SEX: When A Wife Doesn’t Want to Make Love
“I have already gotten settled in bed, wearing my flannel nightgown and reading my book. Now that you’re in the mood, I’m not sure I want to go to all the trouble…” (A paraphrase of Song of Songs 5:3, 6)
Sometimes the well-worn excuse, “I’ve got a headache, honey,” is actually true. Just the thought of having sex makes your head hurt, and maybe your heart as well. It’s hard to feel amorous when you’re angry or disappointed, and it’s equally difficult to desire your husband sexually if you’re not attracted to him.
Many women in difficult marriages lack a desire for sexual intimacy with their mates —and you don’t have to look far to understand why, at least in part. We’re all aware that women are wired differently than men when it comes to sex. While men often times are aroused by physical and visual stimuli, women usually need to feel affection and trust in order to be responsive to a man’s sexual advances. When a wife receives her husband during intercourse, she is, in a sense, allowing herself to be invaded by him —not just physically, but on emotional and spiritual levels, as well.
Wives who feel loved and secure can welcome this invasion as an opportunity to experience intense intimacy and pleasure with their husbands. But wives who lack sexual desire or who feel animosity toward their husbands often experience sex as a violation rather than as loving communion.
Many women in difficult marriages find sex undesirable. So, if you have problems in this area, know that you’re in good company —and that you can take steps to have a more satisfying and healthy sexual relationship.
You may be surprised to learn that Scripture can shed some insight into why [wives] may be feeling resistant or resentful when it comes to lovemaking. In a well-known but often misrepresented passage about marriage, Paul writes, ‘The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife’ (1 Corinthians 7:3-4).
These verses have been used to browbeat wives into feeling guilty for not wanting to have sex or for avoiding it. But notice that Paul doesn’t say a wife’s body belongs only to her spouse. It says it belongs also to her spouse. As ‘one flesh,’ a wife shares her body with her husband. Bible commentaries also point out that when Paul says we ‘belong’ to one another, he’s not just emphasizing our ownership rights over one another, but he’s also clarifying that our exclusive conjugal rights belong to each other —no outsiders allowed.
This passage does not teach that a wife (or husband, for that matter) should submit to sex whenever, wherever, and however our partner demands it, no matter how we feel. Rather, it teaches that since my husband’s body belongs to me, I should care about it enough to give it pleasure whenever I possibly can, and he likewise with my body. In the same way, since my husband’s body belongs to me, I should also be understanding and generous when it’s not “in the mood,” and he likewise with my body. The emphasis is on mutuality, not selfishness.
At first reading, this passage may also seem to teach that sex is a duty, a required act. But duty is better translated as sacred responsibility. Paul is advising couples to continue to have sex on a regular basis because sex is at the heart of our sacred oneness and helps to protect our fidelity. The intent of this duty isn’t that a wife complies with a husband’s selfish appetite for sex on demand or vice versa, but to fulfill her sacred obligation to meet her husband’s sexual needs, keep the marriage bed pure, and keep each other free of sexual temptation.
Let’s look at another passage. In Ephesians, husbands are told to love their wives “as their own bodies” (Ephesians 5:28). “After all, no one ever hated his own body,” Paul writes, “but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church” (v.29). God describes a husband who loves his wife so much that he puts her needs as high on the chart as his own bodily needs! In regard to sex then, if a husband loves his wife this way, there’s no danger that he’ll mistreat her or take sexual advantage of her, because that would be like hating his own body.
In God’s ideal picture of marriage, if a wife wasn’t feeling up to sex, for whatever reason, the husband would honor and respect her feelings as if it were himself who wasn’t in the mood. If a husband doesn’t love his wife this way, he —not she —is sinning when he expects his wife to be available for intercourse on demand and without regard to her feelings.
Okay, so now we see that God didn’t intend for a wife to be a slave to her husband’s sexual needs. However, on the other extreme —saying that a wife has no responsibility or can shirk her obligation to nurture a healthy, ongoing sexual relationship —is equally wrong and unbiblical. A wife who regularly refuses to have sex or is only willing to be intimate with her husband on her terms is also acting selfishly. If you consistently rebuff your husband’s sexual advances and resent intercourse, you need to take active, positive steps toward restoring consistent and mutually satisfying lovemaking to your marriage.
Here are some suggestions to start you on the path to discovery and change. For starters:
Tell your husband that you want to improve your lovemaking and you’re actively pursuing positive changes. Assure him that you understand that you have a part in the sexual problems in your marriage. Be sure he knows that your goal is for both of you to be sexually satisfied.
Take a “time out” from sex. Paul said not to deny each other except for a time of prayer (1 Corinthians 7:5). The reason for a sexual hiatus isn’t to avoid sex —it’s to pray and take active steps to bring about change. It’s not to stop resentment from building; it’s to bring healing so that resentment is no longer an issue. Talk about this with your husband. Tell him what you’re doing and why. If he knows the goal isn’t less sex, but more and better sex, he’ll likely feel less threatened by a time out and be more willing to see a counselor together, read books together, or otherwise, explore the problem. If he gets angry or refuses to respect your wishes, talk with a counselor in order to gain wisdom and support for what you can do.
Educate yourself. There’s not enough room here to address the myriad of emotional and physical aspects of sexual dysfunction, and there are plenty of good books available. One or both of you may have grown up with ideas or teachings about sex that are inhibiting you now. Some good Christian books include:
• Restoring the Pleasure by Clifford L. Penner and Joyce J. Penner
• Intimate Issues by Linda Dillow and Lorraine Pintus
• Intended for Pleasure by Ed Wheat.
Check your history. Could it be that past sexual relationships are interfering in your present one? Were you involved in sexual activities earlier in life that you left feeling resentful and used? If you have a history of any kind of abuse, chances are great that you need healing from these hurtful experiences before you will begin to have a healthy attitude about lovemaking. Since this is a complex issue, you should seek help form a professional as soon as possible.
Rule out physical problems. Sometimes physical problems, such as hormone imbalances, inhibit a woman’s desire for sex. If your troubles have more to do with a lack of physical responsiveness than with emotional resistance, see a physician who specializes in sexual dysfunction and explore possible cause and solutions. You should also visit your doctor if you don’t experience orgasms, if you lack lubrication, if you find intercourse painful, or if you are on medications that might be interfering with your sexual drive.
Experiment with being the initiator. In most cases where a wife is reluctant to have sex, the husband is the designated initiator, which can lead to an unhelpful pattern in which the problem only gets worse. Authors Clifford and Joyce Penner point out:
Because the wife doesn’t show her interest in being together sexually, the husband begins to believe she has no interest in him sexually. His insecurity is triggered by her apparent lack of interest, so he anxiously begins to initiate sex more often than he would want it if he were feeling sure of himself in relation to her. She feels pressured by his initiation, so she begins to avoid him or pull away sexually. The more he approaches, the more consistent is her avoidance. The more frequent her avoidance, the more anxious is his approach. It becomes a negative spiral.
Talk with your husband about waiting for sex until you approach him. Many men, once assured that sex will take place, aren’t put off at all by waiting for the wives to signal their readiness. If you are the initiator it may remove some of the feelings of pressure and duty you experience. Instead, it becomes something you are giving, versus something he is always approaching you to take.
Spell it out for him! “If she [a wife] feels uncared for, she may believe the only interest her husband has in her is sex,” write the Penners. “He comes home from work, turns on the television, sits quietly at dinner, and watches television after dinner. Then at bedtime he becomes friendly —and her anger sizzles.”
Sound familiar? Tell your husband exactly what it takes to please you in bed and to make you feel happy to be invited there. You’d be amazed how many men just don’t realize that a wife needs to be courted during the day, instead of only five minutes before lovemaking. And chances are, it probably doesn’t take that much: a midday phone call, kisses on the way out the door, a long hug when he gets home. Be specific about what you’d enjoy and list for him several small things he could do to help you be in the mood more often.
Consider sexual therapy. For some couples, the road to a healthy sex life may require outside help. Often sexual therapy involves literally starting all over again with a clean slate. Couples typically follow a program that begin with nonsexual touching; over the course of weeks, homework assignments build back up to intercourse (Restoring the Pleasure contains a step-by-step program). If your husband is unwilling to see a counselor with you, consider seeking help alone. You’d be surprised how much progress you can make this way. A therapist may not only be able to help you deal with your own issues pertaining to sex, but may also help you find non-threatening ways to talk about them with your husband.
Be honest about turnoffs. It’s important to find a way to let your husband know what dampens your mood. For years, Catherine’s husband Jason had no idea that his wife was repelled by the smell of a prescription lotion. When she finally mentioned it one night, he was hurt that she’d never been honest before. Now he never applies his bedtime dose of lotion until he’s sure that they won’t be making love.
If it’s something he can change, let your husband know that while you accept and love him as he is, you’d think he were sexier if he could deal with this particular problem. If it’s not something he can change, the problem then becomes yours. In truth, your sexual responsiveness to your husband, if all else is well, shouldn’t be dampened by baldness, graying, or wrinkled skin. If they trouble you, you need to deal with your own thought patterns and values and try not to let them detract from lovemaking.
Making changes in your sex life won’t necessarily come easily. Some changes might not come at all. However, never give up or relegate sex to the old days. A healthy sex life is foundational to every marriage. The Penners put it this way: “How important is sex in marriage? A simple answer is that when sex is compared to an automobile, sex is to the marriage what the oil is to the combustion engine. At least a little oil necessary to keep the engine running —without sex, one’s marriage will eventually break down.”
Thank You for the gift of sex! I want to become more and more grateful for this miracle of oneness You created. Help me, I pray; to do everything in my power to make my love life with the husband You gave me all that You would have it be. Restore our passion, revive our affections, and fill us with mercy and grace for one another. Amen.
The above part of this article came from the book, Lovers for Life: Strengthening and Preserving Your Marriage, published by Christian Publications, Inc. This book is a compilation of writings from over 30 different authors on the subject of marriage. Kenneth Musko is the compiler and Janet Dixon is the editor. Some of the contributing authors include: Gary Chapman, Kevin Leman, Cheri Fuller, Willard Harley Jr., Steve and Annie Chapman, and Bob and Yvonne Turnbull.
— IN ADDITION, TO HELP YOU WITH THIS ISSUE —
Paul Byerly, from The-generous-husband.com web site gives additional insightful information you might find helpful as you read: