One of the features of my Girl Talk event–an evening of straight talk about sex and intimacy–is a Q&A session. People can write down questions anonymously, and after a short break I answer as many as I can in 15 minutes. It’s always a lot of fun!

And one of the questions that gets asked quite a bit is:

Reader Question

“What happens when health problems interfere and we’re no longer physically able to make love? Is our marriage doomed? Is intimacy doomed?”

I’ve had women email me whose husbands have been in automobile accidents and are now paralyzed. Others have had prostate surgery and are now impotent. Others suffer from diabetes which causes extreme erectile dysfunction.

When women are the ones with the health issues sex is still usually possible. I’ve written before to women who suffer from chronic pain, for instance, here.

But when it’s men who are affected, intercourse itself is often impossible because he can’t maintain an erection.

One woman said to me,

“We had such a great sex life for two decades in our marriage, and then this hit. I really didn’t think I’d be saying good-bye to sex at age 43.”

That’s so, so difficult. The women–and their husbands–have such a grieving process to go through. On the one hand you’re glad that he survived. On the other, it’s as if a huge part of your life has been ripped from you. Obviously, before you give up on intercourse you should talk to a doctor. For many conditions there are treatments, and very effective ones at that. Talk frankly with your physician, and get a referral if you need to, to see if function can return.

But what if it can’t? How can we find hope in this? How can a marriage stay intimate?

God designed us first for INTIMACY, not for sex.

It is through sex that we best experience intimacy, but our primary need is not for sex. It is to be intimate with another.

When sex is possible, then sex should be a huge component of your marriage.

When intercourse is no longer possible, you can still be intimate, and you can still even be sexual. Let’s not make the mistake of believing that intimacy=intercourse and intercourse=intimacy, and forget that there are things that can encompass intimacy outside of intercourse, and that there are things that can encompass sex outside of intercourse.

If your husband’s health has been compromised like this, I’m sure he’s  completely raw and grieving as well. He feels like he’s been robbed, and he feels like he’s robbed you of something. He’s probably very insecure.

This is where just working on your intimacy as much as possible can really help.

God designed us first for INTIMACY, not for sex.

Try broaching the subject with him of talking about INTIMACY, not sex.

Tell him, “we’ve lost one part of our marriage, but we don’t need to lose intimacy, and I don’t want us to lose it. In fact, I want us to discover how to be even more intimate now, since we’ve gone through such a crushing thing together. I think we can come out stronger. But let’s not push each other away to grieve apart. And let’s not believe that our intimacy is over, because it’s not.”

And then talk about what you can do. You can have baths together and just hold each other. You can have showers together. You can lie and pray naked together. You can learn to give amazing massages–both of you. He can be sexual with you, even if he can’t maintain an erection. He can still bring you to orgasm in other ways, and you in turn can give him an amazing massage. You can cuddle. All of these things.

Will they remind you of what you once had? You betcha. Will that make you sad? Absolutely.

But the thing is, you’re going to be sad regardless. Wouldn’t you rather at least share that sadness, and hold each other in that sadness, and find a way to comfort each other and experience it together?

Say something like, “so much has been taken from us. Let’s not let the cancer/accident/diabetes (whatever) take even more. Let’s keep fighting back and work hard to keep what we can have–and to even feel more intimate. Before we had intercourse to bring us together. Let’s find other ways to feel like we’re really one. Let’s fight back.”

When Health Problems Make Making Love Difficult

It’s not wrong to grieve. It’s not wrong to feel sad. It’s not wrong to feel angry. Just don’t, in that sadness, push each other away. Instead, find ways to include each other in your grief, and you’ll find that you really do start to feel more intimate.

Don’t stop being physical. Push forward. Work on your friendship, but keep pushing forward. And believe that God can bring something very beautiful out of your relationship–even if it’s not what you ever pictured.