Over at my Bustle column, I got this question from a reader:
“After three years together, my (male) partner is suddenly uninterested in sex. We’ve had our sexual ups and downs throughout the years, but I’m talking, like, overnight disinterest. It’s been months now, and he hasn’t initiated once. I’ve tried asking him what’s up, but all he says is ‘nothing.’ He even seems annoyed that I’m asking. I’ve asked him if he still wants to be with me, and he says he does. I’m at my wit’s end. I can’t help but feeling like it’s my fault, or like I’ve done something wrong. Is it that he’s not attracted to me anymore? Not turned on by me anymore? What do I do? Sex is important to me!”
Here’s how I responded to her:
Don’t Blame Yourself
Right away, I want to address your fear that this is somehow your fault. This is a classic response pattern that I see from so many of my female clients in my sex therapy practice. This is not your fault. It may not even be your boyfriend’s fault. Contrary to what most people think, our sex drives are quite vulnerable, and can be affected by so many different dynamics. The two of you need to work on getting your sex life back on track together, as a team.
Talk To Your Partner
It’s time for you and your boyfriend to have a more in-depth conversation about what’s going on. Tell him, “I want us to have a conversation about our sex life. Can you let me know a good day and time for you to do that?” When that time comes, tell your partner, “I know that our sex life has its ups and downs, and I’m OK with that. But I need us to be open and honest with each other about what’s going on for us. It seems like you’re not interested in sex lately, and I want to understand that better. Can we talk about what’s been going on?” If your boyfriend responds, “nothing” again, say something like, “please, I need you to say more than just that.”
Look For A Cause Together
Your boyfriend’s sex drive has tanked for a reason. In over a decade of work in the sex therapy field, I have never seen someone who completely lost their sex drive for no reason whatsoever. Sometimes it seems like there’s no reason, but a bit of time and digging always uncovers a cause. Here are some of the common ones:
- A medical issue, like an undiagnosed medical condition
- A reaction to medication
- Hormone imbalances
- Work or personal stress
- Pregnancy or birth
- Relationship problems
- Sleep problems
- Confidence or body issues
Tell your boyfriend that a sex therapist said there’s always a reason for a dramatic change in sex drive, and see if that helps him feel more comfortable talking about what might be going on for him.
Say What You Want
As part of these conversations with your boyfriend, it’s important for you to let him know what you need out of your sex life. Your boyfriend shouldn’t feel pressured to be intimate when he’s not ready for it or interested in it, but he should be willing to hear, acknowledge, and respect your needs. Rather than focusing on quantity, talk to your boyfriend about quality. What purpose does sex serve for you personally and in your relationship? What do you miss when the two of you feel sexually disconnected? For your boyfriend, hearing something like, “I miss feeling close to you” will feel a lot better than, “I need us to have sex three times a week.”
Work With Them
Together, you and your boyfriend can try to address what’s causing his change in desire. I highly recommend booking an appointment with a couples therapist or a sex therapist. If you suspect something medical, offer to go to a doctor’s appointment with your partner. If your partner has issues in their personal life, work, or family, ask what you can do to support them. Remember, you’re teammates!
You didn’t mention if you initiate sex. One particular dynamic that I see with couples is that one person tends to take the role of the initiator more frequently (or sometimes exclusively). Over time, they can get tired of always being the one to initiate, so they start pulling back. They secretly hope that their partner will start initiating, and get frustrated if their partner doesn’t. This might be what’s happening with your boyfriend.
It’s also important to initiate because it sends yourself the message that your needs are important. If you cut yourself off from initiating, you run the risk of cutting yourself off from your sexuality in a broader sense.
Your first conversation (or first few conversations) may not go very well. Sex drive is a very delicate, complex issue. Keep trying for at least a few weeks. If your boyfriend is eventually willing to talk to you and work with you on your sex life, be patient with him. Sex drive issues can take some time to rebound. Let him know that you appreciate his efforts working on such a sensitive subject, and that you’re in it for the long haul with him.
… But Be Willing To Walk Away
On the other hand, if your partner is unwilling to talk about the issue or work on it with you, you may need to seriously consider the possibility of ending the relationship. You can’t expect your boyfriend to meet all of your sexual needs, but he should at the very least be willing to talk about the issue and make an effort to work on it. If he doesn’t, that’s a major sign that he doesn’t have enough respect for you, your needs, or your relationship.