Are libido differences really about libido–or are they often about orgasm?
We’ve been talking about libido all month, and how to navigate libido differences. And as I’ve been repeatedly saying, our survey of 20,000 women (and others) have shown that often when a woman stops wanting sex it’s because sex never did much for her in the first place.
Like Keith and I were talking about on our Start Your Engines podcast yesterday, why should women want something that does nothing for them?
There’s a (rather graphic) scene in the movie Spanglish (which is honestly a very insightful movie about marriage) where Adam Sandler and Tea Leoni (who are married) are having sex. The wife in this marriage is very self-centered, and the husband is trying to navigate the relationship and deal with this when he feels very lonely. And as they’re having sex, she reaches orgasm, and then stops sex. She’s done, and she’s satisfied, and she’s happy–and then she decides it’s over. And he’s left hanging.
It’s one of the only movies I’ve ever seen that portrayed it well, and I think every male watching that movie will understand what frustration that must be to the guy. How is it that sex is over just because she’s done? Why doesn’t she care about him?
And yet, what we found, is that in over 50% of marriages, this exactly thing is happening all the time–just in the opposite direction.
Married Christian women do orgasm about ten percentage points more than the general population of women, which is great. But we still reliably orgasm only 48% of the time, compared to 95% for men.
That’s a huge orgasm gap.
And so, should it be any wonder if many women stop wanting sex? If men lived that Adam Sandler-Tea Leoni scene several times a week for years, how would many men feel? And yet this is exactly what happens to women.
I know many women don’t fight for their own orgasms, but that’s also because we grew up hearing in books like Love & Respect that sex is a men’s need, not a woman’s need, and that it’s our duty to give him release. So we prioritize a man’s orgasm, and figure that we’re selfish if we want one.
In the long run, this will cause low libido women.
Lack of women’s pleasure can eventually cause sexless marriages.
I’m not saying that’s the only reason for sexless marriages, and I wrote last week about 10 questions husbands could ask themselves if their wives didn’t want sex. I know there are more issues than just her pleasure. But we’ve found that this is the biggest reason that women lose libido, so I want to highlight a few comments that came in off of that post.
One man humbly wrote:
> > 2. Did you take time to ensure that your wife felt pleasure?
I have to admit that I’ve been guilty of this before. I’ve tried to turn it around and focus on her as well, but in the past I haven’t been as good about this as I should have been
Responding to a comment I made saying, “And many, many, many women who report that their husbands won’t do foreplay, because intercourse should be enough,” Emmy wrote:
Indeed. I’m married to one such a guy. I’m really puzzled, where on earth does it come from. I know it is not out of malice. He really is convinced foreplay does not “belong”. It is not that he would not want me to have any pleasure. He rather takes for granted I automatically do.
Another woman told this story:
Immediately after my husband I were married I started having very frequent and painful UTI’s. After every sexual encounter no matter how many prevention techniques I used, I always had an infection and was constantly running to the doctor and on antibiotics. Nothing I did helped. After six months of this (even a trip to the ER it was so bad), I was ready to never have sex again. And instead of receiving compassion from my husband, he gave me advice that we need to have more sex. His logic was that my body needed to adjust to being a wife and the quicker that happened the better. And so the mindset was reinforced that sex is not for me. My pleasure has nothing to do with it. I do not matter in the marriage bed. This is an extremely hard mindset to break. After over a decade of marriage, I still feel that sex has very little to do with me – other than my body has to show up.
The UTI’s finally started to lesson in frequency after my infected gall bladder was removed. My immune system was on over load and couldn’t fight off infections in multiple spots of my body. That was year three of our marriage.
I have never recovered from this horrible start. My husband has never apologized and I can’t seem to move past it. I just feel stuck. Even after all these years, sex is a duty and I can count on two hands the orgasms I have had. How does a wife try to move forward with out her husband understanding the amount of trauma that he helped cause? As much as I try and talk with him, he just doesn’t seem to understand. I want an intimate and passionate sex life and I need compassion and selflessness from him in the bedroom. I hope all husbands understand that.
Or here’s a question that just came into the blog that’s quite typical:
THIS is what happens when we emphasize a man’s orgasm and ignore a woman’s pleasure.
How can a couple be regularly having sex for 42 years and have it be entirely about his pleasure, and never about hers?
This is far too common. We do this far too much, and we do it for good reason. Our Christian marriage resources tend to tell women that sex is a duty, and they don’t tell men that her pleasure is HIS responsibility. Rebecca, Joanna and I turned in our second-to-last edits on our book The Great Sex Rescue on Monday, where we looked at the best-selling Christian resources, and compared the messages in them to our survey responses from 20,000 women. It’s amazing how women’s sexual pleasure is ignored in almost all general marriage books, while women are constantly told not to deprive their husbands of sexual release.
I used to talk primarily about how low libido wives can boost their libidos (and I do think that’s vitally important, and I hope my course can help!). But it is only part of the puzzle–an important and crucial piece, but only one piece. And in doing our survey, we found this huge group of women for whom sex had never felt good at all, or else rarely did.
And so perhaps libido isn’t always about libido.
Maybe we just need to give women something to look forward to.
You may also enjoy:
- Women, It’s not Selfish to Want an Orgasm
- Whose Responsibility is it That She Orgasms? (podcast)
- Godly Sex is Mutual Sex
Again, I understand that there are often many more issues (hence why I asked 10 questions of higher libido men, and not just one about pleasure). And I understand that for many women, sex does feel good, but exhaustion and emotional labor get in the way of being able to want sex. I do get it.
But perhaps if we normalized the idea that women should feel pleasure, too, and that it shouldn’t be acceptable to go for 42 years without an orgasm, we’d see far healthier sex lives.
And if this is a problem for you, we’re working on our Orgasm course right now!
It should be ready late October, and we’ll have a men’s add-on to it that will help talk men through how women orgasm, the importance of women’s orgasm, and what he can do to make it more likely. So it will be a course for both of you! Make sure you don’t miss it by signing up for the email list. Then you’ll be notified as soon as it launches (and you won’t miss the launch period special!)
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Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of Bare Marriage
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PREACH! In our first months of marriage I would BEG my husband slow down, and he never would because he was afraid sex would stop and he would be left hanging. Several years ago, in our fifth year of marriage, in tearful post-sex frustration I explained to him that he left me feeling that way every time we have sex. I saw a lightbulb go off, but he quickly put it out saying, “we’ll just have to work on catching you up,” rolled over and went to sleep. Nothing ever changed. My husband had multiple partners before marriage and I was a virgin. So he really thinks he’s a great lover and I just don’t appreciate him. I tried to explain his attitude is killing our sex life, but he thinks my lack of interest is killing it. I love my husband and sometimes I do want sex, but when I think about how he’s going to jump straight to intercourse and I’m going to be left disappointed, why put myself through it? How different would my marriage be if the marriage classes we took taught him he’s responsible for making sex feel good for me? Instead he has learned that I owe him sex, our sex life is bad because we don’t have sex every three days, and if he chooses to have an affair it’s my fault for not giving him enough sex. Oh, and it’s my job to make him believe I enjoy sex even if I don’t. How can a wife even begin to combat all this bad teaching and be heard?
Oh, Lisa, that’s awful. I’m so sorry. Is there any way that you can talk to him about how godly sex should be mutual sex? And how we need a new definition of sex? Like look at those posts? I hope he may read them with you! And it’s okay to say, “I’m no longer willing to have sex when I’m an afterthought. I want to make love to you. I want to have a passionate sex life with you. But if I’m not considered, then I am no longer willing to be used as an object.”
Hey Sheila, I think this is such an important point! I totally agree that the typical messaging to Christian women about sex is “sex is your duty, if you don’t do it every few days (AT LEAST!) he will lust, he NEEDS the release, etc.” It is so terrible and I am so glad you push back against those thoughts on your blog. Your message is a huge part of what started a healing process for me in my mindset about sex.
I foresee you getting a lot of pushback on this post because this topic is so personal and individualized. Even though you emphasize several times that this is not true in every case, people will read this and think “well that’s not correct because it is not what I personally experience.” I hope that people can step aside from their personal hurts and issues to say “even if this is not my personal experience, I understand and am grieved for those who do experience this.”
Just for comment’s sake, I am a low libido wife. But my husband is amazing and selfless, sex feels great for me, and I orgasm 95% of the time. So the sitiation you are discussing doesn’t even apply to me personally (I have other reasons for my low libido that I wish and pray will change someday) but I totally agree that it is a common issue and one that needs to be acknowledged to change!
Keep up all the good work! Thank you for what you do!
I have been wondering the same question for about a year now.
I’ll admit that some of my disinterest in the past has been due to pregnancies, babies, nursing (aka hormones), constant fatigue and most crucially the state of my marriage, but a lot as been what I receive out of it.
Once I learned more about my sexuality, realized that I wasn’t broken, and most important understood that I was emotionally denying my husband and preventing him from his emotional needs, I corrected myself. I showed up, rarely said no, and realized how much great sex emotionally filled me up and made me feel closer to him and hungry for more.
The problem is when you only have great sex sometimes, and by that I mean, when your man show up for you in the bedroom only sometimes, its not only discouraging but it adds resentment. (And if you are already resentful in other ways, your are compounding those feelings together).
After 7 years of marriage, we are finally working on this more regularly because I had an honest conversation with my husband. It sucked, but thankful we are now going in a healthier direction.
I think this issue isn’t just a problem among woman, but a problem among men too. When we take a woman’s pleasure out of sex, the connection sex brings to a marriage falls flat.
And what bothers me most about it, especially in the area of porn, is men are looking at porn because of the way the women react. If they took their time and learned their wives, they’d have it for real, not an actress. I believe every wife wants her man to know her body so well that she knows she can be set free no matter what they are doing together…
Amen, Kelly! Absolutely.
Thanks, Jess! And, yes, not everyone is the same. Not at all. I’m just talking numbers, and sometimes it’s good to look at the numbers.
I think there can be a lot of reasons for low libido. What we found, though, in our study of 20,000 women, is that in marriages where she does orgasm when they have sex, it’s very, very unlikely to become actually sexless or for sex to become super rare (like once a month). It may be every few weeks, and it may not be as often as it should be, but it doesn’t totally disappear. I also think that if we solved the orgasm piece earlier in the marriage, a lot of this would be easier to deal with. But so often it’s not until women have been married for 10, 15 years that they realize, “No, I’m not willing to do this any more like this and we have to figure it out”, and by that time there’s a lot of hurt and disappointment on both sides, and it’s just even harder.
Love this one Sheila. Question? If we know marriage books like love and respect etc put the sole focus on sex being for the man why is the orgasm gap soooo big outside the church as well? Where are we teaching our boys to be so sexually selfish? I know the church has been awful in a lot of ways and stills is in some cases but according to your study it sounds as though it’s bad everywhere. How do we fix it? Because it’s awful and at this point my advice to my daughters will be don’t get married.
And a follow-up question to what Active Mom asked: how can we teach our sons to do better, and our daughters to expect better, especially in cases where our experience is also bad? I don’t blame my husband for the issues in my lack of pleasure, but I also don’t know how to teach my daughter especially that sex in marriage is supposed to be great and pleasurable when the only thing I’ve ever gotten out of it that was good was my kids.
Great question! I think we need to teach both girls and boys that female orgasm is a thing. And we need to change the expectation about the honeymoon–that it’s not just about having intercourse. It’s really about figuring out the arousal/orgasm piece for her, even if that means intercourse is delayed. If we did those two things, we’d change it.
And I also think that sometimes it’s easier to do that for other people’s kids than your own. Like you mentor some college aged students, and then someone else can talk to your kids. Because it can be hard to talk explicitly with your own kids, but if we have friends who can talk to our kids, or a young hip “big sister” or “aunt”, then that’s easier. So we all need to be that for someone else, and then have someone else be that for our kids.
Like, I could talk to my girls, but it was Rebecca who had the seriously explicit talks with Katie, not me. And other women had them with Rebecca. The dynamic is just different. But we had also talked enough when they were teens that it was easier!
This is what I wondered as well. Clearly Christians have plenty to answer for regarding our treatment of women and sex, but it sounds like Christian women experience pleasure at least marginally ahead of others? That’s a low bar, to be sure, but not one to be ignored.
My opinion on this is that Christians are allowing themselves to be influenced primarily by culture when it comes to seeing women as sexual objects. Also, the church loves patriarchy and idolizes gender roles.
Some churches do a better job at treating women with dignity so maybe that is why orgasm rates among Christians are slightly higher? But overall, the church hasn’t done a good job of challenging the prevailing cultural mindset around women existing primarily for men’s needs.
In terms of marriage, I’m married to a good man who is a Christian and who cares that sex is enjoyable for me. But I also feel disheartened by the statistics and stories I hear about how women are treated. I don’t know that I agree with you that women shouldn’t get married but it’s definitely important to marry a man who affirms the equality of women. It was hard for me to find a man who was both a committed Christian and an egalitarian. Things aren’t always perfect between us but overall I feel he truly respects me and values my goals and not only his own. Sometimes I’m the problem because I’ve internalized this idea that I should always please other people and do what they want, so definitely working on getting better at communicating what I need to my husband.
Praying often for the church to change the way it values and treats women. I’m so excited for the Great Sex Rescue to come out – this kind of resource is desperately needed and I hope it sparks an important conversation in the church about how women are viewed and treated in marriage and how we need to bring teaching about marriage in line with the value that God places on every life including women’s lives
The secular statistics I found are actually higher than Christians ones for female pleasure – 57% according to one study and 64% according to another. Let’s also remember that secular statistics include casual sex, which is much less satisfying for women (because the point is usually self-validation rather than pleasure). The study showing that only 39% of women orgasm regularly was based on college students only, so lots of casual sex. But another study of college students that compared casual sex with relationship sex, found that relationship sex yielded a 67% orgasm rate for women.
But a much more interesting (and drastic) difference I found in secular research is that lesbians experience orgasms with their partners at the same rate that men do. It’s only heterosexual women that have the abysmal rates (and they’re also the only ones who fake orgasms). If you’re wondering why I would bring that up on an Evangelical Christian sex blog, here’s why: if you believe heterosexual relationships are ordained by God and homosexual ones are not, then by all means, do NOT let lesbians outdo you in sex! Find your masculine pride, men, and be better than a lesbian! This is my version of Ryan Gosling telling Steve Carell in Crazy Stupid Love to “be better than the Gap.” The orgasm gap! 😉
Totally agree, Andrea! I’d love to talk to your sometime about what studies you’re looking at. We looked at a ton of large-scale studies, and the problem we ran into was how they lumped the orgasm categories. We had a hard time finding ones that were analagous to ours (combining frequently/always, etc.).
And, yes, we saw that stat about lesbian sex, too. There are also some studies that say that when masturbating, women can actually reach orgasm faster than men can. So it’s not a problem with orgasmicness on the whole.
Oh, I actually have an answer for that! I’ll talk about it closer to our book’s release, too, but here you go (there are a bunch of reasons, and I should really put this in a post).
1. Married people, in general, have better sex than co-habiting people. This has been shown in multiple studies. Co-habiting people have more sex, but married people enjoy it more.
2. Christians have better sex, on the whole, than non-Christians (well, actually, religious conservatives tend to have better sex, so this holds for other religions as well). Some posit that it has to do with the fact that people are in more committed relationships (since religious conservatives tend to take marriage more seriously) and that they have more social supports, so they’re generally happier, which other studies have also shown).
3. Committed Christians often have less sexual baggage than others.
4. Committed Christians tend to frown on porn and super-degrading things in bed, which can make sex ugly. (Doesn’t mean there aren’t some who do it, but it is seen as a negative thing, and women have a moral reason where they can say no to some things).
5. (And most importantly) most large scale surveys do not distinguish between married couples and co-habiting couples. They simply look at “long-term relationships”. It’s actually quite hard to find data just on married couples now from large-scale surveys.
For that reason, I think we’re measuring different pools. I measured committed married Christians, and most large scale studies lump in cohabiting couples. So I think that’s what’s going on!
I remembered the 64% statistic from previous reading, googled “orgasm gap,” and clicked on links to The Guardian and Psychology Today, where I found more stats.
The thing about conservatives is that they are also more satisfied with life in general because they are more likely to see it as ordained by God, whereas liberals see injustice everywhere and that makes them miserable. When it comes to sex, conservative women are more likely to believe that women are naturally less sexual and that a woman’s greatest fulfillment comes from serving her husband, whereas liberal women demand equality and that makes them frustrated. Just consider the 64% statistic; a liberal won’t be happy until it’s 100 (or at least 95%, like the men), whereas a conservative woman might say “just being close to my husband is nice enough, there’s more to sex than orgasms, etc.
There is a much more sinister side to this, though: consider that it’s the religious conservative that are the happiest – that means men (and their wives?) who think sex is just for the man? Love and Respect is very conservative. The men who post comments on your blog justifying slavery as having been ordained by God for a period of time in American history are very conservative. Somebody who experiences pangs of shame when thinking about that history, on the other hand, is going to be less happy in life because of that shame.
But back to the actual blog topic – sex – I highly recommend the research of Sari van Anders, which includes cuddling, and female orgasms as masculinity achievements for men 🙂 Lots and lost on hormones too… Also, Sara McClelland runs the project Intimate Justice and has written about how women’s low expectations in bed result in higher satisfaction scores and, more interestingly, that women tend to describe their sexual experiences as satisfying based on the man’s reaction/pleasure (“Who is the ‘self’ in self reports of sexual satisfaction?”).
Lots of interesting secular research out there and I’m glad Christians are doing it too! Just imagine, after all those men writing sex manuals without conducting any research, we’re finally going to have one that surveyed thousands of women and can, therefore, tell us what sex is really like for women, not what men think sex is like for women (which is really all we’ve had so far in the Christian world).
I wonder if the boys get it the same way the girls do… it’s just the predominant message. And it fits with how he feels if he has the high drive. All a young man knows is his own experience. And orgasm is quick and easy for him. To compound the problem, if they aren’t proactively taught that sex is experienced differently for women, and they will need to learn their wife’s body and take responsibility for her pleasure, how are they going to get the message? As we see, it’s apparently 15 years into marriage when she gets fed up.
My husband loves back rubs. I asked him how he much would like back rubs if after a minute, I started pinching his back. The answer was that he would probably start to hate back rubs.
Yes yes yes. This is what I always thought. If you are being served loved and made to experience incredible pleasure every time you have sex, how on earth would you not crave that?! I thank God so much for my selfless lover husband.
I’m glad your husband is so amazing, too! And I think there’s no reason we can’t raise the next generation of men to think like that.
Real men are good in bed. (Doesn’t mean their wives automatically orgasm; sometimes there’s nothing a man can do. But a real man cares for his wife and helps her figure this out and doesn’t make it all about him).
Wow. This is eye-opening and fascinating to me. As a male who has been married for over 40 years, I had no idea that this was the experience of so many couples. So sad! Sure, I am very aware of the horribly untrue and harmful message from our culture and from the church culture that sex is mostly for the male. Terrible message! But this?! Wow.
The very best moment(s) for me in a sexual encounter is my wife’s orgasm. Not even close comparison. These men must not know what they are missing! I’m trying to be compassionate toward them but it’s a challenge.
Honestly, I doubt it is because they are inherently selfish men, that is not a satisfactory explanation. By their own testimony, their wives love them and have stood with them for many years. So, raw selfishness doesn’t explain this. Nor does ignorance. They are not stupid.
My hunch is there is a Protective part within them that doesn’t allow them to move toward their wife’s pleasure. It could be self-doubt, shame (the feeling of I am not enough), or many other things. That part of them is trying to help them by protecting them from the source of emotional pain. If they can find healing for the underlying pain, they will find the Protector part will relax and trust the authentic self to show up and bless their wife with love, affection, pleasure and delight. Therefore, shaming them for their “selfishness” or “stupidity” will actually make it worse, not better. They need compassion and healing.
Just my two cents worth.
Hopeful, in my husband’s case, as he would tell you now, it was his self-centeredness, his laziness, his longstanding habit of getting off on objectifying women, his conscious thought that he had a free pass to treat me however he wanted because I had vowed to never leave him, his autistic lack of empathy, and his patriarchal views that caused the power and privilege to flow only in one direction, with nearly all the responsibility falling on me. He apologized for it after 27 years of a marriage that was painful and exhausting for me. He felt like it was a great marriage, because I was doing all I could to keep things going his way. It is still exhausting, but at least he’s now trying to work on himself, carrying his share of the load, learning to treat me respectfully, as a friend, to regulate his own emotions, and more. So baby steps. But it was absolutely selfish pigginess on his part.
Oh, I’m glad he has taken responsibility for so much. I pray that you can grow together. I’ve been married for 28 years. I can’t imagine the whole marriage so far being one-sided. That’s a big burden to bear.
Really interesting insight, Hopeful! I think it very much may be Protective.
I also wouldn’t underestimate the effect of ignorance, though. I think there is a LOT of ignorance out there. I think there’s an assumption that women don’t want/need orgasm, or that if she doesn’t orgasm, it’s because there’s something broken with her, and there’s nothing he can do about it. If you read Christian marriage books and actually look at the messages they give about sex, that’s often exactly what they say, or at least insinuate. So I do think our evangelical culture has created this expectation that sex is not for her, and if she’s not enjoying it, that’s just natural or there’s something wrong with her.
“It could be self-doubt, shame (the feeling of I am not enough), or many other things.” Yes, I think this is part of the dynamic as well. No one feels enthusiasm about doing something they feel like they are failing at. As a wife, I’m working on forgiving both of us on what we thought about sex when we got married and the experiences we had. Mostly, I feel so sad for us. I wish we’d had more support…like when I told my gyn about pain with sex, I didn’t receive any help until 5 years and 2 doctors later. No one ever asked me about my pleasure. I wish my husband hadn’t thought that level of pain was fairly normal. Add in infertility, and sex was just an absolute mess of bad emotions and pain.
Sheila, I know you and Keith struggled at the start of your marriage. I’m not sure I’ve missed it, but did Keith ever have these feelings as well? How did he work through them or how did you encourage him to work through them?
Also, in your orgasm course, will you address anxiety surrounding sex? When it has been a struggle for years, it is really HARD to jump into it thinking, “tonight will be amazing!” Instead, all the negative what-ifs start to ramp up.
Hi, Rose! Yes, we will be addressing that in the orgasm course. A big component of it is understanding how we feel about sex, and how to put our fears/anxieties in proper perspective and work through them (when appropriate).
I’m sorry that your doctor didn’t pick up on that. That’s so sad. And also far too typical. I think (hope) doctors are getting better now. Certainly when I went through this, no one was talking about pelvic floor physiotherapy, and now most people tend to know it’s a thing. When I went through it, I had a gynecologist tell me the solution was just to get more in touch with my genitals. Oh, sheesh.
Keith and I both had to work through feelings of being sad for what we missed, and trying to be kind (in retrospect) to young Keith and Sheila. It was quite the journey!
Amen to this article, Sheila. Please keep spreading the word. We’ve got to change mindsets on this subject to ensure that we all have the happy, secure marriages that God intended us to have; that we become fully who He created us to be, individually and as a couple and as families. That is His desire, His plan for us.
Solid marriages are also the bedrock of a stable, healthy society.
THAT is exactly why I do what I do. I just want marriages to be intimate and strong, because everything flows out of that!
This was one of several contributors to me thinking I was broken for 27 years of marriage. We’ve traced every problem down to its root cause, and NOT ONE of them was my fault. I am not broken, and I actually have a high libido. It was all due to insufficient and/or wrong teaching from parents and Christian materials and to a selfish, autistic husband.
I’m so sorry. This just breaks my heart.
Loved this article!!! I think so many women (like the one above) think they’re broken or don’t like sex much when really, given the right stimulation physically and emotionally, they’d probably love sex and maybe even be the higher libido in their marriage. I’m so glad the focus is starting to shift from a focus on “sex is for his pleasure and release” to “her pleasure is important too”. And I’d also agree with the above commenter that I don’t think most husband are inherently selfish lovers. I think there’s a lot of ignorance sexually (especially in the beginning, and if neither spouse figures things out, they’ll both stay in their ignorant states) along with a fear of not performing well for their wives. I know that was my husband’s issue. He also suffers from “nice guy” tendencies as Dr. Robert Glover would say. I think a lot of men have been taught that it’s good to be a nice guy / “happy wife happy life” motto, when really, that does very little for them, their wife, or their marriage… or really how they tackle life and what impact they have on life in general!! So I think there’s a lot of bad teaching out there for both men and women that we’ve absorbed as a culture, and that’s causing issues sexually for both men and women (how men approach women and female sexuality, and how women approach their own sexuality).
To be honest this post has one thing missing which is at the root of the problem; humility. I have been married for almost 32 years to the same woman. Our sexuality was a problem from the beginning because of my sexual addiction. Having gotten that from my father I could not have understood at such a young age what sex really. Pornography reinforced to me that sex is all about pleasing self. Many men fall into this trap as I did. When you are taught from a young age that sex is only about you and your pleasure there is something very wrong with that.
When we were married I was a sex addict and she had been sexually abused. you might think that it would have been impossible to overcome. It wasn’t but it did require that we humble ourselves and see the other as more important than us. When we learned to do that only then did we both begin to enjoy sex and mutually orgasm on a regular basis. I have to admit it is a long hard road and recent circumstances have forced us into a situation where we cannot both orgasm during sex. I hate it but until our situation changes we are stuck with it temporarily.
By giving up self in humility, and putting each other first we have come a long way in having a very successful, happy and mutually pleasing sexuality. There is, however, one thing we have discovered. Men and women are very different sexually. As a man sexuality is a sudden thing, like a firework, whereas women are like a campfire. They start small, need lots of kindling and care, but can eventually become a huge bonfire. Where men need only a little match to set off the whole shebang women need nurturing to build to a climax. We also learned that women need time between orgasms so the sexual tension can build up. That means less frequent sex but much more enjoyment each time.
So after 32 years we have a wonderful relationship sexually that is mutually pleasing all because we humbled ourselves and sought the other’s pleasure first. This is the recipe that has worked for us and we encourage other married couples to try it.
That’s beautiful ,Anonymous. How wonderful that both of you were able to deal with your own stuff and walk forward. I love that!
I find that my problem is not at all that my husband doesn’t care or try to help me orgasm, in fact he tends to have bad feelings or dissatisfaction if I do not orgasm, and almost always first.
But I still really don’t want to have sex much. I have never had a high libido but after my third child was born it really tanked. In fact I hurt every time for at least a year.
I went to physical therapy, I did all the things I can think of. I have asked my pcp, my midwife and an OB to check if there is something physically wrong with me. I get told “you have a beautiful vagina” (no idea what that means, but it definitely wasn’t said to be creepy) to “everything looks normal, I’m not sure what concerns you”
A few things that I think could be the cause and I have literally no recourse for correcting.
1) childbirth hurt me, and I am fearful of becoming pregnant again, what if my uterus falls right out?
2) my husband is morbidly obese. That doesn’t help things, and it became the most uncomfortable about 50 lbs ago. But I can’t change him and I can’t shame him.
So what is a person to do?
I could go a month or more before I have the slightest interest in trying, but if it hurts for hours after I regret it. But he feels unloved and more anxious if we don’t. He isn’t one of the “bad” guys who only cares about self, he cares about togetherness and me. I feel guilt for not wanting to more
I feel like there are no good answers for me.
There also seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding on the importance of the clitoris. The clitoris is the female counterpart to the penis (not the vagina! – ht Dana Hamilton, sex positive columnist) because of the number of nerve endings. So, sex that doesn’t involve clitoral stimulation is equivalent to sex that doesn’t involve penile stimulation for the male.
So, to be blunt, if a woman humps a man’s leg until she orgasms and that’s it for the couple’s sex life, that’s what only penis-in-vagina sex is. It’s no wonder women are frustrated.
That’s an interesting analogy, Sarah!
Yes! In fact, the clitoris IS the tip of the penis in its original fetal formation. We all come from the same tissue, we start out structurally as female (everything on the inside) and then if there’s enough of an influx of testosterone induced by the expression of a gene on the Y chromosome around the 9th week of pregnancy, what would have become the ovaries come out and become the testes, while the clitoris literally grows into a penis.
Sarah, your “blunt” description was very accurate. Sometimes we just have to be blunt.
Wow Sheila! I am at my wits end and prayed to find some divine guidance on this topic and there was your blog today! I am a bit different as I am 52 and just finished going through menopause. Orgasms were not an issue for me until the past few years. I have explained to my husband of 27 years that I have much less sensation and need much more foreplay now, but a great night is 5 minutes of foreplay. which is not nearly enough. He just can’t understand why I have lost interest in having sex with him. I am also frustrated that he has taken no initiative to research or understand what I have been going through. But, you are correct, when sex becomes a one-sided event every time, the other partner will definitely lose interest. I am going to talk to him and use an analogy of going out together for a nice dinner and him watching me get to eat and enjoy it while he watches. Why wouldn’t he want to go back every Saturday night and watch me enjoy a pleasurable meal when he might only get a bite and has to leave hungry?
That’s a really good analogy, too, Alex! I’m going to use that one as well.
Thank you Sheila!
Women must take some responsibility for their sexuality. They must be able and willing to communicate what feels good. They must be honest. Faking an orgasm is going to keep getting you the same bad sex. I am stunned at the number of women who don’t understand this inherently obvious fact. But the common theme I read about on this blog is “what women were taught”. This concerns me because it portrays women as being mindless sponges who soak up everything that is said to them. I was taught a lot of things by family, teachers, friends, etc. and I dutifully ignored most of it because even as a child i knew it was bunk. I can’t imagine the mess my life would be if i had tried to implement into my life everything i was taught.
It saddens me to read about a woman who has never had an orgasm for 40 years. Could it be that she married a real moron who doesn’t care about her or her pleasure? Ya, it’s possible. Is it also possible that she never took responsibility for her sexuality because she was “taught” oh, sex, ya the men take care of that! Yes! That’s possible too. But Sheila, when you say that the burden is completely on the man to make sex feel good for her, you are in fact reinforcing this message. That she is not an active participant. That she is just there. This concerns me.
Chris, i’ve never said it’s entirely the man’s responsibility, and, in fact, I’m creating an Orgasm Course FOR WOMEN that will help them reach orgasm. I sometimes wonder if you deliberately misunderstand what I’m saying, frankly, since I have so many materials for sale that help women get in touch with their sexuality, and help women feel pleasure.
But the simple fact is that no matter how in touch with her sexuality she is, if he is not willing to do foreplay, she’s still stuck. She still needs him to understand that for most women it takes far more than simple intercourse to reach orgasm. Just read the comments, Chris. This is a common problem.
“Deliberately misunderstand” ? As in some sort of malicious intent? No I am not doing that. (Not intentionally anyway). I think I am just seeing things through the prism of my own experience. The truth is, there are resources for women who struggle with these issues. And more coming like your course you mentioned. For men in sexless marriages, there is nothing. You’re just stuck. There are no resources, no support, nothing. Women also talk about these things with other women or other forums like this blog. Men, we just have to take it and get over it. I am moving in that direction. I think I am getting closer to finding peace with it all. But having my masculinity challenged i.e. “real men are good in bed” saddens me. I may be terrible in bed. Its been so long how would i know? My big issue is the double standard: we offer women support, men you are on your own.
Chris, I know your comments must be coming from a place of real pain. I don’t think anyone on this blog is accepting of sexless marriages. It must be frustrating to feel alone in your struggle. May we all pray for peace and hope in our marriages, no matter what the struggles are.
But what about when my libido doesn’t come back just because I had orgasms? I’ve never had much of a problem orgasming if I can get aroused, I just never really care if I do, so I never want to have sex. Even if I orgasm, it’s still just a chore. How do you make the orgasm make you want sex? 🤔
I think the question sometimes revolves around HOW the orgasm is happening. Many women can make themselves orgasm by doing specific things with their bodies. You can force it, so to speak. But forcing it isn’t really fun. It feels good, but it’s not very fulfilling. What you want is to have it carry you away, carry you along, start to feel wonderful with your husband. In that case, slowing down and learning to just experience and listen to your body may help, so that the whole experience becomes more relaxing? I think The Orgasm Course can help with that!
C, that’s an interesting question! It sounds like you may have arousal non-concordance (that’s nothing scary). It just means that while your body is aroused, your brain isn’t necessarily into it in the same way. We’re going to be talking about this on the Start Your Engines podcast that runs October 29!
The mention of the movie made me curious, is it ok to use a “raunchy” movie to start arousal in a marriage? My wife has suffered sexual trauma in the past, and so initiating sex on my part (the husband) is 99% of the time a futile exercise. But, when we do watch a movie with a sex scene or a sexual theme, she is aroused and she initiates sex and its great. We are dealing with feelings of guilt because this feels no different than say using porn as a couple, but if it works to turn her on, it works, right? What are your thoughts on this?
I know this article was written last year, and I really hope my comment is seen anyway! I have thought for many years in my lackluster marriage that *even if* the wife’s orgasm is prioritized by the husband, the thing is, if the relationship as a whole doesn’t feel loving because of presence of emotional abuse or even simply lack of thoughtfulness and tenderness, and/or romance, then the sexual experience itself even if it includes orgasm, feels empty. That itself makes sex unmotivating. The feelings of desire are part of what makes sex so exciting, not just the feeling of orgasm. For me, in past relationships before my marriage, the feeling of desire was there and was extremely exciting even though I rarely orgasmed. That made me want to have sex frequently regardless. In marriage, my husband did learn how to bring me to orgasm BUT he doesn’t treat me in a way that ever leads me to feel desire. So orgasm or not, if there is no desire because of that special feeling missing in the relationship, it makes sex mechanical and boring for a woman, and leads to loneliness. It’s still an unfulfilled feeling and not getting her need met. Our sexual need as women includes being romanced or made to feel special. I’m treated like a sort of annoying sister, and feel my husband is like a sort of mean brother I’m trying to get along with. And then he wonders why I never pursue sex or seem to want it.
I only go along with it out of obligation.
Yes! This is actually very true, Rachel. You’re not alone. We found that a great marriage can make a sex life amazing, but a good sex life cannot fix a good marriage (and when there’s a bad marriage, the sex feels not so great). Sex is supposed to be something that’s intimate, and if there’s no intimacy, then sex can feel like a rejection rather than something intimate because it feels depersonalizing. I’m so sorry you’re experiencing this. Please see a licensed counselor if you can and talk about this situation.