Ask Professor Foxy: What Is the Line Between Support and Getting My Needs Met?

This weekly Saturday column “Ask Professor Foxy” will regularly contain sexually explicit material. This material is likely not safe for work viewing. The title of the column will include the major topic of the post, so please read the topic when deciding whether or not to read the entire column.
Dear Professor Foxy,
I have been in a happy monogamous relationship with my partner for five years now. She is my best friend and we have an amazing egalitarian relationship. Sure, we have our disagreements, but we respect each other and work through them and grow for it.
The only thing that’s missing from our relationship is physical intimacy. I was a virgin when we met and the first couple years of our relationship were extremely sexually active and exploratory (and as far as I knew, great!). About two years ago, however, that came to a screeching halt. My partner not only has no desire sexually, but even intimate closeness makes her uncomfortable. No snuggling to fall asleep, no kissing other than a quick hello/goodbye peck, etc.
We have discussed the issue before and she was the one who brought it up. It was extremely emotional. She says she feels pressured to be intimate with me when I try to show her any affection so rather than cuddling/kissing/etc. when I’m in the mood I just don’t do anything so that she doesn’t feel pressured. She brought up a few reasons for her lack of desire and I completely understand her reasons for not wanting any intimacy right now. But at the same time, while every other aspect of our relationship is great having no physical intimacy for two years and not seeing it change anytime soon is definitely hard on me. I have pretty severe self-esteem issues so to not feel ‘wanted’ at all and not have any closeness can be pretty stressful. Being told that I’m loved is great, but having to stay on your own side of the bed and not cuddle at all makes for some conflicting messages.
I completely understand her reasons for not wanting any intimacy: She is an abuse survivor, has fought through eating disorders and body issues, and hates the way that she gets treated as the female in a heterosexual relationship. Her loss of desire started about the time we started planning our wedding (a small, non-traditional service where we both took a new common name) and she claims that is the biggest part of the problem. I work really hard at recognizing my privilege as a male and not letting anyone make assumptions about our relationship, etc. and she recognizes that, but the comments and actions of other people are what eventually seem to get to her. The entire process of planning a wedding — no matter how egalitarian and non-traditional — was really stressful but after the wedding things seem to have only gotten worse.
How do approach this subject without making her feel pressured at all? Am I wrong for feeling like this lack of intimacy should have an affect on our otherwise-idyllic relationship? What can I do to help her, or should I just back off and let her work through the problems that are at the root of the issue herself?

Dear In Need -
I think your sign off says it all. You need something that you are not getting in your relationship. I wonder how fulfilled and satisfied you are in your relationship. I worry about how much you are compromising. Most people need some degree of physical intimacy and it is not just about sex, it is about how our partners and lovers show their feelings through physical affection and how that reinforces what they tell us about their feelings.
You are giving up quite a bit and I wonder if you are giving up too much. She is not be able to give you what you need in terms of physical intimacy, how sustainable is that for you?
What are your minimums to stay in this? Cuddling once a week? Can you hold hands while you fall asleep? Have you tried taking sex off the table? So she knows that when you touch her you are not doing it as foreplay, but just for the pure enjoyment of cuddling? Have you said I am not asking for sex and don’t want you to feel pressured, but I need physical affection.
I also wonder if you should consider opening up your relationship and/or paying someone for the intimacy that you are not getting at home. If you want to stay in this relationship, it may be time to find another way to get your needs met.
I feel the need to separate her being abused and the eating disorders from the marriage/heteronormative society issue. I get that she is working through a lot and that these all of these issues impact her daily. Eating disorders and sexual abuse are not easily recovered from and they can certainly have bearing how she feels about intimacy and touch, but you are a part of this relationship too. You appear to be dissolving into her issues.
You are not wrong. Everyone has intimacy/touch/sex minimums and maximums. How much do you want to be touched? By whom? You also can’t heal her. You can be supportive, but she is the one that needs to go through these issues. What is up to you is how you help her: as friend or as her partner.
Professor Foxy
If you have a question for Professor Foxy, send it to ProfessorFoxyATfeministingDOTcom.

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  1. nella
    Posted March 13, 2010 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

    paying someone? really?

  2. open_sketch
    Posted March 13, 2010 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

    “I also wonder if you should consider opening up your relationship and/or paying someone for the intimacy that you are not getting at home. If you want to stay in this relationship, it may be time to find another way to get your needs met.”
    …seriously? That just seems to be a recipe for disaster. The guy isn’t after generic intimacy; he is projecting his expectations that physical intimacy = “being wanted” and selfishly considers the desires of his partner to be “conflicting signals”. Despite claiming to try to be aware of his male privilege, he’s missing it right in front of his face; he assumes that his “need” for physical intimacy must be sated. I don’t think he wants to go elsewhere; he’s trying to figure out how to force his partner to conform to his desires.

  3. qtiger
    Posted March 13, 2010 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

    I just want to thank Prof. Foxy for choosing this question, and for her answer.
    I essentially trapped myself in a sexless relationship similar to the OP’s for a good long time. I felt like I would be ‘that asshole guy’ if I left her because my needs weren’t being met. At the time, I wouldn’t even have been able to phrase it like that because I believed that intimacy and sex were more of a want than a need, that you can have a good, strong relationship between people who are sexually incompatible, that a person (particularly of the male variety) leaving a relationship on the basis of sex/intimacy is a bastard, etc, etc, etc. Didn’t help that, along the lines of the OP, there were physical and psychological things causing the lack of intimacy. It was hard (impossible) for me, at the time, to consider the idea that my obligation/responsibility/can’t think of the best word here/ to support her didn’t extend into indefinite unhappiness for me.
    Truthfully, it wasn’t until a bit after the relationship ended that I figured all of that stuff out.

  4. Lydia
    Posted March 13, 2010 at 11:39 pm | Permalink

    I have my own doubts about how much good opening up the relationship would do in this situation but I still think you are being completely unfair to the letter-writer. I saw absolutely no evidence of a sense of entitlement to sex or intimacy. Quite the contrary. To me, he came off as a compassionate and caring person who feels guilty for desiring something that his partner is not in a position to give right now, but also is getting increasingly unhappy without it. I don’t see what it has to do with male privilege. We can’t paint everything with that broad brush. I’m a woman and I know that I couldn’t handle a relationship in which there is no physical intimacy. I need it in order to feel fulfilled in a relationship. Everybody deserves to feel fulfilled in their relationships and nobody is obligated to stay in relationship in which they are very unhappy just to support the other person. Subverting one’s own needs to one’s partner is a habit that we women have been taught for a long time and that feminism tries to break us of. So I would never tell a man to do it. This can lead to some difficult choices but that doesn’t make it wrong.

  5. JessWin
    Posted March 13, 2010 at 11:53 pm | Permalink

    Whoa, that is not what inneedofcuddles said. He was careful to say more than once that he does not want to pressure his partner. The entire tone of his letter is cautious. Rather than exhibiting any kind of entitlement or desire to “force” her into anything, he is clearly communicating that he’s prepared to re-evaluate what intimacy, physical closeness, sex, etc., can mean in his relationship with his partner.
    And associating physical intimacy with being wanted is by no means indicative of male privilege alone. We’ve got to be careful not to suggest in reactions like this that men in heterosexual partnerships have no right to communicate their desires if they differ from their partner’s desires.

  6. rissa523
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 12:00 am | Permalink

    As a female sexual abuse survivor I can identify with how hard it can be to have sexual intimacy with someone you love. For me it was always easier to have sex in the beginning of the relationship because sex without fear/care of hurting the other person was easy when I wasn’t very close with them. The closer I felt emotionally to anyone, the harder it was to be physically intimate to the point that I can’t be physically near a partner I love. I am now married and feel sad that I have rejected physical intimacy from my husband at times because it was just too hard to love and physically be in contact…even just a hug was too hard. My husband expresses that he doesn’t feel his needs are met and I am sad that my own issues disrupt what should be a happy healthy intimate relationship. I love him to the moon and back and that is why its hard to be intimate and that’s why its so hard for him to understand. As for a man’s nee for sex, I think we all have needs to feel intimate, sex, hugs, physical touch. Some of us are desensitized to those needs because we either never had them met or those needs were taken advantage of. Now, I have been working through a lot of problems and feel ready for more intimacy, but my husband is having his own intimacy problems and I am seeing the other side of the intimacy fence. We do have a need to love and be loved, physical intimacy has a roll in that love. It is fair for this man to feel an intimacy need and he deserves (just like women deserve) to have his intimacy needs met. I don’t think he wants to force his partner to conform to his desires, it sounds like he wants to share beautiful love-founded intimacy with the person he loves. I don’t know about seeking that intimacy elsewhere, but perhaps ending the relationship if they are incompatible when it comes to intimacy is what needs to happen.

  7. Jeanette
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 12:10 am | Permalink

    Wow. That’s harsh. I’m not sure I understand why it’s selfish or a sign of male privilege for him to want sex. Most people of all sexes/genders do need at least some. Considering that in the beginning of their relationship they agreed (explicitly or implicitly) that it would be a sexual one, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to for him to say that his needs are not being met when she, in effect, broke their agreement.
    This is not to say that I’m unsympathetic to the poster’s partner. I agree with Prof. Foxy that abuse and eating disorders are very, very difficult things to deal with. If she’s at a point in her life where she’s not comfortable with any type of touching (or even if she decides she never wants to physical intimacy again), she has a right to feel that way. But he has a right to want the same things he did when they got together. I don’t think that either of their physical needs are “wrong”. They may just be incompatible.

  8. Emily
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 12:31 am | Permalink

    Great response, while I haven’t experienced this exactly in a relationship, I have had sex drive misalignment in relationships where it was difficult to navigate one’s desires with another’s while maintaining loving, supportive and lack of perceived pressure. It wasn’t easy and included allot of compromise (though with history of abuse and such might make it allot trickier). I also know two women in committed relationship with complete lack of physical intimacy. They seem pretty miserable and have said they are almost ready to leave (not easy, both love said spouses and one’s married and one’s engaged). I’d like to think if my marriage became devoid of physical intimacy of all kinds despite our best efforts and without much hope of improvement I would move on but I know it would be allot harder in practice. Anyway, I think Prof. Roxy is pretty much spot on (maybe a little much with the prostitution bit, I doubt paying someone to touch you makes you feel loved). Though enacting the suggestions may be pretty difficult to do while still maintaining a no pressure situation. I’d also recommend couple’s counciling if it’s at all an option before giving up on a physical future or the marriage as it may help the two work through their problem in a neutral atmosphere with professional help to keep the conversations healthy and productive.
    The important thing is that no one does anything they don’t want to do. I don’t think any pressure or guilt should be put upon anyone whether they don’t want to do something or if they move on because the relationship isn’t working for them. Life is too short to be miserable and no matter how much you love someone, you don’t owe them your happiness because if it comes to that, it’s doubtful anyone could be happy in the end.

  9. bbbf
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 12:37 am | Permalink

    in my opinion it doesn’t sound very selfish of him to consider his own sexual needs. If the positions were flipped and the female wanted more physical intimacy and was not being satisfied would it be selfish of her to demand that she should be satisfied? hmmmmm…

  10. nikki#2
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 1:21 am | Permalink

    That was heartless. Being wothout intimacy for so long is an incredibly painful thing.

  11. Teresa
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 1:52 am | Permalink

    One thing for sure is that when someone suffers from any kind of abuse it is definately going to have an impact on their ability to handle intimacy. My most recent ex boyfriend was abused growing up, and while at first when we started seeing each other sex wasn’t a problem, the moment that intimacy started to amp up became a problem. He started having problems maintaining an erection, and eventually stopped coming over to my house because he felt it meant that we had to have sex (he lived, actually still lives, with his mother).
    At first I brushed it off, but after a month and a half I was getting frustrated. My needs were not getting met. Sadly, I stayed with him for 4 months afterwards because I didn’t want to be that person who dumped their SO because they weren’t getting sex. But sex is important to any relationship. It’s not everything, but it still is important…and as a basic human need, if its not met then you’re not being completely satisfied. and if you’re not completely satisfied then at some point shits gonna hit the fan, because you can only control your frustration for so long.
    Her issues are her issues, and only she can take it upon herself to work through them. But your needs shouldn’t be sacrificed because she’s not at that level yet. In order for a relationship to work successfully, the two of you need to be on the same page and be seeing that each others needs are met.

  12. sepra
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 2:08 am | Permalink

    I don’t know about that. I had a situation with a boyfriend that was the reverse. He stopped being physically affectionate to me, and it really hurt me. Was it then privilege to assert that I needed a hug or a kiss sometimes?
    I do think the need for comfort is a need, minus the scare quotes. I’m not convinced that it’s prioritizing his needs over hers to want that.

  13. konkonsn
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 2:30 am | Permalink

    I think no physical intimacy, including small stuff like cuddling, kissing, peck on the check, for two years is the telling part of his query. It’s one thing to want sex multiple times a week when your partner may only want it a few times a month; it’s a different thing when any physical action you take with that partner is seen a pressure to be more intimate.
    Physical intimacy shouldn’t be the only confirmation of a partner’s worth in a relationship, but it certainly isn’t wrong for someone to feel as if they “aren’t wanted” because a partner constantly shows an aversion to his or her body.
    My biggest issue with Prof. Foxy’s answer is that counseling wasn’t recommended. Perhaps she assumed those measures had been taken, but I think too many people attach a stigma to counseling and don’t go.

  14. Ros
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 2:31 am | Permalink

    I don’t think there’s anything unusual with wanting some form of physical intimacy in a relationship. Nor do I think there’s anything inherently unhealthy with (in a non-pressuring way) expressing your needs in a relationship.
    A need for physical contact – hand-holding and hugs, especially, since it doesn’t seem like he’s pushing for sex at all – also seems like a fairly straight-forward and generally expected relationship pattern, unless otherwise agreed-upon by both partners. A sudden onset of refusal of any physical contact at all goes against what most relationships encompass (which is fine if that’s what both partners want, or if that’s negotiated and agreed-upon, but not if it’s only and suddenly enforced by one partner with no agreement from the other and no sign that this might eventually change to suit the needs of both people).
    Being a supportive partner, male or female, shouldn’t have to mean dooming yourself to unhappiness. Futhermore, I think it’s a really unhealthy pattern to set if any expression of need becomes “selfish” and, therefore, “bad” – the relationship can’t center only and perpetually around one person’s needs (I don’t mean that things can’t center occasionally around one person if the situation demands it – just that eventually things will need to re-balance, or balance differently).
    I think that the OP, as a man, has to take into account the privilege he has in the relationship and the world at large, and make an active effort not to pressure or push his partner. That said, if the relationship is not AND WILL NEVER meet his needs, I fail to see how he has a responsibility to actively maintain the status quo, rather than attempting to find a solution which is not pressuring or uncomfortable for her but takes into account his needs as also important.
    … on that note, ye gods, it’s past 3am, and I’m going to bed. I’ll endeavor to be more coherent in the morning.

  15. Devoted_Toucan
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 3:16 am | Permalink

    Have you ever been in love, open_sketch?
    Maybe I’ve taken too many Psychology classes (…not the case), but I do believe most people need affection at least sometimes; whatever sex/gender they are. Not necessarily sexual affection, but the other kind. Especially from the person they’re in love with/who’s in love with them. A hug can make a person feel a hundred times better when they’re sick; feeling lonely (person you love hasn’t touched you affectionately for two years, you’re gonna feel lonely); or sad, etc.
    I understand why those reasons would leave her not wanting to be touched, but I’m curious as to why she’d stop after two or three years if they’d happened before now and she was OK up until a certain point. As sensitive as it is for her, I’d suggest carefully bringing it up again – making sure you put across that you understand her reasons, and that you believe her when she says she loves you, but explaining how it makes you feel sad on a daily basis that you can’t physically comfort the person you love. Tell her the physical barrier feels kind of like an emotional one to you now, and that it’s lonely. Ask if it is for her; how she feels about it. You never know – she may be setting them, but it doesn’t necessarily mean she likes them. Your arms should make her feel safe.
    I disagree with the suggestion of getting anything sexual elsewhere (I wouldn’t talk about it unless she brought it up after hearing your feelings), but I agree with trying to drop the idea of sex for now and just focusing on attempting to build an emotionally physical connection without any sexual stuff. Ask if she’ll try it for you; if you can start off slowly (e.g. like Professor Foxy said, hand-holding in bed/elsewhere).
    And I realise it’s not the same, but do you have any close friends or relatives who can give you a proper hug occasionally? It won’t help with your relationship, but it might help you to release some of your loneliness.
    I think there was a time when I would’ve thought that there should be no obligations of any kind, but that was before I knew love. I couldn’t be in a relationship without snuggles now. I’m too loving (and insecure :| ). I need the comfort; the feeling of safety and love; the warmth; the security. I’ve been through some crap, too, but this kind of comfort is far more helpful than pushing everyone away (particular my partner) and never having the feelings of saftey, etc. Why stay in a cold and lonely (emotional) world with no comfort? Of course it’s difficult to come out of after something so horrible as being abused, but this is years later for her? And yes, everyone’s different – my partner, who’s been through worse than me, has the odd time where they don’t want to be held when upset – especially when initally triggered – (whereas I always prefer to be held), and I try to respect this (obviously I wouldn’t grab them and hold them against their will, but I mean with my own feelings)…but for someone to feel like that (never wanting you to hold them) every day, all of the time? And for you (both) to never have the wonderful feelings I mentioned? That probably sucks a lot for both of you.
    I’d also encourage her to talk to a professional if you can’t work out anything together. Even if it isn’t for your relationship’s sake – even if that sadly falls apart – continuing to live her life like this might be/get very depressing for her, and hopefully you wouldn’t want this.

  16. Naked Feminist
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 3:28 am | Permalink

    Intimacy is a need, for a lot of people.
    Relationships require two people. He wants to show his affection for her (outside of sex) and not only is he not permitted to show it, he’s not getting it either. This sounds like a relationship of circumstance, that they’ve been together for a while and just continue on the path that they are on. He wants to show his affection for her just not emotionally, but physically, and I’m not talking sex. Holding hands, kissing, cuddling are all ways to show affection and intimacy, and he wants it as a way to feel loved, like many do, but she;s just not meeting him half-way anymore, and it sounds like she doesn’t want to, rather she’s taking it for granted that he’ll understand she loves him, if she does. He’s not trying to force anything, if anything he’s been very patient.
    One should not stay unhappy for the sake of another, regardless of gender. That is not a relationship, not anymore.

  17. Antigone
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 3:31 am | Permalink

    I think you are looking at this from a rather different perspective than the question’s author. For you, physical intimacy and sex may be of little value within an otherwise fulfilling relationship. However, for many others physical intimacy is an essential part of a relationship and this is not a bad thing.
    Everyone is different, we have to remember this. I am a 20 year old woman and I am very attached to sexual and other physical intimacy. At this stage in my life, a relationship with no possibility for this would not be fulfilling for me. Is it anyone’s role to tell me that I am wrong to feel like this? Do I (and the questioner) not have the right to decide what I need in a relationship?
    Others, including those who are asexual, will be comfortable with different levels of physical intimacy.
    I’m not sure seeing a prostitute would help the questioner, as it seems he is looking for physical intimacy as part of an emotional bond – but I don’t think it is fair to discount his feelings as you have.

  18. Lev
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 3:48 am | Permalink

    I think you are being way too hard on the OP. Wanting physical intimacy is a perfectly reasonable need in any sort of romantic relationship. In an equal feminist relationship it should be expected that both (or all) parties should be expected to make sacrifices to meet the needs of their partner.
    In his case, he is meeting his partner’s need by not engaging in physical intimacy – but she isn’t meeting his need for it. For the sake of keeping the relationship healthy, she would be best suited to consent to a little more intimacy.
    In this case, both parties seem to be suffering from Patriarchy-related-hang-ups. Due to the way that Patriarchy objectifies women and fails to objectify men, many men are conditioned to feel that that physical intimacy is the only way to feel wanted. They wouldn’t feel wanted otherwise (who is always supposed to make the first move under the Patriarchy’s gender rules?).

  19. instrumentjamlord
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 3:53 am | Permalink

    If she wants to be left strictly physically alone, that is her right. Nobody has a right to force contact of any sort on another. However, just because she wants zero physical intimacy, she does not have the right to shut off your physicality cold.
    She needs to allow you your own sexuality, period. If she wants nothing to do with it, fine; then she can absent herself from it _fully_. In other words, she should turn a blind eye to you exploring and getting those needs met elsewhere. If she can’t handle that idea, then she can cut you loose.
    You are not an asshole for having a libido. She is not an asshole for not having one. If the relationship fails, it it won’t be that you were an asshole, just that the two of you are incompatible.

  20. sara
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 6:48 am | Permalink

    I’m kind of shocked that there’s no mention of therapy or counseling in this post.
    Someone who previously enjoyed an active sex life with current partner, who has a history of mental illness (eating disorders) and trauma (abuse), experiencing a major change in libido/interest in sex with no obvious organic explanation* seems like a big red flag to me.
    Then there are the issues with marriage/heteronormativity, which seem like something where the two of them could benefit from talking, together, with a sensitive/feminist counselor who could help them examine, work through, reframe these things together. Not to mention that given how tough sex issues are, having a trusted, professional third party around can be very helpful/the only way some people can have an honest conversation around them.
    And then there are the writer’s own feelings of rejection, low self-esteem, and what Professor Foxy describes as “dissolving into her issues,” which are again classic things a good therapist can help some one deal with/get their head around, grow through.
    PLEASE, for the sake of your own well-being and that of your partner, use your money to avail yourself, and, if she’s willing, the both of you, of some kind of professional therapy/counseling services before you consider paying anyone for intimacy services.
    I realize from previous threads that some asexual folks may take issue with the suggestion that lack of sexual interest is a problem that should be treated with therapy. I don’t disagree, if this were not something relatively new in the course of his relationship with her, and the person mentioned didn’t have a history of other mental health issues. Change in appetite–for food, for sex, for sleep–are often reflections of physical or mental health changes or issues, and therefore deserve attention.
    *Also worth making sure there is no organic explanation here. NOT, again, because lack of interest in sex is an inherent problem to be medicalized, but because if there were something organic going on here, that could be harmful in other ways, you and she would both want to know that, right?

  21. qtiger
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 6:51 am | Permalink

    I don’t think he wants to go elsewhere; he’s trying to figure out how to force his partner to conform to his desires.
    Who is forcing whom?
    Why is it okay for her to force him into a lack of intimacy, but not okay for him to so much as raise his feelings about it with her without being, in your words, a selfish, privileged male?
    Something tells me that your view on the situation would be entirely different if the OP had omitted or lied about his gender.

  22. karenoh
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    Did you even read his entire question?

  23. Martine Votvik
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    “I also wonder if you should consider opening up your relationship and/or paying someone for the intimacy that you are not getting at home. If you want to stay in this relationship, it may be time to find another way to get your needs met.”
    Really? I guess that’s going to make wonders for the insecurity and intimacy issues?
    Maybe she needs you more like a platonic friend right now? Do you feel like you would be able to stop looking at her like a romantic partner and start beeing that friend to her?
    Maybe this will change some time in the future? But then again maybe it wont. You’ll do yourself and her a favor to realise this. Putting all your stakes on her warming up to you again can only lead to bitterness and anger in the long run.
    So my advice is to break of the “romantic” relationship and commit to the friendship in stead. Expect to grieve it, but I suspect you have been grieving this a long time already.
    There is an old saying, some times you got to let somebody go in order for them to return to you. Maybe the freedom of being out of the relationship (and societies expectations) is what will give her the eventual agency to choose you again.
    I feel for you and hopes it turns out okay, one way and another.

  24. Martine Votvik
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    “I also wonder if you should consider opening up your relationship and/or paying someone for the intimacy that you are not getting at home. If you want to stay in this relationship, it may be time to find another way to get your needs met.”
    Really? I guess that’s going to make wonders for the insecurity and intimacy issues?
    Maybe she needs you more like a platonic friend right now? Do you feel like you would be able to stop looking at her like a romantic partner and start beeing that friend to her?
    Maybe this will change some time in the future? But then again maybe it wont. You’ll do yourself and her a favor to realise this. Putting all your stakes on her warming up to you again can only lead to bitterness and anger in the long run.
    So my advice is to break of the “romantic” relationship and commit to the friendship in stead. Expect to grieve it, but I suspect you have been grieving this a long time already.
    There is an old saying, some times you got to let somebody go in order for them to return to you. Maybe the freedom of being out of the relationship (and societies expectations) is what will give her the eventual agency to choose you again.
    I feel for you and hopes it turns out okay, one way and another.

  25. Icy Bear
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    I’m sorry if this is off-topic, but am I the only one who cringes whenever I hear the term ‘need’ in reference to sex or physical intimacy? I’m always surprised to hear so many feminists talking about ‘sexual needs’, because, as far as I can tell, sex is NOT a need. Food is a need, shelter is a need, health care is a need, for many people love or positive feelings are needs… but sex is something we can control, limit, decide when and how we will do it. To say anything else seems to be supporting rape culture, in the typical “oh men just can’t control themselves!” type of way.
    Maybe I’m missing something, because I know this phrase comes up a lot in feminist circles, but I just hate the idea that sex or intimacy is ever anything other than a desire that we can and ought to control in every situation where it is not appropriate. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with leaving a relationship because your DESIRES aren’t being met, but they are desires, not needs.

  26. nurgetts
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    100% agree, open sketch.
    He states that “she hates how she gets treated as a female in a heterosexual relationship” And that her “problems” began just as they started planning the wedding. Obviously, she is feeling trapped by sexist expectations. That is the crux.
    This goes double if she is already a survivor of past abuse. But, many, many women feel like this. Where is his analysis of this?? And frankly…why hasn’t prof foxy called him on this?
    I get that loss of physical intimacy can be difficult.I have gone through this myself…but this is all about his needs. All about his losses.

  27. Milena
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    I’ve left a relationship before because I wasn’t getting my physical needs met (althogh it was nowhere near as long as OP’s). As a partner, and if he intends to stay with her, he should support her getting through these things, but that doesn’t mean that he should give up his own needs. And she has an obligation to work through her issues in whatever way she can if she is going to stay in the relationship, rather than let them become this big obstacle to their sex lives.
    Let’s not treat the need for sex and physical intimacy as if it is some disgusting, base desire that doesn’t really matter. OP’s feelings and needs are just as important as his partner’s. You know, because they’re equals and all.

  28. Milena
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    I’ve left a relationship before because I wasn’t getting my physical needs met (althogh it was nowhere near as long as OP’s). As a partner, and if he intends to stay with her, he should support her getting through these things, but that doesn’t mean that he should give up his own needs. And she has an obligation to work through her issues in whatever way she can if she is going to stay in the relationship, rather than let them become this big obstacle to their sex lives.
    Let’s not treat the need for sex and physical intimacy as if it is some disgusting, base desire that doesn’t really matter. OP’s feelings and needs are just as important as his partner’s. You know, because they’re equals and all.

  29. makomk
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    Despite claiming to try to be aware of his male privilege, he’s missing it right in front of his face; he assumes that his “need” for physical intimacy must be sated.
    Really? I have a certain amount of doubt as to whether women would be expected to just put up with a relationship with no physical intimacy whatsoever of any sort these days, especially in a community such as this one.

  30. Comrade Kevin
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    I have a totally different response. I think we all have a desire and a basic need for affection. I’ve been needy in relationships earlier in my life, but in this situation, he recognizes that he isn’t asking for too much.
    There’s no projection here. What is being forced? We all want to be wanted, after all. The partner has some issues to work through, true, but until she does so, the relationship makes no sense for either party.
    There is much not present here that would guide our understanding better. In short, we don’t know why the wedding was so traumatic and what it entailed for her. What does a wedding mean for her psychologically as a survivor? Did she object to the wedding, no matter how sympathetically proposed? Did she perceive of a wedding as somehow confining, thus dredging up old issues?

  31. Blucheeez
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    Sounds like “inneedofcuddles” shouldn’t have gotten married. Did his partner really want to get married? If that was the source of the tension why did he go through with it? How old was he?
    @open-sketch: How is denying intimacy on his partner’s part not forcing HIM to conform to HER desires? I agree that he’s not looking for generic intimacy; I don’t think there’s any such thing. He’s looking for a physical connection with the woman he has an emotional connection with, not to get off with some sex worker.

  32. Melina
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    ‘Despite claiming to try to be aware of his male privilege, he’s missing it right in front of his face; he assumes that his “need” for physical intimacy must be sated.’
    That seems so absurd that I’m surprised anyone would think, let alone say, it. You start off by suggesting that need for physical intimacy is an example of male privelege — what??? So being male means you can’t have any needs, and if you do, you’re just being an ass? Or does that meanthat only males have strong desire for physical connection with their partners? Because if that’s what you’re saying, it sounds like the whole shitty “women are saints who have no desire of their own” meme.
    Second — you put “need” in scare quotes? Really? Okay, explain that. Explain to me how you can feel good about suggesting that desire for physical intimacy is not legitimate? Yeah, the guy isn’t going to die without sex or cuddles. In the same way, I won’t die if I don’t have regular conversations with my partner. But I’d be fucking miserable.
    And yeah — I think it’s pretty fucking normal to feel unwanted when your parter doesn’t even want to hold your hand.
    My main thought to the OP is — maybe you have to face that you really are not desires. That your partner loves you but no longer has romantic feelings about you. That happens in relationships… and maybe yours is gone and it’s time for you to move on instead of trying to get your partner to want you again. Because what you’re in sounds like glorified roommates.

  33. ronia
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    I think that’s a bit harsh on him. Everyone is a bit selfish in relationships and if it was a woman not getting something from a relationship that she’d previously had and felt she needed we’d all be encouraging her to look after her needs and reclaim her happiness.
    This guy isn’t pissed off because he’s wanting to force her to sate his desires. He misses cuddles and affection which for many are a vital part of a relationship. He had it for years with her and he misses it. He’s every right to wonder why it’s disappeared from his relationship and assess whether he’s happy and how long he can go on.
    All that said, I think the advice to seek that affection elsewhere is a bit surprising. If his partner is struggling with these issues I can’t imagine she’s going to feel better if he starts paying someone else for his pleasure.
    I think the advice about disassociating affection/kisses/cuddles from sex is good. If she doesn’t feel like there’s an expectation that it has to go somewhere then she may feel reassured in starting it up again.

  34. Heina
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    Whether you are male or female, there is nothing wrong with wanting love and intimacy with a partner, especially if that is how your relationship began with him or her. There is a huge difference between “I needs my sex, wummon! *grunt*” and “I need cuddling and physical affection and sex, and I will help you and support you in overcoming any issues you feel hinder you and us.” From their conversations, I’d gather that she actually wants to overcome the issues, not that he’s forcing her to pretend like she’s someone she isn’t.
    If this woman is asexual and/or never wants any physical, non-sexual affection, that is a different story. In that case, she should say so in order for their relationship to be real, not act like she can “fix” the issue. From there, they might be able to work out some kind of alternative arrangement, i.e. “going elsewhere.” You can’t say that he is forcing his needs on her if she, herself, claims that she will be able to, with work and love, move forward with that part of their relationship.
    I’ve been in a relationship where I wanted a lot more sex than my partner. Before you judge me as an evil perpetrator of male privilege, note that I am female and I was in a relationship with a male. It’s not a purely male problem and there is nothing wrong with wanting physical affection and sex, especially when your partner was fine with it before and then changes. No one has the right to force anyone to do anything they don’t want to do, but at the same time, people in a relationship need to ensure that both or all parties are having their needs met. In this case, either she feels like their relationship could change so that his needs are being met, or that she will feel the way she currently feels forever. In the former case, he is already doing all he can. In the latter case, they could discuss poly, openness, swinging, or sex workers as a way of perhaps helping him to feel fulfilled. In either case, this guy is far from a male chauvinist pig!

  35. Athenia
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    What bothers me is that the gf has seemingly compromised in the past (those first few years) and now is unwillingly to do so.
    I guess what my question would be…why is the gf staying in the relationship? How does she define intimacy? Would she be perfectly happy with the relationship if you guys weren’t married? Would she be better off if you guys were friends?

  36. ElleStar
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    I think Prof Foxy answer was great.
    I’d only add the idea of asking her to see a counselor. It could be couple’s counseling so that you could work through communication with one another so that you feel less rejected and she feels less pressured. Also, maybe suggest seeing a counselor so that she could talk through the issues surrounding sexual assault and the eating disorder. There are some feminist counselors out there that might help her a lot.
    She sounds like she’s truly suffering. She doesn’t have to try to work through it on her own. There are people out there who can help her. Maybe suggest a rape crisis hotline or shelter that can direct her to resources they’ve vetted and might help her. Good luck.

  37. TD
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    So wanting to be happy in a relationship and having certain desires for a romantic relationship is being selfish?
    The letter writer seems to be an example of the height of self sacrifice for the relationship. It is not unfair of him to expect that his partner take into consideration what he wants from the relationship.
    he assumes that his “need” for physical intimacy must be sated…he’s trying to figure out how to force his partner to conform to his desires.
    Why shouldn’t anyone be free to leave a relationship they are not happy in for any reason?

  38. Joe
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    It sounds like inneedofcuddles is in a friendship, not a marriage.

  39. Zenon Receives
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    I absolutely can’t agree.
    Everyone has his or her needs (it may differ, WHAT these individual needs are – but that does not depend on gender, necessarily).
    Why should the needs of the one partner be more/less relevant than the needs of the other?
    Of course also a relationship constitutes no claim, that one partner is committed to satisfy these certain needs. But both have to find a way, how to work it out, if one partner isn’t willing or able to do it.
    I myself wouldn’t have bear two MONTHS in a monogamous relationship without any physical interactions.
    A horrible idea!

  40. A female Marine
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    Paying someone? You are telling him to go use prostitutes because his wife isn’t giving him enough affection?? Wow.
    If, after talking, counseling, etc. don’t work, and there is no solution and no possibility, then he LEAVES her. And he finds someone who does give out and enjoy receiving affection.
    Suggesting subsituting a prostitute for a fulfulling relationship is disgusting.

  41. nattles_thing
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    So he’s supposed to martyr himself and stay in a sexless relationship because otherwise he’s sexist?
    Society tends to denigrate the sexual aspect of relationships, but it’s pretty important. A good sexual match makes a huge difference in both partner’s happiness.
    Of course his ideal is to be able to be physically intimate with his partner. He’s monogamous and he loves her. I don’t think that’s an unreasonable thing to want as long as he doesn’t pressure her into it, and he’s clearly trying very hard not to.
    I very much doubt that his partner is going to be okay with physical intimacy anytime soon, and they should either open up the relationship or break up.

  42. naomi1978
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    It sounds like you are not quite ready to end this relationship and are ready to work on it. Of course, she needs to try to work on it too.
    Please please please read Wendy Maltz’s Sexual Healing Journey and Staci Haines’ Healing Sex: A Mind-Body Approach to Healing Sexual Trauma.
    These are the only two books I know of that address heads on the issue of healing sexually from sexual abuse. I think it will help you understand better what you are dealing with. Also, ask her to at least start reading them. ALSO, go see a therapist together.
    I think if she sees that her reactions are normal, and that it’s something lots of people struggle with, perhaps she’ll be more open to working on it with you. However, to be completely honest, she may not be yet at the point where she’s ready to work on it. But I think learning more about sexual abuse and its effects will at the very least allow you to have a more informed conversation.
    Good luck!

  43. naomi1978
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    Why? Prof. Foxy is just expanding the conversation. I know an asexual & poly couple who have a wonderful relationship that way. I’m not saying that that’s the solution for the letter writer, but surely it’s legitimate to raise it as an option.

  44. Av0gadro
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    I want to address a specific point in your email, about cuddling and feeling pressured.
    I was your wife. Not all the time, but my sex drive is naturally lower than my husband’s, and for over a year after our first child was born, it hovered around zero. Partly hormones, partly exhaustion, partly that after breastfeeding, constantly holding a fussy child, and co-sleeping cuddled up to a baby, sex just felt like one more demand someone was making on my body. None of these feelings were wrong, but nor were they fair to my husband.
    I felt the same way your wife did – if he touched me, I immediately felt like he wanted to have sex. It was a little true – he always wanted to have sex because he hadn’t for a really long time. But he genuinely didn’t want to pressure me, it was my perception.
    That sets up a vicious cycle. The longer I went with no non-baby human contact, the less sex sounded appealing. The longer he went with no non-baby human contact, the more resentful and snappish and sharp he got. The more critical he was, the less I wanted sex with someone I wasn’t even sure liked me anymore.
    Communication helps. Starting by getting back non-sexual touching was the road to recovery for us. We literally had to say, “I need a hug, but I need you to not grope my ass when I come over there.” or “I’d like to cuddle on the couch, but I promise that’s all I want, and my hands won’t wander.” It was awkward and a little weird, but it helped.
    The professor might be right – you might not be able to sync up your sex drives, and there might not be a solution. But in my experience, even when we thought we were talking about the problem, we weren’t. Long conversations about what it meant for our relationship just left us both upset. Short comments on what we expected right now were the kind of communication we needed.
    We settled into having sex about once a week. I go through phases – sometimes sex twice a night sounds good for a week at a time, sometimes I go a month without wanting it. We still need to talk about it and be aware with what’s going on and what we both need. We’re expecting another baby in May, and we’ve definitely geared up for a big drop in my sex drive again. We’re hoping that if it’s not a surprise for either of us, it will be easier to get through. But it’s never going to be totally easy – we’re always going to have different sex drives, and we’re always going to have to be careful that we don’t stop communicating, and we’re always going to have to weigh all the good stuff about our marriage against the difficulty of keeping us both happy.
    Good luck. I definitely wouldn’t have blamed my husband for not sticking it out (although with a baby in the mix, he definitely had a lot of pressure to stay), but I’m eternally glad that we fixed it enough to stay together.

  45. Jessica
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    How is wanting physical intimacy and affection “selfish” or somehow displaying male privilege? I believe people can have wonderful relationships without being physical, but that has to be something that both partners find satisfying.
    You write that In Need is trying to “figure out how to force his partner to conform to his desires,” but I’d argue that it’s his partner who is putting him in the position of conforming to her desire for no physical intimacy. Now, In Need (or anyone, for that matter) can’t demand or expect physical attention when their partner has no desire for it obviously. But that doesn’t mean that he can’t explore other ways to have his needs met outside the relationship with his partner’s consent. A partnership is about both people feeling satisfied and happy, not one person giving up a significant aspect of their life (which In Need clearly feels it is) for the other.

  46. zuri
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    “Her loss of desire started about the time we started planning our wedding… and she claims that is the biggest part of the problem.”
    so maybe don’t have a weding?

  47. nattles_thing
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    I think the OP should seriously consider ending the relationship. His wife hasn’t touched him in two years and probably never will again, and his options are pretty much martyrdom, and open relationship, or a break-up.
    I don’t think the OP should allow the relationship to go on as it. It’s just going to make him unhappy. Yes, his wife has issues, but at this point I don’t really think she’s going to work through them. We trivialize sexual satisfaction so much, but it’s actually incredibly important to our happiness. I’ve dated men with lower sex drives than me, and it does make you feel frustrated and unwanted.
    Consider opening up the relationship. If the OP is okay with having his physical needs met elsewhere — and I kind of sense that he might not be — then this seems like the most likely compromise. She should understand that just because she has no more interest in sex doesn’t mean that his sex drive is also gone.
    And if neither of them can deal with that, they should end it already. Relationships don’t work unless both people are happy, and I don’t think these two can be happy together.

  48. Av0gadro
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    Look, I kind of get where you’re coming from here. A lot of the books about problems with sexual intimacy seem to offer as a solution that the partner with the lower sex drive should just suck it up and force the intimacy and the feeling will follow. That made me furious, resentful, and a lot less likely to want sex. Suck it up and put out is not the way to solve this problem.
    At the same time, I find the way you completely dismiss Cuddles needs to be heartless and reactionary. The reason this is such a sticky problem is that neither of them is wrong. It’s not wrong for Cuddles’ wife to not deal with intimacy when she has so many problems. It’s not wrong for Cuddles to crave contact and even sex with the woman he loves. The only thing wrong is that their needs don’t match. It doesn’t sound to me like Cuddles is interested in forcing his wife to do anything. It sounds to me like he’s hurt, feeling rejected, and unsure if he can stay in a relationship where his needs are always secondary because she does, after all, have bodily autonomy that he respects.
    It’s really easy to resent the person who wants more than you can give, but it’s important to remember that Cuddles isn’t wrong to feel how he feels. He can’t help wanting intimacy, and as long as he isn’t forcing his wife to do anything (through actual force, passive aggression, guilt, etc) then he’s not doing anything wrong or sexist.

  49. nattles_thing
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    He has an emotionally fulfilling relationship. It’s the physical that’s lacking.
    If his wife is okay with him going elsewhere, and he is okay with getting his needs met by a woman who isn’t his wife, than a prostitute might actually be a good solution.

  50. Amanda Marcotte
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    Dude. Being a good feminist doesn’t mean that you can’t have a relationship that meets your needs. When a behavior—any negative behavior—begins after a commitment is made, that means one thing. That this person feels you’re too invested in the relationship to give up, so they can drop the front and be their true selves. She got a commitment and unilaterally ended sexual and physical intimacy. She is probably never going to want to touch, much less fuck you again.
    Let me put it this way: If a woman was in a relationship with a guy who kept himself and his place clean, and did fun and interesting things with her, and the second they moved in together, he let himself go and never left the house, what would you think? Yep, that he was putting up a front in order to get the relationship, and now she’s throwing good money after bad. He’s not going to change. He’s showing his true colors.
    I don’t think your fiancee should have to have sex if she doesn’t want. That’s a legitimate lifestyle choice. But it’s not fair of her to inflict it on someone who wants a sexual relationship. You guys want different things,and should be with people who want what you want. But bad relationships are not made good with marriage.

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