More sex does not fix a marriage.
In our study of 20,000 women for The Great Sex Rescue, we found that more sex made good marriages great. Good sex, in a healthy marriage, definitely helps that marriage thrive.
But sex can’t fix a bad marriage. And, indeed, having bad sex can actually make a woman’s perception of marriage far worse.
How can he have sex with me when I obviously don’t want to? How can he not care how I feel about what he’s doing to me? How can he use my body with absolutely not regard for ME? How can he think of me as just a hole?
When you have sex and your primary emotion is feeling used, then it will make you feel further away from your spouse, not more intimate with your spouse.
We need to rethink the idea that “more sex = better sex = better marriage”
It should be more like this:
Good marriage + good sex = great marriage
But bad marriage + bad sex = worse marriage
bad marriage + good sex can still = bad marriage
It’s complicated. Feeling as if a spouse is only interested in you for your body, and doesn’t care about you, can cause serious issues in how you communicate and feel about each other.
Let’s remember the threefold nature of sex:
Sex is something which is:
- Mutual (both want it)
- Pleasurable for both
Anything else is not actually sex; it’s just using someone’s body.
Now, if what we are supposed to give our spouse is something mutual, intimate, and pleasurable for both, when you use your spouse’s body with no concern for how thy feel or what they are experiencing, then you are depriving them.
We talked about this on the obligation sex podcast last week, but there is nothing magical to a woman about having a man’s penis in her vagina (and see the Myth of the Magic Penis podcast for more). This does not automatically give her pleasure; it does not make her feel intimate; it does not necessarily make her feel like she matters.
In cases where she feels used, she would be better off NOT having sex than having sex. She is already being deprived of intimacy and pleasure. Having one-sided sex increases that deprivation; it doesn’t decrease it.
You do not have to consent to being used.
There is absolutely no biblical basis for telling women they have to consent to one-sided sex where they feel objectified or used. And, please hear me on this one: If you continue to submit to sex like this for years, your marriage will likely self-destruct. Women can only put up with this for so long until the trauma becomes untenable.
Fixing your marriage and working on your marriage is not about submitting to one-sided sex. It’s about confronting the issues that are making sex one-sided in the first place.
When we tell women that they have to have sex regardless, then we’re telling them that you can’t really work on the issues in your marriage. Because if you are telling your husband, “I feel desperately alone. We need to connect. I feel like you don’t care about me at all. This is becoming a crisis,” but then tonight you give him oral sex anyway, he simply won’t believe you.
The number of men who have written to us saying something like: “We had a great marriage for 25 years, and then my wife started reading your book and she just stopped having sex for no reason” is just astronomical. But when you dig deeper, you realize she’s been SAYING that there’s a crisis for years, but he wasn’t hearing it. To him, the marriage was only in trouble when she stopped having sex (for what he thought was no reason). He wasn’t listening to her words
The kind of man who would want to have one-sided sex with his wife, and wouldn’t care what she was feeling, is also the kind of man who is unlikely to listen to her words.
I am not talking about going on a sex strike.
Not at all.
I am talking about refusing to consent to one-sided sex. Those are two entirely different things.
None of us should be having one-sided sex.
It’s okay to say to your spouse:
I want to have a passionate, intimate marriage with you, but that’s not where we’re at right now. I feel used. I feel like you want my body but that you don’t want me, and that’s ugly. That’s soul-crushing. I can’t keep doing that anymore.
And I can’t keep having sex where the goal is your release, but not mine. Where you use my body but you don’t give me pleasure. Where what I’m feeling doesn’t matter; only what you’re feeling does.
So I will no longer consent to sex that makes me feel used. I want instead for us to work on fixing these issues so that we both feel seen and valued, and so that our sex life could actually reflect that.
Here’s how we explained it in The Great Sex Rescue:
Many sexless marriages have, at their root, not a selfish refusal on the part of one spouse but rather an attempt at emotional protection. The way sexless marriages have often been framed, though, is that she is withholding sex because she wants to. By not having sex, then, we would assume that she’s getting what she wants. Logically, we would thus expect sexless marriages to be filled with unhappy husbands and more-or-less contented wives.
That is not what we found. While only 14.3% of women in sexually active marriages rated their marriages as neutral or unhappy, 63.1% of women in sexless marriages did. When you divide our survey respondents up into quintiles (five approximately equal-sized groups) based on happiness, women in sexless marriages are sixty-two times more likely to be in the unhappiest group than the happiest group.
Our results suggest that many, if not most, sexless marriages may be the natural result of emotional pain that the couple has caused each other throughout the marriage.
Women in sexless marriages were 9.3 times less likely to have felt close to their husbands when they used to have sex. When you have broken trust and caused emotional pain, sometimes for decades, it should not come as a surprise if your spouse doesn’t want to have sex with you.
As we have shown throughout this book, our survey found that women struggle to respond sexually when things are not right relationally or situationally. When she loses her libido, maybe it’s not that there’s necessarily something wrong with her but that she’s reacting to something in the marriage that’s not right. Perhaps we should treat sexlessness more like the canary that stopped singing in the coal mine—it’s pointing to a deeper issue.
Over the weekend, a woman who has been walking this road and who read The Great Sex Rescue left a number of comments that illustrate this well. I’d like to end with them (and I’ve edited a bit to make the story clear, since these were across several comments):
I was repulsed by sex when it wasn’t intimate anymore…
…when it was my duty to give him release.
Unlike in Gary Thomas’ Married Sex where the woman was so turned on by giving a handjob (eye roll), I was absolutely disgusted. (Good thing the light was out because I definitely had the look of disgust on my face along with tears in my eyes.)
If I didn’t want “relations” then I better be prepared to give favors instead. If on that second night I didn’t initiate the act or favor, I would hear a loud “huff” and eventually a “I GUESS WE’RE JUST GOING TO SLEEP.” It didn’t feel intimate, loving, etc. it felt like I was just being used.
Oh and the women who mentioned stomach problems/nausea. Yeah, I had that. Coincidentally my stomach issues started after having our 3rd child which is when the sexual selfishness started, when the sexual favors HAD TO be given. I kept a tally of how many times I barfed and I was up to 86x and that’s not including the nights I just felt sick but never puked. I went to Drs thinking something was wrong with me, like I had a food allergy or some weird gastric disorder. Tests all came back negative. After reading TGSR, having a huge talk, we realized my stomach issues were caused by the stress my husband was inflicting on me. (Odd how the nausea issues would usually start at 9pm).
As bad as it sounds, some nights I was actually relieved to be puking because it meant I didn’t have to have sex or give sexual favors.
Let that sink in, I would rather have my head hovering above a toilet, puking up my dinner than having sex. It’s CRAZY to me that it got so bad.
Needless to say, after reading The Great Sex Rescue and having a deep conversation, my husband was repulsed by HIS behavior. He can’t believe he acted the way he did and thought that 140 BJs in a year wasn’t good enough. It’s because it was focused on just his release and not on the connection between us.
And guess what??? No more stomach problems!!!!! It’s sad to think of all those years I spent so sick due to obligation sex.
I’m glad I am not repulsed by sex anymore. Sex is quite lovely when it’s the way God designed it to be.
We will only stop obligation sex when we get a holistic view of sex.
It’s the fact that we think a woman giving oral sex when she’d rather be puking is sex that we’re in this problem in the first place. Why isn’t the church teaching that this isn’t sex? Why is Emerson Eggerichs describing such a woman as a “goldmine”, instead of listening to this story with horror and giving a stern talk to the husband?
Selfish sex hurts a marriage; it doesn’t save it.
Intercourse or sexual favors are not some magic fairy dust that create intimacy; they are a tool that can be used to heal or to hurt. They are context dependent.
And God does not look down at His daughters and think, “well done! I know you feel repulsed and alone and disgusted and used, but you’re glorifying me!”
No. He weeps that His gift of sex has been so distorted that it’s become horrendously ugly, that it’s actually no longer sex at all.
You don’t have to submit to one-sided sex. You just don’t. You were meant for so much more. Please read The Great Sex Rescue. Please see a licensed counselor. Please address this, before it gets even worse.
What do you think? Do husbands not realize how bad things are if wives continue to give one-sided sex? How can we get this message out there? 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!