How Can the Higher Drive Spouse Avoid Giving the Obligation Sex Message?

by | Oct 30, 2023 | Libido | 57 comments

Don't give obligation sex message

Being the higher drive spouse can be really frustrating.

You want to connect with your spouse, and you want to have a passionate marriage, but it seems like your spouse doesn’t share those same desires. And that can feel like a rejection.

This is the last post in the obligation sex series, and I wanted to answer the most common question I’ve had from this series–can we look at it from the other point of view? Most of the series has been looking at the lower-drive spouse and the effects of pressure and obligation. But what if you’re the higher drive spouse, you don’t want to pressure your spouse, but you’re also really frustrated?

And this question was especially common from women this month, whose husbands were the ones not wanting sex.

Because this series was so weighted towards those who have suffered from the obligation sex message, I did want to address the other side as we wrap up.

Approach libido differences with self-awareness

It’s always important to ask, “am I playing a role in this dynamic?”

Now, to be frank, this is more likely to be true for men than for women, simply because of biology. Lots of times women don’t want sex because sex has never been good for them, either because they don’t orgasm, they’ve experienced pain, or both. Men are also the ones more likely to be using porn, and this is not a wife’s fault.

In many marriages, men are doing things that actively cause a woman’s libido to plummet, or they did these things early in the marriage, and so she never developed a healthy libido because she learned that sex was bad for her, made her feel distant, and wasn’t that great.

Before you approach this with your spouse, then, it’s important to self-reflect:

If you find yourself in some of these questions, then address these issues with your spouse.

Ask: Is our libido difference a preference or a problem?

Part of self-awareness is also being honest with yourself about the seriousness of the libido difference.

Before we’re married, especially in the church, we’re basically promised spectacular sexual rewards if we do everything right. We’re supposed to be able to have sex whenever we want! Even if we doon’t grow up in the church, this is often one of the big drawing points to marriage: You get to have sex all the time!

But you’re married to a person with their own needs and wants, and life can get in the way. People aren’t generally going to get sex every time they want, and honestly–would that even be a good thing? We’re not hedonists, after all, and sex is primarly about relationship and connecting. If you got sex whenever you wanted it, then it would be easy for sex to take over the work of connecting in your marriage, and your marriage could be very surface level.

Because you do need to connect to figure out differences and to seduce each other, you actually are drawn to connect emotionally much more.

Research shows that, in general,  healthy preferences can be once a week or more

Multiple studies (including our own) show that marital satisfaction dramatically goes up when couples have sex once a week or more, but the returns diminish after that (and are even negative if you have sex daily, because daily sex is often part of some sexual compulsion).

And people are going to want sex in different amounts. Some are going to want it more often than others.

If you want sex four times a week and your spouse wants sex once a week, this is not really a sign that your spouse has a low libido or that there is a problem in your marriage. This is simply a preference issue, and your spouse is allowed to prefer sex in different amounts than you.

You can obviously discuss preference issues, but as we talked about in The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex, when you treat a preference like a problem, you often create a problem. 

Research shows that problems can exist (not necessarily exist) when people want sex less than once a week

Again, I’m merely reporting what the data says, and obviously each individual couple can be outliers and be fine. But in general, marriages function better when they’re connecting sexually at least once a week. That doesn’t mean that every marriage that has sex less than once a week is bad, or that there may not be good reasons to have sex less than once a week, or that you’re doomed if you don’t have sex at least once a week. There are also seasons of your life (like with newborns or toddlers) when sex is just not the main thing on the agenda.

But I also can’t ignore what the data says, and if your spouse does want sex less than once a week, that is a sign that it may be worth asking what is going on.

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Approach libido differences with curiosity

Instead of approaching with recrimination, blame, or pressure (“why don’t you want sex more? Don’t you know what this is doing to me? I’m so frustrated. You say you want a great marriage but then you never put any work in!”), approach with curiosity.

Remember that libido (or desire) isn’t generally a thing, in and of itself. It’s a state that is highly responsive to what is going on in the environment; inside your spouse’s emotions; in your spouse’s body. It isn’t a decision your spouse is generally making, and it isn’t something that exists independent of anything else that is happening in your relationship.

Now, when I say that it isn’t a decision your spouse makes, this doesn’t mean that your spouse isn’t making decisions that are influencing libido. But remember this:

Low libido is generally not about libido.

For instance, I a woman had this kind of  conversation with me on Facebook:

I know you say that low libido isn’t about selfishness, but my huband’s totally is. My husband has a low libido just because he is selfish. He watches porn and he just won’t stop, and that’s incredibly selfish.

I agree with her that watching porn is incredibly selfish (and also often linked to bad ways of emotional regulation and he really needs to see a licensed therapist), but even here, the libido itself is not due to selfishness; the libido is due to the porn use, which is due to selfishness.

This may sound like semantics, but here’s why it matters:

We tend to assume that our spouse is saying no to sex out of selfishness. 

So we assume they are saying no to sex to be selfish.

But likely they are saying no to sex for some other reason (and that reason may certainly be related to selfishness, but it may not be too).

This is where curiosity comes in! When you’re the higher drive spouse, selfishness seems like the only answer, because it’s hard to get into the head of a lower-libido spouse. To you, if you’re stressed, you’d want sex because sex is a great way of dealing with stress. If you’re having fun, you want to end the day with sex because sex is so fun. If you’re feeling distant, you want to have sex to connect. Having sex makes absolute sense to you in most cases.

If your spouse is constantly saying no, then, it can seem like they’re crazy and selfish.

Instead of that, though, try to ask the question, “why would my spouse not see sex as a good option right now? What is going on?”

And the answer to that could point you to a way forward.

Discuss the underlying issue, not the libido problem

Instead of approaching the issue of “why don’t you want sex more” and “I want to have sex more,” approach the underlying issue, whether it’s:

  • porn or substance abuse
  • stress
  • emotional baggage from family of origin
  • emotional baggage from messed up messages around sex
  • mental health issues
  • busy-ness and exhaustion
  • relationship issues with the two of you
  • sexual orientation issues
  • physical health
  • feeling emotionally disconnected
  • etc.

Make this not about you getting the sex you want, but about addressing problems that are hurting both of you and causing you not to have the abundant life you want.

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Seek help yourself

Finally, if you just feel really lonely, consider talking to a licensed therapist who could help you parse through all of these factors. It’s hard to feel constantly rejected. It’s hard to be lonely in your marriage. So do that introspection and make sure you’re not contributing to the issue. Ask yourself if this is a problem or a preference (and people are allowed to have different preferences!). And then approach the issue with curiosity.

Always remember that the goal is connection, not just sex.

The goal is intimacy and oneness, not just climax. And if you can keep that goal in the forefront of your mind, then you should be able to address the issue with grace and love, rather than with obligation.

Don't give obligation sex message

What do you think? If you’re the lower-drive spouse, how would you want the higher drive spouse to approach you? Let’s talk in the comments!

Written by

Sheila Wray Gregoire


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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. Nessie

    Question: If there are problems that your spouse is still working through- let’s go with the obligation sex message and they both believed and acted it out for years- and they both are actively working on it (therapy, the couple talks more, he stops acting entitled, etc.) how does the husband know when it is safe (she has healed enough) to talk about it more?

    Just like there are red flags, are there “green flags” that give a good indiction enough healing has taken place? I guess I worry that a spouse would think the other had healed “enough” but rips off the bandage too soon and backslides healing. Fwiw, I’m not sure if there’s a good answer as each case will be so different on healing time, etc., I’m just curious.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s a great question! I think when you’re the one who has caused harm (by expecting obligation sex, for instance, and perpetuating those dynamics) then part of healing is agreeing to step back until the other spouse takes initiative. But at the same time, taking initiative for emotional connection. And if you feel like you must raise it, then talk to a counselor first. When you’re the one who has done wrong, the ball has to be in the other’s court.

      • Ray

        Eliminating obligation has been tremendously helpful in my marriage. It creates respect and true desire during intimacy which is so much better than the alternative.

        We usually plan two nights of the week for intimacy.To help with feelings of rejection when plans change, my wife let’s me know as early on as possible that sex is likely off the table tonight. She will then suggest another way to connect (cuddle, talk, games, movie night, etc) and we will plan for the next time we can be intimate. This really does ease anxiety/feelings of rejection and helps her feel better about saying no when she really isn’t feeling it that night.

        • Ray

          Sorry, that was meant for just a regular comment. Not a reply

  2. Jo R

    “Lots of times women don’t want sex because sex has never been good for them, either because they don’t orgasm, they’ve experienced pain, or both.”

    Let’s see if we can flesh this out a little for the guys (pun intended).

    Think about the most recent time you engaged in PIV. It probably felt great and you orgasmed. Now imagine it went like this instead:

    You KNOW circumferential pressure moving axially back and forth along the length of your erect penis SHOULD feel fantastic and cause you to orgasm. But what you’re ACTUALLY feeling is something like a kick in your scrotum at the end of every stroke, both in and out. In fact, it’s so painful that you can’t even tell what’s happening to your penis, because the scrotum pain is completely blocking any pleasurable sensations.

    (Please close your eyes and spend two minutes imagining those sensations. I’ll wait.)

    Having spent those two minutes imagining that kind of pain in that location, now imagine your wife orgasms, stops the thrusting, mumbles “That was great, honey,” rolls over, and goes to sleep.

    You still have the engorgement of the erection, and you know it will take a certain amount of time to go away, but what you’re mainly aware of is how much your scrotum HURTS. You now realize that it wasn’t painful just at the end of each stroke. Oh no, it’s now just PAIN in the whole genital region. Sleep will not come for quite some time.

    You get up to get a drink and do one last urination before you’ll eventually (maybe in an hour) fall asleep. As you urinate, the most unbelievable sensation occurs down the entire length of your penis. It literally feels like fire is completely engulfing your penis during the whole time the urine is flowing. You gasp out in pain, which stops the urine for a moment, but you know you didn’t empty your bladder. You know you’re going to have to start again, and the dread of that pain starting again has you steeling your entire body against the fire sensation that you’re hoping against hope won’t simultaneously restart. But the urine flows, the pain is just as immediate, and you literally grit your teeth to finish.

    You get in bed, and it does indeed take a little over an hour for your body to be able to go to sleep.

    In the morning, you get up and stumble half-asleep to the bathroom. As soon as you start to urinate, the fire again engulfs your entire penis. You again gasp in pain, but you force yourself to finish. You go through the rest of your morning routine and get going on your day. But every time you urinate, it feels like fire. And you don’t know it yet, but sometimes after sex, you’ll have that burning sensation for the following two or even three days.

    Still with me, guys? Great.

    Now. Imagine that your sex life for the last two—or twenty—years has been this exact same scenario. Pleasure for her, multi-day pain with no pleasure for you.

    How hard are you’re going to work to increase frequency of sex? How much will you want to hear in church on Sunday mornings that married couples should make love frequently? How will you manage to not increasingly resent your wife for something that comes so easily and pleasurably for her at the price of your pain and distinct lack of pleasure?

    NOW do you understand why so many women no longer want sex?

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That is pretty accurate for what many women feel. And it could be a variety of reasons: recurrent UTIs; vaginismus; lichen sclerosus. It can also simply be that when having sex when you’re not aroused, the cervix doesn’t lift and so every thrust hits the cervix, which is definitely not a comfortable feeling.

    • TJ

      That’s an excellent point! I’d say that, as a corrolary, part of avoiding sending obligation messages should include the higher libido spouse not insisting on rigidly defining “sex” in a particular (usually very male-pleasure centric) way.

      Our marriage does not (and never has) included PIV for exactly that reason. There’s just no room to call yourself a loving husband while insisting on something that your spouse finds uncomfortable. Especially when there ARE mutually pleasurable alternatives that exist.

    • John

      Thanks Jo R. That sounds terrible. “twenty—years has been this exact same scenario. Pleasure for her, multi-day pain with no pleasure for you.” sounds, to me, like the film script for a horror movie

      Carrying on the scenario; if this was me, I’d tell my wife about this pain straight away and ask her to stop. I’d also arrange an appointment with the Doctor, to investigate the problem. It is almost inconceivable that my wife would continue to suggest sex in this situation. It is even less conceivable that I would agree to such a request. So any further “sex” that happened, would in fact be rape.

      This all seems like obvious self care and basic humanity. So I guess the point you are making, is that some wives have been conditioned by church teaching, to think that they are responsible to God, to keep quiet and continue to have sex in this situation? If so, then that helps me understand the sex obligation message (that my wife and I have never heard in the churches we have attended in the UK) to a whole new level of …. evil, quite frankly.

      I sincerely hope and pray this scenario isn’t true for many marriages.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        This is one thing I really want wives to understand–don’t consent to sex that hurts. Don’t say yes. In fact, don’t consent to one sided sex at all (even if it’s not painful). The more we do, the worse it will be long term, and it needs to be figured out.

        But unfortunately too often church teachings have told women they have to submit to it, and they’ve told men that women don’t like sex anyway so just go ahead.

        • S

          Yes! Don’t consent to bad sex!

          In all honesty if you can’t talk to your own spouse about everything regarding your sex life together with honesty, compassion and true caring about what is working and what is not, you are not ready to have sex. If you are not comfortable enough with the person who should be your closest confidant, the person you should be able to go to with everything, to have frank conversations and boundaries set, sex should be on the back burner until you can. Ladies we don’t owe our bodies to our husbands ever.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Well said!

      • Angharad

        John, just so that you are aware, the majority of the harmful teaching does not tend to happen directly from the pulpit – at least, not in the UK. It’s in the small groups, in the marriage prep courses, and ESPECIALLY in the literature that is recommended to married or about-to-be-married couples.

        For example, I am not aware that the former minister of our current church ever preached a sermon which included obligation sex messages or the message that sex is only/primarily for the man. Yet when he cleared out his library, he donated ‘The Act of Marriage’ to the church library and told me that it had been required reading for any couple who came to him for marriage prep or marriage counselling. (As the person responsible for the church library, I dropped it straight in the bin!) And from throwaway comments and ‘jokes’ he has made, it’s clear that he subscribes to the obligation sex viewpoint as well as to the belief that sex is mainly/only for men.

        It’s great that you and your wife have not been affected by any of these messages – but please be aware that they are widespread within the UK church just as much as in other countries. You need to know so that you can protect and look out for others, even if you yourself won’t be affected.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Yes, precisely!

        • John

          I will look out for others and try and find out what books are used for marriage prep at our church.

          • Angharad

            Also, try listening out for the throwaway comments that people make in messages. I’ve heard several sermons where the preacher made a throwaway joke about how men love sex and women hate it. What’s the harm in that? It’s just a joke surely? Except that any woman in the congregation who dislikes sex is now going to think that her attitude is normal.

            The preachers weren’t ‘teaching obligation sex’. But by joking about how all women hate sex to a congregation of Christians who know sex is meant to be part of marriage, they WERE obliquely sending the message that women need to put up with sex even if/when they don’t like it. Because ‘all women hate sex’ + ‘all married couples should be having sex’ = ‘women must have sex when they don’t want to’.

            I’m sure if you challenged them about preaching obligation sex, there would be furious denial. And I’m sure that wasn’t the message they intended to convey. But subconsciously, that is the message that many women will hear without even realising it. Sometimes, the subliminal messages we receive can be far more dangerous than the overt ones.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Yes, I absolutely agree. When we assume it’s this way, and assume that all men will have a high sex drive and all women a low one, etc., we can cause self-fulfilling prophecies.

        • Hannah

          Agree with Angharad. In a previous UK church the pastor managed, in the same sermon, to say that obligation sex is bad, but also if you don’t have sex often enough your partner is going to turn to pornography. But the idea that a person will use pornography if they don’t get enough sex is part of the obligation sex message! Another idea I’ve often heard said in conversation in UK churches is that women will never understand the male sex drive and how powerful it is and how much support men need. Again this feeds into the obligation sex message. Obligation sex can be taught in some quite subtle ways, even where people think it’s not being taught. Even in secular culture women are conditioned to be ‘nice’ and do things for others, and when they speak up, e.g. in the workplace, they are seen as aggressive and unfeminine where a man would be seen as assertive. It’s great that you would be able to speak up. Women are more likely to have to override a lot of conditioning to do that – especially in contexts which teach male headship and female submission.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Yes, this “Men have needs that you will never, ever understand” is so prevalent. And it does make women think that a guy’s need for sex must be in even greater than her own need for sleep, comfort, etc. Like she has to sacrifice so much because of his great need, but the same books don’t stress what she needs.

      • S

        John we have had commenters before who have voiced that they are in pain to their husbands and were told they just need to get used to it, or said things like “I’ll be fast just let me”, because all they cared about is their orgasm. Men who will start having sex with their wife who is fast asleep, men who treat their wives, and their children poorly because she did say no. Its not just women not speaking up, that the problem stems from, it’s men who feel entitled to use their wife’s body because they believe they are owed sex and that her body is theirs to use. Yes some women need to learn to stand up for themselves, and some men need to stop being so selfish and manipulative.

      • Nessie

        John asked- “some wives have been conditioned by church teaching, to think that they are responsible to God, to keep quiet and continue to have sex in this situation?

        Yes, and even further- many have been told that it is an outright sin to do otherwise.

        It is sinful to speak up (b/c it’s disrespectful, AND you might hurt his fragile ego AND hinder his walk with Christ.)
        It is sinful to not be there for your husband sexually despite the pain. Oftentimes, the pain is how us lowly women can be self-sacrificial, like our husbands are.
        If you refuse sex, you are causing sin in your husband becaue he *must* turn to porn, etc., because of how God wired him. So his sin is your fault, too.

        That’s a lot of guilt right there! But when a wife has been told (books, websites, small groups, church friends, or pastoral “counselling”- as Angharad described) she is sinning not *just* against her husband but directly, willfully disobeying God Himself, it is really hard to open up to your spouse.

        “S” said women need to learn to speak up for themselves, but before that can happen, they often need to learn that it ISN’T sinful to do so as many of us have been taught.

        It should be inconceivable for a husband to keep on despite her pain, but when the same sources have conditioned them to think it is normal, most don’t give it a second thought.

        A man is told if they are having sex, the marriage is fine. A woman is told if there’s a problem in the marriage, have more sex as that is the best way to fix it.

        It can get ugly.

        • Nessie

          An add on- if a couple does start sex but she changes her mind , for pain or any reason, she has essentially “gotten him going” with no resolution. These sources say that she has set him up to be unfaithful because he obviously now sees every female around him (or porn) as a possible “solution” to his now-discomfort.

          • S

            My goodness this just makes me think sex education is so much more important for everyone. Girls need to learn that the myth of blue balls is just that, a myth and guys need to learn they can either handle it themselves or wait it out and they will be just fine. These so called “Christian” teaching are so damaging, it breaks my heart that women think they are not allowed to speak for themselves and are required to be a vessel for his orgasm. I don’t buy for a second that men don’t have conscience enough to know that their behavior and mindset is wrong, I just don’t buy the clueless act, well I was taught its okay to treat women like inferior belongings so I am not to blame, nah that’s hogwash.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            It reminds me of the rape raccoon analogy that Rebecca used on Preston Sprinkle’s podcast!

          • Nessie

            I think some guys that buy into it are really just clueless (that was my husband). Several of the guys that I know that changed their ways honestly just didn’t put 2 and 2 together. They needed something , like Jo R’s description, to wake them up. If their family/church/friends growing up didn’t model a better way, and taught them it was “normal” to be entitled because that was “how God designed the system,” it didn’t occur to them to live any differently. Then something happens, and they have to decide to move into “do better” or “ignore it” territory.

            I received a lot of gaslighting from a previous church- but that was “normal” for me because I was raised by a gaslighting narcissist. It wasn’t until I finally “broke down” from obligation sex that I started looking for answers elsewhere (since 2 decades of church advice didn’t work, go figure) and finally found this site. I had found so many others before it though that had the same bad messages it was easy to convince myself I was the wrong one.

            Now that we know better, we are doing better. It’s just a shame to have lost so many years.

          • Nessie

            And yes, better sex education all around is badly needed imo! I think it’d reduce most of the capacity for guys to stay ignorant (after that, it’s just selfishness), and prevent females from taking on guilt, shame, and coercion, as well as know they can and should speak up for themselves- they aren’t sinning against God or man in doing so. It’s pretty messed up.

            Fwiw, my husband had the entitled mindset from bad church teachings (reinforced by me believing I couldn’t speak up), plus emotionally avoidant parents, plus ADHD, and some other stuff thrown in. It’s possible for some to be that clueless- but not after it’s pointed out.

      • Anonymous

        John, I have to say, this is my exact lived experience. It doesn’t hurt every time, but for years it hurt many of the times, rarely felt good at all, but I didn’t dare tell my husband to stop. He told me on our honeymoon that it was important to him that he get sex often, that it wasn’t a marriage without that, and while I know he cared about my pain, it was mostly an issue to him because it made sex harder to get. Also, I hid my suffering as much as possible because I had been told many times that a man needs to feel confident in the bedroom, and negative feedback is too damaging to his ego, and that I should appear enthusiastic at all times.

        But, seriously, when he knew I was in pain, he would either push through if it didn’t seem too bad or insist on a hand job instead. We both believed that it was just normal for women to not really get much out of sex, and the idea of getting medical help never crossed our minds until years into marriage.

        Even had I find to a doctor, it is beyond hard for women to be truly heard and get help for feminine issues in America. A lot of men think, “if your hormones are out of whack, just go to a doctor, they’ll fix it,” but that is very far from the truth.

        Anyway, all of that to say, I am by no means alone in the category of wives who regularly push through painful or pleasure-less sex because we have to. There’s no way my husband would agree to put sex on hold until I healed inside and rebuilt good patterns of sexuality. The longest he’s ever gone without a sexual favor of some kind is 10 days, and most of those days he was pressuring me or giving me the silence treatment. He’s not a horrible man. In fact, he’s really great in many, many ways and willing to work on our sex life in many ways, too. But he definitely feels entitled to frequent sex, and his identity is so wrapped up in it that he can’t see how much he clings to it at the cost of my well being. He believes I’m selfish to not enjoy all those one sided encounters, and that if I loved him, I would love giving myself to him, even if it didn’t feel great.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Your last paragraph is so heartbreaking, and so typical of what I hear! It’s so common: he’s a great guy in every other way. How is this so common in the church?

  3. Jo R

    Well, how nice that you think you’d bring it up to your wife the first time. But in reality, you’re not allowed to. You’d be impugning her leadership in your home, you’d be disrespecting her, and you’d definitely be called out for even the slightest attempt at teaching her, since you’re a mere man and aren’t allowed to teach women.

    You’re also supposed to be enthusiastic in bed so that she thinks you’re enjoying it as much as she is, you’re even supposed to initiate—again, with enthusiasm—so that she feels you desire her as much as she desires you, and you should spend a lot of time thinking about how to make each encounter even better for her, including doing things that make you feel like even more of a piece of meat than you already do.

    You’re also supposed to be content with the emotional closeness you feel during these proceedings, and you’re supposed to have sex as often as your wife wants it. You can’t say no, or else a Bible verse or three will be thrown at you about not depriving your wife.

    And if you dare have a thought of questioning any of the above, because of “do unto others” or “consider others more highly than yourselves” or any other verse that seems to speak to how christians should treat one another, well, you’re a disobedient Christian or, worse, maybe not a Christian at all. You’re certainly not treating those elders, pastors, and authors (who are all obviously and of course female) who have been teaching you about sex and marriage with the due deference you should since they’re all so much more spiritually mature and further down the road of Christian living than you are.

    • Jo R

      (Should have been a reply to John.)

    • John

      My heart goes out to you and all other women that suffer this way, whether in the UK, US, Canada or elsewhere.

      Sheila is right – “don’t consent to one sided ‘sex’ at all”, ever – speak up, refuse, scream and shout!

  4. Chuck

    This is good. Processing through TGSR and healing from obligation sex message, and then Dr. Corey Allan’s work (who studied under Dr. David Schnarch) transformed our marriage to one is life giving. And navigating desire differences is no longer a passion killer. Pam and Corey Allan are Christians and host a podcast called Passionately Married. We lead a marriage group going through Boundaries in Marriage, and supplement with Dr Allan’s work. Marriages and sex lives are being transformed.

    Thank you for the work you do.

  5. H

    What if he still doesn’t want sex more than once a week after therapy and working through things. We both have needs in marriage and communicate those for example our love languages. Is it wrong to ask your spouse if they’d be willing to try for twice a week. Once is not often enough

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      You can certainly ask, as you can about everything. But he may also just have a lower desire level. Spending more time together at night, going to bed at the same time, becoming more affectionate can all help sex to become more frequent naturally. But ultimately you can’t make someone have more sex than they want to (or you can, but it’s wrong to).

      • H

        I’m not saying making someone. What I’m asking is why is there no ownership on the person with the lower sex drive to consider changing. We change ourselves so much in a relationship for the other person to meet their needs, what I don’t understand how the person who is unwilling to compromise their preference on sex. The one with the high drive is certainly by not having sex. It feels very one sided to me that it’s not up for compromise as all parts of a relationship is. I do not believe in the obligation sex message or support it, but there are discrepancies in sexual drives in marriage as a lot of others areas and I don’t understand how it’s ok in this area to not evaluate why you as the low drive don’t want to have sex more often. If you have to evaluate why you want it more as the high drive, then the low drive does as well. These principles apply to really any aspect of the relationship, both parties have to evaluate why they are doing what they are doing. I honestly don’t think there is a simple, one size fits all answer for this as each marriage is different or unique. Just asking as trying to understand. Sex is a beautiful gift from God, so why would you not want to enjoy it with your spouse who loves you

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          I completely agree, H, and I do spend a lot of time trying to help women boost their libido. And again–I think in a good marriage where there’s nothing else going on in the relationship that can steal libido, then having these important conversations is a very good idea, and talking to your spouse about what you can do to make sex more common and more likely and to help them become more receptive is really important in communication.

          The problem is that you just can’t make someone want sex if they genuinely don’t and if they’re not interested in trying to address the libido difference.

          It’s a really lonely place to be. But if you are in that place, you have a few options:

          1. Make it a huge deal, insist on marriage counseling, refuse to do other things until the spouse changes
          2. Don’t make it a huge deal and say that you accept how things are, but feel very resentful over time
          3. Find a way to accept how things are while still loving your spouse
          4. Find another way to deal with sexual frustration (masturbation, etc.)

          I just don’t think #1 and #2 will result in good marriages or even better sex lives. You may get more sex, but you’ll likely drive your spouse further away from you.

          And #4 may be worth exploring in greater detail in some other surveys that we do, because I’m curious about the effects of this in marriage.

          But I know it’s not ideal. I know that in the best case scenario, the lower drive spouse realizes what they’re missing and does desire connection and passion and intimacy in the marriage.

          But if that isn’t happening, I don’t see what people are left with except #3. Again, you can do things that make sex more likely, like going to bed together, spending time together, work on de-stressing, etc. But compromise just doesn’t work when it comes to sex in the same way because you can’t make someone experience desire, and having sex when you really don’t want to is actually quite invasive and dehumanizing. So even if we were to tell low libido spouses–you need to compromise and you really should be having sex 3 times a week, we’re only going to have people who feel even more distant. Sex is something that can only come from free will if it’s not going to be relationship damaging or emotionally damaging. So the key is to work on your relationship, grow the connection, keep communication open, and talk about how to make sex more likely. Even ask if they’d be willing to initiate once a week more. But you still have to take no for an answer, and you have to recognize that it just may not happen. I’ve just seen too much data about how damaging obligation is.

          Again, for women with the higher drive it’s so important to make sure there’s no porn involved for the lower drive husband. If there’s been a history of porn, the key is not just to quit the porn but to change how you understand vulnerability and passion and sex, because often when guys just quit porn by white knuckling it, they end up killing desire too. So there can be so much going on here where perhaps there are other issues that haven’t been dealt with properly.

          But in relationships that are otherwise fine with no history of something big, the key is to start with relational connection and keep communicating, but not pressuring. And I know that’s a lonely road.

          • Nessie

            Sheila, I’m curious- Do you feel your “Boost Your Libido” course principles can apply fairly equally to men as well as women?

        • Diana

          That’s very well said H. Specifies the key point about mutual unselfishness that rarely, if ever, gets answered honestly in these discussions.

          End result is that the low drive gets a free pass not to change or consider their spouse above themselves, while the high drive spouse is constantly chastised for seeking some mutuality in the marriage.

          Your questions about lack of ownership of the low drive to consider changing, while the high drive is forced to change, is spot on.

          Curious if Sheila or her regulars have an answer to this one.

          • S

            Diana it’s not selfish to have bodily autonomy. It’s not selfish to not have a high libido, some people don’t, but you speak like it’s something they can just change about themselves if they wanted to. It is selfish to ask someone to let you use your body for their pleasure. That is the difference. No one owes another person the use of their body. The higher drive spouse is not being told to change, they are being told to accept the situation because it’s not healthy to expect another person to meet your demands of their body. Sex must be mutual or it’s not what it was created to be. Saying the lower drive spouse is getting a “free pass” to not change, is just another way to say the lower drive spouse is getting away with not being obligated to force themselves to have sexual they don’t want.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            I agree with you, S, but I think the only thing I would push back on is that we know that libido is not fixed. It’s not that some people just have a low libido and it’s always like that. And there are actually things you can do to better understand desire and even stoke it, and if you’re in a good marriage with someone you love, it’s actually a big act of love to see if you can boost your libido–because most can (again–with the caveat that we’re talking about healthy relationships with no betrayal or abuse and where sex is already feeling good for both partners). When you’re the higher drive spouse and your spouse doesn’t seem willing to do anything to investigate whether they can boost their libido, that does feel like a rejection.

            No one is owed the use of someone else’s body for sure, and people should have bodily autonomy. But I just think it’s important to remember that libido isn’t fixed and that this isn’t hopeless.

        • S

          H, it sounds like you are frustrated, you want a make him realize he owes me sex more without me being abusive towards him, solution, that’s just not going to happen. You can’t make someone’s libido change.

          Sex once a week seems fairly normal to me, what makes you think that as a lower libido partner, that is not the compromise he is making? What if he was happy with once a month and his compromise is sex once a week because he knows you place sex at high importance even if he doesn’t? What makes you think he doesn’t enjoy what you are calling a beautiful gift from God? Enjoying something doesn’t mean you need it all the time. Sex is not a need, it’s a want. It’s manipulative to say why wouldn’t you want to do this thing for the person who loves you. Sex should be a mutual want, not chore to do.

          I can evaluate all day why I am okay with sex once a week, it’s not going to ramp up my desire, and being pressured to IS obligation, telling someone to take ownership of their lower libido also isn’t going to make that desire change, you are just asking them to feel obligated to have more sex. I hope you can find other ways to connect with your husband, intimacy can involve so much more than just sex.

          • H

            S, I’m not sure your life experience that contributed to your response to me, but you know nothing of mine. I was asking Sheila to try to understand more where she was coming from and felt her response helpful

        • Bernadette

          This reminds me of how saying no to sex is not selfishness. But porn use is and it can make a person not want sex.

          So now I’m asking, is not trying to increase libido a sign of selfishness? Or is it that some people do selfish things that lower their own libido?

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            I think selfish people do things that lower their libido (or do other bad things to relationships). All I was saying is that libido is not really an independent thing–it’s influenced by other things, and that’s usually where the selfishness comes.

            I do think that all of us should be caring for our spouse, which means the higher drive spouse should ideally give the lower drive spouse no pressure and grace and lots of connection outside of sex, while the lower drive spouse should ideally do what they can to address any issues that may be lowering libido.

            But again–all of that applies in relationships that are healthy where sex is pleasurable for both, where there’s no porn use, etc. And the hard thing is that while you should be loving to your spouse, they may not be in return. And that’s just rough.

            (Also, I think there’s a difference between “address things that may be lowering libido” and “just have sex more.” The latter is never a good idea. But addressing things that may be lowering libido could be a win-win for everyone.)

          • Bernadette

            If it only applies in a healthy relationship…

            Does that mean if X is not his (or her) issue, then he (or she) does not have to deal with it even if it is lowering his (or her) libido?

            example: Him being a jerk is lowering her libido. It’s not her job to find a way to want him despite being treated like garbage.(Same if genders were reversed.)

            … And that it’s OK to prioritize?

            example: She’s got some issues that are damaging her libido. But increasing her libido is a low priority because her husband is selfish in bed. Yearning for good sex would result in heartbreak. (Same if genders were reversed.)

            And are there some scenarios where it would be good to prioritize the issue and the issue belongs to the low-libido spouse?

            example: She works hard at healing from trauma. Primarily for her own sake, because she is her own person. That’s one part of her motivation. She also wants to want sex more because she knows it’s safe to. It’s safe to want sex with her husband because her husband is safe. (Same if genders were reversed.)

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Oh, if he’s selfish in bed or a jerk, there’s no point in working on her libido. That’s why I said that this only applies if the marriage is a good one and sex is already good.

            And if she is healing from trauma, that absolutely has to be the first priority (we’ve talked about this a lot). But when I’m talking about working on lower libido, I’m honestly just talking about those situations where everything is going great, and she wants sex maybe once a week (or he does) while the spouse is more like 3 times a week. So in that case, the higher libido spouse learns to connect regardless and not want more, and the lower libido spouse just looks and says, “is there anything holding back my desire?”

            But this is really the last step, not the first. And when there are other things in the marriage, that takes precedence.

  6. Diana

    Commenting to Hs latest post. H, yes agree with you that Sheila’s response to your points was helpful to me also.

    Also correct that S knows nothing about your (or my) life experience.

  7. Willow

    I’d like to add that porn use is rarely just porn use, just like substance abuse is rarely just substance abuse.

    Usually there is some level of “self-medication” involved – just as substance abuse is often in some way a reaction to trauma (trying to numb the pain), porn use, particularly when it gets to the level of an addiction, often has its roots in something else – feelings of inadequacy, sexual frustration, physical limitation/ED, emotional sadness/emptiness, lack of self-esteem, a traumatic sexual or relational experience, psychological immaturity, etc.

    To be successful in combating porn abuse or substance abuse, it’s usually necessary to dig out the root causes of the “self-medicating” behavior and address those.

    If a spouse keeps disappearing to use porn, I think it is often not as simple as that spouse being selfish (though of course any addiction is selfish.) There are likely deeper-rooted issues going on that are best addressed through therapy. Unless the underlying issues are addressed, the self-medicating reactions will keep occurring – they might just take another, potentially more destructive, form.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, absolutely agree. Jay Stringer’s book Unwanted is really good for this.

      • Sara

        I am the higher libido spouse, and have tried to get my husband to open up about why his libido is low. I’ve tried both the ways you mentioned here, Sheila, both helpful and unhelpful. But we get roadblocked when he admits there’s a problem but won’t do anything to fix it. No counseling, no doctor appointments, no stress relief, nothing. I admit to masturbating when he refuses me for long periods of time (months). The other problem is I discovered I cannot orgasm except when using a vibrator. He cannot last long enough or provide me enough stimulation to get me to orgasm. We’ve been married 18 years. I’m desperate for help.

  8. Joe

    Any thoughts on whether sex is an output of a good marriage or an input to a good marriage?

    I feel as though my wife is waiting for a perfect scenario where she is not tired – we have two little ones, alone time early enough in the night, doesn’t want to be intentional with scheduling as that feels forced and too much pressure (even though there’s complete freedom to say no). Open to your thoughts!

    • Jo R

      Is there any reason why YOU aren’t tired because YOU have two littles?

    • M

      I was sexually abused until I got married. After getting married I’ve always had this pressure to do it when it effects my emotional and physical wellbeing. I’m currently in a process of going no contact with my abuser. I feel I have to fake enjoying sex atleast once a week because If I try to have a conversation and suggest taking it off the table for awhile so that I can heal he threatens to leave. I find it arrogant that he wants me to be in it but when I show my true self he’s not satisfied. I have to put this mask on when we have sex and its the only issue we struggle with. I feel like I’m going to be used, violated and taken advantage of every time due to my past yet I have to put this fake face on. He feels he’s not a man without sex yet I don’t know who I am in this season of life especially with sex. It’s a horrible reality.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        I’m so sorry! I just want to say that you do not have consent to sex you don’t want. If he is pressuring you to, that is coercion. And if you are having to dissociate during it, that means you’re experiencing trauma, and you’re making it harder to heal long term. It’s okay to say no, and I’m so sorry he’s doing this toyou!

      • Anonsen

        Did your husband know this prior to your marriage? How much did he know before? Were you hiding your trauma from him during your engagement? (This would be natural to try to guard yourself, but that comes at a cost of trust and understanding.)
        This is a heavy burden to bring into a new marriage, and even if he knew, I think I can understand how he would be confused.
        I’m sure he had expectations of married life and it may take a bit of care to recognize that there needs to be a season for healing too.

        I pray you find a counselor or pastor who can help this conversation move forward and for healing to begin.

  9. Bill

    Once a week is widely agreed to be a good minimum and that’s what my wife likes. But then she also treats it as a firm maximum. She is never (and I do mean never) interested in more. She clings to “1x a week is normal.”

    “You just have to be patient and until [day of the week]” is her response to every time I try to initiate for more, no matter when and how I try. It puts her exclusively in control, and allows her to insist we don’t have any problems and we’re just “normal.” I hate it.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s really understandable, Bill. I’m sorry. Is sex good for her when she has it? Does she orgasm, and does she feel close to you?

      • Bill

        Thank you. She is quite satisfied, and I’m not saying that in a boastful way. She likes sex the same way every time and turns down suggestions that I think might enhance the quality of our weekly sessions – “I’m good; No, it’s fine this way.” She honestly feels we have a good sex life.

        She resists talking about sex outside the bedroom and I’ve given up referring her to your books and similar woman-centred resources, because she never reads them and sometimes complains that it just makes her feel pressured. And she deflects my concerns by saying it’s just normal for husbands to always want more; I’m getting unrealistic ideas from Hollywood, etc. There’s not much for me to work with.

        I more or less know why. To the points above – it’s not that she’s “selfish.” Her dysfunctional upbringing taught her to be controlling and to look after herself first, and she struggles to be generous and think of others’ needs (her words). She and we together have had a lot of general counseling for that but it means there isn’t a lot of room left to work specifically on how it affects our sex life, especially if she doesn’t see the connection as much as I do.

        She also has ADHD, and that can really flip around a lot of how women approach sex. Sheila, I’d love for you to address ADHD and neurodiversity at some point and how it affects the “typical” scripts of marital sex. I’d be glad to share more about that.


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