My marriage began with a magical romance and all the promise of the beginning of something wonderful. A fairy tale wedding ended with our departure in a horse-drawn carriage, my shoulder-length veil fluttering in the breeze and a sixpence in my shoe for luck as we waved good-bye to the people most dear to us in the world. All the dreams of my short lifetime culminated at the moment we rode off into the distance, into some bright unknown.
For us, though, the "happily ever after" of our wedding was just a beginning. We expected more to come. A script had been written…hadn't it?
For me the script began with my upbringing in a strict Christian household with very defined values, clear dos and don'ts. A big don't that I'd been taught all my life—I'd been threatened, really, and bribed, and scared to death—was not to have sex before marriage.
All the while I knew my time would come—and it would be the most wonderful because I'd waited. I even reasoned that my friends' and schoolmates' marriages were possibly doomed from the start because they'd gone ahead and had sex. So I felt bad for everyone doing it—really—but I was also self-righteously glad that I wasn't like them, that I'd waited, and that sex with my husband would be worth the wait. God was going to bless my marriage, after all. I knew all this because every adult in my young life had told me so: parents, youth pastors, chapel speakers, Sunday school teachers—and I believed them, every one. I really did.
A few months before the wedding, however, I noticed it wasn't quite so difficult to wrench myself away from my fiancé and schlep home after a long good-night kiss. I wondered if all my hard-won willpower was finally becoming habitual—annoyingly ironic since in a short time I wouldn't be needing it. Yes, soon my trusty sexual willpower could take a long-needed vacation, I told myself, and it didn't need to come back, because when it went on vacation, I'd be on one too—with my new husband in Jamaica.
Then that glorious night arrived!
Only I didn't feel all that glorious. All the time I told myself it was nerves or fatigue. Our wedding day had been huge, long, and exciting, and I was spent.
When we finally got to our hotel, late as it was, I hardly felt like ripping off my clothes and jumping into the sack. For one thing, I didn't want to take off my dress at all. I knew I'd never wear it again. So after delaying the inevitable as much as I could, I went into the bathroom to shower and change. Slowly I peeled off my wedding dress and put on my beautiful white satin nightgown that I'd so meticulously chosen. I then proceeded to attempt to mummify myself in the white, fluffy terry-cloth hotel bathrobe. Very sexy, right? I finally emerged from the bathroom, and I won't say any more about that night except this: we were two totally ignorant, complete novices. Was there really any hope for great sex that night?
The thing is, the sex never got better. We made disastrous attempt after attempt, but I never felt in the mood and absolutely dreaded bedtime.
Before marriage, you hear all these stories about how often newlyweds do it—all the wild, passionate sex in unusual places. I don't know if these stories are true, but you think they will be for you. So here my husband was expecting sex at least every night, and instead it was at best two or three times a week—and it wasn't that good. Bitterness started between us.
I picked up the phone and called my pastor's wife. We sat in my car on a warm autumn afternoon, and I spilled my long and gloomy story.
"That's just how it is for some people," she said. She added that she had the same problem in her marriage—she didn't really enjoy sex.
Briefly, after leaving her, I was placated. So there isn't just something wrong with me. There are others with the same problem. I'm normal.
Later, though, when the colors of the night became a romantic hue, I rebelled. No, no, no! This cannot be just how it is. Why would everyone else say how wonderful sex is? If sex isn't really that important, why is it the source of demise for so many relationships?
Worse, all the things I'd been told that sex would be if it was reserved for marriage seemed a lie—one enormous lie, a curse even. I'd obeyed all I'd been taught and not had sex before I married with the promise that God would honor my obedience. Instead, sex was the single source of heartache for my husband and me. This was not honor or blessing or a gift. I'd been looking for someone to blame, to lash out at; finally I found him.
You promised, I told God internally. So now what is this?
I can't tell you how many nights I sobbed on the bathroom floor. I cried my body weight in tears on a regular basis. Sometimes I cried so hard I nearly vomited. I begged God for a miracle, a remedy, some solution. Again and again I begged for help.
The foundation of my faith was rooted in the belief that Jesus died on the cross for my sins, but I began to realize my faith was also rooted in rewards. It was like I'd been operating spiritually on a quid pro quo basis—giving something for getting something, a sort of "I obey, now you bless me" rule. All my life I'd played by the rules, but my obedience wasn't out of a real love for God. I wanted my life to work and believed he would do that for me if I did certain things. And now I wasn't reaping the reward I expected.
I was plumbing the depths of my soul and coming alive to new parts of myself—especially a true faith like I'd never known before. Somewhere in the process I no longer felt silence from God. I began to see the God whom I didn't really know, though I'd been a Christian almost my entire life. God wasn't purposely ignoring me; he wasn't distant when all I heard was silence. I'd just been looking for a character of his that wasn't real or right—God as Fixer or Rewards-Giver or Crutch.
God is so much more.
For a year this revelation became clearer and clearer, and my desire to know God became stronger. For me, this was an enormous step of faith, because there still wasn't an immediate solution to the problem my husband and I faced.
One Friday night after my husband and I spent a very enjoyable evening together—a concert and visit to a hip new restaurant—I settled into bed. I wasn't so averse to something physical happening between us, I realized. I'd never felt this way before, so I decided to move on the feeling, much to my husband's utter shock.
That Friday night became an entire week.
Later I realized I happened to be late taking my birth control pills. I'd forgotten to fill the prescription and had actually gone ten days without having the pill in my system. Is it possible that the pill has been causing my aversion to sex?
The rest, as they say, is history. It seems crazy, all those years and thousands of dollars on therapy when both the problem and solution were so simple. In the end, I guess you could say my birth control pill really did its job.
The truth is, my husband and I can't believe we made it. It still hurts to look back over our first years of marriage. What we went through was too painful for us to say we're glad we went through it. But the experience has helped us realize how important friendship is in marriage. I see how we probably worked through some differences right away that would have taken years to work through otherwise. We have a stronger marriage, and I learned so much spiritually.
My husband and I still have many years ahead, and I expect there will be more trials. There's something bittersweet about this. The bitter, of course, is obvious. The sweet is subtler. It is how coming through to the other side flavors my marriage. It is looking at my husband as I've never seen him before and feeling a greater appreciation for who he is and who I am; it is knowing we're battered and bruised, but we can stand up and brush ourselves off and say, "We made it."
With that, we can begin the next stage of life together.