What do couples do when one wants sex and the other doesn’t?

Jay Dee

What do couples do when one wants sex and the other doesn’t?

Jun 29, 2020

The difference in sexual desire between a husband and a wife is one of those universal conflicts.  I think just about every marriage deals with it at some point.  If yours hasn’t yet – well congratulations newlyweds! Just because it’s a conflict though doesn’t mean

What do other Christian couples do when on espouse is in the mood and the other isn't?  We were curious as well, so we asked our readers.  We got 1300 responses!  Curious as to what they said?  Check out the survey analysis.

The difference in sexual desire between a husband and a wife is one of those universal conflicts.  I think just about every marriage deals with it at some point.  If yours hasn’t yet – well congratulations newlyweds!

Just because it’s a conflict though doesn’t mean it ends up a fight.  It just means you have two people who have differing opinions, desires and preferences.  How they manage those differences is what matters.

So, a few months ago, I thought I’d pose the question to our community – what do you do when one spouse wants sex and the other doesn’t ?  We had about 2000 people fill out the survey – though only about 1300 of them completed it in full.  Turns out the survey took some people a long time to fill out – about 20 minutes on average.

For those who took the time – thank you!  Honestly, I didn’t realize how long it had gotten. If you haven’t yet, but still want to – because I do pull data to answer individual questions sometimes, you can still fill it out here.

But you don’t care about all that – you’re here for the analysis of that data.  So, let’s get started with some basic demographics first.

30% of respondents were female, 70% were male and we had a pretty standard curve of ages.

And while the vast majority of our respondents are married (95%), some are not.  The rest are divorced, widowed, single or engaged.

Of those that are or were married, we have a good mix of younger marriages as well as longer term marriages.

Of those that aren’t, I asked what their relationship status was.

I’ll be honest, I was a bit surprised by this one.  Almost 50% of our non-married readers are having sex. If you take out those who aren’t in a long term relationship, 71% of those that are in one are having sex.  That’s a bit frightening to me, because I see the heartbreak of those married couples who had sex prior to marriage.

Moving on.

On a scale of 1 – 10, are you and your spouse more sexually responsive (1) or spontaneous (10)?

People on average answered that they were more spontaneous (7) and their spouse was more responsive (4.5).

Men on average answered an 8 for themselves and a 3.4 for their wives.
Women on average answered a 6.9 for themselves and a 7 for their husbands.

How would you rate your and your spouse’s sex drives?

Men rated themselves as somewhere between “somewhat high” and high.  The wives thought somewhere between average and “somewhat high”. 

Women rated themselves as average, but the husbands said between “somewhat low” and low.

So, what’s going on here?

Two things I think:

  1. We tend to get readers who have higher/stronger/more spontaneous drives.  Don’t get me wrong, we have plenty who aren’t, but we do lean in that direction.  
  2. I think spouses often aren’t very transparent about their drives.  It’s entirely possible that a lot of the “higher drive” spouses in the marriage actually have an even stronger drive than their spouses know, because they don’t want to scare them off, pester or annoy them.

How would you rate your and your spouse’s desire for sexual adventure?

Men said that they were somewhat adventurous, but their wives were between “in the middle” and somewhat conservative.

Women on the other hand put both themselves and their husbands in the “in the middle” to somewhat adventurous range.

Do you think maybe women are a bit more adventurous than their husband’s think?  I definitely think so.  But I also think that often they’re too scared to talk about it, and their idea of adventure might be slightly different.

If you ever read a romance novel (not that I’d suggest it), you’d realize that women’s fantasies are quite adventurous – they’re just often not what men’s are.  Whereas men tend to fantasize about physical things like activities, words said, places, etc, women tend to be more drawn by the mood, dynamic, tension, etc..  At least, that’s my understanding.

These two things aren’t irreconcilable, but they don’t exactly translate 1:1 either, which can make it a bit difficult to get on the same page about.

How often would you like to have sex?

Men say they’d like to have sex about 4.5 times per week – and their wives agree! – that the men would like to have sex about 4.5 times per week.

I always find this an interesting one.

Men are constantly underestimating how often their wives want sex.  For a few reasons:

  1. I think we have bought into the idea that women don’t want sex.
  2. I think men are terrified of rejection, more than anything else in the world.
  3. I think we preemptively guess that there are going to be rejections, so we don’t initiate as often as we feel desire, and as a result, we miss out on a lot of opportunities.

Of course, there are some wives, and some husbands, who just really don’t want to have sex that often.  But it’s not as many as you’d think.  Only about 7% of women and 2% of men in our responses want sex less than once a week.  

However, keep in mind, that if they never want sex again, chances are they’re not going to fill out a survey about sex on blog about intimacy.  But, when asked when the last time they had a discussion about their desired frequency of sex, here’s what we see.

Now, I wanted to know what impact discussing your desired frequency had on actual frequency.  I so badly wanted to see a nice curve showing that talking about it leads to more sex.  But it doesn’t.  There’s no correlation at all.  

However I did find out that if you aren’t having sex at all, you’re almost certainly not talking about it.  On average, those couples who aren’t having sex haven’t discussed it in the last 7 years or more.  In short, I think they’ve given up, which is sad, because I’ve seen couples re-start their sex lives, even after decades of sexlessness.

Those who are having regular, or even semi-regular sex seem to be discussing it about every 1.5 years or so.

How would you rate you and your spouse’s sexual generosity?

How generous are we to our spouse in the bedroom?  Now, I completely expect people to rate themselves more generous than their spouse on average.  That’s just human nature.  It’s not right, but it’s human nature.

So, what do people say when asked to rate their own and their spouse’s generosity on a scale of 1 – 5 with 1 being selfish and 5 being generous.

Turns out the women are pretty fair on average.  They rated both themselves and their spouses at 3.6 (between “in the middle” and “generous more often than selfish”).  Apparently they believe that both spouses could be more generous in the bedroom.  

The men were not so kind.  They rated themselves at a 4.1 – solidly “more generous than selfish”, but their wives at 3.1 – which is pretty close to smack in the middle of generous and selfish.

What I found most interesting is when you break this up by marital status.

Single people think very highly of themselves, and not so highly of their partners, regardless of gender.  On average they rate themselves a 4.2 and their partners a 3.1.  Again we see the same pattern though of men thinking more highly of themselves and less so of their girlfriends (4.3 and 2.9 respectively) vs the women and their opinion of their boyfriends (4.0 and 3.3).  I am curious, if single people believe their partners to be so less generous than themselves – why stay?  I mean, clearly there are more generous people out there.  You’re not married, so what’s holding you back?  

I suspect it’s because they’re having sex.  I mean, I know they’re having sex – they told me in the survey, but I suspect that’s the reason.

Nevertheless, once they get engaged, they simmer down a bit rating themselves and their fiancees at 3.6 and 3.2 respectively.

And then once you’re married (civil or common law), then women actually rate their husband’s as slightly more generous than themselves on average (3.5 – 3.6 respectively).  The men however, go back to the view they had while single (4.1 and 3.1).

Then some get divorced, and it goes way downhill, regardless of gender.  On average, divorced people self-report as 4.6, and report their exes as 2.8 – that is, moving into that “more selfish than generous” range.  It’s worth noting that the men still think more highly of themselves.  On average, they actually rate themselves at 4.8 if they’re divorced – I mean, they must be almost perfect – and guess what ladies – they’re single!

Sorry if I’m poking a bit of fun here, but the purpose is to sort of shock you out of it.  If I’ve learned anything about divorce from talking to people it’s that those who think the majority of the problems were on their ex’s side, they end up being unhappy in the next marriage as well.  Those who recognize that they have their own side that they’re responsible for and actively work to improve themselves – they learn to be happy.

I want you to be happy – so stop thinking so highly of yourself 🙂

This brings us to second marriages.  The men rebound right back to where they were during marriage – 4.1 and 3.1 for themselves and their new wife.  The wives – not so much.  Seems they carry a lot of mistrust over from the first marriage.  Whereas in their first marriage they tend to rate their husband higher than themselves, in this second marriage, they’ve flipped that.  They now rate themselves at 3.8 and their new husbands at 3.3. Keep in mind, that’s still a more equitable assessment than the men, so don’t be too hard on them.

Unfortunately, as I see often happen, some never learn to take responsibility for their own side.  We see third marriages increase that split even more. Spouses glorify themselves while demonizing their husband or wife.  The men in third marriages jump up to an unprecedented 4.9 – clearly after three marriages, they’re at the top of their game.  Sadly, they’re still terrible at picking spouses.  They rate their latest wife at 3.5.  Which sounds bad, until you see what their wife thinks of them.

Wives in third marriages also think very highly of themselves – 4.5.  Unfortunately, they’re married to men who they rate at a 2.8.  You’d think these couples would just swap spouses so the 4.9 men could go with the 4.5 women and leave the 3.5 women for the 2.8 men – he said tongue in cheek.

I did get three 4th marriage responses, not quite enough to be statistically relevant.  And all men.  However, something weird happened with the 4ths.  All of a sudden, they seem to have figured it out.  They calmed down a bit, rating themselves at 4.3.  Not shocking, really.  What is, is that they rated their wives at 4.0!  

Why?  Not sure.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they think they finally found the right woman – but to be honest, I think it’s more likely they finally made some changes in their own life.  I mean, by your 4th marriage, some wisdom must be coming with age as well as experience.

The last group are those who are widowed.  And, frankly, they’re inspiring.  I think when you lose a spouse, you likely romanticize the relationship you had.  You’d probably rate it higher than it was.  Both men and women who have lost their spouses rate them more generous than themselves.  The women say 4.5 vs 4.8 and the men 4.2 vs 4.4.

What’s inspiring about this is that I wish we could all learn to do that while our spouses were still alive!  When we could be there to appreciate how generous they are.  Because chances are that they are far more generous than we realize or give them credit for, because we don’t bother to take the time to reflect on how generous they are.  Rather, we focus on the times we feel hurt or taken advantage of.

Lord help us see what’s in front of us before it’s gone.

How much sex do you have to have to be considered generous?

Now, sexual generosity is about more than just frequency, however, there is a clear correlation between the two for both men and women.

In short, the higher they rated their spouse’s sexual generosity, the more sex they’re having.  I don’t know if that’s because they’re generous in giving more sex, or because they’re having more sex because their spouse is generous.

My suspicion is that this depends on the gender.  I think men would rate their wives as being more generous the more often they’re willing to have sex.  That seems to be supported by a gender curve up on the men’s responses.  

However, for the wives, there’s a rather sudden jump, as if feeling that their spouse passes a certain threshold of generousity makes them more willing to have sex more often.  Or maybe it’s just a statistical anomaly.  Who knows.

There’s also a direct correlation between a wife’s sexual adventurousness and how her husband views her generosity.

Simply put – the more adventurous he sees his wife, the more generous he perceives her to be as well.  The women feel mostly the same, except there’s a plateau between “somewhat conservative” and “in the middle”.  I’m not exactly sure what that signifies, if anything, but by and large, the women seem to appreciate a more adventurous man as well.  Nothing shocking there for me.  I’ve been saying that forever, though I understand it still goes against the societal narrative that men are the more sexually adventurous gender.

I will note that the men seem to see both sexual frequency and adventurousness as clearer indicators of generosity.  The women are less extreme in their evaluations from low to high.

Are people with spontaneous sex drives more generous?

It’s hard to say.  One on the one hand – having a totally responsive desire system is hard – you never just “want” sex, which can cause your spouse to feel undesired, and that probably limits how generous they perceive you to be.  On the other hand, it actually gives more opportunities to be sexually generous.  If you never spontaneously want sex, and you initiate – well, that’s pretty generous – unless you’re doing it to relieve guilt.

But I’m not sure that’s actually seen.  Because looking at the data – when I filter for those who have a “responsive only” type desire, and yet still initiate sex, the only time it seems to be really appreciated is when they initiate about as often as the other spouse – which sounds more like they’re looking for “fair” than seeing that a completely responsive spouse initiating with any frequency is pretty amazing.

After all, it’s pretty easy to feel the desire to initiate when you spontaneously feel aroused and want sex – but what if you never feel that?  It’s sheer willpower and a desire to show love that causes them to initiate in many cases.

What percentage of the time do you turn each other down for sex?

I’ll be honest, I don’t trust this one.  When you ask people on a survey about sexual generosity how often they turn their spouse down for sex, the answer is invariably going to be very low.  

The men on average said they turn their wife down 0.5% of the time, but apparently their wives are turning them down about a third of the time (35.1%).

The wives on the other hand also said they’re almost never turning their husband’s down for sex (2.1%), but their husbands are turning them down about 1 out of 10 times they initiate (10.7%).

So, part of the disparity is going to be the same as always – people more interested in sex are going to visit a blog about intimacy.  However.  I KNOW there are husbands and wives together filling these out.  So they should have skewed it properly, at little at least anyway

Here’s what I think happens fairly often:

  1. People are generally bad at initiating sex – they think they are initiating, but it’s too subtle most of the time.  Going to bed early is not an initiation.  Giving a look is not an initiation.  “What do you want to do tonight?” is not an initiation.  Unless everyone is very clear what these things are and they catch them as an initiation.  But generally, it’s too subtle.
  2. People often self-sabotage and call it a rejection – if your spouse doesn’t seem in the mood, so you don’t initiate – that’s not a rejection.  But a lot of people think it is.  When I do coaching calls, I hear all the time “I thought he was going to initiate on x night, but he didn’t”, and the husband often says something like “I thought you didn’t want me to because of x, y and z”.  She was expecting it, wanting it, and he sabotaged himself.  Of course, she could have initiated as well, but that’s another topic.
  3. People often think a lot of things are rejections that aren’t  – if you start rubbing your spouse’s back and they say “I’m tired” it doesn’t necessarily mean “no”.  It might mean “let’s make it a quickie”.  I’m bad for this.  My wife often has to clarify what she meant when I pull back thinking she said something she didn’t actually say.

How does initiating sex affect perceived sexual generosity?

This is another weird one.  It seems like for the men in particular, it’s not really appreciated unless it’s equal.

I think what might happen is that sometimes when you get a strained sexual dynamic, the wife asks her husband not to initiate at all.  And so, they don’t initiate sex, at her request.  So, even though she might initiate 100% of the time, he’s not really feeling that it’s out of generosity, but rather that he’s on a leash, only let out when she’s “in the mood”.  I think that might explain the male “I never initiate sex” column.

I honestly don’t know if this happens when the roles are reversed.  It doesn’t seem like it from the data, and I’ve never heard a wife tell me this about her husband.

On the other hand, the women seem to really appreciate it when neither initiates sex.  Which might just mean they like subtle initiations where sex just seems to happen spontaneously, but no one really initiated – you know, like in the movies.  That seems to be the holy grail of relationships for a lot of women – when sex just happens and no one has to think about it or initiate, or be responsible for it.

Does feeling rejected make you think your spouse is less generous?

This doesn’t seem to have a huge impact on women.  Maybe because their sexual prowess isn’t quite as tied to the female psyche as men.  I don’t know.

For the men though, there is a definite correlation.  If they feel hurt – they’re not going to think you’re generous.  But, if rejection never happens, they have a pretty high opinion of you.

In short, men are pretty easy to pin down – on average, they see a generous wife as one who:

  1. Initiates as often as they do
  2. Never says no
  3. Has sex between 2 and 3 times per week
  4. Is sexually adventurous

Women on the other hand seem to want less measurable things.  I mean, some of them overlap.  They also tend to want an adventurous spouse.  They also want an equal initiation ratio.  But apparently on average they’re okay being rejected once in a while, and they’re happy to have their husband initiate sex more often than themselves.  Again, these are averages – your mileage may vary with actual real life women.  I definitely know a few that would not be okay with some of these averages being pinned on them.

Initiation dynamics

Let’s take a look at what the initiation dynamics are in the represented marriages.

Contrary to popular belief, according to the wives, on average, their husbands are not always in the mood for sex.  About 70% of them say they initiate sex when their husband isn’t in the mood at least occasionally. But only 12.5% say it happens often or more.

On the husband’s side, 90% of them say they at least occasionally initiate sex when their wife isn’t in the mood.    About a quarter of them (26.5%) say it happens often or more.

What about the other way?

6.7% of wives and 11.8% of husbands say they’re always in the mood.  To be honest, I expected both those numbers to be higher.  

According to the husbands, their wives don’t initiate very regularly when they’re not in the mood.  That’s probably a good thing, right?  Then again, many husbands complain that they wish their wives would initiate because they themselves want sex, not out of some obligation.  So, maybe it’s not great for them.  

The women on the other hand feel that their husband’s initiate sex fairly regularly when they’re not in the mood – which seems to be a source of frustration for many of them.  But, I think it depends on the situation, because I know there are wives out there as well who just wish their husband would have enough interest in sex to initiate out of their own desire.

And there are also a lot of women who want their husbands to be less timid, to initiate more often, even when they’re not “in the mood”.  Because if you’re a responsive desire spouse, you’re pretty much never in the mood, so you might as well be waiting for Godot.  But this seems to happen a lot still.  Half (52.9%) of wives who answered that they were far on the responsive side of the desire spectrum said their spouse never initiate when they’re not in the mood – which is likely never.  As a result, they’re having sex about 1.2 times per week on average, though their stated desired frequency is more than 3 times per week!

In short – if your spouse has responsive desire – don’t wait for them to be “in the mood”.

Because it turns out that we’re not terribly likely to initiate when we aren’t in the mood.  Even when you just ask those with close to purely responsive desire – 76.5% of men and 58.8% of women say they never or rarely initiate when they aren’t in the mood – which is almost all the time.

What do couples do when one wants sex and the other doesn’t?

So, what if you’re in the mood and your spouse isn’t.  What do you do?  We offered a bunch of different activities, asked which their spouse is likely to do, and which they’d prefer.  Then we asked the same in reverse – what if your spouse is in the mood and you aren’t?

To be honest, I struggled with the best way to show this data, because it’s a lot.  I decided to go through it activity by activity … an hour later I was only maybe a quarter of the way making the charts and realized no one was going to look that closely at them. So, I decided to do this instead.  

So, what happens when you are in the mood for sex, but your spouse isn’t?

According to both men and women, the most likely occurrence is that as soon as they hear their spouse isn’t in the mood, they retract their initiation, but ultimately feel hurt and rejected.  I’m fairly happy to have proof of this, because years ago, I said that there was no good way to say “no” to sex. That whatever way you try, they’re likely to feel hurt. Turns out it’s even stronger than that. Just the idea that you’ll say “no” is enough to have them pull back and still be hurt.

So, which outcome would people prefer?

For both men and women, what they’d like is to have their spouse ask for help getting in the mood.  If that’s not on the table, the men would like a blowjob.  The wives just want typical sex.  Maybe a quickie.  The rest of the options are fairly far behind.

Now, this is sort of funny, because I’m seeing the opposite of a stereotype here. I hear over and over again that women prefer oral sex to sex, that they can’t orgasm from “typical sex”, that the penetrative sex is for the guy, and all the other stuff is for the girl. Yet, here we see that what the wives in our survey would prefer is straight up sex.


So, which options do our respondents offer their spouse most often?

And when asked for sex when they’re not in the mood, wives still offer “typical sex” most often rather than a quickie or any of the other options.  You think maybe on average wives like sex more than people think?  

Then men offer this most often as well.  After that, the men offer oral sex most likely – my guess is because, well, that’s what we’ve been told women like.  Or it could be the golden rule – they want blowjobs, so they offer oral sex.  Not in a tit-for-tat sort of way, but in a “well, this is what I’d appreciate, so I’m hoping she will too”.  At least, that’s my hope.  

And the women offer quickies, which is also their second preference, so we seem to be following a pattern here.

Who decides if you have sex or not?

So, in a Christian marriage, who should get to decide when you have sex?  

Sadly it often defaults to the spouse with the least interest in sex.  This tends to play out in two different ways:

The first is that the lower drive spouse is gatekeeping sex – Typically it’s because they’re uncomfortable with the idea of sex. 

Sadly most don’t want to think about it.  They’ll just “give in” to sex once a month (or less).  If they’re wives, it’s often when they’re ovulating, so their biological interest peaks enough that combined with the guilt of what they’re doing to their spouse, they have sex.  Eventually, their heart often hardens enough that even that disappears and the marriage lapses into a dead bedroom status.

The second is that the higher drive spouse stops initiating – For some, it hurts the pursuing spouse too much to continue to have sex with someone who isn’t invested in their physical relationship.  

From clients, I hear 4 potential outcomes in both of these kinds of marriages:

  1. Divorce – their spouse just can’t take it anymore.  They’re tired of being roommates.  Sometimes it takes years, sometimes decades.  Some choose to wait until after the children are out of the house.  Some wait until they have a health scare and think “I don’t want to die in a marriage like this”.  Unfortunately by this point, it’s hard to fix the marriage.  In truth, they left a long time ago.
  2. Affair – The Bible tells us that frequent sex is not only for fun, but also wards off temptation.  With that protection gone, sadly many succumb.  I’m not saying it’s the fault of the gatekeeping spouse – but they definitely hold some responsibility.  When you’ve been denied for years, or decades and someone comes along with clear desire for you – that’s a powerful temptation.  Sometimes this actually makes the marriage unbearable enough to do something about it and can kick off reform – but it’s a hard way to go.
  3. Growing contempt – They continue to live like this, not willing to break the comfortable hell they’re living in.  Their children grow up seeing a perversion of marriage – really a zombie marriage – dead, but still walking around pretending to be alive.  Those children bring that baggage into their own marriages later on.  Both spouses try to be “happy”, but their marriage is like an anchor weighing them down.  The longer they stay like this, the harder their hearts get towards each other, but the most used to the pattern they get, the less hope there is, and so not much impetus to change.
  4. Sometimes there’s a hormone shift – Particularly when the gatekeepers are wives, sometimes they hit menopause, or pre-menopause and suddenly they’re libido spikes.  They now understand what their husband has been wanting all these years.  These are sometimes the saddest cases, because after decades of being denied, sometimes those husbands have hardened their hearts so much to protect themselves that they’re no longer interested in any real relationship with their wife.  In short, the tables have turned.  Some might see this as fair play – sometimes the men say something like “well, now you know how I felt”. I think it’s a tragedy.  Both spouses fighting for the same thing, each unwilling to meet the other’s needs when it doesn’t suit them, and so neither get what they should have.

But some are brave enough to dig into why – I have 18 wives currently going through my Becoming More Sexually Engaged course as I write this, many of whom just had a realization this week that they’re gatekeeping sex in their marriages and recognizing the damage it’s doing and are working hard to change that.  I’m so proud of them!  

But it’s not only wives who do this.  There are a number of men who gatekeep sex as well.  In about 10% of marriages the husbands actively refused to have sex.  It’s a problem no one is talking about or addressing, but is very real and is hurting a lot of families.

Thankfully, that doesn’t seem to be the average experience according to our respondents.  At least not yet.  I have a feeling it’s going to become more prevalent as our society continues to prioritize personal rights and feelings over commitment and unconditional sacrificial love.

But for now, according to the wives, only about 21% of marriages only have sex when both spouses are in the mood.  Honestly, I thought this would be higher, because this is what movies portray as the only time you should have sex.  A lot of sex and relationship experts out there say things like “you should only have sex when you’re in the mood” completely ignoring how responsive desire works.  I’m not saying force yourself, but there’s a wide gap between “grin and bear it”, and being open to being aroused.

What do couples do when one spouse is in the mood and the other isn't?  26% only have sex with both spouses are in the mood.  33% will have sex if either spouse is in the mood.  Learn what else we found out from our survey of over 1300 married Christians on our site.

The husbands on other hand say that number is closer to 28%, but still, it’s in general ballpark.  I think also, given that women tend to be the gatekeeper more often (again, not always), if they’re reading this blog, they’re likely either not gatekeeping, or trying to reform that behaviour.  So, it stands to reason that the responding wives have a slightly better attitude towards sex than the wives of the men who responded.

Of course, these numbers shift dramatically depending on the spouse’s sex drives.

For example, wives who report their sex drive being “somewhat high”, “high” or “very high”, only 4% said that they typically only have sex when they’re in the mood because they’re willing to be aroused.  It’s not hard for them.  The scary ones are the 30% of wives that consider themselves as having a non-existent sex drive who say they typically only have sex when both spouse are in the mood.  On average, they’re only having sex about once a month or less – in other words, their marriage is considered clinically sexless.

And yes, there are “non-existent” drive husbands who only have sex when they’re in the mood.  They have sex about as frequent as when the genders are reversed.

But I was happy to see that large red spike of “if either or both spouses are “in the mood”” for that the women reported.  Frankly, I think they’re living out the biblical counsel in 1 Corinthians:

Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

1 Corinthians 7:5

The men say that model doesn’t occur as often in marriage from their perspective.  And that’s sad.   If you ignore gender, according to our respondents, whose marriages are likely more sex-positive than average, still only 1/3rd of marriages keep what I’d consider the biblical model of neither spouse having veto power over sex.  

But I suppose that shouldn’t be surprising.  After all, we don’t talk about sex in church, with our children, or often even with our spouse.  There aren’t many people hosting small groups going through Song of Solomon.  And Paul predicted that the majority of Christians would cease to follow the truth, that they would stop reading The Word (2 Timothy 4:1-5), but rather listen to whatever nonsense made them feel good.  

And yes, I absolutely think your married sex life is a reflection on you and your spouse’s relationship with God.  How can it not be?

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

Ephesians 5:22-33

Whatever you believe about these verses, what’s clear is that we should love our spouses sacrificially.  How does only having sex when you want it show sacrificial love?  If we can’t even treat our spouses well, how can we treat anyone else lovingly?  And if we can’t do that…

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.

John 13:34-35

If you don’t love your spouse, how will others know that you are Jesus’s disciple?  Will Jesus recognize you as one of His?

P.S. I know there are cases where there is abuse, past or present, physical and mental health issues that need to be worked around and on. In some cases, the ideal isn’t possible for those marriages at this time. Also, in most cases, it’s not wise for you to throw Bible verses at your spouse and call them to repentance. I write posts like these for those who are searching, or feel convicted to make a change in their own attitudes and behaviours. Not for you to use a hammer on your spouse. Go against that warning, and you may find your sex life goes in the opposite direction you were hoping for. Let the Holy Spirit guide your conversations and convict your spouse if need be. To try and take His place is dangerous. Rather, be open to what The Spirit might be leading you to change on your side of the marriage.

Looking for help?

10 thoughts on “What do couples do when one wants sex and the other doesn’t?”

  1. David Krueger says:

    “People often self-sabotage and call it a rejection – if your spouse doesn’t seem in the mood, so you don’t initiate – that’s not a rejection. But a lot of people think it is.”

    I would argue this one. “your spouse doesn’t seem in the mood, so you don’t initiate.” Using past experience, there are times I am excited, been thinking about being with my spouse later in the evening. When we’re both home I can tell my spouse is in a mood that no amount of initiation will overcome, so I don’t initiate, and am left feeling rejected. What is the other option? Attempt initiation only to be rejected, and now one spouse feels rejection, while the other annoyed by the advances?

    1. Jay Dee says:

      So, to be clear – her mood had nothing to do with you – she was already in a bad mood, not because of something you’d done. So, instead of working with her to improve her mood, you instead leave her to her bad mood, avoided the whole thing, and then chose to feel rejected despite her not even knowing you were desiring sex? Yeah, I’d 100% consider that self-sabotaging and not rejection. What’s the other option – love your wife and help her get out of her bad mood! I doubt she wants to be there any more than you want her to be there. Why would you try to attempt initiation when she’s in a bad mood? Try to fix it first, then initiate. If it’s not fixable, then don’t, but be clear – it has nothing to do with you. She’s not rejecting you, she’s just not in the right context.

  2. Neglected Husband says:

    My wife and I used to have a very sexually active relationship. After getting kids and getting a full time job , she slowly but surely stopped wanting to have sex started denying me more to the point where I feel lucky if I get to have sex once a month and ecstatic if it’s 2 times in a month. I know my wife has had some sexual abuse trauma from her childhood and I don’t believe has fully worked through that yet and I encouraged her to do so, but she will not.. I think now more than anything it’s a crutch for her whereas during our dating and newlywed stages it was never brought up and we were very intimate and exploring. She has told me she has lost her desire, her libido, her horniness and it all has to do with her stress, frustrations, work, kids, et cetera.

    She has told me that she puts the kids 1st and that our relationship is sitting at 3rd or 4th. I have told her I put her 1st, it’s her 1st and our relationship right next to it, and the kids are in a different league of their own. She complains about not having enough time, not being in the mood, not having enough energy, but somehow does a workout routine nearly every day.

    We have discussed this time and time again, she’s promised to do better and initiate at least once in a while and really work on herself and our sexual reliations. However, this never happens and I’m feeling rejected multiple times as I want to stop myself from asking and initiating but my desire for her and intimacy with her Is this far stronger. I’ve told her about how important intimacy is for us, about how I feel rejected, about how I need this sort of thing.. She replied in many different forms, Such as saying I’m only in it to get my Dick wet, but mostly by telling me that I treat her like a sex object, which I don’t, Or that she does love me and she is attracted to me but she just doesn’t desire sex as much as I do but it has nothing to do with me….

    All of this has really started to make me anxious and unsure and Ihurtful. Now I’m ery hesitant to even try to initiate any more. This has caused me more problems because I’ve always been a very confident man and confident lover and very sure of myself and she’s the 1st person who can really tear that down and make me feel very small. She always has an excuse, we never can do it on weekends,…. There’s always a reason for not doing it on week nights et cetera et cetera. I’m really at the point where I don’t know what to do anymore I don’t want to divorce but I don’t want to live in a sexless marriage either. I’ve tried to tell her to read like I have but she won’t do it. It’s come to the point where I truly feel it’s damaging our marriage and My feelings towards her. It as well has opened up my eyes to women around me or women who I may meet on a business trip or something like this, I’ve come to realize a lot of times I am being hit on and I’ve even denied opportunities because of my Passion and my love for my wife. However, her constant rejections and her not being willing to really work on our intimacy Has made me feel so alone and now desperate so that I wonder one day Will I be able to overcome beautiful woman’s advance?
    Any advice? Anything I can do? I feel like I’ve done everything you’ve already suggested and it’s not working…..

    1. Jay Dee says:

      You won’t like the answer. If the stated reason is that she has too much other things to do, and that all these things are the reason she has no interest in the relationship – then you remove them all. Cancel all the kid’s programs. Cancel all social engagements. Cancel all events, vacations, trips, etc.. If there is no enough time for the relationship, there is not enough time to do any of the extras in life. Once you cut all that out, maybe she can quit her job if the finances allow for it. The relationship is more important than all of those things. Replace some of those events and things with counseling for her. If she won’t go, then you go and get the counselor to help give you tools and strategies to help with a wife who won’t address her trauma.

      What your kids need is two parents in a good, healthy relationship – not gymnastics, hockey and vacations. The world managed for millennia without these extras.

  3. Sharon Bradshaw says:

    Is there a ‘Becoming Less Sexually Engaged’ course for the sexual pursuers? Seems like the onus is always on the sexual responder to change, as if something is wrong with them. Why not have both parties work on meeting in the middle?

    1. Jay Dee says:

      There isn’t because I’ve never met a couple who had a healthy relationship and decided that reducing one person’s drive is the right way to go. Every time a wife reaches out to me about differences in desire, it’s because she wishes she had a higher drive. It’s only the men who reach out to ask if there’s a way to lessen their drive, and only because they’re in so much pain from being rejected that they just want it to end – not because their relationship is good and it’s mutually beneficial.

  4. Reggie says:

    I am astounded by the stats presented in this article. Truly and honestly. I don’t know anyone who is having sex this much.

    I rate very low on the libido scale. Of the friends that I speak to about this dynamic in my marriage, they are similar to me. I don’t have much of a sex drive at all, and it hasn’t bothered me. I’ve never been “sexual”. I have rarely felt “sexy”. When my spouse and I were trying to actively overcome the issue of the disparity of our drives, we agreed to a twice-a-week schedule, that helped, but it didn’t fulfil, ultimately. But, for the sake of our marriage and for the sake of our closeness, we continue to aim for this standard of twice per week.

    We are currently in some pretty hefty marital distress, and I believe this mismatch in our desire for sexual activity and adventure is likely at the heart of it all. It’s how my search for some insight has landed me on this article. But, as I said, I have nearly no libido.

    I love my husband very much, and I admire him too. But this article doesn’t address my situation at all. And this omission seems to not be reflective at all of my own lived experience and that of other women with whom I am in relationships, where we talk about these things.

    I just don’t understand wanting that much sex, being ready to go all the time, or wanting to be ready to go. This all feels like it’s pointing toward there being something wrong with me, when I, now post menopause, … really… doesn’t this all feel a little late to be identifying that something is wrong with me?

    Where do I begin? Because, if this is actually at the hear of my marital issues, it probably needs to be addressed.

    1. Jay Dee says:

      These are fairly common stats. Every survey I do comes out in the same range. Now, there are going to be some who are higher, and some who are lower (we know for example about 10% of the population are in sexless marriages), but this is a solid average and inline with other stats as well.

      And I think we put too much emphasis on libido. The willingness to be intimate with your spouse is far more important than a physical desire. That’s the mismatch that usually needs to be addressed – not sex drive, but willingness to meet your spouse’s needs. I think it’s hard to claim “I love my husband very much” while also saying that you’re not really interested in meeting his desire for intimacy.

      I mean, I love my kids very much, but if I said “well, I’m not really interested in feeding them” – then I think people would question my love for them.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Spouse who turns you down for sex can be problematic. If the wife is truly low drive to a point where the husbands being turned down to 34 times in a row, it’s very simple. You just add masturbation into the mix and that gets both parties satisfied. Just use moderation and spread it out. Parties are happy.

    1. Jay Dee says:

      Or you could fix the marriage instead of trying to side-step the issue. If a wife is turning down her husband 34 times in a row without a good cause – then there is a fundamental issue with the relationship that must be addressed. Masturbation isn’t a solution at all. This leaves both parties miserable – not happy.

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