‘My hus­band and I have a sex­less mar­riage’

The Sunday Telegraph - Stella - - CONTENTS -

It be­gan on our wed­ding night. Or, rather, that’s when it ended... The day had been a fairy tale. I’d worn my great-aunt’s veil and an ivory an­tique-lace dress that I hitched up in the evening to dance to the folk band. But that night, our first as a mar­ried cou­ple, my hus­band Mark* turned his back on me and mum­bled that he was too tired for sex. Star­ing at the ceil­ing, I won­dered what I’d done wrong. It was a month be­fore we next slept to­gether.

We had met a year ear­lier at church and in those first months we’d had a healthy, if un­ad­ven­tur­ous, sex life. But by our sec­ond year of mar­riage it had re­duced to joy­less fum­bles ev­ery few months, al­ways in the dark and ini­ti­ated by me. I’d broach it with Mark and he’d say that he just wasn’t ‘that into’ sex, which left me feel­ing con­fused and ner­vous about our fu­ture.

Away from the bed­room, how­ever, our mar­riage was oth­er­wise healthy. We lived in a lovely three-bed semi, and 18 months af­ter the wed­ding we had our son Char­lie*. We were thrilled but as­ton­ished, given how in­fre­quently we’d tried. Only our sex life re­mained bro­ken. I blamed my­self as I’d put on 2st af­ter giv­ing birth. I felt in­creas­ingly em­bar­rassed so didn’t con­fide in my friends.

Years went by and I mostly ig­nored the is­sue, but some days I be­came de­ter­mined to ‘fix’ us, and read psy­chol­ogy books and sex ad­vice in mag­a­zines. Once I even bought a pair of saucy knick­ers and tried gy­rat­ing about the bed­room in a pa­thetic se­duc­tion at­tempt – the mem­ory still makes me squirm with em­bar­rass­ment. At the time I was con­vinced that if I was more ex­per­i­men­tal, Mark would come around. Un­sur­pris­ingly, it didn’t work.

Af­ter seven years, we were only hav­ing sex a cou­ple of times a year and I in­sisted that Mark see a doctor. By then I felt that he should take some re­spon­si­bil­ity – it had af­fected our mar­riage and left me bat­tling with self-es­teem is­sues. When tests showed that he had low testos­terone lev­els, I re­mem­ber the sense of re­lief. If the prob­lem was med­i­cal, we could fix it.

We tried testos­terone patches and Vi­a­gra, but one af­ter­noon, Mark came home from the GP and slapped an­other bot­tle of pills on my night­stand. ‘From now on when you want sex, all you have to do is ask,’ he said an­grily, and stalked out of the bed­room. My op­ti­mism evap­o­rated. The last thing I wanted was for him to see it as a chore and it hit me just how deep the prob­lem ran.

For a cou­ple of years, things barely im­proved. Mark even sug­gested I ‘sat­isfy my needs’ out­side the mar­riage, which hurt my feel­ings. I con­sid­ered leav­ing him, but then two years ago my fa­ther-in-law died and Mark plunged into a deep de­pres­sion. I knew I couldn’t aban­don him. As I nursed him through months of sob­bing and mourn­ing, he opened up and ad­mit­ted that he’d been sex­u­ally abused by a priest when he was a boy. I was stunned – I’d had no idea. Sud­denly our prob­lems in the bed­room made sense.

To­day, Mark is in ther­apy and, whether it’s down to age or ac­cep­tance, the lack of sex no longer both­ers me. My ex­pe­ri­ences led me to train as a re­la­tion­ship ther­a­pist and I help other cou­ples strug­gling with the ef­fects of child­hood sex­ual abuse. I also know that the demise of our mar­i­tal sex life was never about me. That takes a long time to come to terms with in a cul­ture where we’re taught that men are al­ways up for sex.

Re­cently Mark told me that he hopes he will get to a place, through ther­apy, where he feels he can be sex­u­ally in­ti­mate again. I’d like that.

‘I blamed my­self and be­came in­creas­ingly em­bar­rassed. I didn’t con­fide in friends’

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