If decreased desire in a husband or wife becomes a problem, couples need to begin the solution by having a heart-to-heart talk outside of the marriage bed. Some feel they are wrong to expect their marriage partners to have sex with them. Yet 1 Corinthians 7:3 makes it clear that the husband and wife have a responsibility to meet each other’s sexual needs. If your partner lacks interest, begin by praying for help in having a difficult but necessary conversation. Then together explore the possible cause or causes.
Ask your spouse, “Is there anything I can do to help you be in the mood more often?” Perhaps he’s bored with the routine. Perhaps she needs help with the kids. Consider together together whether lack of interest in sex is a new problem, or if it’s been this way since day one. Is he getting his needs met elsewhere? Does she seem to have no desire at any time? Is work particularly stressful lately? A man will often avoid sex because he’s having potency problems and is afraid of risking failure. This is why it’s so important to discuss his lack of interest in a supportive and loving way.
Seek medical help if the lack of desire is not a temporary difficulty. Physical reasons for low sexual interest in men include conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, extreme stress, and a history of alcohol abuse. Often the medication history can give clues, as a variety of drugs can impact libido and function. Anti-hypertensive medicines, medications used for migraines, and most of the SSRIs (Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft), so useful for certain anxiety and depressive disorders, can dramatically lower libido. If brain serotonin levels are relatively high —as is true for many patients on antidepressants —sexual dysfunction may occur.
People with high-stress jobs or very physical jobs can, indeed, be physically tired. A phenomenon that appears unique to men, though, and that seems similar to a general depression, involves an unsatisfying work experience, or a sense of “failure to accomplish” something significant in a lifespan. For many men, job performance and sexual prowess are tightly linked. In addition, failure to perform up to his own “standards” can begin a downward spiral of ongoing failure. If a man tries to have sex when tired or distracted by job or other concerns and can’t maintain a satisfactory erection or reach ejaculation, it can plant deadly seeds of doubt in his mind. These can be powerful enough to cause him to prefer not trying rather than trying and failing. Encouragement, support, and “another time, another place, another try” without pressure may resolve the issue.
A husband who experiences these episodes is hardly alone. The e-waves and airwaves are inundated with advertisements for erectile dysfunction aids —both prescription and non-prescription approaches. This change in publicity is striking. Erectile dysfunction has, in fact, surfaced as a major male issue and is frequently followed by seeming lack of interest in sexual expression. Erectile dysfunction along with premature ejaculation cause considerable male sexual difficulties. However, there are may successful therapies ranging from biblical counseling to specific medications for particular patients.
Hormonal issues can play a role for both men and women. As a man ages, the testosterone slowly decreases which may cause a noticeable change in libido, size and firmness of the erection, as well as force of ejaculation. For the man who has been able to perform “on demand,” these changes can be anxiety-producing, even frightening aspects of the normal aging process.
For aging women, besides the hormonal effects, body image seems to play an enormous role. As a woman feels less attractive and less secure, she may resist advances and be more reluctant to initiate sexual expression. So we find husbands with failing confidence in their ability and wives that are insecure in their appearance —a recipe for decrease in the number of intimate encounters.
For men, obesity may also be a factor. In a study of nearly 2,000 men at the Harvard School of Public Health, “those with 42-inch waists or larger were twice as likely to have problems getting an erection as those with 32-inch waists. Researchers suspect that’s because they had risk factors for heart disease —high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and inactivity —which compromise not only blood flow to the heart, but also to the genitals. The solution? Frequent work-outs and low-fat diet.”
Seek competent counseling. One woman wrote, “When my husband takes his arousal pills —about four times a month —we have great sex. But I’m angry at his need to take ‘something’ to have sex with me.” Her words demonstrate how easy it is to take his low desire personally, but if he needs medication to achieve an erection, his lack of drive is probably out of his control. The available medications increase blood flow to the pelvis, and perhaps boost his confidence. Her anger would seem to be misplaced in this situation. This couple could probably benefit from a third party to help them have some difficult conversations in a supportive atmosphere. It’s not easy to talk with someone else about your love life, but sometimes a neutral party can help a lot.
Many counselors and most pastoral counselors, however, have no experience in sex therapy or dealing with these intimate issues. So try to find someone with training and expertise in treating sexual problems. Checking with your physician might be a good first place to start.
When the wife has a lower sex drive than her husband, she can still usually help him experience sexual release in a relatively brief time. Providing sexual release is more complex, however, when the one with the lower libido is the husband. Because sexual satisfaction for her generally takes longer, requires more concentration and ambiance, and is a reflection of the intensity of her feelings toward her man, the uninterested husband must involve himself for much longer to satisfy his wife. And her partner’s enthusiasm is more closely linked to her ability even to experience orgasm than it would be for many men with less interested wives. Nevertheless, it’s still worthwhile to have intimate contact, if only to assure her of his love, affection, and concern for her welfare.
Bear in mind that there are alternate ways to achieve orgasm even when the husband suffers from erectile dysfunction. Couples should feel free to explore and experiment in these areas. Perhaps once the husband is successful in these ways, his lagging libido will be less of an issue.
Some husbands are trying to be sensitive, but they often find themselves having painful conversations that go something like this:
HIM: “Do you need me to meet your needs tonight, sweetheart?”
HER: “It would be nice if you actually wanted me.”
HIM: “Hey, I’m doing the best I can.”
HER: “I don’t want some sort of sympathy session —doing it because you have to. You’d just be pretending.”
HIM: “Then what do you expect me to do? Lie and tell you I can’t wait? I’m willing to meet your needs. That’s the best I can do right now.”
The neglected wife will probably feel insecurities such as, “If only I were more beautiful” or “If only I were more sexy.” Even if doctors can identify a medical cause for the husband’s seeming indifference, these feelings are difficult for her to overcome. Yet it’s important for her to remind herself that God created her in His very image, so she is a beautiful creature, fully desirable, despite her husband’s medical or emotional issues.
Because a spouse’s lack of interest usually brings feelings of rejection and even insecurity for the more interested partner, he or she may be especially vulnerable. 1 Corinthians 7:5 gives the clear command not to deprive each other for this very reason —because it leaves one’s spouse more vulnerable to sexual temptation. If your spouse refuses to or can’t help you achieve sexual release, you as the deprived spouse must recognize the additional moral vigilance that must accompany such difficulties in your life.
The way your spouse decides to respond to your need, though, is largely out of control. If he or she ignores your pleas despite attempts at communication and intervention, seek the help of a third party. If your spouse remains unresponsive, you must live with the devastating realty of life as a celibate married person. The ongoing support of a trusted friend will be essential to helping you deal with such a loss.
In this case our Savior’s submission to the Father serves as a source of enablement and encouragement: “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23 NIV). That is not to say you silently bear it, opting never to bring it up. Periodically express your ongoing desire for marital oneness. Yet recognize that if your spouse fails to respond, it’s out of your control.
For many women, their husbands’ lack of interest is a source of ongoing grief, as sexual oneness was created as an essential piece in the marriage equation. If this is true for you, express your emotion to God, knowing He will honor your for exhibiting a quality that reflects the heart of God Himself —loyal, faithful love that cares for those who cannot reciprocate.
This can go both ways. Many wives are no longer available to their husbands after the kids are grown and gone. A man in such a situation must learn to live godly in the midst of her selfish approach, as well.
Jesus Christ understand the difficulties of the celibate life. In Ronald Rolheiser’s book The Holy Longing, he notes, “When Christ went to bed alone at night, he was in real solidarity with the many persons who, not by choice but by circumstance, sleep alone. And there is a real poverty, a painful searing one, in this kind of aloneness. The poor are not just those who are more manifestly victimized by poverty, violence, war, and unjust economic systems. There are other less obvious manifestations of poverty, violence, and injustice. Celibacy by conscription is one of them.”
As we’ve said before, the number-one sexual difficulty couples experience is the inability to talk about it. This appears to be a pattern that continues through the years unless couples make a specific effort to communicate about their intimate lives. Physicians estimate that nearly half of their menopausal patients suffer from a loss of sexual desire or satisfaction. And while approximately two-thirds of the men have noticed a decrease in sexual activity since their partners entered menopause, only half of the couples have discussed these changes together.
So the first line of defense of communication. The second is knowing what to expect. The third is knowing to seek help any time you experience discomfort or ongoing anxiety. Finally, focus on benefits of loving well at each age. In their time of youth, couples experience new, exciting sensations, and awaken to worlds of self-discovery. With maturity comes skill, confidence, and deepening intimacy. In old age, couples bring to each other the wisdom and joy of love learned over a lifetime. As the authors of Love and Sex After Forty remind us, “Love and sex are twin arts, requiring effort and knowledge. Only in fairy tales do people live happily ever after without working at it …but sex does not merely exist after the middle and later years; it holds the possibility of becoming greater than it ever was.”
Like the bride in Song of Solomon who felt free to say, “Dark am I, yet lovely” (Song of Solomon 1:5 NIV), we face growing old together by working to create a secure atmosphere to reach other. In that place, loving eyes look beyond physical imperfections and exclaim, “This is my lover, this my friend” (Song 5:16 NIV).
The above article came from the book Sexual Intimacy in Marriage, written by William Cutrer, MD and Sandra Glahn, published by Kregel Publications. There is even more in this particular chapter, that we weren’t able to include in this article, so for this reason and because it’s a good book, we hope you can find a way to obtain it. “This easy-to-read book has blended the glory of sex with the realities of life. It addresses real people in a real world without compromising God’s wonderful design and purpose for His gift of sex.” It “holds in highest esteem the institution of marriage, and the sexual relationship is given its proper place within the context of marriage.“
— ALSO —
A few additional articles on this marriage issue, which you may find helpful to read, are written by Sheila Wray Gregoire: