Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Dismaying Story #63: Repulsed by Sex

Dear Andrew,

I am married and I don't want to have sex anymore. I find it repugnant. When my husband kisses me, I feel like he is trying to swallow my face. When he touches my breasts, I want to swat his hand away.

How can I recapture that loving feeling?

Signed, Just ... Ugh

Dear Just Ugh,

I have heard it said that when the sex is good, it constitutes a small fraction of your relationship. When it's going badly, though, it dominates your thoughts and feelings. Sex probably seems like THE big issue in your marriage right now. There is a good chance, however, that your lack of libido is actually a symptom of some other underlying problem. My short answer for how to recapture that loving feeling is to identify this problem and address it directly.

Many types of life issues can cause what you describe. You could be struggling to feel good about your husband and your marriage for any number of reasons, such as the way he treats you or how he makes you feel generally. It's hard to feel like being intimate when the relationship itself is on the rocks.

Alternatively, this could be a symptom of strong emotions like fear or guilt. Some folks are raised up in ultra-strict households where sex and guilt are tied hand-in-hand every step of the way growing up. It can be difficult to let go of this association later when sex is "supposed to be okay now."

You could be suffering from a trauma in your past. If you have been raped or abused physically, sexually or emotionally, then physical intimacy can trigger strong memories and a powerful aversion.

Even plain old day-to-day stress can wring the sex drive right out of you. Drag yourself out of bed at six a.m., rush around to get everyone off to school, work, whatever, work all day, worry about the bills and the housework and the groceries and your in-law problems and goodness knows what else, and by the end of it you feel like a wet noodle. Then just when you get a chance to relax he starts feeling frisky. (There are strategies for dealing with this, such as making dates when you actually have a little time to relax and connect emotionally before worrying about the physical stuff.)

Regardless of the root cause, your first step is to be honest with your husband. You need to admit to him you have a problem and ask for his help in addressing it. You may have been reluctant to bring this up with him until now, not wanting to deal with his hurt feelings or perhaps fearing you will damage your relationship irreparably. These are valid concerns. You should be able to deal with them effectively if you position the issue appropriately. Simply saying, "I don't want to have sex anymore because I hate it" will be difficult for him to hear. A likely interpretation of this is, "I no longer find you attractive -- I am repulsed by you." A less threatening approach might be to say, "There's something going on with me and I'm not sure what it is. I need your help to fix it." Then when he (hopefully) shows concern and offers to help, explain that your sex drive has hit rock bottom and you're convinced there must be some reason that has little or nothing to do with sex, but you don't know what it is.

Your underlying problem may actually have plenty to do with sex, in the sense that your sex drive depends in part on your emotional state. Talking with your husband in the manner I suggested, however, may help reduce the perceived threat from his point of view. You want to put up as few barriers as possible to getting him into a helpful state of mind.

You need your husband's help for several reasons. He is your life partner and should be there to help you during your times of need. This issue affects him and your relationship directly, so it is only right and fair that he should know and have a chance to help work it out. The most immediate and pragmatic reason, though, is that you need to stop having sex right away. We all become conditioned by our positive or negative experiences. Every time you have sex and find it repugnant, you are becoming more and more conditioned to view sex, your husband and your marriage as negative. The emotional ladder you must climb is growing taller each time you continue to have sex in your current state. If your husband understands this, hopefully he will be able to support you in what you need to do to heal yourself.

I recommend you see a professional therapist or psychologist. Hopefully this will enable you to understand whatever is behind your sagging libido and begin charting a path to a better place.

All the best,

If you haven't already done so, don't forget to check out this week's Ask the Faithful Readers question. I'd love to hear about the special friends with whom you always re-connect instantly regardless of how long you've been apart.


  1. I agree with the statement by Andrew ...symptom of some other underlying problem. My short answer for how to recapture that loving feeling is to identify this problem and address it directly.

    I have been there and done that, and sometimes I still have to work through it.

    I grew up in the ...in ultra-strict households[except I would say belief where sex and guilt are tied hand-in-hand every step of the way growing up.[although I was taught it was not appropriate prior to marriage, not wrong altogether It can be difficult to let go of this association later when sex is "supposed to be okay now."

    SO, I see what you mean "ugh".

    For myself, it also doesn't hel

  2. I had the same problem in my marriage.. my husband drank and i felt second best to his alcohol. My libido went way down..
    This also happened to me with a 5 year relationship of mine.. the guy had broken up with me several times to go and screw around. Needless to say, whenever he touched me i was disgusted:(
    It made me feel cheap.
    The only saving grace for me in either situation was that i could figure out why i was feeling that way and was able to express it to my partner at the time. That didnt nessecarily(spelling sucks) fix the problem though.
    Both people have to be willing to work at a solution, and if you (deep down) know what the problem is, and he wont help fix it, it probably isnt worth it in my opinion. If he wants to get it on then he has to be part of the solution.
    hope you figure out what the problem is.. :)

  3. I've been there. My ex husband drank and it got to the point where I couldn't stand the smell of beer. He'd want to have sex and I'd want to get away from the stink of him lol

    There were definitely lots of other underlying things for me though. I felt he didn't help me enough with two toddlers running around, lack of sleep etc. He never did anything to help out around the house and eventually with everything combined, the resentment grew. I couldn't stand him touching my breasts at all...he was a "breast man"...so I may have subconciously withheld just to torture him LOL

    It's hard to know from this short letter whether there's any resentment on her part or not. I like your response, seems to me you've covered as many bases as possible.

    Interestingly enough, a few months prior to splitting from my husband, our sex life was pretty hot....the kids were older, I was coming into THAT time of my life (age wise) and there seemed less pressure on us financially.

  4. i have to say - you have the most interesting pictures...some are very beautiful

    now back to the topic...she also needs to see her family doctor..as it could be hormonal...she didn't say her age but even my own daughter had hormone problems which were corrected by the pill...

  5. Can I just also chime in from my biased perspective, by adding that a medical check-up is a good idea, too? I completely agree with everything you've said, Andrew, and you're I'm sure right that the problem is almost certainly due to stress/fatigue/psychological factors. But just to be certain that the low libido isn't due to anaemia/underactive thyroid/hormonal imbalance, I think an appointment with the family doctor is not a bad idea, too.

    Best of luck, Just Ugh

  6. azgoddess and jellyhead: You're right -- a trip to the family doctor is also in order. Thanks for filling in that missing piece.

  7. If you're a mom I think this phase is normal. After having children clinging to you, jamming toes where toes don't go while in your bed at night and otherwise needing close physical contact you may be feeling like you need a bubble around your body. This will pass, try to get some time alone and you may find that you come back to yourself.

    If you are without kids, then I second the motion of talking to a proffesional. Depression can take a wallop out of your libido as well.

    Great site, thanks Andrew!

  8. Anonymous8:13 PM

    for me it is the reverse it is my husband who is repulsed by sex and i feel so hurt and lost and dont know which way to turn

  9. I have met many 40+ women whose husbands stop making love to them. The worst story I have is about a friend. Her husband refused to make love to her for 5 years and rejected her when she asked. Turns out he was having sex with every woman in town except for her. Very sad. In case you are wondering, she is attractive. She is an adorable, petite red head who spends time volunteering and helping others. The last time I talked to her I said it was time to consult a lawyer. Her husband refuses to stop his behavior. Since he is an executive, he believes this is owed to him. Just gross.

  10. PS
    I would be interested in an article where the wife has a higher libido than the husband. Recently I have come across a lot of women in this type of relationship and all are over 40. None of these women are ugly -- most of them are quite attractive.