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A Sex Guide for Couples With a Depressed Partner

The latest installment of our series The ‘Normal’ Couples’ Guide to Sex

Not ecstatic about your current sex life? Don’t have hours every day attempting to decipher all of the sanskrit in the Kama Sutra? Unable to bankroll a shopping spree (or a single purchase for that matter) at Jimmyjane? Here’s a sex help guide for you, fellow regular human who wants to be better in bed.

The Person

Shelby, Chicago, IL
Goal: To keep sex alive in a relationship with a depressed partner.

The Sex Situation: “I’m a woman in my late 20s who’s in a relationship with a guy about the same age,” Shelby tells us. “We’ve been together for a while and have always had great sex, but the past few months we haven’t been doing it as much.”

The Obstacle: “We’re both starting to think he’s depressed. He’s been out of work for a while, and I’ve been paying most of the bills, which makes him feel bad. He can hardly get out of bed in the morning. He’s moody. Never mean or abusive or anything, just really sensitive and easily upset.”

What She’s Tried: “I suggested therapy, but he’s had bad experiences with psychiatrists and medication in the past. He doesn’t trust that system. I let him talk to me about his feelings when he wants, but I don’t want to make our relationship about me being his therapist!

“But now, we hardly have sex. I don’t want to push him or make him feel pressured. But I also want him to know that I think he’s sexy, which could be an ego boost. I try to tell him that sometimes, in a no-pressure way, but I don’t know if it helps.

The Goal: “Basically, I want to have more sex. It’s important to me since it keeps our bond strong. But if he can’t even get out of bed, what do I do? I don’t know what’s right and what’s wrong here. We don’t have much money to spend on therapists or vacations, so I’m wondering what I can do to help him.”

The Plan

Understand That Sex Is Complex: “Sex is such a complicated playing field,” says Naada Bracey, a sex therapist in New Zealand who specializes in low desire. “Our bodies and heads are deeply interconnected. What we think and feel and our lifestyle choices and histories are all encoded in our bodies and manifest in the sexual realm.

“Bravo that you value the importance of sexual connection: Keep that alive in the relationship. But also remember it’s normal for desire to come and go at various times in relationships and in our life cycle.”

Don’t Push It: “Your hunch is correct that pressure will be counterproductive to feeling sexy. It’s one of the great passion-killers. Depression (and the drugs used to treat it) can also lead to low sex drive. Financial stress, role changes and low self-esteem all do the same, too.

“[Your] best bet then is to approach this comprehensively through the right assessment, and later, potentially medication, therapy, support from friends, good exercise and eating. After that, you can address the sexual issues — or only once he regains a sense of himself.”

Enlist Help: “It sounds like your partner has historic issues with mental health and a lack of trust in treating professionals, which is a shame. Although solving this problem is possible, the bad news is it’s unlikely to change without a healthy dose of research and professional support. I suggest you try and access some low-cost or free therapeutic support in your area. Often, university psychology departments or sex therapy training centers can provide this. Make some enquiries, explore and read widely.”

Communicate!: “Most of all, keeping open lines of communication with your partner is vital. Couples who talk to each other about sex have the most satisfying sex lives. When desire disappears or wanes, our task is to identify what makes us feel sexy and to reclaim that. That, however, can take careful self-reflection and couples communication.”

Take the Pressure Off: “While life is rather stressful for him, I wonder how delicious it might be for him to be sexually pampered with no performance pressure or need to please? Can you set the stage for him, and then indulge in some erotic cock worship? Lubricate, touch gently and allow him to ride waves of pleasure. Take a page out of Tantra’s book of Lingam Massage and know that ejaculation doesn’t always have to be the ultimate aim. Give him affirmations about turn-ons. There’s no right or wrong. Just experiment and enjoy!”

Go Wild: “What do you know about his kinks and desires? There are smorgasbords of ways to reinvigorate your sex life. Scan your memory for things he has said, past mind-blowing sexual experiences or unfulfilled desires.

“Check that he’s willing, then plan a sex-fest! First, tease him with what may be coming. Make yourself feel sexy — lingerie, a hot bath, pervy thoughts, whatever works for you. Lock the doors, turn off electronic media, get supplies and play. The endorphin results may just give his neurochemistry the boost it requires to put sex back on high rotation.”

The Reaction

Do You Think Your Partner Will Agree to Getting Therapy?: “I know professional help is the best option, and I want to help him find resources that work for him,” Shelby says. “It’ll probably be tough, though. Maybe I’ll look for a support group for me so I can get some tips from others who have been in similar situations. I’ll also research low-cost therapy options in our area so I can have some suggestions ready for him.”

Will You Be Able to Talk About All of This Advice with Him?: “I’m really glad Naada pointed out the importance of open communication. So far, we’ve tended to clam up about it unless things are really bad, because it’s unpleasant to talk about. But the more we talk about it, the easier it should be to talk more, right?”

How Much Do You Think His Sense of Masculinity —and How His Current Financial Situation Ties Into That — Affects All This?: “We’re generally one of those super-progressive, no-gender-roles couples, but we both grew up in a society that says guys should support women. I don’t know what to do to make him feel better, though. I’ll try to keep being honest and communicative, but without guilting him about it, I guess.”

How Do You Feel About “Cock Worship?” “This sounds like so much fun!” says Shelby. “He’s usually very concerned about mutual pleasure, so he doesn’t often let me just please him, but I’d love to give him a treat that shows him how worthy he is of pleasure.”

And the, Uh, “Sex-Fest?” “If the ‘cock worship’ goes well and his engine seems to be purring, a sex-fest will be next on my to-do list! I’ve been so busy with work that it’s been difficult to plan things like that, but after reading Naada’s advice, I feel like it’s important that I make this happen. It’ll be fun, too. A win-win!”