Over the past three articles, we've examined God's design for sex and explored ways that husbands and wives can effectively communicate with one another about the sexual aspect of their relationship. Now it's time to look at some of the real-world issues that may be preventing you from reaching your full sexual potential as a couple.
The common stereotype is that men are always more interested in sex than women. But in reality, there are a number of factors that can hinder a man's desire for sex, and without an understanding of these, they can be hurtful and confusing to his wife. Here are just a few to consider:
- Medication — According to therapists, this is the most common — and commonly overlooked — contributor to decreased male libido. Both prescription and over-the-counter drugs can suppress a man's interest in sex. Talk to your doctor about solutions if you think this is a contributing factor.
- Depression — This is the second most commonly overlooked issue in men, despite the fact that depression is the most frequently encountered psychological issue in America. It's a real sex-drive zapper! Again, talk to your doc if you feel like you might be depressed.
- Pornography — Porn is negatively impacting the lives of an increasing number of respectable Christian men (and women). If you struggle in this area, be honest about it and seek help. With accountability and, if necessary, the assistance of a trained counselor, you can fight back against this menace and restore intimacy to your marriage.
Other factors contributing to sexual problems in males may include childhood experiences or abuse; sexual inexperience or performance anxiety; erectile dysfunction; drugs or alcohol; illness, aging or pain; relationship problems or unresolved conflict in your marriage; and good old-fashioned stress. In every instance, though, there are steps you can take to help offset the effects of these issues. Rather than suffering in silence and letting your sex life languish, take a personal inventory to determine what might be at the root of the problem.
For women, sexual issues can often be traced to one of three root factors. These include:
- Psychological — These can stem from fear, anxiety, guilt, depression, conflict with one's mate, or feelings of inferiority. They may also be related to past sexual trauma. Did you experience sexual abuse as a child? Have you ever been a victim of rape? Were you or your husband sexually promiscuous prior to marriage? Have either of you ever been involved with pornography? If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, it's possible that past experience is impacting your ability to respond sexually.
- Physiological — Some women find intercourse painful due to insufficient lubrication, inadequate stimulation, infection or some other physical cause. Chronic illness and certain medications can also greatly diminish sexual desire. Other physical factors may include hormonal imbalances, vitamin deficiencies, hypothyroidism, menopause, exhaustion and childbirth. If you think your problem may be medical in origin, be sure to discuss your concerns with your physician.
- Relational — I don't want to throw men under the bus here, but it's a fact that a husband's attitudes and behavior have a profound influence on his wife's sexual experience. A woman responds more easily and naturally to her husband's advances when she feels loved, valued, respected, secure and relaxed. But if she senses that she's simply being used, her sexual passion almost inevitably dries up. How does your husband relate to you outside the bedroom? Does he place your needs and concerns ahead of his own? Does he praise you, seek to build your self-image and make himself available to serve in practical ways? Without blaming or shaming, it might be time for a heart-to-heart talk.
Whether we're talking about men or women, these lists are by no means exhaustive. For many couples, the greatest barrier to a more fulfilling sex life is simply busy-ness. If that describes your marriage, take back control. Put sex on the calendar if you must! Making sex an agenda item in your appointment book might seem unromantic, but it could be necessary if you're in a particularly hectic season of life.
If I could boil all of this down to just a few general points to help you cultivate a stronger sexual bond, it would be the following:
- Be upfront. Take responsibility for your sex life. Tell your spouse what feels good to you and what you need. Don't assume that he or she will "just know."
- Plan ahead. Make your sexual relationship a priority by not allowing the hustle-and-bustle of everyday life to snuff it out.
- Give yourselves a break. Your sexual times together need to be free of the demand for having an orgasm, and from any anxiety associated with that. Replace those stressors with closeness, warmth, pleasure and fun.
- Deal with scars and habits. Real intimacy can be difficult to achieve if you're carrying around the baggage of sexual abuse or pornography use. If one of these is an issue for either of you, it's an issue for both.
Deeply meaningful sex is a lot like a wedding cake, built layer by layer. You start at the most basic level and work your way up. You initiate a connection in some small and simple way and then elaborate on it as you move forward. The act of intercourse could be compared to the icing on the cake. It's the finishing touch you put on a painting that you've labored long and painstakingly to get just right.
Baking a cake, painting a masterpiece — use whatever metaphor you want. The fact is that there are a number of things husbands and wives can do, both together and individually, to find that place of "sexual healing" that Gary Thomas (and Marvin Gaye) wrote about. Focus on the Family offers a number of insightful resources, articles and materials to help you do just that. We want you to succeed!
God bless you and your spouse as you celebrate and rediscover the gift of physical intimacy in your relationship.Dr. Greg Smalley is vice president of Marriage and Family Formation at Focus on the Family and the author or co-author of several books, including Crazy Little Thing Called Marriage.
Both husbands and wives can be extremely frustrated by the differences in sexual needs and expectations between them. In her book, No More Headaches, Dr. Juli Slattery helps couples understand and address their sexual relationship while improving the marriage by reducing stress and frustration.
If you or someone you know needs marital help, Focus on the Family has resources and counseling to assist. You can contact us Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Mountain time) at: 800-A-FAMILY (232-6459) or help@FocusOnTheFamily.com