In the epic breastfeeding thread below, someone brought up another Dear Prudie letter from Tuesday’s column, so let’s discuss:
Sex Is a stumbling block: My wife and I have been together for eight years. We regularly had sex until three years ago, when we got married. Almost immediately after we were married, my wife told me that we couldn’t have sex anymore as she entered therapy for abuse that her father committed to her when she was a child. I’m confused, hurt, and feel that she was less than honest entering into our relationship; it seems as though she hid this until we were lawfully wed and then it was too late for me to back out. I’ve tried to be supportive for the last three years … I’ve respected her request for abstaining from sex and physical intimacy, but although she has regular therapy and the therapist says she’s progressing, I see no end to this situation or any signs of improvement. Am I wrong to question whether this marriage is worth it or not?
A: I hope you’ve had some serious talks these past three years about why she wanted to marry you, why she withheld this crucial information, and what she feels her obligations to this marriage are. It’s terrible that your wife was abused by her father (let’s assume that is true), but she has pulled quite a switcheroo on you. As soon as you became her husband, she decided to punish you for the sins of her father. That therapist has quite a nice sinecure going: three years of payments and no end in sight since there seems to be no clear goal for this treatment. It sounds as if they’ve got you so brainwashed that you feel you’re not allowed to state that you had no intention of entering a celebate marriage and your needs are not being considered or met. I think you should insist on a joint session with the therapist, or a few sessions with a couples therapist, just to try to figure out if resuming conjugal relations is even on your wife’s agenda. If nothing changes in short order, I think the most helpful professional for you will be a divorce lawyer.
So some of Prudie’s advice is totally jacked — like insinuating that the wife might be lying about the abuse, or that she’s pulling a “switcheroo,” or that she’s punishing her husband for the sins of her father. I agree with her that ideally, the wife would have been upfront about this before these two decided to get married — sex, for a lot of people, is a Big Deal, and a necessary part of marriage, and if you are going to withhold sex upon getting married, I think you do have an obligation to tell your partner that, so that your partner can decide whether or not to continue the relationship. And since ending a marriage is much more complex than ending a non-marital relationship, best-case scenario is that you put potential deal-breakers on the table before you tie the knot. So yes, I actually do think it was kind of shitty of the wife to not bring up the whole “I’m going to want to stop having sex” thing before they got married.
That said, of course, we don’t know if that decision was even contemplated before marriage — maybe it wasn’t. And as circumstances change, so do feelings and needs. She has a right to not have sex if she doesn’t want to. That doesn’t make her manipulative or mean.
But I think where Prudie is right on this one is that it’s messed up that the husband doesn’t get to address his own needs. Does the husband have a right to demand sex from his wife? No. Does he have a right to coerce or guilt her into sex? No. But does he have a right to decide that he does not want to be in a celibate marriage, and to present that fact to his wife, and then to leave the marriage? Yes, he does, and he’s not a bad or selfish or unreasonable person for wanting a marriage that includes sex. And does she have the right to evaluate that information in deciding how she wants to proceed? Yes, she does.