Do Women Really Not Want Sex? Let’s Talk About The 90% And the 10%

by | Apr 26, 2024 | Libido | 25 comments

Do women say no to sex for no reason? Women with low libido

What’s the real reason many women don’t want sex?

Whenever we talk about how sex should be mutual, intimate, and pleasurable for both and that the obligation sex message is toxic, the reply we get is something along these lines: without obligation, obviously, women won’t have sex anymore!

That’s the furthest thing from the truth. Women do, typically, want sex (and about 20% have higher libidos than their husbands!). But when we account for all the obstacles that take away from the pleasure of sex: things like shouldering the burden of emotional labour alone, painful sex stemming from vaginismus or vulvodynia, exhaustion from taking care of the house and kids all day (as just a few examples), we start to see the reasons behind why a woman’s libido may be significantly lower than her husband’s. 

We talked about this on episode 231 of the Bare Marriage podcast, but sometimes when we say something important, I like to write a post about too, for easy reference later!

So let’s talk about this concept of the 90% and the 10%. 

What’s the 90% problem when it comes to women not wanting sex?

Joanna (our amazing statistician) decided to do the stats in a totally different way just for fun for our new marriage book, because we had a new set of respondents. 

(By the way, we’re spending the next few weeks finishing up the edits on our new book The Marriage You Want, which is why we’re taking the month of May off of the blog and the podcast! But we’ll be back in June!).

She looked at the number of women in that marriage survey who had very low libido.

She started with 1,351 women, roughly 20% of our matched pair survey. 

Joanna then asked herself, “How much of this low desire can I explain away?” So she started by asking, “Hey, do you pretty much always orgasm when you have sex?” We only have 575 respondents left who say, “Yes, I do.”

Then she asked, “Do you feel emotionally connected during sex with your spouse?” Now we’re left with only 440 respondents.  

So then Joanna asked, “Do you have pain during sex?” And again, our numbers drop. 

Out of the original 1,351 respondents, we’re left with only 271. 

So out of those 1,351, only 271 orgasm during sex, feel emotionally connected and don’t have pain. Those three things alone have already explained basically 85% of women with low desire. And that’s before even asking about pornography. That’s before even asking about marital satisfaction in mental load.  

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In other words, when women don’t want sex, there is usually a reason. 

Here at Bare marriage, we’re addressing the 90% problem–figuring out the real reason behind many women’s libido issues.

But then people get upset at us for not addressing the 10% problem. 

But we do address the 10% problem with libido!

This is what I find so ironic. What about women who don’t have issues with orgasm, and who have great marriages, but still don’t want sex?

What about these 10% problems?

Well, we have a whole chapter on it in our book, The Great Sex Rescue, and even have a whole course on it called Boost Your Libido!

We talk about how if sex is good for you, but you can’t seem to want it, and that frustrates you, then let’s figure out how you can get wanting it more!

Why our approach to Low Libido matters

We essentially have two probelms when it comes to how we handle women’s low libido:

  1. People assume women are saying no to sex for no reason (and don’t understand the 90% and 10% problem)
  2. People say that the solution to women’s low libido is to have sex even when they don’t want to

Let’s turn to that second issue now.

We actually found, in our first survey for The Great Sex Rescue, that women can have sex they don’t like and isn’t life giving for about 10 to 15 years. And often not even that much. But, eventually, it breaks. She can’t keep up the pretence forever. 

By telling her to have sex she doesn’t want and that does nothing for her, you’re essentially telling her, “let your husband use your body.” You’re turning something which is supposed to be mutual, intimate and pleasurable for both into a one-sided obligation. And that changes the very nature of sex, that’s deeply depersonalizing, and it hurts you long-term. 

For the peer-reviewed paper we’re submitting, Joanna created the sexual satisfaction scale (called the FSFI: The Female Sexual Function Index) out of our survey of 20,000 women that we did for The Great Sex Rescue. On that scale, she listed 3 things:

  1. How likely are you to feel aroused during sex 
  2. whether you frequently orgasm, and 
  3. whether you feel emotionally connected during sex. 

Now, for a scale to actually be a proper scale, there should be high correlation between the different questions (ideally 90% or more). That means that they all move together, and you’re thus measuring similar things.

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So, if people say yes to one, they should also be saying yes to the other. 

If the scale is a proper measure of female satisfaction, then all these things should move together. They shouldn’t move apart, or one of them shouldn’t stand on its own.  

Well, with these three questions, we found that we had a correlation of 96%, which is really high. It means each one of those categories is highly correlated. 

Here’s why this matters: the people saying, “You should have sex even if you don’t enjoy it, because it matters for your marriage” are wrong. If you’re not enjoying it, chances are you’re also not feeling emotionally connected. Unenjoyable sex does not make you feel close to your husband.

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Can we have a healthier approach to libido problems?

Let’s realize that in 90% of the case of low libido, there’s a reason. It’s not just her being selfish, or holding back, or whatever reason they imagine it is that women don’t want sex. There’s something else going on.

And then let’s honor that something else. 

Let’s get to the root–whether you’re in the 90% or the 10%

And then maybe we’d end up with flourishing marriages, where more women actually wanted sex, instead of telling women they should have sex because Jesus sacrificed, so they should too.

That’s not exactly a sexy message. 

We can, and should, do better.

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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25 Comments

  1. Jo R

    “People say that the solution to women’s low libido is to have sex even when they don’t want to”

    Why is it never “People say that the solution to men’s high libido is to not have sex even when they do want to”?

    “telling women they should have sex because Jesus sacrificed, so they should too”

    Why is it never “telling men they shouldn’t have sex because Jesus sacrificed, so they should too”?

    Reply
    • Nathan

      Because sacrifice is something women are supposed to do, not men. Just ask Driscoll, Eggy, Piper, etc.

      (sarcasm, for those who don’t know me)

      Reply
    • TJ

      Exactly, it’s not like the Bible directly instructed men to “love their wives just as Christ loved the church” or anything. Clearly nothing sacrificial was implied there. Just skip over Ephesians 5:25, men, nothing to see here.

      (Obvious sarcasm is obvious)

      Reply
      • Jo R

        Or that men ought to, I dunno, love their wives the way the husbands love their own bodies.

        Nah, that’s crazy talk.

        Reply
    • Jo R

      “New Study: After Six Decades of Teaching that Women Don’t Like or Need Sex, Pastors and Authors Shocked to Learn that Women Don’t Like or Need Sex”

      🤣 🤣 🤣 (or else 😭 😭 😭)

      Imagine if six decades ago, half a dozen men had written something like this, then had other men spread it far and wide:

      ***

      Men, your fiancées have two superpowers you really will never understand: the ability to grow new human beings in their bodies, and the potential to have multiple orgasms back to back (to back!).

      You, having a mere penis, will particularly struggle to understand that second one, as your own self-experimentation will have made clear.

      If you can focus on making your soon-to-be-wife have at least one orgasm every time you engage in any kind of sexual activity, you will almost certainly have a satisfying sex life for your entire marriage.

      The biggest thing to know is that you will have to focus on her, on what she likes, on the stimulation she needs. That stimulation will likely not stimulate your penis at all, because intercourse does not typically stimulate women the way it does men. Instead, you’re going to need to use other means, mainly your hand and/or mouth.

      This wife-focused effort will pay huge dividends, as she will have a history of positive experiences with sex, even when she may be unable to engage in those activities, such as during her periods and any pregnancies. Remember, too, that postpartum and breastfeeding will almost certainly interfere with many life activities, not just sex, so be prepared to be the partner she will so desperately need when her body has worked the equivalent of 3.33 years of a full-time job in just nine months for EACH pregnancy.

      God gave her the multiple-orgasm superpower to help make up for the times, which may be extensive, when she has to focus on first growing and then feeding any precious children you may have. This shift of her focus serves to keep those children alive and healthy, for which you should be overjoyed and also do as much as possible (if not more!) to lessen her contribution to the everyday load of living as an adult with other people in your home.

      Will you have to work hard in multiple arenas of life, those beyond any paid work you may do? Yes, you will. If you’re unwilling to do so, then you are not yet ready to marry. While breaking off your engagement will be painful for you both, you will in the long run be saving you and especially her levels of pain, wounding, and trauma that you cannot begin to imagine, pain and trauma that may not ever be healed in this lifetime. Yes, that’s how bad your neglect and selfishness will affect her.

      Don’t be that guy. Be instead the guy who takes the golden rule and all the “one another” verses to heart—and especially to your marriage bed.

      ***

      Yeah, that might have yielded better results than what we all got.

      Reply
      • Nessie

        I feel like we need a collection of headlines such as this for carthartic relief: something akin to the Fixed It for Yous. 🤣😭🤣

        Reply
      • Lisa Johns

        That needs to be a one-sheet.

        Reply
        • Jo R

          You have my permission (and blessing!) to copy and paste it into your word processor and spread it to your heart’s content (or email, or Instagram, or X, or whatever).

          (Glad you found it useful. 😊)

          Reply
          • Taylor

            It was brilliant.

      • TK

        All fine points for the most part, but a little condescending (a “mere penis”?). Also not all of these assumptions apply to all men. Indeed, when I read the assumptions about men in many of these blog posts and comments, I find it profoundly discouraging because I (a man) am not like this and do not in fact know *any* men, Christian or otherwise, that meet most, if any, of these descriptions (to the extent I have such knowledge of other men’s lives). So I come here to learn and instead it feels like the struggles I or my wife have in intimacy are the struggles other people do not even regard as existing. It feels like these comments and posts are addressed to people used to dealing with men who embody a caricature of a 1950s mentality toward women. I agree that we shouldn’t have that. I am sure some men do have those attitudes. But I don’t have those anttitudes and I don’t know any men who do. And my wife would corroborate that, even though I know I am not perfect by a long shot. I dunno…just makes me leave this place feeling disoriented and sad and beat up and *tremendously* discouraged.

        Reply
        • Jo R

          “just makes me leave this place feeling disoriented and sad and beat up and *tremendously* discouraged”

          That’s how I, and many other women, feel reading all the “Christian” marriage and sex books. What we learn (and teach 🙄) at women’s retreats and Bible studies. And most especially, how we feel walking out of Sunday services week after week.

          What do we learn? That women don’t matter. Their needs don’t matter. Their preferences don’t matter. Their spiritual gifts don’t matter. That women matter only in keeping a perfect home and raising the children (single-handedly, because their husbands work outside the home so all the work inside the home falls to the wives exclusively).

          If my comment doesn’t apply to you, great! I’m glad for both you and your wife. But there are lots of women who would be living very different lives if the alternate sample message in my comment had been spread through the church instead of the one we actually got.

          I agree with your observation about the 50s mentality. But unfortunately, too many people, and ones with quite large platforms of every type (books, pulpits, internet, podcasts) support the 50s mentality and are doubling down. Count yourself blessed that you’re not aware of it and are in a group that doesn’t either (as far as you know).

          Reply
        • Jo R

          Individual posts and comments cannot address every possible issue. If you’re looking for help with a specific topic, use the search function with a keyword or two.

          Also, the way that you state that you’ve never witnessed these things personally carries the subtle implication that they’re not actually occurring. Implying such a thing at a site that often functions as a gigantic group-therapy session only heaps more pain and trauma on people—mainly women, but men too—who are already dealing with often considerable pain and trauma, pain and trauma that were inflicted by the “church.”

          I, and many other women here, would have denied that I was experiencing some of these issues, because to admit that I disagreed with these teachings would get me labeled a rebellious sinner who may not even be a Christian. I thought I was the only woman in my friend group and my church at large that was struggling, because I was also taught I had to put on my “happy face” to avoid “destroying my Christian witness.” In reality, I was dying inside. I was able to (mostly) keep up the pretense for more than thirty years. Four years later, I’m still working through these issues.

          Again, count yourself fortunate indeed to sidestep this mess. And, may I ask with all gentleness, are you sure your wife isn’t actually suffering without your awareness, externally manifesting the same way as I described myself?

          Reply
      • Mrs.

        Jo R — this is golden!!

        Reply
  2. Jen

    I had a lot of sex I didn’t want (and some I did) for 26 years and it literally almost killed me. Granted, there was a lot of dysfunction on the part of my husband beyond his entitled attitude towards sex (sex addiction, lying, emotional anorexia, gaslighting, projecting his trauma, blame-shifting, etc). ALL of that was killing me emotionally and psychologically, and it was beginning to kill me physically as well. I was severely depressed and inching toward that awful pit of suicidal thoughts.

    THAT’S where the trail ends when people tell women to just keep putting out even when they are not safe, even when their husband won’t hear or see them, even when he refuses to get help. She ends up in terrible bondage.

    We don’t need yet another woman who is killed by her husband, whether that’s directly or indirectly. Sin kills things, and this message of requiring women to service their husband leads death.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      It really does, Jen. It really does.

      Reply
  3. TJ

    Interesting discussion today. Out of curiosity, what group would say physiological / pharmaceutical causes fall into? i.e. mental-health struggles treated by drugs with well-known tendencies to kill both physical and emotional desire?

    That’s been the story in our marriage since about day one and I often vacillate between wondering:

    90% – Is this my fault? After all, women with good, loving, husbands who actually care about their pleasure don’t just decide to never want sex.
    So where / how have I failed in which of those categories? How can I do better without causing any pressure / coercion / entitlement?

    or

    10% – This is just the way things are. I need to believe her when says I’m a great, caring husband and there’s nothing I can or should do differently. Sex isn’t actually a Need, so I just need to come to terms with that.

    Reply
    • The Wife

      I think it falls in the 90% portion under the physical/health issues sub category. It is an influence outside of the marriage relationship about the partner needing to do everything they can to be healthy for both themselves and their family (not just their partner). Mental health affects so much more than sex in a marriage and family and they owe it to themselves and their family to work with their doctor and therapist to find the med(s) that works best for them with the least undesirable side effects and the therapy method that helps them deal with the part that isn’t solely attributable in origin to brain chemicals.

      From personal experience when my partner handled those issues he went back to being a receptive and enthusiastic participant even though his med is known to have the side effect of suppressing libido. I hypothesize that others may also find their libido more affected by the untreated condition than the known side effect of an effective treatment option.

      Reply
      • TJ

        Absolutely agree that mental health is much bigger than just sex. Relationships, friendships, anxiety, physical health, hobbies, etc. It can touch all sorts of parts of life.

        I also agree that it’s important to advocate and work with your doctors to find the treatments, therapy and meds that best balance your mental and emotional well-being with potential side effects.

        That said, I wouldn’t say that a woman “owes” it to her spouse to explore tinkering with that careful balance. If the lack of desire is something she finds distressing or genuinely wants to improve for HER sake (not just out of obligation for him), then that’s different, of course. But if she’s in a good place with her current meds and content with the existing safe, secure, non-sexually physical affection, then I’d be pretty reticent to suggest that she “owes” it to anyone to gamble with changing those. i.e. “obligation healing” message.

        I do realize you weren’t actually suggesting that, and appreciate you adding your own experiences. Just clarifying my own understanding of the topic. 🙂

        Reply
        • Angharad

          I guess it’s up to the individual to decide whether it’s worth exploring the options, depending on the severity of the condition being treated, how easy it will be to regain balance by returning to the current medical treatment if the options don’t work, and how much impact attempting the change will cause. It’s such a difficult situation, especially as it may be impossible for the ‘no-libido’ partner to imagine/remember what life would be like with libido. So they may be considering making themselves feel a lot worse in the hope that they will gain something they can’t remember and don’t miss.

          Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I would say that the 90% doesn’t mean that the husband is necessarily doing something wrong. You may not feel emotionally connected during sex, for instance, because you’re a sexual abuse survivor with untreated trauma, or because you’ve internalized a lot of negative messaging about sex, or because you have some mental health issues. The marriage might be great, but if you have things in your past that impact how you see sex, that is going to affect libido. So it isn’t always a marriage issue. That’s what we found for Th Great Sex Rescue too–the obligation sex message hurts women, even if they never get it from their husbands!

      Reply
    • JoB

      TJ, it sounds like your situation is very unique. And you sound like a loving and understanding partner.

      While I think it’s always good to examine ourselves, when you keep looking for answers to a difficult situation and find none, I worry about the effect on *your* mental health if you are operating on the assumption that somehow, it must all be your fault, or it’s 99% on your shoulders to find a solution. I don’t think that’s true. I hope you (and your wife) are getting support from others who have walked in your shoes; probably you have heard of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), but if you haven’t, they have some great resources- if nothing else, hearing that others have had to acknowledge and grieve the loss of certain aspects of relationship, come to terms with or make decisions about it, and discover what still can be.

      A couple of years ago, I took a medication and experienced one of the more obscure side effects: a complete and total loss of desire for food. Without “appetite”, the physical act of eating seemed repulsive to me. However, since I had many years of experiencing hunger and appetite, I was immediately aware of the loss, was distressed by it, and stopped the medication without too many problems. I can only imagine how difficult it would be to navigate if I had grown up with this side effect and really didn’t know what hunger was, or if stopping the medication was more disruptive to my health.

      I can’t give advice, just that I hope both you and your wife can find support from people who really understand (possibly only the confidentiality of professional counseling would be appropriate for some details) and not feel totally alone in this. Both of you are worthy of compassion and understanding in this very tough situation.

      Reply
  4. Angharad

    I’d love to know if there is any link between purity culture and the 10% – if you’ve been raised to think of your body as an evil thing that tempts men, and that you shouldn’t ‘start’ anything unless you’re prepared to go the whole way, you’re going to have some issues around sex even if – possibly, especially if – it’s good for you. I also wonder if there is any link between the 10% and untreated/unacknowledged sexual assault. Bearing in mind the high number of young women who experience this (often while still in their teens) and the way in which until very recently, they would be encouraged to keep quiet about it (and still are in many churches, because of the perceived ‘loss of purity’), I wouldn’t be surprised if this is a contributory factor. I know it’s only anecdotal, but I know a few cases where wives are ambivalent about sex because they never know when it will trigger them.

    Reply
    • Lisa Johns

      That makes sense to me, and I’d bet it would stand up to scrutiny.

      Reply
  5. Anonymous

    I recently read a book, “The Highly Sensitive Person” by Elaine Aron. She discusses the 20% of the population who are more sensitive. She explains that this is a personality trait, not an illness. It is a trait which evolution needed in some people to balance out the other 80% who were “warrior/kings”. The sensitive people help keep the warrior types alive. So… not a dysfunction to be embarrassed about or feel a need to change. However, the world is designed for the 80%.

    She briefly mentions HSPs and sexuality. “I cannot say for certain, but it makes sense that if we are more sensitive to stimulation, we might be more sensitive to sexual stimulation. This might make our sexual lives more satisfying. It could also cause us to need much less variety. And those times when we are over-aroused from general stimulation could obviously interfere with our sexual functioning and pleasure.”

    So, for some, this might be a factor to consider.

    I encourage you to research highly sensitive person (HSP).

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s super interesting!

      Reply

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