How can I make my husband understand that I don't want to have intercourse as often as he does? When I respond that I'm not in the mood, he gets angry and tells me that there are all kinds of things that he does for me when he's "not in the mood" – like going to work, washing the dishes, helping with the housework. I've tried to explain that it's not the same thing, but either he isn't listening or he doesn't believe me. Is there something wrong with me?
You're right to suggest that discomfort with sex is very different from discomfort with a job or some other unpleasant but necessary aspect of life. This is especially true for women, whose feelings about intimacy are subject to the hormonal fluctuations of a monthly cycle and whose general orientation toward sexual stimulation and pleasure is different from that of a man.
For a woman, sex requires a willingness to be vulnerable, transparent, and open to her husband's advances. It involves an ability to trust (an ability which will need special nurturing if she's had a history of childhood abuse, date rape, or mistreatment by men). If she feels used, or if she's uncomfortable for any reason with any aspect of the sexual act, she won't be able to relax and enjoy the moment. That's not to mention that a woman's sexual response usually takes more time and is tied to feelings of romance and emotional intimacy. In fact, her arousal cycle can take as long as 30 to 45 minutes to reach completion. If a couple's entire sex act only lasts 10 or 15 minutes, she won't even have a chance to get going. This is a common reason why some women come away from sex feeling "cheapened."
Bottom line: if your husband is pushing you into doing things you don't feel inclined to do, he's actually squelching your openness and vulnerability. He is, in effect, destroying your ability to trust and forcing you into a corner where you feel like you have no choice except to adopt a defensive attitude. That spells death to genuinely meaningful intimacy. What you somehow need to make him understand is that it is actually in his best interests to back off a bit and wait for you to take the lead. If he can do this, your interest in physical intimacy may revive and the two of you may discover an exciting new sex life together.
We suggest that you look for a good opportunity to sit down and discuss this issue with your husband. Don't put it off until you're in bed together. Don't wait until he's angry and you're on the defensive. Instead, arrange a time when you can go out to dinner and talk about your feelings openly and honestly. Explain your perspective and listen carefully to what he has to say in reply. You owe it to each other to find a solution to this problem.
As you go through this process, keep in mind that the sexual aspect of your marriage is important. It's not something that you can afford to let go by the wayside – not if you want to build a relationship that will last a lifetime. As the Bible says, "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, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control" (1 Corinthians 7:3-5). So for now, set aside any guilt feelings or unrealistic expectations, and simply seek to extend acts of self-sacrificial love, whether in the bedroom or some other part of your marriage. Hopefully this change in attitude, when combined with a healthy dose of relational communication, will begin to open a whole new avenue of sexual expression.
If you recognize that you're missing out on the fun and joy of God's glorious plan for marital intimacy, we'd strongly recommend that you check out Linda Dillow's book Intimate Issues:Conversations Woman-to-Woman. You may also be interested in a Focus on the Family broadcast entitled "Embracing God's Design for Marital Intimacy." Both resources are available through our ministry and can be ordered by calling our offices or visiting our Online Store.
Professional therapy can also be of great benefit to couples in your situation. You can get the process started by speaking with one of our counselors over the phone. Call us. Our Counseling staff can provide you with referrals to trained therapists in your area. Our goal is to help you find the best Christian care available.
Expressing Your Sexuality As a Woman: Debra Taylor discusses how women can prioritize lovemaking and enjoy the gift it's meant to be.
Marital Intimacy (resource list)
Sex and Intimacy