Featured Article - Summer Edition 2009-2010
Married and Sexless
by Suze Keys.
Part I: They’re all pregnant to spite me
My husband and I decided in December 2008 that it’d be great to have our last baby and get that part of our lives out of the way. Given that we have two sons already I desperately wanted a girl, so to Google I go; looking up “conceiving girl”.
There were diets. One claimed I was to eat pretty much nothing healthy, in an attempt to acidify my body because girl sperm like a more acid environment. Another said I should eat foods high in magnesium and another that I should eat dairy products, rice, pasta and certain veges with mineral water and limited meat and potatoes, avoiding things like salt, fresh fruit, alcohol and coffee as well as tea, chocolate and mushrooms. Given that all the yummy fresh summer fruit was around at the time and the fact that acidic bodies get cancer and healthy mummies make healthy babies, not to mention coffee supposedly has antioxidants so must be good – those diets were not for me.
Vaginal douches aren’t the go either, I must say. Dilute acid (vinegar or lemon juice) in the vagina is not ideal – itchy, actually. And apart from thrush, the risk of PID (Pelvic Inflammatory Disease) and other issues is real so I was put off there too. And that’s without even mentioning the issues for cunnilingus…
We tried shallow penetration and preventing my orgasm; because apparently the entrance of the vagina is more acidic while the fluid women produce during orgasm is less acidic and we’re after “more acidic”. I’m fairly sure a man worked that one out.
Oh and there was always my usual cycle calendar, the one I’ve always used to keep a track of my period. That calendar became a sort of science experiment, solely about data collection and statistical analysis from which I could predict my ETO (Estimated Time of Ovulation). Thus we could use the timing methods…
Yes methods plural. There are two of them and they almost completely contradict one another. One is the Shettles method which states that girl sperm last longer so sex 2 ½ to 3 days before ovulation is ideal (as if my ETO was that exact).
And then the O+12 method (“O” for ovulation) where sex should happen about 12 hours after ovulation. Ok – that is a logistical nightmare, even if I did know to the hour that I had ovulated.
Scheduling sex when we have two other children is challenging. Knowing you can plan sex as well as depend on being able to have it at the planned time is a bonus for the baby-free. Having sex at all when there are other children around is near impossible, especially sex planned to coincide with some significant alignment of the moon and stars.
Oh, and don’t forget cervical mucous. All of this evaluation of my cycle has involved my becoming intimately attentive to my cycle’s physical symptoms outside of my period; particularly any stretchy, glossy, egg-white-like mucous that happens around my ETO. I can say, with absolute sincerity, that my mucous and I are well acquainted.
Funnily enough though, after about four or five months of this, in conjunction with my obsessing about getting pregnant and my disappointment each month at my period’s arrival, not only were we not pregnant, but we weren’t even having sex.
And to make matters worse, everyone around me is pregnant! People who have been trying FOR YEARS have gotten pregnant. But not me! And I’m not even getting laid to make me feel better!
No sex at all is a hard thing. Especially when the not having it is out of my control, for an undisclosed reason and lines of communication seem firmly closed.
No sex is serious. It was even more than Google serious. It was library book serious.
Part II: No sex is serious…
The library turned up a wealth of information and I read lots of books on sex.
One book, He’s just not up for it anymore: Why men stop having sex and what you can do about it by Bob Berkowitz, PhD and Susan Yager-Berkowitz, was particularly informative on what my months of obsessing about having a girl had done to my sexual relationship–specifically my husband’s libido.
The book discusses the results of a survey done with “a self-identified population of more then 4,000 men and women in sexless marriages where the man was the one to initiate the end of intimacy”. So these were real people answering questions about their own sexual experiences and it was very revealing.
The amount of no-sex or low-sex marriages is believed to be higher than reported (15-20 percent of American couples). This made me feel better immediately, although men want sex all the time, don’t they? The media certainly make it look that way. The late Dr Bernie Zilbergeld, one of America’s leading sex therapists, has said that in couples consulting him it was more often the woman wanting more sex than the man.
Some couples are content with a sexless marriage (where sex happens 10 times a year or less)–they have obviously found their libido match in their spouse.
Asexuality (the complete absence of sexual desire) can be behind infrequent sex so finding your libido match is wonderful, considering it is the person with the least need for sex who controls frequency of sexual activity.
The men in the survey chose not to have sex for a variety of reasons. Most of them claimed to still be sexually active beings – or would like to be. But they weren’t having sex for reasons including physiological, psychological, cultural, genetic or a combination thereof.
Boredom ranked highly – they fondly remember the sex from early in the relationship, long for those times. However the calm loving of a stable relationship is maintainable compared to the lusting of the honeymoon stage, which would have us all dying of sexual exhaustion if we experienced that sort of sex for twenty years. Catch 22- great marriage or great sex.
Spicing it up with new and different things will only last so long-until either your ideas or your money runs out. The calm, mundane, trivial life of marriage builds contentment and security with a spouse which is extremely important for a successful, loving relationship.
Anger scored high in the survey too. The men felt criticised, controlled, undervalued or insignificant yet couldn’t or wouldn’t discuss their feelings with their partner, afraid of another fight or list of wrongdoings. Therefore they shut down emotionally and sexually. Then sex (or the with-holding of it) was used as a weapon to punish. Women can do that too, that’s not just a man thing.
Wives putting on excessive amounts of weight put almost 40% of husbands off sex. Men putting on excessive weight is not good either – male obesity has been linked with erectile dysfunction (ED).
A third of the men said impotence was an issue for them. ED can be caused by age, some medical conditions, drug use (prescription or recreational), depression, anxiety or obesity and can cause men to give up trying to have sex.
The inability to get and/or maintain an erection can have far-reaching consequences for a man’s esteem and he often feels it is better not to try than to try and fail and let down his partner as well.
Plus ED might cause depression – which is a known libido reducer for both men and women. Fix that depression right up with a course of antidepressants, which are also known to cause a loss of libido. They may possibly also prevent the development of romantic love and attachment – causing people in long term relationships to fall “out of love”
A quarter of the men in the survey said they preferred virtual sex. Replacing real sex and the attached real person with a fantasy on the screen has none of the real life problems of rejection or perceived inadequacies.
Then there are DINS couples - Dual Income No Sex - who are overworked and too tired or stressed out for sex, with or without children.
Perhaps he’s having an affair? Some men do stop having sex with their wives when they’re having an affair. Some have affairs because they’re not having sex with their wives, or because being naughty is what it takes for them to perform. Or maybe the wife stopped intimacy (emotional/sexual) or stopped giving him the love and validation he needs. If lines of communication break down there is no hope of rectifying the problem. However, most men who aren’t having sex with their wives aren’t having sex at all, apparently, which is pleasing to hear!
But what if he’s gay? This would explain a lot, as well as take the responsibility off wives and remove the “other woman” fear. However, the book says he’s probably not having sex with anyone, let alone another man or he’d have chosen a man in the first place. So that’s reassuring.
Most women (66% in the survey) didn’t know why their husbands stopped having sex with them. They speculate myriad possible explanations based on small clues, hints or feelings, for why their husbands might not want sex. The rejection associated with an unexplained removal of sex is hard. It can be particularly difficult to open the lines of communication or, when there is discussion, persuade a blasé or emotionally unavailable partner to resolve any issues, medical or psychological – husband or wife.
Sometimes intimacy ends around the honeymoon, which can relate to men or women who believe wives are too respectable and “good” for sex, where sex is no longer exciting and, in fact, a job. “The madonna/whore syndrome refers to men who see women as either hotties or homemakers but never both.”
Being unsure of wanting more children or even completely fearing becoming a parent can lead a man to avoid sex. If children are desirable, pregnancy might not be. Some positions become too hard and hubby might be terrified of hurting his wife or unborn. And pregnancy is not beautiful to all men, nor is birth and then it’s no longer just husband and wife. Since she became Mum, hubby is no longer her top priority and he can find that difficult to take. Combine that with the overwhelming adjustments to being a new parent and all the responsibility that parenthood brings and sex is low on the priorities. Plus, like wives, mothers aren’t sexual beings are they?
We absolutely ARE, thank you!! I’ve heard there’s an extra orgasm for each birth and I’ve not had enough practice since my second son was born! But seriously now, after reading that book I started to feel that I knew exactly what the problem was, exactly why I wasn’t getting any sex. I had turned sex into a clinical, un-spontaneous, highly pressurized and entirely un-enjoyable science experiment. And I was stressed out and grumpy to boot.
I had driven my husband away. He’d merely gone along with the science experiment–the diets, positions and mucous discussions, in the effort to support me to get what I wanted. That’s wonderful of him and all I had done was make it all bad and messed up.
How very disappointing.
Part III: It’s all my fault
Epiphany aside I needed to sort this out and the book had been at my house since about February.
Life after birth by Kate Figes looks at the reality of being a 21st century mother–the REALITY of it, all the horrible bits that other books just gloss over. Those other books that tend to focus on pregnancy and birth and barely discuss the reality of life shortly thereafter. Those books that you read when you’re pregnant and imagine that once the birth happens then everything will just go back to how it was pre-birth.
This book puts it all in perspective. Childbirth is just the beginning. After the birth of each child, but especially after the first, there is a huge amount of adjustment and chaos for both parents, but especially for the mother. Motherhood is busy. And it’s hard. And it’s the best thing you’ll ever do.
“The most privileged mother has far more in common with a socially and financially deprived mother than with a childless woman from the same social background.”
Birth is hard and it takes a long time for a woman’s body to recover properly, time that is rarely allowed in our culture, or that women allow themselves. For all that we have great medical technology, many women suffer lingering health issues after childbirth without seeking proper treatment and just put up with constant pain. They don’t complain because the focus is on the baby. But they see their body and know it will never be the same again, either internally or externally.
A woman’s mind also takes time to recover after pregnancy and childbirth. Psychological overload with plummeting hormone levels and the shock of giving birth combined with a dramatic drop in blood volume cause emotional mayhem following birth. SO much has happened in such a short time and a lack of sleep or exhaustion is expected and not helpful. This can be a time of great happiness but also great sadness as the mother adjusts to her new and very dependent baby. It can be a terrible time. Postnatal depression is a reality for some, although may be often missed or misdiagnosed and put down to the expected consequences of motherhood including exhaustion and poor health. Support and rest are ideal but often difficult for busy mothers who now have many more things to do in their day, every day.
Maybe it is necessary to go back out to work. Working mothers find it difficult to integrate the conflicting demands of work and motherhood. The money may enable high quality child care – but it doesn’t eliminate the guilt of leaving children to go off to work. Women who stay home face loneliness, even though she is never alone. All mothers feel trapped at some time by their burden and responsibility; being the integral piece in their children’s lives along with everything else is hard work. Anger and resentment towards the baby can exist and need to be acknowledged as much as positive emotions.
Notions of being a good or bad parent are stronger today than they have ever been. We know the power parents have and the damage they can do to their children, which results in doubt about our instinctive ability to mother. Childcare books aim to help us to become “better” mothers and psychologists have helped reinforce the “good/bad” idea by telling us of all the damage we can do with thoughtless words or actions. Even Jean Leidloff who wrote The Continuum Concept puts pressure on mothers with her “always carry the baby” approach. A good mother does her best for herself and her child.
Pregnancy and birth cause adult relationships to change. Relationships with friends (particularly childless friends), family and especially the father of the baby, have to adjust to the new lifestyle that the baby brings. Through pregnancy, men continue to work and live as they have always done while their wife’s belly grows – men do not live through the physical and psychological changes, nor do they have to live up to the cultural expectations of motherhood. But men do change too and it takes time for both husband and wife to transform into Mum and Dad; patience and communication is good. Friends without children can’t understand what you’re about now that it’s all baby, baby, nappies, feeding, sleeps, tired, grouchy AND not socialising any more. But new friends come – ones with kids, who understand the 3am feeds or nightmares, the grey circles under the eyes and the unkempt hair. Expect change.
Changes to sex as well. There will probably be less of it, starting from pregnancy, when a cumbersome pregnant body is not sexually ideal. After the birth, hormones, medical problems and tiredness work against sex and that’s not to mention the psychological issues relating to the new post-birth body or any birth trauma that may have been experienced. Apart from all that there’s no time for sex any more anyway between work, baby and life in general. Seduction is what generally works best for women and there is certainly not enough time for that with a small baby.
“The change is a term which is regularly used to describe the end of a woman’s reproductive life during the menopause, but it is having a baby which changes a woman’s way of life more than anything else. The birth of a child forces sudden and irrevocable physical, psychological and emotional changes on a woman… You cross a one-way bridge when you have your first child. You can look back to where you have been, but you can never go back there.”
And it was finally after reading this that I felt better. I felt totally validated as a mother. I felt great about myself and my mothering, less guilty about “mistakes” I’ve made and as “normal” as any other mother. And even good about the no-sex thing. It was straight forward.
Yes, I probably drove my husband away but I also believe it had a lot to do with timing. With a co-sleeping, breastfeeding, almost two-year-old and an intelligent, needs-occupying seven-year-old we simply don’t find enough time to have sex.
We both work, I’ve been editing birthplace magazine, there’s parent help at school with the oldest and parent groups to attend with the youngest, homebirth meetings to be present at and somehow, somewhere housework to do, meals to cook and shopping to be done. Free evenings are rare.
As we swiftly approach 2010, I’m still not pregnant. But now I understand more about my situation, my relationships, my husband. And I accept.
I still have a pink ribbon under my pillow and a wooden spoon under the bed, like the internet said I should to get a girl, though I know in the end the universe will decide for me.
1. He’s just not up for it anymore: Why men stop having sex and what you can do about it by Bob Berkowitz, Ph.D and Susan Yager-Berkowitz
2. Life after birth by Kate Figes
Last updated: 18 April 2010.