It is normal for a woman’s sexual response to look different from her husband’s.

Big Guy and I had a lot to learn about my sexual response. Part of the problem was that neither of us understood female sexual response in general.

Even before our marriage began its long season of disconnection, I thought something was wrong with me sexually. Had I understood that my sexual response was perfectly normal, I could have prevented a lot of difficulties in our marriage.

Sex was supposed to unite us. Unfortunately, our lack of understanding of our sexuality became a barrier between us.


I thought my sexuality was supposed to look like what I had seen in my husband, in movies, and in magazines.

According to all these sources, sexual response looked like this:

  • Desire precedes arousal. The thought of wanting to have sex is what makes your body ready. My husband, after all, could take just one look at me or have a passing memory flash into his mind, and his body was ready to go.
  • Orgasm is easy. It happens via intercourse. It happens every time, too.
  • Once sex has begun, you’re so intent on what’s happening that you wouldn’t know if the rest of the world fell away. The physical need for release is the sole focus of the mind.

Sexual response in me, however, looked quite different:

  • Arousal preceded desire. Except for the fertile days during my cycle, I rarely wanted sex until I was already having it and was feeling aroused.
  • Orgasm was difficult for me. Even when it happened, it took forever. Intercourse rarely did the trick.
  • I was easily distracted—by kids, by traffic noises, by the presence of the dog, and by the to-do list in my head for the next day. Even if my body was physically aroused, if my mind wasn’t in the game, the desire was over for me.

My sexual response didn’t look like I thought it was supposed to.

I saw this as evidence of problems. I often wondered if I was broken, thought I was being punished for premarital sexual sin, and assumed that our relationship was in trouble.


Comparing my sexual response to my husband’s (and, I thought, to the rest of the world’s) left me feeling broken. It affected my view of myself, of sex, and of our marriage.

Sadly, my husband was making the same comparisons.

His sexual approaches often involved asking me if I wanted to have sex. I didn’t (because in me, desire happens after I’m aroused), so I would answer truthfully and say no. Or I would say yes, thinking maybe I could get into it, but he perceived that as little more than duty sex.

He was concerned that perhaps my lack of desire was because he wasn’t a good lover, thinking, If I gave her more orgasms or better ones, she would want sex more.

He thought that because I didn’t show desire like he did, either I had a problem or he wasn’t lovable.

Our lack of understanding of the fact that it is normal for my sexual response to look different from his led to so much heartache over the years.


Earlier this week, I ran across research that reminded me of how normal I was in my sexual response.

A 2003 study of the diagnosis of female sexual dysfunction (published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynecology) drew conclusions that made perfect sense to me:

“It is apparent that fulfillment of sexual desire is an uncommon reason/incentive for sexual activity for many women and, in fact, sexual desire is frequently experienced only after sexual stimuli have elicited subjective sexual arousal. The latter is often poorly correlated with genital vasocongestion.”

In other words, here is what it found:

  • The prospect of an orgasm is not typically what leads women to want to have sex.
  • The desire for sex often comes only after the woman thinks she is experiencing arousal (in other words, only after her mind is in the game, not just her body).
  • There is little connection between what is happening with her genitals and what her mind is experiencing regarding sexual arousal.

As for whether orgasm happens during intercourse? Most women don’t experience orgasm during intercourse. (This Psychology Today article has some things to say about that.)

All those things that I had seen as signs of brokenness, punishment, or relationship problems are quite common in many women.

It is normal for a woman’s sexual response to look different from her husband’s.

It saddens me to realize how little I knew about what female sexual response might look like.

I often hear from women who are just as frustrated as I was with the fact that their sexuality doesn’t look like their husbands’. And, like my husband, many men feel deeply hurt by the fact that their wives don’t desire them in the way they think desire should look.

Many wives have said that their husbands pressure them to have an orgasm each time they have sex. Or they expect that orgasm should happen through intercourse. Or they think that orgasm itself should be enough reason for a woman to want sex.

I measured my sexuality against my husband’s and found myself wanting.

Admittedly, I did the same thing to him in reverse in some ways. I thought that because I didn’t want sex very often, the fact that my husband did want it so frequently was a sign that he was obsessed with sex.

I fully acknowledge that there is much individual variation and that not every marriage matches the generalizations. The problem comes when we have expectations of either our own sexual response or a spouse’s that are based on what we see in others—in ourselves, in popular culture, in friends and family.


My sexuality is not my husband’s. His sexuality is not mine.

We have come to realize that the many differences in our sexual response are part of the on-going adventure in our marriage bed.

For too long, though, we felt hurt and resentment because we simply didn’t understand that difference in our sexual response was normal.


Take a look at your own marriage. Do you or your husband have expectations of each other’s sexuality (or your own) that are based on a comparison rather than on what you have observed is normal for each of you?

Is your husband bothered by the fact that you don’t respond to the sight of his body the way his body responds to the sight of you? Does he think you need to have an orgasm in order to enjoy sex? Does he feel bad about himself when he can’t give you an orgasm through intercourse?

Do you think your husband is too focused on orgasms? Does it seem like he wants sex too much just because it’s more often than you want it?

Do you know what healthy, normal sexuality looks like for you? Or are you caught in the trap of thinking that you and your husband should have the same kind of sexual response?

Next time you notice a difference in how you and your husband think about sexuality or sexual response, stop to think that rather than being a sign of a problem, it just might be perfectly normal for both of you.

Let the differences be part of what you enjoy about the intimacy in your marriage rather than be a barrier between you.

Learn all you can about your sexuality and sexual response, and know that when you make love with your husband, you are loving him like the woman you are.

Image courtesy of atibodyphoto at

13 Thoughts on “Love Like a Woman: Should Your Sexual Response Be Like Your Husband’s?

  1. Jeannette on July 3, 2015 at 10:56 pm said:

    sometimes it’s like you’re in my head. excellent post.

  2. Evan on July 4, 2015 at 8:06 am said:

    Great points, and as a husband, I needed to read this. I do need to take a hard look at where my expectations come from and be more understanding of my wife.

    So, what do you recommend for husbands in this situation? If we have a deep need to be desired, and yet feeling or demonstrating that desire doesn’t come naturally for many wives, where does that leave us?

    (Thank you.)

    • That’s a really good question, Evan, and I don’t have an answer for you. If the only issue in your marriage is the lack of what you see as your wife’s desire, how you approach it should be different from the approach you would use with years frequent refusal.

      My posts Serenity and Climate Change might give you some ideas of where to start. You could also check out some of the resources on my For Husbands page.

      Specifically regarding your wife’s expression of desire, I have a couple thoughts. One is to check your assumptions. Your need to have her express her desire in certain ways is natural. So is your disappointment when that doesn’t happen. However, it can be a problem when a husband interprets his wife’s lack of those expressions as a lack of love or desire on her part. For instance, if your wife never initiates sex, it is okay to feel disappointed–but it not wise to make the assumption that she therefore doesn’t love or desire him.

      The other suggestion I have is to begin to pay attention to other things she does that she might see as expressions of her love and desire for you. While she should be expressing that in ways that are meaningful to you, the fact that she isn’t doesn’t mean she isn’t trying to express it in other ways. Look at other things she does for you or the ways she needs you. I know this isn’t going to meet your need, but it might be a way for you to begin to see your wife’s heart for you in a different way.

  3. Gaye @CalmHealthySexy on July 4, 2015 at 8:57 am said:

    This is so good, Chris. If I had known even half of this information years ago, it would have saved a lot of heartache and frustration. I am planning to share this widely, because I suspect that many women need this information.

    I think that wives and husbands could use this article as a starting point for talking about different expectations and different understandings of sex in marriage. We all, women and men, need to step out of the mindset that men’s sexual experience is the universal sexual experience! That way of thinking has caused a lot of pain and frustration.

    • Thank you for the comment and for sharing the post, Gaye. I’ve thought so much about women’s sexuality and how many of us struggle to get in touch with that part of ourselves. The idea of men’s sexuality as the universal and ideal experience shaped me so much that even when I was reading the research last week, I found myself experiencing a bit of healing. My mind has known the truth for a while, but I haven’t absorbed that truth into my bones just yet.

  4. IntimacySeeker on July 7, 2015 at 7:54 am said:

    Excellent post. Reminds me of this equation: expectation – reality = disappointment. We can’t change reality, but we can adjust our expectations and thereby reduce disappointment, and often increase satisfaction!

  5. libl on July 7, 2015 at 5:48 pm said:

    My hubby told me once that God made women wrong because we don’t orgasm easily during intercourse. He pretty much refuses to give me an orgasm because I “take too long.” (5-20 minutes). No foreplay. No oral. No manual for me. I DO wish to orgasm most of the time, but I am left with masturbating, either alone or he will provide the cowgirl position for me to masturbate on. That is how he wants it. I envy every woman who’s husband goes to great lengths to get her to O.

    And yes. I feel like I am being punished for going to third base with him before marriage. It is devastating to realise the sex life I dreamed of having is never going to happen.

    • I’m sorry. You are not being punished, although I would be feeling that way, too. Your husband is wrong and could benefit from relationships with godly men.

      • Steve Gee on July 8, 2015 at 6:21 am said:

        I stumbled here from the XY post recommending this as a must read. I am a husband Libi and I am so sorry about your husband’s arrogance and pride causing hurts and pain. It’s an area I struggle with as well. Chris mentioned that being with godly men would help–perhaps, but many men don’t get real or transparent and sadly may reinforce your husband’s errant ideas. The fact that he thinks God made women wrong…and she was made originally from man’s rib…to be protected and nurtured, not under foot or to be used for his pleasure only. I pray for courage for you to confront your husband. I would recommend a Christian counselor, not to beat him into submission; but to fight fair and do the homework. Read through the Song of Songs…if the wisest king could take time loving on his beloved, perhaps your husband could learn from there.

    • Libl, I have found that I can stimulate myself quickly before we have sex so I can have at least one orgasm even if it’s a quick. I had to experiment to find out what stimulates me quickly so you might have to do some playing and seeing what feels good and gets you going fast. Enjoy, Wendy

  6. Rhonda on June 6, 2016 at 9:19 am said:

    This is so true! The sad part is that I have been unsuccessful in communicating this to my husband. I know that even though we have sex often, he really wishes that I were more “into it” more often. He won’t listen to me when I tell him things, and then gets hurt when I am honest about my feelings about sex.

    I have been reading several other of your posts. I just found your site via To Love, honor and Vacuum. I read about the Husband’s Hurt. I truly feel their pain, although some of it sounded like my husband, and we have sex at least 3 times each week! He’s never ever satisfied. If he could understand this post about our differences, it would be so helpful!

    • One of the things women often don’t understand about men’s sexuality is that it is about much more than a physical release. It really is an emotional thing for them. Even when frequency is good and they are getting the physical need met, a wife’s lack of connection and engagement is just as much a rejection as a lack of sex altogether. Your husband may equate your feelings about sex with your feelings about him.

      Perhaps you could show your husband my post on men’s sexuality. Ask him if what is there is true for him. Then ask him what else he would add. (There are some important things I did not include there.) Have a conversation that focuses on his sexuality–and then, perhaps, ask him to read this post and try to have the same kind of conversation.

      Do you know what helps you feel more into sex? If there is something your husband should know about in order to help you make the transition into fully engaged sex, be sure he knows.

      When you say he won’t listen to you, what do you mean? Does he cut you off mid-sentence? Does he say he doesn’t believe you?

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