Tag Archives: sexless marriage

Is the Church Failing Sexless Marriages?

After writing what turned out to be a controversial post on faith and sexless marriage, I spent a lot of this weekend thinking about my next Q&A post, which I would like to be about practical steps you can take to address a sexless marriage.

In preparation, I Googled that subject and found various posts on the matter of sexual refusal as a sin (which yes, I believe it is). Many of them were posts written by fellow marriage bloggers I’d already read, but there were some additions.

Here’s what stopped me short, though: In pages and pages of my search, I found almost no posts or articles written by pastors or biblical scholars on sexual refusal in marriage.

How is that possible – I thought – when I know that it’s an ongoing issue for too many in the Church?

Blog post title + two pairs of feet in bed turned away from each other

Most of the posts I did find suggested the prescription of addressing your spouse’s sinfulness according to Matthew 18:15-17. The steps as described are:

  • Speak directly to the person who has sinned against you (your spouse)
  • If they won’t listen, take one or two others along as witnesses (being careful whom you choose)
  • If they still won’t listen, bring the matter to the attention of the church (not really the whole, but church leaders)
  • If they still refuse to listen, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector (remembering that Jesus treated pagans and tax collectors as outsiders but not enemies)

And I agree with all of that. It’s in the Bible! Spoken by Jesus! How could I not?

But here’s where the prescription, sadly, seems to break down in real life: How do I tell those in you in sexless marriages to go to your church for help with this issue, when I know full well that many of you will find precious little support there?

I’ve had spouses write and tell me that the Christian counselor they went to see brushed off the total lack of sex in their marriage, choosing instead to concentrate solely on communication issues or even saying that sex wasn’t that big a deal. I’ve had spouses tell me that they’ve begged their minister to preach or teach about sex in marriage, including the need to address sexual refusal, and they get waved off. I’ve had spouses tell me that they’ve approached church leaders and explained the heartache they’ve experience in their marriage, only to be told to suck it up, pray harder, and love their spouse more.

Poet Robert Frost famously said, “I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.” And that is how I feel about the Church. My community of believers has been an anchor for me in many of life’s storms, and they feel like family in so many ways. I love the Body of Christ.

But I also get frustrated with our shortcomings, especially in the arena of sex in marriage.

I get frustrated with our shortcomings, especially in the arena of sex in marriage. Click To Tweet

These sad, true stories above have been told to me both through my ministry here and personally. Moreover, my Google search on the subject demonstrates how silent the Church as a whole is on this topic. So where are the ministers and church leaders willing to speak boldly for the sake of all kinds of intimacy in marriage, including the physical intimacy God clearly wants spouses to have?

I know they’re out there. But their numbers aren’t large enough yet. We still have work to do in the Church.

Look, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with Jesus’ prescription for dealing with sin. Our Lord knows what He’s talking about! It’s a beautiful process done well and has turned back many hearts to God.

And if your spouse’s sin was adultery, I suspect the vast majority of you would receive compassion and support from those in your local church. But what if your spouse’s sin is the unfaithfulness of refusing you for years and years? What if they have cut off the physical intimacy entirely in your marriage and won’t even talk about it? What if your heart is a gaping wound in your chest that just happens to involve your private parts as well? Will you get the support you should get?

I want to say yes. I soooo want to say yes.

Because I love the Body of Christ.

Yet I’m a realist, and I know that too many churches, too many Christians, have failed in this area. We have left a large segment of emotionally pained spouses with nowhere to go.

We can’t accept that status quo. Something has to change.

So today, I’m just throwing this out there and asking my readers to answer any of the following:

  1. Have you personally experienced a church leader or counselor brushing off your concerns about a sexless marriage? If so, would you calmly share what happened? (Note: I don’t think berating individuals will help and just adds our own sin to the mix.)
  2. Has your church taught or preached on sex in marriage? If so, was sexual refusal included in the message?
  3. Have you helped someone in your church address a sexless marriage? What did you do, and was it (in any way) successful?
  4. If you’re a pastor or church leader, why has it been difficult for you or others to address the issue of sex in marriage head-on?
  5. What do you think needs to happen to make the Church more willing, competent, and compassionate in dealing with sex in marriage?

Where this goes, I don’t know. But it’s past time we talked more positively about healthy and holy sex in marriage and more honestly about all the sexual sins that can entrap us and damage the intimacy of our marriages.

And I want to be a part of the conversation that changes our churches for the better.

Q&A with J: “My Sexless Marriage Is Making Me Lose My Faith in God”

Today isn’t one reader’s specific question, but rather a topic that comes up from time to time among people who comment here or email me. Below is a fictional, composite version of the query:

Sex has always been in an issue in my marriage, with my spouse rarely if ever wanting to make love in our 25 years of marriage. For the last eight, I’ve been in a sexless marriage, and when I try to talk to him/her about it, s/he just says that s/he doesn’t need it. I’ve done my part around the house, taken care of the kids, regularly compliment him/her, and try to woo my spouse as much as possible, but apparently my needs mean nothing compared to his/hers. We tried counseling, but he/she quit going after two sessions.

I’ve prayed and prayed and prayed about this for years, but nothing has changed. So that’s it. I’m done with church and with God. And if things done change in the next few months, I’m done with my marriage too. I wish I’d left sooner. I’ve wasted all these years with a woman and a God — if He even exists — who don’t give a flip about me.

Where’s the question in there?

  • Is there a god?
  • If there is a god, why doesn’t He intervene?
  • How can I believe in a god who’d let me suffer so much in my marriage?

Blog post title + man sitting in pew, from behind

I’ve long believed the theological question Why do bad things happen to good people? is usually Why do bad things happen to me? Or a close loved one. Because our life experiences impact how we view the existence and goodness of God.

A sex-conflicted marriage, especially a sexless marriage, is such an emotionally painful experience that it feels cruel to be made to endure it. Especially when you’ve done everything you can think of to be loving, to be faithful, to cry out to God for deliverance. When nothing changes — or gets worse — your core belief in God can be shaken. Your faith falters.

Let me first assure you that I’ve been there. I was raised in the church, a preacher’s daughter, but I faced a faith crisis in my early 20s. Did God exist, or was religion simply wishful thinking? After much study and reflection, I decided that yeah, there was something.

But I didn’t immediately rush back to Christianity. Instead, I studied different versions of god professed across history and cultures. It was a slow walk back to God and then to Christ. So I recognize what it feels like to doubt, to question, to even shove off what you previously thought was true and suspect it’s not truth after all. Questioning your faith doesn’t make you a bad person. It puts you in the company of many Christians across ages who long for “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1).

But let me address the questions you have with real answers.

Yes, God is there.

It’s hard to feel like God is there with you in your pain. Although He’s omnipresent, He’s also invisible to us. You can’t slide over on the couch and say, “Have a seat, God. Let’s talk face-to-face about my problems.” While some Christians say they always feel God’s presence, many of us don’t. Plenty of us reach out to God and end up identifying with these poignant lyrics from BarlowGirl in “Never Alone”:

I waited for you today
But you didn’t show, no no no
I needed you today
So where did you go?
You told me to call
Said you’d be there
And though I haven’t seen you
Are you still there?

I cried out with no reply
And I can’t feel you by my side…

When you’re still in the pit, when your pain is deep, when you can’t feel Him there…how do you believe that He is?

The truth is, I can see God’s presence in my life more clearly when I look back on things than when I’m in the moment. But more importantly, a lot of whether I felt God there depended on how much I truly invited Him in. Did I want God to just come fix things? Or did I want God to use that experience to draw me closer into a relationship with Him?

Isaiah 43:2 is the verse I lean on, over and over in my life:

When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.

The Bible tells us repeatedly in one way or another that this life will suck. Not every moment or every day, of course, but there’s a substantial amount of suckage involved in taking the journey through human existence. God doesn’t promise to take away those times when we have to “pass through the waters” and “walk through the fire.” But our Lord says, “I will be with you,” and He will get us through those tough times if we recognize Him, invite Him in, and lean on Him.

That’s why the chorus of “Never Alone” ends with:

So I’ll hold tight to what I know
You’re here, and I’m never alone.

But free will means others can hurt you.

You know how much you want your spouse to express their love through sexual intimacy? God recognizes the same thing: Love and goodness shouldn’t be coerced. In the Genesis 2 account of Adam and Eve, God’s first words to Adam are, “You are free…” God then describes that Adam can eat from any tree in the garden he wants, but it would be super-bad idea to eat the fruit of one particular tree.

Of course, we all know how the story turns out. Adam and Eve sin — and we all would have done the same if we’d been in the Garden of Eden ourselves. Likewise, we mess up a lot in our own lives, free to make choices that hurt us and others around us. You have that right from God … and so does your spouse.

That’s why I’ve said about a hundred times on my blog that the only one you can change in your marriage is you. Don’t get me wrong: You have influence. You can clam up or communicate. You can enable or set boundaries. You can seethe in anger or reach out in kindness. But you can’t make your spouse want to have sex with you. And if you think God enforced it, you’re asking Him to take away your spouse’s free will. Which, it seems biblically clear to me, He won’t do.

And you might not be as good a spouse as you think.

Judging your own performance as a spouse, you might come out looking like a Grand Champion. You certainly feel like you’ve done everything a loving mate would do, and yet it’s made no difference whatsoever.

But what if you’re doing the wrong things? For instance, you might not be speaking your spouse’s love language. Perhaps you’re performing many acts of service, when your spouse wishes you’d put down the tools or the fry-pan and spend time with them.

You could be misconstruing the underlying problem that keeps your mate from jumping into bed with you. Maybe you’re trying to make the case for why sex is important in marriage, but your spouse has real physiological obstacles or sexual baggage that make her view sex as untenable.

Or you might just be in a pain in the patootie about the whole issue: You think you’re being reasonable and persuasive, but you come across as nagging and demanding. Your unpleasantness in this specific area might make it not so much fun to live with you in general. Which means you lose your overall appeal, further making your case for “let’s have sex” a tough sell.

Look, I’ve been there, done that. So I know that it’s possible to believe you’re doing great when it doesn’t feel that way to your spouse. That’s why it’s important to ask your spouse how they think and feel, and then shut up and listen. We reveal ourselves to others when we feel safe and heard. So be a safe person for your spouse to communicate with, and recognize that it takes time to reach that point.

It comes down to this: “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” (1 John 4:12). You want to see God working? Let Him work through You to change how fully you love your spouse.

Finally, the blessing isn’t always obvious.

It seems fair for God to reward us in the area where we’ve been faithful. When we pray for our marriage, behave as a faithful spouse, and pursue righteous sexual intimacy within that covenant relationship, shouldn’t God show up? Where we are most hurting? Where we most welcome God’s divine intervention?

Galatians 6:7-10 says:

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

We will reap what we sow, but not always in the same season or the same field. Plus, our motives and perseverance matter.

Even if we are entirely faithful toward our spouse regarding sexuality, it’s possible we don’t reach the sexual intimacy that God ideally wants us to have. It’s not because He doesn’t care. He does, but see the free will point above.

But here’s the thing: As much as it stinks to wait and wait and wait, and to suffer through a sexless marriage, I don’t believe sex is better than Heaven. No one gets to Heaven having endured that kind of hardship while still being Christ-like to their spouse and says, “Man, if only I could go back and have an orgasm!”

It was pointed out to me in the comments that the refused spouse isn’t struggling with lack of orgasm but the emotional pain of rejection. Yes, that was an extremely poor word choice on my part — which doesn’t even reflect what I believe. As I’ve said many times, if it was just about the physical release, your spouse could get that without you. But sex has deeper meaning, and those in sexless marriages experience it as a rejection of their desirability, their identity, and their love. Ask a number of refused spouses how they feel, and you’ll hear the word lonely a lot. That is the heartbreak of a sexless marriage.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t do everything within your influence to address the sexlessness in your marriage. I say quite the opposite all over my blog. However, taking an eternal perspective, just because you can’t see the reward right now in the area where you most want it at this moment doesn’t mean God doesn’t have a very worthwhile reward for you.

Hebrews 11:6 puts it this way: “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

Sexual intimacy is important to your marriage. But not as important as your faith in God and our Savior Jesus Christ. I pray the Spirit will reveal to you how God is there in the midst of your pain, how you can continue to be faithful, and how you will be rewarded in due season … if you do not give up.

Can I plead with you to just sit down honestly with God and ask for His strength to keep your faith going? To speak to mature Christians who can answer your questions? To pursue fresh ideas and ways of dealing with the sexlessness in your marriage?

After a few complaints in the comments section, I want to clarify that I am NOT saying you shouldn’t use your influence to pursue sexual intimacy in your marriage, because you should. In other posts, I’ve spoken clearly about talking to your spouse, my belief that ongoing sexual refusal in marriage is a sin), and how just saying to pray for your marriage isn’t enough. I’ve addressed the issue of sexless in marriage, tried to explain how hurtful it is to the refused spouse, and explained that sex is 100% part of the marriage covenant. But none of that goes against my assertion in this post that God is not to blame for the emotional pain you’re going through, and in such troubled times, we should draw closer to Him, not further away. Please, if you are in a sexless marriage, keep pursuing righteous intimacy, but also pursue righteousness simply in your relationship with God. – added 10/13/17

I can’t say I know what’s it’s like to be you, but I know it’s tough. Please know that my prayers also go up that you will hold onto God and not lose your faith.

same pic as above, sized for Pinterest

Q&A with J: “Is It Okay Not to Have Sex in Marriage?”

Today’s question comes from an unmarried woman who’s considering marriage … and whether sex must be a part of that relationship.

Mainly my question is, is it ok to not have sex in a marriage? So if I don’t want to have sex, should I never get married? Because women around me are always saying how great sex is in marriage and what a blessing it is and I have come to despise that. I read Christian blogs on the topic and they say the same kind of stuff and how a wife shouldn’t deny her husband sex. What if the husband is ok with not having sex too? Is that possible? Because my boyfriend … says it’s ok to not and he’s ok with not and we can come pretty close to sex without actually having it. Is that alright? He has a medical condition as well “adrenal insufficiency” which most likely won’t allow him to have kids. I don’t know if that also affects his desire to have sex but if it does, maybe that’s why he’s ok with not.

… I don’t want to be with him and waste both of our time if he is super driven to have sex and I won’t give it to him. I didn’t want to go all the way to a month before marriage and realize we have such a big problem. But we seem to agree on it. We’re very careful and wanting to do the right thing with our future and I’m hoping you can help with these questions. I haven’t been able to find anything on “a fear of having sex” on the Internet so I am asking directly and personally now.

Couple lying back to backJust a note for the readers: In the full email, it was clear that her “boyfriend” is very close to being a fiancé.

Now to the question: Is it ok not to have sex in a marriage?

Well, what are the purposes of marriage? You can see a number of purposes for marriage in the Bible:

It appears that first one is off the table for you two, with his medical issues. But honestly, all of those other purposes should be present in a healthy, godly marriage.

And sex is involved in a lot of those other purposes as well. You need sex to procreate; sex promotes romantic love; sex deepens intimacy; and the sexual act itself reflects the unity God desires to have with us.

Sex is one of the characteristics that distinguishes the marriage relationship from all others. I can have a roommate with whom I form a partnership, and we can be friends and serve God together. But that isn’t a marriage. A friendship between man and woman becomes marriage when we link our lives and our bodies in a covenant relationship before God.

You simply can’t find me a marriage in the Bible that didn’t include sex. So if all biblical marriage relationships involved sex, maybe God is communicating something about its importance. After all, sex was His idea from the beginning:

Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said,

“This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man.”

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame (Genesis 2:22-25).

Why would God make sure there’s an entire book in the Bible devoted to romantic and sexual love? Song of Songs makes it clear that there’s barely a heartbeat between a husband and wife saying, “I love you,” and then desiring physical intimacy:

How handsome you are, my beloved! Oh, how charming! And our bed is verdant (Song of Songs 1:16).

My beloved has gone down to his garden, to the beds of spices, to browse in the gardens
and to gather lilies. I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine; he browses among the lilies.
 (Song of Songs 6:2-3). (Gardens/flowers in Song of Songs are euphemisms for a woman’s sexual organs.)

Come, my beloved, let us go to the countryside, let us spend the night in the villagesLet us go early to the vineyards to see if the vines have budded, if their blossoms have opened, and if the pomegranates are in bloom—there I will give you my love (Song of Songs 7:11-12).

God intended for married couples to experience sexual pleasure and intimacy. It’s in His Word, and I just don’t know how a couple can get around that. Now I understand some couples cannot engage due to physical/medical constraints, but that’s an exception — not the rule.

The Bible also talks about how sexual intimacy in marriage can serve as a protection against your husband or you wandering away and falling in love with someone else. I’m not guilt-tripping you here with, “if you don’t put out, he’ll go get it elsewhere.” Cheaters choose to cheat, and that’s their sin. Yet healthy sexual intimacy helps to keep you both focused where you should be.

Here’s how Proverbs 5:15-19 says it:

Drink water from your own cistern,
    running water from your own well.
Should your springs overflow in the streets,
    your streams of water in the public squares?
Let them be yours alone,
    never to be shared with strangers.
May your fountain be blessed,
    and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.
A loving doe, a graceful deer—
    may her breasts satisfy you always,
    may you ever be intoxicated with her love.

It’s in the New Testament as well, from 1 Corinthians 7:3-5:

The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

Honestly, I don’t know all the reasons you’re reluctant to have sex once you’re married. But your statement that “I haven’t been able to find anything on ‘a fear of having sex’ on the Internet…” tells me that you’re actually frightened about intercourse.

I get that. But I want to reassure you that there are answers to and ways to overcome that fear. If you’ve experienced sexual abuse in your past, go grab The Wounded Heart by Dan Allender and even its accompanying workbook. If you’ve been taught that sex is dirty or feel like it’s just icky, I’d suggest The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex by Sheila Gregoire. If you don’t understand how it all works and how it’s part of God’s plan, pick up The Pursuit of Passion by Julie Sibert and Jeff Murphy. If you need a biblical view of how to approach sex in marriage, check out Intimacy Revealed: 52 Devotions to Enhance Sex in Marriage by yours truly.

Read Christian articles and blog posts and books about sexual intimacy. Hear beyond the message that sex is something you should do in marriage to the truth that sex is something your marriage should do for you.

Sex isn't just something you should do in marriage, but something marriage should do for you. Click To Tweet

Just look at a few practical positives of sexual intimacy in marriage:

In the long run, a healthy sex life in marriage will be one ingredient that can make your relationship stronger, deeper, and longer lasting. So I pray that you seek out godly sexual intimacy and have a blessed marriage.

Related Post: Mystery 32 – What’s So Beautiful about Marital Intimacy?

NOVEMBER GIVEAWAY WILL BE ANNOUNCED ON SATURDAY.

Is Refusing Sex in Marriage a Sin?

No entry sign VectorSexual refusal is definitely a hot topic. I hear from varied voices on this sensitive subject. Some defend sexual refusal, stating that it’s horrible to suggest someone engage in sex just to please their partner. On other end are those who believe that not getting frequent sex is grounds for divorce.

What’s the truth?  Especially for those living in sexless marriages, defined as married couples who make love fewer than 10 times per year?

Cutting off sexual intimacy in marriage is sin. I don’t think there’s any two ways about that. Now, stick with me for a bit if your hackles just rose and blood rushed into your head. This is not the only point I’m going to make.

But yes, when you get married, one of the promises you’re making is to enter a “one flesh” relationship with your spouse. God designed marriage to include sexual intimacy, and you have an obligation — and the privilege — of having sex regularly with your spouse.

Look at these scriptures to see what I mean:

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.  So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Matthew 19:4-6, quoting Genesis 2:24)

The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control (1 Corinthians 7:3-5).

The patriarch Jacob certainly understood sex to be an important part of his marriage:

Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.” Laban said, “It’s better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay here with me.” So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her. Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to make love to her (Genesis 29:18-20).

You should be having sex in marriage. But does that mean you’re supposed to flop down on your bed and just let your spouse have his or her way with you? Noooo!

Sexual mistreatment is sin too. Did you read that verse up there about yielding to your spouse? Nothing in the Bible says it’s okay to force or demand your way in the marriage bed. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: You are not your spouse’s sex toy.

You are not your spouse's sex toy. Click To Tweet

One spouse shouldn’t be used by the other to satisfy a sexual need or desire. Our obligation to have sex in marriage doesn’t supersede our obligations to be loving and respectful. Read Ephesians 5:21-33, a passage bookended by these verses: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” and “Each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” And 1 Corinthians 13:4-6 describes love as patient, kind, and honoring others. There’s nothing kind about dismissing your spouse as a person and expecting him or her to simply perform sexually for your benefit.

There are both sides to this — you should be having sex, but with mutual respect and pleasure. That’s the relationship you should be working toward.

But what do you do with a sexless spouse? This post will not answer that question fully, because the right answer would be specific to your scenario. But ask yourself a few things:

Do I have problems I need to own? If you’ve been demanding, dismissive, or dogged in your approach, you need to stop your own sinfulness, ask for forgiveness from God and from your spouse, and pursue a more loving path.

What’s the underlying reason for his or her refusal? Whether you understand or not, there’s a reason why your spouse is refusing. It’s often that way with sin: We’re doing the wrong thing for reasons that make sense to us. Sometimes it’s because a spouse doesn’t understand what they’re doing; they truly don’t realize how important sexual intimacy is, the benefits to your marriage, or how their refusal is breaking your heart. Even if you’ve said it a million times, some spouses don’t get it. They don’t feel that way, so it’s hard to comprehend.

Or there could be solid reasons why your spouse says no — like physical pain, sexual abuse in their past, relational conflict, depression, etc.

Your spouse doesn’t need you to beat them over the head; they need your support to work their issues out. Those obstacles are not only keeping you from getting sex, but keeping your spouse from enjoying the blessings God has for them.

What baby steps could we take? If possible, I’d get everyone in problem situations to take a giant Mother-May-I step toward healthy sexual intimacy. But most of us don’t get the blinding-light-on-the-road-to-Damascus experience that changes our lives on the spot. We’re less like Paul and more like Peter — whittling away at our bad stuff and replacing it with God’s truth. So take steps in the right direction, even if they are smaller than you’d want.

Those beautiful cathedrals around the world were built stone by stone, and beautiful sexual intimacy can be built step by step. Patience and perseverance are tough callings, but these traits will serve you well in this journey. Weeks, months, years down the road, you may be amazed at how far you’ve come. I’ve heard many redemption stories from couples who are glad they didn’t quit.

What does your spouse need? It’s easy to get caught up in your emotional pain and sexual frustration, to focus on what you‘re not getting. But what about your spouse? What does he/she need to feel safe and cherished? Brainstorm a hundred ideas if need be — things you could do that would show your beloved that you truly care about their comfort and pleasure. Stash deposit after deposit into your spouse’s “love bank,” filling him or her up with assurance after assurance that you love and desire this person you’ve chosen. This is not a tit-for-tat trick, but rather a calling to invest in the woman or man you love. From that place, some wonderful things might happen — to your spouse and to you.

Do you have the right to leave? I’d be remiss if I didn’t deal with this question that arises from time to time. If your spouse stubbornly refuses to have sex, talk about sex, give any indication that anything will change regarding sex, do you have a right to leave the marriage? After all, if this is downright sin, don’t you have an out?

Yet I can’t find biblical justification, through commands or example, for exiting the marriage. While I ache terribly for those individuals in this situation, lack of sex alone doesn’t seem to warrant divorce.  Believe me, it was hard to even type those last words, knowing the hopelessness and despair some of you have felt. All I can say is God is with you in your darkest times. You cannot control all of your circumstances, but you can make choices on how to respond and who to turn to — your Heavenly Father who knows your pain. “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).

Finally, why don’t we talk more about the sin of refusal? This charge is laid against churches generally — that we preach against the sexual sins of commission like adultery and pornography but ignore the sin of omission when one spouse stops sexual activity in a marriage. Let me assure you that I’m among those who believe we should talk about it. The Bible is clear about the responsibilities — better yet, blessings — of physical intimacy in marriage.

One preacher summarized the singles and marrieds situation in his church this way: “The people who aren’t supposed to be having sex are, and the people who are supposed to be having sex aren’t.” We need to attend to both sides of this equation!

When I was growing up, about the only time I heard the word “sex” in church, it was followed by “-ual immorality.” It gave the mistaken impression that God was solely concerned with His people avoiding extramarital sexual activity. When God is equally concerned with us diving into intramarital sexual activity!

Thankfully, I see this message changing among Christians — more people willing to address head-on the challenges of sexual intimacy in marriage and to encourage not just sex acts but physical intimacy between husband and wife. And it goes both ways. It’s not just about getting the sex you want; it’s about experiencing the intimacy you both want. Let’s proclaim that message. Over and over, until Christian marriages thrive in this area.

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Q&A with J: I’m in a Sexless Marriage

Today’s question is heartbreaking. Listen to this husband’s emotional pain as he writes:

It has been 22 months since my wife of 22 years has had sex with me. She has told me she doesn’t feel a desire for sex. She either has an excuse for not doing it or want even answer my requests. I am really struggling with the situation. I’m looking for suggestions on how to discuss the issue further with her. The most hurtful thing to me is that my interpretation of the situation is that she doesn’t care about me enough to do something for me that she knows would make me happy.

Low-drive wives who struggle with high-drive husbands, please read that last sentence. I hear this again and again from husbands who want greater sexual frequency: What hurts isn’t the “blue balls” of not getting any sex; it’s the dismissal of their emotional needs and desire to connect physically. As I’ve often said, if it was just about the sexual release, he could take care of that on his own. Rather, it’s about sexual intimacy with his wife.

Q&A with J: I'm in a Sexless Marriage

Experts define a “sexless marriage” as one in which couples have sex less than 10 times a year. This poor husband has gone completely without for 22 months — almost two years — which isn’t sex-less so much as sex-free. And it’s absolutely not okay.

Of course, I’d love to chat with the wife. Oftentimes, a woman will tell a girlfriend what’s really going on more than she will her husband. Because she’s embarrassed or doesn’t think he’ll understand or gets caught up in her own fears. It’s risky to talk to your spouse about what’s going on in your head and heart regarding this most vulnerable, intimate act. But the wife isn’t available at the moment.

That’s okay. While spouses cannot make one another change, we do have influence. So to this husband . . .

She has told me she doesn’t feel a desire for sex. To me, this is the key line in your email. Because that’s where I’d start.

Did she have desire previously? If she used to desire, or at least enjoy, sex but doesn’t now, what changed? That’s what you need to know. And if you can calmly have that conversation with her, you might discover the underlying cause. Has her sex drive diminished with perimenopause or menopause? Is she under greater stress now than before? Is she discouraged in your relationship in some way? What’s different now from the way things were before the 22-month dry spell began?

Getting her to share such information requires creating a secure space for her talk, and not feel judged. Yes, she might have failings she should own, but this isn’t the time to point fingers or apply blame. As much as possible, make this subject one you can discuss as easily as “What did you do today?” Keep in mind Romans 12:18: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Approach your conversation with the goal of peace and understanding.

Does she have a desire for you? Too often, a lower-drive spouse views sex as an optional component of the relationship. If they feel like it, they’ll engage in sex. But if they don’t feel like it, they’ll just say they don’t want sex. That’s not the ultimate point, though, because it’s not just about sex. You clearly, and understandably, feel her rebuffing of sexual encounters as a personal rejection of you.

When you approach the subject of your sex life together, try to speak in terms of deep intimacy, loving acceptance, and physical expression of love. I understand you feel this as a strong physical need — because the longer you go, the more raging that physical drive can feel — but try to avoid statements like:

  • I want sex.
  • I need a sexual release.
  • I can’t go without for this long.

Dig deeper to what you really feel about this situation, with statements like:

  • I want us to connect physically.
  • I need to feel one flesh with you.
  • I miss you.

Make it clear that it’s not just the sex, but the sexual intimacy you desire with her. You can even liken your desire for sex to activities that make her feel connected to you — perhaps conversations, holding hands, vacations together, etc. Explain your perspective that sex is an important part of feeling uniquely connected to your wife.

The most hurtful thing to me is that my interpretation of the situation is that she doesn’t care about me enough to do something for me that she knows would make me happy. It’s normal and reasonable for you to feel rejected personally since she appears to be making no effort to address the lack of sex in your marriage. However, one thing here hit me as well. Yes, sex would make you happy. And I think you should be happy in that way.

But what about her happiness? What would your wife get from being sexually active with you? What’s the payoff in her world? Yes, of course we should serve one another in our marriages, but God also designed sexual intimacy to be mutually pleasurable. It’s not for one spouse or the other — it benefits you both.

Plenty of Christian wives have heard the erroneous message again and again: Sex is for him. What a pile of cowpattie! It’s for him and for her. God’s biological design of male and female and His Word repeatedly convey that He wants husband and wives to delight in this gift for marriage. What can you do to ensure your wife gets that message from you? That she knows it’s not all about your needs, but about your mutual needs and satisfaction?

Your wife might need to hear how much you want to sexually pleasure her to a mind-blowing climax, or maybe for now she just needs you to offer her a full-body massage with no strings attached. There are many ways you can communicate with your gaze, your words, and your touch that you long to bring her physical happiness that’s meaningful to her. From that place, wives are often more willing to engage sexually over time. Because they feel safe and cherished.

Those are some thoughts specific to your email, but I’ve written many times about related topics. Here are a few other posts you might want to check out:

How to Talk about Sexual Problems with Your Spouse – how-to advice

3 Things Higher-Drive Spouses Long For – perspectives for you

For Wives: When You Don’t Desire Sex – possible reasons for her low-libido

More on Wife’s Low Sex Drive – more resources on low libido

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