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I'm Competing with His Past

Q. I know my husband was sexually intimate with other women before we married. At first it didn't bother me because he's now a Christian, he's been forgiven, and he chose me to marry. However, I still feel inadequate and inferior to these other women. I'm afraid he may compare me to them—even if he doesn't mean to. While I really want to leave the past in the past where it belongs, I'm having a hard time letting it go. How can I not allow this to affect our sex life?

A. Your concerns are common these days as individuals have often accumulated many memories of different partners before they settle down to marital commitment. Our society has told us that being sexually experienced will enhance marriage. Your question highlights one of the reasons that notion doesn't hold water.

Nevertheless, there you are along with many others stuck with the doubts and haunted by the ghosts of your mate's former sexual partners. So let's turn on some lights and try to dispel the goblins.

Here are two facts you need to know. First, you have no way of controlling your mate's thought life. Second, this isn't a competition in which you're living.

You've said your husband has changed as a Christian. We assume also that he's tried to reassure you about his former girl friends. What may enter his mind from time to time is something only he can control—and that with God's help. All of life's experiences become encoded into our memory banks and may at times be triggered into consciousness. That's when we have a choice to replay the old tapes or to let them go. It's just as important for you to erase your tapes about his former life as it is for him to do so. So when those doubts or images, whether real or imagined, slip into your thinking, take them captive and toss them out. Only you can control your doubts and fears.

Second, you're not in competition with anyone, especially not from his past. It seems that everything in our country becomes endowed with elements of winning. Who's fastest, smartest, richest, thinnest, most popular, prettiest, strongest, funniest, best dressed, and—especially—sexiest. We're afraid you've been caught in that trap. Your value as a person, as a wife, and as a lover isn't something dependent on any comparisons. You're it—the only wife your husband has! There's no reason for you to feel inferior or inadequate to anyone. You and your husband can exorcise the ghosts and get on with enjoying sexual intimacy that's unique and exclusively yours.

My Medicine Affects My Libido

Q. I've had a problem with my sex drive for many years. I think the reason may be because I was on a seizure medication for 14 years. (This medication is also used for depression.) After I had brain surgery, the seizures stopped and now I'm off the medication. But my libido is still low. Will I ever get back a strong sexual desire for my husband?

A. While your situation certainly seems to include some unique factors, the basic issue of low sexual drive in women isn't all that uncommon. Your anticonvulsant treatment may have contributed to the problem, although that's not described in medical literature as often as failure to achieve orgasm. That in itself may serve to diminish sexual interest. Why get sexually involved if it ends in frustration? Another factor that may have had some effect is your surgery. Some areas of the brain are involved in sexual function and whatever specific procedure you had would need to be evaluated as to its effect on your libido. We hate to be vague, but we'd encourage you to discuss both your medication and surgical treatment with your neurologist.

Your question implies you once had a more satisfying libido that you'd like to recover. We'd certainly want that for you. In most women libido is distinctly related to relationship. We'd encourage you and your husband to take a look at the whole issue of your marriage. How are you getting along in every area, not just sexually? How did your seizure disorder and its treatment affect your closeness as a couple? Do you feel cherished and desired by him? Have you been able to develop a mutually satisfying sexual life (in spite of your lack of libido)?

Finally, what are your expectations about your sex drive? It may be that your level of interest in sex is quite "normal." Often anxiety about being adequate or "normal" has a strong negative effect on sexuality. It could be helpful for you and your husband to talk with a good Christian marriage counselor just to identify the issues more clearly.

What About Videotaping?

Q. Being very visual (as most men are), I'd find it exciting and intimate to watch my wife and I making love on video. Lovemaking in itself is obviously memorable, but why not preserve some of the memories for future enjoyment and "remembering" again? If my wife and I consent, do you believe videotaping our lovemaking sessions for later viewing together would be sinful or inappropriate?

A. My basic instinct says don't do it, but being the mature, broadminded, level-headed shrink that I am, I've stepped back from that position to consider it more carefully.

The idea of filming your lovemaking may not violate any of the three cardinal rules we hold. Those are: (1) you must both agree; (2) it causes no pain physically, emotionally, or spiritually; and (3) it doesn't substitute entirely for genital union. Our experience in counseling women would indicate you may find a danger in the second category. That's because most wives are more modest than their husbands and the idea of being that vulnerable on camera would create potential guilt, embarrassment, and ultimately resentment—particularly if she gave in to pressure to provide you with that pleasure, but wasn't fully honest with her feelings.

A second concern, related to the third principle, is the voyeuristic element involved. Is there something about watching someone (yourselves) on film that's more stimulating than the real-time enjoyment of each other? It seems that, like pornography, this practice could become a substitute for the intimacy God intended for you to share. With the video, you might not even need each other!

Finally, that video could be a source of great pain and embarrassment. It's amazing how personal property (journals, diaries, e-mails, photos) have ways of being misplaced and end up in unexpected places. For your children, parents, or neighbors to see that tape might create serious problems.

Broadmindedness aside, I'd still say don't do it! Forget the lights, cameras, and action, and just make love for the intimacy of the moment. Then next time, do it again!

I Don't Have the Energy

Q. My husband and I have two children—one who's seven months old. I find it so hard to have the energy for sex. When we do have it, it's great. It just seems there are so many pulls on our time. Is this just a phase? Does it get better?

A. Don't despair. The demands of parenting interfere with your energy for sex only for about 15 years!

Seriously, children and their needs prescribe significant changes in your marital relationship, including sexual intimacy. This can't be ignored. However, there are ways to minimize the erosion.

The first is obvious: Reduce other demands that can be eliminated or decreased. Most couples (and families) don't guard their boundaries or protect their margins. When your activities begin to eliminate time and energy for your marital intimacy (sexual and relational), it's time to say no to some things. We believe firmly your time for each other is a top priority! While that's not to say other opportunities aren't positive and even fulfilling, they shouldn't jeopardize your special time with each other.

The second is: Find time away from your children regularly. Even when your infant reaches that separation anxiety stage at about eight months, it won't hurt his development for you to be away for a day or even overnight. If you're breast feeding, you can use your breast pump to provide milk during your absence.

One final suggestion is to be flexible in your lovemaking routine. It may be you have more energy at some time other than nighttime. Put the kids down for their naps, lock your door, and enjoy each other for a "noonie."

Rest assured, it does get better. But in the meantime you can find creative alternatives to preserve your intimacy. It's a gift you can give your children and each other!

Melissa and Louis McBurney, M.D., are marriage therapists and co-founders of Marble Retreat in Marble, Colorado, where they counsel clergy couples.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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