For Wives: When You Don’t Desire Sex

Q&AI combed my archives thinking that surely I had addressed the topic of low sex drive in wives but couldn’t find a single post on the subject. Today’s question deals with that issue, so here it is:

This may have been discussed in the past (I’ve been subscribing to your blog for about 6 months), but my husband and I waited until we were married to have sex (been married about 3 years) and because we never had sex with each other or anyone else prior to marriage, we came into our marriage not knowing ‘how’ to have good sex or, for me, how to enjoy it. He is all for sex and enjoys it, but I’ve struggled so much the past few years trying to learn how to enjoy sex and desire it. I sort of feel like I could go without it and be fine, which I know is wrong. It’s not that I don’t want it, but I don’t have much of a desire for it either. It seems of more like a chore to me. Which I know is not how it should be, we are in our prime and should be all for it! Is there anyone else out there struggling with this issue?

First, I have to give kudos to this wife! Plenty of wives get into marriage, conclude they don’t enjoy or desire sex much, and simply decide not to engage often. Instead, this wife is trying to learn how to desire and enjoy sexuality for her husband’s sake and for her own. Good for you for continuing to seek what God wants you to have–a marriage that is intimate in many areas, including sexual.

Second, I wish I had more details. If this wife and I were chatting at a coffee shop (in the corner and with low tones, of course), I’d ask questions about what the problem might be. Low drive can emanate from several factors, and it’s of little use to tell my friend to train her senses if she has experienced sexual abuse in her past or her hormones are wildly out of whack. The solution or treatment should address the actual problem.

However, since the question is general, I can run through the checklist–for her and for the rest of the wives out there who may have a low sex drive. How can you turn that libido switch on?

Your physiology is messed up. The first thing to do is to check with your doctor. God designed us to be sexual beings who desire intimate contact with the one we love. While we may differ in our desire for frequency, having no desire at all indicates something else is going on. The first place to check is your body.

Get an appointment with your primary care physician or gynecologist and explain your lack of libido. Don’t have a gynecologist? I give tips on choosing one HERE. Get tested for hormone levels and vitamin deficiencies. Make sure you are not suffering from major depression which can cause a drop in libido. (Ironically, anti-depressants can also cause a drop in libido, but this is case-by-case.) Are you on birth control? The Marriage Bed reported on intriguing research showing a link between oral contraception and lack of desire. Check out this excellent article HERE. Get a check-up and make sure your body will cooperate.

You have negative sexual occurrences in your past. Anything in your past that causes you to consider sex a negative activity can impact how you approach your spouse and marital intimacy now. Were you sexually abused as a child? Were you harassed? Did you blossom early and receive taunting? Were you raped? Were you told that sex was dirty? Did you engage in promiscuous behavior that left you with guilt? Was your first time a disappointment or painful? Have you struggled with pornography?

Imagine this with food: Even if you know logically that your grandmother thoroughly washed and cooked the shrimp, if you got food poisoning the last time you ate shrimp, you are not eager to pop a shellfish into your mouth because the physiological and emotional responses of that prior negative occurrence are imprinted on you. Anything that happened in your past with sexual overtones that left you with that bad taste in your mouth can make you reluctant to take another bite.

What to do? First, deal with your past. Acknowledge what happened and how you were affected. Work through how it hurt you and how you can change the way you view that time. Psychologists often suggest writing a letter to someone involved or even to yourself to air out your full feelings and get perspective (not to be sent). See a quality Christian counselor if you need to. Second, rewrite the script, which is exactly what I said a couple of weeks ago. Essentially, the way to see marital intimacy as a positive thing is to have positive marital intimacy. Make your intimacy so much better than that negative past so that your brain and heart can change direction and see how it really is a blessing from God in this context.

You’re not in touch with your body. To enjoy sex, you need to be able to relax and remain aware of the sensations of your body. If you have difficulty letting go, you may not be sensitive enough to arousal to enjoy the experience. Train your body to notice how your body feels with different touches and textures. Try a set of satin sheets; take bubble baths and notice the way the water feels on your skin; invite your spouse to apply lotion or oil to your body. You can train yourself to focus and be more cognizant of how your body is feeling in various ways. In turn, that will make you more open to arousal during physical intimacy.

You’re not great lovers. I hate to put it that way, but sometimes when a wife tells me she has hated sex for twenty years, I admit to wondering, What’s her husband doing wrong? I’m sure that’s not fair to her husband. And I actually don’t think technique is the end-all, be-all of sexuality. It most definitely is not. However, if your mate doesn’t know how to turn you on, or you don’t know how to help yourself get there, the sex may not feel that good.

Some couples have wonderful relationships, great attitudes, and a desire to connect, but what they need is a little skills-training. Now before you hire a coach to come into your bedroom — God forbid — let me say that all you need to know, you can learn from books, blogs, communication, trial-and-error, and trial-and-success. And more importantly, you can communicate with your mate. Help your hubby know how to touch you in a way that feels good; talk about the places you want to be touched, how you want to be kissed, and how much pressure to apply. Take time to explore each other and how you become aroused.

You have a poor self-image. God has made women beautiful, and consequently we have a desire to be and feel beautiful. Yet, we ladies have way too much pressure to look at certain way. If you dislike your own body, it’s not easy to share that body with your spouse. You don’t want to be naked, you don’t want to be touched, you tense up when your body is exposed. However, beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. Having heard from many men on this subject, let me assure the wives out there that you are beautiful to your hubby. Even if magazine models seem to put you to shame (and even those beautiful models are airbrushed so they don’t look like that either), you can confidently enter your own bedroom and know that your husband appreciates the way you look. Believe God’s assertion that you are beautiful and believe your husband when he says that he desires you. Julie Sibert of Intimacy in Marriage had a wonderful post on this subject at Sheila Gregoire’s site: Love the Skin You’re In.

Your relationship is having difficulties. If your relationship outside the bedroom is in distress, it’s hard to want to make love with your husband. It’s been said that men have sex to feel loved, and women have to feel loved to have sex. Wives want to have a sense of security and value in the marriage to be able to open up in the bedroom. Address relationship issues as they arise in as non-combative a way as possible. Seek counseling if the issues are big or persistent. Wives should not withhold sex, however, unless there are severe issues that call for that extreme measure. Continuing to connect physically can help to weather storms in marriage, and husbands in particular are more motivated to work on the relationship if they are happy with their wife in the bedroom.

Stress is sucking the life out of your libido. Stress comes from many places and shows up in various forms. You may be stressed from work demands, household responsibilities, child care, family issues, bouts of illness, etc. It may manifest as sadness, anger, escapism, sleep deprivation, fatigue, etc. Stress is a mood killer all around.

While I recognize that sex can relieve stress, for women it can be very difficult to shift into enjoyment of sex when stress still has its grip on you. Husbands are usually better able to let everything else go and focus on the moment, although stress can certainly affect their libido as well. Yet wives need to be able to relax and surrender to the physical sensations they are having to become aroused and engaged. If stress is overwhelming your life, you may not realize that it’s taking a toll on your sex life.

What do do about stress? It depends on the kind, but in general here are some tips. Prioritize your life. Say no to things you don’t need to take on. Eat healthy and exercise as a wonderful way to care for yourself and as an outlet for stress. Make sure you have someone to talk to. Don’t dump everything on your spouse. But talk about what’s bugging you to your mate, a best friend, a family member, a counselor, or a mentor so that stress isn’t just building inside you. Meditate. Meditation has been shown to relieve tension. Find a quiet spot for reflection and follow the psalmist’s example, “I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways” (119:15, but the whole chapter is full of references to meditation).  Pray. Dump your heart on God. The Bible is full of examples of godly people laying all of their troubles before Him, and Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

Without a detailed interview on my virtual therapy couch*, I don’t know what the specific issue is.

Larry the Cucumber on therapy couch

Hopefully, I’ve hit on something here. I also recommend taking a look The Marriage’s Bed article on Lack of Desire, and Gina Parris of Winning at Romance frequently addresses the subject of low sexual desire.

May God lead you to the right answer and a fulfilling life of marital intimacy!

*No, I’m not a therapist by profession. I just love that Silly Song with Larry.

17 thoughts on “For Wives: When You Don’t Desire Sex

  1. Sandra Houtz

    PERFECT posts 🙂 I think the biggest thing is communication communication communication communication … gotta talk to each other … you are not mind readers, if you were then you wouldn’t be having less sex right? lol 😉 I know I had to “explain” a few technique issues to my hubby … and he is always more than happy to comply … you gotta talk and discuss … you’ll get over being embarrassed when you see the results of your “talks” 🙂

  2. Sandra Houtz

    Oh yeah and this pic of Larry on the couch comes from a really great Veggie Tales and he gets asked to tell him more about his dreams and he jumps up and starts bouncing all over the couch singing .. it’s hilarious! 🙂

    1. J

      Yes, it’s my favorite Silly Song with Larry from David and the Giant Pickle — “I Love My Lips.” 🙂

  3. Gina Parris

    Oooh bless her! Yes, I think I wrote the book on Low Desire so my experiences may as well help somebody! Thanks for the shout out my Dear. Your checklist is very helpful too.

  4. Anonymous

    Well I have none of those problems! My problem is my husband wants it ALL the time! I enjoy it 1-2 times a week, but he bugs me so much that even those times I feel annoyed. He tells me all the time that he is so lucky to have the hottest wife around, but the fact that he won’t leave me alone is making me not want it, ever!! We are very happy and love each other very much, but in this one area he is driving me crazy!!

    1. Mark

      You two need to sit down and talk this out before it becomes a major issue in your marriage.

      Create a sex schedule. For example, agree to make love every other day. On off days, no sex but lots of physical affection, hugging, kissing, holding hands, taking walks together, a date night to the movies or a nice restaurant. Flirt like crazy on off days, but no sex, let the tension build!

      On sex days, don’t hold back. Rock his world. Leave no doubt in his mind that you want and desire him and that you enjoy making love as much as he does.

      In short, communicate, compromise, then follow through.

    2. J

      Mismatched libidos in marriage can be a struggle! It can create tension and resentment. Since I don’t know the whole situation, I’m reluctant to give a specific prescription; however, you might try a few things: (1) Suggest 2-3 of days of the week when YOU are in charge of initiating, with the caveat that he must let you approach him and you promise to follow through. Maybe having a few days(say Monday-Wednesday) when it’s your decision when it happens will demonstrate that you desire him, but also give you a break from being so hotly pursued. (2) Make sure you’re getting enough non-sexual affection and attention. Sometimes hubbies don’t realize how important that is to us wives–to experience face and touch time without the pressure to end up tangled in sheets. If he doesn’t understand, try to explain why it’s important and that ultimately that non-sexual touch will make you desire him more. (3) Describe how you best like to be approached. Perhaps it’s the WAY he’s going about initiating. Guys tend to be more straightforward about sex. They might love to have their wife grab their butt and say, “Let’s get it on,” and can’t understand why we don’t like that. Communicate what you need to get in the mood. (4) Prepare yourself. If you know he’s going to desire sex, and you don’t feel like it at the particular moment, see if you can ask for 10 minutes or so to mentally prepare. Then take a bubble bath, light some candles, turn on some soft music, and do whatever to destress so that you can be fully present in the moment and enjoy the experience yourself.

      Just a few thoughts. I know you’re not alone in how you feel. Best wishes in getting more in sync. You should have frequent intimacy in your marriage, but it shouldn’t feel pressured.

  5. Gaye

    This is a very good article – very comprehensive. For women who are not experiencing the core difficult problems (medical or hormonal issues, past sexual abuse or trauma, serious marriage problems), I found the book Sheet Music by Dr. Kevin Leman to be very helpful. Taking care of yourself, exercising, eating well and getting enough sleep can help women feel good about their bodies and themselves. And yes, going off hormonal birth control can really improve libido for some women.

    1. J

      Thanks! I also really like SHEET MUSIC from Dr. Leman, and I agree completely with taking care of your body to feel better about yourself.

  6. Anonymous

    I know how this wife must feel. I sometimes feel like I could go my entire life without ever having sex again and be just fine.
    When I was growing up, sex was a hush, hush subject. I never even had a real ‘sex talk’ with my parents. It was never mentioned except to say “Dont do it; it’s a sin!” (outside of marriage).
    I knew sex was good in the context of marriage, but I never heard anything about it. I was very passionate about my sexual purity, and I suppressed all my sexual desires.. feeling guilty, like the desires were sinful.
    Now withing my marriage, I know that sex is good.. but it can be hard to arouse the desires that I have suppressed for so long.
    Nowadays, I actually want sex more than my husband. I dont have much of a physical desire for sexual release, but I do have a strong emotional desire to bond with my husband through sex. And he has been turning down my advances! Lol 😀

  7. Gaye at CalmHealthySexy

    Hi J – I just wanted to let you know that I linked to this article in my Weekend Reading post. This is an excellent summary of the many reasons a woman may not feel like having sex and I wanted to share it with other women.

    Regards,

    Gaye

    1. J

      I don’t know, but I would hope that the Christians who made VeggieTales appreciate other ministries dedicated to helping couples have good marriages. Then we can turn out more children to watch Larry the Cucumber, right?

      I totally respect what they do. Awesome series! (Now I’m going to have “Where is my hairbrush?” stuck in my head all day.)

  8. Hann45

    All of this wonderful information is fine and dandy, but how would you suggest overcoming terrible trust and emotional issues? Like the kind one thought was resolved once it was talked about it and hearts were poured out. (or at least one of them was) Say he promised to change and never did. Say a little under 3 years of tears, hurt, and lies hasn’t made any progress in the least . . . would that be his or her wronging?

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