I’m in a pattern with my partner that’s totally one-sided. What should I do?

Dear Bear,

I’ve been married for a long time, and I have a sex problem. We only have sex that involves me pleasuring her, and then… nothing (sometimes she rubs my feet). After asking suggesting scenarios where she might pleasure me, trying to be patient (16 years worth of patient), I don’t know what else I could try. Then I asked her if I could find another partner. But where does a very fat, 70yo woman with a bad cough and not a lot of money find a lover? I’m terrified of getting caught up in something sleazy, and the only person I know who rings my bells does not, she says, ever ever ever get with a married person, and my wife won’t give me any satisfaction. So now what?

Dear Brave Correspondent,

Whew. That’s hard. I have some ideas and some thoughts besides but before I get going I just want to say that yes, this is a problem and that yes, you have every right to all your hard feelings about it, and to make things better for yourself if your partner isn’t able to or willing to participate in a solution. Sex drives are sometimes unequal within relationships, and there are a variety if way to address that. This seems a bit different though, in that the issue isn’t frequency of sex but that your needs aren’t getting met. Sexual pleasure is important for wellness, and while your partner(s) must of course make their own decisions about how or whether they participate in it you still have every right to want (and have!) pleasure regardless of your age, size, ability, &c.

Relationships rise and fall on their internal agreements. Any relationship can make any agreement, basically; they’re all valid as long as they’re mutually agreed upon and un-coerced. This is how polyamory works (and also why it’s possible to cheat within a poly relationship) but it’s also how a ton of other things work, including who does the dishes and who deals with the bugs and who gets the corner pieces of the brownies and on and on. Sometimes, a person in a relationship breaks a discussed or settled agreement, and then the other person/people have to figure out how they feel about it.

Other times, agreements are assumed or unspoken, and those can be the more difficult ones to wade through a breach of. What you have now is a very very long pattern that you top and she bottoms. You may have started out okay with this for whatever reason – thinking it would shift over time, that she’d gain confidence, that you could teach her skills, that she’d get more interested. What I have learned in my time as an advice guy is this: patterns become de facto agreements easily. It’s so common that early relationship patterns continue and deepen, much rarer that they spontaneously lift. In times of relationship uncertainty or strife, people are much more likely to dig in and follow the known/expected rather than try something new on their own, because when things feel scary many of us reach for the familiar until it’s crystal fucking clear that the old way HAS to go. In order to break this pattern with your partner, Brave Correspondent, you’ll need mutual agreement that it’s time to break it and some honest, calm, difficult effort from both.

Before you start, I need to say: it may be that no amount of inviting or encouraging will work here; that your partner just doesn’t want to top. Ever. That’s a hard boundary to acknowledge but it’s how some people roll. Respecting other people’s sexual boundaries is an absolutely critical piece of sexual freedom. Maybe she doesn’t feel comfortable and doesn’t know why and no amount of gentle curiosity or lascivious inviting will inspire her. That’s where an additional partner with whom you can bottom sometimes/regularly/always becomes a really excellent plan. Let’s explore both.

So my first question is, what kind of suggestions are you making about what she might do to pleasure you? One thing you might do is make a direct and unmistakable request, with supporting options. That looks like saying “Listen, I really want to be able to have more kinds of sexual intimacy with you, including the kind where I get to come. I want to look through this book/magazine/video series and pick one thing to try and see how it goes. We might fumble around but I still want to give it a chance. Will you do this with me?” Then hand over a copy of Girl Sex 101 or cue up some Crash Pad Series videos or order Best Lesbian Erotica and pick something you like. Give some reassurance that you’re looking for inspiration in the smut, not trying to order a stroke-for-stroke re-enactment, but also be clear that the “happy ending” in this story should be for you this time.

It’s also possible that she’s internalized an idea of you being unwilling or uninterested about being touched. You don’t say much about the history of this pattern but your mention of your cough makes me wonder if you’ve had chronic pain or other illness that has meant periods of you being Not Interested in sex. Maybe she’s stuck in that idea, and needs you to say “Hi, I won’t break, let’s try this and I’ll tell you if I need a minute.” Are there things about your gender that have shifted in ways she doesn’t know how to deal with? I hear all the time from butch and transmasc folks that they’re EXHAUSTED by the cultural idea that we’re all stone when some of us are (more than) happy to work with what we’ve got, especially if our partners will be thoughtful about the details. Is there something else at play?

For sure these are hard conversations to have. But sometimes we have to just get over the hump if we want to, er, be doing more humping.

The truth is that people of any age or embodiment can and should and do find sex partners and sexual pleasure and so can you. That’s not to minimize that it’s harder for some of us than for others to attract attention, but that doesn’t mean it’s harder to keep it. You may not be the one people at the bar flock to, but so what? You can still be in the mix. Perhaps it’s time to go where the other 70-year-old queers (and their admirers) are hanging out. All-ages gay dances, lectures and panels at the local university, meetings or events for SAGE, seniors drop-in time at the LGBT center, and so on – generally, go where there will be people who like things you like. I’d bet money you’ll find other people in your age group looking for Ms. Right Now for some hanky panky that might be more to your tastes. You might even dip your toes into the world of online dating, where (I have learned) there are plenty of older people of various genders wondering how in the world to meet someone new to have some fun with.

You are going to have to be open to the idea that people will be enthusiastic about you, though. I have sabotaged more than one nice potential situation by talking myself out of the idea that a person could be interested in me – fat, trans, nerdy, whatever – and ruined what could have been a great time. Don’t be like me. Wear what makes you feel fancy, talk to everyone you meet, accept every invitation that seems interesting – of course people want your company, why wouldn’t they? Part of what’s hard for people who aren’t commercially attractive in finding lovers or playmates is that we self-sabotage. We refuse to believe people are flirting with us. Please try to find ways to let that news filter in.

Also, please, don’t discount people younger than you who might be keen as hell to have a good time together. I can think of quite a few delicious queers well into their AARP memberships that I would happily have a tumble with, some of whom are 20 to 30 years older than me – so what? My lovers who have been older have been some of the most breathtaking sexual experiences of my life. Just because you’re not your own type doesn’t mean you’re not other people’s exact fantasy come to life.

(also, not for nothing, queers are really good checker-inners, generally. We want to know about your food restrictions and your mobility issues and what you like to call your entertainment center and if you need a break to get a hit off your inhaler just say so. If you need to stop and cough for a hot second I don’t think that’s going to be a dealbreaker at all.)

I have this question, too: what do you mean about “getting caught up in something sleazy?” It seems to me like a little honest sleaze may be exactly what this situation calls for. Are you worried about being taken advantage of in some way? Are you worried about heartbreak or sexually transmitted infections or what the other people in your social circle might think? Some understanding about what exactly you don’t want will help you here. But please don’t discount the idea of a hot hookup with a relative stranger just because you think it’s “not nice.” Go ahead and be a little naughty, Brave Correspondent. Don’t cross your own moral or ethical boundaries, but… maybe a few of the social norms about “respectability” or “long-term relationships” can be sent to the corner store with five dollars to get an ice cream cone and encouraged to take their time about getting back.

You should get to be having the kind of sexual pleasure that you want, Brave Correspondent, at least some of the time. Relationships and sex within them can ebb and flow as people need time to work or to heal or to parent or whatever, and sometimes people have dry spells but 16 years is less a dry spell and more a drought. The wellness of your ecosystem is being impacted now. Take some of that patience and good spirit you have offered your partner for the last decade and a half and offer it to yourself – encourage yourself to have what you need, be tender and patient with yourself, certainly pleasure yourself if you’re into that, and see what you can grow in your own garden with a little wetness.

love and courage,

Bear

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