In the last while I've been getting into this situation from the male survivors' side so I might be able to give you a little perspective. First a little background to set the scene...
My partner and I have been together for over a decade and over time the sex has dwindled down to nothing. This is a huge problem for him, but what I don't think he realized when he finally brought this up with me earlier this year, is that not being able to have sex has become a huge problem for me too. I had increasingly become terrified about having sex, ashamed and humiliated that I wouldn't be able to deliver, and then guilty that it was all my fault. Rinse and repeat.
I just didn't (and probably still don't completely) understand what has been happening to me that has disconnected me from my libido, or how to fix it.
My partner is a tall, handsome, fit, and strong guy with a sweet nature. I'll be honest... he's a total hottie and I love him very much. A few of the survivors here have met him and I think they'd agree that he's a babe.
He finally talked to me about being angry and feeling rejected because I "didn't want to have sex" and that when I did try I wasn't able to finish. It made him feel undesirable and unwanted. That's a perfectly valid and understandable reaction to the situation from his perspective. Neither of us talked about it until it became unbearable.
I didn't bring it up because I was increasingly terrified, ashamed and bewildered by what was happening to me. I already felt un-fixably broken, spoiled in some way that could never be made right, and the shame of my predicament was... crushing. He didn't bring it up with me for a long time because he knows that I'm a survivor and knew that doing so would cause me pain and shame. He's a loving man and by his lights, he didn't want to hurt me. Unfortunately, all that did was allow the problem to develop a lot of compound interest in silence while he became depressed by my physical withdrawal, and I became more humiliated and desperate to avoid feeling like a complete failure as a lover and as a man.
So much compound interest, that when I finally pushed him into telling me what was wrong, he told me that he didn't think he loved me enough and he didn't know if he'd be able to love me again.
When I was 8, I watched my Dad have a heart attack and die in front of me, at 9 my Mum put my brothers and I in a children's home for the first time, from 12 through 15 I was institutionalized in another boy's home where I was sexually abused and we very rarely, if ever, got to go home. After losing our father, I couldn't understand why my mother didn't seem to want us. This was compounded by being an adopted child whose extended family made it very clear I wasn't considered "one of them". I remember crying tears of desperation and loneliness - I wasn't wanted by anyone and everyone who was meant to care for me just... went away.
My partner's words sure sounded like the prelude to being left again. I was devastated.
I got myself into individual therapy, found and joined a CSA group in my area, and started digging into my abuse and the effect it's been having on me. Unfortunately, there isn't any kind of trauma that you can get over by just deciding to. It's not a failure of will or character that we can't spontaneously heal or even just make our symptoms go away. Among other things it's often a failure of awareness, understanding and knowledge.
For me, being a survivor working on recovery is like a game of Celebrity Heads. I'm going though life with a bunch of sexual abuse effects stuck to my head written in a language no one but me can decipher. So instead, I have to figure them out by exploring every other aspect of my life - my feelings, my fears, digging into painful memories, putting together fragments of information to try and find out what my story is. My therapist and group help me do this, but it's hard work and great motivation and diligent effort aren't rewarded with predictable results. Or sometimes with any results at all.
The hardest things for me to figure out, and the hardest set of feelings for me to access, are the ones around sex and intimacy. It's pretty unusual for me to have random sexual feelings and spontaneous erections. Alone I can get an erection if I really put my mind to it, and even masturbate, but it's like bench-pressing my own weight. I can't do it for long, and at the end of it I feel spent and empty. I don't do that much because it doesn't make me feel like I'm getting closer to feeling or understanding what is preventing me from making the kind of sexual connection I want with the man I love. That said, sometimes I get so frustrated, so disheartened, that I think I do it just to prove I'm still capable of it. It pushes back the despair a little.
I've been surprised a few times when I've seen guys that triggered some kind of sexual reaction in me. What's clear to me when I think about those situations is that if there was to be sex, there would be nothing at stake for me
With my partner, everything is at stake
. Our lives together so far, our future, our feelings, our next breaths in and out - it seems that vital to me. This is the closest relationship I've ever had with another person. It took me *so much work* to get here, to trust, to open up to him and to keep opening up over and over again.
Then, with so much at stake, what keeps me from him and that physical intimacy? Fear, terror, and a sense of dread that sex and intimacy can bring out in me. In the last two weeks I've learned some messages I got and some beliefs I learned about sex and intimacy that start to help me understand.
- Sex and trusting someone is dangerous. There is almost nothing more dangerous.
- If I trust and make a mistake something will be taken from me that I'll never get back. I won't even fully understand what it is/was.
- Sex is painful and will probably involve tearing and blood.
- Sex kills - that having sex and being gay is deadly - I'll probably catch a disease and deserve it.
- Sex is something to be endured and survived.
- That sex is nothing to do with my pleasure or my feelings, only someone else's.
- That places on my body which should be gateways to that physical intimacy were damaged on a psychic level and now they are physically damaged and beyond healing.
- That I'm somehow disfigured and completely unattractive in any dimension as a result.
- That greater physical intimacy could mean I'd no longer be loved at all - I'd be found out.
- If he really loved me, he wouldn't want me have sex with him.
I have some of the characteristics of "Sexual Anorexia"
and from your comments it might be worth getting a better understanding of the dynamics involved to see if they resonate in your relationship. Exploring them has been helping me grapple with what I'm feeling and dealing with even though they are not a perfect fit.
I'm sorry that this post is so long and not crisper and more to the point. I wanted to give you a feeling for what it's like to be on the other side of the situation that I know you and my own partner find so painful and challenging.
My partner and I have talked a little about this and we're trying not to take on the responsibility/blame for each other's issues and feelings. It's so easy to think that we are the cause of other people's reactions and so often it's just not true. I love him and he knows it, I tell him every day and I *mean* it. I tell him all the things that are so great about him. My problem with sex and intimacy is *my problem* caused by my abuse. It affects him and that hurts me, but it's because he is so important in my life that it has the charge for me that it does.
If I didn't care, if there was nothing at stake, I could probably have empty sex with someone I don't know, function fine, and feel completely empty and alone. But *there is something at stake*, and that's why it matters, and that's why I spend all my spare waking (and some sleeping) hours working and digging into a past that terrifies me to the point of physical shaking to make my life with him better.
I hope you can recognize that your partner's problems are not your fault, that what you are observing is the same as what many other partners of survivors see, and I wish him and yourself every success in the difficult but ultimately rewarding process of recovery.