As many who read and write to your blog, I was definitely not one of the popular kids growing up. Unfortunately, many previous encounters in my younger days left an unlikable impression of myself that I still can’t seem to shake. One encounter I remember with particular clarity was in high school where I was told by a popular jock that I was “hella ugly.” That is, he walked up to me out of the blue and said “your blah blah, correct?” I said “yes”, he said “you’re hella ugly” and walked away. Ok ok, I did have a mouth full of braces and a particularly bad haircut at the time, and I have heard through the grape vine that he feels really terrible about the encounter (he was dared to do it by another jock that had taken a disliking to me for some reason), but still. It is an example of an event that affects my view of myself even today way more than it should.
Through out my 20s, I spent a lot of time on self-reflection. I realized that a lot of my problems stem from the fact that I have no self-confidence. I never stood up for myself, I never made an attempt to expand my friend zone, etc. etc., and I realize that many reasons why I was so unpopular is that I placed myself in that position. I also spent my 20s developing social skills, learning to take a stand for myself, and participating in activities that make me like me. For instance, I now have a Ph.D. because I found a field I enjoy and pursued a goal. That feels pretty good, and I like what I have accomplished.
But I am still finding myself a self-confident mess in one very important aspect of my life. My sex life. With my husband.
I love sex. I enjoy sex as much as the next person. But I am terrified of initiating. I am terrified that he will turn me away. I am afraid that he will find something undesirable about me. So I don’t initiate. My fear is so bad that even when people discuss sex, I am uncomfortable. I find it difficult to discuss the problem with friends because I am embarrassed that its even a problem.
We’ve been married for several years and have had many conversations about our sex life. He thinks I am crazy for thinking he will turn me away or find me undesirable. He tells me often how beautiful I am. But he has stopped initiating in hopes that he can “force” me into initiating. Well, it hasn’t worked. He’s been trying that strategy for a couple of years. Now, he’s of the belief that I simply don’t like sex. As a result, our sex life is diminished.
We’ve tried several other solutions, such as scheduling a time or buying toys. We’ve purchased lots of lingerie, which I wear very occasionally. Sometimes things get really good for a few weeks, but then I seem to fall back into the same pattern of being afraid.
The topper is that we’ve been talking about starting a family, and I know he is thinking that if I have a baby, things will get even worse. I don’t want that. I don’t want things to continue the way they are, but I’m not sure how to fix it. He is very supportive, and I know he will jump on any proposed solution. I know the problem is in my head. Sometimes I can override my fear drive and just “do it”, but I want to override my fear reaction permanently. I want to have crazy, uninhibited sex all the time. Do you have any advice?
I’m sorry that the crappy messages playing over and over in your head have turned your sex life into the end of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
Let’s throw a little sympathy your husband’s way. You’re going to have to get over that childhood insecurity stuff. It’s not your husband’s fault that happened to you, and it’s obvious that nothing he can say or do can help you get over it, so the hard work of getting those messages out of your head (or at least turning them down the point that they don’t affect your most important relationship) is on you. When you tell him that you’re convinced that he will find you unloveable or undesirable, you’re insulting him. You’re saying “You’re stupid to want me, and you’re so stupid that you don’t even know that you’re stupid.” This gets right at the question of what we owe our partners in terms of taking care of our own mental health to the degree that we can.
Your husband obviously underestimated how deep this particular river ran in you, and his “I won’t initiate sex until you do” stance has backfired on both of you. I’m not saying that he’s been handling everything well! But I can see why he feels backed into a corner.
I have two suggestions:
1. Back to therapy for you, to work on body image and telling yourself a different story, like maybe how you had the same gawky teen years that everyone did and some kids were mean about it like kids always are, but then you grew up and into yourself. Maybe some therapy for both of you, together, but definitely for you. There’s a lot of helpful stuff in this post (and in the comments) about how a terrible self-image sabotages relationships. At the very least it will let you know you are not alone! You might also find some helpful stuff about taking care of your libido in this old thread.
2. Could you and your husband re-define what it means to initiate sex, and maybe look into some ways to make the process less fraught and scary? This is where being a geek can help you: Use your words in emails or what the kids and elected officials are calling “sexting.”
For example, rather than trying to psych yourself up for a moment where you say “I would like some sex now” and then you have sex, see if you could email or text your husband earlier in the day to say “I would like to have sex tonight” and have that “count” as initiating? It doesn’t even have to be earlier in the day. If sending an IM or email to someone who is in the same room as me is wrong, I don’t want to be right.
While I cringe to write this out loud where everyone can see it, wasn’t that the premise behind that “40 Rapey Beads of Wifely Submission That Saved Marriage” book that was out a while ago? The wife had a bowl and when the husband put a bead in the bowl she had to do it with him or else? It was roundly mocked among blogs I read, with someone suggesting that what the authors had set up was a kinky D/s game without realizing it, but let’s say that in the most generous possible interpretation, leaving gendered discussions of who gets the beads and who gets the bowl aside and not wandering into awkward scenarios where you forget to hide your patriarchal bead-bowls when guests come over: It gave people who were not comfortable discussing sex a way to initiate it with each other.
That’s you and your husband right now. You’re not comfortable discussing sex (too much weirdness and resentment), you’re not comfortable initiating it (too much weirdness and resentment), so you need to find a way to skip over that to the doing it part, and it sounds like you’re in “whatever it takes” territory. A pirate flag flown at half-mast in the front yard? Making a list of stuff to pick up at the store and hiding “Make sweet love to your boo” as one of the list items? It can be whatever you want as long as you both agree, and a long as you both agree to be really gentle with and forgiving of each other while you figure this out.