Baggage from past weighs down sex life


"I love Tim with all my heart, but six weeks ago he suddenly announced that the strain of being married was so great, he needed to move out for a while," says Kate, 26, a flight attendant. "Tim said I'm a fine person and great companion -- but I'm no good in bed, and our sex life is boring.

"I wanted to scream or hit him, but, of course, I said nothing," she recalls. But then she burst into tears. "Never in my life have I felt so rejected, so humiliated."

Tim assures her that there is no other woman in his life, and Kate believes him. "We both grew up in strict, old-fashioned homes. But how can I make myself into someone I'm not?"

Kate's parents were devout evangelical Christians whose religion forbade dancing, card-playing, drinking and wearing makeup. "Neither of my parents was openly affectionate or demonstrative," Kate recalls. "I was a good little girl."

Kate met Tim when he was flying back from a job interview. "He was so different from the other men who would come on to me," she says. "Tim was shy and modest." When Tim told Kate about his failed first marriage, she sensed he needed some emotional shoring-up, which she was thrilled to provide. Three weeks after they met, they married.

For the first year, their marriage and sex life were wonderful. But when Tim, an engineer who designs boats, lost his job seven months ago, he became moody and withdrawn. Though he was recently hired at a higher salary, Kate says, "he's still uninterested in bed."

Tim, 30, can't snap out of his negative mood. "Disappointing everybody seems to be my destiny," he says in a voice filled with pain. "My marriage to my first wife -- a woman my parents adored -- ended suddenly when she walked out on me. I swore off women -- until I met Kate. Now, I'm letting her down, too."

Tim doesn't know why he's lost interest in sex, but, he notes, "Frankly, I'm not sure Kate's nearly as interested as she thinks she is. For one thing, she seems uncomfortable with her body. She always wears dowdy outfits that hide her beautiful figure, and in bed she's standoffish. Her body is tense, and her mind, I'm sure, is elsewhere."

Sexual problems

"Kate and Tim are both responsible for their sexual difficulties," says Shelli Chosak, a marriage counselor in Los Angeles. "Though intelligent, they communicated with each other about important feelings poorly."

Both Tim and Kate carried a great deal of emotional baggage from their childhoods into the bedroom. The result was a sex life that was predictable and passionless, then nonexistent.

Kate didn't understand that the messages we receive from parents and society in general strongly affect our enjoyment of sex as adults. Tim didn't understand how profoundly his lack of self-esteem in other areas of his life was affecting his ability to feel attracted to and attractive to the opposite sex.

Once Tim and Kate unearthed the background to their inhibitions, they began a more honest dialogue about what they expected and needed in bed.

Take a few moments to inventory some of the messages you or your spouse may unconsciously bring into the bedroom.

Did you grow up in an affectionate, demonstrative family? How much do you remember about being touched or held by your parents when you were little?

Do you recall your parents being affectionate with each other?

Did your father ever make jokes about how cold or indifferent your mother was? As far as you knew, did either parent ever have an extramarital affair?

Did you sense or hear complaints from your mother that sex was a burden, something a woman must endure in order to have a family or please a man? Did your mother caution you that "boys only want one thing from a girl"?

How did your parents' attitudes toward you change as you grew older and entered puberty? Was it a comfortable, joyous time, one you could warmly share with your mother? Or did you feel awkward and embarrassed by the changes in your body? Did your father pull away from you, giving you the impression that it was unseemly to hug and kiss an adolescent daughter?

Pub Date: 8/25/96

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