Originally published as What I Learned From My Sexless Marriage in the HuffingtonPost Blog
Sexless marriage. Losing my libido. Never having an orgasm. Not wanting to make love to the man I loved.
At age 28, this was not the life I had imagined.
Far from it. Since an early age, I felt that I was very sexual; sex mattered to me. Yet, quickly into a loving and committed relationship, my libido took a nosedive. First went the lubrication, then intercourse turned painful. Embarrassed, ashamed and feeling alone, I couldn’t face my husband so I withdrew from intimate connection, avoiding his gaze and touch (and focusing on shopping, cooking and household stuff instead).
I don’t have the secrets to your fantastic sex life, because only you hold the keys to your castle.
Broken, irreparable, unworthy — I could not escape the barrage of self-judgements I put myself through. When medically everything checked out normal, I listened to my doctors share the prevailing wisdom of the times: It’s “normal” for women to lose their libido in a long-term relationship.
And I wanted to scream, because nothing about this felt normal.
Holding onto hope, I also questioned myself: Was I crazy to imagine more was possible, when there was this “evidence” that my body just wasn’t capable of more?
Where as my rational brain wanted to give up, my inner guidance said to hold on, and I ventured on a path of self discovery, a voyage that took me to not only what I thought was possible but far beyond. It led me to discover that something was missing that was well beyond medical help: my connection to my body, genitals and sexuality. I had been missing me — and this connection to me was at the heart of living a fulfilling and enlivened life.
My quest led me to reconnect to my body, my desire and to my pleasure that not only felt good, but that nourished my soul.
I don’t have the secrets to your fantastic sex life, because only you hold the keys to your castle. What I have found is the process to reconnect to yourself so you can feel free in your body, enlivened, excited and turned on by your own self-confidence. As an intimacy and sexuality coach, I’m here to share the process with you and inspire you to believe that you can have this experience for yourself too.
1. Being desired is not enough. You need to know how to desire.
“Look good to turn him on, and he’ll give you everything.” In our cultural narrative, being a sexual woman meant being desirable to a man. Period.
It felt normal to focus my energy on my desirability — so normal that I’d never questioned it.
I paid more attention to how my body looked to him than how it felt. I spent more time in my head — obsessing about what I was doing — than in my body, feeling it. I was more concerned about hurting his feelings than knowing the kind of touch that would feel good and nourish me.
The truth was: I didn’t know how to desire — for me. I had outsourced my desire to him; what was left was a powerlessness I could not shake.
Here’s the piece of the story that as a woman, I’ve never been taught: how to have sex for my pleasure.
So I started asking myself: What did I want? What felt good to me? Could I give myself permission to crave, hunger for sex exactly how I wanted it? And could I ask for it?
Feeling our desire and being moved by it are fundamental to being a sexual person. And that requires agency and sovereignty — existing as I am, for myself, and not as an object for another.
These questions — innocent by all standards — often stump my clients, men and women at the top of their game in careers and life, yet unaware of what feels good to them sexually. They’re not broken; we’re all a by-product of a way of “doing” sex that focuses on pleasing our partners to get approval, rather than feeling pleasure ourselves. And when we begin to melt away the shame behind focusing on themselves, their bodies come alive, energized by their own attention, love and honoring.
2. If sex is not pleasurable to you — as in, it’s not 100 percent the way you want it — your body will not want more of it.
Let’s get real here. There were too many times to count when I had intercourse before my body was ready — before I was wet, engorged and asking for it. Too many times when I held my breath instead of asking my partner to slow down. And too many times when he orgasmed and I didn’t — which was every time we had sex — while I convinced myself “I was fine” even though I longed for the experience.
My mind spinned: “What if asking for something other than what he’s doing will push him away, make him uncomfortable? What if he thinks I don’t like him?”
I opted for silence, because it was easier, less anxiety-producing. And there was a cost.
My body responded accordingly. It tightened and closed down, leaving me numb and lifeless, frigid even.
Here is the truth that every woman needs to hear: Every time your body doesn’t feel good in sex, it will want less of it.
Our bodies are smart. They speak to us — first in subtle cues, eventually in shouts and tantrums. It’s our job to listen and speak up on their behalf. It is especially true with pleasure.
There was no mystery (or medical reasons) behind my missing libido. When I had stayed silent when it didn’t feel good, my body didn’t receive the pleasure — the nutrients — it needed to thrive. I gave without receiving. I endured what didn’t feel good to me. I emptied out without filling up.
My body and my libido withdrew, because I had abandoned them. And the path forward was to make the reconnection: to listen to my body’s whispers and to hear its calls.
And with the listening came the asking. When I asked for the kind of pleasure I wanted — exactly how I wanted it — I began to fill up on the touch, attention, strokes, stillness, movements, and the intimacy (not to mention the oxytocin).
Stroke by stroke, my body woke up, becoming more responsive and turned on.
The physical pleasure was not all that I found nourishing. Cracking open the shell that held my insides from view — the shell of shame and fears of being seen as too demanding, need or high maintenance — was not merely liberating. It was a major turn-on.
3. Truth is the biggest turn-on.
Asking for what I wanted, saying “no” confidently, expressing my emotional being without inhibitions — truth turned me on.
Where I found anxiety and fears before — having to put my guard down and take a risk — I found freedom and excitement. Where I stayed behind a facade of who I should be, I found liberating to fall in love with myself.
Whereas sex used to be an anxiety-producing place with nowhere to hide, I learned to surrender to the high sensation (the kind that has you want to squirm in discomfort) of being seen by another, open in my body and my heart.
Standing up on behalf of my truth turned me on: heart racing, juiced up, engorged. Enlivened, I wanted sex again.
And it turned on people around me — partners who equally wanted a real, honest and deeply connected relationship.
If you ever want to try what it feels like, experiment with this. When you hear a little voice in your head, telling you “I cannot say t h a t,” go ahead and say it. And notice what happens in your body. Tread lightly at first and build up to bigger truths slowly. And remember, this is not about whacking the other person with some big revelation. It’s about you being open and honest about who you are.
Telling the truth is about opening up to let others see us deeply, at the most profound level of who we really are. It’s about intimacy and connection, a conversation between one soul and another.
And from the beginning, that’s all I had ever wanted but was afraid to face.
To find your own turn-on and reignite your libido, download my free 25-page guide and workbook to “From Tired to Turned On: 3 Steps to Reigniting Your Libido & Wanting Sex Again”