I dont want to have sex with my husband any more

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A reader who married as a virgin finds sex burdensome, but doesnt want to divorce. Mariella Frostrup says she needs to take control of her physical needs to reignite the passion

The dilemma Im a 38-year-old lady of Muslim background, but barely practising. I married as a virgin and had an active sex life in the early years, usually initiated by him. I didnt orgasm much, but the process was enjoyable and there was a sense of duty to fulfil his sexual desires (engraved in my head as a good Muslim wife). After 11 years of an untroubled marriage, and a now five-year-old, the sex became a duty, then a burden.

He associates sex with love and tells me Im being selfish and controlling. Im a highly qualified professional who took a career break and Ive always been in
a strong position in this marriage. I decide where we live, how to manage our finances and where to go on holiday. He has always been kind (when not asking for sex), generous and responsible.

I dont want to end up a divorced single mum. I feel guilty, but cant get myself aroused by him any more. I do have sexual desires concerning other men, but Ive never acted on them. How do I get my sexual life back to normal?

Mariella replies The million dollar question: does a relationship die of natural causes when instinctive desire departs? If thats the case, wed all be better off embracing short-term contracts rather than committing till death us do part. You offer plenty of detail on what you perceive to be contributing factors to your loss of sexual appetite, but whether you are Muslim, Christian, Jewish, atheist or of any other belief system, having sex with the same person over a lifetime eventually gets to be a chore. Indeed, if there was a religion that could take the tedium out of long-term coupling, wed all be converts.

Sex is like cooking dinner: no matter how enjoyable the end product, there are days, months and even years when you dont feel like putting in the effort. Anyone in a long relationship knows its hard to maintain the shudder of anticipatory eagerness when you know exactly what comes next. For you, it may be even more of a challenge to entertain the prospect of intercourse having rarely enjoyed a climax. Foreplay and the pleasure of anothers touch can only take you so far. Taking control of your sexuality and understanding your own needs are as important as providing for your partner. It would appear that years of dutiful compliance have worn you down, and at least half of that responsibility has to go to you.

Your husband sounds like a decent, understanding man who has failed to read your mind. Youve gone from doing what was required to a full shutdown and, judging by your letter, with not much in between. That makes you neither unusual nor unreasonable. Its no surprise youre looking at other men with interest they represent possibility rather than routine and that unpredictable element is often enough to make us think weve rediscovered our mojo.

But, unless you find a lover who instinctively understands your physical needs or wants to play instructor, soon enough, when the smell of his sweat and the feel of his lips become predictable, youre right back to square one. Control isnt nearly as sexy as pure abandonment and it may be that you need to learn to let go. Im no sex therapist, but if youre hell bent on being at the helm on every detail of your domestic lives it doesnt leave much room for surprises.

Then again, sex is never just sex. Expressing physical passion and withholding it is part of any relationship and is as much about control as choosing your family vacation. You can, of course, run away with someone who offers more in the sexual satisfaction stakes, but I wonder if initially you need to do some work yourself before any change will occur. If you want to remain a family unit then sex is part of the package, unless you and your husband decide youd prefer a less inclusive deal.

Despite the messaging in our hyper-sexualised society, its not the sexiest of worlds out there. Eroticism is generally something we have to create for ourselves and whether you turn to sexy films, or stories, time alone in your bedroom or active participation in achieving sexual satisfaction, theres a lot you can do for yourself.

I cant magically make you feel aroused by your husband, but I can urge you to delve deeper into your own desires, discover what does turn you on and try to bring that sense of adventure and excitement back into your bedroom. As any sex counsellor will tell you (and youd do well to see such a professional), making time for romance and finding a different role to play in the bedroom from the one youve played in the boardroom might help change the status quo.

If you dont want to move on, or redefine your marriage as a friendship, appreciating your husbands positive virtues and developing new ways to ignite old passions is the only alternative.

If you have a dilemma, send a brief email to mariella.frostrup@observer.co.uk. Follow her on Twitter @mariellaf1

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/jul/02/dear-mariella-i-dont-want-sex-with-my-husband