Christian Counseling: Marital Sexual Dysfunction

The actor/comedian Billy Crystal once said, “Women need a reason to have sex. Men just need a place.” This humor typifies many people's belief that men's sexuality is eternally on automatic pilot, while cold-starting women's engines is difficult and frequently more so after a few years of marriage.

Men have sought long to find solutions to the disappointing discrepancy between what seems to be their strong sexual desire and women's barely adequate desire, as some describe it. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach offers us one reason for the sexual conflict, but offers a different take on what is the actual problem. He wrote a controversial article that appeared in the February 22nd publication of the Huffington Post entitled, "Husbands Who Extinguish Their Wives' Libidos."


Here is Boteach's premise. Men want a functional wife and mother to assuage their feelings of confusion and inferiority about living in an uncontrollable world and meet their needs for order, routine and competence. [He wants a helper.] He believes, "What often robs a marriage of erotic longing is a husband's subconscious desire to transform his wife from a woman into a homemaker and from a seductress into a nanny." He "domesticates" her out of insecurity and because he fears he may not be able to satisfy her "insatiable" sexual passion. Hence, the husband worries she may acquire an itch that can be scratched only by another man more adequate than himself and because he is not meeting her needs. Yet, paradoxically, to maintain control, he consciously or unconsciously neglects her need to feel special and feminine and be nurtured. He even finds ways to tame her sexual interest and arousal through behaviors, such as a lack of foreplay [perhaps as well as things like inattention and limited communication]. 

No doubt Rabbi Boteach has the ability to think deeply and arrive at some interesting and useful insights, although I very rarely hear of women who have an insatiable sexual appetite. Beyond husbands who want their wives to be a financial contributor and home-task doer because of their own insecurity, men also want their wives to instantaneously change roles and play the seductress. Unlike Boteach, I believe only a moderate size subset of these men would be quite happy for such an outcome (ideally, all may believe they would be happy). However, my counseling with clients for three decades has led me to see it differently. There is another, even larger subset of husbands, who are conflicted about their wives playing the roles of mother/doer and seductress.  

In explaining the above conflict many husband's encounter, consider most men grow up with a mother with whom they want to be close. Almost universally, this stirs up some sexual thoughts and feelings about her. Around the time he enters puberty those thoughts and feelings become awkward and to many even gross. Later on most men want to marry someone like their mother (assuming she's basically a good woman) because she was helpful, kind, loving, etc., but he also wants a wife separate from his mother whom he can freely think of as sexual. At least early on in married life, wives play both roles. Over the years of marriage, men find the mother role and sexual role become connected and even blend. They no longer are able to keep them completely separate. Hence, husbands can grow uncomfortable with marital sex. As one of the consequences, some men (consciously or not) have affairs to keep the role of wife as a mother separate from the role of seductress a mistress plays.

What can men do? Voice their suspicions and confront sexual problems by opening up dialogue with their wives. Men also need to rework their image and connection to their mothers, understand and modify their sexual self and lead in changing their marriage relationship. A good amount of this work cannot be done on one's own due to personal defenses, the role of the unconscious and a lack of understanding about human interactive dynamics. Of course, many men who read this will wonder about what is the responsibility of their wives regarding sexual problems. 

So, what can women do? Voice their suspicions and confront sexual problems by opening up dialogue with their husbands. One specific dilemma a number of women have is balancing protecting their good feelings about and desire for sex by not allowing negative feelings to be connected with sexual behavior. That means often choosing sexual disengagement or at least a reduction in frequency, which is most often accompanied by a decrease sexual desire. The conflict is sexual relating is part of the Biblical marital duty (Exodus 21:10). It is a dilemma not easily resolved by most couples without understanding the impact of individual and couple sexual histories and a couple's underlying problems.  

Those who have difficulty figuring out what is creating sexual distance or dysfunction (lack of pleasure to inhibited desire to impotency and the like), or find they have made little headway over a three to six month period or who are presently in serious trouble should look toward getting some treatment. It rarely works out by itself over time and there is truth in the saying, "If you don't use it, you will lose it," referring to the physical, sexual function.

2 comments (Add your own)

1. anon wrote:
"I very rarely hear of women who have an insatiable sexual appetite."

Maybe that is because its not "socially acceptable" for women to be that way. I think you would be surprised at how many women (especially women past the age of wanting more children or past the age of raising babies and toddlers) complain that they are more interested than their husbands.

03/07/2013 @ 1:25 PM

2. Frank Mancuso, Ph.D. wrote:
I agree with you that the strong and healthy sexuality of Christian women isn't usually socially acceptable in the Christian community. The influence of the Victorian period remains with us.

The blog refers to men who are conflicted about sexual behavior with their wives and, as a result, may decrease initiating sexual behavior and/or lose some of their drive. I believe, as you, there are a number of marriages where the woman's interest exceeds that of her partner's.

Women who have a strong sexual appetite is different than women who are sexually insatiable (incapable of being satisfied). The latter is rare.

Thanks for commenting!

03/07/2013 @ 10:06 PM

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