Why Are So Many Sex Problems in Marriage So Hard to Solve?

by | Jul 20, 2020 | Sex | 43 comments

5 Steps to Untangle Difficult Sex Problems in Your Marriage

When people write in with sex problems, one of the hardest things is that the problem is often not just one thing.

It would be wonderful if, when people have problems with sex, it were one simple thing, like: “Our relationship is great and everything is wonderful but he’s having occasional erectile dysfunction,” Or “our relationship is great and everything is wonderful but I can’t figure out how to orgasm.”

But it’s rarely that simple. Instead, when people have problems, there’s often quite a lot to untangle.

This month, we’re talking about sex questions you can’t ask your pastor, in celebration of the re-launch of my book 31 Days to Great Sex (which is an awesome and fun challenge for couples!).

Today I wanted to talk about one of the aspects of the emails that I get that I find the most heartbreaking: It’s almost never just one thing. 

For instance, I’ll get a question like this:


I’ve been married for eight years now. The first few years were really hard. I found out when I was pregnant with my first that my husband was having an affair with someone from work. He’s stopped that now, and he’s totally recommitted to me, but I find it hard to trust him.

We now have two kids, and we’re really busy and almost always tired. But my husband thinks the affair was a long time ago, and I should be past it. And I really want to be. But the problem is that I don’t feel anything when we have sex. Like nothing. It’s not pleasurable at all. My husband is mad and thinks that I’m holding the affair over his head, and that’s why I don’t like sex. But I’ve never felt anything. I sometimes fear that’s why he had the affair in the first place.

He was laid off during COVID and we’re now living with his parents, but my husband is mad all the time and often just stays out on the back porch drinking beer with his dad while I look after the kids. What do I do? How do I get sex to feel good?

What a scenario! So she has several issues:

  • Sex has never felt good
  • They have an affair in the past that seems unresolved
  • He is expressing anger towards her
  • He is disconnected from her and the kids
  • He is drinking too much
  • They are living with the in-laws

Or here’s another typical one:


We’ve been married for just under a year and we haven’t managed to achieve full penetration yet because I’ve been suffering from vaginismus. We try to do other things, but I haven’t reached orgasm yet. I know my husband is really, really disappointed, and has gotten angry at times. I also found out soon after our honeymoon that he’s had a porn addiction since he was in his early teens. He said that he’s had it under control for a few years, but I caught him a month in to our marriage watching porn. He promised he wouldn’t do it again, and I know that he did talk to one of the counselors at church, but I don’t know if he’s still talking to him. I’m afraid to ask. I’m afraid that he’s turning to porn again recently because we had a big blow up last month when he said that I wasn’t getting better. He hasn’t been coming to bed with me anymore, and he’s staying up late, and I’m afraid he’s using porn because he’s not asking me to help him climax anymore. What should I do?

So what are this couple’s problems?

  • They have untreated vaginismus
  • He has a porn addiction
  • He’s likely using porn again
  • They aren’t communicating
  • He is angry

Yikes. I look at these types of questions and I just think: Oh, my word. If it was one of those things, we could deal with it. But when it’s all those problems all at once, how do you untangle them?

And isn’t that what usually happens? Problems grow on problems and it becomes a tangled mess.

5 principles for untangling complicated sex and marriage problems

1. Address physical and emotional safety issues first

Sex can’t fix a broken relationship. Sex is a vital part of a healthy marriage–but healthy is the key word there. Sex is supposed to be a deeply intimate experience that reflects the relationship you already have, and then fuels that same intimacy.

But sex, outside of intimacy, can’t fix anything. It can make it seem temporarily like the problems are under the radar, or it can make it seem as if you’re on a better trajectory, but if the underlying issues aren’t dealt with, they’ll just snowball.

Not just that, but women’s sexual response is often greatly hindered if the relationship isn’t safe or healthy. So trying to fix a sex problem in the presence of major relationship issues isn’t going to work in most cases anyway.

When you’re looking at a whole big mess, then, ask yourself: Do I feel physically safe? If not, please call an abuse hotline, the authorities, or get some help.

But sometimes the issue is emotional safety. If your spouse is getting angry at you for things you can’t control, that isn’t emotionally safe, and that needs to be dealt with.  Seek out a licensed counselor if you can. But it’s also okay to say, “your anger at me over something that I can’t do anything about is making the problem worse. I need to know that I am safe with you, and that means that I am free of your anger.”

These posts may also help:

2. Address sin issues next

Okay, now let’s move down to the next most urgent thing to address: Is there a sin issue that is impeding the marriage? Porn use would obviously qualify, as would excessive drinking (I have a hard time with this one, because I have known some spouses to say that their spouse has a drinking problem when they drink one beer after work; and others who try to ignore the alcoholism in front of them. If your spouse is drinking multiple drinks at a time, and if your spouse is using alcohol to deal with emotions or relationship issues, that is a problem. An occasional drink, however, is usually not).

If there is a porn issue, or an affair, or a different addiction,  you need to face it head on. No more secrecy. No more worrying about it, but being afraid to ask. That secrecy is like a huge axe hovering over your marriage, waiting to fall. You can’t live like that. Seek out a counselor to talk this through with, or seek out a mentor couple or a friend that your spouse respects that you can ask to help you address this.

Yes, perhaps it was the stress of an underlying issue in your marriage or sex life that triggered a relapse or that left your spouse weakened to temptation. But sin is still their fault. Even if there are bigger issues in the relationship that also have to be dealt with, you cannot deal with those relationship or sex issues if there’s a huge sin problem there.

It’s like I wrote about last year when I was talking about the stance that Focus on the Family was taking towards affairs: No, the solution to an affair is not to understand the role you played in it. The solution is to first deal with the affair and put it behind you, and then, and only then, do you address what else was going on in the relationship. You deal with the vow-breakers before you deal with the other stuff. 

Again, if someone is breaking vows, and porn use and affairs are breaking vows, or endangering the relationship as other addictions do, those are the top priorities. Fixing a sex life cannot fix those things, and you also need to feel safe before you can really fix a sex life. You can’t fix what’s wrong with sex with a metaphorical gun to your head, which is what you’re doing if you’re addressing sex before the affair or the porn. It’s like saying, “Unless we get the sex right, he’ll continue to cheat on me.” That’s just too much pressure, and will make the problems worse.

Even if there are deep issues in the marriage which you may have contributed to, you don’t deal with them by breaking vows. You deal with them by seeking counseling, by addressing them head on, by getting healthier. There is not an excuse for an affair.

3. Address communication issues and work on relationship

Okay, now that you feel safe and you’ve addressed sin issues, let’s work on the relationship (again, not sex!).

Often when there’s a problem in the bedroom you start to feel distant from one another because you’re both so insecure. You feel disappointed and ashamed in yourself if you’re not responding sexually the way you want to, and you become defensive and worried that he doesn’t really love you or that he’s angry. He feels rejected, and it’s all a big mess.

So let’s go back to what you once did well! Before you married, you were friends, right? You know how to be friends. Go back and be friends once again. Get some hobbies to do as a couple. Try my conversation starters. Try carving out time everyday to share your “high” and “low” of the day. Go back to doing things together and talking together. Even try my free 5-week emotional reconnection course!

Incidentally, I have a lot of these things available as freebies when you sign up for my email list. So sign up, and you’ll get access to all kinds of downloads that can help your marriage!

When you start talking again, you bring the tension level down in your marriage. When the tension level is lower, then it’s much easier to deal with some of these emotional landmines that come with sex problems.

4. Address any day-to-day issues that would make solving the problems easier

Okay, one last thing before we address the sex issues: Is there anything with the way that you are living your day-to-day life that is adding stress and pressure that you could potentially change?

I know switching jobs in the middle of COVID isn’t possible for so many, but perhaps you can find different living arrangements; you could move to a cheaper community; you could move closer to people who could help you with childcare or where you have a more natural community. You could plan for a way to move out of a less-than-ideal housing situation.

You could ask other people for help with childcare if you’re overwhelmed. You could ask some friends for help to deep clean your house or organize your house and then get you on a plan to keep it organized so that your home wasn’t so stressful. You could ask for help for getting kids to sleep through the night or getting a good bedtime routine so that you have your life back in the evenings.

Whatever it may be–reducing the overall stress in your life and creating more margins again lowers the tension level, and allows you breathing room to deal with sex.

You may also enjoy:

Our podcast on asking for help from your community

5. THEN address the sex issues.

And now we come to sex! Once you feel safe in the relationship, like your spouse isn’t about to leave and you’re not being emotionally abused or manipulated; once you’ve dealt with addictions or sin issues; once you can laugh again together and you’ve got a bit of an easier life, NOW it’s easier to work on sex.

Does that mean I don’t think sex is important? Nope. I think it’s really, really important. But you can’t create a magical sex life in the middle of a stressful relationship where the marriage is not safe. Those conditions will work against sex being safe, anyway.

And I’m not saying that your relationship has to be perfect to work on sex. Once you’re starting to move in the right direction, and things are improving, of course you can try to address the sex issues. But what I often see is that often the wife gets so scared she’s going to lose her marriage that she tries desperately to figure out how to fix the sex when it just doesn’t work that way. The other stuff needs to be addressed first.

I wrote 31 Days to Great Sex to help take you through this kind of exercise.

Early in the challenge I help you address porn or other sin issues that may be present, and raise the conversation and point you to help. Then we work at building the friendship before we specifically move on to sex. And there are also lots of exercises to make your life less busy and less stressful so that you can keep the momentum going.

If you feel like you have a whole tangled mess of problems, I recommend working through 31 Days to Great Sex together, so that you can address all of these different issues.

Sex is deeply personal. It’s where we’re most vulnerable. So it’s hardly surprising that when problems come, they’re often very tangled up.

But you can untangle them, and I hope that 31 Days to Great Sex can help you get there!



What do you think? Have I got the order wrong? What would you change? Let’s talk in the comments!

Written by

Sheila Wray Gregoire


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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. Ina

    Oy. How do you not burn out?! These are incredibly heartbreaking.
    I’ve never been so grateful that for us it literally is, “everything is wonderful, but I just can’t figure out orgasm.” These poor couples. Are there really so few good, Christian men? 😭

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      It is sad, isn’t it, Ina? I do believe that there are a lot of good Christian men, but there are also a lot who grew up thinking that great sex was their entitlement, and that doesn’t create healthy relationships. Sometimes we can treat each other so horrendously even if we’re not usually like that because we’re so hurt that our expectations aren’t being met. Often the root really is entitlement, and when we can break that, I do think dealing with these problems is easier.

      • Ina

        I pray they can work through it early on. We’re watching my husband’s parents’ relationship come to an end now after decades of hurts building up with no one able/willing to change. It definitely does not improve with time without intentionality.

  2. Andrea

    I have to second Ina’s question here about Christian men because my first thought upon reading the blog post today was character. How can a man get angry at a woman that she is in pain?! The second question writer ended her letter with a concern that “he’s not asking me to help him climax anymore,” so obviously her climax is not even on their radar. But mainly, how can you get mad at a person for experiencing pain? And is there any hope for changing the husband who gets mad at his wife for vaginismus?

    • Doug Hoyle

      Andrea, resentment, bitterness, and anger are pretty normal responses to the circumstance you mentioned. Resentment and bitterness are the real enemies tho. It is how you handle your anger that sets one person apart from another.
      Before you decide to tell me how wrong I am, I am going to invite you to read up on some subjects that have nothing to do with sex. Read about caring for invalid parents, or children with disabilities. You will find that anger can be a very common emotion, even in the most loving of relationships, and certainly with people who can not help themselves.
      Some of the most tender and loving people I have known have sunk into some pretty dark holes when placed in those circumstances. It isn’t constant. Who they are shines thru despite the difficulties, but a side of them that most would not know is there is often revealed. It doesn’t mean they are a bad person or a bad christian. Helplessness and hopelessness often reveal the worst in us.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Andrea, I don’t know. I do think that in a lot of cases frustration boils over. And sometimes when women are experiencing vaginismus, they’re so dismayed by the whole thing that trying to be sexual is really difficult, so they may not even want anything for themselves. I don’t know. But it is heartbreaking all around, and if couples are going through something this intense, they really do need outside help.

    • Ina

      The anger I actually kind of get. We did go through a season of vaginismus after my body overhealed from a very intense birth. We both dealt with anger in that season and, while we each directed our anger inward (me at my body for malfunctioning and him at himself for not realizing that he had been causing me pain,) I really see how easy it would be to direct the anger at the other person. That said, continuing in that angef is unacceptable and the moment it is recognized, action should be in place to dig out that anger.

    • Ar

      You asked is there any hope of changing the man. You can’t change anyone. That person would have to want to change. If he doesn’t see himself as having a problem, he’s not going to think he has to change. It’s a sad situation that person is in. I wonder how the marriage can continue in a wholesome way.

    • Cassandra A

      One realization I’ve had about differences between men and women: when women get really overwhelmed or frustrated, we often cry. Men, though, often feel frustrated and overwhelmed and then get angry. Maybe the anger here in these contexts (and ours) needs to be interpreted as just their version of breaking down crying, of not knowing what to do and feeling helpless and stuck (it doesn’t excuse any abuse or violence, of course).

    • Beth

      Is the 5 week course on emotional reconnection course no longer available? The link appears to be broken.

  3. feeling lost

    Just to answer the first two comments. There are good men, like Sheilas husband and her daughters husbands and I am
    sure there are some others too.
    But generally speaking most of us men are really horrible creatures. I include myself in this. I sadly don’t understand why we can be so selfish and inconsiderate.
    I liked this post Sheila and it really shows that this is difficult. I am myself struggling with our sex life.
    My desire for my wife has plummeted and I don’t know what is the biggest cause but I am guilty of it all.
    My biggest problem is sin. I am recovering from a porn addiction that I was honest with my wife from the start. Since I started to break free my desire for her has plummeted. I don’t even know how to explain this to her. She has a low drive so I guess she doesn’t notice it yet but I fear that it will get worse and she will notice.
    What’s even worse is that there are emotional problems connected to this. When we got married I didn’t feel the “in love” feelings I should have. She really pushed for this relationship to happen. I don’t know why I didn’t break up. I should have for her but I didn’t. I am wondering if after almost a decade together there isn’t any love to build on because I wasn’t “in love”. While I am a bad husband I still did romantic things(songs, poems, gifts etc.) and I have always been a partner when it comes to chores and the kids and always supported her dreams. But it seems like now there isn’t much in me left.
    I hate this. Because how do I tell her this? The porn I have been honest about but this? She knew u was insecure before we got married but I then just said that things feel better now that we are married. And they did but now things are bad. How do I tell her that?
    Will our marriage last when the truth comes out? I know no one can answer this but reading this showed me how much work all of this will take. And I am afraid this marriage won’t last. But maybe that has to happen. Hopefully she meets one of those few men that actually are good men.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, lost, please don’t give up! You’ve got children now, and they do need you both to love each other.
      Even if you never had those “in love” feelings it doesn’t mean that love and affection can’t grow when you start really being kind to one another and spending time together. I don’t think that telling your spouse that you’ve never really been in love is a healthy or wise thing to do. All it does is transfer the pain you’re feeling onto her without any way of actually fixing anything. A better route is to try to start growing love, which you can. I hope that you can find some common ground.

      • Melanie

        @feeling lost… I second what Shiela said. Don’t give up.
        The science side- Porn rewires the brain. But you’ve put it aside, and now you can with Gods help, rewire it again toward healthy desire. It’s scientifically possible. It takes time and effort, but that’s okay.
        On the spiritual side- porn and shame breed each other. Both have to be healed. You’ve set aside porn, now please believe Christ about the shame. Jesus did not shame the woman caught in adultery. Or the harlot who washed His feet. Or the tax collector. Or the thief on the cross next to him. They repented and their sin was removed. Period. No more shame. This is available to you too. I know sometimes it’s hard to believe this truth. But it’s true.
        As for emotions and love- what is love? It’s not all feelings- we’re all told this. I have some trouble with the argument that if you do the action of love, the feelings will follow. The reason I disagree with this argument is that sometimes we misinterpret the “action“ of love as people pleasing. Then we have no boundaries and instead of good feelings we get worn out. Love is described in 1 Corinthians 13. We see love when we look at all of Christ’s entire life. It does no harm, and seeks the good of the other. It fights sin. It abhors what is evil and clings to what is good. That is love. And Christ is the source of this love- not you.
        It was understanding this love more fully and rightly that really made the biggest difference in our marriage.

    • Nick

      Fantastic post Shiela. Such great step by step help.
      Question. Where in those 5 steps would you put dealing with past sexual abuse? Step one seems more like a safety thing between the two spouses. 2. The abused didn’t sin by being abused. Seems like it would fit in step 5.
      But what happens if the abused won’t do step 3 and communicate? Or go to counseling for it?
      Anyway…thanks for using your gifts to help others.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        I would put it in step 5, because you’re dealing with the sexual problem. But if the person won’t grow your friendship or try to have any type of marriage, then you may need to get some mentors around you or people that the spouse respects to sit down and say, “You are married. You do have to prioritize that relationship and at least want to spend time together. It isn’t okay to withdraw from everything. You need to get help because we love you, and we want to help you do that.”

  4. Boone

    After 35 plus years as a small town Southern lawyer I’ve seen some patterns develop. Over half of our practice is family law. I hate it but it’s what pays the bills.
    Most of the long term marriages that end seem to follow a pattern. For the first few years they can’t keep their hands off of each other. Usually after the second or third child the passion takes a nose five. Gradually husband is shoved to the back of the bus. No matter how hard he tries and helps things don’t improve. He either gets fed up and leaves, finds himself in an affair with somebody that pays some attention to him or he puts up with it thinking things will improve.
    Meanwhile, the powers that be at church are pounding him to serve her more and sacrifice. He tries without any results. When she gets together with her church and other friends the conversation always turns to what idiots they married and how their husbands only want sex.
    Husband, if he stays, hangs on now thinking that if they can get the kids up and grown then things can get back to the way they used to be. Youngest child goes off to college and nothing changes. Wife informs him that she’s done with that sex thing and he just needs to get over it. Arguments ensue with still no changes. He makes a decision to get out while he’s still young enough to have a life. At church husband is roundly condemned and wife is cuddled and gets a total free pass.
    I’ve seen some version of this scenario play out hundreds of times during the course of my practice. What I wonder is how many times it happens without the divorce and the husband just suffers in silence.
    Before y’all start I’m not talking about a situation involving a medical condition. I don’t see many people where that is a reason for the departure. I would say less than five percent.
    I’ll now put on my helmet and flack jacket and wait for the incoming fire.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Boone, that is an incredibly ridiculous comment, and highly offensive. It is not primarily women’s fault when divorce happens; neither is it primarily men’s fault. It is SIN’S fault. To make it into something female is very dangerous and spreads lies.
      You’re also looking at this entirely from a male point of view. Did you even read my series last month on how women feel about emotional labour?
      Also, if a man is upset in his marriage, that is NOT justification to have an affair. If you’re upset in marriage, you see a counselor. You seek a separation. You do something. But you don’t get an excuse to sin.
      And our survey of 20,000 women found that women do not cut their husbands off from sex for no reason. There is something else going on in the marriage. If he’s the kind of man to end up having an affair, maybe there’s a reason she stopped having sex with him.

      • Boone

        All I’m saying is that this is what walks in the front door. And yes, I represent a lot of men in middle age. Very very few of the men that age have been involved in affairs. That happens more with the younger clients and they got caught. I do an extensive intake interview at our first meeting. If the client is male between 40 and 60 some version of that story is going to be told to me right out of ten times. I’ve even asked other lawyers in the county about their experiences. Almost all relate similar situations.
        If you want to get upset with me that’s fine but when these folks are in their thirties a snowball starts rolling and by the time they’re in their mid to late forties it’s become an avalanche. How do we stop it?

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          I think one of the big ways to stop it is to help men and women honestly talk about expectations and about the feeling of entitlement in marriage. For instance–the question about why a marriage would become sexless. Well, in only 48% of marriages do women reliably reach orgasm. In many marriages she just doesn’t. After a while of a husband not paying attention to her pleasure, she gives up. We found very, very few sexless marriages when women regularly reach orgasm and expect to reach orgasm when they have sex. But if a woman is receiving no pleasure for years on end, she will feel used and she will give up. To a guy that may feel unfair; but perhaps we should be teaching men that sex should be mutual; it is not an entitlement. It is something that you share with one another. It is a gift that you give one another. And INTERCOURSE is not the gift; pleasure and intimacy are. Most women do not reach orgasm through intercourse. So guys need to figure this out.
          I could go on and on, but that’s just sex. I completely agree that women can also have issues with sex (which is why I created my Boost Your Libido course and many more things), but I think that the idea that women are denying men sex left right and center for no reason is not actually representative of reality or research.

          • Chris

            Sheila, talking about expectations is the key to all of this. It also could make the whole situation with marriages today much worse. Here is what I mean: I had been raised to believe that sex was special and exclusive to marriage. Which I still believe. But I wish someone had pulled me aside and told me that while sex is wonderful, its not going to happen all that much after you are married. Life happens, things happen, fatigue happens, and more than likely your bride may bring past sexual baggage into the marriage or worse yet, she may have been sexually or physically abused. All of these things will dampen her sexual appetite and she just won’t want sex that much. Now while I would have appreciated that advice I am concerned that if we start telling young men these things (many of whom are really looking forward to sex with their new brides) maybe fewer of them will be inclined to get married. We are seeing this trend towards fewer marriages now. And I am not convinced its a bad thing necessarily. Singleness is a wonderful gift! And it lets you serve the church in so many ways married people can’t.

          • AJ

            In speaking with several middle aged men I work with, I believe the scenario Boone described is very common. I wonder of the woman who can’t routinely reach orgasm, how man of them have decided in their minds that sex is bad and therefore don’t allow themselves to be pleasured even though there husband tries very hard? In my own marriage it was only after my wife changed what she believed about sex that she became able to orgasm frequently and easily. Her inability to reach orgasm and receive sexual pleasure had very little to do with what I was or was not doing. As a man (and think most men would agree) there is nothing I enjoy more than giving my wife sexual pleasure. However, sexual pleasure for a woman begins in her mind. If she’s unwilling to let her self be pleasured by her husband then nothing he can do will matter. It is very difficult for a husband to change his wife’s mind about sex. Assuming there are no physical problems preventing sex from happening, a sexless (or sex starved) marriage is very likely to fail.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Yes, AJ, this is a common thing, and I’ve written about it at length, including just last week. It’s a multi-faceted issue. But I can also tell you that a large percentage of women in our survey said that their husbands don’t spend a lot of time on foreplay and don’t prioritize their pleasure, so it’s not always on her there, either.

        • Lindsey

          Again – this is what the *MEN* you interview tell you. As Proverbs 18:17 days, “ The first to plead his case seems right, Until another comes and examines him.”
          I have no doubt that these men whole heartedly believe that this is the truth of their marriage, but the reason their marriage has failed is probably much more linked to decades of both partners lacking the ability to emphasize and see things from their mates perspective. Entitlement and feeling that you’re “serving her more” so you should be getting more aren’t healthy view points, they are the antithesis of real love.
          So the answer to “how do we stop it?” Is to actually open our eyes and really see our spouse, and really value them – not for what they can or should give us, but for who they are.

          • E

            In response to Chris. Many women are the higher desire spouse and many women enjoy sex often. I’ve had multiple kids and married for almost 20 and I have basically never refused my husband because I love sex. But going into marriage people do need to prepare to love each other and talk and compromise and love.

    • Madeline

      Boone, I see how you would think that that’s a good summary of what happens when these long marriages break down, but I think that that’s only taking the man’s perspective into account.
      My aunt and her ex husband divorced after 20 years of marriage and I heard both sides of the story. His side was very similar to what you relayed: they married for physical attraction but he didn’t feel they were ever each other’s best friends. He felt like he compromised a lot on what he wanted out of life. She poured all of herself into their child and didn’t show him much appreciation or affection. She wanted more independence and to do things her own way and pushed him farther and farther aside. He eventually had an affair and left her for another woman.
      But what he doesn’t tell people is that he had a strange family dynamic and an incredibly critical mother who always judged her and made her feel inadequate. She tried to get him to open up about his own emotional life and deal with the issues left from having been abandoned by his father as a child but refused to really deal with it. He would abruptly decide things like he was going to change jobs when she didn’t know he didn’t like his current job. She would ask why didn’t you even talk to me about this? He became increasingly secretive. The biggest thing is that even relatively early on in their marriage he maintained close friendships with women that made her extremely uncomfortable. She found a letter to another woman that was written with such endearing language she thought it was for her only to realize it was for one of those friends. Despite her concerns he didn’t limit contact or put boundaries into place with these women.
      Both sides of these stories are heartbreaking. It’s deeply unfair to act like only his side matters. I suspect you have either only heard one side in these cases or you chose to give more weight to one side.

  5. Boone

    Please someone correct me if I’m reading this wrong. We have two comments, mine and AJ’s , that though through different sources, who don’t know each other ,describe the scenario put forth as fairly common. That aside the problem is somehow the men’s fault because the men are not talented enough lovers.
    If the above is the case please explain the phenomenon of “girlfriend sex“ and the fact that almost all of my clients say that for the first few years of their marriage that sex was outstanding for both of them. What broke and where?

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Boone, it’s likely emotional labor, as I wrote about last month. I’d suggest you read that series and see what the problem is, because most women state that this is the big thing. Also, many women have sex very often when they are first married but don’t necessarily enjoy it. Some women certainly do, but many don’t. And so the question still needs to be: is it pleasurable for her? And pleasure can change after the first child is born, too, and if he doesn’t understand that, it can be quite difficult for her.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Another thing: Perhaps we might all benefit from men starting to ask the question, “why is it that women don’t want sex?” After all, women are capable of multiple orgasms, and more intense orgasms than men are. If women, by large numbers, don’t want sex, then perhaps we should ask, “what is wrong with relationship dynamics and sex that women don’t want it?” rather than, “what is wrong with women?” Because most women want passionate marriages. They do.
        In our new book The Great Sex Rescue which is coming out next spring we’ll start to answer those questions, based on our survey of 20,000 women. But it isn’t that women don’t want sex or don’t like sex. It’s far more complicated than that, and I think we’d all do better if men started honestly asking the question rather than reflexively blaming women for being selfish or broken.

        • Chris

          Sheila, I just had a good friend get divorced after 5 years of marriage. They never consummated the marriage. Yes, they never had sex. After his parents started pressuring him for grandchildren, he finally blurted it out after several years of pain. It was his parents who were like , what? And told him to divorce her. He did so. These things happen. So asking the question “why don’t women want sex?” Thats like one of those “how many angels can fit on the head of a pin?” Kind of questions. Could be a million reasons.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            WHY did they never consummate the marriage, though, Chris? Was it because she had vaginismus? Had he supported her in that and helped her get treatment? That’s the primary reason for non-consummation–sexual pain. And primary vaginsimus is twice as high in the Christian community than in the general community because of the messages that we give women about sex.
            Did he stand beside her, show her love, and help her get treatment? Or did they just grow more distant while she felt guilty and didn’t know what to do? Many women don’t even know that vaginismus is a condition that has treatment. Did he investigate it? Did anyone support this woman? Imagine getting married, looking forward to sex, and then not being able to have it because of incredible pain. Imagine the shame you’d feel (and trust me; that’s my story). Especially when you don’t know it’s a thing. There was likely more to this story than what you’ve heard.

    • Active Mom

      Hi Boone,
      I can answer from a different perspective. I am high drive. Could easily have sex every day. Been married for a long time. However, if you asked us in the 1st couple of years of marriage my husband would have said sex was phenomenal. I would have said it was really good. Unless I could answer anonymously. It wasn’t. I never orgasmed and whenever I tried to talk about it he would refuse or act as though I was attacking him. I tried to talk, tried to be patient then I just stopped trying. Stopped having sex because his refusal to engage in foreplay led to UTI after UTI. If he was asked he would say (and did) that sex stopped because of the kids. He also would not then and rarely now admits that he is the one with a low sex drive because he puts all his energy into other things. In reality sex stopped because he was selfish and refused to discuss our sex life. Things are a little better now but it took a major marriage catastrophe and the threat of divorce to even get him to listen when I talk about sex. So, I understand what you are saying about the men coming in to your office. I have no doubt in my mind that there are women who just lock out their husbands and decide they are done with sex. However, I know there are women like me whose husbands are selfish or just bad lovers and in a lot of cases the women are too nice to come out and say that.

      • Boone

        Active Mom, your husband might be suffering from low testosterone and not even know it. This condition can hit men in their 30’s. It happened to one of my best friends. He was always exhausted, had gained weight and had zero sexual desire. His wife drug him kicking and screaming to the Dr. it turned out that his testosterone level was in the sub basement. He started taking weekly shots. With in two weeks he was all over his wife. Within two months he lost almost 30 pounds with very little diet modification. He has energy now and he and his wife are rocking the empty nest. This condition is a lot more common than people realize and is an easy fix. It’s worth looking into.

        • Active Mom

          Hi Boone,
          Yes, we went down that road. No his t levels are fine. His problem is that he is a workaholic and puts all of his time and energy into his job. I have tried to help, make changes etc. He is also just more low drive than I am. Our problems happened though because his pride keeps him from listening to any criticism regarding our sex life. He would have been one of those men who told you that sex stopped because of the kids and he couldn’t do it anymore. However, he would have only done that because I wouldn’t have been there and he wouldn’t have had to face the truth. That lie allows him to feel better about himself and put the blame on me. He literally will not to this day talk with me about our sex life. At least now he lets me talk before he gets up and walks away. He knows I am unhappy yet I have heard him tell people how good it is. Well it is for him. He gets what he wants as for me…… nope. Just keep that in mind when those men are sitting in your office. There may not be a reason for a women to stop the intimacy. I have known women like that, they use sex as a weapon. However, I also know many women who are more like me. I can still enjoy it and desire it because my drive is so high. I can only imagine what it would be like for a lower drive woman.

          • Boone

            Active Mom, I’m truly sorry that you’re in this situation. I wish that I had some pearls of wisdom to share but I don’t. There’s nothing I or anyone can say that’s going to fix it. Your husband’s got to want to fix it and it’s sounds like he’s so wrapped up in himself that he can’t see the forest for the trees. I would encourage you to try to find a professional to talk to about it. It may make coping easier. I wish you the best.

    • Chris

      Boone, i put up a response too but it got deleted because i went off the rails a bit with it. Sorry Sheila.

    • Anon

      One thing to consider is that it is the MEN who are saying sex was outstanding for both of them in the early days of marriage. I wonder if the women would say the same?
      I have a couple of friends who have never enjoyed sex. They have tolerated it as ‘something you have to put up with’ when you’re married. For them, the only plus is that sex produces babies. Now they have completed their families, even that ‘advantage’ of sex has gone away. Combine that with the onset of menopause, making sex even more difficult and unpleasant for them, and their attitude is ‘I’ve done this several times a week for years – surely that’s enough’.
      I’m sure if you spoke to their husbands, they would claim that ‘sex was great for us both in the early years’. Only it’s never been great for the women – they’ve just got past pretending any more.

  6. Chris

    Sheila, there’s more to the story that YOU don’t know. But in effect, my friends wife never thought it was important and simply didn’t get it. She didn’t get what sex was, or why it was important. She didn’t get it, and didn’t care to figure it out. The issue if vaginismus is mute. You can’t say sex is painful if you have never even tried to have sex. That is a mere logic exercise. “Did someone stand by her?” What does that mean?! You can’t stand by someone who doesn’t care. Not out of malicious intent did she not care, but out of willful ignorance.
    When i was younger, i would see childless couples in church and would assume that they had fertility issues. Then, with premarital vasectomies coming into vogue, i would assume that they had fertility issues or had been sterilized. Now when i see couples with no kids, i think fertility issues, sterilization, or did they ever consumate the marriage? It was odd to me at first. That, that issue could even be present. In any event, i have contacted my friend, told him about this blog, and asked him to contact you. That way we can clear up any of this “theres more to this story” kind of stuff. Sheila, you’re trying to help women enjoy sex. And thats great! And I hope that for all the women out there who are struggling with sex and who recognize that they have a problem with sex and come to your blog for answers, i pray that they find insight, guidance, and healing. For all the women out there who just don’t care, not necessarily out of malice, but more than likely out of sheer ignorance, i pray that they remain ignorant and never realize the pain they have caused.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Chris, it sounds like your friend’s wife likely has some real trauma in her past and some real issues that need to be worked on.
      I will just simply remind you, though, that you don’t know her side of the story. And I will tell you that in the majority of cases where sex isn’t consummated, it’s because of sexual pain. It’s very, very rare to have a couple get married where they never even tried to have sex. If that’s the case, then she likely has some serious mental illness or trauma issues. The far, far more likely scenario is that she experienced sexual pain, didn’t know what to do, he didn’t know what to do, so they withdrew and she gave up. 7% of Christian women experienced sexual pain so bad that they can’t achieve penetration. That’s a far, far higher percentage than women who simply decide, “I’m never ever even going to try to have sex with my husband.”
      Again, I’d just say that looking at the stats, the story that your friend is telling is so rare that you have to at least ask if there’s more to the story. My husband, who is a doctor, said that when you hear hooves, think horses, not zebras. They taught them that in medical school constantly. Think of the most likely scenario, not the extremely unlikely one. So I’d just say, don’t assume that sexlessness is because women simply don’t want sex, hate sex, decide never to have sex, and leave their husbands high and dry. In our survey, we found that scenario in virtually NO cases. Instead, sexlessness is highly correlated with a spouse’s porn use; with sexual pain; with sexual dysfunction on his part; with extreme marital problems; or with years of no pleasure on her part. To have a sexless marriage WITHOUT any of those five things present is extremely, extremely rare.
      I know many men don’t think that. But I’d just say, perhaps you should ask her side of the story, because you may hear something different.

    • Soup + Celery

      Hey, Chris! I’m curious about a certain part of your comment:
      “She didn’t get what sex was, or why it was important.”
      Could you elaborate on that a bit more? Does that infer that she didn’t understand how sex works – like, the scientific definition of consummation? Her parents never taught her about sexuality?
      Or would it be something more along the lines of – “I have extremely low libido, so I’ve truly never had any desire to be sexual and no desire to change.”
      Of course it’s also possible that a person could have a desire to be intimate, but just truly not want to be intimate with their new spouse. Which would be horrible! But I would wonder why you would consent to be married in the first place then…?
      I remember hearing about a Christian girl who was given her first sex talk right before she walked down the aisle on her wedding day. She was stunned.
      I’m not saying this is what happened to your friend’s wife, but there are many things that can happen in a person’s life to influence their views on sexuality. The purity culture movement influenced some young people to idolize their virginity so much that making love after they were married made them feel dirty – because the one thing that was making them so “pure” (their virginity) had been taken away.
      If that sort of thinking doesn’t throw a huge ol’ wrench into your love life, IDK what will.

      • Boone

        Soup, we had a youth pastor right out of school that started really pushing the purity rituals, courtship, first kiss at the altar, etc. The emotional manipulation and pressure put on those girls was unbelievable, I refused to let my then 13 year old daughter participate. We had a long talk about it and I told her that her worth consisted of so much more than her virginity. I told her that she was my daughter and that she always would be and I loved her unconditionally. Before the ruckus died down I’d received a visit from two of the four men in the congregation that took it upon themselves to hold every other man in the congregation accountable for every supposed infraction of protocol and decorum. I explained to them that I had been waiting all week to watch Drums Along the Mohawk on TCM and that they needed to hit the road. One of their wives accosted my wife after church the the next Sunday and told her to keep my daughter away from their son. My wife told her that would not be a problem since my daughter had much higher standards than that any way. We decided it was time to move on and returned to the small country church where I grew up.
        The really sad thing is that I’ve handled divorces for several of the girls that were in that youth group.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          You guys are so wise! That’s awesome that you protected your daughter like that. It is very sad how much the purity culture has hurt people.

  7. Sarah O

    Anyone ever asked Dr. Google for a diagnosis based on symptoms of a fever and cough? And then Dr. Google says “Well, could be common cold, flu, COVID, bubonic plague, or cancer?”
    I think thats a good analogy for diagnosing a sexless marriage. The sexlessness is a symptom, and a more common one than we’d like to imagine. But it is a SYMPTOM. It is not the actual problem, even though it may be the most troubling symptom, especially to the high drive spouse (who is usually the husband, but not always).
    So I think Boone’s observations are extremely valid, however the implied solution – just have sex then – very naive without a nuanced understanding of each individual relationship and how each partner is contributing to the dynamic. Sometimes there is a true physical/hormonal problem, sometimes an emotional problem, sometimes a psychological problem, sometimes a sin problem.
    Yes, sometimes it really is a selfish wife, and yes, sometimes it really is a selfish husband, but for most it is going to be a more complicated answer.
    If you give the same treatment to the cold, flu, COVID, bubonic plague and cancer, you are not a very good doctor.


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