What do you do if sex is very distasteful, and you’d rather not be sexual in your marriage at all?

Last Friday I wrote a post about how withholding sex in your marriage is not a good idea (it’s better to deal with WHY you’re withholding sex). And last week I wrote about how our culture often teaches women that they don’t have libidos.

Today I want to turn to a practical example, from a reader who wrote in that sex is painful, and she finds everything sexual other than intercourse gross. She says:

reader question icon - Reader Question: Do I Have to Have Sex or Do Sexual Things if Sex Grosses Me Out?

Reader Question

I was raped in college and it was my very first time since I was still a virgin, I was upfront with my husband regarding this event in my past. I am not comfortable with oral sex and quite personally think hand jobs are really gross. I know that my husband loves me very much, but I don’t know how to get over the gross feeling of a hand job, and the pain is too unbearable for intercourse as I will be in pain for weeks afterwards. I really do not want surgery yet again, but I really do not see a way around it and still make the hubby happy. I am really confused, exhausted, and tired. I am just fine with no sex and just cuddling, but he gets very demanding and wants some kind of sex. We have been married for 21 years. Thank you for your time.

Let’s deal with sexual pain first: Vaginismus is real and it is a huge problem for many women.

Pain during sex is a terrible burden that many women carry, and there is not enough research on what causes it or how to treat it. I do not believe that women should be having intercourse if it is excrutiating, because sex is supposed to be mutual. A man should not be receiving pleasure by hurting his wife. (If you can achieve intercourse if you take your time, allow her to relax, etc., that’s one thing. But if it’s always excrutiating, that’s something else entirely).

At the same time, I wonder if she has been seeking out the best treatment? For most women, surgery doesn’t cure vaginismus. Perhaps if there is a lot of scar tissue from childbirth or early sexual abuse, surgery can help, and only a physician can tell. But for most women experiencing this pain, the treatment of choice is a pelvic floor physiotherapist. I encourage anyone going through this kind of pain to find a qualified physiotherapist to help.

What about the trauma from sexual abuse?

It could be that part of the vaginismus has been triggered from the rape, and so seeing a trauma therapist may also be warranted. Sexual assault leaves a huge wound. It is the ultimate degradation and humiliation, but it is also the ultimate rejection of you as a person. It’s saying, “YOU don’t matter to me except for your body. I am going to simply use you for my own gratification.”

Most sexual assault survivors do need some therapy to help them process what has happened. In this, I urge you to find a licensed counselor trained in trauma therapy, and not a biblical counselor.

It’s okay to have really bad associations with sex. But can you move forward?

I hope that she does seek out the treatment for both of these things that she needs. I think in her case those are the most important steps, and the rest of this post can wait until after she’s had that looked at.

But once she has received some help, I’d like to move to the next step, which is reframing how she sees sex.

I am glad that she told her husband about her struggles before they married. At the same time, though, it’s not healthy for anyone to define their marriage or their sexuality in terms of something that has been done to them. Yes, you were assaulted. Yes, that had serious repercussions for how you see sex, and how you see yourself, and how you trust.

But the person who assaulted you took something precious from you in the past. Please don’t give them the power to take intimacy from you now.

I’m sure that this woman’s husband married her with great compassion for what she went through. But I also don’t think he believed that he was signing up for a sexless marriage, where sex would forever be off the table. He obviously really does want to connect sexually, and 21 years is a very long time. Though she would rather just cuddle, his sex drive is not going to go away. And his sex drive is God-given; it’s urging him towards more intimacy. It’s a good thing. So instead of trying to figure out how to convince him to forego sex, how about seeing how to awaken your own sexuality?

How can you move forward sexually when everything that has to do with sex is gross or distasteful?

It’s understandable that she’d rather just cuddle. But that attitude isn’t good for her husband, and it also isn’t good for her. We were created for intimacy, and she deserves to experience that. She deserves to understand real passion. She deserves to not be stuck in the past.

But how can you get there?

Don’t define your future by what you’re comfortable with now. Define it by what is best for you.

It reminds me of a story from John 5, where Jesus healed a lame man beside the pool of Bethsaida.

Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda[a] and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades.Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

John 5:1-9

This man had been like this for 38 years. Our letter writer has been living with this for 21 years. That’s a long time.

And Jesus looks and sees people who have been in bondage for so long, and has compassion. And he asks, “Do you want to get well?”

But instead of answering the question, the lame man here gives all the reasons why this isn’t possible. He can’t even picture getting well. He knows that it’s impossible. He’s gotten comfortable being where he is, having his existence smaller than it otherwise could be–but comfortable.

And Jesus challenges all that. He wants to take people out of their comfortable-but-not-thriving life and help them to live a full life.

You may be comfortable with where you are now, giving up on sex, and looking at a sexless future where you just cuddle. But you shouldn’t define yourself by your limitations and your past. Instead, define what you want based on what is good for you. You may not be able to picture it; you may not be able to even understand how it’s possible. But God tells us to get our minds in line with truth and to be renewed (Romans 12:2). We aren’t to be defined by what has past; we’re to be defined by what God has for us.

Believe what God says about sex and intimacy, not your own experience

So how do you renew your mind when it comes to sex? It means seeing sex as God sees it, even if that’s not in line with your own experience.

I shared in 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage that this was the big breakthrough for me in our marriage. I had been living with sexual pain for several years, and was starting to get over it. And I was tired of always fighting with Keith about sex. I was tired of feeling inadequate. I was tired of the constant tension. I used to wish that sex would go away and that we could just get back to us. I even worked at trying to get Keith not to think about sex (and here’s a humorous take on it that I use in my sex talks):

But one day I realized that there was another way through this.

I thought to myself, “If God made sex to be amazing, and other people find sex amazing, then do I really want to miss out on something amazing that God has for me?” And I began a big research project in how to make sex amazing.

At the time I couldn’t imagine sex being amazing. But I knew that God was good, and that sex was supposed to be good. And I didn’t want to live my life missing out on something that great.

So what should she do now?

Allow yourself to feel pleasure

“Hand jobs” may not be as gross if you’re also receiving pleasure, and if he’s also stimulating you. If it’s not just about “lending him a hand”, but it’s also about you receiving some pleasure, then some of this negative association may go away.

I think the first step is to focus on how to feel arousal, rather than just how to have sex properly or even how to pleasure him. Allow yourself to start coming alive sexually, and then the rest may follow.

And please read The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex to try to get a different perspective on why God made sex the way He did. If you can see the beauty behind it, and the real meaning of intimacy and passion, perhaps all of this can seem less distasteful.

GoodGirlsGuide1 - Reader Question: Do I Have to Have Sex or Do Sexual Things if Sex Grosses Me Out?

God made sex to be AWESOME!

It’s supposed to be great physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Feel like something’s missing?

What do you do if you hate sex?

What do you think? How would you answer this woman who finds sex gross? Let’s talk in the comments! 

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