ASK ARIA: "Sexless in Seattle"

April 27 6 min read

Hey Aria, 


So I'm in a relationship that's about eight months along. We met on Hinge after I answered a prompt about my ideal fake sick day from Ferris Bueller's point of view, but he didn't know the movie, so he thought I'd answered earnestly. It was funny and adorable, just like he turned out to be. Because I'm immunocompromised and extra cautious about avoiding the virus, we ended up moving in together pretty quickly in order to protect me while nurturing our relationship. We'd been together about six months at that point. 


We'd had sex plenty of times before moving in, so I knew the physical chemistry was there. What I wasn't expecting was how different our sexual needs turned out to be, especially with respect to frequency. I'm pretty insatiable. I could go every day, maybe even twice, no problem, although every other day would also work. But my guy, not so much. Twice a week seems to be his sweet spot, and he gets frustrated if I try to initiate sex beyond that and shrugs me off. 


In turn, I have become a bit resentful, and feeling like I've been duped. Not by him, per se, but by this whole situation. We were such a great fit right away, so I was really caught off guard by this problem, and how stubborn it proved to be. At this point, we barely have sex at all. This problem consumes our entire relationship, and since we're continuing to social distance from everyone else, it feels like it's consuming my life. I love him, and I don't want to break up or move out, but I can't figure out what needs to change. Please help. 


Sincerely, 

Sexless in Seattle 



______________


Dear Sexless, 


What a tumultuous year you've had! You found yourself quickly cohabitating after a whirlwind romance, all while surviving a global pandemic with a compromised immune system. It sounds like you haven't really had a moment to really absorb all these huge, abrupt changes, so I'm glad you're taking the time to do that now. 


You seem aware that the pandemic-induced pace of your relationship may have worked to its detriment. However, your letter expresses a lot of hope, which, in my opinion, matters more. I'm hopeful too, so long as you're both willing to be honest and vulnerable as you dig deeper into what's really going on. I suspect the sex, or lack thereof, may just be a symptom of a larger problem.


Sex drive exists on a spectrum, with no universal benchmark for "normal". While we're each predisposed to preferring a certain amount of sex, that "sweet spot" can be easily impacted by external factors. Some really common ones are stress, sleep deprivation, and depression, and these days, such ailments are in abundant supply. You don't mention the ways in which the pandemic has impacted your partner directly, but surely it has, and a dampened sex drive could be a signal of its toll. Or, you could simply be on opposite ends of the spectrum, which may prompt deeper questions about compatibility.


However, it's worth considering that this may have nothing to do with libido at all. Despite being widely employed to describe dysfunction, "libido" is not actually a clinical term, and it often becomes a container for myths and hang-ups around sex. Though the sex drive framework can help us understand where we fall on that aforementioned spectrum, it does have limitations, particularly when it's devoid of context. You write that twice per week "seems" to be his sweet spot, but has he expressed this to you or could you be making an assumption based on his behavior?


First, you need a thorough understanding of what sex means to each of you within your relationship. Your answers could illuminate a lot for each other. Maybe he's more deeply invested in gender roles than you thought he was, and he feels emasculated by having a partner with a more voracious appetite. Or perhaps part of why you need more sex is because it's so crucial to how you form bonds, and you internalize that rejection when he turns you down for sex, even if it's not about you at all. If left unattended, wounds like this can really fester, and can quickly bring you to a point of no return. Unfortunately, I know this firsthand. 


I've also been in a sexless relationship, and I know just how anxious, lonely, and helpless it can feel. A few years back, I met this guy on Bumble, and we paired off right away. I was happy and comfortable with our sex life at first, but little by little, over many months, it slowed to a stop. I knew the resistance was coming from my end, but at the time, I lacked the self-awareness to explore it. Eventually, I figured out that my lack of desire for sex was actually just a lack of desire to be in the relationship. Once I'd determined that and shared it with him, we actually fucked a few times while we wound things down. 


It's not that I believe you're doomed to this fate, Sexless, I just hope you'll learn from my experience: you have to keep talking to your partner, or you'll pass a point of no return. In many relationships where a couple is not having sex, they're also not talking about how they're not having sex. Things can really spiral from there, and now that the two of you are living together, there's quite a lot at stake. 


Once you have an open dialogue, determine what's working well when you actually do have sex, and try to replicate those circumstances. Maybe you notice that he's more likely to be in the mood during the morning rather than the evening. Is that something you can arrange some of your days around? Or maybe he finds it easier to unwind when the apartment just got a good cleaning. I'm certainly a bit friskier once the laundry's all done. Might it be worth having a cleaner come once per week? And I know sex schedules don't sound sexy, but hear me out! The anticipation could take the edge off your irritation if there’s an agreed upon day to look forward to.


I know it’s no quick fix, Sexless, but if you and your partner are meant to go the distance, you'll be so much stronger for having cleared these hurdles early on. In the meantime, focus on the ways you two can strengthen your bond and stoke your chemistry. Have make-out or cuddling sessions that don't progress further. Flirt in public like teenagers. Drink wine together and share one glass. Go swimming together and show off your bodies. Sexual energy is accessible in many ways. You may just discover your own needs shifting in response. 


  Aria


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Aria Vega
« Aria is a poet, essayist, and advice columnist (ASK ARIA @ Lustery POV) based in Atlanta, Georgia. Her work explores sexuality, relationships, and somatic experiences. When she's not daydreaming about living underwater, she's probably talking to her houseplants or meditating under the moon. " » All posts →