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Religious Wife Regrets Premarital Sex; Won't Sleep With Husband

Question:

My wife and I have been married for over 6 years, we got married young, 20 & 22. But her past has always bothered me she had been with 9 guys before me. I keep reading about this subject and I know the past is the past and to just leave it in the past. But my problem is my wife told me she slept with guys to get the attention and the affection. As soon as the guy stop giving her those items she would find another new fling. Well after we got married I made the mistake of judging her harshly about her past because I had only been with 3 women before her and all of which I was serious about. I was always taught Sex is the most sacred part of marriage and that was when you were suppose to engage in it, Catholic School for 12 years. Now 6 years later I have caused her to clam up about sex and she feels too vulnerable about opening up about sex because of how hard I was on her early on in our marriage. I know I was wrong for holding this over her head and I have apologized a million times. But she really has a tough time being intimate with me. She also had an abortion when she was 19, which she truly hates herself for what she did. It bothers her a lot. We have two wonderful healthy sons now and she is a teacher in a Catholic school. She feels as if she is a hypocrite because she teaches this children how premarital sex is wrong and abortion is a mortal sin. She is truly sorry about her abortion, But we have no idea how to help her become more affectionate. We are thinking about going into counseling again, or if just she should go? I want to help her with her baggage as I have baggage too just not of the sexual nature.

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Answer:

I will preface my remarks here by stating that I’m not Catholic, and have an outsider’s appreciation of what it means to be raised Catholic and to live a Catholic life. With that understood, you’ve asked me for help, and I’ll do my best to provide some perspective. If I get something wrong, please feel free to write and educate me so that I will get it more correctly next time. This is a sensitive area to talk about, and I want to be sensitive to your painful situation.

The problem you describe, perhaps the problem you both are experiencing, is that there is a conflict between enjoyment and ease with your sexuality and the beliefs and values you aspire to uphold. One belief or value is that sexuality is a thing to be reserved for marriage alone. Your acceptance of that belief has caused you to criticize your wife’s premarital sexual activity even though you yourself had premarital sexual activity. And since (I suspect) she herself also believes that premarital sex is a negative thing, she was more than willing to accept your criticism and add it to her own self-criticism, which seems to be pretty vicious right now. And though you’ve apologized (good for you!) the damage there has been done. I wouldn’t beat yourself up too hard. It is impossible to not make mistakes in life. You’ve tried to undo this particular mistake with some substantial sincerity it would seem, and thought that ought to be enough, it hasn’t been. So it is hard for your wife to let go of things and that is her issue more than yours.

In a related vein, your wife had an abortion when she was young and unmarried, and today continues to feel terrible about that. Yet another thing for her to criticize herself about. The fact that she is teaching children to not have abortions and to not have premarital sex only heightens her internal sense of inconsistency and hypocrisy. She is holding herself to a standard that she can never meet. Even if she never again does anything sexual outside of the church’s teaching, there is the past to contend with. And I suppose that confessing the sin and doing the required penitence is insufficient for her, because she has probably done that by now (right?) and it hasn’t helped her to feel better about herself. So, my working conclusion is that she has trouble letting go of things, even when those in authority around her are sending clear signals that it is okay to let go.

The nature of the problem is thus that she can’t forgive herself for being human and having made mistakes. It seems to me, with my outsider’s understanding of Catholicism, that the church does intend for people to feel guilty about violating its teachings concerning what is a sin, but then that sense of guilt is supposed to go away with penitence (confession, prayer, etc.). And that failure to let go of the sin, after the church (and, we would expect, God, too) has let go of it, is the core of the problem. I’d like to think that she (and you too, because you seem to have a similar if lesser problem) could go to visit with a priest and get this straightened out so that she would have the full understanding that the church and God are really okay with her being sexual in her present married state and with her having sinned in the past so long as this past sin has been properly confessed and so long as future sexual activity is done within appropriate marital bounds. But I don’t know if that would help. Maybe, if you think it would help, you might try it.

Sex is supposed to be fun. It is an adult form of play, and it is sensual and pleasurable and exciting in a positive way when you do it right. But it cannot be easily enjoyed when there is a specter of sin and guilt and moral failure hanging over it. So, I think part of what needs to occur besides getting a sense of having done proper penitence, is that sex has got to be accepted by your wife as a permissible and pleasant aspect of your married life. And I just kinda doubt that any priest is going to give you or her that sort of permission and instruction. I can see them telling you it is okay to procreate, but not to enjoy yourselves. Again, my outsider’s perspective which I fully acknowledge may be wrong. My sense is that, for the most part, in life no one in position of authority gives you permission to enjoy sex. That is something you have to take for yourself. Without your wife deciding to make this mental shift (that it’s okay to have sex and to enjoy it within the bounds of church teachings), well, it seems likely that she won’t.

I think that with regards to helping your wife feel more self-accepting about enjoying sex, that is a situation where she might benefit from counseling, and possibly with talking with other Catholic women in her position in some sort of support group setting, whether online or in person. She is surely not the first Catholic woman (or man) out there to struggle with acceptance of sexuality in the context of a religious life. Since part of what needs to sink into your wife’s brain is that you accept her, it would be a good idea for you to go to counseling with her so that you can say and mean that.

I suspect that you may be more likely to get a good result from counseling or support groups if you do in in a secular counseling setting, where the counselor is not also a priest, but rather is free to explore sexuality topics free from church dogma. I say this because I am having a hard time seeing a priest sort of figure (really, any orthodox religious sort of figure) suggesting to your wife or you that you should go and enjoy sex rather than just procreate. Sex has to become something that is not bound up with sin and guilt before it will be something your wife can enjoy with you, and that can only be accomplished if you both relax a little and let yourselves be human rather than saints.

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Comments
  • HealingMindN

    Devoutely religious Catholic Couples always have this kind of trouble in their relationships. This is nothing new. The same mistakes are being made over and over again. Hypocrisy. Guilt. The centuries old problems keep resurfacing.

    I'm sort of an "insider." I'm Catholic. Not devoutely religious, but a devoute spiritual counselor. People need to get a handle on the sexual function because they seem to refuse the concept that it's part of nature.

    Right now, I'm asking you to raise your consciousness above the decadent attitudes around the sexual function. The sexual function is also for healing when done with the proper human intention.

    Notice I said "human" intention not animal intention, not perverted intention. Human intention is what separates human sexual function from the rest of nature. Human intention is the basis of healing and higher consciousness.

    These are the qualities you must attribute to the sexual function or else you will always believe that it's "dirty" and impressionable kids will also believe that they're "dirty" because they came from the sexual function.

    Convergence is what creates the universe. The principle of Convergence of energy streams to create galaxies, solar systems, and tornados also creates people.

    So God includes feelings of euphoria with the sexual function in humans. Did God tell you to feel guilty about that pleasure or did people clinging to their value systems like a blanket of emotional security tell you to feel guilty about that pleasure?

    Did you ever wonder if that euphoria is an indicator of something more to the human experience? In Taoist Sexology and the Kama Sutra, the sexual function is used for healing and creating spiritual closeness this has not to do with religion, but alternate approaches to healing through human intention to deepen and strengthen relationships.

    That euphoria is an indicator of higher consciousness such as that obtained through revelation, but most people don't want to think beyond the pleasure the problem is decadent western culture is not interested in higher consciousness or deeper relationships because the people are not taught that way.

    The real question remains: What do you want and what are you willing to do to achieve it? Relationships are a two way street. As for the man, he better learn how to talk with his wife this means reaching out to her with healing concepts, healing ideas, healing motives, healing intention. He needs to really communicate with her to discover how her mind works and how to lift her up in every conceivable manner.

    There's an old treatise in Taoist Sexology that it's the man's responsibility to keep the woman healthy, happy, and satisfied. I'm a deep believer in that treatise. If the man causes problems by raising up old feelings of guilt, then he has to work twice as hard to regain her love, trust, friendship, and devotion.

    You're in it, pal. You might as well be in it to win it. Look up Keys to Power Persuasion. Study it. Learn from it. Tell your wife that it's time for you both to really learn from each other and heal each other. Then you sit down and really talk with her and open up to her like your life depends on it.

    Thanks for your time.

  • Anonymous-1

    Dear Anne,

    I'd just like to make a response to what you said to the Catholic couple who wrote to struggling with their sexual (premarital) pasts. You said in your reply to them that, as you were writing as an outsider, you might be wrong about certain things and invited them to write back if that was the case.

    I thought your answer was really good in some respects, especially saying that perhaps the wife could seek support from other Catholic women in the same position, and that the couple could go to see a priest together, or go to counselling (secular or Catholic) to be able to let go of what had happened, to forgive themselves for being human. This is so profound and exactly what, I believe, the Catholic Church (and Christianity in general) is all about: forgiveness. It's not just about God forgiving us but the ability to admit we're only human, and forgive ourselves. In my experience in speaking with priests (some of them highly conservative) and going to confession, they are absolutely wonderful at emphasising this. So, being a Catholic is not quite the guilt-ridden, negative experience that you imply later in your answer.

    Perhaps it's time to let go of some of your stereotypes of priests giving everybody the fire and brimstone bit (regarding sex), because it just isn't true anymore. The Church teaching, and what I've personally heard from priests is that marital sex is actually a very beautiful thing, and that absolutely you can and should enjoy it to the fullest. We have moved on from the middle ages and have a much more positive understanding of sexuality, partly influenced by advances in study of psychology etc: it would have been nice to see this reflected in your response. Hope this helps to clarify something and there are plenty of other easy-to-find resources should you wish to educate yourself further, rather than making assumptions.

    Thank you.

  • Anonymous-2

    I feel bad that this wife has angst about her past. We've all done things in our youth that we're not super proud of. And Anne's right, once you confess and repent you're supposed to not let it bother you. So it must be she's tempted to do that again, that something in her life's triggering her desire to mess around, maybe. In a perfect world she wouldn't be tempted. And she needs to know messing around isn't the answer to all problems.

  • Jack

    I too had faced a similar but a bit different problem. My wife, before we got married, had confessed that she had several boyfriends. That time I did not want to listen further. I had assured her that this hardly matters. I married her. Soon afterwards, I began coaxing her to tell me about her experiences with others. In tidbits, she narrated some incidences of her surreptitious meetings. This aroused my curiosity and I wanted to know more and more all about it. She sensed my jealousy and refused to tell me anything more in this regard.

    Off and on I began teasing and taunting her. More bitterness ensued. Then I made a mistake of having a brief affair with an older woman who had married a second time. That time her husband was away. We never engaged in sex. However, out of compunction also to get away from her I sought a posting in another city. My wife sensed I had cheated on her. She remained calm and composed and never said anything. Little I knew she is seething with revenge. I never knew what was happening behind my back. Then one day I learnt something that had crushed me completely.

    One afternoon I came home from outstation. I found them together on one bed. They were both sleeping. To my horror, I realized that the same person my wife had been introducing to me for past three years as her cousin’s boy friend. It means she had been having an affair with him for past three years and I did not know it. A man and woman can be in such a sound sleep during afternoon only if they had been familiar with each other. I could not control myself and shook him violently out of bed. He ran away after a little scuffle. I confronted my wife and threatened to leave her. She apologized and to my surprise, I believed her that she would turn a new leaf. In heart of my heart, it was as if several desires had fulfilled. I truth was I never wanted to leave her and my children. Then ever since I married her, I had fanaticized her wriggling between the loins of another man. The man's virtual image had now turned real. However, that moment and until next day I thought it is all over. I was wrong.

    They both devised novel ways to carry on their affair for next 22 years until she died. In between many children were born and until this day I do not know whether they are mine or of that person. The children born after she met that man do not resemble me. They do bear an uncanny resemblance to him. I kept raging and fuming but I never was able to catch them red handed. I caught them many times talking but never in the act. Ten years have passed ever since and I live each day fantasizing her having sex with him in 100 different ways. That sort of pleasure is too great to give me pleasure even in sex with another woman.

    I know what went wrong. I should have reconciled with her past and best thing I could have done was to forgive her. I should not have brought up the subject after marriage to taunt and tease her. I should not have had an affair with another woman. I am telling this so that others should know what could kill their marriage.

  • Anonymous-3

    Hi Anne, I too felt your answer was mostly accurate about what the Church would say in this situation. I am a Catholic and newly married. In all of my pre-marriage counseling and classes the Church ALWAYS taught that sex is a beautiful thing between a married man and wife. There are two reasons for sex: 1. procreation (just like you said) and 2. intimacy between the couple. Sex SHOULD be enjoyed between husband and wife. The Church completely supports the enjoyment of sex. In future advise, please do not suggest that priests would advise otherwise.

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