Q: We've been married three years and though I try to do all the "right" things, it's still difficult to arouse my wife during foreplay. Sometimes the more I touch her the more dry she gets and the whole exercise becomes unpleasant. We're both frustrated!
A. Arousal is a complicated physiological process influenced more by relational and emotional issues than physical stimuli. This is especially true for women. It sounds as though those components may provide keys to your wife's failure to become aroused.
We'd suggest the two of you explore your experiences, attitudes, and expectations about sexual intimacy. Begin by writing out your earliest memories about sexual awareness. Include what images you remember and the feelings and interpretations you made as a child. These memories will likely go back to preschool years. Carry the process throughout your developmental years, identifying the attitudes and expectations your experiences produced. For instance, many women recall sexual abuse, which can cause them to become detached or paralyzed with fear when approached sexually.
Next investigate your courtship. How did your physical expressions of affection impact you? Many couples will overlook or minimize negative feelings during the passion and excitement of dating and marriage.
Finally, compare your interpretations of your relationship. Often couples have quite different impressions. It's easy, in fact normal, for each person to view events through opposing mental filters. The sensitive romantic caresses of a husband may feel like invasion to a wife who hasn't resolved recent conflict or hurt.
Men tend to focus only on the physical aspects of sexual intimacy, while wives are unresponsive when the relational foundation hasn't been laid. No amount of tender caressing will produce vaginal lubrication if her emotional needs aren't met.
Okay without sex
Q. Since having our two children, my husband and I have lost our sex drives and have mutually agreed sex is no longer important. Is there anything wrong with this?
A. If you're both being honest, we see nothing wrong with your chastity agreement. Keep your options open, however, since sexual interest varies throughout seasons of life.
Having children can certainly impact your sexual interests. The fatigue alone could scuttle your romance. Worries of having another baby or being unable to support your family's needs may also contribute. If there are underlying conflicts about your sexual intimacy, investigate those.
Our major concern is that sexual intimacy and physical pleasure are a significant part of our needs. Denying their expression may cause either or both of you to become susceptible to outside sexual attractions. Keep a close watch on your hearts and model physical affection for your children.
Q. My husband hates the messiness of sex. Every time we finish making love, he wants immediately to clean up. I'd rather revel in the passion and romance, and lie in each other's arms. What should I do?
A. It's remarkable how intense the discomfort with sexual fluids can be for some people. At times the response can create actual repulsion.
If your frustration with his immediate departure creates a serious block for you, we'd recommend seeing a Christian sex therapist. Your husband can be de-conditioned from his aversion to sticky secretions. It's also important for him to understand your desire for those romantic moments of cuddling. There may be other adjustments that could help (e.g., use of a condom or keeping a towel available).
She's too fat
Q. My wife was slim and attractive when we first married, but quickly gained almost 60 pounds. While I want to be faithful and have a fulfilling sex life, I'm no longer excited by her physically. I know this is wrong. But how can I get over the hump and start having sex with my wife again?
A. What a difficult situation! No person would be happy with a 60-pound weight gain, and losing that weight again is a long-term prospect. Meanwhile, one factor that can be minimized is the visual stimulus in your intimate times. Use a lights out, under the covers approach. Also, try to find the most sexually comfortable body position.
Sometimes, you just gotta do it. Just as women need to be "warmed up" sexually, if you focus on pleasing your wife while making love, we're sure your arousal will come.
It would be worth asking her gently and lovingly to explain her attitude about sexuality. Some people unconsciously use weight gain as a barrier to hide a self-esteem issue.
He keeps grabbing me
Q. My husband is constantly grabbing me! No matter what I'm doing, he'll come up and grope my breasts. I've explained this is a turn off, but it doesn't seem to matter to him. How can I get him to stop?
A. Alas, the misguided male libido! It would seem a guy would begin to realize what "works." Some males are convinced that an aggressive approach to affection makes him an irresistible, romantic rascal.
Was his intense interest in your breasts once a turn on for you? If that attention made you feel sexy and alluring, he could have been rewarded for his "fondling." There might still be ambivalence on your part about his inability to control his passion around you.
The change you desire may require some behavior modification on your part. You can try ignoring the unwanted attention and rewarding any sign of the approach that does turn you on.
Another method would be implosive therapy. Turn the tables and make aggressive approaches toward him. That change in the "dance" may remove whatever excitement he gets from being "on the make."
There is also the possibility of getting him to talk to a counselor with you. Often seeing a male/female team can be effective. That will help him see that another woman shares your perception, that you're not just prudish. Another man can let him in on the secrets of being a smooth lover. Whatever you do, don't come across as a critical parent, but as a lover longing for intimacy.
Real Sex columnists Melissa and Louis McBurney, M.D., were marriage therapists and co-founders of Marble Retreat in Marble, Colorado, where they counselled clergy couples. Louis McBurney passed away January 20, 2009.
Copyright © 2005 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.