Sex is supposed to be mutual and pleasurable for both.
Your pleasure is supposed to matter.
Unfortunately, though, we have a 47 point orgasm gap among evangelicals, meaning that 95% of men report almost always or always reaching orgasm during a sexual encounter, compared with just about 48% of women.
There’s a lot of one-sided sex going on.
In our survey of 20,000 women for The Great Sex Rescue, we found that this seriously affects a couple long-term. When her pleasure is ignored, she can start to feel disconnected during sex, which means that instead of sex making you feel closer, it actually leaves you feeling worse afterwards. Sex drives you apart. She would feel better about the relationship if they never had sex at all, because sex leaves her feeling empty and used.
God designed sex to be a mutual experience, and when it becomes one person using another, it inherently makes her feel like she is just there to be a body to use. That’s depersonalizing.
And at its most basic level, one-sided sex is not emotionally safe.
We’re in the middle of a series on the blog looking at a 4-step recovery plan when you’ve dug your sex life into a pit. How do you get out of it when one of you has started to feel empty, disconnected, or used from sex, and sex becomes a main source of tension?
Last week we looked at redefining sex to see it as an integrated part of your relationship. This week we’re concentrating on building safety.
I want to touch on several reasons why a woman especially may not feel safe, and today I want to focus on one-sided sex.
Let’s start with this question that came into the blog, which is quite a common one:
We have been married a few years. I don’t think I’ve reached orgasm yet, though honestly I am so confused how I’m even supposed to know (and the advice of “trust me, you’ll know” is really not helpful when I already feel so confused).
What has felt best is oral sex, which my husband did somewhat regularly when we were first married before deciding he didn’t want to anymore. There was a while that he wouldn’t try anything at all, then he went back to giving oral sex for a while, then about a year ago there was exactly 1 time that manual felt nearly as good as oral & after that he again decided to stop giving oral. But while he has made fairly consistent attempts with manual, it’s only felt good maybe twice in the past year. Also, he generally will only try manual after I’ve gotten sad, angry, etc. about sex not feeling good (like, I have to manipulate it into happening. He rarely just offers to try anything on his own.)
I feel so torn because I know the right thing to do is to fully respect his choice not to give oral, and I am really trying to do that. But I also feel betrayed that he isn’t willing to do the only thing that truly feels good & is seemingly okay with me just not enjoying sex.
When he does try manual, it doesn’t really do anything. Sometimes it starts to feel good & then it just stops. He gets really discouraged when I tell him what does or doesn’t feel as good, and it’s not like I could even bring myself to orgasm the few times I’ve tried so it’s the blind leading the blind. Basically any attempt just makes me upset that manual doesn’t work & it just raises the pressure for the next attempt. I know it’s never going to work when I’m so stressed about it, but I also feel like I can’t relax about it either. I feel worried that he’s just going to stop trying anything again, like he did before. And nothing happens between us sexually unless I make it happen. He doesn’t even initiate intercourse anymore because so often it ends with me being upset after a half-hearted manual attempt. I have all the burden of making our sex life happen but without any of the enjoyment.
Sometimes it feels like the only way out of this situation is for me to just stop caring about whether or not sex feels good. I feel like there are ways that both of us are making the other feel like unsafe & I just don’t know what to do.
Okay, a few good things about her situation: At least her husband isn’t insisting on one-sided sex! I want to address the marriages where that may also be the case in this post.
But first, a big clarification: Just becauase someone feels insecure does not mean they are unsafe.
She makes the point that both of them are feeling unsafe. I wonder if that is the case, or rather that both of them have negative feelings wrapped up in their sex life? Not all negative feelings mean you are unsafe.
To be unsafe means that the other is not caring about your emotional or physical well-being in the way that they should.
Now, let’s look at what has been happening in their relationship:
- When they got married, they didn’t understand very much about how to bring her pleasure or about female sexual response
- He stopped doing what was bringing her pleasure
- He can’t figure out how to bring her pleasure in any other way
- When she wants him to try, he has to be convinced into it
So basically–because it’s not easy, he is stopping.
This is not him feeling unsafe. This is him likely feeling insecure and not understanding that sex is a learning curve. And not understanding that women do not usually feel pleasure in the same way a guy does. It takes some work, and it is his job to make her feel pleasure!
He is saying he would rather be disengaged from sex than actually figure her out. So who is unsafe? The person who feels self-conscious, or the person who emotionally feels, “you aren’t worth the work?”
Now, obviously she could be communicating in a negative way which does make him feel unsafe (we don’t know what’s happening in their particular conversation). But I just wanted to point out that just because someone feels badly does not mean they are emotionally unsafe, and when we equate these two situations, we make it much harder to solve.
In this situation, it’s likely best to simply go back to basics and understand how female sexual response works.
I highly recommend they both read our Guides to Great Sex--The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex and The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex. I think they both feel as if somehow they’re abnormal or that this shouldn’t be that hard, and they may never have understood how to figure out what her body likes in the first place. He likely needs to be told that this is his job, and abdicating it isn’t okay.
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I think too many couples assume that if she doesn’t work as easily as he does, there is something wrong with her, and she is asking too much of him to figure her out. But this is how God made her body! Most women who regularly reach orgasm do not do so through intercourse alone, and most women find other routes to orgasm far more reliable. This is not her asking too much. This is not her being broken. This is her having a woman’s body that God designed for her, and it is incumbent on him to help her experience pleasure.
Now, what about a couple where he is insisting on sex that doesn’t feel good for her?
Again, at least in this couple’s case he isn’t insisting on sex, but rather retreating.
In many other relationships, though, she may not reach orgasm, he may become discouraged or give up, but then he’ll keep having intercourse with her.
Do you remember when we talked about how our study found that 71% of men feel they do enough foreplay even when she doesn’t reach orgasm? Many people feel like he’s tried, she just doesn’t work, so he can keep going because he’s done all he can.
But this is a misunderstanding of what sex is supposed to be.
Sex is supposed to be mutual, intimate, and pleasurable for both, so her pleasure matters.
Let’s imagine a couple where he thinks he’s doing enough foreplay even when she doesn’t reach orgasm. Maybe they’ve been married for 12 years, and she’s only reached orgasm a handful of times.
Why do we think it’s okay for him to abdicate his responsibility to help her feel pleasure, but she must still give him pleasure no matter what?
He is not bringing her pleasure, but somehow we think they must keep having intercourse anyway, regardless.
As we talked about in The Great Sex Rescue, we need to start distinguishing between one-sided intercourse and biblical sex. Biblical sex is mutual, intimate, pleasurable for both. One-sided intercourse is him using her for his pleasure. And yet women are told–if you stop having intercourse, you’re depriving him!
Okay–but she’s the one currently being deprived. Merely having intercourse is doing nothing for her. She is being deprived of intimacy and pleasure. And somehow we think she is in sin if she does not allow this to keep happening, but he is not in sin if he keeps depriving her!
It’s all due to a very male-focused way of seeing sex, where intercourse is all that God cares about.
If a couple keeps having sex that brings her no pleasure, she will not feel safe.
She will eventually feel like she is broken. She will likely eventually feel like sex makes her feel used (as 18% of our survey respondents did). Sex will likely become a negative for her.
If she is not feeling pleasure, that’s a sign you need to stop what you’re doing, put his pleasure on the back burner for a while, and figure her out.
As we’ll talk about in a podcast at the end of the month on learned helplessness, this may mean giving her a break from sex altogether to show that he is safe and that he will love her even without intercourse, because she may feel distinctly unsafe. But until her pleasure is prioritized and figured out, one-sided sex is depriving her and making her unsafe.
(And if you want help figuring out her body, check out our Orgasm Course, too!).
Orgasm is not as automatic for women as it is for men.
There are good reasons for that, and maybe we’ll talk about them on a podcast someday!
But it is incumbent on both people to figure out her sexual response. She can’t do this on her own. And if what he’s doing isn’t working, then he has to figure out something that will.
Sometimes she has other roadblocks, like trauma or shame, and those need to be worked through with a counselor. But those are not HER problems. Those are THEIR problems. They are a couple. And for her to feel safe, she has to know that she isn’t going to be repeatedly used without concern for what she is feeling.
As we told men in The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex, every time you have intercourse where you receive pleasure and she feels nothing, you cement the idea for her that sex is not for her. That she is broken.
So honor her body. Honor her roadblocks. Help her feel safe by helping her discover the roots to her own pleasure and her paths to pleasure. Do not prioritize yourself–things are easy for you. Work on her first, and then you set yourself up for a much better, more intimate, more passionate marriage in the long run.
But most of all–she will feel safe. And you cannot have a good marriage where she feels used.
What do you think? How can we get away from this idea that it’s okay to have intercourse for years, even if she feels no pleasure? How do we prioritize her without adding too much pressure? Let’s talk in the comments!
The Sexual Recovery Series--Digging Yourself out of the Pit
- A 4 -Point Plan to Sexual Recovery
- Redefining Sex: Seeing Sex as an Expression of your Relationship, Not an Individual Need
- What Sexual Recovery Looks Like
- Safety and Intimacy: You'll Never Have an Intimate Sex Life without Feeling Safe First
- When Sex Has Become One-Sided, Leaving Her Feeling Used
- 2 Kinds of Marital Rape
- How to Recover from Marital Rape (if it's possible)
- Why Christians Often Don't Understand Consent
- 5 Next Steps if You Realize You've Coerced Your Wife into Sex
- Does 1 Corinthians 7 Mean that She Has No Sexual Autonomy?
- How to Regain Sexual Autonomy (coming soon)
- How to Slowly Start to Rebuild Safe Sex (coming soon)
- PODCAST: A Path forward Addressing Sexual Shame (with Jay Stringer)
- PODCAST: The Myth of the Magic Penis (and a call for integrated sex)
- PODCAST: Learned Helplessness and Sex (coming soon)