Q&A with J: What Long-term Sexual Refusal Does to Your Spouse

Today’s questioner asks me to cover the topic of long-term sexual refusal in marriage:

I was just wondering if you had ever considered doing a post about the long-term effects of refusal.  I have been refused completely for five years. The effects on my faith and my self-esteem have been devastating. I cannot tell you how horrible this makes me feel. Every time I have tried to discuss with this with my wife, she just insults me more. I really don’t know how long I can go on this way.

Q&A with J: What Long-term Sexual Refusal Does to Your Spouse

You can pick out a few words and feel this husband’s pain: refusal, devastating, horrible, insults. It’s certainly not only husbands who’ve experienced long-term refusal; many higher-drive wives report the same frustration and feelings. And their spouses either don’t get it or don’t care.

I believe the vast majority of refusing spouses don’t get it, mainly because their not caring is based on not understanding what sex means to their spouse, to their marriage, and to God Himself, the Creator of sex and marriage. They have bad theology, past hurts, annoyance with their own body’s lack of cooperation, an erroneous view of male or female sexuality, etc. that hampers their willingness to engage or even discuss the issue.

In many ways, I sympathize because they’re in a bad place and they can’t get beyond their own issues to see the greater gift available not only for their spouse but for themselves. In other ways, I’m frustrated enough to think: Oh my goodness, you’re killing your marriage! Find a way to fix it!

To address both sides, I want to outline damage wreaked by months and years of sexual refusal, but also benefits of sexual generosity. It’s not merely about not saying no, but truly saying yes to sexual intimacy in marriage.

Refusal breeds physical discomfort. Sexual intimacy promotes physical health and pleasure. God designed our adult bodies to desire sexual release. Male reproductive systems suggest sex every 2-3 days, while females tend to be more flexible with timing — typically wanting more sexual release at certain times of their cycle and having less interest during others. But an individual with a normal to higher drive can feel physical discomfort if they do not engage in sexual activity for a long period of time.

(By the way, if you’re single and this an issue for you — don’t go out and have sex. It’s discomfort, not agony. You can do something else with your sex drive for the time being, until the God-prescribed time to awaken that love in the proper context of a marriage covenant.)

For marrieds, the right outlet is sexual intercourse! Refusal in marriage breeds even more physical discomfort, because your remedy is right there and yet unavailable. It’s like being locked in a chocolate factory and told you can’t sample a single treat. Ouch!

Engaging in sexual intimacy, however, has positive effects on your body. Beyond relief for one’s sex drive, sexual intimacy can lower blood pressure, lessen pain, curb prostate cancer risk, improve sleep, and boost libido. Just Google “health benefits of sex,” and you’ll be surprised to find all the goodies God packed into this intimate act. He’s oh-so-generous that way!

Speaking of His generosity, how about the pleasure factor? Even if you’re not eager to get going, your body is designed to experience pleasure when you can relax, lean into intimacy, and enjoy the sensations involved in sex with the one you love.

Refusal breeds emotional pain. Sexual intimacy promotes emotional connection. For refused spouses, sex isn’t merely a physical release. (I’ve often said that if that’s all it was, your spouse could achieve that without you.) Rather, it’s about emotional connection. Making love, as God designed it, is incredibly intimate expression of love.

Withholding your body, your participation, and your pleasure from your spouse is like walling off a huge part of yourself — saying you don’t want to share, to trust, to unite with him or her. Consider Proverbs 13:12: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” For the higher drive spouse, it doesn’t feel like merely a rejection of the act, but a rejection of the person himself or herself. That emotional pain far outweighs any physical discomfort.

Sexual intimacy, however, nurtures emotional connection. Becoming vulnerable, trusting your spouse with your body, sharing what pleasures you and discovering what pleasures them, touching and kissing and fondling, letting go and experiencing a full-on climax — all these things bind you a special way. You can talk to others, spend time with others, laugh with others — but you share this intimate act exclusively with your spouse, and that makes it an emotional bond beyond any other.

Refusal breeds sexual temptation outside marriage. Sexual intimacy promotes faithfulness. Proverbs 5 is a warning against adultery, with plenty of advice on avoiding lust of the eyes, compromising situations, and extramarital temptation. But in the latter half of the chapter, the writer speaks to another important aspect: “Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well . . . May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer — may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be intoxicated with her love” (v. 15, 18-19).

I’ve heard from so many refused spouses who ache so intensely for sexual connection that temptation taps them on the shoulder and digs in its claws for good measure. Most of them are resisting; they know what they really want is their own beloved in their bed. But it’s hard, because Satan is all over that — seeing how vulnerable a deprived spouse can be. Why leave your spouse so vulnerable to temptation?

Look, I know some people cheat anyway. Yet I believe the vast majority of spouses do not want to cheat on their spouses — they stood up and said their vows fully intending to never bed another person again. Regular sexual intimacy fills their well in a way that leaves much less space for temptation to infidelity. It’s not an affair-proof measure, but it makes a marriage affair-resistant. After all, why be with someone else when your spouse willingly and happily meets all your sexual needs, and lets you meet theirs?

Refusal breeds resentment. Sexual intimacy promotes grace. Refused spouses understandably resent their withholding mates. Here’s an enjoyable experience God has said they can only have in marriage, and they only want from their chosen beloved, but they can’t get it. The one person who could grant sexual intimacy is the one person blocking it. How frustrating!

If you’ve been denying your spouse, imagine how you’d feel if tomorrow he decided to simply stop talking to you altogether? Or if she decided to stop sharing her money and resources, essentially dividing all your finances down to the last penny? What if one of you claimed dibs on the kids and kept them from the other? This sounds preposterous, but withholding something in marriage the other is clearly entitled to leads to real resentment.

But that’s not the whole of the story, because sexual intimacy promotes grace. 1 Peter 4:8 says: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” I believe that’s true of sexual love in marriage as well. When you are engaged in regular physical intimacy, it can be easier to overlook slights.

Honestly, I’m not that annoyed about my husband leaving out his shoes all over the floor after he’s brought me to the pinnacle of pleasure and left me as a heap of happy flesh. A healthy sexual relationship between husband and wife helps you give grace in other areas. It’s a positive that balances out the negatives, puts points in your “love bank,” and serves as the sort of rose-colored glasses that are good for a marriage.

Refusal breeds doubts about God’s plan. Sexual intimacy promotes trusting God’s design. The questioner said: “The effects on my faith and my self-esteem have been devastating.” Which is another theme I’ve heard many times: An individual excitedly enters marriage, fully expecting to experience God’s blessing of sexual intimacy in its rightful context. Yet, they are denied at every turn.

They feel cheated, especially those who waited until marriage and now face the possibility of never fully knowing the delights of sex. It can quickly turn into laments the likes of the psalmist David: “Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint; heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony. My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long?” Of course, David was speaking from a different context, but the sentiment is a familiar one to long-refused spouses.

It can be hard for a refused spouse to trust God’s design for sex in marriage. They wonder where God is in helping to heal their pain, improve their marriage, bless them with the gift of intimacy. Why isn’t He coming to their rescue? Why are they rewarded for desiring their own spouse with constant rejection?

Experiencing true intimacy through sexual fulfillment in marriage fosters an entirely different conclusion — that God is good and His design is perfect. Moreover, sexual intimacy can help us better understand God’s plan of intimacy with His bride, the Church. It fosters gratefulness for His generosity. Faith and marital intimacy are not unconnected. There’s good reason why spouses who pray together tend to have more intimate sex lives.

Quick summary? Refusal bad. Intimacy good.

Of course that’s not the whole of it. For instance, a single not-tonight does not constitute refusal; the higher drive spouse needs to be loving and understanding as they pursue healthier intimacy; and sex should be mutually satisfying. But I hope this illuminates some of the damage done by long-term sexual refusal and the far-more-positive effects of seeking sexual intimacy in your marriage.

If this is your situation, I’m not expecting you to start jumping into bed regularly right away. But ask questions about what’s hindering you, diligently seek answers, and open yourself up to pursuing intimacy. One step at a time, and you can discover a much better approach to sex in your marriage — benefiting not only your refused spouse, but you as well.

56 thoughts on “Q&A with J: What Long-term Sexual Refusal Does to Your Spouse

  1. Jeff

    It seems the majority of your articles and blogs focus in issues between a husband and wife. I’m happily married and have a great sex life but just want to take it to the next level so I’m looking for info that will get my wife excited, pumped and wanting to be more aggressive rather than solving issues that hinder sex.

    1. Kay

      Hi Jeff, have you asked her to initiate? To say, “So, you know what would be SUPER hot? If you would __ some time.” How would she respond?

      That said, do remember that the arousal process is very different for most women. Many do not feel arousal until they have STARTED doing something sexual. So even if she is “aggressive,” she is still going to need plenty of time to get warmed up unless she is planning to go for a quickie. This is why a lot of women don’t think to initiate, because they aren’t feeling arousal prior to the act like most men do. Only once you initiate can she experience arousal. But maybe if she can come to understand your desire to be wanted, she can step out of her comfort zone. But you have to ask! And let her know what that looks like too… Some women think they are initiating but the husband wants more of an “I WANT YOU NOW!” attitude, which is hard because our bodies don’t usually feel that same sense of urgency like you do. In any case, she won’t know unless you tell her! You can do it!

  2. nylse

    I think the world is going to hell in a handbasket; these letters clearly indicate that.

    Assuming these aren’t pranks is it really possible to be married 5 yrs and a spouse constantly refuses to have sex? Why get married? How does this happen? And how does it reach this point?

    I am sincerely puzzled.

    1. J Post author

      I get great letters too! Maybe I should share some of those so you can see that many marriages are improving and even thriving.

      And no, these are definitely not pranks. Some people do indeed live in sexless marriages. And some wonder exactly that, “Why did I get married?” It can reach this point when one spouse rejects the other, and the other — feeling frustrated and defeated — eventually stops asking. Usually the refusing spouse has some deep-seated issues that need to be dealt with, and they do not understand the damage they are doing to their spouse. Regardless of why, though, it’s heartbreaking . . . and wrong.

    2. E

      5 years ? Try 25 years of a 35 year marriage, that’s how long it has been for me.
      It happens because of poor pre-marital Christian counseling, two people who don’t know how to communicate, family members who can see something is “wrong” with a marriage but don’t want to get involved, church congregations and staff that are only interested in filling up the pews and not on helping people fix their broken lives.
      it reaches this point because one of two broken people doesn’t have an idea where to turn and the other just wants everyone to think everything is fine with her marriage.
      I finally am in counseling but my bride, who has been to one session, has tearfully begged me not to make her go back.

      1. alchemist

        I’m sorry man. I pray for you guys. It must suck so much.

        I’m glad you said poor pre-marital counseling. ‘Cuase like nylse above, I sometimes get a little freaked out reading letters like this. I don’t want to be miserable or make my fiancé miserable (getting married in 3 months).

        If you’re wife begged you not to make her go back, the counselor must have hit a nerve. Maybe you should ask her why. If she won’t tell her, you could try this analogy: Imagine you found a lump. You had a biopsy and it showed cancer. Now the biopsy likely wasn’t fun. And the cancer treatment is going to suck. No getting around that. It’s going to be painful and long and you’ll feel terrible and you’ll lose your hair and have no energy and who knows what else. Do you want to get treated? NO!!! But are you as a loving husband going to allow her to refuse treatment? Is she really going to shy away from temporary pain… and die of cancer?

        Counseling will be hard and emotionally draining. It’s not fun. But she’s clearly in pain. She’s hurting you, her marriage and her relationship with God. Is she going to choose temporary pain that leads to life? Or keep hiding and let the wound(s) fester and propagate? Her choice. We know what Father of Lies would want.

        I’ll pray she sees reason.

    3. Doc

      No-sadly the majority of these anecdotes are (probably) not “pranks; those of us in sexless marriages probably wish it was, and any minute someone will walk out and announce that we’re on hidden camera, etc. Or maybe more like it’s a bad dream from which we will soon awaken. If only.

      So yes, it’s possible to go 5 years with constant rejection; for some of us it’s much longer. By my best estimate, the last time I had intercourse with my wife was probably 8-10 years ago, and in 23 years of marriage we have probably had sex (again, I am estimating) maybe 100-150 times. And that’s being generous; exact figure probably 80-100x.

      1. J Post author

        I hear such stories too often, and I ache for you. I’m saddened that you’re going through this tough situation. Praying your wife’s heart will soften and you’ll have wisdom on what to do to encourage greater intimacy in your marriage.

    4. Mr. Stupid

      Imagine marrying an attractive woman.
      Over time, she starts talking about her past lovers.
      Then, starts making cheap shots about you.
      Over time, you know far more than is comfortable and now hear about how you don’t
      “measure up” or your times at bat.
      For some men, they find out marriage is a LIE and some women are a complete waste of emotional time & energy. I tire of being blamed of not appreciating and placing value for someone that simply opened up for every man she dated. Basically, I am a fool and wasted my life believing in marriage. The jokes on me. Go ahead women, say it, I am a loser. You’re right!

      1. J Post author

        Wow, this is really cynical: “Marriage is a LIE and some women are a complete waste of emotional time & energy.” But I can hear the pain in your comment. Maybe you need to sit your wife down, talk about what’s happening, and pursue some counseling. Marriage itself can be a wonderful blessing (it is for me and many others), but oftentimes it takes real work. And it sounds like your wife is unhappy as well. Maybe you can figure out why and be the instigator of positive change. Saying a prayer for you both!

  3. Eric

    I’m male, married 52 years, a former pastor, former teacher in a Christian college and an adult SS teacher. I have NEVER heard such a story in any ministry I’ve been involved in. But as a writer (books and magazines) I’ve done a chunk of research on such issues. It’s true.

    Men almost never talk about this. It’s about as humiliating as it gets. Yet I do know of a case where a man with grown children finally divorced his Christian wife, who had a history of being molested as a teen by men in her Christian family. At least that’s what my wife heard from family members. Many years ago as a single college student I spent summers working on construction crews with coarse-talking men. The fact that most of them knew men whose wives refused them at home, so they sought sex elsewhere, was regular joke fodder.

    Many women, and a few men, come to marriage so mixed up that they are apparently unable to function well enough to enjoy the experience of making love. That’s my perception from what I’ve heard and read over the past 60 years.

    My own thought: Both husband and wife need counseling FAST! Find a godly professional counselor. An ungodly one would probably recommend divorce.

    1. Nick@marriedheat

      I don’t know why you’d use the classification that “many women and a few men” when it comes to knowing how to make love. We men are just as messed up as much, and I’d argue more, than women. Men are more likely to have learned the art of intimacy from Hugh Hefner, Bob Guccione, and Larry Flynt, et. al.

      As a man with a low libido wife, I had always blamed myself for the lack of a loving, sexual relationship. My problems seemed bigger to both Heather and myself. Counselling has corrected our thinking. We both have issues and are working through them. Hers are no bigger than mine and communication in a loving, trusting atmosphere is saving our marriage.

      1. Eric


        My comment about “many women and a few men” was carelessly stated. Sorry. But I was writing in the context of the topic of Refusers, and I didn’t mean it to address the entire spectrum of married sex. You are right–as many husbands as wives are messed up sexually by the time they marry, probably more. I don’t know of statistics to prove this, one way or the other. I do know that, though girls enter puberty sooner than boys (by about 18 months), teen boys are more likely to be sexually active than girls. I’ll admit that my facts may be out of date, but from that perspective, young men are more likely to be messed up that girls at marriage age.

        But refusers? That’s a whole ‘nother ball game. Some men are too tired or too busy for sex, or are finding other outlets, such as porn with masturbation, or having an affair. So they become refusers, either from shame or physical reasons or both. Or they have sex quickly and get it over with, with little love involved.

        I have heard plenty of stories of messed-up women–and I’ve interviewed such women for magazine articles. But there seems to be more valid information out there, because women will often talk about their problems, whereas men are ashamed and afraid to do so. Look at the Christian websites dealing with women’s sexual issues–sites such as this one–most of which are run by women–and women talk on these sites. But again, we just don’t know how many of either gender are affected..


  4. Jason

    As a husband in a marriage with a low drive wife or as I should say a no drive wife. That has been working to improve the marriage to get a sex life back to no success. I agree with nylse why get married or better yet why stay married. I use to tell young married couples that are going thorough hard times stay with it it gets better. Now if they ask me I would tell them try for a year self help book and conseling. If that doesn’t work or the other person doesn’t want to change if you have no kids get out then. If you have kids keep working at but after a while of the other person is not trying to improve. You better get it in your head they will not, make peace with it. It takes two to make a marriage but only one to destroy it and if that one wants to destroy the marriage fine but you can’t let them destroy you too.

    1. J Post author

      I would NOT tell someone to leave a marriage that quickly over this. Because I get fabulous emails from people who break through this wall, deepen their intimacy, and are SO GLAD they stayed. Moreover, I don’t believe I get an out from my marriage when things get difficult. For my own marriage, I found that I had to dig even deeper to love him more, and things really did get better. It’s absolutely not okay to live in sexless marriage, but I don’t think it’s a black-and-white option of get sex or leave.

  5. Jason

    I know this feeling.. We are intimate once a month to every 6 weeks. If I bring it up I am told it’s my fault for being emotionally distant and ‘always wanting sex’. And not being open and there for her. But How can be open if I have to wall off this huge part of myself so as not to be focused on sex? I struggle with porn as well. I looked at counseling and she told me that only meant I wasn’t really trying because if I really loved her I wouldn’t choose to look. I feel like I am in a lose – lose situation.. If I say how I feel, I am only wanting one thing.. And selfish for not listening to her and her needs and making it about myself . If I don’t then I am distant….she says her body doesn’t work like mine and she just can’t be sexual more often. I have no idea what to do. There are times I hate my sex drive. But to love her as Christ loved the church shouldn’t I put my desire to death for her?

    1. J Post author

      You don’t put to death the desire for her, but you can do what you can to find out what’s going on with her and help her out of the bad place she’s in. SHE is also not enjoying God’s blessings because of whatever is going on her mind and her heart, and that’s affecting both of you.

      By the way, the porn use isn’t just about her. That is between you and God (see Psalm 51), and regardless of how your wife feels, you need to get counseling, install Covenant Eyes or another filter on your computer, get an accountability partner, etc. — whatever you need to do to keep your mind and body pure.

      She is right that her body doesn’t work like yours, but she can be sexual more often. She may not realize that it’s not about being in the mood, but rather that you can woo her INTO that mood. You could offer that you’re willing to embrace, kiss, touch, etc. for a while and see if her body begins to respond. Not saying that will work, but it could be worth a shot.

      (As always in these cases, I really wish I could sit down for coffee with the spouse who’s doing the refusing…)

      1. Jason

        I have instituted filtering on the home Router, I don’t yet have an accountability partner. It is difficult to find counseling if for no other reason than I am the only driver in our household currently and with kids in Band finding time in the evening is a challenge. I KNOW I am to blame for many t hings we have wrong and yet at the same time I feel like I am being asked to make a 100% move on all things with the expectation I should just accept the situation and be happy with it. Of course I am sure if you were able to talk with her it would point out everything that I either am not acknowledging about myself or just have a blind spot toward.

        1. J Post author

          Yep, I’ll tell it to you straight: You’re being asked to do 100%. But not me, and not her so much… I think God asks us all to give 100%, whether or not our spouses do the same. That doesn’t mean you enable sinful behavior, but you take care of your own business before God. But OF COURSE you should not be happy with not being intimate with your wife. Who could be happy with that?! You should continue to seek something better, while taking care of your own self.

          See, my own story is that my marriage improved so much when I stopped looking for my husband to change and focused 100% on living out 1 Corinthians 13 and the Fruit of the Spirit to my husband. Was it hard? You bet it was! But my husband softened as well, and our marriage got so much better.

          Please hang in there, and do what you can. I often quote to myself, “…as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). I think that “everyone” includes my husband, and I have to do the part that depends on me.

          1. T

            I would say to your wife that I’ve been in her shoes. I tried to tell my husband why sex was so hard for me to desire. Between neon overwhelmed with kids (4 in 4 years) and him treating me with anger and hostility all I wanted was for him to show compassion and kindness and to do it at a time that didn’t involved wanting sex. I’m not saying that is where your relationship is cause I have no idea what it is like. But ask her and if she doesn’t want to talk about it is suggest couples therapy. I kept telling my husband what I needed but he just wasn’t getting it. It finally took hearing my feelings translated by someone else for him to get it. He has struggled with porn too and as a wife that is hard on the sexual relationship. Your wife is dealing with her own grief over that. She feels she will never measure up to those images. And she might also wonder if you are picturing them during sex with her. That is something I deal with which does make sex something I don’t want to even think about. Bottom line, talk to her. Get down to her feelings. Find out why she is refusing you. The reasons may really surprise you.

  6. B

    Best. Post. Ever! Hi J, what a fantastic post! You really covered this well. And THANK YOU for using higher drive spouse and lower drive spouse, instead of husband and wife. So many sources assume it is the man who is rejected, and that is not always the case.

    Oh how I wish I could have my husband read and understand this. I know he loves me and doesn’t really want to hurt me, but there’s so much in here refusing spouses need to understand. The first and foremost being “For the higher drive spouse, it doesn’t feel like merely a rejection of the act, but a rejection of the person herself.” Yes! SO TRUE!

    So many great points in this article. I might go out on a limb and print this for my husband. So often when I try to discuss it he gets mad. Or he clams up. How I long to communicate to him that it’s not all about the act of sex itself, I mean, the physical release. It is so much more about the emotional connection. So much.

    There is so much good stuff in this post! You hit the nail on the head with this one. I pray that a lot of refusing spouses will read this and wake up and realize that their spouses aren’t being selfish, but are being torn to pieces, and emotionally destroyed, one refusal at a time. It is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with.

    I LOVE these two lines: “the one person who could grant sexual intimacy is the one person blocking it. How frustrating!” And especially: “why are they rewarded for desiring their own spouse with constant rejection?” That is quite possibly the best line I’ve ever read on your blog. I want to print it in neon.

    I love him SO much, I want HIM so much – just HIM. Oh I wish he could understand everything you’ve witten here. Excellent post. Just excellent.

    1. H

      Dido! Best article yet! I am also considering showing this to my husband, though I thank God my refusals are only 4-6days. I can’t imagine 5 years! I would be in full on depression. Thanks J for really articulating what refusal does to our hearts and minds and why sex is so important outside of the actual act in and of itself.

  7. j

    What if you don’t become aroused at any time during your intimate time with your husband? I have a very high drive husband.He would like sex at least a few times every day.I try to meet his needs at least once.But I never become aroused like everyone says you will once you get started.I just go through the motions.

    1. J Post author

      Wow, a “few times every day”? Um, that’s a lot. Like he needs to take a chill pill and let you recover. I suspect that some of your inability to respond is his high demand, because it probably feels like you can’t live up to his expectations — which is not how you want to feel about sex. You might come up with a plan for scheduling sex, so that you know when it’s coming and he’s guaranteed to get it, and then he can ease off some of the other time. The other thing is that he needs to spend plenty of time getting you aroused. Added lubrication might help. And you might want to read this article about preparing yourself: Preparing Yourself for Sex. Maybe something in there can help.

      I also recommend Bonny Logdson Burns’s excellent resources at her blog, Bonny’s Oyster Bed, specifically designed for lower-drive wives.

  8. nylse

    Maybe the bigger question is – can some of this be avoided? Are there conversations to be had before going down this forever path?
    Once you’re married, if you’re a christian, don’t all the principles of faith align and work for your marriage also?
    Have christians become contaminated by some of the world’s thoughts as it relates to sexuality or has the church done a disservice by viewing sex as awful to counter a world view?

    1. J Post author

      Yes. The Church is doing better and better all the time dealing with issue, but we don’t have a good track record of preparing and supporting marriages for godly sexual intimacy.

  9. Sean

    J, thank you for posting my question. I really appreciate your article. To clarify, I have been married for over 25 years, and the last 5 have been completely sexless. Prior to that, she would only want sex once every 6-8 weeks. I stopped allowing her to reject me in 2005.

    I believe that long term sexual rejection in marriage is sexual immorality. I know many people disagree, I respect that opinion, but I am NOT going to debate the issue here. I will be speaking to her about this issue within the next few weeks. I will not threaten her, or be rude to her in any way. I am just going to explain that her actions have been excruciatingly painful to me, I believe they are sinful, and I would like her to make some changes, but I am not threatening her in any way. I expect she will explode, scream at me, and threaten to divorce me for bringing it up. I will not try to dissuade her from divorce this time.

    Please don’t bother telling me things I should try. I have been trying longer than many of you have been married. I have implemented every change my wife has ever requested or suggested. My wife has told me that nothing she does is wrong unless she thinks it’s wrong.

    1. J Post author

      If you’re at that point, I think you should follow the biblical example: Bring it up to her, and if she balks, then you can bring in others from your church. (See Matthew 18:15-16.) I agree that it is unfaithfulness to be denied rightful intimacy for a very long time in marriage. However, divorce should be a very last resort, after all other remedies have been tried. I’m praying for you both.

      1. Sean

        Thank you J. Please realize I did not say I was going to divorce her. I just said I am not going to dissuade her this time. Any time she hears something she does not like, she threatens divorce. I am not going to try to talk her out of it any more.

  10. Anonymous

    I think that sexual refusal/sexually starved marriages are more common then most people think. Men my age (over 50) use code words instead of talking about directly and openly. It is too embarrassing to admit to this problem…

  11. a. nony

    With regard to the church doing better with this — I think it really is, in some places. Our premarital counseling (getting married in just over a month!!) covers sex and encourages us to talk about it, close to the wedding day, of course. Our church extols marital intimacy in an appropriate way, and older married couples definitely encourage younger married couples to be active. The standard that’s typically alluded to is “frequent, whatever that means for you as a couple.” And in fact, most of my married girlfriends from church are really frank with us engaged and seriously-dating gals about how great sex can be, but also about how it requires work and dedication and practice just like every other part of a relationship. I feel SO blessed to have spent the last 10+ years of my life in this church family!

  12. Scott

    Sean, I fully support your position and think you deserve better than you are getting. There are many caring, giving women that enjoy intimacy. I wish you the best, being a servant leader does not look like this. Stay strong.

  13. Eric

    I believe that a lot of the refusing intercourse is a result of being sotted with premarital sin, either in the form of simple fornication, or sexual abuse, both of which often leave the person filled with shame, and this shame eventually comes out in being unable to enjoy married lovemaking.

    I just did a quick Internet search re the treatment of sexual sin in colonial Massachusetts about 350 years ago. In those days the Puritan church and the state were treated as one unit, and many Old Testament laws were enforced as civil laws. The illegitimate birth rate in 17th-century Puritan Massachusetts was one in 200 births (1/2 of one percent), compared to 20% of births today to unmarried women (even with modern birth control and abortion). This translates to very little sex outside of marriage in those days–even in a culture where pregnant girls were expected to marry the father.

    Too many of us have for too long listened to lies perpetrated by the likes of H. L. Mencken, who claimed that the Puritans were opposed to fun, especially sexual fun. Mencken’s poison pen at the Philadelphia Inquirer three-quarters of a century ago is to this day often quoted, even though the ungodly who quote him seldom know its source.

    For the truth about the matter, I copied this quote from someone who seems to have done his/her research: “The Puritans . . . believed that married partners should have sex for pleasure. Sexually pleasing one’s spouse was a duty . . . and women were expected to have orgasms.”

    The Puritans had their faults, but honestly trying to live by the Bible seems to have resulted in far more married sexual pleasure than many Christians of today enjoy.

  14. princevinco

    I find it hard to believe that a woman could claim to be married yet deliberately refuse to satisfy her husband sexually for months not to talk of years. To me, I don’t call that marriage but they are ordinary roommates or co-habitants. Of a truth, for a woman who claim to be married yet don’t bother about the sexual needs of her husband is satanic influenced. That woman concerned, to me seems to have a problem that deliverance ministration is the answer.

    1. J Post author

      I don’t know about “satanic” exactly, because I’m not sure what you mean by that word. However, it certainly isn’t a marriage functioning according to God’s design. And sometimes, the refusers have deep wounds that need to be overcome, so I feel for both sides in many marriages.

  15. Nick@marriedheat


    Thanks for taking the time to write this and answer the question. I believe you missed something, however.

    You stated, “For marrieds, the right outlet is sexual intercourse!” Sexual intercourse is certainly a great, and I’d argue the BEST) way but, BUT … there are other ways of being sexually intimate without intercourse. I only write this because it seems you believe there is only one way … intercourse.

    Heather and I have experimented with mutual masturbation. It’s VERY erotic. The reason we’ve done so is health related. We’re both feeling the effects of brain injury from concussions. I have major issues after working for an orgasm, and Heather feels a constant dizziness. There are times when we’re both horny but having sex just seems too difficult.

    In those situations, we either help each other, or watch each other. We use all the same language we would be using if we were engaged in intercourse.

    One other good thing that has come of it (pun unintended, but a good one) is that Heather has learned how I like to be stroked and fondled, from watching me masturbate. It’s been WONDERFUL how she has used that knowledge in pleasuring me with her hand or orally.

    1. J Post author

      Oh no, I believe sex is the whole kit-and-caboodle — not just intercourse. That’s been very clear through other posts.

  16. KarenR

    I am wondering if we should look at a person’s refusal to have sex with their spouse as a form of abandonment or abuse? I do think there is a difference between the marriage where there is absolutely no sex for months and years and the marriage where the frequency is very low.

    When a man or woman flat-out refuse to have sex with their spouse, I think it is a serious matter that merits a trip to a therapist so uncover the issues that have caused the couple to be at that point. Is there sexual abuse in the past of the unwilling spouse? Is their abuse in the marriage causing a breakdown in intimacy. I believe in the power of fervent prayer, and yet I think with a situation this serious outside assistance needs to be brought in, sooner than later.

  17. Anonyman

    My situation is not refusal, though it is similarly frustrating. My wife enjoys sex, but our activities are restricted. She doesn’t allow semen on the sheets or they need to be changed immediately, no semen in the mouth, no kissing after oral has begun, no oral after intercourse has begun, no sleeping naked because the kids might need something during the night…and so on. I’ve reached the point where I simply don’t like asking for anything new or different because the answer is often no. So we just stick to the basics (which is admittedly much better than where it seems some couples are). She’ll tell me the advice in books and marriage sites is that we don’t have to do everything and it’s okay not to like some things. I agree with that in principal, but ‘some things’ can easily add up to a number of things. After reading on sites like this I realize how much freedom we have in the marriage bed yet that freedom is not available to us. I do feel somewhat rejected and long for the opportunity to deeply revel in the gift of intimacy that God has given us. I struggle with understanding why God would give such a great gift then allow it to be limited when Christians in a marriage relationship are the ones for whom this gift is intended.

    1. J Post author

      Some of her “restrictions” seem rather common, and even reasonable, to me. For instance, many women do not want to kiss after oral sex, and most people can at least imagine why that would be problematic for some. Rather than focusing on what you can’t do, maybe you could ask her what she’d be willing to try that you aren’t doing right now. I think a little creativity is a good idea in cases where you don’t agree; for instance, a wife who won’t sleep naked might be willing to strip seductively for her husband or play a marital intimacy game. Worth a shot?

    2. T

      I’m somewhat like your wife in that I don’t like kissing after oral or semen in my mouth. Maybe have a towel or two spread out on the bed so semen doesn’t get on the fitted sheets and pull the top sheets so they are hanging off the foot of the bed. My husband and I have comprised on me giving him oral. He lets me know in time where I can get a hand towel to “catch” and finish him off with my hand. I grew up in a family that never talked about sex and I was taught sex was bad. I have had a lot to overcome in seeing sex as something God intended to be a large part of marriage. I have made great strides but my husband still wants more. I have explained to him that I’m opening up and I need him to see how far I have come, not to look at what I still don’t want to do. Make sure your wife knows you appreciate what she has worked on and been open to.

  18. beenthere

    Please consider peri-menopause and depression– both mess with the body, mind and spirit and ability to function well. Speak to you wife with compassion when first noticing these in her….and kindly suggest a dr. Visit together. It may or may not work, but it is worth a try. I had to figure it out for myself after years and am so sorry to hubby, but also hurt by cruel words from him in the past. Slowly healing.

    1. Sean

      Thank you for your sweet reply. Yes, my wife has had a full hysterectomy. She refuses to go to any doctor, and refuses to discuss the issue. She thinks it is my problem, not hers. I am really really getting weary of living this way. Unfortunately, virtually no one believes that sexual refusal is a sin, so there is nothing I can do. My older daughter recently told me that if I divorced her mother, she would cut all ties with me. I am hoping that I will be killed in a car accident or get cancer soon.

      1. J Post author

        Watch for my Saturday post, Sean. I’m hoping to deal with at least one of the issues you raise.

  19. Joel

    What classifies refusal? I’ve heard sexless marriage is 10 times or less a year, what’s the difference between less than 10 times a year and 25 times a year where it is initiated from one side and almost pleaded for. If sex is had 12-25 times, (once or twice a month) but refused 80 times or more….what is that classified as?

    I love my wife, she is the only person i’ve ever had sex with. She had one partner before our marriage. I casually used porn in my teens, and did so, when shot down during marriage. My situation is like above…I would resort to porn in my marriage when shot down at times…it never leads anywhere good. While I could never talk to or be intimate with another woman like I am my wife, I fell into many forms of temptation. Now that I’m past all that, it hurts knowing those things happened for me. I considered myself such a strong christian/person, sane, a good decision maker, loyal etc.

    I would never pin blame for that on my wife, but I do wonder if it would have been different had sex been mutually sought after. I don’t think I had/have unrealistic expectations on sex in marriage. I thought it would be more mutual, I thought there might be days where she would “want it” when I got home, so to say.

    It has always had to be something I ask for, apart from birthdays etc. My wife thinks it’s part of a marriage but not one of the more important aspects. I’ve heard a lot of “no’s”, I’m tired, headache, exhausted, had a long day, or “ugh tonight?” etc. When it is a yes, it’s usually asked “wait a couple hours then I will” and not something where she seems overly excited.

    I by no means think a low drive spouse must always abide, no is definitely OK at times. but I think it’s a little unreasonable that if I try to initiate 2-3 times a week, that it happens 1-2 times a month, all one sided.

    Anyways, I love my wife, my marriage, but I am disappointed in myself for where I got. I should have made wiser decisions at times, and gone to God! At the same time, I do see the impact of refusal and lack of intimacy on a marriage and understand what the Bible means by saying a lack of can lead to temptation due to our lack of self control.

    1. J Post author

      I can hear your pain. I’m sorry that you’ve had such emotional hurt in your marriage. You clearly know that’s not how it’s supposed to be. I wonder why she is so resistant, what hurt is buried inside her that makes her reluctant to make love.

      Many experts do define a sexless marriage as 10 times a year or less, but 11 times is absolutely not healthy. When people I ask me about frequency, I recommended at least once a week, unless circumstances prevent.

  20. Eliza

    Before marriage, I was raped twice. This led to long seasons of refusal from my end (many many months). But my husband was a hero and patently waited until I was ready again. It was hard for him but God gave him the strength to be patient with me. Since then God has done much healing in my heart and those seasons are getting shorter. I have truly married God’s best.

    1. J Post author

      This brings tears to my eyes — no woman (or man) should experience rape. I’m so glad your husband patiently helped you to discover God’s intention for sex in marriage. Blessings!

  21. LPico

    I was sexually abused in my childhood: first at the age of 4, then at repeatedly at school in my early adolescence. That marked me. As a result, I avoided/refused intimacy with my husband. It sometimes got to the point where I would only allow it every 6-8 weeks. I’m now starting therapy to deal with this and I am hoping my husband will join me. All the years of rejection have hardened his heart and I am praying that by changing my approach to him and our marriage will soften his heart and his feelings towards me. We have 2 beautiful children and it hurts me to think that the family we created with God’s blessing could now fall apart because of this. Please pray for us. At this point I am desperate.

  22. DeCaf

    My husband and I haven’t had sex, intimacy in about 48 years.
    My husband has spent our married life living in our basement and I up stairs.
    Husband has always hate sex, intimacy, porn, extra relations, gays, lesbians, trans what ever’s.
    He feels no need for sex, because its smelly, messy, disgusting to the point of throwing up. so he didn’t want me to talk, touch or approach him for any thing. He did work hard, probably more than was necessary and made a good wage. He took care of all the bills and he made sure that I got to see them. The man was extreme he only thought about himself. Had no friends wasn’t gay or getting on with some girl. H ecame home all the time and never left, only thing he did at home was work in his shop on wood and auto projects. I stayed and I have wish I had not, to late now and to old to care. Our lives will end shortly and these things won’t be an issue.

  23. Katie

    I have been married for 12 years, I had never had sexual relations outside marriage. My husband sexual drive is almost nonexistent, while my sexual drive is very healthy, however my husband can go for months without sex and whenever I bring the subject, which is hard for me to talk about, he is always having an excuse ; I am tired, my back hurts, it is little late … Etc. I am still in my 30s, and it is so painful feeling rejected and not having sex for months in row. It is plan simple not fair. When I got married I was 24 I though may be this the way but I learned that it is not normal… I brought the subject several times and I don’t think my husband admit that there problem is problem .. I don’t know what, I feel hopeless, hurt and ashamed to even discuss the subject I don’t know what to ???????

    1. J Post author

      You need to discuss this subject. Please believe it’s not shameful, because you’re trying and things aren’t working the way they should. Your husband may have physiological or other issues to deal with, and sweeping this under the rug won’t solve it or make it go away. You should respectfully continue to address your feelings and concerns, but do think about where and how you do so with your husband. You want to still treat him with honor and kindness, but his attitude toward you in this area isn’t okay. I’m so sorry you’re going through this. I suggest you peruse articles about higher-drive wives on my blog. Here’s a good place to start: https://hotholyhumorous.com/category/higher-drive-wives/

  24. Pingback: Q&A with J: Why Did God Make Sex So Hard Sometimes? | Hot, Holy & Humorous

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