From my column in Body+Soul
Question: "I've just turned 60 and have been married over 35 years to a very good lady who loves me, but over the years has lost interest in sex. These days, she would happily have no sex at all, and so my advances are almost entirely rebuffed. The problem is I can’t find release myself – I’m not able to masturbate (perhaps my Catholic upbringing has locked in some guilt that stops me). My question has two parts: Is having regular erections without release bad for my health (eg my prostate)? And then… what can I do? If I can’t change my wife’s mind or learn to self-pleasure, I’m afraid I’ll start looking outside my marriage."
Answer: First up, there is no conclusive scientific evidence that men need to ejaculate for their prostate health, some studies even indicate the opposite. So, let’s get that myth out of the way and turn to the more interesting part of your question. Better still, let’s turn it around and ask the real question – why sex? There are many reasons why we desire sex. Two of the main ones are: (1) we’re feeling horny and want an orgasmic release, and (2) we want to have a pleasurable, connecting experience with our beloved. Sometimes the two can happen at once, in which case if our partner is feeling similarly inclined, or can be seduced into feeling that way, then all good, we can have a lovely satisfying sexual encounter with that person.
But, if we’re feeling aroused and our partner isn’t and doesn’t want to engage, then what do we do with that arousal? Well, that’s actually our own issue, not our partner’s. A lot of people are confused about this issue, they think their partner is responsible for their sexual satisfaction. That only applies to the second kind of desire above, one where both partners are wanting to engage in a mutual encounter. If only one does, particularly if the drive is simply for orgasmic release, that’s where solo sex comes into the picture.
A healthy sex life incorporates partnered sex and solo sex. They are two different things. Solo sex is not the fall-back position when you can’t get ‘the real thing’. Partnered sex is for when you both want a mutually enjoyable encounter for pleasure and connection. Solo sex is when you are aroused and just want an orgasm, particularly if your partner doesn’t or can’t. Now, the suppression of sexuality by religion over the past few millennia has really confused a lot of people. The whole ‘masturbation will make you blind’ kind of thinking can get deep into our unconscious and make us really believe that it’s bad and make us feel guilty for wanting to touch our own bodies!
It feels good to touch our genitals. It’s relaxing and reassuring and rejuvenating! Our hands reach to exactly the right length to enable this and the dexterity of our hands and fingers means that we can give ourselves just the right kind of stimulation to provide wonderful pleasure and orgasmic release. Add to that our brilliant minds with all the memories we can recall and fantasies that we can create, and you have the perfect combination for a great solo experience that will make you feel calm and relaxed, and will no doubt also reduce the pressure you are probably putting on your wife.
Which brings me to the second part of this question – how to get your wife interested. I see so often in clinic that if one partner is very needy of sex, it pushes their partner away. Neediness and pushiness are not sexy. Pressure is the biggest turn-off. If you want your wife to join you in sexual connection, you need to entice her. You need to find out what would engage her, how she would like to be approached and what she would find pleasurable. It’s going to be a lot easier for you to do that if you’re not desperate, thanks to having a healthy solo sex life.
If you’re really struggling with this, I recommend you get support from a well-qualified Sex Therapist like myself. But see how you go and try gradually getting used to pleasuring yourself. Use your mind to involve your wife in your fantasy thoughts, and allow yourself the pleasure of orgasmic release while imagining her involvement. Then, at a later time, have a chat with her about how you love the connection and pleasure and tenderness of making love with her, and how you would like to reinvigorate your love life in a way that would bring her satisfaction and strengthen the beautiful bond you have.
Can you see how this relaxed, mutual, and enticing approach will be more likely to engage her in conversation and through that to cuddles, kisses and beyond!