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Understanding Intimacy: Trying to Help 

Dear Dr. Jane,

My wife has some severe hangups about touching herself, me touching her, and generally anything that isn't traditional intercourse. Unsurprisingly, she's never had an orgasm. We talked about it one night last week in our tent when we were camping at Elk Lake. For the first time in our relationship, she told me the reasons that she's been so uncomfortable with a lot of things that I think are normal parts of a healthy sex life..

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She said that back in college, when guys would touch her, they were too rough. It didn't feel good and it often hurt her. In many ways, the experiences were traumatic. She wasn't raped or anything like that, but she wasn't treated with the kindness and gentleness that she really needed then. Lots of times she would get some kind of problem afterwards—like a yeast infection or urinary tract infection. It gave her a bad feeling about many aspects of sex. 

I asked her if I could just cup my hand and put it on the outside of her body without doing anything else. I wanted to start to break down the idea that all touch is painful or dirty. She was OK with this. She even seemed happy that I tried something new.

What else can we do? Is this something that can only be solved with therapy?

From,

Trying to help

Dear Trying, 

How lovely that you held your hand over her body with her consent and that you listened to her tell you about what had happened to her when she was younger.

Honestly, there are so many things that have happened to so many of us (men, women, non-binary humans) that have hurt us energetically, physically, emotionally. It's very tough for us to RELEASE these things so that we can OPEN to what we really desire and SHARE with a partner. This is what I teach my clients to do when we work together.

Your question about therapy is a good one. I'm really impressed that you've started connecting intentionally—listening and taking a slow, measured approach to physical intimacy. Bravo! This is the beginning of real openness for you both. 

One thing that I'd recommend is that you frame her previous experience differently in your own head, if possible. When you hold the words "hang ups" (even without sharing those words out loud) you're sending that energy out to your wife. She's been hurt by the clumsiness of young sex partners and her body remembers.

I hear you say that she has hang ups and that they are keeping her from having the pleasure she deserves. In my view, you'll both be better served to re-frame her experience differently.

Maybe think to yourself these words: "My beautiful wife has been touched by other people who've hurt her. I love her and want to bring her gentle and pleasurable touch in a trauma-informed, consent-based way. I am honored to be here for her to help her let go of the past. I want her to experience real connection with me in a way that feels good. Something she can trust."

I hear that's what you did/are doing and that you wish very much to help her feel more comfortable with you sexually. This is so good, so kind, a great beginning. A relationship with a sex therapist or other sex expert such as a well-trained sex coach could support that as long as it doesn't pathologize her experience. 

Her body is responding exactly the way it should based on what's happened in her life. 

Good luck. This is important stuff. 

Xoxo, 

Dr. Jane

Note: This question and answer are taken and modified from a question I answered on the reddit deadbedrooms subthread during a recent Ask Me Anything.

The takeaway here is that what we think about our partner's sexuality and their responses is almost as impactful as what we say out loud. We send all sorts of signals to each other through eye contact, body language and energy. When you hold your partner with compassion—even in your head—you're on your way to a beautiful connection that'll feed you both. 

—Dr. Jane Guyn (she/her) is a well-known relationship coach who received her Ph.D. in Human Sexuality and is trained as a Professional Sex Coach and Core Energy Course.  She's the author of the Amazon #1 Bestseller, "Too Busy to Get Busy" and has been passionately married to her best friend for over 30 years. You can find her at howtofixmysexlife.com. Send her your questions at thesource@drjaneguyn.com.

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