(Artwork: Tess Emily Rodriguez)
She’s made all the mistakes, so you don’t have to… Ask Erin is a weekly advice column, in which Erin answers your burning questions about anything at all.
Is it possible to enjoy sex again?
I’m afraid that I might be frigid.
I’m not yet 30, but my sex life is basically non-existent.I had one partner, during my sophomore year of college, with whom I had frequent, amazing sex with over the course of our brief relationship, but after he abruptly left me, I fell into a major depressive episode (not my first one), and my sex drive all but disappeared.
I have been in and out of therapy, and on and off of meds, ever since, but nothing ever really helps. My mental health always ends up worse than it was before, and I still have no libido.
I have gone on to have other relationships, and some one-night stands, but the sex has only ever been awkward at best and extremely painful at worst.
I’ve spent the better part of a decade making excuses and convincing myself that things with the next guy would be better, but it never happened that way. I recently went over two years without having sex at all, because it seemed so not worth it to continue trying to pursue anything romantic or sexual with anyone (especially after having gone through the worst breakup and worst resulting depression yet).
When I started dating again recently, I was hoping that I could finally figure things out, but I still don’t find the sex to be at all pleasurable unless there is a toy involved.
I’ve tried talking to doctors about it, only to be told that the fact that I can tolerate a pelvic exam and can technically have an orgasm means that there must not be anything wrong, so I just need to “relax.” I am also not currently on any medication, so that can’t be the problem, either.
It’s gotten to the point where I sincerely believe that it just isn’t physically possible to enjoy sex and that the experience I had with my first boyfriend was just some fluke of my (now long-gone) teenage hormones. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised at this point if someone told me that no one else actually likes it either, and it’s just this ruse we’ve all been keeping up because we’re all too ashamed to admit otherwise.
I just don’t know where to turn.
I feel like I’m defective and like every man I’ve been with has realized this and been disappointed by me.
I’m not currently in a relationship (and unlikely to ever be in one again), so I guess it shouldn’t really be a problem, but it still bothers me.
What can I even do?
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I hate that doctor for telling you that you just need to relax. Relaxing is a) not always easy if you have anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues and b) is not the answer to all medical problems.
Many people, of all genders, struggle with their sex drive or lack thereof. And the reasons for that can be physical, psychological, emotional, or a combination.
Do I think that there is likely an emotional component here? Yes. Do I think that you will have enjoyable sex again? Also, yes.
Since this has been an ongoing problem, I would first consult an endocrinologist. I am not a doctor, but I have known several people who have had thyroid conditions that were causing libido issues. It seems like a good place to start. And an ob-gyn is not as good at solving the mystery of hormones as an endocrinologist is.
Now, the depression factor. Just because you are not on medication does not mean that your depression is not affecting your libido. You don’t exactly say where things stand with your depression, other than you are not on medication. If you are still struggling with depression, I’d make treating it a priority. In my experience, my mental wellness has always been at the root of my satisfaction in all areas of life at any given moment.
There was something that you said in your email that stuck out to me: "I still don’t find the sex to be at all pleasurable unless there is a toy involved.”
This is key. You are finding pleasure when there is a toy involved. I would try an experiment. Commit to pleasuring yourself at least every other day for let’s say a month.
Take the pressure of sex off the table and focus on pleasuring yourself.
Explore the things that feel good, try out some new toys, read some erotica or watch some pornography (if that feels right for you). The point is to allow yourself to explore getting sexual without the pressure of another person there.
Also, make a commitment to engage in some sort of endorphin giving activity three times a week — a brisk walk or run, swimming, yoga, dancing, any physical activity that will get your heart rate up and release those much-needed endorphins. I know for myself that the more I do in the endorphin area, the more motivated I am to do the things that release endorphins. That includes all these types of activities… and sex.
A couple of other avenues to consider are alternative therapies — like acupuncture, reiki, meditation — or medications made specifically to target low libido.
I am confident that you will be able to do so. Don’t put the pressure on yourself to make it happen with a partner right now. Allow yourself some space to get into a groove with taking care of business yourself. And, I would double check hormone levels with an endocrinologist, just to rule that out.
The information within Ask Erin should in no way be interpreted as medical advice because I'm not a medical professional. But I am here to help — to share with you the wisdom I've gained after years of making mistakes. If you have a question for me about relationships, addiction, dating, friendship, depression, sex, consent, what I’m listening to, what I’m reading, Ametrine, or anything at all, use the contact form below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, your anonymity is golden. Lastly, I’m so excited to share my Ask Erin Self-Care Guide, free when you sign up for my weekly newsletter. xoxo