Practically Sexless Marriage? Laurie Watson Advises

“Brad” wrote to me because he and his wife “Angie” are in a practically sexless marriage. I consulted AASECT-certified sex therapist Laurie Watson, author of Wanting Sex Again: How to Rediscover Your Desire and Heal a Sexless Marriage, to offer some advice. Obviously the couple’s problems are too complex to solve with one blog post, but I hope that Laurie Watson’s advice and, her book can help Brad and Angie take the first steps towards developing a sexually vibrant relationship.

Brad’s Story

My wife Angie and
I are in our fifties and been together since college. I’ve always loved her
dearly. I’ve always found her to be desirable and let her know it. She is my
best friend. Through almost all of that time, I’ve been dissatisfied the
frequency and amount of passion in our sex life.
To say that the
two of us have different sexual appetites is an understatement. Most of the
time Angie says she simply isn’t interested or too tired for sex. I, on the
other hand, have offered and made myself available to her sexually. Despite
being willing to attend to her needs, she has rarely reciprocated that
willingness. 95% of my sexual release throughout my sexual history has come
from masturbation.
I tell Angie that
I love her, desire her, feel passionate about her, and I’d like to work on
improving our sex life. She acknowledges that work needs to be done but usually
says that now is not a good time, she’s too tired, or she feels uncomfortable
being sexual with the kids in the house. (Our two grown kids moved back to our
small house for financial reasons.) When I ask how I could help resolve these
issues or make suggestions for solutions, she generally discounts them or said
she’s at a loss about what to do.
Things hit a
further low point sexually about eight years ago. I was diagnosed and treated for prostate cancer (prostatectomy). I now have
difficulty maintaining erections and too often there is an aching pain in the
pubic region immediately after orgasm.
I’m unhappy about
our lack of passion, intimacy, and sensual play (while acknowledging my
shortcomings due to ED, low testosterone, and mild depression).  I’ve told Angie that I want to bring back more
of the fun of sensuality and passion rather than concentrating on “the
act.” She continues to come up with the same excuses I’ve heard numerous
times before.
A therapist years
ago told us that Angie was depressed. She doesn’t get treatment for her
depression, although she’ll often self-medicate with marijuana. I think I’m
depressed, too. We’ve always struggled financially. I lost my job during the
recent recession and was out of work for over a year. I am now working
full-time but my wages are substantially lower.
The last time we
had sex together was a few months ago, at a hotel. I found it satisfying (any
sexual contact is appreciated!) and she indicated that she found it satisfying,
too.
 I want to turn things around, if it’s not too
late. I feel as if I’m running out of time. How do I go about improving the
passion and sensuality between us? I’ve pretty much come to the conclusion that
the only person I can work on is me. I cannot offer advice or solutions where
it will not be wanted or accepted.

Laurie Watson replies:

In marriage, often one spouse is the pursuer, easily expressing needs, wishing for closeness, attention, and sex. The other spouse becomes a distancer, wishing for more space. Distancers often feel smothered by pursuers, who, in turn, feel starved by distancers. It can become a tug-of-war. Sexually, it can feel desperate. Examining the ways you have balanced closeness and distance might start to change things between you.

You both had an enjoyable sexual experience in a hotel, away from home, boomerang adult kids, bills, and the endless call of things to do. I congratulate you on finding a formula for great sex. As often as you can afford it, schedule a hotel rendezvous and indulge in relaxing, satisfying sex.

You’d like Angie to initiate sex and show that she desires you. Like many women, she may be more receptive, willing to be convinced, but not to initiate. Your wife may need your male energy and urgency to get her started.

Yet now more than ever, you need the reassurance that you are virile and desired after prostate cancer. How to do this without crowding the space between you and making her back up?

Try being a great seducer! The hotel adventure probably worked because you initiated a creative space for relaxation, intimacy, and sex. The chase and seduction are a good part of the turn-on. Often a woman’s craving for sex doesn’t kick in until about halfway through the experience. Then suddenly her aroused body says, “Yes, I do want sex!”

Men shouldn’t be responsible for all the work on the sexual relationship, though. Women can prompt themselves with fantasies, anticipation, and memories of exciting past love-making sessions, coming to bed mentally primed for arousal.

Prostate cancer brings its own set of challenges. Luckily, you still have desire and you still have some erectile ability. The sooner men start on penile rehabilitation post-surgery, the better their eventual outcome. Your deep pelvic pain, more common immediately post-surgery, absolutely necessitates a visit to the doctor to rule out infection, inflammation, kidney problems, and nerve damage. You may also need treatment from a physical therapist who specializes in pelvic pain.

Culturally, men are conditioned that they are good lovers if they have big, strong erections. But most women do not experience climax through penetration – only 15-20% ever do in intercourse. You can be a satisfying lover with manual and oral stimulation. With enough stimulation, men can reach orgasm with or without an erection – those are completely separate functions.

You have mentioned that your wife struggles with depression, as do you. It would be good if you both saw a therapist, seeking treatment for depression as well as your relationship issues. Even a single consultation would help a therapist see where you are stuck as a couple and guide you.

— Laurie Watson, LMFT, LPC, AASECT Certified Sex Therapist, is the author of Wanting Sex Again – How to Rediscover Your Desire and Heal a Sexless Marriage. She blogs for Psychology Today Online in Married and Still Doing It. Laurie guest lectures at the medical schools for Duke and UNC Chapel Hill on sexual function/dysfunction. Director of Awakenings – Center for Intimacy and Sexuality in Raleigh, she maintains a full-time clinical practice.