As with many women in your situation, you might believe that somehow you deserved the ill treatment you received. As a result, your sexual feelings are tainted by guilt and shame. But your husband can play a part in helping you to move on. Ask him to listen non-judgmentally while you tell him the story of your teenage troubles, how you coped and how your feelings about sex were affected. Let him confirm that the way you were treated was unfair and that no matter what happened, you deserve respect.
Everyone has an opinion on sexual expression –what’s too much, too little, too strange. Until now, you’ve been hostage to a high-school standard of appropriate sexual behaviour. Discovering your own values will help to restore your sexual self-respect. Do you have any friends you can talk to about your sexual beliefs and attitudes? Another way to figure out where you stand: check out a how-to sex book, erotic writing (such as the Herotica series) or sexy films such as those directed by Candida Royalle. Opening your eyes to the wide range of sexual expression out there will help you clarify what you believe in.
Reconnect with your sexual side. For example, plan a romantic “date night” with yourself. Draw a bubble bath, light some candles, put on some music. If you feel ready, begin to masturbate. Practise getting turned on while staying attentive to the physical feelings you’re experiencing. You might feel embarrassed at first, but this is a normal reaction that will pass in time.
All of these measures should increase your desire and lead you to become more interested in sex with your husband. But start slowly. When you feel ready to make love to your husband, maintain eye contact and be honest about your feelings. Because your sexual desires have been mixed up with humiliation, you might feel uncomfortable emotions coming to the surface when you feel turned on. But, before long, the negative feelings will pass and something new and wonderful will replace them – pleasure.
Sex educator Chanelle Gallant is a psychotherapist and an instructor at Good for Her, a women-oriented sex shop and workshop centre in Toronto.
When to get help
Sometimes sexual problems are too vast to handle alone. Seek professional help if:
· nothing changes after a number of months and repeated attempts to improve your sex life
· you experience overwhelming shame or anxiety when your partner wants to have sex
· you are a sexual or physical abuse survivor
Find a therapist who specializes in sexuality (and abuse, if relevant) by talking to your family physician or visiting the online site of the Canadian Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology.