A Way Forward to Recovery from Obligation Sex

by | Sep 25, 2023 | Sexual Intimacy | 55 comments

Obligation Sex Recovery in Marriage

Is there a way forward after obligation sex?

If obligation sex has been the norm in your marriage, and if it’s been affecting your libido and your marriage, what do you actually do about it? How do you recover from it?

This month on the blog we’ve been looking at obligation sex, because I wanted to have one place where I could point people specifically dealing with this problem. It’s one of the most common damaging dynamics that we found when we surveyed 20,000 women for our book The Great Sex Rescue, and I’m often asked for my take on it. 

We’ve talked about the problems with it, but I want to turn now in our series to what to actually do about it. 

You need to reclaim sexual autonomy.

The opposite of obligation sex is sexual autonomy–giving people choice over what happens to their bodies. 

That can make people nervous, because there’s an assumption that if you don’t insist on obligation sex, then women won’t have sex at all. But actually, it is only sexual autonomy that allows libido to grow. Sexual desire is related to autonomy. When you’re able to ask yourself, “what do I want?” and “what feels good?”, then desire can build. But if  you tell people, “you have to do this no matter what you want,” then desire gets snuffed out.

Last year I wrote a longer series on how to recover from sexual problems in general, and I wrote about how to reclaim sexual autonomy. Rather than rewrite that post, I’d like to summarize it and then point you to it. Then, at the end of this post I’d like to share an example of obligation sex dynamics, and why the way forward requires sexual autonomy.

Recovering sexual autonomy requires 8 things:

The 8 Steps to Recovering Sexual Autonomy

  1. Take a sex fast.
  2. Commit to having sex only when you want to.
  3. Decide that sex needs to include your pleasure.
  4. Stop giving “sexual favors”.
  5. Think of yourself during sex, not your husband.
  6. Speak up when you don’t like something.
  7. Speak up when you want something.
  8. Stop if you change your mind.

Some of these steps may be temporary–it’s just as you’re recovering from obligation sex. And some should likely be lifelong! But until she feels sexual autonomy, desire will not be able to build. 

Again, I wrote about this in depth, and I encourage you to check out that post on sexual autonomy, and indeed read the whole series about a 4-step plan to get out of a sexual pit.

As I said in the post:

Can sex ever become more mutual?

That would hopefully be the goal! It’s great to have give-and-take in your sex life, where sometimes sex is something special you serve up for him when he’s stressed and you want to have a gift and have some fun; and sometimes it’s something that’s served up for you, but usually it’s totally mutual.

It certainly is the goal that you’ll both be giving in your sex life, where sometimes you may think, “I’m not that in to sex tonight, but he totally is, so I’m going to throw myself into it because then I can get there too and we’ll both feel amazing!”

It certainly is the goal that you may be willing to try other positions one day.

But here’s the thing: If you want to get to that mutual, intimate sex life where you both feel free to suggest things, where you both feel excited about sex, where you both feel close during sex, you can’t get there until you’ve told your body and mind a new story about sex. Your body and mind need to know that sex is for you too. It’s not just for him.

This is not a selfish ask. For years, likely he has been the main focus. If he acts like it is, then that is also a sign that you may never feel safe sexually, and it’s worth talking that through with a licensed counselor.

How to Reclaim Your Sexual Autonomy in Marriage

An example of why this is the only way forward

Last week on the blog we had an interesting story shared in the comments by a man who had been the recipient of obligation sex for twenty years. In a series of comments, he explained how he’s trying to change now, and he’s listening to podcasts with his wife, but she has declared that she was basically raped in the past and she doesn’t want to rebuild the sex life.

In the course of the comments, several other commenters were able to ask some important questions. And several left some really good comments that I’d like to share here (because sometimes my commenters are so insighful!)

I share these not really to highlight this particular man’s marriage (which is why I’m not sharing his part of the conversation), but rather because I think many of you may just appreciate these words spoken over you–because many of you are in the same place.

I mean this in a way meant to help. You seem to keep placing the majority of responsibility of this on your wife and the materials she has encountered in th past year as you promote your own hurts.

She said she feels you raped her. Please let that sink in.

I hear you are hurting but please don’t minimize her hurt- it does not matter so much right now if you did- what matters is that she has not felt safe with you.

This likely started early on, when you said she wanted to see a counselor… you tiptoed around it but it sounds like you were not willing at that time, is that correct? She was being open and vulnerable and putting trust in you at that point, and your actions at that time showed her you were not a safe person and her wants didnt matter.

When she role-played and you said you wanted to be with her not a character, she probably took that as you criticizing how she was in bed. When sex changed, did you pursue counselling at that time? It seems like there were several points at which you could have proven yourself trustworthy and saf and unfortunately you missed them.

Not trying to hit you while you’re down but please realize allowing her to go through almost 20 years of abuse (silent treatment, cajoling, and using bible verses to try to coerce her into having sex are emotionally and spiritually abusive so it is an appropriate term) has taken its toll on her mind, heart, and body. You demonstrated to her you werent safe and your relationship wasn’t worth the work since you were getting sex. Now that the sex is missing but everything else is great, you want to work on it.

That likely speaks to her as you only caring about getting sex.

I’m also confused as you started off saying “my wife and I will be getting a divorce now at her insistence” which sounds like she is demanding a divorce. Later you say “She wanted to have a permanent platonic marriage for the rest of our lives and I couldn’t agree to that.” That sounds like you ended the marriage but are trying to pin it all on her.

You claim a special connection when you “make love.” Can you understand that for her, it has not been “making love” if she has not been mentally or emotinally present? *She* has not experienced making love: she has participated in sex. Even orgasmic sex does not mean there was a loving connection there. And if you felt closer to her when she was disassociating, she probably feels there was never any real closeness, that you never really knew her.

I’m sorry again youre gonig hrough this and I don’t want to hit you while down, but I see a lot of the side-stepping here my husband did when going through similar, and we did not start making improvements until he owned up to what he had done instead of nit-picky arguing about where I might be wrong. I needed to feel that he heard and accepted that I was deeply hurting: and that my hurt was more important to him than his pride or his orgasms.

Whatever way this turns out, I hope you seek counselling from a professional for your own. There’s a lot to work through here for everyone. Praying for healing.

I think the determining factor whether rape has occurred in those gray areas, is not to debate the specifics of the situation (did he mope when she said no so she gave in), but rather to look at the effects in the woman’s body. Does she carry trauma from the event? If her body is telling her it was a violation, then it was.

(NOTE: I think the big point here is that women’s bodies often experience something as trauma that may not reach the legal threshold of rape. But that’s why, if you want to actually move forward and heal, it’s best to stop arguing about whether or not it was rape, and start recognizing that her body experienced it that way, and you need to address and acknowledge that trauma if you’re going to heal.)

You are trying to make sense of how on one hand, your wife could, in certain seasons, desire sex, then in other seasons (most of the last 20 years) really have an aversion to it, and at the end of it all, say that you coerced her and even raped her.

Is it possible her “mixed messages” come from the mixed feelings I described previously? She knew she had betrayed her own values before marriage, and lied about it – and a key element of her lack of integrity, her lack of moral “wholeness” in following her own values, was you. Her feelings for you, her desire for you, her fear of losing you if she said no to premarital activity, your failure to protect her from situations where you might both compromise your values… let’s put it this way:

There is something in your life that brings up shameful memories and feelings of guilt.

You have to live with this thing, so you try different approaches to forget the feelings, or override the old memories with new ones. I think her enthusiastic embrace of sex while trying to conceive says a lot: in the world you grew up in, having children was a moral good. She could feel morally good about sex, because it was for a “higher cause”. Kind of like getting to eat a lot of the foods you enjoy when you’re pregnant because it’s “for the baby”. Or getting to immerse yourself in a childish hobby you really love because it’s “for the kids.” She was free to enjoy sex because she could put away the guilty feelings for a while. But having children couldn’t heal the original guilt. And so there’s this thing in her sexual experience that always nags at her, and eventually she admits to herself, after years of trying to sublimate the feelings or correct them through teaching that told her the solution was to erase herself, that she hates the thing that made her feel guilty all these years.

From your description, it sounds like your wife is a sexual person who didn’t have much trouble experiencing physical pleasure.

The wound lies in the fact that she first experienced it while feeling disrespected

(ie, you valued getting pleasure from her body more than you valued her reputation or integrity) , unsafe (what if her hypocrisy were discovered, and of course, you can’t hide it from God), and very, very bad and conflicted about herself. It was amplified and not healed by the fact that you showed lack of consideration and maturity in other ways during the first 13ish years of marriage. This just deepened the feelings of being disrespected and not valued, and I’m sure getting the religious message that the solution was to erase herself and “serve you” just infected the wound.

I don’t know what the solution is, but for her own sake, I hope that she can find peace. Again, I don’t know your true situation, but transferring her self-hatred and blame to hatred of you isn’t going to heal her wound. Divorcing you won’t really heal it, either. But maybe in some way she feels like she is taking back control of the things that got out of her control (partly through her lack of self control, but perhaps more through yours, and including feelings of being disrespected and unvalued as a moral person). She has been trying for years to live in a state of moral confusion and conflicting feelings, and you becoming a more decent and mature human doesn’t really solve that original wound or help her to find resolution or peace. My suspicion is that she is very, very angry: at herself still, but also at you, and even more at the hypocritical religious system that set you both up, and the deity that the system described.

Women’s anger is something that conservative Christianity is not really equipped to deal with.

She has done all this work (courses, podcasts, etc)- but she can’t fake peace, joy, or forgiveness anymore, so she is embracing what feels genuine, which is her anger and rage. I feel like I am rambling, but hopefully my ramble my give you some insight into what has happened in your wife’s heart. 20 years is a long time.

Women’s anger is a real issue that needs to be understood.

As the last commenter pointed out, there likely is a LOT of anger that’s been building up in this marriage–anger at what happened before marriage when her boundaries weren’t respected, and anger at what has happened since.

Getting through obligation sex is often very messy, because for years women have often been trying to keep this anger under wraps and not express it, because it’s so intense and so scary.

But this anger often needs to be acknowledged and worked through. Obligation sex is a huge boundary violation; when our boundaries are violated again and again and again, we’re going to be angry. Yet we’re not supposed to be angry. We’re not supposed to express it. We’re supposed to be good wives.

And many women try so hard for a decade or two before they can’t do it anymore, and it can feel like she became a different person overnight.

But she didn’t. It’s just that she’s not spending so much emotional energy trying ot deny what she’s really feeling anymore. 

Getting through obligation sex often means dealing with women’s anger, and sometimes that is best done with a licensed counselor if it becomes really intense. But I would say to the husbands on the other side of this: please don’t try to defend yourself and get into arguments about whether or not it really was rape. It actually doesn’t matter all that much. What does matter is that her boundaries were violated and she was hurt. And the way through is not to convince her she doesn’t have a right to be hurt; it’s to let that hurt out, so that you can build real intimacy on a foundation of truth, not lies.

In working through obligation sex, remember: She has lost more than he has.

This may seem counterintuitive, but I often hear from men whose wives have said, “no more sex until we deal with this terrible dynamic in our marriage,” and these men feel as if sex is being stolen from them.

They feel like they are the main ones hurting, because SHE isn’t hurting from not having sex–after all, she’s the one saying no! If she wanted sex she could have it! So it must be HIM who is hurting the most.

But what is being taken from him? Individual sexual encounters now.

What has been taken from her? Her entire sexuality. 

Women have sexuality, too. They have sexual desire (and the better sex feels when they first start to have sex, the higher their libido long-term!). Women are capable of multiple orgasms. They have no refractory period. Women were made for sex to feel amazing and for them to have a high libido.

Yet somehow she now finds living without sex to be preferable to living with sex. Think about how intense her hurt must be. People often discount this hurt because they figure, “women don’t like sex anyway.” But women do like sex. If a woman doesn’t like sex, it’s because something has been stolen from her, not because she is somehow defective.

And even if the husband isn’t solely responsible for her sexuality being taken from her (prior abuse; our pornified culture; our terrible evangelical resources can do that too), he did play a part by benefiting from obligation sex at her expense.

Think of all the years of healthy sexuality that has been taken from her! She has lost more, and the route forward requires admitting that. 

The Orgasm Course is Here to Help You Experience Real Passion!

Figure out what's holding you back. Open the floodgates to orgasm.

I do believe that you can work through obligation sex.

I have seen it, again and again.

But I haven’t seen it when people take short-cuts. The way through obligation sex means establishing her sexual autonomy and admitting the truth about your sexual dynamics. Intimacy is based on authenticity and vulnerability; if we aren’t willing to tell the truth, we’ll never have real intimacy. And then desire will never grow.

So I know this is tough. I know this is hard. But please try. She deserves so much better than obligation sex. She deserves a great sex life–and so does he. So do the work, and see what happens.


Recovery from Obligation Sex

What would be your advice for how to move forward? What do you think we can do with women’s anger? Have you felt this? Let’s talk in the comments!

Written by

Sheila Wray Gregoire


Recent Posts

Want to support our work? You can donate to our non-profit here:

Orgasm Course

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

Related Posts

PODCAST: Bring Back Vanilla Sex

What's Wrong with Vanilla Sex? Valentine's Day is coming up just around the corner, and that means that we're going to start to see lots and lots of articles about how to have hot sex.  They will be on magazines. They will be in Christian media. How can you have the...


We welcome your comments and want this to be a place for healthy discussion. Comments that are rude, profane, or abusive will not be allowed. Comments that are unrelated to the current post may be deleted. Comments above 300 words in length are let through at the moderator’s discretion and may be shortened to the first 300 words or deleted. By commenting you are agreeing to the terms outlined in our comment and privacy policy, which you can read in full here!


  1. Lisa Johns

    I will add that the “no shortcuts” requirement goes for ALL kinds of sexual wounding in a marriage — obligation sex, withholding sex, and porn use all require commitment and NO SHORTCUTS as the couple seeks to move forward. I hear so many stories (and have experienced my own) of husbands who have a “come-to-Jesus” moment and make a big, blubbery, tearful apology, and then expect their wives to shove all her feelings under the rug because “he repented, didn’t he?!” Twenty or thirty years of sexual wounding — whether that is from obligation sex or complete avoidance of sex and channeling his urges into the porn interactions — is going to take a whole lot more than a few days of being quasi-repentant to heal from!

  2. Jo R

    The third commenter hit so many nails on the head. 🤯 That is some seriously postdoctoral-level analysis of what so many women feel.

    Luke 19:8: Zacchaeus stopped and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my possessions to the poor. And if I have cheated anyone, I repay them four times as much.”

    Are any men brave enough to take Zacchaeus’s approach to restitution for the decades of obligation sex they’ve cheated out of their wives? And how, exactly and with much specificity of details, could men implement “giving half” and “repaying four times”? 🤔

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s actually a great question! I should do a post on that–what would Zacchaeus do?

      • Nessie

        I would love to read that post!

        I think many men underestimate the full depth of hurt present in their wives. If they don’t allow themselves to fully grasp that (or can’t), how could they understand the level of repentent actions to take? If emotional intelligence is that lacking, they need to do a lot of personal work first to reach that. In my marriage, his emotional intelligence work has taken years and there is so far to go still before we can really, truly work on “us” simply because he is not equipped enough yet.

    • Jo R

      Wow, the silence is deafening.

      I have some ideas.

      So, the husband has spent, say, twenty-five years getting obligation sex from the wife. How can he make restitution?

      1. She receives a minimum of a half-hour of oral sex on demand. At her option, she can extend the half-hour.

      2. Since he stole her sexuality from her, she declines to avail herself of his sexuality.

      3. She receives as much snuggling, cuddling, and kissing as she wants, when she wants it, and no further sexual activity will occur.

      4. If she wants a neck rub or back rub, he gives it willingly.

      All of the above, and anything else she decides she wants, will continue for up to twenty-five years to match the time she spent in forced “giving” of her body and especially her soul. He will be as enthusiastic in these actions as Zacchaeus was in his repentance.

      Too many men in this position are essentially not interested in understanding what their wives have endured. They are interested only in “getting her fixed” so he can resume sexual activity that gives him orgasms.

      If that’s not true, why don’t any of them ever come right and declare “I’m going to forego my orgasms for the rest of my life so that I can focus my energy on making sure my wife gets all the orgasms she’s missed for our entire marriage”?

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Completely agree with your paragraph on how too many men are not interested in understanding what their wives have endured!

        The only thing I’d say about this idea generally is that I don’t think it’s that great for the wife either. What is really satisfying is true intimacy, and that does mean both of you connecting. I hope that the couple could get to that one day, and that it doesn’t have to be one-sided.

        I do think the idea of restitution would mean, though, that he’d be focused and willing to forego his own orgasms and focus on his wife’s healing FOR HER SAKE–but that this act would mean that she would heal and they’d actually be able to experience real intimacy in every sense.

  3. Amanda S

    This is huge. I was angry as a hornet for like a year and a half, maybe. I didn’t want to consider his hurt, because mine had been simmering for two decades. I didn’t care and I didn’t want to hear about it. Finally, after that long, I don’t feel an underlying seething anger. But this was with a long time to need to be allowed to feel it. It was hard to go through, for me and him I am sure. But let yourself be angry. It’s not a sin to be mad. My husband, thank God, was upset by my anger and not wanting to hear from him, but he persevered. And now I feel more love for and toward him than I have, maybe ever. Because I was allowed to be authentic and he didn’t walk away. We are trying to build back a better sex life, but it could never happen without being allowed to be authentic. Don’t shortcut it, please.

  4. John

    Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I have seen amazing restoration happen–but only when both are honest before God and before each other. God’s grace is amazing for us, but He still lets us have free will, and we do have to choose to humble ourselves.

      • John

        Honest to a point. Unless the honest is “I want more sex” and that is likely to be heard, completely validly, as coercion. Dishonesty is clearly wrong, but so to is too much honesty. You’re left either being creative with what we are feeling/struggling with or just keep quiet and try not to withdraw.

        Of course complete openness to God, about all such struggles, is essential. He can take it, including our weaknesses and failures.

        Repeating what TJ said, as it is so great:
        “She has lost more than he has”

        Can I get this tattooed on my forehead? What a great reminder to resist the temptation towards feeling hurt or self-pity and choose empathy, humility and contrition instead.

        • JoB

          That’s where seeing a counselor can be really valuable, because you can share those unedited, unprocessed feelings, including dark, ugly and/or selfish feelings with someone safe who will keep it absolutely confidential and not be personally affected by it. We all have selfish, entitled thoughts, and it may really help to be able to share it in a place that is safe for both the speaker and listener. I would say this extends to thoughts and feelings, not actions- you need to be able to own up to your actions (though a counselor may be helpful in figuring out the fairest and most productive way to share truth about actions/confess sin). But if you need to process thoughts that will only hurt the other person and deepen the divide between you, or make that person feel unsafe, you need to deal with that in separate arena. I guess if you don’t have access to a counselor, God and/or a private journal would be a place to start. Just my thoughts. The caveat would be that the counselor needs to know your overall goal (ie, work towards mutuality in marriage, recognize and overcome ingrained entitlement, identify the source of and heal past hurts), vs choosing a counselor who will reinforce unhelpful messages (ie, you are vulnerable to demonic attack if you don’t have orgasms every 72 hours, your wife is in sin if she doesn’t have sex-no matter the reason)

          • John

            Thanks JoB

  5. TJ

    “She has lost more than he has”

    Can I get this tattooed on my forehead? What a great reminder to resist the temptation towards feeling hurt or self-pity and choose empathy, humility and contrition instead.

  6. Mara R


    Understatement. Yes, I know why. Trying to be gentle with this guy.

    But many men absolutely cannot deal with an angry woman. Nor do they feel like they should ever have to.
    And in many conservative Christian circles that are trying to make male anger acceptable and tolerated say at the same time that women are not allowed to be angry. An angry woman is labeled as bitter or far, far worse.

    Women’s anger is something conservative Christianity tries to squash, sweep under the rug, and call sin.

    • Lisa Johns

      Yes they do! And that “far, far worse” comment is such a heartbreaking reality! WHY is this teaching so focused on women while men get a pass??

      • Nathan D. Wachsmuth

        Cause in American Christianity, anger is the only emotion men are allowed to feel freely.

  7. TLB

    I feel all of this, I have no idea how long I have been conditioned to give obligation sex & now because I think I’m going to throw up during it I have resorted to a “hand job” because in his words “marriage is give & take & sometimes we do stuff we don’t enjoy for our spouse” 😡 I have gone to counseling to work thru this but WE need to go to counseling. After 3 sessions of us together he said he felt attacked & it was worthless & the counselor “is an idiot” so where do I go from here? I’d run away but I have children, so here I am, still struggling daily & no one to really talk to.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’ll write about this next, but you DO NOT have to consent to things you don’t want to do, and if you’re feeling like you’re going to throw up, that’s a huge sign that you’re not safe.

      If you don’t feel safe to say no, then that’s a big sign that you’re in a dangerous marriage, and please call a domestic violence hotline. But I will write more about this next!

    • Suzanne

      Sure we do things we don’t enjoy for our spouse, things like going to a movie when aren’t really excited about it but your spouse is, watching sports when its not your passion just to be together, cleaning the house on a Saturday instead of going golfing because its your house too, making steak when you prefer chicken because you had chicken last night. Sex is NOT included in that list, we don’t use another person’s body for our own gratification unless they are eagerly consenting. Stop the hand jobs, stop the sex, if it makes you feel so badly its time to take care of you. You don’t owe him an orgasm and if he isn’t safe and will behave badly take your kids and get to safety. You don’t have to stay with a person who treats you like an object to use just because you have children together.

      • Lisa Johns


      • TLB

        Thank you. Does anyone know where I can find a good therapist in my area? I have googled several times but really struggle to find anyone that specializes in this craziness.

        Also, could obligation sex also lead to never wanting any intimacy. No snuggling, kissing, I feel smothered & disgusted by everything, even feel forced to hold his hand. Sounds so stupid but if I say anything his comment is “you’re my wife, I’m going to touch you & enjoy you” …

        • Lisa Johns

          Finding a good therapist can be hard. I think your best way is word of mouth. (I don’t know if this helps.)
          One thing I did was to find a certified sex therapist, which was really good because she could answer questions and help me work through MY stuff. It wasn’t about fixing me in any way, but she had a certain body of knowledge that was very helpful in my situation. Hope that helps. Hugs.

        • Pamela

          TLB, I am praying for you. What you feel is valid and this is not your fault. There is help. He does not have a right to touch you — even hold your hand — if you don’t want it. You matter. Your feelings matter.

        • Taylor

          I found two great therapists through Psychology Today. They have several filter options–insurance, religion, gender, specialty, location–and the therapists include a short paragraph about themselves and/or about how they approach therapy.

          I divorced my husband a few years ago. I was terrified about how we were going to make it–that’spart of what kept me in yhe marriage as long as I stayed. I have children, and one of them has significant special needs. The Lord has provided. Over and over. And even though it still often feels financially scary, for me the freedom it has been worth it.

          Every situation is different, and what you need to navigate for safety is different than what I had to navigate. Ultimately, you are the only one who can decide what’s right for you.

          Whether or not to stay or leave involves alot of considerations. Whatever you end up deciding to do, try to build a safe support system of people around yourself.

          May the Lord go before you and behind you.

          • TLB

            Thank you, I will check that out. Word of mouth is not really an option.

        • Nessie

          With zoom and such these days, you may try not limiting yourself to local psychologists. Unless that is a criteria that feels very important to you, letting go of it could open up some great counselors trained in the areas you need.

        • Cynthia

          That comment of his is just gross.
          Sure, hand holding isn’t full intercourse, but that comment screams that it is about possession, not connection. It’s not stupid to want to be treated like a human being, not an object to be possessed. Hand holding or any other physical contact can be GREAT when it is about connection and intimacy – basically, two people caring about each other and wanting to be in a close relationship. You can’t have that if one person is saying that they don’t care what the other person wants, they are going to ignore that and do whatever they wish because they feel entitled to do so.

        • Anon

          Try a counselor affiliated with The Allender Center maybe? They have at least one in most states and many do virtual meetings. They are both accredited/licensed and Christian (but not nouthetic). My husband and I have had good experiences with 4 of their counselors so far (couples and individual)

          I’m so sorry you’re going through this.


        • Anon

          Also you could look into the Flying Free Sisterhood with Natalie Hoffman. It’s more of a group setting but it may be helpful to have validation from women who have gone through similar situations – and they may know of good counselors too.


    • exwifeofasexaddict

      I’m happy to talk if you want. We can figure out how to connect.

    • Jane Eyre

      Not to be crass: does he give you oral sex with no expectation of reciprocation because “sometimes we do stuff we don’t enjoy for our spouse”? If not, then it’s really about him wanting license to mistreat you.

  8. Laura

    I feel like I could have been that woman who the male commenter in the post was married to. Like her, my sexual boundaries were not respected before marriage. I was mad at myself for giving in four months before our wedding, yet I felt pressured to give in because he told me he could not wait until after the wedding. During our engagement, he said things like, “Most guys would not wait for you like I have,” or “So and so is having sex and they’re not married, so why can’t we?” By then, I was a naive 23-year-old who had lost sense of boundaries and believed that he was the only man who would ever want me.

    Throughout the last year of our marriage and dealing with frequent sexual assault and resorting to hand jobs just to keep him happy, I felt like I was raped. I felt like my humanity and sexuality had been stolen from me. At the end of our marriage, I decided that I could never have sex with him again and even told him that if we were to stay together, we would have to sleep in separate beds and just have a platonic marriage. Of course, he was not okay with that and he was not willing to stick it out in counseling. He could not stand to hear my counselor tell him that what he did to me could be considered rape even though it was not in the legal sense. At that time, I did not realize the reason he quit going to counseling could be that he was told what he did to me was wrong. He thought he was entitled to sex at any time and used some Bible verses to beat me over the head and to manipulate me to give him what he wanted at any time.

    Over 21 years ago, I left that marriage. Then I start reading “Christian” books about dating, relationships, and marriage to be told that “this is how men are, deal with it.” I felt re-traumatized. So, I stopped reading those books.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m so glad you got out, and so glad you stopped reading those books, Laura! And it’s been so fun to hear of how you’re growing and branching out over the last little bit with your education, etc.

  9. Kay

    I went back to the last blog post this post was referring too, & that opened a can of worms! I, too, have a similar story to the wife of that commenter. Boundaries crossed, but there was such a cognitive dissonance while dating because he was (and still is) a great guy, but I was so confused at how we were both Christian but constantly pushing what I was okay with, until too late…. Pregnant. Quickly married and now looking back I had so much hatred for myself those early years. Nevermind I had to “face” my sin everyday forward by looking at my child.

    A few years later all the shame was taken away by going up to altar and finally nailing it to the cross. BUT it still creeps in & was given a new sense of shame to deal with from all the Christian marriage books. And thankfully your book, GSR has slowly helped me realize the lies I’ve been fed & believed that have kept me in the shame cycle.

    The male commenter seems stuck in “well I’m trying, why can’t she”. A big dose of empathy for his wife is needed….. not him. Reading the comments, it’s not hard to see that sex was always for him. From shutting down what she seemed to enjoy, doing more than she was wanting while dating, and seeing sex as a “duty” I can totally empathize why she’d be okay with a platonic relationship with him. It’s truly unfortunate— but it’s more unfortunate that the commenter sees himself as the victim.

    And a week, a few months, or even a year of bettering himself is not going to “fix” this issue…. And it seems like the only thing he wants fixed is sex.

    Good grief, what if his wife was in a tragic accident. Would not having sex be okay then?! Or it would be okay because she’s physically incapable….. but since she’s physically capable, not having sex is not okay?!?

    I can’t. This seriously makes me angry…. And it’s not okay for a woman to be angry, so I’ll end my comment 🤷‍♀️

  10. Jo R

    There’s an underlying assumption in this discussion: that healing, or just improvement, is probable or even possible.

    What if it’s not? What if, no matter how much therapy and other work one does, one is simply never going to recover? Or, what may be worse, one is very hopeful, does a ton of work, perhaps lasting for years, absolutely breaking oneself down to root out all of it, and at the end, one finds oneself in an even WORSE place?

    Can one decide that the pain one knows is better than the pain one will definitely have to endure to try to fix a problem that may not, after all, be fixable?

    Because the attempt to fix this problem will itself be painful, so perhaps the pain one is familiar with and that is, in some sense, manageable is preferable to an unknown quantity (but likely quite high level) of pain that leads to a very uncertain outcome. For some women, the result of the work may actually leave them in a worse place than they currently are.

    Who gets to decide whether she should even try to heal if she thinks that path just looks too steep? Or will someone else, yet again, get to, er, obligate her?

    • Nessie

      I don’t have answers, just more questions… I’d want to know what the goal is of “healing?” Am I trying to figure out how to work through the (righteous) anger? Will my health benefit from this long-term if I can improve how I process the enormous stress I’ve been under? Or am I trying to work through this to get to the other side so I can have sex? Trying to work through it because I feel guilty and bad for him (because women have been trained in that intensely)?

      If the goal motive is good, I think there should be some attempt at *looking into* what it might take to move through things (speak with a counselor, get an idea of what the road looks like for many women, best and worst case scenarios, etc.), then deciding in an informed way if the cost (the pain of working through it all) is worth the benefit (whatever her goal is.)

      • Jo R

        Thank you for reading my mind, Nessie. You’ve captured my thought process perfectly.

    • exwifeofasexaddict

      When I was still married, both in counseling, I had this fear that we would do all this work to become healthy people….. and then discover that we didn’t even like each other.

      As it turned out, he decided not to complete his work and file for divorce. I’m still doing the work 3 years later, while he remarried 3 months after we signed our papers.

  11. John

    “That can make people nervous, because there’s an assumption that if you don’t insist on obligation sex, then women won’t have sex at all.” We men are right to feel nervous about this, as it does happen (16 year fast and counting for me). Not that continuing obligation sex is in any way acceptable, obviously. We men just need to be prepared to forgo sex forever. Healing is possible, but in no way guaranteed. If we men can’t live in a sexless marriage (as many people can’t live in an emotionally disconnected marriage), then we need to get out and heal and, when ready (fully understand the harm caused and how to live/love differently), start again. Correctly determining whether a marriage will remain sexless, whilst not coercing, is very hard/impossible.

    • Anonymous

      Sounds like there’s a whole lot more than only previous obligation sex in this situation. DId you actually, full-heartedly go through the 8 steps Sheila outlined for your wife’s sexual autonomy? And remember- this post is for when it was merely obligation sex at play, not if there were deeper issues (which it sounds like probably existed). As much frustration/bitterness as is read in your comment, I have little doubt your wife feels even more of that frustration/anger. If you choose to get out of your marriage at this point, I would suggest a lot of therapy to heal yourself and to explore your reasons for getting married (is it because you need to be sexually serviced? or do you actually want to have someone to love? Did you start this marriage out with her pleasure in mind, too?) before thinking about trying a new relationship.
      A friend years ago got a medical diagnosis that eliminated their ability to have sex. Instead of focusing on what he was lacking, he loved her so kindly, compassionately, and beautifully for years- and THAT is why I believe that some good, caring men may still exist.

      • John

        “a medical diagnosis that eliminated their ability to have sex” is a completely different context and clearly the right thing to do in that situation is to stay married and love and care for your wife.

        I’ve even wondered about past sexual abuse, but nothing has come to light.

        My wife has been given plenty of opportunity to express frustration/anger, both just between the two of us, in couples counselling and in individual therapy. She has expressed that she is quite happy with the sexless situation and with our partnership as parents, home owners and best friends. Anger/frustration would be easier in many ways to deal with.

        I’d love to try all 8 steps that Sheila mentions, but we never got beyond step 2. She never wants sex and she doesn’t seem prepared to explore why.

        I am not looking to be “sexually serviced”, but I am looking for a marriage that includes sexual intimacy. That doesn’t seem unreasonable.

        “do you actually want to have someone to love?” – yes, and I also want to be loved.

        • Jane Eyre

          Is sex amazing for your wife?

          • John

            16 years since we tried, so hard to remember. I had a vasectomy which put me off for a bit (ached). We had two young kids, so life was busy. She started saying no whenever I initiated. Then we gave up.

        • Anonymous

          May be there is something medical going on that is unseen, mental or otherwise. I’m sure that is a frustrating situation. Have you tried differnet counselors trained in trauma, in sexual trauma? There may be something incredibly dark and sinister from her past that is beyond what she feels she can handle working through.
          My marriage hasn’t really gotten past step 2 either: because I need my husband to be a safe man. Until he takes steps to demonstrate that, I am not really interested in having intercourse with him. I have tried to help him understand what I need in order to feel safe but he hasn’t gotten very far. Many days I want to give up. Is it possible your wife was at that point long ago and you missed it?
          I would also really like to be loved but until he changes that can’t happen. I’ve lived more than 2 decades married while being unloved by my husband.
          May be your wife is a unicorn in a negative sense. May be she is narcissistic. If that’s the case, you could argue that she has abandoned and abused you. What does your individual therapist suggest to you?
          Hope you can see that many of us here have been so deeply wounded by our husbands who claim they know, get it, and have “tried” yet fail to truly understand or act. Then we see angry men that complain they are can’t “make love”(their code for being sexually serviced) and it is like our husbands are demanding obligation sex (or worse) all over again.
          It isn’t equal, but so many wives have had loved denied to us for decades yet husbands complain when they have not had sex for less time than decades, and expect us to shut up about it becase we don’t understnad how hard the men have had it. I’ve encountered many sites where men get to compalin about their lack of sex yet few that have allowed women to speak about their feelings of being used, abused, and their eventual hatred of self and spouses without being attacked, called names, told we are disobeying God, going to hell, etc., and we don’t have many other places to go. If you’ve talked to your therapist about this and s/he has no ideas, maybe try another one trained in this area?

  12. Jo R

    When I was eleven, I had several bouts of projectile vomiting shortly after eating some blackberries. It was not until last year, forty-five years later, that I felt ready to simply attempt a very small taste of blackberry yogurt.

    Eating blackberries is a morally neutral, completely innocuous activity, and it took me four and a half decades to work up the courage to even try something merely flavored with blackberries.

    How long should it take a woman to recover from years (cough, cough, decades) of obligation sex, which is most definitely NOT a morally neutral and completely inoculous activity?

    (And please, let’s not bring up the obvious fact that eating blackberries is not a vital part of marriage, or even life. I’m talking about the deeply seated, visceral reaction of the human body to even the thought of engaging in an activity that has such negative memories and associations.)

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s a great analogy, Jo. In some cases, healing may not be on the table. It just may be too much. I guess I just want people to know that many have come through to the other side. Even if it’s with a different spouse, I want people to know that many do find passion, because many are desperately clinging to the idea that it’s possible (and it is).

      If someone just feels like that’s too much, that’s certainly their prerogative. But many people have gotten to the other side of huge things, and have experienced such a beautiful life in place of what they lost. I don’t think it would be right to discount that.

  13. K

    Sheila, would it be possible to maybe do a series on concubinage/courtesans and the advice given in “christian” marriage books?

    I strongly suspect that what men in “christian” circles are being taught is to expect is that their wife will be a modern day concubine.

    The old class idea of “morgonatic marriage” ties into this as well. (The marriage of unequal persons in which the one of lower rank can never attain the status of the other.)

    I just wonder if this perspective would help some people to see that marriage itself has been lost. Not just random details that people have differences of opinion about.

    I had thought of starting a movement called “Covenants NOT Concubines” at one time … but I’m just too tired at this point.

    Thank you for holding up the banner here! You are deeply appreciated.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s an interesting idea! I think you’re on to something–men are really taught they deserve courtesans in far too many evangelical churches. It needs to stop.

  14. K

    P.S. An added note – my mind took off on this track originally because too often the issues are painted as “gender wars” – leaving guys feeling that they are being hated on.

    Putting things into the ugliness of social orders that we pride ourselves in having moved above and beyond, sometimes helps to open up the conversation, and to create curiosity. It also raises the issue that if what men have been taught to expect in the name of Christ is actually a form of blasphemy – there may be more curiosity about how we move forward and do better.

    Because as Ecclesiastes says – there is nothing new under the sun … these are new lies for old.

  15. Perfect Number

    Glad you are doing a series on obligation sex. It was a big thing that affected me.

    Years ago, I was making sure to have sex with my husband frequently because “men need it” even though it was painful. And then that changed when I got pregnant- because in the first trimester, I felt so sick all the time, there was no way I could have sex. And my husband was fine with it- not only that, he was really affectionate and did a lot of things to take care of me. And I was so SHOCKED, because all the Christian marriage books say men are literally incapable of treating their wife with love if she’s not having sex with him. I discovered that men can be so much better than that. (Also, my husband is not a Christian.)

    And then later in the pregnancy, I was wondering “is it okay to have sex when I’m pregnant?” and looked for information online, and basically the answer is yes, it’s safe (unless you have a high-risk pregnancy and your doctor has told you not to), BUT if something is painful, that could be a sign that something’s wrong, so don’t do it if it’s painful. And, wow, that was the first time that I believed my pain was a *good enough reason* to say no. Like, if the pain only affects me, well, whatever, I have to do it anyway because “men need it” and that’s more important than my pain, but if the pain could be a sign that something’s wrong and could affect the baby, then that’s a “good enough reason.”

    Anyway, during that time, I didn’t have “obligation sex” at all, only had sex when I wanted to, and it was so good for me. And then after the baby was born, I decided to continue to *not* have obligation sex at all 🙂 (I have a blog post on this here: He Just Loves Me (a post about Sex, Pregnancy, and My “Wifely Duty”) https://tellmewhytheworldisweird.blogspot.com/2020/04/he-just-loves-me.html )

  16. Hopelessly Desperate

    What happens when you’ve done “all the things” and your sexual trauma and disgust has only become entrenched?

    4 years of creating sexual autonomy; counseling (individual and couples – THOUSANDS of dollars); EMDR and ART; SRT (sexual reintegration therapy); reading your book and loving it (basically our memoir); becoming an armchair expert on sexual addiction, betrayal trauma, recovery, and abuse.

    There are some more details that I don’t want to share publicly. But I’m both desperate and hopeless.

    • exwifeofasexaddict

      Has HE done the work to make you feel safe and comfortable? If not, there is no hope. And even if he has, I don’t think relationships can always be saved. If you have done EMDR and still feel disgusted by sex, I’m not sure what else there is.

      I’m sorry you’re going through that.

    • Anon25

      Dear Hopelessly Desperate, I‘ve seen another one of your comments elsewhere on this blog and would like to add this thought:

      Life (as an adult) can be whole, worthwhile, healthy, and happy entirely without the element of sex and even marriage!

      In Europe up to about two hundred years ago, a large proportion of the adult population never married, due to restrictive social and legal regulations. And this were not only monks and nuns or clergy, but mostly average people. We saw the same phenomenon again after both World Wars: Whole generations of young women weren’t able to marry because so many men had been killed. Presumably 99% of these single people throughout history never had sex in their lifes, either, due to the moral codes of the time. It is recorded that most of the European singles mentioned above led productive lifes and weren’t more or less unhappy as others in the society. No one HAS TO HAVE a sexlife!

      I don’t want to make a mockery out of your pain and despair, but I‘m sensing you are feeling like you still have to fulfill an obligation! The one of creating that healthy sexuality everyone is talking about.

      But what if that’s not the case? What if you could let go of that thought? What if you would focus all the energy that goes into that effort into something different, but equally worthwhile? Of course, I don’t know how that would look like in your individual case and apparently you aren’t single. Nevertheless, I believe it is possible! As humans we are sexual beings, that’s true. But we are also more complex than that! We have the choice to focus on and nurture different elements of our personhood at different times.

      In your case, you focused on your sexual side by getting married (even though I’m sure that wasn’t the only reason for tying the knot 🙂 ). Then you did so again, but differently, throughout four years of therapy. Unfortunately neither of this worked out and that element of your nature is now dysfunct (which is NOT your fault, of course! It just IS!). But – so what?

      What I want to say: Let go of the expectations, they aren’t helpful here. Do mourn the loss, because yes, it is sad to loose something worth having. But as mentioned above: there IS MORE TO LIFE!

      We have a saying here: „time passing heals all wounds“. Which does contain a kernel of truth – over time bad things can loose their predominance in our lives and new happiness can grow. IF we let them go! And if you / we do this, we never know what kind of unexpected and pleasant surprise awaits us behind the next turn of our lives! Because God is good and just wants to bless us!

      All the best to you and everyone else travelling this difficult road!


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *