The benefits--and limits--of duty sex

A wife who’s resisted sex for a long time can face a tough journey when she begins to work on sexual intimacy.

The goal should be a thriving sexual relationship with her husband. Sometimes, though, it’s easier for a sexually reluctant wife to think of sex as little more than duty sex in which she allows her husband to have an orgasm with her body. Men report that this leaves them feeling emotionally empty and deprived—and honestly, it doesn’t do so much for us emotionally, either. (I’ve written about the downsides of duty sex here, here, here, and here.)

Getting comfortable with duty sex should not be the end goal for a wife who decides to work on sex.

However, duty sex isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes it is a helpful early step in a wife’s journey toward joyful sexual intimacy.

I’d like to take a look at some of the benefits of a brief time of duty sex and how to get comfortable with it—and then I’d like to talk about how to move beyond duty sex into something so much better.

In Defense of Duty Sex (to a Point, for a Season, and with a Larger Goal in Mind)

The point of duty sex is to make sure your husband has an orgasm and some sexual connection with you. It doesn’t provide much emotional connection for either of you, which is why it isn’t a good way of handling sex for a long time (especially if it is done grudgingly).

However, a habit of duty sex can yield some good benefits as an early step in healing the sexual intimacy in a marriage—if it is done lovingly.

It can’t be begrudgingly given duty sex for the purpose of getting it done, though. It needs to be duty sex for the purpose of growth–which means it’s a little more involved than just lying there while your husband has sex with you.

  • It helps you think about your husband’s needs. I was a woman who rarely thought about her husband. I was all about me, me, me. I was aware of my moods, my needs, and my sexual desires (or lack thereof), but I rarely thought about my husband’s desires as anything other than a burden or pressure on me. Duty sex helped me develop a habit of thinking about Big Guy and not just about myself.
  • It develops a habit of sexual activity. When sex is a habit, you expect it to occur on a frequent and regular basis—so when it happens, it doesn’t feel like an interruption of your routine. Instead, it feels like it’s part of your routine. I had a negative attitude about sex; the habit of regular sex helped change this first into an attitude of tolerance and eventually into an attitude of positivity.
  • It keeps sex on your mind. Like many women, the less I have sex, the less I want it or even think about it. Having sex on a regular basis was necessary in reversing this trend.
  • It gets you comfortable with the physical sensations of sex. When you go for weeks at a time with no sexual contact, sex can feel a little weird when you do it again. If you’ve experienced vaginal atrophy or a decrease in lubrication, the physical realities of sex will bring blood flow back to the pelvic region and can help sex become more physically comfortable again. Duty sex also helps you get used to having your husband in such close proximity and being naked around him. If you’ve resisted sex as much as I did, this is a huge step.
  • Regular orgasms may reduce some of the tension in your marriage. Although what Big Guy craved was emotional connection, having the physical release from duty sex helped him at least experience less constant sexual tension and need. It met one small part of his overall need for sexual intimacy. Reducing some of his sexual frustration (and maybe having a few orgasms of your own) can make the rest of your efforts a bit easier.

How to Do Duty Sex Well

If you aren’t used to having sex, then a habit of sex—even duty sex—can be such a hard one to develop. Here’s what I found helpful:

  • Stay focused on the reason you’re on this journey. Whether your heart has developed compassion for your husband’s pain, you’ve been convicted that depriving your husband of sexual intimacy is a sin, or you’re unhappy with your marriage and are desperate enough that you’re willing to work on sex after avoiding it for years, remember your long-term goal: to make your marriage better. For me, this meant that I was always thinking about how much I’d hurt my husband and how I wanted to make it up to him.
  • Don’t be unpleasant. This was super hard for me. My sex-negative attitude had invaded every single sexual interaction and conversation I had with my husband. I had to change some ingrained behaviors. I had to learn to stop rolling my eyes, making comments like “can we just get this over with?” and “but we did it already this week,” and making sure my body language made clear how much I didn’t want to be having sex.
  • Be pleasant. While I was working on stopping with the unpleasant negative stuff, I was also working on developing some habits that would make duty sex a more tolerable experience for both of us. I practiced smiling at my husband when he approached me for sex. When I said no, once I screwed up my courage a few minutes later, I would go to him and tell him we could have sex—while I gave him a kiss or a hug. I started to tell him I loved him during sex.
  • Mentally show up. When non-sexual thoughts would intrude (the grocery list, what I would wear to work the next day, thinking about my to-do list, etc.), I made myself push them aside to think about later. I replaced them with thoughts about what I was doing: I am having sex with my husband. I’m being a good wife. His arms feel nice.
  • Show up physically, too. Duty sex shouldn’t be just lying there while your husband uses your body. To do duty sex well, involve your own body. Look him in the eyes. Smile during sex. Put your arms around him. Kiss him back. Touch him, either non-sexually or sexually. Move your hips to help him enjoy the experience more. Suggest a different position or activity. In other words, be involved in the sex. If you feel aroused, allow yourself to enjoy the sexual sensations. If you don’t feel aroused, try to enjoy the fact that your husband is enjoying the experience.

These habits may not make sex awesome for either of you, but they should help your mind and body develop a positive habit of sex. At first, they made sex tolerable for me—but over time, continuing these habits helped make sex a more enjoyable experience for me.

What these all boil down to is this:

If you need a season of duty sex, do it lovingly, not begrudgingly.

Move Beyond Duty Sex

If you have resisted sex for many years, you may find it helpful to experience a short season of duty-sex as an early part of your growth—but then what?

In order to get comfortable with duty sex as a loving act, I had stayed mindful of the reason I was working on sex, I was pleasant, and I showed up physically and mentally.

These very same things helped me move beyond duty sex, too!

  • I stayed focused on the reason I was on this journey–only instead of thinking about my husband alone, I began to think about all that our marriage could become. As sex had become a less difficult thing, my eyes turned toward the possibilities the future could hold for us.
  • Instead of being pleasant only in how I treated my husband, I applied the same principles to how I thought about sex for me. When I had an unpleasant or negative thought about sex or about myself as a sexual being, I pushed it out of my head and replaced it with a positive thought. I stopped unpleasant thoughts about my body and sex as a burden. I chose to think about sex as a positive, bonding experience.
  • I showed up mentally and physically by continuing to do the same things that got me comfortable with regular duty sex–being mindful about what I was doing at the time, touching and kissing my husband during sex, and simply being fully involved in what was going on. Participating in what we were doing helped me get comfortable with duty sex, and it helped me move past it.

Duty sex done well can play a role in the journey toward true intimacy in our marriages—as long as we don’t stop there.

Joyful and healthy sexual intimacy goes far beyond duty sex. The private experiences, care and attention to each other, and the cuddle hormones work together to make more love in our marriages. When we mutually enjoy each other sexually, we are participating in something that is vital and can make marriage vibrant.

If you are beginning to work on sexual intimacy after many years of resistance, you may find it helpful to start with duty sex.

Just be sure you don’t stop there, or you’ll be missing out on so much of what God has given to you in marriage.

And you know what? Learning to do duty sex well may be the very thing that helps you move beyond duty sex and into something wonderful.

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7 Thoughts on “To Duty Sex—and Beyond!

  1. This is so true- exactly true, step by step. Talk about it, Schedule it, and as you grow back into intimate love the scheduling gives way to sweet, spontanous, lovemaking. The results you can see by taking these first steps are amazing… as someone who started her own journey over a yr ago by doing this exact thing, I could not have said it better. This saved my marriage and brought open communication, emotion, and respect back for both of us. A small step on a great journey. Well said Chris!!!

    • Thank you so much for sharing that this was a process that helped you. At the beginning, even the thought of regular duty sex can be overwhelming–but if it gets things moving, it can be such a good thing. I’m so glad you are seeing a change in your marriage.

  2. Great post! Fully agree.

  3. This is a wonderful post! Very inspiring!

  4. Charlie O on January 3, 2017 at 12:04 pm said:

    The difference between “duty sex”, and a wife doing her sexual duty as a wife is a matter of attitude (thinking). Psalm 100:2 says, “Serve the Lord with gladness, come before his presence with singing.” Here is duty done cheerfully and joyfully. Among other things, the Christian life includes service. Sometimes a pastor is called a minister. That means he serves. The word deacon means servant. In Philippians 2:5-8 we are commanded to have the same attitude as Jesus who is described as the greatest servant that ever lived. How do we serve God? By serving others. Would it be possible for a wife to joyfully serve her husband in this way? If we think this way duty can produce joy. It may take a while, but you will experience gladness eventually.

    • I do think a wife can serve her husband joyfully in this way even when they aren’t desiring sex for themselves. However, what many husbands crave is the experience of being sexually desired–and they will say that joyfully done duty sex is still just duty sex and is unfulfilling.

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