Sex & Relationships

Ask Joan: Rejected and Unwanted     

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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.”

Joan replies:

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 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



14 responses to “Ask Joan: Rejected and Unwanted     

  1. I feel “Rejected and Unwanted” is living my life. My husband refuses to address the issue (at age 61) and even gloats about not having the desire for sex. I feel unwanted and undesired and just frustrated. Not ready to hang up on the marriage but just ready for a bit of physical affection. It’s a very difficult situation to be in and yes, I agree with the others…he’s being selfish and insensitive to my needs. I work a very stressful job with long hours and it would be nice to unwind with something more than wine!

  2. If she still wants it & you are not trying to give “it” to her it’s on you. Doesn’t matter how. You’ve got to try in what ever form you can work out. If it doesn’t work out then it’s on her & you’ve done your best. Go for it man…

  3. sounds to me like husband feels very threatened and is pulling away as a defense mechanism. He doesn’t want to talk about it any more because he has no answers. I say 1) medical evaluation with hormone replacement 2) counseling 3) a really good vibrator. I recommend a cordless, rechargeable. While you’re cuddling, bring out the ole vibe and let him feel the transfer from you to him.

    If THAT threatens him, use it yourself. This is a relationship issue. He’s young enough to remember the women’s movement. TAKE BACK YOUR POWER!

  4. First off, may I address you differently: “Beautiful Woman seeking enjoyable intimacy with partner” …………don’t label yourself based on a partner who simply is unable or unwilling to meet your needs. – We don’t know what specifically is going on with him, however, from your description, he is unable to open up about it under the current circumstances. Sexual chemistry is complicated, especially as we get older and also deal with age related interferences. – Joan’s suggestions sound quite reasonable, and I am curious how you respond to it?

    It is not easy to be open and authentic, and I certainly feel for you! Something similar happened to me – and I did not have the patience to stick around and hear that she rather didn’t want to talk about it. Both partner’s needs are important – and it seems that would be a good starting point for a more honest conversation: Is he willing to let you pursue your needs outside of the marriage? Is he willing to let you go? – just bringing those topics up might cause a bit of a shift in your connection. Let us know how it goes.

  5. I was in a loveless, sexless marriage It’s not worth it. Get out now, it leaves you cold ! Love, sex and intimacy is such a beautiful part of life!. I stayed till he died but I was not happy. A few months after he passed I met a loving fun man at the senior center, We have been together for 4 years now. We’re not young he’s 76 I’m a few years older, we always say we’re recycled teen agers. I never imangied falling in love again but it happened, It’s never to late! My love is older he does not get a hard erection like a younger man, but it don’t stop us! It’s just an excuse when you love someone you find a way! Sex is only a part of a relationship but it is a part!

    1. Hi Janet,
      It’s great that you enjoying sex at your age after an apparently unhappy marriage.
      I am English, and a couple of years younger than you. Also I have a very good libido, and penetrative sex is not the be all and end all of intimacy. I always say “if you think old so you be old!” That can apply to anything – including the bedroom!
      So I hope you and your partner are still active and happy and let me know if you are still happy!

  6. Please insist your husband see a doctor who specializes in plant based bio- identical hormone replacement. All of the other options mentioned will not do a thing unless his hormones are regulated. If he refuses, then I would implement Joan’s suggestions.

  7. Rejected and Unwanted is being subjected to selfish and intolerable behaviour by her husband / partner, Unfortunately, this is all to common and happens to both husbands and wives and if honest, open dialogue , and even counselling doesn’t solve the problem, it seems to me that you have two choices. Accept it and continue in an unhappy relationship or seek out a partner who will fulfill your obvious needs and desires. I know what I would do. Not easy, but staying in an unhappy relationship is unhealthy and needless.

    1. Dave, I understand your feelings on most of what you said, however I don’t want to erase all my lifes possessions I’ve worked hard for’ by leaving her. What we have is a somewhat caring for each of us’ but mostly convenient marriage for over 30 years now. This would be a terrible way to go for me’ especially for loved ones in our family. I’ve came to the conclusion that I’d be more interested in a very discreet relationship on the side’ I’m sure there’s others out here that would also find this more appealing doing that. PS > I would love to hear from you/and others thought on this matter. Thanks for your time, Jim

      1. Depending on whether you still love your partner , then maintaining the status quo and tip toeing around the no physical contact situation could work….BUT, a convenient marriage and protecting the monetary assets sounds like an awful reason to stay.
        For your own mental health, and hers, sit the ‘ loved ones in the family ‘down and explain what has happened in your 30 year marriage of convenience. Hopefully , they would understand and accept the fact that you will be looking elsewhere for a discreet sexual partner. Sticking around under the present circumstances would be, in my mind, a prison sentence and lead to utter dislike for both of you towards each other. Good luck !

  8. The husband is being selfish and unempathetic. My “guy analysis” is that his sense of masculinity is severely threatened by his inability to keep an erection, and he’s having trouble seeing beyond that. Two books that address this quite common issue might help him: Michael Castleman’s, SIZZLING SEX FOR LIFE, and Ian Kerner’s, SHE COMES FIRST. A “real man” would learn that limp or floppy penises are the norm in one’s 70s, and that there are many ways to compensate and continue MUTUAL pleasure with a partner in spite of that. I hope that he’ll come around, but if not then I hope even more that this woman will follow your advice.

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