We are a young couple in our mid 20’s, both professionals, live alone, and have no children. I couldn’t wish for a better wife. She really is the whole package—intelligent, beautiful, and pious. We get along extremely well, share interests, and are always joking together. We genuinely are best friends, and I have absolutely no complaints what so ever…. except one. We very rarely (I mean once a month at most) have sexual relations, and I am really struggling with this.
I feel like I have tried everything, but nothing seems to be working. I have tried being patient when she is tired or complains of a headache. I just deal with it, but she seems to be tired all too often. I have tried ‘woo-ing’ her; when she gets home from work, I have cooked for her a 3 course meal, bought her flowers, and finished the household tasks so she can relax. I have surprised her with gifts, small things that I know she appreciates. I don’t use these gestures as some sort of currency for sexual attention, but my point is I’m not a lousy guy who does nothing for his woman! I have tried talking to her and telling her that I would appreciate more of this time with her, but it just doesn’t work.
Sex is a fundamental ingredient to a successful marriage, and I can’t help but feel like we are missing that salient ingredient. I know that men and women have differing libidos and appreciate that sometimes a woman is just tired!
What would you advise I do or say to improve the situation? I know that there is no malice intended by her refusal, but she just doesn’t seem to be interested in a sexual relationship.
Frequency of sexual activity will vary from couple to couple. Although it is normal for couples to have differences in sexual desire, it is estimated that one out of every three married couples struggles with problems associated with mismatched sexual desire1 . There could be multiple factors contributing to your wife’s lack of interest in sex, including health issues, side effects of medications (e.g. birth control), depression, anxiety, fatigue, and/or stress. It’s a good idea to encourage your wife to get a medical evaluation. Have you also considered your wife’s beliefs about sex? Her hesitation may be due to cultural beliefs discouraging women from initiating or enjoying sexual activity. Perhaps your wife is dealing with unresolved emotional issues or other psychological barriers. Has she experienced sexual abuse? Does she share your positive characterization of your marriage? Is she afraid of getting pregnant? Another issue to consider is whether your wife’s needs are being met during sex. Are you pleasuring her? Have you discussed her preferences during sexual activity? Is she experiencing any pain during sex?
All of these factors can contribute to low libido.
Additionally, consider the fact that there may be gender differences in the sexual response cycle. Most people are familiar with the linear model in which sexual activity begins with desire, followed by arousal, and ends with orgasm. However, women’s motivations to be sexual are more complex and are not necessarily motivated by desire. Women may be seeking emotional intimacy and increased confidence about their self-image, and their decision to continue in sexual activity will depend on factors such as stimulation, time, and environmental and interpersonal context. If all of these elements are in place when women are approached and sexually stimulated by their partners, they will experience a circular sexual response cycle, with feelings of arousal leading to feelings of desire, which can then increase motivation for sexual activity2. Generally, women take longer to feel sexually aroused, so expand your sexual repertoire and be creative in your foreplay with your wife, focusing on holding, touching, and caressing, instead of just genital stimulation.
Outside of sexual activity, try a few different approaches. How often do you touch your wife affectionately without expecting it to lead to sex? Many women want to kiss, hug, cuddle, and hold hands without the pressure of sex. Make an effort to be intimate without being sexual. Instead of the usual dance of you pursuing your wife for sex and her pulling away—try not doing anything at all. Don’t initiate sex for a while, and see what happens. Her desire may be rekindled when there is some distance and you are no longer needy or dependent.
You are on the right track in expressing your affection to your wife through random acts of kindness. Use your friendship to have honest conversations about your concern. Be honest, and don’t take it personally. Your wife’s lack of interest doesn’t mean she’s not interested in you. She may be feeling ashamed and guilty, so be careful about engaging in a blame game. Ask questions. Find out what her expectations are, and given your differences in libido, you and your wife will have to negotiate a mutually acceptable goal for sexual activity. Work towards a mutual connection—emotionally and sexually. If all else fails, consider visiting a counselor with expertise in sexual issues.