Saturday 10 December 2016

Dear Patricia: Wife's denial leads me to masturbation and guilt

Patricia Redlich

Published 26/06/2011 | 05:00

QI am 64 years of age and married to a most caring and loving woman for nearly 40 years. We have four grown-up children. My wife and I have many shared interests and we also have our own interests. We have had ups and downs, like most families, but, except for one personal problem, I could not be happier. This problem is causing me a lot of distress, but I do not know where to turn as I am too embarrassed to talk to anyone about it.

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My wife and I are not of the same mind as regards sexual intercourse. Nothing kinky. It's just that she's happy enough to have sex maybe once a month, while I thought we should have it several times a week. This all emerged about 12 years ago and we went for counselling together, which really helped me accept we had different sexual needs and wants.

My problem is that I masturbate six or seven times a week while watching pornography. I always feel intensely guilty afterwards and I have made many efforts to stop this habit.

But if I stop for a few days, I get very frustrated and irritable. One part of me tells me that it is quite normal to masturbate, but then the guilt kicks in and I feel I shouldn't be doing it. Dear God, Patricia, I feel so confused and guilty, and badly need advice. I have never been unfaithful to my wife, but this blessed thing is getting me down.

AI'm sorry that you feel guilty. It seems sad. Of course, I understand that certain belief systems decree that masturbation is wrong. And, of course, it really isn't my business to challenge your sense of right and wrong. What I can do is say a few things which may help you clarify your thoughts.

It does seem to me that you effectively rolled over when you and your wife saw the counsellor 10 years ago. I don't understand why it all went your wife's way. Certainly, sexual desire can differ between a couple. And yes, I understand how desire can wane. But absence of desire is not some kind of absolute.

There is such a thing as loving acquiescence. A wife who loves her husband will not knowingly set him emotionally and physically adrift, since that would be most profoundly unloving. The problem is that many wives don't know their husbands are so lonely and emotionally bruised. Or rather, they are permitted to hide from that truth. Isn't that what happened in your case?

You caved in, perhaps out of embarrassment, perhaps to avoid confrontation, perhaps out of a sense of helplessness. It seems it's easy -- almost official -- nowadays to dismiss the partner who wants sex. And equally easy to accept the one who does not. Faced with that reality, my guess is you never made your case, never talked of your distress, never really protested.

It is never just about the absence of actual sex, of physical release, of the act itself. What invariably happens is that affection and intimacy effectively die. No hand touching your shoulder as a partner passes by, no loving kisses, no cold feet on a warm back in winter, no affection. This is not because a wife has turned entirely cold. It's because all physical contact can be construed as a tease, when sex is denied, so the wife feels awkward. Yes, I know things have not yet got quite that far with the two of you, but there is an inevitable turning-away, however subtle, a diminishing of intimacy, a silence. You are not just physically frustrated. You are lonely.

The problem with masturbation is that it underlines that loneliness, rather than alleviating it. So much so that masturbation becomes almost obsessive, or compulsive, as your heart and mind yearn to achieve emotional relief, which simply doesn't happen. Masturbation is so often accompanied by such terrible sadness. It is also done in secret, particularly when accompanied by pornography, which only increases the awful sense of isolation. You are frustrated in your humanity.

I know you don't want to rock the boat, but would you consider talking to your wife? What you need to tell her about is your loneliness. It's not about demanding sex. It's about letting her see your soul, showing her the truth which lies behind the public face, breaking the barrier of silence, allowing her a glimpse of your despair. Think about it.

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