The Sex-Starved Marriage

If you are married, do you have enough sex?
How much is “enough” in marriage?

These are big questions that many women wonder about and most are afraid to ask. I have been in many, many discussions with married women on sex. Informal, just amongst friends type of discussions. This topic often dances on the edges of our conversation and generally never get’s brought in to the center. It can feel too personal and daunting to openly discuss. But it seems to be the conversation many of us want to have.

This is especially relevant for “sex-starved couples”. These are couples where one is wanting significantly less sex compared to the other. The other spouse feels unloved, shut-down or frustrated with the lack of sex in their marriage. They go weeks and weeks with no sex. Perhaps the couple started marriage with a commitment to talk openly about sex and have it often! But, reality, is a different story.

I recently came across Michelle Weiner-Davis and her TedTalk on The Sex Starved Marriage and this article she wrote. I would highly recommend you look at both!

Here are my thoughts on this important topic with a few stolen ideas from Michelle Weiner-Davis.

Who wants sex?

It is generally assumed that women have a lower sex drive than men. But this is not always the case. Many times it is men. Often, women want lots of sex, equal to or exceeding their husband. For this discussion, I’m going to talk to the women. Whether you are going through a season of wanting much less sex or it has always been that way, here are some thoughts to consider.

4 Reasons Women Don’t Want Sex

Season of Life

Young children, those precious little angels. Eating us out of house and home and consuming our desire for sex along with it. Let’s be honest, young children can be a huge killer of sexual desire, especially for women.

I remember when our boys were younger. They were energetic, loud and 18 months apart in age. They were up in my grill ALL the time. The only thing I wanted at the end of the day was no one to look at me, talk to me, touch me, or ask me for anything… basically I wanted to be on a planet where no other person existed. Just me, an episode of Good Wife and popcorn. That’s it. I hated to break the news to my husband that he was not wanted on my planet called “Just-me-and-no-one-else-including-you”. Sound familiar?

Children, specifically young children can suck every bit of sexual desire out of you. Other things can do it too. Perhaps job stress, financial hardship or personal crisis. It is good to recognise and communicate this in order to make a plan for your season of life.

Your Stages are Reversed

Sex has four stages: 1. Desire (mental desire for it), 2. Arousal (physical excitement and desire for it), 3. Orgasm (no explanation needed!) and 4. Resolution (back to normal). Previously, it was believed that these stages also went in this order. More and more research is happening that for many women, Stage 1 and 2 are reversed. Desire only comes after physical arousal.

Practically, this means that many women don’t feel like having sex until they have actually started having sex. When it comes to women and sex Weiner-Davis says, “Just Do It”.

If women wait until they “feel” like it then they will never have sex because “feeling like it” only comes after they have started doing it. This is why so many women say, “Well, I didn’t feel in the mood when we started but by the end I really enjoyed it! We should do this more often!”

I have recently been sharing this with women friends to see their opinion. I found that almost every single woman said they completly identified with this the majority of the time.

Intimacy Avoidance

Having very infrequent sex can be a sign of something deeper. It can be a way of avoiding intimacy because of hurt, pain or some other dysfunction. Some reasons:

  • Undealt with hurt or pain in the marriage.
  • Undealt with hurt or pain in your personal life. From a past relationship, abuse or other situation.
  • Immature intimacy skills. Some of us simply never learned how to be intimate with others. Perhaps our family of origin was extremely unhealthy or we had emotionally immature examples all our lives.
  • Current dysfunction in the marriage. If we are keeping secrets, harbouring unknown addictions or being emotionally unavailable then these will all affect the sex life.

The only way to deal with this is to get outside help! Find a trusted mentor, counsellor or married couple that can explore these issues with you.

You See Sex and Love as Two Different Things

What if you you replaced the word “sex” with “love”? How would that change the conversation for you?

Saying, “I don’t feel like loving you tonight” might be an honest admission but what if you said it every day? Suddenly you would feel selfish or a little unsure about your words. This is what our spouse often hears with repeated avoidance of sex. We can’t make sex and love two totally unrelated issues.

No one should be forced in to having sex, that’s not what we are talking about. Consistently denying sex to your husband might feel like a holiday to you but it feels like a rejection to him. It feels like you don’t love him… no matter what you say otherwise.

Scientific studies show that rejection is felt the exact same way as physical pain. That is how men’s brains process sexual rejection. It is like a physical wound.

Sex, mutually given in marriage, is an act of love. It is not optional extra benefit some people get. The love, when given, is received deep in to our souls. When withheld it is a rejection of something deep in our souls… in our husbands souls. Sex and love are not two different things.

I’m not saying this to cause guilt. It is just reality and we do well to take the care to say, “Let’s look at this because I love you too much to just pretend it’s a trivial issue.”

4 Things to Do:

  • Talk about it. Simply ask your spouse, “Do you think we have enough sex?”. That little question should get the conversation going fairly well!

  • Change the language: Stop asking “Am I in the mood?” or “Do I feel like sex?”. Start asking, “Have I loved my spouse recently?” or “Can I give love to him tonight?”

  • “Just Do It” Women, you will be surprised how the initial “I don’t feel like it” turns in to “That felt great” more often than you realise. Make a pact to “Just Do It” more often for your own enjoyment and his.

  • Make it mutual. If one is wanting sex and the other doesn’t, what do you do that night? Make it a practice to mutually serve one another. Some nights you “just do it” and other nights you just don’t. Just make sure the the “no’s” aren’t winning all the time. If you have said “no” too often in the past you might need to ask the above question to get things started again.

Porn 101: Waking Up

The world we live in today is so different than the past. Especially in regards to pornography.

I remember, not so long ago, my husband and I counselling a young married couple. The husband had an ongoing struggle with porn. After we had talked and prayed for a while we worked with them to set some practical safe guards. One of the main ones was that he wasn’t allowed to fill up his car with fuel. Why? Because that was where the most accessible porn was for him.

This advice is now so antiquated. Today, the gas station is the LEAST accessible place to get porn. Porn is now easier to get than water. I actually have to stand up and go to the sink to get water. With porn I just reach in my pocket, pull out my phone and there it is. The game as changed. We need to change too.

Porn is no longer simply seeing a lady, in underwear, in a catalogue. Nor is it a trivial issue we should snicker about because “boys will be boys”.

Let’s be honest, this is what porn is and does:

Porn is Everyone’s Problem:

In the U.S. alone there are 40 million regular users of pornography. An average of $14 billion is spent per year on porn. This is more than the amount spent on professional baseball, basketball and football, combined. And get this: most porn isn’t even paid for, 80-90% of people get porn for free. The reality is that 95% of men and 40% of women (and growing) have seen it. If you are a man between the ages of 17-35, there is a 70% chance you’ve looked at porn this week. Combine those odds and it virtually guarantees that either you or your (potential) spouse have actively engaged with porn at some point.

I teach young people from my missions organisation on relationships. These students are the top tier. They are the most motivated, and passionate Christians out there. They are willing to travel to hard places and live in incredible hardships, all for their faith. The above stats are basically what I have experienced in teaching hundreds of these wonderful people.

Porn is Addictive:

The latest research shows us the reality of this, it is not just a compulsion. Porn is an addiction akin to cocaine or heroin. In fact, the latest research shows that porn has the exact same affect, if not worse. Scientists are realising that porn is an addiction taken in through the eyes. Chemically, it releases both dopamine (same as in cocaine) and opiates (same as in heroine). This double whammy makes it highly addictive.

Porn is Progressive:

Because porn actually affects our brain chemistry it can develop very real chemical changes in our brains regarding our sexual attractions. Porn is different than, say, cigarettes. A smoker can tell you their brand and how many packs they smoke a day.  It generally doesn’t change. But pornography is built on novelty. You rarely find a man or women addicted to certain, single pornographic picture. Once sucked in to repetitive porn viewing, they are always on the pursuit to find newer and more novel forms of porn to get the same effect as before. Thus the porn gets more severe and unusual in order to create the same satisfaction.

Porn is Destructive:

As we have seen thus far, porn is not a small problem. The true danger, though, lies in the effect on actual lives and relationships.

Well known pastor, Dr. Russell Moore, recently recounted that in the past he would counsel couples that were having sexual problems because the wife did not desire sex as much as their husbands. Now, he finds the complete opposite. Men no longer desire sex with their wives because either; (a) she doesn’t look like the porn pictures and they are no longer turned on by her or (b) they have depersonalised sex and no longer desire to engage in sex with a real person.

Even non-Christians are seeing the destruction. Professor Gail Dines says, “When you interview young women about their experiences of sex, you see an increased level of violence: rough, violent sex. That is directly because of porn, as young boys are getting their sexual cues from men in porn who are acting as if they’re sexual psychopaths. Pornography is sexually traumatising an entire generation of boys.”

Porn is a Liar:

Porn treats people like objects for your own personal viewing pleasure. In porn they are not people of value because they are made in the image of God. When we view porn, we are a user. A user of God’s precious people for our own personal pleasure.

Porn also tells us the lie that the goal of sex is about satisfying your own sexual appetite. This is selfish lust not unselfish love. Porn says that it is ok to make sex about what I want and crave. As Dr. Russell Moore says, “Pornography promises orgasm without intimacy”, that this will truly satisfy. Ultimately this lie rots our soul and destroys our own life and the lives of others.

Finally, with porn we delude ourselves. We believe it won’t entice me. It won’t happen to my relationships. Or the big whopper of them all for some of us… last time was the last time, I will never do it again.

My next three posts will be some of my practical ideas on living with hope in a porn-filled world in marriage, raising children and as a single person.

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Let’s Talk About Sex: With Your Kids

Recently, the web has been ablaze with panicking parents and worried sociologists.  All around the issue of children and porn use.

The latest research and studies can be fear inducing… 8 year olds addicted to porn, really!?! (Yes, too often, porn starts early, is addictive and changes futures). Without a doubt the world our children are growing up in is a completely different world than the past.  The stakes are higher and the rules different. The parent that denies this reality does great harm to their child, without exception, in my opinion.

But what is a parent to do?  Should we walk up to our 8-year-old and begin talking about porn?!

I think what we do today has the same foundation as in all generations past, start with the basics.  If we don’t talk about relationships, love, and sex we can never get to the issue of porn.

In the hundreds of articles I have read about porn use, I also couldn’t help but notice that often there were basic things that could have been done. I’m not blaming all the parents but the reality is this; if something can’t be done to prevent this then we should just throw in the towel.

What can be done?

We as parents can take our cues from the ancient book. In the Bible, there is a man named Paul who is my hero in the area of dealing with complicated sexual issues. He ministered in highly sexualised cultures in Asia.  Paul was the church leader who found himself dealing with church members who were having sex with their mother-in-law and flaunting it (1 Cor 6:1). It’s the first Cougars with a family twist! Reality TV dreams of situations like this.

early-openly-oftenFrom Paul’s writings in the the Bible I have observed that his strategy was basically this: Talk about sex early, openly and often.  Paul quickly jumped in to the issue of sex with his people, constantly talked about sex, and openly talking about sex.

I think his principals can give us a grid for raising our own kids today.

Here’s some thoughts on the “early, openly and often” strategy.

Early:
Human development studies suggest that we talk about sex earlier than you might think.  The average age suggested from both religious and non-religious sources is between the ages of 8 and 9.  If you add to that, the amount of sexual content available to our children, I believe it is even more relevant to begin the discussion about sex and relationships earlier rather than later.  This sets the foundation to continue to add more information as they grow older.  We want our sons and daughters, when faced with comments or information from friends to say, “Oh, I know all about that stuff, my Dad talks to me about it”  instead of standing there with wide eyes and a confused mind and heart.

Openly:
Being honest and open is always the best strategy.  Using code words and beating around the bush only confuses.  It might feel awkward to us as parents.  But, we need to be the adults they need us to be and not act like an immature playmate who explains sex in code words and immature giggles.  What can we be open about?  In age appropriate ways we explain what sex physically is, when sex happens, how sex is fun and makes us feel good, and how sex can be a burden and bring pain.  Not all of this needs to happen at 8 years old!  But, through the years this openness about sex needs to pervade our conversations.

Often:
I have asked many, many people how they found out about sex.  Of those that heard from their parents there were basically two categories.  The first is parents that sat down, explained things and never spoke of it again.  The second are parents that had the big explanation but also had an ongoing conversation through the years.  Of those that had parents that spoke of sex in an ongoing manner, I find they are healthier and can be more open today about their sexuality.  My husband and I, in our own family try to find little opportunities to talk about things that pertain to sex.

Here are a few resources we have found helpful in explaining sex to our boys:
Two helpful articles from Focus on the Family here and here.
A very detailed article on how and what to talk about at each age.
Information from the perspective of human development.

Coming soon I will be giving more detailed thoughts and strategies for raising children in a porn filled world.