Here’s another awesome question about desire in a long term relationship, this time a monogamous one:
My partner is 40. They no longer have any interest in sex whatsoever and can’t be gotten into the mood no matter what we do. Nor are they willing to engage in sex if they’re not interested–they say they feels like I’d be using them. What do I do? Am I doomed to masturbation for the rest of my life?
The real answer is: Sex therapy. AASECT has a list of certified sex therapists and counselors, by geographic area. Find one. You are stuck, and no amount of education can get you and your partner unstuck. You need outside help. The rest of my answer will really just be to explain three specific things that make me believe that education isn’t enough and you really do need a therapist’s help.
(1) The first piece that’s a big red flag is is your partner’s apparent unwillingness (or at any rate, your perception of their unwillingness) to explore the possibility of creating desire. If I’m wrong about this, then you can introduce them to the idea of maybe thinking through sexy contexts together (PDF – worksheets) and they’ll be like, “Huh, interesting, let’s try it out and see.” If I’m right about this, then they’ll just feel pressured to try yet another thing, so that you can “fix” them and make them want sex they don’t even want to want. Which is why: therapy.
(2) The second red flag is the ironic process. Does this sound familiar: you’ve tried together to “get them in the mood” by trying all kinds of tricks – maybe romantic dinners or sexy underwear or role play or toys or going to nice hotels or whatever, all kinds of things – and you’ve both watched her desire level the whole time, like watching a pot of water boil. Is it boiling yet? Is it boiling yet? It is literally true in the case of sexual desire that the more you watch for it, the less likely it is to happen.
This is true for people of any body, but it’s easy to see on a male body. If you sit a male bodied person under a spotlight and said, “Are you ready to have an erection? Get an erection right now. What if we rub it, can you get an erection now? Come on, what’s the matter?” A lot of guys will not be able to get an erection if they feel like they’re SUPPOSED to get an erection right now. Ditto sexual desire. If you’re TRYING to want sex, the wanting will not come. Therefore: therapy.
(3) And the third piece that’s missing is a healthy relationship dynamic. From just this little bit of information, it sounds to me like you’re trapped in the chasing dynamic, where Person A asks all the time and the Person B says no all the time, and Person A feels more and more frustrated and rejected while Person B feels more and more guilty but also defensive. The general solution to the chasing dynamic is for Person A to stop chasing and give Person B an opportunity to do the stepping toward. But it just sounds like you and your partner are TRAPPED in the chasing dynamic, so that if you stop chasing, they’ll have no interest in turning around and moving toward you. Hence: therapy.
To conclude: I talk about “responsive,” “context-sensitive,” and “spontaneous” desire styles, and those account for the overwhelming majority of people, but some people do absolutely experience either no desire ever at all – people who may identify as asexual – or whose desire for sex has truly vanished. It sounds like your partner might be in that last group.
If they ever desired sex, then their capacity to desire it still exists somewhere deep inside them, buried under who-knows-what. But it will likely take more than just worksheets and a few conversations to excavate it from under all the relationship dynamics, stress, etc, that’s currently keeping their brakes locked on.