Monday, April 20, 2009

Married love: a special bond and blessing. Don't give up.

I always think not twice, but ten or twenty times, before introducing the topic of intimacy in marriage on my blog, because this is such a private, private matter and the last thing I want is to be ungracious or indiscreet when discussing it. But a recent dicussion on Terry's blog prompted some thoughts that I just had to put into writing.

Some women plain and simple can't stand the thought of being intimate with their husbands, and in those cases, it's pretty obvious that there's a problem (though not necessarily through the woman's fault). When one of the spouses outright denies physical intimacy, an explosion is bound to happen. But what happens when the wife sees marital relations as an inevitable duty, and decides to just grit her teeth and suffer through it?

To tell you the truth, I find it perhaps even more heartbreaking when a wife, maybe out of the gentle womanly quality of submission, bears a load of suffering during times of intimacy with her husband. It's nothing less than a tragedy when a wife resigns herself to a lifetime of misery during times that are supposed to be special, wonderful, and rekindle the fire between herself and her husband. And of course, what husband with an even remote trace of sensitivity will be happy with this kind of arrangement?

Please note that I'm not talking about occassionally getting over a "headache" or tiredness. I mean a situation when the wife (I speak about the woman's side of the matter, because most of the readers here are ladies) consistently suffers through intimacy with her husband, and doesn't attempt any change, either out of embarrassment, or because of disappointment she suffered in the past.

The special togetherness that is shared only between husband and wife is supposed to be enjoyable. I'm not saying that it's always supposed to be everything that Hollywood movies would have us believe, but it's not supposed to cause pain, embarrassment, or discomfort. If it does, it means there's a problem.

I'm not saying this to cause pain or guilt to women who have been struggling with this matter. Obviously, I'm generalizing a lot here, and cannot presume to understand everybody's situation. But I am thoroughly convinced that one must not resign. Perhaps there is nothing wrong on a purely physical level - at least not something a doctor would detect. It doesn't mean your difficulties aren't valid.

By the way, some doctors are very good at making a superficial examination, and telling there's nothing wrong and we should just get over it - even if they were the ones who prescribed medicine that is causing the problem. During the time I have been blogging, I received numerous emails from wives who experienced a rapid decline in their sexual desire once they started using hormonal birth control, but no doctor ever warned them about it, and most doctors outright denied the connection.

Perhaps you have a past of sexual abuse, or simply a burden of impure past, or other emotional inhibitions. In such a case it would be wise to seek godly counseling. Maybe there's a health problem that leads to exhaustion or lack of desire. And even simply feeling "too tired" isn't supposed to be dismissed. Perhaps the wife is up with a small baby several times each night. In that case, it's understandable that she's always tired in the evenings, and couple time can be carved out at other times of the day.

Women are highly emotional creatures; for most of us, it's impossible to satisfyingly connect with our husbands on a physical level, if something in the relationship has gone amiss, or if the wife doesn't feel cherished, loved and secure. Perhaps the root of the problem is actually elsewhere, and by solving it, the issue of physical intimacy will be naturally solved as well.

Body image issues can also prevent a woman from enjoying physical intimacy with her husband. We all change as we grow older, bring children into this world and nurse them, and it's normal. I've lost all of my baby weight already, but my body is not quite the same, nor will it ever be. My hips are different. My waist is different. And that's alright - I exercise and do my best to be physically fit, but I didn't expect to give birth to a baby and still have a slender maidenly figure. Fortunately, I am blessed to have a husband who always tells me how beautiful I am and how attracted he is to me in my new self. Perhaps not all husbands are so understanding. Perhaps some unknowingly cause pain to their wives and lower their self esteem by, for example, pointing out at another woman who recently had a baby, or has several small children, and looks in better shape. Maybe some men think it's a good way to motivate their wives to eat more healthily and exercise, and don't realize how hurtful it can be. Openness on such matters is crucial.

Or maybe the problem is even on a purely "technical" level, but you've never talked about it, out of embarrassment or fear of hurting the other side's feelings. Or you tried, and it didn't work out, and you decided to just live with it - and it usually doesn't improve on its own. With heartfelt prayer, honest conversation, commitment on both sides and lots of hard work, change is possible, and it can bring your marriage onto a whole new level of closeness and trust. It will bless both of you. Don't give up.

34 comments:

Terry @ Breathing Grace said...

As usual, Anna, you tackled this subject with a level of grace and eloquence that is unmatched.

Thanks for the link.

Ways of Zion said...

A book that may be helpful to your readers is:Intended for Pleasure by Ed Wheat and Gaye Wheat

I know others who have found it helpful in this area of their marriages. It covers issues such as you have discribed.

Thanks for covering such an issue with great thought, care and delicacy!

Joanna J. said...

Your beautiful gift of writing shines through this post, Anna. You have handled a tender topic with grace.

Mrs W said...

Just because women such as myself have pain does not mean we have not been doing some problem solving to try to change it. My husband and I try different things all the time, and I can be "in the mood" and every time still hurts. Sometimes, things just hurt. It's easy for someone who has never had problems in this area to come up with a heap of solutions.

I find it weird that "Intended For Pleasure" would be mentioned...it did absolutely nothing for us, so I am kind of surprised to hear that it helps people. But, that is a good thing I suppose. LOL.

Men DO need to be grateful that their wives try hard and experiment and when it doesn't work, they still have sex. It's not very nice to have your husband get mad at you because he couldn't make you feel good when he knows you are in pain. Then he blames you for HIM not getting some kind of warm fuzzy feeling. Sorry, but at least it felt good for him. They need to learn to just be grateful they have a wife who will still have sex with them whenever they need it and not deny them like other women. But of course, that's not good enough for a man. Everything has to go his way or the woman is doing something wrong...

justme27 said...

Here is a website with good info for such things.

http://www.themarriagebed.com/

I suggest it to young engaged or newlywed couples. There's forums where questions can be asked, and many things are discussed.

And I knew of one friend who had the opposite problem... it was lack of desire on the husband's part. That's equally harmful to a marriage.

Bethany Hudson said...

So well put, Anna. I just wanted to add one last bit of advice: If you are having trouble with intimacy because of discomfort, do talk to your husband, but also consider seeking medical help! In the very beginning of our marriage, I thought perhaps sex was just supposed to be painful. Then, I went to a doctor and learned I had a yeast condition that needed treatment. After two weeks of treatment, nothing ever felt "uncomfortable" or painful again! Don't be embarassed to seek medical help if you need it.
~Bethany

Mrs. Anna T said...

Mrs. W,

I agree with you that it's far better to still be intimate, even if one of the spouses experiences discomfort, than to stop being intimate altogether. I also agree with you that husbands should be patient, sensitive, considerate and loving, as this is such a sensitive matter. Pain is bad enough. Heaping guilt on top of it is even worse.

Lea said...

I had problem with physical pain and put up with it for several years. Finally, I spoke to a female obstetrician (sp?) about it. It turned out I had an overgrowth of scar tissue in an uncomfortable place. A minor, outpatient proceedure to remove it, and my intimate life with my husband is back! I am so grateful I spoke up and asked.

Unfortunately, many people don't because of embarrassment or fear. Your doctor has seen it all (trust me on this one!) and most will try to help. My doctor told me approximately 40% of women have this condition at one time or another, so it's worth looking at!

Thanks for bringing up this topic! I can't tell you how relieved I am when people do!

Lea

Anonymous said...

Due to the personal nature of my comment, I'd like to remain anonymous.

I gave birth a few months ago and experienced a tear. My midwife stitched me up, but the stitches didn't hold properly and I healed incorrectly.

Tissue has formed where there should be no tissue.

Unfortunately, intercourse is now painful because of this.

I need to find a surgeon who can hopefully repair me.

It's a bit devastating, to say the least. I'm hoping that I'll be able to find someone who can help me! My husband hopes so, too.

ROSIE said...

Anna,

Thank you for your sensitive way of discussing things. But mainly, thank you for blogging and sharing your thoughts, your kind words, your gentle spirit, and your encouragements with others, especially in this busy season of your life. You have encouraged me on many a day, and I truly appreciate the time you take to share.

Blessings to you and your family,
Rosie

Sarah said...

Well said, Anna. I am mostly a lurker here, but I wanted to share my thoughts with you and your readers on this specific issue. I find it discouraging - and frankly, offensive - when some people say that women should ALWAYS submit to their husbands when it comes to sex. With this comes the assumption that men always have higher libidos than women, which, in my case, is not true. I have a fairly high libido. That said, if a woman never wants to have sex - then there is most definitely other problems that should be addressed. But under no circumstances should sex be obligatory, for either the man or the woman. It chaps my hide when I hear things like, "Well, you would be mad if your husband stopped taking out the garbage, so you can understand how he would feel if you stopped wanting to have sex with him." It's as if sex is like a chore for women, which I think is far from how God intended sex to be. It should be pleasurable and freely chosen by both spouses.

Well, those are my thoughts. I enjoyed reading yours!

Anonymous said...

Oh, weird, I was just posting about this in Kelly's blog - but from the other side. My husband just doesn't seem to be interested in physical intimacy in the way that I am. It's the biggest frustration in our relationship.

Betsy said...

I would second the importance of the emotional/relational aspect to the women's enjoyment of physical intimacy. My husband and I struggled for a long time before we truly understood this about each other. At one point I truly believed I would never in my life enjoy physical intimacy and we did blame each other a great deal about our problems. I wanted to have perfect peace of mind about my homemaking and our relationship before I enjoyed physical intimacy and he found encouragement to work on our relationship and energy to help me with the house after physical intimacy! We both had to learn to give at times when we weren't ideally in the mindset by oneself. The great thing has been that with each of our needs being met more frequently the times that both of us are "in the mood" for physical intimacy have gotten more frequent and more enjoyable. The route of self-denial and focusing on each other's pleasure has resulted in more true enjoyment for both of us, amazing!

Additionally, we've discovered that some of the discomfort/pain I had earlier in our marriage has disappeared as my interest in intimacy increased. I think that increased interest and desire mentally affects how my body physically prepares for intimacy (hormones, I assume). So in our case, pain was addressed by non-medical means, it was largely mental/relational.

I hope my story can encourage another wife who might be in a similar situation.

Anonymous said...

I love your writings and agree for the most part, however, very little seems to ever be said for women who have a higher sex drive than their husband.
My husband is 10 years older than me and he just is not interested in sex as he use to be. He wants to be but isn't. So we have had a lot of issues over this. I don't have any issues though with feeling he isn't attracted to me, etc. I feel certain that this mainly comes from his stressful job and age.
Before getting married, I lived a promiscuous and feminist lifestyle. I feel those sins of my past are always coming back to haunt me. I am a christian now and am so happy to be in a Christ centered marriage. We get along great and are very affectionate, it is just the only thing, actual sex that has me down. I feel if it wasn't for all the continued affection I get, things would be a lot worse.
I had the preconceived ideas from my liberal lifestyle that married couples had sex several times a day. Not saving yourself for marriage, really can affect how you view sex in marriage.
I get frustrated when I see blog post after post about all these women who won't give their husband sex! IF they only knew how lucky they were to have a man that has desire.
I have much more I could say. But I am mainly just curious if their are any other women with similar experiences?

Anonymous said...

Hello,

This was a wonderful and gentle post. As a nurse, I have cared for several women who have had reconstructive surgery (one quite young!) due to the pain issue. Many times with proper assessment and diagnosis this problem can be dealt with surgically.

It was encouraging to care for these women as they chose to pursue intimacy and not live in shame.

E.

Mrs. Anna T said...

Anonymous,

You said, "very little seems to ever be said for women who have a higher sex drive than their husband" -

I am more than aware that such situations exist and can be very frustrating, however, this simply wasn't the topic of my post. Here, I intended to discuss specifically the issue of women who suffer from fear/shame/pain and resign themselves to never enjoying the intimate time with their husbands.

momof3girls said...

I really enjoy following your blog!

I know I struggled with interest with intimacy when I was covered in baby spit up, was tired, and the only jingle in my brain was from nick or disney channel. I have however learned to take time out for myself - yes, guilty! Where I take a bubble bath, get cleaned up, put nice lotion on and while taking my bath listen to relaxing music - and hubby has to keep all children out! This helps me feel more like a woman, and when I feel like a woman I leave "mom" mode behind and can focus on being the kind of wife my husband needs - this helped with our intimacy issue

- Still learning to juggle all the roles I play but doing it by the grace of God. Talking to other ladies and hearing what they do that helps their marriage is encouraging as well!! thanks for all who shared their comments!!

Anonymous said...

I'm the anonymous poster who had a tear from childbirth that needs repaired.

After reading Lea's comment, I'm more encouraged about my situation! It sounds like she may have experienced something easier, and she describes her treatment as pretty minor.

That gives me hope! I've been really stressed about my looming surgery, whatever it might entail.

Thank you, Anna, for blogging about this, and thank you, Lea, for commenting!

Marcie said...

I wanted to throw in another thought here. A study done in Japan showed that women who reported high emotional satisfaction in their marriages (feeling understood and nurtured and loved and respected) also reported higher levels of sexual satisfaction. I know this is true in my own life that if there is an unresolved issue lurking below the surface, that it can begin to affect how my husband and I relate intimately.

Maybe you have some issues you need to commit to prayer? Or maybe you need the guidance of an older, godly woman?

Just a thought...
Marcie

Anonymous said...

(Different Anon here)

I know that wasn't the topic of the post, Anna, but there seem to be few (if any) godly resources for women dealing with the problem of a husband not interested in physical intimacy. I suppose I just want to know what the right, true and biblical response to the situation is, and I don't know anyone in real life I feel comfortable admitting the situation to. I'm a fairly new Christian, though I did wait until marriage to experience intercourse... (mostly by accident, lol).

Karen said...

This may seem a little graphic, but this helped me. After I gave birth for the first time, things were just never the same, and I always had pain. I went to the doctor several times to figure out what was wrong but the suggestions I got never helped. Two things: first, I had a latex allergy (and this is back when we were using latex contraception) and 2nd, I just needed to use lubrication - LOTS of it. I still have to almost every time, but then everything is fine! I hope this helps someone. Not all of us function properly down there and sometimes we need a lil help.

Karen said...

Personally, Anna, for me, it's not something I suffer thru per sae...it's just something I kinda get bored with most of the time. In my head I'm thinking hmm...I could be finishing my novel right about now, I hope this gets over with soon. It's not that I hate it, it's just there are so many things I'd rather do.

But you are absolutely right, if there is anything wrong emotionally in the relationship, then it will show up in the bedroom too.

ROSIE said...

I have found in the course of my own marriage that just as lack of desire on my own part can be due to deeper emotional issues, the same can be true for my husband. His own desire has been low or difficult to find when he has been under especially heavy burdens at work, or worried about finances, or dealing with his own emotional issues from long ago.

Although it has of course been important for us to talk openly and honestly and lovingly with one another about such issues (and I view openness on this issue especially as a sacred trust...not a place for judgement or a "you need to get fixed" attitude on either side!)...the greatest help for our marriage (and for my frustrations) at those times were to pray and to focus my energies into being the best Godly wife I could be for my husband, and to find ways to show him that I love and support him unconditionally. A study called "The Excellent Wife" was very helpful to me. My husband was so blessed by unconditional love at a time he felt very low and inadequate, and it opened the doors to greater emotional intimacy--and in turn, enriched our physical intimacy.

Anonymous said...

Sorry I was off topic. I was inspired to write mainly from your following comment:

"When one of the spouses outright denies physical intimacy, an explosion is bound to happen."

I knew it wasn't exactly on key but it was at least along the same lines.

I am one of those women who
"suffer from fear/shame/pain" at times due to the opposite situation. So I just wanted to point it out that the situation can be reversed. I did not know you were well aware of the situation.

What about the husbands who resign themselves to never enjoying the intimate time with their wives?
That is all I am trying to find answers for. I guess I will continue my search.

As the other Anon pointed out, there are little to no resources to help women in that regard. She said it perfectly, "I just want to know what the right, true and biblical response to the situation is".

Once again, I apologize for not sticking to topic.

Other Anon- thanks for getting to the heart of what I was trying to say. Seems we are in the same boat. Nice to know you are out there!

Mrs. Anna T said...

Karen,

The point about lubrication seemed so obvious to me that I didn't even mention it! But yes, if people need to use it and never think about it, it can result in lifelong torture - for no good reason.

Michelle said...

Few thoughts: Things were always painful for me until I had my first baby...thankfully when I tore, In my drugged up state, I had enough presence of mind to request that the doc not stitch me up as tight as I was before. Apparently I have some scar tissue, but it doesn't bug me.

On the lubrication issue: typical store brands are terrible compared to a perfectly natural cheap alternative - coconut oil. Works much better.

Yeast infections: I have had a consistent yeast infection for 2 months now...monistat doesn't work anymore, and the next level up of prescription works while I'm on it, but the infection returns. I've tried a whole slew of natural means as well (garlic, vinegar douche, yogurt, etc.) The remaining option is to seek out an herbalist to restore my total health and treat it naturally, which is expensive and difficult while I'm trying to handle 3 little ones.

So for now, I grin and bear it...sometimes you just gotta suck it up.

Bethany Hudson said...

Michelle- Just a suggestion: I thought I was having chronic yeast infections. When I finally saw a specialist, she diagnosed me with something else that is often mistaken for yeast infection: vestibulitus (it's an irritation of the vestibuli--I don't want to get too graphic, but you can google the condition). Perhaps you have something like this and need a different kind of medication?

To the poster who was concerned about her husband not being interested sexually:

First, I would try to discern if there is a significant stressor in your husband's life that could be a culprit. Some men are very sensitive to stress and it affects them sexually, particularly financial stress, if they derive a good part of their self-esteem from being a good provider (kind of like how a woman who gains self-esteem from body image would feel if she were obese).

If you cannot pinpoint anything in this arena, you may want to compassionately discuss with him (or suggest he discuss with a counselor) if he might have any sort of sexual "turn-ons" or even fetishes that are not present in your relationship. I know this can sound kind of kinky, but it may be a necessary step to healing. I had a friend whose partner, in his younger days, always got drunk before having sex with girls. When he rehabbed and stopped drinking, he lost his sex drive for a long time. Eventually, he saw a counselor and worked through it, but before that, he just couldn't get aroused sexually without the stimulus of being drunk. Some men who have used pornography in their past find it difficult to enjoy intimacy with their wife because it's not voyeuristic in the same way. These addictions, habits, and unhealthy sexual stimuli can be worked through and healed, but it's important to recognize them first.

The problem may also be physical (hormonal). Encourage your husband to see a doctor and have his hormone levels tested if you think this may be the issue. Sometimes a simple course of hormone therapy is enough to completely turn things around. (Just like with women! We're not the only ones with hormones; we just talk about them more.)

My final bit of advice is going to come across as very controversial, and I want to stress that I am offering it only as a last resort after all other avenues have been exhausted. Sometimes, tragically, a husband does not have a healthy sexual drive with his wife because he is homosexual. I am NOT saying that I believe this is true in your case; I do not know your husband. But, I have known several couples where this has been the case. In one case, the husband was even a pastor. He was in complete denial of it for decades and had NEVER had a "homosexual experience." In most cases, these marriages ended in divorce, but I do know one couple where they actually managed to go through years of healing, prayer, and counselling and have remained happily married for over 30 years. I am not passing any judgment on these situations, I am merely offering it as a possibility (however remote) because I have seen it happen--more than once--before, and denial does nothing to help the situation.

Anyway, I hope some of this advice has been helpful for you. I wish you blessings in your marriage. May God keep and protect your union and bless you with many years of life-giving, unitive intimacy.

~Bethany

Anonymous said...

I'm a different anon than those above.

I'd like to second (or third) recommendations that anyone experiencing pain be thoroughly checked out by a doctor. As was pointed out earlier, they've seen it all before!

In January of this year, I began to have burning pain and redness in my "lady parts," as my sister says, and went to my gyn, who, after treating me for a yeast infection with no results, diagnosted vestibulitis/vulvodynia. At his suggestion, I researched the topic and asked to try physical therapy.

I feel immensely fortunate to have found a respectful and extremely competent physical therapist specializing in women's pelvic pain only 15 minutes from my home. I've been seeing her since February of this year, and have seen a lot of improvement, though I'm not completely better yet.

According to my PT, tight muscles in my hips and inner thighs made my pelvic floor muscles tense and contract to the point that they were causing nerve pain. A lot of my pain is gone, and the redness has been gone for months. I'm hopeful that I'll experience a full recovery.

All those facing this sort of pain, my thoughts are with you, and I encourage you to continue trying to find ways to ease the suffering.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Anna!

Thank you so much for writing on this topic. I posted a while back, but wanted to send these links again, simply because I think they have huge implications for restoring the intimate lives of husbands and wives.

I apologize if they seems too forthright, but it seems that they would be extremely likely to be linked to many of the issues mentioned here (pain, scar tissue, need for lubrication).

Thank you & best wishes.

Please view only if you are prepared for mature content.

http://www.sexasnatureintendedit.com

http://www.norm.org

Analytical Adam said...

Mrs. Anna,

I thought you're previous article that you wrote on female contraception was very thought provoking and it is a shame Rabbi's permit it (what did people do before contraception??) and I was listening to a health show on the radio and they did find that female contraception reduces a woman's androgen and one of the consequences is if a woman works with weights she will develop 40% less muscle as it does inhibit androgen's which I guess has the same impact to feel aroused.

I have read from many sources that couples have the best intimacy when on vacation. I guess because they both have less emotional stress. As a guy too I feel less attracted to a woman who may be physically attractive but has poor character and has done very selfish things and has no soul.

I did want to add that feminism and women that view their purpose in a life proving that they are better then men (and have been brainwashed by feminism from a very young ages and acted out on this ideology) and feel they have to compete with men will make it hard for them to be able to have intimacy with a man. They also tend to like men that are passive which doesn't help although on both sides they are issues (a man not wanting to be a man and a woman not wanting to be a woman and would rather replace the man's role) which is usually the way it is as it takes two to tango.

Buffy said...

I wanted to comment to say how sensitively you have dealt with this difficult issue. Although I do think physical intimacy is vitally important in marriage I do get a bit fed up reading religious advice that basically says that a woman should never deny her husband sex even if she is in terrible pain. This is obviously a ridiculous thing to say and does nothing to get to the root of the issue which is doubtless very distressing for husband and wife. (I believe there are also some male conditions which have a similar effect.)

I think you struck just the right balance in your article, well done.

Having read through the comments I see you have also provided a forum for women to raise various problems they have had or currently have and I think this is really good. Such women (and men) need to know they are not alone and have nothing to be ashamed of.

By the way my heart goes out to those women whose husbands have "gone off" sex. I think a big part of our self-confidence and identity as women is reliant on our husbands' desire for us in that way. This is a truly damaging long-term blow and the husband really should address this before too much harm is caused.

Anonymous said...

Bethany,
Thank you so much for the well thought out response. Especially for taking the time. I follow your blog as well, and am a great admirer.
I do believe, as you said, that the major issue really does come from general stress from work and finances. His stress levels may be coming down in the near future as he is going to be changing jobs.

The story you told about the friend whose partner could only have sex when drunk gave me some insight as well.

I think also that it could very well be hormones. After lots of discussion he has finally said he is willing to see a doctor. So that is good. Of course men are extremely embarrassed about these things. So I think we are going to explore that. First we will see if just getting the stress levels down will make the difference.

I do find that prayer works, slowly but surely. I have been praying, amongst many things, for my sex drive to slow down a bit at least so that we can meet in the middle. Cause I really do think this illusion I have that every night should be a passion fest affects things.

Most of the time I am pretty positive about this situation, but there are times when I panic and just feel like we are not normal. And then during those times there is no one to turn to, except God it seems.

Once again, thanks for the encouragement and suggestions.
God Bless You.

MarkyMark said...

Ladies,

I'll offer a simple, straightforward man's perspective on the intimacy question here. You want to make your man happy? You want your man to move mountains for you? Then do the following: keep his stomach full, his testicles empty, and BE QUIET; IOW, don't be a nag! Do those three things, and men will be happy enough to move mountains on your behalf. Hope this helps...

MarkyMark

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the thoughtful forum on the subject of marital intimacy.

I'm starting a blog on this topic!

Hope you enjoy it.

http://bluemoonpamphlets.blogspot.com