When we talk about passion within a relationship, we focus on quantity: how many times a week do you do it? The number counts, statistics says it all: more or less.
However, there are women among us whose experience of sexuality within their relationships is somewhere between 'I don’t want to' – 'but I have to'.
There are two parts living inside of them: the part that says that they have to, and the part that says no. The part that says "has to", knows what is the right way to keep peace in the relationship by having sex. The part that "doesn’t want to" speaks of a difficulty that is different for every woman, but it resembles in its experience of avoidance: something inside of me does not want to be touched or penetrated. The part that says "no" is the guardian that knows why it is wrong for me to have sex.
Many women live with these two parts but, since in a relationship there is usually really no room for the part asking for a 'no', they find themselves having sex unwillingly. Over the years the gap between one act and another grows and they come to the clinic because there is no sex at all, because it hurts them while having sex and sometimes because the husband feels so hurt and rejected - that the relationship is at risk.
When Daniel's husband tries to touch her, she shrinks "like there is something inside my stomach that collects all my organs into one pile and contracts". Daniel's husband is a gentle man who has been attracted to her since the day they've met but Daniel feels that contraction every time he initiate sexual intercourse "There is a part inside the stomach that pulls and contracts just like a reaction to danger" she says.
-"What is it afraid of?" I ask during the session.
-"Mostly that he will touch me, it keeps scanning the area afraid to miss something".
-"It has a huge responsibility…"
-"Yes, it is afraid, it is making sure I am not taken advantage of… that I don’t experience aggression… it serves as protection against rapists"
Listening to Daniel I sense she is experiencing post-trauma. I have known her for over a year now and I know that she did not suffer from any sexual assaults, and yet that voice inside of her is clear.
-"Since when has it been watching like this?" I ask.
-"I don’t have a recollection of a specific moment in time or any event that comes to mind, but my body holds a very strong felt sense of aggression. I feel in every cell in my body, it's as if I shoved it to the edge of the cell, of every cell in my body. Like a bodily experience, so that in each cell there is a condensed and aching part… Every time my husband comes near, it feels like he is raping me. Every single time. I can practically see it now, when he comes close, the contraction appears. The feeling is that I am being raped every time we have sex… it's a legal rape…"
Daniel, as well as Yael – who came to me with suffering from Vulvodynia – are both married to kind men who don’t understand their wives withdrawal "My husband will never do anything I don’t agree to, but this is my reaction to male energy. My role as a woman who has to satisfy… it's around sex" Yael explains "there is a legacy the woman in my family have been carrying for years," she said after remembering her parents relationship "Sex is an experience of humiliation something that I learned how to do, in order to satisfy a man, to preserve peace. I have been doing it for years." She explained "I want my husband to be with me without wanting anything from me" she says "knowing that there is a place for me in our relationship, even if I am not sexual. all I want is for him to save me from this".
Ruth, with whom I have been working for several months, says similar things when we talk about her difficulty to have sexual intercourse with her husband. "The image that comes to my mind", she says "is walking on a thin rope for so many years…"
- "What do you need, when you are in this position?" I ask.
- "To have someone on the rope in front of me who stand with me and hold it, as well. Only standing here, you can really understand what it is like; from here you can truly comprehend what I am going through".
The men of those women experience the humiliation of repeated rejection, sure that the matter is sex but, in practice, it is a much more internal injury experience. The three women say 'no' to the sexual act but in fact, in each of them the 'no' comes from a different injured place. All three need the partner's empathy and with two it has become clear that in order to heal the injured place, they need support from their man.
And what about the men?
Rejected men are often unaware of the complexity that underlies the word 'no'. They experience the repulsion on the surface as personal ("she does not want me" / "she is not attracted to me") and the refusal or feeling that the woman you are 'doing well' when she accepts them - becomes for them the heart of the relationship. From their point of view, hurting them is unbearable and every man turns the hurt inward into painful parts within him. Some feel how all this joins a move of de-legitimization to connect to sexuality, some need a process of deepening related to the male image, some turn to other women or porn - and develop a split that moves between the gap in need to realize and guilt and self-loathing - and more. Those same men experience the same distress as the women but, since the most difficult topic of conversation for us is our sexuality, the tangle is deepening. The thing is that we have all experienced, are experiencing or will experience within the relationship these places as men and women. Some for longer periods and some for short periods (around pregnancy and childbirth, medical problems, trauma and more). For most of us the sexual discourse is inaccessible within the relationship, and the social discourse examines the matter through the narrow perspective of ‘how many times a week do we make love’. All the experience of depth, loneliness, and pain that each and every one of us experiences in these moments of choosing not to have sex - is flattened in our society of statistics.
So what is the solution?
The way of listening inward refuses to give instant solutions and makes sure that every process gets deep listening. There are no magic solutions.
The avoidance of one woman is not the same as the avoidance of the other and therefore the change that will happen in the relationship is not the same.
It goes for men: the injury of one is not the same as the injury of the other, and therefore the solution that will bring healing is different from one to another. The important aspect is to listen deeply to the part that says 'no' and stop the inner hurt. The desire and agenda that we should have frequent sex within the relationship, causes many women not to listen to themselves and the part that knows why the 'no' is right for them. Listening and being interested in the part that refuses to have sex changes the inner experience from struggle to inner conversation. Change comes not from hurling mutual guilt but from prolonged contemplation of pain. Personal sexuality and marital sexuality need empathic and tolerant listening - each into its own pain.
Now is a great time to start.