Lifestyle

Ask Joan: How to have Sex Besides Intercourse

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“My husband only wants intercourse, and that’s painful.”

A reader asks:

At 62, I have struggled with burning and pain during sex for over 19 years. I have been to several specialists about my condition, which was diagnosed as vestibulodynia. I have worked with lubricants, dilators, lidocaine, estriol, and pelvic floor physical therapy. Those have helped somewhat, but not enough to make me want penetrative sex again. There’s so much preparation before I can bear it, and even then, I experience persistent pain during and after sex.

Nothing But Intercourse?

My husband doesn’t want to have any kind of sex other than “regular sex” — by which he means intercourse. If it’s not that, he doesn’t want it. I have suggested we could have fun in other ways, but no. He only wants intercourse. It hurts me that it’s got to be intercourse or nothing. So we don’t have sex at all anymore.

I miss our intimacy and feel a loss.

Before my vestibulodynia, both of us enjoyed sex together. I admit I have little desire these days, and he says that’s fine. He says he doesn’t have the drive anymore either. He’s content just to let sex go if it can’t be vaginal intercourse. But I miss our intimacy and feel a loss. I wish he cared about pleasuring me in other ways. I’m open to that, but he’s not. He doesn’t want me to pleasure him in other ways either, not even orally.

We both are shy sexually, and I always have to start the conversation. It deflates me when he says no to everything I propose. I suggested that we talk to a sex therapist, but he doesn’t want to.

But otherwise…

Other than that, our marriage is good, and we are compatible. We are affectionate now, just not sexual. I’ve tried to be at peace and make sense of it all, but I’m sad when I hear that couples are having great sex in their 60s and beyond. Any advice would be appreciated.

— Disappointed and Sexless

Joan responds:

Vestibulodynia is pain in the “vestibule,” the vaginal opening, triggered by touch and sexual activity. It does not have an identifiable cause, and although it can be improved significantly with treatment, there’s no known cure. Good for you getting a diagnosis for your pain and working with specialists on all the recommended treatment methods, including pelvic floor physical therapy and dilators.

Sex isn’t just intercourse

The problem in your relationship isn’t that vaginal intercourse is off the table — it’s that your husband counts only this one sexual activity as “sex.” He refuses to explore the many other ways to pleasure each other sexually. He’s unwilling to open his mind to finding a sexual connection that doesn’t cause you pain.

He’s saying, “No sex!” when you’re saying, “Not this kind of sex.” Sadly for you both, it’s intercourse or nothing for him. Since intercourse is too painful for you, he has unilaterally shut down your sex life. He chooses no sex, no orgasms, no intimacy, and he imposes that on you. This needs to change.

Sex changes as we age

As we age, most of us are challenged by needing alternative ways to give and receive sexual pleasure, reach orgasm, and maintain intimacy. We may experience, as you do, painful vaginal penetration. For others, erections may not be reliable enough for intercourse. Still others find that intercourse isn’t the favorite path to sexual satisfaction anymore.

These challenges may seem like roadblocks when we first encounter them, but they aren’t defects or reasons to give up. Spicy, satisfying alternatives to intercourse await you. I implore you and your husband to watch my webinar “Great Sex Without Penetration” to help you explore your options, talk about them, and start putting these suggestions into action.

Please learn about “responsive desire” and how it differs from “spontaneous desire,”

Lack of desire isn’t a good reason to avoid exploring sex that works for you now. After so many years without partnered sex, your minds, bodies, and relationship have lost the habit of turning to each other for sexual pleasure and intimacy. That doesn’t have to be permanent. Please learn about “responsive desire” and how it differs from “spontaneous desire,” which will make a big difference going forward. Your lack of desire is influenced also by your pain with intercourse and knowing your husband will reject your efforts.

Right now, you have what’s called a “companionate marriage” — affectionate, close, but not sexual. That works fine for couples who agree to that arrangement. But a companionate marriage is not what you want.

What to do?  

I understand that it’s scary to open up communication about your needs and wishes when you’ve always been shy sexually. A good therapist can help you. Your husband isn’t making it easy, but it’s important. Making a change will mean some work and communications skills you don’t think you have, but look at what might result!  You’re worth it.

I hope you’ll show this column to your husband and encourage him again to consult a sex therapist with you to explore how you can regain a satisfying sex life — without any activity that gives you pain. To get your conversation started, here are two quickie videos (5.5 to 6.5 minutes) answering questions similar to yours:

Want more advice from Joan? Joan Price, along with a bevy of other Senior Planet contributors, staff and volunteers, will be featured in our upcoming Annual Technology Review, a benefit exclusive to Senior Planet Supporters. Click here to give, become a Senior Planet Supporter and be the first to receive your digital copy of the Review!

Joan Price has been Senior Planet’s “Sex at Our Age” columnist since 2014. She is the author of four self-help books about senior sex, including her award winners: “Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud about Senior Sex” and “Sex after Grief: Navigating Your Sexuality after Losing Your Beloved.” Visit Joan’s website and blog for senior sex news, views, tips, and sex toy reviews from a senior perspective. Subscribe to Joan’s free, monthly newsletter.

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