I'm married to a wonderful man. He loves me and gives me everything I need, much more than I have had in any previous relationship. But there are problems sexually and I'm no longer physically attracted to him. He is disabled and can't get into most of the sexual positions that I want, he is also overweight, and has a condition where his skin is very raw and difficult to touch. I know there are other ways to have sex, and he suggests we modify things but the problem is that I have had past experiences which were so satisfying and now when I even see pictures of those positions I feel frustrated. I am very sexual and I worry that I will have an affair which I don't want to do. But I also can't stand the thought of breaking up with him over this, as it isn't his fault.
I can read the frustration and desire in your email and want to say that even though it sounds like you are in a lot of pain about this, from my perspective it's a good thing that you know sex and sexuality are important to you and that you want to make that part of your life. Many people live as if they don't deserve to feel pleasure or are embarrassed or ashamed about their sexual desires. They try to ignore what they are missing, which doesn't always work so well. Also, it's clear that you have a lot of love and respect for your husband and while things are hard now and may not work out the way both of you would like, reminding yourself (and him) of those feelings may help the process a bit.
I want to start with a challenge. I want to challenge your ideas about what makes sex passionate and fulfilling. You have written that what you want is to be able to be in certain sex positions, because those positions are the ones that turn you on and they are ones that in the past have been fun and sexually satisfying. Based on your past experience and the fantasies you'd like to play out in the future, you have a vision of sex that turns you on. This is fine, and it makes sense. But consider this:
If you were able to have the kind of lustful, passionate sex you crave, if you could feel desirable and feel yourself desiring your partner, if you finished sex feeling physically and mentally satisfied, would the physical position your body was in during all this fun really matter that much? I know this question requires an imaginative leap, one you may not be able to make at this point. But you sound a little be like you are in the "great sex" trap. This trap is a belief that great sex is all about the component parts, and not about the whole. In my professional experience that is rarely true. For every sexual fantasy we have or past sexual experience we had that was good, there are thousands of other things that we haven't even imagined that can bring us sexual fulfillment.
I raise this first because it sounds to me like you are worried the problem is with your husband's body, or with his disability, which isn't something that can be changed significantly. But when I read your email what I thought was that you don't actually need him to have a different kind of body. You need sex between you to be different.
This is a key distinction and one you need to communicate to him if you want this to work. Because if ultimately you say you need someone who can balance on two legs for 20 minutes, and he can't, well there's no where else to go but out of the relationship.
I am not saying that we can all have the sex we want just by being "more creative". It's still possible this relationship won't work for you sexually. But what I am saying is that there are always more possibilities than we imagine.
Here are some of ideas about that:
Finding (or Re-Finding) the Attraction
In your description there doesn't seem to be any sexual attraction for you. I'm curious to know if this was always the case? Was there a time when you both enjoyed sex with your partner and also found him sexy? Is sex always a bore? When we panic we can tend to talk in generalizations ("everything's terrible," "we never have good sex," etc…) and they might be true. But if they aren't it's worth reminding yourself of that and asking some questions about what makes it good when it is.
With very few exceptions we are raised in cultures and communities that have a very limited understanding of sexuality. This means that most of us have narrow ideas of what is sexy and sexual. It is possible that if you open your mind and your body up to it, that you could find other things about him that you find very arousing. This doesn't mean you can always do this. Sometimes we just aren't sexually compatible.
Of course the best way to explore this is by having enjoyable sex together. Which brings me to my next point.
Sexual Attraction Can Develop from Sexual Experience
Sometimes when two people meet they experience immediate attraction, lust at first sight. For whatever reason there are people we see and feel turned on by almost without thinking about it. But that is not the only way we develop sexual attraction to people. It can happen over time, as we get to know a person more intimately. And it can also happen as a result of having great sex. If we are able to feel intense pleasure with someone else a sexual connection which we might not have imagined before, can develop. It may be that the sight of their fingers turns us on, or just a certain look they have in their eyes. In other words, if you can allow yourself to be open to it sometimes sexual attraction develops out of sexual experience.
You're Going to Have to Talk About It
I don't know if you have talked about this yet but the truth is that he already knows about your feelings on some level. Most of us can tell when someone feels attraction or desire for us, and when they don't. Even if you are trying very hard, he is probably aware of it a little. I know this might be unimaginably hard, but I think you have to communicate with him about your feelings. You don't have to tell him exactly what you have told me, in the words you used. And you don't have to share every fear you have, or even your worst fears.
But to tell him that you are not sexually satisfied, that you want to be, and that you want to be with him, is important information for him to know. If he doesn't think it's a big deal for you or doesn't know just how frustrated you are there isn't a lot he can do to make change in the relationship. You said in your email that "it's not his fault". I agree. It's not anyone's fault. But there are always things you can do to try and change. By keeping this from him you are taking away his opportunity to make change. Or his opportunity to say that if you aren't attracted to him he doesn't want to be in the relationship.
Believe me, if it turns out that you are not sexually compatible at all and you end up having an affair without his knowledge, he will feel much, much worse. If you haven't talked a lot about sex, you might want to start by establishing a few ground rules and also thinking through some of the most common barriers to talking about sex.
The Difference Between Compromise and Settling
Good relationships always involve each person meeting the other somewhere in the middle. There will only be so much he is willing or able to do to change his body. Clearly some of the positions you love (like sex standing up) are off the table. But there may be options he has in terms of managing his skin condition and his weight, which you also mentioned a few times, and making these changes could not only change how you feel about him but how he feels about himself. Your email describes the things that you are giving up to be in this relationship. I wonder if there are things he is giving up also? And if he knew it might mean the end of the relationship, would he be open to doing more? In your email it seems as if you don't think anything can change. Some change is always possible, but you both need to make space for that change to happen.
Where Does Disability Fit In?
You didn't say if you live with a disability or not. If you identify as non-disabled and your husband has a disability then that adds an extra layer to all of this. Not because people with disabilities are fundamentally different, and not because you need to feel sorry for him or give him some kind of pass just because he's disabled. Pity is not something you can build or sustain an honest relationship on.
But the fact is that people with disabilities, particularly visible ones, are treated differently in our society. The barriers to sexual expression for people with disabilities are significant. But they are mostly social, and not medical. If you love and care about husband you need to take this into account, just as you would take into account the feelings of a non-disabled boyfriend.
You need to know that for him, hearing anything about his body MIGHT trigger a flood of negative messages he has received his whole life about being not good enough, not a "real man", not capable of being in a healthy relationship. He has a right to this reaction and while you don't have to take responsibility for the ableist world we live in, if you want to make this work you're going to need to be able to sit with this stuff and not get defensive. You have a right to your own feelings and desires as well. This isn't about staying with someone because they have a disability. But the simple truth is that we aren't all treated the same in the world and one thing that means is that if you want to have people who are different from you in your life, you need to make room for those differences to be addressed and acknowledged.
It may be true that the two of you aren't the right match. And that might even be about a lack of physical chemistry. If you want the relationship to work this means having a little extra patience. Be prepared for him to react negatively at first and give him some space. Be clear about the fact that even if the problems seem to be about physical differences, you are open to finding another way to connect sexually.
I'll cut to the chase and say that I'm a big fan of counseling and therapy. There are problems that are too complicated for us to figure out on our own, and having someone who can be a support for you can really help. You may want to see a couples counselor together, but if you don't already have someone you can talk to I'd start on your own. I would not recommend starting with a sex therapist, unless they are also a couples therapist or counselor. A sex therapist may be helpful later on when you are trying to expand your sexual routines. Keep in mind that most sex therapists receive very little training around disability and you will probably have to deal with some of their issues.
Another question to consider is whether or not there are options for opening up the relationship. I don't know you or your husband so I am making no assumptions but you should know that some relationships work quite well and include sex with other people. What this looks like will always be different, and there's no question that it's a lot of work. But since in polite company we rarely hear about this I wanted you to know that it's an option some couples explore and find that it works for them.
In the end you are going to need to weigh the various elements in this relationship and your life and make a decision. What I will say is that if sexuality is important to you, that is okay. You don't need to deny that part of yourself in order to stay in a relationship. Some people make this decision and are happy with it. Other people make this decision and are unhappy. Since this is a person you love and a relationship you value I would also say that you should work as hard as you can to make it work. Don't think of this as a decision you'll make alone. But if you find that it won't work then you may need to start a different conversation about the future.
I wish I could be offering you a more clear answer to your question. Please do email me back if you want to respond to anything I have written or if you have more questions.