Anna Pulley, @annapulley
RedEye's sex columnist
2:59 PM CST, March 7, 2012
I have recently met a woman I am falling madly in love with. As a divorced guy at the age of forty I never thought I would say that again. I have dated, a lot, and I just figured love was something that didn't exist for me. We do everything together, hike, yoga, climb, play silly games of Scrabble way too late and then fall exhausted into bed together, where we do nothing.
We have been dating for 6 months now and she has made it clear that sex will not happen until the day I make her my bride. To complicate things, she has been abused in her youth and sometimes when we start to even fool around she gets flashbacks and has to stop because she is taken back to that time. It is horrible to watch her shaking and crying in emotional pain. She has not gone to any counseling and doesn't want to as it is just too emotionally charged. I am sure it is this along with her religious convictions that make her a virgin still at the age of forty. Which makes what I am about to say make me feel so selfish. How do I just say OK to no sex up until we actually decide, then get married? How do I know then if she will want to, what if it's still too much for her and I spend the rest of my life just holding hands and kissing? What if she doesn't like it, what if she thinks touching me is "gross" or I find myself having to explain what an orgasm is? She is so innocent. Do I walk away from someone who makes me so happy, or do I take a deep breath and commit to this woman?
Counseling is too "emotionally charged"? As opposed to the alternative, which is never dealing with her abuse, and suffering the pain and horror unaided for the rest of her life? I'm sure this is an incredibly challenging issue for her and for you as well. And I know that you can't force therapy on someone who genuinely doesn't want to go, but if she can throw around ultimatums like "No sex till marriage," then you can also make a rule of your own: "No marriage till therapy." And I strongly urge you to do so.
Religious convictions or not, she needs to deal with this head-on. It's not just your relationship that's at stake, but her emotional and physical well-being. If she's not willing to work on her issues, it's going to continue to negatively impact her life and yours, should you choose to share it with her. Also, if she's triggered simply from fooling around, odds are she's not going to magically be OK with full-blown penetrative sex, regardless of whether God has given her the thumbs-up or not. She needs help—more help than you can provide by being a supportive boyfriend, though you're doing a great job under the circumstances and should be applauded for that. But being caring and supportive is only one aspect of the relationship equation. Loving someone also involves being truthful with yourself and inhabiting those truths in your day-to-day life.
But since she didn't write to me and you did, let's focus on what you can do. It sounds like you really love this woman. You're not in conflict there. Now you have to ask yourself whether you could be happy living in a basically platonic arrangement, which is what you'll be looking at if she doesn't get outside help. You can't enter into a marriage with the hopes that someday in the future things will change. It's unwise and unkind. Likewise, you have to make decisions about your relationship based on the way things are NOW. If you look within yourself and determine that late night Scrabble and a mutual love of yoga are not enough to base a lifelong partnership on, getting out now is the kindest thing to do, even if it doesn't seem like it at first.
You can sidestep some of the other questions you mentioned above by having some honest, yet awkward conversations. If you're not sure whether she knows about orgasms, ask her. It doesn't have to be in an "after school special" kind of way. You can tell her you read an article about some new erogenous zone that's supposed to lead to orgasm (there's usually a new one about once a month or so), and what does she think of that? Has she ever had a Q-spot orgasm? And so on. Enter these conversations from a place of curiosity, and go from there. You might be surprised. I don't know how sheltered of a life she's led, but most people do have access to Google.
While you may have some solid emotional ground to stand on, a not-exactly-agreed-upon celibacy in a long-term relationship is a condition that seems to be making you pretty unhappy, and therefore merits a lot of thoughtful consideration about its long-term viability. Obviously I don't know what will lead to your happily-ever-after, but I will say that if your girlfriend is not willing to work on creating and maintaining a sexual intimacy that's gratifying for both of you, then it's not going to work. You have to be in this together, till bed-death or real death do you part.
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