Get Real! Waited Til Marriage But Sex Isn’t Working Out

Heather Corinna

The lead-up to sex for newlyweds who wait for marriage is SO huge, unrealistic expectations--to be a "good" wife or a "good" husband, or have sex as some sort of duty-- can create even more stress.

virginBride asks:

I feel a little weird asking this here because I’m 26 but I was waiting til marriage before sex so this is new to me, and everyone my age seems to have been having sex for years and I’m embarrased to talk about this stuff. This site has been a great resource for me so far – it has saved me so much embarassment of not knowing what’s going on (especially embarrasing at my ‘old’ age!)

So I just got married about a month ago and have started having sex with my husband but it has been disappointingly unenjoyable. My expectations weren’t super high because I know it takes awhile to get used to things. But before we were married we did other activities that I really enjoyed and I’d get turned on a lot. Now, however, those same things don’t even turn me on anymore. From reading articles here I’ve realized that sex isn’t going to be pleasant if I’m not turned on and it’s not about me being ‘too tight’ or anything. My husband is making a lot of effort to be patient with me and to engage in a lot of foreplay, but it’s not doing anything for me. I used to get really aroused by him stroking my nipples/clit areas, and he still is trying that beforehand. But I keep finding that I am not enjoying him touching me at all, and I just want him to stop. He tried oral sex too and I just did not like it, it felt so weird. I feel so horrible because he was so great about waiting til we were married (he has had sex before with his previous girlfriends) and I really want to share this with him now, and he is trying so hard but it’s not doing anything. And I’m also really sad that I don’t feel turned on because it felt so good and I don’t want to have lost that! We are both frustrated, and I feel especially bad because he’s had experience and I haven’t, and he said he’s never had issues like this with any other girls. Any advice as to how I can get more turned on, so that we can actually have sex? We’ve realized that we shouldn’t attempt intercourse when I’m not getting into things, so I also tried pleasuring him in other ways but I’m finding that difficult too… it takes awhile and honestly my mouth/jaw get tired, and I’m worried about how to finish things (the spit/swallow debate). Right now I’m feeling like a terrible wife for not being able to pleasure my husband and also really missing the sexual pleasure I used to get. I don’t regret waiting at all… but I’m impatient for things to improve and any advice would be hugely appreciated. Even just letting me know what’s a normal amount of time that it takes for this to start being fun instead of stressful. Thanks!

Heather Corinna replies:

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Just so you know, while certainly, it’s more common to begin some sexual activity before your age (which you had), there still are plenty of people who have not had sexual intercourse at your age. And given that the age of first marriage has been increasing, in terms of folks waiting for all sex or some kinds of sex until marriage, you’re in pretty good company in terms of hardly being alone. So, if you need other avenues to talk about this stuff in, and your reasons for waiting for intercourse until marriage were religious, you might try seeking out some other women in your religious community as support, too.

But it’s also fine to ask about it here, and there’s no need to be ashamed.

I can’t tell you what a “normal” amount of time is for any kind of sex to become fun, because not everyone enjoys every sexual activity, not all sexual partners DO have “fun” together or find that sex is right for them, and to boot, it’s very normal for everyone to have periods of time where sex, overall, isn’t that interesting or exciting.

In your case, it wouldn’t surprise me that you’d have a period of time like this because the lead-up to sex when it comes to waiting for marriage is SO huge, and to boot, things (sex, but life, overall) are generally stressful — in terms of both positive and negative stress — for newlyweds for a while, anyway. And if there’s a lot of pressure to perform certain roles — to be a “good” wife or a “good” husband — in a marriage, that adds even more stress to the picture. In terms of sex, if sex is seen as some sort of duty to a partner, you can flop more stress on top of that.

You say that there are times where you don’t attempt intercourse because you know you’re not in the mood, but then, instead — it sounds like — engage in oral sex for him. When that’s going on, are you in the mood for THAT, either? In other words, if you’re having ANY kind of sex out of obligation, or motivated by concerns that it’s your job to take care of all your husband’s sexual needs, that’s going to be a buzzkill and create a sexual environment which is unlikely to be beneficial to or satisfying for you.

Here’s my advice: if any of the sex either of you is having is about obligation, knock it off. I don’t know if the idea that you’re responsible for his pleasure is something you’ve got in your head, or is coming from him, or both, but whatever the situation, that’s just got to change to have healthy, mutually beneficial sex. In any sexual partnership, no partner is responsible for meeting all of their partner’s sexual needs, or being sexually available every time that partner wants sex. This is one of the many benefits of mastubration: when your husband is in the modd and you’re not, the man’s got hands, honey. he can use them just like YOU can use them (and mutual masturbation, by the by, is another good option here).

Which leads us to something else: are YOU masturbating? Are you exploring your own sexuality, by yourself, too? If not, I’d suggest you start. Not only is it enjoyable (and a serious stress-reducer, which it seems clear you need), it’s really helpful to be able to also get an idea for what you enjoy outside the context of what someone else does. That’s not anything you should do out of obligation, either, but when you do feel in the mood, it’s an avenue I’d suggest you be sure and explore at least every now and then, to find out what does feel best to you, and also to have some avenue of your sexuality where you don’t feel any sort of performance pressure, or pressure to have everything someone else wants to do feel good.

Too? Feeling like it’s your job to please someone when you’re not pleased yourself is rarely a turn-on for anyone. Sure, we all have different defintions of what “sexy” is, and some people DO get turned on by sex-as-service, and as service only, but we can safely say that it’s relatively uncommon.

I’d also suggest just taking a little time off from partnered sex right now so that you can get out of this cycle of stress and frustration. That shouldn’t be a problem or a big drama: after all, everyone’s libido has ebbs and flows, so in long-term relationships, there are almost always going to be times when each partner needs that, for any number of reasons. Explore other kinds of intimacy for a while, outside of sexual activities — not just intercourse, but all the kinds of sex you’re having. Much like it’s hard to want to eat when we’re not hungry, if one of both of you aren’t coming to sex very strongly wanting to have sex (beyond feeling like it’s something you have to do or should want to do), it’s pretty tough for it to be anything but frutsrating. So, taking a little time away to explore other kinds of intimacy and focus on other areas of your relationship can be helpful — even just in terms of hyping things up by sustaining some time away so you both can “get hungry” again for whatever kinds of sex you do enjoy together.

I hope that you also realize that it’s possible that intercourse just may not be your thing, just like you’re saying that so far, oral sex isn’t your thing. That may change over time, or it may not, and either way, that’s okay. I’m sure there are plenty of things your husband doesn’t enjoy doing which he could be doing, too: everyone has different preferences and likes. The idea that somehow vaginal intercourse — despite being an activity which, by itself, even with foreplay, isn’t that physiologically stimulating for women — is something EVERYONE has to like or enjoy is really flawed (and that idea was never based in women experiencing pleasure from it, either), just like it’d be flawed to suggest that receptive anal sex is an activity everyone has to enjoy. I think it might take a little bit of the load off of you to recognize that IF this turns out to be an activity that just doesn’t do much or anything for you (period, or just with this partner), that doesn’t mean something is wrong with you or your partnership, and that it’s okay for you, like anyone else, to have your own preferences.

There’s no quick fix most of the time for things like this, because there are so many variables, but also because things getting better in a situation like this, in my experience, relies more on getting rid of all the pressures and stresses and obligations and frustrations before it can start to get better, and that is a lot harder to do sometimes than it is to just, say, try a new sexual position, or add a new sex activity to one’s repetoire. If any of these pressures or obligations are part of your relationship model, you’re going to need to work things out so that they are NOT for things to improve. I’d be sure you’re both talking as honestly as possible about all of this, however difficult that can be: building a big wall of noncommunication is only going to make matter worse, too.

Because stress and depression are big libido-killers, do also be sure that you’re taking care of yourself, reducing your stresses, and keeping an eye on how you’re feeling — all by yourself — overall. You say you feel like your expectations for sex and marriage were realistic, but it does sound — understandably — like you’re feeling pretty disappointed right now, so if that’s got you super-stressed or depressed, be sure you’re addressing that and caring for yourself, okay?

I’m going to leave you with some extra links — if you’ve read them before, my apologies, but even if so, you might try glancing over them with all I’ve just said in mind.

The last suggestion I’d make for you if none of this seems helpful, or if, once you give some of these suggestions time, things don’t get better for you overall, is to look into some couples sex counseling, or counseling just for yourself. You may even be able to find a counselor who has a lot of experience in dealing with couples who waited until marriage and now find sex is a struggle: there are certainly plenty of them out there — this is hardly the first time I’ve been asked something like this, but it’s also not my specialty, so you might benefit from someone whose it is.

I hope this was of some help, and I hope that you find things improve for you.

Commentary Contraception

For Students at Religious Universities, Contraception Coverage Isn’t an Academic Debate

Alison Tanner

When the U.S. Supreme Court sent a case about faith-based objections to the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate back to lower courts, it left students at religious colleges and universities with continuing uncertainty about getting essential health care. And that's not what religious freedom is about.

Read more of our articles on challenges to the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit here.

Students choose which university to attend for a variety of reasons: the programs offered, the proximity of campus to home, the institution’s reputation, the financial assistance available, and so on. But young people may need to ask whether their school is likely to discriminate in the provision of health insurance, including contraceptive coverage.

In Zubik v. Burwell, a group of cases sent back to the lower courts by the U.S. Supreme Court in May, a handful of religiously affiliated universities sought the right to deny their students, faculty, and staff access to health insurance coverage for contraception.

This isn’t just a legal debate for me. It’s personal. The private university where I attend law school, Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., currently complies with provisions in the Affordable Care Act that make it possible for a third-party insurer to provide contraceptive access to those who want it. But some hope that these legal challenges to the ACA’s birth control rule will reverse that.

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Georgetown University Law Center refused to provide insurance coverage for contraception before the accommodation was created in 2012. Without a real decision by the Supreme Court, my access to contraception insurance will continue to be at risk while I’m in school.

I’m not alone. Approximately 1.9 million students attend religiously affiliated universities in the United States, according to the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. We students chose to attend these institutions for lots of reasons, many of which having nothing to do with religion. I decided to attend Georgetown University Law Center because I felt it was the right school for me to pursue my academic and professional goals, it’s in a great city, it has an excellent faculty, and it has a vibrant public-interest law community.

Like many of my fellow students, I am not Catholic and do not share my university’s views on contraception and abortion. Although I was aware of Georgetown’s history of denying students’ essential health-care benefits, I did not think I should have to sacrifice the opportunity to attend an elite law school because I am a woman of reproductive age.

That’s why, as a former law clerk for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, I helped to organize a brief before the high court on behalf of 240 students, faculty, and staff at religiously affiliated universities including Fordham, Georgetown, Loyola Marymount, and the University of Notre Dame.

Our brief defended the sensible accommodation crafted by the Obama administration. That compromise relieves religiously affiliated nonprofit organizations of any obligation to pay for or otherwise provide contraception coverage; in fact, they don’t have to pay a dime for it. Once the university informs the government that it does not want to pay for birth control, a third-party insurer steps in and provides coverage to the students, faculty, and staff who want it.

Remarkably, officials at the religious colleges still challenging the Affordable Care Act say this deal is not good enough. They’re arguing that the mere act of informing the government that they do not want to do something makes them “complicit” in the private decisions of others.

Such an argument stands religious freedom on its head in an attempt to impose one group’s theological beliefs on others by vetoing the third-party insurance providers’ distribution of essential health coverage to students, faculty, and staff.

This should not be viewed as some academic debate confined to legal textbooks and court chambers. It affects real people—most of them women. Studies by the Guttmacher Institute and other groups that study human sexuality have shown that use of artificial forms of birth control is nearly universal among sexually active women of childbearing years. That includes Catholic women, who use birth control at the same rate as non-Catholics.

Indeed, contraception is essential health care, especially for students. An overwhelming number of young people’s pregnancies are unplanned, and having children while in college or a graduate program typically delays graduation, increases the likelihood that the parent will drop out, and may affect their future professional paths.

Additionally, many menstrual disorders make it difficult to focus in class; contraception alleviates the symptoms of a variety of illnesses, and it can help women actually preserve their long-term fertility. For example, one of the students who signed our brief told the Court that, “Without birth control, I experience menstrual cycles that make it hard to function in everyday life and do things like attend class.” Another woman who signed the brief told the Court, “I have a history of ovarian cysts and twice have required surgery, at ages 8 and 14. After my second surgery, the doctor informed me that I should take contraceptives, because if it happened again, I might be infertile.”

For these and many other reasons, women want and need convenient access to safe, affordable contraceptives. It is time for religiously affiliated institutions—and the Supreme Court—to acknowledge this reality.

Because we still don’t have an ultimate decision from the Supreme Court, incoming students cannot consider ease of access to contraception in deciding where to attend college, and they may risk committing to attend an university that will be legally allowed to discriminate against them. A religiously affiliated university may be in all other regards a perfect fit for a young woman. It’s unfair that she should face have to risk access to essential health care to pursue academic opportunity.

Religious liberty is an important right—and that’s why it should not be misinterpreted. Historically, religious freedom has been defined as the right to make decisions for yourself, not others. Religious freedom gives you have the right to determine where, how, and if you will engage in religious activities.

It does not, nor should it ever, give one person or institution the power to meddle in the personal medical decisions of others.

Commentary Sexuality

Auntie Conversations: Black Women Talk Sex, Self-Care, and Illness

Charmaine Lang

These auntie conversations were just as much about me as they were about my aunts and mama. I really want to know what to expect, what to anticipate, and perhaps, even, what not to do as I age and grow in relationships so that I, too, can have a fulfilling and healthy partnership.

This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.

“You’re just being nosy,” one of my aunts said, after I asked her if she enjoyed having sex with her husband. I assured her this was all part of a research project on the intimate lives of Black women. She relented a bit, but still gave me the side-eye.

I’ve been engaged in archival research for the last year. While the personal letters of Black women writer-activists and the newspapers of the Third World Women’s Alliance are remarkable and informative, they provide little insight into the intimate lives and sexual desires of Black women. After all, sex improves our mood and alleviates stress: That immediate gratification of pleasure and release is a way to practice self-care.

So on a recent trip home to Los Angeles, I asked my aunties to share their stories with me at a little gathering they threw in my honor.

And they did.

I asked them: “What’s your sex life like?” “Do you want to have sex?” “Are you and your husband intimate?” “You know … does he kiss you and hold your hand?” And I learned that contrary to tropes that present us as either asexual mammies or hypersexual jezebels, the Black women in my life are vulnerable and wanting love and loving partners, at all stages of life.

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Between 1952 and 1969, my maternal grandmother had six daughters and one son. All of them grew up in South Central Los Angeles, witnessing white flight, the Watts riot of 1965, and the crack epidemic. At the same time, the women have kept the family intact. They are the ones who always plan big dinners for the holidays and organize food drives for their churches. And they arranged care of their mother toward the end of her life. I’ve always wondered how they were able to prioritize family and their own desires for intimacy.

So I asked.

My 57-year-old aunt who is a retired customer service representative living in Pomona, California, told me: “My lifetime of sex consisted of first starting off with getting to know the person, communicating, establishing companionship. Once that was done, the sex and intimacy followed. When you’re younger, you have no frets. You experiment all the time.”

I wanted to know more.

“You’re not just trying to get in our business? You’re actually going to write something, right?” was my mother’s response.

When asked about the state of her sex life, my 59-year-old aunt, a social worker, said: “I am a married woman without a physical sex life with my husband. His illness has a lot to do with this, along with the aging process.”

My Pomona aunt went into more detail about how as we get older our ability and desire changes.

“You try to keep pace with pleasing your partner, and he tries to please you. But it is hard when you are a full-time worker, wife, and mother, and you commute to work. You’re tired. Hear me: You’re tired; they are not. You grow older, gain weight, and get sicker. You start to take medicine, and all that affects your ability and desire to perform.”

“For me, in a nutshell, [sexual activity] feels like work: I don’t feel excited. When it happens, it happens,” she said.

I learned the combination of energy spent on wage work, domestic labor, and mothering is draining, dissipating the mood for sex or intimacy. A husband who does not have the same domestic responsibilities has more energy for sex. The unbalanced load equates to differences in desire.

I wondered: Did my aunts talk to their partners about this?

Illnesses, such as diabetes and cancer, can cause anxiety, depression, and fatigue, which interrupt lovemaking. Talking to a partner can help to create a new normal in the relationship.

However, as my social worker aunt made clear, “It takes two to talk openly and honestly, which I find very difficult most of the time.”

“To be vulnerable is hard because I do not want to get hurt emotionally, so I protect my heart from harm,” she explained. “[My husband and I] can be harsh and curt to each other at times, which leads to me shutting down and not expressing my true feelings. My husband can be prideful and unwilling to admit there are issues within the relationship.”

Aunt April, a 47-year-old Los Angeles teacher, had some things to share too. “My love life is complicated. After suffering an overwhelming and devastating loss in 2011 of my husband and mate of nearly 20 years, I’m very hesitant to fully try again.”

She hasn’t dated since 1991. After much counseling, grieving, and encouragement from her 12-year-old daughter, she decided to give it a try.

“I have been seeing someone, but I have a lot of fear that if I relinquish my heart to him, he will die. So, I think about sabotaging the relationship so that I don’t have to get to know him and start worrying about his well-being and wondering if he feels the same way I do. In my mind, it’s easier to be casual and not give too much of my heart,” she said.

Intimacy, then, is also about being vulnerable in communicating how one feels—and open to all possibilities, even hurt.

As a 34-year-old queer Black woman figuring out my dating life, my aunt’s words about communication struck me. At times I can be guarded, too, fearful of letting someone get close. I started to ask myself: “What’s my sex life like?” and “What role does intimacy play in my life as I juggle a job and doctoral studies?”

These auntie conversations were just as much about me as they were about my aunts and mama. I really want to know what to expect, what to anticipate, and perhaps, even, what not to do as I age and grow in relationships so that I, too, can have a fulfilling and healthy partnership.

“I enjoy sex more now then I did before,” my mama, Jackie, said. Now 55, she remarried in 2013. She lives in Gilbert, Arizona, and works in the accounting and human resource field. “My husband loves me unconditionally; with him, I’m more comfortable. It’s more relaxing.”

My mama expressed her ability to enjoy herself with her husband because of the work she put into loving herself and prioritizing her needs.

I always talk to my mama about my dating life: heartbreaks and goals. She always says, “Learn to love yourself first.” It really isn’t what I want to hear, but it’s the truth. Self-love is important and central to the success of any relationship, especially the one with ourselves. My social worker aunt often takes trips to the spa and movies, and my aunt April is an avid concertgoer. They have found ways to have intimacy in their lives that is not informed by their relationship status.

The journey to self-love can be arduous at times as we discover parts of ourselves that we don’t like and want to transform. But with much compassion and patience, we can learn to be generous with the deepest parts of ourselves and each other. And isn’t that a necessary part of intimacy and sex?

The stories shared by my womenfolk reveal a side of Black women not often seen in pop culture. That is, Black women older than 45 learning how to date after the loss of a partner, and finding love and being intimate after 50. Neither mammies nor jezebels, these Black women, much like the Black women activists of the 1960s and 1970s I study, desire full lives, tenderness, and love. My aunts’ stories reassure me that Black women activists from decades past and present have intimate relationships, even if not explicit in the body of literature about them.

The stories of everyday Black women are essential in disrupting dehumanizing stereotypes so that we can begin to see representations of Black women that truly reflect our experiences and dynamic being.