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.
I’m not sure how many low-drive husbands read my blog, but I know quite a few high-drive wives read it. Sometimes they comment or email me about the issues in their marriage, and I personally lament how few resources there are for couples in this scenario.
Today it’s on my heart to write not to the high-drive wife (though I have done that and will continue to do so), but to the low-drive husband because that’s also a tough position to be in.
Dear Low-Drive Husband,
You live in a frustrating world. All around you, the message is that men want sex constantly, that their appetite for sex — particularly with the woman they love — is nearly unquenchable. It’s a message you grew up with, so much that it seems like masculinity itself is linked with a high sex drive.
And while you’ve got the equipment and it works, you’re just not that needy for sexual encounters with your wife. Sure, you like them. But on any given day, you’re not busting out of your pants zipper at the thought of sex, or even the thought of your sexy wife — as gorgeous as she is. And plenty of nights you long for sleep as much or more than you do sex.
Confessing this to other guys, however, might get your Man Card revoked. So you haven’t gone around asking how it’s going with others or seeking resources for your “issue.”
Even admitting it to your wife is difficult. Especially if your wife is high drive and wants sex more than you expected her to, or than you feel like. In fact, something about how much more she wants sex makes you feel like you don’t measure up.
As someone who has studied and written on married sexuality for almost seven years and hears from higher drives wives almost every week, let me see if I can explain a few things.
You’re all man.
Totally man. Completely, thoroughly M-A-N. A more passive sex drive doesn’t make you any less male. If you’ve got the package and you know how to use it, rest assured you’re good to go. God knows what He made, and he made you XY — man. In fact, this is a big factor in why your wife wants you so much. Because she’s very into you being different from her and how you fit together as male-female so perfectly.
Pay attention to these words from King David: “When the time drew near for David to die, he gave a charge to Solomon his son. ‘I am about to go the way of all the earth,’ he said. ‘So be strong, act like a man,…’” His next words were not, “And show off your sexual prowess, thus getting lots of high-fives in the men’s locker room.” Rather, David finished his instructions this way: “and observe what the Lord your God requires: Walk in obedience to him, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and regulations, as written in the Law of Moses.”
Also, consider what the Apostle Paul said: ” As for you, Titus, promote the kind of living that reflects wholesome teaching. Teach the older men to exercise self-control, to be worthy of respect, and to live wisely. They must have sound faith and be filled with love and patience” (Titus 2:1-2, NLT). These are pictures of biblical manhood.
You’re not alone.
You’re not the only one out there whose sex drive isn’t in high gear 24/7. You’re in the company of 15-30% of other husbands. Let me break that down for you. In terms of the U.S. population, that’s about 22 to 45 million men. If we’re talking world population, it’s 0.57 to 1.13 billion men. So while some may make you feel like a stranger in a strange land, you’re not.
While it seems risky, if not dangerous, to admit to another guy that you have a lagging sex drive, there are resources for you. Some have written about low-drive husbands, and you can also take many married sex articles, books, resources and just reverse things in your mind (if they say the wife is lower drive, but you are in your marriage, then pay more attention to the advice on that side).
That doesn’t always work, which is why I have a chapter in Hot, Holy, and Humorous: Sex in Marriage by God’s Design about higher-drive wives and the men who love them. And I’m also working on a whole book about higher-drive wives, mainly aimed at women but there will still be information for you.
You need to take action.
Dude, your wife is hurting. I hear from higher-drive wives all the time who question their desirability, their marriage relationship, and even their husband’s love, because they feel like the weird one whose husband doesn’t want them sexually. Even more importantly, God intended for you and your wife to have regular sexual intimacy in marriage.
You have a biblical obligation to engage in the marriage bed: “The husband should fulfill his wife’s sexual needs, and the wife should fulfill her husband’s needs” (1 Corinthians 3:5). Now that doesn’t mean that you should schlep to the bedroom with duty, duty, duty playing through your head. The second part of that verse, and so many other places in the Bible, show us sexual intimacy in marriage is for both spouses and should be pleasurable and connection-building.
Rather, this is a call to action. If you’re not currently fulfilling your wife’s sexual needs, you need to work on why and what to do about it. How can you create a situation in which you both desire sexual intimacy? I don’t know what your issues are, but I’ll throw out a few possibilities:
Your body chemistry is off
You had/have a porn habit
You have sexual baggage
You were taught that sex = sin
You’re not attracted to your wife (see note below)
You have self-doubts
You’re just a passive guy
This is a really long letter now, playing right into the stereotype of the talkative female (which I totally am). So I’m going to hold off on explaining each of those issues and some fixes until next week. But it’s my prayer that you will find something here to take steps in the right direction. You might need to see a doctor, seek help to deal with your porn problem, study more about what the Bible says about sex, etc.
And if your wife shared this blog post with you, maybe it’s time to take a walk together hand-in-hand or sit across the kitchen table and have an honest conversation about sex in your marriage.
Because she wants you — all of you. And I suspect, once you work out a few things, you want her a great deal too.
Note on“not attracted to your wife”:High-drive wives will likely read that as physical appearance, but men tell me it’s almost always things like feeling disrespected or ignored that makes her less appealing to him. You, dear woman, are beautiful, but relationship issues can tense men to the point that they don’t feel as drawn to their wives. I’ll cover that more next week, but I really didn’t want to leave the wrong impression!
Those of you who read my blog often know that I have a tender spot for higher-drive wives. They aren’t the majority of wives, but rather represent 15-30% of marriages. However, that’s still millions of women! And unfortunately, a lot of marriage resources presume a higher-drive husband and a lower-drive wife, leaving couples that don’t align with this expectation feeling like abnormalities or even freaks.
Today, as part of my Saturday prayer series, I want to offer a prayer for higher-drive wives to bring their concerns before God. Lower-drive wives, I promise to write a prayer for you as well soon.
It’s hard to have a higher libido than my husband. At times, I feel like I’m not good enough or that something is wrong with me.
When I undress, he doesn’t pause and gaze the way I wish he would. When I initiate, he sometimes postpones or even dismisses my advances. While I long to be sexually intimate with him more frequently, he doesn’t feel this burning desire to be with me. And while it leaves me physically feeling empty at times, more often my heart is wounded. I ache to have all the things You, Perfect Creator, designed sex in marriage to be — experiencing pleasure, deepening intimacy, and expressing covenant love.
Lord, lift me up into Your arms and comfort me. Give me Your eyes to see myself and my marriage as You see them. Help me to feel deep down that I am beautiful, worthy, desirable.
You, Lord, knit me together in my mother’s womb and created my inmost being, which includes a healthy sex drive. I will not denounce or discourage my higher libido, because You placed that in me and Your works are wonderful, including our sexuality (Psalm 139:13-14).
Likewise, help me to accept where my husband is with his sexuality. He is also Your creation. If there are obstacles keeping him from desiring and enjoying sex, please help me to support him in discovering and addressing those issues. Give me wise words and loving actions that unite us in facing our challenges together.
Take away the negative feelings I sometimes have toward him and replace them with Your view of this man, your son. Remind me of all the good in him and the love we share. Strengthen me to be his helper and partner, as you intended me to be (Genesis 2:18).
Soften my husband’s heart so that he can see my desire to support him, to grow closer, and to thrive in our marriage. Help him to overcome his own insecurities about having a lower drive and to pursue a better sex life for both of us and our marriage.
Help me to always communicate that my husband is all man to me — the man I love — and that his sex drive is only one part of him. But let him also see that sexual intimacy is a blessing You want us to have in our marriage, regularly and enthusiastically.
Awaken our physical love for one another and show us both how to drink not only to end our thirst, but to be intoxicated with love (Song of Songs 8:4, 5:1).
Lord, sometimes I don’t initiate well and my frustration can come through in my tone or my facial expressions. Calm my heart, give me Your joy and peace, and grant me the right words to invite him to our marriage bed (see Song of Songs 7:11-13). And in those moments, Father, I ask that you awaken his physical desire for sexual intimacy.
When sex doesn’t happen, keep me from storing up resentment in my heart. For I know that godly love keeps no record of wrongs (1 Corinthians 13:4-5). Instead, help me to trust, hope, and persevere in pursuing the best for my marriage (1 Corinthians 13:7).
Keep me from making comparisons and thus coveting what others have (Exodus 20:7). It’s hard when wives around me talk about their husbands desiring sex more often than they do, when my own husband doesn’t seem to have this strong desire. But You, my God, know the state of my marriage, the secrets of our hearts, the hope of our future. Calm my anxious thoughts and help me to respond in ways that aid marriages, including my own.
Surround me with the support I need — the right resources, the encouragement of others, the wisdom of mentors. Speak through them to me, so that I know what steps to take and remain on the right path.
Lord, above all, bring to mind how Your own son Jesus knew rejection, even from those closest to Him. Yet He always pursued Your truth and your glory, and never His own selfish aims or insecurities. My husband is not rejecting me as the Messiah was rejected, but his actions have brought me emotional pain. Let my response be Christ-like. Mold me into His image.
When I waver in my resolve, in my positive outlook, wrap your arms around me tighter, dear Father.
In my graduate counseling program, I took a class about diagnosing and treating various psychological disorders. When we reached the section on eating disorders, I distinctly recall the professor saying something like, “You cannot put bulimics and anorexics in the same support group. To the bulimics, the anorexics are successful weight-losers, so they end up feeling worse and more compelled to starve themselves.”
Now my actual experience in working with eating disorder clients is zero. So I cannot attest personally to that wisdom, but it made some sense to me that there are just some groups you don’t want to put together. It’s too tempting to make comparisons, feel worse about yourself and your situation, and draw conclusions that harm you more in the long run.
This is how I sometimes feel about high-drive wives and high-drive husbands reading each other’s comments on my blog.
I can’t tell you how many times a higher-drive wife has said something like, “It’s so discouraging to read about all those husbands who are eager to have sex in their marriage when I can’t get my husband interested in me.” And the same from higher-drive husbands too.
Faced with comments from high-drive spouses of the other gender, when you’re struggling with your own low-drive spouse, it can be easy then to do one or more of the following:
Feel even worse about your circumstances
Believe your spouse doesn’t really love you
Push your spouse even harder to meet your sexual needs
Imagine there’s something seriously wrong with you or your spouse
Fantasize about being with someone whose libido matches yours
Throw up your hands and give up
Not a single one of those options is a positive development for your marriage, but I understand why you might go there. It’s tough to be struggling and see that others have it not only easier, but seemingly really easy.
What can you do when you read comments like those? How can you avoid having a swarm of negative emotions rise to the surface? Let’s talk about some options.
1. Recognize it’s just one area of life. Obviously, I believe it’s an important area of marriage, or I wouldn’t spend most of my time here writing about sexual intimacy. However, sex isn’t the only kind of marital intimacy. And marriage isn’t the only thing going on in your life either. I know couples with great marriages who’ve dealt with ongoing stress and emotional pain from caring for a disabled family member, grieving the loss of a child, facing financial hardship, and much more.
When you’re struggling in an area where someone else seems to be doing well, it can appear that everything is unicorns and rainbows in their world while you’re living through a personal apocalypse. That’s just not true. Everyone has problems, and you don’t always know what challenges someone else is facing in their life.
2. Be grateful for what you have. This is the flip side of encouraging you to not focus all the time on what you don’t have. Rather, seek out and positively reinforce the good happening in your life and your marriage. Very few things are all bad or all good; rather, we have helpings of both. Look for what’s working and celebrate that.
Indeed, by focusing on the good in your spouse and your relationship, you might encourage an atmosphere in which you can start dealing with your challenges in sexual intimacy. We all tend to be more successful working problems from a place of strength and encouragement. And if after searching and searching, you can’t find anything in your marriage to be grateful for, then it’s time to go talk to a Christian counselor.
3. Pay more attention to the low-drive comments. If you’re a higher-drive wife wanting to get a husband on board with more sexual intimacy, what you need are ideas of how you can reach out to a lower-drive spouse. Focus in on what low-drive spouses say about why they don’t want sex as much. Could some of those issues be present in your marriage? How could you address them?
Recalling the testimonies I’ve heard, I can’t think of a single marriage bed that improved without one spouse making an effort to understand where the other one is coming from. What often happened is one spouse went first in becoming more sympathetic, and the other followed. Read the other side for low-drive spouses and start building your sympathy for what your own spouse is going through. Develop a better understanding of what’s happening so you can address the issues.
4. Stop reading comments. If you know that reading the comment section is going to sink your heart and make you feel worse about your marriage, why do you do it? You could do other things with your time, like read other informative blogs or marriage books or take a walk or go sit with your husband and watch a show.
I know you’re desperately looking for answers. I want so much to give you help and hope, but if you’re not getting it here in the comments section, or even in my posts, maybe you need to try something else. Blogs are one part of marriage ministry, but there are many other resources and maybe something else would work better for you. (Also see Should You Be Reading My Blog?)
One final note to high-drive husbands. I want to address something I’ve seen ongoing on my blog and Facebook page, when high-drive husbands say something like, “I can’t imagine a man not wanting sex as much or more than his wife” or “If your husband doesn’t want sex, something’s wrong with him.” I know you’re speaking from experience and trying to help, but it’s really not helping higher-drive wives and lower-drive husbands.
I rarely hear from low-drive husbands, because what guy is going to risk having his Man Card taken by confessing that he doesn’t have a high libido? Too many men are not getting help and addressing a mismatch of sex drives in their marriage because they are embarrassed to speak up.
The truth is that in the majority of marriages, the husband is indeed the higher-drive spouse, but a substantial minority of marriages, estimated at 15-30%, have higher-drive wives. That’s millions of men whose wives want more sex than they do. So please don’t treat it like it’s a rare disorder or a lack of masculinity, because it just isn’t. Thank you.
Remember that we all see our world from our own lens. Let’s get rid of the smudges of comparison on our lenses and look at our own marriages clearly, positively, and hopefully. As Theodore Roosevelt or Dwight Edwards (depends on who you ask) said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” In turn, I believe hope is a bringer of joy. Focus on hope.