No Sex Please, We're Married
My wife refuses to have sex. What can I do to change her mind?
My wife and I married about three months ago and had dated for almost three and a half years before getting married. We both believe sex is for marriage only and abstained during our relationship. She is a virgin. I am not (I made my abstinence decision later in life). It was hard to keep my hands to myself while we dated, but I could do it partly because I knew marriage was on the horizon. Here's the problem: We have still never had sex. For the first weeks of marriage, we did many things but not that. Since then, there've been scattered moments of intimacy with her that usually end with her getting frustrated that she isn't as experienced in this area as I am, despite my best attempts to tell her how wonderful she is. The last such attempt was a few weeks ago. She says that she does not want to have sex no matter what I say. We did discuss this before marriage and I was under the impression that it would happen. In fact, she even thought it would happen during the honeymoon. Every time we tried, she freaked out and started to cry. I don't know what to do. She refuses to see a counselor or a therapist. I'm almost to the point where I don't even want to try to initiate anymore because I get so frustrated that nothing happens. I love her with all of my heart. I want to be able to share the kind of intimacy with her that sex brings and I don't know what to do. I find myself getting angry and bitter any time I see anything on TV or anywhere about a couple having sex.
Don't despair just because your marriage began anti-climactically. I talked to Joyce Penner, who with her husband, Clifford, has a sex counseling practice with a Christian perspective. Her specialty is unconsummated marriages. She says the reasons for your wife's trouble could be many. She could have vaginismus, which causes her vaginal muscles to go into spasm and can make intercourse almost impossible. She could have had a trauma in her childhood connected to sex, ranging from abuse to being raised with a punitive attitude toward it. She could be consumed by thoughts of you with other women. All these problems can be treated. But your wife is now so panicked she refuses to entertain the idea of having sex or getting help. Of course you feel frustrated; now you have to take steps. Tell your wife that, while you will not violate her physically or psychologically, the two of you need to address this issue so that you can get on with your marriage and so that eventually sex will become something pleasurable for her. Read the Penners' book, The Married Guy's Guide to Great Sex, then contact them. They can put you in touch with a therapist in your area, or set up a telephone consultation. You have exercised heroic restraint for the past several years. Now you must be patient a little longer, to give yourselves the chance to arrive at the real beginning for your marriage, not its end.
I have a problem with a parrot we acquired nearly six months ago, something my husband has wanted for a long time. We talked about it, studied, and bought from a reputable breeder. This is not something we did lightly, considering the cost and lifespan. However, after trying to adjust to the bird for several months, I find I simply detest her. My husband keeps her with him all the time and absolutely adores her. I can't get a free moment with him without this bird being in the way! On top of that, she poops everywhere. My worst fear is that she'll go neurotic, as some parrots are said to do, when my husband, who's in the military, is deployed. He's creating a winged monster with all this attention and I'll never be able to keep up. I ask him to leave her in her cage (a bird mansion) now and then (dinner time), but he gets defensive, even angry. It's almost to the point where I want to say the bird needs to go entirely, except he's so happy with her. How do I resolve this conflict?
—Flying the Coop
It's one thing to agree to get a challenging pet. It's another to have your husband's love object flying around defecating on your dinner. Surely when you studied what life with a bird would be like, none of the sources you consulted recommended giving it unlimited run of the house. In addition, you must have contemplated that you would be alone with Polly once your husband is deployed. Unfortunately, many of these amazing, intelligent creatures are abused, neglected, and abandoned because they are so demanding and long-lived. Since you have made the commitment to this bird, you need to get your husband to honor some basic rules. If you don't have a veterinarian who specializes in birds, get one, and have a talk about how to have a civilized life while living with a parrot (this Web site is also full of good parrot resources). If your husband refuses all entreaties to accommodate your needs, then in addition to a bird behaviorist, you need a human one to help him stop giving you the bird and put his marriage first.
My husband and I have been married for just over a year, but have been in a loving and monogamous relationship for 16 years. We're in our mid-30s. We don't want kids. We work a lot, enjoy traveling often, and don't like kids (although he is very good with them). All these years, I have been in charge of birth control (pill for 16 years and almost always one or two other forms—condom, spermicide—just to be sure). I think the pill could be responsible for my lack of sex drive. Recently, I brought up the idea of a vasectomy. To me, it seemed like the most logical thing to do: It's an in-office procedure, I could get off the pill, maybe I'll get my sex drive back, surgery for the woman is much more complicated, and it's a lifetime free of birth control. But my normally understanding, intelligent, fact-oriented husband freaked out. He accused me of wanting to "cut off his balls," and continues to do so every time I try to (gently) revisit the subject. I am very hurt because it seems like it's his turn to be in charge of birth control and a permanent solution makes so much more sense. Also, it has lowered my sex drive even more—after all, why should I risk getting pregnant if he won't even discuss alternate birth control options with me? Am I being unrealistic? Is this just machismo? Can he be talked into it?
Photograph of Prudie by David Plotz.