This is the third in a series of posts in which I discuss six points husbands have expressed about the lack of sexual intimacy in their marriages. I first discussed these points in this post several years ago. Please read the introduction to this series here for background and a list of caveats.
This post discusses the third point: Men best receive love through sex.
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I just didn’t get it.
Why was sex such a big deal to my husband? As far as I could tell, what he really wanted was an orgasm—and he could have one of those on his own.
He complained about the lack of sex in our marriage, saying, “I guess I have to resign myself to a sexless marriage.” He looked and sounded so sad, as if this was something that truly mattered to him. But I dismissed it, thinking he was being frivolous.
It wasn’t like we were really sexless. I would give him sex once or twice a month, but it was never good enough. I lay there waiting for it to be over. I didn’t want to touch him. I didn’t initiate. Big deal, I would think. He’s still getting sex.
I didn’t understand why it was even an issue. So he wasn’t getting sex as often as he wanted, or in the way he wanted. So what? It wasn’t like I was depriving him of love. I washed his clothes, cooked meals he liked, took care of our kids, and managed our social calendar. When he was sick or injured, I took good tender care of him. I did a lot out of love for him, even though I didn’t see that I was getting anything in return.
The only time I felt safe in touching him and fully loving him was when he was sick. When I knew he felt too weak for sex, I could touch his forehead and pamper him without fear of repercussions. I enjoyed showing him love then. It was affection, with no strings attached.
It breaks my heart to think of the many years I didn’t understand how intertwined love and sex were for my husband, just as they are for a majority of men. I think it’s fair to say that for most men, love and sex are not two separate things.
Several years ago, I described it this way: Men best receive love through sex.
Although I still believe that is generally true, I think there’s a better way to say it:
Men best experience connection through sex.
The stereotype is that while women need to feel connected in order to have sex, men need sex in order to feel connected.
In part, it’s about biology and hormones. Specifically, it has to do with the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin is known as the bonding hormone. When our oxytocin levels are high, we feel closer and more connected to someone. Women tend to have higher levels of oxytocin much of the time than men do. Our oxytocin levels increase when we touch and when we communicate intimately with another human. As women, we touch and communicate a lot.
Men, however, don’t touch very often, nor do they communicate in intimate ways. Furthermore, although touch and communication can increase their oxytocin levels somewhat, the only time they experience high levels is during sexual intimacy.
A man’s generally high sex drive drives him to increase his feelings of connection with his wife. Over time, his physical need for sex is strongly correlated to those feelings of connection. When a man wants to have sex with his wife, it is because he wants to feel connected and close to her. If it were just about the orgasm, he could take care of it on his own. The fact that he wants to have sex with her is a sign that he is seeking emotional closeness.
In addition to feeling close, sex meets other emotional needs in men. (See For Women Only.) Men have a deep emotional need to know that they are desired and that they measure up as men. Sex is the one thing that can affirm these needs. Duty sex that is given begrudgingly may fulfill certain physical needs. It does NOT, however, fulfill emotional needs. In fact, it sends negative emotional messages that can hurt a man deeply.
That last bit is why men seem to do okay when their wives are unable to have sex for medical reasons. They know that it isn’t about their own desirability. When I spent several months on pregnancy bedrest and was recovering from childbirth and, years later, from my hysterectomy, my husband was loving, tender, and caring, completely unfazed by the lack of sex.
The emotional component of sexual intimacy is incredibly powerful for our husbands.
We can meet every other need our husbands have. We can be awesome and amazing wives in every other way. But if we are not making sexual intimacy a priority, our husbands are going to feel disconnected and rejected.
When I used to care for Big Guy when he was sick, while I felt safe, he was feeling even more dejected and rejected. He saw my willingness to care for him, so it was clear that I wasn’t a heartless woman. He thought it must have been him. I was willing to care for him, but I wasn’t willing to have sex with him. That must mean that he was undesirable as a man.
For years I thought my husband should just get over it. He was making too big of a deal about sex, and he should’ve accepted all the ways I tried to express my love for him.
I was wrong.
A sexless marriage is defined as having sex ten or fewer times in a year. We had a nearly-sexless marriage for quite a while.
It was self-centered of me to think that my husband should do all the adapting to my way of expressing love. At the very least, it would have been good for me to understand why he was feeling rejected. I knew I wasn’t rejecting him, but understanding why he felt that way might have helped me think about sex a little differently.
I knew that I loved my husband and that our mostly sexless marriage wasn’t a loveless marriage. To Big Guy, however, that’s exactly what we had: a loveless marriage.
What Can Wives Do?
If your husband has ever used the words “sexless” or “loveless” to refer to your marriage, chances are that he is feeling alone and rejected.
I’d like to suggest two things that you can do as a wife to help your husband feel loved in your marriage.
First, choose to believe these two statements:
- Sex is about emotional connection for your husband.
- He will experience connection and love best through sex.
Even if his words are about body parts and physical pleasure, emotion and connection are the real force driving him.
Second, make sexual intimacy a priority. If you struggle with sex, pursue solutions for that. Sex is as much for you as it is for your husband, and learning how to enjoy sex is worth the effort for your own sake. It is also true, however, that sex is also for your husband. If sex has been a problem in your marriage, working to figure it out is likely to help your husband feel more loved.
My own journey began with addressing sex simply for my husband’s sake. It didn’t stop there, but it was a first step—and it helped my husband begin to trust me and feel loved again.
I am not asking you to permanently set aside your own needs and desires and have sex with your husband no matter what. I AM asking you to grow in your understanding of why sex matters to him and to work toward joyful sexual intimacy because it is good for you and for your husband.
Big Guy recently had a medical procedure that requires me to change his bandages.
The other night he was lying on the bed while I leaned over him to clean and bandage his chest. I touch him frequently now, and he is sexually and emotionally content in our marriage. His long-ago feelings of rejection and my long-ago feelings that caring for him in illness was the only time I could be safe in touching him were nowhere to be found.
The light reflected off my wedding ring, and Big Guy was overcome with emotion. “Your wedding ring,” he said. “You are taking care of me, and there’s your wedding ring, . . . “ At that moment, he felt the fullness of my love for him and the expression of my wedding vows in a powerful way. In sickness, and in health . . .
God designed my husband as a man. Sex makes emotional connection possible for him, and it meets the deepest needs of his heart.
In his emotional contentment and sure knowledge of my love for him, Big Guy is better able to receive love in all the ways I express it to him, not just through sex.
I think I get it now.
Posts in This Series
- Six Things to Know About Sexual Refusal
- Six Things to Know About Emotional Disconnection
- Six Things, Redux.
- #1 – “Needs More Vinegar”
- #2 – More Than Just the Two of Us
- #3 – Is a Sexless Marriage a Loveless Marriage?
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