You Don’t Have to Say Yes to Selfish Sex

by | Apr 25, 2022 | Uncategorized | 46 comments

Don't Consent to Selfish Sex

God does not ask us to consent to selfish sex.

In fact, one-sided intercourse is not sex. I can summarize The Great Sex Rescue by saying that sex is supposed to be MUTUAL, INTIMATE, and PLEASURABLE FOR BOTH.

That’s what God intended.

Sex is not merely intercourse (which is why we need a new definition of sex). Sex is meant for both of you to enjoy, together.

If your spouse is orgasming but is doing absolutely nothing to give you any pleasure, and doesn’t care about that fact, that is not real sex. That isn’t a deep “knowing” of each other; that’s a using.

A woman left a comment over the weekend, and I shared it on Facebook as well, but it deserves its own post because I know some of you need to hear this. She writes:

I have been married several decades. My husband has no desire to be intimate in or out of bed. We waited until marriage to have intercourse and I was absolutely shocked in the beginning at how selfish he was. I’ve tried to gently speak to him about it and have asked him if he knows that women enjoy sex too and rarely do it in one or two minutes with no foreplay. I’ve asked him why he wants it to be over so quickly. I never get answers he just laughs. I believe he laughs due to being uncomfortable. …At this point, I’ve just given up hope completely on any improvement and it makes me sad. I only have sex when he requests it. .. I do have desires but I know it’s hopeless. I wonder if others can relate.

This man is using his wife.

Some men may be doing this out of selfishness and maliciousness; some out of ignorance and emotional stuntedness.

It sounds like, for him, he is utterly unable to acknowledge or touch his emotions, and can’t talk about difficult things. And so he shuts down. As we’ll be talking about this month, this sounds like a very insecure attachment style, where he never learned how to handle his emotions.

In some cases, this could also be coercive sex.

If the husband is berating her, giving the silent treatment, or treating her badly if she doesn’t have sex with him, that’s coercion (or marital rape).

But often it isn’t the husband who is coercing the wife but rather her view of Scripture that is pressuring her to give him one-sided sex.

She feels like she’ll be sinning if she “deprives” him. But in this case, she is already being deprivedAnd he’s missing out on a proper sex life, too, because all he’s getting is physical release; nothing more. And contrary to what Every Man’s Battle, Love & Respect, and Power of a Praying Wife says, sex is not mostly about a husband’s physical release. Sex is supposed to be mutual and intimate.

Allowing this to continue hurts you, hurts your husband, and hurts your relationship.

Having intercourse helps him feel connected to you without having to do any work to connect. He isn’t sharing emotions with her; but he’s using her to soothe himself and make him feel like they are close when they are not.

He is sowing discord and pain in their relationship, but she is the one reaping it. And as Galatians 6:8 says, “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow.” You’re supposed to reap what you sow. But in this case, he’s sowing it and she’s reaping it. As Cloud & Townsend say in their book Boundaries, by allowing this to continue she is disrupting the law of sowing and reaping.

And this will not get better magically by continuing to do the same thing. He needs to be confronted with the reality of what he has done. He needs a reason to confront his fears and insecurities about vulnerability and emotions so he can become healthier. And she needs to be saved from the trauma of being used.

So, friends, if this is you, it’s okay to say:

 

I want to experience an amazing sex life with you! I truly want to make love and experience passion. But I am no longer willing to be used. Until you want to figure out how my body works and make me feel good too, I will be saying no.

Now, if that would be dangerous for you to do, that’s a good sign that this is an abusive relationship and you need to get some help.

Call a domestic abuse hotline, or see a licensed counselor familiar in abuse dynamics to make a plan (if you’re not in immediate danger).

If you recognize yourself in these stories, please contact a Domestic Violence Hotline

  • Canada: 800.799.SAFE (7233)
  • United States: 1-800-621-HOPE (4673).
  • United Kingdom: 08 08 16 89 111
  • Australia: 1800 015 188
  • New Zealand: 0800 456 450
  • Kenya: 0-800-720-072
  • Nigeria: 0800 033 3333
  • South Africa: 0800 428 428

But submitting to being used like this is not of God. It does not bring glory to anyone. It merely reinforces a counterfeit of real intimacy. Please read The Great Sex Rescue to see more about how these kinds of ideas have infiltrated the church and made us all feel trapped.

And remember, you matter. It’s okay to say no.

UPDATE: And as a commenter so rightly pointed out, this can go both ways. Women can also be selfish and demand selfish sex. It isn’t okay, either. BOTH people matter, always.

"A groundbreaking look into what true, sacred biblical sexuality is intended to be. A must-read." - Rachael Denhollander

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Don't Need to Consent to One Sided Intercourse

How can we help more women (and men) understand this? How can we change people’s definition so that one-sided intercourse isn’t sex? Let’s talk in the comments!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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46 Comments

  1. Chris

    Just wanted to say that this problem can go both ways. Thank you so much for this post today Sheila, I needed it.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Absolutely it can! Thanks for reminding me of that. I’ll go put that edit in too.

      Reply
  2. Casey

    Another sex coach I follow says that while sex is to be mutual enjoyment, a woman is responsible for her own orgasm. Thoughts?
    I battle with this back and forth.

    Reply
    • Cynthia

      “Responsible” is a bit of a weird word. Certainly, it helps to get your mind into it, to learn what feels good for you and let your partner know, and to learn to really let go and allow yourself to reach orgasm.

      At the same time, though, you need a partner who will actually work with you. You may have learned that doing X and then Y will really get things going for you, but that means that your partner needs to be willing to actually do X and then Y and not just go straight to intercourse. On the other end, if they finish first and just roll over and start snoring without helping you finish as well, that can also make it hard to be mutual.

      Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I think women are responsible for speaking up and saying what they want, but ultimately he will have to slow down; he will have to take some time to pleasure her. So I don’t think this is accurate.

      (Yes, women can put their own finger on their clitoris during intercourse, for instance, but really–so could he. So I think speaking up is great, but he also has to be willing to give. She can’t do it all.)

      Reply
    • Anonymous

      Sometimes I am raring to go, and other times I’m willing to…but I need help to get there. And my dh slows down and helps me to get to the point where I am ready.

      I laughed the other day, cause sometimes he’ll rub my forehead to help me relax…and I said that he has a 50-50 chance of me relaxing and being ready…or me falling asleep. And he said it’s more likely that I will fall asleep when he does it! And he’s right! 😂 But he knows that either way, I need help to relax and to let go of our day, and he’s willing to help me relax even if it means that I’m going to fall asleep on him!

      Or he’ll rub my shoulder/back, because he knows that enjoying sex is so hard when I am in terrible pain. So he helps me with the pain first. And sometimes he just rubs my arm or leg, cause my love language is physical touch, and I need that kind of connection before I am ready for a sexual connection.

      And when he takes the time to help me be ready for sex, he reaps the benefits of his time and attention to me! But he has taken the time to learn what I like, what I need, what I want.

      Reply
    • Tiger Girl

      This person who wrote to Sheila has a husband who spends less than five minutes on foreplay. He’s not trying to pleasure her or arouse her. Getting over the hump from arousal to orgasm may be more on the woman if it has to do with how she’s thinking, but what he is doing with how he touches her and talks to her needs to be part of the process first. It can’t just be on her to orgasm completely on her own.

      Reply
    • Jane Eyre

      Strongly disagree. Maybe there is some element of being willing to get into it and communicate, but biologically, that’s just not how it works. It might be convenient for men to believe that we are somehow “responsible” for our orgasm (and theirs), but the reverse is true.

      Reply
    • Jo R

      So.

      He gets to use her body to supply the stimulation he needs so he can orgasm, whether it does anything for her or not.

      The suggestion ought therefore to be that she use his body to supply the stimulation she needs, whether it does anything for him or not.

      As Sheila once described it, she ought to grind her clitoral area against his thigh and make sure she does absolutely nothing that stimulates him. And when she’s done taking care of her own orgasm by using his body in a way that doesn’t bring him to orgasm, she should tell him how great it was, roll over, and go to sleep.

      How would that be? 🤣

      Reply
    • CMT

      I think it’s very true, and helpful. A woman has to be present in her body, be an active participant, and communicate with her partner in order to orgasm. There’s no way anybody else can be responsible for those things- she has to own them.

      However- I don’t think this advice is addressing the situation the wife in the post is in. Saying a woman is responsible for her own orgasm doesn’t mean it’s OK for a man to act like this husband. He still has a responsibility to be a good lover. It’s not a zero-sum game.

      Reply
      • Jo R

        My only nit, CMT, is that “active participant” might be taken to mean “moving around.”

        TMI, but for me, I generally need to be on my back and lying still so I can concentrate completely on what I’m feeling. If I’m having to simultaneously do anything that stimulates him, or if I’m trying to hold myself upright on my knees, for example, I simply cannot progress, and I usually, in fact, lose much if not most if not all of the arousal I’ve already achieved.

        Reply
        • CMT

          Fair enough. Ofc it will look different for everyone. I meant “active participant” more in the sense of “actively engaged in what makes her feel good” as opposed to zoning out or wondering why he hasn’t rocked her world yet.

          Reply
    • Lisa M

      I believe she is responsible for saying no to mediocre or bad sex. She’s responsible for putting her own pleasure first. However, society has so trained both women and men out of this, and individual women are not responsible for what society has done to them. I hope the woman who wrote this letter starts saying no

      Reply
      • John

        I agree she is responsible for saying no to Mediocre sex but I do believe she shouldn’t have to. I respectfully disagree that “She’s responsible for putting her own pleasure first”. I believe her husband is responsible for putting her pleasure first and there in lies the root of the problem. He doesn’t appear to be.

        Reply
  3. Margie

    I absolutely hate the word sex because it has just become such a burden for me because of the way I’ve interpreted scripture and from what’s been taught from well meaning people along with my upbringing, I believe with all my heart that when we as married couples KNOW one another and that to me means being able to truly share who we are without being ridiculed judged or dumbed down I think that’s when you truly fall in love with each other and intimacy happens in every area of our married lives then in the bedroom that knowing is just the icing on the cake, Sheila Grégoire I have your book “The Great Sex Rescue” I’ve read parts of it already and it’s good but I had to lay it down for a bit because some of the things you mention where triggering especially at night and because I have believed the lies I am doing so much work on the trauma that I’ve had and I am so thankful for the resources that I have and that the tide is truly turning God is doing some things and I am getting healed. Thank you Sheila for speaking out about these things that have kept so many in bondage it’s also soo refreshing to see that your husband supports you it’s another thing we need to see wives and husbands teaming up together and supporting each other.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m glad you’re starting to see freedom! I know it can be slow at times.

      And, yes, my husband is amazing.

      Reply
  4. Jen

    I’m so glad you’re going to touch on this larger issue (emotional anorexia). This is the next big piece in the discussion of sex and marriage.

    Emotional anorexia was the issue in our marriage, and it came from my husband’s horrific abuse and neglect by his parents. He used sex in a variety of ways to numb his pain, including porn, sexual compulsively, and genuinely trying to connect with me. Sex was the only way he knew to get close to the deep connection he was craving but never learned how to do in childhood (attuning and attachment issues). Even though he was sensitive to my experience in the bedroom, any “no” from me was a total rejection to him. And why did I continue to say yes when he literally had the emotional intelligence of a 10 year old? Because I thought it was a sin to say no.

    You’ve covered the Church aspect so well in The Great Sex Rescue. I’m so glad you’re diving into attachment and emotional anorexia because it really explains the backbone of a lot of marriage issues. If someone has been trained or trained themselves to see sex as the ultimate form of intimacy and they have no clue how to be emotionally intimate, then it’s a closed loop of pain – there is no way to get out.

    My husband had convinced himself that he was a great husband who was doing everything he could for our marriage WHILE he was betraying me. He was in deep denial and lacked the emotional intelligence to understand how his choices affected me, him, our marriage, and our kids. Now, though, he is in therapy, dealing with his childhood stuff and learning how to be emotionally intimate.

    This is a key! Selfish sex doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Couples need to know what they are dealing with. Someone with attachment issues? Someone with intimacy issues? Narcissism? Once the backbone is revealed, we can get help.

    Reply
    • Nessie

      Jen- “If someone has been trained or trained themselves to see sex as the ultimate form of intimacy and they have no clue how to be emotionally intimate, then it’s a closed loop of pain – there is no way to get out.”

      YES! A closed loop is such a perfect description! My hubs is this way (though not due to the same reasons as yours), and it is so difficult to try to get outside that loop if they were “trained” not to and/or have other factors at play! And I hear you about the deep denial, too! So thankful for therapy, slow-going as it is!

      Reply
  5. Kay

    Emily Nagoski once talked about different kinds of consent that I found helpful. Any “consent” that is coerced is sexual assault, but I think those of us in purity culture participate in something she called unwilling consent. Meaning we consented to (or even initiated!) sex we did not want because we were so afraid of the consequences if we didn’t. Such as believing what the church told us about how it is our responsibility to give him what he needs even if he is using us because we have to prevent him from looking at porn or cheating, etc. In other words, fear-based sex. Any sex had because of fear will take its toll on your body and your marriage.

    (The other two were enthusiastic consent, aka “I WANT YOU NOW,” and willing consent, which tends to cover responsive desire: “I am open to/interested in being turned out even though I am not yet.”)

    Reply
      • Lisa M

        Yes. That is one of MANY things that Eggerichs doesn’t understand. I don’t think he understands so many things … and I don’t think he can without help. His childhood was so traumatic and his parent’s solution was to never speak of it. That’s trauma on top of trauma. I legitimately feel sorry for him at the same time I want to him to stop trying to make the universe adopt his coping mechanism. He’s not drinking or drugging his pain, he’s making wives everywhere coddle him and other men like him. It is one way to deal with pain, but it’s not healing, it’s simply coping.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Exactly! I’ve seen this with so many authors. I actually think for many their whole ministry is a huge trauma response. Ironically mine started because of trauma too (my vaginismus), but I got help and researched it and dealt with it!

          Reply
          • Tampa

            After tons of reading, therapy, etc. this thread is starting to (finally) hit pretty darn close to home (not the story, but the comments)!! Sheila, do you have anything on how to overcome a true Aversion to sex with husband from years of initiating after he felt rejected? Or a way to find a truly skilled therapist for this? I’ve read so many articles, books, etc. but it never seems to fit right (either the woman is mousy and scared of sex, or it just goes back to “training him on what you like”, which we blew past 20 years ago). We’re growing, we love each other, but we both “broke me” over 32 years of bad sexual communication, his childhood (un-dealt with) wounds, the church message, my strong “fix-it” personality, etc. I’m tired of blaming him, he’s been able to listen to the truth (finally) but how to move forward when everything about sex with him is a trigger?

  6. Phil

    I think the lady is right – her husband laughs because he is uncomfortable. I add this: afraid and Shameful and ego probably trapped him into deceit of self clinging on to the message you can find out there that says sex is for men only. Quite convenient. Awful for the woman. Decades of this? Cut him off sister.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, I think there’s a lot of shame and discomfort going on for sure.

      Reply
    • Lisa M

      I think you’re right. Shame and ego are a toxic combination. They both need to free from this.

      Reply
  7. Anon

    My husband and I have been married for 6 months and I haven’t orgasmed yet, but he is so selfless and willing and wanting to serve me sexually and he asks what he can do for me, and how he can make me feel good when the truth is, I honestly don’t know what he can do or how he can make me feel good. Most of the time whatever he does feels fine or okay but there’s no fireworks and sex doesn’t feel amazing. Its so hard for me to initiate sex when I know I’m not gonna feel really amazing after. I have had really amazing times with him where I’ve felt so loved and close and connected! But those happen pretty rarely. It’s just really hard and I feel really disappointed in myself that nothing has happened yet. I don’t feel used but I am not wary that the longer I go without orgasm, the more I open myself up to those feelings. Why did God create sex to be so complicated?

    Reply
  8. GCB

    This is so awful. I’m heartened to see the message being shared here about women deserving better, but I can’t help but mourn anyway at this situation and how long it took for us to get here, as well as about how this narrative actively persists outside of sex and marriage. The overwhelming majority of my childhood and young adult life revolved around minimizing myself and my desires and needs for the sake of others and for the sake of being a Good Christian, because this was as good as I could’ve hoped for by following God. None of this was dating-based, but the point still stands. I didn’t know better at the time, but I wish I chose better anyway. I would’ve at least had a more productive way of dealing with challenges and serious problems while developing the identity God wished for me. I could’ve saved myself so much trouble and unhealthy fruits today.

    I’m also reminded of a report I read recently that was a collection of testimonies from former students of Catholic Colleges and Universities about the harassment, abuse, stereotypes and pressure that they faced in their time there; mainly due to racism, sexism, ableism, etc. There were several more added in the comment section. One such commenter shared a tale of when their main ministry had an event where men “went into spiritual battle” by praying in front of a video rental store because the store offered pornographic movies. But instead of inviting women to come along, the women involved were encouraged to stay put and “wait and pray” for the men that went. Not to mention that this video store was already about to close its doors because internet pornography was driving it out of business.

    Talk about one step forward, two steps back.

    Reply
  9. Jo

    I just wanted to add a point of nuance to this. My husband has been a selfish lover for pretty much our entire marriage. I first lost interest in sex somewhere around the time we had our first child. He didn’t help me with the baby. I did all of the night feedings, and the baby would wake up between 5 and 5:30 AM and be up for the day. Long story short? I was just exhausted and lonely! Sex was the last thing I wanted, and more like another thing being demanded of me, but since I had been taught that I could not proud of my husband of sex, I would just ENCOURAGE him to make it quick so I could go to sleep.

    I read articles on the subject, which basically said that if I just continued to have sex, eventually my desire would return, but it never did.

    Over time, it stopped being just a chore and became a traumatic experience. Instead of making me feel closer to my husband, it made me feel further and further from him. I felt so used. I would have to beg and plead to get any help, and even then it was inconsistent, and after a day or two, he would hit me up for sex, thinking he had “paid his dues” but asking for sex would demolish any small progress that was made.

    Finally, after about 12-13 years and multiple failed attempts to get my husband to attend therapy, I told my husband I couldn’t take it anymore, and I would not be having sex again unless I wanted it.

    He told me he would not remain in a marriage without sex and that if I didn’t start liking sex within a year he would leave. He did not, but after a year, I was in such emotional turmoil worrying that any day he might walk out the door, that I left just to put an end to my misery.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Wow, Jo. That’s so horrid! I hope you’re in a better place now. I’m so sorry about his selfishness. And, yes, that is very traumatic. Absolutely.

      Reply
  10. Eliza

    Wow. I’m struggling with this in my 11 year marriage also. I’ve spent alot of time (years even) trying to find workarounds to try to change my perspective on this issue. It hurts deeply and I also suspect my husband is an Aspie. Trying to find therapists to help with this compounded issue is more frustrating than my marital issues.

    Reply
    • Tampa

      Isn’t it true that finding good therapists (unless you’re happy to pay $175 per hour for months on end) is nearly impossible? I’ve had a few good ones over the years, but it’s such a challenge, and a few have made it worse!

      Reply
  11. Mary

    I’ve been married for 30 years and it’s rape, but wow, so hard to even say that. I got the silent treatment if I didn’t perform and then cried myself to sleep. I got so used to the abuse, it’s taking me forever to realize all the ways I was abused.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m so sorry, Mary. So very sorry. Have you tried calling a domestic violence hotline? Or talking to a licensed counselor? This really isn’t okay. And you can look for Sarah McDugal, Flying Free, or Leslie Vernick on Facebook as well!

      Reply
  12. Anon

    It’s too bad that the selfish person doesn’t realize what they are missing! Sad! One sided sex isn’t fun at all. My husband has pain after and so most times he doesn’t finish because the pain will last a couple of hours. He is amazing and will make sure I’m always satisfied, but it feels so one sided for me. Makes me so sad. Doctors don’t know how to help. It’s just something we have to deal with. 😢

    Reply
  13. Somewhere Lost at Sea

    Hi. Huge fan here. Something that I struggle with in my marriage is truly my husband has a higher sex drive than me. He loves oral, which works out better for me sometimes but I’m 4 months post partum to a NICU baby, working part time and exhausted beyond what I thought was humanly possible. I haven’t been doing oral as much lately but we have been having some really amazing sex the past 2.5 months. Truly it’s been a beautiful thing and has actually helped my own low sex drive.

    Today he asked for oral. I was so tired I wasn’t up for it. He typically will do something that pleases me with oral so it’s not normally one sided. I told him I wasn’t up for it. (I still have a hard time saying no because of being drilled not to deny my husband. It’s been almost a year since I first read your book. I was the one having obligation sex and he didn’t even realize it.) Anyways he came back like 5 minutes later asking if I was sure I wasn’t up for it. Which I told him no again. He said rain check maybe? And I said yeah. We had sex Monday morning so it’s not like it’s been a month.

    I still felt guilty though and frustrated that he asked a second time. I hate saying no to begin with. Let alone have to reiterate it. I always hear the words from all the authors that when wives do this, their husbands feel like the wives are rejecting their love. I’m not trying to do that. I’m just really tired. I don’t want to hurt his feelings and I definitely don’t want to be the intentionally withholding wife either. I’m also super emotional these days so that’s probably playing a part in all of this. We ended up just sitting on the couch together and I probably fell asleep within 10 minutes.

    I know I just need to tell him how I feel too. Anyways just throwing that out there if anyone else has a similar situation.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I think so many are in exactly that situation! And just keep up the conversations with him. Have you read The Great Sex REscue yet? Maybe if you read or listened to that together you could talk about some of these issues out in the open more easily.

      Reply
  14. Natalie

    If I had to guess, I’d say a lot of otherwise good, kind guys who do this are probably selfish in bed because they’ve gotten used to it being all about them through years of masturbation and porn consumption, plus having no idea how women’s bodies and sexualities are wired. I know that was the case for my husband. Even now, 12 years into our relationship, he still has to consciously make an effort to make each sexual encounter about me too. He says he doesn’t like being so selfish, but that it’s his innate inclination, which is odd because he’s a totally generous, giving personality in all other areas of his life and our relationship. I blame the porn habit he’s had since age 12 that’s significantly shaped (stunted) his sexual/emotional intelligence in the bedroom.

    Reply

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