I am a 50+ year old life-long member who is eternally committed to a talented and caring LDS woman and our 30+ year temple marriage. We have struggled with intimacy and sexual dysfunction our entire marriage. Not withstanding that we were chaste during our dating and short engagement, there seemed to be passion in our relationship and she seemed to enjoy kissing. It seemed to me that she was just as anxious as I was (if not more so at times) for sexual relations after marriage. During our engagement, she disclosed that she had engaged in some petting with some teen boys as a teenage girl and with her former fiancee, but had not had sexual intercourse, and had cleared things up with her bishop before we met. My premarital sexual experiences were limited to intermittent pornography use and masturbation, which I repented of prior to receiving the Melchizedek Priesthood in preparation for serving a mission. On our wedding night, even though it was late and we were both tired, she was insistent that we consummate our marriage, even though she was not sufficiently aroused and was therefore painful for both of us.It was during our honeymoon that the biggest problems began to manifest themselves. Even though we were both well aroused and both seemed to enjoy making love, immediately after she would climax, she would curl up in a ball and cry uncontrollably and experience intense feelings of guilt, shame, and what she refers to as the “black feeling”. She quickly lost her willingness to engage in any kissing other than an occasional peck, stating that it was “too intimate”. She recognized that there was a problem and agreed to talk to an LDS therapist. She soon disclosed conscious memories of a few weeks of sexual abuse as an early teen by an older cousin when she spent time with his family one summer. Over the years, various therapists have continued to work with her intermittently. She has acknowledged that her non-member father was frequently verbally abusive to their whole family and sometimes physically abusive to all his kids, especially when he’d been drinking. She has no conscious memories of being sexually abused by her father, but has some hypnosis-aided memories of terrifying feelings in certain places in their old house. She also has some “recovered memories” of worse abuse, which she is not always convinced really happened. I had hoped that the time and money invested in therapy over the years would decrease the roadblocks to sharing physical intimacy, but as time has marched onwards, the opposite has happened. Not withstanding repeated Priesthood blessings and fasting and prayer, the Lord has not yet seen fit to heal my sweetheart. Even though she sincerely wishes things were different, she has despaired and decided several years ago (about menopause time) that the emotional price for physical intimacy is too high and that she will no longer engage in or permit sexual touching anywhere other than during occasional shared showers because the shower feels “safer” than the bedroom.
Even before reading your blog postings, I’ve known that sexual abuse issues can be very complicated and perhaps unsolvable. I have read about the different types of sexual dysfunction and it does not seem to me that her post-sex emotional meltdown falls into any of the standard categories. She can allow herself to get aroused if she wants to and does not experience physical pain during or after sex. Her health is not great, but it’s not terrible, either. My health is good. During a recent discussion about our situation, my wife said that even though I’ve been convinced for decades that she enjoyed being aroused (almost always passively) until the post-climax “emotional crash”, she now claims that the entire process of love-making has always been offset with emotional duress which she no longer wishes to deal with.
I really have tried to be understanding, patient, and unconditionally loving over the years as we have tried to deal with this issue. Most other aspects of our marriage are healthy. We have our occasional disagreements, but we’ve learned how to communicate well about just about everything. Talking about sex has always been difficult for my wife, but when she feels safe, she will occasionally share her feelings, even though it is emotionally difficult to do so.
My questions to you are: have you ever heard of someone experiencing such strong and persistent orgasm triggered negative emotions? Are you aware of any cases where such a condition has been cured or significantly lessened by the use of hypnosis? (self-hypnosis dramatically lessened the emotional trauma and fear during the last of her cesarean deliveries). Are you aware of any LDS therapists who are trained to use hypnosis in overcoming sexual dysfunction?
First of all I want to commend both you and your wife for what sounds like a meaningful and worthwhile life you have built together in light of the difficult challenges you have both faced. It seems like having an eternal perspective has been an incredibly useful gospel tool that helped you both keep sight of a common end goal. These are my thoughts/suggestions:
- I see some meaningful strengths or positives in your situation:
- There has been a willingness to seek outside professional help.
- There seems to be a desire from both parties to have a better sexual experience.
- Your wife has been able to achieve climax in the past. There are many cases that involve a history of sexual trauma where the victim is unable to experience an orgasm at all.
- The marriage sounds strong and healthy with good communication skills.
- It sounds like in practicing patience, you have developed the other areas of intimacy in your relationship and also built a relationship of trust with your wife. This is highly commendable and speaks volumes of your love for her.
- The fact that you have figured out a “safe” place to proceed with love making, such as the shower, shows an element of creativity and willingness on both ends. These are incredibly useful tools you can tap into together as a couple. Give yourselves bid kudos for this!
- You are entering a new developmental stage of your lives – “the empty nest.” This can be a positive time when the shift from child care and concerns can be placed more firmly back onto the couplehood. This is a time where many couples reinvent themselves by spending time, energy and even money on rediscovering their similar interests, travel, more frequent dating, etc.
- I also see some difficult challenges.
- The length of time that you have been dealing with these issues most likely have you both feeling discouraged, tired and hopeless.
- The fact that you have sought outside help (both professionally and within the church) without achieving the desired results again leaves you both feeling discouraged, tired and hopeless.
- When you are feeling discouraged, tired and hopeless it can be difficult to find the energy or desire to continue the fight. I would encourage both of you, however, to not give up.
Here are some suggestions:
- You may want to reconsider limiting your scope of getting help from only LDS counselors. Depending where you live, LDS therapists can be difficult to find and an LDS therapist who specializes in sex therapy is probably even harder to find. There are many helpful and qualified sex therapists who would respect your religious and spiritual values while helping you address these very personal issues. There are some very specific exercises that sex therapists can assign that have positive results for specific triggers such as orgasm. Many of these do not even include the act of intercourse, but rather focus on touch, stroke, and just proximity of skin. They also focus on self-soothing and relaxation techniques. In fact, the way you begin to look at and define sex can be altogether different from traditional intercourse and may not trigger the same response: mutual masturbation, massage, phone sex, etc.
- I have a non-LDS colleague whom I greatly respect and with whom I consulted regarding your case. She specializes in sex therapy and had the following comments: “I don’t have any experience with hypnosis in treating sexual dysfunction. I would probably treat this case through the use of desensitization techniques and self-relaxation techniques. I have had couples with similar pasts and unfortunately the sex therapy is more of a long term and slow process. I don’t know of any Mormon Sex therapists. You could call AASECT.org to see who they have on their web site. You could also send them to Loyola’s Sexual Dysfunction (this program is based out of Chicago) though that would be short term. Perhaps a therapist trained in EMDR to help deal with the trauma piece?” Kathryn Thumme, MA, LMFT & Sex Therapist –Chicago
- I also do not have any experience with hypnotherapy, although I would not rule it out. Those who are trained in this area claim to have positive results within a variety of issues. And if your wife already found this technique useful, she may be able to apply it to this specific issue as well.
- You mention her health. Is this something that she has discussed with her OBGyn? Have medical reasons for any sexual dysfunction been factored out? Does she have a clean bill of health when it comes to pursuing her sexuality?
- They say that the biggest sexual organ we attain is our brain. This seems to be especially true for women. Stepping up the amount of romance can be a helpful tool to have in your corner. Coming up with ways that help her feel beautiful and sexy (whether this be in things that you say to her, write to her, or even things that you do like send her flowers, take her dancing, to a romantic movie or on a special get away, etc.) can be a fun way to engage in a form of foreplay. It’s not to imply that you should expect sex after these behaviors, but it can help set an overall mood to your marriage that could help in the long run.
- It is not always concerning that things get worse before they get better. This can actually be a normal part of the healing process. The travesty is when we give up because we feel there is no progress being made, usually right before a turning point is about to happen. As long as we’re trying, there is ALWAYS progress being made. It’s the nature of human drive – we are all trying to seek for better things. Whether we allow old habits, comfort zones, patterns and self-destructive thoughts to stand in our way is the bigger question.
- My last concern is how have you been handling 30 years of repressed sexual drive? This must be a painful situation for you to bear and I wonder if it’s affected your sense of self or even self-esteem? Is she aware of the pain this has caused you? I do not want to imply in any way that she should feel guilt for the incredibly difficult feelings she has had to live with. And yet sometimes women are willing to fight or struggle for others more than they are willing to do so for themselves. Although, this would not be the ultimate reason I would want her to seek help, it might be a good place to start: out of her love for you and wanting the best for you. It can also be an indirect example to your children – it’s amazing what they can unconsciously pick up on! Would you want them to give up on their sexual lives if they were in a similar situation? Similarly, Heavenly Father does not want you to give up on this aspect of your life either.
- If you are comfortable telling her anything from me it would be this: You deserve to reclaim your sexuality! Whatever has happened to you in the past to leave such painful scars is deeply saddening. You still deserve your sexuality. You are a worthy woman who deserves to experience this gift from God in a different way than you have up until now. Both you and your husband deserve better. It may be a long road, but it will be worthwhile. It may challenge you and snap you right out of your comfort zone, but you will grow and discover entirely new aspects of yourself that will surprise, delight and reinvent you. If your husband is a safe person to embark upon this journey with, take his hand and let him lead the way. It will be an adventure you will not regret.
I wish you both my very best.
Is anyone willing to share any personal experiences with sexual trauma – either with self or spouse? What has been helpful in overcoming similar issues?
What are your thoughts about the pros and cons of seeing and LDS versus a non-LDS therapist?
What are your thoughts about sex therapy – would you be wiling to go?
Natasha Helfer Parker is a Licensed Clinical Marriage and Family Therapist and a member of the Church with 13 years of experience working with LDS members. Here she shares with us representative cases from her practice and insights she has gained from her work as a therapist. She blogs at mormontherapist.blogspot.com.