Q&A with J: “I’m Desensitized to My Husband’s Touch!”

Since it’s Thursday, let’s dive right in with a reader question. Today it’s from a wife whose body isn’t responding the way she wants.

I need help!!! I am a perfect story for how reading smut and living in fantasy and masturbating can ruin your married sex life. Long story short I find myself desensitized to my husbands touch. We’ve used a toy all our years of marriage and now I can’t finish without one and sometimes can’t finish with one. We are trying to get me back to where I can but are having problems finding ways where he can stimulate me. I don’t wanna use a toy or touch myself. It’s a complicated story. Any advice?Q&A with J: "I'm Desensitized to My Husband's Touch!"

So when I started writing about sex, I had my own reservations about sex toys (see here and here). But the more I learn about them, the less inclined I am to recommend regular use of sex toys — except in the case of physiological deficiencies where a sex toy really is the best answer.

I recognize my position is in contrast with some marriage and sex bloggers I respect, but I disagree that the addition of a sex toy is a great benefit to your marriage bed. It can be, but it can also backfire. Frankly, it can become a crutch.

I’m not singling out sex toys, however. Anything we use to arouse ourselves outside of physical interaction with our spouse — erotica, porn, masturbation, etc. — can have the effect of desensitizing us to intimate contact. No, I’m not putting sex toys in the same category with porn, only comparing the effect they can render.

Now specifically to this reader’s question, what’s the answer when you’ve become desensitized?

You have relearn arousal and pleasure.

That means you toss the sex toys. And the “smut” you’ve been reading, or had planned to read. Get them out of the house and/or delete them off your e-reader. It’s almost like you’ve been an addict to those ways of being stimulated, and you just can’t be around them. Alcoholics must get rid of all alcohol in their home; you must get rid of all of your crutches in your home.

One problem: You mentioned masturbation. You can’t exactly get rid of your hand. Well, you could, but then you’d have a whole other set of problems — like not being able to paint your fingernails or use that God-given hand to bring pleasure to your husband.

Since masturbating has been a problem for you, you do need to stop. At least for a while as you relearn arousal. If later you and your husband want to incorporate you touching yourself into your lovemaking together, you could do that.

But what can you proactive do?

Invest time and effort into sensual activities. You need to reconnect with your five senses and discover how certain stimuli affect your body. For smell, focus on scents you like that relax you or tingle your senses. You could buy potpourri, perfumes, candles, or scented lotions or oils to try out different aromas.

For touch, look for bath products that warm your body or arouse your skin, like bubble baths, bathing salts, loofahs. Or try out different fabrics for lingerie or sheets and think about how they feel against your skin. Ask your husband to give you a full-body massage, and concentrate on the feel of his hand as he touches you.

You can also come up with ideas for sight, sound, and taste. But reach deep for ways to re-engage your sensory responses. Give yourself permission to take this slow, letting your body awaken into sensuality before it moves into sexuality.

Flirt with your husband. For most wives, a good portion of being sexually receptive happens long before we enter the bedroom. It’s the small touches throughout the day, the romantic or playful comments he makes, the compliment he pays you about your beauty, and the way you flirt back with him.

You needn’t wait for your husband to initiate flirtation. Stir those embers yourself to get the fire going. I recently wrote 40 Ways to Initiate Sex with Your Husband, and some of those are simply flirtations that might, or might not, lead to physical intimacy. Sheila Gregoire of To Love, Honor & Vacuum also has a popular post on 16 Ways to Flirt with Your Husband.

But you might have other notions of what you can do and what works with your husband. Try your own 30-day commitment to flirt more with your husband, and see if that reawakens some of your receptiveness.

Allow more time for lovemaking. Some of what you’ve done before may have shortcut the arousal process to get you to climax more quickly. But it could be that if you slow down, you can eventually reach arousal and orgasm. Right now, it might be frustrating how long that could take. But remember — your body is relearning responses. It just needs time to adjust.

So take time for extended foreplay. Give your husband feedback on which touches you like, including placement, firmness, speed of touch, etc. Don’t be critical of what he’s doing, but help him learn what works for you. Most husbands are happy to tweak what they’re doing when they know it will turn their wife on more. Try different positions, even in a single lovemaking session, so you can evaluate the different sensations you experience with different angles, views, etc. You might discover that a position you hadn’t relied on before provides the stimulation you need.

Regardless, slow down the process and let yourselves acclimate to the new approach. You might even need to be satisfied for the time being with arousal but not climax, maybe helping him finish but giving yourself a break on “getting there” right away. Of course, I don’t want you to stay in No Orgasm Land (a place that should have a population of zero wives), but view this as taking steps in the right direction so that you can reach your desired destination.

Pray and communicate with your husband. You need to be in communication with the two persons who can really help you with this: your God and your spouse. (And, if you think there’s something physically amiss, add a third person — your doctor.)

I’ve been assuming that you have informed, or will inform, your husband that you are not as receptive to his touch as you want to be and long for change. He needs to be on board with the new plan, and you need to stress that he’s a good lover but you want him to be your absolute focus in the marriage bed.

And pray about the situation, on your own, with your husband, or both. Pray for strength to stay away from what has interfered with you being fully engaged with your husband. Ask God to “awaken your love” (Song of Songs 2:7, 3:5, 8:4). Tell Him that you desire to “drink your fill of love” (Song of Songs 5:1) according to His plan.

Will this be an easy road back? I don’t know. It could take more or less time and effort than you expect. But nothing happens until you take steps in the right direction. May God reawaken your body and your sexual responsiveness to your husband.

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23 thoughts on “Q&A with J: “I’m Desensitized to My Husband’s Touch!”

  1. Ham

    “Do not deprive each other of sexual relations, unless you both agree to refrain from sexual intimacy for a limited time so you can give yourselves more completely to prayer. Afterward, you should come together again so that Satan won’t be able to tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” – First Corinthians 7:5 (New Living Translation)

    Try fasting from sex for an agreed length of time, several weeks to a month. Pray together in the meantime and learn how to appreciate each other without sex.

    Reply
  2. Becky

    Hi J,

    I’m wondering if you consider reading smut to be a form of cheating in marriage in the same way that some Christian marriage bloggers define looking at visual pornography to be a form of cheating?

    In other words, by reading smut, was this woman essentially cheating on her husband by indulging in mental fantasies?

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      Sort of. (That’s noncommittal, isn’t it?)

      It’s definitely denying your spouse of sole attention they should receive. It’s lusting, which Jesus said amounts to adultery. So in that sense, yes. But I also think there are degrees of this in terms of how bad the stimuli is, how bad the behavior of the viewer/reader is in response, and the impact on the relationship. In that way, I’d want to know how “smutty” we’re talking. I mean — I don’t really want to know, but it would be a criterion to consider.

      Reply
  3. B

    I’ve kind of done this, but in a different way. I struggle with having a high sex drive, while my husband’s drive is very low. I’ve struggled for a long time and often allow his low drive to make me feel ugly and worthless.

    Recently, things have started to get better – or so I thought – but once I let my guard down, things went right back to bad. He has once again allowed his love and obsession with work to take over, and his stress pushes all thoughts of sex with me out of his mind. Thus, I feel ugly and like a waste of space, and I get very down on myself and have no desire to sleep next to someone who finds me repulsive.

    And my point is, let’s say in a couple weeks his testosterone takes over and he actually wants sex. By the time he decides he wants sex, I have worked very hard to shut down my desire. I’ll do it for him because I know how much it stinks to be turned down, but I know the only reason he wants me at that point is because he must have seen a better woman and is fantasizing about her while touching me. So then I don’t even enjoy it. I might like the good physical feelings, but I feel very used and very disconnected. It’s such an incredible mess. Sometimes I wish he’d just want sex like a normal man, or tell me what he finds so ugly about me so I can change it.

    So I guess my point is, I spend so much time dampening my desire when he doesn’t want me, that when he finally does, his touch kind of annoys me, because I’ve worked so hard not to want it. It’s complicated.

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      You’ve only been at this new approach with your husband for a short while. Give it time, B. Please…give it time.

      Reply
    2. Trey

      B – I find that women’s minds (uncontrolled/undisciplined thought life) can be their own worst enemy by creating mountains out of mole hills and sometimes creating issues right out of thin air.

      I don’t know anything about your specific situation but just based on what you wrote above, I believe that you are making a LOT of assumptions about what your husband thinks and feels that probably have nothing to do with reality. A man has no control (that I know of) over his sex drive. From my experience it is mostly controlled by his hormones and (possibly) a little bit by his mind/emotions. I am 51 years old (married for 28) and for all but the last 3 years of my adult life, I hated my sex drive because it was too strong and my wife’s was much lower. Over the past few years, I have had some health issues that have messed with my hormones and now my sex drive is in the dirt. Over the course of just a few months, I literally went from (25 years of) having a strong desire for sex every 2-3 days and the ability to have it every day (or early in the marriage multiple times a day) to now having no desire at all and (if I am lucky) the ability to have it only once every 7-10 days. Both before and now, it is something I have had no control over whatsoever. I have been on both sides of it and it can be very frustrating.

      Just because your husband has a lower sex drive than you do does not mean that he thinks you’re ugly, worthless, a waste of space, or repulsive. Those are just crazy and very harmful thoughts. If you give his hormones time to build up and then he has the desire for sex, I strongly doubt it has ANYTHING to do with some other women he has seen or is thinking about! That is ridiculous (and personally I would find it hurtful and insulting)! Then when you do have sex, if you are not really into it but just giving him duty sex because you “know how much it stinks to be turned down”, and in the process feel “very used and very disconnected” (which he will certainly sense) that will not stimulate his mind or his body to want more of that but rather have the opposite effect. Duty sex might give a man the physical release that he needs but it does deep damage to his mind and emotions. He will wake up the next morning feeling physically released but in his mind, he will feel hurt and possibly angry and he might not even know why he is feeling that way but it’s there.

      You are right when you say that “it’s complicated” but the place that it’s most complicated is in YOUR mind. You need to get control of your wrong thoughts. You need to “take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ”. You need to renew your mind on the Word of God! You must not allow your mind to think those destructive thoughts. Do not entertain them at all. As soon as one pops into your mind, pray or start singing a song that brings praise to the Lord or open your Bible and read scripture. Pray to the Lord every morning (multiple times each day if necessary) and ask him for help to think right thoughts and not think wrong thoughts.

      Would you hold your hand over a blow torch flame? Certainly not because it would damage your hand. If a blow torch flame suddenly popped up right under your hand would you leave your hand there and let it burn you? Certainly not, you would yank it way! You need to do the same thing with these destructive thoughts, do not allow them to linger for even one second or they will damage you!

      Talk to your husband openly and honestly and tell him what is going on… communicate! Maybe he will be willing to satisfy your sexual needs without intercourse once or twice in between the times that he is capable of having intercourse but WHATEVER you do, you need to make sure that every time that you two do get together that you make it the most enjoyable experience (for you both) that you possibly can. That will lead to MORE good times. Punishing him with, annoyed, resentful duty sex will lead to LESS and LESS and could eventually lead to none because duty sex is very psychologically damaging to a man and his mind might depress his desire to avoid the pain of it.

      I know this is going to sound harsh and I am not trying to cause you pain but YOU are your own worst enemy here. You are taking whatever natural and normal difficulties that might exist and blowing them up (and creating new ones out of thin air); making the situation unbearable for both you and your husband with your wrong thinking. Take those thoughts captive and quit letting them hurt (or possibly destroy) you and your marriage!

      Reply
      1. B

        @Trey, thank you for your comment.

        You are right about a lot. I do struggle with taking his lack of interest in me very personally. Since he doesn’t like to talk about it, yes, I jump to conclusions and “fill in the blanks” myself.

        I worked hard for a while at taking control of my thoughts, and it did help quite a bit. Things started to improve. But not long after we went right back to him not being that interested in me, and so I felt like a fool for letting my guard down and believing he might actually love me (although he still doesn’t desire me the way a normal husband desires his wife – regardless of what he tries to tell me. His actions, or lack thereof, make that painfully obvious.)

        We’ve been married 20 years. I’m almost 40, he’s almost 45. He’s almost never initiated sex. He’ll do it sometimes when I initiate, but for once I’d like him to actual love and desire me, not just “pacify” me. I agree that duty sex is awful. I suspect most of the sex he has with me is duty sex (on his part) and I don’t like feeling like something he is obligated to do.

        Your blow torch analogy is the best explanation I’ve heard as far as controlling my thoughts. I will think about what you’ve said.

        Thanks again.

        Reply
      2. a. nony

        So much of this is really great, brother, but this: “A man has no control (that I know of) over his sex drive” is hogwash. Where is this in scripture? I see plenty of commands about self-control, taking every thought captive, not being a slave to one’s desires, being pure in mind and body, not giving any place to lust, etc. Seems to me like God expects everyone to exercise control over our drives and not be driven by the “god of our belly.”

        Reply
        1. Trey

          I am not saying that we do not have control over our actions. Of course we are called to discipline our bodies and to have self control in all actionable areas of our life. What I said was that in my experience, a man, and I will just say “I” here, have never had any control over my sex drive as in the physical desire that I have for sex. I have control over the actions I commit, but just as I have no control over my physical appetite for food (yes I can control how much I eat) but I cannot control whether I am experiencing physical hunger or not.

          Reply
    3. e2

      B,

      Can I echo J’s advice to hang in there? What you’re experiencing is absolutely to be expected. You’re trying to make major permanent lifestyle changes in your marriage. You will take a few steps forward and things will be great. Then you’ll take a step back and wonder why you’re making the effort. We all have a tendency to return to old habits and ways of living. That’s why we can never keep off the pounds we lose when on a diet. It takes a long time to make lasting lifestyle changes.

      My wife and I are going through much the same process. Yes, I often feel discouraged, but then she says something or does something, to remind me that we’re still going in the right direction, no matter how slowly or with how many fits and starts.

      I fully understand your comment about stifling your own desire to match your spouse’s only to have to suddenly turn it back on when he’s ready. That can be frustrating, but I’ve decided to be thankful and grateful for any sexual intimacy we can share, even though it may never be as frequent or as passionate as I want.

      One thing I have learned. I have *never* regretted any attempt I’ve made to talk to her about our intimacy. It has *always* helped, and nearly every time I learn something that I didn’t know. I recently shared on J’s sexual harassment post how my wife pushes my hands away when I try to touch her sexually. Given all I’ve read from so many, I assumed she was feeling harassed, used and objectified. At J’s suggestion, I asked her about it. Turns out, I was completely wrong. She doesn’t mind me grabbing her breasts or butt, even out of the blue. What she fears is someone seeing me do it through an open window. So, now, I’m more careful about place and time, and all is well with the world.

      I’m convinced you and I can have the intimate marriages we both want. But, I’ve learned that it will take much more time than I want it to. That’s okay. Tell you want. I’ll hang in there if you do. (In fact, I’ll hang in there even if you don’t, but maybe we can spur each other on to good works.)

      Reply
    4. e2

      Hey, B, one more thought.

      In this post, you’ve mentioned your husband’s “love and obsession” with work. While I recall you talking about his work stress in the past, I’ve never picked up on the notion that he loves his work. I don’t think this is unusual for men, for it meets us in our most fundamental emotional need. A man’s deepest emotional need is not to be loved and cherished; rather we most need to feel respected. Many of us (especially those in authority like your husband) find that feeling of respect in our work, and sometimes it gets contrasted with a home life where we feel like a sit-com dad, a total buffoon. It seems we are incompetent to do the simplest tasks, like load a dishwasher, for we never seem to do it right.

      I’m not at all suggesting that you are disrespecting your husband at home. But, what my wife and I have found is that many of the things she tries to do for me out of heartfelt love are things I receive as disrespect. She considers it loving to give me unsolicited help in daily tasks, like driving. And, yet, what I hear when she offers her help is, “E2, I don’t think you can do this by yourself; I don’t have faith in you.” And what I want so very much is for her to believe in me. We’ve talked about this forever, and I doubt that these deep seated actions and responses will ever change for us. So, when I naturally respond with feelings of disrespect, I have to constantly remind myself she means love. It’s hard to do when I compare that to my office job where everyone seems to naturally respect my work and authority.

      Reply
  4. Ashlee

    I’ve been married for nearly 11 years and we are both each other best friends and have a great marriage. I don’t known how to become aroused…. Ever. My hormones have been checked and are within the normal range. I’ve been struggling with the lack of existence of both desire and arousal my entire life— and because I cannot figure out how to arouse my body, I have never had an orgasm. My husband and I have read so much stuff and tried Sheila’s good girls guide (we bought the book and went through the steps) and tied everything but still can’t get my body to have a reaction to much of anything. One time a few years ago I was having a raging yeast infection. My husband was saying very sexual things through text messaging while I was rocking my baby at the time to sleep. He was obviously feeling strong desire (something I don’t understand since I don’t experience desire) and letting me know by talking dirty via text. I told him I had a raging yeast infection but he was still persistent because he was aroused. After 15-20 minutes of him sexting me while I’m in another room rocking my baby, for the first time of my life and since has been the last time my body began to experience some level of arousal. My vaginal area began to “throb” and feel very sensitive even though nothing was touching it. After I put the baby down I was freaking out wondering what was going on. I inspected my lady parts and they were very swollen looking and actually lubricated and still throbbing and when I touched them it felt so sensitive and different then anything I’ve ever felt. Obviously having a bad yeast infection I couldn’t be intimate down there with him so I took care of his needs. The throbbing lasted for several hours it seemed. Like 2 hours or so before it calmed down. Normally when my husband is trying to stimulate me down there it feels the same as it down if I’m just washing my body or washing my vagubal area. It’s not sensitive and has never throbbed or been swollen. It just feels like skin. This night was very different and for the first time I learned (through Google) that this was female arousal. I didn’t even know it existed since I had never had a change in sensation down there. It’s never happened again and we’ve tried to replicate the scenario (minus the yeast infection) but no luck. My body remains response-less to sexual stimuli just as if I were a year old. I desire intimacy with my husband which I obtain through just spending time together as we always have done. I wish I could unlock the key to give birth to my sexuality since it feels as though it’s never really matured but rather remained as though I was a young child and unresponsive. I don’t have any sexual abuse or pornography use in my history. Especially considering I never desired Sex- even as a teen. I was never like my friends. I never was boy crazy or even kissing felt awkward to me. Now I very much like kissing but as a teenager it was weird. I grew up in a secular home and my older sisters had teenage pregnancies and they LOVED the boys. If anyone has experienced this and figured it how to turn on or give birth to female sexual arousal or even just simple desire please let me know! That one time I got aroused made such a difference in my desire to be touched and have sexual contact and it felt amazing and I would give my right arm to have that happen again someday! Even if I never manage to get an orgasm it would still change my life by just being aroused and having a body that respond to intimate stimuli!

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      If I were in your situation, I would return to the doctor and insist on more thorough checks, trying to different things, and tackling this issue head-on. What you describe sounds like physiology might be a problem.

      Reply
      1. Ashlee

        My doc gave me a Rx of estrogen topical and various strengths of testosterone just to experiment with and see if it helped any. The estrogen helped it be less painful to have intercourse (I’ve had pain since day one) because my tissue in some sensitive areas was thinner then usual so it helped plump it up more so it could stop the constant ripping or tearing sensation and and it doesn’t sting and bleed from the skin as much. We always use lubricant but doesn’t always help enough. The estrogen does help that part. The testosterone just made me grow dark black hair over the application site but didn’t do anything for desire or arousal. Since my levels were normal (low side but normal) and it wasn’t helping even with higher strengths for dosing I decided to stop since hormones can also have negative effects of your taking them when not needing them. So not sure what else I could try since we did give it a solid shot.

        Reply
        1. Reiko

          Ashlee: I had almost the same thing for the first nine years of my marriage with having no or little arousal. I tried to enjoy sex for my husband’s sake, but it was making me depressed that I couldn’t enjoy it the way he did. I think I had some physical arousal, but it wasn’t reaching my brain. I still don’t know for sure what triggered my sex drive, but it was like a switch flipping in my head. You mentioned rocking your baby when you got aroused by sexting. I think for me nursing my baby may have been part of the trigger. I found that nipple stimulation helps intensify whatever other stimulation I have. Also, J wouldn’t recommend this, but I found that to learn to orgasm, I had to use a Hitachi Magic Wand and be really patient while I practiced for a few weeks. Maybe if you have a husband that’s more patient than mine, you could learn it just from his touch, but I couldn’t. A toy made it a lot easier to learn the sensations, and after some months of practice, I don’t usually need it anymore. It’s not a guaranteed dependency. Another thing that helped me while I learned was ylang ylang essential oil. I hope some of this helps!

          Reply
          1. J Post author

            Actually, I’m just reluctant to say, “Don’t sweat it — grab a toy!” Which I see others saying. And it sounds to me like it helped you learn arousal, but you prioritized pleasuring one another as the primary goal. So yay! Thanks for sharing.

            And I’m so glad you’re enjoying sex. As you well should.

          2. Reiko

            Sorry, not exactly. You’ve taken the most optimistic view of what I wrote, J. I was trying to encourage Ashlee, so I wasn’t clear about some things. I solved the problem of my own O on my own, but that was only part of our difficulty. My husband doesn’t really help me with it. Usually he gets his pretty quick regardless of anything I do or don’t do, and then he lets me finish however I want, if I even can. Once she figures it out, Ashlee will probably have a better time of things, if her husband does sexting and the like and can be patient with her as she learns. My husband’s pleasure may have been my primary goal for years, but I can’t keep having one-sided sex like this when I know now that I’m capable of far better. I don’t want to say too much on a public post about why he’s like this, but I’m already getting some help on how to set better boundaries and expectations and make some progress on resolving this. But I wouldn’t say I’m enjoying sex yet. I have a ways to go still.

  5. Keelie Reason

    What a very difficult situation for her. Women can get so accustomed to orgasming one specific way, it can make it hard to do it any other way. Re-learning arousal is important.

    Reply
  6. Deb

    How ironic that many of the things she has been doing are the exact things many sex experts advise women to try when they have arousal problems so they can learn about their bodies and figure out what feels good and what arouses them.

    Reply
  7. Deb

    One thing that should probably be mentioned is that menopause can cause symptoms of decreased sensations to sexual touch, decreased arousal, and decreased orgasms. If she is anywhere near menopause, she should see a physician to have her hormones checked.

    Reply
  8. E

    J, thankyou so much for your ministry! This is a topic I know ALL about. I didn’t even really see it as a problem until about a year ago, when I read about dissociation on Sheila’s blog, and it hit me that yes, it was a HUGE problem for me. I am still struggling with it, quite badly, because unfortunately my hubby doesn’t understand, and is not at all on board with trying to help me fix this. So even in trying to find a ‘cure’, this issue is causing a wedge between us. I don’t really know what else to say, but if anyone has any advice, I’d love to hear it!

    Reply

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