Two Sense: Help! The Sex Is Gone


I've been with my boyfriend for three years, and we've always had a great sex life. We went to college together, he gave me my first orgasm, we've achieved a lot together, we've got the same sense of humor, we love each other, and we're best friends. However, in the last few months, I'm afraid we've become solely that—best friends. We both work 50-hour weeks, but in the past we've been able to balance work and playtime. Since about April, however, we've undergone a radical change in our sex life. We went from having sex at least once a day to (maybe) once every nine days. It happened fairly suddenly. He just stopped initiating. When I attempt to seduce him, he lets me, but barely reciprocates. He barely touches me or looks at me. It's been breaking my heart. I've tried to talk to him and I have asked him if anything major has changed. Though he admits that things have changed, he denies that there is any lack of attraction. He blames it on stress from work. I want him to be fulfilled and have been encouraging him to do all of the adventurous things that he loves—biking, hiking, etc.—even if it means leaving his job to travel. Nothing has been helping. No part of me wants to leave him, but I feel less and less intimate with him as time passes. I wonder whether he's depressed, but he's not the kind to admit to that. Please help.
He Said: So when you met your boyfriend, he was in college, traveling, having adventures, and craving sex every day. Three short years later, he's stressing 50 hours a week at what may mark the beginning of his career, not having as many adventures, and wanting sex less frequently. In other words, what he's told you about work stress may indeed be the primary issue. While it's great that you are understanding and supportive, this may not be a problem you can solve by encouragement or that he can resolve by quitting his job. It's quite possible that for the first time in his life he's "pacing the cage," as Bruce Cockburn puts it. And it may take him a while to get his head, or heads as it were, re-calibrated.
Taking the initiative to seduce him is great, but if it's not working for either of you, don’t push it. He's certainly aware that you two are having sex less frequently, which leaves you unsatisfied. Pressing him on that blunt point can only make him feel more guilty and inadequate and responding to either of those doesn't make for great sex. If you want to help, and he doesn’t want to talk about it, get him out of this current day-to-day grind and back to something you both love so he can get some perspective from his work and realize again what a great partner you are. Plan a trip somewhere for the two of you, some mix of adventure and romance that will satisfy both of your unmet needs. If he is struggling with the transition into the career life, having some great time away will give him the perspective he needs to make the transition and help you two reconnect.
You should also make sure you are taking care of yourself. Plan something fun with your friends or family, away from your boyfriend. There’s only so much you can do in a relationship, and if you are doing all you can, let your boyfriend be for a while. Get some perspective on this relationship while you enjoy spending time with others you care about.

She Said: This is a tough one, and though the level of change seems drastic—your sex life has basically dwindled to 10 percent of what it was in three months' time—I think the issue exists in most long-term relationships to some degree. I have several girlfriends who report that the daily hot sex they were having at the beginning of a relationship quickly evaporated once their man resumed his focus on work, just like many men bemoan the complete falling off of their sex lives once their partners take up the daily chores of motherhood.

The truth is that modern life pulls our energies in several competing and incompatible directions. It takes many years of adulthood to find a balance of work, play, intimacy, solitude, adventure, rest, obligation, and self-care. Most adults struggle with this their entire lives. It sounds like your boyfriend is around 25, and at that age, it may be that the realities of adult life have landed with a thud, temporarily quashing any sexual energy he had. Unless he loathes his job or has another career passion to pursue in its place, quitting it isn't the answer.

Given how much you love him, and that both chasing and nagging him will achieve just the opposite effect of what you want (his desire and initiation), there's not much you can do right now other than wait it out. If seducing him were working—if all it took was some initiating to turn him on and get him engaged—then I'd say go with it. But the fact that he's barely responding is troublesome and demands another approach on your part.

How about you stop chasing, seducing, or bringing up the subject for, say, a month  or two? Do not initiate sex and do not talk about sex. Instead, be his best friend. Plan things you both like, enjoy all the non-sexual aspects of your relationship (it sounds like there are many of them), and relax into things exactly as they are right now. It sounds like you want to marry this guy, which means you'll be with him possibly another 60 years. I can tell you with certainty you won't be having daily sex for those 60 years, and that there will be many years when once every nine days will suffice just fine. So why not try it out now, before you're married?

Also, take care of yourself sexually as much as you need to. Really indulge it. Get some toys, read some erotica, watch some porn if you like it, buy some nice lingerie just to enjoy the feeling of wearing it. Who knows, if your boyfriend senses you're all juiced up in a self-sustaining way, he may feel a complete release of pressure that lets him approach you again. But even if he doesn't, learn how to take care of yourself. This, again, is great practice for the long run.

Try all this for a month or two. If at the end of that time, nothing has shifted, and he's still not responding during sex, then it's time to ask your boyfriend to see a counselor, either alone or with you. If he continues to be "not the kind to admit" to depression, and yet shows signs of depression (which you can check here), that's a much larger issue than sex. If he is indeed depressed, at least one of you will need counseling in order to keep the relationship functional.

In your mid-twenties, with literally your entire life ahead of you, you can also set a deadline, cut your losses, and run. But you're nowhere near that point. Try self-care, giving him space, staying connected to him non-sexually, and possibly a little counseling first. Good luck.

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