Q: I am 31 years old and my husband is 32. We have been married for four years now. We have never had sex. Never. Nothing at all. My husband ingests too much tension and anxiety in his job, finances, and our relationship. We tried to engage in intercourse a couple of times when we were first married, but he couldn't get excited enough to penetrate me. Then we started making excuses as to why we couldn't do it. It became a stigma for us.

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We don't talk about it. We know it is at the back of our minds but don't make any efforts to reach out to each other. I desperately want sex and babies, not simply for the sake of sex but as a bonding experience with my husband. I love him, but I am frustrated. I'm tempted to make nasty comments, but I don't want to hurt him. I seriously think he's scared of trying and failing now.

I did mention sex a few weeks back, and he apologized and said we will start trying tomorrow. That was the end of it. It's making me very moody and even unsatisfied in my job. I feel like asking him for support in getting artificial insemination at times, as a last resort. Please, how do I help him and my marriage?
--Awaiting Guidance Anxiously

Dear Awaiting,
The cessation of sexual intimacy between a husband and a wife is, according to Jewish law, a functional termination of a marriage. Understand, sexual intimacy is not just a carnal act for procreation or for physical pleasure. It is the ultimate act of fusion that a husband and wife can ever possibly have. It is the glue that holds a marriage together. Sex is the act that brings in its wake an overwhelming tidal wave of positive emotion that is capable of sewing a husband and wife together as one flesh.

Your situation, where the "consummation" of the marriage never occurred in the first place, is an unusual one. And yet, you are not alone. Indeed, I have encountered similar situations several times in my years of counseling married couples. In the past and now, my response has always been this: I do not believe that a husband and a wife should leave each other as a result of the toils that will inevitably exist within a marriage, be they a bad temper, impotence, depression, and so on. The problem itself is not reason enough to terminate the commitment of marriage. But their unwillingness to do anything about it is. If the partner dealing with the problem is not willing to take measures in order to solve this problem, then the marriage commitment itself is being breached.

Thus, in any such situation it is imperative that both partners be willing and open to change for the better. In your case, this means that you and your husband must see a sex therapist together. Not only will this shed light upon the problem and be a first step to solving it, but it is a tangible renewal of the wedding vows--a literal example that the love and dedication you and your husband have for each other will endure challenges and trials and that the love itself is worth the toil. If he is not willing to do this, then he has not committed to a marriage at all.

A marriage without physical intimacy is not natural. I do not say this to chastise or embarrass, I am merely stating a human truth. Like an anorexic who refuses to eat, a marriage without the sustenance gained through sexual and physical sharing is lacking in essential nutrients that it needs to thrive and prosper. As a result, it is severely undernourished. This is what is happening to your marriage. It is wasting away to a mere shell.

Finally, if your husband exhibits a commitment and willingness to change, that should in turn inspire you to committing to facilitating this very change. This means speaking up and holding him to his marriage vows. It does not mean bringing it up once and then never mentioning it again for fear of offending him. You are both backing down from all that makes marriage wonderful and essential. Stop being so fearful. You owe this to yourself, your husband, and, G-d willing, to the children you will have in the future. If, on the other hand, your husband remains reluctant and unwilling to seek change, then leaving the marriage will not even be leaving the marriage, as your marriage will sadly have functionally terminated anyway.

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