The Terrible, Awful Downward Spiral of Libido Differences

by | Mar 31, 2020 | Libido, Uncategorized | 56 comments

How to Navigate Libido Differences and defeat the Approach-Avoidance Cycle
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Sometimes libido differences can send you on a negative spiral, where both of you are constantly feeling rejected.

In about 7 weeks (yikes!) our manuscript for The Great Sex Rescue is due in at the publishers, so I’m frantically writing. I would have been doing that regardless, but it means this COVID-19 thing hasn’t changed a whole lot for me personally, other than the fact that I keep checking updates and praying constantly.

But the big question we’re asking in that book is, “what teachings in the evangelical church have hurt couples’ sex lives, and how can we see Truth instead?” And so we chose the 15 best selling marriage books, and the 5 best selling sex books, to read and rate on a 12-question rubric that we developed. We looked at 12 different teachings and created a scoring rubric to show whether, on each teaching, the books were harmful or helpful.

A lot of books so far have scored quite poorly, but last weekend I read two that scored really, really well! Intimate Issues by Dillow and Pintus and The Gift of Sex by the Penners both are great books! And that was really, really a relief to read two that gave accurate teaching that was helpful for women’s sexuality.

In The Gift of Sex, the Penners talked about a negative cycle of libido differences that I thought was quite interesting.

I’ve talked about something similar before, but they put it into such great words that I thought I’d quote them on it and then give some commentary. They call this the approach-avoidance pattern:

From The Gift of Sex

One typical problematic initiation pattern that develops is the approach-avoidance game. One person sees it as his or her responsibility to get sexual activity going, so he makes frequent approaches to the other—using sexual overtures, dropping hints, or making direct suggestions. He feels as if he has to mention it eight times if it’s going to happen once. So he is anxiously suggesting sex far more often than he really wants it. His wife would like him not to bother her and feels that she never even has an opportunity to suggest getting together sexually because he wants it all the time. She feels bombarded and unable to get in touch with her desire. So she resists or avoids his approaches.

You can see how the pattern perpetuates itself: The more she avoids, the more anxious he becomes, so the more he makes advances. This increases her feeling that demands are being placed on her that don’t allow room for her desire to build, and so the pattern continues.

After this section the Penners give two examples of couples where this may happen–one with a woman with the lower libido and one with the man, which is helpful to not have it all one way.

I’ve also seen this dynamic happen not only when sex isn’t happening, but also when it is but it feels like “duty sex.” So she (typically it’s a she in this scenario) has sex because she feels that she has to because he needs it, but she gets very little pleasure from it even when her husband would like her to experience pleasure. She rushes him through, and he can tell that she’s not into it. That increases his stress that she doesn’t really want him, and so he wants to reassure himself by suggesting sex again. She takes that to mean that he can never be satisfied, and he’s just a sex fiend.

Those of you who have studied the psychology of attachment will recognize a common dynamic here, that often pops up with insecure attachment in children.

They need to reassure themselves that their parent actually loves them, but the parent finds this annoying and so withdraws further, and makes the problem worse.

So essentially this dynamic creates something very similar to insecure attachment. One spouse feels like they’re not truly desired, loved, or wanted, but the other spouse interprets this to mean that they’re having all kinds of demands placed on them. It’s easy to see how this can go downhill quickly.

But what is the solution o the approach-avoidance cycle with libido differences?

The Penners suggest agreeing on a set time when the higher-libido spouse WILL NOT initiate sex at all, and then having the lower libido spouse agree that at least once during that time period they instead will initiate sex.  That gives the lower libido spouse time for desire to build, and helps them get in touch with their own sexuality. And it helps the higher libido spouse see that their spouse actually does desire sex.

So talk to your spouse about this if you think that you’ve developed this pattern. And then agree that this week, one spouse won’t initiate sex, suggest sexual things, grope their spouse’s body, or anything like that. They’ll back off and trust the lower libido spouse to take the lead.

Thoughts if you’re the higher libido spouse in a marriage with libido differences:

I understand the desperation that you feel both to have sex, but also to feel as if your spouse wants you. The problem is that what is happening now isn’t working, and may even be worsening the situation. The lower libido spouse may be afraid to say yes ever, because it seems that you can be insatiable (that’s not true; but that’s how it feels). And the lower libido spouse can feel as if your attempts at initiating are intrusive.

Talk to your spouse about this dynamic, and see if your spouse would be open to that suggestion–you back off for a time, but then, at some point during that time, your spouse agrees to initiate.

If your spouse doesn’t, you can still take steps to change this dynamic yourself by pulling way back on initiation. Stop with any sexual jokes and innuendos. Kiss without expecting it to go anywhere. Above all, do not grope your spouse sexually, because that especially feels intrusive to the lower libido spouse. Pull back for a few weeks if you have to, just to hit the reset button. And then, when you do start initiating again, try to confine it to only one or two times per week at first to see what happens. It could be that if you pull back, after a while your spouse will pick up the slack. But don’t expect this to magically happen after just a few days. Give it some time to give your spouse some space!

Navigating Libido Differences

Thoughts if you’re the lower libido spouse in a marriage with libido differences:

One of the biggest dangers I see in this approach-avoidance cycle is that the lower libido spouse may start to believe, “I’m not sexual and I don’t want sex at all.” Because your spouse “bugs” you about it so much, and often makes sexual jokes/innuendos or even grabs you sexually when  you’re not thinking that way, it feels like sex is always an intrusion in your life. It’s something unpleasant that throws you off.

If this is you, please don’t allow yourself to think this way. Don’t reject sex altogether, and don’t start thinking negatively about sex. Realize that the problem is that you’ve never had the chance to get in touch with your own desire because sex has become something you’re always saying no to. Realize that sex is still something for you that helps you and has benefits for you and is still awesome–even if you don’t want it as much as your spouse. Realize that you can jumpstart your libido and sex can be an important part of your life, too! For women, my boost your libido course was created to help you do just that!

Are you TIRED of always being too tired for sex?

Do you yearn to actually WANT to make love–and figure out what all the fuss is about?

There is a way! And in this 10-module course I take you through what libido is (it may surprise you!), what affects libido, and how we can reclaim the excitement that God made us for.

But also, please hear me on this one: Sometimes we think there’s no point in even trying sexually, because our spouse will never be satisfied. He wants it all the time, and even if you do have sex, it doesn’t seem to dull his libido. It just increases how much he asks for it!

However, in these situations, couples have often found that if the lower libido spouse starts initiating and decides to allow themselves to feel good, then the higher libido spouse backs off a lot. When they know that they are wanted and that sex is enjoyed, then they don’t have that same need to reassure themselves.

So if you can start initiating sex every so often, and then allowing yourself to enjoy it, you may just find that your spouse’s constant sexual requests get far less frequent. When they feel confident again, they’ll go back to a normal equilibrium.

Here are some posts that can help you initiate sex and feel sexy! And, of course, don’t forget my sexy dares, either. 🙂

And now, if you do want your spouse to back off and give you space, then use some of these suggestions! Pick a night and initiate. Follow through. Be enthusiastic. And you may find that the dynamic really does change!

Final thoughts for navigating the libido difference negative spiral:

If you do try this idea–backing off, and then letting the lower libido spouse initiate–this should be a reset plan, not a permanent plan. This helps you get back to normal, but it’s not fun if, in marriage, only one person ever initiates. That person then feels a lot of pressure on their shoulders, and also doesn’t feel desired anymore.

So try this for a time to reassure the higher libido spouse that they are desired and loved, but then, after that, talk about what your new normal can look like. And if you do find yourself in a situation where only one spouse is ever initiating for an extended time, then it may be time to rethink this again!

Libido Differences Negative Cycle: How to avoid it and feel libido again

What do you think? Have you ever experienced this negative spiral with libido differences? Let’s talk about it in the comments!

 

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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56 Comments

  1. Mel

    So good, them you, Sheila! I’m a higher drive wife, and I needed to hear this today!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Glad you liked it!

      Reply
      • Amber

        Would you point me towards a resource, I’m sure you have one, where you talk about how a lower drive spouse may need physical touch and closeness and complements without sex strings attached? I’m finding I need to explain to my husband that I want to feel pretty and touched and loved all the time not just when he wants sex. I know that he struggles with touching me and complementing me because he feels like it makes his body want sex… so he doesn’t do it unless he thinks sex is coming.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Oh, normally I’d tell you 31 Days to Great Sex, but it’s not for sale right now until it releases with Zondervan again in August!
          But I will say that maybe having him read this post might help? Just that he could understand the dynamic? And then tell him something like: I need touch to feel close to you, and I need to feel close to you to want sex. It could be that the reason you feel so desperate and you feel like you can’t be affectionate is because of this cycle. But perhaps if you tried to give me some space and give me what I need, then we may find that we can stop the cycle?
          Or just be really up front. “I want to make love to you, but I need to feel that it’s about US, it’s not about sex. I need to feel like you want ME, not just that you want my body. So if we’re going to have a good sex life, we have to also set the stage. I’m not saying no to you. But I’d ask that you also consider that if we’re going to have a good and fulfilling sex life, we also need a good and fulfilling emotional connection.”

          Reply
      • J & B

        Agree, use the reset button.

        Reply
      • Holly

        So helpful and nice to know this is all experienced by others. Thank you!

        Reply
    • Lo

      This is the most pertinent article to me in all your posts. After a few years of really struggling with this very thing, this is pretty much what we’ve come upon on our own (a set time and anyone can initiate, but nothing in between). It has been so healing for me in particular, because I have grown an aversion to his advances and believed for a long time that I was the messed up one, without a drive. (I even took your course on Boosting my Libido but still felt pressure to perform way more often than I could with my heart). Thanks for posting. I’d love to hear more about how to deal with libido differences. We’re still learning and growing.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Oh, I’m glad that you related to the post! And I’m glad that you came up with this on your own, too. Definitely we can develop an aversion to his advances if we feel suffocated by them. For women’s libidos, our own agency is such a huge factor. We have to feel like we have freely entered in, rather than been pressured or coerced. As soon as you’re pressured, we turn off.

        Reply
      • Marie

        This hit the nail on the head for me. I kept feeling like the key isn’t even in the ignition. I wondered for so long what is wrong with me? But I also see that my husband has huge self esteem issues. We have played this game for a long time. Would love to hear more thoughts on this issue.

        Reply
  2. Anonymous this time

    I think this was us a long time ago. And I backed off completely because i was tired of feeling rejected. When I did back off, she definitely became happier. It was like a weight had been taken off her shoulders. That was many years ago. And we have not had sex since. Its just not her thing. So through prayer and intense exercise, I have gotten my libido way down using the if you can’t beat them join them philosophy. It’s helping a lot. But I still miss it sometimes.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, I’m sorry. I know this has been a really tough road for you. I’m sorry that she doesn’t see the need for sex or prioritize it. I really am.

      Reply
    • NL

      Wow, this is so true! I have thought these thoughts. I just wish we were better at talking about these things.

      Reply
      • NL

        Oops this wasn’t a reply. It was supposed to be farther down.

        Reply
    • David

      I appreciate where you’re coming from Anonymous. Honestly, glad the Lord is giving you the strength He gives you. My reaction to exercise was the opposite though! I lost a little weight and wanted sex more. Go figure. Asking how I could be better and following through, praying, and paying more attention to her love languages. In the end she just didn’t want to have sex . It does take intimacy down many levels. I’m guessing you tried counselling or at least offering to go and talking about it. Sometimes the partner just doesn’t want to and it has been years for us too. Still working hard on her love languages (service, words, time) and prayer too when it bites but yeah, I miss it. Sorry for the novel. Best to all.

      Reply
  3. Rogue

    Was reading through and was like the thing that exacerbates most peoples problems on here seem to stem from attachment disorders…and then you say that in the next sentence. I should go into counseling :p .
    But seriously, I struggle with insecure attachment and I’m not even married. My SO is still trying to figure out her own feelings towards me and I struggle to not freak out at times over if she loves me. I know she does care about me and our friendship very much, but when it comes to romance and long term commitment, we struggle with trying to be on the same page.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, have you read “How We Love” by the Yerkovichs? It goes over so much about attachment issues, and it may really help you. I’m sorry you’re dealing with so much insecurity. A lot of it really does stem from these fundamental issues at our very core. I wish you all the best!

      Reply
      • Lindsey

        How we love is an excellent book, but if you can afford counseling and have access to a qualified counselor, I’d definitely go that route in addition to reading the book. It only gets more difficult to afford self-care Once you’re married with children. I have a lot of issues that I’d like to work through with someone qualified to help me figure some stuff out, and those emotional issues have also led to food addiction/compulsion…which affects me physically as well as mentally/emotionally. Unfortunately, I cannot afford therapy. What little “disposable” income we have, we use to give our kids the best life possible. But hopefully someday.
        I hope that you are able to get to the bottom of your issues and resolve them – take it from me, something’s don’t really improve with time.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Very good advice, Lindsey!

          Reply
          • Sunny

            At about age 55, my husband’s hormones ran low and he hit a brick wall. I was already the higher drive partner, but after that it became a bigger issue than ever. My GYN told me testosterone shots may help his libido, but work only for about half of the men who use it for that purpose. The shots helped some, but not much. I teach classes for older women on marital intimacy, and it hurts so bad (excruciating) when the teacher’s husband struggles as mine does. In class we use both the Penners’ books and the Dillow /Pintus book. They are fantastic, and have inspired me. We just ordered How We Love. My husband now wants to work on his attachment issues. It looks like we are onto something.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Oh, I’m so glad! That’s great!

      • Rogue

        It’s a long distance relationship and we are very open in our communication as far insecurities etc. So I don’t think we need counseling as we understand each other pretty well. She’s still figuring out her own emotions and biological responses. She thinks she gets warm fuzzies with me, but isn’t exactly sure if that qualifies as romantic interest or grounds for forever. Marriage/romance was never high on her radar, more a I’ll get around to that when I’m an adult even though she knows she wants a kid someday. Well, we both turned into young adults and here we both are :p . She’s still not sure if it’s how she was raised or how she raised her self to think, or if it’s something biological or a combination of both. Both of us are from reasonable conservative backgrounds and both prior homeschooled, so we’ve both had to learn to work past some unnecessary prudity mindsets about some things. I think we both are good for each other minus the above topics. She’s mostly worried about not being able to give to me/feel what she thinks I’m hoping for.
        And I have read some books on attachment theory, actually just purchased one for myself, since our state is locking down until at least June, so I’ll probably check this one out anyway. Got to get myself back into reading.

        Reply
  4. Doug

    I have mixed feelings about this concept. Like just about every bit of advice about relationships, it is good for some, neutral for others, and downright bad or counterproductive for others.
    In my own marriage, it is sort of where we found ourselves by default. For the last year or so, when we have sex it is by mutual choice(just seems to happen on it’s own) or by my wifes choice. I have stepped back from initiating.
    I have to admit that some of what you said is true. My wife is more emotionally and physically present when we have sex. Truth be told, frequency hasn’t changed much either so in theory, it is a win in that regard. Sex is better, and for the most part frequency has remained the same.
    There is another way of looking at that tho. It has always been what she wants, when she wants, and that really hasn’t changed. In the past, if I wanted intimacy, and she didn’t, then she got her way. That hasn’t changed. It feels more generous, because she initiates, and if I am honest, I would say that there is less conflict(tho we never really fought or argued about it). Yet, it still feels like a loss to me, sometimes to the point that I am almost resentful when she initiates. When you have wanted something for several days or even weeks, and it is denied, and then granted out of the clear blue sky it honestly leaves you a bit caught off guard, especially if there have been little teases and innuendos over that same period of time that ultimately were just that. Teases.
    So yes, I think that it could work, in a relationship where communication flows freely and both feel safe in expressing themselves. Then again, in that scenario, things probably don’t deteriorate to the point where it would be needed.
    In other cases, it can have the appearance of being a good thing, but actually be good for one and worse for the other.
    If there is anything I have learned in 37 years of marriage, it doesn’t matter who initiates. No always trumps.

    Reply
    • Chris

      Doug, next time she starts to initiate, just say no. You deserve to have a say in the situation.

      Reply
      • Doug

        I’m really not sure if that is sarcasm or if you are being serious.

        Reply
        • Chris

          No sarcasm. I am serious.

          Reply
    • Madeline

      “No always trumps.” So you’re saying the yes should ignore the no? That doesn’t sound very consensual.

      Reply
      • Doug

        No, Madeline, I didn’t say that the yes should ignore the no.
        When I said “no always trumps” it means that the person who says no is the one with all the power in the decision. No is the Ace of Spades, and it trumps any other card.
        Consensual is a bit of a tricky concept. It sounds good on the surface. It is in effect, proclaiming agreement, but it only proclaims agreement in the affirmative. If both agree, then sex happens. On the other hand, when not to have sex is usually controlled by one person, and it is seldom consensual. There have been times when both my wife and I agreed to forgo sex, and it could honestly have been called a consensual agreement, but there were far more where there was no consensus, and it was imposed by decree.
        For some spouses, both men and women, consensus is not some liberating principle. It is a life sentence.

        Reply
        • Chris

          Doug i hear you. I never gave my consent to live in a sexless marriage. So I understand what you mean. Doug this is why you need to embrace your “no”. Its the only way to give your consent to the situation. And consent is important in a “sexual” relationship.

          Reply
  5. Theresa

    Thanks for this helpful article. I think I will get a copy of the Penners book. But I must disagree with your recommendation of Linda Dillow’s book Intimate Issues. The book focuses on the wife’s duty to have sex with her husband because, essentially, he is a guy and that is the only way he can express himself. Instead of helping the wife understand how to make sex more enjoyable for her, the book places emphasis on “just do it” so your husband feels loved. It felt so patronizing that I just threw the book away.
    That is why I was grateful to find Sheila’s blog that urges couples to make an effort to make sex enjoyable for the wife, too. That message is needed in the Christian community.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Theresa, yes, the book does do that, and it lost points for that (The Gift of Sex scored higher). We’re not releasing our rubric yet, but we have 12 questions about sexuality, and one of them revolves around the obligation sex message and the concept of consent and sexual assault within marriage. The book definitely lost scores for that; it’s just that it handled other things well. And, quite frankly, after books that lost points on 10/12 questions, it was wonderful to find a book that lost points on only a few. If the book scored 36/48 it was a “healthy” book, and if it scored 26-35 it was neutral; and below 26 was harmful. Unfortunately, far too many scored harmful. Intimate Issues did score in the healthy range, but it wasn’t perfect.
      After spending so long criticizing so many organizations/books, it was just good to have a book that scored better than average.
      But The Gift of Sex is definitely better. And when I rewrote 31 Days to Great Sex, I can assure you that it scores perfect (because I specifically looked at the criteria for healthy sexuality and made sure it was all in there!).

      Reply
  6. Dead man shuffling

    I tried the non-approach approach, total failure. I stopped asking, hinting, or doing anything that might be an initiation towards sex, four years later, my wife hasn’t even noticed. She never touches me, never tells me she loves me, never kisses me, never thanks me. We have not had sex in five years. We are both 61, active and fit. She is retired and I work. We have no financial issues. Kids are independent and on their own. Pre-menopause sex was 10 – 12 times a year, I was not allowed to initiate, all timed to her cycle, Life is hollow without physical intimacy. She gets very angry if I raise the subject. She refuses to join me in counselling, it’s my issue, not hers. She does not understand why I have withdrawn. There is no solution, only a life sentence of suffering and depression.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m so sorry! That sounds so empty. The non-approach approach only works if you both talk about it first and agree. When you bring this up, what does she say?

      Reply
  7. Em

    Are these best selling Christian books or books in general? My sex therapist recommended the Penner’s book and work book (and Becoming Orgasmic) to my husband and myself when we were seeing her for vaginismus issues. Come As You Are is probably the book that helped me the most.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, Come As You Are is really good, too! I’m only looking at Christian books for our study (though I have a few secular ones in there for a control group), though. I just want to see what messages Christians have been taught.

      Reply
  8. Doug

    I have to say that after reading all the comments, This approach is far from a guaranteed improvement. Most of the remarks by those who tried it indicate a negative or neutral outcome, and the success stories that were posted only reported one spouses impressions on the matter. The other spouse may well have been totally unhappy with the outcome.
    I’m not going to call it junk science, because I believe there are marriages and circumstances that it would be beneficial, but I think those are already relatively healthy marriages where most any approach that involved some level of reciprocity would show benefits.
    I can certainly understand that a person can feel like they can never be enough if the pursuit seems relentless, but quite often that pursuit is rooted in similar feelings. When the response is always a no, or an unenthusiastic yes, you are also left with those questions of why you are not enough.
    I am not here to endorse any other writer or blogger, but I read a similar, but opposite approach addressed to spouses who had become reluctant to have sex because they always felt pressured. That approach was to say yes more, and maybe when the higher drive spouse started feeling less desperate, and more desired, that they would likely initiate less, and things would reach a more natural equilibrium.
    Honestly, I think there are arguments to be made for each approach, but I don’t think either one would work without some real communication up front, and a willingness by both partners to try. I also think that if things are already very one sided, then the chances are pretty low that both parties would be agreeable.
    If a lower drive spouse already feels she is giving more than she can, telling her to give more is a pretty hard sell, but if the lower drive spouse is the one who has been setting frequency to date, regardless of who initiates, getting the higher drive spouse who has been repeatedly refused to back off his desires would be an equally difficult sell.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Doug, I do believe that communication is the key to everything. I have also written extensively about the need to say yes more, and have even created a course called Boost Your Libido to help women do just that. I am not arguing for an either/or approach, and I also said in this very article that women should look at boosting their libido.
      But there is a dynamic here that is very real, and if couples are able to talk about it and leave space for the lower libido spouse to feel desire, that can definitely work. Many men also ask for sex more than they want it, or become even more insistent about sex after sexual encounters where women act like it’s “duty sex” because they need reassurance that their wives do want them. If that reassurance could be had, then men may not feel the need to be so insistent (or women when they’re the higher drive ones).
      Of course it takes communication. There is really very little that you can do unilaterally in your marriage to fix things. But sometimes changing the dynamic does give a jolt where it’s needed.
      What I am trying to do right now is write a bigger book on why women’s libido has been stolen in the first place, and much of that is due to the way that we talk about sex and frame sex in the Christian community. Why is it that so many women happily live without sex? Why is it that it’s not important to so many women? Much of it is the shame that we have heaped on women for their bodies; the way we have talked about libido and lust and men; the way we have framed sex as being for the man; the way we have talked about men’s sexual needs. If we start talking about things in a healthier way, I’m hoping that we can avoid many of these problems for Generation Z and beyond, and that perhaps we can have some breakthroughs even for generations who grew up with these negative messages.

      Reply
  9. Jane Eyre

    I’m sure that this would work if sex is satisfying for women, but for those of us who find sex physical painful and emotionally draining, the reason we don’t have a libido is because well-ordered people do not want things that are bad for them.
    I’m not sure what the solution is.

    Reply
    • Ross Watmuff

      I think a lot comes down to accepting what God says about marriage and sex, how he designed it. He says sex is good and needed for a healthy marriage. We need to take that on faith and act upon it. Just like many other things God tells us are good that don’t ‘feel’ good to us at particular points.

      Reply
  10. Anonymous

    IMHO, in most healthy/functioning marriages, the low drive spouse controls the sex life. If my wife says NO, I honor it every time. Thus, she has the control of our sex life. On the other hand, I have NEVER said no to sex in our marriage. Of course, I do have to admit that my darling wife has only initiated sex once in 40 years of marriage. She has told me that she is “uncomfortable” with initiating sex and she does not see the need to change this. So sex only happens when she approves it. In some ways, I feel fortunate that we have some sex (2 times this year so far). I do know others who are in a sexless marriages…

    Reply
  11. Charlotte Lucas

    Exactly! I come on this blog and see husband after husband complaining about wives not wanting sex. It’s like they can’t even fathom sex not being enjoyable. News flash guys, it’s not easy or enjoyable for a lot of women.
    I keep having discussions with my husband that feel like banging my head against a wall. The thing is if we’re having sex he thinks our relationship is on track. Meanwhile I’ve been trying to communicate for years that no, I need hand holding, talking, shared interests, help around the house; a real relationship. Sex doesn’t make me feel connected or like our marriage is on some magical path. I doubt most men would even notice their marriages were terrible as long as sex was consistent. It’s so frustrating! I got married thinking adding sex into the mix could only makes things better but it’s been 15 years of feeling like my husband gained so much and I gave up a lot.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m sorry, Charlotte. (Love your pseudonym by the way; assuming it is one). It is okay to want emotional connection, too. And affection. I talk about that a ton in 31 Days to Great Sex, which will be back on sale in August. But, yes, it can be difficult for some men to understand how difficult sex can be for many women. We really do need emotional safety and closeness to be interwoven with sex. Marriage can’t survive on one without the other.

      Reply
    • hubbyforher

      I appreciate this article and so many of the comments here. While I don’t agree with everything, it helps me get more perspectives than just my own.
      We’ve got the traditional libido imbalance. Guy is high drive, and the girl is low drive. She doesn’t dislike sex, but never gets in the mood until after she’s already responded to my advances. So I never feel the “desirable” feeling that I crave. She won’t say no, and for that I appreciate it, but she often does it just to be generous. I’m thankful, just wish it helped address my emotion desire to be sexually attractive to my wife. It does address the physical needs.
      For those wives that ask, “if you’re getting it, why isn’t that enough?” It’s a fair question. I suppose I’d answer by asking the question, if your husband is around, is a good father and provider, etc., why is it a big deal for him to spend time listening to you? It’s because those emotional needs are important, and it’s not healthy for those emotional needs to be met by someone else.
      I guess it’s easy to be generous in areas that come easy to us. It’s harder to be generous in areas that require us to step out and work at it. For all of us….

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Yes, I think that’s definitely true. And that’s also why I think it’s important that the lower drive spouse initiate sex at times. It really does matter.

        Reply
  12. Lee

    My ex-husband never wanted sex. It was stressful because as a woman I related sex to love. We went years. I tried to initiate but definitely felt unlovable. I know I look fine. Even he told me things like you are still the best looking in all of our older friends. Or you were the best looking one there. So what. I guess maybe he had libido issues or maybe something else. Still, if someone won’t ever have sex with you, I say they don’t love you. So I agree that men would feel unwanted and unloved because I think this issue usually goes the other way.

    Reply
  13. Merry

    What if your spouse is a narcissist, has emotionally and verbally abused you and programmed you to allow abuse. After 30 years of marriage, you have so much anxiety around said spouse, that you pull away for your own well-being and set limits, such as sleeping in separate beds, so you can “relax” enough to sleep, with your fibromyalgia, Autoimmune disorders (CREST), OArthritis, GERD, etc. that already keeps me up at night.
    He sees my boundaries as “extreme” but to me they are an essentially life-saving grasp at self preservation. I can’t fathom reciprocating sexually right now, because sex is his “go to” for arguments and his victimization tactic – he wants to be pursued – by the woman he has abused. We don’t believe in divorce, but he, then, doesn’t get any sexual satisfaction, while I “heal”. What is your advice?

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Merry, that’s an awful situation. If he is being abusive, that needs to be dealt with. I don’t think sex is the issue here. I think it’s abuse. And I don’t think that you can just heal from it by moving bedrooms, unless something actually changes. Are you seeing a licensed counselor? (not with him; that’s not recommended or wise in abusive situations, but individually?) Do you have people to help you? And I do believe that abuse is grounds for divorce. It’s a form of abandonment. I’m not saying that’s what you should do–I don’t know details. I just think it’s important to protect yourself and do what is helpful.

      Reply
  14. EL

    As always, you hit the nail on the head for us Sheila. I’ve read a few of your books and have done the libido course and your resources have been the most helpful of all we’ve tried in our marriage (seems to find the balance between what my husband and I believe, even when we are at odds). So thank you!
    We both agree with your points here and will try this approach. A big sticking point for us has been the need for my husband to feel that I desire sex primarily for myself and that I’m never ‘doing it for him’. He feels that having sex ‘for him and his needs’ will inevitably lead to feelings of responsibility (not passion) and eventually resentment to him which means I need to be having it for ME first and foremost and secondarily for our relationship and him. I feel like this is an impossible request. I do work at getting a lot of enjoyment from sex (and we do truly have great sex times) but it’s lowest on my love language list and don’t often feel the need for sex (maybe once/month). I feel like us having sex because it’s his greatest need is really loving and makes me feel good and connected to him because I’m meeting his need. We never have sex unless it’s really enjoyable for both of us physically so that’s not an issue. But in his mind, even is sex is great physically – it’s not satisfying if there is any part of it if done ‘sacrificially’ in his mind. Any advice to help us with this?? Do I need to change my thinking here or how can I help him see my perspective? Thank you!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      EL, great question! But it sounds like your husband isn’t interested in “obligation sex”, and perhaps he doesn’t feel like you’re meeting his greatest need? Maybe his greatest need isn’t actually for release, but for intimacy and passion with you? And that means that you have the right to say no. You can’t really say yes if you can’t say no (that’s our podcast for tomorrow!).
      Why don’t you ask him about taking a hiatus on intercourse for a few weeks and just figure out what feels good for you. Or decide something like, “On Tuesdays, we are NEVER having sex.” But you’re allowed to do other things–just not sex. Sometimes having the freedom to say no or to know that it’s not going to happen actually awakens a woman’s libido. Perhaps you’ve been seeing his sex drive in a way that he doesn’t actually see it (and that’s not surprising, because what you’re talking about is how male libido is taught in books, but it often just doesn’t work that way and it makes both men and women feel trapped).

      Reply
  15. Bill

    I am late to this discussion but I remember reading the Penner book and probably that exact passage 20 years ago, and it was helpful, though more for me than my wife.
    My wife and I were newly married and I was very frustrated that we weren’t having the sex life I had always assumed. We were having sex about once a week and often less than that.
    I tried so hard to be a conscientious lover and to listen carefully to what she wanted both in and out of bed (non-sexual touch, love languages, etc). I tried SO HARD and did everything I could find suggested in Christian resources at the time, and also prayed and prayed constantly about this.
    I could not grasp how she could possibly not want sex as much as me, and instead I became convinced I was…still not trying hard enough. I felt if I just tried harder – more approaches, more ideas – I could finally unlock the secret of her sexuality. And so I got more and more frantic, suggesting sex and sexual things constantly. I just wanted her to be happy and to desire sex as much as me, but it nearly all got rejected, along with a lot of fights.
    I remember reading the Penner book and seeing myself in that passage. It helped me understand that my franticness was probably just pushing her away, and digging the hole deeper. We probably talked about the book, and she agreed to sex at least once a week, while I agreed to back off.
    The book was helpful to me in validating my feelings of desperation- the constant feeling that “if I just tried harder…” It felt so different from other books, most of which made me feel like a failure because I couldn’t turn on my wife and make her want me – and it must be because I wasn’t trying hard enough.
    The downside is that we never have improved from that once-a-week standard. There was no “picking up the slack” in my view. Through counselling we do understand each other better. I understand now that she has deep issues with sex and intimacy, stemming from her dysfunctional upbringing. And I don’t see things changing (I can’t get her to read this or any other blog or resource). As Doug says above, we may have reached a consensus, but she’s the one in control..
    But that book made me realize I wasn’t a failure for not trying hard enough, and that was huge.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, Bill, what you’re describing is exactly what the Penners said. I’m glad it resonated with you!
      I’m sorry you’re walking through this, though. It’s difficult when you’re married to someone with trauma and dysfunction in her past. The truth is that we are in a broken world, and that brokenness means that some people just don’t experience life to the fullest the way that God meant. That’s really what brokenness is. I pray that your wife will get some counseling and confront some of these issues so that she can be set free, because I do believe that that is God’s will for us.

      Reply
      • Bill

        Thank you Sheila. It remains a very slow walk, though there has been progress over the years.
        One more thing to add, in relation to all the books you have been reviewing: So much of the advice to men appeals to the natural male impulse to “fix things.” The assumption that if there’s a problem, there must be a solution. So if you’re not happy with your sex life, solve the problem. And if you can’t solve it, then…you must be the problem, because you failed.
        Of course, as you have reported, many books just place blame on the wives instead – making them the failures for not giving their husbands a great sex life. I tried not to give into that.
        But even resources that seemed respectful of women’s needs still seemed to have this “fix-it” message for men: “if you’re a real man, a real Christian man, you’ll fix the problem” – which included asking what she wants; putting her needs first; supplying her with ideas and resources, etc. So that’s what I tried to do, and I just overwhelmed her and dug my hole deeper. As mentioned, the Penner book gave me some different insight.
        It took me a long time, and I am still struggling to accept, that I can’t “fix” my wife. I of course have a huge supporting role. But ultimately only she can change herself.
        Thanks for your blog and ministry.

        Reply
  16. Anonymous Me

    Hi Sheila, thank you for your amazing articles. I really appreciated this one, since we have been struggling with this issue for years.
    On top of being the one with a lower libido, I made some nasty mistakes in this area when I was younger. I was in illicit relationships and struggled to say no, even though I knew it was wrong to sleep around.
    Now that I am married and in a safe environment I seem to resist and say the no’s I never said then. I have terrible aversions to sex coming into my heart at times and it is ruining my marriage. I just want to be free and have a normal sexual relationship again.
    Do you have any more info that can help?

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I hear you. A lot of women experience that. I think if you’ve been through something traumatic, or you’re reacting as if you have, it may be good to see a licensed therapist about some trauma counseling. But it may also be good to remind yourself what God made sex to be. If you haven’t read The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, I’d recommend picking that up and reading it and trying to let that settle in.

      Reply
  17. Torrie

    I am that woman who virtually NEVER thinks about sex. I have been that way as long as I can remember… likely even my teens. It is not that I don’t enjoy it. My husband is a good, attentive lover. When we get started I enjoy it. He has done most of the initiating. He recently told me he is tired of it and has lost interest. I suggested that I initiate one week and he the next. He didn’t bite on that at all. There are other issues involved too and we have been going to a marriage counsellor on and off for 2 yrs now. Physical touch is his highest love language but not mine. Hopefully we can work it out but anyone would be lucky to have him as a lover. Our other issues have caused such heart ache that I haven’t spoken with him in a month.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m so sorry, Torrie. I hope you can get over your other problems. It sounds like you just have a more responsive libido, and he has more of a spontaneous one, but you’re both interpreting that to mean that you don’t want him as much, which really isn’t true. I hope you can get through this!

      Reply
  18. Dani

    I have been thinking about libido a lot recently… Do you think there is any correlation between libido rates and orgasm for women? When women have the higher libido In marriages are they also the ones that almost always orgasm? Are women more likely to want sex if they know they will orgasm? Or even then, is the long process of achieving orgasm part of what dampens a woman’s libido? If sex was a 5-15 minute thing for me to achieve orgasm I would probably be up for it most days but I do not have the energy for an hour of sex more than a couple of times a week.
    I also wonder if men felt responsible for their wives achieving orgasm every time And were prepared to put in the work to make that happen they would actually want sex less often but because it is usually fairly quick if they are the only ones getting there, that is much more appealing.
    A friend once told me that when her and her husband had sex if she wasn’t going to achieve orgasm for what ever reason, they stopped. I was utterly shocked and thought it was ridiculous. But now I think, wow! If it can’t be GOOD for both of them, then it was off the table for both of them. I’m not saying that’s what should happen but I have a whole different way of looking at this now.
    The comments here about women who just don’t have sex with their husbands makes me so sad. I fully believe no should always trump but that doesn’t let women off the hook of putting in the effort to make their husbands feel loved.

    Reply

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