What do you do if your husband doesn’t want to make love?
That’s such a lonely place to be in a marriage–but it’s far more common than we might normally think.
When we were conducting the research for our book The Great Sex Rescue, we asked 20,000 women who had the higher sex drive: she or her husband (along with other questions). Then we asked men the same thing in our men’s survey for our upcoming book The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex. And while in 58% of marriages the husband has the higher sex drive, in 19% of marriages the woman does (and in the others they’re roughly equal).
So what do you do if you’re a woman, and you’re married to a guy who doesn’t want sex–or at least doesn’t seem that interested in it very often. You wonder “why doesn’t my husband want me?” What’s wrong with me?
I initially ran this big series on women with the higher sex drive because husbands didn’t want sex back in 2012. I keep pointing to those posts, but I’d like to update them this week and rerun them, because higher drive wives is an important topic, and I want to make sure we’ve covered it well!
This week I want to talk about what to do when your husband doesn’t want to make love.
And before we get going, I want to assure you that usually the reasons your husband doesn’t want sex have nothing to do with you–and much to do with him. Maybe he has an abnormally low sex drive; or maybe it’s some other relationship or psychological issue. We’ll talk about how to understand what’s going on better, and then give some strategies about how to deal with this.
For the first part of the week, too, we’re not addressing marriages where she simply has the higher sex drive, but he does want sex. We’re not looking at marriages where they both want sex, but one just wants it more than the other. We’re looking more at marriages where the husband honestly doesn’t want sex very much–when he’s always turning her down. He doesn’t just have a lower sex drive; he seems to have hardly any sex drive.
I believe that God created both men and women with sex drives. We both should yearn to make love. However, in general, men tend to have more spontaneous libidos, while more women have responsive libidos. If men don’t ejaculate for a period of time, their bodies will actually do it for them during the night. Men tend to be aroused more quickly and easily, because biologically, they need to be in order for intercourse to even work.
That’s why men tend to have higher felt libidos. But “tend” doesn’t mean always. In any given population, some will have extremely high sex drives, and some will have extremely low sex drives. However, look at any bell curve and you’ll see that these extremes are quite tiny. So in most cases with a very low male libido, something else is going on.
What could those issues be? I want to look at the four main categories of reasons for low libido, and then we’ll turn to what to do about them later this week.
1. Betrayal Issues: He refuses sex because he has transferred his desire elsewhere
The category that is rising the most right now are men who are not interested in sex within marriage because they’re getting release elsewhere, especially with pornography.
A man who is using porn will slowly find that it consumes more and more of his life, and more and more of his sexual energy. Porn changes the sexual response cycle so that what is arousing is a picture or an image, not a real, flesh and blood person. And you often need more and more porn and more extreme porn to give you the same high that you felt when you started using it.
When men use porn, in general they masturbate as well. And so it becomes quite likely that eventually they will stop desiring their wives in the same way. That’s why the idea that porn can be exciting in a marriage is so off base. Porn steals the natural desire you have for each other. Sure, you may get aroused by the porn and then act it out with each other, but that’s not really making love anymore. The source of the desire was the image, not the person, and you’re still thinking about that image while you’re with your spouse.
Now, it’s not just men who use porn; around 15% of Christian women have struggled with it too. But an overwhelming majority of men had sought out porn, and it is hurting many marriages.
If your husband has a really low interest in sex, and you can’t figure out a reason for it, verify that he isn’t watching porn. Check his computer and his phone, and have a talk with him about it. Here’s a post on what to do if your husband uses porn.
2. Psychological Issues: He doesn’t want sex because of low self-esteem or stress
This one’s a big catch-all for a number of things that can affect his emotional state, and thus affect his level of sexual desire. Anything that causes stress can take up so much emotional energy that it can drown out libido. A rough patch at work, stress of exams or finding a job, stress of a new stage of life, all of that can impact whether or not a man wants to make love.
Also, a man’s sex drive is all wrapped up in his concept of manhood (just like ours is similarly wrapped up in how we feel about being a woman). A guy with a healthy masculinity will feel confident, will feel capable, will feel able to take initiative, though this may look different with different personalities. A man with a healthy masculine identity, then, tends to want to make love. But if he doesn’t feel like a man, he won’t. If he isn’t sure of who he is, isn’t sure of his purpose, and isn’t sure of his role, he could easily have no sex drive.
For instance, I know a woman who is walking through this right now. She married her husband a little later in life when he was working part-time. He has never worked full-time. He tends to spend his life on the couch, not doing a whole lot. He has very low motivation for anything, and doesn’t get excited about very much except video games. He isn’t very involved with his children.
When you look at his life, you can see that he doesn’t seem to have a “will” to do anything. And if you look back at his childhood, you’d see that he was rarely affirmed in anything. He was rarely told by his dad that he was doing a good job. And so he was never sure if any decisions he made, or any steps he took, were the right ones. So he simply stopped taking any. To anyone on the outside he just looks extremely lazy, but I do think there’s more going on there. I think he fundamentally was scarred.
A man can have his masculinity scarred in other ways, too. The root to his scars lie in his family of origin; but even within a marriage he may feel beaten down. There’s nothing wrong with bringing up issues with your husband--and you should do that! But please make sure that your relationship is not characterized by constant negativity, but instead that you also encourage where appropriate. I have heard so many women constantly pick at their husbands, constantly correct their husbands, and I don’t even know if they realize they’re doing it.
The Great Sex Rescue
Changing the conversation about sex & marriage in the evangelical church.
What if you're NOT the problem with your sex life?
What if the things that you've been taught have messed things up--and what if there's a way to escape these messages?
Welcome to the Great Sex Rescue.
3. Medical or Physical Issues: His libido is low because he has low testosterone or other medical conditions
Another big category for those with low sex drive is an actual physical issue with the hormone that causes sex drive. If he has low testosterone, he won’t desire sex as much. But low testosterone can also be caused by other physical problems, like diabetes or even some pain and depression medication–or depression and diabetes itself! Obesity can also lower libido.
The problem with this category is that because he doesn’t feel the need for sex, he likely isn’t upset about it, and so it can be difficult to get him to talk to a doctor about it. The good thing is that this category is the easiest to fix–if you can get him to go to that doctor’s appointment. So many women have told me that they suffered for 10 years, having the same back and forth fight over sex, feeling undesired, him feeling attacked–until he went to the doctor and got testosterone treatments. Things changed overnight. Their big reaction was, “why did we wait so long!”
Medical conditions themselves aren’t the only culprits that can impact our brain chemistry. Drug use, alcohol use, or any other addiction (even video games) can also impact libido. When something else replaces the high our brains get for sex, it can cause libido to shut down. In this case, it’s not a medical treatment that’s required as much as addiction treatments.
4. Sexual Issues: He doesn’t initiate sex because he’s nervous about his performance or his desire
Finally, there’s a category that relates to how he functions sexually. Let’s start first with a scenario that’s a combination of #2 and #3. Let’s say that a man is nervous about the relationship and nervous about his own sense of self. One night you make love, and he can’t keep his erection. A week later it happens again. He was already feeling nervous; he was already feeling slightly humiliated within the relationship. Then erectile dysfunction hits, or perhaps premature ejaculation, and it becomes too much to bear, and he shuts down.
Or perhaps it wasn’t the relationship that was causing him to feel uneasy; maybe it was his ability to earn a living, or his relationship with his parents, or something else. If he then can’t finish intercourse, it can become a vicious cycle, where he’s afraid of trying again because he doesn’t want to fail, so he just shuts off.
Other relationship dynamics can similarly cause sexual performance to suffer. A common by-product of a wife having an affair, for instance, is a husband’s intermittent erectile dysfunction afterwards. He may feel as if he doesn’t measure up, plus he may feel an intense amount of grief and lack of trust. And that can cause some men to stop being able to perform, because they’re nervous and they’re sad. Another dynamic I’ve frequently received messages about is marriages where she’s spent years rejecting her husband’s overtures. Maybe when the kids were little sex was on the back burner, or maybe you had relationship issues where you felt unappreciated and didn’t want to make love.
Then something changes and your libido returns, or you decide you want to prioritize sex. But he’s spent so long turning off his libido that he now is uninterested.
Finally, there’s the hard reality that many men who are married are actually same sex attracted. They married for a variety of reasons–they couldn’t admit their orientation to themselves; they wanted children; they genuinely loved you–but sexual desire never came. And now both of you may feel stuck. I’d like to write about this one more in the future because it seems increasingly common, and it’s so heartbreaking for everyone involved.
The message that I want you to take from this is that his low sex drive is usually–though not always–something that can be addressed.
I’ve received many emails from women lately whose husbands fall into one of these categories (or else into almost all of them!). And these women feel humiliated. They feel as if they must be freaks, because everywhere else in our media it says that men are desperate for sex. Why don’t their husbands want them?
But there are many reasons for a husband’s low libido that have nothing to do with whether you are attractive, with whether you are desirable, or even with whether he loves you.
Now, these are very broad categories that I’ve mentioned, and they do often overlap, but these tend to be the issues that we see: betrayal issues; psychological issues; medical issues; or sexual performance issues. These are the things that impact libido.
We’ll look tomorrow at how to start tackling some of these things. But today, please know that you are not alone. And in The Great Sex Rescue, we wrote at length on how to navigate libido differences in a healthy way. Increasingly we’re realizing that it is not always the woman with the lower libido. We need to talk about male low libido more openly, and what to do when your husband doesn’t want to make love. This week, let’s tackle this head on!
If you’re in this situation, what specifically would you like to know? And do these categories resonate with you?
Other Posts in the Low Libido Husband Series:
- What to do when your husband doesn't want to make love (coming soon)
- Communicating your needs when your husband doesn't want sex (coming soon)
- 10 things higher libido wives need to know (coming soon)
You may also enjoy:
- 8 Questions to ask if your husband doesn't want sex
- Top 10 Effects of Porn on his Brain and Sex Life
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
What if women's low libido is partly a self-fulfilling prophecy? What happens when women are told:...
When we talk about people's "sexual needs", are we muddying the waters? Happy Monday, everyone!...
If we believe that men are insatiable sex machines who will want and need sex everyday, what...
I wonder: since we've grown up believing so much that men want sex all the time, then when he...
What does it mean to be "attracted to your husband"? What does that actually feel like and look...
Are libido differences really about libido--or are they often about orgasm? We've been talking...
The Bible does not tell women that they can't refuse sex if their husbands want it. This week,...
How did different eras in time treat sex? I'd like to spend April doing some romps through history...