For years my wife has told me that conversation is an important part of foreplay for her. I try to stay focused during that chatty time before sex, but I get sleepy and lose interest. The result? My wife gets the conversation she needs, and I don't get the intercourse I need. I'd feel selfish if I didn't provide the kind of foreplay she needs, but how can I stay awake long enough to close the deal?
Louis: Conversation is an important aspect of foreplay for most women. So the most obvious solution to your dilemma is to find a better time of day to play around. That will allow you to enjoy an unhurried interval for conversation, relaxing foreplay and intercourse that will be satisfying to both of you. This could be earlier in the evening or even before work in the morning. If you live close to the office, you could even schedule a mid-day rendezvous.
If you can express your frustration and ask for your wife's help, together you may find other creative solutions. Sometimes it's hard for men to share their needs openly, seeing such an admission as a sign of weakness or failure. But wives usually want to be just as sensitive to their husband's sexual rhythm and responses as their husbands are to theirs. Your wife is probably thankful for your concern about her needs and will welcome the opportunity to reciprocate.
Another solution can be for you to be satisfied by an occasional "quickie"—sex without the lengthy preliminaries. We've found that even a quickie can be mutually enjoyable. Melissa receives the gratification of having brought me pleasure, and I accept her gift without feeling guilty or selfish. That's not usually our first choice, but it's better than ongoing frustration.
Melissa: If I could speak to your wife, I'd encourage her to read The Sexual Man, by Archibald Hart. He does a great job of explaining male sexuality. When I got a better understanding of what men need in a sexual relationship, it changed my attitude about our sex life. I hadn't realized, for instance, that being sexually satisfied greatly influences Louis's ability to perform at work. Since we work together, I began to note the difference in his on-the-job performance based on how things were going sexually between us. That realization made me less selfish—and I stopped seeing Louis's sexual need, which was higher than my own, as totally selfish. I matured as a wife and started seeing our sexual activity as important. My role in Louis's life became more fulfilling.
I've never seen advice on my particular problem. When I got married six months ago, I was glad to see that my wife likes things orderly. She is much neater than I am, which is great. But her desire for cleanliness has its downside when it comes to sex. Even though I shower and shave beforehand, the smells and fluids associated with intercourse bother her so much that we rarely have sex. Is there anything more I can do?
Louis: You need to make sure the problem is fastidiousness, as you suppose, and not an aversion to sex and sexuality. Share with your bride your concern for her total sexual enjoyment as well as your desire for the closeness that genital union provides. If, apart from the messiness, there seems to be some question about her desire for sexual play and orgasmic release, it will be important for you both to evaluate her attitudes and feelings about sexuality. Keep in mind that a woman's level of sensuality during courtship doesn't necessarily reflect her attitude toward sex once she is married. A competent counselor or sex therapist may be useful.
It could be that your wife is simply feeling unsure about sex. If she has been orgasmic, we'd recommend a method called "sensate focusing," which involves taking time to give each other a physically and sexually stimulating massage, taking turns each time to focus on her needs entirely or your needs exclusively. If she is able to achieve enjoyable climax (even if she's avoiding "messy" contact involving genitals or ejaculate), then you'll know that her sexual responsivity is fine.
Another way to rule out other factors is by watching your wife's response to your orgasm when she is caressing you. If she can enthusiastically stimulate you and only has a negative response to your ejaculate, then you know you really are dealing with fastidiousness.
If it is simply the messiness of ejaculation that's bothering her, then try using a condom (which would contain the ejaculate) or having intercourse in the shower (where ejaculate would be promptly washed away).
If you do narrow it down to the "messiness" aspect, you might want to seek professional counseling to deal with an underlying issue of scrupulousness. Your wife may benefit from behavioral deconditioning that would reduce her concern about smells and sticky fluids.
But it may be that the two of you just need to talk openly about sex. Also, a good conversation between your wife and a trusted woman friend could eliminate some unfounded concerns about sex that you haven't identified.
Melissa: It occurs to me that your wife might be struggling with some disappointment in marriage in general. You have been married a relatively short time, and it's hard to gauge what she may be thinking about your marriage from an emotional and relational point of view. She may not want to admit even to herself that she's feeling some disappointment, so she may unconsciously have found a focus for the disappointment—the messiness of sex.
Take time to discuss what each of you expected from marriage. Begin by writing out separate lists that show what you each expected married life to be, then share your lists and get some new understanding about one another. Your first years together are a natural period of adjustment. There may be things you are doing or not doing that affect your wife negatively.
Keep in mind that sex for her isn't just sex—as it may be for you. Women tend to express their sexuality as inseparable from their feelings and relationship desires. Mike Mason, author of The Mystery of Marriage, said, "It is dangerous to forget for even a moment that the person you are married to is the opposite sex." Your wife approaches your sex life differently from the way you do.
Whatever you wife's disappointments, it doesn't mean your marriage was a mistake. When she discovers that and adjusts, it may be easier for her to cope with the "messy" aspects of sex.
Real Sex columnists Melissa and Louis McBurney, M.D., are marriage therapists and co-founders of Marble Retreat in Marble, Colorado, where they counsel clergy couples.
Louis and Melissa aren't able to respond personally to letters from readers. But if you have a Real Sex question you would like them to address in this column, send it to:
Real Sex, Marriage Partnership
465 Gundersen Drive
Carol Stream, Illinois 60188
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