Does Sex Have a Start-Up Cost for You? Or a Major Cost?

by | Apr 8, 2024 | Libido | 54 comments

Costs of Sex Start Up Cost
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When people say they “don’t want” sex tonight, what do they mean?

We talked about this on the Bare Marriage podcast last week, but I’d like to elaborate on part of it today.

I think we often get confused when people talk about this. They’ll say,

“Well, sometimes I have sex when I don’t really want it, and it’s really good for us. And it’s really good for our marriage.”

And what she means is,

“Sometimes I would rather watch reruns of Criminal Minds on the couch while I eat a snack, but then my husband wants to have sex. And I’m like, ‘Oh, it’s good for me. I know it’s going to feel so good, and I’m going to feel great once I do it.’”

That’s the “start-up cost” problem of sex.

 It’s the “but I just sat down” kind of cost, or “but I just started a show” kind of cost. And she says, “No. You know what? I’m going to do it. Let’s go. Let’s go have sex.” And they have a great time, and she’s confident she’s going to orgasm. They feel connected. And then afterward, she’s like, “I feel so nice, and I still get to watch my show.”  

So when she says, “I have sex I don’t want to have, and then it helps my marriage,” what she means is, “My start-up cost was a little higher. But I knew it was a worthy investment because I knew I would get more back than I put in.” “I knew I was going to get more energy. I was going to have an orgasm. I was going to feel connected to my spouse. I was going to feel confident, feel great, feel sexy, all these different things.”   

That’s one side of “don’t want.”  And if that’s you–please check out our Boost Your Libido course!

What about major costs of sex?

The other side is, “Well, I have sex that I don’t want to have, because I know I’m supposed to.”

What does she mean? She means,

“I’m exhausted. I do not have enough help around the house. I don’t even know who I am anymore because I’m a shell of a person because of how much the last five years have taken from me. I have never experienced pleasure during sex, and I don’t think I ever will. But I’m so incredibly terrified that if I don’t have sex, I’m going to be the reason our marriage falls apart. And so I’m going to have sex even though I’m exhausted, and I’m going to end it feeling even more disconnected from this person. But I’m going to look at him, and I’m going to say, “Yeah. But he loves me, and I should like this.” And I’m going to convince myself it’s good for me.”

And a really interesting thing that a lot of studies have found, too, is that women judge their sexual satisfaction in terms of how happy he is, not in terms of how happy they are. 

Men don’t tend to do that, but women have been taught to think that the whole point of a sex life is to keep him satisfied and to keep his sexual needs met. So if they’re having sex every 72 hours, and he’s feeling good and his cup is filled up, as they often say, then she thinks that her sex life is good. But she’s not asking herself how she feels about it.

If you think something is awesome and experience it as awesome when you do it, but it has a high start-up cost, that’s one thing. 

But if having sex leaves you feeling more emotionally disconnected than before, because your marriage isn’t doing well and you feel used, then sex doesn’t just have a start-up cost. Sex itself is costing you something. 

What do we mean by “I don’t want sex right now?”

There’s a difference between saying, “I don’t particularly feel like sex right now”, and “I actively want to NOT have sex right now.”

One just means you’re not particularly in the mood, but you could get there. And one means, “I really really want to NOT have sex.” Sex would be a negative to you.

Telling women, “you need to have sex even when you don’t want it because it’s good for your marriage” is such a terrible message. First, it may very well not even be true. For many women, sex makes the marriage worse.

But also, it’s not distinguishing between these two “not want to have sex” types.

"A groundbreaking look into what true, sacred biblical sexuality is intended to be. A must-read." - Rachael Denhollander

What if you're NOT the problem with your sex life?

What if the messages that you've been taught have messed things up--and what if there's a way to escape these toxic teachings?

It's time for a Great Sex Rescue.

Great Sex Rescue

We need a message that incorporates both kinds of costs of sex.

I’d suggest something like this, which is the main message from The Great Sex Rescue:

In a healthy marriage, sex makes you closer, makes you more relaxed, and enhances your life. But sometimes it’s just not on your radar. If you’re in a healthy marriage where sex tends to be intimate, mutual, and pleasurable for both, put it on your radar! 

But in an unhealthy marriage, sex can make things worse. If sex is hurting your marriage, please get to the bottom of why. That’s not sustainable in the long-term, and it’s better to address the root issues than to keep going through the motions, especially if it makes you feel worse.

Yes, that takes a lot longer to say, and it’s not dressed up pretty in a bow. But it’s accurate and helpful.

And it’s time we started giving advice that is accurate, helpful, and nuanced, rather than one-size-fits-all–when it very clearly doesn’t.

Written by

Sheila Wray Gregoire


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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Jen

    Very well stated, and I’m glad to have this verbiage in my mind as I think about whether or not I want sex. Although I often enjoyed sex, it was always a “have to” situation, and if I was truly interested in being together, then I just counted myself lucky. That one encounter wouldn’t hurt my heart because I was interested!!! But so very many encounters did hurt my heart. Sex is powerful, and I’ve personally experienced its destructive power.

    Let’s also talk about the lie that having sex with your husband will keep him from straying. We have talked about how the burden of faithfulness is on each person (not on their spouse), but what about the fact that trying to sex a person into faithfulness literally cannot work. A person will cheat if s/he decides to cheat. Nothing more, nothing less. My husband cheated serially WHILE I was having all this sex I didn’t want because he was an orgasm addict. Having lots of sex was feeding his addiction. That just blows my mind. The Church was telling me that I had to sleep with him to KEEP him from cheating when sleeping him was FEEDING his addiction.

    As we work to heal, I’m am having zero sex that I do not want. Period. He also can say no to sex at any time. In this season of healing, I believe this is the best approach, especially since he is overcoming a serious addiction.

    Thanks for all of the thinking you are doing on these topics. It’s so helpful to have these issues reframed in a safe, healthy way!!

  2. Ann

    I liked that in the recent podcast you said that some types of sex advice need to be more specific. When I was a young mom my church moms group had a speaker who shared that it was a woman’s responsibility to “get herself in the mood” and prioritize her sex life over, say, watching tv or whatever. But she didn’t specify that this advice applied only you had a healthy sex life where you were reaching orgasm, weren’t in pain, had a decent marriage, etc. I was left trying to figure out how on earth I was supposed to “get myself in the mood” for something that was clearly not good for me, but because she didn’t give enough details I didn’t really understand that. It made me feel like a failure.

  3. S

    “One just means you’re not particularly in the mood, but you could get there. And one means, “I really really want to NOT have sex.” Sex would be a negative to you.”

    Either way a no should be respected and not need an explanation or guilt. I may say hey come watch these shows with me and pull out a blanket, sex is not the only way to be intimate. If I settled down to watch some TV and relax, even if I could maybe enjoy sex, I am not telling myself to get up and try if its not on my radar that evening. My husband and I have a good sex life, but its not the only way for us to feel connected by far. I can feel great after having a conversation, I can feel good after getting or giving a back rub. I am over the pushing of well could you at least try to get in the mood, because we all know if she can’t, she tries and still would rather be eating her snack and watching TV, or is stuck in her head planning the week, that one person will likely feel bad if they don’t continue and the other will likely continue even if it does not lead to pleasure and connection because she started and now has guilt. NO is always valid.

    • Angharad

      I don’t think Sheila’s talking about a situation where the wife says ‘no’ and the husband keeps asking. It’s more about her ‘internal dialogue’ – whether she’s thinking ‘he wants sex and I don’t really feel like it, but I know I will enjoy it once we start’ or ‘he wants sex and I’m so exhausted/in pain right now that it’s the last thing I want and I know I won’t enjoy it and I’ll feel worse after’.

      I probably feel genuinely enthusiastic about sex before we start maybe once a year – I have some health issues which mean it is always a little uncomfortable and often more than a little. Sometimes, I know the level of discomfort is low enough that I’m going to forget about it once we start, so even though I don’t ‘feel like it’, I know I’ll be glad after that we did. Other times, I know it’s going to be too bad for me to enjoy it – or I have a heavy schedule the next day, and I know that causing a joint pain flareup the night before is a really dumb idea. That’s when I say ‘no’ – and it’s a ‘no’ my husband always respects.

      • S

        It the internal dialog I am talking about. She feels like if she gives it a try it may be great, it also may not, so might as well try because she has responsive libido and was told it may feel great so give it a try unless you really really don’t want to . Nothing is wrong with feeling meh about having sex and deciding its okay to just say no thanks, and not trying to internally talk yourself into it because you don’t feel completely negative about it, it just wasn’t want you planned to do. Its okay to not proceed with mental gymnastics and just say not tonight without any other thought about it.

        • Angharad

          Yes, it’s totally ok just to say ‘no’. But it’s also ok to think things through first before deciding. It’s very much going to depend on the individual.

    • Bernadette

      The person asking for sex needs to be considerate. Like if her husband saw that she just sat down to her favorite show, he should realize the start up cost would be high.

      But if she settles in to the couch when he’s not there to see it, and then he comes into the room, he might (mistakenly) think she’d been there for a while and might be ready to get up soon.

  4. Laura

    I tried to post, but didn’t look like it went through, so I’ll try again.

    Just the other day, a friend posted a 7 day marriage challenge from XO Marriage. While some of their suggestions for this challenge were good, I find the first one very problematic and they are definitely pushing the obligation sex message.

    Here it is:

    You husbands are already onboard! If this is the only thing you do, your marriage will still be stronger in a week. It takes more than sex to make a healthy marriage, but it’s impossible to have a healthy marriage without it. Even if you and your spouse aren’t in a good place right now and the idea of intimacy seems repulsive, do it anyways. Sex is a powerful force that will help you reconnect on a physical, emotional and spiritual level.

    This statement, “Even if you and your spouse aren’t in a good place right now and the idea of intimacy seems repulsive, do it anyways,” is very problematic and also vague. I would like to know what they mean by not in a good place. If they mean that both spouses have hectic schedules but their marriage is already healthy, then by all means try doing this for 7 days. But if there is addition, abuse, porn use, an extramarital affair, or one partner is pulling all of the mental load, then I don’t think having sex for 7 days in a row is going to fix their marriage.

    • Nethwen

      I think XO Marriage isn’t thinking things through.

      “You husbands are already onboard!” Except for when they aren’t for whatever reason, including chronic illness that has a side affect of low/no libido.

      “It’s impossible to have a healthy marriage without [sex].” So all marriages with chronic illness or disabilities that mean little/no sex are doomed? It seems to me that God would know about the possibility of sexual difficulties and create other ways for us to have healthy, strong marriages despite the problems. Unless XO Marriage thinks God is cruel enough to allow a physical disability and then also ensure that the person will never experience a satisfying marriage. That’s not my God!

      • Lisa Johns

        I have not heard good things about XO, though I am not personally familiar with the podcast. But seriously, don’t ANY of these “women, have more sex!” guys realize that it’s not always the woman who has the say in that dynamic?? In my case, I would have LOVED to have more sex, but the guy in question was so busy with his porn&m addiction that there really wasn’t any room for me in the marriage. and eventually I had to realize that sex was only the symptomatic tip of the iceberg. It wasn’t going to fix the brokenness.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Very definitely. Also, Mark Driscoll speaks with XO Marriage and was on their board.

          • Lisa Johns

            That kills any desire I might ever have had to check them out. Circular file.

    • Anonymous

      Attended a women’s event with a speaker from the congregation who suggested the 7 day challenge. She caveated not all marriages broken by affairs can or have to be saved, but doing the 7 day challenge really helped her fall in love again with her husband who had just confessed to having an affair. Shared how repulsed she was the first day or two, how she should’ve had him run an STD screen first and such, but got over it enough to try… Definite obligation intercourse messaging! Blech!

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Oh, that’s awful! That poor woman. She’s gaslighting herself.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Exactly. Also the assumption that husbands want sex everyday is really off too. Some do, sure, but a lot don’t, and in many marriages she’s the one who wants sex more.

  5. Nessie

    I really appreciated the idea of the “start up cost.” For many people with a responsive libido, it’s going to take a bit of that oftentimes.

    If a spouse mentions s/he’d like to be intimate via sex and it just wasn’t on your radar, then what’s the harm in giving it a few seconds to sink in and decide? If you find yourself starting to overthink it then you probably aren’t of a mind to enjoy it and can simply say as much, and your spouse has an opportunity to increase trust by being understanding and not at all pushy with your no thanks.

    If we know it will in great probability end positively, then it may just take that awareness to get our heads wrapped around the idea. It doesn’t have to imply the spouse is pushing for it. Some people may end up with a short make-out session and no more and a “Hey, I’m just not feeling it.” That time together can still be a time of closeness.

    There are times I’m settled in watching a show or reading and a friend asks if I’m available to meet. There’s a start up cost to getting back in to shoes/dayclothes and heading out. Especially as an introvert I may initially think, “It’s a bit of a bother I wasn’t expecting. Do I really want to give it a go?” Sometimes the answer is yes. Sometimes it’s no. Often though I know I will be more blessed by that time with my friend than the book or show… those will be available later, and timing with my friends isn’t always there. It’s worth a few seconds to give it a quick think-through instead of instantly shutting it down just because it wasn’t on one’s original radar.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, that’s exactly what we meant by start-up cost. And many women, if they don’t take a minute to have that inner dialogue, would never have sex. That’s actually part of it for them, but then they do enjoy it.

  6. Tim

    “And a really interesting thing that a lot of studies have found, too, is that women judge their sexual satisfaction in terms of how happy he is, not in terms of how happy they are.

    Men don’t tend to do that…”

    Can you say more about this? That’s 100% how I’ve always judged sex (by my wife’s response). Is that unusual? Do you have stats?

    • Spock-ish

      No stats from me, but the basic message we got in an evangelical Southern Baptist Church was that the wife was told if he’s not happy give him more sex, and he (me) was told if you’re having sex in your marriage then the marriage is in good shape. That wrecked many things we’re still trying to work on, and seems to be a common message to many others here.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I know it was a big study I read for one of the podcasts we did. Shoot. I’ll have to go see if I can find it!

      • Tim

        Thanks. That more or less answers my question. How bizarre though!

        • Willow

          Tim, I’ve found that in the secular world, people learn (or are taught) that they should judge the quality of their sex by how pleased/responsive/happy/satisfied their partner is. In fact, sex is quite often seen in the secular world as having the main purpose of mutual satisfaction and enjoyment.

          I don’t see this same teaching (consistently, at least) in the evangelical church, which is totally bizarre to me, because the Bible clearly teaches that our love should be highly attentive and mutually other-centered.

          • Tim

            Thanks Willow. I think that’s a fair observation, and I agree, it’s bizarre.

  7. Cameron

    What category does the response “you just got it (fill in the blank) this morning, yesterday, Tuesday, last week?
    That doesn’t seem as if the women is doing a “start-up” cost analysis.

    • Jo R

      I’d call it pattern matching. What has been the habitual, usual outcome of their sexual activity? What steps has the husband taken to make the experience and outcome in any way different from what she’s experienced for weeks, months, years, or decades?

      Does he, for example, offer to give her a half-hour of oral sex with no expectation of intercourse, so that just once she’s the one getting the stimulation she more than likely needs to orgasm?

      Is he aware of the tornado that went through the house with baseball practice, music lessons, science fair project, and a couple bouts of projectile vomiting since 4:00 pm? (Which in some households would just be an ordinary Tuesday.)

      How has he contributed to the running of the house he lives in and the care of any children he helped create? If she’s doing it all, all by herself, and if she is also working a paid job in addition to this tremendousamount of unpaid labor, why does he think she has the capacity to give one more thing at the end of yet another very long day?

      It doesn’t take a minute of self-reflection every single time if her usual schedule is utterly exhausting her energy and mental resources, and her desire is instead to simply sleep.

      • Cameron

        You are assuming the couple’s sex life isn’t good and she isn’t orgasming. If he does the things you mentioned and her usual schedule is not utterly exhausting because her husband shares the mental load, etc why would she not want sex all the time, regardless of when the last time was. I’d be willing to bet he would have no problem giving her 30 minutes of oral with no expectation of intercourse, because it is a sexual activity that he’s looking for

        • Jo R

          There are at least two women who comment regularly on this site who have experienced more pregnancies than orgasms.

          The evangelical church has men who orgasm 95 percent of the time while women orgasm only 48 percent of the time. Something like 12 percent of women have NEVER orgasmed, but they watch their husbands do so every time.

          Women are taught that their own sexual experience is irrelevant as long as the man is getting his needs met.

          That’s my baseline. If your relationship doesn’t fit those criteria, then just skip over my comment.

        • Jo R

          Do you do everything that your wife wants to do at her preferred frequency?

          If she wants you both to read the same book so you can talk about it, do you do that on her schedule?

          If she wants you to take the kids shoe shopping, do you do that at the pace that little feet grow?

          If she wants to go to the beach every weekend (or hiking, or birdwatching, or whatever), do you do so without saying “we just did that last weekend?”

          If you answer no to any of these, do you expect her to solicit advice from strangers about what she could do to increase your interest level in something that you’re just not as interested in as she is?

          • Cameron

            One difference is those activities, save maybe the shoe shopping, could be done with another person besides the husband. The wife can read a book with another person and talk about it, same with birdwatching if that isn’t something I’m into.
            The wife could certainly talk with strangers about ideas that might get me more interested in those activities, doesn’t mean it will work.
            This relates to an item they both have interest in and can only be done with the other person.

          • Jo R

            So if she wants to do these activities that are very important to her and she wants to do them with the person is most important to her, then she is just out of luck because those activities could be done with someone else?

            So what she wants to do with you is irrelevant and what you want to do with her is the only thing that’s relevant?

            And you have to ask why she’s not as interested in sex as you are? Seems pretty blindingly obvious to me.

        • Jane Eyre

          If women orgasm, that’s news to me.

          I’ve accepted that my choices in life are to remain faithfully married and never orgasm; or, if I want to have an orgasm, divorce or have an affair.

          LOL to men who happily give their wives orgasms but are denied sex. That’s a fantasy.

          • A

            I’m sorry for your marital struggles but there are plenty of women that orgasm and men who gladly give their wife an orgasm without sex. Is that the case every time or the majority no but some of us do have no problem giving our wife some special treatment

          • Lisa Johns

            A, there is no need to get defensive on here. Those of us who have read Jane’s comments in the past know that she is well aware that women orgasm. She, like the rest of us, has marital situations that we struggle to address. This is a place to vent sometimes, and we try to give each other grace to do so. Thank you.

          • Jane Eyre

            A, what does that have to do with anything?

            By your “logic,” someone who struggles with hypertension should be blown off because plenty of people have healthy hearts. Someone who struggles with math shouldn’t get a tutor because plenty of people pick it up, no prob.

            I don’t actually think you’re that dumb to not grasp this incredibly simple point. I do think you’re that into gaslighting.

        • Lisa Johns

          I find it interesting that you say the relationship is good, but you can’t figure out why she wouldn’t want sex “all the time.” Have you asked her if there is something that makes her want to say no? Have you perhaps asked her if she perceives you having blind spots? Have you thought about professional marital counseling so you can maybe work through your questions about libidinal differences and have answers that make sense to you? Would she characterize the relationship as being as good as you think it is? I’m curious what the communication level about these issues is, or if there isn’t really discussion about them and the tension they might be causing. Any of these things could be used to open up conversation so you could begin to address your frustration with the situation. Best of luck.

        • Kerin

          I wanted to say how helpful this idea is, and after reading TGR, we have moved more into this realm. We have gotten so much better at communicating our level of interest and costs.

          When my husband initiates, I now feel able to say “I’m not saying no, but that I’d be distracted by _____ right now. Can you give me an hour/unit of time to handle, so then I can truly focus on us?” as well as simply “Yes” or “No”

          It’s like most things – the more we practice aiming for intimacy rather than just the act of sex, the better we get at it. Sometimes it’s spontaneous, and sometimes it’s planned time to connect.

          The one thing I wish we had realized earlier and paid more attention to is how those connection points tended to happen naturally with us. i.e.shared humor/ deep laughter together tend to result in our desire for one another being in sync. When we started making space/cultivating this instead of being so serious about sex, our sex life improved- this was after I had read a study that the best first date choice was an amusement park as the chemicals triggered in the brain were most similar to sexual attraction.

          We now try to plan date nights/vacations that include humor. (i.e. cruises with comedy clubs). It feels weird saying this, but we had been so indoctrinated that marriage was hard work and serious, and trying to perform roles that we stopped prioritizing simply having fun together. It was shfting focus to having fun together that has helped us cultivate the time when our libidos most easily match.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Oh, my gosh, I love that about the comedy stuff! That’s so true.

    • S

      Why do you think a woman should do a start up cost analysis? Why can’t her, we just did this, so no thanks, be enough? Why should she always need to question her initial thought of no?

      • Cameron

        Maybe analysis isn’t the right term. But the post talks about the start up cost. Of course her no needs to be respected, but Sheila says if the sex and relationship are good frequency takes care of itself, but the we just did it X doesn’t seem to take care of the frequency

        • Kay

          Chocolate cake is good but I wouldn’t need to eat it for breakfast today, yesterday, the day before or last week….. why does the male in that scenario need more sex? Perhaps he’s equated sex is only way for intimacy?

          Sounds like she believes she can’t say no when she wants. Hence she finally does & wouldn’t ya know her partner is trying to figure out why.

          Why not?! Why does she need to have a reason that makes sense to you?

          From your perspective she seems to be in 10%— from hers, it may be she’s in 90% — so something going on.

          But again, you commented that partner would likely forgo O because it’s the “sexual activity” he’s looking for— that reads to an outsider that s3x is more about release than intimacy and connection. And women can read that….

        • S

          Just because a person enjoys sex, and the relationship is good, doesn’t mean that you will have a matched libido with your wife. If she likes sex but is happy with it once a week and you on the other hand want it daily and twice day on the weekends, sex will become a chore for her to fulfill your wants and desires and not be able to have any desire of her own. I love my husband, we have a great relationship and great sex, but other things are important in marriage and sex is not the only way to connect, if it is, you need to work on that. I could happily only have sex once a week and my husband could probably have sex almost daily but usually we try for twice a week. He doesn’t have unhealthy beliefs about sex, he knows it is not a need, and we do other things to connect with each other. If I had to try to make my libido match his, I would be resentful and angry and feel used. You may need to step back and see that if everything is good, other than she says no thanks sometimes, maybe you need to find other ways to connect, and other ways to regulate yourself.

    • Nessie

      To me that sounds like there is more going on in the relationship. And it sounds like for her, she actively does not want sex,

      The start up cost is meant for situations where the relationship is already good and sound all round. If that’s not accurate- even if only one partner is aware of that being the case- then it’s not the appropriate scenario to consider the start up cost.

      As soon as someone uses the “start up cost analysis” as a complaint/bludgeon, it becomes obligation sex.

  8. K

    I read the quote below, recently and have been pondering it a great deal. This is by Scott Peck from “People of the Lie.”

    I think the issue of “start up costs” synchronizes with an attempt to be a “biophilic” character type – as he phrases it.

    (Under his definition many churches today would be considered “necrophilic” – can we wake up please!!!)

    I find shifting the conversation/paradigm beyond simply gender issues to be incredibly helpful.

    We are meant to be “biophilic” – both men and women – and more so in marriage than in general, and Christians should be leading the charge – not teaching the exact opposite.

    “When I say that evil has to do with killing, I do not mean to restrict myself to corporeal murder. Evil is that which kills spirit. There are various essential attributes of life — particularly human life — such as sentience, mobility, awareness, growth, autonomy, will. It is possible to kill or attempt to kill one of these attributes without actually destroying the body. Thus we may “break” a horse or even a child without harming a hair on its head.

    Erich Fromm was acutely sensitive to this fact when he broadened the definition of necrophilia to include the desire of certain people to control others-to make them controllable, to foster their dependency, to discourage their capacity to think for themselves, to diminish their unpredectibility and originalty, to keep them in line. Distinguishing it from a “biophilic” person, one who appreciates and fosters the variety of life forms and the uniqueness of the individual, he demonstrated a “necrophilic character type,” whose aim it is to avoid the inconvenience of life by transforming others into obedient automatons, robbing them of their humanity.

    Evil then, for the moment, is the force, residing either inside or outside of human beings, that seeks to kill life or liveliness. And goodness is its opposite. Goodness is that which promotes life and liveliness.”

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s really interesting! I like that.

  9. C

    I really enjoy sex, but we’ve been trying to conceive since August 2022. We’ve done all the testing and we could be heading for ART, but our doctor said to give it another couple of months just to see if we can avoid spending thousands of dollars. My question is: how can I make this feel less like a chore? Before we were trying for a baby we actually had more sex and we’re both pretty much down for it. But when it has to be timed and there are tests involved it’s just not as sexy!! I have a hard time wanting to, and it just doesn’t feel as enjoyable as when it’s just for fun.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Can I just say, it’s okay to give grace to yourself? You’re going through something super hard. You’ve been disappointed, and you may be disappointed again, and that’s a lot of stress to put on yourselves. I think it’s okay to say, “hey, sex right now is just for procreation,” and if the earth doesn’t move, you can still comfort each other afterwards because you’re both nervous. That’s okay. It’s a hard period of life. It’s okay to acknowledge that!

      I wish I had a better answer, but this is just super hard, and putting even more pressure on yourself is likely not that great either.

  10. Joe Elliott

    Sheila, I live in Atlanta Georgia. I’m 61 years old and my wife and I have been married for 39 years. We have both been believers from our youth. We have four grown children and four grandchildren. We are committed to one another (“the marriage”)…no affairs, no emotional affairs, no porn addictions, …kind of squeaky clean from the outside looking in. We studied “Intended for Pleasure” together while engaged and (at least I feel) was intently focused on her physical pleasure. Yet, there is much I missed and/or believed and did wrong (trying to sort all that out now).

    Nevertheless, we are in a very hard place. We had sex about eight times from 2011 to 2019 and zero times since then to now. My wife pointed me to you. I’m listening to your podcasts from the first episode forward and am definitely beginning to see some of the insidious thinking about men and women and marriage and sex that has been wrought within the church…and me. Over these years, I have made (what I consider to be often Herculean) efforts to change with no “reward” nor “celebration of progress”. I am coming to believe that “obligation sex” is not the answer, yet at the same time zero oxytocin likely exacerbates our palpable disconnection. At some point, I envision that I will realize and embrace that much of this is “me” and the “system” that circulates through my veins. At the same time, it feels like a very steep climb…which I have attempted before without said “celebration” of direction and progress. This time it feels nearly utterly futile.

    I have so many questions! …including her “10%” contribution to our dilemma (which indeed may not be the huge cause of our situation, but nevertheless are huge to me).

    How in God’s name do we begin to start over? …and as genuinely and authentically and expeditiously as possible.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s a huge question! First, thank you so much for humbling yourself and listening. That’s wonderful!

      I think also that after 30 years of sex feeling disconnecting for your wife, it’s really, really hard to undo that. It’s like, things aren’t actively bad for her now. But the idea of sex ever being something passionate and freeing may seem really foreign. That’s what our culture does–it steals women’s sexuality.

      How to reclaim that is a difficult story, and I hope to make a course on it one day. But I think it has to start with your wife wanting to experience passion and freedom and live a big life. But she may honestly not be able to even picture that. When you don’t know what you’re missing, it can just feel like paradise to have the thing that is causing you emotional pain to stop. It’s like you’ve gone from -40 to 0, but you don’t know how to get to +40, and you can’t even picture it.

      The thing about our sexuailty is that to be authentic and passionate, it has to flow from the deepest parts of ourselves where we’re honest and comfortable. But if she’s been taught to wall that off, then she can’t even go there.

      I’ll try to write more on this soon, and hopefully even do a course on it, because it’s such a common question. But the culprit really has been that women’s sexuality was stolen completely. And that’s hard to give it back when you’re 60+ and things have never been good. It’s just really hard, and it’s okay to mourn that.

    • K

      Hello Joe,

      I realise that your question was directed towards Sheila specifically, and not generally. However, I really felt led to respond to you because — MRS. Elliott – I SEE you.

      Joe, you talk of “genuine”, “authentic” and “expeditious” in the same sentence. When there are 39 years of dysfunction that are needing to be unpacked, “expeditious” is mutually exclusive of the other two.

      You say the above after – “I am coming to believe that obligation sex is not the answer” and “At some point, I envision that I will realize and embrace that much of this is “me” and the “system” that circulates through my veins. ”

      You go on to say … “ I have so many questions! …including her “10%” contribution to our dilemma (which indeed may not be the huge cause of our situation, but nevertheless are huge to me).”

      So to lay my cards on the table …

      What are your ACTUAL failings that you are owning up to in your comment in this PRESENT moment of your life?

      You’ve admitted to being on a journey (this is good) but by your own admission, you haven’t arrived at a destination yet. You’re still steeped in toxic teaching (which you “envision” being able to understand at some point) – yet this teaching HAS genuinely and authentically hurt your wife enormously – she directed you to Bare Marriage, after all.

      In your comment it appears that you want sympathy for what her 10% is costing you. But you haven’t – in any way, fully shown up and owned the 90% that your actions have apparently cost HER.

      Your wife is not wrong to not trust this “repentance”. She isn’t wrong to not believe that your “admissions” aren’t “authentic” or “genuine” change – and she isn’t wrong to not offer you a “quick fix” button. You still sound like a man after sexual experiences. Not a man who is primarily concerned about the pain and lived experience of his wife.

      Does your wife feel like you intimately KNOW her – without sex being involved? Does she trust you?

      By your own admission she isn’t a gossip. It sounds like you have an ongoing relationship with your children? Is it possible that you are married to an amazing woman who may have more wisdom and long suffering than you have given her credit for?

      Sorry that I can’t be more encouraging to you – but I don’t think you are at the end of a journey, you may only be somewhere near the beginning.

      I offer the following article as a “litmus test” to you to know when you may be ready to work on the issues with the authenticity that you apparently seek.

      This is not offered in any way to claim that you are character disordered – there is wisdom here that goes far beyond that, and I believe the article is helpful to everyone.

      I do wish you and your wife everything of the best.

    • Jyotima

      You can get oxytocin by hugging your dog so you are not lacking oxytocin by not having sex

  11. 707GIRL

    I struggle with the motivation here, I’m in a marriage where he would have sex every 5 minutes if possible and I have learned that it is all about him. Start up cost? The whole thing is a self-sacrifice that is made to buy me some sleep or peace or to be allowed to finish getting dressed. It’s not a start-up cost is a toll tax.
    But then yes, I become the gatekeeper (or not) and the control is in one persons hands.
    I relate more to Jane Eyre than the others as I’ve chosen commitment over marital ‘joy’ so then, within a healthy marriage where both people are respected and heard, it is about whether you can wrench yourself away from what you are doing because you see the benefits to your marriage in an intimate moment and admit there is a cost but it’s worth paying or I’m still locked in this mentality where (s)he is more important than me and I need to meet their needs no matter how I feel about it.

    • Nessie

      Hey 707GIRL, The start up costs are definitely for when things are going well and the relationship is healthy and good ALL-round (not just in everything except sex), where sex is about both of you and not having sex is about both of you, too. It sounds like the start up costs idea doesn’t apply to you but the major costs does. I’m so sorry for that. I don’t have any words of wisdom- I just want to say that I hear you and I am sorry you were robbed of something that should have been wonderful. I hope you find validation or encouragement in other ways here,

      Sheila, have you done a post that I’m unaware of on the differences between sexual entitlement vs. sex addiction?


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