Why do I shut down when my husband initiates sex?

I know many of us are thinking about how to put a smile on our husband’s face. But so often the problem is that as soon as we start to think that he may want sex, we immediately tense up.
What if I don’t want it? Then will he be disappointed? That’s actually quite a common scenario.

Listen to this question from a reader:

Reader Question

I’ve been married for a year and I really do like sex usually. But something weird happens whenever my husband initiates, or I think he may initiate tonight. It’s like my body completely shuts down and I almost start a mini-panic attack. What if I can’t get in the mood? Now he’s stopped initiating and I feel like we’re not having sex as often as we should. How can I change myself so I don’t tense up if he initiates?

Great question! Now, I know that for many of you reading this, the situation is flipped and it’s your husband who rejects sex. If that’s you, I encourage you to read this post, or this one.  But let’s deal with this woman today.

Why do women tense up if their husband initiates sex?

Why do I shut down when my husband initiates sex? | Help for women who want to increase their sex drives--with the secret to anticipating sex again!

Here’s how the scenario usually unfolds: sexual tension exists when there’s a sexual pull between two people, and you don’t know whether that’s going to be fulfilled. In movies, it’s often a fun element. We like seeing the tension between two people as they decide whether to move forward in their relationship. But sexual tension can exist in a marriage, too, and that’s not always as fun. The one who wants it dances around the issue, because they’re trying to feel you out: will she say yes?

He doesn’t come right out and say it because he doesn’t want to be rejected. And so he may try to woo her (often clumsily), and in so doing she may actually retreat even more. She gets in this guilt-induced funk before anything even happens, because she’s not responding like she knows he wants. I know that’s how it was in my marriage in the early days. Whenever Keith wanted sex, I did panic.

Now, some women panic because it triggers issues of sexual abuse, and if that’s you, I just want to say that I am so, so sorry. For someone to violate you like that is just plain evil. And I’d encourage you to read this post on how to recover after sexual abuse. But many people feel panicky or tense even if there is no abuse in their background.

Why? Because for a woman to enjoy sex, she needs to have her brain totally engaged.

She needs to be looking forward to it. She needs to see it as an exciting, pleasurable thing. She needs to be able to throw herself into it. And for us that’s largely emotional. The problem is that if we feel pressured, it’s hard to imagine being excited about it. It’s like when you were a kid and your mom tells you that her friend is bringing some kids over for a play date, and you have to behave and have fun with them. While normally you could have had fun with them no problem, as soon as she tells you that you have to your instinct is to feel as if you’re not going to like those kids.

Emotional pressure tends to send us running in the opposite direction, even if we have perfectly healthy sexuality. Sometimes women feel as if they don’t have a sex drive. It’s not true! But think of your sex drive like an engine, with both brakes and gas. You can’t really move forward until you take your foot off of the brake. And a lot of us have our foot on the brake.

The unhealthy way around this sexual tension is to try to make the person with the higher sex drive have a lower one.

When we do this, we often see our husbands eventually give up and stop initiating. When The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex was released, Keith and I made a funny video to show what this may look like in a relationship:

The healthy way to resolve this sexual tension is to start thinking in a different way.

Yes, we have an emotional response that backs off as soon as he wants sex, because at heart we aren’t sure that we can work ourselves up and enjoy it. But what if we could learn to control that emotional response? You see, our emotions are rooted in our thoughts. And study after study has shown that it’s actually possible to change your thought patterns, which will, over time, change our emotions. That’s actually quite biblical! Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 10:5:

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

2 Corinthians 10:5

You CAN take every thought captive. And how to do we do that?

Start thinking of yourself as someone who enjoys and anticipates sex.

Seriously. That’s the big thing that we have to do. And don’t just think of yourself as someone who looks forward to sex, but also someone who looks forward to your husband initiating. Think about how it shows that your husband wants to get intimate with you. I spent the weekend reading some business books that can help me move ahead with my ministry. But one of the themes that came up again and again is that it’s been shown that how a person thinks of himself or herself determines how much success they have. Jeff Goins, who writes a ton about being a writer, said this:

Believe that you already are what you want to be, and then start acting like it.

That may sound hokey, but it actually works. If you want to be a writer, then you have to think of yourself as a writer. Why? Because often people don’t write because they think, “well, this is just a hobby”, or “I can never make money at this”, or “I’m just being silly.” So it’s hard to sit down at the computer and do it. But if you think of yourself as a writer, it’s much easier to actually write. You don’t have these negative thoughts in your head.

Are you TIRED of always being too tired for sex?

Do you yearn to actually WANT to make love–and figure out what all the fuss is about?

There is a way! And in this 10-module course I take you through what libido is (it may surprise you!), what affects libido, and how we can reclaim the excitement that God made us for.

Start acting like someone who enjoys and anticipates sex.

One of the most inspiring life stories I’ve ever heard is that of Ben Carson, the pediatric neurosurgeon who is now the Secretary for Housing and Urban Development. He and his brother grew up with a single mom, who made her living cleaning a very wealthy family’s home. She saw what the wealthy family did, and then decided to emulate it herself. In the wealthy family’s home you couldn’t see the TV because of all the books. So she made her sons read a book a week and write her a book report on it (though she couldn’t actually read the book report; she didn’t let her sons know that until much later). In the wealthy family, the kids played instruments. So her sons had to take violin lessons. All the things that she saw them doing she decided she was going to do at home, because she figured those things must have made a difference. Discipline, no TV, emphasis on books–it worked, too!

So how does someone who enjoys and anticipates sex act? What makes up a sexually confident woman? She likes feeling good about her body, so she tends to take better care of it. She flirts a lot with her husband! But the biggest one? She takes time just to smile and imagine how great sex will be. 

When you visualize yourself enjoying sex and responding to his advances, you will enjoy sex more!

When I wrote 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage, I was trying to show how it’s often our thoughts about marriage that undermine that very marriage. And there’s so much scientific research to show that, too! Here’s a study I recently came across that’s fascinating. Researcher Judd Blasotto at the University of Chicago was wondering if you can harness the power of the brain alone to help basketball players to improve their jump shots. He divided the players into three groups. For 30 days, one group couldn’t work on their jump shot. The second group worked on their jump shot everyday. The third group didn’t work on their jump shot, but they spent time everyday visualizing exactly how they would do the jump shot. At the end of the thirty days, the first group had no improvement whatsoever.

The second group had a 24% improvement. But the third group had a 23% improvement. They hadn’t even picked up a basketball; they had simply thought it through in their heads over and over. That study revolutionized how athletes now train, adding visualization to their routine. What would happen if we added visualization about how great sex will be to our daily routines? What would happen if we thought of ourselves as a sexually confident woman, and deliberately told ourselves that sex was going to be awesome tonight?

Start believing that you will like sex, then start acting like someone who likes sex, and you may just find that you really like sex!

I know it sounds far-fetched. But God made us so that we don’t need to be carried away by our emotions. Our emotions are changeable. This may be a different scenario, but think of what Paul said about his emotions in Philippians 4:11-13:

Philippians 4:11-13

 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

What is “the secret” he learned? I believe it’s that he had the “mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16). I know it sounds weird to think about having the “mind of Christ” at the same time as we’re talking about getting all sweaty with our husbands, but this actually totally goes together! 

Hot and holy are really two sides of the same coin. Our God is a passionate God, and He wants to unleash that passion in us. He created us to be carried away by desire and passion with our husbands. And so He wants us to start changing our thought patterns, so that we can change those emotional responses and emotional triggers–and actually enjoy sex again.

You can do it! And if you’re having trouble with this, my Boost Your Libido Course takes you step by step how to do this. It talks about how much of libido is “in our heads”, and then moves on to what’s in our bodies, and then even how to feel sexually confident and really anticipate sex. Check it out now–and let’s stop panicking when our husbands initiate sex! 

You should also check out: 

Why Your Enthusiasm Matters to Your Husband

Dead Sex Life in Marriage

Are You Settling for a Dead Sex Life?

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