How important is sex in a relationship? In an anonymous article from xoJane, one woman shares her struggles of not being able to be intimate with her husband over the years.
I met my husband online a few weeks before my 31st birthday.
There was nothing about his profile that would have particularly drawn me to it. He was 33, divorced. We didn't seem to have much in common, and his photo showed an average looking and very nondescript guy. But, as it was my personal policy to give anyone devoid of major dealbreakers a chance, I immediately wrote back.
We wrote each other online a few times a day for about a week, when he asked if I would like to meet up. Despite his kind of boring profile, he was witty and charming in the emails, so I felt somewhat hopeful.
Our first date was the dictionary definition of "awkward." We met at Starbucks and then walked around outside. We mostly talked about our respective exes. I don't think he laughed or smiled once. I was pretty sure he hated me. So I was fairly surprised when I got a text from him on my way home saying he had a great time and would love to see me again.
Our second date wasn't much better. I'm not sure what made me keep talking to him. I think I was just intrigued. Or maybe it was because he showed up when he said he would, held doors for me, and acted like he gave a damn. The night before we went out for the third time I confessed via text that I was wondering what it would be like to kiss him. He replied, "Oh, yeah?"
We sat in a park for hours the night of our third date, talking and drinking a bottle of Chardonnay he had brought. He forgot to bring glasses, so we just chugged from the bottle. Well, I did mostly. He was finally loosening up a little bit, even laughing and smiling a tiny bit here and there. I noticed that he was shaking and asked him a few times if he was cold. He told me later that he wasn't cold that night. He was nervous.
Eventually the wine hit me and I had to pee really bad. I said we should probably head back and find a restroom. I stalled as long as I could stand it, hoping that he would see this was his chance to make a move. He didn't. So I did.
I kissed him, and he kissed me back. It was like the movies. There were fireworks and angels singing, at least that's how I remember it. We went back to his apartment later and spent the rest of the evening making out like high-schoolers. I texted him on the way home and asked if he would like to go steady. He said yes. Smiley face.
In getting to know him better I found that we had very similar values. I liked his laid-back and positive attitude, his open-mindedness, the kindness and respect he showed to others. I thought it was unbearably cute the way the corner of his mouth would twitch when he was trying not to laugh at something I said.
Since neither of us drove, and we lived in different cities, impromptu sleepovers weren't really something we could do. I recall asking him why he didn't drive and he said he was just barely legally blind in one eye. I thought nothing of it at the time.
The evening we had planned to spend the first night together, and presumably seal the deal, we started out as usual, making out on the futon. Things quickly progressed into the bedroom, ripping clothes off in the dark. I started going down on him. I don't know how long I tried. But much to my confusion and frustration, nothing was happening.
At some point we gave up, kissed a little bit more, and then I told him I was pretty sleepy and rolled over. He asked me if I was disappointed. I hesitated a little before saying "no." He fell asleep right after that, but even though I was pretty drowsy, I did not.
I wasn't disappointed. I was devastated. Sex had always been very important to me in a relationship. It was a big part of what had ended things in my past relationships. So many questions raced through my mind. Did he know and not tell me? Was he just not that attracted to me? Was this going to be a persistent problem?
I struggled for hours, laying next to his sleeping form in his bed, wondering if I should just save myself from further pain and end things now. But ultimately I couldn't. I was already falling hard for him. I felt that as much as I may come to regret staying in this relationship, I would regret leaving even more.
The next morning we had a strained but gentle conversation. I asked him what happened. He said he didn't know, that he thought it may have just been nerves. I asked if he'd ever had issues with it before. He said he had a few years ago, but it had gotten better, and had not happened recently. That answer satisfied me for that moment, and we enjoyed the rest of our day together.
It was a little while before we tried again. He said he had spoken to his doctor about it and she suspected it was due to an antidepressant medication he was taking. She had prescribed him something that should help. My initial concerns had all but subsided by this point. He was young, seemingly healthy, and I was confident we'd get this figured out. I chalked up my initial reaction to emotions running high, and I felt happy and hopeful about the future.
The next time I stayed the night was Valentine's Day. That night I somewhat drunkenly confessed that I loved him, and he said he loved me too. I was so over the moon that it didn't even bother me when our second attempt at intercourse was unsuccessful. I was certain that things would get better in time.
Little by little, things he had said to me, and that I had noticed, began to add up. The poor eyesight. His avoidance of carbs. The blood sugar testing supplies and rows of prescription bottles in his medicine cabinet. The time he told me about when a cut on his foot had become so infected that he had nearly needed an amputation. We'd been dating a few months at that point.
I asked him point blank one day if he was diabetic. He said he was. I asked him why he had never told me. He said he didn't ever see the need to bring it up.
I soon discovered that the erectile dysfunction was not due to the antidepressants he was taking, as his doctor had first believed. It was due to complications from his diabetes. But he had also lost over 100 pounds in the year before meeting me, had been managing his blood sugar perfectly and his doctor fully expected his health issues to improve with more time.
Of course we were still sexually intimate, and he was skilled enough in other areas that our sex life was physically quite satisfying to me. Wanting to be able to have intercourse was, for me, more symbolic than anything. For him it meant a lot more.
He got a referral to a urologist shortly after I moved in with him that fall. His insurance didn't cover any treatments for ED, so each time he tried something new, he had to fork out the money himself, to the tune of hundreds of dollars each time. This made the process painfully slow, as he could only afford to do this every few months.
We tried different pills, different combinations, different doses, a vacuum pump, injections. Some of them caused a small amount of improvement, but nowhere near enough for us to consummate our relationship.
It took over a year and a half for him to work through every intervention the doctor could come up with, at no small cost. With each failed attempt the emotional toll got harder, because that meant we were swiftly running out of options. The light of hope which had been so easy to see in the beginning grew dimmer with each try. Sometimes afterward I couldn't stop myself from crying, which made him feel that much worse about the situation.
Probably the most difficult part for me was the isolation. Obviously I couldn't tell my friends or family this deeply personal and humiliating problem. They thought we had a perfect relationship, and I sort of felt like I was living a lie. I couldn't be completely honest with him about how I was feeling either because I did not want him hurting any more than he already was.
I found there wasn't much out there in terms of support. For the vast majority of men with ED, some kind of treatment will work. If there was ever anyone out there our age who was facing a lifetime with no possibility of intercourse, I certainly never came across them. I posted anonymously on relationship message boards and ED message boards asking for help in navigating these new unfamiliar emotions. I was almost unanimously told I should leave.
While we were going through the ups and downs of ED treatment options, he also began having more and more additional complications from his disease. His doctors said it didn't make sense given that his numbers were very good. He was a medical mystery. That might make for good TV, but nobody in real life ever wants to be a medical mystery.
Battling severe infections for months at a time was financially and physically draining for him. It slowly dawned on me just how sick he actually was.
He said he didn't understand why I stayed with him. He said I deserved better. That he was broken. That he didn't understand how I could possibly be happy. I realized that as difficult as this situation was for me, it was 10 times worse for him.
Eventually the only option left that could possibly fix him was to get a surgical implant. Between the out of pocket cost over over 10 grand and his difficulty in fighting off infections, we made the choice to stop trying. Once I was off the roller coaster of hope followed by disappointment, I began to be able to just accept that this was my reality. That made things easier in some ways.
I still had to fight the feelings of resentment I had for every woman he had been with prior to me who had had a chance to experience something with him that I never would. Watching sex scenes in movies, reading sex articles in women's magazines, became too painful for me to bear.
The ability to have intercourse with my significant other was always something I had just taken for granted. Giving it up for good was a major adjustment for both of us. Sometimes I would have dreams where things just magically worked, and we were able to have sex. At first waking up to realize it hadn't been real was intensely difficult. But after a while, I began to cherish these dreams.
That pain eventually faded as well. After mourning what couldn't be, I could focus on enjoying what we had. When he asked me to marry him, I said yes. Without an ounce of hesitation. We got married in front of a small group of friends and family on a beautiful sunny day in the very same park where we shared our first kiss.
I wish I could say there was a happy ending. That everything has been a cake walk since. But his health continues to decline despite every effort to contain the diabetes. Worrying about ED has given way to worrying about transplant lists, insurance issues, following the latest stem cell research closely, and tying up loose ends in case the answers don't come quickly enough.
Understandably, he still struggles with his mental health, requiring more and stronger antidepressants. The healthy sex drive he used to have is but a faint memory today. I am constantly evolving and reframing in my mind and heart what it means to be intimate, and what is required for me to feel loved and cared for by him.
I never considered leaving him because of the lack of sex. I made my choice years ago, the first night I laid next to him in bed. Despite the difficulties we have faced, and continue to face, I have never regretted making the choice I did. He is exactly who I want to be with.
Check out more great stories from xoJane:
- It Happened to Me: I'm Disinterested in Relationship Sex
- Is Withholding Sex a Thing That People Do?
- It Happened to Me: I Am in a Sexless Marriage (and I Don't Want to Be)