Today’s question comes from a lower-drive husband (yes, there are many of them!). The husband started his email saying that his wife could have sex almost daily, while he’s fine with once a week or so. They’ve settled on 2-3 times a week, but their mismatch in drives still seems to be a point of contention.
Here’s his question for me:
I’ve been reading through all your posts about high-drive wives, trying to seriously take to heart any advice you have for husbands like myself. I am committed to trying to make things work ….
Your recommendations seem to be that the husband such as myself needs to see her needs and step up my game, and that the wife shouldn’t be ashamed of her desires and needs. Yes, I do see you talk about both spouses trying to meet the other where they are, and find a happy medium where both are satisfied, but that usually appears to be more in the context of significantly differing libidos like 4 times a year versus wanting sex every day. In our case, yes there’s a difference in drive, but it’s not that drastic, and we still have regular, not infrequent sex.
So I guess my question is this—from your perspective, am I in the wrong, or do we need to talk about the possibility of my wife lowering her expectations in regard to frequency? I just feel stuck.
Let’s start here with an important principle: Sex should be mutual in marriage. It should be mutually prioritized, mutually agreed upon, mutually pleasurable, and mutually satisfying. That’s how God designed it, and if any one of those is an issue, the couple should address it.
(If you want specific text proof, head over to 1 Corinthians 7:3-5, which I’ve cited numerous times. And that passage is less about rights than mutuality, by the way. Also, all of Song of Songs.)
But in practice, most marriages have one spouse who wants sex more than the other. Here, it’s a wife, which is more common than many think with 15-30% of marriages having a HD (higher drive) wife. Whoever is higher or lower, though, there will inevitably be times when one spouse wants sex and the other not as much. How do you negotiate that?
Let’s look at some commonly recommended options.
Never Say No?
This advice has been given to wives for I don’t know how long. But usually some well-meaning older lady tells a young fiancee or wife that to keep her husband happy, she should never say no to sex. Meaning whenever the HD spouse wants it—in this case, the man—they get it.
That could mean sex once a week. It could mean sex every day. But whatever the HD spouse desires, that’s what sets the pace of sexual frequency for the marriage.
This approach at least denies the legitimate reasons to say no to sex sometimes. If you don’t feel well, if you need to care for the children at that moment, if you simply can’t see straight because of how tired you are, it should be perfectly fine to take a rain check. Also, “I’d really rather try this tomorrow when I’m more refreshed” is a perfectly reasonable answer.
Saying otherwise makes it seem like one missed chance will sink the whole sex life. But our sexual intimacy is made up of numerous moments within marriage, and sometimes intimacy is even increased by a spouse understanding the other’s current reluctance and passing on a sexual encounter.
So yeah, you should be able to say no sometimes. That’s not depriving your spouse; it’s saying “not now.” Your feelings and desires matter too.
Only when you’re “in the mood”?
On the other hand, plenty say you should never be asked to participate in sex unless and until you are “in the mood.” If you don’t feel like it, you have carte blanche to wave it away without a worry. It’s your right to say no, and say no you will.
Take that viewpoint out of the sex arena for a moment and ask when this is ever a good idea. Your wife wants conversation, but you refuse to talk to her unless you feel the need yourself to discuss something. Your husband wants to save money for a trip, but you spend like a Kardashian until you suddenly feel like shoving a few dollars into the kitty. You both want to move to a house, but you don’t agree where, so you stay in your crappy apartment until one of you feels inspired to surrender. Does that sound like a good marriage?
Look, we do owe something to each other by virtue of saying “I do,” and that includes trying to meet one another’s emotional needs. Since sex is important not primarily as a physical release but as an emotional connection, it should be pursued regularly and generously.
Moreover, we should understand that “sex drive” sounds like your engine is revving before you put it into gear, but that’s not how libido works for many. Some have what has been phrased a “responsive” libido, meaning that you don’t get into it until you’re into it. That is, you can become aroused and enjoy lovemaking, but your desire begins with a decision to engage. Your sexual interest looks like this:
Which means you aren’t going to be “in the mood” until that second stage when your body awakens to arousal and begins to enjoy the experience. Once you know this about your desire, you might be willing to engage more than you originally thought.
Right Down the Middle?
Hopefully, we’ve established that it’s okay to say no, but it’s also good to say yes sometimes when you don’t think you’re in the mood, because you might get in the mood. But this husband asks specifically about frequency, and that’s an overall view of how much sex you should be having in your marriage.
Let’s say she wants sex four times a week, and he wants sex twice a week. Well, the obvious answer is to have sex three times a week, right? It’s a number right down the middle, so everyone should be reasonably happy. That’s a good solution, if you ask me (which you did).
But what if she wants sex four times a week, and he wants it once every three months? That’s a difference of 17 times versus 1, and the middle ground would be 9, or sex every 10 days. Do we think she’s going to feel satisfied with that? Do we even think sex every 10 days is enough in marriage?
Both the Bible and research would say no. To receive the intimacy and health benefits of sex, a couple should be engaging at least once a week.To receive the intimacy and health benefits of sex, a couple should be engaging at least once a week. #marriage @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet
Now in reality, if a spouse only wants sex once every three months, or even once a month, there’s an issue that needs to be addressed. That’s not typical or good for your marriage, and whatever obstacle is in the way of sexual desire or satisfaction needs to be tackled together.
But you can see how a strict middle-ground approach may not work for all couples either.
Who Gets to Decide?
Having covered some common advice on this topic, let’s get back to the question itself: “From your perspective, am I in the wrong, or do we need to talk about the possibility of my wife lowering her expectations in regard to frequency?” In this scenario, their difference is small, and they’re having regular sex, but she’s still pushing for more.
Should he come up to her expectations? Or should she lower them?
As the higher drive spouse in my marriage, I can honestly say that I’ve lowered my expectations. If I was completely in charge, we’d have sex more often than we do. But I’m not unsatisfied because we also have sex more than we would if my husband was entirely in charge.
Did we negotiate out a specific number of times? Nope. We just discussed what we each wanted, what saying yes or no means to us, and what challenges we had to engaging more frequently. It wasn’t a single conversation either, and I’m not going to pretend that each of those conversations was conflict-free. But we kept communicating, kept making love, kept working on our parts of the equation.
Indeed, our frequency went up a few months ago, and I mentioned to my husband that his sex drive had apparently increased. His response? “It hasn’t gone up. I’ve just been initiating more because I know what it means to you.” Swoon, right?
What Does Love Do?
When it comes to negotiating sex drive differences, ask this question: What does love do?When it comes to negotiating sex drive differences, ask this question: What does love do? @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet
And not love as in “ooh, I feel heat in my nether regions when you come near!” I’m talking about agape love as described in the Bible:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.1 Corinthians 13:4-7
What does that look like in practice when it comes to mismatched drives? Well, the HD spouse isn’t self-seeking their own perfect number of times to have sex, easily angered by missed opportunities, or keeping record of all the times they didn’t get any. Instead, they’re patient, kind, protective, hopeful, persevering.
Likewise, the LD spouse isn’t self-seeking their own perfect number of times to have sex, easily angered by their spouse’s higher drive, or dishonoring of their beloved’s emotional need. Instead, they’re kind, joyful, trusting, and hopeful.
Honestly, a lot of advice I’ve given to HD and LD spouses pressuring for what they want in marriage could be summed up like this: HDs, back off. LDs, step up. And that’s really what I’d say to this couple. Yeah, she should lower her expectations a little, especially since he’s stepped up more. Though it’s probably a topic that will continue to be discussed and negotiated through various seasons of their life.
But ultimately, my answer is a question: What does love do? Once you define that, you can figure out how to address the mismatched drives in your marriage.