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Can You Save a Sexless Marriage?

A practical guideline to couples who are challenged with mis-matched libidos.

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In turn, an “always on” woman who is rejected multiple times may also have to contend with a cultural voice that has taught her that men are sex-crazed and always horny. When a woman is faced with a man who has a lower libido than her, she may not only question her own desirability, but also his fidelity, masculinity, or even whether he’s gay. In truth, he may love her dearly and desire her completely and still have a lower libido. This doesn’t make him less of a man, it simply breaks with the cultural narrative about men and sex that we’ve been hearing since the first time we heard the phrase, “boys are only after one thing.”

Let’s take a moment with the part that both genders may share: the shame. When the higher-libido partner is rejected multiple times, he or she thinks, I am not desirable and maybe even I am not lovable—no matter how untrue it may be.

He can tell himself that his wife is different from him, but often there’s an internal voice that says, “That’s just an excuse, man, she just doesn’t like you. You’re too _____ and she just doesn’t want to do it with you.” On top of that, society tells the guy that he’s not supposed to feel bad about himself, he’s not supposed to feel fat or ugly or hairy or short or whatever message the rejection keys into. He’s a dude, he’s supposed to feel awesome about himself at all times. Insecurity, especially body or sexual insecurity, is for chicks.

And so he probably wasn’t given the language to say to his partner, “I know you’re not in the mood and I respect that, but I gotta be honest… Being rejected makes me wonder if there’s something about me that you don’t like, and I’m worried that I don’t turn you on anymore. Even worse, I’m worried that I’ll never turn you on again and that really makes me feel like crap.”

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It’s not just men who have communication problems when it comes to sex in long-term relationships. The first assumption about men and sex that many women go into relationships with is that the desire for sex isn’t really about us. You’re men, you’re sex-crazed. We’ve been told this since our first sex-ed class. Even if we know better intellectually, a part of us often tells us that your desire to have sex has more to do with putting your thing in a warm spot, and less to do with knowing, loving, or connecting with us. So we think our rejection of you won’t phase you. Sure, it might make you mad or frustrated, but we don’t assume it’s going to hurt you.

Beyond that, there is an idea in our minds that if we do any little thing that might turn you on, we’re guilty of feeding your frustration and therefore deserving of your anger. When I worked in retail buying, a coworker of mine and I were ordering cute pajamas for the store. We would tack on an extra of any item we wanted to buy for ourselves once the delivery came. There were a lot of traditional top-and-bottom sets and a few sexy little shorts or nighties. I asked my friend if she wanted me to put one on the order for her.

“No way,” she said. “I can’t wear anything but sweats to bed. I don’t want Sean to get the wrong idea.”

This is an example of how we’ve turned sexuality into an all-or-nothing equation. If Karen wore a tank top and little shorts to bed, Sean would want to have sex, and if she wasn’t in the mood just then, she would be the guilty party who incited his desire and then rejected him. And so she only wore sweats to bed, every single night, as an insurance policy that if Sean became aroused, it somehow wasn’t her responsibility.

 
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