Where’s the foreplay?

Sex is great … until it’s not. Donna-Lee has a problem, though it’s not with sex but with foreplay – or rather the lack of it. She has tried to discuss the subject with her husband but feels she is getting nowhere. She asks clinical psychologist Dr Emmanuella Murray for help.


Q. Donna-Lee
I am 60, vibrant, loving, caring and, in my opinion, too giving. I’ve been married for five years (my second marriage) and our sexual relationship isn’t fulfilling for me. I love my husband dearly; however, he doesn’t get it that I need prep before the actual intercourse. He doesn’t have one creative bone in his body. I’ve tried to tell him how I need to feel wanted and be turned on by touch, or through cuddling, affection or playfulness, but … still nothing!

Then, when I show no interest because the prepping wasn’t there, he’s in a stupor and doesn’t get it, even though I’ve discussed this issue with him many times.

What can I do? I feel frustrated, hurt and discouraged.

A: I love that you describe yourself as ‘vibrant, loving and caring’. Often, when people are not asserting their own needs, resentment breeds. You mentioned that you are ‘too giving’, I wonder how often you say no and assert your own needs. If we don’t assert ourselves and let others know what we need, we will feel taken advantage of and unhappy.

I love that you can say, ‘I need prep for intercourse’. That’s you asserting your intimacy needs. I just wonder whether your frustration, hurt and resentment are interfering in how you communicate this with your husband.

It’s perfectly natural to feel discouraged when you have raised an issue countless times and nothing is changing.

Your husband may be feeling inadequate or embarrassed and he may have some performance anxiety. It’s fabulous that you are so comfortable talking about sex, but it’s obviously hard for your husband and, like many men I work with, sex may not have been discussed in your husband’s family of origin, so he may not be as open to talk about it.

If you can approach him with empathy and ask him how he is feeling, you might be surprised with the empathy that comes flowing back. This then makes it easier for you to suss out whether he understands your needs. For example, does he know what type of touching you like?

He may be confused and if you approach him with empathy, not frustration, he is likely to get the tips and feel more confident. Don’t forget to have plenty of non-sexual couple time and reward him for his affections (e.g., touching, cuddling, playfulness). The more you reward, the more confidence he builds in knowing what you like and want.

Keep asking for what you need from your husband, give empathy, reward him, and get ‘prepping’.

Dr Emmanuella Murray is a clinical psychologist who has been practising for more than 10 years. She works with children, adolescents, adults and couples, and presents to professionals and community groups. Go to her website for more information.

If you have a question for Dr Emmanuella Murray, please send it to [email protected]


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