Doing Family Right

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Marriage: Q & A with Dr. Dave & Donalyn Currie—Husband Not into Sex

So often I hear about how much men need sex, but my husband has no interest in sex. The only time we make love is when I initiate it. Is there something wrong with me? Why doesn’t my husband want me?

Donalyn: Well, first off, there is likely nothing wrong with you! The first response of most women in your situation is to second-guess or blame themselves. While your husband’s lack of desire is certainly a problem, it is most likely not a problem with you. In fact, most sexual problems aren’t sexual at all.

Dave: That’s right, Donalyn. We sometimes have the idea that for men, the sexual experience is detached from what’s going on inside. In reality, a man’s emotions can have a huge impact on his sexual desire. If he feels emotionally distant from his wife, and especially if he feels like a failure in any way, it can lead to a lack of confidence and therefore a lack of interest in sex. For a man, sexual performance is very much tied to ego, so if he’s not feeling good about himself it will definitely show up in his approach to sexual intimacy with his wife.

Donalyn: As women, we know that our sexual appetite is diminished when we don’t feel connected to our husbands, or if there is unresolved anger between us. But we forget that our husband’s sex drive can also suffer for these same reasons. Likewise, if a man is overworked or under a lot of stress, whether inside or outside the home, sexual interest may start to take a back seat.

Dave: Of course, there are all sorts of physical issues that could be at play here, too. If your husband has had any struggles with erectile dysfunction (ED), that’s likely a huge contributing factor. Of course, that’s a chicken and egg discussion. Did ED happen because of his issues or did the ED happen and contribute to his loss of sexual libido? If he’s feeling any lack of confidence in his ability to perform, he will almost certainly shy away from physical intimacy. Libido is also significantly impacted by testosterone levels, so if your husband has low testosterone, that could be the cause. Drug use, whether prescription or otherwise, may hinder the sexual desire. The good news is that many of the physical factors are very treatable, so it may be time for your husband to have a doctor’s appointment to get some help with this.

Donalyn: Sadly, in many cases, there are other things going on which aren’t so easy to deal with. Healthy sexual intimacy in marriage can be totally derailed by a person’s involvement with pornography or other inappropriate sexual activities outside the marriage. That’s becoming more and more prevalent in this age of the internet with the high accessibility and anonymity of online porn.

Dave: It’s true. So many in our society view pornography as harmless, and some even think that it’s a great way to spice up your sex life with your partner. A man can easily be drawn into porn where he never fails in the fantasy and where he can be sexually stimulated (masturbation) without facing the same issues with his wife. But the truth is, pornography neuters a man. He becomes so wrapped up in this fantasy world that he is no longer capable of being excited by his own wife. She can’t possibly compete with the airbrushed models in the magazines and on the computer screen, so the husband simply loses interest in her. Some grow an addiction to this type of 2-dimensional sex.

Donalyn: So in reality, he has as much need for sexuality as ever; he’s either getting those needs met elsewhere or is crushed by his stress or insecurities and is content not to seek it.

Dave: Exactly. And it’s not just pornography, either. Sexual substitutes can include a wide variety of fantasy sources combined with self-stimulation. Pornographic movies and books, phone services, and strip clubs are rampant. Some men find release in voyeurism: scoping out women discreetly only to capitalize on fantasizing about them later. Others give in to their attractions to other women, leading to emotional and/or physical affairs. Regardless of the way it is acted out, the point is this: few men can choose to be “neuter” for long. If your husband has lost interest in sex, and there doesn’t seem to be a significant emotional or physical explanation, he may have fallen into one of these snares.

Donalyn: As you can see, there are a whole lot of issues that may need to be sorted through to get to the root of the problem. This will be a hard but important talk. You need to have an honest discussion with your husband, but do it gently…in love. Rather than attacking, grilling or blaming him, share your struggles with him. Try to understand him. Tell him that you are wondering if there is something wrong with you that is causing him not to want you. Be vulnerable and let him see what you’re feeling, too – whether that’s your insecurity, feeling unfeminine, or even ugly. Share with him how his disinterest is making you feel – even if you suspect that it’s more a problem on his end rather than a problem with you – approach it sensitively.

Dave: That’s a great suggestion. Realize that this is an extremely difficult thing for a man to talk about. He may feel embarrassed, insecure, humiliated, or guilty – especially if he is living a lie. Coming at him with guns blazing will only push him further away, so be gentle in your approach.

Donalyn: I would ask him how you should interpret his lack of interest. Ask him what you can do to help him re-engage sexually. Maybe he knows exactly what the problem is, or perhaps you will have to work through it together to discover what lies at the root. The best thing you can do is approach it as a team – after all, sex is an “us”. He can’t be made to feel like this is all his problem to solve on his own. He needs to know that you are on the same side. So share with him your needs and your desires – how you would like things to be. Then work together to get there.

Dave: That’s bang on. Support him throughout the process as he works through his fears and insecurity. Encourage him to get a check up and talk to his doctor. Remind him of your love and your desire to grow in your intimacy – emotionally, physically, and spiritually. And even though you might not be able to fully relate to his perspective, work hard to genuinely understand where he’s coming from.

Donalyn: Right. But that’s a tough thing to do if your discover that pornography or other illegitimate behaviours are part of the picture.

Dave: No doubt about it. But if you do suspect that this is a factor, you are going to ask him the tough questions about where he’s having his sexual needs met. And as hard as it will be, if you husband has the courage to open up with you and share his struggles in this area, he will need your support. These issues can be worked through and overcome, but not without a great deal of patience and understanding.

Donalyn: It’s also important to find out if there is anything that you have been doing to contribute to the problem. Not that it ever excuses wrong behaviour on his part, but you need to know if you have said or done anything to turn him away from you. It may be that you have a critical spirit, that you’ve been controlling him or cutting him down, or that you’re making him feel less of a man. If so, these are behaviours that you can take responsibility for and begin to change in order to improve the situation between you.

Dave: Absolutely. If a man is feeling constantly criticized or dominated, it creates big damage to his self-worth, and that filters down to his sexual interest. So find out what issues may be coming between you and take positive steps to resolve them. You might even read some marriage and sexuality resources to help you through this process.

Donalyn: Finally, make sure you are taking care of yourself. Do you feel good about how you look? Have you allowed yourself to gain unwanted weight? We need to work hard to stay balanced and to take responsibility for who we are. Sometimes we excuse ourselves for becoming overweight. A failure to take care of yourself can put extra strain on him. Remember the woman that he married? Keep yourself looking your best and you will feel better, regardless of his response.

Dave: For those of you with a faith background, keep in mind I Corinthians 7:3-5. “The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self control.”
While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend preaching at your husband, every couple needs to remember that depriving or denying each other increases the temptation to have sexual needs met elsewhere. Again, it never legitimizes it, but a wise person will work to keep their spouse satisfied within the marriage. There’s no place else to responsibly go.

© Dr. Dave Currie, May 2010