Every month in Sex at Our Age, award-winning senior sexpert Joan Price answers your questions about everything from loss of desire to solo sex and partner issues. Nothing is out of bounds! To send your questions directly to Joan, email email@example.com.
I think the last time my husband and I had any romance and intimacy, other than the sex act itself, was more than 20 years ago before we were married. At that time, he was all over me, any chance he got. We led into sex wherever we were in the house, before we got to the bedroom. But now it only starts after we purposely go to the bedroom to have sex.
I feel repulsed by sex when there is no lead-up.
Our intimacy took a nosedive when we moved in with his mother after his dad died. One of those first nights, he cautioned me that we had to be quiet. I lost my sexual interest and never got it back, even after we moved into a place of our own.
The pain started later on, after we retired and moved. I thought it was because he was so big, and we were not having sex often enough to keep me stretched. He blamed me and said it was between my ears because I had always been able to take him before. Of course no one had ever told us women about the side effects of menopause.
My gynecologist said that my vaginal atrophy was so bad that I bled when he examined me. Even after he diagnosed the atrophy and began treatment, my husband still did not believe that it was a real medical condition.
Osphena [the vaginal atrophy drug] is working for me now, but we rarely have sex. The only thing he considers intimate is the sex act itself. There is no seduction like there was in the beginning. I must not have a sex drive of my own, since all I ever knew was reacting to being pursued. Since I am perfectly happy without sex, I wouldn’t want to initiate it, even if I knew how – which I don’t, since it never has been in my nature. So now it’s not because it hurts me, it’s because I don’t want him sexually.
I would like for us to be doing something together around the house and have it turn romantic, and then sexual – ending in the bedroom, not starting there. But that won’t happen, since we don’t do anything together around the house. When he wants sex, his way is to go to the bedroom. He’s in his pajamas, and I’m freezing to death and wanting to be under the covers. He’s very heavy, and I don’t feel like being on top, and my Yorkies are in the other room, barking and whining for their mama. How romantic is that?
My husband wants me to really want sex. He says when I’m not into it, it isn’t good for him. I guess I would like to know how I got the short end of the deal on sex drive. Is there something really wrong with me, or do I just not love him in the right way? I would go to a counselor, but he would not, and he would have a fit if I did. He doesn’t want anyone knowing personal stuff. —NoSexDrive
There are so many problems in your relationship, NoSexDrive, it’s no wonder that sex rarely happens, and that when it does neither of you finds it satisfying. I don’t see it as a matter of “no sex drive,” though. In order to want sex, we have to be relaxed and comfortable, physically and emotionally – and that’s especially true for women. If we’re stressed or angry with our mate, our sexual response usually clamps down.
Sex is never “just about sex.” It’s about everything that’s going on in a relationship. The sex drive that you say you lack is not turned on and off automatically; it’s controlled by your brain. Both you and your husband have piled up enough unhappiness and hostility to bury intimacy and sexual satisfaction. You will need a counselor to dig out what’s left of your love for each other.
You say you can’t see a counselor, but I say that you must, or the distance and resentment will only get worse. Tell your husband that you’re willing to work on your marriage so that you’re both happier and that you need him to work on it with you.
A therapist will help you learn how to ask for what you want and understand the ways in which both of you – not just your husband – have pushed each other away. For example, you want romance to start outside the bedroom; you want to be courted, seduced. Do you ever express that to your husband in a loving way that doesn’t put him on the defensive? Your counselor will teach you strategies for bringing back the intimacy – including how to communicate your wishes in a way that will help him see what you want as a benefit for you both.
There’s a lot that has to happen in your marriage, including some simple changes, before your sexual connection will improve. For example:
- You’re not doing things together. How can you start bringing in activities that build your closeness as a couple?
- When you do try to have sex, you’re cold and the dogs are barking. Can you warm up the room first and, while you wait, do something romantic in another part of the house? And put the dogs in a room far enough from the bedroom that you don’t hear them?
- Your husband feels heavy on top of you – and you don’t like being on top. There are plenty of other positions that can work when one person is much heavier than the other — see this resource for some examples.. Try experimenting and see what you like.
- Your husband needs to acknowledge that a real medical problem was causing you pain. A good resource is the “When Sex Hurts: Vulvar/Vaginal Pain” chapter in my book “Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud about Senior Sex.”
- You need to acknowledge that his desire for you to want him is as real a need as yours for romance and intimacy.
With a good therapist, you’ll learn ways to make all of this happen, step by step. And if he won’t go to therapy, you need to go on your own to learn ways that you can be proactive in improving your relationship. Your marriage needs help, and you have too many obstacles to break through them on your own.
Please see a therapist. It will be the best use of your time and money that you can imagine. Most communities and HMOs offer low-cost and even no-cost counseling for those in need – find out what your local assistance agencies offer.
I wish you the best. —Joan
Send Joan your questions by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. All information is confidential.
Joan Price is the author of the award-winning self-help book “Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud about Senior Sex” and of “Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk about Sex After Sixty.” Visit Joan’s blog, “Naked at Our Age.”