Focus on the Family

Understanding Your Husband's Sexual Needs

by Dr. Juli Slattery

Author Robert Byrne once quipped, "Anyone who believes that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach flunked geography." This humorous statement hits home with what any adult with a brain knows: Sex is very, very important to men. Research consistently shows that between 80 and 90 percent of men view sex as the most important aspect of their marriage. When asked what one thing they would like to change in their marriages, they wish that their wives would be more interested in sex and more willing to initiate physical intimacy.1 Marriage experts Gary and Barbara Rosberg surveyed men about their sexual needs. The vast majority of men indicated that mutual pleasure and female initiation of sex were among their primary sexual needs.2

No doubt, our sexually explicit culture plays into the prominence of sex on a man's mind. He can't open the newspaper, turn on the television, surf the Net, or walk into a mall without being reminded of sexual desire. Yet long before the Internet or bikinis were invented, sexuality was an extremely powerful force in men's lives. History teaches us as much.

David and Bathsheba. Samson and Delilah. Reuben and Bilhah. Scripture is filled with references to and examples of men falling into sexual temptation. Archaeological discoveries reveal that civilizations thousands of years ago had houses of prostitution. Solomon's warnings in Proverbs and the exaltations in Song of Songs written 3,000 years ago are completely relevant today. Time and culture have changed the venues of expression, yet the power of a man's sex drive has remained a constant force of both intimacy and destruction.

Before we go too much further, let me acknowledge that you may be married to a man who falls into the 10 to 20 percent of men for whom sex isn't all-consuming. Although sex may not be as dominant a factor in your husband's life, it doesn't discount the fact that it's important. In fact, many men who avoid or minimize the impact of sex in their lives do so because of past painful experiences or because of the fear of future failure. Regardless of how often your husband thinks or talks about sex, make no mistake, it is a vital aspect of who he is as a man.

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1Patrick Morley, Understanding Your Man in the Mirror (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 137.
2Gary Rosberg and Barbara Rosberg, with Ginger Kolbaba, The 5 Sex Needs of Men and Women (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2006), 81.

Understanding His Sexuality

Your husband doesn't want you to have sex with him because you feel guilty; he wants you to want to be with him!

by Dr. Juli Slattery

Although the average wife acknowledges that her husband's sex drive is stronger than hers, she still tends to underestimate the impact this one aspect has on their relationship. According to a poll of 150 Christian married men, 83 percent stated that they don't believe that women understand a man's sex drive.1 Husbands feel alone with their secrets and desires; they are at a loss about how to communicate this to their wives. For many men, their attempts to bridge the gap have been met with disinterest or even disdain.

From the female perspective, male sexuality is often viewed as a sordid desire. It seems to represent the worst of masculinity — passion without love, drive without self-control, sensuality without sensitivity. I've talked to more than one wife who would rather pretend that her husband's sexuality just didn't exist. At best, women tend to compartmentalize their husbands' sexuality. Sex represents Mr. Hyde, tainting an otherwise moral and approachable Dr. Jekyll. Here's how one woman put it:

Although we have a pretty good marriage, sex feels like another chore on my list. I hate that my husband thinks about it so much and that he always wants it. I dread going to bed, fearing that he'll ask me for sex. Sometimes I find things to do around the house, hoping that he'll fall asleep before I'm ready for bed. I just wish I could shut him off somehow.

Truth be told, many wives can identify with this sentiment. Over time, their sex life has become a burden. They feel guilty for withholding and responsible to keep their husbands pure, but mostly they wish the whole ordeal could just be put on hold for a couple of years.

When we think about the relationship between sex and guilt, the natural link is feeling guilty about sexually immoral behavior, a flirtation at work, or a checkered past. Although these aspects of sexual sin often result in tremendous guilt, I believe even more women struggle with the "guilties" of not meeting their husbands' sexual needs.

Practically everything a Christian wife hears or reads about sex revolves around the message "Your husband needs sex, so give it up." After a hefty dose of guilt, she resolves to make sex more of a priority in her marriage. Her resolve lasts a while, but eventually she becomes resentful. She and her husband may be having sex more often, but it's not getting any better.

Although feeling guilty can cause you to examine your heart and actions, it isn't a good long-term motivator for change. Your sex life won't significantly improve because you feel bad about not meeting your husband's needs or because you're afraid he will cheat on you otherwise. Feelings of guilt are simply an indication that something is wrong. If you don't take the time to examine the underlying problem, you'll continue in the cycle of reacting to your guilt temporarily, only to fall into the same pattern of resentment. Besides, your husband doesn't want you to have sex with him because you feel guilty; he wants you to want to be with him!

This series is all about understanding your husband's sexuality and why sex is so important to your marriage, from his perspective. Please understand, this information isn't intended to add to your guilt. Instead, I pray that this series will challenge your heart. As you more fully understand the place of sex in your husband's life, my hope is that you will catch a glimpse of the bigger picture of sex in your marriage. Guilt won't last, but a change based on love will.

1Archibald D. Hart, The Sexual Man (Nashville: W Publishing Group, 1994), 79.

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.

Sex Is an Emotional Need

Male sexuality is a central part of who he is as both a man and a husband.

by Dr. Juli Slattery

Shaunti Feldhahn's best-selling book For Women Only underscores the fact that sex has a deep emotional impact on men. Feldhahn interviewed several hundred married men about different aspects of marriage. Not surprisingly, sex dominated their expressed needs and desires. Perhaps the unexpected twist to Feldhahn's findings was the men's feelings behind their sexuality. The vast majority of men indicated that being sexually fulfilled in marriage significantly impacted their confidence and their masculinity. Seventy-seven percent agreed with this statement: "If my wife was an interested and motivated sex partner, it would give me a greater sense of well-being and satisfaction with life."1

A man's ability to perform sexually, to arouse and please his wife, is central to his confidence as a man. The impact ripples into practically every other area of his life.

Think of the word impotent. Although we use it as a term to describe the inability of a man to achieve an erection, the broader meaning speaks volumes. Impotent literally means "unable to take effective action; helpless or powerless." A man who feels like a failure sexually, feels impotent — helpless and powerless — in all areas of his life.

Dr. Archibald Hart, in his extensive work regarding male sexuality, has concluded that a man's sexual prowess and the need to perform sexually is a fundamental emotional need. While some men become obsessed with proving their masculinity through sexual conquests, others avoid sexual interactions because they fear failure.2

As I mentioned earlier, men are extremely sensitive to sexual rejection and take it very personally. In Feldhahn's research, men confided that when their wives say, "Not tonight," men really hear, "I'm not interested in you."3

A man can have sex with his wife every day of the week and still feel emotionally rejected by her. Having his wife just go through the motions isn't enough. Again, he longs to know that he is pleasing her and that she is sexually interested in him.

This partly explains the lure of sexual outlets like porn and fantasy. Think (briefly!) about sexual images you've seen of provocative women. While their body parts are exposed (and airbrushed!), the most sexual thing about them is their availability. Their eyes and pose scream, "I want you, and I won't reject you!" Read Solomon's description of a woman trying to entice a man into adultery:

She threw her arms around him and kissed him, boldly took his arm and said, "I've got all the makings for a feast — today I made my offerings, my vows are all paid, so now I've come to find you, hoping to catch sight of your face — and here you are! I've spread fresh, clean sheets on my bed, colorful imported linens. My bed is aromatic with spices and exotic fragrances. Come, let's make love all night, spend the night in ecstatic lovemaking! My husband's not home; he's away on business, and he won't be back for a month. (Proverbs 7:13–20, The Message)

Notice that Solomon doesn't mention anything about the physical attributes of the woman. She is attractive because she wants him. She is taking advantage not only of his physical desire but of his emotional need to be desired.

Translation: You cannot compartmentalize your husband's sexuality. You cannot love him as a husband but reject him sexually. From his perspective, his sexuality is a central part of who he is as both a man and a husband.

1Shaunti Feldhahn, For Women Only: What You Need to Know About the Inner Lives of Men (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2004), 98.
2Hart, The Sexual Man, 72–73.
3Feldhahn, For Women Only, 100.

Sex Is a Spiritual Need

If you're married, your husband depends on you to be his partner in his battle against sexual temptation.

by Dr. Juli Slattery

Read what the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church:

It is good for a man not to marry. But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. … I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.

Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion. (1 Corinthians 7:1B–3, 7–9)

Paul commanded husbands and wives to be sexually available to each other to avoid temptation. He then encouraged Christians to remain unmarried, unless they have a strong sexual desire. According to Paul, battling sexual temptation is a significant reason for Christians to marry! So, what happens to the man who marries because he "burns" only to find that his wife doesn't "burn"?

Dr. Archibald Hart writes, "Most men face a lifelong struggle to control their sexuality. The struggle is between their hormones and their higher aspirations. It is a battle between their seemingly uncontrollable urges and the fear of succumbing to these urges. Ultimately, it is a struggle over integrity, right and wrong, uprightness and wholeness."1

Hart's statement explains why sex is a spiritual need for a married man. He likely battles daily to stay pure. His walk with the Lord and his integrity are largely determined by how he handles sexual temptations and impulses. When he gives in to lust, pornography, or inappropriate sexual relationships, he carries a tremendous burden of guilt. He may doubt his salvation and feel disqualified from the body of Christ. Because he feels so ashamed about his struggle or failure, he may feel that he can't share his burden with anyone else.

Initially, Sheila and Mark really enjoyed their sexual relationship. The first couple of years of their marriage was the honeymoon stage that most couples hope for. As time wore on, though, their sexual desires changed. Sheila was busy and exhausted taking care of their young children, and she lost interest in sex. While Sheila seemed content to put their sexual relationship on hold for the time being, Mark responded by initiating more frequently. If he was a deer panting for water, she was a camel who seemed capable of walking through the desert for months at a time without a water break.

When Mark got the message that his advances were likely to be thwarted, he stopped asking for intimacy. He had no idea how to express his frustration and despair to Sheila. Her loud sighs and condescending expression at the mention of sex communicated that she could never understand how critical their sexual relationship was to him.

Over time, Mark began to direct his sexual needs through masturbation and light pornography. A few nights a week, he would stay up late, surfing channels, hoping to catch a glimpse of something sexual. The guilt and shame he felt only intensified the rift of intimacy in their marriage. Although he rationalized his actions, Mark knew that Sheila would be devastated to discover what he was doing. More than anything else, he longed to be pure, to share his sexuality only with Sheila. But life was too busy, his desire too strong, his will too weak, and the gulf between them too great.

Like Mark, your husband depends on you to be his partner in his battle against sexual temptation. Although you aren't responsible for his actions, you are a key component in his victory. You're the only woman in the world whom your husband can look at sexually without compromising his integrity!

Again, please understand: You aren't responsible for your husband's sexual behavior. Don't be motivated out of fear that he will act out if you don't meet his needs; rather be motivated out of love and a desire to share his spiritual journey with him.

1Hart, The Sexual Man, 70.

Sex Is a Relational Need

The lack of regular sex is a significant barrier to emotional connectedness and intimacy for men.

by Dr. Juli Slattery

Research indicates that sexual satisfaction and marriage go hand in hand. 1 Surprised? Probably not. From a woman's perspective, it makes perfect sense that people are much more sexually satisfied when they have a good relationship. Before drawing too many conclusions from this fact, let's take another look at it.

In graduate school, I took several classes to learn how to conduct and understand psychological research. (Not my favorite classes by any stretch of the imagination!) One of the most important principles that stuck with me was "correlation does not mean causation." Correlation means that two events tend to coincide. For our purposes, sexual and marital satisfaction are correlated. Our assumption that a good relationship leads to good sex is making the leap from correlation to causation. It's just as possible (especially from the male perspective) that great sex causes a satisfying marriage, not the other way around. In fact, some biological research supports this theory.

Just like sexual drive, the warm feelings of connectedness, trust, and bonding that we associate with good relationships are also impacted by brain chemistry. Oxytocin is often called the "cuddle hormone." The presence of this hormone causes people to feel bonded to each other and experience relationships as emotionally gratifying and positive. Both men and women have oxytocin in their bodies. However, the presence of estrogen in a woman's body makes the impact of oxytocin much more powerful. This partly explains why women are far more likely than men to seek emotional intimacy in their relationships.

In women, levels of oxytocin skyrocket during labor and breastfeeding, encouraging the maternal behaviors and bonding so powerfully experienced in new moms. The only time levels of oxytocin significantly increase in men is right after orgasm. (Women's oxytocin levels spike after orgasm as well.)

Have you ever noticed that your husband seems to treat you differently after sex? He's more attentive (perhaps after a brief nap), more affectionate, and more appreciative? This isn't just your imagination. He is biologically wired to bond with you after sex. He literally feels emotionally closer to you after orgasm — and that's not just a line!

The lack of regular sex is a significant barrier to emotional connectedness and intimacy for men. Likewise, sex is perhaps the most powerful force bonding a man emotionally and relationally to his wife. Beyond just the act of having sex, sharing and embracing your husband's sexuality is perhaps the most powerful way to build the intimacy you so desire in your marriage. How can you truly be connected with him if you ignore or minimize the one aspect of his life that dominates him physically, emotionally, spiritually, and relationally?

1Archibald D. Hart, Catherine Hart Weber, and Debra L. Taylor, Secrets of Eve (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004), 162–63.

So, What's the Holdup?

More important than giving your husband frequent sex is a commitment to embrace sexual intimacy in your marriage.

by Dr. Juli Slattery

Typically when I meet with a couple for marriage counseling, I ask both the husband and the wife the question, "What would you like to see changed in your marriage through our time together?" Most of the time, the wife is the first to respond. She doesn't have to think too hard about the question because she usually is the one who initiated counseling. Her answer often sounds something like this: "I hope we communicate more. I want him to understand my needs. I want to feel closer and more appreciated by him."

She might also include specific requests, such as help with housework, more involvement in parenting, or a more active role in spiritual leadership.

Nine times out of 10, the husband's response has something to do with sex. His request is usually short and straightforward. And nine times out of 10, the husband gets some kind of disgusted or dismissive look from his wife. Her body language screams, "You have got to be kidding. That is so superficial!"

Sometimes she gives me one of those woman-to-woman looks that say, "See what I have to deal with! How are you going to fix this?"

Take a step back from this situation and look at the facts. The wife has made at least three or four demands on her husband. He makes only one from her . . . and she dismisses it as petty and superficial. As a wife I understand the woman's reaction. As a psychologist, I recognize that her response is illogical. Why is this such a roadblock? If sex is the one thing that would make the difference for him, the one thing that really makes him feel loved, why not make it a priority? Why is it so much easier to make his favorite meal or buy him an elaborate birthday gift than it is to meet his sexual needs?

As you read about the importance of sex to your husband, you may feel as if 50-pound bags of sand have been heaped upon your shoulders. As much as you want to be a good wife, it just feels like he's asking too much. But why? Although we have addressed and will continue to address aspects of this question, let's look at a few reasons why sex may be unappealing to you:

Although these are valid barriers and concerns, remember this: Your lack of interest in your husband's sexuality is a significant barrier to intimacy. You may have legitimate reasons for minimizing sex in your marriage. In fact, your marriage may need a lot of work before a healthy sex life can even be considered.

I also want to emphasize that I am not saying, "Just do it." Your needs are just as important as his. A great sex life means taking into account both persons' needs and desires. I don't agree with well-meaning counselors who suggest that a wife promise to have sex three times a week with her husband. That approach is one-sided and defeats the whole purpose of sex: oneness and love.

More important than giving your husband frequent sex is a commitment to explore and embrace sexual intimacy within your marriage. There is a huge difference between the two!

Your Husband's Sex Drive Is God's Gift to You

Your husband's sexuality was designed for your pleasure and intimacy.

by Dr. Juli Slattery

For the most part, this series builds the case that sex is the greatest gift that you can give to your husband. Let's switch gears for a moment and explore how your husband's sex drive is a gift to you. (No, you didn't read that wrong, and it's not a typo!)

You can spend so much time fretting about and avoiding sex that you miss the obvious. While acknowledging that sex is a huge force in your husband's life, don't neglect the fact that God created that force for your use as well. In fact, you should become jealous and possessive of the power inherent in your husband's sexuality. It was intended for you!

The story of Samson has always intrigued me (Judges 13–16).What he had in brawn, he must have lacked in brains. When Sunday-school teachers tell the story of Samson, they usually skip past the fact that Samson had lady problems long before sexy Delilah entered the scene.

Samson was a strapping young man whose attention was seized by a beautiful Philistine woman. He told his parents, "Go get her for me," which they did. (I guess they never read The Strong-Willed Child!) During the wedding feast, Samson taunted the Philistine guests with a riddle, betting them that they couldn't solve it. Samson's brand new wife told her kinsmen the answer to the riddle and ended up marrying Samson's friend. The next time we see Samson with a woman, he is sleeping with a prostitute.

Fast-forward several years to Delilah, another beautiful woman. Three times, Samson lied to Delilah about the source of his strength. Three times Delilah betrayed her lover. Yet Samson stayed with her and eventually confided the true secret of his prowess. As strong as Samson's muscles were, his sex drive appears to have been stronger.

We often look at a man's sexual desire as a weak link or an Achilles' heel. As with Samson or David, the promise of fleeting pleasure has the power to strip him of all that he values in life. However, what can be a source of evil can also be a force of great good. Just as twisted women are able to pull men into sin, virtuous women can use the influence of sex to call men to morality, love, and godliness.

Like many wives, you may be desperate to work on your marriage. You may long for your husband to read relationship books with you or attend marriage seminars (and actually take notes). If you really want his attention, work with the way God designed him. A great sex life won't solve the problems in your marriage; however, it will fortify your husband's desire and commitment to work toward intimacy. Your sexual relationship may be the "on-ramp" to communication, conflict resolution, and building the emotional intimacy you are longing for.

Like any married couple, Mike and I have our disagreements. In fact, we even have a full-out argument every now and then. He retreats to his corner, and I retreat to mine. Each wonders when the other will extend the olive branch with a hug, an apology, or a kind word. During these tense times in our marriage, I pay more attention than ever to how I look. I'm conscious to put on makeup and wear something relatively attractive. Why? Because I desperately need my husband's attention. I want him to desire emotional and physical connection with me. It's a potent force for encouraging reconciliation.

No amount of nagging, pleading, talking, or counseling can grab your husband's attention the way his sexual desire for you can. Just look at advertising. No approach is used more frequently or more successfully than sex appeal. Why aren't you using it in your marriage? As a good friend of mine says, "If you want to improve your marriage, invest in your underwear."

Look at it this way: How is your husband likely to respond to these two statements—"Honey, I really think we need to talk about our marriage. I feel like we are drifting apart." Versus . . . "Babe, I want to work on our sexual relationship. I want to know how to please you and how to make our sex life awesome."

Which book do you think your husband would be more interested in reading: The Seven Keys to a Great Marriage or Red-Hot Monogamy?

Please understand — I am not suggesting that you use sexuality to manipulate your husband! Withholding sex when you don't get your way or lavishing him with it when you do is manipulation. I am suggesting that you embrace this fact: There are many forces in your husband's environment that use sex to garner his attention. They are stealing the power that God intended for you. Instead of sitting passively by, claim it.

Satan consistently twists into evil what God designed for good. By God's good design, a man's sex drive is strong. If it is harnessed and intensified within marriage, it can be an incredible force fastening a man's affections and passions to his wife. I believe that it is right and godly to claim your husband's sexual desire as a potent source of influence in your marriage. This power was intended for you and for no one else. Unfortunately, if you don't claim it, someone or something else will.

"Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God" (Exodus 34:14).Notice that in this verse, God tells the Israelites that His name is "Jealous." We often think about jealousy as a bad quality, so why would God define Himself as jealous? The obvious answer is that there are some things that we should be jealous about. God's jealousy for the hearts of His people is holy and righteous. They belong to Him and were created for His pleasure.

The same applies to your sexual relationship with your husband. You should be jealous of your husband's sexuality! It was designed for your pleasure and intimacy. The power of his sexuality was also designed for your influence in his life. Through his sexuality, you have a powerful place in your husband's life that should belong to only you. It sets apart your relationship as distinctive from every other person in his life. No one can share with him as you can. Instead of lamenting the compelling sexual appeal of pornography and co-workers in your husband's life, focus your energy on reclaiming the influence that is rightly yours.

It's Your Gift. Unwrap It!

As you digest this information, you may feel defeated by your perceived inability to meet your husband's sexual needs. Perhaps emotional or physical limitations convince you that the gift in this series is impossible for you to unwrap. No, you cannot compete with the raw sensuality dangled at men in our culture. You have neither the energy nor the physical attributes to look like a cover girl or a Playboy centerfold. Yet what you do have to offer your husband is far more profound.

Fulfilling your husband sexually encompasses so much more than the physical act. It means inviting his sexuality into your marriage, embracing all that he is, hopes, and desires. It includes wanting to fully understand him and welcoming the sexual appetite that expresses his masculinity. It involves striving with him through weakness and temptation and covering his fears and failures. No magazine, no coworker, no porn site can be this teammate and confidante for your husband. This is your place; this is your power; this is your gift. Unwrap it.

Next Steps and Related Information

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