‘ My boyfriend has lost his li­bido’

The Irish Times Magazine - - ADVICE - ROE McDER­MOTT

Dear Roe, I’m in a re­la­tion­ship of just over three years and we have what would be con­sid­ered a sex­less re­la­tion­ship – we are in­ti­mate less than once a month. I know he has stress from work, and I un­der­stand that. The thing that up­sets me is that he’s been tak­ing pills for hair loss, and I’m quite sure that’s af­fect­ing his li­bido. He re­fuses to dis­cuss it and seems con­tent to con­tinue liv­ing this way. I can’t. At this point, any af­fec­tion would be nice. I don’t want to leave him but I’m very close to call­ing it off. I need to feel de­sired and loved. He says he loves me but will not budge on this. Be­lieve me, I’ve tried. It’s like talk­ing to a stone wall.

One thing that im­me­di­ately strikes me is that a re­la­tion­ship where you have sex once a month is not sex­less. You’re not hav­ing as much sex as you’d like, but that’s dif­fer­ent. There are many peo­ple who write into me af­ter not be­ing touched for years who would love to have sex once a month, or even less.

I un­der­stand that you’re not happy or feel­ing loved or ful­filled, and that is im­por­tant and not sus­tain­able for a healthy re­la­tion­ship, and needs to be ad­dressed. But I fear your dis­sat­is­fac­tion is hin­der­ing your abil­ity to see the en­tire sit­u­a­tion clearly. Be­cause you’re not just min­imis­ing the sex you are hav­ing, you’re also min­imis­ing some very big rea­sons that are con­tribut­ing to the lack of in­ti­macy in your re­la­tion­ship.

For ex­am­ple, you say that you’re sure your part­ner is tak­ing pills for hair loss, and that’s af­fect­ing his li­bido. They might be, and this is a con­ver­sa­tion he needs to have with his doc­tor. To the best of my knowl­edge, there is only one medicine li­censed to treat male- pat­tern bald­ness in Ire­land, which is a lo­tion. So it could be that the pills he’s tak­ing have not been pre­scribed, or have been rec­om­mended be­cause his hair loss has a dif­fer­ent cause, like alope­cia or stress. It’s worth you talk­ing to him about the med­i­ca­tion he is tak­ing, and mak­ing sure it is safe and the best op­tion for him, health- wise.

But the pills are not the only is­sue here – nor is their ef­fect on your sex life the most press­ing is­sue with them.

It’s im­por­tant to ac­knowl­edge the ef­fect hair loss is hav­ing on your part­ner, not just your sex life. What­ever the cause of his hair loss, it is ob­vi­ously wor­ry­ing him and af­fect­ing his con­fi­dence.

Feel­ing out of con­trol of your body and not feel­ing at­trac­tive can be a truly un­nerv­ing and anx­i­ety- filled ex­pe­ri­ence for peo­ple. It’s im­por­tant to talk about this ex­pe­ri­ence with him, both to ac­knowl­edge his feel­ings and to ex­plore whether this stress and self- im­age prob­lem could also be con­tribut­ing to his emo­tional and phys­i­cal with­drawal from you.

By fo­cus­ing solely on the pills he is tak­ing and blam­ing them for the lack of reg­u­lar sex in your life, you’re over­look­ing both the com­plex­ity of your part­ner’s ex­pe­ri­ence of hair loss, and the other con­cern­ing is­sues that could well be con­tribut­ing to the drop in his li­bido.

You men­tion that your part­ner ex­pe­ri­ences stress at work. Stress can be a huge fac­tor in af­fect­ing peo­ple’s sex drive, so it would be worth speak­ing about this too, to see if your part­ner needs any ex­tra emo­tional sup­port, or if he has con­sid­ered tak­ing any mea­sures to try tackle his stress lev­els, such as ex­er­cise, ther­apy, per­haps he needs to dis­cuss anti- anx­i­ety med­i­ca­tion with his GP, or just in­dulging in some re­lax­ing self- care.

You also men­tion that there’s a lack of any af­fec­tion in your re­la­tion­ship. That is not just a symp­tom of a di­min­ished sex drive, but a break­down in com­mu­ni­ca­tion and con­nec­tion be­tween both of you, and of course that could also be im­pact­ing your sex life.

You and your part­ner need to fo­cus on im­prov­ing your ver­bal and emo­tional com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and build­ing that back up to a level where both of you feel heard and un­der­stood and ap­pre­ci­ated. This needs to be the pri­or­ity so that any fu­ture dis­cus­sion you have about your sex life hap­pens on a solid foun­da­tion of trust, care and em­pa­thy.

When some­one is stressed or anx­ious or feel­ing dis­con­nected from their part­ner, fo­cus­ing on a low li­bido in­stead of ad­dress­ing the root cause won’t help – in fact, it will of­ten just re­sult in more anx­i­ety as sex it­self be­comes a source of con­flict and pres­sure.

So start by ex­press­ing to your part­ner that you are feel­ing dis­con­nected, and would like to rec­tify that.

Tell him that you are feel­ing ne­glected and unloved and that this is no longer a sus­tain­able way of liv­ing for you. But ini­tially, try to fo­cus on the non- sex­ual ways your part­ner could make you feel seen and wanted. This could in­clude spend­ing qual­ity time to­gether, hav­ing more in- depth con­ver­sa­tions about your lives and emo­tions, and be­ing phys­i­cally af­fec­tion­ate. Ask him what would make him feel more ap­pre­ci­ated and con­nected. Then ask him how he feels about the amount of sex you’re hav­ing, to make sure that he is ac­tively in­ter­ested in hav­ing more sex in the fu­ture, and if he has any thoughts on how to deal with this.

Hope­fully you get to a place where you’re emo­tion­ally and sex­u­ally sat­is­fied. But that will only hap­pen if you fo­cus on im­prov­ing your re­la­tion­ship as a whole, not just your sex life. Don’t ig­nore the woods be­cause of some pill- shaped trees.

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You’re over­look­ing both com­plex­ity of your part­ner’s ex­pe­ri­ence of hair loss, and the other con­cern­ing is­sues that could well be con­tribut­ing to the drop in his li­bido

PHO­TO­GRAPH: GETTY IM­AGES

■ “I need to feel de­sired and loved.”

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