Your Call: Can I Expect Pleasure If My Wife Is in Pain?

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We get a lot of advice questions coming in at EMandLO.com, but sadly, we just can’t answer them all. Which is why, once a week, we turn to you to decide how best to advise a reader. Make your call on the letter below by leaving your advice in the comments section.

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Dear Em & Lo,

My wife has a condition that basically when she has an orgasm she has very uncomfortable pain in her chest and coughs for a period of time. Now this is not that she is unable to have an orgasm its that she currently doesn’t feel that an orgasm is worth the pain and discomfort that it will cause.  So obviously that means no sex. This has been the case for the last 3 months. 

I have been patient but I want to feel the connection that sex brings. I am ok with not having vaginal sex so that she doesn’t have an orgasm, but there are many things that she can do with me that would make me feel that same or at least close-to-the-same connection that the intimacy of love-making brings. I have said that I would be ok with just having her lie next to me while I masturbated (she would not even have to touch me) just so I can feel close to her in an intimate way.

So my question is: am I out of line and unreasonable to ask some kind of intimate replacement for vaginal sex from her or should I not expect to have an orgasm if she isn’t as well? I am willing to do whatever she wants and is willing to do in order to achieve the intimacy, but she does not want to do anything.

— Neglected

What advice do you have for Neglected? Leave it in the comments section below.



  1. “she currently doesn’t feel that an orgasm is worth the pain and discomfort that it will cause. So obviously that means no sex. ”

    I don’t see how the second statement necessarily follows from the first.

    If she experiences pain with orgasm, I would think that sexual intercourse/pleasure for both of you that simply does not lead to her having an orgasm (or her being close to an orgasm in order to avoid her painful symptoms) is not only reasonable but virtually required ina healthy relationship.

    “I have pain when I orgasm” leading to “we don’t have sex or physical intimacy” raises all kinds of red flags for me.

    My bias – I was in a long term relationship with a woman that I cared very deeply for. We started out being very physically intimate (after getting to know each other), but gradually we stopped doing certain things based purely on her desire to not do them. An example – she developed a urinary tract infection after I gave her oral sex. She never let me give her oral sex again, stating that I had given her a urinary tract infection and was unsympathetic to her pain.

    Ultimately, our sex life was nonexistent and we had an extraordinarily unbalanced relationship. She held all of the power, and I had given it to her to avoid conflict. I was miserable, and the relationship ended up being emotionally abusive. She fell into Johnny’s “Category 3” for malingering.

    Without knowing a lot more of the details, I’d talk with a good therapist. A couples therapist and your wife seeing a doctor would also be good ideas.

    I wish you the best.

  2. Has your wife been to a doctor about this? If not, encourage her to do. First – because it could be something serious (see above). Second – because it is not acceptable to allow a physical ailment to completely shut down the sex in a relationship without at least trying to address it. It would be one thing if she had sought help and help had failed her. It’s another thing to hide behind an ailment, which it does look like she is doing (I’m not going to go as far as Johnny and call bullshit on her symptoms). She might be not seeking help because she wants an excuse not to have sex with you anymore, and lacks the courage to just come out and say “I’m not into sex of any kind anymore.” Or she may be kind of old-school and embarrassed to talk to her doctor about sex. But you should encourage her to do just that. She’s more likely to be receptive if you don’t couch it just in terms of how she’s affecting your sex life. Be sure to emphasize that this is an an unusual symptom and you are worried about her, and want to make sure she is healthy. If she refuses to see a doctor about this, see Johnny’s advice. Best of luck to you.

  3. ^ Ah. That clears it up.

    My diagnosis: total bullshit. Pain in her chest? Coughing? From an orgasm? Unheard of. This is avoidant behavior. She just doesn’t want to have sex.

    First of all, as you’ve pointed out, there are plenty of variations on sexuality/intimacy that don’t have to result in “painful in the chest” vaginal orgasm.

    Second of all, women are shameless malingerers – amirite, fellas? Ever notice that a woman’s “health” tends to act up in conjunction with her moods? Like, she coincidentally seems to get a “stomach ache” or a “headache” or a “fever” that a thermometer can’t detect whenever something’s bothering her?

    I’m pressuring her to get out of the house on time because she’s making us late – headache! I don’t want to do something she wants me to do – fever! I want her to do something she doesn’t feel like doing – dizzy spell!

    Some women never do this. Most women do it sometimes. And some women do it all… the… time.

    Is sex the only time she comes down with some bizarre ailment? Or is this a pervasive pattern, across the board? I’ll put big bucks on pervasive pattern.

    Anyway, dude, the issue here is that your wife is no longer into sex with you. This is a situation that demands resolution. 3 options:

    1. She sucks it up and does the very basic, very painless things that could keep you happy.

    2. She admits that she’s no longer into sex, but still loves you, and you guys open the relationship.

    3. She gives you the runaround, she flips the script and blames you, she comes up with a bunch of ludicrous conditions that she claims will result in arousal – forget it, dude. Split up.

  4. Sorry for the confusion! The first part of his letter got inadvertently deleted. It’s restored now above.

  5. Like the others, I feel like the letter is missing something. The headline mentions pain, but the letter says nothing about it. I’m going to infer that you and your wife are not having vaginal sex because vaginal sex causes her pain. If that’s the case, there are a lot of other things you could be doing instead, but it sounds like your wife isn’t interested. Is this a recent development, or a long term issue? If it’s a recent development, a little patience is in order. If not, you two need to sit down and talk. No one should be forced to go without physical intimacy if physical intimacy is something that they need. I have one other question – are you approaching your wife only about getting your own needs met, or have you attempted to offer her pleasure in other ways as well? Because if you are addressing the intimacy issue in a one-sided way, that might be pushing her away. Is it possible that she’s only not interested in the options you are offering her? It’s hard to tell what’s really going on from the letter, but it is clear that the two of you need to sit down and have an open and honest conversation about the state of your relationship.

  6. I’m confused. This letter seems to be leaving out some pertinent info. But, regardless, the answer is likely to be the same. It’s fair for you to need intimacy from your wife. But, sometimes relationships go through stagnant phases, especially if one person has had she type of injury or medical issue.

    If she is experiencing some type of temporary medical condition, then maybe you should just give her some more time and take care of your needs on your own. Yes, it kinda sucks that she is checked out. But, pressuring her will only prolong the problem. Let her heal completely and then address the issues.

    But, if this is a long term issue, then I think you have more of a right to be frustrated. Let her know that you need some kind of solution. See a doctor or therapist. If that doesn’t work, maybe it’s time to discuss open marriage or separation. You’ll just have to decide how important intimacy is to you and choose your course of action accordingly.

  7. I missed the part about pain – just sounds like orgasm-less sex.

    Anyway, her refusal to engage in any kind of intimacy at all is not a good sign. Ever think of opening up the relationship?

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