If you’re married, you likely have some difficulty initiating sex. Whether you’re a husband or wife, high drive or low drive, we have all have potential obstacles that can hold us back from showing our spouse we want to be physically intimate with them.
This, unfortunately, can create a lot of confusion because while we tend to know what our hangups are, we often don’t really understand our spouse’s. And since many people don’t like to talk about things that make them feel vulnerable, especially regarding sex, it’s rare that spouses will actually tell each other.
So, today I thought I’d share some of the reasons from both sides of the marriage in the hopes that it will either enlighten you, or better yet, so that you can bring it to your spouse and ask them if any of them fit them.
1. If sex hurts
It’s hard to initiate sex if it’s painful. It can be painful for a lot of reasons. For women specifically, it could be that you need more lubricant, it could be due to scar tissue, fear or stress not letting you relax, or a variety of other things. If you have vaginal pain during sex, please talk to your doctor. If they won’t help, find another.
Others have pains in their back or joints that make sex difficult and physically uncomfortable.
Whatever the reason, if your spouse is experiencing pain or discomfort during sex, that might be a reason why they’re not initiating.
2. If sex isn’t that good
Unfortunately, the old adage that “sex is like pizza” is not always true.
I know there are many women who never orgasm during sex, and worse, their husband doesn’t even know. Then there are some women who don’t know if they are having orgasms. Hint: If you don’t know, you probably aren’t having them. If you aren’t having orgasms, sex can be a pretty frustrating thing. There’s this big emotional and physical buildup, that leads to … nothing.
Now, many people will suggest that you ensure your spouse has an orgasm every single time. I’m not sure that’s true. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fine goal, if you both want it, but many women actually prefer having orgasms less often. But don’t guess. Have a conversation about it.
If you’re a wife who is having trouble orgasming, you might want to check out our guide to orgasms for women. In it you’ll find some helpful tricks and tips to help you improve your chances.
On the other side of the marriage, often the reason sex isn’t that good is because of an unenthusiastic wife. No one likes the starfish position. Don’t know what that is? It’s when you just lay there, limbs out and slack, barely moving, like a starfish. Men want to have sex with someone who is behaving as if they’re actually enjoying being with them. Not sure how to be more enthusiastic? Try our guide to being more vocal during sex.
3. The things we were taught growing up
Both genders get taught a lot of garbage while growing up, especially in Christianity. I think we mean well as Christians, but the message gets really messed up. We intend to teach people that sex is an amazing, but powerful thing, and that marriage is the safe space to contain this powerful activity. Instead, what we tend to inadvertently relay is that sex is dirty, sinful, that you shouldn’t want it or enjoy it. Then we hope you’ll forget all that when you get married. But many of us don’t (surprise surprise).
Men are taught growing up that we shouldn’t pressure women for sex, that we shouldn’t indicate sexual desire. That we shouldn’t even feel that desire until we’re married. We get told to be patient. To wait for our spouse to want us. Basically we’re taught not to initiate. That initiating is wrong because it’s imposing sex on a women, and that’s basically rape. These things may not often be taught explicitly , but rather it’s the combination of imperfectly taught biblical principles that combine together and get twisted around to teach us that sex is bad and that our initiating it is sinful.
Unsurprisingly, when we get married, it’s hard to reverse that belief, especially when no one bothers to tell us how it’s really supposed to work. I’ve heard from many husbands who, during their pre-marital counseling, were explicitly told they shouldn’t initiate sex, but to wait for their wife to, that since she was likely to have the lower drive, she should decide when they should have sex. Worst advice ever? Perhaps. Unbiblical? Definitely.
Women similarly get taught that they shouldn’t desire sex. That sex is sinful, dirty, and that no “good” woman wants it. Women who want sex are labeled as “bad girls”, or worse, and who wants to be associated with that? So, many women grow up not only being taught that they shouldn’t initiate sex, but that sex is something to be avoided. When they get married, it’s hard to undo that programming. Refusing or restricting sex, even from their husband, has been preprogrammed into them.
So, we reach an insidious impasse due to these dynamics. Men, in an attempt to be gentlemen, are waiting for their wives to initiate. Women, in an attempt to be “good girls” can’t initiate and may even reject their husbands, or make it difficult, just so they don’t appear too “easy”.
4. We each want to feel the other desires us
Many (most?) women long to be pursued. They want to feel desired, to be courted, enticed and ultimately seduced into passion. But, in order for this fantasy to be fulfilled, they can’t be the one initiating. That just ruins the whole story they’ve been taught from Disney and other fairy tales about how romance is supposed to work.
Men, on the flip side, want a wife who shows she enjoys and desires to have sex with them. Having to pursue, win her over and “convince” her to have sex sort of destroys the potential of fulfilling that desire. If you are the one always initiating, and always playing the game that fulfills the wife’s fantasy of being pursued and seduced, then eventually you start to think that your wife only wants sex when you can “trick” her into it. It can start to feel like she really doesn’t want it at all. When men hit that point, they often stop initiating because their need to feel desired is stronger than their need to have sex.
5. History of rejection or gatekeeping
This one goes both ways. For the spouse who has been rejected or restricted, initiating sex is scary business. It involves putting yourself out there, being vulnerable and declaring “I feel desire for you” knowing that there’s a good chance you’ll be rejected and hurt. Even when the rejection and gatekeeping stops, that fear lives on for a long time. I still feel it in our marriage, even though there hasn’t been a cause to in a long time. It’s hard to heal from.
For the other spouse, if they have a history of gatekeeping or rejecting their spouse, it’s incredibly difficult to change that instinct. Christina says that whenever I initiate, her first gut reaction, before thought even kicks in, is to say “No”. Those habits become deeply ingrained in a part of your brain that doesn’t require conscious thought. It just sees a trigger (like a kiss, or a certain touch, a look, or whatever signifies an initiation) and runs a habitual routine that has been programmed from years of behaviour. You say “no” or “not tonight” or “I have a headache”, or you roll over and say goodnight, or walk away, pick up your phone, check facebook, open a book, or whatever your usual method of rejection is without even thinking.
It can be very difficult to override the programming that you’ve laid in that part of your brain. It can take just as long to undo as it has taken to build up.
So, why is it hard to initiate sex?
Well, it could be any, or all of the reasons above. If you feel there’s any hesitation in initiating sex, maybe share this post with your spouse and have a conversation about it. Share with them why initiating is hard for you and invite them to share their thoughts. It’s not a solution, but sharing what the issues are can help understand each other and begin to work towards making it easier. Sometimes just being aware of what’s going on can help change behaviours. What have you got to lose?
37 Questions for spouses to ask each other about sex
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