Dead Bedrooms Are About More Than Just Sex

I should know. I’m in one.

Jennifer M. Wilson
Aug 21 · 9 min read
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Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash

What do you think of when you hear “dead bedroom”? Is it the stereotype of a woman disinterested in sex after having kids? Is it of a spouse with a medical condition hindering pleasurable sex?

There isn’t a single reason for my dead bedroom. A handful of factors led me down this lonely, sad path with twenty years of one roadblock after another.

Before marriage, sex life with my then-fiance was good. I tell therapists (I’ve had many) that the last time I had satisfying sex with my husband was on our wedding night.

My husband developed a “Madonna-whore complex”. According to Wikipedia:

A Madonna-whore complex is the inability to maintain sexual arousal within a committed, loving relationship…Men with this complex desire a sexual partner who has been degraded (the whore) while they cannot desire the respected partner (the Madonna). Freud wrote: “Where such men love they have no desire and where they desire they cannot love.”

In other words, after becoming his wife, my 29-year-old husband could no longer view me as a sexual creature with whom he could get down and dirty.

Not knowing this, I felt like the only 25-year-old who couldn’t get her husband to sleep with her. The reasons for rejection varied, including the typical Not-Tonight-Dear-I-Have-a-Headache. He once rejected me because he ate too much ice cream. My husband often turned me down because he already masturbated and blamed me for my bad timing.

Wearing lingerie is intimidating, but I sucked it up. He told me he resented when I wore lingerie because it made him feel “obligated” to sleep with me. A young female wearing lingerie getting rejected annihilates her sexual self-esteem…was I that un-fuckable? What was wrong with me?

My husband told me that as men age, their libido plummets. Not having a penis of my own, I believed a 30-year-old dick was the same as a 90-year-old one. I had no idea that most men will choose sex before resorting to masturbation. He often didn’t ejaculate during sex and brushed off my insecurities about not feeling sexy enough to make him cum.

It wasn’t until we went to marriage counseling that the therapist diagnosed his Madonna-whore complex. While it was a relief to know that he had a problem, it didn’t do anything for my self-esteem.

Remember how I mentioned that I’d suggest sex but he had already jerked off? Well, he also had a porn addiction.

If only Google had the answers 20 years ago. I would have known that healthy men in their late twenties and early thirties can jerk off on their own and have sex. I would have known that most men prefer actual sex with a human than their hand with lotion. I found “evidence” each time I did our laundry. It’s an awkward conversation to ask your husband, “can you stop cumming in our towels?”. So. Awkward.

My husband used porn, not for arousal, but because he had compulsions (not quite sure I know the difference). It created stress and anxiety. It also brought him shame and guilt.

Still, my self-esteem took more knocks. When your partner rejects you in favor of Miss Anal-From-Five-Guys-With-A-Dick-In-Her-Mouth on the internet to get his erection and shoot semen, you’ll develop a lifelong porn complex. The lesson I learned is very clear: I will never be able to compete with someone on-screen. At best, I’m a consolation prize.

Up until this point, I’ve painted the dead bedroom demise on my husband. I played a part as well.

I slept with someone else.

I could blame it on the rejection but realistically, I’m an adult who gave in to my desires instead of my vows.

It was a side of me that badly needed sexual attention. Someone else wanted to sleep with me? Regularly? Someone thought I was attractive? The best word I can think of to describe my frame of mind is grateful. Grateful that someone wanted to touch me.

My husband found out. I wasn’t even 30 yet and already my marital sex life had imploded.

We separated. We reconciled. We had children.

Babymaking was the only time we both enjoyed our sex life. Thanks to my ovulation schedule, my husband knew not to jerk off to porn. He couldn’t always ejaculate but he gave it a good enough of a college try that I got pregnant twice.

Pregnancy destroyed my body. Like every stereotype, I wasn’t eager to have someone touch what was once a perky, fit body.

He worked far away and I was on my own to watch two small children while working full-time. I grew resentful of his lack of help along with his excessive TV watching when he got home. His depression left him unmotivated. Our interactions became business-like, focusing on the kids.

My husband tried anti-depressants; it killed his erection. He went off anti-depressants and he became….well, depressed. Both libido killers. Not that it mattered since I was resentful, exhausted, and hated my body.

Five years ago, I splurged on intensive plastic surgery to spruce up the shitshow that was my naked body. Our sex life improved with my increased confidence and overly-swollen, enormous breasts.

As the swelling went down, so did our sex life.

I turned to the internet to boost my self-esteem (as I wrote in What I Learned About Men As a Fetish Star). My sexual tastes became less vanilla. I cautiously brought up sex toys and didn’t receive an enthusiastic response. I once yelled in the middle of sex, “fuck me like you hate me!” which killed his erection. He questioned whether I wanted to be abused; no, I spontaneously wanted a jump in passion at that moment.

At this point, I gave up trying to spice up our marriage by expressing my interests. I admit I didn’t pursue it very aggressively because I didn’t have it in me to show vulnerability and face rejection again. Getting shot down for years didn’t encourage me to try harder. I gave up.

While I was busy becoming an internet fetish star, my husband chatted it up with a stranger online. He came home crying that talked with someone online and he almost met them that evening. He then realized he had gone too far, freaked out, and rushed home to confess it all to me.

From my own internet naughtiness with the fetish website, I knew that there would be more. There always is.

Our sex life remained lackluster. The problem with sex is that it ends when the man finishes. If a man doesn’t finish, then it’s endless and painful thrusting. When I mentioned anything about him finishing, it gave him anxiety and ruined his erection. He brought it up to doctors but nothing came of it other than briefly using testosterone patches.

When he didn’t cum, then I would fake pleasure for what felt like hours. If he didn’t finish by ejaculation, sex ended when he got tired (grateful he was out of shape, otherwise that could have been all night). I silently cried in the bathroom after sex.

I approached the subject yet again about his inability to orgasm, how I could help, and it’s effect on my self-esteem. His defensiveness and hurt male pride shut down those conversations. My husband insisted his inability to orgasm had nothing to do with me, that it shouldn’t bother me, and that I gave him a complex which made everything with his erection more difficult.

There is a distinction between when partners orgasm and when they don’t. When a man doesn’t orgasm, there is no post-coital glow. Without orgasm on either of our ends, there was no release of oxytocin and thus, no bonding or intimacy.

Everything became robotic. I went down on him, he didn’t go down on me, he’d insert himself and pump away. I would act like a porn star and tell him how amazing he felt (but I couldn’t say it too much because talking during sex distracted him, as he told me almost two decades earlier) until he eventually pulled out. Then we would watch TV while I’d silently lament the pain between my legs from unpleasurable sex.

For me to orgasm, it requires mental stimulation thinking that my body brings my partner over the edge to climax. With that missing, sex was simply a painful and empty experience.

After my husband confessed to almost meeting someone, a knot in my stomach grew. So I snooped through his phone.

He had his browser open with multiple tabs for Rubmaps, the Yelp for sexual massages with “happy endings”. He insisted he hadn’t gone, even going as far to show me the cash in his wallet that corresponded to an earlier bank withdrawal. My husband said he wanted to see if it would help his erectile dysfunction.

A few months later and more snooping, I found Visa gift cards in his wallet and looked them up online. He had visited a handful of massage parlors. The seedy kinds that weren’t med spas providing Evian and Botox.

I brought up this bomb during marriage counseling. My husband completely melted down and our marriage counselor wanted to admit him inpatient out of fear of suicide. He owned up to his behavior, his depression, and everything he did that harmed our marriage. He acknowledged all the times the massage parlors affected our sex life and how it hurt my self-confidence.

My husband begged for me to give him a chance this year to turn things around. I agreed but told him that sex was off the table.

I’m painting my husband as a selfish porn addict with a penchant for massage parlors. I’m not innocent. My straying didn’t stop 15 years ago. I’ve hooked up with other men. I’m not sure if I crave feeling desirable to someone or the semblance of intimacy after.

In a nutshell: I want a guy to find me hot enough to want me naked, cum, and tell me I’m awesome while giving me a high-five. Really. I have a very low bar. I want that connection with someone, anyone.

This year a guy and I ended our affair to “do the right thing” for our marriages. The affair became my crutch against the problems in my sex life and marriage. It was time to finally put up or shut up.

I announced to my husband that I wanted us to have sex again. Since I promised him a year to work on our relationship, I made a deal to myself: I would give it five times of having sex before I would assess whether I could enjoy it. It wouldn’t have been fair to jump into sex again and compare him to the Affair Guy.

Sigh. After 3.5 times (yes, 0.5 because he didn’t finish one night and he wanted to continue the next night), I cracked. I couldn’t even get to five times this year as I had promised myself.

I sat him down and gently explained that I didn’t enjoy sex with him. That I was too self-conscious, that I kept thinking about the massage parlors, that everything from the past twenty years has been so hard. Sex shouldn’t be this difficult. Relationships, yes. Sex, no. I told him I no longer cared if he went to massage parlors or met anyone online.

I don’t want that responsibility anymore.

He told me he doesn’t want anyone else and that we should focus on the topic of sex during marriage counseling. I finally conceded to try counseling again.

That last conversation happened three months ago. Have we gone to counseling, discussed this openly, worked on things?


He hasn’t even contacted the marriage counselor to set up an appointment. I sure as hell am not making it because I already laid out my solution to our problem.

I learned that no sex is better than bad sex. Usually, I can try to scratch that sexual itch on my own. However, since Coronavirus took away my privacy (as I complained in I Can’t Masturbate During Social Isolation with All These People Around Me), I’m completely celibate.

Let’s reiterate:

  • Bad sex with my husband is out because it’s physically and emotionally painful.
  • Fantastic sex via an affair is out because it’s unethical.
  • Self-sex is out because I’m never alone.

Insert a slow clap because I threw a grenade at my sexual pleasure.

My dead bedroom began in my early twenties. I recently celebrated another 40-something birthday. That is a long time to lack intimacy with your spouse. I no longer think it’s shallow to want a satisfying sex life with my partner. Feeling undesired is to feel unwanted, which begets loneliness and kills self-esteem.

I wish I had known the importance of sex in a marriage when I went down this sad path. Dear Reader, please steer your ship in the other direction if your story is similar to mine. You don’t want to find yourself two decades later crying over a laptop telling your story to strangers on the internet.


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Jennifer M. Wilson

Written by

My midlife crisis and adventures along the way. I write because in real life my humor is allegedly too sarcastic and inappropriate.


Conversations about sex from all around the world

Jennifer M. Wilson

Written by

My midlife crisis and adventures along the way. I write because in real life my humor is allegedly too sarcastic and inappropriate.


Conversations about sex from all around the world

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