Q: The woman I married two years ago doesn’t really know how to make love to me. I am 68, and my wife is 57. I still have the drive to have sex, but she is not used to initiating the first move. She doesn’t like to kiss and isn’t romantic at all. When I listen to soft music to try and get things started, she asks me why I play sad music. I have been patient with her as she tells me to try and work with her. But this is a very slow process. I need to know what I can do to help our sex life.
Dr. Pepper Schwartz: I think you need some expert help here. It sounds like your wife has gone through her adult life with little or no actual sexual arousal. Has she ever masturbated? Has she had climaxes by any method? It really would help for you to know her medical, emotional and sexual history. She sounds quite inhibited, and this may not be just a mechanical problem where better technique on your part would change her responses or enjoyment of sex.
The reason I think this way is that she is not at all romantic — and this is unusual in a new marriage. Was she romantic in the beginning of your dating life, or was she the way she is now and you thought marriage would allow her to become warmer and sexier? There are so many questions to ask — and I don’t have enough answers to know how to advise you.
But I am pretty sure that you will need a sex therapist to work your way through this. A good sex therapist is not just going to tell her how to make love. He or she will find out what is producing her emotional restraint and her lack of responsiveness. The therapist will find out more about how she experiences sex and more whether her reactions to you are just her reactions to you, or more likely, the way she has always experienced sex and romance. From this distance, it sounds as if she has just been putting up with sex (and maybe even romantic connection) — which is certainly not what you want for yourself, for her and for the marriage. But my best hunch is that you can’t change things without going deeper into her background, emotions, feelings about sex and love in general, and her emotions in the marriage. You will need a competent guide for this journey, so find someone through your local medical school, or online at aasect.org (the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists). Or see if there is a sexual medicine clinic nearby. You might also find a good psychologist or psychiatrist who has a specialization in sexual issues. The good news is that a knowledgeable professional has a very good chance of improving your wife’s reactions; the more cautious thought, however, is that if she has been negative about affection and sex her whole life, learning a new approach to sex might take some time.
Photo by Vince Connare.