Hi Dr. Emily,
My wife and I have been married for 25 years. Tonight, I sat down with my wife to do your Yes, No, Maybe list. It was fun to start, but very quickly my heart sank…because most of her answers were no. In comparison, my answers were mostly yes. When we talked it through, I said I’m not sure what a lot of these things are – but I’ll try anything once.
I’m not sure where to go from here, to be honest. We talked through a few things but I’m pretty resigned to the fact that she won’t even consider most things. I’m pretty despondent now. Your advice is most welcome.
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First of all, I want to commend you for two brave things. If I’m interpreting your letter correctly, it sounds like you’re craving some fresh ideas for sex with your wife – and on a deeper level, it sounds like you want to explore your sexual connection with her in a novel, even vulnerable way. So you took the courageous and proactive step of doing the Yes, No, Maybe Guide with her, to get the conversation started. Well done!
And second, you reached out to me when you didn’t get the results you were hoping for. Do you know what this tells me, Peter? It tells me this issue is really important to you, and you’re willing to put in the legwork to improve your sexual dynamic. So again I say well done because these are exactly the kinds of first steps I would recommend for someone in your position. Now, let’s help both of you move forward.
When someone is closed off to sexual novelty, there’s always more to the story. You’ve been married for 25 years, and during that time, it’s very common for someone’s sex drive to change, and for a couple to fall into a rote sexual script (listen to my interview with Ian Kerner for more on that). The result? Boredom all around. And because high boredom = low libido, it could be that both of you are experiencing this, but responding to it in different ways. You are clearly trying to tackle the boredom with ideas; your wife might be dealing with it by tucking sex away, psychologically.
So the first thing I want to recommend is a conversation with your wife about sex before you make plans to have sex. If someone has shut themselves off sexually, they’re probably not going to say, “threesome? Sure, why not!” Because it might not be a novelty they need just yet. What your wife might need is the opportunity to speak her truth. These conversations can be incredibly vulnerable, so if you need help, my Three T’s Guide is a good tool – but don’t rule out couples counseling either, with an emphasis on sex. Even a few sessions could help you both come to a deeper understanding of how she’s feeling about sex in general, and once you know that, you can establish the type of emotional safety that’s required to tap into one’s inner eroticism.
Since you say you’ve been married for 25 years, there could also be some hormonal factors on her end – factors that are dampening her libido. So I recommend checking out this article on a low sex drive, where we discuss menopause and how it affects libido. If that’s the culprit, we’ve got some recommendations for how your wife might start to get her sex drive hormones back on track.
But the bottom line is, your wife won’t become sexually curious if it feels like she’s doing it for you – she’s got to find a reason it benefits her. Sex is one area of our lives where obligation and guilt simply cannot get the job done, in any meaningful way. With sex, we have to allow ourselves to get a little bit greedy…and tap into the part of ourselves that’s desirous for pleasure, because WE want it. To that end, does she masturbate? Because a little sex present, like the Pom vibrator from Dame, could help her reestablish her neural pathways to pleasure. I love this particular product because it’s flexible, so she can customize it to her anatomy, finding all those little orgasm-inducing sweet spots. What if you gifted her that, then gifted her some alone time so she can explore it?
I hope these suggestions help, Peter. I think a conversation, a health check, and a growth mindset around “sexual greediness” could be just what the doctor ordered. Good luck, and let me know how it goes!