Hi Anne, Hoping you can help with what has become a serious problem for me. I have never been comfortable naked and have only recently realized that it may even be an issue for me. I was raised in a very modest house with parents who were not affectionate with each other. My mother was sexually abused as a child and I do think this has impacted my level of feeling shame about my body. Despite this and despite the fact that it has been 20 years since I wore a swimming suit out in daylight, I have had a few successful sexual relationships in my early 20’s some lasting years without this being a real issue. I don’t have issues with being naked while in the "act" with a partner when lights are low, but when "on display" ,even while dressing, it doesn’t feel right. I feel vulnerable and uncomfortable – the farthest from sexy. Now nearing 30 and recently married, I am just now realizing that my husband takes enormous offense to my modesty. It has affected our sex-life because he feels like I don’t trust him and he thinks being denied nude peeks at me takes away from his excitement and interest in me. On the flip-side, I feel like I can’t trust him because he isn’t sensitive or encouraging since he takes it personally and that he doesn’t find me attractive because all I feel is the animosity – the cycle just worsens. In my gut, I don’t think I will ever be the naked bunny running around the house that he wants me to be – even with the right kind of encouragement. Am I a freak for being so modest? I was very open with my husband about my sensitivities while dating, why is this coming up now? My husband believes that I will never be happy with anyone if I can’t be comfortable being naked around the house. Do you believe that this is really true? In most regards, I actually think I am a sane, happy person and happy to be who I am – save this one thing…. I am feeling passively-aggressively bullied by my beloved. Is it really my fault? Help? Thanks, SarahAd
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There are some things in the world where we might argue there are clearly right and wrong ways to approach a situation. Child abuse is a bad thing; most all people can get behind that sentiment. Many other aspects of the world are not so black and white. Your modesty is one of those things where there isn’t a right or wrong answer about what is normal or appropriate. Some people love taking off their clothes and parading around, and others don’t feel comfortable doing that and who is to say what is right or wrong here? So long as no one is harmed in the process, what does it really matter? It is pretty much up to the comfort level of each person to determine what is right and wrong with regard to modesty for each person. And people can change over time with regard to their attitudes about modesty, becoming more or less modest over time, and this is okay too. I don’t think there is anything wrong with your modesty if that is what makes you feel comfortable.
Your husband and you have different perspectives on the matter of modesty and are clashing over values, essentially. You view yourself from the inside out, and feel uncomfortable when on display. You don’t like being objectified in this manner. Your husband views you from the outside in and can’t help but objectify you at least a little bit. It’s exciting to him to see you naked and he’d like more of that. He can’t read your mind and neither can he feel your feelings about this matter. The only way he can know about your discomfort is for you to tell him, and even then, if he isn’t receptive to knowing about your emotions, he won’t get the message.
There’s nothing wrong with your husband finding you attractive and wanting to see you and be excited by you. However, to the extent that this demand on his part causes you discomfort, and to the extent that your husband doesn’t make the effort to listen to and take seriously your communication of discomfort, the two of you are going to have a problem. Despite the fact that your husband is suggesting that this is your problem, it isn’t. It is not the case that you will never be happy with any man if you can’t be comfortable around the house. You never had a problem in this manner when you were alone alone or with other prior boyfriends. It’s only a problem for you with this man. That makes it a problem inherent to this relationship; something that exists between the two of you. It’s both of your problem and the only way to resolve it will be for both of you to find a compromise position that you can live with.
I think that you need to talk with your husband about this fundamental disrespect issue. While you may be able to do this without aide, it may also be helpful for you both to do this in the context of couples counseling. There is the issue of modesty itself, but that is not the real issue here, I don’t think. The deeper issue is that your husband is not taking your emotional needs seriously, and that is causing you to feel fundamentally disrespected. If this disrespect situation is not addressed, it will ultimately erode the quality of your marriage. Your husband doesn’t have to agree with you about modesty, but he needs to relate to you in a manner that conveys that he respects you and doesn’t want to make you uncomfortable. If he can learn to do that, you’ll probably feel more respected by him and your sex life will improve, and you may even feel more predisposed to take what feel like risks in the relationship and give him more of what he desires – becuase it will feel safer to do so if you feel respected. It’s a sort of paradox how that works, but it is a common one. You are more likely to get what you want when you don’t demand it, but instead ask for it respectfully.
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It may be a trick getting your husband to agree to talk about this issue in therapy. Many men are averse to therapy and see it as unmasculine. I think it will be important for you to talk about this as not simply a modesty thing (which he already is predisposed to see as your problem), but rather as a disrespect issue. He may be more likely to take the discussion seriously if it is framed as the deeper respect issue rather than the more superficial modesty one.
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