Sex and intimacy (they are related, but not the same!) is a top area of conflict in many marriages. Trying to demand sex from your spouse, or giving up and withdrawing yourself, are not good options. As with all marriage problems, you’ll get farther if you take time to understand something of the Why behind the issue, the reasons your spouse doesn’t want to sleep with you.
It’s a rare marriage indeed where husband and wife both demonstrate the same level of sexual desire. The goal is not to “make” your spouse “give you sex” at the frequency you want. The goal is to learn to love each other well, to continually seek to nourish and grow the relationship between you as you come closer together.
None of these possible reasons your spouse doesn’t want to sleep with you are hopeless. This is simply to help you understand the possible problems more clearly; the solutions are worth addressing more deeply once you understand something of the Why.
Lack of Connection
Many women see sex as an outgrowth of a strong, safe, committed emotional connection. Most men, on the other hand, see sex as a means to achieve that connection. So a husband feeling disconnected may reach out to his wife for sex, hoping to reignite that bonding. A wife, however, may hold back feeling, “Why would I want to have sex with someone I’m not feeling close to?”
Focusing on a sense of connection between you, such as through healthier communication, may well re-ignite the sexual connection as well.
Unresolved conflict in other areas can leak into your sex life. While some spouses may still have a strong desire for sex, many will experience conflict as breaking the connection between you, and will need to have that addressed before they can be open to sex. So conflict over money, parenting, in-laws, household chores, or other issues can block physical (and emotional) intimacy.
Sex will suffer when the other aspects of a marriage are characterized by anger, entitlement, avoidance, keeping secrets, and/or lack of communication.
Porn is a huge issue in today’s world, for both men and women. Pornography destroys relationships. Porn use leads to self-gratification without the effort of investing in a true relationship, and many who use it become unable to be sexually aroused by a live human being.
And even when the ability to be aroused by a human is not lost, porn separates sex from relationship. It rewires the brain, and leads a person to be much less willing to invest in connecting through learning to love well.
For the many marriages where porn is a problem, dealing with that must happen before sexual intimacy can become healthy.
Unhealed Sexual Trauma
Childhood sexual abuse or molestation, early exposure to pornography, dating or intimate partner violence, or other past sexual trauma creates long-term impacts in a person’s brain. That might show itself as “I Hate Sex”, or just the opposite – being sexually insatiable. I believe all humans have been harmed sexually in some way.
When your spouse rejects sex, it may not be you they are rejecting. They may well be rejecting the control or harm or violation they experienced in the past. Until that trauma is healed, real sexual connection with your spouse is blocked.
Healing can take time. But it is possible. Healing doesn’t just happen; it takes intentional investment in the process.
Past Sexual Experiences
Previous sexual relationships affect a person’s ability to bond intimately with one’s spouse now. Every sexual experience creates a “one-flesh” bond, involving brain chemistry and specific neuronal pathways. If/when that relationship ends, those brain pathways remain, and the ability to bond with a new partner is often harder. The more sexual partners one has, the more difficult it becomes for the brain to strongly bond with a spouse currently. Marriage alone doesn’t eliminate those previous brain pathways.
The good news is that God’s healing includes rewiring of the brain, as Barbara Wilson writes about in The Invisible Bond.
Lack of Understanding Sex in Marriage
Religious baggage can be a big roadblock to healthy physical intimacy. It can be hard to go from the “don’t do it” to “now just do it” on your wedding day (perhaps especially for women). The “sex is dirty” mindset can keep you in a double-bind; I’m “supposed” to have sex with my spouse, but inside I still feel sex is somehow wrong or dirty.
Religious messages have also been used to wound and mar what God intended sex to be. Sexual abuse in a religious context is far too common. Some spouses have used Biblical language to demand sex as a right. Shame and guilt, even unconscious, can be intimacy-destroying burdens.
Fatigue and Stress
On a simple biological level, the human body will focus on survival needs before sex. Too much stress or fatigue can take away both sexual drive and performance. For some (especially for men) a sense of failure in career or vocation can feel so shameful as to impair a desire for sex. (That sense of futility can also be a trigger for porn use.)
Fatigue and stress can also become a scapegoat, a false smokescreen to hide behind when other relationship issues are really the problem.
Learning to manage stress, and to care for one’s physical and mental wellbeing, will make a big difference here. If you can’t do this for you, do it for the good of your relationship.
For men, erectile dysfunction or decreasing testosterone are common issues. For women, the hormonal changes during and right after pregnancy or during menopause can make sexual connection difficult or painful. Some medications affect sexual functioning or emotional availability as well. Many illnesses make sex much more difficult. Substance abuse can also impair sexual functioning.
Physical pain during sex can block sexual connection. Pain sets up a negative cycle in the brain; the mind develops a natural aversion to that which causes pain. Difficulty with performance does the same thing. And a caring spouse may hold back, not wanting to cause more hurt.
Medical treatment is often able to make a significant difference in these issues.
An Emotional or Physical Affair
This is the first thought some people have when your spouse doesn’t want to sleep with you. And it certainly can be the case. It’s listed last because as devastating as infidelity is, it’s not the only (or even the most common) reason.
But when a physical or emotional affair is at play, there are almost always many more factors involved than simply lack of sex. The deeper qualities in the relationship are as or often more important.
Such betrayal is not easy to heal from, but it is possible. And rebuilding trust takes time. If both spouses desire to make the relationship work, God can do amazing things. If this is you, get some help!
Understanding something of Why your spouse doesn’t want to sleep with you will help. But it’s only one step. I’ve mentioned briefly the “big idea” necessary to address each of these possible areas. But you and your spouse didn’t get here in a day, and your relationship problems won’t resolve in a day.
Our online course Fully Alive Marriage shows you how to overcome the issues in your relationship, learn to love well, grow emotional and physical intimacy, and develop a healthy marriage that lasts.
Your Turn: Has sex and intimacy been a point of conflict in your marriage? Which of these areas do you believe are involved? Leave a comment below.
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