Those of you who read my blog posts, or have heard me speak, might have heard me drop my belief that the Bible was written with the assumption that women had the higher sex drive, or at least were evenly matched.
Now, in our culture, this idea may seem laughable. When I brought it up recently in a conversation with people in my church, they thought the idea so ridiculous, I didn’t get a chance to defend what I’d said. It was just too radical an idea to even consider. So, I wanted to take some time to explain why I think this, for any who are interested, and to clarify my thoughts for myself.
Plus, it’s 4 am, I can’t sleep, so why not.
Part of the problem with accepting this notion is that today’s stereotype is wrong. This stereotype, says that men have higher sex drives, across the board. We see it in everything from pop culture and media to textbooks and classrooms. Sometimes you may hear that in rare cases, women might have the higher drive.
I have long suspected that this was not the case, or rather, that it’s not as rare as people think. I’ve said before that I believe in one quarter to one third of marriages, the wife has the higher sex drive, or is at least evenly matched with her husband. This was an “off the top of my head” estimation based on my interactions with so many couples over the years.
This morning I decided to check my hypothesis, and in one of my surveys, I’ve found data that corroborates my theory.
I’ve been running a survey since January 2014, which so far has 837 respondents. In the survey, among other things, I had asked:
- What is your gender
- Who has the higher sex drive, you, or your spouse
18% of respondents answered that the wife has the higher sex drive. 18%! That’s nearly a fifth. A far cry from “men always want more sex”. Add another 155 spouses who said they have the same drive, and we come up with a figure that states that in a third of marriages, the wife has the same, or higher, sex drive than her husband. Now, granted, those who fill out my surveys tend to be more sex-positive than the general public. So, I’m going to stick with my 25-33% of couples estimation.
So, I suggest we use that as our starting point of “today’s culture”. That one quarter to one third of married women are equally matched, or have even higher sex drives than their husband.
Christian sex-culture and its effect on women
So, if we start with that figure (25-33%), and then look back at the Christian cultural views of sexuality, what do we see? Well, we see a religion, which, unfortunately, has been systematically demonizing sex for centuries. Particularly with regard to women.
I discussed this a bit in my posts entitled What happened to sex when Christianity split from Judaism? Early Christian doctrine taught that Adam and Eve eating from the tree was a euphemism for sex. Add the influence of dualism, and Christianity further pushed the idea that any physical pleasure is wrong. This lead to the conclusion that you should abstain from sex to focus on more spiritual things.
By the year 200 AD, these beliefs grew and were twisted even more. Sex was seen as a necessary evil, only to be tolerated for procreation. In fact, the church forbid having sex on certain days:
- Thursdays, because it was the day of Christ’s arrest
- Fridays, because Christ died on Friday
- Saturdays, in honour of the virgin Mary
- Sundays, in honour of the departed saints
- Some Wednesdays
- 40 day fast periods before Easter, Pentecost and Christmas
- Feast Days
- Days of the apostles
- Days of female purity
By the end, married couples were only “allowed” to have sex 44 days of the year. Even on those days, it was only for procreation, and God forbid they enjoy their necessary evil. This continued through to the Victorian era where the clothing changed to cover everything from the neck down. It was considered scandalous to show an ankle, even in stockings, in public. They started making coverings for furniture legs, because they feared it might inspire the passions of men too much. The general rule given to women about sex in marriage was “give little, give seldom, and above all, give grudgingly”.
In the mid 1800’s, it was a prevailing belief that sex drains your physical strength, that it weakens your mind, and that sex more than once a weak was entering into a life of excess. Sex should be kept to a maximum of once a month, for your health, by some writers. Separate bedrooms were suggested for couples, to keep them from being aroused while their spouse changed upon rising and then again while going to bed. Women were taught they had to fend off their husbands, in order to protect them.
Now, our church has come back somewhat from this, but it’s only been in the last few decades that the church has started to embrace the idea that sex is a good, even holy, thing for married Christians. That idea that “sex is evil” is still very much embedded in the Christian cultural subconscious.
Still, too often, children, especially girls, are taught that “sex is bad”, “sex is dirty”, “sex is sinful”, “don’t do it”, “don’t have it”. Then, when they grow up and get married, no one tells them “hey, all that stuff we told you about sex, throw it away”. Even if they are told, how do you undo 20+ years of programming overnight?
While Christianity hasn’t been able recover quickly, society has. In fact, it pushed too far the other way. Sexuality is everywhere. It’s blatant, and often pornographic, right out in the open, where everyone can see. Christianity’s response, more often than not, is to retreat back on it’s familiar footing of “sex is evil”. Often the baby is thrown out with the bath-water, as it were.
So, how does 2000 years of “sex is evil” mindset alter women’s sex drives? I think quite a bit.
Biblical message of sex
The Bible doesn’t have a lot to say on the topic of sex. I mean, we repeat the same verses over and over again, and sexual immorality gets mentioned a lot, but really there isn’t too much to go on. But, we do have a bit.
The first is regarding rights in marriage, and we see this verse:
If he takes another wife, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, and her marriage rights. – Exodus 21:10
Now, I don’t want to get into the topic of polygamy here, that’s not the point of this post. What I do want to point out is that there seems to be three basic obligations that a husband must provide for his wife: food, clothing and sex. Now, when I mentioned this, others said that sex must have only been regarding having children, since that was what women were required to provide to their husband in return. To that, I point you to the story of Rachel and Leah:
In Genesis 29 and 30 we have the story of Jacob, Rachel and Leah. If you don’t know it, Jacob was in love with Rachel, he wanted to marry her, but her father switched her with her sister, Leah, on the wedding night. Jacob is furious, and takes Rachel to be his wife as well, which starts a feud between these two sisters.
Leah seems to be quite fertile, and in short order has four children, and then was ceased bearing children (Genesis 29:35). In fact, she’s so convinced that she can’t have any more children, that she gives her servant to her husband to have more.
Some time later, Leah makes a bargain with Rachel. She trades some mandrake roots for a chance to have sex with her husband. Why? Certainly not for procreation only, she believes she cannot have any more children. Leah had a desire for sex with her husband.
Now, this, of course, is not indicative of Leah having a higher sex drive, only that procreation was certainly not the only thing on her mind. Let’s move on.
The Song of Solomon depicts a new marriage between a husband and wife. This book is arguably God’s message of what married sexuality should look like. In this book, the husband and wife seem equally matched. They each initiate sex. They pursue each other. They are each adventurous in their activities. Both seem to desire sex as much as the other. In fact, the wife is the one who suggests they sneak out to the fields early in the morning to make love among the grape vines. This book is God’s wisdom for married couples. It discusses everything from body image issues to sexual gate-keeping. From keeping passion alive to being sexually adventurous. From focusing on your spouse to not letting others tear down your marriage. Why then is there no mention of dealing with the lower drive of a wife, something that affects the majority of marriages today? I suggest it wasn’t as prevalent back then.
I don’t think it was by the apostle Paul’s time either.
Paul was not shy about dealing with genders differently. He was very clear about what he believed women should do and men should do, how women should act and how men should act. How wives should treat their husbands and how husbands should in turn treat their wives. In nearly everything, he said there were differences. Men needed respect, women needed love. Men should teach, women should be silent. Men shouldn’t cover their head, women should. But when it comes to sex drives, he’s suddenly even handed:
Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. – 1 Corinthians 7:5
Jewish views on sexuality
Paul was a Jew. He came from a pristine blood line. He was trained as a rabbi, and well versed in rabbinic law. So he knew that rabbinic law has clear directions regarding sexuality within marriage. In fact, they had rules about how often a husband must come home to be sexually available:
The times for conjugal duty prescribed in the Torah are: for men of independent means, every day; for laborers, twice a week; for donkey drivers, once a week; for camel drivers, once in thirty days; for sailors, once in six months.” – Ketubot 61b
In fact, some said that rabbis themselves should make themselves available twice a day, since they worked out of their homes.
In keeping with what we saw in Exodus, sexual pleasure was a wife’s right, and a husband’s obligation to meet. This couldn’t be only for the purpose of bearing children. After all, if the man was home on a daily basis, he was expected to be available for sex on a daily basis. This is far more than is required to meet the needs for getting pregnant.
In fact, on the whole, Judaism was very sex-positive. For example: As we said, in Christianity, sex was considered a sin, and forbidden on Sunday. By contrast, sex was considered to impart a special blessing on Sabbath in Jewish culture. That’s a fairly radical difference. They had some other radical ideas:
- If a husband did not have sex with his wife often, he was considered a sinner.
- A husband should be offering sex often enough that his wife does not need to initiate sex. She should never feel the strain of unrelieved sexual desire.
- A husband could not compel his wife to have sex by any means, but the wife could compel her husband to.
- If sex was not done in a loving, romantic, and sexually pleasing way, the husband was required to divorce his wife and give her a full settlement.
- If you wanted to have a son, you should ensure that your wife had an orgasm before you did.
Now, there were some rules governing wives too:
- A wife cannot unilaterally decide that she doesn’t want sex (this matches 1 Cor 7:5)
- A wife cannot use sex as a weapon or punishment (which also matches 1 Cor 7:5)
But, the majority of the rules, guidelines and lore seem to be written to ensure that a wife has her sexual needs met. The assumption seems to be that her desire will at least match her husbands, if not surpass it. This is the context of the views on sexuality that Paul was writing within, and nothing he writes contradicts it.
All of these things together lead me to believe that the sexual field in Biblical times was very different than it is today. Furthermore, I’m noticing that more and more, wives are willing to stand up and state that they have higher sex drives than their husbands. At least, they’re willing to when it’s anonymous. As Christianity seems to be slowly reviving from it’s 2000 year moratorium on sex-positive views, things seem to be getting closer to a state of equal sex drives. Perhaps in the future it will shift further still.
This has an unfortunately side effect though. While more and more wives are finding healthy sex drives again, in about 10% of marriages, wives are being refused sex by their husbands. This brings an sad turn of the tables, and an incredibly difficult situation for the wives in these marriages. They are fighting a stereotype that says they shouldn’t want sex often, while believing, in error, that something must be very wrong with themselves. After all, the stereo type says their husbands, should want sex all the time. So, they wrongly believe something is wrong with them. Many husbands enforce this idea telling their wife that she’s unnatural for having a higher sex drive.
So, what can we do?
We need to keep reminding people that God, and the Bible, are sex-positive. As such, Christianity should be sex-positive as well. We must do this while maintaining that marriage is the right context for sexual activity.
We need to stop telling people “sex is bad” and instead change it to “Sex is amazing(!), within a loving marriage”.
We need to stamp out the idea in our churches that sex is taboo, that it’s dirty, that talking about it is wrong, that discussing it is sinful or shameful. God designed sex when He created us, and He declared that it was “very good”: both aesthetically pleasing and functional. It’s an incredibly powerful activity that can destroy lives, bind them together, or even create new ones. But, being unable to talk about it hinders our ability to help a create many couples, and harms them when they want to seek help, but are too embarrassed to ask.
We need to start preaching about marriage and sexuality. Christianity has spent hundreds of years preaching false doctrine regarding sexuality and marriage. We need to clean up the mess. It’s time to undo the damage that was caused. Our churches may or may not be ready to hear it from the pulpit, but we can certainly do it in smaller groups to start. Preaching doesn’t always need to be from the pastor or in the sanctuary.
Lastly, we need to pray about sex. Praying about sex reminds people that we don’t need to separate God and sex from each other. As well, we’re going to need God’s help to fight against both the church’s preexisting sex-negative views on one side and society’s overindulgence of sex on the other side.
I’m not saying these things will change all women’s sex drives, but at least sexual struggles might become something we can talk about. They might become something people can get help for. Then we can begin to teach how to deal with differences in drives, as well as other obstacles to a healthy, married, sexual relationship.
26 thoughts on “What have we done to women’s sex drives?”
Really appreciate this post. Great work.
I love this post more than you will ever know awesome!!
I thought you might.
Great post my friend. I think shaming has done a lot of damage to people’s view of sex.
Thank you. Yeah, its beyond unfortunate that the religion that believes God created sex has damaged sexual relations between spouses so much.
I don’t think the church was universally opposed to sex throughout most of Christian history, although there have certainly been those who denounced sexual pleasure as a necessary evil in marriage. But it is interesting that there are hints that women were considered the ones with a higher drive in many statements.
For example, here’s Aquinas on sex in marriage: “I answer that, The debt may be demanded in two ways. First, explicitly, as when they ask one another by words; secondly, implicitly, when namely the husband knows by certain signs that the wife would wish him to pay the debt, but is silent through shame. And so even though she does not ask for the debt explicitly in words, the husband is bound to pay it, whenever his wife shows signs of wishing him to do so.”
Many other cultures also considered women the ones with high sex drives. If you read the Arabian Nights, for example, a common theme is a wife of crazy passion cheating on her husband. This is part of the cultural understanding of Muslims, who generally view the woman as the passionate creature who must be controlled to prevent cuckolding, and this is why women are forced to wear such covering garments and not travel alone.
In our society, I think we have cultural ideas that have taught women that sex is unpleasant or just a duty or a necessary evil and these contribute to the problem. But we also have widespread use of hormonal contraceptives, which often diminish or even outright kill a woman’s sex drive, and may continue to do so for quite awhile even after she stops using them. Given that few adult females today have not been on the pill at some point, this may explain at least some of the widespread lack of sex drive among women.
In addition to this, we also have soy in so many foods, which contains estrogen-mimicking compounds, and this may also contribute. There is even concern about estrogens from hormonal contraceptives in the water supply, since they are excreted in the urine, and there have been studies on their effects on fish and frogs and other aquatic creatures that show them causing damage to the reproductive systems of many animals. If these hormones are affecting wildlife, they are probably affecting humans also, even in our water supply.
All of these sources of added hormones in the environment may be contributing to a lack of sex drive in females and perhaps some males also. It would be interesting to see if women less affected by these environmental hormones are more likely to have a high sex drive.
Thanks for the Aquinas quote! I agree, the is never universally agreed on anything.
Still have to read Arabian nights…been sitting on my shelf for a decade now.
Just… nailed it.
I would love to hear some natural methods of increasing my libido. I love the fact that my hubby is always ready, and I don’t deny him, but I would like to be the pursuer more often!
JayDee, I think you are on to something here. The nuance that gets missed is that desire is different from arousal. It is quite possible to want to be sexually intimate with your spouse without being aroused… in fact, if your relationship is healthy, this is probably common. While arousal is heavily influenced by body chemistry, and arousal can create desire, desire itself is largely affected by our minds. So culture, attitude, past experience, and established teachings play a much bigger role in our desire than body chemistry. And it’s also true that desire can lead to arousal, but that’s really the core bit of dynamic that has changed over time. Men have body chemistry (higher testosterone) that makes arousal easier, and as we’ve noted, arousal can feed desire. For women, everything I’ve read suggests it works the other way around… they get aroused when they feel desire. So what happens when you spend 2000 years shaming people for wanting to have sexual intimacy? Their minds block off those thoughts to comply with the “social ideal”, and it becomes much harder to feel desire.
I agree with you that the church teaches very sex negative messages and do not teach sex positive messages like Proverbs 5 where it says: “let her breasts satisfy thee at all times rejoice always with the wife of your youth and be thou always RAVISHED IN HER LOVE.” Ravished is just an arcane Biblical term meaning great sex.
Now as to the woman having a higher sex drive the Bible contradicts that view. Look up all the scriptures relating to concubines and multiple wives. God allowed this recognizing that the man had a higher sex drive. In fact, this is how they got men to fight in wars because when they were victorious, that left a lot of young pretty wives who were widows that the man got to keep as rewards.
Proverbs 31:11 changed all that to one man and one woman who was now required to satisfy all of her husband’s sexual desires.
It says: “The husband doth trust his heart with his wife so that he shall have no need of spoil.” There are actually about 19 Hewbrew words for spoil and Thompson’s Chain reference is the only study bible who actually translates it correctly in that that word is conjugal love not material things.
Now that is not to say that there are women out there with higher sex drive than their man but that number is in the minority.
According to Kinsey stats: 72% of all married women over thirty with kids at home have their husbands on “starvation diet of sex once a week or less”. Now I grant you that for many reasons it is due to the lousy performance of their men in bed. This is because there is no “school for sex” to teach men how to give their wives great sex. Far too many are stuck in that old adolescent sexuality of “wham bam thanki you maam roll over and go to sleep sex”.
I disagree. God never intended for men to have multiple wives. I address that in my post When did God stop allowing multiple wives.When did God stop allowing multiple wives.
Yah, it’s a minority, but a 25-33% minority. That’s a fairly large minority.
You might disagree and yet I can point to numerous passages in the OT where God allowed it and it was not a sin in the OT.
Not only wives but concubines who did not have the full status of wife and God gave laws regulating this practice.
For example, Solomon one of the greatest men in the Bible had 700 wives and 300 concubines. You don’t need to correct God’s mistakes. Yet in spite of having literally a thousand women to choose who he would have sex with that night, he later in life was persuaded to have orgy sex to the god and goddess Baal and Ashtoreth. The scriptures don’t tell us if he had orgy sex with one of his wives or hired a temple prostitute to have sex with. These temple prostitutes from the Greek were porneuo and pornea which were male and female prositutes and where we get our english word pornography. This is because the attraction to orgy sex is that you get to watch other people having sex while you are haivng sex. The word fornication is mistranslated meaning promiscuous sex but it was the false god worship and the use of temple prostitutes which it was forbidding.
I believe I deal with those instances in the post I mentioned. I’m not “correcting God’s mistakes”, but rather offering an interpretation that is consistent with all of scripture, Old Testament and New Testament.
Thank you for this! I wholeheartedly agree, I have a burden for women experiencing the blessing of redeemed passionate sex in their marriages and I pray for it often.
I read that Origen one of the early church fathers castrated himself to kill his sexual desire. It can sound holy to some but it shows how extreme this thing got. It is important to accept that God made us earthy as well even though sex can be a high experience at the same time.
There is a lot of speculation that this was a rumor started by his enemies within the church, and not fact. Particularly in light of the fact that after Origen was supposedly to have castrated himself, he wrote this:
Since he was a priest, and thus very much entered into the church, he could not have been castrated and have been able to write this. Though it’s possible he wrote this to counteract the rumors about him from his enemies.
Great points. I am a firm believer that we are products of our environment. That environment can be more influenced by the things we have chosen to steer us towards our goals. Or an environment more influenced by external factors that lead us to more random friction. I see the same external influences in sexual relationships today. I see your points and how heavily influenced we are today by our religious backgrounds and cultures that have steered us into repressing our natural sexual desires. But as you said, more and more religious leaders today are toning down their rhetoric over sexual desire and being more accepting. I wonder, as we change the environment to be more accepting of both sexes to embrace their sexuality, what will that produce culturally in the Church?
Good stuff, JayDee. The differentiation between arousal and desire is key and should help many. Unconsciously, I’ve been separating the two in our married life for some time. It is a very valuable distinction and should help many think and communicate better about sex. Additionally, the implication that the man must take responsibility for his wife’s needs is key as well. Just as Christ loved, washed, nurtured and loved the Church so must we nurture and cherish our wives in this way as well as in the others anticipating and planning for their needs. This latter has been a key to our recent several years of ecstatically fun marriage–after 30 or so of ‘good’ but also frustrating years.
Glad I found your site.
I’m glad you found it too 🙂
JayDee. Spot on! My situation is not unlike yours in the past. Sadly, we are not a transformed marriage like yours. I’m one who is trapped in a Christian faith that exalts all things “holy” (prayer, fasting, Bible reading etc) and demonizes all things “earthly” (e.g. sex). In fact most of modern Christianity is governed by fear of sexuality. We even had a counseling session with our pastor and when the topic of your blog came up, was counseled, “don’t go there”, because sexuality is to be shared only between husband and wife. Theres no end of prominent Christian teachers who cant even utter the word “sex” because it is so defiled (in their mind) choosing to go with the more “Christian” concept of “intimacy”. This fear and paranoia of sexual issues within the church is, i believe, the biggest reason porn has such a grip on Christians. Thank you for tackling this. Sadly, those who need to hear it most will never read this because they are browbeaten with “dont go there”.
It won’t change quickly, but if we can start being more sex positive, and being more vocal about being sex positive, then people won’t be able to ignore it.
I enjoy the historical perspective. I feel like there must be some existing anthropological research into this question, don’t you think?
Linked to your post as one of our Best Christian Sex Links of the Week.
I don’t think this is just the church.
I think a bigger problem is the media’s contempt of men for many decades now and the idea that you should always feel passionately aroused before you initiate sex. Contempt obviously kills desire and as for the second point, most women simply don’t work like that. In most cases women have to start fooling around before arousal starts. Add to this the stupid modern conception that you should only do things when you feel like it otherwise you are being “inauthentic” or it’s “not real” or you’re “not true to yourself”. Give me a break. Since when is it “authentic” and “true to yourself” to be an utter slave to your emotions and desires? Insanity.
I’ve read more than once that if a man treats his woman right he won’t be able to keep up with her. Which suggests the idea is not solely an ancient or Jewish one, since my reading has only expanded to include older texts in recent years.
I’m married to a guy who stay in the other country, we only get to have sex a week in four months. I am killed by sexual desires. What can I do as a Christian woman to stop this pain of be horny and my husband is away? Obviously I can’t cheat on him