I am married to my lovely husband for three years and we have been together for nearly 20 years, since we were teenagers. He is my best friend, he makes me laugh, he is kind, generous and sensitive, my friends and family love him and we get on great together. The problem is that while he is my best friend, he is not my lover. Unfortunately, there is no longer any intimacy in our relationship. I can't pinpoint when this intimacy faded, but it has been gone for quite some time. We no longer show each other any affection at all; we don't hug, cuddle, hold hands, kiss, and sex is a non-event. The main issue is that I don't think I am attracted to my husband any more and I'm not sure when I last found him sexually attractive.
We have had issues in the bedroom since the very beginning of our relationship. I always found penetrative sex very sore, and most often impossible. I did attend a doctor within the first couple of months of being sexually active, and without any internal exam I was fobbed off with the excuse that I must be 'allergic to the type of condom'. Being 18 and sexually inexperienced, I took this 'diagnosis' and for a couple of years we tried out different condoms/lube combinations with absolutely no success and eventually we more or less gave up on trying to have sex. My husband has said that he doesn't really miss what he never had, but I always felt very guilty that I couldn't give him (or myself) this experience. Over time, he stopped showing interest and I tried to stop thinking about it.
I began researching women's health issues online, but it took a couple of years before I was actually diagnosed with vaginismus by a doctor with expertise in women’s health. So on her advice I ordered the appropriate vaginal/pelvic floor trainers online and started to try to 'train' myself but I needed professional support. This led me to meet with several different counsellors until I found a psychosexual therapist who I felt comfortable with. I met with her regularly for many months and during this time I managed to complete the trainers and myself and my boyfriend successfully managed to have penetrative sex for the first time in years. Unfortunately though this did not spark the sexual renaissance that I had hoped for.
Since then, we got engaged, married and have settled into a sexless married life. I can count on one hand the number of times we have had oral sex (zero penetrative) since we got engaged. Essentially, we have a platonic relationship, and I feel I need more.
What I am really craving is intimacy, for someone to find me attractive and desirable, and who wants to have sex with me. My husband, as wonderful as he is in so many other ways, does not do this for me. And I don't believe that I do it for him either or else we wouldn’t have ended up in this situation.
I feel like I have three options: 1) stay in my marriage and accept the lack of intimacy/sex, but know that I'll have a very nice life with a great husband. 2) Leave my husband and cause us both huge hurt, in the hope that I can find someone nearly as nice, but who I'm actually attracted to; or 3) stay in my marriage and have an affair in order to satiate my sexual frustration. I am increasingly tempted to have an affair, and am regularly fantasising about being with other men, but I know in my heart of hearts that it’s very unlikely that I would actually do this as I love and respect him too much. Also I think I’d feel really embarrassed if I tried but couldn’t have sex with someone else due to the possibility of the vaginismus recurring.
Mary replies: Many years ago when I was training to be a psychosexual therapist in the U.K. they used to call me Vaginismus Mary due to the large number of vaginismus cases I presented. It is an area that I was particularly interested in and it is rarely spoken about, so thank you for your email.
It is all very well treating the vaginismus but I believe it is even more important to understand why the woman has the condition. There are many factors which can contribute to it, both from her background and actual events which may have happened to her. There are also maintaining factors - those that cause the condition to continue - and very often her choice of partner is a maintaining factor. Almost invariably I found that the partners of these women were lovely, genuine, caring people such as you describe your husband to be. But because they were so nice they didn’t push their partner to seek help and thus ensured that there was no change in how things were, sometimes for years. So your husband more than likely does still find you really attractive and wants you, but he doesn’t want to upset you by bringing up a subject that is fairly fraught between you, particularly as there is a long history of problems.
Firstly I hope that you fully understand the reasons for your vaginismus because it is difficult to make progress without understanding why you had it. Secondly there may have been too much emphasis on achieving the goal of penetration without any of the enjoyment that goes along with being sexual. After all you were trying to get comfortable with allowing the trainers into the vagina which is really quite clinical.
Thirdly try to get your head around the fact that you don’t have to madly fancy your husband in order to have quite a satisfactory sexual encounter. After twenty years I wouldn’t expect that. But you love him very much, he makes you laugh, he is your best friend and if you take things slowly there is no reason why you shouldn’t have some fun times again. So forget trying for penetration for the moment - you know that you can do it - and try to begin to get some playful fun into your lives. Tell him, honestly, that you miss the intimacy and the feel-good factor associated with being close, and suggest that you at least start kissing again. Kissing goodnight would be a good place to start. Then slowly add a little touching and caressing - no doubt there were things that you used to do to each other that caused pleasurable reactions. Don’t be in a rush - every little step will ensure that you are getting closer to each other. Allow your brain to relax as you experience some nice reactions, and that is all that you have to do to encourage your physical response to touch. You mention a few times that you are not sexually attracted to him, but bearing in mind that anybody can have a satisfactory sexual experience all on their own using some fantasy, I see no reason why being with a partner cannot be an extension of that.
I go along with your summary of the the options open to you. But I contend that there is a fourth. Try to change things little by little and you will get to a place where you are not feeling as frustrated as you are now. You should also consider going back to your therapist, but this time with your husband. She will be able to go into much more detail than I can, and will have suggestions as to what you can do to make your sex life together more satisfying.
You can contact Mary O'Conor anonymously by visiting www.dearmary.ie or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org Alternatively, write to Mary O'Conor, c/o 27-32 Talbot St, Dublin 1. All correspondence will be treated in confidence.
Mary O'Conor regrets that she is unable to answer any questions privately
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