Let me explain the sex life I had with my ex-husband. During the official 8 years of our marriage, my husband and I had sex three times. Two of the times I remember. The third--well, I'm just guessing there had to be three.
It's hard to talk about this. I don't want to hurt my ex-husband or to shame him or myself. But this failure at physical intimacy does seem shameful, inexplicable and humiliating.
There is a universal code in sexless marriages, and the code is "don't tell." But it can be tiring to keep such a secret. Moreover, to my great surprise, when I admitted this idiosyncrasy of my own marriage in the Huffington Post back in March, I received numerous letters from other people who were in the same boat in one way or another. There were countless couples who also were not having any sex. Many of the couples were still married.
In the very beginning, my ex and I were like any other couple. We had sex all the time. Our lovemaking was happy and we were satisfied with how it was going.
Then my ex went off to Japan for business, and I started snooping through his things. I realize this was a terrible thing for me to do. No one snoops to find the theater ticket he was going to surprise you with. We all snoop to find something that will break our hearts. And that's exactly the something I found. I found a letter that revealed that he had cheated on me on a previous Japan visit, and I found a phone bill with 1-900 calls on it.
This led to a phase of no sex.
Many couples have a phase of no sex.
Our phase lasted thirteen years. This consisted of several more years of our dating and nearly our entire marriage.
We should have gone to therapy right there and then.
We should have gotten the help we needed.
I cannot tell you why we did not.
In the beginning, he protested. He wanted our sex life back. But soon, he stopped and peacefully entered into a non-sexual existence.
We loved each other, but I could not get past what had happened. I did not want sex with him, but I did not want to leave him either. He wanted sex with me, but he didn't want to lose the relationship and was willing to pay this price. The fact that he was willing to pay it for so long suggests to me that he has some issues of his own around this topic
The reason I took this tough position was that I had been sexually molested as a child and when my husband cheated on me, I emotionally began to see him as a predator--someone who would hurt me. I could not get this awful picture out of my head. I started acting like a three-year-old, a child to whom nothing terrible had happened yet. My husband joined me there, and, instead of sex, we had a houseful of stuffed animals that made us happy.
At one point, though, I became interested and approached him. At this time, he was not interested at all and did not want to talk about it. So we both had periods of feeling sexual and periods of wanting nothing to do with sex.
But I do believe healing is possible. Despite our insurmountable obstacles, there was this one time we almost reconnected. It was ages ago, before I became a psychotherapist. I was still a jazz singer. I had a gig in another town and he came with me. For the first time in years, we found the way to each other. I did not push him away. I allowed myself to feel that, for the first time, he was enjoying me--not just that I was a female, but he was actually making love to the essence of me. It was the first time I had an orgasm with him and I must have told him I loved him a thousand times.
Then we came home to our ugly apartment with the filthy dishes, overwhelming dust and all those terrible memories. I pushed him away again. He said, "You know why you are doing this--because we got too close."
I just could not come back to him in any grown-up way.
Today I understand. In the hotel room, there had been no cheating, no 1-900 calls, no childhood molestation--a place of safety for us.
The hotel room was enchanted. The spell only worked when we were there.
Every couple who doesn't have sex has reasons far beyond the simple one that they just stopped or weren't turned on by each other anymore. I would wish that people would understand the complexities in us all and find out more before they judge.
Sharyn Wolf is the author of Love Shrinks: A Memoir Of A Marriage Counselor's Divorce