What do you do if you’re a husband, and your wife really isn’t interested in sex? How do you get her to understand men’s sexual needs?
This has been a really heavy week on the blog. I’ve been attacking the message that we often hear in certain conservative circles that men are so visually stimulated that they will lust, and that we women must therefore cover up to help these guys.
I believe that message is the wrong one.
But I also think that, if I were a guy in a sex-starved marriage reading all of these posts, I’d get really nervous.
It was never my intention to “let women off the hook” from having sex in marriage this week, and I tried, in each post, to put a disclaimer to that effect and point to more posts where I did encourage a healthy sex life.
And today I want to continue this series with this: I’ve been talking about what we SHOULDN’T be saying about men’s sexual needs. But, then, what’s the solution? What is the RIGHT message?
To you guys who may have felt uncomfortable this week, please, please understand that I’m actually on your side! I do think sex needs to be more frequent and passionate in marriage. But here’s the truth: I think that the way that we often portray men’s sex drives and talk about lust actually makes the sex-starved marriage problem worse.
And so I want to explore that dynamic today, and then present you with what I think is a much more positive message that honours God, honours husbands, and honours wives.
First, though, let’s go back to that guy in that sex-starved marriage (or at least sex-deprived marriage). He’s desperate. He feels as if he’s tried everything. He’s begged and cajoled. He’s done the housework, put the kids to bed, given her a massage. He’s tried talking and learning love languages. And still sex isn’t happening.
So what is he supposed to do?
Well, in the last twenty years sexuality has become a much bigger topic in churches, largely because it’s become such a huge topic in the wider culture, and the church has had to respond. And pastors talk to these men all the time who aren’t getting enough sex. And so pastors ask themselves, “How can we solve this sex-starved marriage problem?”
Maybe if women just understood how their husbands were feeling, and understood that sex should not be an optional part of marriage, then they would have more sex! So sermon series are done on how bad a problem lust is for men, and how men need wives to have sex. Pastors focus on 1 Corinthians 7:3-5, on the “do not deprive” verses.
At the same time, the church has been rightly concerned about the plague of pornography. And so we start preaching about porn and lust, and we start warning everybody what a HUGE problem this is–it’s “every man’s battle“. And we tell teenage girls and women that they need to make it easier on men by what they wear. Then, to wives, they say, “you need to have sex more so he won’t lust.”
Now wives will start having sex, right? Because now they understand men’s experiences! So things will be better.
What I contend is that, by and large, this approach actually exacerbates the problem.
And to explain this, I want to share what women experience. We’ve heard about men’s experiences being visually stimulated and having to withstand pornography and stay pure in this culture. Now let’s talk about women’s experiences.
To start, a question to the men reading this: How many of you have a rape prevention strategy?
If you ask that question to any female over the age of 12, she will tell you all the things that are going through her mind constantly, whether she’s in a subway, walking on a road at night, or in the parking lot of a grocery store walking to her car. She is always aware of what’s going on around her, and always trying to avoid rape.
I taught my girls how to know when to cross to the other side of the road; when to turn around and start walking in the other direction; how to hold your keys to protect yourself. These are things that we women do automatically. It is constant. It is pervasive. It never, ever goes away. Sexual violence is always in the background of our lives.
So let’s picture a young teenage girl, who is forming her rape prevention strategies. She simultaneously has to accept living in a culture which completely objectifies her. In the grocery store magazines blast pictures of women’s breasts, and she knows she’ll never measure up. She develops body image issues that never entirely go away. And she also knows that men look. A lot.
This girl then goes to youth group, where she and her friends are separated from the boys for “purity talks“. She is told that boys will lust after her, and so when they go to pool parties, she needs to wear a T-shirt to stop all of the boys from stumbling. She’s told that she has to watch what she wears in church, because she can cause her brothers in Christ to sin, and not just her fellow teens, but adult men, too. And that presumably includes even the pastor and the elders. They must be staring at her chest, too.
Then there’s a good chance that this girl is also a victim of sexual abuse, sexual assault, or date rape.
In college, she starts serving on the praise team, playing guitar. She is told to wear pants, and never skirts, especially ones at the knees, because men in the front row may try to look up her skirt, and all men will be distracted by her legs. Oh, and don’t ever let cleavage show, or else men won’t be able to worship while she’s standing up there. She wonders whether she really wants to be on the praise team after all.
Fast forward a few years and she gets married. For any number of reasons, sex isn’t going very well. Maybe the two just never figured out how to make it feel good; maybe she’s ashamed of sex; maybe she doesn’t have much of a sex drive; maybe she’s always exhausted. Whatever the reason, sex becomes not very frequent. In fact, to be honest, she finds it a bit of an invasion. There are times when she knows that he “needs” it, but it feels very wrong that he can get that much pleasure when she’s just lying there. It feels like he’s using her. He’s actually inside of her, and she quite often feels absolutely nothing. But this is supposed to be the ultimate “act of love”. It doesn’t compute at all.
Then she starts to hear sermons about how if she doesn’t have sex, her husband will lust after other women. She’s told that God made her to fulfill her husband’s sexual needs, and if she doesn’t meet them, he’s likely to look elsewhere, or at least be really, really, really tempted to look elsewhere.
And let me ask you men, honestly: If you were her, given her background, would that message make her more likely to want to have sex, or less likely to want to have sex?
She has spent her whole life in this culture being objectified and having sexual violence as a constant background noise. And then she is told that God wants her to let her husband use her, so that her husband won’t sin. Now it feels as if God is objectifying her, too. It feels as if God is coercing her into sex. It feels as if no one actually cares that this is HER body (in fact, she’s told again and again that her body belongs to her husband).
So now sex is something very distasteful. It isn’t about her at all. It’s absolutely and only about her husband getting his needs met so that he will stay happy in the marriage. No one actually cares about the fact that he is literally entering her body. She is completely and utterly alone.
Believe me, that is what many women experience when the church starts stressing the “men will always lust” message.
Part of my contention in The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex is that the church has come to see sex with the same error the world does: they are framing sex as solely a physical thing. The world obviously portrays sex as only about pleasure and not about commitment. But when the church then gives similar messages–about men’s sexual needs, and about lust–it makes the same error.
I am not saying that men don’t have physical needs. They absolutely do! But that is not the whole story.
And to have a message that will help couples have a healthy sex life, we need to start telling God’s whole story.
What’s the Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex About?
Let me show you how God intended sex to be intimate in three ways: spiritually, emotionally, AND physically. And I’ll show you how to get there, too!
If you’ve struggled with figuring out what all the fuss is about, or you feel held back in marriage because you just can’t embrace your sexual side, then check this out. You were meant for more.
The problem is that this isn’t automatic. He made women so that they would actually take a little longer to warm up, so that husbands would have to learn to woo their wives and wives would have to communicate about what feels good. He made women so that they’re not physically aroused as easily, so that the couple would have to work on communication and affection so that they felt close in all areas of their lives before sex actually works. That way sex will never become only physical, which is its danger. It will be able to be all of those other things, too!
The danger for many men is that sex is so easy that they may take shortcuts, and miss out on the passion that God really designed us for–mutual passion where it’s about far more than something just physical, and it’s a true “making love”, not just having sex. The danger for many women is that sex can be so difficult that they may give up altogether, or figure that it’s just not worth the effort.
But let me ask you this: If God made something to be this incredible, why would you want to miss out on that? God created you for passion; never, ever settle for less!
If sex isn’t that in your marriage yet, that’s okay. It can be the most fun research project you’ll ever do together! But let me assure you: even if it takes time to get there, there is nothing as beautiful on this earth as feeling totally and utterly physically and spiritually connected to another human being who loves you and cherishes you. Don’t miss out on it. It will keep your marriage so strong. It will help you feel so loved and so relaxed. And it will be one of the best parts of your life, if you both give it the attention it deserves and you both learn to give.
But let me assure you, as a woman: This is a far better message. It calls us to something higher, something better. It points to a God who loves us, not a God who wants us to feel guilty or used. It points to mutually satisfying sex that is for both of us, not sex that was created primarily for one person.
It is not only more effective from a female point of view; It is kinder. It is more loving. And it is also more in line with how God made sex.
Want a way to talk to your wife from this perspective?
Want to understand more about how men’s needs truly aren’t just physical?
Other Posts in our Every Man’s Battle Series on Lust:
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Sex is supposed to be stupendous--physically, emotionally, AND spiritually. If it's not, get The Good Girl's Guide to Great Sex--and find out what you've been missing.