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"I Feel Numb to my Husband's Touch"

QUESTION: My husband and I have been married for five years and I have not enjoyed our sex life. Recently, I decided to express my desires and fantasies to him. There has been a lot more sex, and it has been better, but deep down, I feel dirty and wrong to be fantasizing about these things. I have never had an orgasm while having sex, and even with us being increasingly more open and trying new things, I never even feel like I am getting close. I feel numb to my husband's touch! Please help.

ANSWER: The good news is that you have a willing partner to help you explore your sexuality. The emotional dilemma that stems from enjoying sex at the cost of feeling "dirty" is a common one endemic to our culture. But there is no reason why you cannot learn to explore and deepen your physical enjoyment with your husband, instead of "turning off."

If you are able to reach orgasm through masturbation, you likely do not have any physical problem which would get in the way, such as adhesions of the clitoris. Masturbation is a good way to discover and relate to your own sexuality if you are timid about bringing your passion forth with your partner. Lonnie Barbach's book "For Yourself," or others like it on the market, may help as it guides you through exercises for developing a positive relationship to your sexuality. If you are unable to reach orgasm on your own or with your husband, consider a consult with your gynecologist to assess whether there is any physical cause for this problem.

It is likely that you have discovered at least some of the reason for your inability to enjoy your sex life. If you are at odds with your fantasies, consider changing them toward what you feel constitutes a healthy and acceptable fantasy. You might also read my article "Clearing the Roadblocks to Sexual Intimacy," which can help you develop ideas for desensitization to sex, in general. In this article, the "sensate focus" exercise can gradually develop your sensuality with your husband, before having sexual intercourse.

Unfortunately, women and men are given conflicting messages about sexuality. Desensitizing ourselves to physicality is one of the first steps toward sexual enjoyment. Try walking around naked in the house, taking candle light baths together and/or massaging each other in the nude. Initially, don't follow these activities with sexual intercourse.

Other physically sensual activities, such as belly-dancing, jazz dance classes or Hawaiian hula dancing may also provide you the opportunity to sensually inhabit your body.

If after trying many of these approaches, you remain "numb" to your husband's touch, or if you find that doing these activities are disturbing to you, consider consulting a therapist knowledgeable in sexual development. Therapy can help you explore whether there were any tense or traumatic sexual experiences in your childhood or adolescence which might have resulted in a dissociation from your own sexual nature.

Keep in mind that although dissociating from sexuality can be a direct result of physical sexual abuse, it can also be caused by sexual associations or tensions that were not physical, but emotionally present in your childhood development. Visits to a psychotherapist can effectively assist you in "exorcising" these disturbing associations and ultimately reclaiming your body as your own.


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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