Joyce’s elder sister, Mary, brought Joyce to the clinic. For close to three years, Joyce had been on treatment for depression. She had been on a concoction of drugs combined with counselling. Her condition however remained bad and at one point, she attempted suicide. The family had reached the end of their tether when Mary discovered something that nobody had ever considered: Joyce had not had sex for close to five years!
I established that Joyce, a 35-year-old high school teacher, had been married to Jared, a 36-year-old engineer, for 12 years. The couple had two children.
“So what came first, the lack of sex in the relationship or the depression?” I asked.
There was an uncomfortable quiet. Joyce’s forehead was down, in the palm of her left hand. She suddenly burst out in tears. “Jared wouldn’t touch me, he pushed me away, he wouldn’t allow his skin to rub on mine, I feel like a dirty rug, a good-for-nothing ugly woman. I am useless and hopeless,” she sobbed.
I probed Joyce for details. Two years before she went into depression, Jared started keeping off sex. He stopped cuddling her in bed. When she attempted to hold him, he pushed her hand away. Many times he created every opportunity to keep away from bed. He watched TV till late. Other times he read books until 2am.
“I don’t know what wrong I did to him,” Joyce lamented. “It crossed my mind that he could be in another relationship.”
This rejection pushed Joyce into depression. Because bedroom matters are private, Joyce lived with her agony for five years without discussing it with anybody. Her sister was the first person to unearth this difficult secret.
I diagnosed Joyce with sexless marriage caused by sexual rejection, leading to psychological trauma and depression. Sexual rejection affects both men and women. It is the perception of being dismissed, refused and detested by an intimate partner. You can develop the perception if your partner repeatedly ignores, rejects or evades your sexual advances. Your partner may feign sickness at bedtime. They may decide to watch TV or work when they are aware that you want to have sex with them. They may come to bed dressed in a way that you cannot intimately touch them. Your attempt to talk about your sexual concerns can be dismissed or countered with anger. If the pattern continues over some time, you start to feel you are unwanted and rejected.
Many people do not know how to handle sexual rejection. Some become addicts or alcoholics. Others become violent. Others develop anxiety and may go into depression. Loss of self-esteem and self-confidence happens and one may feel hopeless and useless. “Yes… I am hopeless, I am useless,” Joyce echoed my explanation.
MISTAKE PEOPLE MAKE
The mistake people make is to assume that the partner evading sex is the normal one and that the one being rejected has a problem. The second mistake is to avoid discussing the issue with a professional.
If you are facing sex rejection, the starting point is to know that you are most likely fine. You need to politely seek to discuss the issue. Seek to forgive if your partner accuses you of anything so that the issue is not escalated. Involve a professional in good time.
I asked that Jared come to the clinic for examination, which he did the next day. He reported that he just had no interest in sex. In fact, it stressed him that his wife always wanted sex and he could not provide it. He also found it difficult to discuss his situation. I concluded that Jared had diminished sex desire and ordered a number of tests. It turned out that he had low testosterone, the hormone that causes sex desire and vitality. I put Jared on testosterone replacement therapy. A month later it was Jared chasing after Joyce and pleading to have sex.
Joyce was elated and pleasantly surprised to discover that she was not the problem. I enrolled the couple for sex coaching to re-learn how to be intimate with each other. On their last day of coaching, Joyce came in with a whole basket of medicines. They were her depression medicines. She had not taken them in a month. She dropped them on my table as she held her husband’s hand,