Redefining Sex: Seeing Sex as an Expression of your Relationship, Not as an Individual Need

by | Nov 2, 2022 | Sexual Intimacy | 54 comments

Sex Not an Individual Need
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If we don’t put sex in its proper place, sex will become a drain on the relationship, rather than something that makes you feel closer.

We’re working this month on how to dig out of the pit you’re in with your sex life, because many people have such deep and serious issues in their sex life, and sex is pulling them apart rather than bringing them together.

Yesterday I talked about a 4-point plan to rebuild, that has to be done in a certain order:

  1. Redefine sex
  2. Make sure everyone feels safe
  3. Build affection
  4. Rebuild sex

I want to focus on #1 today–redefining sex.

Sex is meant to be mutual, intimate, and pleasurable for both.

As I have said repeatedly, one-sided intercourse is not biblical sex, and sex that leaves someone feeling distant or used is not biblical sex.

Biblically, sex is a deep “knowing”, which means that both people matter. If we say that one person has sexual needs the other has to meet no matter what, then sex is not a knowing. It is an owing.

But worse than that, it is an erasure of you as a person. If your needs don’t matter, then you aren’t a person. You are a body to be used.

THIS is one of the main reasons for the pit that so many of our sex lives are in. If we are going to rescue sex, we need to redefine it.

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Think of sex as a way to physically express your relationship.

That’s what it’s supposed to be. It’s also supposed to be a form of play, where you delight in one another. But if sex is the physical expression of your relationship–then it is okay, natural, and even good if what is happening in your relationship is reflected in your sex life. 

And what is happening in your relationship is also affected by what is happening in your individual lives.

We have this idea that sex must look the same, always, no matter what is happening. Think of the 72 hour rule that we talked about in The Great Sex Rescue, or that Kevin Leman sums up so well in Sheet Music: 


When you agreed to marry this man or this woman, you put yourself in a position to meet a need in his or her life that no other person can legitimately meet–sexual fulfillment. I’m blunt with premarital couples: If you’re not willing to commit yourself to having sex with this person two to three times a week for the rest of your life, don’t get married. Certainly, rpegnancy and sickness and a few other unforeseen problems will alter this–but in general, to get married is to commit to a regular time of sexual intimacy….

This means that there may be times when you have sex out of mercy, obligation, or commitment and without any real desire. Yes, it may feel forced. It might feel planned, and you may fight to stop yourself from just shoving your partner away and saying, “Enough already!” But the root issue is this: You’re acting out of love. You’re honoring your commitment. And that’s a wonderful thing to do.

Kevin Leman

Sheet Music

What he’s saying is that no matter what is happening in your relationship, no matter how you are feeling, you should have intercourse, even if you want to scream, push him off of you, and even if it feels forced.

How is this intimate, mutual, and pleasurable for both?

The way that Leman may answer this (I’m guessing, obviously), is that she should understand it’s intimate, even if she doesn’t feel it, and she should make herself feel it.

But that doesn’t work.

Earlier in the book he describes a couple where she is busy with the kids because he doesn’t help (Leman doesn’t add that last bit, but from the story it’s clear), so the husband turns to porn. And the solution? The wife needs to learn to have more sex.

It is not that the husband needs to realize how overwhelmed the wife is feeling and help; it is not that the husband needs to understand that his selfishness is turning her off and making her feel like she doesn’t have a partner; it is not that he needs to realize that he is training himself to see her as an object rather than a person and he is betraying her; no, it is just that she needs to have more intercourse.

Sex, in this mindset, is divorced from whatever else is happening in the relationship.

It is like the story I shared yesterday of the big name pastor saying that it would be wrong for a woman to want a fast from sex after finding out about her husband’s porn addiction while they get help, because that would mean she is withholding and depriving him.

When we see sex like this, we don’t see sex as part of the relationship. We see it as a commodity, something separate from both of us, that one gives and one takes. 

Sex isn’t an expression of our relationship; sex is a thing that is owed. Sex is separate from feelings.

This causes the pit to be dug deeper.

Sex and desire thrive in relationships where sex is intimate.

One of the best predictors of sexual satisfaction and marital satisfaction that we found in our surveys of both men and women is that the couple feels emotionally close during sex.

When sex is an expression of how we feel, then sex thrives–but so does desire. We get to choose: we can keep stressing frequency and the 72 hour rule and tell people they must have sex even if it feels forced; or we can give up expectations around sex and just love each other and allow sex to naturally blossom.

The latter sounds scary. What if sex doesn’t blossom? What if her libido is gone for good?

Then, yes, pressuring her and guilting her may get you more intercourse. But it will drive her further apart, wreck her libido, wreck her sexual response, and wreck her love for you. We explained this progression in The Great Sex Rescue

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

What if you're NOT the problem with your sex life?

What if the messages that you've been taught have messed things up--and what if there's a way to escape these toxic teachings?

It's time for a Great Sex Rescue.

Great Sex Rescue

In an integrated view of sex, what is happening in the relationship and to each of you individually will affect your sex life, and that’s okay. 

If she suffered from postpartum depression and a traumatic birth, then naturally she may not want sex for a while, because it’s too vulnerable and she’s not in the head space to “play.”

If his mom just died, then he may not want sex for a few months because he’s grieving, and that’s okay (conversely, one or both of you may want comfort, and that’s okay too).

If you’re overwhelmed with small kids, you may not have sex as often as you wish you would, but that’s okay, because you’re parenting together. And as you embrace this role together, then you give desire a chance to return because you’re building it by parenting as a team.

An integrated view of sex understands sex as an expression of intimacy, but not a substitute for intimacy.

A woman I interact with a lot on social media published an amazing Twitter thread yesterday about this, and I’d like to just quote her.

Here’s the whole thread:

Sex is not a biological individual need. Psychologists and sex therapists alike generally agree on this. While mutual sexual satisfaction is a vital part of committed relationships, no individual, male or female will die or fail to thrive without it.

It is not an inherent need.

What we all do have is a need for intimacy, which can be found in many ways in different kinds of relationships. Intimacy comes from being seen, known, heard and held.

Male and female alike, we need intimate relationships to thrive and feel whole.

Women tend to cultivate more intimacy in their friendships, offering each other a deeper connection that meets these needs platonically in many ways.

Men do not. Our culture makes it difficult for men to access their own emotional needs and form more intimate friendships.

Sex becomes a more accessible and acceptable, less vulnerable way for men to meet their need for intimacy. It becomes a way to express and meet multiple needs that should be met in other ways with different relational skills, and puts unnecessary pressure on their partner.

When misogynistic, male Christian writers talk about sex as being an insatiable need that only men have, they are essentially owning up to the fact that they have failed to develop their own emotional maturity and they are not willing to develop other necessary relational skills.

This does a disservice to men. It ignores the fact that the relational skills required to develop true intimacy are not inherently gender-specific, they are LEARNED. It has little to do with the body parts we possess and more to do with the willingness to be self-aware and learn.

This kind of teaching infantilizes men, allowing them to remain emotionally immature and lacking in relational skills at the expense of their own maturity – a maturity that would cultivate better intimacy.

Men, do not settle for such a lowly, ungodly view of your own humanity.

To be clear, women also use sex as a way to meet our needs for intimacy, desire and validation. We are no more immune to this. The difference is that we are offered judgement rather than justification because apparently sexual desire shouldn’t autonomously exist within us.

Amie Aitken


I think this explains how things can cycle downwards.

Yes, mutually satisfying sex is a vital part of marriage.

It should be emphasized. We shouldn’t shortchange ourselves of this amazing way to connect. (And that’s why I’ve got a boost your libido course and an orgasm course!).

But when we treat sex like an individual need rather than a couple need, and when we treat sex like an entitlement, we change the nature of sex and we make it depersonalizing and shallow. That creates a cycle where one partner’s desire for sex is felt as a rejection of them as a person. “You don’t care about me; you only want to use me.”

I know some may pushback and say, “well, they’re rejecting me by not having sex!”

I said that plenty myself several years ago, until I looked at the data. Marriages don’t become sexless for no reason. Women don’t naturally decide to never want sex again, because they trapped the guy in marriage, and now they’re happy.

No, marriages become sexless because she feels used; there’s porn use; there’s low marital satisfaction; there’s sexual dysfunction; or sex doesn’t feel any good to her.

Think about it this way: we know sex is amazing. Why would someone just cut themselves off from something amazing for no reason?

They wouldn’t. They would only do so if that thing wasn’t amazing anymore.

And why isn’t it amazing? Because instead of sex being used to love her and cherish her and make her feel connected, it’s become something that erases her and leaves her feeling used, among other things. And nobody wants to feel used.

If we want to dig out of the pit, we need to redefine sex.

Don’t see it as an individual need, but rather a way to express what is already happening in your relationship.

And if your relationship is distant, then sex is likely not going to be desired. Put sex in its proper place, and then it may start to flourish.

One last thought about kids stealing a mom’s sex drive

Let me talk about kids and their effect on parents’ sex lives for a second, because I think we’re missing the boat with how we talk about this.

When men say, “she just pays attention to the kids and never wants sex anymore, and they’re her whole life,” I know that can be true for many women. But I also know so many women who are just overwhelmed. Kids are work. Kids take time. They take an incredible amount of emotional energy.

What about jumping in the deep end, and taking on that wholeheartedly with her? Many women are carrying most of the emotional load of parenting themselves–figuring out how to discipline, how to handle learning difficulties at school,  how to navigate bullying, how to figure out how to stop the siblings from fighting. Jump in with her, rather than feeling as if she’s letting the kids steal your sex life.

Yes, some women put far too much emphasis on kids, but it’s not the crisis that marriage authors make it out to be (like Gary Thomas, painting women who stop sex if the baby cries in a negative light). What if the problem isn’t that women emphasize kids too much, but rather that men aren’t sharing that emotional load? Kids are a LOT. If she shoulders most of it herself, then there naturally won’t be much room for sex. And if she is shouldering it alone, then desire will definitely be squeezed out, and all you will get is duty sex.

The couples that I have seen with two equally involved parents, who are equally likely to google, “how to get a three-year-old to eat vegetables” or “how to deal with a 5-year-old who wets the bed”, tend to be much happier with their sex lives. Sex likely doesn’t happen as often as it did before they had kids, but they both are okay with it, because they BOTH are mentally and emotionally focused on parenting too.

And because they are partners, desire builds because they are grateful for one another.

Rather than wondering why your spouse is so busy with the kids, why don’t you wonder why you don’t share the same concern?

Sex as an Individual Need

I know this post seems harsh. And I am not denying that it is difficult to be the spouse who is refused. But from the focus groups we have had, and from the thousands of letters I’ve received, I do feel like this is the main issue: so many women feel like sex is depersonalized, like they don’t matter.

How can we work this through? 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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  1. Stefanie

    Thanks for writing this. I’m trying to wrap my head around this right now. Even if I can understand it in my head, the concept feels foreign to the rest of me (my body, my intuition?). I’m trying to imagine what it would feel like to be “loved and cherished” during sex, but my imagination can’t bring up those feelings in the context of sex.

    I think I commented on another post that I was surprised that, after reading TGSR, cognitively rejecting all of the bad teachings didn’t automatically fix our sex life. We’ve been working on this for a year and a half. I think the damage is deep in my subconscious at this point. I’m working with 4 therapists right now (an individual therapist, a couples therapist, a sex therapist and a somatic therapist). My somatic therapist gave me homework to notice when my body feels good. I’ve recognized that my body feels good when I’m laying in my flannel sheets or using the seat warmer in our minivan. But hugs from my husband make me put my guard up. Like I feel threatened. Even though my husband is a good man and I’m physically safe. Ten years of obligation sex did this to me/ to us.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Stefanie, this is so common. I just want you to know that you aren’t alone. I don’t have any quick words that can help, but it sounds like you’re getting some great help from therapists.

      Listening to your body and becoming embodied again is so helpful, but sometimes there’s trauma there that does need to be dealt with. I wonder if part of it is actually trauma therapy that you may need? It sounds like your body is having a trauma response, which isn’t unusual if sex has been threatening and depersonalizing, even if he didn’t mean it that way.

    • Angela

      Excellent. Perfect. Shout it from the housetops!

  2. Laura

    “No, marriages become sexless because she feels used; there’s porn use; there’s low marital satisfaction”

    This here described my first marriage. I often felt used and experienced low marital satisfaction. My ex (who used porn) would tell me that if we had sex regularly (his idea of regular was twice a day) then we would not have problems. Basically, our marriage started on shaky ground. We were both believers, but did not attend church regularly. He used the Bible to beat me over the head with verses on submission and obligation sex (He often quoted the do not deprive verse). He would tell me that I was not allowed to say no to him. So, of course, I would not want to have sex with him. I suspect that I experienced some sexual abuse during my childhood or maybe I was inappropriately touched by a grown man. My ex knew that and had said, “Well, this man ruined it for me.” My ex never considered how the possible abuse affected me; he was more concerned that my past trauma was ruining the sex life he believed he was entitled to.

    No wonder, I have remained celibate 20 years after my divorce. Sure, I’d like to remarry if it’s God’s will for me, but I am grateful to be single right now. I’m learning a lot on this blog and getting the healing I need. I want to enjoy a fulfilling marriage and sex life in the future even though I’m not a spring chicken anymore.

    • exwifeofasexaddict

      Laura, yes, my ex would say things like, “So I’M getting punished because X that I didn’t do happened?” As if lack of sex is a punishment. As if I owed him access to my body, and if I can’t offer that gladly at any given time, I’m punishing him. Ugh. We have made sex so toxic. I hate it.

  3. April W

    Thank you Sheila and team!!! I’m glad for this post it puts into words all the things I was thinking how to explain to my boyfriend all this and all I can think of to articulate how sex is suppose to be, this is the stuff we are discussing on. Because I want us to have a healthy view before marriage on this topic. I also got him the good guides guide to great sex. And I have the good girls guide as well. It has been very eye opening and helpful at navigating change and better understanding on the topic.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m so glad the books helped you, April! That’s wonderful that you and your boyfriend can talk about this!

  4. exwifeofasexaddict

    Sheila, I resonate so much with everything you have said. I think this message needs to be shouted loud and long, especially in church circles.

    But as I read, I couldn’t help but wonder how individual hormones and libido factor into this. After all, people do have varying levels of desire. And with the church’s ethic of having only one sexual partner for your entire life, which begins after a lifelong commitment has been made, there is a high likelihood that a couple will have mismatched libidos. What can couples do about this? Maybe you’re planning to address this later in the series, but it seems like it’s important to address how to handle having desire for sex when your partner/relationship is not up for it right now.

  5. Jane Eyre

    “I’m blunt with premarital couples: If you’re not willing to commit yourself to having sex with this person two to three times a week for the rest of your life, don’t get married.”

    Fixed it for you:

    “I’m blunt with premarital men: if you’re not willing to commit yourself to going down on your wife two to three times a week for the rest of your life, don’t get married.”

    I’m being sarcastic, but penis-in-vagina sex is rarely orgasmic for women. Many women are biologically incapable of climaxing that way (and if they do, it’s often because clitoral stimulation is also involved). I’m just floored at the sexual ignorance of equating PIV sex with meeting a woman’s sexual needs.

    To your point about men feeling rejected, maybe they would feel less rejected if they better understood how their wives’ bodies work. No one goes for something wildly one-sided, against them, for long.

    • Laura

      Jane Eyre,

      Your fixed-it cracks me up!

    • Boone

      You would be surprised at the number of men that I encounter in my practice that would give anything to do that for their wives. The wives won’t let them. Most of the time earlier in the marriages the wives couldn’t get enough but as time went by it got added to the forbidden list.

      • Suzanne

        I am curious to what the wives say the reason for not allowing their husbands to go down on them is when previously they “couldn’t get enough”. Oral sex is extremely intimate and you need to feel very safe with a person to be exposed to them in that way. So something happened, you don’t go from not being able to get enough to saying stop giving me pleasure without something happening in the relationship. If the men “would give anything to do that for their wives” then they need to explore what happened to make oral sex go to the forbidden list.

        • SB

          I agree with Chris on the grieving process. Once I started accepting the possibility that I would never have an orgasm with my husband, I grieved. I went through all the emotions and I think I’m in the acceptance stage right now. We’ve tried everything in 20 years so now we both agree if it causes me so much stress and emotional turmoil then we can abstain. It feels like a weight has lifted off my shoulders! I don’t have to think about what my genitals are doing/not doing. I don’t have to touch myself or ask him to touch me. No worries about if we should have sex tonight because it’s been a week. No cleanup! I can just enjoy my husband with less stress.

    • Chris

      Jane, a lot of men, myself included love going down on our wives. I would much rather give than receive. The last few times, none recently, where we did have sexual contact I went down on her and my clothes didn’t come off. In one case, my shoes didn’t come off.
      The bottom line is, a married couples sex life is just that: a life. And like all lives it will die someday and when it does you have to allow yourself to grieve the loss. I think what happens is that a sex life dies and people don’t see it for what it it: a death. So they don’t allow themselves to grieve. And to go through those stages of grief is so important to finding peace.
      I understand everything that is being said about sex being the physical manifestation of marital intimacy. But in some ways this is just a rebranding of the old “sex is the icing on the cake” argument. As Amie Aitken basically said you can have intimacy with a lot of people. And if only men would have intimacy with more men, how freeing that would be for women. I understand that. Sometimes I feel the same when my wife starts seeking intimacy with me through endless talking. But sex in marriage is the cake. It’s what separates an “intimate” relationship from a marriage.

      • Suzanne

        I am so confused by your post. Why would a sex life need to die in a marriage? Why would two satisfied, happy partners, who are having their emotional and physical needs met just stop having sex? What kind of intimate relationship are you talking about having with another man, and why is that freeing to a woman? Sometimes you want you wife to free you from her endless talking by seeking intimacy’s elsewhere? I do not understand the point you are trying to make. Ok you gave your wife a gift, good for you, its not necessary to chime in with your version of “not all men” really ever when we are talking about teaching that have harmed many women.

        • Chris

          Suzanne, I can tell you are struggling. You need to go back and read the Amie Aitkens content in the original post. That should clear things up.

          • Suzanne

            No I am not struggling. You started your post with a tmi description of oral sex with your wife. “You didn’t even take your shoes off”. How was that in any way necessary other than to pat yourself on the back and completely not understand why Jane Eyre did a fix it on the nonsense of don’t get married if your aren’t willing to have PIV sex 2-3 times a week?

            Then you go and say like any life a sex life will die and you should take time to grieve it. If you have a healthy marriage, two happy and sexually satisfied partners why would your sex life need to die? Amie was explaining why sex is not a need, it’s a want a desire. The teaching that men just have this need for sex women don’t have is just not true. Amie also explained men often don’t have intimate relationships with friends, so they only seek the intimacy they need with their wives and they use sex to do that because they confuse sex with intimacy and have been conditioned to believe they need sex and are owed sex. Your comment leads me to believe you think only men can want sex, women are just looking for a way out and that friendships with people outside your marriage can replace the intimacy needed in a marriage. Intimacy like a wife expecting a husband is listening when she talks to him. Instead Amie was saying expect men to be good men. Expect them the realize a desire for sex is not a need. Expect them to be able to have close friendship so many parts of their life have intimacy. Expect them to want a good and equal relationship with their wives and that sex should be mutually wanted for it to happen, not as a duty, chore, or item off the checklist to keep the man from being a jerk to her.

          • Chris

            Ok, you lost me. The detail about the shoes was there in the larger context that sex is one sided. It was there to show that I give and give and do not receive. How is that patting myself on the back? Any spouse giving of themselves sexually and not receiving goes against the core message of Sheilas blog that sex should be mutual. So that’s why that comment about shoes was there. I guess you didn’t pick up on that.

          • Suzanne

            It would have been pretty easy to say my wife and I are having a problem, sex is not mutual with us, it’s one way. Otherwise it just sounded like you were giving your wife a gift. Yes Sheila has addressed the mutuality of sex, and since you follow her you know your options and even lines to say to your wife addressing why you won’t continue an act that is not mutual. Your story is yours, but it doesn’t discount that the church pushes the narrative that sex is for men, not women, and women just need to be bodies for men to ejaculate into whenever men want. Again this is not a time to say “not all men”. I’m sorry your marriage has a problem. Time to start addressing those problem, and if she is not willing well you have options to not be with a person who treats you badly.

    • Seth Sturgis

      “Penis-in-vagina sex is rarely orgasmic for women. Many women are biologically incapable of climaxing that way (and if they do, it’s often because clitoral stimulation is also involved). I’m just floored at the sexual ignorance of equating PIV sex with meeting a woman’s sexual needs.”

      That seems like a strange conclusion to reach. At least in our experience it is decidedly untrue. While my wife enjoys being pleased orally, and I enjoy pleasing her in that way, its the PIV sex that ultimately gets her there every time. She frequently comments on how much she appreciates that God equipped the male penis with a little ridge designed specifically for clitoral stimulation.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        I’m glad for you, Seth. Many women do orgasm that way, but most women who reach orgasm do so through other means than intercourse.

      • Lisa

        Seth, it’s not a conclusion, it’s a statistic. There’s a big difference. Your own marriage is the experience of one woman.

  6. Mara R

    I have always been uncomfortable with the “Sex is a need” mantra. Whether for men or women or whoever.

    When you lift sex up to need, like food, clothing, shelter, breathing, etc. you open a can of worms.

    When you make sex a need like that, then not having ‘enough’ sex with someone is equated to depriving them of food, and you get these crazy Evangelical teachers bullying women and making them into villains for not sexually feeding their toddler husbands regularly. This in the church.

    And in the world, you get incels vilifying women for not feeding them like they think the must have since sex has been defined as a need in the world as well.

    I’m glad the tide is turning and things are changing. I really appreciate what you all are doing here so much. Thanks.

    • Suzanne

      I agree! Sex is a want, a desire, but not a need.

    • K

      And if sex is a need what do you do in a Christian world where sex is reserved for marriage and you are single, single for quite sometime, or never marry??

      • Laura

        If sex was really a need, I’d be dead by now. I’ve been celibate for over 20 years.

  7. J

    This is such an important discussion! 25+ years of obligation sex, carrying his emotions as well as the children’s, and his secret sex addiction have made me wonder if I was ever really married in the way God defines marriage. In the eyes of the law, yes, I was married, but I’m quite sure that what I experienced is not what God intended.

    I’ve been asking the Lord to show me what He created marriage to be. This series is going to be helpful!!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m so glad, J, and I’m so sorry for what you’ve gone through!

  8. Maria B.

    Desire for spouse does not equal desire for sex. Those are separate but related.

    Let’s say that sex is painful for her. She could lie to him and say it feels good. So they have sex. But that trains her brain to associate him with pain, thus harming the relationship.

    Do some people actually reject their spouse? Yes. What might that look like? I think that if she wanted sex but said no just to mess with him, that would be a rejection of him. But how often does that happen?
    Or let’s say she does reject him as a person. Then she’s rejected him whether they have sex or not. She’d just be using his body while rejecting him.


    Rejection of sex is not rejection of spouse, because spouse is not sex.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Excellent point!

  9. Sequoia

    Thank you so much! I think this is one of the best posts I’ve ever read from Shiela & team. I love how you hit on the importance of intimacy. We need intimacy in many aspects of life (family, friendships, spouse) if any relationship is going to be good and life-giving. Trust and safety creates intimacy. Intimacy creates new depth. In family, it creates a bond. In friendships, it creates a bond. Seeing a trend here? In marriage, it also creates a bond. Only in marriage, that bond can also manifest in good, life-giving sexuality.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thank you, Sequoia! I do think we need a much better understanding of the need for intimacy at all levels.

  10. Rach

    I agree with your article 100%, but have a genuine question. If sex is not considered a need for a man then why does a man’s body naturally release itself at night if he hasn’t had sex for a period of time? My husband says he sees sex as both a need and an expression of our relationship. TIA

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Women also orgasm in their sleep! And the fact that his body does release semen on its own shows that it isn’t a need, because his body will literally take care of it for him!

      • Dan

        In a Jewish wedding, a woman’s rights were food, clothing and sex.

        If the husband didn’t provide these (needs ??) she could sue for compensation or require divorce.

  11. Lisa Johns

    And I, on the other hand, am the wife who was rejected, for decades. (Porn and masturbation, used to satisfy himself physically so that he didn’t need anything for me.) He has (finally) repented and begun to work on fixing this, but we are now dealing with a bad case of porn-induced ED, and it STILL feels very personal and rejecting! I’m at a loss here! I want to have grace for my husband as he works on his issues, but this… I don’t even know. So far I have not been able to find a therapist who gets this either. I don’t know what to do or where to turn. It’s just extremely painful.

  12. Matt

    There are a lot of pained comments here, and I don’t want to belittle anyone. My point is to say that the dismissive attitude about sex and men seems summarized as “sex isn’t a need or those guys would be dead.” Well, it is clearly not a physical need, but it is one of many emotional needs that a person may have.
    To illustrate: if a woman doesn’t feel emotionally safe during sex (I am not talking about physical safety, as in an abusive relationship), she definitely has an emotional need for safety, and we should not belittle that. To argue “Well, she’s still alive, so it’s not a need” would be horribly callous. In the same way, connecting emotionally through sex may be a very deep need for a man (or woman as well, of course). I’m not talking about just physical release, but the desire to share an important intimate time together. This is my situation. My wife and I will talk for hours every day, and work on projects that are important to her, as I attempt to fill her needs for companionship, accomplishment, and success. It is important to her, and on good days feeds her soul. Unfortunately, she also struggles with depression, chronic back pain, and vaginal pain for which she refuses to seek any treatment. Add to that painful relationships with our kids and her days are volatile. She refuses to seek help for her attitudes about sex (both brought into the marriage from childhood, and developed poorly inside it), and so we have averaged less than once per month over the course of marriage.
    In this I feel an unmet need. Please do not denigrate or minimize my needs–even emotional ones (“he’s not dead is he?”) as I have no wish to denigrate or minimize yours.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Matt, that sounds really lonely and really hard. I’m so sorry.

      Have you sought some counseling yourself? It sounds like your wife could really use some help. I wonder if you could talk to someone if you could learn how to navigate this a little better? It isn’t okay for her not to get help for her issues (we talk about this in The Great Sex Rescue). It is our own responsibility to work on our stuff. I wonder if a counselor could help you make this known in a way your wife may be more likely to hear it?

    • dt

      My point exactly. You posted first!

  13. dt

    Sadly, this site has moved farther away from the great content it used to have.
    Is this a marketing thing?

    I have so many thoughts to write but let me choose just a couple…
    1. Unbalanced. While we should mourn with the broken, hurt, abused, etc, we must not become insensitive to the good husbands out there who are doing well but are still unsatisfied with frequency.
    Feminism is somehow fashionable and acceptable, but isn’t it just the new chauvinism you so much decry? You tear down (rightly, in part) the real or perceived abuses from males in the past, only to replace them with a one sided view that ignores good men. Women’s empowerment should not lead to generalized ‘men bashing or it’s just as bad as chauvinism.
    2. Too much criticism. It’s good to expose false teachers (in the right context and in the right spirit). But, doing it all the time becomes whiny and detracts from the great work you were previously doing. Why not separate your work into the positive stuff and the negative stuff?
    How much building and how much destroying?

    I’m still basically a supporter of your work but I think you would benefit from a stronger focus on your positive content and from adding or considering a broader male perspective. Not all men are self centered and abusive in marriage.

    God bless your work

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Can you please instead tell me what in this post you disagreed with? What did I say that was wrong?

      • Jo R

        In other words, “The fact that women (and men) have been receiving distinctly unchristian teaching for centuries makes some men uncomfortable, so please stop talking about it.”

        On the other hand, why shouldn’t the correct message be repeated as long as the incorrect one was? As for men’s discomfort, well, what do you think women have been going through all this time?

      • dt

        Thanks for replying, Sheila. I really do respect so much of your work and have promoted it in my work. I don’t want a long debate this way, but as I’ve commented before, i think it’s more powerful when you stick to your strengths rather than tearing down other ministries (even though there may be valid reasons and spaces to do so occasionally).

        I’ll only give one example of my first point by way of illustration.

        You begin with a relevant quote from Leman

        ‘… I’m blunt with premarital couples: If you’re not willing to commit yourself to having sex with this person two to three times a week for the rest of your life, don’t get married. ‘

        I think this quote is misrepresenting him overall (i am familiar with lots of his work and i know he’s not recommending abuse, though perhaps his work would benefit from including many of your valid points regarding female sexuality, too).

        Anyway, let’s lay aside any disagreement about this author and try the reverse with your current article here. The sense i get is that you would say to that same couple (to the man) preparing for marriage, ‘if you’re not willing to give up any hope or expectations of sex until your wife is willing, then don’t get married.’ This is the message i hear (as a man) reading your article (which has the tone of a rant at times). I’m sure (i hope) you would not want to be quoted like that!

        That’s what I mean about the article presenting an unbalanced view and being unnecessarily (IMO) critical of other Christians.

        Hope that makes sense.

        (I am also not
        Justifying any bad teaching or bad treatment many women have received, but it seems unhelpful to simply reverse the roles and suggest women should play the role of the one who one-sidedly determines the frequency of sex. There are good husbands who do not abuse their wife nor demand more sex, but who are at her mercy and genuinely feel unsatisfied with frequency. Don’t forget them.)

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          I would absolutely love to be quoted like this!

          “if you’re not willing to give up any hope or expectations of sex until your wife is willing, then don’t get married.’”

          YES! That is exactly the message. No one should hope or expect to have sex with someone who isn’t willing.

          Yes. This is called consent. And to expect to have sex with someone who isn’t willing is to expect to be a rapist.

          I’m curious why you think it’s such a bad thing to not expect sex unless someone is willing?

          The way that we should be talking about sex is quite simple. Here’s how I would do it (and how I have done it, many, many times):

          “Sex is a vital and beautiful part of a healthy marriage. Sex is the culmination of your relationship, the physical expression of everything you are together. Healthy marriages should naturally be characterized by frequent sex (as circumstances permit) that is mutual, intimate, and pleasurable for both. However, sex will naturally reflect your relationship, and if there are issues in your relationship, these will affect your sex life and these will need to be dealt with. When someone loses libido, that’s a sign that there is something else going on that needs to be dealt with so that health and wholeness can be restored, both in and out of the bedroom.”

          It’s actually not that hard. It’s just about putting sex in its proper place–as the culmination of a HEALTHY marriage. When things are healthy, libido follows.

          And, yes, I will say it again–no one should expect to have sex with someone who isn’t willing.

          • Jo R

            Please make your second para a FIFY against Leman.

          • dt

            Of course that is not what I mean. You’re telling the guy that the only defining matter is her needs, desires, willingness etc. But you are angry with Leman because he says the opposite (his needs are most important). How is your position more defensible than his?
            As you point out, sex should be mutual, pleasurable for both etc. I agree. When then bash the men who want sex and say to them to be subservient to her needs (not wrong per se, but just the opposite of the teaching you hate that says, ‘She should be subservient to his needs’. )
            This article makes it only about her needs, despite your token statement about it being mutual etc.
            Show me how this is not hypocrisy.

            Replacing one bad teaching (it’s all about him) with another (it’s all about her) is not helpful either.

            I don’t support, encourage or value duty sex or sex only for the pleasure of one partner but i don’t see how your attack on Leman’s position can validate your identical but opposite position.

            PS thanks for being gracious enough to continue the discussion. I appreciate your time. Your work really is valuable, though I hope you won’t go too far from a healthy balance that i know you are trying to achieve.

          • Maria B.

            “You’re telling the guy that the only defining matter is her needs, desires, willingness etc. But you are angry with Leman because he says the opposite (his needs are most important).”

            It’s about consent. As in, the need to not be raped. Sheila never once said that a woman’s need to not be raped is more important than a man’s need to not be raped.

        • Matt J

          dt, are you saying that a man should be able to have sex with his wife if she isn’t willing? Because there’s a word for that…

          I’m sure you didn’t mean to say that…did you?

          • dt

            Hahaha. No. See my reply above.
            I’m just interested in a balanced view. Feminism is not the remedy for chauvinism or all the wrong doings and teaching of men current or historical. Christlike, sacrificial love is.

        • Seth Sturgis

          “If you’re not willing to give up any hope or expectations of sex until your wife is willing, then don’t get married.”

          That is the message men need to hear and take to heart. Unless you are willing to have sex only when your wife wants to, then don’t get married, because the root of your problem is fear. You are afraid of not being able to romance your wife and make her feel safe in your love, so that she becomes vulnerable and trusting, which inevitably causes her to be attracted and open to you, so you want a sexual escape clause. You worry that you won’t always be willing or able to consistently win and keep your wife’s heart, so you want a contract whereby she is obligated to perform sexually even when her heart is not in it. If your intention is to occasionally say to your wife, “I cannot be happy and fulfilled in this marriage unless you have sex with me even if you’re unwilling,” then for God’s sake, save her from the burden of your proposal.

          • Jo R

            A man WHO UNDERSTANDS!

            Thank you, Seth.

        • Anna

          You do realize that the definition of consensual is, “taking place at the consent of all parties involved.”

          She’s a party. She’s involved. Yes, in order for it to be “consensual” one must have HIS consent, and one must have HER consent. Nothing about that is skewed toward her. Nothing about that is skewed toward him. I don’t know what about this is hard.

          The phrase “at her mercy” is telling. You’ve made it clear that what you really want is to be able to override her consent, without calling it that. By subtle manipulation if not allowed to wield any other method.

          If a spouse simply cannot live with the frequency that their partner can HAPPILY provide, then they should go their separate ways. Divorce is better than spending a lifetime whining, nagging, intimidating, and just generally torturing one’s partner for more sex.

        • Suzanne

          dt, the opposite of chauvinism is not feminism. Feminism is about equality among the sexes. We all should be feminists and want equality. It’s good for the pendulum to swing to the middle, but it may swing more towards women at times while it’s working it’s way to the middle ground because it was held so tightly to men for so long. All Shelia is promoting is healthy marriages. She has never once said marriage should be sexless. Doing things for your wife like talking (you want to be in her body but talking is a chore), helping around your house, helping with your family and you see it as okay I gave her hers now she lays down for me. That is wrong thinking. I am even a bit disgusted to think of a man only being nice and acting loving because all he is after is oh now I get what I really want, sex. I paid her now she pays me. That’s what your rant sounds like. If both people in your marriage are not healthy, sex won’t be healthy. If a wife or husband is suffering in some way obligation sex is not the answer. Defending Kevin Leman is defending duty sex.

        • Megan


          it’s not skewed towards to her to say that neither party should engage in sex unwillingly. (he is afforded the same)

          when it comes to healthy “needs” surrounding sex they are mutual:

          both partners need the consent of the other
          both partners should be desiring and willing
          both partners should be free to say no if they need to
          both partners should feel positively about the sexual encounter
          both partners should genuinely feel interested and aroused to complete the act

          neither partner should desire sex at the expense of their partners feelings or emotions or well-being
          neither partner should force or coerce the other into any sexual acts
          neither partner should expect sex when their partner is unwilling or not up for it

          we aren’t bashing any man or person who HAS the desire for sex…..what we are bashing is a desire for sex that is so selfishly placed above their partner’s feelings that sex is commoditized, as something you just “need” at the expense of your spouse, rather than being an intimate experience you share for mutual benefit, as it was intended to be.

          do you really believe a man should take sex when his wife is unwilling? do you really believe her feeling matter so little that even if she is unwilling that she should ignore her feelings and provide it because his need is more important than how she feels about it?

          do you not see the difference in order or needs? you are comparing two completely different levels of need….his need for sexual release, with her need have safety, and ….to actually matter. viewing your wife’s purpose as just the person you are allowed to use for sexual gratification is a low and shallow view of marital sexual experience. it’s not harmful for him to consider his wife’s feelings, but it IS harmful to both spouses for a wife to force herself to satisfy her husband simply because “he needs it”. especially when there are other marital issues at play.


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