This week we invite sex addiction counselling experts Dr Barbara Steffens and Richard Blankenship back to answer more community member questions. The focus this week is how much sex a recovering addict should be expecting with his spouse and should we believe our husband when he says giving up masturbation isn't possible?
Sex in Recovery
My husband has given up porn and masturbation for almost a year— but he wants to have sex every night with me. Is that normal? Is it healthy?
Richard: First – congratulations to your husband on his victory over porn and masturbation. The answer to both of your questions is “it depends.” What is the relationship like outside of the bedroom? During this year of sobriety from porn and masturbation has your husband worked with you on non-sexual expressions of intimacy? If so, he may be developing a normal and healthy desire for you as his wife, friend, and lover. If this is the case this may be a very healthy sign. Spouses sometimes fear that they are being used as a replacement for their husband’s addiction. Being desired by your husband is great. Sexual activity can be a bonding and healing experience when it is an expression of a deep intimate connection.
As a spouse, it will be important to listen to your gut. How safe do you feel? I’m not suggesting that you create tests for your husband. It’s okay to say yes and its okay to say no to sexual activity with your husband. You have been through a time of devastation and trauma. During the first year, it’s hard for a couple to be in sync all the time. If you need more time to heal it’s okay to speak up. Some couples need help with sexual reintegration in the marriage. Seek help from a sex therapist who understands sexual addiction and relational trauma. When I work with couples I remind them of a principle from Song of Solomon – she invites him into her garden. Open yourself up gradually as you feel safe, hopeful and intimate.
Can't Stop Masturbating?
My husband has given up porn, but is still masturbating. He says he can’t give that up. Do you think that’s true (please note that I am not having sex with him at this time due to feeling very unsafe with him for multiple reasons).
Barb: Thanks for this question! I can tell you are not comfortable with your husband’s answer about not being able to (or in his words, he “can’t”) give up masturbation after stopping his use of porn. It sounds like there are other things you aren’t comfortable with, as you say you are “feeling very unsafe with him for multiple reasons.” So that is where I am going to start. You aren’t feeling safe. Regardless of what your spouse says he can or cannot do, you are not feeling safe. I would imagine that his answer about masturbation only contributed more to that feeling.
I’m wondering when your husband says, “I can’t”, are you hearing him really say “I won’t” — a refusal to your request?
I’m no medical doctor, but I imagine men all over the world are able to stop masturbating- to not engage in that behavior. So I doubt it is true that he “can’t” stop. I imagine if he’s engaged in the behavior for a long time, it’s not easy to stop, but it’s not impossible.
So that leaves the question- what do you need? What do you need to feel safe in the relationship? Since you are feeling “very unsafe” what would you request your spouse consider doing to help improve that? Are there times you feel emotionally unsafe, physically unsafe, or sexually unsafe? Perhaps work with a therapist or a coach to help you identify what you need to feel safe in the relationship.
Rather than argue with your spouse about whether or not he “can” give up masturbation, perhaps share your heart with him about the matter (if it feels safe enough to do so). Perhaps saying something like “When you tell me you can’t give up masturbation, what I hear is ‘masturbation is more important to me than you feeling safe in our relationship’ and that leaves me feeling sad and hurt. It doesn’t help me feel safe or trust you again.” How he responds will give you information. An open heart will seek to understand you and your heart’s needs.