Is sex a need or want in marriage?

Jay Dee

Is sex a need or want in marriage?

May 31, 2012

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this topic for the last few days, weeks, months, and years.  I guess it’s been on my mind since I got married or shortly afterwards.  As stated in my first post, my marriage started off a little

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this topic for the last few days, weeks, months, and years.  I guess it’s been on my mind since I got married or shortly afterwards.  As stated in my first post, my marriage started off a little rocky, and physical intimacy was one of the large points of contention between us.  My wife had a very low sex drive due to birth-control pills, and I wasn’t helping anything with the emotional walls I had built up as a teenager. Things are much improved these days, but pregnancy, periods, and other life events, of course, occasionally interrupt our sex life.

The effects of no sex in marriage

During the times when we’re not regularly getting that intimate connection, I’m afraid I’m not very patient.  At around day 3 or 4, I start getting a little antsy and frustrated.  This leads to my temper shortening.  I’m harder on the kids, and I’m less emotionally supportive of my wife.  I’m not proud of this.  I fight it, but I haven’t been very successful so far.

Reading this over again, nearly a decade later, I’ve gotten a lot better at it. I still get that disconnected, antsy and sometimes frustrated feeling, but I’m better able to control and communicate it.

My wife has similar symptoms.  Now, sometimes that’s merely a response to my bearish behaviour, but at other times, I’m actually doing okay, but she still struggles with the same symptoms despite not having any feelings about desiring sex.  Her mood suffers when our sexual relationship isn’t as healthy as we both want it to be, whether or not her libido is interested in having some fun.

After a week or so, I start getting depressed, and my mind starts being in conflict with my emotions.  Intellectually, I know my wife still loves me, that this is temporary; it will soon pass, and we can get back to our lives.  Emotionally, I feel abandoned and unloved, betrayed that my wife doesn’t take my needs into consideration, and jealous of any time she spends doing anything else.  I start to sulk and mope, and it takes a lot of effort to feel good generally.

Again, a decade later, I’m better at recognizing this struggle and being in control of what I think vs what I feel – but it’s still a struggle.

Somewhere around the 2-week mark, this transitions into a sort of apathy/pessimism/hopelessness.  I start to feel that this is the new norm, that my wife doesn’t love me and never really did. She’s just taking what she needs (stability, shelter and food for her and the kids), and I’m just a means to those ends. I start to resent any and all things I do for the family (working, cleaning up, putting the kids to bed, etc). It doesn’t stop me from doing them because that’s what you do as an adult with a family. But it starts to wear on me.

Thankfully, we never get to this point any longer.

Of course, the entire time, my mind is trying desperately to convince me otherwise.  During this whole process, I’m wondering if I’m being insensitive, or is my wife, both, or is this just “natural”?

Who’s need is more important?

When my wife and I talk to one another about these things, the conversation always ends up with the same question: Is my desire for sex a need or a want?  Is my wife’s desire for a break a need or a want? And this question is important, I think, because as partners, we should be trying to figure out together what is best for the relationship as a whole, and whether it’s a need or simply a want makes a big difference because:

  1. If my desire is a need and her desire is a need, we have a stalemate.  It’s sort of a toss-up of whose need is more important. Ultimately, I’d say as a husband, I would choose to meet her needs before mine.
  2. If my desire is a want and her desire is a want, we have the same stalemate, and again, I’ll likely sacrifice my own wants for hers.
  3. But, if my desire is a need and her desire is a want, then we should be free to have some physical intimacy (even if sex is off the table due to physical limitations).
  4. Lastly, if her desire is a need and mine is a want, well, then I’d be pretty selfish for trying to push my want over her need.

The stalemates also generally end with the low-drive being the winner by default because, after all, what we all really desire is a partner who desires us, not one that is “giving in.”

What does the Bible say about sexual needs?

In the end, I don’t think I have the wisdom to decide who should give in to the other.  So, I will turn to the only source of true wisdom I know, the Bible. Here’s what it has to do with how to decide this in relationships.

Husbands and wives should be fair with each other about having sex.  A wife belongs to her husband instead of to herself, and a husband belongs to his wife instead of to himself.  So don’t refuse sex to each other, unless you agree not to have sex for a little while, in order to spend time in prayer. Then Satan won’t be able to tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

1 Corinthians 7:3-5

Honor Christ and put others first. A wife should put her husband first, as she does the Lord.

Ephesians 5:25

Before you get upset about this, I am not suggesting throwing a Bible at your low-drive spouse and telling them to get naked.  You cannot take a verse or two and build a theology about it.  You have to check the context and make sure you read the rest of the passage, chapter and book.  The entire Bible would be best.  If you do, you come across the rest of the Ephesians passage:

A husband should love his wife as much as Christ loved the church and gave his life for it. He made the church holy by the power of his word, and he made it pure by washing it with water. Christ did this, so that he would have a glorious and holy church, without faults or spots or wrinkles or any other flaws.

In the same way, a husband should love his wife as much as he loves himself. A husband who loves his wife shows that he loves himself.

Ephesians 5:25-28

Resolving the juxtaposition between differing sex drives

And so, we’re faced with a two-sided coin, like many things in Christianity: faith vs. deeds, love vs. obeying, predestination vs. free will.  Both sides of the coin are true; they just need a new perspective.  We get in trouble when we lean too heavily on one side.

On this coin, we have that you should love and respect each other and not deprive each other of sex.  To me, this says that we should be willing to serve our spouses.  My wife should be fighting to offer sex since that’s what I desire, and I should be fighting to offer her a break since that’s what she desires.  Instead, we fight for our own desires, and we both end up resenting each other.

I, in my admittedly biased opinion, think we were designed to have sex and have it frequently.  God is an amazing designer, and he’s done a fairly smart thing with us:

How it works

Women, generally, feel loved by having their husbands take care of them, be attentive, caring, compassionate and talk to them.  Husbands, generally, feel loved by having sex, to know that their wife desires them.  These aren’t the only ways, but I believe they are the strongest.  Oxytocin and Vasopressin are the drugs that get released naturally into our system when certain things occur it is the hormone that chemically binds you to your spouse.  It’s what makes you feel like you love them, as in the long-term, caring sort of love.  But we get them differently.  Men basically get vasopressin from sex, but women have a few sources of oxytocin, including feeling cared for and being paid attention to.

The high-frequency sex life cycle

So, if you’re having sex often, this is what the cycle looks like:

  1.  You have sex (we’ll start there, but it’s a cycle, so you can start anywhere)
  2. The husband feels loved
  3. He gets a shot of vasopressin
  4. He’s more attentive and caring towards his wife
  5. The wife feels loved
  6. She gets a shot of oxytocin, which makes her feel more in love with her husband, and then we’re back to
  7. You have sex

I believe this is how the cycle was intended.  It’s the only way it works optimally when you have some physical intimacy often (as in every day or two or three, depending on your sex drive or how quickly you leak vasopressin).

The alternative to this is not as pretty.

The low-frequency sex life cycle

  1. You don’t have sex
  2. The husband feels unloved
  3. He runs out of vasopressin
  4. He starts to resent his wife, isn’t caring, isn’t attentive
  5. Wife feels unloved
  6. She runs out of oxytocin and isn’t interested in having sex with someone she isn’t feeling love for
  7. So you don’t have sex

This, of course, leads to a dangerous situation.  The husband feels unloved by his wife, and the wife feels unloved by her husband.  In this case, there are only four possible outcomes:

  1. Divorce
  2. Staying in an unloving relationship
  3. Affairs
  4. Start having sex often

All but option #4 are extremely harmful, especially if you have kids.

Your Turn

So, what do you think? Is sex a need or a want?  Are there times that it is valid to take a break from all physical intimacy other than to pray? Let me know what you think in the comments below.

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