Get Real! We Waited for Marriage – Now What?

Heather Corinna

Heather Corinna brings Scarleteen's popular sexual health advice column to Rewire! This week, Heather advises a newlywed who is frustrated by her incompatibility with her husband.

NKeith asks:

I am 28 years old and got married four months ago. Both my husband (29 years old) and I were not virgins before marriage and had both been with two other people before we started dating each other. We made the mutual decision to abstain from intercourse until marriage for religious reasons and to be "right with God" this go around. We dated for two years by the date of our wedding. During that time we would engage in foreplay, oral sex and we enjoyed that. I always wanted to fool around more than him and I made that known while we were dating, but he would always say that it was too difficult to get that worked up and have to stop. I had to agree, so I learned to become patient.

As the relationship went on and we got engaged a year and a half in, during our six month engagement we started having less and less foreplay. As our wedding day approached I became increasingly more excited about FINALLY being able to have guilt free, passionate, fun sex. I would say things like, "I can't wait!" and "how often do you think we'll have sex?" and "We will be able to have sex anywhere in the house and anytime we want" etc. I intentionally said this to express how excited I was about having sex finally. He would respond that he was looking forward to it too but that he didn't know how often we would because he couldn't make statements about part of our relationship that didn't exist yet. He would even get uncomfortable when I would talk about orgasms, something that I've only had real success with achieving with the aid of a vibrator. So the wedding night came and there was no passion, no romance, no "making love" just sex. I thought at least he would take me out of my beautiful dress, NO he just stripped and hopped into the shower, then wanted to have sex in the shower for the first time, not my vision of my wedding night I'd waited for for two years. The honeymoon was the same. When we do have sex it lasts about 5 min. We've never had spontaneous sex or morning sex or after a fight sex.

He says now he's just not that sexual of a person and I feel betrayed and let down that he didn't express this before we promised to spend the rest of our lives together. He has trouble getting and sometimes keeping an erection and I become frustrated when he turns me down for sex. I've heard of girls not being interested in sex, but never a guy. He just is not into spontaneous, passionate, fun, sex. I'm not even sure he knows the difference. I have had great sex in the past, the kind I can't wait for, but with my husband, it's not exciting and he doesn't even get turned on by sexy lingerie. He is not interested in going to the doctor to take something for his occasional impotence. At best we have sex once a week. I was expecting that "newlywed sex" like rabbits that everyone seems to talk about, is that just a myth? Please help!

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Heather answers:

Everyone's libido varies, as does everyone's sexuality.

In other words, the sexual appetite of a person isn't determined by their biological sex or gender. Some women have lower libidos than some men; some men have lower libidos than some women. Too, these things also vary based on the specific two people involved and their relationship dynamics, and also on the kinds of sex each partner prefers. It should also be said that not everyone has the same turn-ons. You say even your "sexy lingerie" isn't doing the trick, but it's entirely possible that he's not a sexy lingerie kind of guy — that wedding night, maybe the reason he didn't make a to-do with the dress and the wedding clothes was because he's a back-to-basics, better-naked-and-clean-faced guy in his sexual tastes.

(If it's any consolation, most wedding night sex stories I've heard in the years I've done this work have not met anyone's fantasies. Plenty of couples are so tired, they don't even HAVE wedding-night sex, and wind up having sex in the morning or a couple days later. Weddings are often stressful and tiring for a lot of people, and the pressures to have out-of-a-romance-novel wedding-night sex are pretty overwhelming, and in and of themselves, could issue a sexual buzzkill for just about anyone.)

Looking at what you've said here, I'd say — and obviously, I have the gift of hindsight you couldn't have had at the start — that it seems somewhat clear that your partner has always had a lower libido than you have, and was less comfortable with sexuality than you are, so that these things are still issues doesn't strike me as surprising. It also sounded like he did try and make that clear, but that he wasn't all that direct about it, either. Marriage isn't likely — when it's new or otherwise — to change someone's sexuality, libido or sexual feelings, even if one reason someone was abstaining was due to religious ideals about premarital sex. Too, for couples who live together — married or no — sex once a week is not an unusual pattern. Sounds to me like you have some fairly large personality/character differences when it comes to how you feel about sex

Not knowing anything about his history, he may have issues and problems when it comes to sex that he hasn't let you in on, or hasn't felt able to voice yet. Just like the pressures for women to acquiesce to sex can be intense, so can the pressures for men to perform. It can be tough for men with lower libidos sometimes to voice that because ideas of masculinity can be so wrapped up in sexual performance and appetite: if you're constantly initiating sex before he has that chance to, even that — reasonable or not — can create some masculinity problems for some men. While there's no reason for you NOT to have voiced all your excitement about finally having intercourse and other sex once married, and you didn't do a thing wrong in doing so, that also may have inadvertently exerted pressures on him that he didn't know how to address, and still does not.

I'm not seeing any reason for him to see a medical doctor. This is unlikely a medical problem: in younger people, it's very rare that it is, and when someone isn't getting an erection because they're not interested in sex, that's not a sound reason to medicate them. Medications like Viagra and Cialis are intended for men for whom lack of erection is a physiological problem, due to things like aging or the effects of diabetes. They're not intended to be used for men whose partners simply want more sex than they do. (And I think it's perhaps worth looking at what that might sound like were the shoe on the other foot: I know you don't mean anything awful by any of this, and again, there certainly is more pressure on women to have obligatory sex, or as much sex as their male partner wants, but it's a raw deal for everyone when that's the case, men or women.)

However, I am seeing that you two would likely benefit from some couples counseling.

Obviously, you're really unhappy about this, which is totally understandable and valid. Clearly, he's not feeling that great about it, either. The more frustrated you get with each other, on top of the divide that's already there, the tougher this is going to get, and the more sex is going to seem like a giant drag. If you're not handling sexual rejection well, for instance, he's likely going to feel more and more uncomfortable saying no, and going to feel more and more dread when it comes time for sex. But you're also clearly a very passionate person, a very sensual person, who has a part of you that you need to express and enjoy — but you can't with your partner, and that's going to have ill effects on you over time, as well. Obviously, too, when sex doesn't feel like intimacy, and if it's not even lasting long enough, or including sexual activities for both partners to feel satisfied, that's a very real problem, both for the individuals involved and for the relationship (but I don't really need to tell you that, I know). Talking a lot of this out with a mediator may very well help both of you both be heard and understand each other: it's possible that with a little more talking and understanding — OUTSIDE the bedroom — you might be able to build a bridge here so that both of your needs are met better.

Talking it out with a counselor will also help you two to get talking about it, period. I can't tell from what you've written here if you've really talked about this in depth, with both of you honestly and openly exploring these issues, but it doesn't sound like you have. Even with your desires for your wedding night, did you voice any of them ahead of time: did you verbally share those fantasies with him? If you didn't expecting him to act in line with them wasn't so realistic an expectation. Solid, open communication is really THE big thing that leads to satisfying sex between people: without it, even otherwise decent sex is going to be missing something crucial.

(I would, by the way, make a point of choosing that counselor carefully, and doing what you can to choose one that really is sensitive about sexuality issues and open-minded. If you pick someone with very traditional ideas about sex, marriage and gender, counseling may be unlikely to help either of you. The last thing you both need is someone giving him the idea he's not being masculine enough, or giving you the idea that you don't get to have a libido at all.)

None of that is a promise that you two will wind up being sexually compatible, mind.

No one can make those kinds of promises. But for people who choose traditional marriage, part of the deal is that you're agreeing to stick things out through big challenges, work hard to work through problems, and find creative solutions, together. Part of the deal is also that sex is only one part of that relationship (and in many marriages, not a central part), and when you're choosing not to have sex until marriage (though from what I can gather, you did have plenty of sex, just not intercourse), part of THAT deal is that you are opting to go into that blind to some degree, and thus, likely face some surprises. So, I can't know or guarantee that counseling and talking things out over time will net the exact results that both of you want, especially if your wants and needs are very different. But what it can do is help you start working on it together more productively, with more understanding, so that you can really see what the issues are, know what you have to work with, and if you choose to stay together, find some creative solutions and compromises that will ideally leave you both feeling a lot better.

So, I'd suggest first opening the lines of communication here, with something as simple as a "Hey, I'm not happy about this, and I don't think you are either. But I'm committed to working it out, and I hope you are, too, so we really need to start talking about it, and I think we could use some help in doing that." If he's in agreement, then you both can start seeking out a couples counselor, and get started. If he's not in agreement, and/or he doesn't see any need to work on this, then I'm afraid you face a tougher situation, which is basically you needing to decide if this is a marriage that's going to work for you or not — it's not just a matter of unsatisfying sex if he isn't willing to work this out, after all, it's about how committed he is to both of your needs and to foundational aspects of your relationship.

I'm leaving you with a couple of links, including a link to my book, that might help you out through this (and be good to share with him), but also with the strong suggestion that you do seek out that counseling — even if he isn't willing, I think you could use the ear and the support all by yourself as you figure all of this out and consider your choices.

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (R-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

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Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

Roundups Sexual Health

This Week in Sex: The Sexually Transmitted Infections Edition

Martha Kempner

A new Zika case suggests the virus can be transmitted from an infected woman to a male partner. And, in other news, HPV-related cancers are on the rise, and an experimental chlamydia vaccine shows signs of promise.

This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

Zika May Have Been Sexually Transmitted From a Woman to Her Male Partner

A new case suggests that males may be infected with the Zika virus through unprotected sex with female partners. Researchers have known for a while that men can infect their partners through penetrative sexual intercourse, but this is the first suspected case of sexual transmission from a woman.

The case involves a New York City woman who is in her early 20s and traveled to a country with high rates of the mosquito-borne virus (her name and the specific country where she traveled have not been released). The woman, who experienced stomach cramps and a headache while waiting for her flight back to New York, reported one act of sexual intercourse without a condom the day she returned from her trip. The following day, her symptoms became worse and included fever, fatigue, a rash, and tingling in her hands and feet. Two days later, she visited her primary-care provider and tests confirmed she had the Zika virus.

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A few days after that (seven days after intercourse), her male partner, also in his 20s, began feeling similar symptoms. He had a rash, a fever, and also conjunctivitis (pink eye). He, too, was diagnosed with Zika. After meeting with him, public health officials in the New York City confirmed that he had not traveled out of the country nor had he been recently bit by a mosquito. This leaves sexual transmission from his partner as the most likely cause of his infection, though further tests are being done.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s recommendations for preventing Zika have been based on the assumption that virus was spread from a male to a receptive partner. Therefore the recommendations had been that pregnant women whose male partners had traveled or lived in a place where Zika virus is spreading use condoms or abstain from sex during the pregnancy. For those couples for whom pregnancy is not an issue, the CDC recommended that men who had traveled to countries with Zika outbreaks and had symptoms of the virus, use condoms or abstain from sex for six months after their trip. It also suggested that men who traveled but don’t have symptoms use condoms for at least eight weeks.

Based on this case—the first to suggest female-to-male transmission—the CDC may extend these recommendations to couples in which a female traveled to a country with an outbreak.

More Signs of Gonorrhea’s Growing Antibiotic Resistance

Last week, the CDC released new data on gonorrhea and warned once again that the bacteria that causes this common sexually transmitted infection (STI) is becoming resistant to the antibiotics used to treat it.

There are about 350,000 cases of gonorrhea reported each year, but it is estimated that 800,000 cases really occur with many going undiagnosed and untreated. Once easily treatable with antibiotics, the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae has steadily gained resistance to whole classes of antibiotics over the decades. By the 1980s, penicillin no longer worked to treat it, and in 2007 the CDC stopped recommending the use of fluoroquinolones. Now, cephalosporins are the only class of drugs that work. The recommended treatment involves a combination of ceftriaxone (an injectable cephalosporin) and azithromycin (an oral antibiotic).

Unfortunately, the data released last week—which comes from analysis of more than 5,000 samples of gonorrhea (called isolates) collected from STI clinics across the country—shows that the bacteria is developing resistance to these drugs as well. In fact, the percentage of gonorrhea isolates with decreased susceptibility to azithromycin increased more than 300 percent between 2013 and 2014 (from 0.6 percent to 2.5 percent).

Though no cases of treatment failure has been reported in the United States, this is a troubling sign of what may be coming. Dr. Gail Bolan, director of CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, said in a press release: “It is unclear how long the combination therapy of azithromycin and ceftriaxone will be effective if the increases in resistance persists. We need to push forward on multiple fronts to ensure we can continue offering successful treatment to those who need it.”

HPV-Related Cancers Up Despite Vaccine 

The CDC also released new data this month showing an increase in HPV-associated cancers between 2008 and 2012 compared with the previous five-year period. HPV or human papillomavirus is an extremely common sexually transmitted infection. In fact, HPV is so common that the CDC believes most sexually active adults will get it at some point in their lives. Many cases of HPV clear spontaneously with no medical intervention, but certain types of the virus cause cancer of the cervix, vulva, penis, anus, mouth, and neck.

The CDC’s new data suggests that an average of 38,793 HPV-associated cancers were diagnosed each year between 2008 and 2012. This is a 17 percent increase from about 33,000 each year between 2004 and 2008. This is a particularly unfortunate trend given that the newest available vaccine—Gardasil 9—can prevent the types of HPV most often linked to cancer. In fact, researchers estimated that the majority of cancers found in the recent data (about 28,000 each year) were caused by types of the virus that could be prevented by the vaccine.

Unfortunately, as Rewire has reported, the vaccine is often mired in controversy and far fewer young people have received it than get most other recommended vaccines. In 2014, only 40 percent of girls and 22 percent of boys ages 13 to 17 had received all three recommended doses of the vaccine. In comparison, nearly 80 percent of young people in this age group had received the vaccine that protects against meningitis.

In response to the newest data, Dr. Electra Paskett, co-director of the Cancer Control Research Program at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, told HealthDay:

In order to increase HPV vaccination rates, we must change the perception of the HPV vaccine from something that prevents a sexually transmitted disease to a vaccine that prevents cancer. Every parent should ask the question: If there was a vaccine I could give my child that would prevent them from developing six different cancers, would I give it to them? The answer would be a resounding yes—and we would have a dramatic decrease in HPV-related cancers across the globe.

Making Inroads Toward a Chlamydia Vaccine

An article published in the journal Vaccine shows that researchers have made progress with a new vaccine to prevent chlamydia. According to lead researcher David Bulir of the M. G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research at Canada’s McMaster University, efforts to create a vaccine have been underway for decades, but this is the first formulation to show success.

In 2014, there were 1.4 million reported cases of chlamydia in the United States. While this bacterial infection can be easily treated with antibiotics, it often goes undiagnosed because many people show no symptoms. Untreated chlamydia can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which can leave scar tissue in the fallopian tubes or uterus and ultimately result in infertility.

The experimental vaccine was created by Canadian researchers who used pieces of the bacteria that causes chlamydia to form an antigen they called BD584. The hope was that the antigen could prompt the body’s immune system to fight the chlamydia bacteria if exposed to it.

Researchers gave BD584 to mice using a nasal spray, and then exposed them to chlamydia. The results were very promising. The mice who received the spray cleared the infection faster than the mice who did not. Moreover, the mice given the nasal spray were less likely to show symptoms of infection, such as bacterial shedding from the vagina or fluid blockages of the fallopian tubes.

There are many steps to go before this vaccine could become available. The researchers need to test it on other strains of the bacteria and in other animals before testing it in humans. And, of course, experience with the HPV vaccine shows that there’s work to be done to make sure people get vaccines that prevent STIs even after they’re invented. Nonetheless, a vaccine to prevent chlamydia would be a great victory in our ongoing fight against STIs and their health consequences, and we here at This Week in Sex are happy to end on a bit of a positive note.