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Real Sex

Lack of desire, breaking free from porn, a know-it-all lover

My husband and I have been married three years. I used to have so much desire for him, but now I have no desire for sex or intimacy at all. I feel that if I even kiss or hug him, he'll immediately want to go all the way. His attitude that sex equals love has totally turned me off. How can I get back the feelings I once had for him?

LOUIS AND MELISSA: The lyrics to a sad song say, "You don't bring me flowers anymore," and they express the loneliness and disappointment we hear from many couples. The good news is that the lost sense of being "in love" can be rekindled, and once that happens the passion of sex can be reignited.

It's typical for one spouse to need and want less sexual intimacy than the other. But this difference can give rise to some terrible feelings, which open communication can help avert. Perhaps your husband dislikes feeling rejection as much as you dread feeling like a hunted animal. Many men find it difficult not to become aroused when offered any physical contact, so your husband's reaction isn't unusual. But he can control his response to you as he understands you better.

Have you talked with him about how you feel when he pursues sex whenever you express affection? As you talk about your feelings and come to understand his, you'll have a better chance of achieving a compromise. Be sure to settle this important, affection-sex issue between you, even if you need to get help from a counselor.

Once you've responded to each other's feelings about sex, the next step is to rekindle your love. Remind each other of the excitement of your early relationship. You're probably not as hormonally driven as you were back then, but there were other elements—special attention and actions of love—that you can re-create.

Also, review your relationship to identify events that may have eroded your positive attitudes toward your husband. Think about disappointments, unrealized expectations, hurtful words, selfishness or feelings of abandonment. Any of those could contribute to a growing distance—or even disgust—between you and your husband. Perhaps you had unspoken expectations that became "love tests" that your mate failed without even knowing he was being tested.

Finally, go out of your way to build up your husband. The way you think about him either enhances positive regard or reinforces negative attitudes. By focusing on good memories and your husband's good points, your sense of being "in love" will increase. Go ahead and bring flowers and sing love songs. Don't wait for your husband to change; increase your own desire by remembering the passionate times you used to enjoy together.

Warm feelings won't emerge miraculously, but the rebirth of desire can occur when good memories are restored, barriers are torn down and new acts of love replace withdrawal and despair. Even if you must begin rebuilding alone, you'll soon feel the change.

For years, my wife and I enjoyed watching pornography together because it enhanced our sexual excitement. But as we've come to know God and have wanted to give him control over every area of our lives, we've rejected pornography. The trouble is we're now having trouble with sex. We miss the stimulation we used to get from pornography. Are we doomed?

LOUIS: Quite the opposite. You're putting substance to your Christianity by not allowing the sensuality of our culture to overwhelm your desire for holiness. And rest assured that holiness and sexual excitement aren't mutually exclusive. Committed Christian couples actually report the highest degree of sexual satisfaction.

But I sense that you're wondering if your Christian convictions are going to become a permanent barrier to sexual enjoyment. Here's the good news: While it's true that it's difficult to break the hold of pornogaphy, it's far from impossible.

The visual stimuli of pornography leave powerful and lasting memory traces. The fascination with those images is enhanced by the forbidden aspect and by the endorphin release in the brain when those images are associated with orgasm. The combination of strong visual/auditory stimuli, the high risk-taking quality of "naughty" behavior and our own sexual reward system create strong patterns. But you can break through those neurological sequences by controlling your mind, substituting new mental images and relying on the power of the Holy Spirit.

You control your mind by choosing to extinguish rather than reinforce the pornographic memories. When those images come to mind, willfully think about something else. Each time you refuse to replay the "tapes" in your mind, the associations are weakened.

To further the process, reprogram your mind by creating substitute images to extinguish the negative ones. You and your wife can invent all sorts of scenarios, finding stimuli with each other rather than with porn actors. Three-dimensional experiences with your wife are more enticing than imaginary ones, and real-life memories have a more powerful long-range effect. They also protect you from the destructive effects of the pornography (which encourages promiscuity, creates unrealistic demands and questions a person's desirability or potency).

Most important, you have a powerful ally in fighting evil. The Holy Spirit can give you the desire and the willpower to move toward righteousness. There is nothing God wants more for your sex life than for you to delight fully in each other with no need for the intrusion of unhealthy images. So pray together that God will help you control your thoughts and will replace them with real-life, body, mind and soul encounters.

My husband is really gentle and loving, but he also thinks he understands exactly what I want. It's like he doesn't believe me when I say something else would feel better or arouse me more. What do you recommend?

MELISSA:You have already taken a great first step by communicating your sexual likes and dislikes to your husband. But men and women are so different that to get through to him, you may need to try new ways of communicating. There's the old two-by-four approach, but I can't recommend clubbing him over the head.

Perhaps you can get creative and come up with a good word picture that would get your husband's attention. You know him better than anyone, so you have the best opportunity to "speak his language." Listen to the way he talks and try to use illustrations or ideas that he's most familiar with. Keeping the discussion light, you might also try a direct challenge: "If I told you what turns me on, how would you use that information?"

You say your husband is "loving and gentle," which encourages me that he wants to please you and will eventually listen if you can get on the same wavelength.

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.

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

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Intimacy; Love; Marriage; Sex
Today's Christian Woman, Fall, 1996
Posted September 12, 2008

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