I helped my husband overcome his issues – but now I don’t want to have sex with him

Annalisa Barbieri
·4 min read

I feel stuck. I have been in a loving, happy relationship with my gorgeous, sexy husband for 12 years, and have two children. Our erotic life was initially enormously satisfying, but within a year of being together my husband suffered from erectile dysfunction for the first time. I tried to be reassuring, didn’t take it personally, and was committed to working through it, despite our shock.

Our sex life then waxed and waned for five years when my husband had cancer treatment. We read several books, continued with sensate focus exercises and committed one night a week to talking. We had couples counselling for a year to help us communicate better and manage our expectations in relation to intimacy.

We got what we wanted. My husband has regained confidence and for the last six years has been able to maintain an erection. But something has gone wrong with me. I should be relieved and excited, yet I’m not. I have lost confidence and my erotic sense of self.

I now avoid anything that might lead to intimacy; I avoid passionate kissing and wear clothes to bed. I no longer even want to talk about it. While I don’t want to have sex just now, I have always loved penetrative sex, but it’s the thing my husband doesn’t want to feel pressured to do. I don’t believe penetrative sex is the be-all and end-all, but it makes me sad that something I enjoy so much is couched in anxiety. Just the thought of sex makes me shudder, yet when we do make love, which is once or twice a year, it’s a pleasure and a relief. The rest of the time I feel relieved we’re not having sex.

I’m not surprised. Your longer letter went into more detail about what you have tried, and while it is understandable that it focused on getting your husband back on track, it seems your needs got left behind. Also, nowhere in your letter did you say you still find your husband sexually attractive (“gorgeous and sexy” is not really the same thing). I wonder if this is at the heart of it, but you’re struggling to admit it?

Sexual and relationships counsellor Murray Blacket (cosrt.org.uk) and I spent some time trying to get to the root of your problem. Despite the detail in your letter, I felt it skimmed the surface. There were no negative feelings, which is unusual. It would be understandable if you felt resentment towards your husband for his erectile dysfunction so early in the relationship; it was not his fault, but it struck Blacket and me as unusual that there was no frustration on your part at that loss. Then there was his cancer – limited to one sentence. What happened there? You must have both been afraid; maybe you became his carer? I wonder if, in shutting down your true feelings, you have shut down everything.

Your longer letter was also a mass of contradictions, and I was left wondering: what do you really want? This is not the same as what you think you should want. Sex with your husband? Sex with someone else? No sex? Do you love the idea of sex, but find that the reality is different?

You like penetration and, as you say, this is only one part of sex, but it’s the part you really like. I wonder if you resent that the one thing you want, your husband isn’t keen on – despite all the hard work you put in to make him feel better.

Related: How can I stop obsessing about my fiance’s ex-girlfriend?

“Sex,” says Blacket, “is what you find sexy and gives you stimulation.” If the answer to the question “What do you find sexy?” doesn’t involve your husband, I think you need to press pause on all this relentless trying and talking, and start thinking about your own needs and wants. Then work backwards to find out whether your relationship can give you that. Talking is great if you are both being honest with each other – but are you? Real intimacy comes from knowing where you are both “at”. What is your relationship like, aside from sex?

Some couples have a very happy marriage with little or no sex, while others find a lack of sex a deal-breaker. Take the pressure off yourself for a bit; think about what you want, and try to concentrate on some non-sexual fun with your husband – then see how you feel. Often things we don’t want to acknowledge in our minds are more readily acknowledged in our bodies. Right now, your body is giving you quite clear signals; you might need to stop and listen.

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