Ask the Doctors: Disparate Desire and Feeling Pressured

I am 42 years old, female and now at the very end of a friendship that is still trying to work: my friend (male and 57 years old) very actively loves sex and I have not real interest in this so much… I don’ t know why, maybe I am that way, not wanting, needing so much?

He would love to be always active and misses this as a connecting link between us.

As I have lived with a woman some years before, he thinks I should admit to be a lesbian or at least bi. I guess it would relieve some of the “pain” we both feel as our partnership does not seem to work that way as easy…. I just feel pressured, but sense that he maybe longs for more “connection” toward me.

I hope just you could give advice: maybe it is my hormones or my sadness as the basis of a partnership is to have sex 5 times a week? In his mind there would be women appreciating him all along with his eagerness to connect… and I feel that physical connectedness is not the only thing to be partners… I am really sad about this outcome.

I think at the moment I am scared to know that I will be alone again and have just no  idea. I just wish I could change, but I feel frozen by the way he approaches me and “wants” something, allthough I love him. Maybe I just need to feel more safe in my own skin and womanhood….but thought you might be able to tell me if there is hope somewhere in the long run.

–Sad and Stuck

I’m sorry to hear about the sadness you feel about your relationship. Here are my thoughts about what might be going on:

It is possible that your libido is beginning to be affected  be the hormonal changes of perimenopause. I have written about menopause and sex drive before, here — you might want to see if any of the information in this other letter is helpful.

The experience you had when in a relationship with a woman may be relevant to your situation now, but maybe not. You don’t seem to feel that it is, which is important.

Some questions I would ask to help you evaluate that:

Were you much more sexually active and comfortable with her than you feel now? Or was the timing of sexual expression with your woman lover more to your liking? It is clear your partner now makes you feel pressure — was it that way then (with your female partner), or different? From what you write, it sounds like your male partner thinks that lesbian or bisexual women have less sexual desire and he is trying to attribute your lack of equal interest in him to this factor — but this is not at all true of all lesbian and bi women. Some have a very high interest in sex and a high rate of sexual frequency.

Besides the pressure you feel from him to have sex more often than you desire, do you feel you get enough support from him? Or are his feelings for you especially expressed through sexual desire but not other kinds of closeness or intimacy? If you are not feeling loved or supported enough, and his primary way of expressing his feelings is through sex, it is very possible you have put up a boundary because you do not really feel safe and cherished enough with him to be sexually intimate.

If he stops asking you for sex every day, do you eventually get to the point where you do desire him and find that your libido turns back on? Or have you not tried that, or gotten to that point?

Do you actually have a problem getting sexual pleasure from him — is that one reason you don’t want to have as much sex as he does? Or do you like the sex well, but just feel he wants it much more than you do?

Have you told him specifically that you feel pressured? If so, did he react badly, or respect your feelings?

Has your sexual interest in him waned over time, or has it always been lower? It is common for couples to have less sex over a long-term relationship; I don’t think you say in your letter how long you’ve been together with him, but it’s possible this is also a factor.  A past letter I’ve answered that deals with some of these issues is here.

Do you have your own sexual praxis through masturbation? Or is your desire for that also low, and if so, has this always been true, or do you notice a change in your pattern?

When people are matched badly in a relationship around their levels of desire, there are usually four choices they can make. They can break up completely. They can visit a therapist together, who may be able to help them repair their relationship via specific strategies: supporting their communication, helping each understand and support the others’ desires and limits, etc. They can use techniques that allow them to be erotic and intimate and express togetherness without having intercourse (for instance, you can hold him while he masturbates, or you can both even masturbate together while watching erotic movies, if you like them). And finally, they can open the relationship so that the partner with higher desire can seek other partners too, without breaking up.

If this last option  sounds like something you both would be open to, the best books about it are called Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships and The Ethical Slut. Another good book is Open: Love, Sex, and Life in an Open Marriage. (That last one, however, is a memoir of a woman who is bisexual and opens her marriage — a different situation than your own, although you may find it useful if you do think an open relationship is something the two of you might wish to explore.) There’s also Polyamory: The New Love Without Limits, which Good Vibrations does not currently carry.

I will say, though, that an open relationship still needs to be successful in issues of communication, intimacy, and support. If your real issue with your friend is that his only or major way of expressing connection with you is through his penis, that may not be the basis for a successful transition to polyamory. If your connection is more nuanced, perhaps it is an option.

I do think you might want to do a session with a good therapist so both of you have an advocate as you evaluate what is possible. Many partners who have gotten stuck have been able to move forward, with help.  I wish you the best of luck.


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Dr. Carol Queen

Carol Queen has a PhD in sexology; she calls herself a "cultural sexologist" because her earlier academic degree is in sociology: while she addresses individual issues and couple's sexual concerns, her overarching interest is in cultural issues (gender, shame, access to education, etc.). Queen has worked at Good Vibrations, the woman-founded sexuality company based in San Francisco that turned 35 years old in 2012, since 1990. Her current position is Staff Sexologist and Good Vibrations Historian; her roles include representing the company to the press and the public; overseeing educational programming for staff and others; and scripting/hosting a line of sex education videos, the Pleasure-Ed series, for GV’s sister company Good Releasing. She also curates the company's Antique Vibrator Museum. She is also the founding director of the Center for Sex & Culture, a non-profit sex ed and arts center San Francisco, and is a frequent lecturer at colleges, universities, and community-based organizations. Her dozen books include a Lambda Literary Award winner, PoMoSexuals, and Real Live Nude Girl: Chronicles of Sex-Positive Culture, which are used as texts in some college classes. She blogs at the Good Vibes Magazine and at SFGate's City Brights bloggers page and contributes to the Boston Dig. For more about her at carolqueen.com.

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