Downhill Sex Life

Q: I am living with a man I met almost 3 years ago. I love him, but when his alcoholism grew so out of control that he was destroying himself, I kicked him out. Three weeks later he committed to sobriety via a month-long rehabilitation program and a 12 step-program, and he came back home. Since then, we've been very emotionally close.

Here's the problem: Somewhere along the way our sex life began waning. After the first passionate year, he began to obsess because he said I should come without having to touch myself. It made him feel like a failure, which placed pressure on me. We fought over this for a long time. At one point he went out to strip clubs and was really uncommitted to us. Now it's not a subject that comes up, but he hasn't initiated sex with me for a really long time. When we do have sex, I can tell he's not that excited. I've tried to get him to consider counseling or relationship 12-step therapy we can do together, but he says only that it requires a lot to do it.

On top of all that, there's a teen girl in our small town who seems to be infatuated with him. What ticks me off is that he occasionally flirts back. I don't want to be in the way of what he wants. From an emotional perspective it seems like he wants me, but from a sexual one not. -- Sandy, 42

Dr. Susan: You and your partner have at least three separate issues that are driving you apart. The alcoholism situation may have gotten cleared up, though when you say he went to strip clubs for a while, I have to wonder if he resumed drinking on the sly. But then, I'm a skeptic when it comes to alcoholism. So let's put that issue aside.

Your waning sex life is one of the most common effects of being with the same person for a number of years. But in your case, other factors may be making it worse. For one thing, your partner seems to think women are "supposed" to find sexual satisfaction a certain way, whereas whatever works for you is fine, and in fact, the majority of women are just like you. In fact, it would be wonderfully sexy if he'd join in and provide the kind of stimulation that works for you, rather than holding you to some false ideal.

Something else you both should be aware of: As men age (and as they get used to the same partner), they tend to get less excited unless there is some novel or increased stimulation (same goes for women). That's one reason some guys turn to porn, or strip clubs, or flirting back with teen girls. This is not to say that this teenager is who he wants instead of you. What he wants is to feel sexually young again himself, and that's a complex problem that can't be solved here and now and in a few words. What you can do, rather than insist on a full relationship program that he's unwilling to do, is gather some books and materials on your own and share them with him. Not that you should thrust a book under his nose to prove that he's wrong, but as a conversation-starter. Your problems are not insoluble, but both of you must be ready to compromise and to accept the changes that come with time and familiarity. Let him know that his flirting is hurtful to you, and that his insistence on an erroneous sexual ideal is demeaning to you. If he wants to be with you, he's going to have to be more considerate. If his sexual spark for you is genuinely gone (which I doubt), then you'll both have to see what you want to do about it. I hope he's not so foolish as to think things will be all that different with the next woman.

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