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Husband Feels "Burned Out" Sexually

QUESTION: I am writing in desperation. I am 32-years-old and my husband is 35. We've been married 11 years and have suffered through 10 years of infertility. My husband constantly says that he feels burned out on sex after being forced to have sex on demand all these years. We have made love only five times in the past two years. I love him and will stay married to him, but I just don't know where to turn. Could you please give me some direction?

ANSWER: Infertility can dampen the flames of passion in any relationship. But you are experiencing a double whammy as parenthood also curtails spontaneity in a marriage and particularly in the area of sexuality. You may feel especially deprived if the two of you did not take any significant breaks from trying to conceive during those ten years. It is recommended that after six months of "trying", couples take off at least one month in order to recover their romantic rhythm with each other before continuing to limit sex to a procreative focus.

After 10 years of sex "on demand" and now the reality of parenthood, it is no wonder that your sexual relationship is flagging. Your husband may be expressing the grief over lost spontaneity in your sex life. And you may represent the voice for reviving the romance. Both of you hold important aspects of recovery from the part of the relationship that was lost. Feelings of inadequacy may be prevalent for your husband or yourself. And the two of you may benefit from speaking with other couples who have experienced infertility in their relationships. Community groups like "Resolve" may help you get in touch with other couples going through phases of infertility in your area. Or seeking marriage counseling to express these feelings may help shed light on ways to recover romance in your marriage at this juncture.

It is possible to re-romanticize your relationship. Trace back to memories of when you first met. What kind of attraction did you experience for one another at that time? It will be helpful to uncover what kind of sexual relationship you enjoyed before trying to conceive so that you will be clear on whether you are trying to recover what was there, or whether it is the case that your sexuality had not developed strongly beforehand. After all, you had only been married for one year when you began trying to have a child. This assessment will help you appreciate the development of sexuality in your marriage and allow you to focus in on what is needed now.

Slowly allow yourselves to become reacquainted sexually. Masters and Johnson's "sensate focus" exercise is one way you might start. Begin by setting the scene in a manner that is romantic to you both -- candlelight, soft music and no children around! Take a bath together by candlelight. Plan on not having sex, but simply exploring each others' bodies in a relaxed and pleasurable way.

When you are ready to leave the bath, take turns focusing on sensuality only, by having one partner lie down, first on the stomach and then on their back ... allowing the other partner to caress your body in a way that he or she thinks might feel good to you. But avoid genitals and breasts at this time as they are areas of too much arousal towards sexual expression. Keep it slow and sensual. Give feedback to your partner of what feels pleasurable, how you like being touched. and how you do not like being touched. Take about 20 minutes and then exchange places. The purpose of this exercise is simply to become acquainted with the range of pleasurable sensation through touch and to learn about your own and your partner's pleasure at this time.

Be clear from the start that you are merely reawakening the sensual part of your relationship without pressure to have sex. If you have sex immediately following the sensate focus exercise, you have sabotaged the purpose of the experience and you will not be able to trust it as a vehicle for this kind of safe and slow exploration. In time you may decide to allow genitals and breasts to be included and later may feel a desire to move the experience to a sexual level. But do not undermine your efforts to thoroughly explore the sensual before sexualizing the experience.

You have been through a lot together. Take time to recover your sensuality and tenderness with each other. Go on dates. Have fun! You must carve out time together that is unencumbered for your relationship to breathe. Take it slow and create an opportunity to recover and rebuild your passion together.


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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