Dear Drs. Lewis and Gail Wyatt:
My husband and I have only had sex three times in the past two years. I’ve suspected that he is seeing someone else, but he always denies it. We’ve been married for 15 years. Is this just the way it’s going to be from now on? —Charice S.
Many married couples find themselves having less sex as the years go by. While, on average, couples have sex about once a week, the longer you are married (or with a partner), the more effort it takes to sustain the passion. Having sex once in a while is not a problem if you're both happy with your intimacy and infrequent sexual intercourse. If, however, one partner is unhappy and feels sexually starved because his or her needs are not being met, it is time to take stock and find out what is wrong. Don’t assume that you can fix the problem by giving your partner a “treat” like wearing sexy lingerie, or getting high or offering to do something sexually that you don’t usually do.
Here we address some of the most common problems that we come across:
1. If your husband or partner is having a hard time getting or sustaining an erection, try a little tenderness and go to the doctor together. You both may be surprised to find out that the problem may be improved with medication, a change in your diet and daily cardio exercise. Even if sex is infrequent, you need to make sure that it is the best experience it can be.
2. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 9 people ages 40 to 59 are depressed. Over 2 out of 3 don’t identify any visible symptoms and don’t really know that they are depressed. Depression, however, often makes a person feel mentally and physically exhausted. Taking antidepressive medications that have as few side effects as possible may make a big difference.
3. Your partner may want to consider having the doctor measure his testosterone level. “Low T” can be improved with medication, exercise and regular checkups.
4. Your husband may be distant because of a loss of confidence in himself. Most men are better able to perform sexually when their partner is loving, supportive and physically attracted to them. If your partner feels put down, called names or rarely complimented, he could be less excited about having sex with you.
5. Your partner may be worried about his ability to make money and firmly believes that “there is no romance without finance.” He may feel that he needs to contribute more or just contribute to sustain your household. Money is not the basis for a perfect relationship, but to many, it does matter. Struggling with debt and living from paycheck to paycheck can certainly affect sex. If this applies in your case, redefine what “contributing to the household” really means. Other responsibilities, such as becoming the chef of the family or transporting family members, are equally important and deserve an equal amount of praise.
6. Your husband may have an anger-management problem and allows resentment to stew until it boils over. Find out about anger-management classes and attend them together. If your partner or you use physical methods to resolve anger, like harming each other or anyone else, or use drugs or alcohol, get professional help.
7. Your partner could be having a spiritual crisis because he feels that he is doing something wrong, sinful or even “nasty” and is violating his religious principles. He may need private therapy sessions until he can discuss his crisis with you.
8. Your husband may have a history of sexual abuse that affects his manhood, his interest in sex and his trust in other people. Some men often question their sexual orientation or their attractions, especially if the perpetrator was a male. These experiences are very painful, traumatic and are often a secret. They deserve to be discussed with a therapist. In this case, you may need to be patient about your partner’s lack of sexual interest until he can redefine his sexuality without allowing these incidents to control how he feels about himself.
9. If your partner is getting off in other ways, such as using pornography, masturbating more than about once a day or experiencing an orgasm with another partner, his sexual appetite with you will definitely diminish. He is having sex elsewhere. If he denies an outside source of sexual satisfaction, then you need couples counseling. If your partner refuses to face these problems, then get help for yourself.
Don’t continue to overlook this problem. Discuss the pattern of infrequent sex now and find the best solutions together.
For answers to your questions about sexual health, write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to include your age, gender, any medications you’re taking and the nature of your sexual problem.
Gail Wyatt, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist and sex therapist. She is also a professor at UCLA and director of the university’s Sexual Health Program. Lewis Wyatt Jr., M.D., is a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist in private practice in Beverly Hills, Calif. He specializes in sexual health and bioidentical hormone treatment.