Rappler’s Life and Style section runs an advice column by couple Jeremy Baer and clinical psychologist Dr Margarita Holmes.
Jeremy has a master’s degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in 3 continents, he has been training with Dr Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives
Together, they have written two books: Love Triangles: Understanding the Macho-Mistress Mentality and Imported Love: Filipino-Foreign Liaisons.
Dear Dr Holmes and Mr Baer,
I have been your fan since pre-social media days, and your books helped me to somehow be responsible and careful with my sex life.
My wife had a cervical cancer operation last year. Since then, we never had sex. Masturbation has been my deed. And there were times, I had to admit, I resurrected my former sex buddies just to have a release of urges (but this seldom happened, twice last year).
But most of the time, I’d rather get busy with work. Gone were the days of wild sex nights that you would pursue. But having no sex with my wife seemed a growing hole in my life.
As of this writing, I feel like I’m at the brink of losing it. I don’t want to have sex with buddies either. Is it possible that I’m already experiencing depression, if not anxiety, because I no longer have sex with my wife?
I understand there may be other factors, but it’s been years as well that that I am losing interest of the usual things I like.
Thank you for your letter, which raises so many questions.
Most women who have operations for cervical cancer can resume a normal sex life afterwards. Is your wife not able to have sex? Alternatively, is she able but one of you is not willing? In which case, which of you?
Whatever the case, sex is of course not confined to vaginal penetration so there is no need for either of you to be sexually deprived. If despite this you are, then clearly there are other factors to be taken into account.
Given all these permutations, what is strange is you have not chosen to share any of this with us.
You say that in the absence of sex with your wife, masturbation and sex with buddies have been your chosen alternatives but that the allure of these is fading, leaving you depressed. In addition, you have been feeling anhedonia (the inability to derive pleasure from previously pleasurable experiences) and hence depression since before your wife’s cancer.
It seems that your priority must be to get treatment for your depression and I suggest a visit to a mental health professional. Once that is sorted out we can address the sex issue if you are willing to fill in the information gaps. All the best,
Thank you very much for your letter.
Thank you too, Mr Baer, for summarizing what is considered the gold standard for treating sex problems that primarily come up when one is depressed: treat the depression first then move on to the sex problem. Sometimes, the sex problem becomes moot once the depression, which was the driving force behind said problems, resolves itself.
Sex is an intensely personal part of a person’s life and each of us have personal sexual needs that nobody else may have… or not have in quite the same way. Each of us also have resources to answer these needs.
For example, for a while masturbation answered your needs, and then later having sex buddies but now they no longer do so. One way of looking at this (and I can’t help feeling this is what was/is going on with you) is that these solutions would never have been enough in the long run. Perhaps it is because you need an intimate connection with the person you are having sex with. There is no shame in that. On the contrary, how blessed you and your wife were for having that connection in the past.
But, dearest Luke, this need not be in the past. Your sex lives together can still carry on. Perhaps not in the same way, but definitely with the same fervor.
Also, it is possible that the intimacy that draws partners together after sex will be even stronger… especially now that each of you is facing a challenge around the same situation — your wife’s cervical cancer — but in a different way.
It would be a good idea to talk about your sexual feelings with your wife. It is possible she would have liked to have this conversation w-a-a-ay back but was too shy to bring it up, because she worried this might be putting undue pressure on you.
In my clinical experience, especially when the site of the cancer is a body part connected with sex — breast, cervix, anus, vagina, penis, etc — the person with the cancer hesitates much more than his/her partner. That is why, difficult though it may be for you, I hope, dearest Luke, you can gather the courage to bring it up with your wife. I have a feeling there is nothing she would like better.
Of course, I have no real basis for thinking the above, but something about your letter makes me feel you had a very close sexual relationship with her before her cancer. That is why you miss sex so much and why the temporary measures worked, but now no longer do so. They may have satisfied the biological release, but not the emotional, not your needs that had to do with a deeper, soul to soul connection with your wife.
Should you feel you cannot bring up the topic, then by all means, go to a mental health professional for help. It would be a very good idea for both of you to go together. That way, you will both be facing the same problems together.
Isn’t this so, so much better than each of you being locked in his/her own silent world, missing the other, but frightened of putting too much pressure on the other by saying so? Ironically, this is what the other person would most like to hear.
Depression is one of the easiest mental disorders to cure, Luke, and I am confident that, along with other things your wife and you (and possibly a mental health professional should you feel you need one) decide, you will be on the way to deal with yours.
As Jim Carrey says: “I believe depression is legitimate. But I also believe if you don’t exercise, eat nutritious food, exercise, get enough sleep, consume positive material, surround yourself with support, then you aren’t giving yourself a fighting chance.”
All the best,
Need advice from our Two Pronged duo? Email email@example.com with subject heading TWO PRONGED. Unfortunately, the volume of correspondence precludes a personal response.