I’m a junior in college and I’ve been dating my boyfriend since our freshman year. Initially the relationship was steamy and passionate. I was his first sexual partner so we did a lot of experimenting and discovering together.
As is perhaps inevitable, that steamy passion gradually decreased. Sophomore year his sex drive experienced a sharp decline and mine remained constant. In the first year of our relationship, things felt more balanced, as he would also initiate regularly. But then I was the only one getting the ball rolling. If it weren’t for me, we would go weeks without sex.
He seemed disinterested and was using his ADHD medication more regularly as school got more rigorous. I constantly felt dissatisfied and unwanted. I was very vocal about this but he explained that he was often too physically and mentally exhausted from his medication.
By junior year, sex just wasn’t enjoyable at all. I wasn’t turned on, it hurt, no one finished, I was distracted the entire time. I’m at a point where my insecurities about my body have coupled with my worries about his lack of interest, and I’m often too in my head about these concerns to be turned on. I’m focused on him and convinced that he doesn’t want to have sex, that he finds me unattractive and that I don’t turn him on.
I’m usually in such a distracted head space that I can’t finish and tell him to stop trying. I want to have sex. I want to make him feel good and I want to feel good too, but my sex drive is just not there. I don’t want to forego my pleasure just because my brain is making my body not respond how I’d like it to.
– Low Confidence, Lower Libido
Dear Low, Lower,
It’s easy to take our partner’s shifts in desire very personally. Sexual intimacy can be a big part of what separates our partnerships from the other relationships in our lives and for many, sex becomes an important symbol of the health and security of our partner bonds.
But nearly all LTRs experience a shift in the “easyness” of sex between one and three years. Relational, biological, and chemical interactions shift and sex needs to become more intentional than it used to be. Contrary to popular tales, you’re not doomed to divorce if your sex drives hit the skids. Drives and sparks aside, most couples will find more success in working together to stoke their relational fires than simply waiting for the sex stars to magically align as they once did.
It sounds like you’ve been doing great work to be vocal about your experience of all of this. But, beyond your BF’s ADHD medication, I don’t have a great sense of what this experience is like for him – do you?
In couples therapy, I like to draw on a technique called “externalizing the problem.” It’s a handy way to think about issues plaguing couples because it removes it from the personal realm and into the shared, strategizing realm. To do this, get your boyfriend’s perspective on how the shifts in your shared life have affected him. Does it make him nervous to have sex knowing that you might not be into it? Does he have a hard time initiating because he doesn’t want to hurt you?
Then, talk about how his barriers to carefree sex interact with yours. How do his fears push on your fears about being unattractive? How do you respond to these fears in a way that maintains the cycle? And so on and so forth.
When discussing the cycle, resist the urge to take the other person’s experience personally. Instead, work towards understanding each other’s perspectives as if you were a reporter attempting to understand how your story’s subject ticks. If/when we can stop taking our partner’s experiences personally, we’re able to get out of our own way so that we can focus on the actual cycle blocking us from our desired solutions, rather than getting stuck in a different, overlaying cycle of hurt feelings and reactivity.
This is super-duper hard work, which is when a therapist comes in real handy. But if not, discussing and even drawing out your cycle on paper can be a helpful start at externalizing it and seeking new, collaborative solutions from a birds-eye view. Good luck!
Yana Tallon-Hicks is a relationship therapist, sex educator, and writer living in the Pioneer Valley. You can find her work and her professional contact information on her website, yanatallonhicks.com.