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In the last year, my sex life is almost non-existent. Although it wasn’t great, it was still enjoyable. We didn’t have very frequent sex, but on the occasions, we did it was good. My husband lost a very dear friend in his childhood years ago. This caused him to experience a profound loss. He said that he would get a tattoo of a symbol important to him and his friend on his torso.
Although I’ve never liked tattoos, my husband is very conservative and it seemed incongruous for me to propose. I didn’t comment as it was important to him, and I just hoped that he would find something else to ease his pain. He didn’t, and the resulting artwork – which covers a large section of the front of his body – is much more prominent than I ever imagined.
I felt uncomfortable when we first had sex after he got the tattoo. I’m still not comfortable with the idea of sex. The tattoo is a repulsion to me. I avoid him even when I get out of the shower. There have been many excuses. We now share a bedroom and there has not been any sex since the last few months. He hasn’t pushed the issue and brought up the subject of sex in conversation on only one occasion. I don’t want to tell him I find his altered body vile. A female friend advised me that she thought I was being selfish and that I should get over it. As we are about to go on holiday, we will share a bed. I want things to return to normal, but I don’t know how this can ever happen.
You highlight two important things: the first that sex has been infrequent in your relationship, and the second that you find aspects of your husband’s body repulsive and that you have moved into separate rooms. Even if you never have sex again, this repulsion needs to be tackled – and shortly you will be forced into facing this when you go on holiday together.
It seems that talking about sex and intimacy has always been an issue, and both of you have somehow avoided it – to the extent that you did not speak up about your aversion to tattoos when your husband first put the idea forward. It may well be that you have a reaction to whatever image is on your husband’s body, but it is likely that there is much more to your response, and this may go back to a more formative experience in your life.
A two-pronged approach to your husband is needed. First, you need to have a good conversation about your relationship, intimacy, and what you don’t discuss. Two, you should seek out your own support so you can examine what influences your sexual response. You can start by reading, or listening to (on Audible), Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski. She has much to say about female desire and how culture and socialization affect it. You can use her exercises to find blocks and to bring your unconscious to the surface to discover your desire and its effects. You might consider consulting a counselor or psychotherapist to assist you with this process.
The impending holiday is an opportunity to get involved. This is a positive thing, considering your history of avoidance.
Another exercise that may be of use to you is to complete a sexual messages lifeline – this is where you draw a line that begins at your birth and ends at your age now on which you write all the messages you have received in your life (either implied or spoken) about sex and relationships. You should include any current messages of disgust or distaste. This includes everything related to your formal and informal sexual education as well as your personal experiences with sex. You might find a framework with which you can have a conversation about intimacy and sex if you encourage your partner.
This is a great time to have these conversations. You will need some space and time. The assumption here is that you do not want your current situation to continue and that you want to improve your, and your partner’s, experience of living together as a couple. You might feel compelled to talk about the holiday, which is good considering your past history of avoidance. In these conversations, it is possible that both of you will want to admit what prevents you from being open, such as fear of distressing the other person, or fear of revealing something about yourself that you don’t like.
It is unlikely that you will achieve anything worthwhile having these discussions. If this seems impossible, you can agree to go to couples therapy. This allows the therapist to ask difficult questions that you are not able or willing to address.
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