I’ve been the higher desire spouse in my marriage for a few years, but in the last few weeks, my sexual interest has dissipated like mist. I know the reasons why—mainly stress and shoulder/neck pain—but it’s still thrown me off to be back in whatever territory.
This morning, I was considering how many days it had been since my husband and I shared physical intimacy, and the number was that gap that would normally have me heading toward serious craving. Instead, I was like, “Meh, I could take it or leave it.”
And mind you, I love sex. Like big, puffy heart with an arrow through it love it.
But what I’m going through now is what a fair number of spouses deal with regularly. For those with no drive and those trying to understand their spouse’s lack of drive, I thought I’d breakdown what it feels it like. And what each spouse can do to yet pursue mutually fulfilling sexual intimacy.
Just Not in the Mood
Hubby: Are you in the mood?
That’s how the conversation would go if my husband asked me about my interest in sex. At any given time, am I in the mood? No, I am not.
The physiological urge to engage in sex simply isn’t there. My body feels like it’s in neutral rather than the first, second, and upper gears I used to feel. That feeling—or lack of it—is also separate from another question my husband could ask:
Hubby: Don’t you want to be close to me?
But with my stress, fatigue, and pain (for which I’m in physical therapy), my preference would be snuggling on the couch or getting a much-needed back rub. Maybe a walk holding hands or dinner out. Sleeping cuddled up beside him. Those all sound great.
Not being in the mood for sex does not currently correlate with my desire for connection with my husband.
Getting in the Mood
Whether you’re the lower or higher desire spouse, I believe in the importance of getting in the mood—that is, preparing your mind, body, and heart for physical intimacy with your beloved. I wrote a chapter about it in Hot, Holy, and Humorous: Sex in Marriage by God’s Design. Our Sex Chat for Christian Wives podcast has two episodes on this topic, along with a (fantastic and low-priced) webinar titled Getting in the Mood. And Chris Taylor and I did a webinar (also fantastic and low-priced) for Knowing Her Sexually on Helping Your Wife Want to Have Sex.
But here’s the reality: It’s possible to do many of those preparation techniques and still not have an urgent desire for sex. A lower desire spouse may not get to the point of feeling like having sex even moments before intimacy unfolds.
We may have to adjust our expectations. All those lead-ups matter and can make everything go more smoothly, but if we’re expecting to get all the feels before the kissing or touching begins, we may miss out on the most important part of getting in the mood.
A Shift in Sexpectations
Perhaps the most important part of getting in the mood is…getting to it. In recent years, sexperts have talked a lot about why “in the mood” isn’t the right phrasing for a lot of folks. We had previously built expectations based on those with spontaneous desire, aka initiators, pursuers, or higher desire spouses.
Here’s a typical version of that progression:
But for a those with responsive desire, aka receptive spouses, responders, or lower desire spouses, desire may not precede arousal. Instead, their progression looks more like this:
If a spouse, or both spouses, spend a lot of effort trying to get a receptive spouse to feel desire ahead of time, they may both be disappointed. Rather, knowing this is how some spouses work—and that this progression is just as legitimate—we can take the pressure off and just decide to give it a go.
So, my husband and I might have this conversation:
Hubby: Are you in the mood?
Wife: Nope. But I’m open to seeing if you can get me in the mood.
With that attitude, sex is more likely to happen. But if after a while of arousal, a spouse still isn’t feelin’ it, it should be okay to say, “I’m sorry, but can we try again later? I want to be into this, and my body isn’t cooperating right now.”
Good Sex Begets Good Sex
Originally, I titled this section “Sex Begets Sex,” in the way that sleep experts tell us that getting enough sleep overall can help us fall asleep better at bedtime. But that’s not right. Because the sex has to be good sex for a lower desire spouse to want to repeat it.
Many no-drive spouses have reasons they’re avoiding sex, and having more sex can yield more tension. If there are underlying reasons why someone isn’t just in neutral gear but in park or reverse, those should be addressed before moving forward.
In my case, however, our marriage has involved a lot of good sex. I recognize that if I engage, it will feel good. I just don’t feel like engaging right now. It’s like having memories of getting together with friends or visiting your favorite tourist spot and wanting to do that again sometime, but not today. Maybe tomorrow, or the next day.
But if I roll with that feeling and keep putting off sex, the memories of our delicious intimacy fade even further into the background, and I forget a bit more what great sex does for me, for my husband, and for our marriage.
Sex can be seen as exercise for your marriage—something you can say no to at times because today is not the day, but something you don’t want to put off for too long or it’s difficult to get back on track. Having good sex makes you remember why having good sex matters.What It Feels Like to Have No Sex Drive: "Having good sex makes you remember why having good sex matters." #marriage #Christiansex @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet
More Ways to Stay on Track
Because I believe that sexual intimacy is an important part of a thriving marriage, I want to keep having it with my husband. Even if I don’t feel some independent urge to rip off all his clothes and have my way with him.
That’s why I’m returning to some of the advice I and others have given to couples with a sex drive mismatch. Here’s a quick breakdown of some of those ideas.
Feeling sensual can lead to feeling sexual, and both spouses can help the responder look for ways to cultivate sensuality. From bubble baths to massages to special scents to dancing, we can look for ways to awaken love through our five senses.
Some balk about putting sex on the calendar, but it can be helpful for both spouses to know it’s coming. The initiator can stop worrying about how long until the next time, and the receptive spouse can prepare for that special time as needed. I also love how Matt and Jen of Intimate Covenant have answered the charge that scheduling sex makes it boring: “Don’t schedule boring sex!” Exactly. Treat this like a date you both can’t want to go on.
In marriage, that sexual response cycle shouldn’t start with desire or decision and end with resolution. Rather, when sex is seen properly as a physical manifestation and nurturer of relational intimacy, interest is being stirred throughout the day. Small touches, sweet words, kind gestures, and outright hubba-hubba moments create an atmosphere that makes transitioning to sex much easier.
Make time and space to consider how good sex has felt before. What did you like about it? What positive result did it have for your relationship? What might you want to try again, or for the first time? Pull on past memories of pleasurable lovemaking to spur you on to the next encounter.
When a sexual interest mismatch occurs, both spouses tend to draw wrong conclusions about the other. The way through this is to simply communicate what’s going on, what might help your interest, and especially how much you love your spouse. So many pursuers would feel better if they simply heard that their mate desired them as much as ever but were just struggling with the physiological part, while so many responders would feel better if they simply heard that their mate loved them as much as ever apart from getting their next climax. In fact, such sentiments might increase interest and/or improve physical intimacy when it does happen.
Sex Is Not About Sex
Since my stress levels should decline and my neck/shoulder pain go away (dear God, please), I expect to be shifting back into gear soon. But many spouses have a longer season of disinterest or remain the lower desire partner throughout their marriage.
One of the best mindshifts we can make is to embrace that sex is not about sex. It’s not merely a physical act that gives us pleasurable sensations. It’s not about reaching orgasm this time or every time. Sex as God intended is about intimacy.
Reminding ourselves that sex both nurtures and expresses intimacy can help us tend to its flourishing, even when that can be a bit more challenging. And it can help us pursue other forms of intimacy when sex can’t or doesn’t happen as soon as we’d like.