Dear MKE SEX,
My husband and I have been together for almost 20 years. We have a strong relationship and we still really like each other. (Not everyone can say that, hey?) We’re still pretty active together, sexually speaking. But after so many years, we’re not exactly sexually compatible anymore. Unfortunately, I’m not sure he’s noticed. We’re still basically having sex in the exact same ways we did back when we first met. He seems to be happy with things just like they are. But I rarely get off with him these days. Even when I do, I still feel like I want more from our sex life. I want us to slow down and try new things. I want to notice whether or not I’m enjoying sex! I’ve tried to bring it up a few times (without sounding like a typical nagging wife) but he just shuts and won’t talk at all. Then we avoid sex for a few days or a week before we cave and just go back to having the same sex we’ve always had. Blah. I’m so tired of this cycle. Is there anything I can do?
Still Sexy After All These Years
Dear Still Sexy,
I feel like I can hear the frustration in your letter, and I’m sorry. You’re in a tricky situation for sure. It sounds like you really care for your husband, and want to stay in your relationship. At the same time, you (both) deserve to have a sex life that is fulfilling and satisfying. Your husband may also be struggling, even though he hasn’t shown a lot of interest in changing or improving things. Just knowing that you’re unhappy is likely upsetting to him, too. I can see how his behavior (shutting down and ignoring your attempts to change things) could feel like he just doesn’t care. But often shutting down is a sign that someone is too upset or too overwhelmed to communicate effectively. Most likely, neither of you is very happy with the situation, and neither of you know how to fix it.
It’s a very vulnerable and very intimate thing to engage in conversation about making changes to our sexual habits. No one wants to be criticized for their desires or techniques. Additionally, it can be hard to break out of our gender roles and openly communicate about these things. As a woman, you’ve probably soaked up a lot of cultural beliefs about who should be initiating sex, and that it’s important to make your husband feel good about himself in bed. At the same time, he’s been marinating in a stew of beliefs that have likely left him feeling like he just can’t talk about something that makes him feel so exposed. In our culture, men are supposed to pursue, initiate, and penetrate. Women are supposed to smile, acquiesce, and receive penetration. By expressing your dissatisfaction, you’ve challenged the role he’s been trained to play (assertive male who knows how to do sex) and also shown that you’re not content to stay within the bounds of the role you’ve been cast in (agreeable female who is just content to make him happy).
Okay, that’s enough gender theory for now. The question you asked was, “Is there anything I can do?” I believe the answer is yes. After nearly 20 years together, and given that you “still really like each other,” you have built a foundation that should be able to withstand some heart-to-heart conversations about sex. Be prepared: these conversations may be emotionally challenging, especially at first.
You can start by inviting him into the conversation, instead of surprising him with it. Choose a time when you’re not already engaged in sex (or very recently finished having sex) and say something like, “I love you, and I love our life together. But I’m still really struggling with our sex life. I’d like to work with you to figure out how to make it better for both of us.”
Make sure to tell him what things are still working for you. Do you enjoy the closeness you two share? Does it feel good when he touches you in certain ways or specific places? And ask him to share what he likes, too. This gives you both a solid starting place to work from. I think it’s always worthwhile to remember that sex is not just a penis going into a vagina. Sex is any consensual activity that the two of you engage in with the shared intention of giving and receiving pleasure. Dirty talk, sexting, grinding, mutual masturbation, oral sex, jacking each other off, and more are all different ways to have “real sex.” Some couples in your situation will make a promise not to have sex in their typical ways for a certain amount of time or until they’ve tried some of these other things first.
Making lasting improvements will take some time. But you’ve already spent a couple of decades together—you’ve proven that you’ve got the wherewithal to see it through! You’ll probably need to come back to it several times in order to really make the changes needed to ensure that you’re both happy. It will probably get easier the more times you talk about it, as the topic will feel more familiar and less taboo.
There are some great books that might really help both of you get started on this journey. Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski dives into sexual desire and how to unpack your previous experiences so you can be open to new ones. Esther Perell’s book Mating In Captivity draws on her 20 years of experience as a sex and relationship therapist to illustrate how couples can continue to have playful and exciting sex throughout their lifetime together. Sex Recharge by Ian Kerner presents a 30-day program that he claims will “help you rebuild your love life from the inside out.” And even if it doesn’t do all that, the book is full of great ideas to help couples find their way back to each other.
Curious about cunnilingus? Anxious about anal? Do you have questions about queefs or problems with your prostate? Lucky Tomaszek is the education coordinator at The Tool Shed: An Erotic Boutique, Milwaukee’s only mission-driven, education-focused sex toy store. Send her an email at [email protected] and she’ll get back to you with an answer.