"We've Been Married Seven Years -- and We've Never Had Sex"

Can this marriage survive Natalie's painful sex experiences and Brad's frustration?
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Her Turn

"We've Never Had Intercourse"

"Everyone thinks I have the perfect life," said Natalie, 33, an advertising account manager who has been married for seven years. "And in many ways I do. My husband, Brad, and I like our jobs, and we just bought a new house. We vacation in the Caribbean, enjoy a large circle of friends, and have season tickets to our hometown basketball team, the Philadelphia 76ers. We get along great, except for one huge problem: We've never had intercourse. I'm actually still a virgin. 

"It's not by choice. It seems my body won't let me have sex. Whenever we attempt it, I experience immediate muscle tightness and an excruciating burning sensation. I don't know what's wrong. It can't be structural, because I don't feel pain during gynecological exams. It's not low sex drive, either. I'm attracted to Brad and have orgasms from other sexual activities.

"As far as I can figure out, nothing in my background can explain this problem. I'm the younger of two children in a middle-class family. My dad was a department-store manager, and Mom was a sales associate there. I never felt particularly close to either of them. Dad was emotionally distant, and my mom was overly sensitive. I often felt neglected because they lavished all their attention on my older sister, who was born with severe cerebral palsy and had to be institutionalized from birth. They spent most of their free time working for an advocacy organization for parents of children with CP. I grew up pretty much on my own. Whenever I'd complain, my mom would tell me to stop whining. 'Be grateful that you're healthy,' she'd snap. 'Your sister has it a lot worse.' She explained the facts of life to me when I was 13 and told me not to have sex until I was much older. That was our only discussion on the subject.

The "Right" Man

"In high school, I wanted to have sex with my boyfriend, but when he tried to enter me, I felt the same symptoms I feel with Brad, so I asked him to stop. Around this time my best friend, who had just lost her virginity, told me how much sex hurt. This confirmed my own limited experience -- and increased my nervousness. A few years later I felt the same intense pain with another boyfriend and we, too, never had sex. Since I enjoyed other sexual activities, I convinced myself that someday I'd be able to have intercourse. 

"I met Brad 11 years ago at the advertising agency where we both worked. I was 22; he was 25. I was drawn to him right away -- he was handsome and full of energy. And we had common interests -- sports, movies, mountain biking. Brad was a true romantic: He'd leave sweet cards on my desk and surprise me with a tape of love songs. Once, for my birthday, he whisked me off to a resort in New England.

"We were madly in love, so after six months I disclosed my secret -- and prayed he wouldn't lose interest. Brad, who'd had many sexual experiences, reassured me by saying, 'Maybe you haven't met the right man yet.' 

Continued on page 2:  Her Turn, continued

 

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