Sex Therapy

Self Portrait with Skeleton Marina Abramovic 2003
Marina Abramovic, Self Portrait with Skeleton, 2003

HER: What happens when swingers lose the desire to have sex?

HIM: Not much swinging.

HER: Nope. Or much of anything in the bedroom. This has been our reality for the past several months.

HIM: Anyone who has followed us recently has heard about my back issues, which began five months ago. Two seriously herniated disks meant I couldn’t move, let alone have sex, for quite a while. Treatment has included an epidural procedure and taking nerve blockers, both of which have helped my pain, but apparently not my cock.

HER: It took us a while to make the connection between your lack of libido and these medical issues, which may seem stupid. Once the critical phase of the pain passed, I guess we both just assumed our sex life would return to normal. But it didn’t. We went from sex five times a week to about once a week.

HIM: It’s frankly alarming for a man when you see a boob and it’s erotically indistinguishable from an elbow. When your beautiful wife says, “I’ll do anything you want,” and you can’t actually think of anything that would turn you on, you feel a deep sense of panic. But I wasn’t the only one who was struggling to get sexually motivated. You seemed very content to trade sex for sleep. Am I wrong?

HER: Not at all. This long, brutal winter has sucked the life out of me. I think I suffer from a little bit of Seasonal Affective Disorder. The dark and cold bum me out. And you’ve been distracted by work, which has been more intense this year than any in our eight years together. So, between my exhaustion and our emotional disconnect, I just wasn’t feeling it either. It was easy to skip sex.

HIM: As the weeks went on, I began to worry. Yes, the injury and the work obsession seem like logical factors, but you have to understand what it’s like to be a man. Almost all of us guys can look back at a time we’ve been awake for 24 hours, say, or have been extremely intoxicated, or suffered a broken bone, and we performed like a champ. I remember hearing Howard Stern saying once that a man could lose his wife and child in a car accident, but if a pretty nurse flirted with him on the way out of the hospital he’d gladly fuck her in a closet and consider it the luckiest day of his life.

HER: That’s revolting.

HIM: You’re right, it is. And he’s mainly exaggerating. But every man intuitively understands the grain of truth in the joke.

HER: That men are morally bankrupt when sex is involved?

HIM: Um, no, I think evolution has so strongly wired the sex drive into the male psyche that almost nothing can defeat it. That’s kind of what it takes to guarantee the survival of the species, and that’s the backdrop to my thinking about what was going on. Yes, we could both come up with solid excuses, but nothing is supposed to stop this superpower. So I was looking far and wide for some kind of answer that made sense.

HER: And by “far and wide,” you mean the internet?

HIM: Yes. The first challenge was sorting through all the junk that comes up when you google the words  ‘male,’  ‘libido,’ and ‘problem’ together. Most of the proposed offerings seem to confuse sexual desire with sexual performance. Erectile dysfunction is not a libido problem. It’s possible to have a strong desire for sex but a cock that just won’t cooperate. Or conversely, you might be able to easily have an erection if you could just find something — anything — arousing. As far as I could tell, my problem was with desire. Sex is ridiculously complex, like almost everything about human beings, so I was looking for a solution that acknowledged that.   

My online search eventually produced an answer that seemed promising: a sensual massage therapist who used a combination of talk and touch therapy to help both men and women reconnect with their sexuality. She specialized in men with libido or erection problems. Her website highlighted a glowing review from a client whose story sounded so much like mine it was uncanny. It’s very powerful when you feel like you’ve found someone who’s been through what you’ve been through and come out the other side, so I emailed her right away for an appointment.

HER: Ok, let’s just clarify something first. All this happened without my input. I heard about it when you messaged me from New York, where you were away on business, telling me that you were going to go see this woman. Not asking: telling. I was a little caught off guard. This wasn’t just your issue, it was our issue, our relationship. I suggested that we should wait and have a conversation about it when you got home, but you were anxious to get an appointment that week because we had lifestyle plans the following weekend.

HIM: I guess that’s me: I see a potential solution to a problem, and I run in that direction, especially when the problem is sexual. It didn’t really cross my mind that you would object.

HER: That’s a little crazy. You were essentially going to a high-class rub and tug, and you thought I might NOT want a say in that decision?

From ‘the sensualist’s’ web site: “[Male sensual massage] is not the same as going to a provider for release, it is an integrated physically and mentally healthy experience. The goal of this is not ejaculation, but to enjoy every moment of pleasure leading up to it, and indeed feel more pleasure than you would ordinarily be capable of feeling. This massage is time for you to relax and receive fully.”

HIM: Your honour, I object to the characterization of this therapeutic protocol as a “high class rub and tug.” She was very clear on the website that, while she would be touching me in any way that her experience and training suggested, I would not, under any circumstances, be touching her. Given our experience, I honestly don’t know what the problem was. Didn’t you trust me?

HER: Are you kidding? You don’t know what the problem was? This wasn’t just a trust issue (although, massage parlors were your first step toward cheating on your ex wife after years of sexual dissatisfaction. So, yeah, I couldn’t help but draw parallels). At it’s core, though, it was a consent issue. I was feeling uneasy about the whole thing and you didn’t once ask my permission. But I tried to be accommodating. I suggested that maybe I should come along. Perhaps your first therapy session could be with me there. Maybe she could even give me some tips about how to arouse you. If I was comfortable with her, then you could go alone the next time. After all, a fundamental pillar of our swinging success is that we each get veto power. But you went ahead and booked an appointment for a time when you knew I would be at work.

HIM: Hey, that makes it sound sneaky. There were practical considerations about rush hour traffic that made an early afternoon appointment more sensible. I wasn’t trying to do something behind your back, but I did feel like this was more of a personal problem than a couple problem. To be honest, I thought that if you were there I might be more tuned into your responses than my own, even if just unconsciously.

HER: So, you went later that week. My discomfort hadn’t gone away, but I kept telling myself that it was going to be like any other therapy. Odds were, you’d just talk the first time, then decide whether you wanted to go back for the next step. So when you came home I was anxious to hear how it went.

HIM: When I arrived at her home, she was in a comfortable t-shirt dress. We talked, fully clothed, for about an hour. She asked about my sexual history, and about the circumstances that led me to her. Then she asked me to get undressed and lie on her massage table.

HER: This all sounded non-threatening until you said she took her dress off.

HIM: To be precise, while she did take her dress off, she left her bra and panties on. She started by massaging my back and sharing her theories about sexual desire and connection. Nothing controversial, or particularly insightful, there. Then she had me turn over. At that point she got up on the table, straddling it while sitting upright, and she positioned my legs over hers.

HER: So she was sitting between your legs rubbing your cock. This is the point in the story where my gut started to clench.

HIM: She stroked me while she did what I can only describe as a kind of guided meditation about various sexual experiences and possibilities.

HER: What do you mean?

HIM: Well, for example, she asked me to picture a time in my life when I was very aroused but couldn’t do anything about it. Just various scenarios like that. While I did get hard, I didn’t find it very arousing. Orgasm seemed miles away, and I found myself trying to will one. That fear I had of somehow short-circuiting the therapeutic potential of her approach by performing for you turned into performing for her. After about 40 minutes of her stroking me, I finally came.

HER: Fuck, fuck, fuck.

HIM: Baby, it was not very sexy. The fact that it took a 40 minute handjob and all the powers of concentration I could muster just to have an orgasm made me feel like a loser.

HER: Really? You didn’t say that at the time. I’m sorry. That sucks. But in the moment, as you told the story, I wasn’t thinking sexy or not sexy. I was picturing the very intimate scene you described, imagining you coming on this woman’s hands after not coming in me for over a week, and I was trying not to hyperventilate. I let you finish the story, then I excused myself to go upstairs. Where I promptly had an anxiety attack.

As I struggled for breath, my mind raced: What is my problem? I let him sleep with other women. If what he described happened with one of our friends, I’d celebrate with him. Why is this different? Why am I freaking out? After I calmed down, I was able to come back downstairs and enumerate my issues:

1. After months of sexual and emotional disconnection, we weren’t coming into this from a position of strength. I was feeling a little insecure about my ability to meet your sexual needs. So, the fact that this stranger could do something I couldn’t do shook me a little more than it might have if we were in a good place sexually. I was hurt that she turned you on and I didn’t.

2. I wasn’t there. In the past, my jealousy/insecurity trigger has always been when you did something I wasn’t privy to. We’ve talked about that both in Finally, Our First Full-Swap and Nude Pool Party. The part of me that needs to feel ‘in control’ to feel safe wants to be able to see the dynamic between you and the other woman to prevent my imagination from running wild.

3. This was a unilateral decision made by you. Even when I expressed some concern, you were not willing to take no for an answer. I felt like my feelings were ignored and you were selfishly plowing over me to get what you wanted.

HIM: I get what you’re saying, and I know that pattern isn’t just isolated to this situation. I’ve done this before. I’m a sceptical person by nature, but when I get convinced that something is worth pursuing, it’s hard to stop me. Sometimes that’s a good thing, like it was when I started my business, but I need to do a better job overall of listening to your concerns. That’s not just about being a better husband. Part of what I love about you is that you’re super smart, and I’m generally going to make better decisions if I slow down a bit and get your input. There are definitely times when moving fast is an advantage — the classic ‘better to apologize than ask for permission’ scenario — but this was not one of them.

HER: So after all that, was your little experiment worthwhile?

HIM: No, except in the sense that at least I knocked that approach off the list of possible solutions. In fairness to her, maybe if I visited once a month for a year I might find that a miraculous transformation would take place. But as human beings, we’re always guessing about where to invest our money and energy. Mainly that means sticking a toe in a promising stream and making a quick judgment.

HER: And look at us: you’re weaning yourself off the nerve blockers and things are slowly returning to normal. We just had really good sex two nights in a row. So maybe we both needed to trust your body and mind to work it out rather than panicking.

HIM: It’s funny how it turned out to be about trust, but not in the way we might have expected.


  1. Kelly says:

    I want to tell you how intense it is to see something in print that you hardly dare to tell yourself. It is liberating, it feels like a beautiful release and a solidarity with you both, and humanity. Pleaae don’t ever doubt the good you are doing. You show vulnerability, and all I see is strength.

    1. Him and Her says:

      Thank you so much for your sweet and generous words, Kelly. We try, above all, to be honest when we write. This isn’t going to be a helpful resource if we just tell the fun and sexy stories. There are, of course, plenty of those to tell, but there are struggles too. It’s all part of the journey!

    2. Allen says:

      I second Kelly’s applause. This meant a lot to me, too.

      1. Him and Her says:

        Thank you so much!

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