Trouble with Intimacy

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

I have only told this to my ex-husband, and even now, I feel nauseated and anxious thinking about it. When we were small children, my younger (by 18 months) brother and I would play kissing games. I don’t believe it went any further than kissing, but it still fills me with shame. It has manifested itself in my life as an extreme shame of my own sexuality.

My own sexual arousal and desire makes me feel filthy, dirty, bad. I have an anxiety disorder and depression, but I’m not sure “what came first”, but I suspect I was very anxious even before this. My ex was a very sexual person, and so he always felt rejected by me and I always felt violated by him (he was very persistent when we wanted to do certain acts and thought I should do what he wanted sexually because we were married).

My current husband is very different–very kind and gentle, but we still don’t have sex as much as “normal” couples do. I am on meds that decrease what little sex drive I permitted myself, I am fat, and he has chronic back pain, so that’s another can of worms. I believe what the gist of this is, how do I forgive myself and accept sexuality as normal and good instead of filthy and bad? I don’t want to lose another marriage.

A: I’m so very glad you wrote. First: It is not at all unusual for little children to explore each other. Little kids are curious about everything and how their bodies are alike and different is no exception. Kissing games hardly qualify as sexual abuse. I have to wonder if someone scolded and punished the two of you so that you were excessively shamed for what is quite normal behavior.

Unfortunately, your first husband was persistent rather than understanding. Instead of the two of you together working out how to have a loving, intimate relationship, you ended up in a push-pull with him insisting and you giving in.

You and your new husband have another chance to do it right this time. You both have a problem – not just you. You both haven’t found a way to have a mutually satisfying sexual relationship. See if the two of you can address the issue in the spirit of adventure and exploration. Take your time. This isn’t just about sex. It’s about mutually pleasuring each other and enjoying warmth and intimacy. If you can’t find a way to approach this together, then I suggest you seek out a couples counselor to help you. This is a couples problem and needs to be solved as a couple.

I wish you both well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 12 Jan 2014

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2014). Trouble with Intimacy. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 23, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2014/01/12/trouble-with-intimacy/

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