She took a job in a foreign country to escape sex with hubby

Triza was doing her second year of work in Somalia.

Photo credit: Joe Ngari

It is not unusual to meet a Kenyan working in one of our neighbouring countries or even further away in another continent. It is a logical thing to do these days, given the slim prospects of getting a good job right here at home. I was, therefore, not surprised when Triza mentioned that she was on her usual two weeks home visit from her employment in Somalia.

“But I wish I could stay in Somalia throughout,” she said. “A few days before flying back home, I lose sleep and I develop a bad headache.”

Her employer did not allow foreign staff to spend their off days in Somalia. They were supposed to reconnect with their families. Travel arrangements were made to ensure that they left the country.

“The thought of coming home to meet Jared drives me crazy,” Triza lamented. “As soon as he sees me, all he wants is sex and I cannot allow him to have it and in fact he does not know that that is the reason I decided to escape to Somalia.”

The couple, in their late thirties, had two children. They had been married for 10 years. Jared was an engineer while Triza was a nurse. Triza was doing her second year of work in Somalia and for all that time, they had not had sex.

“I cannot allow him to touch me. I get anxious and irritated, my tummy turns upside down and I get nauseated, twice I have vomited,” she explained.

The marriage was at a breaking point. Jared was mad. He accused Triza of sleeping with other men while away.

“I have kept this problem to myself until now,” Triza explained, “Can you give me medicine that can make me stay still and allow Jared to do his thing so that we have peace?”

Digging deep into Triza’s sex life, she did not mind sex at the point of marriage, although her libido was rather low. Over time, she started withdrawing from Jared. She attributed her withdrawal to bad treatment.

“I felt he was not caring; that he did not value me,” she said, “with time I started feeling bad after sex, just feeling hollow and disturbed.”

Triza then lost interest in sex but because she wanted to keep her marriage, allowed Jared to have sex a few times without her emotional involvement. She felt dirty and abhorred the whole experience. With time, she became anxious and started having headaches whenever Jared made sexual advances towards her.

Her situation progressed to the level that she would not only get a headache but her whole body froze, and she got nauseated. It was at this point that she escaped to Somalia, it was no longer tenable to stay in the same house with Jared.

I diagnosed Triza to have secondary sexual aversion. Sexual aversion is a complex disease that makes one go into a state of panic, fear, anxiety and disgust when faced with a sexual situation. It can develop from the start so that the affected person remains sexless and single, many times describing sex as dirty and dangerous. When it has developed from the start, it is described as primary or lifelong in nature.

The secondary or acquired sex aversion comes later in life in someone who has previously enjoyed sex. It tends to happen towards sex with a particular person, normally the regular sex partner. This means that an affected person may still feel some desire for sex and may be attracted to other people but not the regular partner.

Although sexual aversion may be triggered by sexual assault; psychological trauma including mistreatment by one’s partner; or negative social, cultural or religious values, research has shown that there is genetic predisposition to it. Affected persons, in addition, tend to be vulnerable to other forms of anxiety and panic disorders. Women are the ones who are mostly affected although men too can develop the disorder.

“Well understood doctor and so I believe you can get me medicine, I need peace with Jared for the sake of the children,” Triza interjected.

Given the complex nature of sexual aversion, a multi-faceted approach to treatment is recommended. While drugs for treating anxiety may be of some value in these cases, tablets or injections are not the mainstay of treatment; one is taught relaxation techniques to ward off fear and anxiety when faced with a sexual situation. Beyond that, therapy remains the most important treatment intervention. It helps one come to terms with subconscious psychological causes of the problem.

Dealing with the impact of sexual aversion on the relationship is also important. For starters, always remember that your sex partner is not the cause of your problem. His or her actions could have triggered but not necessarily caused it. At the same time, your partner needs to be counselled so that they stop blaming you for problems not of your wilful making.

Finally, always remember that patience and commitment are important prerequisites in treating sex aversion. Triza’s treatment took over six months. If you are in a hurry to heal the treatment never works. Do not, therefore, expect that you will use medicine and be off the problem in days.