I have trouble showing any kind of affection toward my husband—kissing, holding hands or even hugging. I feel awkward whenever I try. When he is affectionate with me, it still feels awkward and sometimes I find myself getting angry. Talk about confusing. We've been married for 13 years, and honestly, except for this problem we are very happy. I've never been a very sexual person and I don't become aroused on my own very often. I would love to tell him I was "horny" once in a while. He would probably pass out and ask me what I did with his wife. Sex often feels like a chore or a job. During our courtship there was a lot more sex, and affection, and we were very passionate. He told me last night that he was tired of initiating sex and he never felt like I wanted him and that I wasn't attracted to him. I told him that he could be Brad Pitt or Antonio Banderas and I still wouldn't feel "horny". Well, of course this didn't make him feel any better and I just feel horribly guilty. I wish I could just take a "horny" pill. I promised him I would get some help somewhere... so please help.
First, I would like to really tell you how much I appreciate you sending this question in. I think it took a lot of courage to do so, and I have no doubt there are many others who have a similar problem but feel too ashamed to discuss it.
Clearly, you are very frustrated and I can tell you are not holding out on your husband. But as you state, the fact that you would react this way to even the most handsome of stars is little comfort to him.
I’m sure that part of what is confusing is the fact that when you were not married, there didn’t seem to be an issue. But my sense is that that period was more the unusual for you. It may very well be, just as others go through a "honeymoon phase," where everything in the relationship is more intense that you also had a higher libido. In other words, how you functioned then was more a by-product of being in the early throes of love rather than a realistic picture of your comfort level with affection and sexuality.
The first thing I would suggest is that you have a complete medical and gynecological work-up. Make sure to let your doctors know this problem. You want to rule out any possible physical problems.
You can also consult with a sex therapist. If you go this route, be sure you look for someone who is certified in this area. You might want to get a referral from AASECT (American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists) www.aasect.org. What many people do not realize is that a good sex therapist deals with far more than just sex; the couple’s relationship is explored to see whether there are underlying problems which may be getting in the way of physical intimacy.
Having made these suggestions, I do want to offer some other thoughts I’m having since you state your discomfort is with any type of affection, you’ve never really been sexual and that the two of you are happy aside from this issue.
One possibility is that you were raised in a home where there was not much, if any, physicality. Humans need touch. However, if this was not something you were given as a child, it would lead to you feeling awkward about it now.
Even worse than your parents not offering you physical nurturance is the possibility that there was abuse in your home. Sad as this is, many children do suffer from this situation. When a child has been physically abused, it is very understandable that physical touch would make them uncomfortable even into adult years.
And lastly, there is even a chance there was sexual abuse. In my experience, I have worked with clients who have had this trauma—some do not even remember having it happen! The psyche does this as a way to protect the person from emotional pain. However, one of the symptoms is difficulty with comfort level regarding affection and/or sexuality.
Please understand that I am not saying any one of these possibilities is the reason—they are exactly as I have put them—possibilities. What I would like you to take away from my response is that this is an important concern both for you individually and as a couple. It certainly merits you speaking to someone professionally. The good news is that any one of these situations can be worked on and resolved.
I know that if you apply the same courage it took to write in about this and face this issue, you will be successful in working it through. Having your husband help you through it will be a very healing and connecting experience.
Karen Sherman, Ph.D., (www.drkarensherman.com) is a practicing psychologist in relationships and lifestyle issues for over 20 years. She offers teleseminars and is the author of "Mindfulness and the Art of Choice: Transform Your Life" and co-author of "Marriage Magic! Find It, Keep It, and Make it Last."