What if You Could Start Your Sex Life From Scratch

by | Mar 15, 2019 | Sex | 12 comments

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Today a reader is asking, “how do you reset your sex life?”

What if it’s been really difficult in the past, but now you’ve recovered. Yet the dynamic still hasn’t changed.

“I have read The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex and am intrigued by the mention you make of the first four years of your marriage. You mentioned having a lot of pain during sex and that it started your sex life off in a bad way. I had a similar start and now, a year after having a baby, sex is much easier. The trouble is that my husband is so demoralized by our early experiences that we still don’t have sex much, and I’m often rejected. No matter how I plan, prep and try to make it happen, he can be pretty cold. It’s like he’s used to and expects a bad sex life. I’m thankful that you try so hard to put a positive light on intimacy, but it would be nice to hear suggestions on dealing with a cold husband.”

That’s a difficult question, isn’t it? It could take other forms, like:

“I’m a victim of child sexual abuse, and for the first few years of our marriage I was scared of sex. I’ve received healing now and I want to have a great sex life, but it’s like my husband has shut down.”

Or perhaps:

“I spent years refusing sex with my husband, but I’ve now realized that was wrong and I want to change. But he doesn’t believe me!”

When we start marriage seeing sex as a negative thing, it’s really hard to establish a new dynamic in your relationship where it’s fun, easy, and spontaneous.

I’m going to point you to some resources I have at the bottom of this post, but I’d like to tell you a bit of my story. I don’t do that too often anymore; most of my posts are suggesting advice. But I thought some of you may want to hear more of my story.

Starting Sex Life Over Again in Marriage

Like the original questioner said, I did have pain during intercourse for the first few years of our marriage. I shared that in my book The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex; I wasn’t sure if I would or not because it’s something really personal to me, and it really was a very painful part of my life and my marriage. I’m still dealing with some emotional scars from it, as is my husband, although we honestly have emerged really strong together.

Keith and I have been speaking at marriage conferences since 2005, but I never really shared that much about this part of our life, even though we were very open about sex in general. But when it came time to write the book, I really thought it needed to be in there. And so I did write about it, and even shared some rather funny–in retrospect–stories of running screaming from doctor’s offices who thought that all I needed was a mirror and an anatomy lesson to get over my condition!

What I really needed was time, space, and healing–and delivering three children vaginally probably helped quite a bit, too. And so I honestly am totally and completely over that.

But the problem is that because that was such a defining part of our marriage in our early years, it was hard to readjust emotionally and relationally once things were “working”, even when the physical wasn’t a problem. We were in a rut where Keith would want sex and feel guilty; I would feel obligated and feel guilty; and both of us just in general felt a lot of shame.

This questioner is saying that her husband is cold towards her. He very well could be. But I wonder if something else is going on, where he was so ashamed of still wanting sex even when it was painful to her that he eventually just shut down. You see, sometimes it’s easier to shut down than to deal honestly with what’s going on inside your head and your heart. And when we don’t see how we can get legitimate needs met, we often try to build these walls to protect our hearts. And perhaps this man has built a wall, and he’s afraid to see things as having changed because he may get hurt again. And he’s trained himself to think of sex as a negative in their relationship.

This can happen for a variety of reasons, too–it isn’t just if she has a physical condition that makes sex difficult. If she has sexual abuse issues or other fears, he can also shut down. It’s his defense mechanism because something that really matters to him seems to be making the marriage worse.

The problem is that even though the husband may shut down his sexuality due to a combination of self-preservation and love for his wife, because he’s shut down sexually it’s now even harder for him to feel or express love, since for most men sex is so intertwined with love. So while he may have shut down sexually to protect them both, out of purely altruistic motives, it often ends up hurting both of you. You’re missing that deep connection–not just sex, but real intimacy. He’s shut off a part of himself, and because of that you’re missing something big.

And if he’s shut off intimacy, then even if you’ve changed, it’s hard for him to compute or adjust to the new reality. He likely has some resentment built up, and he may have transferred a lot of his needs somewhere else. Maybe he gets his self-worth from work, or sports, or something else. Obviously if your husband looks at porn that’s a big problem, but not all men who shut down use porn at all. I know my husband didn’t. But it’s still hard for them to come to a point where they can have sex without feeling guilty. No matter how much you try to convince them that it honestly is okay, deep inside they feel shame for wanting something that has caused you pain.

I tell you all this to try to help you see it from his point of view. You, albeit unwittingly, without meaning to, pulled the rug out from under him when sex didn’t work for you. And that was likely really devastating to him. Now you need him to forget all that and meet you where you’re at.

That’s hard.

But it’s not impossible. Here are just a few quick thoughts:

1. Acknowledge That Your Husband was Hurt

When sex was hard for me, the focus was mostly on the pain I was enduring–both physical and emotional. Keith’s disappointment was shoved aside. And that’s really how it needed to be in order for me to get better.

But at this point, if you have emerged on the other side, it’s worth letting him air how he did feel, and reassure him that he does not need to feel guilty for his sexual feelings.

2. Be His Friend

I know I say this all the time, no matter what the problem is in marriage, but it is so much easier to communicate about the hard things in our marriage if we’re also communicating about the little things. So work on laughing together and doing things together, and it’s easier to truly reset.

3. Do a Sexual Reset

You need to reset your sex life–so do it!

For more advice on building a strong and satisfying sex life, you can also check out my book, The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, below!

God made sex to be AWESOME!

It’s supposed to be great physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Feel like something’s missing?

4. Schedule Sex

When sex is difficult, and fraught with emotion, then it’s easy for each night to feel stressful: are we going to tonight? Is it going to turn into a fight? Will he turn me down? Do I dare mention it?

If you’ve got it scheduled on your calendar–say twice a week, to start with–then it takes a lot of the anxiety out of it. During these periods of adjustment, when you need to find a new normal, I highly recommend scheduling sex, even if it’s only a temporary thing.

5. Be Patient

I want to reassure you today that couples can come through to the other side. If sex has been a major source of stress in your marriage, you really can make it through and redefine sex and become spontaneous and fun! But it doesn’t happen overnight, and you need to be patient.

If you’re the one who has received healing, chances are you have been working at this for months, if not years. You’ve seen the progress. You know what’s occurred. You can feel the difference. But he hasn’t. He doesn’t know what’s going on inside your brain, and it’s quite likely he’s shut himself off so that he doesn’t get his hopes up. He’s afraid to see that it could be better.

Just remember that you are further along in this process than he is, and you need to give him time to catch up. You need to give him time to trust that you do actually enjoy sex. And so give him that time!

6. Be Honest

Okay, here’s the hardest one for me to do–and the one I still struggle with. To Keith, it was so traumatic if I ever made love “just for him”, because it was initially hurting me. He is so afraid of ever doing anything that would hurt me again that if he senses that I’m uncomfortable it’s hard for him to want to keep going.

I needed to learn that when I was having triggers, or things were uncomfortable, I needed to tell him, and we’d stop. If he knew that I would tell him if I didn’t want to, then he knew that if I WASN’T telling him, I really did want to. If he wasn’t sure I’d tell him if I was uncomfortable, he was always, always doubting himself. So if you are getting over sexual abuse, and 80% of the time things work fine, then the 20% that they don’t–tell him. Even if it would disrupt the night. If he knows you’re honest when things aren’t working, it makes it much easier for him to let go when they are. So NEVER fake. That would kill any trust you’ve built up. Be totally honest, and then he’s more inclined to believe that you’re enjoying it when things are working well.

I hope those tips help. I know how hard it is emotionally to walk through something like this, but believe me–healing is possible, and you can both come to a beautiful place in your marriage. I pray that you will!

For more tips on how to get the most out of your sex life, you can also check out some of these posts:

Now, let me know: have you ever struggled with rebuilding your sex life? What did you do? How did you heal? Let me know in the comments!

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Bethany

    The most intimate experiences of my life habe been when I had to stop a sexual encounter because of pain or a flashback. Because then instead, we held each other and were just quiet together. It took me a few times to realize that it was just as enjoyable as actually having sex. My figuring out how to navigate sexual things has helped give our relationship a good solid start. Because we learned how to communicate with each other better.

  2. Becky

    What I want to know is how to start over when I’M the one who’s demoralized and struggling to convince myself that it won’t be a bad experience. My husband is still enthusiastic about sex, but years of research and dialators and physical therapy and physically challenging pregnancies (which I’m in another one of now) have definitely taken their toll on me. It’s hard not to think about it in a more clinical, detached way. I don’t know how to flip the switch and expect things to be better when it’s all I can do to just relax enough to get through it, I have to concentrate so hard on not letting my pelvic floor tense up. My poor husband tries, but I’ve never had an orgasm, it’s like there’s this mental block that I just can’t get over. I would love for our sex life to be better, but how? Is it like exercising where I have to just force myself to keep trying and lie to myself about even wanting to until maybe it eventually stops being hard?

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Becky, that’s so hard! I think relaxation is key, and just starting really slowly. Also, I think working on reaching orgasm without intercourse could be very helpful. Forget about intercourse entirely, and go back to basics and just work on arousal. Have your husband figure out how to get you aroused, and then keep doing that and see if you can get to orgasm without the pressure of intercourse. You can still try intercourse at other times, but at this point I think it’s key for you to experience real pleasure.

      But it’s going to take time (as in more than 5 minutes). And I don’t think you can get over that mental block until you stop worrying about what’s coming next, too, and just try to live in the moment!

      • Hannah

        My husband and I are trying to reset our sex life, and it has been difficult. I try to remember “progress, not perfection” but some days there is no improvement at all.

        “Have your husband figure out how to get you aroused, and then keep doing that and see if you can get to orgasm without the pressure of intercourse. ” Sheila, do you have any insight on what it means during manual stimulation when the woman feels a wave of tension, but no accompanying sense of release or pleasure, and then the sensation changes to nothing or just frustration? Am I on the right path? What is missing? I have been unable to figure this out in 6 years and am really getting frustrated/ready to give up. It is also really hard for me to sink into the sensations without a running commentary going on in my brain. “Has it been 15 minutes of this? Does any blog post I’ve read match this experience?”

        To Becky, I’m really sorry for all the pain and trouble you’ve gone through with sex. Painful intercourse has been a major struggle for me, too.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Hannah, if he doesn’t do it with the right pressure, and in the right place, it can actually feel quite awful. So it could be that he’s just not doing it right! Can you ask him to keep his hand still, and not use any pressure, and then move his hand the way that it feels good to you? That way you can teach him, but you can also adjust to what feels good. It could honestly just be that the pressure is too hard or not in the right place!

          • Hannah

            Thank you for the reply! Maybe this sounds dumb, but I don’t know a different movement that feels good to me? How does a couple figure this out? I used to touch myself when I was younger and couldn’t figure it out in my own, either.

  3. scott

    From a man’s perspective, the best way to restart is for the wife in this situation (the question came from a wife) to tell her man but then follow up action. Like very confident, aggressive actions they day I want to restart our sex life.

    I can speak from experience that words alone will not convince him.

    • CS from NY

      Yes, but as guys, we need to sure we’re not trying to change our wives. It’s no secret they are waaay better at relationships than we are, so if there’s a problem it’s probably US causing it. (I’ve learned this in my marriage; and even if I’m not the original cause of a problem, I’m usually making it worse. My wife doesn’t say this, I just know it’s the case.)

      I don’t know about other guys, but I was taught we have to sacrifice for our wives, really sacrifice. And I think that extends to sex too. It really doesn’t matter whether I feel my wife doesn’t really desire ME, I need to meet her needs and give her pleasure, when she asks, even if she doesn’t engage back with me, because that’s my role, to sacrifice my life – or in this case, my desire for her to touch me or kiss me back – and provide for her. (Besides, her passivity is likely due to me doing something wrong – not with sex, fortunately it’s easy for me to give her waves of pleasure – or not figuring out how to meet her where she is, anyway.) Sex is lonely for me, and I would love for her to be more engaged and do more than just make her body available, but that’s not an excuse to withdraw or get cold or do anything that would come across as judgemental or unloving.

      I love my wife and try not to be selfish, but it’s hard. Sometimes it’s darn exhausting! But our wives sense if we’re distant, so even if we’re doing it to protect ourselves, it hurts them, and making your wife cry is like the worst thing you can do. So we need to be strong and still meet their needs even if it hurts or we feel we can’t. (I’d appreciate any tips on this, by the way.)

      And before you ask, yes, of course I’ve, in honesty, brought all of this up with her, but I did it wrong because I upset her, so I’m determined to read more to understand where she’s coming from and learn what I can do to try to awaken some kind of real passion in her. It’s funny, I used to feel like I was begging for sex, because I felt like I got turned down so much, but now I feel like I want to avoid it, so I guess I’m learning how she felt for the first few years of our marriage! I just need to be sure I’m not withholding from her or trying to change her.

  4. Denae

    This story is very similar to ours & I would also recommend (as would my husband-he read the post with me) that her husband read the Good Girls Guide, as well. It will help him see where she’s coming from. I read it a couple years ago & my husband read it last fall & he says he wishes he had read it with me. Also, I’ve had to do pelvic floor PT & he’s gone with me to almost all the appointments & helps me do the exercises so just having him involved in the whole process has helped us stay connected as I’m working through the process.

  5. Catherine

    Sheila – I wasn’t sure where to ask this but this topic seems like the most appropriate as after so many married years I would still love to find the re-set button for this area of our marriage! I would appreciate a link to ONE article you’ve posted in the past that I can show my husband that just lays out the facts of sexual life, so to speak. I won’t go into our long history and many issues we encountered and attempted to conquer by the grace of God along the way. But quite honestly, even at 50 years old, my husband still just does not seem to get the big picture of sexual intimacy in marriage, thanks to the purity culture and a belief that any kind of research on the topic is bad and could cause you to stumble. Grrrrr. If I try to talk to him about anything, he gets very defensive, feels as if I’m Criticizing his performance, feels as if I’m calling him a failure, etc etc. I need a “facts of life” article for an uneducated man who acts self-serving but is really more ignorant and stubborn, that basically spells out things like 1). Your wife should receive pleasure at least a lot of the time during mutual sexual encounters. 2). No, she’s not broken if she can’t get aroused without foreplay. 3). No, she’s not broken if she requires manual clitoral stimulation 4). We would have more intimacy in general in our marriage if we had sex more than once a month. 4). Sex is not only for the man’s release. 5). A quickie does nothing for most women other than bringing about emotional closeness, but it’s still occasionally a good thing. And when she offers “gift sex” it shouldn’t be shunned with “you take you long so it’s not worth t anymore”. I need a birds and bees article for a 50 year old. 🤷🏻‍♀️ Sigh.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Okay, I don’t think I have a succinct one like that. I do have this one on 8 things I’d love to say to men about sex, but it might be snarky. But I think that’s a great article suggestion! I’ll put that on my list.

      • Catherine

        Thank you ❤️ I do enjoy your blog as well as the comment section. I have learned a lot and have been greatly encouraged. I am also grateful for the men who choose to speak up and contribute their thoughts as well. It does get discouraging when not one of the Christian couples I know has a mutually satisfying and healthy sex life. While it seems like the majority of my unsaved friends in relationships that are not God-honoring are perfectly content and happy in this area of their lives. There is a sad disconnect going on somewhere. 😭. So it IS nice to read the occasional comment that a Christian couple somewhere in the world is enjoying marital communion together in the way God intended. ❤️


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