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A reader writes:
My husband, 70, no longer wants sex due to his inability to perform. I am 66. We’ve been married for five years, a happy second marriage for both of us. We met seven years ago and had a wonderfully satisfying sex life until a few months ago.
We both know that sex needn’t involve intercourse. But my husband says he has lost complete interest if he cannot have penetrative sex. He expresses no sadness or regret. I don’t sense that he misses this part of our short time together. I feel rejected and unwanted.
Tried and tried again
He says his libido is almost zero. We have tried innovative sex with lingerie. He used two types of performance enhancing drugs which worked for two years but are now ineffective. He spoke with our doctor about this twice. Medical testing demonstrated hormonal shifts but otherwise robust health.
“I don’t know if I’m unattractive to him now, and this is how he responds. It feels awful.”
His previous 32-year marriage was sexless for the last ten years — his choice, not hers. He stopped finding his wife attractive. I don’t know if I’m unattractive to him now, and this is how he responds. It feels awful.
In all other ways he is loving and kind, and he enjoys spooning and cuddling. I find myself withdrawing, not because I don’t enjoy the touch, but because I want more. Just months ago, I was fully satisfied by oral sex, but my husband is unwilling now to do anything more than cuddle.
When I bring up the subject, he gets short-tempered, which is not normally his nature. He says we have exhausted the subject. I am left to navigate my feelings alone.
I would like him to find me attractive and want to pleasure me. He doesn’t, evidently. I want to pleasure him. He doesn’t want me to.
He shows no sadness about the loss of what was a satisfying sex life. I am mourning and feeling deeply troubled, sad, and resentful. Am I to be left in a sexless second marriage after such a short time? Do I just accept my lot and say, oh, well?
— Rejected and Unwanted
He limits intimacy by seeing his role in sex as “performing” instead of “pleasuring.”
Your husband says he can’t “perform” anymore, which I interpret to mean that he can no longer count on a hard erection for intercourse. But as you know, there are plenty of other ways to give and receive sexual pleasure: oral, manual, vibrator assisted, or a combination of these. He limits intimacy by seeing his role in sex as “performing” instead of “pleasuring.” He’s unwilling to have non-penetrative sex with you, and he wishes you’d shut up about it. No, don’t shut up about it!
When you married, you assumed that since sex was an important part of your relationship, you both would continue to value and nurture this connection. He is saying that the price of admission* for staying with him is no sex and no discussion. You have every right to say that the price of admission for staying with you is communication and working out your sexual issues. I’m not saying that sex is the most important thing in a marriage, but his closing you down rather than accommodating your needs points to a big problem.
I encourage you to advocate for yourself. Consider telling him something like this:
Sex is not something you “perform.” It’s a passion you express and give to your partner. You say we have exhausted the subject. No, we have not. You need to hear me, too. I married you because of our love and our joyful intimacy. You have cut off our sexual connection and you want a sexless marriage going forward. You can’t make the unilateral decision that I need to do without sex. Our lack of sexual interaction is not tolerable to me. What accommodations can we make?
Here are your choices as I see them:
- He agrees to see a sex therapist with you to unpack his narrow view of sex as performative and penetrative and discuss how you can give each other sexual pleasure.
- If he doesn’t want to work with you on recapturing your physical intimacy, he gives you a “hall pass” to pursue sex outside the relationship, if this option appeals to you.
- If he is determined to have a sexless marriage, yet he won’t discuss it or agree to you getting your needs met elsewhere, please consider whether this marriage is good for you.
You wonder whether you’re no longer attractive to him. Please don’t blame yourself. There’s nothing that indicates his change is your fault. He did the same thing in his previous marriage.
Please look at what you need and want. You can find love, intimacy, and great sex – but maybe not with this man. Many seniors older than you have found love and lust after leaving a marriage that made them feel sad and rejected.
* Sex advice columnist Dan Savage coined the term “price of admission” in this context. I heartily recommend his podcast, Savage Lovecast, for frank talk and great advice about sex.
Send Joan your questions by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. All information is confidential. Joan can only answer questions that are chosen for publication from readers age 60+.
Joan Price has been Senior Planet’s “Sex at Our Age” columnist since 2014. She is the author of four self-help books about senior sex, including her award winners: “Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud about Senior Sex” and “Sex after Grief: Navigating Your Sexuality after Losing Your Beloved.” Visit Joan’s website and blog for senior sex news, views, tips, and sex toy reviews from a senior perspective. Subscribe to Joan’s free, monthly newsletter