Real Sex Lives: “Having no intimacy with her for 23 years is killing me.”

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Cortesy of Jill Hamilton

(You have arrived in the midst of a grand celebration in which we’re re-running IBWMW’s all-time greatest Real Sex Lives stories.)

Today’s truth teller is crazy madly in love with his wife, but his wife is physical–and possibly emotionally–unable to have sex with him. And that’s pretty much been the story for the last 23 years.Where does that leave him? That’s what he’s trying to figure out.


Ever hear of “vulvodynia”? Me neither until I read about it. It’s one of those woman-things that’s quite real but insurance companies don’t pay for diagnostics or treatment for whatever excuse they’re using on a given day. The scuttlebutt is it can take up to ten grand to find out. Then there’s not a whole that can be done about it. She doesn’t have an official diagnosis. But when you’ve been around Her for over a decade and you both know the exact nature of the problem, when you read the symptomology, it’s not rocket science, no matter what the insurance bastards have to say.

All those blissful billions of nerve endings sistas have, in Her they experience a massive malfunction when stimulated. Instead of pleasure, they send PAIN! to Her brain. And they don’t all agree with each other across the topography of Her magic places; up near the clitoris, they say PAIN!, along the outside of the labia 5 mm from the bottom they say YAHOO!, inside the all-powerful opening, they say everything from WTH? to PAIN! To YAHOO to JEEBUS WTF ARE YOU DOIN’?! So yeah, so much for the science lesson and now that we know the problem has a medical name, my husband-guilt goes into overdrive—I may NEED sex, most preferably with Her, but if it hurts Her, then “sex” just turns into the thing I have to “sacrifice”—or else I’m a selfish male asshole, isn’t that how it goes? Once sex is out of the equation, all the “other” problems that come with 23 years married and quarter century living with Her go into a slow nuclear burn.


She was the girl I “did the right thing” by… I was abstinent until our wedding night because that was how She wanted it and I wanted to be with Her more than any other girl I’d ever been around, let alone those I’d been with before Her. She rolls her eyes every time I say it, but it’s the authentic truth: I saw Her in her younger sister’s dorm room and that was it, no other female human being had any appeal to me whatsoever. It wasn’t my “other brain” that sang, it was the whole deal, head to toe, both brains included. I must have done something right that first night out because we began to see each other a lot, She drove five hours to see me, I moved to her town first chance I had so five hours was five minutes. I wrote her mammoth love letters, I wrote songs for her that my band played at gigs, I photographed the daylights out of her although she protested (a lot). We got married [too] young. Her mom wrote her a letter trying to talk her out of marrying a 23 year old musician/photographer/writer —“dreamer” was what her mom said, and I think “loser” was in there somewhere; thankfully FIL-to-be loved me. I was working-class like him but college educated and could spend hours under the hood of an old car with him and honestly have a great time. He’s quite possibly the most honourable guy I’ve ever met.

Then came the wedding night. She was the fourth virgin I’d been with out of a dozen others from the time I was fifteen (I know that makes me a high school and college boy-slut jerk, right?). The other three virgins, things worked out fine, I actually went and found out how to make those first times better than the way most women describe them—maybe they lied to me. I’ll never really know. She brought me with her to the “lady doc” and She did her homework assignments with me as prescribed. I did extra homework to make sure everything was going to go well, because I’d waited and She deserved nothing but my very best.

So we were both a little shocked after I came up grinnin’ like a fool from giving Her a nice and loud, jumping-all-over-the-damned-place-orgasm, when intercourse, after appropriate recovery and well-earned snuggling, was impossible and way more painful that it should have given all the conscientious preparation—in retrospect, we were both shattered. Unfortunately, we were too ashamed and scared to tell each other just how shattered we were— for the first decade or so that we were married. The honeymoon wasn’t the intimate emotional-physical-sexual discovery and bonding experience we’d planned. Instead, it was just another one of our many trips together, except that this trip was an emotional nightmare and we talked very little and we only tried to have sex one other time, again to failure and a lot of me apologizing for letting Her down. I was convinced it must be my fault.

Our marriage was publicly known to our friends and family as the model for “doing it right” but in private, in our bed, it was emotionally tortured and sexually just awful. In the first year, I kept trying to get her to take this all to her doctor. I was a fix-it guy, something doesn’t work you go fix it. In the meantime, you work around it. I had a vocabulary, I had some experience with a bunch of other fun things to do with two human bodies. I didn’t know what “vanilla” meant back then but I discovered She was a vanilla’s vanilla. Missionary only or nothing, well, almost nothing, She’d let me go down on Her, which I was all too eager to provide because all I wanted was to make Her happy. I couldn’t help but wonder it that was a response to our wedding night shocker or if She just really was “not into anything else” as She told me that first year. Over the first few years we tried to have sex and failed. Eventually, intercourse, as brief as possible and as an afterwards She endured, was possible. Bottom line, She refused to go see a doctor and refused to try any workaround. I just wanted her to be happy so I settled. That’s what a “good guy” does. I loved Her.

I was devastated but I loved Her. And it hurt even worse than Her body was (and is to this day at late forty-something) rockin’. It was like coming to the table every meal, every damned day, where the table is loaded with chocolate covered strawberries and champagne and never being allowed to even touch any of it, well, one strawberry, a couple times a year, and I had to down it quickly so it wouldn’t hurt her too much. That’s been our “sex life” for 23 years.

Somehow we managed to have two kids. We were stupid, thinking: well, maybe this will be something we can do right, in spite of the “problem.” Economics put me home as the Stay-At-Home-Dad. It was kinda “choice” for me, I had already bailed on my arts careers in favor of a desk job but the economy was tightening up around the millennium, both of us wanted to raise our own kids and, since we couldn’t afford daycare anyway even with both our jobs, I had the time so I downshifted. Ha! More like “shifted-sideways” because any SAH parent knows kids are never “down” even when they’re unconscious.

Now that our kids were a distraction from our intimacy crisis, our silence about the “problem” continued until I went back to college to finish whatever-degree-was-cheapest-and-fastest-to-finish and could get me back to an arts-based career (I was always a better artist than a paralegal), and when our eldest entered kindergarten. One day, out of the blue she tells me matter-of-factly, no tears or anything, our wedding night devastated her. “It was one more thing in my hard life that was hard. I always believed sex was going to be something easy, natural, organic I could count on to not be more work. But it wasn’t and it isn’t and I’m done with sex for good.”

I was devastated, hell, beyond shattered all over again. I felt numb, surely She didn’t mean it. After two kids, birthed the way evolution geared it, she still had a body that was rockin’. That table filled with chocolate covered strawberries and champagne I was not allowed to touch? Not even on the table anymore. I blamed her for waiting until she was married. I kicked myself for being stupid for breaking the Rule for Her that I established when I was still in high school: no moving forward with a girl without sexual compatibility being established. It was a socially unpopular Rule (one my fundamentalist parents would have freaked out over had they known) but it had always weeded out girlfriends who liked the idea of me more than me. Until Her. And here we were thirteen years married, I broke my Rule for Her and I was getting’ spanked for it (not even the fun kind).

I had a shitstorm to deal with because I was around younger twenty-somethings every day on campus and four different women (older twenty-somethings) made me an offer no man could refuse, except me. I was still head over heels in love with Her. I had thirteen years emotionally invested in Her and the last thing I wanted to do was complicate that—it was plenty complicated already, dammit—and I already knew Her shit; why would I want to have to learn to deal with another woman’s? And I kicked myself for it while simultaneously glad I still wanted Her more than those very appealing other women. I was noble, it’s what a “good guy” does, right?

Again, we didn’t talk about the “problem,” except for briefly when the vulvodynia discovery happened three years after She announced to me She was “done with sex for good.” All along I kept saying to myself, “Dude, don’t be a selfish asshole, it’s gotta be hell for Her, put yourself in Her shoes—if you imagined that your parts were fine then discovered on The Most Sexually Auspicious Occasion in Life that they didn’t, how badly would that suck? How guilty and ashamed would you feel that you were depriving your mate of the thing they always looked forward to and already had plenty of good experiences with?” Along with the self-recriminations and heart-driven motivation to Sacrifice for Her—because that’s really what it was always about for me, my whole life was oriented around this amazing, breathtaking woman who possessed my heart, even though She could never articulate why She said “yes” to me, why She loved me or much else in the intimacy department let alone sexually—I began to realize I really had some authentic needs that weren’t being met. Those unmet needs interfered with my career, my sense of myself as me, my sense of being worthwhile and valuable to another person; to Her I clearly was not. For me sex wasn’t, and still isn’t, about “gittin’ some” or an event-count, and it was so much deeper than fairy-tale romantic hoohah. Sex presents a vital affirmation on the deepest level that I, as a male human being was loved, desired, needed, wanted, important to the woman I wanted to be with. When I was having sex, I was young, sure. But I know how much taller I walked, how much “brighter” I was in my worldview and confidence. Women constantly underestimate the power they have with men. I don’t know why. Mom is the first and most important woman to a boy. When he becomes sexually active, the girl he’s having sex with becomes the next most important woman in his life. Why? Because women can do that to us. It’s just nature’s most authentic sexual truth.

After I was complaining about how I wasn’t getting published any more except in pissant non-paying literary journals, one of my mentors told me, very emphatically, “If you don’t have sex with your woman, if you cannot go into a hotel lobby and land any woman you desire right then and there, how the hell can you pitch your work and sell it?” I realized, well shit, this celibacy[-against-my-will] crap is definitely impacting my work now. I ain’t young anymore so the sell is even harder to buyers are wealthy confident young guys, often with either super model-type girlfriends or wives. I have to be twice as confident, twice as self-assured as they are, and let me tell you, those guys are pretty damned confident and self-assured. But I no longer am. For 23 years I’ve had no affirmation from a woman on the deepest level and that’s a long time for a guy like me to go with no emotional feedback from the person I adore and try like hell to give Her what She needs, including the supreme sacrifice from me.

I’d be pitching a story in front of a bunch of younger guys, rich guys, and here I’d be mister working class SAHD artistic creative guy trying to sell myself, my ability to spin a yarn over and over again, always be fresh and innovative, quality driven but with almost no self-esteem when it came to feeling worthwhile to other people. That I could still pitch demonstrated I had enough self-esteem to think I had something to offer, but I was the guy who couldn’t make his marriage to Her be intimate, let alone be rock solid and awesome. I was the guy who gained too much damned weight and had zero incentive from Her to lose it—I found out later stress is a major impediment to losing weight, and men need testosterone to be able to lose it and SAHDs apparently lose testosterone in the process. I was the guy who turned down other very appealing women who seemed to desire me enough to offer me a sexual relationship. I kind of wondered it they were just nuts or something because if She doesn’t want me why would they. I was getting gigs before I had begun to really think about this stuff and now I was getting “we’ll pass” all the damned time.

I’m not a buff, hairless, cut-no-body-fat-washboard-abs, six-foot something, wealthy guy that most women these days seem to want. I am debt-free (apparently that’s something), honest, passionate, honorable, and I give more than I take, always. She has always come first, then the Offspring, then me. The only time I move ahead in that priority sequence is when it’s directly related to my ability to put funds in the family bank account. And now, that’s become a sore spot for me. I know my economic shortcomings have to be a turnoff or at least an irritant for Her, despite her protestations that that doesn’t matter to her. Every other woman says it is. All I know is having no intimacy with Her—emotional and lately intellectual—let alone sexual, for 23 years is killing me. I honestly don’t know how much longer I can stand it. I am not dead, no matter what society puts on me as a mid-forty-something guy. And it’s heartbreaking because I still adore Her.

At my “advanced age” I don’t honestly think I would fare well in the attracting a partner let alone a mate—apparently over 40 and male=dead and asexual–because if you get an erection, especially upon seeing a woman under 40, that’s a bad thing, you’re a “dirty old man” (jeebus, the crap our culture buys into). I’ve been online in my darker more depressed moments at 3:00 a.m. on those dating websites, trying to figure out what women want in a guy. I’m nowhere near any of those descriptions put out there by women I find appealing. So much for a fix-it or a workaround. Besides the genuine bottom line I keep coming back to, and feeling so utterly stupid for feeling it, is I just want Her. I ache for Her.

Two days ago she told me, “I’m emotionally dead inside, except for being angry. I’m really angry.” She even tossed in a Probstian, “I got nothing for ya’” to assure me there was nothing I could do about it. Somewhere along the line this has to be my fault. 23 years of not being able to fix anything, not being allowed to try any sort of workaround. I have teenage kids, one with Aspergers, one who’s bipolar. I can’t just leave them. I’ve devoted the past sixteen years bonding and being deeply attached to them. Economically I’m not independent enough to make a go of it on my own. Sexually and physically, despite having lost 40 pounds (working on the final twenty) and having one of four jobs as a paid mid-level sports official (if you cannot keep up with under 21s you don’t get to work—I work), I’m so busted up and demoralized I’m not going to attract or gain a partner anyway. And I keep wanting Her. Just Her.

A female high school friend (yay Facebook, bane of my existence—it sucks to have three high school ex’s trying hard to get back the “one that got away.” Hell one named her kid after me—jeebus ) told me it’s completely unfair for a married woman to tell her husband unilaterally that she’s not going to have sex with him anymore (No, she’s not one of those three ex’s). I may have even read that in a blog comment somewhere too, so it must be a real thing. In principle, I agree with that. But my situation just isn’t that simple. She has a physically broken sweet-parts. She’s had a life of hard work where nothing comes easy. She has shattered expectations. I don’t know if She honestly loves me anymore; She still won’t tell me and She doesn’t say the three magic words anymore. I do hear a blistering critique of my flaws on a regular basis, often really unfair ones (my sixteen year old has begun to ask my why Mom is always riding me about stuff—I just don’t have an answer).

I do know her expectation of me is that I’ll stay with Her until She’s dead. She talks about us buying a place, where we’ll hole up together once neither of us can work anymore. It make me do a double-take every time; it confuses the hell out of me why She has no problem expecting me to continue to live with Her anger, her admitted emotional deadness, that she’s got nothin’ for me, when she knows how important intimacy and sex is for my very soul. How can I live with Her when there is nothing I can give Her?

I’ve tried to show my adoration, my affection for Her, my passion for Her above every other woman on the planet in every nonsexual way I can. I work my ass off doing anything that’ll pay (and I still pitch and pitch) in the toughest economy since the Depression to pull my weight. One of the two jobs that pays money regularly I get to put up with obnoxious fans, temperamental young players and far more often that people realize, threats of violence against me—I don’t care, I love the work too much. I dumped 40 pounds. I constantly and actively listen to Her go one for hours about how shitty Her life is. I’ve learned to clean the place up to Her standard despite two very challenging Offspring. I still do my damnedest to show her where my heart I with Her. I endure the unrequited love and the rejection from Her. I drive hard to be the very best Dad I can possibly be for the two kids I adore—if I read one more bullshit female author’s blog about how there’s nothing hotter than a good Dad (or a man who cleans), I’m going to explode because in my house that’s not the case. Nothing and no one is “hot,” except Her and She’s got nothing for me.

It’s galling, it’s living every day heartbroken, and feeling stupid for being unable to not be in love with Her. It’s so demoralizing that there’s nothing I can do to fix it or try a workaround, sexually or emotionally.

Everyone keeps telling me, leave her. I can’t. To quote a character in Juno (shudder), “the sun still shines out her ass” in my heart’s stupid foolhardy eyes. I feel alone. I am alone, married for 23 years to Her. And that truth is just too hard to take.

I used to have this recurring dream that started about a year after we started seeing each other. The two of us, old in our own place somewhere on the central coast, and we hosted big communal meals outside under the oak trees. It was our thing and we were happy. Five or six years ago that dream has been replaced with another recurring dream. In this one I’m alone, homeless “in a van down by the river” and I’m anything but happy. Damn, that’s just depressing. Somehow I can’t let that happen. But I really don’t know how to do that.


(If you wish to undergo the terrifically cathartic process of ripping your soul out and plastering it all over the internet for everyone to gawk at, rip that motherfucker out and send it in to IBWMW at

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