Since I began writing this blog, I’ve been invited into the pain of countless marriages. Both wives and husbands have shared with me their struggles related to sexual intimacy.
When I respond to a husband, I try to acknowledge his real hurt. I also try to talk about what might be going on in his wife’s heart and mind. I give him suggestions that will help her.
This isn’t about taking her side. Sometimes a wife is being self-centered, assuming the worst of her husband, or thinking that her feelings matter more than his do. When a woman like this writes to me, I tell her that she needs to make some real changes and that she is being unreasonable or unfair. And sometimes she will tell me I’m taking his side rather than hers. Most wives, though, are pretty good-willed. They are carrying their own hurt when it comes to sexual intimacy. Or they’re simply trying to figure out how to enjoy sex.
You want to know whose side I’m really on?
I’m on God’s side, and I’m on the side of marriage.
My heart is for hurting wives—and I know that sometimes the best way to minister to those wives is to help their hurting husbands, too.
That’s what I am going to do here. I usually write to wives, but today I want to write to the sexually hurting husbands who ask me, “What can I try? What am I doing wrong?”
Dear Guys, . . .
Guys, I get it.
Sexual intimacy is about more than orgasm. It is about connection. It fills your deepest emotional need for validation and desirability. Your God-given sex drive should be a source of joy, not a source of shame or rejection.
When sexual intimacy isn’t working in your marriage, it is a deep well of pain for you.
You love your wife. You want to feel close to her. You want her to enjoy sex as much as you do. You want to share the bliss with her, and you want her to love being with you as much as you love being with her.
You may have tried all the usual advice—helping out around the house, running her a bubble bath, telling her she’s beautiful and that you love her, and even talking with the pastor about how to handle this.
You may not have done anything wrong. It isn’t likely that you caused her sexual restriction or refusal, and you may not be able to change it. Nonetheless, there might be some things you can do that create an environment that better nurtures your wife’s self-reflection and growth.
Nothing I can say to you here will change your wife. But guys? Sometimes when I read your messages or hear from your wife about what’s going on, I cringe just a little.
I know your intentions are honorable and that you are a good-willed guy, but I see things from a different perspective–and sometimes I see things that you don’t.
Because your wife is a woman and not a guy like you, you have no reason to understand how she perceives some things or what she truly needs. Sometimes you are missing an important step in improving your marriage. And, frankly, sometimes your well-intentioned efforts have the effect of shooting yourself in the foot.
So, based on the many messages I’ve seen, I have eleven suggestions for you: nine things to do, and two things not to do.
I have a few caveats:
1) These tips are for husbands whose wives have a pattern of saying no to sex or limiting how sex happens.
2) If your wife is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse or other sexual trauma, you may find some of this helpful–but please be sure you are seeking professional or pastoral guidance to help you support your wife’s healing.
3) Your mileage may vary. I make a lot of generalizations here because certain things are true for a lot of women and a lot of men. They may not apply in your marriage.
The Short Version
I’m going to start with the short version. I know that lots of guys prefer to have bullet points and not a lot of explanation. So here you go:
- Own your own sin and work to address it.
- Be respectful and loving even in your mind.
- Pray for your wife.
- Confess and repent for past sins.
- Value your rights and feelings no more and no less than hers.
- Thank her.
- Share your heart with your wife.
- Spend time in conversation with her.
- Remember that her sexuality is not like yours.
- Don’t dismiss her feelings when you don’t understand why she would feel that way.
- Don’t tell your wife to read my blog.
The Long Version
The explanation behind some of these things is important, too, not just the main point. I might not mean what you think I mean. Or maybe you think something doesn’t apply to you because you just see things differently than your wife does. Please take time to read the explanations below.
Things to Do
1. Own your own sin and work to address it. Your sexual frustration may have made you riper to certain temptations, but your sin is still on your shoulders. If you are in unrepentant sin against your wife, get on it NOW. Do you watch porn? Emotionally neglect your wife? Berate her or yell a lot? Tell her that your mood or actions are her fault (or believe that, even if you don’t say so)? Do you physically hurt your wife or threaten to do so? If any of this is going on, sex is not the problem in your marriage. You are, or you’re a big part of the problem. Work hard to transform yourself. Seek help. Now. Deal with the plank in your own eye before you concern yourself with the speck in hers.
2. Be respectful and loving even in your mind. Mentally referring to her as your roommate (because the lack of intimacy makes you feel like you’re just roommates rather than husband and wife) and allowing yourself to think that somewhere there has to be another woman who will love you as you deserve just won’t help anything get better. The more we complain, the more we are primed to see the negative—so be positive in your approach, even in the privacy of your own thoughts.
3. Pray for your wife. This does not include praying for her to change her views on sex or anything else you have an issue with. That’s praying about her, not for her. Pray for her to draw closer to Jesus. Pray for her heart to heal any wounds. Pray for her to feel loved and cherished in your marriage. Pray for God to help you love and cherish her better.
4. Confess and repent for past sins. If you sinned against your wife and it has caused a breach in your relationship, be sure you have confessed and are walking in repentance. Ask for her forgiveness. I want to address a specific sin that you may not even be aware is an issue: premarital sex. I hear from so many women about the baggage of their premarital sexual activity—including premarital sex with their own husbands. (See this post for more insight.) You may think that she wanted it as much as you did or that since you’ve been married so many years it isn’t a big deal—but it’s possible that you’re wrong. If you and your wife had premarital sex, ask her to forgive you for your part in that.
5. Value your rights and feelings no more and no less than hers. Your desires are not more important than hers. I understand why you want oral sex—but that desire is not more important than your wife’s discomfort or serious gag reflex. Your right to have a sexual relationship is not more important than her right to be loved in a way that matters to her. Likewise, your desires and feelings are not less important than hers. Her feelings should not make all the decisions in your marriage, and neither should yours.
6. Thank her. I hear from so many women that they feel unappreciated or taken for granted by their husbands. This is especially the case when they do something hard or extra. Did your wife work full-time so you could get your degree? Was she practically a single parent when you traveled for work or were deployed? Did she take on your usual responsibilities so you could go be with your parent during an extended illness? Did she do all the mowing one summer after you broke your leg? Tell her thank you, okay? Yes, she was just doing what needed to be done. There wasn’t much choice in the matter. No, she didn’t complain about it. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t hard. Acknowledge her extra effort and the difficulty of the experience. Tell her, “Thank you,” even if it is for something she did many years ago.
7. Share your heart with your wife. If sex hasn’t been great, I know that opening up emotionally might be hard for you. It’s just a bit too much vulnerability, and you aren’t even sure you can trust her with your heart. I get that. But she may not really understand that sex isn’t just about the physical release for you. I mean, if it were only about the release, you would be taking care of that in the shower, right? Be clear about the emotional aspects of sex for you. Many women will hear the word “intimacy” as a code word for sex, so talk about closeness, connection, and feeling loved. Many women genuinely don’t understand how deeply emotional sex can be for a guy. Don’t assume that what is obvious to you is also obvious to her.
8. Spend time in conversation with her. You’re a guy. You probably use conversation to exchange information. You like to make points. She probably doesn’t. Women tend to use language to establish and maintain connections and relationships. When she wants to talk with you, it’s because that is how she feels close and connected to you. If she likes to talk and you shut her down or tell her to get to the point already, it’s kind of like her shutting you down sexually or telling you to just finish it up so she can get back to what she really wants to do.
9. Remember that her sexuality is not like yours. All these other tips are about your relationship and your spiritual growth. Those things matter a whole lot when it comes to healthy and holy sexual intimacy in marriage. But the truth is that sometimes the sex itself is a problem. Here’s one big reason why: both men and women often think that how men are sexually is how women should be. I’d like to share some important aspects of women’s sexuality with you. These may not all apply to your wife, so ask her what she thinks—and choose to believe her, okay? (Be sure to check out this post about women’s sexual response.) Your mileage may vary on all of this.
- Orgasm is great, but for many women it isn’t the best part of sex. What she may enjoy most is the feeling of you entering her, the closeness of being face-to-face, or being held so closely by you. Furthermore, the prospect of an orgasm may not be sufficient in helping her want to have sex. If things aren’t great in your relationship, that will have a negative impact on her desire. Orgasm is an amazing gift from God, but so is all of sexual intimacy. Sharing the sensations and privacy with each other are gift in themselves.
- Arousal precedes desire. You know how the very sight of your naked wife makes you desire sex and gives you an erection? Yeah, well, most women aren’t like that. Most of us need to be aroused before we experience desire. When we see you naked and aren’t immediately ready to jump your bones, it has nothing to do with you. That’s how we are wired. (This post gives some ideas for how she can nurture sexual desire.)
- Her orgasm may be finicky or elusive. Many factors can inhibit orgasm—her comfort with her own sexuality, her stress level, her feelings about your relationship that day, her responsibilities, hormones, and your trustworthiness. You know what inhibits an orgasm the most? Pressure. If you tell her that she owes you an orgasm or that only an orgasm will show that she truly desires you, you are putting pressure on her. If you ask, “Are you there yet?” you are putting pressure on her. Pressure will shut down any chance she had. You are making the problem worse.
- A majority of women require clitoral stimulation in order to achieve orgasm. When it comes to her pleasure, your hands and mouth are way more important than your penis. Research has suggested that this is a matter of anatomy and has to do with the distance between the clitoris and the vagina. Her body, your body, and the angles of how you fit together can make an intercourse orgasm more or less easy, but if it doesn’t happen for her while you’re inside her, that is normal.
- Her parts are not your parts. Touch her non-sexual parts first, before you proceed to touching her sexual parts. A caress is better than a grope. (Actually, just about anything is better than a grope. Just sayin’.) A slow touch is better than a fast touch—until she tells you to go faster. If she indicates that she is enjoying what you are doing—DON’T CHANGE. Keep touching her in the same place, with the same pressure, same rhythm, and same speed until she tells you otherwise. (See this post to help you understand the kind of touch your wife probably likes.)
- Slow down. Women take longer to feel aroused than men do, and their orgasm takes them longer. Take time to enjoy the journey of sexual intimacy rather than focus on the happy ending.
Things Not to Do
10. Don’t dismiss her feelings when you don’t understand why she would feel that way. Her feelings may make no sense to you. Maybe they just aren’t logical, or maybe they are about something that happened a long time ago. Shouldn’t she be over it by now? If she keeps bringing up the same topic over and over again, it’s because she hasn’t healed yet—and talking about it is how she is trying to fix that wound. When you shut her down because it was a long time ago and she should be over it by now, you actually make her emotional wound even worse. Ask her how you can help her work through those feelings. And if it is because of something you’ve done, see item #4 above.
11. Don’t tell your wife to read my blog. Look, I understand how much sexual intimacy means. I know you are hurting and that you’re desperate for real connection. But here’s the thing: sending her my blog when she isn’t ready reinforces what she already probably thinks, that the only reason you care about her is for sex. Trust me, that is NOT the message you want to send. If you see a post here that addresses an issue she herself has expressed a desire to work on, then it’s probably safe to send her a link to that specific post. If your wife tells you she wants to work on sex and doesn’t know where to begin, ask her if it would be okay for you to send her the link to a blog that might be able to help her. If she says yes, send her the link; if she says no, then don’t send her the link.
(WARNING: Rant Ahead) Please, please, please don’t sign your wife up for my blog unless she asks you to. I get too many messages from women saying that their husbands have signed them up for my emails and that the reason sex is an issue is because the husband had an affair or continues to watch porn or is always yelling at her or putting pressure on her for certain sexual acts. Really, guys? Really? Ugh.
As I said, none of this is a guarantee that anything will change the sexual intimacy in your marriage. Even if none of it fixes the sex, however, it’s likely to make your marriage better for both of you in other ways. And ultimately, that is going to make it easier to address the sex stuff down the road.
That said, guys, I have to tell you: these are the things that women have told me are problems in their marriages and that interfere with their desire for sex.
If you’re hurting in your marriage, chances are pretty good that your wife is, too. If some of these tips are areas that you haven’t explored yet, please give them a try. Your wife is worth it. Your marriage is worth it. You’re worth it.
The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 1 Corinthians 7:3-5
Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. 1 Peter 3:7