When I was a child, we lived next door to an elderly couple around the age of 90. Several years ago, my mom mentioned that one day, she and the neighbor woman were talking about childbirth. The neighbor told my mom how horribly painful her son’s birth was. She told her husband that she would never go through that again.
In those days, the only way to avoid pregnancy was to not have sex. They had been married less than a year when their son was born. My mom made a comment about how it must have been nice when she (the neighbor) went through the change, and the neighbor said that by then they just weren’t interested. By then, who knows? Maybe they weren’t, or maybe he just figured there was no point asking again. Or maybe neither one of them remembered how to be intimate with each other.
Are you living in a sexless marriage?
A sexless marriage is defined as a marriage with less than ten sexual encounters per year. Our neighbors had been married for seventy years and had sex only during the first year. It’s pretty clear that this was a sexless marriage.
From 2009 to late 2010, we came close. Weeks would stretch between some encounters. I always had my reasons for “no”—too tired, too disconnected from my husband, too overwhelmed by work and parenting, too stressed about our finances, unhappy with my body, and a husband who was grouchy and then depressed.
The Bible tells us that marriage is a sexual relationship. 1 Corinthians 7 tells us not to sexually deprive our spouses. We are told in multiple places that a husband and wife should cleave to each other. The Song of Solomon is richly full of a vibrant sexual relationship. In no place are we told that it is ever okay for sex not to be part of the marriage relationship.
A sexless marriage is not God’s design for married couples.
I was hurting and angry. Saying “yes” to my husband’s sexual advances felt like I was giving in or caving. It felt like I was letting him win. I just wanted to know that he still loved me. I didn’t realize yet that sex plays such a key role for men in making an emotional connection. I also didn’t realize that sex was just as much for me as it was for my husband.
To my shame and regret, my internal experiences of hurt spoke louder to me than the Bible did.
I have come to realize that none of my reasons for “no” is actually a valid reason for a consistent “no” to sex. Still, these experiences and perceptions were part of the truth of my life as I saw it. During a twelve-month stretch when we managed sex barely twelve times, I realized one other truth: the longer I went without sexual activity, the harder it was to do it. This wasn’t just about libido or arousal, although these things were affected by the sexual desert. The fact is, it was hard to actually be in a sexual situation with my husband. I didn’t remember how. Everything felt awkward and weird.
How do you . . . ?
Once you learn how to ride a bike, you never forget how. I figured the same thing should be true about sex, but I learned that for me, that wasn’t the case. The longer we went without sexual activity the harder it was for me to be in my husband’s arms. He would kiss me, and I would think, Who is this man? He practically ignores my pleas for attention, and now I’m supposed to open myself up? Didn’t I used to like sex? How can I not remember what to do with the arm that I’m lying on? Kissing didn’t feel natural. His body was strange to me. My own body felt strange to me. It took me so long just to get relaxed enough to even start sexual activity. Having sex with my own husband was hard. It wore me out emotionally. And the next time, knowing what I was facing in difficulty, it made it even harder to choose “yes” over “no.”
I’ve received messages from quite a few women who want to make changes in their sexual refusal and gate-keeping. Many of these messages ask, “But how do you . . . ?” When it’s been so long, it can be difficult. I think this is especially true when other aspects of the relationship are struggling as well. Married sex happens within the context of a relationship. I had my heart so walled up and protected because of our relationship that I was walling myself in sexually.
Leaving Your Sexless Marriage Behind
Sex was such a bone of contention in our marriage. I was beginning to sense that my restriction on the frequency and variety of our sex life was a problem—but I had no idea how to change it. Being sexual with my husband was tangled up with all sorts of other things—my hurt, my feelings about myself, the realization that our marriage was in bigger trouble than I’d realized. I knew that if I pulled on just one strand of the mess, I would end up having to deal with the whole thing. (Imagine untangling Christmas lights and you’ll understand what I was thinking.)
So I began to wonder about how to prevent myself from having to deal with it . .
Maybe he’ll have a heart attack and be told he’s never allowed to have sex again.
Maybe he’ll get so desperate for sex that he has an affair. Then I can use that as a reason for no sex for the rest of our lives.
Or maybe if he has an affair, I’ll get a divorce. That’s a socially acceptable reason for a divorce, right? And people will sympathize with me. I can live with that.
We could look for jobs for him far away, and then he’ll have to move out for a while. This will give me a break and he’ll remember how much he needs me for things besides sex. He’ll come back and it will be okay—or we’ll decide that we’ve grown so far apart that the marriage will be over.
I had realized that a sexless marriage was somehow wrong, and the only solution I could see was to end the marriage.
Or maybe . . .
. . . It is better to end the sexlessness than to end the marriage.
In this post, I wrote about a time early into my changes when I allowed my husband to see my naked breasts. I had to take a lot of deep breaths. I had to engage in a lot of self-talk. I remember thinking, I’ve done this tons of times before, but it’s been so many years. I know it was okay. I know it will be okay. What kind of wife can’t even let her own husband see her naked chest? Why is this so hard? I was in tears. I had to force myself to let my husband see my breasts. Please God. I’m so scared. I don’t know why, but I know this is important. I just don’t think I can do it. Please help me. And He did.
Footprints in the Sand
The only reason I was able to find the courage and expose myself to my husband was that I had asked God for help. As I saw my husband’s face, full of shock and joy at seeing my bosom so blatantly displayed for him, I heard God say, You done good, kid. It was an important step. The next time I let my husband see my naked breasts, I was able to draw on this one experience and remember that I could do this—and that God would be with me then, too.
You’re probably familiar with the poem “Footprints in the Sand.” It ends with these words:
He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you, never, ever, during your trials and testings. When you saw only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”
Have you been living in a sexless marriage, or one that is close to sexless? Do you know what your first step should be? Has it been such a long time since you’ve taken that step—or is a step you’ve never taken at all—that you are scared or nervous? Are you seeking for the courage to take that first step in healing your marriage? Are you wondering if you can really do this?
The journey toward a sexually healed marriage is a journey of many steps. The first steps are the hardest—but you don’t have to take those steps alone. Whether your marriage has been sexless for one year, or five years, or twenty, or seventy—you never have to take those steps alone.
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