This is the third and final article in a 3-part series written by Christian Sex Therapist Dr. Michael Sytsma of Building Intimate Marriages, offering hope, encouragement, and direction to wives who have a stronger sexual drive than their husbands. In Part One and Part Two, Dr. Sytsma pointed out that wives with a stronger sexual drive than their husbands will need to prepare to work through this difficult area of conflict with patience, clear communication, a sense of calmness and curiosity, reasonable expectations, prayer, a decision to avoid assuming the worst about the reasons for the mismatch – and a willingness to get specialized help for the conversation if needed.
When She Has the Stronger Sex Drive; Part Three.
By Dr. Michael Sytsma
Now let’s dive into the clinical, psychological, and emotional aspects of why a husband’s sex drive might be lower than his wife’s.
Our focus in Part Three of this series is: Explore the three possible explanations.
Explanation #1: It’s Normal
Sometimes, the most accurate explanation is that the wife’s natural sexual desire is simply higher than the husband’s. Nothing is broken or wrong in either of you.
Many people don’t realize, in fact, that there are different types of desire. As we discuss in our book, Secrets of Sex & Marriage, and in my streaming course on desire, “Initiating desire” is characterized by wanting to pursue sex and being quickly ready, and is typically tied to a higher level of testosterone. A second type of desire is “receptive” desire. This is a normal type of desire where the spouse will typically experience desire only after they have chosen to begin to engage in sex and are viewing it positively. It is perfectly normal to be a couple where you, as the wife, happen to have initiating desire and your husband happens to have receptive desire – in fact our research found this pattern exists in more than one in ten marriages (12 percent). If this is true for your marriage, each of you will benefit from understanding both your own type of desire and your spouse’s, as well as how to work with it and grow as a couple.
“Normal” couples are not perfectly matched in sexual desire — one typically has a higher drive than the other. Spouses reported the same level of desire in only 21 percent of couples in our research. For some couples, the spouse who is the high-desire partner switches at various times in marriage due to stressors like children, finances, careers, and physical issues. As stated earlier, the majority of the time the higher desire spouse is the husband, but for 24 percent of marriages, the wife is. If you are simply one of that 24 percent, learning to accept your role may be critical.
Accepting your role will mean different things in each marriage. It often means accepting that you will typically be the initiator of sexual interaction. It may mean figuring out how to seduce him on a regular basis, especially if his desire is more the receptive type. And, while it may involve learning how to share with him when you are feeling disconnected and desiring sexual connection, it does not mean shaming him or demanding from him.
As a couple, if you are working with a Christian sex therapist, your husband will be given tasks to fulfill, such as disciplining himself to engage with you sexually on a regular basis out of a heart of love for your needs — but you do not control his tasks. Your task is to learn how to accept your role as normal for your marriage. Due to the sensitivity of this scenario — for example, you may be feeling like sex is a ‘duty’ to him, he may be feeling badly that sex feels like a ‘duty’ to him, and he may feel badly that it feels badly to you (it’s complicated) — it very likely warrants at least a few sessions with a specialized Christian sex therapist to get you on the road to understanding and putting to practice these disciplines.
Explanation #2: Your High Desire is Problematic
It is possible that your desire is problematically high. High desire alone rarely causes distress in a marriage. What we do with the high desire — demanding, shaming, redirecting, etc. — is what tends to cause the problems. If you are wanting sex many times a week over a significant period of time (weeks to months) and are having trouble disciplining it, I recommend talking with a professional to assess if it may be some type of hyper-sexuality.
But remember: just because you and your husband think your level of desire is problematically high, doesn’t mean a professional will agree. A well-trained and experienced counselor can provide an assessment and a path forward. Also, realize that an unusually high level of desire is no problem if the two of you agree on the frequency. It only becomes a problem if you’re not in agreement, or you direct it somewhere other than your spouse.
Explanation #3: His Low Desire is Problematic
If we put male sexual desire on a bell curve, we have difficulty identifying when it is low enough to label it a problem in need of treatment. If the two of you suspect his desire is more problematically low than normal, it’s time to explore some of the explanations. The following are some of the common explanations I have found:
His life is out of balance. This may be the most common reason I find for low sexual desire in men. Getting men to stop working 80 hours a week, to get more than 6 hours of sleep each night, to eat healthy, to get regular exercise, and to take time off to relax can make a huge difference in sexual desire. While this may seem simplistic, getting off the treadmill to relax on a routine enough basis to impact his sexual desire may require significant life changes, including a different job with less pay. If you find yourself as a couple in this situation, a life coach or counselor may be able to give you some helpful advice on making some significant changes that can lead to a more fulfilling life.
Hormonal imbalance. There is a lot of controversy in assessing and treating testosterone and other male hormone levels. Sometimes, the best way to address low testosterone is getting life back in balance. Other times, finding a physician who is up on the latest research, and who monitors more than just testosterone — and treats your scenario with more complexity than just giving a monthly shot, patch, gel, or spray — can make a world of difference.
Performance fears. With both men and women, our sexual desire is hugely impacted by fear. I often hear husbands express fear that they might not be able to perform as well as they believe they should. This is especially true as men get older and erections are less reliable. Some men repress their desires rather than risk the embarrassment or shame of Erectile Dysfunction with their wives.
The fear that the husband won’t be able to please his wife sexually can be reinforced if her desire is naturally higher than his, she has had more sexual partners, or she is more adventurous or erotic than he is. Another common fear is pain. If the wife experiences pain during sex even somewhat consistently (which nearly one-third of women do), a sensitive, caring husband may lose desire out of what appears to be an unconscious protection of his wife.
Redirected sexuality. Another reason husbands have a low desire to connect sexually with their wives is because they are redirecting their sexual behavior. The greatest fear for many wives is that he is having an affair. This is, of course, one of the most destructive ways sexual desire is directed away from marriage. In the event you discover an affair, please seek help quickly. Some of the best marriages I work with have healed from affairs, but this usually takes skilled guidance with a professional, specialized counselor –not just a general marriage counselor — who has had experience working in this particular arena (you can find some referral resources at secretsofsexandmarriage.com).
More common ways sexual desire is directed away from the marriage is through masturbation and pornography. This can initially be devastating to many wives. Most will start by believing it is about them — “If I looked different he wouldn’t be looking at that.” But the reality is that this was likely occurring long before the marriage and has nothing to do with the wife. Centering yourself, allowing this to be your husband’s issue, and challenging him to get the help he needs to remove it from his life and your marriage are key steps to moving forward. Go gently and prayerfully into this challenge, and get educated on it (I recommend the resources at secretsofsexandmarriage.com, as well as Shaunti Feldhahn’s book Through A Man’s Eyes.) He is likely not proud of the behavior and will almost certainly be defensive at first, maybe even attacking and blaming you. Expect it and plan not to be reactive, or the focus may shift to the fight and away from the issue. Gently express the negative impact on you, and invite him to be different. It is good to set a limit, saying this does not belong in your marriage, but it may take some work to get it removed. Seek help early if you think you need it.
Personality issues. “She’s right,” one husband told me. “I honestly don’t think of having sex with her. I wake up thinking about work and go to sleep thinking about work. I love her and enjoy sex, but I just don’t think of it.” While this could mean he has a receptive desire, for this client it reflected some life imbalance. His comments reveal a hyper-focused husband. When asked, this husband said he desired sex 2-3 times a week and only with his wife. We just needed to work on how to help him regularly step out of his hyper-focus to enjoy his wife and marriage.
I have also seen low sexual desire show up in men who have obsessive-compulsive characteristics, and who greatly dislike the bodily fluids and general “mess” involved in sex. Other men have more autistic, detached general personality characteristics that keep them from desiring intimate contact like sex.
Lack of attraction to spouse. While this is one of the most common fears of wives, it is one of the less common reasons husbands give for low sexual drive. But, while not as common as feared, there are husbands who struggle with the physical appearance of their wives. Occasionally this happens when couples marry because they are good friends and the marriage made sense, rather than because they fell in love and felt passion for each other. In these cases, developing a passion that was never there can be a tall order. Even if they aren’t successful in developing a passionate physical attraction, I often find these couples are capable of developing a rich, rewarding, and long lasting marriage that they wouldn’t trade for the physical rush. It’s helpful to keep in mind that a healthy goal is an intimate, fun, sensual, rich marriage. Pursuing that goal is very doable and can even build into a relationship with a very healthy eroticism.
More typically, lack of self-care (which sometimes occurs after having children) causes areas of unattractiveness that distract him and inhibit his sexual desire. While wives are often afraid they need to have a perfect body, the right size breasts, and a flat stomach, that is usually completely untrue. It is simply that a husband may be able to lean in better when she is practicing good self-care (a relatively healthy diet, and staying active) and working to be erotic and comfortable with her body.
Sinful heart. Finally, I will occasionally discover a husband who has a withholding, sinful heart. Seeking to control or punish his wife by generally withholding himself from her can all be symptoms of a very wounded and punishing husband or a mean individual. When present, this is a spiritual issue on the part of the husband that the wife is powerless to address beyond praying for him and remaining her best, despite his behavior. Fortunately, this seems to be quite rare. I would suggest professional counseling for a wife who thinks this may be her situation, to assist her in identifying the healthiest path forward.
Develop an Action Plan
Once you understand your husband’s explanation for his low sexual desire, hopefully he will also have a better understanding of how it impacts you. Only then will you be ready to develop a tentative action plan for moving forward. If possible, agree together on the action steps and how you are going to track them. Work to accept influence from each other and don’t expect your best solution will necessarily work for the two of you. Most couples find it takes a variety of “solutions” over time to resolve the conflict over sexual desire.
Keep moving forward with your plan. The reason most couples fail in this area is because the required conversations trigger so many negative emotions that they quickly begin to avoid the subject. I encourage you to not do that. Avoiding the subject means no progress is made and the couple is stuck and moving further apart. As you can see, courage and communication skills are critical for success, which is why many couples with trouble in this area need professional help. Keep leaning in and seek help if you need it.
Keep the End in Mind
Finally, keep the end in mind. If you have higher desire than he does, and your goal is mind-blowing sex multiple times a week, or a husband who is always hot after you, you may almost certainly be disappointed. If your goal is regular intimate lovemaking, you can most certainly be successful. God designed sex as a beautiful and powerful way to reflect Him and bond a couple together. Pursuing His goal for you as a couple is always worth it.
And if you are interested in having Shaunti speak on kindness for your workplace, church, school or community group, please contact Nicole Owens at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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