This post grows out of something I addressed at the end of a recent post. If your husband really wants to do a sexual activity that you dislike, do you have to do it?
During a recent sexual encounter, my husband attempted to do something he hadn’t done in a long time. I found myself pulling away, feeling dirty and turned off. I had to force myself to get back into the game, so to speak. I was puzzled by my reaction. It wasn’t something I even thought about. He made his move, and I found myself crossing my arms in front of me, trying to curl up to protect myself, and saying, “no, no, no, not that!”
As I’ve thought about how unexpected my reaction was, I’ve been reminded of how ingrained our feelings can be. During my refusing days, I would sometimes experience a mild panic attack during sexual activity. I would find myself wondering, Why is this one act more important to him than I am? How can he expect me to find pleasure in something that makes me feel so unloved?
I used to have this same kind of reaction to my husband’s requests for oral sex. It became a huge issue. He was always asking for it. Even when I caved, I did it half-heartedly and it didn’t even come close to the sexual feelings or emotional connection he’d been craving. Meanwhile, I was building up resentment in my heart.
I frequently wondered why we couldn’t just cross that one thing off the menu indefinitely. I clearly hated it and didn’t even do a good job (yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as a bad blow job).
Even after I began to work on my sexual engagement and the frequency, oral sex continued to be a problem in our marriage bed.
I asked God, I’m finally doing everything else he wanted with sex, but he keeps pushing oral sex. What’s the big deal? I’m doing everything else. Do I have to do that do? I heard no response.
Even when a wife is sexually generous and loving, one act can become a battleground in the marriage bed. When a wife does not have a history of being generous and loving sexually, that act can become a huge mountain that seems impossible to climb. And sadly, wives with a history of refusing and gate-keeping have made many mountains of different acts.
It doesn’t even matter what the act is. Whatever the Big Bad Icky Act is that freaks you out, battling about it erects a barrier in your marriage. These acts can include oral sex, anal sex, positions outside of the usual one or two, having sex during the day, having sex with the lights on, wearing revealing lingerie, removing pubic hair, using a vibrator, purchasing something specifically for sex, or using graphic language in the bedroom. (Edited to add: It should go without saying that if this act would clearly be sinful, it would be wrong to pursue it. However, even a desire for a sinful act can reveal needs that can be met in non-sinful ways. See this post at Hot, Holy, & Humorous for guidance on how to address desires for sinful acts.)
Or, in my case the other night, it can be just a Little Icky Act, such as getting a hickey. Yes, folks, that is the thing my husband attempted to do the other night that had me freaking out for a short while. Does it make sense that I would have such a strong reaction to something that so many people enjoy? Does it make sense that I would even care about getting a hickey, especially since he was aiming for a place that no one else could see?
No, it makes no sense at all. The reality is that when we have a strong negative reaction, it doesn’t matter whether it makes sense or not. We have a negative reaction to deal with. And when we don’t deal with it, we are maintaining a barrier to intimacy.
Litmus Test of Love
She thinks, If he really loved me, he wouldn’t ask me to do something I dislike. Why can’t he let go of his desire for just this one thing?
He thinks, If she really loved me, she wouldn’t ask me to let go of something I like so much. Why can’t she let go of her desire to not do just this one thing?
When we let one act become an issue, it can take over the sexual relationship. I would avoid sex altogether in order to avoid having to deal with requests for oral sex. During sex, I was constantly anxious that he’d ask for it again.
My husband’s requests for this one act became the thing by which I judged his love for me.
I would look at 1 Corinthians 13 and think about how he was impatient, dishonoring me, self-seeking, easily angered, and clearly keeping a record of our oral sex battle. He was not rejoicing in knowing my truth, and I felt unprotected, distrustful, and unhopeful. The only thing I thought he got right was the persevering part.
Of course, I’d conveniently forgotten that 1 Corinthians 13 doesn’t tell me what I should expect from those who love me. It tells me what I should be doing out of love.
When I finally made myself do some serious thinking about it, it was pretty clear that I was not acting out of love toward my husband.
Slaying the Dragon
So what do you do when you really, really can’t stand an act that your husband really, really wants?
First, I don’t think there is any single sexual act that is absolutely necessary for marriage. Intercourse comes close, but I do know of several couples who have been unable to have intercourse and still find ways to be sexual with each other.
Second, that doesn’t absolve you of making an effort. That doesn’t mean to force yourself to participate in that act whenever he wants. After all, that adds to resentment rather than building intimacy. As nice as it would be if your husband agreed to never bring that act up again, if you are resistant to it, it may be that there is something deeper you need to work on.
So what are some things you can do to really work on this barrier?
Be intentional and persistent. Spend a lot of time in prayer for understanding and wisdom. It’s unlikely that you’re going to wake up one day and suddenly lose all of your dislike for an act. You really need to work at figuring out what’s going on.
Work hard to understand your dislike for the act.
- Is it physically painful or uncomfortable, or are you afraid that it will be? Make a list of all the things you could do to relieve pain or increase comfort. For instance, I learned that if I take a decongestant about an hour before giving oral sex, my sinus issues are less likely to interfere with my breathing.
- Have you had negative experiences with this act in the past? If these experiences were with someone other than your husband, it may be helpful to remind yourself that it was the other person and his attitude that were the real problem, not the actual act. If the negative experiences were with your husband, have you talked with him about your feelings? If necessary, seek pastoral or other counseling to deal with your memories.
- Does it make you feel embarrassed, ashamed, or self-conscious? Come up with a plan to address these feelings. I used a lot of visualization, deep breathing, and self-talk, and I made myself go through with things even when I wasn’t feeling like it. That won’t work for everyone, and it wasn’t enough for me with some things my husband requested—but it was a good pattern to be able to fall back on for most of his requests.
- Is it about timing or technique? If so, try it different ways, with different approaches, speeds, and tactics. With some acts, women find a big difference if they are fully aroused before proceeding.
- Does your husband’s request feel like a betrayal of your relationship? If you agreed earlier in your marriage that you would never engage in a particular act and then he asks about it anyway, it is easy to feel like he’s going back on his word. Or, perhaps you’re concerned that he got interested in the act by watching porn or from a previous sexual partner. Talk with your husband about your feelings, and see if he has some suggestions on how to proceed.
- (Edited to add: Is it sinful? Read this article at The Marriage Bed for a good look at what the Bible says is sinful in married sex. It’s important not just label something as sin just because you’re uncomfortable with it, but do be familiar with basic guidelines of what’s okay and what isn’t.)
Learn about the act.
- Read about it and how other women have managed to make it comfortable.
- Read intimacy blogs by Christian women (there’s a nice list here), and read the comments on posts that address the act you’re struggling with. If your dislike is mostly based on a view that “good girls don’t do that,” you may find that reading about other Christian wives’ enjoyment of certain acts is enough to reframe your own thinking.
- Learn about the anatomy and sensations involved. Okay, this may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I like to learn as much as possible about the physiology and psychology involved in why something is considered pleasurable. With some acts, this might be especially helpful.
Involve your husband in the process. Be sure you’ve communicated clearly about your feelings about the act as well as your commitment to address those feelings. If your past efforts have involved subtle hints and redirection, you probably need to be very direct. Your husband may have some ideas about how you can work on the problem. Or maybe he’ll say that he’d been doing it only for you and doesn’t care if it never happens again.
Putting It to Rest
You really can’t know what the outcome of your efforts will be. It may be that your thinking will completely change. Or maybe you’ll get to a point where you can tolerate it and enjoy the fact that your husband is finding so much pleasure in it.
Maybe you’ll learn that your dislike of an act is just too deep to even be able to tolerate it. And that should be okay. There’s a big difference between grimacing and saying “no way, buddy” and sharing with your husband what you’ve learned in a way that he sees that you’ve made genuine effort. Really working on the issue adds to intimacy rather than taking away from it.
Even if you and your husband agree that it is best to set this act aside, revisit it again in a few years. As you continue to develop in your sexual relationship and as life and bodies change, you may find that your dislike fades away.
When you work on understanding your dislike of the Big Bad Icky Act or the Little Icky Act, other issues may be revealed. You may come to see that the act itself isn’t what the real problem is.
Tackling the Hickey
If your husband requests a particular act, do you have to do it? No—but I do think it’s important that you work hard to address it so this one act doesn’t become a battleground and a barrier to intimacy in your marriage.
As I said, I freaked out over a potential hickey a few nights ago. It isn’t something my husband particularly cares for, and it’s likely that I won’t have to deal with it again for years (if ever). I could get by with sweeping it to the side since it may never come up again.
However, I’ve decided to use this as a chance to practice what I’ve described here. I’ve been reflecting on my early experience with hickeys. I’ve asked people what they enjoy about it. I’ve researched. (Did you know that there are instructional videos about how to give a hickey?) This is just a small thing, but I am already learning about some residual sexual attitudes I didn’t even know I had.
I refuse to be slayed by a hickey.
Are you going to be slayed by your dislike of a sexual act, or are you going to try to conquer it?
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