Why Do Men Think Sex Is A Reward?

Jay Dee

Why Do Men Think Sex Is A Reward?

Oct 11, 2012

Sex is a reward in the minds of most men. Why do husbands think this? What does this mean for your relationship? Should you still have sex when he’s wrong?

This is the eleventh post in the 1/2 Marathon being orchestrated by the Christian Marriage Bloggers Association.  I have a bunch of questions left from the A Males Perspective teleconference I spoke at last week.  As such, I’ll be using this marathon to answer some of the questions I received.  Please note, these are my perspective.  I cannot vouch for all males and when I’m giving my perspective on women, I certainly cannot vouch for all women.  Also, all references to gender traits are based on the average population, there are exceptions of course.  Please do not be offended by these if you are not “neurotypical” for your gender.  So, on to the question:

In one of your blog posts, you said that men like to be rewarded for being good providers, fathers, and just a man in general. And to most men, if they have done something good it should = Sex, Something bad = No sex! Can you tell me why men tend to think this way?

There are 3 reasons I can think of (there may be more) for men thinking sex is a reward:

  • Hormones
  • Society’s teachings
  • How close sexuality is to our core self

So, let’s explore them.


Dopamine is the hormone in our brains that is responsible for “rewarding” us.  We get dopamine bursts when we do something that “increases our chance of survival”.  This is a very broad category.  We get dopamine from winning contests, from being told we did something well, from taking risks (and succeeding), even from drinking water (important for survival).  Dopamine plays a big role in relationships: initial attraction, the beginning of a relationship, first kiss, first sexual encounter.  As well, we get bursts of dopamine right before orgasm.  Dopamine has a very important role.  It tells us when we’ve done something good.  It is a reward, it makes us feel ecstatic, a natural high.  This is why we feel good when we do well on tests in school, when we get a raise at work.  This is our brains way of making sure we continue to strive for these goals.  So, can you see where the problem comes up?

When we have sex, our brain is telling us we’ve done something good.  That’s a big part of why we think that if we get sex from our wives, we feel everything is OK, our brain is rewarding us, even if that was not the intention of sex from your partners viewpoint.

Society’s Teachings

Our society is hyper-sexualized.  We are taught from a very young age that if we’re having exciting, varied, kinky, frequent sex then we’ve succeed in a very important aspect of life.  So, when we have sex (no matter what kind), it is a set toward that realization of the goals we’ve been programmed with by movies, TV, radio, music, etc..  Alternatively, if we don’t have sex, we feel we are failing.  Now, most of us know this goal is a sham, but it’s so ingrained that it’s hard to remove it completely from your subconscious.

Since our spouse is the only one we can be having this exciting, varied, kinky, frequent sex from, when we have sex this translates into our spouse helping us meet that goal.  When we don’t have sex, our spouse is holding us back.

It’s not fair, for both parties, but the perception exists.

In addition to this, magazines, articles, blogs, etc will all tell you that if your not having sex, then your not putting enough effort into your marriage.  You must be doing something wrong.  You need to try harder!  It’s not hard to see why men might think they are doing something wrong if they are turned down for sex based on these messages.

Sexuality At Our Core

I’ve discussed this a few times during this 1/2 Marathon.  Men (typically) have their sexual self very close to what they feel is their core.  When we are accepted sexually, we feel that we are accepted as an entire person.  When we are rejected sexually, we feel that who we are is being rejected (regardless of reason).

The closest analogy I have found to date is that women tend to have the same relationship with conversation.  Women (generally) need conversation to feel loved, cared for, connected.  If everything else in the marriage is good, but there is no conversation (beyond purely functional discourse), then the woman often feels abused, neglected and unimportant.  Regardless of all of her other needs being met, regardless of how the husband is as a father, regardless of how many orgasms she has during sex.

Likewise to most husbands, if there is no sex (beyond purely functional (procreation) sex), then the man will feel abused, neglected and unimportant.  Regardless of all his other needs being met, regardless of the intellectual conversations they have, regardless of her kind words and praise.

So, if you tell your husband that’s he’s doing a good job, that you love him, that you appreciate him, but then turn him down for sex (regardless of reason) your actions (or inaction in this case) will speak louder than words.  He will hear something akin to telling a wife “You know, I love you, but I really don’t feel the need to talk to you”.  Most wives would be devastated by a statement like this, and yet, on average, husbands receive the equivalent more often than they actually have sex.

Add these all up, and that is why we think we’ve done well when we are having sex, and we’ve done something wrong when we aren’t.  We’re fighting a 3-pronged war against these feelings.  Some of them are nature, some are nurture  but all effect us in some way.

Your Turn

Men: Is this how you feel when you are having or not having sex?  If not, did it take you time to learn not to think sex is a reward?

Women: Have you witnessed this? Does this help to explain this behavior you’ve seen?

Looking for help?

21 thoughts on “Why Do Men Think Sex Is A Reward?”

  1. livinginblurredlines says:

    Not in our marriage. Sex has never been used as a rewards system. I can’t even fathom how that works!

    1. Jay Dee says:

      Perhaps my point was unclear. I was trying to say that regardless of whether or not you intended to use it at a reward system, these parts of who we are are translating it into one, subconsciously or no.

  2. T Bittner - Genuine Husband says:

    I think you hit the nail on the head. Whether we like it or not, it is ingrained in us from childhood that good behavior will be rewarded and bad will be punished. Why would we not transfer this teaching to sex?

  3. Catherine says:

    Excellent post. What is the biggest disadvantage to this way of thinking for a bloke may I ask?

    1. Jay Dee says:

      Good question. I think the biggest disadvantage I think is that it is false communication. The husband will misread the “signs”.
      If everything is good and they have sex, no problem (good).
      If everything is good and they don’t have sex, he thinks there is a problem (bad)
      If there is a problem and they have sex, he thinks there is no problem (bad)
      If there is a problem and they don’t have sex, he thinks there is no problem (good?)

      So, half of the time his perception leads to the wrong conclusion. Now, this isn’t the worst part. The worst part is that he’s basing his perception on the wrong thing. Even if there is a problem and they don’t have sex, they could not be having sex for a completely different reason than the marriage issue (lack of time, exhaustion, whatever). So, when that is resolved, the husband will think the marriage issue is resolved, but it won’t be.

  4. livinginblurredlines says:

    I get what you are saying Jay Dee and I don’t deny that it is true, but I still can’t fathom it and I am quite sure my husband feels the same as me. We’ve had our ups and downs, but sex for us is not related to what we do or don’t do.for each other. Sex is sex….part of marriage for better or for worse. I don’t receive sex flowers. We have never had make up sex. I don’t refuse when he’s a jerk. We have sex because we are married and we like it and that is how we can reconnect on a deep, intimate level.

    1. Jay Dee says:

      That’s awesome, I think that’s how it should be. Most of us are not so lucky has to have been able to escape this conditioning. I’m working on it, but even though I’m aware of it, it still sometimes affects me.

    2. MJK says:

      I agree!

  5. Steve says:

    While I don’t think of sex in the context of ‘reward,’ I do agree that it feels that way after having read this article.

    When the desire for sex is rejected–and almost even worse, taken as a task to be completed!–then I feel rejected as her husband. Several holidays and special occasions without even the mention of intimacy or an attempt–and I feel worthless, as though I don’t really matter except to help around the house, drive, and deposit my paycheck.

    Oh, and allow her to maintain the facade of a happy marriage.

    The kicker is that I know that my wife doesn’t think any of those things about me, doesn’t believe that way, and doesn’t mean it.

    but that is how it feels.

    1. Jay Dee says:

      And that’s it, isn’t it, all we have is what it feels like. The trick is in learning to control that emotional tie to the response, to continue to initiate and love because you love, regardless of the outcome.

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  8. Kunal says:

    I think that is true….
    Women really don’t need of sex..
    Actually, there is need from man side only.

    1. Jay Dee says:

      I think there are a lot of women who would disagree with you there.

    1. Jay Dee says:

      Al Mohler contradicts himself by saying that it’s a covenentaly marriage, but then by saying you must earn it, which speaks of a contract.

      The focus in the family article has the same issue. Focus in the family in particular has trouble keeping with the truth when it may negatively impact their funding.

      Biblically, both spouses have the right to each other by virtue of the simple fact that they are married. Only a unanimous decision between the spouses can stop sex from occuring (1 Corinthians 7:5).

      The problem is when one or both spouses are not holding to the biblical model.

      In those times, we have to continue to treat them in a loving self-sacrificing way, despite their not acting in a Christian like manner. We have to continue to love and support them in the hopes that Christ’s character will be reflected and recognized.

      But, that does not mean we have to “earn” the right. I think that’s a terrible fallacy. Because “earning” the right means you are now expecting remuneration in form of sex. Yu are trading good behavior for sexual favors. In short, you turn your wife into a prostitute.

      Rather we should continue to love them unconditionally. In the hopes of further intimacy, but without expecting a return on our investment. Otherwise our spouse simply sees that were only doing it to get sex. And that removes the possibility of intimacy even further.

      1. Mitch says:

        Question about the FOTF comment: In this case, how would telling the truth negatively impact their fundraising? I have a suspicion, but I am curious why you say that.

        1. Jay Dee says:

          They have a history of retracting statements when people threaten to pull their donations. They’ve shown they’re more interested in money than in speaking the truth.

  9. Mitch says:

    Another commenter said to a Mohler critic:

    “You are reading way too much into the citation, and even misrepresenting what Mohler is saying. All he is saying is that if the husband wants regular relations, he needs to treat his wife as Christ treats the church — i.e., treat her like he loves her.

    What wife wants to give herself to a drunk husband, or an abusive husband, etc? While Paul teaches regular relations, it is with the understanding of a proper relationship to begin with. The only proof of “fitness” is that the husband treat his wife like a wife instead of a slave.”


    I would argue that Mohler is saying a husband’s fitness is a lot more than just not treating her like slave. He says I must present myself as “worthy of her attention and desire.” Mohler seems quite determined to cast the husband in the subservient role and even makes the classic mistake of asserting that a husbands godliness is a key to his sexual success. I find that with my wife, I can be the best servant/leader in the world, and if she isn’t feeling the passion, sex is either not going to happen or will only be done with a minimal of enthusiasm.

    So many times I can “present myself as worthy of her attention and desire” and completely strike out in the bedroom. But then I remember one time I came home from work. I didn’t do the dishes. I didn’t even ask how her day was. I just walked in the door, walked up to her sitting on the couch. I sat down next to her without saying a word and started french kissing her on the couch. Later that evening I forgot all about the kissing and went to bed. To my surprise, she was wearing something sexy and was all fired up ready to go at it. Did I really “earn” sex? Probably not what Mohler had in mind, but it worked.

  10. Ellie says:

    Where is MY reward as the woman who does everything too???? Why do men feel their wives should “reward” them for just being a grown up? I don’t know any men who are obligated and expected to reward their wives …. For anything!

    1. Jay Dee says:

      The point wasn’t that they deserve a reward, just that sex triggers hormones in the brain that makes it feel like one.

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