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Dear Patricia: My wife gets angry if I want to talk about our lack of intimacy

Q MY wife and I have been married for 30 years, and about 15 years ago, our sex life went away.

My wife said it was because it hurt her. And she had no desire for sex. I might be able to understand that, but the real problem is that she got offended and angry at me if I tried to discuss it.

I don't know exactly what is wrong, and she won't talk to me about it. During the past 15 years, I have been rejected several times just for asking her to talk to me about our sex life. I no longer try because I don't want any further rejection.

I still have desire for her and have not been with another woman in all the years I've been married. I would be willing to have sex in any way that didn't hurt my wife, but I can't even get that far.

I still love her and believe in our marriage vows. But it gets so hard to do so sometimes. Yes, I masturbate quite often. And no, she will not see a counsellor with me. She says she loves me, but not for sex.

I may be old-fashioned, but I married for better or for worse, till death do us part. If this is something I must live with till I die, then so be it. At least I can face God knowing I tried to do the right thing. It still hurts not to be wanted.

A Despite sex suffusing almost every aspect of life, there is one last taboo. Those who are not interested, or no longer interested, stay silent. Your wife gets offended and angry, and refuses to talk about her lack of interest, because she doesn't feel she can get her message across, and be understood. It's easy to talk about doing it 10 times a night -- and yes, I exaggerate. It's difficult to discuss no interest at all. Just as we preach safe sex rather than abstinence to our kids on the basis that sex must happen, so we fail utterly to encompass the reality of lost libido.

This leads to the destructiveness of non-communication. It also leads to the total withdrawal of all physical affection. Wives are afraid that if they cuddle and hug, or even laugh and flirt a little, he'll want more, because he hasn't heard, or taken on board, what she said. After all, loss of libido makes her some class of alien in the bright new world of Viagra, hormone replacement therapy and eternal youth.

At one level, the reality is simple. Sex becomes a hassle, or more effort than it is worth. Cream to lubricate a dry vagina, which only partially works, hot flushes which are acutely uncomfortable, disturbed sleep, waves of anxiety and depression as the hormone levels waver and wind down -- all of that is part of the menopause, and none of it is conducive to feeling sexy. And yes, the menopause passes, but vaginal dryness remains, and a real reduction in libido.

At another level, the wise and loving wife doesn't give up. Because to do so means turning away from being attractive and desirable, because women miss that when it's gone. It's also a rather charmless way of growing old. And it's wrong to abandon a loving husband, just because the going gets tough.

So of course you are right. There are lots of ways of being sexual together, and what you want is the closeness. Just don't underestimate how daunting and exhausting it is for your wife to spell it all out. Talk to her again.

Sunday Independent