My wife and I have been together for almost 10 years. When we first started dating, I had very little romantic/sexual experience, all of it almost entirely with other women. My wife came into our relationship with a ton of experience, but all of it with men. At first our sexual intimacy seemed normal — not the most frequent, but we were both enthusiastic and putting in effort and enjoying ourselves, even if we were both shy and anxious. Since then, things have deteriorated. I want to make it clear: I love my wife. I have never loved anyone in the way I love my wife and I don’t think I ever will again. I’m demisexual, meaning it’s hard for me to find someone I’m attracted to in the first place, and before I met my wife I never knew I was capable of feeling this depth of love for someone. My wife also loves me in the same surprising way. I love her so much and I love the life we’ve built together. But we basically don’t have sex anymore. I feel like I should have known something was off early into our relationship when I would want to have sex or make out like once or twice a week and she wouldn’t and just the act of me asking or trying to initiate reset some sort of counter in her head. Like talking about having sex was the same as having sex, so if I brought it up a few days later it’d be like “no, we already did that this week.” And she’d feel so pressured and like I was asking for too much. I was really inexperienced and shy and anxious and I thought that I was the problem, that I was some huge hulking horny sex monster. That me wanting more was too much, that I was too much. It got to the point where she didn’t even want to make out with me because she was worried I would want sex.
I‘ve been fat my whole life and have dealt with a lot of rejection, both romantic and otherwise, because of it. I don’t have a wealth of romantic or sexual experience outside my marriage. I’m also autistic and find it very hard to know what “normal” is — not that that should matter, since every relationship is unique, but when I was younger this was a big source of my feeling othered and rejected. Despite doing my best to work through this, I’ve spent most of my marriage still feeling this rejection. My wife has made it clear that she DOES want me and she DOES find me hot/beautiful/attractive… but the follow through just isn’t there. There’s always so many perfectly reasonable explanations: she has chronic pain, she can’t breathe easily through her nose which makes things difficult, she used to get frequent migraines, she has sexual trauma from a past relationship, she has ADHD and has trouble staying in the moment.
After the first couple years, most of the sex we did have ended up being me eating her out and then having to masturbate on my own. I found out through lots of conversation and trying to work through this that she largely dissociates through sex and the reason she was able to have a slut era before we met was because she would just lie back and take it and think about other things, but with me she wants to try and be active and she just… can’t. Which means we mostly don’t have sex. And when we do, it’s still mostly just me being active. I enjoy being the more active partner — to an extent — but when it’s all we do, I feel like it’s because I don’t deserve to be on the receiving end. That sex with me is only worth it if she doesn’t have to do anything. I know that’s not the truth and a lot of that feeling comes from how much difficulty I have orgasming (because I feel like if I could cum, then she would find more satisfaction from being active because she would find fulfillment in getting me off). I have a lot of empathy for my wife and I try my best to be understanding, but it hurts so much. We have a very open and communicative relationship. We talk through our problems and we work together and usually that works, but every conversation about sex seems to put more pressure on my wife and make her shut down even more.
We’ve tried opening up our marriage and that was its own special disaster. I don’t know if I just didn’t like our third or if I can’t feel that way for anyone other than my wife. He was more interested in me than in my wife, but I stepped out relatively early to let them be together (even tho that hurt SO much and was so hard to work through) because I wasn’t comfortable being in that kind of relationship with someone other than my wife. I’ve thought about trying it with a different person, but I just can’t see myself wanting anyone other than my wife and at this point, my wife also doesn’t want anyone else.
We’ve tried a sex calendar. It started as a day of the week. Then every other week. Then once a month. Then… never. There were always perfectly valid reasons why it couldn’t happen. Life or health or work got in the way. I manage our schedules and calendar (my wife has ADHD time blindness) so I would always be the one reminding her that it was the day we were supposed to have sex, and then when it didn’t happen (however valid the reason) I would feel double rejected. Rejected first because we weren’t sleeping together, rejected second because we had specifically agreed to this thing to try to improve our sex life and she couldn’t even stick to that. It was so much more crushing than I could have expected, to the point that I ended this arrangement because I couldn’t handle it anymore.
I’ve brought up couples therapy, brought up sex therapy, and she’s not against it but she’s never followed through and I think neither of us even know where to start looking. I don’t think a straight or neurotypical therapist would Get it. I’ve practically begged her to at least bring it up during her normal therapy and she won’t because she’s too anxious. I tried to bring it up with my therapist but her reaction was so incredulous I just shut down and eventually ended that relationship because I lost trust in her ability to help me. Our sex life has gotten bad to the point where we only had sex twice in all of last year and I couldn’t enjoy either time. I’ve become so anxious about sex that I feel totally numb to everything but my own anxiety. I’m so desperate to try to make the experience enjoyable for her that I can’t enjoy any of it. I can’t even enjoy making out anymore, which used to be one of my favorite parts of intimacy.
And despite this I still WANT sex. I’ve spent so long trying to love myself and my body and this makes me hate it because I feel like maybe if I was better, if I was more attractive and appealing, if I was more sensitive and could cum more easily, then maybe she’d want me. At this point, I’ve told her that I cannot handle rejection anymore and that if she wants to sleep with me, she needs to ask for or initiate it. And I just don’t think she ever will. I think in the almost 10 years we’ve been together that she’s initiated sex… maybe twice? I don’t know what to do. I feel like our sex life is totally broken, but at the same time I can’t seem to give up that last kernel of hope. I think the icing on top is that despite all this, my wife does not consider herself to be asexual.
And here I am, actually ace, and I’m despondent over a lack of sex in our relationship. I feel ridiculous and pathetic. I hate feeling like this and I think the worst part is how much I resent her. I don’t want to resent the person I love, but I feel like our sex life is irreparably broken. I feel like I’M broken. I don’t know what to do.
Dear friend, you wrote in a while ago with this, so I hope it finds you well and perhaps no longer in this relationship. That’s correct. I do think you two should break up. I’m certainly not in your relationship, but there are a number of things I can see from your very detailed message that raised some red flags or concerns for me.
First, from your perspective, you say: “I’m demisexual, meaning it’s hard for me to find someone I’m attracted to in the first place, and before I met my wife I never knew I was capable of feeling this depth of love for someone.”
The ‘sunk cost fallacy’ seems relevant here. In your statement, I’m seeing that you feel like you’ve invested so heavily in this relationship, that you are better off sticking it out, even though it’s not working. The thing is, it’s better to be alone alone than alone in a relationship. It is. Trust me. You will feel so much better about yourself, so much less anxious, so much more able to focus on other things besides romantic love that can make you happy. So, even if you might never find romantic love again or feel it at this depth again, what I’m hearing about the relationship has made me concerned about your well-being within it and I do think that you’re better off taking that risk and going it alone.
You say: “I feel like I should have known something was off early into our relationship when I would want to have sex or make out like once or twice a week and she wouldn’t and just the act of me asking or trying to initiate reset some sort of counter in her head.”
You are absolutely right that this dynamic was an early warning sign. Look, people have different relationships to sex and their sexuality and all that can be negotiated and talked about within a relationship. But in this part of your letter, notice that you are reporting to me that you are not talking about this dynamic, and in fact, even talking about sex is now taboo within your relationship. This is unfair to you, and frankly what you’re describing here is verging on the edge of gaslighting. I do not like this for you. Your partner should be attempting to stay grounded in the same reality as you, but instead, here, she’s making a new reality. She’s saying that talking about making out or your asking to make out is the same thing as making out. That’s not true! That’s not reality! She is keeping tabs and has a “counter” in her head, which surely makes you feel watched, monitored, surveilled, less empowered in the relationship than her. That’s an unfair power dynamic! Your partner also has found a way to make you feel that you expressing your needs to her makes you into a “hulking sex monster.” I’m sorry, but sex is a part of life, and if you are a person who enjoys sex and desires sex and sexual contact within a relationship, it does not make you a monster. My intuition is telling me that there might be aspects to the ways that she’s reacting to you that leave you feeling this way. She is not having productive conversations with you. Instead, she is allowing you to or contributing to you feeling shame for feelings that are perfectly natural, normal and valid.
Similarly, not wanting to make out with you because she is worried about you wanting sex is messed up on a number of levels. 1) This indicates to you that your wanting sex is “wrong” within the context of your relationship. It isn’t wrong to want sex. It might make her feel uncomfortable, but again, that’s a conversation you need to have and that she needs to be open to having. 2) This would make me feel like the other person thought I had no self control or ability to regulate my emotions, that they think if I make out with them and then want sex and they don’t, that I’m going to react poorly or immaturely. Thus, we’re returning to a world where she is contributing to your internalizing shame about yourself that honestly doesn’t sound based in who you actually are as a person.
You write that your wife has talked about dissociating during sex, but has there ever been a conversation about or effort — on either of your parts — to understand or unpack that further? Identifying dissociation as an experience is just one step. Has there been any movement toward figuring out where it stems from or additional communication between you two about how to grapple with it? Real open communication would work toward that.
“I’ve been fat my whole life and have dealt with a lot of rejection, both romantic and otherwise, because of it. I don’t have a wealth of romantic or sexual experience outside my marriage. I’m also autistic and find it very hard to know what “normal” is — not that that should matter, since every relationship is unique, but when I was younger this was a big source of my feeling othered and rejected.”
I am concerned for you. You mention a history of rejection, which your partner does not appear to be sensitive to with her actions and words. To heal from that, wouldn’t it feel good to have someone who didn’t reject you so frequently? You also mention that you’re autistic. I’m also autistic! And I can tell you it does leave us more vulnerable to manipulation within romantic partnerships and also that, again, I do not like the way that your partner seems to be so unwilling to meet you halfway in terms of making sure the relationship dynamic is one that feels comfortable and supportive to you, as opposed to one where you feel like you’re constantly haunted by feelings of rejection. Notice that I am not saying she is obligated to have sex! No one is. But the way this is playing out on an emotional and communication level is a concern.
“We talk through our problems and we work together and usually that works, but every conversation about sex seems to put more pressure on my wife and make her shut down even more. We’ve tried opening up our marriage and that was its own special disaster.”
I’ve already said I don’t like the way these conversations are going. It sounds like your wife has something going on when it comes to sex that she is having difficulty resolving. I also can understand why opening up the relationship in any way (although I would not necessarily have gone head-first into a threesome) is difficult for you as a demisexual. Again, I feel like the way this threesome went, though, is indicative of something more insidious. You are telling us that your feelings were hurt “SO much” when you stepped away to let your wife have sex with the other person. Honestly, in a situation like this, things should stop if one person feels as uncomfortable as you’ve described yourself being. If I was having a threesome and a partner got upset, it’s not time to keep going while they leave the room! It’s time to check in! Maybe it’s time to stop things altogether, put some comfy clothes on, get everyone some tea, and talk things out. You are telling me one thing, which is that your wife and you communicate well and she cares for you, and then I am seeing something different, which is that your needs are continuously deprioritized in the relationship, and that seems to be how things play out when it comes to your wife’s actions.
“We’ve tried a sex calendar … I’ve brought up couples therapy, brought up sex therapy, and she’s not against it but she’s never followed through and I think neither of us even know where to start looking.”
Everything you’ve described in this part of the letter is so helpful, because this shows me your wife is not willing to put in any kind of effort or move into a space of discomfort in any way for you. All the while, you are the one who is perpetually in a space of discomfort. She won’t bring sex up with her therapist because it gives her anxiety? What about the anxiety you feel All The Time? Why won’t she push herself outside of her comfort zone for less than an hour, in what is presumably a safe space, and talk about something that would massively improve things for you (AND for her) if she could find a way to work through her feelings on the subject? Also, I am sorry, but there is time blindness and there are issues with scheduling, and then there are excuses and not caring. She’s had enough time and enough chances that if she cared about doing something like finding time for sex, initiating sex, seeking out a sex therapist, figuring out her relationship to sex and how she can show up for you in the relationship — she would. If she cared, she would be trying to find a solution with you. Instead, it’s all on you and you’re left holding the bag, wondering what’s wrong with you.
This is about sex, yes, because sex is a thing many people — including some ace people — need and a thing many people look for in relationships, but this is also about how you are being cared for, how you are being treated and what you’re going through. I don’t see this dynamic improving. You have exhausted so many different paths for remedying this problem. You have given your wife so many chances, and she has squandered them. There is trauma, there is neurodivergence, there are hangups we all have — but none of these things are excuses for treating a partner poorly or perpetuating a dynamic in a relationship that tanks one person’s self esteem and fosters the kind of anxiety you’re describing here. It’s going to be so hard. It’s been ten years. Divorce really fucking sucks and is scary, but I sincerely think you should move on. You are worthy of love and intimacy and, I am so sorry to say this, but this treatment does not sound like love to me. You might love her, but she is not showing you the kind of care in return that would indicate actual love. Her words are not meeting her actions. It’s time to break up.
I am sending you so many good thoughts as you go through this. I’m so sorry that I couldn’t offer you easier news or a happier solution. Still, I know that you’re strong, that you can do this, that you’ve got this.
You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.