Abandoned

Friday, October 08, 2004

Question

Q

Dear Advisor,

My husband has sex with me very infrequently. I have tried everything, but he thinks I am "nagging" him. We have been married for less than two years and have an eighteen-month-old baby. We had lots of sex before we got married. He won't discuss it and says I am the one with the problem. I am now seriously looking for a vibrator to solve the problem (if only for the short-term). Help! "The Rabbit" is looking better all the time.

Answer

More wives (or husbands) are abandoned in the marriage bed after the wedding than at the altar before the wedding. "I've got to have you" gives way to "not you again." But what's the point in having a long-term, committed relationship if keeping your spouse means giving up lust?

If I was your couples counselor, here are some of the questions I would ask: How often do you want to have sex with your husband? How often does he want to have sex with you?

If you need it twice a day, and he's only available five days a week, you have a much smaller problem than if you want sex twice a day, and he is only aroused once every other month. In the former case, go ahead and buy that cute little rabbit and get yourself off so you don't go crazy waiting for Himself to put out. But in the latter case, there's a major mismatch. Masturbation can produce some supernova orgasms, but the experience of being held, of being surprised by another person's touch or their imagination, is missing. It would not be reasonable for him to expect you to do without intimacy for that long.

If you want sex three times a day, every day, for two hours at a time, I must gently inform you that you are bonkers. Sometimes people hide from other feelings by diving into the sexual experience. As your fictitious couples counselor, I'd ask if you were experiencing any anger, anxiety, sadness, or other "negative" emotions that you are avoiding by souping up your libido.

Here's another question. How do you let him know you want sex? Do you flop onto your back on the bed and announce, "Do me"? Or do you sidle up behind him, nip his neck, and whisper indecent suggestions in his shell-like ear? Is it possible that he needs to be approached in a different way? Does he want poems or love notes folded up and hidden in the pockets of his coat? Does he want to be led into the bedroom by a trail of breath mints and condoms? Does he want you to ring a ranch-style iron triangle while loudly announcing, "Come and get it"? If he won't tell you what he likes or doesn't like, you can't fix the problem, can you?

A loving and realistic couple can find compromises to ease the discomfort of different levels of desire. Men and women both need the freedom to engage in self-stimulation, whether they are single or in love or not. But masturbation doesn't have to be a "stranded on a desert island" affair. A partner can hold you, stimulate some of your erogenous zones, kiss you, or tell you dirty stories. You can watch porn that you both like and masturbate together. If one partner is too tired to engage in intercourse, sometimes oral sex is a good alternative. Quickies can sometimes be enough to tide your beloved over till the time is right for a more lengthy sensual feast.

If you love somebody and they are desperately horny, it is your obligation to sometimes find a way to make sex happen even if you are initially not in the mood. It helps to understand that once you are out of the crazy-mad-crush stage, you may need more time or more stimulation to get turned on. A man who no longer has a spontaneous erection when he embraces his partner may need to give himself time to fantasize and find his turn-on, explore his partner's body, and get some manual or oral stimulation in order to get a hard-on. Men don't usually think of themselves as needing foreplay, but that's a myth that led to the development of Viagra.

Let's look at some specific things that can inhibit sexual intimacy.

The desire to sleep rather than copulate may be especially intense when a couple has a young child. Babies are on their own weird schedules, and this usually means that mom and dad become severely sleep-deprived. Adding a third person to your dyad is a big emotional adjustment. Before the baby came along, your husband had all of your attention. Now he has to share you with this third person who always comes first. Maybe he is having trouble feeling connected to you when the maternal bond is so strong.

The baby really does have to come first, and you can't do anything about the fact that it usually takes longer for a child to develop a strong relationship with their father than their mother. But couples need to talk about these experiences if they are not going to become estranged. He may feel ashamed of being jealous of his own kid. Or maybe he has trouble still seeing you as a sexual person now that you are a mother. (I know. This is dumb. But dumb things still happen all around us every day, to my considerable disgruntlement.) Maybe the house (or your bed) has been taken over by Baby World, and he needs your bedroom to be a sanctuary where he can temporarily get away from diapers, sticky bottles, toys on the floor, etc.

Resentment is the number one killer of passion. Other than the lack of sex, what other problems exist in your relationship? Financial woes, issues with drugs or alcohol, hateful in-laws, or more petty things can fester and push people apart. Did you make him sell his motorcycle? Are his friends allowed to come over to your house and do loud, manly things or quiet, geeky things together, whichever the case may be? If you stop asking him why he doesn't want to have sex and start asking him what he's so angry about, you might get some surprising but important answers.

Finally, there's a possibility that he has some deeper problems that require professional help. If he's having trouble with impotence, he needs to see a doctor to rule out abnormal blood pressure, diabetes, prostate cancer, or other serious health concerns. If he's got emotional problems too huge to work out with a friend or his wife, he needs to see a therapist. Sexual functioning can be impaired by guilt (which often results from being raised in a fundamentalist, anti-sex religion), a history of sexual abuse or other trauma, depression, anxiety, or an inability to express one's true sexual desires. For example, if he's really into guys, or if he has a repressed fetish for girls in rubber bras and see-through latex miniskirts rolling him in powdered sugar, eventually his ability to perform during vanilla heterosexual intercourse will go phhhhhtt!! like a broken balloon.

This is a complex problem that has a big effect on the quality of your life and your husband's lives. Nothing is more frustrating than trying to fix something in a relationship when the other person claims that everything would be okay if you would just shut up about the problem. Don't let him manipulate you into silence. You have a right to insist that he step up and do his part. If that means he actually has to have a feeling (grr, argh) or tell somebody about that feeling (eeek, shudder) — well, it's a lot easier way to prove you're a man than being sent off to the Middle East to fight for the imperialist pretensions of Texas oil barons.