Hello, Internet! Welcome to Ask Dr. NerdLove, the only dating advice column with the answers to life, the universe and everything.
Spring is on the way and so this week’s column is all about sex—the sex we’re having, the sex we wish we were having, and the sex we kinda hope other people aren’t having. Trust me, that’ll make sense in a moment.
Libidos, sexual compatibility, fidelity and more—it’s all part of the great complicated mating dance. Let’s dive right in, shall we?
Dear Dr. NerdLove,
Been reading your column on Kotaku for a few years now, I really like your writing and advice. Never thought of writing to you myself till recently. Here’s my situation:
My girlfriend and I have been having issues with our sex life for a while and I am trying to figure out how to gauge whether it’s something that can still get better by working on it or if I should just accept that our sex life will never be as good as it once was.
The main issue with our sex life is that I want a whole lot more sex and physical affection than I am getting and she is pretty OK with the amount of sex we have. In the past few months, we’ve had sex two or three times a month on average - I would much rather it be four or five times a week with us sometimes having sex more than once a day. The quality of our sex life isn’t what I’d like either. She also doesn’t hug, fondle, kiss me as much as I’d like.
I brought this up and she’s been making a noticeable effort to do so more often but it’s such a rare occurrence that even though I enjoy her affections immensely they make me feel sad because of how rare they are. I am physically affectionate to her a lot; to the point where she jokes that I am like a dog or a cat because I am always nuzzling up to her or hugging her or planting kisses. I’ve told her that I would ideally like to receive about as much physical affection as I give and she’s told me that she’s not a very touchy-feely person which I can respect but I am not happy about it. If I had to choose between us having sex more often or her being more physically affectionate, I think I would choose the latter because I’d be happier more often.
Another issue is that my libido seems to inhibit hers. She has expressed many times in the past that I make her feel pressured to have sex and that this kills her sex drive. She has explained that when I make an effort to seduce her, either by sexual touching or with verbal innuendo or by outright requesting it, she feels pressured because I have been upset in the past when she declined such overtures. I have definitely expressed disappointment and frustration at being turned down sexually and have been taking progressively greater steps to avoid putting pressure on her. At present, we have agreed that I will let her initiate sex every time to avoid putting her under pressure. It’s not easy or fun restraining my sexual urges to this extent but I want her to feel comfortable and safe in expressing her sexuality however she feels is right for her. I am hopeful that taking a hands-off approach like this will help her libido recover and that we can get back to a place where making moves on her turns her on instead of off.
But her suppressed libido might also be result of her anti-depressants. I have heard that Prozac (which my girlfriend currently takes) can reduce some people’s sex drive. Throughout our relationship, my girlfriend has been on and off her medication at several stages but always under the care of some kind of psychological health professional. When she most recently decided to start taking medication again she told me she was concerned that it would lower her sex drive and that would drive me away. I assured her that I could handle it and it was more important for her to take care of her mental health.
So that’s where things stand: I’m deeply unsatisfied with our sex life but feel powerless to do anything to try to improve it. I’ve backed off from putting moves on her to avoid pressuring her and there’s nothing to say about the anti-depressants issue beyond what I said to her when she started taking them again. Maybe there are foods that counteract antidepressants’ libido suppression? Maybe I can find new turn-ons for her that she hasn’t associated with me pressuring her into sex? Or maybe I just need to accept that she has a very different sexual appetite than me. What I really need guidance with is to get some sense of whether or not these problems are surmountable. I know that I won’t be satisfied with our sex life the way it is now in the long term and has made it very clear that she would not be able to tolerate her partner seeking sexual satisfaction outside the relationship.
Would very much appreciate any advice you may have on:
- whether or not our sex life is salvageable?
- how I might increase her libido?
- how I might decrease my own libido?
- how to best navigate a break up caused by my sexual dissatisfaction?
Thanks very much
Salvagable Sex Life?
Libidos are tricky beasts, SSL. There’s an almost infinite array of things that can suppress a person’s sex drive - blood pressure issues and smoking can inhibit blood flow to the genitals, weight gain can throw hormones out of whack, depression and insomnia kill desire and responsiveness and yes, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors like Zoloft and Prozac can do it too.
But I have a suspicion the problem is less the medication and it’s more about deeper issues with the relationship.
The first factor is basic sexual compatibility.
Sexual satisfaction and sexual compatibility are a critical part of a relationship, and it’s something that we rarely talk about when it comes to relationship health and maintenance. In fact, sexual satisfaction is incredibly important… right up until it isn’t. It’s very hard to complain about sexual dissatisfaction in a relationship without running into the buzzsaw of social judgement, particularly when there’s an issue of libido mismatches. If you complain that you’re not getting as much sex as you want, then the cultural narrative tends to be that it’s your fault somehow. You’re not doing enough housework, not making your partner feel special or loved enough or some other issue and the only thing to do is suck it up and deal.
And of course, it’s hard to leave a relationship because you weren’t getting enough sex without being told you’re an asshole because it shouldn’t be that important. But it is important to people and sticking around and making yourself miserable is just a recipe for an even uglier break-up later down the line.
This is one of the reasons why it’s important to make sure that you (general you, not you SSL) and your partner match up in terms of libido and sexual expression, in terms of monogamy, in terms of values, in terms of birth control and in terms of the kinds of sex you want to have. And while nobody is going to be perfectly matched, the more out of synch you are, the less you’re going to work in the long term.
And unfortunately, I think that’s a lot of what’s going on here. Your libidos are pretty far out of synch; you want it every day and she’s cool with every couple of weeks at best. Seeing as she’s actually pretty happy with your current frequency, there’s less motivation for her to increase the frequency.
Now, one of the keys to making any relationship work is compromise, and compromise needs to be a two-way street. It’s one thing for you to accept that you’re not going to get as much sex as you’d like, but she needs to make some concessions too. After all, sex - especially sex in a relationship - isn’t just about orgasms. It’d be easy to say “Get yourself a Flip Hole,” and call it a day, but you don’t just want to get off. You want the intimacy and connection that comes with sex - and you want it with your girlfriend specifically. If the two of you could find a way to make things work where she cheerfully helps you out - maybe not with penetration, but oral sex or a handjob while you make out with her and play with her breasts, or using a sex toy on you - while penetrative sex is on her schedule, that could help make things work.
But there’s another part of your letter that stands out to me. According to you, she’s not physically affectionate either. Now, to be fair, some people aren’t very touchy feely but… that’s not a great sign. Especially when you say that your expressing desire for sex turns her off.
That’s where my Spidey-sense starts tingling. That tends to be a sign of someone not being attracted to their partner.
Now, this could be the result of a number of different possibilities. It could be that your very hands-on, very demonstrative behavior makes her feel pressured to respond and the stress of feeling like she’s always on deck to be on dick has lead to things shutting down entirely, especially if the Prozac’s already suppressing her libido.
Or… it could be that she’s just not that into you any more and hasn’t quite gotten to the point where she feels like she can pull the trigger on this relationship.
This is where the two of you need to sit down and have a very long, very serious discussion about the state of your relationship and how the two of you feel. You need to give her space to be honest about how she feels about your sex life… and whether she wants to change things.
If she wishes her libido were back too, then she should talk to her doctor about adjusting her medication and seeing about finding ones that work without shutting her down sexually while the two of you find that sexual compromise in the meantime.
If it’s a matter of your attachment style vs. her attachment style, then you’re going to have to decide whether you can deal with being less touchy-feely or if that’s something you need in a relationship. Every relationship has a price of entry and that’s going to be part of the price for being in a relationship with her.
And if it’s a case that she’s just not attracted to you any more… well, unfortunately, the only thing to do is end things as cleanly as possible.
I can’t tell you which of those things it is; that’s going to be up to you and your girlfriend. So sit down and have that talk, SSL. Even if the answer is painful, it’s better to find out now so that the two of you can start the healing process sooner rather than later.
I am a 24 year-old male who has had no love life to speak of since breaking up with my long-term (and sole, up and to this point) girlfriend about four years ago. I also have a mild form of cerebral palsy that manifests itself physically, affecting my gait and fine motor skills—luckily I was spared the often severe mental issues that are not uncommon among those with CP.
My experience with “traditional” dating scenes has been less than stellar, and I believe it has a lot to do with many people’s inability to see those with physical disabilities as dateable and—perish the thought—normal, sexual beings. I can only speak for myself, but the eyes and body language of those I’ve conversed (and seemingly connected) with at bars, parties, and other less sweaty situations belie the polite words deflecting offers for another meeting or for the exchange of phone numbers. Hell, a few have even left from where we were sitting at bars after seeing me get up and walk for the first time, although they were always courteous enough to do it when my back was turned.
You’ll have to trust me when I say I’m truly not bitter about these experiences. Encountering physical disability, with its manifestations and limitations, can be jarring for someone who has little to no experience with it. That’s understandable. It has, nonetheless, made me increasingly self-conscious in a way that frustrates the feelings of dignity, intelligence, and humor that make me who I am as a person. Obviously, I know there are souls out there for whom physical disability doesn’t affect their dating calculus at all (regardless of where we stand now, my ex is one of them), but I’m hoping there’s a better way to find them.
All of that leads to my current situation and question. After completing my graduate work out east, I’ve recently returned to the city where I went to undergrad for a job and have wanted to branch out in hopes of meeting someone. With zero experience in the realm of dating apps, I downloaded Bumble on a whim (still on the fence about Tinder). I’d like to hear your thoughts: how would it be best to present/introduce the fact that I have a physical disability in my profile and while chatting with those I hopefully match with? If I’m standing, pictures show some effect, but it’s not incredibly obvious and I want to be honest without needlessly scaring people away.
Appreciate the help!
A couple of thoughts, DA.
The first is that when it comes to online dating, you want to be fairly polarizing. As much as I hate the cliche of “I’d rather be someone’s shot of whiskey than everyone’s cup of tea,” there’s some value to that thought. You want the people who’re into you, as you are. That means that you’re going to want to filter out the people who aren’t going to be compatible with you early on in the process. After all, there’s no point in expending your valuable time and energy on people only for them to ghost on you.
So my general rule is that if you have something in your life that’s going to directly affect who may want to date you—whether it’s a disability, children, an open relationship, what-have-you—then you want to bring it up up front. After all, if someone isn’t going to be able to see you as anything other than Man With Disability, then it’s better for them to self-select out of your dating pool.
Now, that being said, that doesn’t mean you should bring up having cerebral palsy as a huge issue. People in general will take your lead on issues. If you act like it’s this shameful thing, then it’s going to turn people off. On the other hand, if you don’t treat it like a big deal, they won’t treat it like a big deal. I’d be matter of fact about it in your profile - a “Just so you know, I have a slight disability that affects how I walk. If that’s not your thing, cool, no worries, peace out, cub scout. Happy to answer questions if you’re curious.”
My second thought is that while online dating is good and something you should explore, consider some non-traditional ways of meeting women as well via things like volunteering, taking classes or joining some activity clubs or MeetUps. One of the best things in your case would be to play the long game as you get to know people. While initial attraction based on looks is powerful, studies have shown that personality and uniqueness win out over looks over time.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not telling you to try to run the Platonic Friend Backdoor Gambit. What I am saying is that slowing your roll and establishing yourself as part of a group allows people get to know you as the funny, awesome guy you are overall, instead of just one aspect of you.
So my suggestion is to diversify your approach. Pursue online dating—I recommend using one traditional dating site and Tinder—but also work on broadening your social circle and meeting women that way.
Recently I found out that my fiancé has been having coffee with an ex and they are in contact constantly via text message. We talked about it and I voiced my concerns and she told me that nothing was going on. I trust her. We have been together for 5 years and I don’t believe she would ever cheat on me.
I saw some of their messages. Mostly just chit chat, but he does flirt with her a lot. She says she doesn’t see it but he definitely does. She sometimes flirts back but that is very much her personality. She did however tell me that she does still have feelings for him.
She doesn’t tell me when she is seeing him and she deletes all the messages from him now also. She says it’s because she doesn’t want me to get upset. I’m sure she isn’t cheating but it’s still really sketchy.
I feel guilty because I don’t want to her to feel like she can’t socialize with him but it makes me feel badly when she does. I know she wouldn’t cheat on me but I just don’t like that she still sees someone so often that she has feelings for.
I also hold some animosity towards her because she knows how I feel about the situation but she still continues to be in contact with him.
I really don’t know what to do next. We have already talked about this so many times. I’m torn, Doc. Since I trust her, should I just leave it be and suck it up?
Trust Or Go?
Fun thing about snooping: sometimes you find out things you’d really rather not know. And in this case: you found out your fiancé is still talking with her ex. This, in and of itself, isn’t a bad thing. Being on good terms with one’s ex is actually a positive. It says that they’re a mature adult who doesn’t just burn bridges at the end of a relationship and that they’re able to transition from lovers to friends—or at least positive acquaintances.
But that doesn’t help with the way you feel right now.
The thing about jealousy is that it’s based on the fear that someone is going to take something precious away from you. It sets your nerves on fire and your jerkbrain fans the flames by dripping poison in your ear and imagining all the worst possible scenarios, each more painful and emasculating than the last.
But your jerkbrain isn’t reality. Your jerkbrain lies. It encourages you to take things and blow them out of proportion and it makes you miserable.
For example: your fiancé texting or even seeing her ex socially isn’t unreasonable nor is it a sign of ill intent. Even seeing him without getting your permission first isn’t inherently a bad sign; she’s not your property and you don’t need to give your stamp of approval to her every social interaction. Hell, it doesn’t even matter if he’s flirting with her. One person flirting ultimately means nothing if the other person isn’t receptive, and people can flirt without intent because honestly, flirting is fun.
But when you’re feeling like an insecure bag of slop—and all of us feel like that sometimes—then your jerkbrain is going to be the Iago to your Othello. It’ll confirm all your worst fears and you’re going to die a little inside every day.
So what do you do?
Well first of all, don’t suck it up. The worst thing you can do is try to pretend that you don’t feel the way you feel. Bottling it up just means it’s going to get worse and more intense and then it’s going to explode messily and all over the place. That’s no good for anyone, least of all you. So take a long, deep breath and own those feelings of jealousy.
Now the next thing to do is talk with your fiancé again. I suspect that when you first talked with her, you used a lot of “you” statements and made it about her behavior rather than your emotions. That’s going to put her on the defensive, even when she’s not doing anything wrong and that’s just counterproductive to what you want. You’ve seen how that goes; the behavior continues, only in a more secretive fashion in order to not upset you.
This time, you want to have a different discussion. Instead of making it about her and him, talk about how you feel.
This time you’re going to open up and be vulnerable. You’re going to take ownership of your emotions, your response to her and explain why you feel the way you do.
Here’s what you say: “I’m going to be honest: this situation makes me feel insecure about us and our relationship. I worry that when you say that you have feelings for him that it means that you’re considering starting a new relationship with him and when you don’t tell me about seeing him, I feel even worse.
I trust you and I realize I’m being jealous. What I need from you when I’m feeling insecure like this is some reassurance about us.”
Then you take a step back and let her reassure you. If you do trust her that everything’s on the up and up, then you have to take “yes” for an answer. It doesn’t do any good to ask for something if you’re not going to believe her.
Now, if, after this conversation, things don’t change or you see other behavior that sets off your Spidey-sense, then it may be time to consider breaking things off. But if you trust her—and if you’re going to get married, you’d damn well better—then trust her.
Do you have experience with dating with a disability? Did you manage to overcome jealousy in your relationship? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments and we’ll be back in two weeks with more of your dating questions.
Ask Dr. Nerdlove is Kotaku’s bi-weekly dating column, hosted by the one and only Harris O’Malley, AKA Dr. NerdLove. Got a question you’d like answered? Write email@example.com and put “Kotaku” in the subject line.
Harris O’Malley is a writer and dating coach who provides geek dating advice at his blog Paging Dr. NerdLove and the Dr. NerdLove podcast. His new dating guide New Game+: The Geek’s Guide to Love, Sex and Dating is out now from Amazon, iTunes and everywhere fine books are sold He is also a regular guest at One Of Us.
He can be found dispensing snark and advice on Facebook and on Twitter at @DrNerdLove.
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