What happens when a couple gets married, and sex doesn’t work well for her?
Well, I’ll tell you what often happens. The couple assumes that she doesn’t like sex. That she doesn’t enjoy sex. That she’s just not sexual.
And she feels broken, and he feels rejected, and at heart–it’s all her fault.
This week on the blog we’ve been talking about how men can see sex from a woman’s perspective, because that can help avoid self-defeating dynamics like this one. But often it’s not just men that see sex from a male viewpoint. It’s women, too. We expect that we’ll react like men, and when we don’t, we think there’s something wrong.
Keith talked about this really well in his post yesterday about the female perspective on sex, and in today’s podcast, Keith and I sum that post up, and then I jump in and answer a reader question which gives a perfect example of this dynamic.
So first, here’s the podcast!
Example: Sex isn’t working–but are we assuming she’s broken?
Now, here’s a letter that was sent in by a young newlywed, and I hope you can hear the discouragement in her story. I want to share it because the dynamic she’s explaining is REALLY common, and I think by dissecting it we can start to see how sex can become discouraging and hopeless to her, and then feel to him like he’s being rejected and he’s unwanted. She writes:
I’ve been married for about a year and a half, and my husband and I have not really had passionate, exciting regular sex since the first few weeks of our marriage. I genuinely do not enjoy the sensation of being aroused at all. It makes me uncomfortable and usually I have a knee-jerk response like I’m being tickled rather than enjoying it. I feel like I would be perfectly happy never having sex again. I know this is wrong, but I don’t know how to fix it.
I love my husband so much, and he has been so gracious and patient. At first, there were a lot of complaints and frustrations, but we have been talking a lot about it and trying to figure it out. He and I have asked for advice and counsel from trusted people. Everyone he talks to says that their sex is great and everything that we’re dealing with is totally abnormal. Everyone I talk to has been helpful, but can’t really relate to me.
At first, I wondered if it had something to do with my past.. Before I met my husband, I always felt pressured into having sex in my relationships and never really enjoyed it outside of my desire to feel wanted. Now I have an amazing, patient, loving husband who is not going anywhere, and I don’t have any drive to have sex. I know my past has muddled my view of sex and I know what I should think but something isn’t clicking in my heart and in my physiology.
I also wondered if it had to do with a subconscious reaction to our first few weeks of having sex. They were a little intimidating. When we first got married, it was overwhelming because I did enjoy having sex, but it always felt like there were “comments” or borderline complaints. The biggest complaints were he would tell me he wished the sex had been longer and he wished we would have it more often, and I felt like my comments were always opposite. I felt like it was plenty long (I don’t have the time or energy for 2+ hours of sex) and we were having sex at least every other day at first. With the complaints of how often, came a pressure that made me less interested.
However, now I don’t think its my past or the early complaints in our marriage. I just feel like something is wrong with me. I try to get in the mood, I try to make decisions to love him and please him and bless him. I try to get closer to God so that I can have a better attitude and maybe heal or whatever I need to do. Nothing helps. I just don’t like sex and I don’t like being aroused. I still try but it feels like that will never change.
Okay, guys, a few things to keep in mind:
You don’t get to complain about sex until she’s reaching orgasm
This woman does not physically enjoy sex. She is not reaching orgasm. And yet, early in the marriage, he’s complaining about sex.
Now, from his point of view, he’s probably having a great time and just wants to make it better, and just wants to share his feelings.
But what’s going on from her point of view? She’s feeling like there’s something wrong with her since she’s not enjoying it, and now he’s issuing complaints. That makes her feel more and more hopeless.
Until she is reaching orgasm, HER feelings about your sex life need to take precedence. You don’t get to address your complaints about sex or what you’d like in bed UNTIL you figure out her pleasure. Only when sex is pleasurable for both of you should we really figure out how to make it better for you.
Sex is a big thing to get used to for women
For you, it’s something that usually feels awesome and is really fun! For her, it’s very invasive and very vulnerable. It can hurt (and often does). It feels uncomfortable if she’s not aroused. If he doesn’t hold his weight on his arms, she can feel like she’s suffocating. Remember that this is a lot for her to get used to! And remember to treat her gently and kindly.
Arousal and stimulation are not the same thing.
She says that she doesn’t like being aroused, and that it’s a knee-jerk negative thing.
I don’t think she’s right. I think what’s going on is that she’s never actually been aroused, and what she’s finding off-putting isn’t arousal, but stimulation–specifically stimulation of her clitoris or other erogenous zones when she’s not ready for it. Touching or rubbing a woman’s genitals when she’s not turned on at all is actually a turn-off, not a turn-on, which is exactly what she is describing.
I have more about that here:
She’s now blaming herself for what are normal issues
She now thinks she’s broken. Everybody else tells them they enjoy sex. She doesn’t like being aroused (though they obviously don’t understand what arousal means). She has a past that she feels guilty about. And so when sex doesn’t work, and when he has complaints, what happens? She turns negative feelings inward, and it sounds like he may be doing so as well. They assume she needs “healing”, and that something is wrong with her “physiology.”
Folks, I’d be willing to guess that NOTHING is wrong with her at all. They just need to go back to square one and start again, slowly.
But as Keith was talking about in his post yesterday, for women, context really matters. Most women won’t feel desire or arousal unless the context is right.
But what is her context here?
- She feels broken
- She feels as if she is letting him down, because he has a lot of complaints
- She feels pressured
- She feels hopeless
- She feels like she needs healing
In that frame of mind, can you picture her ever experiencing real arousal or orgasm or joy in sex?
What if they could change the context? What if, instead, he could give her these messages:
- You’re not broken; we just need to take some time to figure this out!
- I love you, and I’m sticking with you, even if sex doesn’t work really well right now
- If we start something and it doesn’t feel good, we can stop and try again another time. Don’t worry! We’ll get this right.
- God made sex to be a wonderful thing for you, and I want to dedicate myself to unlocking that piece in you. It’s not all up to you.
- Let’s slow things down and concentrate on you.
Do you see how that could give her more freedom to relax and feel safe and start to let her body feel something?
And that’s what 31 Days to Great Sex does! It gives some “quick wins” in the first week where she can defeat some lies she’s believed, and where they can start to unlock her path to arousal. And then it builds, bit by bit, as you build emotional connection, figure out how to make her feel good physically, and even spice things up. But it’s gradual, and it’s holistic, and it helps set the right context!
Wonder if you will ever share a passionate sex life with your wife?
This couple is going through something normal that stems from not understanding that it often takes longer for couples to figure out women’s sexuality than it does for them to figure out men’s.
Another woman wrote something in a comment a while ago that fits in perfectly with this conversation:
I’ve often wondered if Hubby and I started out the wrong way. We always did what he wanted. Tried the things that were important to him (and I often couldn’t stand) and I never got a chance to try sex my way (what ever that looks like). It’s always been for him. But, of course, that’s because he’s always been the one who’s needed it.
So often couples begin sex focusing on what he wants, because he’s the one who can often articulate it better, and he’s the one who seems to want it more. But when we do this, we reinforce the idea that sex is for him, and not for her. We reinforce the idea that she somehow isn’t sexual, and we can make her give up hope.
When she doesn’t enjoy sex, it doesn’t mean she’s broken. It just means you have a project in front of you! And if couples would see it this way, rather than wondering if there’s something about her that’s broken and turning all that angst inward, I think we’d see far happier sex lives.
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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