Through a combination of shyness, lack of confidence, and going to an all-boys school, I had little social interaction with girls/women until I went to university. I met my first girlfriend (a student nurse) at a friend’s 21st birthday party when I came down. Within a few weeks, we had started a sexual relationship which quickly progressed to having sex. She was more experienced than me, but I felt pretty good about myself. Tragically, four months into our relationship and quite unexpectedly, she killed herself after failing an important exam. I was devastated but gradually realised that the relationship would probably not have lasted much longer as we had so little in common.
I met my wife after placing a lonely hearts ad in the local newspaper. Unbeknown to me, the ads section of the newspaper was circulated London-wide. So when her reply came from North London (I lived in South London) I was hesitant to get in touch. When we first met, I thought she was incredibly attractive and could not believe my luck.
I was an average-looking guy having kept myself fit at university. Although we came from different backgrounds, I enjoyed her company not least because we had so many shared interests, and looked forward to our frequent meetings. We started a sexual relationship within a few weeks, but it was always limited to kissing, cuddling, and mutual masturbation (she wasn’t on the pill and didn’t trust condoms). Any attempts at manual penetration of her vagina were always met with resistance. I assumed this was a product of her Catholic upbringing. About 3 years into our relationship, I developed glandular fever. During the enforced separation, I realised I wanted to be with her all the time and could not imagine my life without her so I asked her to marry me and we got engaged. I had hoped that having made this commitment to her we might have had sex but she was still resistant.
On our wedding night, my wife led us up to our bedroom where we undressed (this was unusual as she had never initiated sexual activity before). I was far too eager (but gentle), naïvely thinking that sex with my virgin wife would be as easy as with my previous girlfriend. I could feel that the end of my penis had gone into my wife’s vagina but she said that she wanted me to stop. Any further attempts at penetration were met with resistance. I felt such a failure and blamed myself.
Having married during term time (I was a teacher) we went for our delayed honeymoon in the summer holiday but she was still resistant and was not even willing to be naked with me in bed. After the holiday, she revealed that she had taken some lubrication thinking it might help but, inexplicably decided not to tell me. I found the continued rejection confusing and felt so worthless for not being able to be a “proper” husband. What was I doing wrong? I suggested that we should seek counselling, but she insisted that “things” would sort themselves out, but they never did. Whenever I suggested that we could be naked in bed together it was never the right time or place.
So, our sex life continued to be limited to kissing, cuddling, and mutual masturbation, but I never gave up. I even tried oral sex (which she said she did not like), but any attempt at penetration was always met with resistance. How I wish that I had sought help for our problem but I honestly believed that she wanted to sort out things by herself and that pressuring her would be counterproductive. Also, my male pride probably made me too embarrassed to admit my failure and be judged as not being a “real” man. I should probably have sought an annulment on the grounds of non-consummation but I loved her and could not imagine my life without her.
About 3 years into our marriage, my wife had her first manic episode. These episodes have all followed a similar pattern; she takes off her rings, says that she loves someone else, and wants a divorce. She leaves the marital home and stays in hotels. When this happened for the first time, I was very upset and thought it was because of the lack of sex in our marriage (I did not realise these actions were symptoms of her illness).
After hospitalisation, she seemed to recover. When, 6 months later, the second episode occurred and the same pattern was repeated, she confided to a hospital doctor (and my mother) that we had never had sex (so on some level this must have mattered to her). By now, I was even more convinced it was my fault. On her discharge, and seemingly recovered again, we were referred for sexual counselling. At the time, I was grateful that we were not seen together. In my session, the counsellor seemed satisfied with the information I gave about my previous sexual relationship. My wife ended her sessions without any resolution to the problem. I bitterly regret that I was not courageous enough to insist that we were seen together.
My mother was supportive and tactfully enquired, every so often, whether we had “resolved” our problem. After a while, to avoid embarrassment, I said that we had. How I wish that I had been honest with her rather than hiding from the truth. After my wife’s second hospitalisation, she had a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder which she had read was genetic. So, not wishing to pass it on to any children we might have, I reluctantly agreed to stop trying to have sex (not that we were) in case she got pregnant. I do not think my wife ever considered how this decision impacted me. Even my suggestion that I could have a vasectomy was rejected as not being foolproof enough. So, our sex life continued as before. Thankfully, she remained relatively stable on her medication for 20+ years but was always plagued by anxiety. She coped with this by drinking far more alcohol than she should. This did not feel like a time to seek help. Perhaps I should have sought help on my own.
More than ten years ago, my wife passed through the menopause. With the possibility of pregnancy being removed, I had hoped we might resume trying to have sex. She even bought a new vibrator and lubrication, which I suggested she might use to explore her vagina. However, I do not think she ever attempted this as she was still resistant to any penetration. Whenever I suggested that we try to have sex, it was never the right time or place.
On one occasion, when we were on our summer holiday in 2015, she suddenly appeared naked in the hallway of the apartment in which we were staying and led me to the bedroom. She had been experimenting with her vibrator and wanted me to masturbate her. This was only the second time we had been naked in bed together (including our wedding night). When I could feel that she was lubricated I gently tried to manually probe her vagina, but she was still resistant to any penetration. What was I doing wrong? I was so disappointed at yet again being denied the opportunity to show what I could do sexually. Not for the first time, I felt like a failure and blamed myself, but my wife (as always) said nothing to ease these feelings.
Starting the following year, my wife had a series of relapses (about once every 6 months for about 3 years) which each followed the same pattern of behaviour as previously described until she was prescribed the right medication to keep her stable. Afterwards, her anxiety became even worse than before but she now drinks much less alcohol. Again, this did not feel like a time to seek help. How I wish I had sought help on my own.
Three years ago during our summer holiday, I yet again raised the issue of our limited sex life. She finally admitted that when we got married (and before) she was scared that vaginal penetration might hurt (but never thought to test this). Her solution was to never have sex with me. Even though she knew that her solution would affect us both, she chose not to confide her fear to me even though she must have known that I would have wanted to help her. It was as though she just did not care. These revelations have hit me hard and I continue to have great difficulty coming to terms with them. It never occurred to me that my wife could be so callous and uncaring. 6 months later, I started to experience erectile problems. My doctor prescribed medication which thankfully relieved the problem. During a follow-up consultation, I disclosed that my wife and I had never had penetrative vaginal sex. Subsequently, he arranged sexual counselling for her.
These (online) sexual counselling sessions must have been effective as she started to allow me to touch her more intimately. I think this has made masturbation for her much more pleasurable; she climaxes more often than not. Afterwards, she sometimes allows me to manually probe her vagina a little. She also told me that she had probed her vagina with her vibrator sometime since her revelation, adding that it had not hurt despite not using any lubrication.
My wife and I have known each other for nearly 44 years. When we first met, I quickly realised that just being with her made me happy. In return, my love for her has always been unconditional. By contrast, my wife has always seemed to prioritise her happiness over mine and sees no problem with leaving nearly all the household duties to me. At first, this rankled, but I have reluctantly come to accept it over time. Even so, when she was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder I did not hesitate to continue looking after her. I have never tired of her company. She is my best friend and, despite everything, I love her dearly; there are still so many positives to our relationship. I appreciate that during our marriage (and before) her irrational fear of the pain of vaginal penetration must have felt real for her. She says she was “too embarrassed” to tell the sexual counsellor (after her second hospitalisation) about her fear. For the same reason, (which I do not believe) she also chose not to tell me. I always felt the lack of sex in our marriage was my fault and I longed for the opportunity to put things right. My wife never said anything to ease these feelings (until her revelation 3 years ago).
I now realise that when we married (and at other points in our marriage) and sex did not happen I should have been more courageous and insisted we seek professional help. However, when my wife said that “things” would sort themselves out I naively believed she was telling the truth. I had no idea that she was capable of such callousness and deceit. She has always been very secretive in the lead-up to an episode. So, I suppose she may have been ill even when she appeared well. I let my love for her cloud my judgment. In the weeks after we first met and given the intensity of our passion (we could not keep our hands off each other), I had hoped that we would have sex. For me, it would have been the natural expression of our love. I have never felt I was entitled to have sex with my wife. However, I think as a loving and caring partner/husband, I was entitled to be treated with honesty. Was that too much to ask?
I cannot help feeling betrayed that, by choosing not to share her fears with me, my wife has denied us this fundamental experience. She professes that she loves and cares for me. Yet, whenever I have asked how her callousness and deceit could be construed as such I have only ever been met with silence. It is hard to discern that she has ever experienced any “embarrassment” or regret for what she has done. All I have ever wanted for us is a normal sex life - is that too much to ask for?
Even though she says she wants to have sex with me one day (just not yet) I cannot help feeling that she is still not being honest with me. She has proved to herself that painless vaginal penetration is possible but I still feel that, apart from the fear of the penetration itself, there are more issues that she seems unwilling to confront; not least her reluctance to be naked with me in bed. I have always respected my wife’s autonomy. Was it unreasonable of me to expect that she would respect mine? I now know that my wife chose not to have sex with me before and after we got married. Only she knows why she also chose not to tell me the reasons. It is disappointing to realise just how unimportant my feelings were/are to my wife. What should I do?