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:
- 8 Questions Women Can Ask if Their Husbands Don’t Want Sex
- 10 Questions Husbands Can Ask if Their Wives Don’t Want Sex
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
- 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
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.
You may also enjoy:
- The Orgasm Course! If sex has never felt that good for her, please start here
- The Boost Your Libido Course! If she can reach orgasm, but she just doesn’t want sex often, this is the course for you
- The Great Sex Rescue. Learn how the teachings we grew up with about sex can cause libido to plummet
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.
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!
The Obligation Sex Series
- 10 Things to Know about Obligation Sex
- Why Obligation Sex Destroys Libido (and how it affects us long-term)
- Are Obligation Sex and Marital Rape the Same Thing?
- A Way Forward to Recovery from Obligation Sex
- Why Obligation Sex Can Make Sex Feel Disgusting
- You Don't Need to Consent to Being Used (what to do when your husband insists on obligation sex)
- How Higher Drive Spouses Can Avoid Giving the Obligation Sex Message
- 10 Ways Men Can Initiate Sex Without Pressuring Her
- The Obligation Sex podcast
Previous Posts on Obligation Sex
- Can We Honor our Bodies' Rhythms?
- Does 1 Corinthians 7 Mean that Women Have No Sexual Autonomy?
- What Happens When Men Believe the Obligation Sex Message?
Previous Podcasts on Obligation Sex
- New Research on the effects of Obligation Sex
- The Myth of the Magic Penis
- Marital Rape, Consent, and the Problems with Obligation Sex
Plus please see our Great Sex Rescue Toolkit for handy downloads about the effects of obligation sex that you can give to your pastor, counselor, small group leader--anyone who teaches it!
And see chapters 9 and 10 in The Great Sex Rescue for all our charts, stats, and commentary!