'My husband and I have a sexless marriage'

Mark even suggested that I “satisfy my needs” outside the marriage.
Mark even suggested that I “satisfy my needs” outside the marriage. Photo: Getty Images

It began on our wedding night. Or, rather, that's when it ended. The day had been a fairy tale. I'd worn my great-aunt's veil and an ivory antique-lace dress that I hitched up in the evening to dance to the folk band.

But that night, our first as a married couple, my husband Mark* turned his back on me and mumbled that he was too tired for sex. Staring at the ceiling, I wondered what I'd done wrong. It was a month before we next slept together.

We had met a year earlier at church and in those first months we'd had a healthy, if unadventurous, sex life. But by our second year of marriage it had reduced to joyless fumbles every few months, always in the dark, and always initiated by me. I'd broach it with Mark and he'd say that he just wasn't "that into" sex, which left me feeling confused and nervous about our future.

Away from the bedroom, however, our marriage was otherwise healthy. We lived in a lovely three-bed semi, and 18 months after the wedding we had our son Charlie*. We were thrilled but astonished, given how infrequently we'd tried to conceive. Only our sex life remained broken. I blamed myself as I'd put on 12 kilos after giving birth. I also felt increasingly embarrassed, so didn't confide in my friends.

Years went by and I mostly ignored the issue, but some days I became determined to "fix" us, and read psychology books and sex advice in magazines. Once, I even bought a pair of saucy knickers and tried gyrating about the bedroom in a pathetic seduction attempt – the memory still makes me squirm with embarrassment. At the time, I was convinced that if I was more experimental, Mark would come around. Unsurprisingly, it didn't work.

After seven years, we were only having sex a couple of times a year and I insisted that Mark see a doctor. By then I felt that he should take some responsibility – it had affected our marriage and left me battling with self-esteem issues.

When tests showed that he had low testosterone levels, I remember the sense of relief. If the problem was medical, we could fix it.

We tried testosterone patches and Viagra, but one afternoon, Mark came home from the GP and slapped another bottle of pills on my night stand.

"From now on, when you want sex, all you have to do is ask," he said angrily, and stalked out of the bedroom. My optimism evaporated. The last thing I wanted was for him to see it as a chore and it hit me just how deep the problem ran.

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For a couple of years, things barely improved. Mark even suggested that I "satisfy my needs" outside the marriage, which hurt my feelings.

I considered leaving him, but two years ago my father-in-law died and Mark plunged into deep depression. I couldn't abandon him. As I nursed him through months of sobbing and mourning, he opened up and admitted he'd been sexually abused by a priest when he was a boy. I was stunned – I'd had no idea. Suddenly our problems in the bedroom made sense.

Today, Mark is in therapy and, whether it's down to age or acceptance, the lack of sex no longer bothers me. My experiences led me to train as a relationship therapist and I help other couples struggling with the effects of childhood sexual abuse.

I also know that the demise of our marital sex life was never about me. That takes a long time to come to terms with in a culture where we're taught that men are always up for sex.

Recently, Mark told me that he hopes he will get to a place, through therapy, where he feels he can be sexually intimate again. I'd like that.

*Names have been changed

This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale March 3.

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