Can men understand sex from a woman’s perspective?
Or is there such a thing as a “man’s perspective” and a “woman’s perspective?”
It’s Keith (Sheila’s husband) here again, for our monthly men’s corner!
Every month, I try to write a post with some of my thoughts about what Sheila is tackling this month on the blog. Some of the themes this year have been challenging for me to write about as a man, like “How to Help your Wife with her Body Image Issues”, but I have soldiered on.
But I really balked at this month’s topic: “Sex Questions You Can’t Ask Your Pastor?” Where do I go with that?!? I briefly thought of writing a post called “Sex Questions Keith was scared to ask his Pastor” just to see if I could give Sheila a heart attack, but I decided that would probably end up with me more embarrassed than her! Then I remembered that Sheila got some flak earlier in the month, particularly on Facebook. People took issue with the title of the series, thinking Sheila was saying you shouldn’t talk to pastors about these things which was never what she meant. That got me thinking about the topic of where do we get our ideas about sexuality and how might that influence our approach to sex in marriage.
Let’s face it, sex is one of those things that we historically haven’t talked about much in the church (present blog excepted).
So I think most husbands have gotten their knowledge about sex from three sources: the media, other guys and their own experience.
As a result, I think that we men have sometimes developed what I would call a “male-centred” view of sexuality, often without realizing it.
I can already hear the questions: “What do you mean by that? I am a male, shouldn’t I think about sex like a male?” Of course! There is nothing wrong with that.
The problem comes when we assume that our way of thinking about sex is the right way and our wife’s way of thinking about sex is somehow abnormal or wrong. If you have no idea, what I mean, read on!
Before I go on, though, I want to give the caveat that I know that not all men think about sex the same way, nor do all women. You know that I have said before that I think we often make too big a deal out of gender differences. However, there are clearly biologic differences in the way we participate in sex which one can’t ignore that can influence our approach and may cause problems if we don’t understand and value each other’s perspective. Take my first point, for example:
Sex is more than intercourse.
To some of you who have read the blog for a while, that won’t be shocking to you as it has been talked about before. However, it is fair to say that most people are biased toward thinking that is what sex is. The expression “had sex” most often implies intercourse. Why is this an issue? Well, biologically speaking, intercourse is a very different experience for a man than it is for a woman. For instance, consider orgasm rates with intercourse for males and females. For males, it’s typically pretty close to 100% unless there are issues. But in contrast only about a third of women achieve orgasm through intercourse. How a couple handles this difference can have a profound effect on the enjoyment of both partners.
For example, women have emailed Sheila saying their husband has basically told them, “Sex works fine for me. If it doesn’t work for you, that’s your problem.”
In that mindset, each partner in the marriage is responsible only for their own enjoyment. Now I hope none of the men reading this would have such a selfish view of things! But not only is that the exact opposite of what a loving, selfless husband should be like, it is also so unhealthy because it interprets our biologic differences in a way that says I (husband) am working and you (wife) are broken, when really we are just biologically different!
Some women even internalize this message and ask if God likes men more than women since sex is so much easier for them! Think of how that must feel for those women! Men, let’s commit to seeing our wife as different, not defective! If women can reach orgasm, but only do so during intercourse in one third of cases, let’s take the approach that says if my wife can experience this, I want to do what I can to help her get there! Let’s not be like the husband above and shrug and say, “Well, too bad for you then.” I have often challenged men at marriage conferences about this. I try to remind them not to view foreplay as the price of admission to the main event. We need to get past that kind of mentality. Our wife should never feel like the “other stuff” is a burdensome add-on to something that should be quick and easy. And if you want to learn how to make the “other stuff” natural and really fun for her, be sure to check out 31 Days to Great Sex!
Wonder if you will ever share a passionate sex life with your wife?
Another issue husbands can trip up over in this way is male-female libido differences.
Sheila has handled overcoming libido differences on the blog before, but that was mostly talking about libido in terms of “higher” and “lower” libidos (which don’t always follow the traditional male higher than female assumption!) But what I have been reading about recently is the idea of “spontaneous” versus “responsive” libido.
I had never heard of this before and I found it quite fascinating. The basic concept is this: For us to have satisfying sex both our bodies and our minds have to be in a state where we are ready and willing for it to happen. The body side of things is the physiology of sex – erection, lubrication, etc. The mental side of things is the psychology of sex – desire. The concept of spontaneous or responsive libido suggests that these two systems fire up at different rates in different people (or maybe even at different rates in the same person depending on the day!). For someone with a spontaneous libido, the starting point is desire. For whatever reason (or maybe for no reason!) they get “that lovin’ feeling” and if all goes well their body begins to follow. For someone with responsive libido, though, it looks a little different. For them, they really only mentally start to feel that deep desire once their body starts getting going. Now supposedly, women are much more likely than men to have responsive libidos and men are much more likely than women to have spontaneous libidos.
What does this mean? Well, it doesn’t mean that if she’ says she’s not in the mood, you should try anyway. No means no, even in marriage! But I have heard so many men say something like the following: “I don’t understand it. My wife always says she enjoys sex when we have it, but she never initiates.” Sometimes they are worried that she has a “libido problem”. Sometimes they are worried their wife is no longer attracted to them. But a large part of the time, the line of thought is something like this –
“Does she really enjoy sex or is she just humouring me? I mean, if she really liked it, wouldn’t she be seeking it out?”
This insecurity is fed by all the portrayals of desire in movies and books, which are always the spontaneous type – often portrayed as not just spontaneous, but uncontrollable. And we all want someone to feel that way about us – men and women alike. So when that doesn’t seem to happen in our marriage, we feel like something is wrong – either with our wife or with us. I always felt those guys’ pain. And now I finally have something to say to guys in that situation.
Maybe nothing is wrong at all! It may be that your wife just has a libido that is more the responsive type than spontaneous type and all those times where she “went along” and told you she enjoyed it, she really did.
So talk to her about it! Trust what she tells you even if she doesn’t act the way Hollywood tells you she should act.
Finally, we need to realize when it comes to readiness for sex, women are very sensitive to “surrounding conditions”.
We men – not so much. For example, “conditions are perfect” for a woman might mean:
“We are in the bedroom, we feel close to each other, I am not tired, nothing is worrying me and he is rubbing my neck in that amazing way he does”.
In contrast, for just over half of men “conditions are perfect” stops at: “We are in the bedroom.”
Not to be too blunt, but many men tend to see their wife’s availability as the sole condition that needs to be met. A husband can fall into bed exhausted after a stressful day at work with no thought of sex on his mind and if she winks and asks, “Y’wanna?” his whole perspective instantly shifts. Again, there will be some men & women who do not fit this pattern, but this dynamic does seem to be a problem in enough relationships that it needs to be addressed. And the root of the problem is we are assuming women see (or should see) sex the same way as men, when they don’t.
Simply put, guys, you can’t just signal your availability to your wife and assume it will have the same impact on her as when she signals her availability to you. You need to create the conditions where she feels free to start thinking in sexual terms. But a lot of guys don’t seem to understand this.
Sheila has received enough emails asking, “How do I get my husband to stop grabbing my breast when I am doing the dishes?” that she asked me to write about it.
Well, here goes! First of all, I’m just going to say that if someone touches a person in a way that they have been specifically asked not to, that is just wrong. Full stop. And if you are that guy, then stop. Just stop. But hopefully now you see why this sort of “out of context” behaviour does not get the response you expect. The simple fact is that most women need to be “in the right head space” before they can make love and if they are not, sexual advances can be considered unwanted or even intrusive. This is totally normal. I think the fact that sex – especially intercourse – is such a profoundly vulnerable thing for a woman plays a big role in this. They need to know they are safe. They need time to make sure they are ready for this. Guys, we have to be sensitive to this.
So instead of being frustrated that “she never wants sex”, maybe try working on creating the right conditions rather than jumping in with both feet.
If you need some ideas, Sheila has a great post on 10 Ways to Get Your Wife in the Mood.
I hope I have explained enough to remove some of the frustration that I know a lot of couples experience over these issues. I look forward to seeing what other thoughts people have in the comments!
What do you think? Are there other ways that many men miss what many women feel about sex? Do any of these resonate? Let’s talk in the comments!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Blog and Podcast Contributor, Co-Author with Sheila of two upcoming marriage books
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