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Bored Husband

Question:

My question is: What do you do when you are married to wonderful woman, who is honest, kind and decent, but bores you to death in the bedroom? I love my wife and we married with the intent of obeying our Christian values not to fornicate. (It was tough) After marriage, I thought we would grow sexually together. Much to my disappointment, my wife is very naive of sex and inhibited. Does not like to talk about our sex life, and does not like to try new things. Born and raised Catholic, she is uncomfortable with this subject. She is easily offended with my "unconventional" request. Please help me find proper ways to approach my wife.

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Answer:

I have to start out my comments by noting that I am not Catholic and therefore am not familiar with what it is like to be born and raised Catholic. I can only offer an outsider’s point of view. I hope that I do not inadvertently mischaracterize the Catholic experience. I’m aware that there are a variety of Catholic experiences as well, some more strict than others. I’m speaking here to the more strict variety. If any reader finds offense, please keep this in mind.

It seems to me that people who grow up in strict churches of many sorts sometimes end up with a conflicted sexual life. This follows from church teachings concerning sexuality and its association with sin. Many churches teach that this world and all it contains are little more than a temporary testing ground for the soul whose goal it is to resist temptation and thereby enter into an eternity of heaven. The penalties for failing to resist temptation are stiff and uncompromising: disqualification from heaven. Sexuality is one variety of temptation that can disqualify you from heaven.

It isn’t sexuality per se which is restricted. Sexuality in marriage for reproductive purposes is okay. It is more the idea of using sexuality as recreation; sexuality as a pleasurable activity that is restricted. From this division between sexuality for reproductive purposes vs. sexuality for pleasure comes the "Madonna/whore" conception. It’s okay to be a wife and mother, but (if you believe the teachings literally, and are as a consequence uptight and afraid) it is most definitely not okay to ever take pleasure in sex. If you take pleasure in sex, you shift from being in the image of Mary to being in the image of a prostitute. There is no middle ground allowed. All of this, if taken literally, has the potential to set up a polarized sort of thinking system that is not unlike that characteristic of borderline personality disordered individuals. The world is either wonderful and welcoming or hateful, punishing and abandoning with no middle ground in between.

None of these restrictions stops people from wanting sex. Wanting sex is built into our genes and into the very architecture of our bodies. The pleasure of sex is the motivation for reproduction, at the simplest level. So it is not an option to not want sex, most of the time.

Your wife finds herself between a rock and a hard place (no pun intended) in dealing with your sexual requests. On the one hand, she is (probably) propelled forward towards you, and on the other hand she has to keep her distance, or risk becoming something horrible – a prostitute and a slut. These restrictions are not placed upon you with nearly the same force (there is no concept of a male slut really), so maybe this is hard for you to appreciate, but your wife is really trapped. Her reality is different than yours, and what seems to be a simple request from your point of view ends up having enormous and serious consequences for her self-image and perhaps her soul.

What your wife needs is permission. Permission to be a sexual person and to enjoy it a little bit and know that she is not in trouble with God. She cannot take that permission from you, however. She needs it from someone who can give her an assurance that she will not get in trouble with God for experimenting. Someone who can offer her an expanded set of boundaries for what the "Madonna" is allowed to do without crossing the line over to become the "whore". It seems to me that such permission should come from a Catholic clergy person. Perhaps a clergy person who is also a counselor. I’m not sure if this sort of thing exists. I hope it exists, but I’m not at all sure where to send you. If it exists, it will exist on the more liberal side of the church and not the more conservative side. At any rate, marriage counseling is in order, because this is a serious problem you two have. It may be best if you can cope with it in the context of church sponsored marriage counseling (because that will make your wife more comfortable), but if you can’t find that, you should still seek out marriage counseling. This problem needs to be addressed before your frustration starts tempting you away from your marriage.

While your wife seems to have coped with her dilemma by shutting down her sexuality so as not to deal with it much at all, other people in similar circumstances cope via an alternative mechanism, which is forgiveness. They cross the line into "slutty" behavior and then go to church and ask for forgiveness, which the church typically grants. They accept a self-identity of being a sinner and embrace the sin, only to be forgiven for it time and time again. This is a different strategy than your wife has embraced, which is more along the lines of defining themselves in terms of not-sin.

I’ve tried to reconstruct the mindset that your wife must feel in order that you might appreciate it and have some compassion for her position. If you are to make any headway with her, it won’t be by making demands or forcing yourself. Instead, you will have to communicate to her your love and understanding. With that communicated, and some permission from higher-ups, you both may start to grow the sort of relationship you desire.

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