My partner and I have been together for 20 years; we have a child together. I met him in my late 20s, and our relationship has been the most loving of my life – he’s the only person to have accepted and loved me for who I am. But shortly into our relationship and over the years, I became increasingly uninterested in sex, although when we have it I thoroughly enjoy it.
At first, I thought it was that I didn’t fancy him. Then I wondered if I couldn’t allow myself to be treated well – he had broken the negative pattern of relationships with men, where I wanted them more than they wanted me, and the more I was rejected, the more I wanted them. Perhaps I prefer sex with women, with whom I have had relationships in the past? Other thoughts include not liking my body, and interpreting letting go as losing control (I have always been more dominant in bed). I also cannot help but feel fatalistic about how my lack of interest in sex appears to be shadowing my mother’s experience, which I battle to reject but can’t shake off.
My partner continues to love me. We talk about the situation at times and he says it hurts him that our sex life is this way. We are very tactile – we kiss and cuddle a lot – but he is petrified to make any sexual advances and be rejected. I just wish I could physically express the love I feel for him more often.
The problem is now exacerbated by my menopause – penetrative sex is painful. My doctor has prescribed lubricants, but I haven’t tried them – the thought of preparing for sex makes it seem a bigger deal. We went to joint therapy, but it ended up dealing with other concerns. I would like to get some psychosexual counselling but cannot do this through the NHS and I’m not sure where to find an appropriate private counsellor. I want to embark on the therapy alone in the first instance, with the possibility of considering joint therapy later.
You can absolutely embark on therapy by yourself – I have put links at the bottom to find reputable therapists.
How much or little sex a couple has is not a problem until it’s a problem for one or both of you. It sounds like you have a loving relationship and you speak very fondly of your partner. But sometimes that everyday-ness can be the death of a sex life for some, because they need that “erotic distance” (this article explains it well).
There is quite a lot you describe that is normal. But there are also things you hint at that may need further exploration, such as you not allowing yourself to be treated well and the stuff about your mother – our parents’ attitude to sex can really colour our own. Your question mark over your sexuality may also have something to do with it – these are all things that can be explored in therapy.
I consulted Trudy Hannington, a psychosexual therapist. She says that it is “normal to feel like this after 20 years together. And it’s also something I hear often: that when people finally get down to sex, they really enjoy it, but it’s easy to talk yourself out of it, especially if it’s uncomfortable.”
In terms of looking back at a more “golden” time in your life – in your case that perhaps you prefer sex with women – this may be accurate but it may also be because other things were going right in your life then. It’s very easy to look back and think all the good times were because of the person we were with, quite forgetting the whole contextual picture.
Hannington thinks you saying “he is the only person who has accepted me” is a massive thing, “Do you feel like you owe him? Do you dare say how you really feel? You say you adore him and you don’t want to upset him, but is that stopping you being honest with yourself?”
From a more medical point of view, Hannington says not to underestimate the effects of menopause. There are various things you may want to talk about with your GP – things you can do that won’t make you feel as if you are preparing for sex, such as localised oestrogen, which is applied nightly to start with (then twice a week) and can help with vaginal atrophy. There may also be a menopause clinic your GP can refer you to. You could also get your testosterone levels checked (levels fall with the menopause).
As for being dominant before and not being able to now, Hannington asks: “Do you feel you can’t be dominant with him because he’s ‘nice’? If he treats you differently than other men, that may make you feel differently about him. If I could wave a magic wand for you, what would sex be like?”
This is an important question: what would it be like and is that realistic? It seems as if the subject of your sex life is wrapped up with many other things at the moment – how much are these things a cover? I also wondered how old your child was and if he/she were at an age where you are finally coming up for air and looking at what’s left when they leave home.
Again, this is not uncommon. None of this is anything to be scared of, because the next stage of your life is just beginning. It sounds like you have some untangling to do first, however.
This article first appeared in the Guardian Family section on 24 March 2017.