Let me make something clear up front. You might be tempted to think that there would never be a time when you, as a man, would turn down the sexual advances of your wife. Or, if for some reason you did, your rejection would be as rare as the appearance of an albino zebra. I understand that feeling. If such is the case with you, feel free to move on to the next article. On the other hand, you might want to read on to better understand what is becoming a growing phenomenon among men.
Take, for example, Svetin Gulisija, a 26-year-old man living in Croatia. Not long ago, he came home from a hard day on the job. For reasons I’ll never fully understand, Svetin decided the last thing he wanted was sex with his wife, Oleandra. As the story goes, she was in the mood to spark a little romance. He, however, was too tired and wanted to be left alone.
White hot with anger, Svetin stormed out of his house and started a fire in the woods behind his home. Pause with me to consider the irony of this true story. Here’s a guy who was too tired to be physically intimate with his wife, and yet he had enough energy to launch a fireball in the backyard! It boggles the mind.
As you might imagine, the flames quickly blazed out of control. Local firefighters had to race to the couple’s home and evacuate them. When police asked Svetin what inflamed him to do such a thing, he explained that he was fighting fire with fire. He did it so he wouldn’t have to have sex with his wife.
Talk about a burned-out lover.
Granted, most men don’t go to such drastic measures to avoid intimacy in marriage. And while Svetin’s method of communicating a lack of interest in sex is an extreme case, male passivity toward physical intimacy is a very real problem in 20 to 30 percent or more of the couples we hear from. I’ll give you three examples. Casey writes,
It seems like every article I read talks about a man’s high sex drive and how women are typically tired and not interested in sex. The opposite is true of my husband and me. I try to get him aroused and interested in sex, but he is never really in the mood nor is he affectionate to me.
He expects me to let him know when I want to be intimate, and I need to do the seducing. This is really hurting our marriage, and I am resentful of his lack of interest. I try to be as attractive and sexy as I can, but nothing seems to work. Do you have any advice?
Likewise, Laura, the mother of three children, feels abandoned by a husband who leaves the loving to her. She writes,
I fear that my husband and I have reversed roles in our marriage. I am always the one who initiates intimacy and sex. He is the one who doesn’t have the time or energy to be with me. He doesn’t ask me out or make special plans for us to be together. His list of “reasons” is endless. This leaves me feeling unloved, undesirable, and rejected. I don’t think that my husband looks at our physical intimacy as a gift from God that should be celebrated.
The following letter reveals how devastating such rejection can be for a woman. After attending a marriage conference, Amy included this note in her evaluation:
My husband and I have been married for 8 months. I am 38 and he is 44—both first time marriages. However, intimacy in our relationship is almost non-existent. He seems pretty much disinterested and 99 percent of the time rejects me when I try to initiate lovemaking. I have tried to talk to him about it, but he says there is no problem. I, on occasion, will arrange a “special evening” to get him in the mood and then it seems to be okay. But this is few and far between. The rejection I am experiencing has become almost too much to bear.
If you have been rejecting the advances of your wife, my intention is not to heap guilt on you but to help you understand what may be going on in you and in your marriage. When a man shows little or no sexual interest in his wife, she will experience several emotions. First, she’s going to feel she is undesirable as a wife and a woman. She will wonder if she’s still attractive, or if something is wrong with her, or if he still loves her. A woman whose husband is usually disinterested is going to feel profoundly rejected (just as a man feels rejected when his wife shows a disregard for his sexual needs).
A void in her soul
God’s design is for a man to “hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). God created sex in marriage to be shared, not withheld. And when romance, tenderness, and sex are not shared, a sense of loneliness sets in that can ultimately result in emotional and sexual temptation.
Physical intimacy is not optional in marriage. When you ignore this God-given command to cultivate intimacy and romance with your wife, she is left with a void in her soul. Your romantic and sexual advances have tremendous power to set her apart as a woman and affirm her value. But rejection in the bedroom places her on emotional quicksand. Carla, a listener to FamilyLife Today, writes,
My husband has no desire to make love to me. I have to initiate all of the encounters, most of the time unsuccessfully. I felt rejected on a nightly basis, so I took a night shift job so I wouldn’t cry myself to sleep each night.
You see, Carla’s femininity is really on the line. Often, a woman like Carla will struggle to try harder to be the “perfect wife.” She’ll spend hours, even days, trying to understand why she is so undesirable. As she spins her wheels, there may come a point where she will be tempted by an extramarital affair.
I can’t stress this strongly enough: a marriage devoid of romance and sexual appreciation with each other is not how God designed marriage to function. God gave us romance in marriage so that we could frequently celebrate our love—spiritually, emotionally, and physically. As you discover ways to romance your wife and learn how to serve each other, you grow together as a couple. You and your wife “become one.”
As a man, if you are not initiating on a regular basis, let me encourage you to take an honest inventory of what may be causing your lack of sexual desire. With sales of drugs like Viagra, Levitra, and Cialis (all of which address erectile dysfunction) in the billions each year, many men may think the problem is physical.
But a physician I interviewed while researching Rekindling the Romance, a book I wrote with my wife, Barbara, told me the problem for most men who lack sexual desire is not inadequate desire or erectile dysfunction. It’s often a dysfunction of the heart—anger, resentment, and bitterness.
You’ve lost that lovin’ feeling
Let’s look inward for a moment with a series of questions to see if something is short-circuiting what is a normal, God-given drive.
Are you angry or bitter at your wife? Is there a reason for your anger? Has she wronged you? Has she disappointed you? Mocked you? If so, consider Colossians 3:13, “Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
Is your sexual desire being siphoned off and satisfied by a regular diet of pornography and masturbation? For many men, pornography has become the preferred expression of their sexuality because it represents a “no risk” and “no failure” approach to sex.
Are you driven at work to such a point that you are totally spent when you get home? Some men are out of touch with their emotions simply because they’re working too hard. Like Svetin, the “burned-out lover” I mentioned, they are so spent by 16- or 18-hour days, they have nothing left to invest in their marriages.
Are you in denial about some other type of sin in your life? Sin can suppress our most powerful appetites.
Do your wife’s past sexual experiences before marriage anger you or intimidate you?
Did someone touch you inappropriately when you were a boy? Past sexual abuse can truly inhibit healthy sexual expression in marriage. Did you grow up in a family where you were made to think sex was dirty? Were you made to feel shame for your interest in sex? Were you caught viewing pornography or masturbating?
Could it be that you tried to initiate at a point early in your marriage and you failed to perform or your wife rejected you? Is the risk of failure simply too great now? Or are you withdrawing from her sexually as a strategy to protect yourself?
If none of these questions raises an issue that applies to your situation, there may be a possibility that your body produces a lower-than-average amount of testosterone. There are a host of reasons why these levels may be reduced, including the use of certain antidepressant or blood pressure medicines. Your doctor can measure your body’s testosterone production and perhaps prescribe a treatment to return it to normal levels.
Whatever the reason, a man who refuses to address his low libido and meet his wife’s needs is putting his marriage at great risk.
If you are wrestling with this issue, and if talking with your wife about it is too difficult, seek help. Find a pastor, a counselor, or another godly man in whom you can confide. Do it for the sake of your marriage and family. Step out of the shadows of isolation and into the healing from the One who gives “every good and every perfect gift” (James 1:17).
He can and will help you rekindle the sexual side of romance with your wife. And for the record, starting a fire in your backyard is not what God has in mind!