There are many reasons a woman may experience a diminished sex drive. Men and women can be very different sexually; each person has a unique brain and this contributes to differing sexual interests. Also, the stage of life can be a factor in diminished libido, or there could be a physical issue. Fatigue is also a major issue for many women. It could be that she does not feel that there is enough true intimacy in the marriage. Emotional intimacy goes way beyond sex and needs to be in place for her to engage. Yes, women are complex, but we already knew that! And guess what? So are men.
Men are very visual and physically based. Men see what they want and are turned on. Physically, men and women differ — we know this. But do we remember this when it comes to libido differences?
Male anatomy is driven by an accumulation of sperm that needs to be released in a timely manner. If not released, it continues to build in a physical need/urge for release. Women do not have a physical counterpart for this drive. Women are often attracted to a man based on how he treats her and the depth of their emotional relationship. Does she feel safe, loved, cared for, wanted, beautiful, helped? What is happening with emotional intimacy greatly affects sexual intimacy. All of these things and more add to her desire.
Her lack of desire may not be about you at all. Sex outside of marriage, whether due to one’s own choices or due to abuse, can be a big culprit for robbing desire in marriage.
It’s easy to interpret her lack of desire as personal. However, men and women are so very different on this topic. Interpreting her lack of desire as rejection is painful and dangerous when it may not be about you. Rather, it may be about her and her own story. If she experienced childhood abuse, I recommend professional counselling along with the book Wounded Heart, by Dan Allender. For dealing with past relationships, Kiss Me Again, by Barbara Wilson is an excellent resource. Once the past is cleared up you can both move forward together!
It May be About You After All
If there are emotional issues between the two of you, this may diminish her drive. She needs to feel free to express herself, in all areas. She needs to be free to be honest in her emotions, even if this upsets you. You need to control your response to her anger so she does not feel punished or abused. This can lead to freer expression in the bedroom as well. If she feels that she cannot be herself, there is a breakdown in true intimacy. Intimacy is about so much more than sex.
Resentment can be another emotional stumbling block in the pursuit of a woman’s desire. It could be an attitude or action, current or past. If she resents you, it needs to be resolved. It could be something you are not aware of, and she may not even realize resentment is the cause. (A good counsellor can be a gift in resolving these issues.) Things that get shoved under the proverbial rug are a major source of resentment.
If you think this is the issue, the two of you can sit down and have a heart to heart discussion. Ask her if there is anything now or in the past that she resents you for. Give her time to think and process. If nothing comes to mind right away, give her the opportunity to come back with an answer. Allow her the freedom to have a long list or a shortlist to share with you. If the list is longer than you thought, be careful how you respond. You do not want to diminish this intimate interaction by reacting harshly. True intimacy includes honest interaction with both parties feeling safe to express themselves. It may be important to include a counsellor in this process.
Be aware that if she has not felt free to express herself there may be a time period that the pendulum swings and it feels pretty one-sided. You may need to bite your tongue and take what comes at you for a while as she works on becoming more honest with her emotions and expressions. You need to provide an extra safe place while she learns to express her voice and desires. Her first steps will be tentative, so be gentle and encouraging. Once this relating pattern becomes more normal, the pendulum should land in the middle with back and forth interactions about how you both feel.
Marriage is not a 50/50 contract. It is about meeting each other’s needs. This involves one spouse making sacrifices at certain points in the journey. That being said, one spouse should not make all the sacrifices; it goes back and forth over time. Being able to express oneself is important in marriage and sexuality in order to achieve true intimacy.
What is True Intimacy?
True intimacy is the ability to express who you are and be accepted at all levels. Sometimes, relationships may get stuck at whatever intimacy level is forged when a couple starts having sex. Barbara Wilson tells us that sexual intimacy masquerades as a substitute for emotional intimacy. The right foundation is achieved when sexual intimacy is introduced after a couple is married and has previously achieved the fifth level of emotional intimacy.
If sex is introduced at a lower level of emotional intimacy, the relationship gets stuck at a lower level. Intimacy can only progress as far as both people are able to. For example, if he can function at level five but she is stuck at level three, the relationship will stay at the lower level, level three. Lasting love needs the ability to overcome emotional stressors and the real pressures of life, such as anger, conflict, stress, fatigue, etc. If your relationship is stuck at a premature intimacy level, it may show up in a wife’s lack of sex drive. Here is Barbara’s basic list of the emotional intimacy levels:
- Level 1: Safe communication (meeting a stranger in the grocery store)
- Level 2: Others’ opinions and beliefs (my boss said…)
- Level 3: Personal opinions and beliefs (I think that…)
- Level 4: My feelings and experiences (this is what happened to me – joy, pain, sorrow)
- Level 5: My needs, emotions, and desires (this is my deepest self, my secrets)
If this sounds like it might be an issue for you, there is hope. Going back and restoring emotional intimacy can be done and will be very rewarding for both of you.
Boundaries Can Play a Big Part in her Waning Desire
One very common issue for married partners is the difference in libido. Many couples do not agree on how often they should have sex. In fact, many men express, “I want to have sex as often as I can and she seems like she could care less. What are we supposed to do?” For some men, they feel a personal sense of rejection if she is not as interested in sex. He may feel unloved and hurt by this perceived rejection.
A common response is to push more and become persistent to the point of demanding that your sexual desires be met; especially if you feel this is your “right” and “need.” She may feel backed into a corner and feel that she has no choice. This is especially true for a Christian woman who has been told that her body belongs to her husband and she is the only means of fulfilling his desire/need. Desire takes flight under these circumstances and makes a quick exit. People who feel pushed into something don’t have the opportunity to decide if they really want it for themselves.
The problem with this scenario is that in order to be free to fully say yes, one needs to have the freedom to no. The book Boundaries in Marriage discusses “The Law of Motivation” and describes it like this:
“The law of motivation states that we must be free to say no before we can wholeheartedly say yes. No one can actually love another if she feels she doesn’t have a choice not to. Giving your time, love, or vulnerability to your spouse requires that you make your own choice based on your values not out of fear. Having to do anything is a sign that someone is afraid. Fear works against love. The ‘have to‘ destroys the ‘choose to.'”
Putting this quote in the context of feminine sexuality means that her desire has a chance to grow and flourish when she feels that she has a choice and that her desire matters. Does your wife have a choice?
Are Your Own Sexually Deviant Choices Affecting Her?
This could be a wide range of behaviours. Husbands may think, “Viewing pornography has nothing to do with my wife, it does not affect my marriage, and therefore it is OK. What I do on my own time to relax is my business.” Wrong, wrong, and wrong! It does affect your wife. You may be able to view images and not compare her to them, but if she knows you have an issue with pornography (or sees you watching other women at the beach in front of her) she will compare herself to other women. And guess who comes up short every time? She does.
This is especially true of published pictures because those models are all edited and enhanced. Real women, your wife included, hate this! If a woman feels compared to others, it is very hurtful and damaging to her, her self-esteem, and therefore your marriage. This feeling of inadequacy robs the intimacy from your marriage.
So if you are doing this or other deviant behaviours (there are many more than mentioned here) and wonder why she does not want to have sex, think about the scenario you are creating, from her perspective. Do you want her talking about how wonderful other men are and then expect to feel good about sex together? Do you want to wonder if she is thinking about someone else when the two of you are together? Sex is designed for two people to enjoy each other. Bringing in a third party is not acceptable, images included!
Support Her in Her Journey
Take the time and initiative to support her needs, even if you don’t understand them. They may go against your needs and desires for a time, but the result is worth your sacrifice. Depending on what the issue is, she may need to take a break from sex for a time or be the only one to initiate sex. Realize that she has a need in this area and support her in the journey toward progress. This may include working on emotional intimacy that includes more of a sensual experience than sexual. For example, take time to cuddle naked and talk about sexual likes and dislikes, without the expectation that it will lead to sex. Create a safe environment for her to grow and express herself without feeling pressured or pushed, one where her desire can grow and have expression when it comes.
Recognize that the process may involve pain, but that pain does not always equate to “bad.” Pain can indicate growth and be a very good thing. Other times it indicates that there is a problem that needs to be cared for. Be patient and supportive of whatever the journey looks like in your marriage.
Marriage counselling is recommended for couples struggling with sexual differences. Getting help can be an important step to navigate all of the above. Many couples need help. You are not alone.
You don’t have to face this alone. Email a mentor.