Until recently, it has been part of the Christian marriage narrative that men need sex. Christian marriage books over the decades have repeatedly claimed that sex is a primary need for guys in marriage. In many marriages (but not all), husbands would eagerly nod their heads in agreement.
That assumption has now been challenged for a few key reasons. First, more women are speaking out about their sexual desires in marriage. What about a wife’s sexual needs? In approximately 25% of marriages (which is no small number), the woman is the one expressing the greater sexual desire. Secondly, some are sounding the alarm of unhealthy and abusive patterns resulting from the narrative of a “husband’s sexual need.”
I’ve heard Christian speakers say things like, “A woman should never say no to her husband’s sexual advances.” If he needs sex and you’re the only one who can give it to him, sex becomes less romantic than cooking him dinner. If you have followed this advice, you may feel like a “sex dispenser,” just there to meet your husband’s biological needs. Even if you once liked sex, all pleasure and anticipation may have been drained out of it.
This is certainly not God’s design for sexuality in marriage. A couple who operates with this thinking is likely to experience no “intimacy” in sexual intimacy.
On the other hand, it is unloving to cling to a posture of consistently denying one another sex in marriage. God’s Word tells us that regular sex should be a priority in marriage. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul says that both the husband and wife have an obligation to minister to each other sexually. (To learn more about this idea, listen to "Is Good Sex a 'Right' in Marriage?" and read "How To Go From Demand and 'Duty Sex' to True Sexual Intimacy.")
How do we value the importance of sex within marriage without sex becoming an on-demand obligation?
Rethinking the Word “Need”
We have a strange relationship to the word need in our society. We claim to need everything from a cup of Starbucks to the most recent smartphone. In reality, we need very little to survive: food, shelter, community, and family. However, there are other things we don’t need for survival but are necessary to function in our world. For example, you don’t need a car . . . but you do. You won’t die without a car, but unless you live in a big city, it would be very difficult to navigate life without one. We also have emotional needs, like feeling loved and valued. While we won’t die without feeling loved, we also may not want to keep living.
Think of sex in a similar vein. No one needs sex, but a marriage needs sexual intimacy to thrive. Intimacy in the bedroom is directly correlated to overall marital happiness. When a couple regularly engages in sex, even their body chemistry is working to build a positive emotional connection. Hormones like oxytocin and vasopressin released during sex have been shown to reinforce bonding and even discourage sexual temptation.1
God has wired our bodies to express the importance of sexual intimacy, whether it is the husband or wife who prompts the other. In the majority of marriages, the husband is the more constant reminder of the priority of sexual intimacy. Because he has more testosterone and his body is wired to respond sexually, it’s usually on his mind much more often than it’s on hers. Some sex therapists refer to this as “initiating sexual desire.”
Beyond an Obligation
A good man will not only want sex, he will want his wife to enjoy it. It’s not enough to give him your body while the rest of you is mentally a thousand miles away. The most satisfied husband is the man who has a satisfied wife.
If you’ve fallen into the pattern of “checking the sex box” to meet your husband’s needs, it’s likely that neither of you feel sexually fulfilled. Your response to that statement might be, “You mean I have to like it too! Can’t I just fake it?” Instead of seeing this as even more of an obligation, step back and consider it as good news. Your husband isn’t fully satisfied just to have a physical release; he wants intimacy with you. He wants to build sexual memories with you and learn how to bring you pleasure. This means that you are not just a sexual object to him. He wants you to be his lover—to have fun and explore each other.
In order to accept his invitation, you may need to switch gears mentally. Your sexual relationship will never be fulfilling if it is oriented only around your husband’s needs.
Here are three practical things you can do to nurture your sexual desire without simply meeting your husband’s “need.”
1. Say "No" So You Can Say "Yes"
One of the problems with the “never say no” policy is that it creates a dynamic in marriage in which sex revolves exclusively around a husband’s needs. Instead of saying no, I’d encourage you to say “not now.” In other words, if you had sex right when your husband asks, you may be distracted, exhausted, or frustrated and not able to enjoy it. Even a willing wife will grow resentful with this pattern.
While many men have an “initiating desire” for sex, the majority of women have a “receptive sexual desire.” This means that even if you aren’t thinking about wanting sex, you have the capacity to fully enjoy it once things get going. This means you may need time to relax, think about sex, and anticipate being together.
When your husband initiates, consider giving him a time within the next 48 hours when you will be ready to say yes. This gives you time to prepare physically, mentally, and emotionally so that sex can be fulfilling to you too. It also teaches your husband to consider your needs instead of just communicating his.
2. Invest in Your Sex Life
Unless you have have a high sex drive, experiencing sexual arousal and fulfillment takes some effort on your part. Your sexual appetite will be little to none unless you work on developing it.
There are many ways to invest in your sex life. For some women, saving energy for sex and investing in some sexy underwear may be helpful. For others, you may be confronting significant barriers like unresolved conflict or triggers from past trauma. Investing in sex might require you to work through the pain, shame, or lies that keep you from experiencing sexual freedom and pleasure.
You may also need to encourage your husband to “invest” in your sex life by learning about your sexual response, engaging in foreplay, and being willing to engage in counseling when needed.
3. Shift Your Paradigm
For the first decade of my marriage, I thought of my husband’s sex drive as a curse. My mental dialogue sounded like this: Not again! Didn’t we just do it? I’ve learned over the years to view my husband’s desire for me to be a gift rather than an obligation. This has been a major paradigm shift that has changed the atmosphere of our love life.
One day Mike asked me, “Aren’t you glad that I want to be with you all the time? Isn’t it a good thing that I desire you and want to be intimate with you?” I had to agree with him. If it weren’t for sexual intimacy, Mike might get lost in his own world and be content for weeks without connecting with me. This one special part of our relationship causes him to think about me often. Our sex life makes our relationship different than every other relationship he has.
Instead of lamenting the fact that your husband needs sex, why not celebrate that your husband needs you!
God has given the gift of sex not just for the immediate experience of intercourse, but for the intimacy forged through a lifetime of navigating desire, obstacles, and even disappointment. Simply approaching sex as a need to be met will shortcut the more significant work of two people learning to become one.
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