Relationship counsellor and psychosexual therapist Mary O'Conor offers relationship advice in her weekly column.
I am married for the last 10 years. The marriage has been rocky and our sex life is nonexistent at this stage. I experienced childhood emotional abuse and neglect and witnessed a lot of domestic violence. I believe my mother has either Borderline Personality Disorder or Narcissistic Personality Disorder or both.
So my view of the world was pretty messed up. As a consequence I became promiscuous from a young age. I drank heavily and I was raped in my early 20s. I met my husband a year after this. Our sex life was okay to begin with but within a year I was getting more and more reluctant. I believe I suffered flashbacks for about two years.
Added to that were troubles with infertility resulting in IVF, and also bereavement, so it's been an extraordinarily stressful 10 years for us both. I have undergone counselling for childhood issues but still find sexual relations difficult. I don't even like to kiss. Marriage counselling didn't improve things for me. I feel dirty and ashamed. What can I do to get better? I want our marriage to last and we are finally in a good place with each other.
MARY: Your marriage certainly has had to withstand a lot and it is an obvious testament to your love for each other that you are doing so well together right now. You had a particularly difficult start to your sexual life and I am not at all surprised that you are having problems with intimacy. People who have been abused usually find themselves withdrawing sexually as soon as they feel that they are becoming emotionally involved with a partner. They are simply not able to combine emotional and sexual intimacy, and so chose the emotional route.
At the beginning of your relationship with your husband you would not have known that you were going to get so close to him and so you had no difficulty in being sexual with him. However, as things progressed in your relationship and as you became emotionally intimate then you withdrew sexually, and that is very understandable.
You did the absolute right thing in seeking help for the effects that your childhood upbringing had on you because that is always the first thing that has to be addressed. In my experience you will not make much headway with getting your sex life back on track until you have some specific psycho-sexual therapy for the lack of desire which you are experiencing. Therapy will very gradually help you get over the bad feelings that you experienced around sex by taking you through a series of exercises which are called sensate-focus exercises.
You and your husband will start by learning to enjoy sensual sensations in the form of light massage and with a ban on anything sexual. It is only when you are comfortable with this - and it may take quite some time - that you will include touching the breasts and genital area. For some people this would not appear to be at all threatening, but in your case it may take some weeks for you to feel that this is acceptable.
You will then move on at your own pace until you are happy with being fully sexual, and I stress once again that things may move very slowly for you. However I have seen very good results from couples who have undertaken this form of therapy. The key to success is to have addressed the issues that caused your problems with sex to begin with and you have already done this. I really do encourage you to take the next step in your recovery by going for sex therapy and I am sure you will be delighted with the results. You deserve it after all you have been through.
You can contact Mary O’Conor anonymously by visiting www.dearmary.ie or email her at email@example.com or write c/o 27-32 Talbot Street, Dublin 1. All correspondence will be treated in confidence. Mary O’Conor regrets that she is unable to answer any questions privately.