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Q&A with J: I Want to Stop Gatekeeping, But How?

Google “gatekeeping definition” and you’ll get this:

“the activity of controlling, and usually limiting, general access to something.”

When we talk about sexual gatekeeping, it refers to a spouse controlling or limited access to sexual intimacy. Unfortunately, it’s happening in many marriages. Here’s a question I received from a wife:

I’ve been reading more and more about your posts on gatekeeping and sexual refusal. Before our marriage my husband and I were (obviously) very excited by the idea of sex and I read a lot about women refusing their husbands, and I just didn’t get how they could do it! Now, almost 2 years in and one baby later, I have pretty much become one.

I have a few things working against me — several instances of sexual abuse throughout my life, chronic disease which makes almost every instance of sex very painful (endometriosis), association of the physical feeling of sex with shame, and just general leftover injury from the birth. This has all resulted in me feeling dread every time my husband (who is the most wonderful husband, always makes me feel comfortable and safe) wants sex. I never feel like it (I’m still breastfeeding so my ‘heat’ hasn’t returned at all), it’s super painful, it’s been so hard to get back at it since our son’s birth, and it always makes me feel ashamed and vulnerable.

Where on earth do I start to try and tackle these issues?

Q&A with J: I Want to Stop Gatekeeping, But How?

This wife knows she’s gatekeeping and doesn’t want to be like that — but you can also understand why. She didn’t just wake up one day and think, How awesome it would be to have a sex-starved marriage!

Most gatekeepers have real reasons for what they’re doing, which is why trying to understand your spouse’s reluctance and anxiety is far better than trying to demand or shame your lower-drive spouse into cooperation.

Let’s tackle the issues this reader brings up, one by one — which are legitimate concerns that need to be addressed.

Past Sexual Abuse. It’s absolutely heartbreaking to consider how many people — women and men — have experienced sexual abuse in their past. We should certainly oppose abuse wherever and whenever we can (see Isaiah 1:16-17, Jeremiah 22:16), but I also know God has their final destiny taken care of (see Ecclesiastes 12:14, Psalm 73:27). What I most want the abused to hear is this verse: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).

He knows. He gets it. And He wants to save your crushed spirit, lifting that heavy burden you’ve brought into your marriage.

But does your spouse get it? Tensing up or raising guards when it comes to sex is a standard reaction of abuse victims, because sex was misused against them. If you have abuse in your past, you need to be honest with your spouse about what happened and what effect it has had on your view of your body, sexuality, and security in the bedroom.

Talk openly about what’s happened and be willing to take extra time to get you feeling comfortable and safe in the marital bedroom. You may need to establish a signal if panic sets in, and have the agreement that you can take a moment to breathe slowly, remind yourself that your husband is nothing like your abuser, and ease back into lovemaking.

Having spoken with abuse victims overcomers, I know it takes time to establish a new script in your head, but it can be done. I sometimes think of it like the balance of scales. Abuse is a heavy load on one side, but over time when you pile up positive sexual experiences in your marriage, they will outweigh the abuse and a new perspective of sexuality can take hold. Don’t let your painful past steal your future intimacy.

And please seek professional help if you need it. Most abuse victims really do need outside resources to help them sort through their past and its consequences in their life and find healing.

One last thought: Sexual abuse is a horrible experience, but even mistreatment can cause a spouse to feel insecure in the marriage bed. For instance, a wife whose breasts were inappropriately ogled or grabbed might respond very negatively to being touched there even by her husband. Likewise, it can take time to establish a safe environment, a new script, and whole sexual intimacy.

Physical Pain. There are various reasons for physical pain during intercourse — including hormonal imbalance, vaginismus, structural impediments, scar tissue, infection, and yes, endometriosis. You must talk to your doctor honestly and specifically about your issues. It may require persistence to get across to your primary care physician or gynecologist the full impact your physical condition is having on sexual intimacy. But be an advocate for your marriage and discuss treatment options with your doctor. Oftentimes, something can be done to alleviate your pain.

With sexual pain — and specifically with endometriosis — you may find that certain times during the month are better for sexual intercourse and some positions are more comfortable. Be willing to experiment and explore alternatives with your husband.

Speaking of which, intercourse is the crown jewel of sexual intimacy, but it isn’t the whole treasure. There are plenty of other gems you and hubby can enjoy. If you can’t handle penetration this time around, try other pleasurable sexual activities, like oral sex for him, oral sex for you, manual play for you, or a hand job for him.

Expand your view of what making love really is — because sexual intimacy involves all kinds of physically pleasurable interaction. Instead of focusing on what you can’t do, find things you can do. Then when you’re able to have intercourse, enjoy that experience fully!

Personal Shame. Too many Christian wives have shame about having sex in the marriage bed. Even if they logically know what they’re doing is God-sanctioned, they were raised to believe that good girls don’t or had a past experience that connected shame or guilt to the sex act. It’s hard to flip a switch when you get married and feel deep-down that what you’re doing is a beautiful, magical thing.

But it is. Good wives desire sex (Song of Songs 2:16-17), have sex (Song of Songs 7:12), initiate sex (Song of Songs 1:4), enjoy sex (Song of Songs 2:3). I believe the best way to combat the feelings of shame are to replace them with biblical truth.

It’s one of the reasons I wrote Intimacy Revealed: 52 Devotions to Enhance Sex in Marriage — to help wives embrace the goodness and beauty God’s design for sex in marriage. Learning what the Bible says about sex and intentionally dwelling on that can help you get past the obstacle of shame.

I entered my marriage with shame about my past, and it negatively affected how I viewed myself in the marriage bed. What shifted my perspective was thinking long and hard about this passage in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11:

Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (emphasis added)

Rehearse the truth in your mind again and again, even as you begin to engage in sex with your husband and throughout the day. Combat the lies about sex with the truth of God’s Word (Psalm 119:68-70).

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Lack of Desire. Finally, the reader said that she’s struggling to get back into things with her recent childbirth experience. It’s fairly common to have a dip in desire with a new baby in the house. You’re exhausted, you’re nursing, you’re touched all day long by a small human being — it all makes the prospect of hands-on sex with hubby less appealing. At least for many wives.

I recently wrote about having sex after the baby comes. Read that post for more, but a quick summary of my ideas is: communicate with your husband, set reasonable expectations, pursue self-care, ask for help when you need it, and prioritize intimacy with your husband. And by intimacy here, I mean the whole enchilada — companionship, recreation, conversation, and physical intimacy.

You are parents now! Which is awesome, but the foundation of your home remains the relationship between father and mother, husband and wife. Stoke your desire by keeping some energy for the two of you, and even for you alone so you can prepare mentally and physically to engage in sex with hubby.

Hope something in there helps you tackle the issues, unlock the gate, and begin to experience God’s gift of sexual intimacy in your marriage.

21 thoughts on “Q&A with J: I Want to Stop Gatekeeping, But How?”

  1. Can you write about erectile dysfunction and how to cope with it as a wife? I love sex , the oneness with intercourse. Masturbation helps me but it’s not marriage, union.

    1. True. I feel like intercourse is the most bonding experience in sex. I’ll add it to my question list. Thanks for your question!

    2. Andrea’s question is a good one, especially if there are many older wives on this loop. I’m 76, and I’ve dealt with erectile dysfunction for about 15 years (fortunately it’s not NON-function). I’ve done a ton of research on this, I’m currently under medical treatment, and I’ve also taken a number of courses of action by myself that have helped.

      Some of the issues are age-related, of course. But I do have some positive experiences, which I can share, from the perspective of a Christian husband, which should help some readers. I’ve also published more than 1,300 magazine articles (most of them in evangelical periodicals), so I think I can write fairly lucid prose. So, J, if you’d like me to contribute a piece, either as a guest writer, or a long comment, please respond to my email.

      Below is a brief summary: We’ve been married 52 years, both virgins, and no affairs. When I was 55, we spent five nights in a motel during a Christian Bookseller’s Association convention, and had sex every night, which we both enjoyed. Six years later I had my first experience of inability to get an erection firm enough to function. I had gained weight, had low hemoglobin (internal bleeding was the cause), and at 61 I figured I was probably about at the end.

      But we still have intercourse. It’s gone from nightly when we were first married to twice a week 20 years ago to once every eight to ten days currently. I’ll save the details of how we manage, with medical help, unless J wants a fuller piece.

    3. Since Andrea has said little, I can only make general comments. If hubs is getting older–past 40–men do start to slow down. Weight is an important factor. A man with a waist size of 44 or larger will have difficulty getting an erection, and guys usually gain weight as they get older. I went from 32 (6 feet tall) at marriage, to 39 in two years on my wife’s good cooking. I then cut back on the eats. 50 years later, I’m 43 inches–too big, I know, but within reason for my age and height.

      Testosterone? Has his been tested? Mine is low, and I use an Androderm patch. It’s expensive, but my insurance pays for most of it.

      Hemoglobin low? It could be as simple as taking an iron pill or two a day. Or there could be internal bleeding from something such as a hiatal hernia–not usually a serious problem, but it might require surgery. Low hemoglobin will drastically affect a man’s ability to have intercourse, and the cure is usually simple and inexpensive.

      Bottom line: get hubs to your doc for a physical and blood work. All the problems I mentioned above have to do with general health, as well as ability to function sexually. Some are serious; most are easily fixable. Guys tend to keep their cars tuned up and let their bodies go.

  2. Well, it is wonderful that this woman recognizes that this is a problem. That is the first step. I do have some suggestions for her…

    1) several instances of sexual abuse throughout my life…
    –This is horrible and I am so sorry that this happened to you. It should have never happened. But now is the time to stop letting it limit you. Immediately make an appointment with a Christian counselor who will help you process this and get past it so you can enjoy the sexual freedom that both you and your husband deserve.

    2) chronic disease which makes almost every instance of sex very painful (endometriosis),
    –Endometriosis can certainly make sex painful. Unfortunately, many doctors don’t listen to this kind of complaint and just tell you that you have to deal with it. You will have to be insistent and tell him/her that you want to enjoy sex with your husband, and you want to find out what can be done so that can be possible. Take your husband with you and both of you talk about treatment options. If your doctor will not listen, go to another doctor. Ask your friends for referrals, get on the internet and look for suggestions.

    3) association of the physical feeling of sex with shame
    This is a lie straight from the pit of Hell. Satan is absolutely delighted when a wife feels this way about sex with her husband. You have taken a wonderful step by reading this site. Again, speak to a Christian counselor who is not anti-sex (unfortunately, many are).

    4) and just general leftover injury from the birth.
    This is probably just a temporary situation. Keep going to your doctor and do whatever it takes to resolve this issue.

    Lastly, I am so glad that your husband is wonderful. Your new baby does need a lot of attention. I would think that it would really help if you would assure your husband that the baby will not always need so much attention, and you will do everything you can to make up for this temporary sexual drought as soon as you are able.

    I applaud you for not ignoring the issue.

    1. Sean has really good advice. My unwanted sexual experiences were much less than rape or sexual assault (basically school yard stuff that went too far, but not far enough to merit the title of sexual assault). Still, it left it’s mark and affected my relationship with hubby. I finally recognized it and said enough is enough. I decided it wasn’t right to let that continue to have an affect on my life and steal from my husband and I. I just said NO MORE to the trigger and gave that trigger to my husband and switched it to a positive rather than a negative. Perhaps those who’ve dealt with a greater degree of sexual abuse/assault have to work harder to get there, but I really really encourage you to.

      The same mental overcoming works with the shame part of sex, too. I really didn’t have that, but I had shyness about being vulnerable and naked with my husband. I would wake up in the wee hours of the morning to put makeup on so he didn’t see my real face when he woke up. Again, it was a firm mental NO MORE and JUST DO IT! I had had enough and decided enough was enough.

      In other words, I kicked Satan out of the bedroom! LOL!

      As for post partum discomfort, massaging with a healing oil like coconut oil can help soften the scar tissue and make it more pliable and ready for intercourse. After my 2nd child sex was very painful, but after my 4th, the scars are quite used to all the actions.

      Keep pressing forward. Don’t give up. Don’t let set backs throw you all the way back. Chase away negatives with positives. Do the hard work and reap the rewards!

  3. Another word of advice for anyone dealing with pain – find a specialist in pelvic floor therapy! there are many good ones out there and they care way more about helping you enjoy sex again than your doctor probably will! even if pelvic floor dysfunction wasn’t your specific diagnosis, any issues down there are going to have an effect on it. if you can find a therapist who views health holistically, they can really help you get back on track!

  4. I really appreciate this question (and answer!). My husband and I have been married for 8 years, and the first 6 years were almost sexless due to vaginismus. It took me countless appointments and two kids before I finally saw a midwife who heard my problem and affirmed that it wasn’t normal. I would agree with Courtney above about pelvic floor therapy. I saw a physical therapist who specialized in women’s health and it completely changed my life. The therapy I went through is great for vaginal birth injuries, vaginismus, and even bladder control issues. While the physical pain is finally gone, I still struggle with the mental part of sex and breaking down those barriers that I instinctually put up. When you’ve experienced years of pain or abuse, it’s so hard to turn that off. I’m thankful that God truly does make all things new, and for the support from a kind, loving, and patient (!!!) husband. Just wanted to say you’re not alone!

  5. I’m sorry for the woman who asked the question, and I do pray she will get through this. I don’t see it so much as gate keeping as having some issues that need to be dealt with.

    I have a different issue, and I think gate keeping might be the way to solve it. That might sound crazy, but hear me out. I have been reading marriage blogs for a while. Most of the issues are wives whose husbands love and adore them and crave them sexually, but the wife just doesn’t like sex as much. I have the exact opposite problem, and I wonder if the reason is I want to be intimate with my husband too much. It seems like the wives who hold out have husbands who really want to be with them. So perhaps I’ve been going about this all wrong. I tried praying for my sex drive to go away, that didn’t work. I tried praying not to want my husband so much, that didn’t work. Perhaps I just need to force myself to not want sex with him – you know – like dieting. If I learn to not bring it up, and to say “no thank you” on the very rare occasions that he initiates, maybe that will solve our issues. Or at least clear my head.

    I’m tired of having these painful discussions with my husband. I’m tired of feeling like the ugliest, most unworthy, most undesireable wife on the planet. My husband makes me absolutely crazy. He’s a good man. He works hard, he provides well. He says he loves me, all the time. He likes to cuddle. He calls me a lot. He says he likes spending time with me. But we only have sex once a week, twice if I’m really, really, really lucky. (Though I don’t believe in luck, but you get my point). And I’m pretty sure it’s just “pity sex”.

    I love my husband. Very, very much. It’s just very hard when my desire to have sex with him far outweighs his desire for me. I’m not fat, I’m not ugly, but his lack of desire makes me feel absolutely hideous and repulsive. And on the rare occasions we talk about it, he says he feels bad that I feel that way. I don’t know what else to do.

    All in all, it seems like “gate keeping” is the best option. It will take pressure off him, and if I try very hard to hate sex, then I won’t struggle with wanting him so badly. So I’m gonna give it a try. Nothing else works. I’d rather be sexless than feel worthless and repulsive all the time.

    The painful part is, I thought sex was supposed to be a beautiful part of a loving marriage. A gift. I guess it’s just a gift he doesn’t want. Or I’m just the gift he got stuck with and he’s too good of a man to tell me that’s how he really feels. It makes me so sad. I hope the wives with husbands who desire them sexually realize what a gift that is! And I hope me learning to forego sex makes my husband a much happier, more contented man. He won’t have to lie anymore and say he loves me and finds me attractive. I’m hoping it will be so much easier on both of us.

    1. Gatekeeping is NOT the answer. I know you’ve commented many times, B. Please, please sit down with a godly counselor. Your view of this situation is not healthy or helpful, especially when you continually call your husband a liar and question his love. His reasons for lack of interest may have nothing to do with his attraction for you, as there are plenty of causes of low desire. There are many higher-drive wives out there — you are not alone. I pray that you will seek help and work on building your home, not tearing it down (Proverbs 14:1). I am praying for you.

      1. I wouldn’t know where to look. Our church doesn’t offer counseling (that I know of). I really don’t wanna ask around because it’s an embarrassing question.

        A couple years ago I asked my husband to go to a Christian marriage weekend with me. He agreed but then backed out as the date drew closer. I figure he didn’t think I was worth it. I know he has no interest in couples counseling. He thinks the issues are all mine. That he loves me and I just need to accept that. But even his bailing on the couples weekend tells me more than his words ever could.

        Plus a counselor is just gonna fluff me and say things like “just believe in love” and “don’t think negative thoughts” and I’m not really into motivational speeches.

        1. No, a good counselor will not “fluff” you and give platitudes. I certainly wouldn’t waste my time and money on that either. A good counselor should help you define the issues better, understand their origin, reframe your own viewpoint, and come up with concrete steps toward improvement.

          And you can ask around without revealing why. I know plenty of people who’ve simply said to friends, “Hey, do you know of a good Christian counselor?” If someone starts to dig into why, it’s your prerogative to say, “I just have a couple of issues I want to talk out.” The End. You don’t owe people the details.

          Also, where to look? Try some of the larger churches in your area, many of which will have a counseling center within their walls or associated with them. If you can look up the churches online, you can probably see if they have such services. Or give them a phone call and ask.

          Be active in getting the right help, B! I am praying that things get better for you. Many blessings.

  6. Pingback: Best Christian Sex Links of the Week | Married Christian Sex

  7. The forgiven wife seems to be an entire site written by a former gatekeeper about how to stop doing that.

  8. After 18 years of marriage. …me and my wife hardly have sex….me I wouldn’t mind maybe twice a month ..then different positions rolling around kissing and giggling except oral sex ..instead she like back entry get it done and over with. . and that’s it…not me on top or her on top…..we got a son ..but after she had her female taken out and can’t have children no more. .she lost interest. ….I believe sex helps stay in love .that keeps us from being tempting to look at like me at another female & lusting ……

  9. I second the comment on pelvic floor physiotherapy. My first little one is now 6 months old and it’s still a struggle but my physiotherapist is amazing! We weren’t able to be intimate for 4 months because of pain but she’s getting me there 🙂 apparently I should be back to normal in 7 months roughly so I’m looking forward to it! They can also get you into shape so that having your next child doesn’t destroy you down there 😛

  10. I have a hard question:

    What do you do if you acknowledge your partner’s favorite love languages, you show them their languages with an honest and heartfelt effort, and then when you ask them to do the same for you they don’t?

    My favorite love language is physical touch. I’ve told my wife this several times. Any time I try to initiate (I can’t even remember the last time she initiated its been so long), there’s always some “excuse” that comes up for why we can’t have intimacy. Whether it’s “I need sleep” (even after she just got 12 hours of it the night before and it’s only 7 o’clock at night), “I don’t really feel like it right now”, “Not tonight, maybe later this week” (then when I ask later this week I still get a no), etc.

    Even when I do get sex, I feel like its just being done out of obligation. There’s literally no passion to it. I feel like I’m doing it alone.

    The gate keeping she’s doing hurts me to the core. I’ve tried explaining this to her and the only response I get is “its not you”. I honestly don’t understand what I’m doing wrong. I’m trying my hardest, and it feels like I’m not even getting so much as an attempt. I feel like I’m being clear in my communication, so I honestly don’t get why things aren’t improving.

    Any tips or advice on how to improve the situation?

    1. This is worth a whole post, honestly. Because when people say, “My love language is physical touch,” and then go on to primarily describe their need/desire for sex…I’m not sure they’re reading their love language right. In the book 5 Love Languages, Gary Chapman asserts that sex is a “dialect” of physical touch. But I think sex can hit on every single love language, and it’s also a physiological need at a different level than the emotional needs listed in the five languages.

      My point being that, in your case, if you’re saying to your wife, “I need physical touch,” and that all translates to sex, she might well feel used to meet your need rather than her offering you love through this act. If physical touch is indeed your love language, have you asked her to be affectionate without sexual expectations? That might be the place to start. Many wives shut down when touched if they feel like it’s all a game to get to the real deal of intercourse.

      I don’t know enough in your scenario, but I think you’ve expressed your own desires well enough. Maybe you need to explore further the deeper why of her refusals. It’s not “I need sleep,” but there is some reason she isn’t engaging. Pursue that answer and maybe you’ll find something you can work on. Blessings!

      1. To elaborate further, I’ve told her that its not just sex. Sorry I didn’t mention that in the reply. I just figured that since the original post was about sex that I would bring up that area.

        As for asking her for non-sexual physical touch, absolutely I’ve asked. For example, most of the time I’m the one who has to initiate something like a kiss, an surprise hug from behind, physical closeness like snuggling.

        It just feel extremely unbalanced in terms of languages because her primary language is words of affirmation, so I tell her constantly that I love her, I compliment her appearance, give her uplifting words when I know she’s had a rough day at work, etc.

        About the exploring the why of the refusal, I’ve tried that but it didn’t give any results.

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