What If We Physically Can’t Have Sex?

The bulk of my writing and speaking on sexual intimacy in marriage is aimed at married couples who physically are able to have sex.

You wouldn’t have to read my blog for long to see that I am trying to inspire, encourage or send a wake-up call to those marriages where sex isn’t what it could be, typically because one spouse has become complacent or has refused to address struggles that they could resolve with some effort.

But I am not blind to the reality that for some couples, there are physical challenges preventing their sexual connection.

Maybe it is something serious like a chronic illness or disease or a disabling injury. In some cases, a spouse may be facing a terminal illness.

In other instances, aging, hormonal changes, ongoing medical conditions, side effects from prescription medications and/or general decline in health have made the actual act of sexual intercourse difficult or impossible.

What if you physically can’t have sex? Here are my three suggestions:

1. Have you explored all sources of help?

Understandably, in the case of serious or terminal illnesses or injuries, restoring sexual intimacy is not a priority.

The loving priority in these situations is comfort, pain relief, coping, etc.  For example, if someone has been in a serious car accident, sexual intercourse may never be possible again, depending on the extent of the injuries. If someone is struggling with a serious disease, understandably the focus is likely on medical treatment and comfort.

However, for other health conditions or physical challenges that are affecting sexual intimacy, there may be hope and help that you have yet to discover or consider.

Painful sexual intercourse for a woman because of vaginismus or hormonal changes possibly can be resolved with medical treatment or use of artificial lubrication.  Sheila Gregoire did a wonderful series on vaginismus and I included a link to those posts here.  I have reviewed artificial lubricants and you can find those posts here and here.

Your doctor may have other suggestions to relieve vaginal dryness during intercourse. As far as erectile dysfunction, sometimes this can be resolved through medications, losing excess weight, and/or discussing with a doctor possible causes and treatments.

Sometimes the physical changes that start to negatively impact sexual intimacy are gradual, and you and your spouse may drift into thinking “this is just how things are now.”

Or because the changes have to do with the sensitive topic of sex, you may feel embarrassed or awkward discussing the struggle. Instead, you and/or your spouse may pretend there isn’t really a problem or may make up excuses to not be intimate.

I’m not denying that it takes courage to shed light on sensitive topics. Having dialogue with each other as husband and wife and/or having open discussions with doctors, other health care providers or counselors may feel overwhelming.

But it’s the wise and healthy thing to do. It just is.

So be sure you have truly explored all sources of help before determining that sexual intercourse is physically no longer an option.

2. Have you learned to redefine your physical sexual connection?

If you have explored remedies and/or solutions to no avail and sexual intercourse is indeed off the menu, then it may be time to redefine your sexual connection.

Could oral sex and/or manual touch with hands or a sex toy be a viable accommodation? Could sexual caressing or sensual massage or even having skin-to-skin contact by laying next to each other naked help you nurture intimate closeness, even if orgasm is not part of the equation?

Even if nakedness is not an option, can you still maintain a closeness by being in the same bed together?

If you once enjoyed a vibrant sexual connection with lots of opportunities to make love, it obviously is going to be an adjustment to redefine what sexual touch looks like for you now. But not redefining it and subsequently giving up on any sexual touch isn’t going to help matters either.

3. Are you still pursuing private moments together as a couple?

When a spouse has an ongoing injury or illness, a married couple may find that the privacy they once enjoyed even while clothed is now filled up with caretakers, medical personnel and well-meaning friends and family.

It becomes almost impossible for a husband and wife to find alone time in these circumstances.

Yes, the presence of more people is often necessary from a sheer practical standpoint.  If this describes your situation, is there a way you can set some healthy boundaries to give you and your spouse even 30 minutes to be alone together each day?

You may have to get creative in how you build this into your daily or weekly life, but you may discover the opportunity to talk and reconnect is encouraging and intimate for you both.

If you and your spouse have had to navigate the loss of physically making love, what has helped you cope? What insight and wisdom would you offer other married couples facing similar circumstances?

Copyright 2018, Julie Sibert. Intimacy in Marriage Blog. Links may be monetized.

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10 thoughts on “What If We Physically Can’t Have Sex?

  1. Anonymous says:

    My spouse has some physical challenges with chronic pain and fibro. Because of this, we have been intimate once every 4 weeks for the past 5+ years now. So for me, I have turned my sexual energy toward hobbies. I also have worked on lowering my sex drive through physical activities (like working in the yard). The natural aging process has also lessen my sex drive.

  2. Duane h says:

    In response to wife with chronic pain, that’s tough! Glad you were able to channel your emotions into hobbies.

    Hobbies is probably the avenue I should pursue. Guess I have difficulty in memories from not so distant past, remarkable intimacy.

  3. Davyp says:

    Hi, what a helpful post. Thank you.
    My wife has low libido and piv can be sore for her which does not exactly encourage her to try. Once a week (I was hoping for twice) she gives me manual stimulation which I have to say is much more satisfying than piv used to be (I always came straight away and couldn’t wait). The down side is it doesn’t always come to a conclusion and gets boring for my delay. However, I give her as many backstrokes she wants. This is relaxing and pleasant for her rather than being stimulating. We definitely have work to do but at least we’re both getting something from each other. We are both over 50 and one improvement would be lying naked together more often. It’s connection with my wife that I want, not just orgasm.
    I hope this may be encouraging to someone.

  4. Deb says:

    Post Menopausal woman here.

    I bleed during intercourse, end up with vaginal and urinary infections routinely. I’ve worked with a NP for the past 10 years altering my hormones, trying lubes, cream, lotions, herbs, testosterone, and mechanical devices to no avail.
    Then it started taking longer and longer to become aroused. Then, poof, no orgasms.
    After many Looong sessions of attempting to turn my body and mind on, sexual touch started to become annoying. I was headed toward aversion and not wanting sex at all. Argh.

    After years of trying to “fix” my uncooperative body, I’ve thrown in the towel.

    We have sex for him.

    For me, it’s a relief. I was so sick of trying to “fix” myself I was becoming tired and resentful. Having sex just for him is quite liberating. It keeps him from becoming frustrated and irritated. I don’t have to make my body do what it no longer needs or wants. It’s not perfect but it works.

  5. Paul says:

    Sex physical impossible? Although in rare cases sex is not possible for both parties due to medical reasons, usually one or both partners are able to achieve orgasm, one way or the other.

    What I have seen is elderly people being physically separated, after having lived 50 years or more together, which is heartbreaking. Now that were real situations of sex being physically impossible. Even prison inmates are given opportunity to have sex with their spouses in some jurisdictions on a regular basis.

  6. Carrie Gordon says:

    6.5 years ago, I underwent major brain surgery followed by a lengthy recovery. One of the best things my husband and I did during that time was to talk with each other about how to stay connected sexually. Maybe my articles on how to journey through serious illness without sexual intimacy becoming a casualty will be of help to your readers whether they face illness, aging, or other physical challenges. https://www.theintimatecouple.com/sex-and-illness/

  7. stotka says:

    God has hardwired us to desire intimacy, that deep feeling of closeness and connection.  I’ve often said that intimacy is the most important goal of marriage, and I’ve found that it is by far the number one longing of most couples. Why then, do so many couples who desire deeper intimacy in their marriage find it so elusive? In my new Kindle book, The Path of Intimacy, I explain how every couple is on one of two paths: the Path of Intimacy or the Path of Separation.

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  10. Calla says:

    My husband has recently developed a mental illness where he can’t stand the sight of me or the sounds I make. It’s called misokinesia. We haven’t been intimate for 3 years and now we sleep in separate rooms. He assumes the worst intentions for any slight. He won’t get counseling because this condition is so rare and there has never been anyone healed from it.

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