Dealing with Forced Celibacy

    Does anyone known how men (or women for that matter) are counseled to deal with forced celibacy caused by health or other issues?

    How do you keep from losing your mind when loneliness and raging desire are all-consuming?  It’s easy to say things like,  “Pour yourself into the Word” or “Lean on Jesus as your rock” or “Let God carry your  burdens” or “Be as the Apostle Paul and turn away from your worldly desires”. That sounds great in church, but it’s not realistic in real life for a healthy vigorous person  looking at decades of potential celibacy.

    What are some practical tips for dealing with this?  



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    12 Answer(s)

      I would start by making a distinction. If Lori or I became unable to have sex, I know we would continue to do something sexual for the other.  If nothing else the one who can’t asks the one who can to masturbate while lying next to them. So in my mind celibacy is rarely forced by medical conditions. Yes, it happens, but in many cases, there could still be sex of a sort.

      I don’t think I’d have much trouble dealing with it if she really couldn’t do anything. It’s part of life in a fallen world, and you just go on with it. I’d masturbate in the shower as needed while thinking of the sex we have shared.

      On the other hand, if she could be sexual and just wouldn’t, that would be a whole different thing. That would be her choice to deny me sex. It would make me feel unloved, and it would make me question her love for me. I’d have to work through that with God, probably forgiving her a number of times. In theory, it would be good to masturbate as I felt the need, but I suspect doing so would just make me feel more angry at her, so that would be difficult.

      And of course, it’s more than just the loss of sex. How could I go on with everything else we do as if that had not happened? Part of the foundation of our marriage would have been removed (by her), and we would have to rebuild on whatever was left. Who knows what that would look like.

      In time I think I could come to peace with it. I’d accept that this is her sinful choice, and I don’t have the power to change her mind. I’d look to build the best life and marriage I could. And yes, God would be a big part of getting me through it. There would be a lot of praying and crying.

      Fell out of ... Answered on April 17, 2019.
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        Hello HIT, do we assume your wife will not go to couples counseling?

        It took me over 5 years, but I finally came to a place of acceptance of living life emotionally as a single person, without the freedoms of a single person..  However, that only happened last year after my husband and I came to a place where we could at least be good friends again.  If he had continued to stonewall, I think I would still be in some degree of distress, beyond just being romantically lonely.  Things that can help take the edge off are similar to what any single person without prospects might do.  Find activities and hobbies to invest in.  Cultivate same-sex friendships.   Lean on fellow Christians when things become difficult – we’re here for you on TMB!  Find ways to do volunteer work; giving to and serving others is a great way to take one’s mind off one’s own neediness.  (And of course, masturbation.)

        What you are experiencing is separation distress.  You need to connect to your wife, and she is not there for you.  There are four stages of separation distress:  1) Anger and protest, 2) clinging and seeking, 3) depression and despair, and 4) detachment.  If you get to stage 4, it is nearly impossible to fix the marriage.  You sound like you’re at least at stage 3, and you’re looking for ways to live with stage 4.  Are you absolutely certain that you’ve exhausted all your options?  Are you absolutely certain that your wife understands the gravity of the situation?  Have you told her that you are looking for ways to stop loving her?  Not love as a verb/choice/action/commitment, but love as in connection and marriage.  Once you reach stage 4, there is no marriage.  There is only an arrangement.  I know you’re not there yet, because you still desire your wife.  But you’re really close.  Once you truly give up, the desire disappears – and that is something you want to avoid at all costs.  The experts say there is no going back once that happens (though I’m challenging that myself, it’s never too late to try) and you may want it back if the underlying issues ever get resolved.

        Finally, please be sure to read up on the pursuer-distancer dynamic, just in case you are unwittingly playing a role in the situation.


        On the floor Answered on April 17, 2019.

        Shadow – You’re right. I’m definitely in step 3 on your list. However, I don’t think I’m capable of step 4. I’m way too stubborn to ever give up completely, plus I promised God I wouldn’t.

        As for the pursuer / distancer. I’m definitely the pursuer. But it’s not like the articles where the distance is about emotional availability. It’s about sex itself. I’m pretty sure this is where thing went off the rails … starting on our wedding night. We had very different ideas about sex … and still do. I don’t know how to get out of the pattern, and I doubt it’s even possible since she avoids even the most basic sex by any means possible. I just try to figure out ways to repress the desire and deal with the loneliness.

        on May 25, 2019.
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          I had wondered about this, and then it actually happened to me.  I’m curious why you’re asking, if you’re in this situation and what your story is.

          In my case, DW started having abdominal pain.  It’s amazing how your sex drive falls off when you have to watch your spouse in pain.  We tried to have a few romps on some of her better days, but it was obvious that she was in too much pain.  A woman’s O uses a lot of abdominal muscle, and it was painful for her.  We could no longer enjoy anything sexual, and that is more than enough to kill your sex drive and take your mind off sex.  Sure, at times I might have liked some MS or OS but even asking her to contort like that was out of the question.  Unfortunately, as her cancer progressed she became more like my patient than my DW.  Sex becomes the last thing on your mind, at least it did for me.

          Double bed Answered on April 16, 2019.
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            HIT — I really relate to a lot of what you’re expressing. I have asked many of the same questions many times. I didn’t read all your comments and responses because they were too eerily familiar.

            My DW and I do have sex on occasion and those occasions are growing, but my first 7 years of my marriage felt identical to what I was reading. When I say occasion is growing, it’s progressing from once every 6-8 weeks to once every 3-4 weeks or so. My love language is physical contact and I am still enamored by my wife, but her refusal often left me feeling utterly broken.

            I don’t have the capacity to go much deeper right now, but I appreciate you opening up, asking the question and sharing your experience of refusal.

            Queen bed Answered on May 19, 2019.

            PK – I’m so sorry to hear your struggles. Can we agree to pray for one another? – I’m praying for a miracle in the hearts of our spouses and divine guidance for our own actions. Also for God to protect our hearts from the temptation of the ‘what ifs’ that are so difficult to avoid.

            It’s been nearly 5 months since my wife has allowed even a moment of intimacy. I surely hope things are getting better for you and not worse.

            Hang in there.

            on May 25, 2019.
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              I read your story elsewhere. I’m so sorry to hear what happened with your wife . Praying for comfort for you and your family, and that God gives you clarity for what He has in store for your future.

              I’m not dealing with anything like you’ve been through.. Just outright refusal with enough medical issues to make it legitimate / seemingly insurmountable. Unfortunately, not everyone experience the diminished desire you’ve described. Sometimes the exact opposite is the case .

              Are there techniques to crush desire and make loneliness easier to cope with?.

              In times where there have been serious medical issues (ie surgery, etc), I understand your point completely. But for the rest of the time the need to feel wanted is overwhelming.

              Twin bed Answered on April 17, 2019.
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                Note – I’m not sure I like this new board format. It doesn’t keep the messages in order so I can’t tell who I’m responding to.

                Admins – can we keep it in order of posts so there is a way to respond to actual replies?

                For all who responded so far – thanks for the replies. A couple things;

                I’m not interested in ‘not loving’ my wife or finding more ways to avoid her. We’re a normal married couple, heavily involved in our church, live a normal romantic life, go out on dates, I bring flowers home, we sleep in the same bed, etc. She just isn’t capable of sex physically because of non-stop medical issues. I can’t force her, and wouldn’t want to.

                Paul – Get down on your knees right now and thank the Lord for a wife who will do that sort of thing with you. Not in a million years would my wife dream of that kind of activity. She actively avoids anything that would stimulate her because she says it causes her physical distress (migraines, nausea, intestinal issues, etc). And even if it didn’t, she would say that’s weird (anything other than 5 minutes of missionary is weird to her) 🙄

                What I’m looking for is active ways to repress the need for sex and intimacy. I know it’s not holy, but the thoughts of anger, envy, and the ‘what if’s are hard to avoid. The shower trick Paul B mentions only goes so far.

                Surely somewhere there’s a practical list?

                – Don’t think of your wife sexually.
                – Never kiss her with the thought that it could lead to more.
                – Always keep expectations of physical intimacy at zero.
                – Avoid discussions with engaging attractive women at all costs.
                – Destroy your computer, phone, or anything else that could remind you that normal women enjoy and desire sex.
                – And by all means never read ‘The Marriage Bed’ board and discover that this life of lonely isolation isn’t perfectly normal.

                Yes – These are ridiculous. But someone smarter than me surely can come up with some practical steps to cope.

                Twin bed Answered on April 20, 2019.
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                  “I’m not interested in ‘not loving’ my wife or finding more ways to avoid her.”

                  “What I’m looking for is active ways to repress the need for sex and intimacy. ”

                  My point is that these things go hand in hand; your two statement IMO are at odds with each other.  I know you are committed to be a loving husband, but sex and intimacy are expressions of the pair bond.  If you seek to repress these things, your pair bond will suffer, which will affect your feelings of love for her.  You can still choose to be a loving husband, but without the pair bond, it becomes more of an empty kind of love.

                  I second Paul’s advice; if she is truly not physically up for it, ever – (your descriptions are ambiguous) why can she not hold you and cuddle while you masturbate?  Stephen Snyder (“Love Worth Making”) calls it “Lazy Sex” and recommends it for all couples during those times when one partner is just too pooped to whoop.


                  On the floor Answered on April 20, 2019.
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                    “why can she not hold you and cuddle while you masturbate?”

                    She won’t participate in any sort of sexual activity whatsoever. I didn’t mean to be ambiguous. We have sex on rare occasions when the planets align. But she’s recently had a hysterectomy and no way no how is there anything sexual taking place. She won’t discuss sex without it turning into “Is that all you care about!” It’s an off limits topic.

                    I believe love is a choice, not an emotion. I agreed to love my wife as Christ loved the church. Sometimes that is extremely difficult.

                    Oh… I just thought of another thing:

                    – Avoid all friendships with other men who have great marriages and want to hint how great their sex lives are, further isolating yourself. 🙄

                    Twin bed Answered on April 20, 2019.

                    Didn’t know it was called lazy sex, but me and the wife do this very often, 2 or 3 times a week. We have full sex once a month or less.

                    on July 29, 2019.
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                      “I believe love is a choice, not an emotion”

                      There are many kinds of love.  The existence of one does not negate the other.  God created our emotions, and He created us to have feelings for one another.  Yes, He commands us to act in love even when the feelings don’t align, but let’s not deny the gift of emotional love that God created for us to enjoy.  Denying our emotions is denying a part of us that God  created.  That includes feelings of hurt and anger caused by the lack of intimacy.  Those feelings are not evil, they are feelings that God created in us  to signal that there is a problem and we need to act.  I encourage you to temper the anger, and in your anger do not sin – but do recognize and harness the softer emotion behind the anger – the hurt -and use it to motivate you to take action.  (I highly recommend “The Dance of Anger” by Harriet Lerner.  It is described  as a book for women, but really despite the marketing, it applies universally to men and women.  It is about how to be effective in changing your relationships.))

                      On the floor Answered on April 21, 2019.
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                        “do recognize and harness the softer emotion behind the anger – the hurt -and use it to motivate you to take action. “

                        Take action? What action am I supposed to take? I’m not going to leave – I need coping skills for how to survive without intimacy. Surely there are some tips on how to keep it from becoming an all consuming burden.

                        Twin bed Answered on April 21, 2019.
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