I stepped off the stage at a Weekend to Remember marriage conference after presenting the session on Sexual Intimacy. A group of people formed and began asking questions about the message. I noticed a young man hanging around the peripherals of the group. He remained distant enough to avoid the appearance of interest, but close enough that if I were paying attention, and cared enough, I could initiate a conversation. After the group dispersed, I walked over and introduced myself. Here were his first words.
“I don’t want to have sex as often as my wife because I’m not attracted to her.”
And then he began to cry. We stood together quietly for a while, then he said, “I’ve never shared this with anyone before.”
He was ashamed, full of fear to voice such a thing, and yet relieved to finally be talking about it.
Ashamed because the man is supposed to be the one beating down doors to get under the sheets. The wife is supposed to be the one wearing the chastity belt, fighting off the sex-crazed Neanderthal she calls husband.
But the stereotypes aren’t always accurate. In fact, I’ve had a version of this same conversation at almost every conference. When my wife speaks with me on this topic, a woman almost always approaches her saying they desire sex more than their husband.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, whether male or female, here are some things to consider that might help you find a path forward.
Seasons of Life
We all pass through different seasons of life. When we first married I was surprised to find my interest lower than my wife’s. But the discovery didn’t unravel me. The year before we married, a friend of mine a few years older experienced the same thing. I was stunned he would tell me about it, both by the fact that he would share such a thing and by the possibility. Isn’t that a situation men pray for? It seemed like some days, as a single man at the time, sex was all I thought about. How could a man not think about it every moment of every hour after marriage? But I was grateful later for his transparency. There wasn’t any shame in what he shared. It was just a part of their marriage that they needed to work on. It didn’t make them weird or make him less of a man.
In that season of differing desire, one thought kept ringing in my mind: there is likely to come a day when the situation is reversed. How would I want my wife to act toward me? I should be acting that way now. I should be serving her now. I should be sacrificing for her now. Not just so that I will “get mine” later, but because of love.
Marriage is about sacrifice; about give and take. There is never a perfect scenario where everyone is getting every need perfectly met. We all have to say no to some desires, or yes to some other non-existent desire, at any given point in marriage for the benefit of the relationship. This is an other-worldly attitude only fully realized by Christ living through us. He is the one who emptied himself and took on the form of a bond-servant so that we could have this attitude: “… with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interest of others.” (Philippians 2:3b-4 NAS).
My situation was different from this young man’s, as I definitely found my wife attractive and I definitely wanted to enjoy lots of intimate moments with her! Our differing levels of desire were pretty minor in comparison to what he was experiencing. But I at least felt some empathy for him and all the guys that don’t fit the stereotype.
Ask Why and Other Hard Questions
I discussed some of this with the young man and he seemed a little less upset about the whole thing. I asked him to spend some time reflecting on the question “Why?” Why did he find himself unattracted to his wife? What did that mean? Was it her character, her behavior, her body, her attitude toward him, a particular habit, or some combination of all of these? Sometimes it may be one small thing that derails the train, yet is lumped into a huge category of “unattraction.” Try to narrow it down to specifics. Problems fight to stay vague so as to appear unfixable, beyond hope. But men love to wrestle a problem to the ground and get-‘er-done. A friend of mine says, “A problem identified is half solved.”
If I had more time with him, I would have asked some harder questions. Is he viewing porn? That will kill attraction toward his wife. Is he having erectile dysfunction and ashamed to admit it? That could be a result of viewing porn, but it also can occur for other reasons. Stressed at work? Feeling disrespected by your wife? There are few things less attractive than a disrespectful woman. Maybe it’s a fear of rejection, or a fear of underperforming? Maybe you’ve both made mistakes with one another and now find it awkward to be intimate. If that’s the case, do what Bill and Pam Mutz did. They have twelve children, they speak at Weekend to Remember Events, and their story was featured in The Art of Marriage video series. Early on they had challenges with sex. She was not enjoying it at all. So they committed to praying over their marriage bed. They began to read books together on the topic (like The Act of Marriage). This gave them a common language and a sense of teamwork and dependence on God to help them grow closer and overcome the barriers to intimacy.
There may be some even harder questions to wrestle with. Maybe he doesn’t want any more children and his wife does, so he’s avoiding sex. Or maybe he is really attracted to men, but married a woman out of guilt and is just now coming to grips with those deeply buried desires. The solution isn’t to abandon the marriage and live out those attractions, but he at least needs to acknowledge what is there and not ignore it. It’s only then that they can deal with it together. That’s a hard thing to deal with, but it can’t be ignored if it’s there.
This Might Take a While…
Whatever the issue is, it might take many years to get things right. But here’s the encouraging part, you HAVE many years together to work on this. The other option is to just keep going along as things are for the rest of your marriage. Is that what you want? That’s giving up, and it’s not the way to approach marriage.
Now, back to the young man. I ended our conversation with this advice to help in the short-term:
On the practical side, sometimes you feel your way into acting, and sometimes you act your way into feeling. I’ve seen this happen time and again in my life. For instance, I don’t care too much for home improvement projects. If given the choice, I might select having sharp sticks slowly driven under my finger nails instead. Yet it’s amazing how once I get going and some momentum builds, there’s a measure of satisfaction in a job well done and in knowing I did something that pleases and blesses my wife and improves our home.
Is there anything your spouse does for you that they don’t care to do? Of course there is. In one sense, sex is no different. So approach it with a similar mindset. Here’s how.
Ask how often your spouse would like to have sex. Is it once a week? Twice a week? Once a month? Try to be as specific as possible. If it’s way too often for you, then try to compromise. Some is better than none. Then put it on the calendar. That’s right: Schedule it. I’ve heard Bob Lepine, the co-host of FamilyLife Today say, “Some people say that scheduled sex isn’t very sexy. Well, what do you think is less sexy, scheduled sex, or no sex?” If you can get it on the calendar – “every Tuesday at 9pm” or whatever you decide, you can get your head in the game and get ready.
Now this may sound a little crude here, but please bear with me… the reality is, you can do anything for 30 minutes, or 10 minutes, or… you fill in the blank. The point is, it is a small slice of your week or month in the grand scheme of things. By taking the step of faith to intentionally engage, you’ll know you’re investing in your marriage, that you’re serving your spouse. Now it’s no longer some ambiguous problem of “lack of attraction.” You are now doing what you can. And who knows, over time, you may even find yourself beginning to enjoy some of those intimate moments and find your attraction for your spouse growing. The bonding chemicals released in the body during sex will likely increase the depth of your connection, and possibly even reduce stress.
This is a good starting point, but don’t let it stay as a “duty.” Also pray for your “attraction.” Pray that your love for your spouse would deepen every day. Look for things to admire about your spouse and give thanks to God for those qualities. Attraction isn’t merely a physical thing. In fact, in good marriages, attraction grows stronger even as physical beauty fades.
Whatever the issue is at the root of the problem, get real with your spouse about it. Emotional intimacy will pave the way for a deeper physical fulfillment. As I’ve often heard it said, sex is not a thermostat, setting the temperature of the marriage, but a thermometer, merely measuring the temperature of the marriage. If you want to enjoy physical intimacy to its fullest, you need to focus on oneness – on growing closer together emotionally and spiritually – being on the same page and moving through life together. The physical attraction will follow.