Category Archives: Sexuality and Health

Why She Needs Him to Shower

Today’s post is for the gentlemen. Listen up, guys: You’d be surprised how often I hear from a wife saying that she’s struggling with kissing or having sex or even finding her husband attractive because he doesn’t smell good.

And you might be one of those husbands who isn’t making his wife’s nose happy. Without realizing it. Please keep reading.

Women have a better sense of smell.

A couple walks into the house, and she scrunches up her nose, grimaces, and asks, “What’s that stench?” He furrows his brow and answers, “I don’t smell anything.” That’s not because she’s making it up or he’s not paying attention. Rather, her sense of smell is biologically superior, so that she can detect odors he cannot.

Research has shown that women have 43% more brain cells in the olfactory bulbs (where sense of smell is detected) than men. More importantly, gals have double the olfactory bulb neurons, which send signals about smells in our brains.

Women also learn smells better. In one study, men and women were exposed to specific smells. With repeated exposure, women increased their sensitivity to smell by 100,000 fold; that is, with only 1/100,000th of the smell, women could still detect the odor. Meanwhile, men showed zero improvement over time.

Why are we superior smellers? I don’t know. Ask the Creator. Or at least a biologist who can explain why women’s better sense of smell or man’s worse sense of smell uniquely position them to perform some role they typically have in society.

But the upshot is that if you didn’t put on deodorant, she knows. If you didn’t brush your teeth, she knows. If you didn’t shower, she knows. And it bothers her. Not because she’s trying to nitpick, but because her God-given sense of smell can’t help it.

See The New York Times: Why Stinky Socks May Bother Women More Than Men; Daily Mail: Women really DO have a better sense of smell than men; Science Daily: The female nose always knows: Do women have more olfactory neurons?

Men emit stronger smells.

Sorry, dude, but you smell more than she does. Now that can be a really good thing. Because wives are the ones who say things like, “When he’s away, I go into his closet, sniff his shirts, and savor his scent.” We’re attuned to that unique, masculine scent that belongs to our husband.

But he’s sporting not so much his masculine scent as a lacking-in-hygiene odor, he’s still sending that smell out more than we ladies do. Don’t blame me: it’s biology.

And fragrances — deodorant, aftershave, cologne — don’t balance a lack of grooming. One interesting study showed that while women and men can produce equally stinky sweat, fragrances combined with the sweat masked female underarm odor better than male odor. So use the deodorant, but don’t ignore the shower, the tooth-brushing, etc.

See Live Science: Women Smell Better Than Men; Fatherly: The Science Behind Why Women Want to Smell Men.

Smell is related to attraction.

Smells trigger a part of the brain called the amygdala, which controls our instincts and visceral emotions. This is why walking into a room that smells like your mama’s roast can elicit an immediate feeling of comfort, as well as hunger. Likewise, scents we connect with our loved ones can trigger emotions. But, again, smells and their related emotions can be positive or negative.

Plenty of research has connected scent with romantic attraction. A few studies have linked a higher testosterone scent as being more appealing to women (though results are not entirely clear). But women do tend to rate as better smelling those men who are genetically dissimilar — perhaps as a way for us to choose a mate who can balance our genes in our offspring. 

Though perhaps one of the coolest studies is one in which women were asked to smell their own male partner’s shirt, a stranger’s shirt, and an unworn shirt. When exposed to their own man’s T-shirt (worn after good hygiene and diet, but no fragrance), women reported less stress and showed a decrease in cortisol, a stress hormone. Moreover, those stress-relieving effects were highest in women who could identify their man’s scent and were thus aware of having been exposed to their beloved.

Point being: Your natural scent (unimpeded by body odor) can have a calming, and thus appealing, effect on your wife. Again, another reason why she might smell your shirt or your pillowcase when you’re gone.

See Men’s Journal: The Connection between Scent and Sexual Attraction; The New York Times: Studies Explore Love and the Sweaty T-Shirt; Time: Smelling Your Lover’s Shirt May Make You Less Stressed.

What does all this mean? Well, you need to shower regularly, probably every day, and you might need to shower again before having sex. You need to use deodorant or antiperspirant, and if you don’t like the commercial products, look for natural alternatives. Keep facial hair clean and groomed. And brush your teeth, because breath matters too.

Ask your wife to give you the smell test and make sure you pass, because she is smelling things you don’t. So while you might think you smell just fine, her extra-sensitive nose might be catching some not-so-attractive odor and she really just wants your special man-scent.

And if you think it’s really annoying that your wife is so attuned to her sense of smell? Consider a study that showed women with a better sense of smell also reported higher sexual satisfaction and increased frequency of orgasms. You have to admit that finding is certainly curious.

See Archives of Sexual Behavior: Olfactory Function Relates to Sexual Experience in Adults

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The Biggest Challenge to My Sex Life (That I Never Told You About)

I’ve been writing about sex in marriage for over seven years, with over 800 posts and three books. I also have a podcast with three other Christian sex bloggers and two Facebook communities. But in all that time, I’ve never told my readers the biggest ongoing challenge to my sex life. What is it?

Blog post title + heart-shaped labyrinth

My husband is a Type 1 diabetic. Has been for 38 years.

For those who don’t know the particulars of Type 1 diabetes, this means his body produces no insulin. Insulin is what breaks food down into sugar energy for the body’s use, so without his own supply, he must regulate the level of sugar in his bloodstream by managing the timing and levels of carbohydrates (sugars), injected insulin, and physical exercise.

How does this affect our sex life?

Too much sugar in the bloodstream, and one’s body and sex drive become lethargic. Too little sugar in the bloodstream, and one becomes anxious and sleepy. Neither condition supports a good, strenuous round of sexercise.

When faced with these circumstances, we have to put off sex until he can re-balance his blood sugar. The postponement could be only a few minutes, later in the day, or the next day. We miss out on spontaneity and frequency as we address his diabetes together.

So when someone writes me about their spouse having a chronic condition that impairs their sexual intimacy, I don’t just have sympathy for their situation — I have empathy.

No, I have never been through a spouse having cancer, or healing from a severe injury, or experiencing any number of other health issues that create obstacles to physical intimacy. But I know what it’s like to work your sex life around the complications of a chronic condition.

I know what it's like to work your sex life around the complications of a chronic condition. Click To Tweet

I know how it feels to wish you didn’t have to deal with that challenge. I know what it is to long that your sexual intimacy could be free of the condition’s constraints.

What advice can I offer, based on our experience? Every situation is different, but here’s how we have handled it so that we still enjoy healthy and satisfying sexual intimacy in our marriage.

1. Maintain health as much as possible.

My husband is a champ about managing his diabetes as much as possible, including diet choices that conform to his condition and regular exercise. I also make sure to help him when and wherever I can.

If you’re the spouse with a chronic condition, there are likely symptoms or consequences you cannot control, but also positive steps you can take to pursue health as much as possible. For the sake of yourself and your marriage, manage what you can. For women, I encourage to follow Calm.Healthy.Sexy., a blog from fellow podcaster Gaye Christmus which provides a lot of practical tips and positive encouragement for taking care of the body God gave you.

If you’re the supporting spouse, ask how you can help. Do you need to eat differently yourself or keep better choices in your pantry and fridge? Would it help to exercise with your spouse or support them in getting physical therapy or a gym membership? Does your spouse need help with ongoing treatments or medications? Please remember you’re married to an adult, but be a positive influence.

2. Adjust your expectations.

Am I disappointed sometimes when we have to forgo lovemaking? Yeah, I am. Maybe we don’t have the sex life we might if diabetes wasn’t the ever-present elephant in the room. But that’s okay — our sexual intimacy is still really awesome.

What expectations do you need to adjust? Is it how many times you’ll make love each week? Is it what counts as a sexual encounter? Is it dropping expectations that a climax will happen every time? Is it adjusting to the length of time it will take to get there?

Take into account the challenges you face with the chronic condition, and then ask what a great sex life will look like with that factor involved. It’s still a great sex life, and there is deep intimacy in taking care of one another as you make decisions together about your health and marriage bed.

3. Encourage one another.

Chronic diseases and conditions invade every aspect of your life and can be awfully discouraging. Which is one reason, among many, we should encourage one another.

And this should extend all the way to how the condition affects our marriage bed. If you’re the chronic condition spouse, encourage your beloved that you still find them attractive and desirable. Make sure they understand that when you struggle or cannot engage, “it’s not you” but the chronic condition getting in the way.

If you’re the supporting spouse, let them know you understand their challenges and you’re willing to coordinate with them for intimacy. Make sure you don’t transfer your discouragement onto your spouse, but rather be a voice of optimism and understanding.

4. Strike while the iron’s hot.

When my husband feels great and wants to have sex, I make an effort to be available. Those aren’t the only times we engage, but when all the train cars line up, so to speak, we want to jump on that engine quickly, before something could send it off track.

For you, this could mean engaging at different times of day, encouraging the chronic condition spouse to initiate when they feel good, helping the supporting spouse find ways to flip their ready-for-sex switch more easily. Perhaps even figure out what tried-and-true warm-up gets you both going, and be willing to use that agenda when opportunity arrives.

This isn’t just “take what you can get.” But rather, make the most of these moments. When they come, be grateful and enjoy your sexual intimacy as thoroughly as possible.

Our sex life would be easier if diabetes wasn’t a factor. But is it possible to create and nurture great physical intimacy despite the difficulties of a chronic condition? Most of the time, it is.

Still, it takes intention, grace, and perseverance. Though, really, those are traits every marriage bed should have anyway.

Is it possible to create and nurture great physical intimacy despite the difficulties of a chronic condition? Most of the time, it is. Click To Tweet

Q&A with J: “He Won’t Touch My Clitoris”

I’m getting control of my email inbox, slowly but surely. (I’d lost control in 2017.) But this means that I’m re-reading old messages, so some questions I’ll be answering on Thursdays were posed to me months before. However, I considered this one worth addressing, because I suspect it happens in other marriages too. Here’s the reader’s question:

What does a wife do when her husband is afraid or uncomfortable touching her clitoris? I used to feel so resentful and bitter he wouldn’t but I have had more peace about this issue as of late and the last time my husband and I had intercourse, I ended up taking care of myself but he had already gotten up and was in the bathroom and don’t think he noticed me or cared that I took care of my own needs at the end. I don’t know why touching my body below the waist makes him so uncomfortable. I have tried talking to him and he said it’s the way it feels and he seems rather OCD about body fluids… We were making some progress where he felt more comfortable with a glove on even though that felt a bit “clinical’ like I was at the dr or something but I didn’t care that he had a glove on if that was the only way he would touch me but it still felt a bit awkward…. I know I can’t change his feelings about touching me, but I’d sure like him to help me experience orgasm with him. I would like to feel more “mutual” pleasure in our marriage as I know God created it to be a mutually satisfying experience. 

Blog post title + illustrated hand with pointer finger extended, touching heartLet me start with this sentence: “I have tried talking to him and he said it’s the way it feels and he seems rather OCD about body fluids…” Yeah, that might well be it.

I hear from spouses now and then who wonder why sex has to be so, well, messy. I mean, usually it’s a bad sign when something is leaking or oozing out of your body, so it’s a strange twist for some minds to embrace that fluids coming out are a good thing in the case of sexual intimacy.

Then there’s the texture of the fluids themselves. For instance, semen has been described as having the consistency of a beaten egg. Really? Who wants to handle or swallow a raw, beaten egg? Maybe we should come up with a different analogy…

Now take a person with cleanliness issues, and you’ve got a real challenge. And I understand how difficult it can be to try to convince someone with OCD traits that everything will be okay if they’ll just do the thing they feel they must avoid. I don’t have that Help! Sex Is Messy issue, but all the presidents on my currency must face the same way in my wallet, and telling me the world won’t crater if a five-dollar-bill is upside down doesn’t stop me from turning it the “right way.”

Thus, telling your husband that his aversion isn’t logical or to just get over it isn’t likely to work. So what can you do? Here are some suggestions. (And a big thank you to those in my Facebook community who chimed in with their thoughts.)

1. Talk about your concerns and desires.

I know you’ve tried talking to him. But keep the conversation lines open. Let him know that you’ll support him, even if he says something that wouldn’t seem logical to others. Be a safe place for him to express his concerns, and be willing to share your desires as well and why addressing this issue is important to you. You might find some helpful tips in this post: How to Talk about Sexual Problems with Your Spouse.

2. Study female lubrication.

If something seems dirty, we might assume it is. But we’re not always right about which substances in nature are harmful or harmless. So what is all that lubrication made of? You can find a bit of a breakdown here on the LiveStrong website. But after reading so much about female fluids that my eyes were starting to cross, it comes down to this: very little sweat or oils are involved in the lubrication that happens with sexual arousal. Instead it’s mostly a mucus — which doesn’t mean ick, mucus! but rather a slippery substance that moistens and protects — secreted through the vaginal walls and Bartholin’s glands. That mucus contains some starch, chemicals that make the substance slick, healthy bacteria, a bit of acid that kills off bacteria that could harm the vagina, and — believe it or not — alcohol.

Point being that the fluid is harmless, unless there is an infection of some kind — which you would probably sense based on feel, smell, consistency, etc. Otherwise, it’s not can hurt anything whatsoever to touch it, it’s actually very useful in making sex comfortable and enjoying for both of you, and it even has its own bacteria-fighting properties.

3. Get clean together.

Since one of the concerns might be cleanliness of the area, take a shower or bath together. Let your husband be in charge of washing you down there; that way he’ll know the area has been thoroughly cleaned. I recommend using cleanser pH-balanced for that area, like the Sliquid Balanced Series (link goes to Christian marital aid store, Marriage Spice).

4. Wear a glove or finger cot.

You mentioned this, and it’s certainly an option for your husband to wear a glove. To make it a comfortable experience, try a thin latex glove and make sure it’s powder-less. Another option is a finger cot, which is basically a latex covering just for a finger. You can find gloves and finger cots at a medical supply store or your local grocery or discount store.

If you go this route, find a personal lubricant that can help make the glove slick as well so that it feels good to you. A silicone lubricant might be a good choice for this particular kind of manual play. You can also try different kinds of gloves made from various fabrics or substances to see if a particular texture feels better to you than another.

5. Use systematic desensitization.

When dealing with high anxiety or fear, psychologists often prescribe systematic desensitization. You can find many resources on how to apply this procedure, but it’s gradually exposing yourself to the anxiety-inducing stimuli and introducing a relaxation response at each stage.

In this case, hubby’s a little freaked out about touching your clitoris (or, really, the whole vulva). Essentially, the steps above could be part of a systematic sensitization program, where he talks about his worries, then gets used to the idea of your female anatomy, then touches you with a washcloth, then moves to sexually stimulating you with a finger cot…

Perhaps the next step is touching your vulva through your panties, feeling some of the wetness on the fabric but not making direct contact. You could also insert steps among the ones I mentioned here: like having him watching you stimulate yourself to climax so that he can clearly see what happens and become more comfortable with the fluids there, or him stimulating your clitoris with a vibrator (see Q&A with J: “Is It Okay to Use Sex Toys?”).

Regardless, the key is him intentionally relaxing at each step, reassuring himself that this act is beautiful and holy and good for your marriage. Indeed, God’s perfect design makes this natural lubrication the perfect substance for sensitivity, slipperiness, and protection. You can encourage him with your words as well.

What if he never gets to the point of touching your bare vulva? It’s likely he can make real progress, especially if he is personally motivated, but there are no guarantees. If he just cannot get there all the way, then you can ask how he feels about you touching yourself while he stimulates you in other ways. You can stroke that knobby bit of flesh while he kisses the rests of your body or gives full attention to your breasts, or while you two are engaged in intercourse. That way the self-touching still adds to mutual intimacy.

Any other ideas from readers on how to address this particular scenario?

Is Seasonal Depression Impacting Your Marriage?

I had other ideas lined up to write about today, but when I sat down and looked at my cursor flashing on the blank screen, I felt this urge wash over me … as if something, someone, was telling me that I needed to come clean today. To spill about a struggle I’ve gone through in hopes that I can provide empathy and support to others going through the same thing.

I’ve written about it before, but I have a propensity toward depression. It’s not some weakness in me; it’s my biology. If you have the same propensity, know that it’s neither an emotional nor a spiritual weakness in you. It’s just that so many processes and chemicals are involved in regulating mood, and sometimes the balance isn’t quite right for some of us.

Most of the time, I’m fine — depression-less, if you will. But this time of year — wintertime in my neck-of-the-woods — can be a challenge for my mood.

This type of depression is called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD (“affect” in psychology refers to emotion or disposition). SAD can occur in any season, but wintertime is especially difficult for some. Depression can occur at this time of year due to shortened days and reduced sunlight, which causes a drop in serotonin levels (serotonin regulates mood), increased melatonin (a chemical that helps us sleep), and disruption to our circadian rhythm (that is our “inner clock”).

Seasonal Affective Disorder can be mild, moderate, or rather pronounced, even leading to suicidal thoughts. Regardless, it takes a toll on the sufferer and their marriage.

Blog post title + sad woman staring out a window

At a time when everyone else seems to be more cheerful than ever with seasonal decorations and social events and proclamations of “Merry Christmas!” the person with SAD is struggling to get the regular to-dos done as well as all the extras. Because they’d much rather crawl back into bed and sleep a while longer, like past noon.

SAD sufferers may be lethargic or tearful or grumpy — not exactly the kind of person their spouses want to hang out with. Even when that marvelous romantic date happens, they may return from just those few hours completely tuckered out and wanting to hibernate once again.

And sex? Well, that takes energy. Which is the one thing sorely lacking during a SAD spell. If the spouse’s libido is high enough normally, they may still want to make love regularly, or regularly enough. But if they started with a lower libido? Sex can be a real challenge.

Right this moment, Seasonal Affective Disorder is impacting many spouses and their marriages.

Right this moment, Seasonal Affective Disorder is impacting many spouses and their marriages. Click To Tweet

If that is you, I know where you’re coming from. It’s impacting me and mine too. The last couple of weeks, I’ve been sleeping more, lacking energy, and even found my eyes watering at times. Thankfully, I knew what it was: not some problem with me or my marriage, but my biology off-kilter at this time of year. I explained the situation to my husband and started working on solutions.

What can you do when faced with Seasonal Affective Disorder?

  • Get outside. While the sun is shining, get out there in it. I live in an area where the temperatures don’t get so cold that I can’t go out most days, so I’ve determined to make my back porch an outside home office whenever I can. That’s not possible for some of you. But think creatively and find times and ways to spend at least some moments outside.
  • Exercise. Exercise boosts production of serotonin, which elevates our mood. You could make those outside moments a walk or jog through the park, or you can head to an exercise class, or just dance around your house in your jammies. Whatever works to get you moving, find a way to exercise.
  • Light therapy. Daylight helps alleviate the symptoms of SAD, and you can buy products that mimic sunlight to help reset your inner clock. You can spend some of your day sitting a few feet from a light therapy box (like this one) to get the right brain chemicals going, or you can try a “dawn simulator” (like this one), which is essentially an alarm clock that uses imitation sunlight to wake you up and get your body on track.
  • Antidepressants. Some SAD sufferers may require medication to properly regulate mood during this season. Especially if you’re experiencing extreme depression, including any suicidal thoughts, you need to see a doctor and get whatever help you can. Some antidepressants do have an impact on libido, so you might ask about that when you discuss options with your physician.
  • Prayer. This one isn’t in the medical manual, but I’ve definitely turned to prayer in moments when I’m teary for no good reason or feeling like snapping at a family member because I don’t feel good. While still pursuing ways to alleviate the core issue (SAD), it helps to pray for perspective, strength, and joy. God has delivered that to me in various moments.

Be sure to communicate to your spouse what’s going on. If they’re not so sure that it’s a physiological issue, point them to expert resources, like this page on the Mayo Clinic site. Don’t use SAD as an excuse to check out of your marriage, but rather involve your spouse and take action to reduce the symptoms and get your joyful and sexy self back.

That’s what I’m doing this season. And I pray that you will have a cheer-filed season as well!

Intimacy Revealed ad, click to buy book

Q&A with J: “A Sexual Stimulant for Women?”

Today’s question is an interesting one, from a husband wanting to help his wife’s sexual desire:

So I hate to ask this as I can see [there] being conflicting opinions on the subject but, do they make a sexual stimulant for women? As well as you know they have been making them for years for the guys but I can’t find anything that looks reliable for the woman’s side of things. My wife and I have talked about this off and on for some time and she is willing to try almost anything to help her with her almost non existent drive in the bedroom.

I write about sex drive differences, but honestly there are resources more dedicated to low libido in wives than I am. Here are just three you could take a look at:

Image result for amazon.com unlock your libido

Bonny’s OysterBed7.

Given the question, I think Bonny’s site is a particularly good resource, because she addresses the science of sex and low libido. Bonny does a great job of giving emotional encouragement, practical tips, and covers studies that show which substances do work or don’t work in lifting your libido. She also has a great book titled Unlock Your Libido: 52-Week Sex Drive Transformation. She’s also one of my podcast partners, and she brings her science knowledge to our Sex Chat for Christian Wives.

Boost Your Libido course.

Sheila Gregoire of To Love, Honor, and Vacuum has a wonderful online course for low-libido wives that walks them through reasons they might not be “feeling it” and what to do about it. She doesn’t talk supplements so much as tips, but they are helpful and might indeed boost your wife’s libido. Click below to find out more.

Dr. Oz’s List.

Confession: I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Dr. Oz. I think some of his advice is really good, and some of it is, well, opportunistic. But I found this article on his website with natural substances he suggests could boost female libido. Do they work? I’m skeptical how much of this stuff you’d have to actually eat/take to get results enough to notice a difference. But then again, why wouldn’t you just try and see for yourself? Especially when the prescribed substances include innocuous things like pumpkin seeds, walnuts, and chocolate-covered strawberries.

In addition to these resources, I suggest your wife see a doctor and get tested for hormone levels as well as deficiencies that can cause fatigue and low response, like low thyroid and anemia. Tell the doctor what exactly is happening, so she’ll know what to look for. It’s certainly possible that her physiology makes it difficult for your wife to feel desire.

But also remember that many women don’t experience a sex drive the way it’s been primarily described — as a desire for sex followed by engagement. Instead, many wives have a libido that is responsive, in that the drive is there after engagement in affection, foreplay, and sexual activity begin. There’s nothing wrong with having a responsive drive; it’s the way many of us were created. What matters instead is whether she can get into the sexual experience at all.

As for an actual sex stimulant for women? Nope, I don’t really know of anything I’d recommend. There are some shysters who will sell you something that claims to fire up a woman’s libido, but they’re not a magic pill. Stay away from anything that sounds too good to be true, because it probably is.

Like or not, sexual desire can be a delicate dance for many women. So just be patient, investigative, and willing to try various thing to see what works. I wish you all the best!