Q&A: Feeling Vulnerable?

We recently received an email from a husband regarding a problem that he and his wife are encountering.

I have a question about feeling vulnerable. My wife and I have a good marriage, but our sex life is hurt by what my wife calls “feeling vulnerable”. As in, she feels vulnerable when we have sex, which begins with her being interested and excited, and ends with her turning away and crying for 5-10 minutes. She steadfastly insists that this is not because of anything I do, but rather because our intimacy makes her feel so vulnerable. I want to believe her, but I can’t help but suspect that I’m somehow responsible. It’s hard to watch when she curls up and sobs, and it’s making me avoid sex because I don’t want to hurt her. Outside of sex she is loving and attentive. She never seems resentful or angry. It’s been like this ever since we got good at sex (both virgins when we married – it was awkward for the first year or so…) Has anyone else encountered anything like this? Any ideas or advice?

To begin with, I think that your wife is experiencing normal feelings because real, honest sex is very intimate and when we are raw like that it opens us up to be vulnerable like nothing else. That is why trust is such an important element of intimacy. BUT, having said that, I feel quite confident in saying that the likelihood that your wife was a victim of abuse is high because her reaction to vulnerability is extreme. (Edited to add: Please read the comment section as some women have said that they experience this and it is not connected to abuse.) It could have been sexual or mental abuse or a combination and come in a variety of forms. Perhaps she was shamed in her sexuality. At minimum she is operating with the lie that sex isn’t safe. Regardless of how she came to believe that lie, it is having a very powerful impact on both of you. She is being robbed of what God intends for her and as her husband I would encourage you to “wash her with the word.” Seek the Lord on how to appropriate this for you and your wife, but one part of it could be to speak scripture over her as she sleeps next to you. You might also consider having a conversation about her past and how it may be effecting her. Tread carefully here. Again, seek the Lord for wisdom on when and how to bring it up and for Him orchestrate the situation if this is something that needs to be addressed more directly.

Some questions I would ponder with her as she is open to them are:

Does she feel overwhelmed by the intimacy, which results in the emotion, but not necessarily bad?
If it is a case of the feeling being negative:
Does she find pleasure during sex? If so, at what point does it shift to feeling bad?
Do the tears come after an orgasm? Is it connected to the released of those intense feelings of an orgasm?
Are the tears accompanied by feelings of relief or of grief?
Does she feel that she has done something wrong or inappropriate?
Does she feel that she isn’t safe?
How does she feel about speaking with a counselor about these issues?

One area where I agree with your wife is that this has absolutely nothing to do with you. Based on what you wrote it appears that you are a loving husband who wants to experience all that should be yours together in your marriage bed. This is a good desire and I can completely appreciate how it is being compromised by her reaction to intimacy. If I were in your position I would be anxious about initiating as well.

To depart slightly from your specific situation, there is no doubt about it; sex can be highly intense and I think that if we want to grow in intimacy, we are going to need to choose to be more vulnerable. This is why sex has the potential to get better as we age together, but it is no guarantee. For many, sex remains only a physical act and when a couple isn’t working towards greater intimacy emotionally and spiritually as well as physically, the potential for sex to become stagnant and boring increases significantly. Married sexuality has been getting a bad rap in our culture more and more in recent years, but this discussion makes me ponder the question: How much impact has “surface sex” had on some peoples’ assumption that married sex is boring? What if more people were committed to increasing measures of vulnerability with their spouse even though it might end up costing them their soul; opened up and made bare? I wonder how the benefits of deep intimacy would impact the message that has been sent to so much of the western world about married sex.

But what a gamble! What if, in the process of opening our souls, we are rejected? Abandoned? Hurt? My husband’s and my financial advisers classify us as people who like safe investments, but I continue on with this gamble in my marriage without hesitation. And in a heart beat I’d do it all over again, though with hindsight being what it is I would have pursued deep intimacy sooner. The benefits far outweigh the costs in my opinion.

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