Stress in marriage takes its toll on sex The facts: Young couple who'd given up their love life find that sex therapy involves talking about underlying issues, not show and tell.


February 04, 1996|By FROM LADIES' HOME JOURNAL Los Angeles Times Syndicate

"I know this sounds crazy, but after three years of marriage, Jon and I no longer make love," says Cynthia, 30, who is working in a personnel office while studying for her master's degree in psychology. "I don't mean our sex life has diminished. I mean it no longer exists -- period."

Though Cynthia claims that she and her husband -- who works as a manager in a financial services company during the day and studies for his MBA at night -- still care deeply about each other, Jon is impotent. What makes this especially ironic and poignant is that, before they married, their sex life was sizzling.

Cynthia and Jon dated in high school, shared an apartment all though their college years and married six months after they graduated. "That means almost five years of blissfully happy lovemaking," she recalls. "Sex seemed so natural back then." Though they are very different -- Cynthia is gregarious and outgoing; Jon is quiet and introspective -- they both felt they were the perfect couple.

Then, six months after their marriage, Jon began having trouble sustaining an erection. "In college, we made love at least once a day," Cynthia recalls. "But now we were employed and had busy schedules -- we were lucky to fit sex in twice a week." It didn't help that Jon really disliked his job.

Then, one night, to their horror, it just didn't work. "This had never happened before," Cynthia says slowly. "We kept trying and finally got so frustrated we just gave up." Three months later, Jon had another episode of impotence. "He was fine during foreplay," Cynthia explains, "but when he was getting ready, his erection collapsed." That set in motion a pattern that they have yet to break. By unspoken agreement, they almost never try to make love anymore.

Jon, 30, is as depressed and confused as his wife. "I don't know what's the matter with me," he says. "I'm crazy about Cynthia, and I'd do anything to be able to prove it to her physically, but I just can't seem to do it. I'm frustrated, embarrassed and scared."

Jon came for counseling grudgingly, at his wife's behest. "She knows a lot more about these things than I do," Jon admits, "but I have to tell you the whole idea of sex therapy gives me the creeps. If she and I are supposed to get into bed in front of you and, well, do a sort of show-and-tell thing, there's no way I'll go through with it."

What is sex therapy?

"Sex problems in many cases are red herrings for other issues in a marriage," notes M. Sutcliffe, a sex therapist in Clearwater, Fla. Cynthia and Jon sensed that Jon's bout with impotence is a signal of stress somewhere in the relationship -- they both suspected the pressure from work is taking its toll -- and they sought the guidance of a sex therapist to help them figure out where.

Jon was understandably apprehensive of sex therapy. He didn't understand how these experts work -- or what would be expected of him. This information helped Cynthia and Jon feel more comfortable about their choice.

* Ask your physician, clergyman, a marriage therapist or trusted friend for any recommendations they may have. Most states don't require licensing of sex therapists. However, two organizations do certify therapists: The American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists (435 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1717, Chicago, Ill. 60611) and the American Board of Sexology (1929 18th St. N.W., Suite 1166, Washington, D.C. 20009). Write and ask for a list of someone near you.

* Before you choose a therapist, speak to several. Make sure you are both comfortable with the counselor.

* Set specific goals and time frames for your progress. It may take two or three sessions to get past your initial awkwardness in talking about such personal problems. By the fourth or fifth session, you should both feel you are making progress. If not, don't bury the problem. Find another therapist.

* Sex therapy, like other kinds of marital counseling, is talk therapy -- you'll be discussing your feelings about sex and sexuality as well as your individual experiences as children, teens and adults. Contrary to Jon's fears, it does not involve any demonstrations or touching between therapists and patient.

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