CS: There are essentially four choices couples make when faced with the conundrum you present, Not Feeling It. They are:
1. Compromise by agreeing to do what they might not otherwise do except to please a partner (i.e. having sex more or less often than they’d prefer). This works best when the compromise feels more like a collaboration than a demand.
2. Change the rules of the relationship. A couple might choose to open a monogamous relationship, for example, so the partner with the higher libido can have his or her sexual needs met from others while maintaining a loving partnership with his or her primary, but less sexually active, partner.
3. End the relationship — or at least the romantic/sexual aspect of it — because No. 1 and No. 2 above are unappealing.
4. Do nothing and feel miserable and resentful about it.
SA: I realize this may sound bleak. That’s not our intention. We’re simply trying to get at the underlying truth here: that you’re sick of being pressured to feel more sexual desire. This pressure, by the way, doesn’t just come from a partner. It comes from the culture at large, which uses a hyped and fraudulent version of sexuality to peddle all manner of products. If you don’t want to “just do it” when it comes to sex, then don’t. But if you also love your partner and want to build a stronger relationship with him, you’re going to have to confront the incompatibility of your desires. The best way to do this is to start from a place of acceptance, then to figure out whether there are ways to compromise, to express your feelings and to meet each other’s needs without judgment or shame. That’s what true intimacy, of whatever form, is about.
CS: I think the most important thing for any of our readers and listeners to take away from this column and our podcast is that you get to make your life — and more than that, you’ll be happier if you do. But to do that you have to be willing to rewrite the stories you’ve been told about a wide range of things; you have to consider things that might scare you. Just as we told the previous letter writer that he had the right to ask for the sex he desired, you have the right to tell your partner that you don’t desire it, or at least not often. The truth has a powerful way of leading us to the light. So speak your truth and hear your partner’s truth. From that place of honesty, you’ll figure out where to go next in this relationship.
SA: One thing I can promise you, Not Feeling It, is that Cheryl and I are not in the business of dispensing cures. It would be dishonest and arrogant to even pretend we have such powers. What we try to do is help people confront their sorrows and disappointments. Sometimes those arise from an unmet yearning for sex. But as you rightly observe, they also arise from the misbegotten notion that the only true measure of romantic intimacy is carnal communion. Regardless of how our bodies operate, that’s not how the heart keeps score.