Reader Question: How Do I NOT Feel Guilty for Wanting Sex?

by | Dec 10, 2018 | Libido | 25 comments

How do you deal with differing levels of libido in marriage? How to overcome guilty feelings in bed.
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What do you do if you want sex–and your spouse doesn’t? How do you NOT feel guilty for wanting sex?

Reader Question: How do you not feel guilty for wanting sex when your spouse doesn't?Every Monday I like to try to take a stab at answering a reader question. Sometimes I’ll do it in video form (I hope to do one next week in video!), but this is one I haven’t answered before, so I wanted to do it in written form since I don’t have as many other posts to link to.
I’ve got a husband writing in saying that he’s feeling guilty for wanting sex, when his wife obviously doesn’t. He writes:

Reader Question

I received the libido course email blast titled “What happens when you stop feeling guilty for not wanting sex?” And it stirred a feelings of a dilemma I face with my wife, which is feeling guilty FOR wanting sex. I imagine that this is a topic you’ve addressed, be it on your speaking tours or on the blog, as I’d be surprised if I’m alone in grappling with these feelings, but there are times where I do feel guilty for feeling desirous toward my wife because our drives are so different. Many times I feel that she perceives my overtures more bothersome than complimentary, and it takes a lot of effort and energy for me to muster the courage to make the first move. Any insight or guidance you can offer is appreciated.

This is such a common phenomenon: the high drive spouse (usually the husband, but not always) wants sex, but their spouse seems to always see it as a bother, which makes the high drive spouse feel like there’s something wrong with them, or they’re somehow being wrong for wanting sex. More often than not, after a decade or two of this, often a spouse just stops initiating altogether, which often leads to even more problems in marriage.
So let’s talk about it!

You shouldn’t feel guilty for sexual feelings for your spouse

God designed us to want to connect sexually. Sex is not just physical; as I explained in The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, it’s also highly emotional and spiritual, too. God created us to feel oneness in all three ways when we connect sexually, and that desire is a good thing. It means that you are open to intimacy. I explain how to talk about sexual needs in a healthy way here, and how to raise this topic of conversation with a wife who just doesn’t “get” your need for sex. Now, sex should be mutual, and should be about your wife feeling pleasure, too. But sex is a good thing.

God designed sex to be a frequent part of marriage

And sex is supposed to be fairly frequent and regular.

1 Corinthians 7:3-5

The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

(I explain the meaning of 1 Corinthians 7:3-5–the Do Not Deprive verses–too. Wanting sex a few times a week is not unreasonable.

When you’re the high drive spouse, you have very little “power” in this area of the marriage.

In almost every human interaction, the person who cares less has more power. In an early romantic relationship, the person who isn’t as invested has more power than the person who is infatuated. And with sex, the person who wants it least basically controls how often you have sex. And so the lower drive spouse often ends up having the power in the bedroom. That’s why the low drive spouse is often called the “gatekeeper”. They decide how often sex takes place.
This power dynamic isn’t really healthy; but it tends to be what happens regardless.

To the low-drive spouse: You need to be willing to give up some of that power.

Your spouse’s needs matter! And talking specifically to lower drive wives, here, if you have no libido, you’re missing out on a lot. Your husband is feeling distant from you, and your relationship is lacking an essential ingredient of intimacy that would make you feel close regardless. But you’re also missing out on something which is supposed to be amazing for you, too! Sex really isn’t only for your husband. Sex was created for both of you.
I felt guilty for the first part of my marriage because I knew that Keith needed and wanted sex, and I just wasn’t into it. And so I always felt like I wasn’t good enough. And I felt like if sex weren’t a part of our relationship, we’d get along so much better! Sex was all we ever fought about, and so it seemed to be the culprit. But I had to learn that I didn’t just need to make love more so Keith could be happy; I needed to learn to make love more so that our marriage could be stronger in every way. And that meant that I needed to understand that our sex life wasn’t only about what I wanted; it was about us, together. I had to willingly give over some of that power. And it worked! Now, I did that in conjunction with figuring out how to make sex feel much better, and with growing our relationship in other ways, too, but me realizing that sex was not the problem was a big breakthrough for me. I needed to stop seeing sex as the issue, and starting to see sex as the solution to many of the things that were driving us apart. It meant finding some humility, but it was so worth it!
If you’re struggling with this, I really do get it. I’ve honestly been there. But I just want to reassure you that things can get better. Check out these resources for more help:

To the high-drive spouse: You need to be willing to push through towards health for both of you.

We’re talking about boundaries this month, and how to figure out what’s in your area of responsibility and control and what is not.
Acting in a Christlike manner does mean that we are to serve our spouse, and love them above all else. Where things get murky, though, is understanding what “loving your spouse” means. We often believe that loving our spouse means doing what our spouse wants and making life easy for them. However, God loves us, right? And is His main aim for us to do what we want and make life easy for us? Or is His aim for us to refine us into the likeness of Jesus Christ?
If your spouse is missing out on a significant part of life that God designed them for, and is running away from intimacy, the way to love your spouse isn’t to make this rejection of intimacy easy for them. The way to love your spouse is to show them what they are doing and lead them towards greater intimacy. 
Let’s dig a little deeper: the reason you’re feeling guilty is because you feel as if your sexual desires are causing your wife discomfort and are hurting your marriage. 
But what if that’s not the case?
What if your WIFE’S lack of sexual desire is causing YOU discomfort, and your wife’s lack of desire for intimacy is what is hurting the marriage?
We feel guilty for many things in life, but not all the guilt is justified. And often we take on the guilt for friction in a relationship that someone else is actually causing because we don’t want that friction, and since we can’t change what the other person is doing, we assume that the only way to reduce that friction is to change what we are doing. But when the thing that we are doing is simply a natural human drive–well, you can’t really change that.
Identify the source of the guilty feeling you’re experiencing. Is it that you are feeling and asking something unreasonable? Or is it that you actually have a normal, healthy drive, and your wife’s (or your husband’s) response is to put you on the hot seat for that? Is it that you are trying to reduce conflict and “be loving”, but in the meantime, are you being driven further apart?
Now, some give and take is necessary here. Expecting a spouse to have sex everyday is unreasonable. Expecting your spouse to have sex when he or she is sick or exhausted, or right after a baby, or in the middle of grieving, is similarly a time when grace needs to be given. But expecting that sex will be a regular–and fun!–part of your marriage is not, on the whole, unreasonable at all.

How to take responsibility for the RIGHT things when it comes to your sexual relationship

You are responsible for loving your wife in a way that she needs to be loved. Learn her love language. Help relieve her burden by being involved around the house. Accept responsibility for caring for the kids and the house as well. Speak to her heart, and share your heart. Spend time on things that build your friendship. All of these are non-negotiables, and are part of the things that we commit to when we marry.
But then it’s okay to say,

I love you. I will always love you. I will work to get to know you, and to listen to you, and to relieve your practical burdens. I want to be part of every part of your life. But our sex life is not okay. We are missing out on so much. I am not going to reject you, and I am not going to stop loving you. But I also will not let this go. This is too important for me to say, “Okay, I’ll just stop wanting sex.” That’s not what we were designed for. So I’m going to pull close to you in every other way. Absolutely. But I am also going to keep insisting that we talk about this. I am going to find a counsellor for us to talk to if we need to. I am willing to listen to anything you have to say that can help us build our sex life. I even want to listen to constructive criticism, and if any of this resonates with you, let me know! (and show her the post on 10 reasons why your wife may not want to have sex). But we’re going to keep talking about this, because we were meant for more. And I want to work towards making our marriage amazing for both of us, so that it’s truly a haven from the rest of the world.

Sometimes a spouse just doesn’t want to talk about important things. But if your spouse refuses to talk about something, that doesn’t mean that you just let it go. Fight for the best in your marriage. Do it in a loving way. Don’t pull back. Lead them to a place of real health; don’t let them stagnate in a place where they reject real intimacy.
And if you can, suggest that you try to work through 31 Days to Great Sex. Approach it as: I want so much more for us. Can we try this? The first few days are really more about addressing what we think about sex, and it really does ease people into it. It’s not like you have to try 10 new positions at once. Working through that can help talk about the roadblocks, try things one by one so that she sees that sex should feel good, and helps you both communicate more. 
What do you think? All of you who are low-drive spouses–how can a spouse raise this in a way that would resonate with you? Let’s talk in the comments!
How do you deal with differing levels of libido in marriage? How to overcome guilty feelings in bed. 

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Courtney tommer

    I am the higher drive spouse. I have been married for just over a year and this has been a constant issue. My husband shuts down any time i try to bring up the subject of our sex life not being enough. It seems that we just have bigger gaps in time between sex when i bring up the issue. I bring up the issue at times that are calm and when we are not engaged intimately. I feel guilty about wanting more sex because he tells me that i am pressuring him to change in a way he doesnt know how to change. I am at a loss. I used to try and initiate 3 times a week. Now maybe it is 1 out of 7-10 days. He just wants to do quick sex and i take care of myself.

    • Natalie

      Sheila has written quite a bit about libido imbalances, but from my experience and reading, I’d bet any young newlyweds who aren’t having a more frequent sex life than 2-3 x/month and where the man rarely initiates have something deeper going on. Testosterone levels and lack of physical energy should not be an issue at this stage in life (though they still can be). Have you discussed the topic of porn ever in your relationship/marriage? If your husband is shutting down whenever you bring up the topic, there could be a reason for his reaction (like guilt). Maybe he prefers quickies because that’s what he’s trained his mind to over the years: sex for physical pleasure and release only, and only having to worry about his own satisfaction and not the satisfaction and happiness of his wife and intimacy being created as a couple. (Honestly, this was my exact experience as a newlywed for the first several years of our marriage. It wasn’t until reading this blog that I fully realized that sex was meant to feel good for the woman too the vast majority of times a sexual encounter happened, and that quickies were not the norm and that sex should always take more than 5-10 minutes. I thought that was normal for the first several years of my marriage, which would explain why I thought sex was for him and for creating babies, and not much else as far as the woman’s pleasure is concerned. What a lie that was/is!)
      Here’s a great article from several months ago. Maybe something you & your husband could discuss.

  2. Kevin

    Thank you for addressing this question. And to the person who sent it, you certainly are not alone in these feelings. I have the same challenges daily. My wife has virtually no interest in sex, and when I bring it up, it is met with a response of, “Well, you don’t try either.” This can be true at times, really just because I either a) feel guilty for wanting something she obviously doesn’t or b) am just tired of the heartbreak of being rejected and not feeling desired.
    Even when I try to talk about it, it rarely goes anywhere, so I’m hoping your response and any that others share here will give me a new avenue to pursue.
    Thank you!

    • Phil

      Kevin, yesterday I wrote you a response and then never posted it. I have been struggling with some spiritual stuff in a good way. This morning I asked myself. Why would you hesitate to try and help someone? So today I have re-written it just for you. Recently I had a conversation with my wife regarding the number of times per week we have sex. I told her I was satisfied and she began to debate my numbers and tell me that we actually had sex less than I said. WHAT? Why would you tell me I am having sex less than I think I am? LOL! This conversation is only part of a much larger on going conversation we have been having for quite some time. Part of the conversation also included discussion about a recent encounter we had that was very nice. She said that it was quality sex rather than quantity sex. She then did her calculations and decided that since we were having less sex and we had quality sex, therefore we should have less sex. I was dismayed. After all the work we have been doing in our marriage both relationship and sexual and this is what she comes up with? Can you not see the big picture? Then she went on to tell me that she still feels like sometimes I just use her for release. Talk about being shattered. Here is my point: SHE STILL DOESN’T GET IT! In some regards this is true. However – in some other areas she sort of gets it and in other areas she KNOCKS IT OUT OF THE PARK! Her entire response to our conversation and my disappointment has been I LOVE YOU. I even got a card in the mail from her telling me how much I am appreciated and loved. She loves me Kevin. Because she loves me she is willing to be open to my thoughts and ideas when I make changes for myself and/or us. This post offers a lot for YOU to work on. I encourage you Kevin. Keep putting it in front of her. Not just sex- you need to give her THE WHOLE CART! Pull close to her in every way. I am very satisfied with my marriage and I want to keep it that way. You can bet I will press on. I present and then present and then present some more. I believe that there is more. Some how I have concluded that God’s gifts never end. Prayers for you and your marriage Kevin.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        That’s really well-written, Phil. Thank you.
        And I think you’re right–sometimes people get one area of the marriage, but miss something else. But if our attitude is good, we can often address those things.
        now, some people never knock anything out of the park, and I know that’s a reality for some. But for many, I think just having an honest conversation like that is so good, where you acknowledge your own issues, too, and what she is doing super well.

    • Daniel

      Kevin: Phil pretty much nailed it. Though I’d like to add a tidbit that he implied but maybe didn’t emphasize quite as much as he should have. In regard to the comment “Well, you don’t try either.”… I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that she wasn’t talking about sex, per se. I think what she is referring to is the rest of the relationship. Things like talking with her, spending time together, or simply doing things that she wants to do/you to do, or just being more loving. Please understand, this is mostly a generalization, and I don’t mean to say that these are the facts, what I’m suggesting is that she’s not saying sex is the problem.
      Like Phil was saying, quality sex vs quantity sex. For a woman, the rest of the relationship has to come first, and then, and only then, will sex become an important part of the relationship.
      If this is chafe in the wind, please just ignore it.

      • Hopeless high-driver

        The fact that you all are praising Phil’s post and I am just confused by it is disheartening. I’m pretty much where Kevin is and it’s a subject I can’t even bring up with my wife without her thinking it’s all I care about despite my caring for the other important aspects of our marriage, as well.

  3. Josh

    I am married to a low drive wife and we have sex about once every 3 months. It feels like she always says no, but, looking back, I think it depends. When I am in a good mood and she seems to be in a good mood and I don’t know of any reason why we couldn’t have sex and I ask seriously, she probably accepts about 50% of the time. However, I hardly ever ask that way – since I expect to be rejected, I tend to ask when rejection would hurt the least – that is, when I don’t really expect her to say yes or I am already in a bad mood or I ask indirectly (and there my success rate is about 0%).
    So she has her issues (she has the gift of discouragement – she has always been good at shutting people down when they bring ideas she doesn’t want, which doesn’t help here even if it is great in some contexts) but I have to stop asking the way I have been and ask more in the way that risks getting hurt.

  4. Allen

    A little side note.
    Much emphasis is placed on 1 Corinthians 7:3-5.
    I Corinthians 7:32-34 would seem to say that a married couple is expected to take time from worship to nurture the relationship. If true, that would suggest that God wants the couple to flourish, just as Christ wants his bride-the church-to flourish. Is that your interpretation?

  5. Brievel

    Suspect I may actually have the higher *drive,* but don’t actually want sex as often because it tends to leave me feeling used and rejected. I’m always more willing if he takes time to notice *me* before taking time to *use* me for his release.

  6. Aj

    My husband has the higher drive, and I read this to see how he is feeling. I used to really enjoy intimacy, but after having a baby, the pain of labor and delivery has caused our sex life to diminish considerably. I’ve consulted a doctor and the pain is normal for my type of complications. But I feel so guilty for not being able to fulfill his desires very often after 7 months of healing. I do what I can, but I can’t help from feeling like I’m letting him down. He is amazing and supportive, but I’m worried about our closeness. And I keep wondering why God is having us face this, still. But I pray He heals me and helps us. Anyone else ever gone through this? It’s such a difficult subject to talk about.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Aj, that’s so sad! And that really is totally a different situation. When there’s pain involved, that pain needs to be considered and addressed, because sex is supposed to be mutual. When we make it only about one person, it can do great harm. Have you sought out a physical therapist who specializes in pelvic floor? Doctors don’t always recommend them, but the best healing often comes not from a traditional doctor but from a physiotherapist. It will get better! So address that; that’s the real issue.
      And then, find time to be sexy and hold each other and do other things, even if intercourse is painful. You can likely still have an orgasm through other means; he certainly can. Try to include lots of that so you feel intimate, and you’re still having fun, but then address the pain. It does matter.

      • Daniel

        Sheila, that’s what I was thinking too. If intercourse is painful, just take that aspect of sex very slowly, or refrain from it… however, intimacy, sex and orgasm don’t have to be from intercourse… if you catch our drift. Just remember, God created sex for our enjoyment, not just for making babies. Our bodies are not dirty, and sex is not a vile act. Quick tip: extended oral can be incredible for the woman.
        It was in the after delivery soreness and pain that my wife and I started to figure out what intimacy was really about. It was also the time I convinced her that oral wasn’t a dirty thing, and that I wanted to give it to her. Intimacy has been getting better and better since then. God used that pain to show ME that sex was for her too. I LOVE pleasing my wife, and the intercourse is simply icing on the cake…

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Yes, so true! Intercourse is not all there is. Still, it’s one thing when intercourse is temporarily difficult. It’s another when you learn that it may always be. That’s just so hard, even if you can find other things to do that give just as much pleasure.

    • Kim

      I can totally relate to this. I gave birth to my third baby last year and the midwife (who was not my doctor but was on call) completely botched my induction and caused a LOT of problems for me. My cervix is sitting lower permanently and I developed an infection during my delivery that took months to heal. Because my cervix is now so low I can’t have sex without it being painful because every time he thrusts and it goes just a little too far then I have sharp stabbing pain in my abdomen. I’ve also lost feeling in other areas down there so I get absolutely nothing from oral or touch. My husband is so frustrated but there is absolutely no fix for this so we don’t know what to do. I can’t enjoy sex because it either hurts or feels like nothing. I will still have sex at least twice a week with him but he said it’s awful for him because he knows I’m not enjoying it or getting anything from him. We don’t know what to do either.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Oh, Kim, that’s awful! Really awful. Have you seen another gynecologist to see whether this really can’t be fixed? I’m so sorry. I just don’t even know what to say. That’s terrible.

        • Kim

          I’ve been to 3 different obgyns. They all said my cervix is sitting super low. They said it’s not uncommon for women who have had large babies for this to happen. My second and third babies were 9 pounds and I’m a small person so it just wreaked havoc on my body. The infection took 6 month for them to figure out and the steroids and medication that they had to use to clear it up were brutal. I’m hoping that part will fix itself over time but they said my cervix won’t change. I’ve found a couple positions that don’t hurt but I also get zero pleasure from them. So it’s a learning process.

          • E

            Kim, I have something similar. I have heard that a physio that specialises in pelvic floor might be able to help, but we live in a rural area, so that’s not easy to find. I have also heard that it can be ‘fixed’ with surgery. Mine is not painful all the time, certain times of the month are worse, and different positions can either make it better or worse. Woman on top can be good, because you get to control the depth of the thrusts. We tend to spend a long time on my pleasure during foreplay, then intercourse in a position that doesn’t give me pain.
            I hope and pray that you guys will be able to find something that works for you! I find feeling ‘broken’ and useless is my biggest struggle in this area, but I am trying to find the good in all of life (not just this issue) but sometimes those broken feelings overwhelm me. Thank God we have caring husbands who want us to enjoy sexual intimacy too!

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Oh, I really don’t know what to say, except I’m so sorry. I really am.

  7. Linda Nelson

    I’m a bit confused – There’s another post which focuses on a wive having the higher sex drive than her husband, and it’s suggested that she consider redirecting her sexual frustration towards other activities, such as gardening or hobbies. This post is “somewhat” framed with the wife having the lower sex drive, yet the focus is to try to encourage her to finds ways to want to want it more. Where’s the respect for her, in that there’s nothing wrong with her, just simply that she has a low sex drive? Perhaps the husband could tunnel his frustrated energy towards other activities, such as golf or building something with his shop tools? The sex may be worth the wait if both spouses join together when they are mutually in the mood.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Linda, I mostly write for women, and so when writing to women who have the higher sex drive, I do ask them to try to channel their energies elsewhere because you can’t change anyone else. It could be that your husband just has a low libido, and there’s nothing really you can do about that.
      In most marriages where she has the lower libido, though, there actually are things that she can do to boost her libido. Because I write mostly to women, I want to let them know that this is possible. I don’t think a marriage with virtually no sex life is a healthy thing. And it pains me to see so many women give up on sex because they think they don’t want it, when it’s really more that they have a whole combination of sexual baggage, bad messages about sex, a misunderstanding of how libido works in women, not finding sex very pleasurable, etc., that all work to rob her of something amazing that God made for her. So that’s what I’m doing–I’m on a mission to help women see sex as a more positive thing, because I do think that will change many marriages for the better (and many women will have more passionate lives, too!)

      • Linda Nelson

        Thank you, Sheila, for explaining it that way. Perhaps I’m a bit sensitive to the libido topics in general, as I’ve always had a low sex drive and am completely comfortable with it. I became a bit “jealous” upon finding that post, which suggested a respect/acceptance attitude toward a husband’s low sex drive, yet it’s virtually impossible to find that same acceptance towards a wife. I simply want that same respect and acceptance. I never had the attitude that I wanted to desire sex more; I don’t feel broken or lacking,

        • Henry Hidrive

          My wife would say the same as you. Good for you and good for her. You don’t feel broken or lacking.
          Pretty frustrating for me, though, not that it matters to either.

  8. Tom Stephens

    This may be different than what most are talking about. My wife and I have been married for almost 45 years. While my wife has a very low sex drive we managed to have 3 daughters and a son and now have 7 grand kids. prior to a few weeks ago we had sex, which I call making love about 2 or 3 times a month. I ask her if she would like to make love and most of the time it is a simple “no,'” The times we did is after a nice date night and she says “oooookaaaay.” After thing get going she seems to really enjoy it and had several “O”s. My wife is almost 67 years old and the last time I asked if she wanted to make love she just said no and probably not any more. She just doesn’t enjoy for some reason. At 71 I would enjoy making love to my wife at least weekly. The stress of this is really hurting our marriage with her believing that any time I want to do something enjoyable like see a play or have dinner out it is because I will want to have sex. This is ruining our marriage and our even being friends so I have just shut up about it. It hurts that she seems to like it that way and still believes I have ulterior motives for wanting us to do anything special. Any suggestions are appreciated.

  9. Tyler

    First off, my wife and I have been married for close to six years. A week ago I placed an order on Amazon for a few items. I forgot to remove a book from my shopping cart before I made the purchase. The book is the 31 days to great sex.
    About a week and a half ago I placed a few links on the mobile calendar app my wife and I share. It was for the blog post “why your husband wants you to read this” and the second one was about the 31 days book.
    When the book cam in the mail my wife asked what I had ordered. I said something for her Christmas present, something for work and book that I meant to take out of my shopping cart. She pretty much left it at that. Later that night after our two kids were in bed I told her what the book actually was. She asked if that was supposed to be part of her present. I immediately said no, because it wasn’t.
    In the past I have gotten her gifts that are used in the bedroom, as well as jewelry and once a Fitbit. Most in hopes of getting some, but for her birthday this year I got her some bath bombs just for her.
    For Christmas this year I got her a picture frame with a sweet poem on one side and a place for a picture on the other side and I saw something someplace when I was searching for ideas for Christmas. It’s “52 Original Dates” and I ran with the idea. My wife and I have not been on a date since we found out we were expecting our first son, he is two now.
    Back to where I was going. After telling her what the book was, asked her if she would like to try it (our relationship has been going down hill for at least the last 3 years, and we have had dry spells lasting up to six months and lately it’s been once every or every other month between times). She got very upset. She said why does everything that I do have to lead to sex, every gift, action, or thought. Her sex drive is next to mine and she could care less about it. Honestly, the conversation pretty much ended there like it normally does with her saying something like that.
    It has has gotten to the point where I have been looking into ways to drastically reduce my desire to be intimate at all. I’ve tried to just masturbate but makes it to where I just want to be intimate all the more. I’ve tried to also go to eh gym or go for a run but it still doesn’t take the place completely.


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