Get Real! We Waited for Marriage – Now What?

NKeith asks:

I am 28 years old and got married four months ago. Both my husband (29 years old) and I were not virgins before marriage and had both been with two other people before we started dating each other. We made the mutual decision to abstain from intercourse until marriage for religious reasons and to be "right with God" this go around. We dated for two years by the date of our wedding. During that time we would engage in foreplay, oral sex and we enjoyed that. I always wanted to fool around more than him and I made that known while we were dating, but he would always say that it was too difficult to get that worked up and have to stop. I had to agree, so I learned to become patient.

As the relationship went on and we got engaged a year and a half in, during our six month engagement we started having less and less foreplay. As our wedding day approached I became increasingly more excited about FINALLY being able to have guilt free, passionate, fun sex. I would say things like, "I can't wait!" and "how often do you think we'll have sex?" and "We will be able to have sex anywhere in the house and anytime we want" etc. I intentionally said this to express how excited I was about having sex finally. He would respond that he was looking forward to it too but that he didn't know how often we would because he couldn't make statements about part of our relationship that didn't exist yet. He would even get uncomfortable when I would talk about orgasms, something that I've only had real success with achieving with the aid of a vibrator. So the wedding night came and there was no passion, no romance, no "making love" just sex. I thought at least he would take me out of my beautiful dress, NO he just stripped and hopped into the shower, then wanted to have sex in the shower for the first time, not my vision of my wedding night I'd waited for for two years. The honeymoon was the same. When we do have sex it lasts about 5 min. We've never had spontaneous sex or morning sex or after a fight sex.

He says now he's just not that sexual of a person and I feel betrayed and let down that he didn't express this before we promised to spend the rest of our lives together. He has trouble getting and sometimes keeping an erection and I become frustrated when he turns me down for sex. I've heard of girls not being interested in sex, but never a guy. He just is not into spontaneous, passionate, fun, sex. I'm not even sure he knows the difference. I have had great sex in the past, the kind I can't wait for, but with my husband, it's not exciting and he doesn't even get turned on by sexy lingerie. He is not interested in going to the doctor to take something for his occasional impotence. At best we have sex once a week. I was expecting that "newlywed sex" like rabbits that everyone seems to talk about, is that just a myth? Please help!

Heather answers:

Everyone's libido varies, as does everyone's sexuality.

In other words, the sexual appetite of a person isn't determined by their biological sex or gender. Some women have lower libidos than some men; some men have lower libidos than some women. Too, these things also vary based on the specific two people involved and their relationship dynamics, and also on the kinds of sex each partner prefers. It should also be said that not everyone has the same turn-ons. You say even your "sexy lingerie" isn't doing the trick, but it's entirely possible that he's not a sexy lingerie kind of guy — that wedding night, maybe the reason he didn't make a to-do with the dress and the wedding clothes was because he's a back-to-basics, better-naked-and-clean-faced guy in his sexual tastes.

(If it's any consolation, most wedding night sex stories I've heard in the years I've done this work have not met anyone's fantasies. Plenty of couples are so tired, they don't even HAVE wedding-night sex, and wind up having sex in the morning or a couple days later. Weddings are often stressful and tiring for a lot of people, and the pressures to have out-of-a-romance-novel wedding-night sex are pretty overwhelming, and in and of themselves, could issue a sexual buzzkill for just about anyone.)

Looking at what you've said here, I'd say — and obviously, I have the gift of hindsight you couldn't have had at the start — that it seems somewhat clear that your partner has always had a lower libido than you have, and was less comfortable with sexuality than you are, so that these things are still issues doesn't strike me as surprising. It also sounded like he did try and make that clear, but that he wasn't all that direct about it, either. Marriage isn't likely — when it's new or otherwise — to change someone's sexuality, libido or sexual feelings, even if one reason someone was abstaining was due to religious ideals about premarital sex. Too, for couples who live together — married or no — sex once a week is not an unusual pattern. Sounds to me like you have some fairly large personality/character differences when it comes to how you feel about sex

Not knowing anything about his history, he may have issues and problems when it comes to sex that he hasn't let you in on, or hasn't felt able to voice yet. Just like the pressures for women to acquiesce to sex can be intense, so can the pressures for men to perform. It can be tough for men with lower libidos sometimes to voice that because ideas of masculinity can be so wrapped up in sexual performance and appetite: if you're constantly initiating sex before he has that chance to, even that — reasonable or not — can create some masculinity problems for some men. While there's no reason for you NOT to have voiced all your excitement about finally having intercourse and other sex once married, and you didn't do a thing wrong in doing so, that also may have inadvertently exerted pressures on him that he didn't know how to address, and still does not.

I'm not seeing any reason for him to see a medical doctor. This is unlikely a medical problem: in younger people, it's very rare that it is, and when someone isn't getting an erection because they're not interested in sex, that's not a sound reason to medicate them. Medications like Viagra and Cialis are intended for men for whom lack of erection is a physiological problem, due to things like aging or the effects of diabetes. They're not intended to be used for men whose partners simply want more sex than they do. (And I think it's perhaps worth looking at what that might sound like were the shoe on the other foot: I know you don't mean anything awful by any of this, and again, there certainly is more pressure on women to have obligatory sex, or as much sex as their male partner wants, but it's a raw deal for everyone when that's the case, men or women.)

However, I am seeing that you two would likely benefit from some couples counseling.

Obviously, you're really unhappy about this, which is totally understandable and valid. Clearly, he's not feeling that great about it, either. The more frustrated you get with each other, on top of the divide that's already there, the tougher this is going to get, and the more sex is going to seem like a giant drag. If you're not handling sexual rejection well, for instance, he's likely going to feel more and more uncomfortable saying no, and going to feel more and more dread when it comes time for sex. But you're also clearly a very passionate person, a very sensual person, who has a part of you that you need to express and enjoy — but you can't with your partner, and that's going to have ill effects on you over time, as well. Obviously, too, when sex doesn't feel like intimacy, and if it's not even lasting long enough, or including sexual activities for both partners to feel satisfied, that's a very real problem, both for the individuals involved and for the relationship (but I don't really need to tell you that, I know). Talking a lot of this out with a mediator may very well help both of you both be heard and understand each other: it's possible that with a little more talking and understanding — OUTSIDE the bedroom — you might be able to build a bridge here so that both of your needs are met better.

Talking it out with a counselor will also help you two to get talking about it, period. I can't tell from what you've written here if you've really talked about this in depth, with both of you honestly and openly exploring these issues, but it doesn't sound like you have. Even with your desires for your wedding night, did you voice any of them ahead of time: did you verbally share those fantasies with him? If you didn't expecting him to act in line with them wasn't so realistic an expectation. Solid, open communication is really THE big thing that leads to satisfying sex between people: without it, even otherwise decent sex is going to be missing something crucial.

(I would, by the way, make a point of choosing that counselor carefully, and doing what you can to choose one that really is sensitive about sexuality issues and open-minded. If you pick someone with very traditional ideas about sex, marriage and gender, counseling may be unlikely to help either of you. The last thing you both need is someone giving him the idea he's not being masculine enough, or giving you the idea that you don't get to have a libido at all.)

None of that is a promise that you two will wind up being sexually compatible, mind.

No one can make those kinds of promises. But for people who choose traditional marriage, part of the deal is that you're agreeing to stick things out through big challenges, work hard to work through problems, and find creative solutions, together. Part of the deal is also that sex is only one part of that relationship (and in many marriages, not a central part), and when you're choosing not to have sex until marriage (though from what I can gather, you did have plenty of sex, just not intercourse), part of THAT deal is that you are opting to go into that blind to some degree, and thus, likely face some surprises. So, I can't know or guarantee that counseling and talking things out over time will net the exact results that both of you want, especially if your wants and needs are very different. But what it can do is help you start working on it together more productively, with more understanding, so that you can really see what the issues are, know what you have to work with, and if you choose to stay together, find some creative solutions and compromises that will ideally leave you both feeling a lot better.

So, I'd suggest first opening the lines of communication here, with something as simple as a "Hey, I'm not happy about this, and I don't think you are either. But I'm committed to working it out, and I hope you are, too, so we really need to start talking about it, and I think we could use some help in doing that." If he's in agreement, then you both can start seeking out a couples counselor, and get started. If he's not in agreement, and/or he doesn't see any need to work on this, then I'm afraid you face a tougher situation, which is basically you needing to decide if this is a marriage that's going to work for you or not — it's not just a matter of unsatisfying sex if he isn't willing to work this out, after all, it's about how committed he is to both of your needs and to foundational aspects of your relationship.

I'm leaving you with a couple of links, including a link to my book, that might help you out through this (and be good to share with him), but also with the strong suggestion that you do seek out that counseling — even if he isn't willing, I think you could use the ear and the support all by yourself as you figure all of this out and consider your choices.

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  • invalid-0

    she didn’t wait until marriage having foreplay isn’t waiting till marriage she cheated this is a bunch of crap. I hate having my intelligence insulted.

  • invalid-0

    I agree with the earlier commenter. Since when does oral sex equal abstinence?

  • invalid-0

    She says “abstain from intercourse,” not “abstain from anything beyond second base” in her letter. Besides, that’s not even the focus of her problem nor of the response.

  • invalid-0

    I’d love to see a CLEAR definition of abstinence that helps people achieve a healthy sexual relationship inside a marriage … same thing NKeith was looking for apparently.

    And I have to add that there’s another possibility, one that I’m aware of from personal experience. Your husband may be gay. My first husband was. We ended up having sex about once a month while we were married.

    He was a traditional guy, in denial, and he wanted a family. We’ve got two incredible kids together … and we’re still great friends.

    I think scarleteen’s suggestions are a great starting place . . . just know there might be something else going on that no amount of talking or drugs will fix. And while the other two commenters might not agree, there’s nothing wrong with that.

  • invalid-0

    As someone who listens to a lot of different interpretations and enactments of “abstinence” in my work, from both youth and adults, I can easily say that 1) only some people tend to feel abstinence means no kind of sex or partnered sex at all and 2) more people than not practicing or promising abstinence — as well as those pushing it on others — do not abstain, and often have not, from all kinds of sex. So, K, to a LOT of people, oral sex does indeed equal abstinence, even though that it is understandable that seems conflicting.

    Regardless, I’m not going to define what abstinence is for someone who is letting me know how they define it, nor would quibbling over that be something I’d see as helpful for someone like this. As well, if you’ve the idea that somehow neither of them ever having had any kind of sex would have meant they would not have had this issue in time, I’d have to disagree. It sounds to me like these two people would have found themselves in this spot regardless. Might she not have been as aware that sex could be more fulfilling than this had she not had other partnerships before? I suppose, but it doesn’t strike me as a fix for a person simply to be less unhappy because they don’t know things can be better than this.

    Honestly, this is one of many reasons why, as Piper pointed out, abstinence ideas can be so tricky. The definitions are rarely clear and also often unrealistic, particularly for older teens and adults. Personally, I tend to talk more about celibacy and different levels of celibacy for those who want to practice it, for any number of reasons, because the term abstinence is so vague, full of propaganda and so confusing. For the woman asking the question, however, she had a definition for herself which was the one she wanted and felt was right for her. She was not asking me if I felt what she was or was not doing was abstinence.

    I agree, Piper: one possibility with this couple is that the male partner may or may not be heterosexual, and I’d hope, were that the case, that’s something a good counselor might be able to help him come to terms with, and something these two could work out, whether that meant adjusting their relationship/model agreement or shifting to the kind of friendship you were able to. Really, no matter what the heart of the matter is, I’d hope both could find a way to be mutually supported, as either friends, spouses or both.