Sex & Relationships

Ask Joan: No PIV Ever

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A reader writes:

My wife and I have never shared penetrative vaginal sex. We’re 66, married 35 years. Our sex life has always been limited to kissing, cuddling, and mutual masturbation. She says she wants to have penetrative sex with me one day — just not yet. I cannot help feeling that she is not being honest with me.

I met my wife through a lonely-hearts newspaper ad. Within weeks, we became sexual, but it was always mutual masturbation to orgasm, no intercourse or manual vaginal penetration. Eight years later, we married. On our wedding night, she stopped me when my penis barely began to penetrate her vagina. Any further attempts at penetration were met with resistance.

I felt like a failure. I blamed myself. I was confused by the continued rejection and felt worthless for not being a “proper” husband. What was I doing wrong? I suggested counseling, but she insisted that “things” would sort themselves out. But they never did.

How I wish that I had sought help then. I believed that she wanted to sort out things by herself and that pressuring her would be counterproductive. Also, my male pride made me too embarrassed to admit my failure.

Three years into our marriage, my wife confided to her doctor that we had never had intercourse. She also told my mother. Although embarrassing, it was a relief that the problem had been revealed. We were referred for sexual counseling, but she ended the sessions without any resolution. When my mother tactfully inquired whether we had “resolved” our problem, I said yes, to avoid embarrassment. I wish that I hadn’t hidden the truth.

My wife experienced two manic episodes requiring hospitalization. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She knew it was genetic, and in order not to pass it on to any offspring, she asked me to avoid pregnancy by not trying to have sex. Maybe I should have considered a vasectomy.

More than 10 years ago, my wife passed through menopause. With the possibility of pregnancy over, I hoped that we might resume trying to have penetrative sex. But she always objected that it was not the right time or place, or it was too cold.

Two years ago, she finally admitted that when we married, she was scared that penetration might hurt (but never tested this). She was “too embarrassed” to confide in me or seek help to address her fear. Her solution was never to have penetrative sex with me. I doubt that she considered how her decision would impact me. I think there are more issues that she hasn’t confided and seems unwilling to confront. I never sought sex outside marriage because I did not want to betray her. We do masturbate each other to orgasm.

I have no wish to leave my wife because being with her makes me happy. She is my best friend, and despite everything, I love her dearly. I have been a loving and more than patient husband, but I cannot help feeling betrayed that my wife denied us this fundamental experience. All I have ever wanted for us is a normal sex life. Is that too much to ask?

  • No Intercourse Ever

Joan replies:

Your story is terribly sad, and I don’t have a magical answer for you. Your wife has refused penetrative sex, also called “PIV” (penis-in-vagina intercourse), throughout your 43-year relationship. Though it’s not what you want to hear, I think you need to accept that PIV with your wife is never going to happen. Whether it’s fear of pain, or an unspoken issue, or simply habit by now, your wife does not want penetrative sex. I suspect that she’s happy with the mutual masturbation to orgasm that you share now, and she wishes you didn’t want more.

However — and I need you to hear this — you did nothing wrong. This is not your fault. You are not a failure or an inadequate husband. She never wanted intercourse — not when you were first sexual together, not early in your marriage, not ever. The original version of your story that you sent me was nearly three times the length that appears here. In your detailed account, it was clear that you made no blunders hoping to overcome your wife’s resistance. You respected her autonomy.

This was never an issue that your wife would or could resolve on her own, and you couldn’t help her.

Your only mistake, as I see it (other than not getting a vasectomy, which probably wouldn’t have helped anyway), was letting embarrassment prevent you from pursuing help over the decades. This was never an issue that your wife would or could resolve on her own, and you couldn’t help her. Ongoing professional help was needed. It would still be helpful, not to get her to change her mind — I see that as a lost cause — but to help you resolve your feelings.

You say you love your wife, and she makes you happy, other than this. Can you live with the sex life, love, and orgasms you have now? Can you let go of PIV as a goal? I’m not criticizing you for wanting that, please understand. But if you can’t have it — and everything you’ve said points to that — can you accept that?

 

Send Joan your questions by emailing sexpert@seniorplanet.org. All information is confidential. Joan can only answer questions that are chosen for publication from readers age 60+.

Joan Price has been Senior Planet’s “Sex at Our Age” columnist since 2014. She is the author of four self-help books about senior sex, including her award winners: “Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud about Senior Sex” and “Sex after Grief: Navigating Your Sexuality after Losing Your Beloved.” Visit Joan’s website and blog for senior sex news, views, tips, and sex toy reviews from a senior perspective. Subscribe to Joan’s free, monthly newsletter.

COMMENTS

26 responses to “Ask Joan: No PIV Ever

  1. NOW you’re complaining ? The time for complaints was in the beginning of the relationship, although “relationship” is a stretch given that a malefemale relationship leading to marriage usually involves penetrative sex, at least at the beginning. This is like the tale of the frog and the pot of water on the stove – drop the frog in a pot of boiling water and OUCH – but turn up the heat gradually, and the frog doesn’t know he’s done for until it’s too late. Your wife should be ashamed.

    1. Before we got married, I assumed that my wife’s resistance to any penetration of her vagina was a product of her Catholic upbringing (she wasn’t on the pill and didn’t trust condoms). When we got married and her resistance persisted, I should have been more courageous and sought professional help, but I naively believed her lies. Even after menopause, she kept up her deceit. I now believe that she was ill long before she was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. I let my love cloud my judgement.

  2. I am dismayed that so many of the early comments (especially from the men) suggest (rather simplistically) that I should have just ended my marriage early on. They seem to ignore that I have said that just being with my wife makes me happy. This is what attracted her to me in the first place. We had so many shared interests and those interests that we did not share she was always willing to embrace. In return, I have made it my job to make her happy. Sadly, it has never seemed like my happiness was ever much of a priority to my wife. Even before she got ill, she always found a way to do as little as possible. At first, this rankled, but over time I have reluctantly come to accept it. Nevertheless, I love my wife and would do anything for her. That is not going to change. I look forward to more constructive comments.

  3. The man who asked this question is so very, very brave! I wish I could hug him, and his wife, and tell them both that they are okay just as they are.

    What I wish for everyone is that they could know how very very unimportant PiV sex is in the grand scheme of things. I wonder what life would have been like for this couple if they had known that, unless they wanted to have their own biological children, they never actually had to have this kind of sex in order to have a “real” sexual relationship.
    I imagine they might eventually have been able to explore it, on their own timetable, in the spirit of fun. I imagine that if they’d known at the start that it wasn’t something they ever had to do it wouldn’t have felt so big and insurmountable.

    I wish they’d had the opportunity to know that they could make this choice and change their minds later (or not), without feeling shame. I wish they could have had people around them who didn’t pressure them to perform their marriage in one particular way, that they hadn’t heard that this was the only way to do it.

    Yes, PiV sex feels really good for a lot of people. But, there are other ways to feel good. There are other ways to feel satisfied and connected. There are other ways to feel whole.
    I have a lot more to say, but I’ll finish with a little story:

    I know a couple who started off having PiV sex, and, about ten years into their marriage, they had to stop having it because of various things going on with the woman’s health. They will probably never have sex that way again, and they’re okay with this.
    They’ve been married now for 18 years.
    They’re sad, especially since the husband really really enjoys that sexual activity. They do have an open marriage, and the husband has recently started enjoying PiV sex elsewhere, but they didn’t make this decision right away. It wasn’t a *need.*

    And, even though the husband is getting his physical desires fulfilled, he and his wife do still feel the loss of this connection in their relationship. But, above all, they love each other, and if opening their marriage wasn’t an option, they’re both 99.9% sure that they’d be just fine. They still tease, flirt, and enjoy each other’s bodies.

  4. Its an interesting story but i would say that the major problem here is communication. They’ve been married for 35 years and dated for 8 years before marrying. While some people do not have sex before marriage, it is usually a religious reason, but none of that is mentioned here. The fact that she refused sex for 8 years was a giant red flag. Did he ever ask her why? Did they talk about it then before marriage–that would have been the appropriate time to address it. And when she refused on their wedding night, that again, would have been the appropriate time to discuss it. Now after 43 years, his wife is still saying she’s not ready? Seriously? And he believes that?

    I highly doubt she is ever going to be ready, and I think he needs to face that. He doesn’t want to leave her, well, that leaves two other choices–he can continue on as is, or ask if she would be okay with him having sex with other women. There are plenty of places to find casual sex, and that may be a viable solution. Otherwise, well, he has tolerated it for this long, and not confronted her or discussed it in any meaningful way–and I see that as the major issue here. I wish him luck.

  5. Having a relationship is depending on so many parts, love, trust, happiness, desire, sex …So if one component is not so strong otheer component might well compensate for that. I feel sad when I hear that a man waited forever for PIV that I definitely appreciate. At the same time sexual satisfaction is in the brain. So I guess both are happy and satisfied with what they have. The most important thing is still the strong love relationship. Hard to change things after 40 years

  6. I read this when it first came out. I really appreciated the honest pain and compassion that this man shared. I really appreciated Joan’s caring answer.
    I am unable to have this type of sex due to health issues. My wife loves me and we found ways to be intimate together.
    No one should judge another. I agree that the advise given was wise. May you find ways to heal your relationship and the pain you are experiencing.

  7. I do understand and have empathy for the husband’s wants and point of view. It’s beyond difficult to go 43 years waiting for something that would seem to be a reasonable expectation. There is no blame, guilt, or shame in being a patient, respectful and loving husband. Joan’s comments are spot on. I hope this husband is able to find peace and pleasure as he comes to terms with Joan’s closing questions.

  8. Lack of PIV was an issue in my first marriage. In our case, it was painful intercourse for me (female) that I didn’t know how to explain to him as I didn’t even know why or how it was happening. My entire body would clench and NOTHING was getting in there without extreme pain. It of course made me not want to have sex (any kind, because I was so afraid of oral or other acts turning into PIV). My husband tried to be understanding but in the long run it had a large part in ending our marriage.

    I no longer have this problem and I wish I could tell you how but it resolved itself over the course of a few years.

    I’m so sorry that you’re not getting the sexual satisfaction you are craving, but I don’t think that makes your wife a bad person. Maybe try showing her this article or the comments (not the mean ones) and see if that helps open up the conversation? She just may not even know how to approach it, and I promise you she feels guilt which would make it even harder for her. Just be sure to listen with an open mind and let the past be the past.

    And I’m sure you know from Joan’s article that some people cannot have or do not ever want PIV, and that’s OK- there is plenty of fun to be had in other ways and the idea that PIV is the pinnacle of all sex is laughable patriarchal bull… but you have to ask yourself if you can accept that or if you need to move on. I have seen a few comments suggesting an open relationship. I myself am in one and have been for nearly a decade and it works really well for us, but I’m not sure I would suggest it to a couple with such big issues they need to work on.

    Also, maybe not a popular answer and I don’t know how legal it might be where you are, but if you love your wife and want to stay with her and grow older together and the sex is the only real issue… have you discussed you visiting a sex worker occasionally?

  9. I, like Barbara Streisand, am grateful for this article.

    Any medical professional would see P.I.V. in the headline (especially sorted in a category that says Sex and Relationships) and read it as Pelvic Inflammatory Disease.

    It’s good to take the time to read the entire article and know it was written from a male perspective and a man was comforted by a person experienced at resolving frustration for a man.

    I’m glad you like WordPress.

    1. Not judgemental just very direct. I feel for the man but, it would be unrealistic now to expect the situation to ever change. My guess is he us a very “nice guy” which often leads to being unhappy/disillusioned/disappointed men in life. Pointing out his mistake was not to shame or judge him, also I said nothing negative about his wife. It was a statement of fact.

      As long as he is happy 90%+ with everything else he should just let it go.

  10. Hmm. They’ve been married 35 years and are in their 60s. So they got married in the 1980s, when scientists were still viewing clitoral orgams as “immature” as described by Freud. Chances are good that neither of them had access to the understanding or language that would have allowed them to resolve this situation in a way that satisfies the husband (PIV sex.)
    There seems to be some misunderstanding derstanding among the commentary here about what a spouse is entitled to in the form of sexual access of their partner. They are entitled to nothing that partner does not willingly (not coerced or negotiated) wish to share. Period. Marriage is not a purchase and sale agreement and has not been treated as such for a very long time. It is an agreement between people to spend their lives together. There is no language in the license detailing the specifics of sexual access to each other’s bodies, so no partner is entitled to anything sexual from the other.
    That said, healthy, shame-free conversations about sex and love and intimacy would have been super helpful long before now. It is not to late to learn new things about intimacy, however, and that might be a positive course for this couple. I hope they are able to find peace and satisfaction in their relationship, because after 35 years, it is clear that they find it worthwhile to remain in each other’s company.

    1. It will come as no surprise that sex with my wife has never been a deal-breaker (I do not think we would still be together if it was). In the weeks after we first met, given the intensity of our passion, I had hoped that we would have sex. For me, it would have been the natural expression of our love for each other. I have never felt I was entitled to have sex with my wife (to answer Dawn Fortune’s comments). However, I have always felt that I was entitled to be treated with honesty. Was that too much to ask?
      On our wedding night, my wife led us up to our bedroom where we undressed (this was unusual as she had never initiated sexual activity before). I do not know why she did this when she must have known how it would end. For a long time, I felt the lack of sex in our marriage was my fault and I longed for the opportunity to put things right. It took until my wife’s revelation 2 years ago (that she was scared that sex might hurt) to ease this feeling.
      My wife professes that she loves and cares for me. Yet, whenever I have asked how her deceit could be construed as loving and caring I have only ever been met with silence. As Joan has said, my wife is not a villain but I think I deserve some honest answers. We are awaiting an appointment for couples therapy where my wife might be more forthcoming.

  11. I appreciate that this Q&A has elicited strong, emotional reactions that you’re sharing here. But let’s be compassionate towards this couple. A real person is in distress and was willing to go public with this intimate problem. His wife is not a villain — we just don’t know what she’s dealing with.

    I’d love to see commenters use “I” statements: e.g. “I personally would not stay in a marriage where PIV was denied” instead of “he should divorce his wife.” Does that make sense? Please keep commenting, but consider expressing your thoughts kindly.

  12. This sounds like Flowers In the Attic. n this version what’s been kept in the attic is this man’s life, sexuality, and his mental clarity. People should go to jail for doing something like this to people. She literally kept this man who she in essence did not love as a prisoner. I would leave that marriage that was a facade. This was very horrifying to read.

  13. As you said, Joan, this is a very sad story. I don’t see how this husband has the grace to still love this woman. In reality and legally, she is not his wife because the marriage was never consummated. He is such a better man than I because he somehow he has continued to love this woman even though she has lied to him for years by giving him false hope that penetrative sex would someday be possible when she knew from the beginning she had no intention of allowing it.
    I don’t understand why this story has made me so angry but it has. Her total selfish deceit caused this wonderful man to never have the opportunity to rear wonderful children. It’s just so unfair i feel very sorry for this unbelievably loving and longsuffering man. He has no reason to feel as though he did something wrong. I would have had to get an annulment because she went into the marriage under false pretenses and it was never consummated.

  14. Oh no!!! At the risk of my appearing as a selfish person….After a year or two where she’d persisted denying him PIV and seeing a sexual psychologist as a couple, I’d promptly get a divorce. Why going through life limping when one has both perfect legs???

  15. The first thing that springs to mind is that maybe the wife has been sexually abused in the past. She obviously has a major phobia which she is not interested in overcoming. But it seems to me that if she loves her husband it would not have been unreasonable for her to give it a try, perhaps with the help of a therapist. But as you say probably too late now.

    1. Love does not require sex as sex does not require love. There lots of deeply intimate lovely long term romantic relationships that don’t include sex. We all get the privilege of living our lives with honor and respect. Just as sex doesn’t complete us neither does the lack of it make us less whole.

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