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Why we're happy with just a cuddle

by Rebecca Moore

Samantha Belcher, 31, and husband Rob, 40, haven't made love for six months. But they say it's improved their relationship.

Sam's story

'My husband, Rob, slides into bed next to me. We kiss and hug, and it feels lovely, but that's where it ends. We cuddle each other and I fall asleep in Rob's arms.

'That's the way it is now in our house. Rob and I love and fancy each other to bits, but we haven't had sex for six months. And there's every possibility that we will never have sex again.

'I suppose I should be sinking into despair at that thought, but in lots of ways. I've never been happier - and Rob feels the same.

'Everything changed tor us in July last year. I'd had problems with my bladder all my life. And a medical procedure carried out to discover the cause of my difficulties had left me sore and uncomfortable on my return to our home in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire.

'One morning, I was suddenly doubled up with stabbing pains in my vagina. My doctor prescribed painkillers and antibiotics. When they failed to work, I was sent for tests.

'Eventually I was told I had vulval vestibulitis, a condition that causes inflammation of the vaginal skin and the mucus-secreting glands, and vulvodynia, where malfunctioning nerve signals cause burning, stinging, irritation and rawness.

'I was prescribed more medication and joined a support group. Meeting other women in the same situation helped me to cope - but sex was still out of the question. It was a huge change. Rob and I have always had a great sex life. Even after four kids, we would often ask our parents to babysit before heading off to a hotel for the night just to make love.

'My condition led to me giving up my job as an aromatherapist, and any attempt at intimacy was painful. "For the first two months, I spent hours at a time sobbing about the loss of our love life, terrified that Rob would go off with another woman. Then, finally, I decided we had to talk about it.

'"Do you mind that I can't have sex?" I asked Rob one night as we lay in bed.
"I'm just sad for you that you've got this condition," Rob replied, gently 'I could tell he meant it - which was a huge relief.

'One day, the awfulness of the situation got to me ana I ran outside into the garden, crying hysterically.
'Rob followed me out.
"Come on, let's do something to make you feel better," he said, hugging me.
'Leading me back inside, Rob sat me down and began to gently massage my feet.

'And that's how our new type of intimacy began. If we couldn't show our love though intercourse, we would keep romance alive in our relationship in other ways. "Rob began to massage my feet every night. We'd disappear into the bedroom, light candles and murmur lovingly to each other as he massaged me.

"Hmmm.thisis bliss," I murmured."I could massage your feet forever," he said. 'We began to hug and kiss each other and hold hands more. Lying in bed at night, we would hug and stroke each other's faces and gently touch each other. 'I decided to buy a beautiful nightdress to prove that I was still a sexual person. We made a big deal of it, and Rob came with me to choose it.

'We also began to talk more about how much we meant to each other, "i love you," Rob would whisper when he popped back for a tea break from his job as a gardener

As our relationship became more romantic, I began to feel closer to Rob. Before I was struck down with this condition, Rob and I had become quite distant. We'd make time for sex, yes, but that seemed the only way we conveyed our love. I was wrapped up with starting my own business, and Rob was busy with his job.

'I was also completely absorbed in getting my eldest daughter, Cassandra, 14, who is not Rob's natural daughter, to meet her dad. Evenings passed in a whirl as I helped the children with their homework, cooked the dinner and concentrated on my business.

'At night, I'd sink into bed, exhausted. Rob would reach out to me but I'd tell him I was too tired, then I'd close my eyes and drift off to sleep.'"You don't love me any more," Rob grumbled one day. "You don't seem bothered by me." 'I felt awful, and promised to make more time for him, but soon got caught up in my busy life again.