DOCS: 40 Year Old Virgins
True Stories of Sex Therapy
"Sex is painful and traumatic for my wife—we need help!"
John and Lisa,* both 28, have been married for almost four years and live outside Denver, Colorado. "While we were dating, we both agreed to put off sex until after the wedding," says John. "At the time, it didn't seem like sex would be a problem. I clearly had the stronger sex drive, but when we talked about it, she seemed just as eager. She's said at least a half-dozen times that it was a really difficult wait until our wedding."
However, they had no idea that trouble—and pain—was ahead. "We did have sex on our wedding night, of course, but it was really painful for her, and probably more awkward than normal," says John. "We tried a few more times on our honeymoon, but the pain was too much for her."
Lisa's gynecologist recommended a hymenectomy, a surgical procedure she hoped would solve her problems, but after her recovery, the pain continued. "The doctor provided her with some vaginal dilators, and suggested that she use them every day until things improved," says John. "She complained about having no time to use them every day, and ended up using them about once a week or so for the first few months. That gradually declined, so that by the time a year passed she wasn't using them at all."
Over the years, John and Lisa attempted intercourse about once every two months, but each experience ended badly and usually with Lisa in tears. "I'm not down with that," says John. "I'm a real believer in sex being healthy—physically, psychologically and emotionally, particularly for married couples. Sex for me is as much about the give as the take, and the way things are right now, I really can't give."
After a lot of discussion, John and Lisa finally decided to see a sex therapist, and their first appointment is in a few weeks. "We're both hoping that therapy helps us get to the root of her pain issues and helps restore her desire for sex," he says. "I'd love to be in a place where she shows interest in me sexually, initiates sex half the time and actually enjoys it when we do have it. I do think sex is a pretty big part of any really successful marriage, and once we get that element on track, I believe it's going to make the rest of our relationship a lot stronger."
"I slowly lost all desire for sex, and I wanted help getting it back again."
Jessica,* a 51-year-old mother of three in Scarsdale, New York, says everything about her marriage was great—except for the sex. Sure, things in the bedroom were fine for the first several years of her 18-year marriage, but when parenting and work pressures piled up, her sex life got pushed to the back burner. "Somewhere after my third child arrived, I just lost interest in it," she says. Her husband would try to initiate sex, and she'd repeatedly turn him down. "I didn't want to admit that I had a problem," she says. "My husband was very understanding about it."
But after a while, her husband stopped asking her for intimacy, and that was a wakeup call, she says. "He gave up," she says. "I knew he was hurting because our sex life was suffering. That was sad for me." After her gynecologist shrugged and said, "You just need to relax more, that's your problem," Jessica decided she needed help from an expert who specialized in specific issues of sexual dysfunction. In April she visited the Medical Center for Female Sexuality in New York, a clinic that takes a psychological and physical approach to sexual health. After an examination and extensive blood tests, Jessica saw a sex therapist who helped her understand that her lack of desire wasn't her fault—nor was it all in her head. Better yet: There was something she could do about it.
After a few months on a treatment regimen that included testosterone cream supplements and vaginal dilators for at-home use, Jessica says her desire came back. "It was funny, all of a sudden I was thinking about my husband more during the day, eager for him to come home and interested in sex. I don't dread the bedroom anymore!" She continues, "My husband thinks it's great, too, of course. And there was a night recently where I wanted to have sex and he was too tired. Can you believe that?"
"Sex therapy didn't work for me."
Elaine, 55, and her husband Bob* both hoped that a sex therapist could help them resolve issues of intimacy in their marriage. The couple, who lives in Canada, loved each other, but their sex life was, in a word, miserable. "I had been diagnosed with vestibulodynia (chronic pain of the vulva) several years before, making intercourse impossible at worst and almost unbearably painful at best," says Elaine. "And my husband was dealing with erectile dysfunction."
Elaine suggested that she and Bob see a sex therapist, and he, reluctantly, agreed. "It was not a positive experience," she says. "The therapist told us what we already knew, and her office was not a welcoming place for discussing such personal matters. It was like a lawyer's office, just far tidier. I wanted a couch to sit on, rich color and an environment that would help me relax and feel drawn to talking about this most intimate of topics."
What's more, Elaine says the therapist they saw was unable and unwilling to help them sort out the issues plaguing their sex life. "Our individual histories were unbelievably complex and were intersecting in disastrous ways, but she did not ask questions to explore this," she says. Discouraged by the experience, Elaine says she gave up, and never returned. Sadly, shortly after, her 12-year marriage dissolved. "I left my husband, and we are in the process of separating."
"I was scared of sex—but not anymore!"
"I had never had sexual intercourse until I got married at age 22," says Leanne,* a woman in Cary, North Carolina, who is now 29. The experience, she says, was painful and far from what she expected. "I was diagnosed with vulvar vestibulitis (pain in the opening of the vagina) and tried many medical treatments, all of which seemed to be dead-end roads." Leanne says that every time her husband initiated intercourse—or just tried to cuddle—she'd freeze with fear. "I came to hate anything associated with sex because of the intense physical pain I had experienced during times of intimacy," she says. "My husband felt that I wasn't attracted to him because I had no desire for sex, and the more scared I was, the more sex would hurt—so it felt like a vicious cycle."
Leanne and her husband decided to try sex therapy as a last resort—to save their sex life and possibly even their marriage. "The therapist suggested we use a method called 'sensate focus,' which had us go back to the very beginning and spend a couple of weeks doing nothing but nonsexual touch." Without the pressure or fear of intercourse, Leanne says she learned to enjoy physical intimacy again. "As we slowly progressed, we got to a point where we were able to try intercourse," she says. "Although my medical condition was not cured, I became much more able to manage the pain and finally even became able to enjoy sex."
She credits her sex therapist for helping her get to this point. "I am thankful to her for not only giving us a great technique to use, but for providing a safe place to talk about a very sensitive and private issue. We are now blessed to have a 6-month-old daughter, a healthy sex life and a marriage that keeps getting better every day!"
*Names and some identifying details changed to protect privacy.
Sarah Jio is the health and fitness blogger for Glamour.com.
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