Reader Question: Pregnant and Painfully Blue

“I’m recently married and my wife is pregnant. We are both very excited for this opportunity, but it has had some adverse affects in our sex life. I have something of an overactive libido that causes me to have long erections at times and it becomes very painful if I don’t masturbate or have sex. When I was single, I was able to handle it with masturbating, but since I’ve gotten married, I’ve tried to stay away from it except when it becomes necessary.  My wife can’t always accommodate those needs and I understand completely, but she feels that masturbating does me more harm than good in that I still feel some form of guilt for having to resort to it because most men, I imagine, don’t have this problem. I wouldn’t do it at all if it didn’t keep me from being focused during the day and unable to sleep at night. What can I do so that both of our needs are met?”

Sincerely, Feeling Blue


Dear Feeling Blue,

There are many places we could start but thought we’d address the  “long, painful effections”  since that seems to be what brought this issue to the table for you in the first place.  Without having more information about what this is like for you, we offer the following scenarios to consider. The first is a penile disorder called, Priapism.  Priapism is a persistent, often painful erection that can last from several hours to a few days. The priapism erection is not associated with sexual activity and is not relieved by orgasm. It occurs when blood flows into the penis but is not adequately drained. Common causes of priapism include:

  • Alcohol or drug abuse (especially cocaine)
  • Certain medications, including some antidepressants and blood pressure medications
  • Spinal cord problems
  • Injury to the genitals
  • Anesthesia
  • Penile injection therapy (a treatment for erectile dysfunction)
  • Blood diseases, including leukemia and sickle cell anemia

Treatment for priapism is important, because a prolonged erection can scar the penis if not treated. The goal of treatment is to relieve the erection and preserve penile function. In most cases, treatment involves draining the blood using a needle placed in the side of the penis. Medications that help shrink blood vessels, which decreases blood flow to the penis, also may be used. In rare cases, surgery may be required to avoid permanent damage to the penis. If the condition is due to sickle cell disease, a blood transfusion may be necessary. Treating any underlying medical condition or substance abuse problem is important to preventing priapism.  But, and pay attention here,  since your pain is alleviated after ejaculation, you may fall more in to the next catagory, Vasocongestion or “blue balls.”

Vasocongestion or “blue balls” but this is more of a feeling in the testicles and not in the penis due to extended errections.  Vasocongestion is usually characterized by general discomfort, pain and aching in the gentials most often after arouasal without release.  If what you are experiencing is in fact vasocongestion, it is not going to harm you in anyway, it’s just uncomfortable and leaves you with the question of how you want to handle it.  Try to avoid pitting yourself in an all or nothing scenario and talk openly to your wife about this.

Your sexuality is having a shift as it will for the rest of your lives so strengthening your conversational muscles about hard things as well learning how to adapt to new circumstances.  Your wife is only going to get more pregnant, then you will have a 6 week minimum hands-off as far as sexual intercouse goes from the doctor while she heals, let alone the fatigue and adjustment that will come as you adjust to parenthood.  Often when we are first married and prior to having kids, we imagine our intimate lives can often fit in to a nice, tidy “appropriate” box.  However, as your relationship evolves, you both evolve as individuals, your bodies change your desire changes, as will your sexual relationship. change hence the need to have adaptability.  Just because you are not supposed to have sexual intercouse 6 weeks after a baby, doesn’t mean you’ve been sentenced to no intimacy. Consider broadening your definition of intimacy and how you guys can improve and increase your other areas of intimacy: emotionally, spiritually,  physically and sexually.  Check out our chapter on “How Intimacy is Like Dining.”  It’s another practical way to look at our ever changing sexuality and sexual circumstances.

Do your hamwork.
There is a classic story we love to tell about three generations of women standing in the kitchen getting ready to bake the Christmas ham. After years of watching her grandma and mom prepare the ham, it’s now the turn of the adult daughter. She gets out her large roasting pan, takes the gorgeous ham and unceremoniously lops off two large pieces from either side of the ham and throws them away. Horrified the grandma asks the daughter why on earth she would do such a thing? With a confused look, she replies “Because that’s what my mom always did!” The mother shoots back that she only did that because she watched her mother, the grandma, do it. The grandma heaves a sigh and says the only reason she cut off the ends of the ham was because she didn’t have a pan big enough to fit the whole thing!  The point of this story is we have generations of religious, cultural and family traditions passed down to us directly and indirectly. However, without questioning if those things are in fact good for you, your relationship and your family, you may be metaphorically lopping off the ends of perfectly good ham just because that was what was done and what you are “supposed” to do.  Have you looked at your guilt and shame directly and see where it originated?  Are you choosing to not masturbate because you genuinely believe it’s wrong or are you not masturbating because you are just following what you’ve been told to do without really deciding if that’s what is right for you.  Have you talked about it with your wife?  How does she feel about masturbation in your relationship?  Does she really not like masturbation because of the shame and guilt you feel or is she uncomfortable with the idea.  There is no right or wrong answer accept the answer that is right for you and your relationship.

Here are some resources we recommend.  First, Brene’ Brown’s talk on Shame.  Second is Natasha’s Helfer Parkers, “The Mormon Therapist”, stance on masturbation.  Third, is an expert from our book that was ultimately not published but posted on our site:

“This section isn’t about condoning or condemning masturbation—it’s
about creating discussion and understanding how it may be impacting
your marital relationship. We are looking to shed light on a topic kept
hidden away in back corners—you know it’s there, but you may not know
what to do about it. Statistically speaking this is an aspect of
sexuality experienced by almost everyone, but talked about by no
one—except crudely on TV or shamefully in a confession booth.

Initially you may shirk at the idea that there could be any appropriate
use of masturbation in a relationship, but consider our analogy of “how
sex is like dining.” Masturbation may be something you place in the
menu, like any other side-dish, as part of your sexual relationship. A
few scenarios would be: The spouse who experienced unhealthy, sexually
abusive trauma prior to marriage. The couple having difficulties
overcoming sexual barriers and need further education understanding how
their body works. The couple who adds masturbation as a form of
creative playfulness to balance libido differences. The spouse
experiencing medical or physical complications making it literally
impossible to have “traditional” intercourse. These scenarios are by no
means an exhaustive list but an example of the circumstances couples
might find themselves in. If masturbation is used in a transparent,
mutually accepting way, it can strengthen the bonds in your
relationship.

If masturbation is a part of your relationship, consider how it could
be a bond or a wedge. Natasha Helfer Parker, a Licensed Marriage and
Family Therapist, states the idea of “relational sexuality” which falls
under the stance of the church, which is that sexuality is to be
determined by the husband and wife in a cooperative and comfortable way
(which means it is not coercive, forceful, or abusive).

If masturbation is used because it’s easier to meet your own needs or
becomes an act of selfishness, then it becomes a wedge and moves you
away from your spouse. It can prolong unaddressed, underlying issues
that ultimately cause bigger problems within your relationship.
Furthermore, if masturbation is used in conjunction with pornography it
quickly and easily can turn into an addictive process and can destroy
couples and family relationships (please read our chapter on
Pornography to further understand the correlation between masturbation,
pornography and the impact on the brain). Lastly, if it is something
that is a secretive part of your individual life, you need to address
this and ask yourself what is keeping you from sharing this with your
spouse or causing you to keep this separate from your relationship.

The following questions may guide you as to whether masturbation is a
healthy tool for you and your spouse in your relationship: Is
masturbation used with the specific purpose of enhancing and improving
the overall sexuality of the marriage? Is it taking into account the
needs of both partners and used in an open and honest way between you
as a couple? Is it something you are both comfortable discussing and
sharing honest feedback as well as receiving honest feedback? Is your
joint goal to have a healthy, satisfying, bonding and pleasurable sex
life?”

So our advice is for you and your wife to discuss what works for you for THIS stage of your relationship.  Take this information and let it serve as resouces to navigate through what works for you both.  What you decide doesn’t need to be poured in to concrete but can be what you both decide will work for your current circumstances.  It’s being willing to have the hard conversations that ultimately create the solution that you both can own and feel good about.

Remember, sexuality is ALWAYS changing and it’s easy for our minds to a catastrophizing place like, “It’s ALWAYS going to be this way”, “I can’t live this way FOREVER” but just as the seasons change so will you, your relationship and your stage of life where you are in the thick of pregnancy and new babies.  So remember, today is not forever.

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