When Sex is at the Bottom of Your List

Today’s post is a question compiled from several I have been asked over the years. It is addressed in my book, Letters to My Daughters which is why I replied, “Dear daughters.” It’s a topic that books have been written about, but here I’m sharing a few things I learned that helped me in this part of our marriage.

Dear Barbara: 

This is a little embarrassing. But please tell me that sex is more than I think it is. It’s fine. Don’t get me wrong. But the initial passion has pretty much cooled off, we have all the kids we want, so I kinda don’t understand why it’s so important still. Honestly, sex seems like the last thing on my list of needs because I am tired ALL THE TIME! But it still seems so much more important to my husband. What can I do?

 

Dear Daughters of Eve:

Dennis always said he’d be a millionaire if he had a dollar bill for all the times I said how tired I was! And sex was at the bottom of my to-do list more times than not. I can totally relate to your question and dilemma.

Making sense of our sexual differences sometimes felt like we were from two different solar systems and didn’t understand each other at all.

Marriage is a living relationship which means it needs feeding and attention to stay healthy and grow. All living things experience seasons of growth. Like our baby granddaughter who is teething right now; growing teeth isn’t comfortable or pleasant. Older kids go through growth spurts where they need more sleep and food and sometimes experience growing pains.

Similarly, in marriage seasons of growth are not usually easy. Learn to see differences or clashes as opportunities to deepen your understanding. In the sexual dimension of marriage, understanding is especially crucial for it is here that we most long to be known for who are and accepted completely.

We’re very different sexually

My mother’s simple advice to me before I got married was, “He’ll like you much better naked,” and “it gets better with time.” She was right about both, but in the beginning I didn’t think we’d struggle in this part of marriage. 

In fact, I thought our sexual differences were fairly simple. But like so many women before me, I soon discovered that we could have a disagreement, and he could immediately set that aside and be interested in sex. Or that he didn’t need any conversation before being ready. Or that we would be in the middle of lovemaking and he wouldn’t hear the crash just outside our apartment walls!

Men have a natural ability to compartmentalize. It’s clear men and women are not the same. 

From the beginning men were designed by God to think about sex more often and in a more focused way than women. Women were designed to complement or complete her man with gifts and needs he doesn’t have. Understanding these divinely designed differences is crucial to growth and oneness.

Even though I’ve learned a lot about living with a man after four decades, I still find myself caught off guard at times by our gender differences. The combination of chromosomes that makes an embryo a boy or a girl keeps us male and female for life on a cellular level. And it never changes.

Think about this with me for a second. Most couples would say they have much in common; their basic emotions, education levels, and beliefs can be the same. But for me as a woman, knowing what it is like to be my husband, a man—to crawl inside his skin and feel what he feels—is not possible. I will never think like a man; I will always view the world through estrogen-shaded feminine lenses.  He will always have a testosterone-fueled male view on life and will never know what it’s like to be a woman.

Pleasure without commitment

An epiphany for me came from author George Gilder in his book, Men and Marriage: “Unless they have an enduring relationship with a woman—a relationship that affords them sexual confidence—men will accept almost any convenient sexual offer. The existence of a semi-illegal, multibillion-dollar pornography market, almost entirely male-oriented, speaks of the difference in sexual character between men and women.”

Women are designed to be the stabilizing force in the lives of men. Far from being insignificant, we are instead supremely important. 

Without the stabilizing commitment of women in marriage, wrote Gilder, men are more likely to live “like barbarians,” wandering impulsively through life, fighting, competing, and chasing after power they might not even be able to define.

Dennis often said to me, “Women are powerful,” but every time he said it I never quite comprehended his meaning until I read Men and Marriage. Understanding this male/female difference has helped me to make sense of my deep, life-altering responsibility to my husband to help him become the man God created him to be. 

It is supremely important that you hear the conclusion I came to understand: If I love him, I won’t view his biological sexual differences disapprovingly. This is a very practical way you as a wife can show him respect. If you belittle or shame his male sexuality; any other attempts at showing respect will feel hollow to him.

As the two of us had conversations about sex and our divergent perspectives, seeking to understand one another better, I caught glimpses of what it must be like to be a man. It was a continual revelation. I felt compassion for him and more motivation to care for him. 

Truth and understanding are not magic wands that change a woman’s sex drive into a man’s or vice versa, but it does help correct our misguided thinking. Still, a thousand conversations will not revolutionize my design or his. 

He knows my heart is for him

We have come to a place after decades of marriage where we understand we will never view sexual intimacy in the same way. I believe that male/female differences are God-designed for a purpose. I do not feel a sexual need for him the same way he does for me. And that’s ok.

Hear me clearly on this: I do need him. But I feel that need uniquely as a woman, not needing a physical release as men do, but an emotional filling—the rebonding and reconnection that comes from reaffirming our commitment through conversation and sex. 

There are times when I’m tired or just not in the mood—we girls are emotional beings, right? And at those times we mutually agree to delay making love until the next night (and sometimes we opt for a quicker method to meet his physical need) but regardless, I make sure he knows I am not rejecting him. Why? Because he needs to know I respect his need and personhood as a man. He can feel dismissed and therefore disrespected, so I have learned to protect him by what I say and don’t say.

Over time we have proven we are for each other. He knows my heart is for him. And he appreciates more fully that my heart must be wooed before my body. 

We have also learned that understanding is the key to a healthy, satisfying, mutual sexual relationship in marriage. God makes it clear He values understanding. In the book of Proverbs there are 32 verses about understanding, including:

  • “… inclining your heart to understanding” (Proverbs 2:2).
  • “… understanding will guard you” (Proverbs 2:11).
  • “… do not lean on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5).
  • “On the lips of him who has understanding wisdom is found” (Proverbs 10:13).

I pray you will learn to value understanding as God does and that you will thank Him for the genius of His design even when you can’t appreciate the wonder.

 

With love,

Barbara

 

This post was adapted with permission from my book, Letters to My Daughters: The Art of Being a Wife, ©2016, Bethany House Publishers. If you enjoyed reading this, you’ll find many more letters in the book about different issues that come up in marriage. It’s on sale in our online store.

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5 thoughts on “When Sex is at the Bottom of Your List”

  1. Loved this! Thank you for your honesty and openness on this sensitive subject! I never used to struggle in this area until 1, 2, and then 3 kids came along (the last one with many significant challenges), but now, I really appreciate this article. It is a struggle at times. Your words are valuable. Thank you!

  2. Noreen E. Kualii

    Barbara, Your response to the readers question is so well articulated. Your mother was a wise woman in her advice to you. As women we can tend to be critical of our bodies and feel our husbands would dislike what they see. Nothing could be farther from the truth. We do ourselves a disservice to withhold from our husbands what they were innately created to desire by God. Of course there is mutual understanding and it’s not a one way street in our relationships as you very well point out. Well done and I hope more young wives especially just getting started on their journey of marriage could read this to set a course of bonding with their husbands.

    1. Noreen,
      Thank you for taking the time to affirm this post. Marriage and sex are always complicated, not because God made it that way but because we by our sin and selfishness have complicated marriage in infinite ways. But there is hope when we follow His design. Always there is hope.
      Barbara

  3. I always appreciate/relate to your thoughts on this subject/area of our lives. I’m glad you shared about the book Men & Marriage. I just ordered it and look forward reading! Thanks for sharing your life with us. This is totally off the subject… but three years ago and I was diagnosed with DCIS stage 0 and God allowed me to come across an old blog post of yours entitled “The Gift of Radiation” when I was battling through my decision whether to have radiation or not after my lumpectomy, and it really helped in confirming my decision to go ahead and do it. Until then, I did not know you had battled breast cancer. God is gracious to use many ways to reveal His direction to us, and He used you along with others during that crucial decision making time in my life. Thank you. Btw, my husband and I were on staff with CCC Campus Ministry for 9 years @ The University of Alabama & in GA and enjoyed attending a Family Life Conference so many years ago I can’t even remember if it was when we were engaged or after we were newly married or both (ha!) …because it’s been almost 33 years now…PTL! Thanks again for your ministry of sharing your life lessons with us!

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