Reader Question: My Husband Doesn’t Think our Sex Life is Good Enough!

by | Oct 8, 2021 | Uncategorized | 30 comments

When Your Husband Thinks Your Sex LIfe is Bad

What do you do when your husband thinks you have a bad sex life?

Recently we were talking about 10 marriage and sex red flags–signs that there may be something wrong with your marriage.

Here’s a really messy question from a woman whose husband has decided to withhold sex since their sex life was so bad. I thought we could work through this one together and look at how there may be some red flags here

(And, yes, I am going to start my sexual confidence series! The post is almost done–I just got back from vacation yesterday and didn’t have time to finish it, and I already had this one ready! So look for it on Tuesday, AFTER Canadian Thanksgiving on Monday):

I’m in my early 30s with two children. My marriage has not been great but not bad either, until last year when things took a bad turn and it doesn’t seem to be getting better. My husband woke me up and asked that we talk, he told me that he is not happy, that our sex life sucks and he has not really enjoyed sex with me since marriage, never feels the emotional or spiritual connection when making love and that he can not pretend any longer and even though we still remained intimate, we haven’t had sex in 3 months now. I usually get rejected when I initiate it and now I’m too afraid to try. We were celibate throughout our courtship and I did struggle the first year of marriage to be comfortable with sex, he would complain that I was tense and not enjoying him. I did seek advice and was told to masturbate and I did and thought it improved things but to my surprise, it wasn’t good enough. I have been raped when I was young by my two cousins and it does bother me now and then. I was born again at 12 and had been celibate till marriage and now I’m so frustrated to say the least. My husband has had multiple sexual relationships before he met me and I do feel compared to the women in his past. My marriage is in shambles and each day I pray for restoration. I do sometimes turn to masturbation and feel guilty thereafter and so now try just to cross my legs and be strong.

Wow, that’s really, really sad. Let’s take a look at some big picture issues here.

It’s quite common to make sex about his needs

We grow up in a culture that is always talking about how much men need sex and how high a sex drive men have (which is quite a hard message to hear for those women who end up marrying men with no sex drives!). We believe that a man can’t be happy until he has regular and frequent sex.

And so this couple gets married, and she has problems. She writes, “he would complain that I was tense and not enjoying him. I did seek advice…” So sex isn’t working that great for her. But how do they react to that? He complains and she seeks outside advice. 

She’s denying her legitimate need to feel comfortable with sex and get used to sex because of his supposed greater need to get sexual fulfillment and release.

Their needs are at odds with each other–because they’re seeing sex as an individual thing, where “I need to get my needs met” and “it needs to match my expectations”. Even she is–the difference is that she’s seeing it as about his needs rather than her own. Sex is supposed to be easy and frequent, and when it’s not, it’s now her problem to deal with, rather than their problem to deal with.

If people saw sex as being primarily about intimacy, then this wouldn’t happen

If we could stop talking about sex as primarily being about getting needs met, and start talking about sex as primarily being a vehicle through which you feel like one, then perhaps these problems could stop. You see, if sex were primarily about intimacy and that feeling like you’re totally and utterly connected to one another, then if someone is having a hard time with sex, it becomes your problem together, not just one person’s problem that they need to go get fixed and then come back when they have it all together.

I understand that young men often have very high sex drives. I understand that there are a lot of expectations around sex when you first get married. But if people were taught that sex was about both of us together, not just me getting release, then perhaps we could learn to treat each other well rather than seeing sex as one big area of entitlement.

So let’s go back for first principles. What should a healthy sex life look like?


What Healthy Sex Looks Like

A healthy sexual relationship is where both people believe that sex is supposed to be intimate, mutual, and pleasurable for both; it is not primarily for one person’s needs. Both people are working towards that and are committed to attaining that–even if it means addressing some roadblocks along the way. Both people value the intimacy and closeness that sex ideally brings to a marriage, and works towards that.

Sex is not something that is used to manipulate or punish someone, and if sex is taken off the table, it’s either because the spouse isn’t safe or because you need time to work on other parts of the relationship.

With that as our framework, let’s analyze what’s actually happening in this scenario where her husband doesn’t think their sex life is good:

  • Their marital satisfaction and emotional connection has not been strong
  • Her husband feels as if there is no emotional or spiritual connection during sex
  • He rejects her when she tries to initiate and they are living in a sexless marriage
  • She found sex awkward and painful during the first year of marriage, and in that time, he complained that she was not enjoying it.
  • She sought advice, and started to enjoy things, but he didn’t think that was enough.
  • She has sexual trauma in her past
  • He had multiple sexual partners and she feels compared to them (though, to be fair, we don’t know if he actually does compare them)
  • She feels sexual frustration

When you look at that story, do you see a situation where the HUSBAND has put in any work to fix the sex life? Obviously he may have and she may not have mentioned it, but assuming that she is telling the story fairly, he complained when she was in pain and having an awkward transition to sex, rather than slowing down and trying to figure out how her body worked. In fact, he made her figure out her pleasure on her own through masturbation.

He has shown no sympathy for the sexual trauma in her past.

He has cut her off from sex now.

When I read this, I see plenty of sex red flags that we talked about in our red flags post.

He doesn’t want sex at all, which likely means that he is getting sexual release somewhere else (like pornography or an affair). It doesn’t seem like he has zero libido, because he did want more sex earlier in their marriage.

He complains that they had no emotional or spiritual connection, but at the same time he has shown no consideration for her well-being, including her healing from sexual trauma or the pain that she felt during sex. He simply blamed this on her. Someone who wants to feel connected during sex should be trying to show love to their partner, not blaming them. They should be building bridges and intimacy, not demolishing them.

I would be suspicious of porn use; and I would also see a licensed counselor to talk through these issues, because this is serious.

I also think it’s vitally important to see a trauma-informed therapist to deal with the sexual abuse in her past.

Perhaps it all is in her past, and perhaps she is healed, but when you’ve gone through a significant trauma like that, you often need some help healing. It’s not just anger or bitterness or a spiritual problem; your brain can actually be stuck in trauma mode, and there are therapies that can help you.

Finally, if porn use is not a problem in this marriage, I’d suggest working through the 31 Days to Great Sex challenge with her husband.

I designed 31 Days for couples who want to have great sex, but who have given up or gotten discouraged. The first few challenges are basic but fun; they help you look at your goals for sex, the lies you’ve been believing about sex, and do some super fun preliminary exercises that can show that you both honestly can give each other pleasure!

Then in the next week we focus on building emotional intimacy and having fun together–how to flirt again, be affectionate, laugh together. After that, we move on to physical fireworks–how to actually have an orgasm; how to make sex feel great for both of you; how to figure out which body parts you each really like! Then we move on to spiritual intimacy and how to feel like one. We address some of the big elephants in the room and the sexual baggage you both have. We talk about how to figure out boundaries and how to make sure that porn or other things don’t wreck our marriage. And we make a plan to carry these lessons forward so we don’t lose them.

The biggest thing that people have told me after working through 31 days is that they finally were able to talk about a lot of these things and they had such breakthroughs.  This is quite typical of the emails I get:

My husband and I read 31 days to great sex and started talking about sex.  (we honestly read the whole book in just a few nights)  We started talking and a wall was lifted in our marriage.  I could literally cry typing this out.….So much has changed in 2 short months.  We have sex A LOT which has healed our marriage.  (we have been catching up for lost time!)

Feeling sexually disconnected?

Like you’ve lost your groove?

Like you’re on two different planets when it comes to sex in your marriage? 

31 Days to Great Sex can help you talk through what’s gone wrong and try some new things to figure out how to make it RIGHT!


Early in the book, too, I ask some pointed questions about porn use and abuse and insist the couple figure these things out before working through the book (and help people recognize red flags). If you are wondering if something rises to the level of red flag, this can also help.

Finally, if he isn’t interested in going through the challenge with you, then that’s another red flag.

It means he doesn’t actually want to fix the sex life; he just wants to punish her and use it to control her. That’s not safe, and in that case, I’d suggest going to a counselor alone (since couples’ counseling isn’t a good idea in abusive situations) and talk about what to do.

Sex should be something that unites us and that makes us feel intimate, not something that we use to punish each other with.

Yes, we’re going to have issues with sex, and sometimes one or both of us will have to take hard lines to make sure those issues are dealt with (like porn use or lack of foreplay or sexual pain or sex never feeling very good). But if you don’t both share the goal of building a sex life that is intimate, mutual, and pleasurable for both, then something is desperately wrong. And that’s when you may need some help!

Now I’d really love to talk about this question in the comments: Do you see red flags here? How can we overcome feelings of disappointment or entitlement? How can we change that conversation?


Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum

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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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. A2bbethany

    So he’s been deceiving her the whole marriage, by letting the issue never resolve.

    And Because he perceived an injustice, that means he’s been hiding a bag of resentment for her “failures”. That’s a really good way to poison a relationship, lie and cover up instead of facing it. Maybe he stopped complaining, and thought he was being “gracious” to her “failings”.
    But then something happened and he just pulled the plug, and she didn’t even realize he was unhappy. (At least she didn’t likely know what was causing it, or details.)
    And if he’s having an affair or porn use, this “conversation” of him telling her why he’s done, is to resolve guilt. Because from his perspective, he’s been the angelic husband and she’s the reason for them failing.

    Me and my husband used to watch shows about marriages and critique why it was failing.(90 day fiance and married at first sight US(Australia version isn’t worth it!)) Lots of great conversations and we learned about each other!

  2. This is a Pseudonym

    [Part 1]

    Sheila, if her husband does have hidden porn use or affairs, I don’t think 31 Days to Great Sex is the book for them. You do say some really healthy stuff in that book, but it isn’t trauma informed.

    At the beginning of the book you say that this book is intended for healthy couples who want to work on their sex lives, not for an abusive marriage. But then you go on to offer advice for a situation where a spouse is using porn. This is a failure to recognize that porn use is abuse:

    If this man has been using porn behind his wife’s back, that’s sexual manipulation at the very least. She can’t properly consent if he hasn’t disclosed his sexual past.

    Here are some problems that I find in 31 Days to Great Sex:

    *You give advice that if a spouse has been into porn, an emotional, or a physical affair, you should seek counsel, both individually and together. Couples counseling should not be a thing until the betrayed spouse feels safe and healed enough to do that.

    *This section just doesn’t take into account betrayal trauma and abuse:

    “Once the offending spouse has taken these steps, the ball is now in the other spouse’s court. If your spouse has broken trust, at some point you will have to forgive if you want to move on. That amount of time should be commensurate with the degree of the damage. It’s unwise not to give time to heal. Don’t rush it.

    But delaying healing isn’t wise either. Unfair or not, there is nothing your spouse can do to make it up to you. You will never achieve true intimacy until you extend forgiveness. Once your spouse has set up accountability systems and has shown over time that they are trustworthy, it is now up to you to forgive and move forward.”

    Pushing the betrayed spouse to forgive doesn’t seem wise. And maybe they can forgive, but they’re still so traumatized that they can’t “move forward” without some trauma work.

    *In the section Taking Every Thought Captive, you say that asking for specifics about your spouse’s past sexual exploits won’t help, and it will also hurt your spouse as they try to move forward. Asking for details shouldn’t be done lightly. But some spouses need more details than what the betrayer wants to give to truly heal. That should be done in a therapeutic disclosure where a therapist will help the betrayed spouse know what details are safe to ask. And whether or not it will impact the betrayer’s recovering shouldn’t be a consideration.

    *Under the Hit That Reset Button section, you say that you should agree you will not dwell on any past partners or on porn. But if their spouse has broken trust, the betrayed spouse needs to feel like they can continue to talk about it. Just shoving it down and pretending it isn’t there won’t make it go away.

    • This is a Pseudonym

      [Part 2]

      *You also say that couples should get a buzzer that they can press when they feel like they’re being drawn back into old arguments, suspicions, or hurts. Just press the button, shake it off, laugh and start again! How exactly would you suggest that a betrayed spouse just laugh it off when they’re triggered by the horrible things that their husband or wife put them through? It’s not as simple as pressing a button.

      *Under the section Fight the Porn, Not Each Other, you talk about a wife feeling betrayed, but then you say that *maybe* she should see a counselor. If she is showing signs of betrayal trauma, she definitely needs professional support! Then you say,

      “But if the husband (or wife, if she’s the porn user) is committed to quitting and is seeking help, then try to fight the porn together rather than fighting each other. Help each other minimize triggers. Pray for each other. Try not to view your spouse through the lens of porn, but keep encouraging and affirming each other.”

      It isn’t safe to ask the betrayed spouse to help minimize the betrayer’s triggers.

      If you do address porn in such depth in a book, it needs to be more trauma informed. There’s no list of things a husband or wife could be experiencing as a result of betrayal trauma. The focus seems to be on getting over it.

      Please read these articles from Betrayal Trauma Recovery:

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Thank you for these thoughts. I will definitely look into them when I get a chance to amend the book. I will ask if I can change the wording especially on the Fight the Porn, Not Each Other at the next printing (and change it in the ebook immediately). Those are very good suggestions, so thank you.

        I will say that one problem that we have found in our survey of men is that there is such a wide swath of experience with porn use. For some it honestly is just intermittent binges and they don’t have a pornographic style of relating. For others it’s very, very different. I have talked with so many couples who honestly have gotten over porn (and considering how widespread it is, many, many couples have emerged on the other side). I have also talked with others that could not because he wouldn’t deal with it or own up to it. It’s very difficult to speak to both ends of the spectrum at the same time, and I’m sorry if I didn’t do it well.

        I should have been more careful talking about minimizing triggers, but what I meant (and I’ve written about this on the blog), is that for many of us boredom, stress, or loneliness are triggers. Helping to be aware of these things can be helpful in a marriage. It does not mean you have more sex to help someone.

        I also state in the book that the porn use needs to be dealt with before using the book. That’s a big time out at the beginning of the book. The reason it’s there is because many couples haven’t talked about it and don’t realize that this is an issue, and so to simply leave it out (because people using porn shouldn’t be using the book) wouldn’t help, because many, many couples pick up the book to revitalize a sex life marred by porn, without realizing that sex can’t cure porn. So I do talk to those people early in the book and tell them that they need to deal with the porn first.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Also, our surveys of both men and women (as well as multiple other surveys) have found that most men who use porn do get over it and their sex lives and their marital satisfaction (and that of their wives) is almost as good as if porn had not been used.

          This is not to say that ALL marriages where porn is an issue will recover. But many, many do. Much depends on his willingness to own the problem; how much he has developed a pornographic style of relating; and how much betrayal she felt.

          While I would agree that porn use is always wrong and does constitute abuse, I do think distinctions need to be made because I don’t want all wives who do want to save their marriages, who are married to men who also want to save their marriages, to give up hope.

          With the rates of porn as high as they are, I think it’s important to speak in nuance: that this behaviour is unacceptable; that they need to get help themselves; that they need to rebuild trust. And if that isn’t done, then the marriage falling apart is on him.

          But I think we need to allow that many marriages do recover, and porn use is not necessarily a death sentence for the marriage. Do you think such a distinction is possible?

      • This is a Pseudonym

        Re: Not All Porn Use is the Same:

        It’s true that there are levels to porn use. But this shouldn’t affect how we treat the betrayed spouse. Their pain and betrayal is real. We shouldn’t dismiss it based on our judgement that it was only a little bit of abuse.

        Re: Helping Your Spouse with Triggers:

        Yes, telling a spouse that they need to have sex with their abuser or they will continue in their abuse (porn) is so so bad. But even smaller things can be agonizing for a betrayed spouse. It’s not good if they feel like it’s on them to police what they watch, make sure he doesn’t get too bored, etc. This should not be the responsibility of the betrayed spouse in any capacity. If they really want to, that’s their choice, but it isn’t something they should feel that they need to do.

        Re: Porn Use Needs to be Talked About:

        I agree that it’s good that you’re talking about porn in 31 Days to Great Sex. But you don’t do it in a trauma informed way. It feels like the goal is to patch up the marriage, not get the betrayed spouse to safety.

      • This is a Pseudonym

        Re: Distinctions Between Types of Porn Use and Divorce:

        I think it’s fine to make distinctions between levels of porn use. My issue is ascribing morality to what the betrayed spouse chooses to do. We can inform women that the deeper he is into it, the harder it will be for him to turn it around.

        I think we should talk about boundaries, how to keep yourself safe, signs that he is actually in recovery, the importance of therapy, etc. Then let the betrayed spouse make an informed decision that is right for them without the fear that they are being a bad wife because they’re requesting therapy or boundaries.

        Re: The Rates of Porn are So High, So We Kind of Need to Nuance It:

        I’m really confused by this. Just because something is common doesn’t mean we need to nuance it and minimize it.

        Maybe if we called out porn use for what it is (abuse), it would be unthinkable for more men. We should give a voice to the betrayed and support them in the decisions they make for their own safety.

        I don’t think we should tell people that their marriage is automatically over if their spouse cheats on them. But we also shouldn’t say they’re unforgiving or making a bad choice if they choose to leave.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          This is very helpful! Thank you. Yes, I agree about the ascribing morality to it. Will do.

          I would agree with you that just because something is common doesn’t mean you minimize it.

          However, we also do know that the vast majority of men who have used porn do stop and do go on to have good marriages. While it’s important to call out porn for what it is (and even aside from everything else, porn is sex trafficking), I think it’s also important to say that most do recover.

          There’s also a danger in telling women that porn use automatically will lead to catastrophic things (though it always leads to supporting sex trafficking). I’m just saying that we do need to abide by what the research says in this area, and it does say that porn is largely a dose-response effect–the more porn you use; the more often you use it; and the longer you’ve used it for the more it influences you.

          I agree that the betrayal trauma can be the same regardless of the dose-response effect, but I also think that sharing the actual numbers empowers, it doesn’t minimize (and we have lots of numbers in the upcoming Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex). I think people need hope that recovery is not just possible, it is probable when taken seriously and when owned. At the same time, recovery won’t happen unless it’s dealt with appropriately.

          Upwards of 70% of men have used porn. But we did not find that 70% of men had horrific pornified style of relating, bad marriages, or even believed in things like obligation sex. Most men have put it behind them (which other studies also showed).

          I think keeping the focus on the betrayed spouse and how she is feeling is a wise way around this conundrum. But I also believe that giving both men and women hope that others have gotten through this is important.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            And one more thing! I just want to reiterate that I appreciate this feedback. I’m going to wait until Tuesday, if that’s okay, because this is Canadian Thanksgiving and I just got back from vacation, but I will write to Zondervan on Tuesday and see how to go about doing edits before the next printing. To be honest, I’m not sure how that works since I’ve never done it before. But I will ask if it is possible. Thank you for this interaction!

    • CMT

      That seemed like odd advice to me also. Yes, it did come after pointing out problems and talking about going to therapy, so maybe the intention was to say “go do the hard relationship work first, then when you are safe with each other you can do the fun part.” But that wasn’t very clear. I haven’t read the book so I can’t really have an opinion about how appropriate it would be in this scenario, but this doesn’t seem like the best place to plug it, honestly.

  3. Boone

    I’ve seen this hundreds of times. He may be, and probably is , using porn but he’s cheating. I guarantee it.

    • Ashley

      I thought the same thing. My former spouse started withholding sex and affection from me when he was having an affair. There was always an excuse as well.

  4. Exwifeofasexaddict

    The fact he woke her have this conversation is a red flag for abuse too. I’m not sure this marriage is salvageable. AMD she might find she is far happier without him.

    • CMT

      That detail jumped out at me too. A lot of the rest of what she described could charitably be attributed to emotional immaturity on the part of the guy. He may simply not have the tools to do a decent job handling his own feelings about the situation. But waking someone up for a conversation like that does stink of deliberate manipulation.

      • exwifeofasexaddict

        Sleep deprivation is an abuse tactic. Do you think she went back to sleep after being woken to be told “you suck and I’m not having sex with you anymore”? I doubt it. I’m worried for her.

  5. Lisa M

    I’m assuming he knows she is a survivor of childhood sexual assault. If he doesn’t, then he needs to know.

    Five minutes on the Internet, a minimum amount of effort on his part, would let him know that his wife needs immediate, appropriate, and very specific help. If she was diagnosed with cancer, would he just tell her they sex life sucked and refuse her? No, he’d help her find the best oncologist for her situation and they’d work through cancer treatment together.

    It sounds like he has no idea how her traumatic past is still hurting her. It’s time he educates himself.

    Even if he doesn’t, I really hope she finds a therapist with extra training for survivors, possibly EMDR or brain spotting.

  6. Emmy

    My first reaction after reading this lady’s question was: My darling, you are still young! Get out while you still can!

    I’m harsh now, I know, but I find it very very hard to believe things will ever get better. I don’t wish to rob anyone of their hope, but a man who tells his wife he is not happy and does not show any motivation to make it work, probably does not want to make it work. He may just be giving her a notice of some kind, in a covert way first. Sooner or later he will probably tell her the real news: he is going to leave or file for a divorce, for whatever reason it may be.

    Such a guy should be confronted in a direct and frank manner: “My dear, you told me our sex life is not good and you are not happy. Do you want things to get better? Do you want to try to make it work together? Do you really and honestly want to stay married to me? If you do, I want to stay too and I will do my best to make things work. If you don’t, please tell me right now and here, because I don’t want to live with a man who does like to be with me.”

    I’d not have too much patience with him. I don’t believe for a second he has been honest with her. I’d be very suspicious he is having an affair. That’s what it sounds like.

  7. Nathan

    While I’m not sure about distinguishing between different “levels” of porn use, I do agree with Sheila that the following two statements are over generalizing…

    1. A marriage with porn use will ALWAYS recover
    2. A marriage with porn use will NEVER recover

    Each situation is different, and I believe that any marriage has the potential to recover and heal if both people are honest and open about things, willing to communicate and the porn user (or users, I suppose both could be using porn) owns it, admits that they’re doing it, that nobody forced them, and is genuinely repentant and willing to do the work necessary to recover.

  8. CMT

    I see assumptions made here re porn that confuse me. Specifically, the commenter “pseudonym” directly equates all porn use with spousal abuse in several of their statements, and I don’t follow.

    I would define “abuse” as a pattern of using, controlling, and/or diminishing the personhood of another. Not all bad/hurtful/marriage-ending behavior is abuse.

    My logic: porn use could be a symptom of a pornographic style of relating, and people with a PSR are prone to objectify and use their spouses sexually. i.e. porn use could be ASSOCIATED with abuse. But it’s a symptom, not the disease itself.

    I hear Sheila saying that not all porn users have internalized a pornified worldview. This implies it is not a given that all porn users will instrumentalize and abuse their spouses. Therefore porn use, while always a problem, is not always the problem of abuse. It might be a breach of trust, which is serious and potentially traumatizing, but should be approached differently than a case of abuse.

    Does this make sense? Porn=abuse just seems like such a charged assumption to make. I am not sure if there is any direct evidence on this issue, but if anyone knows of some that would help!

    I don’t intend to minimize the hurt and the sense of betrayal a spouse would feel. Those feelings are valid. I am not a survivor of any sort myself and, at least in the field of psychology, I am an educated layperson at best. So I am mostly looking for more information here, not trying to argue a point.

    • BL

      If you have an interest in this, you could look up the expert in the field, Omar Minwalla, who works with both sex addicts, including porn addicts, and their partners. He calls the addiction an Integrity Abuse Disorder. Very interesting! He has 4 amazing podcasts with Helping Couples Heal, a secular podcast helping couples work through sex addiction and betrayal trauma.

      • CMT

        Thanks for the recommendation. I didn’t read deep into his website yet but thought this was relevant. There is a saddening, illuminating explanation of the impact on partners. It echoes “pseudonym’s” concern that their trauma be recognized and their feelings validated. Sobering stuff.

        He specifically says IAD is a form of sociopathy (!) and is a long term pattern. He does not say that everyone who looks at porn a few times has a disorder or is an abuser. In fact, porn is barely mentioned, at least on this page. He seems to make a distinction between the sexual and the abuse components, and focus less on the simple presence of a sexual problem and more on whether there is a pattern of pathological behavior, which might be similar to what I was trying to get at in my previous comment. Again, I agree even occasional porn use isn’t ok. But that alone would not meet criteria for this disorder, that I can see. Maybe my confusion is that people seem to be saying “porn is so bad that using it even once or twice is abuse,” but I’m thinking “how can once or twice be a long term pattern?”

        Anyway this is a complex topic and not all that related to the original post I guess. I can definitely say it’s good it’s not my job to write books about this stuff, and I think I will read more when I have the chance.

        • KM

          Thank you for asking and taking the time to understand something you haven’t personally experienced. Other great resources are BTR (Betrayal Trauma Recovery) and Sarah McDugal. This podcast helps explain why hidden pornography use within a marriage is abusive:
          As far as the difference between using porn once or twice versus a long term pattern of abuse, I’ll start by framing it within a committed relationship or marriage. Yes, there may be a difference between a man who was exposed to it in high school then never watched it again and a man who uses it as a maladaptive coping mechanism to avoid emotions. All of the betrayed wives I have spoken with believe that watching pornography is cheating. I think most Christians will agree if they believe Matthew 5:28, and you stated that even occasional use isn’t ok. So does it matter if my husband cheats on me once a year or once a week? I sure say it doesn’t make a difference! The issue of abuse also makes more sense if you understand that many betrayed spouses didn’t know about the porn use and certainly didn’t agree to it. Many of us were lied to when we asked about it before marriage. I was, and it took away my ability to make an informed decision about the man I married. He is recovered and I love him as he is now, but I wouldn’t have married him if he had been honest about it. It’s also important to know that any objectification hurts a wife, whether it’s in actual porn, R-rated movies, social media, catalogs, women at the store, etc. The problem of pornography use isn’t confined to x-rated images as most people tend to think of it. When those things are factored in, a more accurate picture of sexual acting out is gained. As you stated, it is a complex topic.

          • CMT

            Hi, thank you for responding. Your story and the concept of Integrity Abuse Disorder mentioned above bring up something I wasn’t considering. You said, “Many of us were lied to when we asked about it before marriage. I was, and it took away my ability to make an informed decision about the man I married.” The abuser in this dynamic controls by hiding important, relevant information about themselves.

            This has gone pretty far afield from the original post, but may be relevant to the issues Sheila mentioned before. Namely, discussing porn in a way that both respects the pain of the wronged individual, and also acknowledges that not all relationships are affected in the same way, is difficult. There is a dose-response effect; some people are able to quit porn and repair their relationship without professional help while others are not; some spouses need to walk away while others do not.

            Minwalla’s framework might help. He talks about Complusive-Abusive Sexual-Relational Disorder: “ CASRD is a clinical syndrome that involves two pathological systems: one that relates to the inability to control sexual urges or behaviors and/or sexual entitlement (which we call compulsive-entitled sexuality, or CES), and another that includes integrity violations and abusive actions (integrity-abuse disorder, or IAD).” The degree to which these separate, but interrelated, problems are present in a relationship might determine where it falls on the spectrum from “likely repairable if you choose” to “run like h-.” But it still leaves full space for the wronged spouse to feel their feelings and make decisions that are right for them.

  9. Anonymous

    “He doesn’t want sex at all, which likely means that he is getting sexual release somewhere else (like pornography or an affair). It doesn’t seem like he has zero libido, because he did want more sex earlier in their marriage.”

    This comment in your article bothers me. I’ve seen the idea pop up in other of your articles as well. You’ve rightly spent so much time in calling out the wrong belief that sex is all about men’s much greater need for sex, and yet you are subliminally saying the same thing here. You believe that if a man is not seeking sexual release with his wife that he is most likely seeking it somewhere else (because his drive is so great is what is implied). You do not allow for a third option: that he is using self control and remaining celibate. This is a legitimate option, particularly if the husband is a Christian.

    I recognize that many men do turn to porn and affairs, but to not include voluntary celibacy as a possibility for a man who doesn’t want to have sex with his wife does many men, especially Christian men, a disservice, and actually propagates one of the very misconceptions you seek to expose.

    • Cynthia

      I had a somewhat similar reaction, although different possibilities occurred to me. In some cases, I wondered if it was possible that a husband wasn’t that attracted to women altogether. In others, I wonder if it is possible that other factors turned off a husband. For example, if sex was clearly not something a wife found pleasant, I could see some men not wanting to continue. I don’t think that it’s right to handle it this way instead of figuring out how to make it better for her, of course, because that comes across as being rather selfish, immature and insensitive, but I don’t think that immediately thinking that porn is the cause of all problems is useful.

    • Emmy

      Maybe you are right. Maybe he is being celibate and using self control. But even in this case, how can anyone call THIS a legitimate option?

      “My husband woke me up and asked that we talk, he told me that he is not happy, that our sex life sucks and he has not really enjoyed sex with me since marriage, never feels the emotional or spiritual connection when making love and that he can not pretend any longer and even though we still remained intimate, we haven’t had sex in 3 months now. I usually get rejected when I initiate it and now I’m too afraid to try.”

      It is not a legitimate option to leave it like this! I can’t help the impression he wants to get rid of her, for what ever reason it may be.

  10. anon

    Personally, I know people who’ve been abused physically and emotionally, and are still refusing to report to authorities or divorce. And their husbands got help and are getting help and improving, over the years. and they find the Lundy Bancroft type perspective of, “honeybunch, you’ll be so much happier without him” to be really, really condescending and also ignoring of their right to read the Bible for themselves and make their own choices… and they think the people who want to help households where there is an abuser need to accept that some people are never going to divorce or leave… but shouldn’t they still be able to access help, even though they choose to hope and pray for change? Sorry if this is off topic, but I’ve been really wrestling with this question. I mean… women are in the military these days, where they might face mistreatment and physical danger. Some women don’t see choosing to stick with their mentally unhealthy, formerly-abusive-but-in-treatment husbands as any different, and feel they should be able to choose and not have separation pushed at them condescendingly.

  11. Charley

    This is not the whole story – it can’t possibly be. Maybe this guy believes he has tried everything to make things better. Maybe he even got some promises that specific things would change, and that night, something made him snap. Maybe he had hopes for something that didn’t materialize that very night, that he had reason to believe would happen, possibly because a change was promised. The point is, this guy is obviously hurting in a big way too, and villainizing him isn’t going to repair that marriage.

    • Anon Reader

      @Charley – Thank you… Maybe the only rational human being here NOT adding a bunch of extra context into the story here. Perhaps this man is hurting and frustrated too and just wanted to talk at an inconvenient time. Why does he have to be an abuser, etc..?

      Everyone’s feelings should be acknowledged in a scenario like this. Every spouse who wants more sex is not a scumbag cheater, abuser… And every spouse that feels inadequate is not being bullied – – BOTH parties have to push past comfort zones [in a healthy way] and compromise and seek the good of the other.

  12. Deanna

    Not sure this thread is still active, but if it is… I appreciate the part about how it’s always been about the man’s pleasure and women are left to fix themselves to meet it, but what does it look like when the man is an active participant in figuring out how to have a healthy sex life? What is the man doing? Is the answer as obvious as “the same stuff the woman is doing?”


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