Today’s post is aimed at higher drive spouses—wives and husbands—who feel frustrated by the gap in sexual interest.
If you’re the lower drive spouse, you may appreciate this post and want to share it with your higher drive mate. If you’re the higher drive spouse, but you’re not frustrated, you may still like this tip. And if you’re equally matched, my advice here will also serve you during the busy seasons of your lives.
But assuming a higher drive spouse and a willing but less interested mate, let’s get on with it.
How Often Do You Initiate?
What percentage of sex initiation attempts in your marriage come from you?
That’s the question I recently asked of my higher drive wife community, but I also answered it for myself—80%.
Yep. In my marriage, I’d guess 4 out of 5 times someone suggests a sexual encounter, that someone is me. One to 3 of those 4 times, I get a favorable answer. One to 3 of those times, I get a pass. But most of Spock’s passes come with rain checks, so I certainly don’t feel deprived.
In fact, by happenstance, I made a discovery about initiating that has made the current libido gap between my husband and me much less distressing. I flipped the switch from initiation to availability.
Initiation and Hope Deferred
Initiation simply means getting something started. That can happen in all kinds of ways—some obvious, some less so. But at some point, there’s a word, a look, an action that indicates one spouse wants to make love.
The bid for sexual attention is made, and the other spouse must decide whether to match that bid and go for it.
As the higher drive spouse, you may already start from the perspective of not initiating every single time you’d like to have sex. Or you may go ahead and give it a shot each time, figuring you definitely won’t get a yes if you don’t even ask.
Regardless, if you’re frustrated about the frequency of sex in your marriage, you likely initiate, get turned down, and then feel hurt. Because somewhere between the ask and the no is hope — hope that this time, your beloved will say yes! And as the Bible so aptly tells us, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12).
What if you could feel hope without being hurt when it doesn’t work out the way you want?
Availability and Desire Fulfilled
Hailing back to my 4 out of 5 times that I initiate sex in my marriage, 2 of those are straightforward initiation. I say what I want, he can say yes or “another time.”
But the other 2 times—half of the time, that is—I just make myself available. No strings, no expectations. Hope, yes. But without real initiation, I’m not caught up as much in the outcome. I haven’t really put out a bid.
It’s the difference, I suppose, between saying, “Hey, if you want to play a board game, I’m up for it,” and saying, “Let’s play a board game!” while you’re setting up game pieces on the kitchen table. If your potential partner says no, in which version have you invested more and will thus feel more hurt?
“I’m Available” Statements
If you go this route, you can’t be ambiguous. You have to be explicit that you are available for sex from X time to Y time. But don’t wait around. If your spouse doesn’t jump on the notion right away, go busy yourself with other stuff. You’ve made it clear, they know the deal, and they can take you up on it or not.
What does that explicit statement look like? Here are a few ideas:
“I’m headed to bed. I’d love for you to come join me so we could have some intimate time before I fall asleep.”
“If you want, I can give you a massage. If that sounds good to you, take off your clothes and lie down.”
“Just so you know, I’m feeling particularly interested in sex tonight. If you’re up for it, let me know.”
As you’re headed out for work or elsewhere: “It’s been a while, so sex today would be great. Text me if you’re interested.”
In all of these cases, you’re making it clear what you want, but you’re not setting an expectation that it will happen.
Paradoxically, some lower drive spouses are more willing to say yes to an if you wanna invitation than a let’s do it suggestion. It’s a softer startup and feels less insistent.
That’s what’s actually happened in my own marriage. Perhaps it was that my tone and facial expression were less tense, which made the prospect of sex even more appealing to my husband. I’m not sure. I just know that since flipping this switch, I’ve felt less tense, more accepted, and happier with our sex life.
Have you tried availability instead of direct initiation. If so, how has that gone? If not, could flipping this switch help?
Earlier this week, I shared responses from higher-drive wives asked what they feel about the lack of frequency and/or quality of sex in their marriage. Today, I want to share their responses to a different question.
From a research standpoint, these answers aren’t as useful, because they involve conjecture. While we can express what we’re feeling, it’s more difficult to know what someone else is feeling — unless they tell you.
Even so, the responses are eye-opening and likely accurate. They represent what I’ve researched and heard from sexually disinterested spouses.
Take the vow
Once again, let’s make a promise that:
I will not use this post to feed my resentment or anger, but rather to grieve through my own situation and sympathize with others. Moreover, I will not use this post to challenge or berate my spouse.
I’m sharing all this, in hopes that we will recognize how a big gap in sex drive can take an emotional toll on both the higher drive spouse and the sexually disinterested spouse. Indeed, a mismatch in drives is the #1 sexual problem reported by couples.
That gap isn’t a problem if you can negotiate the differences, use the opportunity to display empathy and generosity toward one another, and pursue regular sexual intimacy for your marriage. It may be that one of you gets less than their ideal and the other participates more than their ideal, but couples who’ve worked through the mismatch report overall satisfaction with their sex life.
Where it becomes a problem is when the gap is enough that one feels deprived and the other feels pressured or inadequate, two words that show up in the 45 emotions my respondents named.
Without further ado…
Here’s the list
Question: What primary emotion do you believe your HUSBAND feels knowing that you want higher frequency/quality of sex than he is currently giving?
Failure (like a failure)
Tainted (by porn use)
By and large, the most common statement from these higher drives wives was something like “he feels like less of a man.” The emotion named was emasculated. (See A Letter to the Low Drive Husband.)
That’s not what you’d hear about sexually disinterested wives, but the other emotions listed above apply — like burdened, obligated, resentful, and sad.
But aren’t sexually disinterested spouses obligated?
Sometimes a husband or wife (usually husband) writes me with the request that I demand their spouse have sex with them. Because after all, “they’re commanded to do so in 1 Corinthians 7:3-5.” I then point out that this passage is about mutuality not selfishness, that their situation is not easy on their spouse either (see emotions list!), and that you get a lot more lovin’ when you approach your spouse with love! Agape love specifically.
We need to put ourselves in the other’s shoes and imagine the situation from that angle.
What if having sex made you feel desirable and cherished, but your spouse refused to have it with you?
What if you received little pleasure from sex, but your spouse demanded it regularly?
What if you became moody and sad during sexual dry spells in your marriage?
What if your spouse seemed to only meet your emotional needs when they wanted sex?
What if you felt your spouse’s lack of desire indicated that you were “less than” —less than attractive, less than worthy, less than loved?
What if you didn’t want sex because of your bad past experiences, but you didn’t know how to tell your spouse?
I don’t know your marriage’s “what if,” but all too often we don’t know for our marriage. We haven’t asked how our spouse feels about the situation. Or we asked, got a shallow answer, and stopped pursuing more. Or we got an answer but didn’t like the answer or didn’t let sink in and elicit empathy.
What’s the solution?
Here’s where my SEO and book sales would go up if I said: YOU CAN SOLVE THE SEXUAL DESIRE GAP IN YOUR MARRIAGE WITH THESE 5 EASY STEPS! And then I outlined the steps and made them sound quick and doable like a Lose 10 Pounds in 10 Days commercial. Fortunately — or unfortunately for my pocketbook — I’m much more interested in telling you the truth.
The truth is that the solution depends on:
Your specific situation
Is the sexual disinterest due to relational problems? Medical issues? Past abuse? Something else? Is the HD spouse reasonable in their expectations? Pressuring for unwanted activities? Using porn? Something else?
The specifics of why there’s such a big gap matter. A proper diagnosis is needed for proper treatment.
Your and your spouse’s willingness
One spouse can have great influence and encouragement for a marriage to get on track. But eventually, you both have to be willing to work on your sexual intimacy.
You simply cannot make your spouse do something they don’t want to do. (If you do, that’s called abuse, by the way.) That said, you making changes could push things in the right direction.
With the foundation of the Word of God and the truths about sex as God intended it, however, you can begin to see what a loving response would be to your particular situation. Moreover, you’ll know what you’re aiming for and the benefits of having that level of intimacy with your spouse.
Access to necessary or useful resources can make a big difference. For instance, if a sexually disinterested spouse experienced childhood abuse, being able to see a trauma counselor could be the most important piece for building fresh intimacy. Likewise for porn recovery programs, Christian counseling or sex therapy, or a medical specialist to address physical issues.
Regardless, the first step is talking to your spouse about the gap in sexual desire. For those who say they’ve talked about it a whole lot already, I suggest you clear the air and start over. That is, tell your spouse you know it’s been a point of contention and the topic makes both of you tense, but you want to start over and really understand their viewpoint better.
Now that I think about it, maybe your first step should be prayer, followed by opening up that conversation. As I write this, I’m saying a prayer for you — that you can address the big gap in desire in marriage, listen and show empathy, and figure out what the next step should be.
And I pray that that many more couples will begin to describe their sexual gap with emotions like optimistic, hopeful, contented, and loved.
As the sexually disinterested spouse, did you relate to any of this list of emotions? If you’re the higher drive spouse, did any of those emotions surprise you?
The 111 answers I received reveal a lot about how a spouse regularly rejected in marriage feels.
Of course we’re not talking about the occasional no or not-now answers that are entirely reasonable within the course of a marriage! Rather, these are emotions experienced by spouses who see a pattern of sexual refusal or disinterest from their spouse.
Instead of writing a lot about their responses, I simply want to share the list of emotions, in hopes that:
Frustrated, higher drive spouses will recognize they are not alone.
Refusing or gatekeeping spouses (not just lower drive, which is normal) can see how emotional sex is for the HD spouse.
One caveat, though: We higher drive spouses will now raise our hands and promise the following:
I will not use this post to feed my resentment or anger, but rather to grieve through my own situation and sympathize with others. Moreover, I will not use this post to challenge or berate my spouse for not giving me sex.
Later this week, I will share what those same HD wives believe their LD husbands feel about their situation. Because a big gap in sex drives affects both spouses emotionally. And it’s important to also consider the feelings our spouse is experiencing.
Question: What primary emotion do you feel as a result of not getting the frequency and/or quality of sex you desire in your marriage?
Jealous (of others)
Don’t Give Up
Those are heavy words to process. But I want to leave off with the encouragement that many couples who’ve been in this place found their way up and out. We hear success stories in that higher drive wife group too, as sexual intimacy in marriages begins to improve with love, intentionality, prayer, and perseverance. The road isn’t always easy, but it’s a path worth taking.
As the higher drive spouse, do you relate to any of these emotions? If you’ve been a reluctant sexual partner in your marriage, did any of these emotions surprise you?
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.
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?
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.
Once again, I’m sharing a few other places where you can find me sharing about God’s design for sex in marriage! I hope you’ll check these out.
Sex Chat for Christian Wives
On our latest podcast episode on Sex Chat for Christian Wives, we discussed female sexual health. Yep, that’s right—we gals need to take care of the lady bits, and we candidly talk about why and how.
Click below to listen and see show notes too!
To Love Honor and Vacuum
A little while back, Sheila Wray Gregoire contacted me and several other female marriage bloggers about putting together a collaborative post on what male teachers about sex need to know—as in things that often aren’t covered as well as they should be. I jumped at the chance to include my thoughts on higher drive wives.
Click below to read the post that appeared last week!
This one is not new, but I’ve been trying to catch up and clear out my email inbox and came across this link again. And you know what? Regardless of anything else that ever happens or doesn’t happen in my life, I can always say that I was quoted in Rolling Stone! Not on my thoughts on rock-and-roll, though I suppose one could refer to sex as rocking and rolling. 😉
May your weekend be extra hot, holy & humorous! Thanks for reading and subscribing.