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When Sex Just Won’t Work: Can We Have a Marriage Without Sex?

What do you do when physically you just can’t have sex?

We’re nearing the end of our Sizzling Summer Sex Series, and I want to focus on two heavy scenarios today and tomorrow before we cap it off on Monday.

Today I’ve got a letter from a woman with a condition that makes sex very painful, with no treatment in sight:

I have lichen planus which is an autoimmune condition that makes my vulvar area extremely uncomfortable. Think yeast infection and then make it much worse than that. There is no cure. You use creams to prevent and creams when an outbreak comes. Sex almost always leads to an outbreak and even if it doesn’t there is some discomfort most times. I have gotten the desire to increase, but then I have an outbreak and cannot have sex. Once a outbreak hits it can last a day to three weeks depending on the severity. I have tried in the past to take care of him during long outbreaks, but he feels guilty. I could try foreplay as I know that will help him feel more connected and like I want it, but I won’t be able to be satisfied so it then is hard for me. My husband is discouraged, frustrated, hopeless. I am really trying to boost my libido, but I am always going to have this physical roadblock that can arise at any time. He doesn’t ask or try much anymore and I honestly will forget about it.

I remember another woman in the audience when I gave my sex talk. She was there as a marriage mentor, so she wanted to hear what I had to say so she could help other women. But she told me her story. Her husband had been in a motor vehicle accident five years prior and was now a quadrapalegic. His body does not respond sexually anymore, and he can’t feel anything.

Their sex life is over.

I know another couple where he had surgery for prostate cancer, and can no longer get an erection. Sometimes when ED hits it can be fixed by addressing porn issues, getting on a better diet and getting diabetes under control, or addressing deep seated psychological issues. But sometimes it honestly is permanent. And then what do you do?

I want to address this today, because it is something that many couples may face one day.

What Do You Do When You Can't Have Sex? Sometimes health issues make sex impossible. Does this mean your marriage is over?

Sometimes life isn’t fair.

In just over a week I’ll be marking what would have been my son’s 22nd birthday. He never even lived to see his first on this earth. That still hurts.

It is not right to have to bury your child.

There are certain things that hurt more than others because we feel as if they are our due; they are what we deserve.

  • I should have healthy children.
  • I should be able to have children.
  • We should enjoy sex in our marriage.
  • We should stay healthy.

Sure, we may want other things as well, but some things are fundamental. We see them less as something we want and more as something we deserve–a natural part of life, something we have a right to. And when they are taken from us, it hurts more.

It is not fair if sex is taken from you.

How Big Is Your Umbrella: Weathering the Storms of Life, Second EditionI get it. I actually wrote a small book about how to handle it when life seems really, really unfair. In How Big Is Your Umbrella I talk about the things that we yell at God–and what God whispers back. And I think many of us are yelling at God right now because life is really, really unfair.

But we live in a fallen world. We are not in heaven. This is only earth; a shadow of what it is to come, and we should not assume that all will be smooth. When things go wrong, too, it does not mean that God planned harm for us or that it is somehow our fault. Sometimes bad stuff just happens.

The good news is that God knows and walks with us through that. But some of us have much more to walk through than others.

It’s okay to grieve.

It’s okay to be upset. It’s okay to be sad and to yell at God (I think many of the Psalms are actually David yelling at God, and we just read them with the wrong tone of voice). It’s okay to wrestle, because it’s often in the wrestling that we find our God, who grieves, too.

Please, though, as much as you can, try to grieve together. Something has been taken from both of you. This is not anyone’s fault. It is not the fault of the woman with this condition; of the husband with prostate cancer; of the man in the car accident. It happened. And yet now you both have to deal with it. And that is hard.

God does not expect you to say, “That’s okay! I’m happy anyway!” No, He wants you to find contentment, which is peace in any circumstance. But peace and sadness can coexist. Peace just means confidence that God is there and that it will be made right in time (even if that time is eternity). Peace does not mean pretending that you aren’t sad. God created us with emotions. It’s okay to have them.

Take what you can get.

With some conditions, some things will work but not others. Men who can’t maintain erections can sometimes still ejaculate; she may be able to have an orgasm as long as penetration isn’t attempted. Keep talking to your doctor about what you can and can’t do. Don’t be afraid to get second opinions or even to consult other kinds of health professionals. Sometimes radically changing diets can help with many conditions.

But if you can’t have intercourse, and you can do other things, don’t shy away from those other things. Keep intimate!

Nevertheless, with some couples, sex really is over, even if it’s only for a time during a recovery period.

There is a reason we vow “in sickness and in health”

The vow matters. Isn’t it wonderful that we can go through life with someone who will love us, regardless? Don’t feel guilty if you’re the one responsible for this loss in your marriage. It wasn’t intentional, and we should not carry guilt for something that was not intentional.

We vow “in sickness and in health” so that when sickness comes, we have someone to walk through it with us. This is a sickness, not a sin. This is covered by the marriage vows. And sometimes there is nothing else you can do.

Sex is not bigger than your marriage

Too often we equate sex with marriage. After all, if a marriage isn’t consummated, that’s grounds for divorce. So surely sex is an indisputable and inseparable part of marriage, right?

Well, yes. And no. Sex is meant to be a part of marriage, but it is not bigger than your marriage. And if you can’t have sex for medical reasons it does not mean that your marriage isn’t a real marriage.

I spend most of my time writing about sex. I’m passionate about helping people achieve better sex in their marriage so that they can grow better marriages. But I am also keenly aware that there are things more important than sex: Love. Commitment. Cherishing. Giving. Sacrificing.

These are all ways that we can be Jesus to our spouse. Some of us will be asked to give more than others. That doesn’t seem fair. But God does not ask us to do more than He gives us the strength for. Let Him carry you both through this. Let Him be there for you. And don’t ever, ever let your disappointment over sex rob you of your ability to enjoy and cherish your spouse. You loved each other first, soul to soul, before it was body to body. It can still be soul to soul. And that is something very profound.

Your Sizzling Summer Sex Challenge Day 19:

Remind each other that you were friends first, and lovers second.

Love is more than sex. Talk about adding some more friendship into your marriage! Maybe even decide to start a new hobby together. Make a date today to go and do something you both find fun–that doesn’t have anything to do with sex.

Find other posts in the Sizzling Summer Sex Series here.

The Good Girl's Guide to Great SexGood Girls Ad Graphic minMarriage isn’t supposed to be blah!

Sex is supposed to be stupendous–physically, emotionally, AND spiritually. If it’s not, get The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex–and find out what you’ve been missing.

Look at 31 Days to Great Sex

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Tags: sexual dysfunction, Sizzling Summer Sex Series

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