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 enrolled in and subsequently gave workshops in work-life balance and gender sensitivity training. 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. Dr Holmes needs no further introduction.
Dear Dr Holmes and Mr Baer,
My wife and I have difficulty in lovemaking. She is 55 years old and her libido has gone to the dogs. Every time we do it, it’s painful for her, actually very painful she can’t bear it. She is as dry as the desert.
She doesn’t want foreplay and just wants medicinal lubrication. I know 55 years old is not old when having sex. I am blessed by erection every time despite my age, and my sexuality is high. I don’t want to womanize so I am asking her to seek the opinion of a gyne. Well, the traditional gyne is saying she is menopause and old. But I am active and just masturbating every night in secrecy. She was hysterectomized but partially. Does this mean I have to suffer silently or womanize?
SOS – Jim
Your situation arouses sympathy, even if the way you express it does little for your cause. To say that “her libido has gone to the dogs” and “she is as dry as the desert” is after all not the most delicate way to describe one’s wife.
Your wife’s condition is common for someone of her age. Perhaps just as common is the the way the two of you are dealing with it. Your wife seems to take the attitude that sex is something to grin and bear, to get over with as quickly as possible, while you appear to be taking a very matter-of-fact approach – you want “normal service” to be resumed as soon as possible. There is a notable lack of sentiment, love and affection and no evidence of any real communication.
Seeking to mitigate some of the harshness this criticism may reflect, I appreciate that I may be unfair. It is possible that you have just written about the “plumbing” or physical aspects of your problem, leaving out any others as being irrelevant. However, the way you express yourself suggests that you may not be one of the world’s most romantic husbands.
Summarising your options, you can list only two:
1. suffer in silence or
As most people masturbate for pleasure, not pain, I can only think that you call it “suffering” to get sympathy, unless of course you actually are hurting yourself when you masturbate, perhaps using coarse soap or a scouring pad, rather than something pleasanter, softer and smoother.
As for womanizing – the only other option you seem capable of imagining – this seems rather extreme. Womanizing is, after all, defined as liking many women and having short sexual relationships with them. To swap a wife “dry as the desert” for lots of sex with lots of women is a totally unreasonable response to your problem.
Perhaps it is time to take a more considered view of your situation.
Firstly, a man blessed by erections and high sexuality could surely also be a man who is aware that sex is not limited to penetrative intercourse. It offers so many more options and with just a little imagination, you and your wife can surely enjoy an active and fulfilling sex life even if you have to forego penetration.
Secondly, there are gynecologists who take a more enlightened view of your wife’s condition than writing her off as menopausal and old, and can give you rather more helpful advice. There are also products available to “irrigate the desert” if the traditional fallback of laway (saliva) is not a solution.
But all this presupposes that you can establish a decent level of communication with your wife. Go for it. The prize after all is so great – your blessing in an oasis.
All the best. – Jeremy
Thank you very much for your letter.
Allow me to take off from Jeremy’s 4th paragraph where he points out the false dichotomy you ended your letter with: “Must I have to suffer in silence OR womanize?”
There are several other options open besides these two, but let me focus on just one of them, okay?
Instead of suffering in silence, how about talking with her to let her know where you’re at? This can be the springboard which might lead to an honest conversation where you can speak from the heart – and not just your disgruntled loins – and also listen to what she has to say.
Sigmund Freud once said, “Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.”
The feelings you have at the moment are already pretty ugly, wouldn’t you say, Jim? And part of that ugliness may have to do with defense mechanisms like reaction formation, intellectualization, et cetera, to rationalize anything you may have done to contribute to her lack of interest in sex: an affair or two, making her feel others (your work, your mother, the adulation of others) are more important than her, etc.
You make your wife sound like she is the only problem and that you have nothing to do with it. In fact, you write about her as if she were not really a person but a mere machine – a car is the first thing that comes to mind.
Like a vintage car, your wife also sounds like she needs tinkering with; not necessary a major overhaul – she is probably “fit for purpose” in other areas like making sure your clothes are laundered, meals prepared, etc.
Perhaps it is only in the sexual area that she needs fine tuning as far as you’re concerned? But instead of a car mechanic tinkering with an older model, it was first a traditional gynecologist and now we advice columnists that you are turning to in order to fix her.
There are at least two reasons, however, that medical doctors should still be consulted:
1. Your wife has dyspareunia — pain during intercourse. Dyspareunia has been reconceptualized. It is once again considered a pain disorder, rather than a sexual dysfunction. The implications of this are staggering in terms of how your wife’s pain – and thus the couple’s problem (and not just hers) – can be treated.
One thing that cannot be overlooked is the more than usual physical reason that might still be present and thus needs immediate attention. Reading Dr Sandra Leiblum’s work, “Principles and Practice of Sex Therapy” (now in its 4th edition), would be a good way to start learning more about this.
2. You need a second opinion because the first gynecologist you consulted seems unaware of any research on female sexuality done in the last 50 years. Worse, she seems to have merely projected anecdotal evidence (hers, if not her relatives, friends, and patients) as the only reasons, hence the only avenues for relief, regarding your situation.
Having said all the above, I shall concentrate on your relationship, rather than the dyspareunia per se, since the former is the major and most pressing problem.
First, I realize that simply telling you to change your behavior towards your wife is useless. You would have done so by now if you could. All we can do is provide information which might help you change spontaneously in a eureka!–like moment or, among more helpful options, even resolve to change.
The Psychotherapy Networker lists John Gottman as one of the Top 10 Most Influential Therapists of the past quarter-century, but many of us know him as the therapist Malcolm Gladwell wrote about in “Blink,” who could reliably predict within 5 minutes of hearing a conversation between a couple whether they would stay together or not.
His various researches consistently show that anger, frustration and other seemingly “negative” emotions are okay, but contempt is a deal breaker when it comes to relationships lasting.
It would be a good idea, dearest Jim, to explore how close you are to feeling contempt for your wife and to realize that it is not only because of her, but also your actions, decisions and hidden messages that determine why you feel the way you do. This pertains not only to the sex you have between you, but about the life you share.
Unless you explore the reasons for your impatience and lack of concern, I am afraid you will be a mere example of a sexologist’s view of frigidity.
The traditional gynecologist you originally went to might share the oft quoted: “There are no frigid women, only clumsy men.”
But we sexologists have come up with something even better (or so I like to think): “There are frigid women and there are clumsy men, and they are usually married to each other!”
Take care of your body and mind. – Margie
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