Post-mortem for a sex life
March 24, 2019 10:59 AM   Subscribe

I am trying to process the demise of my marriage, particularly of our sex life, and when I say process, it tends to veer towards unproductive ruminating. Can you help me along in any way? Reframing, nudging in a more useful direction, challenging my perspective, suggestions of literature or other helpful resources, all are welcome. Possible CW: unpleasant sexual experiences and some boundary crossing behavior.

Cis-het relationship, I'm F in my forties. I was together with my soon to be ex for 20+ years, 17 of which married. I'd been in LTRs before, he was quite inexperienced when we met. Our kids are now teenagers and we're in the process of divorcing. The marriage died a slow death over ten years, during which neither of us stepped up and tried anything useful to stop the deterioration. If you asked my husband, I'm quite certain his main reason for deciding to finally end it was our total lack of sex life in the final years. He blamed me, as his sex drive remained the same while mine steadily dwindled.

Our problematic sex life was obviously part of a larger, more complex picture of two really mismatched people with totally opposing needs, likes and dislikes, no overlap at all in love languages, etc. I do ruminate about all that, too, but I still keep circling back to this.

These are the four aspects of our sex life that I've been mulling over for ages now, really getting nowhere except becoming very unhappy in the process:

1 - From the beginning of our relationship, during foreplay, my husband had the awful habit of sooner or later starting to persistently rub his erection very hard against my pelvic bone, thigh, buttock or hip. I'm a skinny, bony person, and this was really uncomfortable and often downright painful. It also made him come during the ensuing intercourse a lot faster. This was a huge bummer for me because orgasming during PIV is also how I climax, which I won't achieve if my partner finishes too quickly. And I don't need a partner with superhuman stamina, 10 minutes will do, but whenever he did the pre-rubbing he'd inevitably be struggling to get that far (sometimes being ready to pop right from the start).

I tried to do something about it for a long time, first through nonverbal cues (which went completely unnoticed) or by shifting my position (he shifted too and would start it again), then by gently asking him to not do that, and when that didn't have a lasting effect I tried bringing it up when we were not having sex, really making it clear I didn't want him to do it. And yet next time it would be the same, every fucking time (pun unintended but apt). When I tried to talk to him about it he just said he wasn't thinking, or that it just felt so good. I felt unhappy about this because it only felt good to him, while it made me uncomfortable, and it was weird that he would only be focused on his own pleasure, you know?

When he was doing it, I could ask him to stop it, and he would oblige maybe for a few minutes, until hoo boy, there he goes again. It was a total mood killer for me and the only way I could really prevent it was by moving from foreplay to intercourse sooner than I would have otherwise preferred. Our sex life became... quick.

There were a few times when I got angry about it. I remember one incident when I blew a gasket and told him I wasn't in the mood anymore. Five minutes later he was pawing at me again, hoping I'd changed my mind. The only time that I really got through to him was when I physically pushed him out of the bed yelling angrily, like what the fuck is the matter with you I've told you a thousand times that that hurts! After that he didn't do it for several months. Then it started to creep back, and I gave up and stuck to keeping foreplay to a minimum.

And it was all just so... Depressing. I had lusted for him when we got together, expecting us both to be enthusiastic about learning more about each other sexually. And he wouldn't even learn this one simple thing of not hurting me!

2 - Our sex life also took a hit after the kids were born. I was exhausted, anxious, lonely and depressed and wanted cuddles, hugs and tenderness rather than wild monkey sex. My spouse wanted, well, those too but also sex, so I remember how in those years every tired hug inevitably lead to him groping me, squeezing my buttocks or fondling my breasts etc. It was so relentless that I eventually started to avoid all kinds of physical touching. Meanwhile, he was growing more and more frustrated and subsequently more pushy. I did try to talk about it, gently, because I felt guilty for not being in the mood more often and knew he felt really rejected. He said he did it because he hoped the groping would make me horny.

Thinking back to that time makes me want to cry, and just feel so sad. Those were some tough years for many reasons. To think how much easier it could have been for me if I'd just got some stress free comforting every now and then.

3 - Early on in our relationship there was one incident when I wasn't in the mood for sex but just sort of... went along with it anyway. When he realized afterwards I hadn't actually wanted it, he was upset and regretful. It didn't happen again until some 15+ years later. I was not sexually aroused but decided to have sex with him anyway, since this is the advice you hear everywhere when you're the low-libido spouse: just doing it as a loving, kind gesture, enjoying the other person's enjoyment, etc. Well, for some reason he decided to get a little rough and it was very, very unpleasant to me, so I lay there with all these confused thoughts whirling through my head: "I don't want this, but how awful would it be to make him stop when we're already doing it and we haven't done it in weeks, he'd feel so rejected, maybe I can just put up with it, but I don't want this, I really don't." I pretty much froze, and he kept on humping until he climaxed.

During those minutes it seemed to me that he eventually figured out I'd gone unresponsive but decided to go through with it anyway.

Maybe I should have stayed quiet, but I wanted to talk about it afterwards. He claimed he hadn't noticed that I wasn't into it. Maybe it's true (or maybe it was a defensive lie and he'd just thought I owed him sex anyway). I mean, he obviously didn't pay careful attention to me during sex and never has, but then again, I felt like that itself was already a problem? He told me I should have said something and I suppose that's true. I'd just been paralyzed in the moment by these contradictory thoughts and feelings of not wanting to hurt him, feeling guilty, and well, just not wanting what was happening to happen.

This incident still weighs on me. Like, I think about it and want to scream and scream. I don't think we had much of a sex life after that. Maybe once or twice but pretty soon I just didn't want to anymore.

4 - One persistent point of contention regarding sex was that ever since the kids were able to walk and would sometimes come into our room at night, I was stressed out that they would walk in on us having sex. I was very uncomfortable with that idea, and it was difficult for me to relax when part of me was always listening if there was a pitter-patter of tiny feet outside our bedroom.

So, I wanted to install a lock on our bedroom door. My husband didn't think it was necessary. We'll hear them before they come in, he said. I tried telling him that that was just the problem: I kept listening and thinking about the kids in stead of getting into the moment. Eventually he said that he just didn't think it was a problem if they walked in, that there was nothing shameful about sex etc. And he basically insinuated I was a bit prudish or sex-negative because I was making such a fuss about it. He told me his sisters had once walked in on his parents, and he seemed to find that... normal, I guess? Or kind of cute, or like maybe a positive learning experience for children? And I mean, yeah call me a prude but that makes me very uncomfortable. I get that these things happen by accident but I was left feeling like he almost wanted it to happen. Still makes my skin crawl.

Anyway, in the end I bought and installed a lock myself and that was that, but this always left me feeling uncomfortable and like it was such an uphill struggle to make him grudgingly acknowledge my boundaries (and in this case, our kids' boundaries, IMO).

My Questions:

How do I stop ruminating about this? I have come to dread my commute and all other times when I'm alone with my thoughts because I have to struggle to not think about this all the time.

I read this interesting advice about ruminating on AskMe, and I guess going down that list of questions there's nothing I can solve here, but then what? How do I understand all this?

And I suppose I need to work on acceptance and maybe grieve? This sounds stupid but how do I do that?
posted by these socks are made for shuffling to Human Relations (26 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

I think ruminating happens when your brain feels like it still needs to figure something out, to get to the bottom of something, find the conclusion. That's why when you have a song stuck in your head the cure is to listen to the entire song. Perhaps telling your whole story in a therapist office will help you get that closure so you can move on. I think also wrapping up the divorce and getting your own living space etc as soon as you can will help. Read books, listen to podcasts. Focus on building new experiences to think about.
posted by bleep at 11:09 AM on March 24, 2019 [7 favorites]

I mean, this may be kind of the obvious answer, but a therapist could help you both with processing these particular thoughts and with figuring out more productive, less distressing ways of processing negative emotions generally.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:11 AM on March 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

That sounds like PTSD from decades of having your needs and boundaries ignored. Please get some therapy from someone skilled with sexual trauma.
posted by ottereroticist at 11:13 AM on March 24, 2019 [70 favorites]

I am so sorry this happened to you. I think a trauma therapist could be very helpful. The way you're framing this makes me think that you're downplaying its significance (which is a normal thing many people do in response to traumatic situations) and that kind of thing can lead to rumination. I ruminate a lot and I think of it like a smoke alarm that won't stop beeping.

Take care of yourself.
posted by sockermom at 11:38 AM on March 24, 2019 [7 favorites]

I also just want to validate your experience. You say you want to scream and scream - that is a normal reaction to what happened to you. I don't know if you have a Wrecking Club or similar nearby, but just smashing some shit could not hurt.

Also, exercise is a great way for me to get out rage or sadness/process feelings while simultaneously becoming stronger. Listen to podcasts while doing it, because I find it is possible to ruminate during exercise, although does seem to tamp down my rumination more generally.
posted by sockermom at 11:45 AM on March 24, 2019 [4 favorites]

I think you're ruminating because you're reflecting on the evidence while still in mourning for your marriage and reluctant to come to the conclusion that your husband was a sexually selfish DICK. You do not need to use the word abusive if you don't want to or are uncomfortable with that idea right now, but regardless, I think everyone in a dying marriage benefits from an empathetic therapist.

It's a time when you really, really need someone who will just listen to you, and a time when you really, really need someone to be on your side, and paying someone to be that person is very expedient and uncomplicated.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:46 AM on March 24, 2019 [32 favorites]

Wow, this sounds really sad and hard, and I'm sorry you had these experiences. Just reading this makes me really sad for the younger you who was soldiering through the alienating experience of having your sexual/physical needs and wants and boundaries not honored. I think some ruminating is appropriate, as part of a larger process of grieving. I agree with the above suggestions: a trauma-trained therapist could be really helpful in giving you a space and some compassionate guidance as you work through this.

After you have some time to process this sadness and trauma, it might be helpful to approach re-acquainting yourself with your sexuality in a more positive way? Maybe read the oft-recommended Come As You Are.
posted by aka burlap at 11:55 AM on March 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

I am by no means even close to a therapist! and I totes agree a sex therapist is the way to go. They're hella cool.

That being said, wanted to chime in and say, holy shit that's a lot to carry around in your head. My previous relationship had a similar end (though smushed into a lot shorter time period) and for quite awhile there after the break up, I just couldn't stop thinking about what an asshole he'd become in the sack (too). just vividly could recall everything. To be blunt, just being fucked for the other person to get off is ..yeah. just wanted to crawl out of my skin and scream and scream.
then I read a thing that helped me. it's that your brain is a bit of dumbass. as in when you think of something (in this case something really rough), and you recoil or react to it v strongly, all your brain hears/sees is, 'ooh this was a significant thought! it must be important! I will bring it up again tomorrow!' and it will. and there you go, you have the beginnings of a nice loop for your thoughts to run laps on. so one way to deal with this is to try and just be like, as forgiving and gentle with yourself as possible. attempt to stay genuinely zen about it (without reacting too negatively or shoving the thoughts/feelings away) like oh. theres this thought again. yup. still hurts like a mofo. and just try to stay chill. and it's hard!
yet slowly, it will gradually start to lose its edge, and you will find space to focus on the things that make you happier and stronger.

by no means is it a linear undertaking..and the hurt and anger will come in waves, but eventually you find that it just doesn't feel like it used to.
i really hope you feel ok soon.
posted by speakeasy at 12:03 PM on March 24, 2019 [7 favorites]

I imagine two completely separate things going on here: 1, that you're trying to process the end of the relationship, and 2, you are wanting to think about the sexual aspects of that because you will likely want to figure out how to have a better experience in the future. Or maybe those aren't it, or you have five more things that this is about, but in any case, figuring out more precisely why you keep thinking about this might help you move on to other things.

My trick for rumination is to have a backup topic in mind, and when I notice myself ruminating, to think about that instead. One year after a bad break-up I worked on planning my garden every time it came to mind, for example. Not only did it get me on to a different topic (and in that case, a productive one) but it felt empowering to say no to the rumination.
posted by metasarah at 12:11 PM on March 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

Sounds like you wanted a sex life where your experiences were based on enthusiastic consent and he didn't care that much about it, and wasn't that interested in being a sexual PARTNER to you. And you had to deal with that painful (in multiple ways) dynamic for many years. I'm really sorry you had to deal with that, and have to keep dealing with it.

Agree with the suggestions for therapy above - what you experienced was genuine trauma over a long time and a professional can help you. Eventually you will be able to stop thinking about these things, and they won't be so painful when you do think about them. It will take time. You have a lot to grieve.

For short-term relief from rumination while you work this stuff out, I too recommend high-intensity exercise, if physically possible. Something that will really get your heart rate up, interval-based stuff (like, walk for two min, sprint as fast as you can for 20-30 seconds, repeat 10 times.) It will use up a bunch of the excess cortisol/adrenaline in your system that builds up during such a stressful time and give you some relief.
posted by ProtoStar at 12:12 PM on March 24, 2019 [4 favorites]

I'm not sure if you're at this point yet, but I will put in a data point and say that a great way to work through this sort of thing is by being with other people. If you're at a point where you can get out there and try low-key, casual, safe encounters with people you meet on apps like Tinder or OKCupid, it's a really great way to start processing this stuff. The process of learning about what you like again and discovering the variety of things that others like and rediscovering things that bring you pleasure and talking through it and feeling wanted again is a worthwhile journey of self-discovery.

That's what I've been doing during my separation. A caution, which others may well feel compelled to chime in on: Undertaking this sort of immersion therapy just might make you feel terrible at various points, too. The whole thing can bring up a lot of feelings rapidly. You may end up hooking up with people who also don't particularly have your pleasure in mind, and you'll have to process that. You may hook up with people who are vastly more experienced or vastly less experienced than you are. But that's actually why it's good immersion therapy, because it forces you to process and think through the feelings that brings out in you all over again. You could end up getting together with someone with whom you're very compatible, but at a time when you're rusty from all the years of inaction and bad vibes from your former partner, so you might not necessarily feel like you've done the encounter justice. That kind of situation will also bring up feelings that you'll have to work through, while probably giving you some clues to things you like that you might never have considered during the years of the same-old with your former partner.

The positive part is that you'll of necessity start to develop some vocabulary for talking about where you stand with your sexuality and what you want—I was afraid to say at first that it had been a while for me, because I wasn't sure how to even broach the subject, and that lack of managing expectations, I suspect, is likely part of why an initial hookup ghosted on me, because perhaps they thought this was as good as it would get with me. (Or maybe they just wanted to hook up—I've also been working through way overthinking that. I'm sure everyone I talked to about it when the wound was fresh probably thought I'd lost my mind for a few days, but I think I've come out the other end in a better place. Working through that was a good proxy for rapidly processing years of feelings of loss and rejection and lack of consideration in my marriage, my own feelings about my body, etc.)

I've subsequently been able to be more upfront about it, with good results and more patience. And I'm already changing how I approach some things as a result of my experiences so far. Amid all the nonsense that hooking up can bring out in people, if you can acknowledge that there will almost certainly be some bullshit and commit to working through it, especially in conjunction with a therapist to help you process it, it could be one of the best things you could do for yourself.

Also, maybe I've just gotten better at selecting for this, but anecdotally, it feels like there are a lot more people out there who value and understand enthusiastic consent, nontraditional gender roles, and the experience an older partner can have, and have an increasingly feminist outlook now than there were just a couple years ago. I've caught back up with at least one person who formerly turned me off with self-centeredness and insistence and transcendence of my boundaries who specifically cited the #metoo revelations as an impetus for learning about consent and more.

Anyway, this kind of immersion therapy does have some potential for retraumatization, again, so if you go this route, do it with a trusted therapist on call. But I'm finding it rewarding.
posted by o_O at 12:46 PM on March 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

I have experienced trauma, but not trauma that was anything like this, so feel free to ignore my advice if it isn't helpful.

There is a big difference between "accepting" past events in the sense of the acceptance stage of the grieving process, and accepting past events in the sense of acknowledging and accepting your own feelings about them. Acknowledging and accepting your own feelings has to come first, in my opinion.

These were very traumatic events. Anyone who experienced them would be entitled to feel very angry, very hurt, extremely betrayed, or any combination of those feelings or perhaps some other strong feelings.

Your description sounds a bit tentative, as if you are still trying to convince us, or convince yourself, that what happened was bad. You might even subconsciously be trying to argue with your ex-husband in your head, trying to convince him that what he did was hurtful.

It won't be possible to get him to fully acknowledge the hurt. I think it would be helpful for you to be able to fully acknowledge it, and really feel your feelings in a safe and supportive space such as with a therapist or a trusted friend. If it helps, this internet stranger is telling you that what happened to you really sucked and I am sorry it happened.

I think that only once you have really felt your anger, grief, betrayal, or what have you, and processed those feelings in a safe way, will you be able to begin to let those feelings go and start to move on. In my experiencing, the "moving on" part of trauma can't be rushed. It happens when it happens. Sometimes it takes months or years.

You may also find that you are angry at yourself for staying as long as you did (or maybe not, it is normal either way). You may need to work on figuring out how to forgive yourself and recover your self esteem.

In addition to working with a therapist or talking to trusted people close to you, it might be helpful to have some sort of healing ritual. I once burned all the paperwork from a particularly bad year at work. It did help me feel a little bit lighter.
posted by mai at 2:17 PM on March 24, 2019 [5 favorites]

Has it occurred to you that he's kind of an asshole? and I'm being kind.

Therapy. I don't think it has to be sex therapy; I think you had a limited baseline and have accepted behavior that was sometimes abusive, obviously insensitive, unkind. I think you'll be able to find your own center again. I think he did a fair amount of gaslighting. You thought you were in a marriage of equal partners; he's just selfish. You could have put a lock on the door, but you thought it should be a mutual decision. That's how jerks always get their own way.

Grieve, process, accept, learn, heal, that's what therapy is for. A therapist who will help you value yourself, require respect, and move forward. Sending you so many hugs. You deserve to be loved and cherished.
posted by theora55 at 2:19 PM on March 24, 2019 [11 favorites]

Wow. First of all your husband was not being a kind and thoughtful sexual partner. I have had enough partners to know the difference between someone who listens, who actually asks you what you want, asks for pointers and directions, and communicates often and clearly about what they are feeling and makes it safe for you to communicate often and clearly. Your husband did none of that. I expect a large part of your drop in libido comes from being with a partner who really didn't care about your sexual drives and needs. I hope you can find a partner who will when you are ready.

I am a big ruminator myself. I have a very, very, very hard time not replaying scenarios over and over again in my head thinking about what I could have or should have done or said differently. There are a few things I have felt actually helped with this.

At my therapist's suggestion I have sometimes just carved out distinct space to do that ruminating in a journal form. Just knowing that I have some dedicated time to let my thoughts run wherever they may can sometimes let them dissipate more quickly. Even just a few minutes.

My dad gave me a great suggestion which he calls letters to the file or memo for the file. And this is somewhat like journaling, but instead writing a letter that you never intend to send and just getting all your thoughts out there. I've done that especially when I'm angry at someone to just get those emotions out of my head.

I'm not a big meditator, but I did do a workshop recently and found that doing some self-compassion meditations really helpful. We're often so hard on ourselves. Saving even a few minutes of your day to show yourself loving kindness might help you stop ruminating so much.
posted by brookeb at 2:31 PM on March 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

My most-recommended book, Susan David's Emotional Agility, helped me with ruminating a lot. I used to struggle against my feelings and now I'm OK with feeling them, and now I don't spend nearly as much energy on them even though I'm acknowledging them instead of fighting them back.

Feelings are the human response to things that happen to us and whatever they are, you get to have them. They just don't need to rule your life.
posted by wellred at 2:47 PM on March 24, 2019 [6 favorites]

I think his behaviour toward you went far beyond the inconsiderate and thoughtless. If someone keeps doing something sexual that they know you don't like, against your persistent protests, the most likely explanation is that they get off on the knowledge that you don't like it. When people repeatedly violate clearly marked boundaries, it's very rarely accidental.

Your question suggests that you are feeling partly responsible for your experiences. You are not responsible. You communicated your boundaries clearly. Deliberate violation of those boundaries is entirely his responsibility.
posted by howfar at 2:48 PM on March 24, 2019 [17 favorites]

I came here to say what ottereroticist said...I had an experience similar to this with someone I lived with when I was quite took me a little while to rediscover a normal healthy sex life after that because I wasn't able or willing for a while to admit that what I experienced was sex assault/rape. I had something happen to me that was similar to what you wrote in your post under "3". It was bad enough that it galvanized me to end things in that relationship but it took much longer to process than the breakup took to happen. Please try to find a counselor or therapist who can do trauma specific work with you, I think it would help a lot with rumination/anxiety of emotional flashbacks. The trauma specific work can give you concrete tools to grieve in a productive way, that leads to a feeling of peace or acceptance, as opposed to just circling or flashing back to bad moments.
posted by zdravo at 3:21 PM on March 24, 2019 [6 favorites]

orgasming during PIV is also how I climax,

your ex was not only incredibly selfish and unkind, he was also either a world class fool or a sadist. It is not actually all that common for women to be able to climax that way, and he was incredibly lucky to have a partner for whom PIV sex would be that fulfilling. And that he preferred to do stuff that actively hurt you rather than something you'd both enjoy? I'm no therapist, but that smacks to me of either bad intentions or really extraordinary ineptness or both. Ugh.

I don't think you need a sex therapist -- that's a different thing. You probably do need one with training in trauma recovery, as zdravo suggests. You were subjected to some really awful stuff, and they'll have tools to help you heal. Good luck, and GOOD RIDDANCE to your ex.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:43 PM on March 24, 2019 [11 favorites]

Hi - I'm a female in my mid 40's and I experienced some similar things in my 17-year marriage. I want to hug you. You deserve all the hugs. I think you are ruminating because you haven't quite accepted how badly you were treated. I think you need to acknowledge it, to really say it out loud. I would call it abuse. Maybe it would help you to say that out loud, to give yourself permission to be angry, heartbroken, traumatized because your husband abused you.

When I tried to talk to him about it he just said he wasn't thinking, or that it just felt so good.

He repeatedly physically hurt you, over and over and over, despite knowing how you felt about it. He knew, and just didn't care. What is that, if not abuse?

There are many other indicators in your post of abusive, hurtful, unsupportive behaviour, and maybe it's worth it for you to pick these all apart in therapy, but maybe not. Maybe you just need permission to say your husband was an asshole and the way he treated you was not your fault. IT WAS NOT YOUR FAULT. You needed and deserved support, understanding, and compromise - basic things we expect from an equal partner. Instead you were given pain, guilt, loneliness, and gaslighting. I'm so sorry for this. You experienced trauma and you need to process it. Maybe just saying it out loud is the first step. Hugs.

PS - check your memail.
posted by yawper at 4:44 PM on March 24, 2019 [28 favorites]

In addition to therapy which I think is a great idea, I want to second the high-intensity exercise, and add on as well an activity where you body is involved and your boundaries respected - martial arts, yoga, circus school,gymnastics, barre class, Zumba. I would also recommend journaling, and lots of self-care. For me comedies are great to keep me laughing (but no boundary busting ones.)

I think there is a lot to process here - decades of stuff. The good news is, in a couple of years I think you will find yourself much more joyful and strong. In between I suspect you will feel anger, grief, and other things that right now your ruminating is kind of foreshadowing. I believe your spirit is rising up, you are kind of coming back to a wrong that you are now in a position to understand more fully. I think you deserve professional support.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:36 PM on March 24, 2019 [5 favorites]

Being sexually assaulted by your partner, repeatedly, is super bad for your libido and emotional connection and mental health. That's what happened.

You (presumably he also) are about my age, which means you likely grew up with little to no sex education except use a condom/don't get AIDS/also don't get pregnant because that makes you a bad person whose parents are embarrassed, and then the rest came from pop culture/media that gave a lot of us the impression that sex worked pretty much like you described in your marriage. We were taught so little about female sexual response that I had friends well into our 20s and maybe a few stragglers into our 30s - even ones who were good riot grrls in college - who did not know how to get off, and men were taught patently ridiculous shit and then shrugged and figured that was good enough. I dated multiple men who honestly thought putting a hand on my boob, honk style, was a button that made me ready. I still have peers who have to deal with men who think any amount of moisture is "wet" rather than "the functional state of mucus membranes". We got fucked, culturally; we didn't even get the vaguest 60s shit that probably got most of us conceived in the first place.

You probably figured some things out along the way, though, because...because, live and learn. Your partner did not, and had such an absence of curiosity or interest in your internalities he just kept on like it was fine, because it was, because he got off, and the science was clear that that's all that mattered, so hey.

I'm not excusing him, he's a fucking asshole. I am excusing you, though, for being confused, and gaslit by his lack of regard that should have been baseline, and for thinking something was wrong with you because you did everything by the book just like we were taught, except in the movies they made for us, men became good lovers because they liked us and it turns out it didn't always work that way in real life. (But sometimes it did, and it was often men who were additionally willing to parent their kids instead of babysit, so that was a big ol' lottery some of us won and some of us lost.)

This whole thing has become a bit of a gnashy-teeth thing for me, and a hard thing that I think a lot of us have maybe been able to ignore in a lot of ways until *gestures around furiously*, and I have spent the past two years wrangling with the casual, probably even "well-meaning" in a bullshit sort of way, sexual assault and harassment and stalking and bullshit head games that were normalized and okay for us, and certainly we had no recourse, for a real big chunk of our lives. I am also watching my peers through women about 10 years younger finally divorce these guys now that the kids are either grown or old enough that their moms have finally gotten a full night's sleep for a while and realized everything is shit. (And you know what? A lot of them are discovering a previously-unexplored bi/pansexuality and do not intend to be with a man again. I mean a lot a lot, I already knew I was pan before I got married but I too shall never darken that door again if I ever find myself single.)

Get yourself a therapist you like, and if you don't have non-male friends go find yourself some, ones you really like and who enjoy getting together and talking about all the shit and being supportive and either bringing potluck or bringing a box of frozen appetizers to throw in the oven. I'm not saying you HAVE to go full Crone Island, but I am saying that those kind of friends are who you should be around as you heal.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:27 PM on March 24, 2019 [20 favorites]

Your ex has spent 20 years being monstrously unfair to you, and treating you like a sex doll that existed for his pleasure, instead of like a person who expected (and should have gotten) pleasure and sexual gratification too. You’re ruminating because of the unbelievable injustice of it. And to have him continue to blame you for not having sex with what sounds like, at the minimum, someone who could win a national title for Worst Sexual Partner...well. That’s just salt in the wound.

I’m no therapist either, but I would stop trying to be “fair” and instead put the blame squarely on him for, at the very least, the destruction of your sex life and how he made sex unbelievably dreadful for you, in the full sense of the word. He owns that, you do not. Of course you chose not to have horrible, unpleasant sex where you got nothing out of it. Why would you? (Rhetorical.) “Do it anyway because it’ll make your partner happy” is some of the worst advice ever, and I’d like to kick the person in the nuts who made that a thing. That shit’s for bringing your spouse a fresh cup of coffee, not giving them use of your person for their benefit.

You only alluded vaguely to this, but I get the impression that his tendency to ignore whatever you were communicating and do what he pleased was not restricted only to your sex life. I agree that therapy will, at the very least, give you perspective and validation that you weren’t “making” him do any of this.
posted by Autumnheart at 7:41 PM on March 24, 2019 [7 favorites]

I’m here for Lyn Never’s comment, alas only one favourite can I bestow.

So many women can report years of crap sex with their sexually recalcitrant partners. Years of having our initial exploratory willingness and excitement at sex turned into boring sameness and regular pain in the service of Always Having To Do What The Guy Likes. Over and over, never being heard, never being explored. Not even if you talked about this stuff before you got married. Not even if you have patient chats, lose your shit, or shut down.

I think, if you’re like me, the post mortem feeling you’re having might be rooted in anger or defensiveness about how unfair it feels to have a person who did shitty things walk away still clueless and self important, and not even getting how shitty these things are. Even if we were keen and open lovers to begin with, and turned the other way from our own feelings about being part of abusive crap, until for self defence we boycotted the whole enterprise - there’s This Guy wandering around in the world telling his people that ‘ugh, the sex dried up’ about their marital demise.

I’ve heard guys describe their marriages ending like this, in a sex drought, and not once do I hear a guy own anything of the situation himself. It’s all I can do not to say ‘sounds like she didn’t like having your kind of sex’ or ‘what did you do about it?’ My ex husband is out there in the world with a chip on his shoulder about the suffering caused by his sex drought marital demise. A guy who got dental braces and wouldn’t go down on me for two years. No apology, no alternatives despite me asking. Just boo hoo, poor me and my sex-starved marriage he says to the world, without a shred of awareness. Grr.

Eventually you stop feeling all the rage, probably like me, in the company of a therapist. (Going forward, I strongly recommend seeing a sex therapist too)

So yeah, maybe that’s part of your thinking now. Rage that you n your body have had a shit time. A lot of us have been here too because so much of cis het male sexuality is seen as doing something *to* another person, not *with* them. Even if it hurts, even if it’s not wanted.
posted by honey-barbara at 2:57 AM on March 25, 2019 [20 favorites]

Lyn Never has it exactly correct.

If you want a really great scientific breakdown I encourage you to pick up Emily Nagoski's excellent Come as you Are. I read it near the end of my marriage to try to figure out why every fiber in my body was reflexively rebelling against touching my formerly-attractive-to-me ex. I have to say: I cried through the whole thing as I saw myself and how my libido had slowly been worn down to a nub... but the book also offers a way out and forward, as you rebuild yourself with new and better sexual knowledge that isn't drawn exclusively from the fantasies and desires and the gaze of men.

My girlfriend refers to these types of clueless male partners as "broken robots" and somehow that made me less angry. We were all programmed. We were all lied to.

I recognize myself in your question (albeit with much less trauma - more of the "lie back and think of England" or just the average soul-killing maintenance type of shitty-marriage-sex), and I can tell you that there's a way out!! Once you process and mourn the brokenness of your last relationship's lovemaking, you *can* have a healthy and robust and dignified sex life. There are wonderful men out there that can accommodate what you want and desire and, yes, ask for!

But you know, we've (women) been left out of discussions around sexual desire and sexual satisfaction so much (outside of Cosmo's monthly: "25430 Tips To Make Him Love You In Bed" garbage), that you'll need to start building a new vocabulary for what feels good and comforting and ecstatic for you. So yes: therapy, honesty, and compassion: you're already halfway there.

<3 Best of luck to you. You deserve more. We all did.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 5:04 AM on March 25, 2019 [7 favorites]

Another woman in my mid-forties a couple of years out of a twenty-year marriage, with not exactly the same problems you had but some things that rhyme. (And things are terrific now, new relationship, much happier, so don't despair.)

I have a high libido, and our sex life died down anyway, because my ex cut me off. He's also generally fairly high libido, but he spent the last couple of years (don't know exactly) of our marriage having an affair with the woman he ultimately left me for, and during that period stopped wanting to have sex with me.

The bit that might be usefully similar, though, is that before he just quit sex with me completely, there was a period where he was still having sex with me, but he was sort of actively making it unpleasant for me -- some specific stuff parallel to your ex's hip-humping stuff, that I had repeatedly told him I hated (and had repeatedly physically made him stop); and he suddenly could only function in positions that were between uncomfortable and painful for me. And because I both have a high libido and I'm kind of an insensitive idiot, I wasn't happy about this and I kept on trying to talk to him about improving things, but I didn't give up on having sex with him because that was all the sex I was going to get and I still wanted to get laid. And then he just stopped being willing to have sex at all.

I don't know for certain what was going on in his head, but my theory is that he was done with our sexual relationship (because he'd moved on to a new woman) but that he wanted the responsibility for ending it to be on me -- he wanted the story where he was a poor sex-starved man who was driven out of his marriage by a wife who wouldn't fuck him any more (I doubt it was all that conscious, but on some level). When that didn't work, because I'm a giant dope about these things, then he just ended the sexual relationship anyway. (And then moved out of state with his new girlfriend.)

I wouldn't say this about a relationship that you were still trying to save, but does that same dynamic feel as if it might have been going on with your ex? That he was on some level trying to make sex bad enough for you that you'd reject him, because 'man rejected by sexless wife' is a sympathetic position to be in? I found it much less upsetting to think of my terrible sex life with my ex as the result of his intentionally making it terrible, rather than believing that it was just the impossibility of communicating sexual needs between two people, one of whom was unable or unwilling to understand sentences composed of short words including 'do not do this specific thing to me.'
posted by LizardBreath at 7:47 AM on March 25, 2019 [4 favorites]

Also, while you are adjusting to being single for now, masturbating and trying some sex toys is a good way to have nice orgasms, re-experience how great sex can be, and maybe find new ways of enjoying sexuality. He was a crummy, even abusive, sex partner. Lack of skill and selfishness are not uncommon, but, sheesh. There has been change and growth and creativity in the sex toy field, with many women-positive, sex-positive, and women owned/ operated choices.
posted by theora55 at 9:13 AM on March 25, 2019

« Older Allergy shots - do I really need retesting after 6...   |   Organizing Important Documents Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.