breaking up, and I’m not saying that it’s the only solution, but based on the situation you’ve described, it does sound like the healthiest one. Because you can’t change your partner’s sex drive. And you can’t just sit around hoping things will change when this dynamic has been in place since the beginning. It sounds like your partner has been clear with their own feelings here: They feel pressured. And that makes you feel bad. This sounds like it could turn into a really toxic cycle—if it hasn’t already.
(Sidenote: I’m assuming that if you were considering talking to your partner about opening up the relationship that you would have brought that up in your letter, so my advice here doesn’t really get into what polyamory might look like in your situation. It’s extremely likely that your current partner cannot completely sexually satisfy you, even though as you say the sex is very good. Because it’s clear that you want more of it and also to try more things and that they do not. If you want to read more about non-monogamy, polyamory, and open relationships here’s a place to start.)
I’m sure you care about this person, and sex isn’t everything in a relationship. But I think sometimes people think that incompatible sex drives aren’t that big of a deal, when in reality, this can create messed-up dynamics that seep into other parts of the relationship. It can make the person with the lower sex drive feel pressured and insecure and it can make the person with the higher sex drive feel coercive and also insecure. And as you write in your letter, those things are already happening within your relationship. All that insecurity in a relationship can quickly spiral into worse feelings and bad patterns.
It is natural to feel rejected — I totally get it. But your partner has been so clear about their own sex drive and sexual wants, so it’s not like there’s any deception going on here. It is okay for you to make suggestions about sex, but it’s also your partner’s right to say no if it’s not something that they want. Sex requires consent which requires conversation which requires different sets of desires and needs coming together in a compromise. In your situation, compromise is really difficult for a lot of reasons. Once a week vs. once a month are VERY DIFFERENT PREFERENCES. It’s time to consider that this incompatibility could be a major obstacle to both of you being really, truly happy.
I know this is really hard to sit with, but can you keep going on like this? You need to really process the fact that your sex drive might never change completely and that your partner’s sex drive might never change completely. Is that something you can accept and live with? Maybe three years ago you thought you could when you made the choice to date them despite having this information, but maybe you’re realizing now that it’s not sustainable.
I do want to address what you mention at the end of your letter, too, because I do think it’s a contributing factor. Does your partner know that you’re feeling insecure about this incident? If not, that’s definitely a conversation that should happen. In fact, it could change a lot of the cycle I see happening here. Again, I don’t think it’s necessarily going to change anyone’s overall sex drive, BUT if your partner knows that you’re specifically feeling insecure because of her breaking your trust, then maybe she can provide some reassurance in other ways. Rebuilding trust can rebuild intimacy. Or maybe there was even an uptick in your sex drive because you needed to feel wanted in the wake of the betrayal, and maybe rebuilding trust will make it so that you’re not viewing sex as a form of validation.
Open communication about sex, trust, desires, needs — all of these things can help nurture intimacy. Still, it might not fix everything, especially since the disparity between your sex drives apparently existed even before the betrayal. Which is why major life decisions like buying a house together shouldn’t happen right now. Before making a choice like that, I think you should sit down with your partner and express where some of your insecurity is coming from, especially if this incident with her ex is playing a large role in it. Provide space for your partner to express how they’re feeling about all of this.
Then you have to reconsider the same decision you were presented with three years ago: Are you willing to date someone with a lower sex drive even if that means sacrificing your own wants and needs? You can’t change your partner. You can’t even really change your own sex drive, because settling for less sex isn’t the same as wanting less sex. All you can change is the situation you’re in, and it will be hard. But all relationships teach us more and more about what we desire and need, and ending a relationship shouldn’t be viewed as a failure, especially when it comes as a result of honoring people’s needs.