Focus on the Family

Sex Is a Physical Need

A man's sexuality has a tremendous impact on his emotional, marital and spiritual well-being.

by Dr. Juli Slattery

One of the biggest differences between you and your husband is the fact that he experiences sex as a legitimate physical need. Just as your body tells you when you're hungry, thirsty, or tired, your husband's body tells him when he needs a sexual release. Your husband's sexual desire is impacted by what's around him but is determined by biological factors, specifically the presence of testosterone in his body.

Immediately after sexual release, men are physically satisfied. But as their sexual clock ticks on, sexual thoughts become more prevalent, and they are more easily aroused. The physical need for sexual release intensifies as sperm builds in the testicles. The body continues to produce and store sperm, although sperm production fluctuates based on levels of testosterone and the frequency of sexual release.

The best way for a woman to understand this dynamic is to relate it to another physiological need. If you've had a baby, you may relate to the experience of milk building up in your breasts a few days after giving birth. The buildup of breast milk becomes annoying (and even painful) until the milk is expressed. You may have even had the embarrassing experience of leaking breast milk when it was not expressed. A male's semen buildup is sometimes released through nocturnal emissions if it is not otherwise relieved. Just as with breast milk, sperm production tends to "keep up with demand." The more often a man has sex, the more semen his body is likely to produce.

As women, we don't experience the physiological drive for sex in this same way. There is no buildup that demands release. Instead, hormonal fluctuations drive our sexuality. Female sexual hormones are largely determined by two factors: the female reproductive cycle (menstruation, ovulation, pregnancy, menopause, etc.) and a part of the brain called the hypothalamus.

A woman's sexual desire is far more connected to emotions than her husband's sex drive is. A man can experience sexual arousal apart from any emotional attachment. He can look at a naked woman and feel intense physical desire for her, while at the same time he may be completely devoted to and in love with his wife. For most women, this just doesn't compute. A fundamental difference in the wiring of male and female sexuality is that men can separate sex from a relationship while for a woman, the two are usually intertwined.

In today's culture, girls and young women are becoming more involved in casual sex. Terms like hooking up and friends with benefits are code words for guys and girls engaging in sex outside the context of a romantic relationship. Women are also becoming more involved with Internet porn, obviously seeking a sexual experience outside the boundaries of relationship. Even in these scenarios, a woman's desire for sex is still linked to an emotional or relational need. For example, porn geared toward a female audience has an intentional relational component that doesn't exist in male-oriented porn. A young girl who engages in oral sex with a stranger may still be motivated by a desire for love and acceptance.

Although the physical need for sex can be compartmentalized in a man's life, his sexual behavior still has ramifications for every other part of his life. Many women make the assumption that because sex is a physical need for their husbands, it doesn't have an emotional or relational impact. Nothing could be further from the truth. A man's sexuality has a tremendous impact on his emotional, marital, and spiritual well-being.