“My Wife Isn’t Sexy Anymore” and What You Can Do About It

Laurie and Debbie say:

Your cousin Vito nails the glaring flaw in Dan Savage’s latest column.

The poor gentleman who wrote in is “royally depressed” because his wife has gotten fat (“let herself go”) and is no longer attractive. Savage has a predictably straighforward answer:

… start with complete honesty. It’s not that hard to say, “You have gotten fat and unattractive and my sex drive is nil, so can we do something about it before I bail on you?” My goodness! Whatever happened to being honest? Sit your partner down and tell her you love her in every way but you are not attracted to her due to her appearance. “You are out of shape and it’s killing our relationship” is a good place to start! Stress how much you care, bring up the health thing, and tell her you want her to live a long, happy life, but impress upon her that this is a problem that might lead you to leave.

Vito’s parody makes the key point, using Savage’s language:

… start with complete honesty. It’s not that hard to say, “You have gotten old and unattractive and my sex drive is nil, so can we do something about it before I bail on you?” My goodness! Whatever happened to being honest? Open communication means revealing your thoughts so the other person can take action. Which sometimes means saying, “Unless you find a way to reverse time and be the twentysomething I fell in love with, sweetie, I’m going to have a hard time being sexually excited about you.” The partner either starts looking into botox and experimental surgery, or they pick up their walker and limp on with their life.

‘Nuff said.

But it got us to thinking, nonetheless.

The canonical answer to the problems of “Hawt and Royally Depressed” is, actually, a good one. Start paying attention to what you do like about your wife; think about what hasn’t changed in the years when she’s gained weight. Do you like her laugh? Her sarcasm? Her way of buying treats for you? (If the advice comes from a sex columnist, it will include think about what you really like with that person in bed; most likely, that hasn’t changed, or hasn’t changed much.) Focus on those things, and your attraction will come back. It’s good advice, and it can work.

But here’s the thing no one ever tells you: you are not a slave to your attraction patterns. They can be changed. They were programmed into you in the first place, and you can work to reprogram them to suit yourself. (Before you ask, we are not saying, for example, that you can make yourself be heterosexual if you’re not, or learn to love your biogender. This is something different.)

Virtually always, the person who “just isn’t attracted” any more has completely accepted the young/thin/pretty ideal as the only sexually attractive one. Now, let’s see why people do that. Could it be because that is force-fed to all of us from a very young age (and the younger you are, the more TV you probably watched as a child, and the earlier the force-feeding started). By the time we reach puberty, we’ve already been taught what we’re supposed to like and respond to and, surprise! Our genitals behave accordingly.

So here’s what Dan Savage would never say: if you want to have a good sexual relationship with someone as s/he ages and changes shape, there are some very specific things you can do:

1) Really think about why and how you like/love that person and want them in your life. The great laugh and the way of buying you treats are the superficial version of this–we’re talking about a much deeper thing. What’s special about them? What would you miss if you never had sex with them again?

2) Look at pictures of people who look like that person. If you can find them, nudes are good. (We’re a resource.) Look a lot. If the pictures bother you in some way, turn away and then turn back and keep looking. If you are a porn reader or watcher, porn is good here.

Laurie's portrait of April Miller

3) Look at people in real life who look like that person. Don’t just glance at them and glance away because they’re not in your playbook. Look at them the way you look at people you find attractive. Think about what clothes you like on them, what style of movements look better to you.

4) Try inhabiting the other person’s body now and then. What does it feel like to be them? Walk like them, move like them, laugh like them.

Nothing changes overnight. This is a process. The programming goes deep, and it’s constantly being reinforced. But these steps help. A lot.

And they change the “blame the victim” mindset of Dan Savage and the “such a pretty face” mindset of the conventional advice into an approach that can actually make you like yourself more.

men, women, fat, aging, feminism, sexual attraction, sex, love, body image, Dan Savage, Body Impolitic