Ask Debby Herbenick | My wife makes me beg for sex

Debby Herbenick answers your most penetrating sex questions. This week: An unwilling wife, an aspiring sex educator

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Q I’m a 44-year-old woman; I’ve had several friends through the years ask me for tips on oral sex. I’m comfortable talking about sex, but I’ve come to find that isn’t true with most people. I’ve been thinking about hosting classes on oral sex for women. But is not being in the medical field a problem? Are there specialized classes for this type of thing? I think sex is important, not only for the marriage, but for your own well-being. I guess I’d like to bring that to others, if I could.
A
I have a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in this stuff, so I took a bunch of classes about sex—but none about technique. Everything I know about technique I learned from reading books, talking with people, interviewing people, trial and error(!), and from applying knowledge I learned in classes (i.e. about anatomy and sexual response). Most medical doctors receive little to no training about sexual topics in med school, which is one reason many of them aren’t sure how to respond when their patients ask about sexual concerns. As such, I don’t think being a doctor (whether Ph.D. or M.D.) matters when it comes to teaching sexual technique. If you are comfortable talking about sex and have information to share, you could likely enhance many people’s sex lives. That said, you may find that learning about sex helps you to share more accurate information. Try reading evidence-based books about sex and bodies such as The V Book (Bantam, $17) and Coping with Premature Ejaculation (New Harbinger, $14.95) for starters. You might also attend sex workshops such as those at Early to Bed (5232 N Sheridan Rd), g boutique (2131 N Damen Ave, boutiqueg.com) or the Pleasure Chest (3436 N Lincoln Ave) to learn how sex educators present information, how they facilitate conversations and maybe even to learn a few new things yourself. Over at DodsonandRoss.com, I’d also recommend picking up a copy of Betty Dodson’s Viva La Vulva DVD, which features her workshops with women about masturbation and vulvas. Finally, consider connecting with the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists for a community of sex educators, many of whom started out in a grassroots way like you’re describing. I would love to see more bright, committed sex educators in the world!

Q I use a pessary—can it be left in during sex?
A It depends. A pessary is a device that is often made of silicone and that supports the vagina, bladder, uterus and/or rectum (sadly, these parts sometimes need support in our older years as they start to “drop,” which is called prolapse—symptoms can include urinary incontinence or difficulty emptying one’s bladder). Most pessaries that I’m aware of can be left in during intercourse. Sometimes doctors recommend removing them, though, depending on the type and various health factors. As such, women who are sexually active in a vaginal kind of way—meaning that, whether during masturbation or sex with a partner, they accept fingers, a penis or a sex toy or other object into their vagina—should let their health-care provider know so that he or she can make sure to choose a compatible pessary. Women often have other questions about pessaries, too, such as what to do if they have vaginal bleeding from it, how to clean it and how often, and more. These are good questions to ask your doctor.

Q I am 28, my wife is 26, and over the last 18 months she has completely lost her sex drive. I have to beg for it. Nothing works: flowers, romantic dinners, back rubs—basically nothing that used to work helps now. She has no interest in sex at all and views it as a chore. The only thing that gets her in the mood is porn. We’re in a routine where about once every four to six weeks she feels guilty enough to have sex with me. She still enjoys it when we finally get around to doing it, but she doesn’t really ever get into it as a partnership experience. It’s more of a are-we-done-yet kind of thing. Can you offer any advice to increase her libido? I thought a book might also be a good idea; would your book touch on this subject or could you recommend one? I just do not know what to do anymore and am extremely frustrated.
A In long-term relationships, desire ebbs and flows. But 18 months is a long time to have zero desire for sex and a very long time for you to feel as though you have to beg for it. I can understand why it would frustrate and sadden both of you. Yes, there may be parts of my book, Because It Feels Good (Rodale, $16), that will help both of you—I would recommend you read it together (especially the first chapter, which is about preventing and addressing “cycles of dread” with sex). Reclaiming Desire (Rodale, $16) is another option. If you read a sex book together, though, I would suggest that you frame this as a way to reconnect and to figure out how to have the marriage and sex life that you both want. If you approach it as “we need to figure out how to get you to want me again,” it may feel like yet another way to pressure her into sex. In fact, while reading together, you might make a deal that under no circumstances will you have sex over the next month (this “ban on intercourse” technique is discussed in Because It Feels Good). It may sound contrary to your goals, but it can take the pressure off and free you both to focus on reconnecting. For many couples, it’s an integral part of finding pleasure again. That said, books are not always enough, especially for long-standing difficulties. You may find it helpful to meet with a sex therapist together—find one through sstarnet.org. She may benefit from having a safe space to talk with a professional about how she feels, not only about sex but about you and your marriage. Maybe there are relationship dynamics that aren’t apparent to either of you that are getting in the way of your ability to connect and feel close or intimate. One woman I know ultimately felt her loss of desire was linked to the fact that her husband wanted her to check in with him for all purchases she made, which made her feel like a kid rather than a sexy adult. Another woman had the opposite experience—she felt like her husband was irresponsible and her sense that she needed to nag him all the time to get things done (e.g., take out the trash, put away his laundry, brush his teeth before bed) made her feel more like his mom than his partner. Too often, couples wait years to seek help and sometimes it’s too late. Don’t let that happen to you.

Debby Herbenick, Ph.D., M.P.H., is a research scientist at Indiana University, sexual health educator at the Kinsey Institute and author of Because It Feels Good: A Woman’s Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction. Send letters to Debby Herbenick, Ph.D., c/o Time Out Chicago, 247 South State Street, 17th floor, Chicago, IL 60604, or send e-mail to inandout@timeoutchicago.com.


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