Q&A with J: Why Doesn’t My Older Husband Want Sex?

As often happens, today’s reader question was a little long in the email, so I’m doing some summarizing first. The wife has been married a few short years to her husband, who is about twenty years older than she. He has some health issues, but not enough to keep him from sexual activity. However, he’s not pursuing or engaging in regular sexual intimacy with her.

Now here’s more about the issue written in her own words:

  • In the mornings he lets me “take advantage” of what’s already there naturally. That provides a bit of the emotional connection that I need, but that does little for my sexual satisfaction.
  • Rarely does he initiate, and any other times I offer to “take care of things” for him, he only tells me he wishes he could, but doesn’t feel like he can. I’ve found that if I can find him relaxed enough during the day, and I just do it without any conversation, he is usually surprised at the pleasurable results, so I’m somewhat doubting that he CAN’T — just that he doesn’t seem to WANT to.
  • He doesn’t tell me as often that I’m pretty, but I don’t feel super UNpretty to him (put on a little weight because of health problems, but he at least ACTS like it doesn’t bother him).
  • Being rejected so many times because he “can’t” leaves both of us feeling increasingly awkward. I totally get that with his age and somewhat low testosterone that he can’t pull it together ALL the time. And it’s not like I’ve got a super high sex drive either. But I’m struggling here.
  • I try to take care of his needs at least once a week, or more… Meanwhile, I get to orgasm maybe 3 times a year, if I’m lucky (I know some others would be grateful for just that). I’m starting to feel undesirable, increasingly awkward in the sex department, and feeling like I’m letting HIM down, in addition to missing the flirting and “action” myself.
  • Some of the factors I’ve considered are that he’s bored…or that he actually isn’t attracted to me, or that I’m not flirty enough, or that I’m not speaking his love language enough…, or his testosterone levels are worse than realized, or…?

Q&A with J: Why Doesn't My Older Husband Want Sex?

I’ve definitely written several posts for higher-drive wives, and I’ll start by referring you to last week’s post in which I listed many of those. That could well be a place to start.

I also think it’s important to have a way to talk to your lower-drive spouse about your concerns. So check out my recent post for To Love Honor and Vacuum with 10 Tips for Talking to Your Husband About Your Sex Life and How to Talk about Sexual Problems with Your Spouse.

However, I specifically want to address the issue of him being an older guy. This man is in his 50s, and it’s true that testosterone levels and sex drive can wane as a man ages. Let’s look at some facts about older husbands and sexuality.

Testosterone. Levels of testosterone are implicated in much of the decrease in sex drive among older men. But before you send your hubby to the doctor for Low-T, recognize that there could be risks with taking additional testosterone; some scientists have suggested that testosterone could cause growth in prostate cancer cells (although others deny this, so I suppose the jury’s out). Some men do have low enough levels to require treatment, but most men simply go through the normal dropping off of testosterone. From about 30 years on, testosterone lowers about one percent per year.

I encourage older men to go ahead and get their T-levels checked (it’s a simple blood test) and make sure you’re still in the normal range. Consult with your doctor to see if you need to pursue treatment.

But for most men, lower T simply means having a bit less energy, lower libido, and decreased frequency of full erections. However, none of that is an impediment to making love. Rather, what worked a decade ago isn’t going to work the same now. A flash of naked wife may not be enough to get all the engines revving, as much as a husband might enjoy that view. Be prepared that your lovemaking repertoire may need to change a little as you age. That’s not a bad thing. Indeed some husbands report that they appreciate their sex drive not being as overwhelming as it was in their early 20s and their ability to last for longer periods of time during sexual encounters.

A man can help maintain testosterone levels by keeping a healthy weight, regularly exercising, and getting consistent sleep. Yeah, so basically the prescription is “clean living.”

Erections. Taking advantage of waking-up-and-saying-hello erection is a good idea. These “morning glories” are actually called nocturnal penile tumescence, or NPT, and occur a few times per night. Why they occur is an interesting question, but one reason posed is that it’s the way a penis exercises to make sure everything stays in functioning order.

The point here is that if your man continues to have spontaneous erections during sleep and early in the morning, it’s a sign that he doesn’t have physically induced erectile dysfunction. His penis works just fine and can get hard enough for sexual intercourse.

That does not mean, however, that nothing changes about erections in older age, because it does. Getting an erection from sexual stimulation typically takes longer and the erection itself may not be as firm. Where once a young buck looked at a darling doe and quickly saluted, now it’s more like a slow-rise howdy. What sometimes happens, though, is a husband concludes that his lack of fast response means he’s not up for sex. Au contraire! His man part just needs more time and attention.

Try to explain the mechanics to your husband, letting him know how normal it is for older men to need additional foreplay. And then hey, celebrate that you two get to have more foreplay! What’s not to like about this situation? While his young self couldn’t hold out so long, Mr. Mature can take his sweet time making love and give his penis what it needs to come to full attention.

On your part, make sure you master turning him on to the point of deep sexual desire. Figure out how to give him oral sex or a great hand job (both of which are covered with specific tips in Hot, Holy, and Humorous: Sex in Marriage by God’s Design). Frankly, since it’s not quite as easy to get him there, more relies on your sex savvy. But you can certainly master the skill set needed to stoke his, and your, fire to the point of hot, flaming love.

Orgasm. Orgasm three times a year?! Oh yes, honey, that needs to change. I’m a little concerned about your statement: “I try to take care of his needs at least once a week, or more.” Okay, that’s great, but sexual satisfaction should be largely mutual. Does he know what your needs are? Have you communicated them clearly?

I’m not talking about pressuring him for more sex, which can make a guy already struggling in this area feel even more performance-challenged. I mean that you need to express that you’re open to sexual activity outside of intercourse and that you want him to send you to the moon in ecstasy — regularly. What I’m saying is that it’s perfectly fine for a good Christian wife to speak up about her sexual needs and desires. We’ve often be trained to think otherwise, but your sex drive is God-given. Embrace it and express it.

Most of your suggested reasons why he’s not that into sex and that he’s not satisfying you — “he’s bored…he actually isn’t attracted to me…I’m not flirty enough…I’m not speaking his love language…” — essentially blame you for what’s happening. And I don’t get that sense at all. You certainly can talk to him about your relationship and if he sees anything he’d like to improve. But much of this may lie in the simple process of him aging, and feeling frustrated.

As a woman who seems to be starting the Grand Season of Menopause, I can tell you that there are moments I’ve felt downright betrayed by my body. How dare it not cooperate with everything I used to be able to do? Why, oh, why is it turning lettuce leafs into pounds? What happened to cuddling with my husband in bed, which now feels like hugging a furnace? I love being my age, but speaking strictly about the physical changes, aging can be seriously annoying.

Your husband might avoid engaging in sex, and bringing you to orgasm, because the experience simply reminds him what he’s lost. Many men feel their masculinity is tied to sexual virility, and when that’s a struggle, the physical lowering of sex drive is accompanied by a loss of emotional energy. What I pray you can convince him is that (1) he’s still the hottie guy you love and married; (2) his performance is not about competing with his younger self, but about mutual pleasure and sexual intimacy; (3) your orgasms are worth pursuing, because that makes you feel desirable and satisfied; and (4) you can work together, explore, and adapt to have the sex life you both want and can enjoy.

I didn’t really give you a specific answer to your question with a three-point plan or something. But there is plenty to think about here, and I encourage you to talk openly and reassuringly to your husband about what’s going on. Be willing to speak up for your own needs in the marriage bed as well. And I wish you all the best!

Other sources: AARP – How Sex Changes for Men After 50; Web MD – Romance After 60

18 thoughts on “Q&A with J: Why Doesn’t My Older Husband Want Sex?

  1. Almost 50 and FRUSTRATED!!!

    So many mixed emotions while reading this post… Felt sorry for the lovely wife, and man could I empathize with my older dude brother…
    It’s like playing “guess what’s not gonna happen this time?” lately for my wife and I. It’s just crushing to experience the effects of aging, in the one area that in our marriage anyway, has gotten so much better as the years have piled up. (We’ve been married for 25+ years now…)

    I really don’t have any answers J, I just wanted to let her know that it’s not just her man, it’s bewildering the majority of my friends who are about my age.
    We really feel dumbfounded to be honest, and it’s one of those things that is so devastating that it kind of freezes you, and you just don’t know what to do, so you avoid the possibility except when it’s OBVIOUS things are working… (Until you get going and “things” decide they’ve changed their minds…)

    I’ll keep reading, and I hope and pray things improve for this frustrated wife, and mine too…

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      Honestly, I think for most wives, if you guys would communicate your fears — yes, your fears — you’d find that we’re pretty open about figuring this all out with you. But yeah, I’m so sorry about this frustrating experience and pray that you can find some real answers.

      Reply
  2. Jim

    I’m a 47 year old man just getting out of a dysfunctional and sexless marriage…… so I feel the pain from the wife of the rejection from being the lower spouse wife. I had a couple of comments:
    1. If an erection is the problem, have you tried Viagra. Although expensive, it might be the best $10 that you spend if it helps you have intimate sex. I think most people take pills to help their health, so why not help the erection if its a problem.
    2. On a darker side, do you think that the husband might secretly be into porn, etc. I struggled with that as my sexless marriage went past 10 years and it definitely can affect your ability to want sex with a real person and / or perform.
    Most men, struggle with sharing our fears and emotions, especially when it comes to sexual performance anxiety or sexual shame. Although the wife is hurting greatly, I hope she can be gentle and kind as a man’s ego can be a fragile thing when it comes to our ability / lack of ability to perform sexually.

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      My encouragement for him to see his doctor would hopefully cover treatment options such as Viagra, if needed. And my posts about lower-drive men have addressed the possibility of porn being an issue, although I can’t say in any particular case. Thanks for adding your two cents.

      And I’m saddened about the breakup of your marriage. May God comfort you.

      Reply
  3. Anonymous for his privacy

    I’m in a slightly analogous position: also married just a few years to a man 20 years older. However, my husband is in his 70s, not 50s, so he had already dealt with the changes of aging with his late wife – and they were able to handle that gradually, not the ‘all at once’ of a new wife in later years. It must be difficult and humbling for a man to face the ‘slow-down’. This is my first relationship so I don’t know any different except for what my husband tells me it used to be like for him when he was a young man (his comment is often, “If I were a younger man, it would be over already”). So it takes quite a bit of time to get him warmed up, but that gives me time to get into it. Those mornings, though – they’re the best!

    Reply
  4. jo

    i believe a lot of the complications of this type in men come from the many meds most docs have prescribed for them by the time they are 50. i say this because my Mr Wonderful is 56 and we have NO problems! and he is on no medications. we have and enjoy sex as much if not more now than when we were younger. he has been on meds before while treating lyme disease and they definitely effected our sex life. not an easy fix to be sure, but i feel this really is a large part of this issue

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      Could be! But some men really need to be on meds. If so, it’s worth talking to a doctor about the side effects on his libido and looking for alternatives if that’s an issue.

      Reply
  5. Amy

    My husband is 61 and I’m (gulp) 51! LOL
    This is a second marriage for both of us and it will be five years for us in November.

    My husband takes vit. V due to blood pressure meds he’s been on for years but even so I’ve definitely seen his desire for sex decrease since we were first together. And unfortunately, my body decided a couple years ago, as I stepped into perimenopause, to not function quite like it used to. Add in my hubby’s long work hours — up at 1am, in bed by 6pm — and lately being out of town Mon-Friday, and well, that gives us the weekends only which basically boils down to once a week since he needs a longer refractory period of about 2 days in between.

    Let’s just say — I’ve been very very frustrated for the past couple months and it wasn’t until we finally talked about it (I’m really good at keeping things bottled up until the tears start leaking out!) that I’ve felt more at peace with the situation even though I still crave more sex.

    One of the things the woman said which resonates with me a lot, is how her husband rarely initiates because he doesn’t feel he CAN, when she wonders if it’s more because of not WANTING to.
    I often feel this too and honestly, it hurts. I feel less desirable and do take it personally even if I shouldn’t. Especially when I too, find that if I get hubby to try he is often up for making love twice over the weekend.

    For me, I guess I feel like wouldn’t a man who has been gone for 5 days be ready to grab his wife when he sees her? And yet, it seems to be me that is more excited to see him. And invariably, if someone calls wanting to go to dinner or some other event, he always has the energy for that. So when I see him putting his energy into other things and not appearing to have an interest in making love, it hurts.
    So yeah, I totally get where this woman is coming from.

    Reply
  6. IntimacySeeker

    I worry that too many men turn to medication. If the blood isn’t flowing in the lower regions, it is likely not flowing effectively in other regions, and that deserves some investigation. I’m not a physician–just repeating what I’ve heard.

    While age may make a difference, taking care of ourselves also makes a difference. DH is in his mid 60’s, follows a vegan diet, doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, is physically active on a daily basis, BP hovers around 120/80, is on no prescription medication, and there are no erection or stamina issues.

    Reply
    1. Amy

      I agree with you, IS. I think all the prescriptions meds play a significant role in one’s health and not always for the good. Granted there are some which may be necessary and as much as I would love to help my hubby get off his blood pressure meds it’s unlikely he would choose to try unless his doctor would to recommend it. And that is highly unlikely.

      We eat Paleo and he has noticed his BP has decreased from what was his ‘normal’ 140/90 to around 120-130/80.
      I believe that if he could off of those meds it would make a huge difference, at least with his ED, maybe not in his libido since exhaustion and lack of time play a huge role in that. 😉

      Reply
  7. Tom

    I’m just about to hit 50, and I’ve noticed some major changes in just the last year. I used to be able to pound nails with it, and now things are less robust. More importantly, while I used to be able to maintain an erection for an hour or more without thinking about it, now there are times during our intimate moments where things will flag a bit, and I’m wondering, “what?????”

    As a guy I understand that it might be scary not to be able to close the deal, but I’ve been married for almost 30 years and I can count the number of times on one hand that my wife orgasmed during intercourse. However, I’ve brought her orally to orgasm 2-3X/week for that entire time period, and once she starts going, I simply enter and she continues while we’re making love. I don’t understand why a guy who’s concerned about his erection won’t at least take care of his wife orally. Besides giving my wife pleasure is extremely satisfying to me, so I actually look forward to it.

    These are things that absolutely need to be talked about, and preferably not in the bedroom, but rather at a time and location that won’t be threatening to either spouse, and where you can establish a constructive dialog. Ladies, just remember, you’ll see the worst aspects of your man when he’s scared, and when he’s allowing his actions to be dictated by his fears, whether it’s in the house with parenting or in the bedroom.

    That’s why so often when the Lord shows up in scripture, He says “do not fear.” When God is there and invited into the process, there is no reason to be afraid. Pray about it and invite Him into the process.

    Reply
    1. G

      Sex is such an amazing testing ground for spiritual growth. Your last paragraph brought it all home so well. In my youth I had never thought of praying about sex; what a shame. So much to be expressed — gratitude, aid, inspiration, etc.

      “…used to be able to pound nails with it.” Just turned 51 and I read you 100%.

      Reply
  8. Anonymous for his privacy

    Just a comment about the refractory period; my husband had prostate surgery, which makes it more difficult for him to ‘O’ and with no ‘O’ there is no refractory period, so when we have sex, which is at least every other day, it’s almost always two rounds, and he’d be up for a third if I wanted (I do not!). He does get an ‘O’ once or twice a week and then he says ‘no thank you’ for a couple of days. He is 77, so, guys, see what you can look forward to? Things are different but still good, he wants you to know.

    Reply
  9. Ol' Will

    If the low-drive older husband is suspected of having low testosterone, he could try to raise it naturally and see what happens. Google ‘testosterone naturally’. There is a lot of good advice.

    One thing that I didn’t see that I did is to increase intake of broccoli and related vegetables (brassicas).

    When I started weight training, cutting down on carbs, increasing brassicas, rinsing in the shower in cold water, increasing saturated and monounsaturated fats, etc., not only did I begin to feel better but I developed a very mild case of acne that’s exactly like I had when I was a teenager but milder. That tells me that I increased my testosterone at least into the normal range. The dermatologist said, “At 75 you don’t think that’s the same acne you had as a teenager, do you?” If it’s not the same, then what is it? No answer… I said something to the effect that if he is positive what it is not but has no idea what it is, I’ll accept my opinion.

    I take no testosterone-specific supplements.

    For exercise, I recommend free weights – dumbbells and kettlebells, specifically. Barbells introduce a higher risk of injury and expense that I’m not willing to accept. Machines are expensive and work only isolated muscle groups. A full-body workout takes a lot longer and almost requires a trip to the gym because the average person cannot afford a room full of equipment.

    A good kettlebell routine will improve all parameters of fitness: Endurance, strength, balance, flexibility, etc. Start with a reasonable weight and work up slowly.

    When I started with body-weight exercise six years ago, I was becoming one of those overweight elderly invalids with poor balance you see everywhere. I also had pain in almost every major joint. No more! I think ALL people over the age of 40 should be building strength using full-body exercise techniques. There would be far fewer falls and injuries from falls if they did.

    Starting out with body-weight exercise routines is a good option and costs nothing for the “equipment”.

    Reply
  10. Anonymous2

    My husband has heart issues and had surgery for prostate cancer 4 years ago.
    I have many physical issues with menopause.

    I won’t go into details but I will tell you when things aren’t working like they use to, emotions run high for both partners. It definitely does a number on sexual desire and self esteem.

    Viagra doesn’t work for everyone. My husband couldn’t take the side effects. It’s expensive and many insurance companies won’t pay because they consider it a “lifestyle” drug.
    Injections, rings, pumps, implants can help.

    What has helped us is talking about it ‘matter of factly’, experimenting with different forms of physical intimacy, Scheduling sexy time, and doing what works at the moment.

    PLEASE DON’T TAKE A SPOUSES PHYSICAL PROBLEMS PERSONALLY!!! It only makes things harder on both of you.

    Word of Caution:
    Many people rely heavily on their sexual intimacy to feel loved, especially men.
    I urge you to put as much energy into developing and strengthening your emotional, spiritual, and intellectual intimacy with each other, Before your body starts to let you down.
    When physical intimacy becomes difficult you will need to rely on other forms of intimacy to help
    get you through with grace.

    Reply
  11. My Marriage is my blessing

    I have enjoyed this blog tremendously J, and have “shared the love” by forwarding to as many wives I can! That being said, this post was particularly relevant for me being married to my Forever Love of 4 years.
    He will be 55 this year and I will be 37. We had the honor and privilege of 6 months of intense Christian premarital counseling with a Bishop who’d been married himself well over 40 years and had a Marriage Ministry for 27 years. I learned so much about men and women in general from a Biblical perspective, and while certainly a bit uncomfortable at times, I am grateful for his wisdom and candor in the area of spiritual and physical intimacy.
    We were given practical (non medical) tips for keeping the fires-a-burning. The most important yet highly underrated by most spouses was PRAYER!!! I BEAR WITNESS that praying for the opportunity, creativity, enjoyment, and connection for God’s glory, has equated to the BEST sex we both have ever had! Throw a 3 yr old daughter, and his company relocating us 10 hours away from our home state after 29 years into the mix, and we had a recipe for strained relations.
    When we found out about the move last year our lives were set into a tailspin. The stress of the unknown in a new position, putting the house on the market, being a first-time and older dad, etc. for him, and my being home all day with an active toddler did not make for “optimal sexy-time”. We had hit an all time low in our intimate life and I didn’t know what to do. Reaching out to my best friend, who was married 10 years and military really saved us. She pointed me to this blog and said what had worked for them (moving so much) was lots of prayer and lots of sex!!!
    She couldn’t have been more correct! We pray together and we pray individually for our sex life and we’ve gone from going weeks without being intimate to at least twice a week, and here lately even more (now that our baby girl is sleeping through the night on her own, PRAISE THE LORD, HALLELUJAH, AMEN FOR ANSWERING THAT PRAYER!!)
    I do think that my husband’s commitment to his health helps too. He’s in the gym at least 5 mornings a week doing cardio, I love making healthy meals for our family and he enjoys an occasional drink. He’s also big on natural supplements like fish oil, olive leaf extract and a multivitamin. Since being diagnosed with a slightly enlarged heart 20 years ago, he’s unable to take Viagra and Cialis and was never really fond of the idea, opting instead for Macca root extract. Another natural supplement for strong erections he took when we first married. He had a lot of (unnecessary) anxiety surrounding the ability to satisfy a much younger wife, and again as our prayer life has matured specifically in this area, there’s been no need to even take that!
    Lastly, the Bishop spoke to our obvious age difference and encouraged us to extend abundant grace towards one another as we navigated the waters of finding what worked for us.
    I apologize for the long comment but I just felt like sharing a bit of our story might offer some encouragement to someone else out there.

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      Thanks so much for sharing your story! It’s always hear to have a personal take on the issue. Many blessings to you and your husband.

      Reply

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