If we believe that men are insatiable sex machines who will want and need sex everyday, what happens when we marry and wives find their husbands are just human?
This week, on our Bare Marriage podcast, we talked with Rachel Joy Welcher about her book Talking Back to Purity Culture. When I was reading it, one part really resonated with me. She talked about how many women feel unnecessary rejection because they were taught that their husbands would be sexually insatiable.
Then, if you marry and your husband doesn’t chase you around the house or want sex everyday, you start to wonder if there’s something wrong with you. You feel rejected.
I talked about this in Wednesday’s post about rejection, and asked the question on Facebook and Twitter about what this message did to women’s sense of closeness with their husbands.
I received so many messages–many in private–and I thought I’d just let some stories speak for themselves today.
I know so many of you wrote about the pain of marrying men who have virtually no libido, and having to learn to live with almost no sex. That’s a huge problem, and I do want to investigate it again soon. (And you can read my posts for higher drive wives, too!)
But I want today to look at what happens when there’s actually not a problem–but our resources turn what’s a normal difference into a problem.
What happens when we’re told that men are sex machines, and your husband has a normal, or on the lower-end-of-normal, sex drive?
Feeling rejected when there’s actually not a problem
I grew up in a strict purity culture movement centered entirely on a man’s need for sex. I was told all through high school that men want sex all the time and once you’re married just make sure it happens every day. As an older woman said “it only takes 15 minutes to meet his needs.” Knowing, since puberty, I had a high drive I thought my husband would be over the moon once we got married. We were both virgins. I was absolutely stunned when I found out he didn’t want or need sex every day. I was truly lost and heartbroken and it took several years of pain, resentment and some difficult conversations to work through it. Thankfully, we have settled into a rhythm of how many times each month we have sex. We have learned to better communicate our needs. I don’t understand why the focus has always been on the man needing sex rather than teaching newlyweds how to communicate with each other about one another’s specific needs. It would have saved so much heartbreak. My husband has a DIFFERENT drive than mine. It’s not even all that much lower. He does have a healthy desire for sex, he just doesn’t need it three times a day. His drive just felt low because of what I had always been told men are like (which is an incredibly unhealthy view of men, btw).
When we were first married, my husband was starting his first job and I had a much easier schedule. I basically sat around all day waiting for him to come home, and often expected he’d want to jump into bed as soon as he walked in the door, and it was hurtful when he frequently didn’t, and often didn’t want to have sex at all that day.
We read the Act of Marriage while we were engaged (I know) and I remember reading all the stuff about how women won’t really want or enjoy sex, and I had quite a high sex drive and felt like there was something wrong with me. So finding out my sex drive was higher than my husband’s was a real shock to the system and quite hard to deal with at the time. We talked through it though, he made me realise it wasn’t about how attractive he found me. Years have passed and we’ve worked through this, but it was hard at first!
Feeling lonely because you’re never pursued–though you were promised you would be.
I don’t mean to downplay this problem, because it is a real one. But so many women said that they felt teachings that all men are sex machines make this even worse.
Yes! It was really hard for me when he didn’t want me all the time, or even frequently. In the beginning of our marriage he was so consumed with work and it’s stress I started keeping track of when we had sex and would confront him with the fact it has been over a week and question why he didn’t want me. The feeling of rejection cut really deep for me. Pregnancy also took my drive pretty high and when he wasn’t interested I felt rejected personally a lot and had serious body image issues. Multiple times in our short marriage I’ve been the one initiating and I have nearly lost heart because I just want to be pursued by him. All my training about men’s lust and women’s responsibility to keep them from lusting didn’t prepare me for any of that. Thankfully, we have really tried to work hard together to communicate with, and listen to, each other and things begin to even out now, but I still struggle with those leftover rejection feelings.
Feeling sexually disconnected?
Learning that sex is complex–even for men!
Honestly, I wish we could believe that men are not one-dimensional. Sex is not the only thing, or even the primary thing, that motivates most men. That’s what these women found–that their husbands were simply human, with real feelings as well.
I grew up in the height of purity culture but was fortunate that I didn’t absorb most of the negative teachings about sex. However the one lie that I really internalized was the idea that men always want sex all the time. So I assumed that most marriage problems were due to a negative view of sex by women and since I was sex positive, I naively figured I would have no problems with sex in my marriage since everything I read implied that sexual issues in marriage were caused by women not wanting sex.
I was caught so off guard when it turned out that my husband only wanted sex infrequently. There have been times that I felt angry and hopeless. This is a real problem that we need to work on, however, the thought that my husband must not love me if he doesn’t want sex tonight definitely makes the problem even worse. I’ve had to reframe and remember that my husbands lower drive doesn’t mean that he doesn’t love me and that he is a person who gets tired and run down just like I do.
Yes, the teachings I grew up with related to sexuality perpetuated negative stereotypes and hurt my marriage! We married as virgins after dating since high school. I was very much looking forward to sex; and was very surprised when my new husband didn’t want sex every day. Some days he just wanted to cuddle and watch a movie and fall asleep. We have been married well over a decade and he has always been this way. I wouldn’t say he is low drive, but he definitely isn’t high drive. He also told me he doesn’t really struggle with lust and he doesn’t think about sex itself that often. There’s nothing pathological about this, but it has left me feeling very rejected throughout most of our marriage because i wasn’t being pursued the way I had expected. It took years of honest conversation and some marriage counseling for me to finally believe him and accept him. Interestingly enough, he also doesn’t want sex if we are in an argument or emotionally disconnected— he wants us to fix the conflict first, and have some quality time, before connecting on a physical level. This is the opposite of what I’d been taught about men. I thought sex would be my magic trick to resolve things between us, but he is more complicated than that. I had to learn to see my husband as a unique individual, rather than put him in a box just because “all men are supposed to be like THIS “.
I had a very standard 80s/90s Christian church culture upbringing (lots of Dobson, Brio magazine, and later Eldreges, Eggerichs, etc.). The cumulative effect of these teachings lead me to believe that a man was practically helpless to resist his wife’s advances. I was an awfully conservative young woman, so the idea of being seductive was hard for me to grow into. When I finally gathered up the courage to make a move, I was met with disinterest from my husband. I was embarrassed. I was hurt. And I felt lied to–hadn’t all of that mentoring, all of those tropes about gender, basically guaranteed me success in this? It was quite painful. It happened more than once too, and the results were even more difficult for me to process. In short, it bordered on cruelty: my husband laughed at me. I can’t quite put into words the gaping, gnawing chasm in my gut as I realized that I was not automatically “captivating” (thank you, Eldreges), my desire to be seen as lovely was not automatically matched by my “hero’s” desire to make me feel lovely (thank you, Eggerichs), and in more scientific analysis, my nakedness did not produce automatic arousal (thank you, Dobson). So much of my pain could have been mitigated if the church had presented sexuality as complex, emotional (for men too, not just women), and honestly fragile–something that needs to be handled with care. I felt like it been talked about in more transactional, crude ways. All of the talk in the church about sex (because the church does like to talk a lot about sex) left out so much of the mystery, the pain, the unfulfilled longing, the artistry. I learned two things: I repented of thinking so uni-dimensionally of men. They are not beholden solely to their physical desires, they are full, holistic people. Secondly, I learned through pain that sex isn’t the bandaid that the church presented it as–it doesn’t solve marital conflict. We have had sex in the middle of conflicts! For what its worth, it helped remind us of our togetherness, but it didn’t end the arguing. I think that (my) Christian culture had presented sex as the great panacea–to solve lust! to solve loneliness! to solve conflict! and that misunderstands sex by trying to make it do too much. It is far to vulnerable of an act, and far too fleeting of fulfillment for it to bear that much weight.
And here’s Lisa on Facebook, summing up the whole thing succinctly:
In addition to normal variation of libido, the idea that all men want sex all the time is part of not treating men as experiencing human emotions as much as women. Which is sad and wrong.
Exhaustion, illness, stress, anxiety, depression, and/or feeling emotionally disconnected from their wives can reduce libido for many men. They are not robots or sex driven animals
Exactly! If we believe that sex is not just physical, but is also about emotional and spiritual intimacy, then the whole person needs to matter. And our husbands are whole people.
I hope that we can start looking at libido in a healthier way. Not all men have the higher libido. Even among men with the higher libido, that doesn’t mean they will want sex all the time, or will be insatiable.
Sex is a part of life, but it is not the whole of life, and we shouldn’t make it more than it is. Perhaps if we had that perspective, then these differences, when they happened, would just be more a normal part of life, rather than a devastating rejection.
What do you think? Have we created unnecessary problems? What’s the best way to change this conversation?
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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