In some marriages, the spouse with the lower sex drive simply decides their perspective is the most important and ends up being the gatekeeper of sex. That is, they decide when sex is, what sort of sex there is, and generally it’s given out fairly infrequently. They basically keep their spouse locked up in a sexual prison, let out on breaks based on how they feel themselves. And generally this is how most high-drive spouses feel about their low-drive spouse. However, I’m noticing more and more, particularly with low-drive wives, they don’t want to be the gatekeeper. In a sense, they aren’t the one holding the keys to sex, but rather, they’re a prisoner just like their husband.
I was thinking about this in the past week as I got an email from yet another reader that seemed to match this dynamic. So, I thought I’d share it with you.
There are certain markers that tend to set this sort of dynamic apart from the simple refuser/gatekeeper:
- They enjoy sex when they have it – not just orgasming, because orgasm doesn’t necessarily equal pleasure, but actually are engaged and having fun.
- They express that they “want to want to” have sex – Does that make sense? They don’t ever desire sex, but they wish they did.
- They feel regret over their current sex life – they may not verbally express it, but they’re as frustrated over their own gatekeeping as you are.
I think part of the problem when trying to learn how to deal with a gatekeeper/refuser is that not all gatekeepers are the same. This is a particular type, that, frankly, is probably the easiest to work with.
They want to improve. They understand it’s important. They don’t like how things are. They just don’t know how to change. They’re trapped, just like their high-drive spouse.
Treat the gatekeeper and your spouse separately
In a very real sense, your spouse is dealing with two warring personalities. One part of them wants to feel the connection, wants to have fun, wants to have sex. However, another part is adamantly against it, seeming to block any chances, find excuses to avoid sex, or create obstacles to finding time.
The high-drive spouse of course tends to feel that the behaviour is deliberate, that their spouse doesn’t really love or desire them. They feel that their spouse is simply uncaring about their needs and desires and being selfish. While I have no doubt that this is true in some cases, in many others, it’s not.
In these other cases, part of the spouse’s personality is blocking them from switching gears, getting aroused, and generally being interested in sex unless sex is happening. Basically, it’s responsive desire mixed with a layer of asexuality, or even sex-negativity. While their brain is “cold” in an aroused sense, something about their personality, history, beliefs, hormones, or whatever is telling them “You don’t want sex.”
But, when they get turned on, that part of the brain quiets down. In a dual-control model, it’s like the brakes get shut off temporarily, or at least radically dampened. Then, the underlying sex-positive personality seems to be able to come out and play.
And this makes it even more confusing to people who don’t know what’s going on. Because, suddenly their cold-fish attitude spouse is a great companion in bed. Then the next day, you’re back to a lack of interest in sex again.
So, what can we do about this?
How does this change initiation?
For the spouse that is initiating in these cases, I think it’s helpful to treat them almost like there is a guard in their brain that’s preventing them from doing what they want. You have to hold this belief that they really do want to have fun, be passionate and enjoy your company in bed. However, there is a separate force stopping them.
So, your initiation is working off the assumption that they really do want sex, but that on any given day, the guard may interrupt you from taking them out of the prison. On some days the guard is more attentive, like when your spouse has had a bad day, or the week before their period starts, or they haven’t had enough sleep, or they’re stressed about finances. All these sorts of things make that guard super attentive. It really doesn’t want this prisoner to get out.
Other days, like during ovulation week, or when they’ve just had a really good day, and a good night’s sleep, and the kid’s have behaved, or a project went well at work, the guard is a bit more relaxed, or even non-existent.
These days add to the confusion. These are when spouses email me and say they get sex “when the stars all align”. You have no idea how often that phrase, or something similar, comes up in emails I get. But, when you understand that it’s these days that the guard is sleepy, or even absent, then it makes more sense.
How does this change being receptive to initiation?
I know there are some low-drive spouses reading this, and if you are a high-drive spouse, who has a spouse like this, I hope you share this post with them and discuss it. So, if you are a lower-drive spouse in this sort of situation, what can we do for you?
Well, I think you actually have the worst side of the deal. Because while your spouse is missing you and feeling starved for attention, they are outside of the prison, free to act as they desire. Now, those desires may not get met, but at least they can express them.
But you are sort of trapped in a prison in your own mind, guarded by this part of your brain that is quite frustrating to you. You have similar needs (though maybe not as strong), but can’t express them, or even go along with them easily a lot of the time.
So, how do you handle initiation, knowing this guard is going to do it’s best to block you much of the time?
I think just knowing what is going on is the first step. A lot of spouses see a massive change in their sex life as soon as they learn about things like responsive desire, the dual-control model of arousal, and some other pieces. You can read more about them here.
Once you understand what’s happening, it makes it easier to find ways around it. Realize that getting past the guard is the first step. There are three basic ways I’ve found to deal with this guard instead of waiting for “the stars to align” and you go have a perfect day (how often does that happen), or being intoxicated enough to knock the guard out (not advisable).
Slowly slip by the guard
This is the “sex starts in the kitchen” approach that everyone loves to tell you to do. It’s the typical advice of “be attentive throughout the day”, “send texts to know you’re thinking about them”, “send them flowers”, etc..
Basically, manufacture the perfect day.
It can work, at least it works better than not doing anything. However, it still has a high failure rate, because, well, life happens. It’s pretty easy for this to get thrown off. It comes with high expectations over a long period where anything can happen.
Low-drive spouses tend to like this approach, because it doesn’t require much of you. You just get to sit there and be the recipient of love.
Unfortunately, this is basically just appeasing the guard, which feeds it. The next time you are nice, the guard might wake up and realize what’s going on. You’ll start to think they’re just being nice to get sex, and then resent you for it.
Ignore the guard
This option is far more effective, but requires more of a mental investment. It’s basically you realizing the guard doesn’t control you. You see the guard can’t physically throw you back in this prison, because it’s a prison of the mind. It just keeps telling you all the things that will make you want to go back in your cell.
It is possible to recognize the guard has no power, to ignore the things it’s saying, and just keep walking past it. It’s incredibly difficult though because it uses your voice, your thoughts, and it’s hard to separate how you feel from how it feels. Because, well, it’s a part of you.
It takes deciding that what you want is beyond how you feel in the moment. It requires realizing that the future gains will be worth the temporary feelings of mental discomfort. You need to reject the idea that you have to be “in the mood” to have sex and understand that sometimes sex brings you into the mood. Actually, in your case, that’s probably true 90% of the time or more.
Spouses with responsive desire may only feel spontaneously aroused a handful of times in their entire marriage. If you’re going to wait around for that, it may never happen. However, if you can learn to ignore the guard, you will have freedom as soon as you get started.
My wife has figured this one out. It’s not easy for her, and it’s still a struggle, and sometimes the guard still wins, but even on some of those difficult days, she’s been known to say “Let’s just start, and I’ll catch up.” And it usually works. Not always. Sometimes we get started and … it just doesn’t work out. But those are the rare events.
The high-drive spouses tend to like this one, because, well, they don’t have to put in as much effort as #1, but they get all the benefits at a lower risk. However, it takes more of a toll on the lower-drive spouse, at least at first.
Just jump past the guard
This one is a bit more fun and my favourite. This is a mix of the other two really, but in a compressed time, so it reduces the risk. It requires both spouses working together. Basically we’re looking to ramp up arousal so fast the guard is stunned and doesn’t have a chance to stop us.
You need to find something that boosts dopamine fast enough that the guard is ineffective. Because it’s a lot easier to ignore it if you’re already turned on.
Frankly, this is why so many non-Christians suggest porn and erotica, because it’s basically engineered to arouse you quickly. This is also why many Christians mistakenly believed 50 Shades of Grey was “good for your marriage”, because it was using something external to artificially ramp up your dopamine. Basically, these people are having emotional / mental affairs with a book, then going home to meet their physical needs.
Activities that might help you jump past the guard
So, how do we do this in a manner that actually builds your own marriage rather than just trying to get sex?
Frankly, that depends on the person. But I’ll give you some ideas that you can discuss.
I’ve talked about massage a bunch of times, but the fact remains, for many people, it’s an excellent way to ramp up arousal quickly. It’s about a half hour of investment rather than the all-day long approach. Of course, this isn’t an excuse not to be attentive during the day. I’m just saying don’t do it to try and get sex. A massage to get sex though … well, I think everyone knows what’s going to happen when you offer a “full body massage”.
Don’t know how to give a good massage? Check out Melt – Couples Massage Courses. That’s how I learned.
These are a great way to have some fun and ramp up arousal quickly. We have one we’ve made called the Spice Jar that’s a printable foreplay game. Basically, the choice of foreplay is randomly given to a deck of cards (that you pre-filter for your comfort levels). We also have a Truth or Dare game that I built a while ago, just for fun. It was more of a proof-of-concept and I intend to make more, but people love it!
As well, Keelie and Austin over at Love Hope Adventure have a ton of bedroom games that are more game-like in their shop. They’re giving my readers 40% off until Valentine’s Day (use coupon code UNCOVERINGINTIMACY). You can check out their wide assortment here.
Other ways are to get into some of the more “taboo” subjects of sex. Maybe you have some activities that you don’t do often, but that always seem to create an exciting night. Now, that’s going to be different for every couple. If you are fairly vanilla, then simply adding a blindfold might be enough to get you aroused quickly. For others, it might some bondage (real or pretend), or even some more taboo things.
Write your own erotica
Lastly, you could always write your own erotica for your spouse, or write it together, trading off paragraphs.
Now, some are going to ask why I didn’t include sex toys in this list. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for sex toys, however, the key here is to build mental arousal. Sex toys don’t help a lot with that. They build physical arousal and that sort of drags the mind with it. However, it’s not nearly as effective as getting the mind aroused first.
When it doesn’t work out
Now, all these tips and tricks still don’t guarantee that sex will work out, or that it will be amazing if it does. As I said, we still have times where it just doesn’t. The guard wins.
The key here is to not blame yourself, or your spouse. It’s not you vs. them, it’s the both of you vs. the guard. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.
Eventually, you’ll get better at evading the guard, or ignoring it, or tricking it, but for now, you did the best you could. Remember that the low-drive spouse is in a sort of mental prison for crimes they didn’t commit. Their history, be it their own activities, teachings from parents, church, school, friends, etc. have all built up this guard to be stronger than it should be.
This guard, after all, is a God-given system designed to stop us from having sex at inappropriate times, like in the middle of the grocery store. The problem is that the guard has been badly trained and is stopping us at times when it is perfectly appropriate.
And it’s okay to express regret or disappointment that it didn’t work out. What’s not okay is to express disappointment in your spouse. In cases like these, they are trying, just like you are. They just couldn’t get past the mental hurdles.
So, be caring, compassionate and understanding, and decide together to try and escape again tomorrow.
Want to boost your sex drive?
Wives, if you’re looking for a way to improve your sex drive, which will help you get past the guard, Sheila Gregoire has a great course designed to do just that. It tackles the issues at the heart of those who have low sex drives due to mental barriers. Plus, I learned that she is raising the price after Valentine’s Day, so while it’s not quite on sale, it’s a good time to buy. If you’re interested, you can check it out here.
37 Questions for spouses to ask each other about sex
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