What if Recovery from Obligation Sex Seems Impossible?

by | Oct 10, 2023 | Libido | 67 comments

Recovery from Obligation Sex

Obligation sex can wreak havoc on us.

For last month we’ve been doing a deep dive into obligation sex, looking at the main problems with obligation sex, how it affects women’s bodies, why you don’t need to consent to being used, and more.

But as we’re nearing the end of the series, one of the topics that keeps coming up is this: How do we actually get beyond this? 

That question largely is shaped by whether or not you both recognize the gravity of the obligation sex message, so let’s deal with each scenario in turn:

Can you recover from obligation sex if your husband doesn’t agree it’s done harm?

Quite simply, no. You can’t move forward until you both:

  • See the harm in obligation sex in general
  • Acknowledge the harm that has been done in your specific marriage

When she has had her libido lost, her sexual response lost, or simply her emotional connection lost, that hurts. That is significant harm that has been done to her. You can’t really rebuild full intimacy until there’s agreement that there has been harm done.

Unfortunately, what often happens is that she starts setting boundaries–”I will no longer consent to sex where I feel used”–and he feels like he is now the one who is being hurt. 

So the conversation revolves around who is the most hurt.

If you’re in this kind of back and forth, it’s very hard to move forward. So please, ask him to listen to the obligation sex podcast. Ask him to read The Great Sex Rescue or listen to the audio version.

Please see a licensed counselor that you trust so you can talk through these things and get some ground rules.

But often recovery from obligation sex takes a sex fast for a time, or a time to put his pleasure on hold so that she can rediscover her sexuality. If this seems impossible to him, here’s what I’d want to say:

You are being asked to put your sex life on hold temporarily so that your wife can rediscover her sexuality. Yes, this may seem difficult. But remember: she has lost far more. You are being asked to forego some orgasms. She has had her whole sexuality stolen from her by obligation sex. She was created to desire sex, to be passionate, to be orgasmic even with multiple orgasms. But instead sex was turned into an obligation to her, and all that passion she was made to feel was stolen. She is the one who has lost here, not you.

In the middle of this discussion, one of our commenters said:

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”?

She went on to mention some ideas, but it is worth remembering that this is our gospel example. When you repent, you pay restitution. 

Now, I would hope it wouldn’t get to that point, and when she feels safe her libido and sexual response will return. But the focus simply must be on she who had so much taken from her, rather than on him who feels like he is losing out now. That is the only direction for healing, and if a husband isn’t willing or able to see that, it does cast doubt on whether she can feel safe in this marriage going forward. Even if he won’t see a licensed therapist, I would suggest that she seek one out in this case.

Scenario 2: He has repented, but desire isn’t returning

Then we have the other scenario, which so many women have mentioned on the comments here and on social media this month: They addressed the obligation sex. The husband got it. But her sexual desire isn’t returning.

One woman wrote this: 

My husband was continually starting and having sex with me while I was asleep. I repeatedly asked him to stop, told him that I didn’t want to ever start or have sex with him that way and that it reminded me of past assaults and rape that I had endured, to wake up to him already inside of me. He continued to do it, despite me pleading with him not to, until he read your book and felt convicted and came to me, apologizing for raping me.

He has since stopped this, which I am grateful for, but I still am dealing with a wide range of emotions and ptsd from enduring marital rape, when I thought my husband was going to be the one safe man that I’d ever had in my life. I am completely lost on where to go from here.

My big message: It takes time. And please see a licensed counselor to deal with the trauma of being raped repeatedly. This isn’t a marriage counseling thing, and it isn’t something she can just get over on her own because trauma is stored in the body. Please find a counselor that is trained in EMDR to actually heal from the trauma, and then you can see about moving forward, perhaps in counseling with him, or seeing how you feel together.

I think some women may get that trauma therapy but not want to rebuild a relationship with a man who routinely violated her boundaries and sexually assaulted her during their marriage, even if he didn’t think it was sexual assault at the time. Some women may be unwilling to try to move forward, and I do think that’s a natural consequence to his actions. 

If you’ve been traumatized and assaulted by your husband and you would rather start again, personally, I get it. I think that is a choice to be made in your circle, with your counselor.

Orgasm Course

But what if you actually want to save the marriage, and so you throw yourself into therapy, but it doesn’t seem to work? Another commenter wrote:

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.

I’m both desperate and hopeless.

I’ve received several of these types of messages, and it’s HARD. 

When there’s been so much pain between two people, and specifically pain caused by one towards the other, which the body interpreted as sexual assault–is it really possible to get over that? 

Based on our focus groups and the literature we’ve read, I’d say absolutely yes, it’s possible to get over it.

But based also on interviews and literature, I’d also say that it’s not guaranteed.

And here’s where I’m in a really difficult position, and I feel out of my depth. 

We’re researchers. We’re not counselors. And so I don’t feel equipped to tell couples what to do in these situations where they’ve already sought the professional help that I would recommend–the trauma therapists, they’ve had the different trauma therapies, they’ve gone to marriage counseling.

If you’ve done all the right things, and he’s done all the right things, but you still feel no desire and even a lot of disgust, how do you move forward? Do you just restart sex regardless and settle in for the rest of your life feeling used? Or do you declare that you’ll never have sex again?

Those don’t sound like very good options, do they?

I’m assuming that the counselors would have told their clients to start with what does feel comfortable–maybe holding hands, snuggling, kissing, and working on those things until they feel natural and good. I’m assuming that the counselor may have started with desensitization exercises around other forms of sexual touch. I’m assuming that the counselors would have worked through the betrayal and honestly made sure that she felt heard and seen by her husband.

So after all that–what now? Is it really that it will never get better, and that years of obligation sex have honestly stolen her sexuality permanently?

Again, it does look like this happens for some women. 

And I guess, in these cases, there’s a choice:

  • Remain in the marriage and have the marriage be sexless.
  • Remain in the marriage and continue to work at acclimatising yourself with sexual touch, in the hopes that one day it will return (even if you focus just on kissing and cuddling for now)
  • Decide to leave the marriage

I’m not sure which one you should do. I certainly can’t counsel on it. I will say that I believe this decision should be up primarily to her. If he is truly repentant and is following Zacchaeus’ example, then he will be willing to make restitution, which may mean remaining in a marriage where he doesn’t get sex (since he has already stolen the capacity to enjoy sex from her).

I wish I had an easier answer, and I do think that a sex therapist who has worked with cases like these would have a lot more insight for an individual couple than a blog post could. I know so many sex therapists who have seen sex lives and desire rebuilt. But it could just be that a passionate sex life with someone who was once your sexual abuser is a step too far for many women. And I get that.

And I’m so, so pissed about it. So seriously pissed.

Not at women! But at the whole situation. At the books that made it seem like marital rape wasn’t a thing. At the books that framed sex as a male entitlement and a female obligation. At the books that talked repeatedly about a man’s sexual needs, and how you can’t expect him to talk to you or be a decent human being or not cheat on you if you don’t give him “release” and let him ejaculate inside of you.

I’m so, so pissed at the books that even made it seem like the primary concern during the postpartum phase was that he still got his mandatory climaxes.

It’s led to so much pain. It should never have been this way. It was never of Jesus.

And now women are spending thousands on therapy, and going trying so, so hard just to rebuild desire towards a man that these books taught to rape her.

Maybe some of these marriages just won’t be saved.

But then for goodness sake, let’s never, ever do this again. Let’s change the story for the next generation. Let’s burn these books and their messages to the ground. Let’s rescue. 

This can never, ever be our story ever again.

Recovery from Obligation Sex

What do you think? Have you experienced this? What have counselors told you? 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:

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

What Stops You from Treating Your Body as a Friend?

I was not kind to my body yesterday, and I am feeling it! When people used to complain about food insensitivities, I never really understood until it started happening to me. I've been having some real issues with gluten lately, and I've largely gone off of bread. But...


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. Angharad

    I have a friend who has never ever experienced enjoyable sex. I guess for women like her, there’s an extra layer in that she has no incentive to work on this.

    I mean, if you absolutely love skiing, and you have an injury and your physio tells you that if you work really hard on your rehabilitation and are willing to put up with some pain during the process, then one day, you’ll be able to hit the slopes again, you will be thinking “Great! It’s worth all the pain and the effort if I can ski again.”

    But if you never got off the nursery slopes, and your only experience of skiing was being bored, cold, tired and having painful falls, the same message will have you thinking “Why on earth should I bother? I hated skiing when I tried it before, so why would I put all that effort into getting able to do something I’ll probably never like anyway.”

    If someone has no idea that sex could ever be anything other than unpleasant, should we be encouraging them to change their minds? What if they never do get there?

    • Jane Eyre

      This is why it’s so important for husbands to cut the crap very, very early in their marriage. If their wives are five, seven, twenty years into marriage and have never enjoyed sex, whelp, you bought yourself a sexless marriage.

      • Leila Stark

        Sheila, you have been my voice over and over again. And once again..it’s like reading my thoughts on a page.
        I’m so stuck. Having been coerced over and over again since day 1..having to give sex like a bargaining chip..to protect my kids, so he would be nice to my parents or other guests…just so he would be somewhat decent to me. I’ve never experienced good sex. And being almost 50, it seems like such a pipe dream. Although my husband has been taking responsibility for most of his actions, I just can’t even touch him hardly. Without feeling empty. I pray it changes. But the truth is, it may never. I’m just so so thankful you and your blog, books and podcast are there for other women..that hopefully can avoid the pain and utter loneliness of a difficult broken marriage. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all you do.

    • Becky

      I agree with this. I experienced sexual molestation as a 4 year old. I’ve never enjoyed sex. It was just ok for a while but at some point I felt like I was over it. I wouldn’t define my married sex life as obligation sex, but I received a lot of the same messages. It’s like “What is wrong with you that you don’t like it?” I think for me, sex will forever feel like being wanted/used only for someone else’s pleasure.
      I hate that the “fix” is to go to counseling and endure revisiting your trauma so that you can have and like sex like a normal person.
      I love my husband and we are committed to a likely sexless marriage. I hate typing that out. Dealing with the guilt and resentment (he towards me and I towards sex) is awful at times. I try not to think about it. I also hate when people express pity toward me like I’m missing out. I at least have a really awesome husband who tenderly loves me enough to stay with me no matter what. That is like Jesus to me.

  2. Andrea

    “And now women are spending thousands on therapy, and going [broke?] trying so, so hard just to rebuild desire towards a man that these books taught to rape her.”

    I’ve been hearing rumors (and they probably are just rumors) of a class action law suit against Focus on the Family and that’s what I wish would happen to all the authors and publishers who wrote and promoted the evangelical marital rape manuals. They made a LOT of money on those and that money should be used for therapy now, that would be a form a restitution.

    I also want to repeat something I wrote here a few years ago when Sheila first told us about Aunt Matilda. I wish I could find my own quote and just cut and paste it, but it went something like this: The point of the Aunt Matilda story was for Tim LaHaye to define marital rape as something very violent and this is because when he first published his gentle rape manual in the 1970s the idea of marital rape really started gaining traction (though it wasn’t outlawed in the U.S. until about 20 years later). This is why he gave overly detailed instructions to husbands about foreplay and emphasized how much men need sex, so that the wives don’t even think they can complain unless they’re being treated like Aunt Matilda. I also want to add that there were nineteenth and early twentieth-century male authors who wrote things like “most marriages begin with rape” in case anyone tries to tell you that it was a radical feminist idea of the 1970s. Radical feminism just made it go mainstream.

    • Stefanie

      I would join that class action lawsuit. And one against my former church organization.

    • Laura

      I hope this rumor about Focus on the Family comes true. They have put out so many harmful resources that it’s just unbelievable that they still continue. I’m very cautious about what “Christian” resources I’m reviewing now that I’m in a relationship.

    • Rebecca

      I was raised on Focus on the Family stuff and made sure to marry someone who wasn’t, so I have no personal reason to join such a lawsuit, but oh, I hope this goes down.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I am so curious if there is actually a class action suit. I honestly think that would be hard to win in the U.S. I think if a suit was focused more on their counseling ministry (and especially their Hope Restored conferences to “fix” marriages in crisis), there may be some room there. But I don’t know if you could sue someone successfully for writing really bad stuff and win.

  3. Cynthia Bretz

    I don’t think I could have rebuilt the relationship with my former husband even if he had been willing to consider the ways he had hurt me and to work on himself. I could no longer trust him, no longer believe that he had my best interests in mind. Trust must be rebuilt before desire can return, and a lot of times even when a man thinks he’s willing, he does not anticipate the time it will take to regain her trust. In my case, he started complaining about me not “speaking his love language” just weeks into my asking for a break from sex because I didn’t feel safe. I just don’t think a lot of men who have been brought up in this culture really believe they’ve done anything so terrible, and they expect their wives to “get over it.”

    • Anonymous305

      My ex said the exact same thing!!!!

      • Stefanie

        There’s such a disconnect! Maybe because it was good for him he doesn’t see how bad it was for us? A profound lack of empathy and inability to put themselves in our shoes. Or maybe unwillingness?

        • exwifeofasexaddict

          My ex could show empathy for others but not for me. I do think lack of empathy is taught into men in this system. It’s horrible.

          • Anonymous305

            My ex also showed more empathy for others than for me, which I still don’t understand. I married him because I assumed he’d be as sensitive to me as he was to others. Apparently, no one should assume that????

            Maybe because his feelings toward his wife were conditioned on how much sex he got, but other relationships didn’t have that condition??

    • TJ

      Thanks Sheila! Lot of good things to think about in this article.

      One thing I keep trying to figure out, is how can husbands work towards recovery, repentance and restitution when SHE doesn’t necessarily agree or feel that harm was done?

      Our marriage was nearly sexless from the beginning, although she did let me know she felt like she “should” desire it due to social and cultural pressures. And that she would feel that pressure just by knowing that sexual intimacy in our relationship was something that I had a desire for, regardless of how gently I might try to initiate, or how alert I’d be to back off at the slightest hesitation, or even once I’d stopped initiating completely.

      However, while I’d love to be able to repent and seek restitution like Zacchaeus, whenever I try to talk about it, she can’t come up with anything I’ve done wrong or could work on doing better. She tells me that she feels completely safe, loved, respected, loves being close and cuddling, that I pull more than my weight, etc. That it’s “not me, it’s her”. That she just never thinks about sexual intimacy, doesn’t really ever feel any emotional or physical desire for it (dyadic or solo), and doesn’t feel any motivation for that to change. Although the act of discussing it often brings up feelings of guilt or inadequacy from her, which itself seems like an insidious form of coercion, so I try not to bring it up often, and only ever from the perspective of “how can I do better as a husband?”

      I’m left a bit at a loss then, as how I can repent and do better. I just keep coming back to the idea that, if a husband is GENUINELY safe and loving, if he’s making an effort to care about his wife’s pleasure, to pull his weight, to actually be a good man, rather than pushy or entitled, then desire and frequency take care of themselves. So the fact that our marriage IS still sexless after all these years must mean that I’m still failing somewhere in one of those areas. I just struggle to figure out exactly where so I can improve.

      • TJ

        (Oops! Meant to make this a top-level comment but accidentally hit Reply instead. Sorry!)

      • S

        I would ask her to visit her doctor with the sole purpose of talking about her low libido. My husband is awesome, loving, does more than his fair share and is good in bed, but my desire started to tank. My doctor asked a lot of questions, did a lot of blood work for hormones and other levels and with medication I am back to what are normal levels of desire and a much higher libido. It’s worth a try!

      • Stefanie

        Maybe take her at her word that it’s her and not you. She seems happy to continue the relationship with friendship and cuddles. If you are good with that, then that’s fine. But it sounds like it’s a problem for you. Have you worked with a therapist to determine your next steps?

      • Kay

        She sounds like she is probably asexual. 🤷🏼‍♀️

        • TJ

          I have (gently) broached that possibility, but she insists she would not self-identity as asexual, and was pretty uncomfortable with the suggestion.

          It would honestly be a bit of relief to me if she did. Since that would at least be some form of closure. Rather than the Limbo of uncertainty of wondering if I’m still screwing up somewhere, if it’s due to medications or if this is just the way it is. And whether or not it’s reasonable or healthy to keep holding on to hope for sexual intimacy to be part of our marriage someday.

          • Jane Eyre

            Medications? Those can seriously mess with libido. Is she open to talking with her doctor about switching to a different formulation or having some blood work done (hormones, vitamins, minerals)? I normally don’t suggest it because trying to “fix” women can be an endless rabbit hole that has nothing to do with the underlying issues, but this one jumped out at me.

          • TJ

            She’s been on SSRIs most of her adult life, which I’ve learned are known to have side effects on both libido and desire.

            But they’re also a pretty trial-and-error balancing act to affects different people differently. I’d be extremely loath to even hint that she mess with that or risk her mental and emotional well being just for my sake, unless it was something she actively wanted to explore for her own sake.

      • Bernadette

        Honestly, I think it is not a guarantee sex will sort itself out when the high-libido spouse does everything right. Because relationship dynamics are not the only reason sex might be absent or rare.

      • Angharad

        TJ, I don’t know your situation, but for some women, the damage has been done long before they get married.

        So many women have been abused – and that word choice is deliberate – by the teaching they have received from parents, pastors, youth group leaders and ‘mature women’ in their churches, that their attitude to sex is seriously malformed before they even get as far as marriage. Many more have been harmed by the ‘Christian’ books and websites they have read about relationships. Some realise they are damaged before marriage and either choose to stay single (because they are worried about inflicting their issues on their husband) or put in some serious work on sorting out issues before they start dating. But for many, they don’t even realise they have been damaged.

        It’s good that you are so aware of the potential for your behaviours to harm your wife, but do bear in mind that it is also possible none of this has anything to do with you.

      • Sequoia

        I’m wondering if the concept of a responsive libido has come up between you two? There’s a post about it somewhere on Bare Marriage. The idea that a person can enjoy and desire sex once they start the excitement/cuddling/foreplay process?
        It’s not a bad thing for you to want sex with your wife. And it’s possible that you’re not to blame for her lack of desire. You seem to be taking her seriously and considering her as a valuable person, that’s a crucial foundation. I don’t make your situation, so I can’t make a judgment. It’s possible you should keep on that search for something to repent for. But it’s also possible that you haven’t done wrong, and could ask your wife to pursue a higher frequency of sex where you both are same to enjoy it. That might mean considering what barriers are in front of her or in front of you as a couple hindering that process.

        • Sequoia

          *both are able to enjoy

        • TJ

          Yes, I certainly am aware of responsive desire. I’ve read both Emily Nagoski’s Come As You Are as well as Sheila’s own Great Sex Rescue; both were good reads and full of great information!

          Over the years though, we discovered that trying to start with foreplay before desire for her would almost never work. If she wasn’t spontaneously feeling that initial “spark” of desire before we started, then all the romance, cuddling, touching, or kissing in the world might feel nice, but only in a relaxing or comfortable way, and almost never really lead to excitement.

          We tried discussing things like Breaks and Accelerators, but she couldn’t really think of answers to either.

          So eventually, to avoid pushing those feelings of obligation, we landed on the understanding that it wasn’t really a good idea for me to initiate anything without a direct and clear invitation from her first, on those rare occasions when her desire spontaneously shows up.

          • JoB

            TJ, I would agree with other commenters that even with our best efforts, sometimes things don’t take care of themselves. Others can identify with the sadness of doing all the right things and patiently persevering, and it doesn’t bring about the change we hope to see, in many areas of life.

            It sounds like you and your wife work hard at communicating- have you ever been able to talk about what her hopes or expectations about sex were before she experienced it? Did she expect or hope to like it? Was she disappointed when she found she struggled? Does she express any desire to have biological children?

            I’d agree that if you haven’t already, you might consider individual counseling to help you think through this in a safe and confidential place. You may also look into an organization like NAMI (National alliance on mental illness) for support for both of you. They have some excellent resources and support programs, and perhaps it would help to hear from others who know the difficulties of medication management and side effects, as well as the challenges of having a partner who is extra sensitive to stress or extra preoccupied in trying to maintain their own equilibrium, which means they have less to give in return sometimes. I hope many things for you guys, but I know sometimes hopes can be hard to say and to hear, so I’ll just say I hope you will find wise and compassionate counsel for both of you.

          • AS

            I hear so much of my husband in your writing. And I hear your desire for connection and sexual pleasure for both you and your wife, it’s not an unreasonable thing to want. The problem, in my situation at least, is two decades + in the making. I didn’t have to start taking SSRI’s until several years into my marriage. A large part of it was how sex was so anticipated and longed for, by me, before marriage. And it ended up with vaginismus, anorgasmia, lots of pain and crying by myself in the bathtub afterwards. Feeling trapped by vowing marriage before God, family, and friends and being tied doing something at least twice a week that caused me no joy, no connection, no pleasure… instead brought me pain, distance, tears, and confusion. We had experimented before marriage, but it was playful, fun, and enjoyable. This felt the opposite of that. I felt used and unimportant. And when I tried talking about it I was told that my body wasn’t mine anymore, that it belonged to him. That it was the only way he really felt deeply loved. I got the cold shoulder or ignored, told I wasn’t interested in loving him well. It was torture.

            My husband is now appalled at himself. And I truly think he would be a near perfect husband to someone without my baggage around sex. But his couple years of not being entitled has only slightly lessened my feelings. My body still tenses and panics when jokes are made about having sex later, even if he doesn’t want me to if I don’t want to. But the damage is done and ingrained. The neural pathway is paved. Sex=bad. I have gone through EMDR and years of talk therapy. My husband keeps talking about keeping hope… and I just want what I have always wanted, to be loved. Regardless of whether my libido is restored. Regardless of if I ever am able to have a “honeymoon period” with sex. I want the idol of sex torn down, set flames too, and for my husband to celebrate with me. Just me. And not wonder if sex is coming later.

      • Eliza

        Sometimes there isn’t something the other spouse can do; sometimes there isn’t something either spouse can do. I think if you want to ask what the golden rule would be in a situation like this, I guess it would be–how would you want her to interact with you if she wanted sex but you had a medical condition preventing it and you’d talked with the doctors and there was nothing more you could do? The reality is, it is not a perfect world and some loving marriages (I dare say at some point over a lifetime, most) are at some point going to be sexless and some spouses who really would like sex are not going to get it through no fault of their own. And it’s hard but it’s also a chance to genuinely show love in a world that thinks that sexual fulfillment is the be-all and end-all of human existence.

    • Lisa Johns

      My soon-to-be ex made a big deal of his “repentance,” but refused to grant me any grace to work through the trust issues he had created. To this day I think he feels that I should “just get over it.”
      So to the guys who think a one-time large gesture of repentance should “fix” the marriage… NOPE! You need to put in the time that is takes to fix a situation that has been years in the making, and I can tell you that one night of blubbering on the couch isn’t going to undo all that came before!

    • Laura

      After repeatedly experiencing sexual assault in the middle of the night for several months, I knew my marriage could never move forward. I no longer felt safe in bed with my now ex, so I divorced him. My safety mattered more than the “sanctity” of keeping the marriage together.

  4. S

    I made the huge mistake of going to a page called The Marriage Bed that was mentioned as toxic in a comment here last week. It is so so awful and more of obligation sex is biblical, more sex is better, he physically “needs” release, even if he is a selfish jerk to you need to have sex with him. Sex 12 times in one week is a great goal to have, if women are not into sex then they still need to offer hand jobs because they may not be into sex but their husband is. I am so discouraged and disgusted and actually upset, especially since it looks like its mainly men who follow this guy. This guy who claims his own mother telling his wife that she didn’t have to have daily sex with her son when they were newly weds, was telling his wife lies, and women should surround themselves with sex positive women who say things like “I’ll suck that thing any time he wants me too”. How demeaning and crass. If my husband talked about our sex life that way to his friends I would be shocked and appalled, yet he wants women to tell other women that they need to get with the program and just have more sex for the sake of their marriage.

    Its so sad to me that the obligation message is still very much alive and well and men do believe they are owed sex and sex acts, and using their wives as a means to their orgasm, no matter how they behave and that women need to learn to like it and expect to be ready and willing to have sex daily, or more if that is what their husband wants. I’m so thankful my husband is agnostic and never was taught these harmful messages. I clearly remember the first time in out marriage when I was not in the mood I offered a hand job instead, not knowing how much work those can be, sorry for the tmi, and he declined nicely saying it was not necessary and we would just rain check for later.

    • Nessie

      The guy on that website sounds like he grew up in a sexually disfunctional family if his mom was telling his wife she didn’t have to have sex with him daily! That’s an awkward MIL/DIL convo to have, and I feel like there must have been a reason for having it…

      Combine that with recommending 12 times/week?!? I’d say “who has time for that” but I’m guessing PIV only takes him a minute or two, so that isn’t a valid argument. And with that crass phrasing, I cannot imagine it is a Christian website, at least not in truth.

  5. Bernadette

    Can’t find the research, now. But I once read that cuddling, holding hands, etc, WITHOUT it leading to sex can help build trust. Maybe it’s called “bonding behaviors”? The couple agrees that it won’t lead to sex, and then that promise is kept.

  6. Jo R

    Are there any stats for levels of recovery, duration of treatment, and types of treatment from these issues?

    Something like “25 / 50 / 75 percent of women spent 1 / 3 / 5 years in talk therapy / EMDR / other treatment type before finding slight / moderate / significant relief from 10 / 20 / 30 years of living under these beliefs”?

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I would love to know that too! I wonder if any counselors could chime in on this?

  7. Laura

    I’m over here trying really hard not to cry. The first two scenarios are my marriage. This morning I woke up and wondered if I should give my husband another shot. Should I try to allow healing in the relationship?

    Reading through this reminded me of all the trauma and how even when I brought all this information to him, he still couldn’t change. Even when he said he was focusing on my pleasure, he wasn’t.

    I don’t want to go back to a loveless marriage, where only one of us is putting in the work.

    • Beth

      Laura, you so right about the trauma of being assaulted while asleep. That is totally unsafe and open to serious injury!
      Sex with a sleeping person is way, way out of the norm, and it should be a deal breaker.

      Sheila, I’m going to be blunt here—you desperately need more clinical information about how rare and dangerous a sexual attraction to a sleeping, unconscious body is. Have you ever seen the Psychology Today article about it? It is NOT at all normal, and that poor woman’s body can’t get past it for a very good reason. She shouldn’t!

      There is a clinical name for it—somnophilia—and clinical information is what she needs:


      It can be a sign the person is covertly into BDSM, and some who are into somnophilia can take it to the next horrible level, necrophilia. Maybe one of your sex therapist friends can give you more info. One that specializes in sex offending is who you need to talk to. This behavior is one that as the Apostle Paul put it “is hardly named among the Gentiles”—sexual immorality for sure.

      It is entirely normal for a woman to never be attracted to her rapist again. Living and staying married to a perpetrator of sexual terror is NOT something anyone should be urging women to do.

      • B

        “If the person you are with is passed out, it’s okay to have sex with them.
        False. Consent cannot be assumed or implied, and an unconscious person is not capable of giving consent. Even if this person is your long-term partner, there is no consent.”

        Sex with a sleeping person is more than “out of the norm.”
        It is not “marital rape.” No qualifiers or softening adjectives are needed for sex that occurs without consent.
        It is just rape. It is criminal behaviour in Canada.
        When intimate partner violence occurs in an existing relationship with a known/prior partner, it may be difficult to prove a lack of consent and many victims decide not to pursue criminal charges.

        But one doesn’t need to press criminal charges to get help. There are usually counselling supports available to address both initial trauma as well as PTSD within services/programs that provide care for people who have experienced intimate partner violence.
        If you are in Canada, there is a list of resources by province here: https://endingviolencecanada.org/sexual-assault-centres-crisis-lines-and-support-services/

  8. Meinhi

    The root of the problem is the ignorance (from church, parents, grand-parents, etc) and making the topic of sex taboo that results in the lack of teaching the true meaning of sex. This is a global issue affecting all religions. Not sure how we got here. Very sad!

    • John


  9. Mara R

    “*Decide to leave the marriage”

    There you go, Sheila, running around telling women to divorce their husbands. You home wrecker.

    Anyway, that’s what I imagine some people saying. You know those people. The ones that demand that women make themselves the living sacrifices on the altar of marriage to make it “work”. Because marriage and the male libido are to be worshiped and guarded with all the religious zeal they can muster.

    And they are really mad that you don’t worship the marriage god along with them

  10. Stephanie Reindel

    I would love it if you could crowd-source/curate some stories from guys who share positive outcomes of when they understood and worked through this stuff with their wives. I have so appreciated learning from and hearing so many stories from the women’s perspective because I finally felt heard and understood. However, I have a husband who is working so hard on his end of things, and I know he would appreciate similar wisdom and encouragement from the guys who have gone before him and could offer him some hope of recovery. At this point, really all we’ve come across is Non-Toxic Masculinity by Zachary Wagner (which was amazing!). I think we’re both feeling a bit discouraged on this journey even though we’re both putting in the work. It’s just slow going.

    • MR

      It is slow going. We are at 14 months and still working. We are making solid progress. I have hope for us and for others. I didn’t really know what it would take when I took a stand last year.

  11. Perfect Number

    Thanks for writing this- I think this is very real- because of trauma there might not be a good answer for how to move forward, or if it’s even possible to have a good sex life after that. I agree that this is something we can’t really give people advice about- we can only give suggestions or examples and then people can decide for themselves if any of the examples are similar to their own life.

    Would you say your perspective on this has changed since writing “The Great Sex Rescue”? I’m asking because there’s one chapter (“Becoming more than roommates”) that says it’s not okay to have a sexless marriage- whatever the issue is, if it’s an issue on your side then it’s your responsibility to work through it, with the goal of being able to have a good sex life. (This is what I got from reading that chapter- you can correct me if I misunderstood it.) I very much disagree with this, as an asexual- I don’t think a sexless marriage is a problem in and of itself. If that’s what works best for them, and they’re happy with it, then that’s fine. (I definitely agree that most people would not be okay with this- so, in that case, it would be a problem. And hopefully this is something the couple is able to communicate about before getting married- though if they believe they shouldn’t have sex before marriage, they might genuinely have no idea that one of them isn’t actually interested in sex.)

    So anyway, I was glad to see this blog post acknowledging that a sexless marriage may sometimes be the best option (out of 3 options, none of which are ideal). Yeah I realize this blog post is specifically about the trauma caused by obligation sex, which is maybe different from what you were talking about in that chapter of “The Great Sex Rescue”- but anyway, just wanted to ask if this means your views have changed since then.

  12. Boone

    I’ve practiced family and criminal law for just over thirty years. During that time I’ve never seen a couple get into the positions described above without a lot of fault on both sides.
    I would advise either a husband or wife that came to me in the above mentioned situations that they’ve got a choice to make. What are they willing to do to fix the problems and what are they willing to put up with during that time? Are the problems fixable? If they are not is the new normal something that they can live with? Are both sides willing to own their share of the faults? Does either spouse expect the other to do penance for their sins for the rest of the marriage? Is it a mutual goal to get sex back on the table at some point?
    If you can’t live with the answers to most of these questions then it’s probably time to split the blanket and get out. There’s no point in making both spouses and everybody around you miserable.

    • Jo R

      Just out of sheer curiosity, Boone, did you ever represent any wives who wanted a divorce because their husbands developed erectile dysfunction? If you did, what was the outcome?

      • Boone

        Actually, yes! I’ve had two cases where that was the issue. In both the husband refused to try to get medical help at all. We wound up splitting everything more or less down the middle.
        In the last one I think the guy just wanted out but didn’t want to be the one start the ball rolling. About a year after the divorce was final he linked up with a school teacher and they eventually got married.
        The weirdest one I ever had the wife, who was about five feet tall and weighed about 100 lbs. insisted on tying her husband up and dominating him during sex. Husband was willing to put up with it until one night she tied him up and invited a friend.

        • Jo R

          Thanks, Boone!

    • Stefanie

      I’m really curious about your statement “without a lot of fault on both sides.” My former church friend told me I need to take some “personal responsibility” for my sexual trauma when I was sharing with her my trauma. And for the life of me the only thing I can think that I can take responsibility for is that I believed all the terrible Christian messaging about sex. But then how is that my fault, if I was raised in this crap since birth? I was basically brainwashed as a child that if I ventured out away from the church’s teachings, I would spend eternity in fiery torment. That sounds like spiritual abuse to me. Can you explain what is my fault? The entirety of my sex ed comes from church and Christian sex books. My mom took me out of public school and put me into Catholic school so that I wouldn’t learn to put a condom on a banana. And then I get married as a clueless virgin and sex is very bad, but church tells me that God Almighty decrees that I fulfill my marital obligations. And remember the threat of hell is hanging over your head. AND they tell me that I can’t make my husband feel bad, so I have to pretend to like it! And this message didn’t just come from the pulpit and the books, but also the other married women. So, I’d like to know what is my fault?

      • Boone

        I’m talking about the bitterness and anger that steadily builds with both parties. Things are said and done in anger that add bricks to the wall and eventually that wall becomes too high to get over. Remember, both of you were raised with the same teachings and both of you think you’re right. Granted you were set up to fail from the beginning and that not either one of you’d fault..
        I’m of the position, based upon experience, that when the level of hostility reaches that described in the post it’s best to end it and move on.

    • exwifeofasexaddict

      This is a dumb take. I can speak from personal experience that sometimes a person just cheats or abuses and it isn’t the other person’s fault AT ALL. There are lots of discussions to be had, like the culture you live in breeding entitlement which causes bad behavior. But sometimes there truly is an innocent spouse.

      This blog contains a description of a woman being raped in her sleep, and him ignoring her pleas to stop. What can you possible think she did to cause that? Even if she did everything wrong in her marriage, that would still be rape and unwarranted. And inexcusable.

      • Boone

        I agree that sometimes it’s the case. Abuse is whole new animal all by itself. You have serial philanderers but they’re maybe one or two out of a hundred cases (Consensus of informal office poll). They’re really not that common. There are exceptions but with most affairs the marriage was in the toilet, or rapidly headed that way before the affair starts.
        I’ve been denounced in fundamentalist pulpits in at least four counties. I sued one fundy church for defamation on behalf of a woman that divorced against orders because her husband caught in severe dalliance with a 17 yr old girl at a church function. That church is now condos. I’m no fan of their ilk.
        I’m also limping everybody that walks in the door into the mix. Churched, unchurched, heathen or saint.

        • exwifeofasexaddict

          See if Gretchen Baskerville will admit you to her group, Lifesaving Divorce. (She might not.) If you could see how people- mostly women- in that group have divorced a purely evil man, you would change your tune. The stories are heartbreaking. And while there is no *perfect* victim, there are true victims. Of abuse, of serial adultery, etc. It’s not as rare as you think it is.

          • Lisa Johns

            Thank you for pointing that out. Boone’s comments, while understandable, did not sit right at all.
            I know that I have done wrong in the course of marriage; we all do, because we are human. But I was the one trying to communicate well and make it work. My husband’s responses to me were unwarranted and destructive. The responsibility for the death of our marriage really isn’t entirely mutual.

        • Lisa Johns

          Boone, given that this blog is mostly frequented by women of faith, perhaps you ought to look at what women of faith endure at the hands of manipulative/abusive husbands, and not lump everyone together. You might find that the stats shift a little, because overwhelmingly, we are women who really try to make things work. We have the tendency to believe that is God’s will, and we are nothing if not faithful to God. This is one reason we become so angry when we finally realize that church teaching has screwed us for decades.

  13. Angharad

    Sheila, do you have, or can you do, an overview of “Hero: Becoming the Man She Desires” by Fred and Jasen Stoeker?

    My friend’s husband, who is a pastor, has just done a Facebook post raving about it and saying this is required reading for men in his church. Looking at the online reviews praising the book (one talks about how great it is to see a book proclaiming ‘the truth’ that God didn’t intend women to like sex as much as men do) , I’m so worried for the welfare of their teenage sons.

    • Lisa Johns

      Given the name of the author, I’d say the book probably ought to burn in hell. We know what kinds of things Fred has been saying for a few years!

  14. Marnir

    Thank you, Sheila, for ending this amazing series here! Acknowledging that years and years of obligation sex doesn’t always just get better with a few tricks (that admittedly would have likely done the trick 20 years ago).

    Finding a counselor who even “gets” the trauma is hard! They may not teach obligation, but if they’re not educated into the trauma side of it (or understand it themselves) it’s more “fluff” than help.

    I start trauma therapy tomorrow because counseling has not helped (this).

    I really, really appreciate you acknowledging that sexual aversion gained at the hands of your spouse is HARD!!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I truly wish I had a magical answer, but I don’t!

  15. Tim

    I find this topic very alien because I always accepted being turned down by my first wife, the woman I married when I was twenty. I never ever forced myself upon her. But while she was very happy for me to help her orgasm by non-penetrative means, she was never prepared to do the same for me. I was not permitted to become fully aroused. After a long time in this marriage that wasn’t really a marriage, I wrote to her to declare how very deeply I loved her, and to explain that we needed to have proper penetrative sex and I needed to orgasm too and not have wet dreams. As a man and still a virgin, I was in an overwhelming identity crisis. I said I couldn’t cope with it any longer and that there was a risk of me being unfaithful to her. She still refused me. I had spent over TEN YEARS trying to sensitively nurture the circumstances in which she would consent, but she never ever did. From what little she had explained to me, I believe she was a childhood rape victim, probably at the hands of an immediate adult member of her family. I was a virgin when we married and I thought she was the same. When the marriage ended after eleven years, we still hadn’t had full sex. It felt so ironic when some people said it was just as well we did not have children, but that would have been impossible! It took a long time to recover and to appreciate that most women are not like that. I had spent ten years assuming that everyone else must be bluffing about how good sex could be. I never strayed and she was the one to initiate divorce. It was while the divorce was proceeding that I met someone else. My wife immediately screamed “adultery”! How ridiculous. The marriage should never have been like that and almost everyone thought we were very close. That marriage ended thirty years ago and after a period of adjustment and sex therapy to recover my self-esteem, which took a while, I entered a normal loving and healthy sexual relationship.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Tim, I’m so sorry! I’m glad you’re in a better place now, and that you got good therapy. I’m sorry your first wife didn’t get the help she needed before she married you. That’s just so heartbreaking. I’m glad you were so patient with her, but so sorry for the trauma that must have caused you.

  16. Bonnie

    This topic has been such an answered prayer, Sheila! I cried when marital rape was described…never realized there was an actual name for what I had experienced! I moved back and forth through phases of hope and hopelessness as the weeks have passed since you initiated the topic. One thing that made it so hard to bring up to him is the fact that BOTH of us thought we were doing what God wanted! We had been told that marital sex was a man’s right, and a woman’s duty, and didn’t question it. Finally, with your post describing the steps to go forward, I had the courage to talk about it with him. When I explained what I’d learned, he was initially resistant, saying to me that he’d never done anything to me that I didn’t consent to. I kept explaining, and he finally heard me! He is now adamant that he never wants me to feel erased during sex again. We’ve been fasting for almost a year now (at my insistence), and he is finally able to realize what I meant when I told him that I won’t have sex until I can say “yes” freely and gladly.
    I would love to see a post featuring the stories of men who have been able to recognize this in their marriage, repent of it, and who will share what their restitution took the form of.
    We recently lost a close damily member. I was able to lean on him for support, and allow him to massage my back and snuggle me while I grieved (with none of the fears of having to “pay” for it for having led him on). What a healing experience…
    Thank you for all you do, Sheila and family. May God continue to lead and guide you!

  17. Jennifer

    I have not listened to your podcast on Obligation sex yet, but just based on this article, I am hoping to finally find some hope. I was a virgin at marriage (18 years ago), went in excited and had a high libido. On our honeymoon I realized something wasn’t right. His libido didn’t match mine even though we were pretty physical before the wedding. By the 2nd month, I was basically telling him when we would have sex. He had no desire. I chalked it up to his weight and low libido…but wasnt sure. After a few years got into the groove of maybe once a week, but I was already feeling rejected and I wouldn’t initiate. Fast forward a few more years and a couple kids, learned that he was addicted to porn and had been since his teen years. (I found your resources very helpful at the time). He has overcome that since…counseling, accountability partners etc…but now I am a mess. He desires me, but I’m pretty sure that emotionally I’ve checked out. I went to a few counselors…one who literally just handed me a print-off of different sex positions to try and just “have fun”, and one I’m seeing now who is fantastic. After learning about obligation sex, I believe this may be my problem. My husband does not expect me to perform and has commented about how he doesn’t want me to just dutifully do it, but I can’t seem to emotionally connect again. Part of my upbringing was in the throngs of the purity culture and I took some teaching away from that Era that hasn’t been helpful. I know the Father’s design was not for obligation, but I can’t seem to switch that part of me off and turn on the emotional connection. I’m looking forward to your podcast! I’ll be listening to that in the next week. Thank you!!


Submit a Comment

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