1. When It Comes to Sex Drive–What’s Normal?
When it comes to sex…what’s normal? Sex therapist Dr. Michael Sytsma and Shaunti Feldhahn discuss research about drive, initiative, and other questions.
About the Guest
- Grab Shaunti and Dr. Sytsma’s book in our shop: Secrets of Sex and Marriage: 8 Surprises That Make All the Difference.
When it comes to sex, what’s normal? Sex therapist Dr. Michael Sytsma and Shaunti Feldhahn discuss research about drive, initiative, and other questions.
[00:00:00] Brian Goins: From the Podcast Network at Family Life, this is Brian Goins, host of Married With Benefits, where we're committed to helping you love the one you're with and discover the real benefits of saying “I do.”
Welcome back to season three of Married With Benefits. This is your host, Brian Goins, where we get to talk about the real benefits of saying I do. Now, this might be your first episode because frankly, you saw the title of the series and let's just say it peaked your curiosity. Now, maybe you're returning and you remember our co-host from the first two seasons.
You remember Harvard trained researcher, bestselling author, wife to Jeff, mother of two, and I would say has become a great friend. Atlanta's own Shaunti Feldhahn.
[00:00:43] Shaunti Feldhahn: What an incredible introduction… that was impressive
[00:00:45] Brian Goins: Yeah I'm thinking about going on and being one of those boxer announcers. That's what I really wanna be, at some point in time. And I really did enjoy our first two seasons. That was so much fun.
[00:00:54] Shaunti Feldhahn: I did too. It was very fun to dig into all these questions. That you and I get constantly.
[00:00:59] Brian Goins: We do. And you speak all around the country. All around the world really. And uh, I speak with my wife every now and then on Weekends to Remember, and other marriage conferences.
And we do get a ton of questions. So we said, Hey, let's just put 'em into two seasons. Questions every wife is asking, questions every husband's asking. And we got some great ones. In fact, I'll start. I'll lead out.
[00:01:18] Shaunti Feldhahn: What's your favorite?
[00:01:19] Brian Goins: My favorite, uh, my favorite question. I was looking over the seasons, uh, this morning and the one that really still jumps out at me is “how important is my physical appearance to my wife's desire of me?”
[00:01:29] Shaunti Feldhahn: Ooh, okay. You're going there…
[00:01:32] Brian Goins: because, um, I mean, gravity has set in and I'm definitely not what I was in my twenties. And so it's good to know that I don't have to look like Brad Pitt anymore in order to still be desired by my wife. So that was, that was encouraging.
[00:01:44] Shaunti Feldhahn: Yeah, that was an encouraging one.
[00:01:45] Brian Goins: And what about you? What was your favorite one?
[00:01:47] Shaunti Feldhahn: So I think my favorite one was early on in season one, which is, “why is he so touchy?” Because…
[00:01:55] Brian Goins: You don't mean physically touchy.
[00:01:56] Shaunti Feldhahn: Yeah. Correct. Yes. I mean…
[00:01:57] Brian Goins: Because I can tell you that
[00:02:00] Shaunti Feldhahn: Like, yeah, you got the answer to that. We're gonna be talking about this during this particular season. No, emotionally touchy. Like why does he get mad and walk away? Why does he shut down? Like, what is it that's going on? I just, I loved diving into the fact that so many of our big, strong, confident men are, on the inside, actually, there's a lot of self-doubt.
You don't realize it, but it's there. Now, the runner up, I have to mention my runner up favorite, which is the bonus of why does he always try to carry the groceries in? In one trip? I've had so many women come up to me and say, “that's so true.” What is underneath that?
[00:02:37] Brian Goins: It's a thing. It's a thing.
And I remember reading “For Women Only” for the first time. It's like, wait, I shouldn't be reading that cuz the title is “For Women Only.” Why am I reading this? Is it, do I have to turn in my man card to read this book? But I, I was, first of all, I was just kind of frustrated. I was like, wait, why can only women read this book? That's not right. And so there's a rebellious sign…
[00:02:54] Shaunti Feldhahn: So you have like, “I'm gonna read it.”
[00:02:56] Brian Goins: I'm gonna read it, I'm gonna find out what she's saying.
[00:02:57] Shaunti Feldhahn: And most men, when they read that book, they're like, they have this little skeptical like expression on their face. Like “I'm gonna read what this woman is saying?”
And then they're like, “Oh my gosh, this is what I'm thinking and I didn't know how to articulate, which is so weird.
[00:03:11] Brian Goins: It is. It really is about the secret thoughts, the, the things that are in man, the why we do what we do. Um, it really hit a lot of the questions that we did in season one, Questions Every Wife is Asking, but I gave it to Jen and said, here, read this. And that's me.
[00:03:23] Shaunti Feldhahn: Yeah. And let's talk about it. Right. Because it's stuff that maybe we haven't talked about before. Which was then the same thing that we did, we had to flip the script. Obviously, because otherwise every woman would be mad at me. If we didn't do questions every husband is asking cuz then it's the turn of: “Okay. Like what is it that you don't know about your wife?” Hopefully helpful.
[00:03:45] Brian Goins: It was very helpful, is what I've heard. In fact, so many people have come up to me, you know, at different places that I've spoken at and they've, they've said, “Hey, when is season three coming out?” Right, “When are we gonna finally get on, are we gonna ask more questions? What are we gonna be doing?”
And so there was some anticipation, which was exciting. It's good to know that there's actually people that listen to your podcast. You never really know. You know? You just kinda send it out into cyberspace. But there's a few things that have happened since I look back at the, kind of the, the dates of when we did season one and two and the release dates of season two was 2020. So there's been a few things that have happened.
[00:04:16] Shaunti Feldhahn: There’s a couple things that have changed since then.
[00:04:17] Brian Goins: Yeah. Just in the world. We, we had a little thing called the Pandemic, and then right after that, uh, the Goins ended up just me and Jen. We just moved to Florida, from Arkansas and that has been a big transition. FamilyLife moved to headquarters out here, to Orlando, and so we were Florida bound. We knew that we would be. So there's some things that have happened in your life. In the, in the last few years.
[00:04:40] Shaunti Feldhahn: Just a couple. Yeah. Yeah. The pandemic obviously had a huge impact on our ministry. Just like anybody who travels a lot, does a lot of marriage events, women's events, so obviously there was some major disruptions there.
Um, and then I had this little breast cancer scare. Where suddenly Christmas of 2020. “Oh, you have breast cancer.” Oh, really? Okay. This is gonna be interesting. So basically all of 2021 was very taken up with that. And so it's very exciting to actually be on the other side of that and all good and doing well.
All good. Um, as far as you can tell. Yep. All the scans keep coming back fine. So, yay. And finally able to like look forward to the new research project, the new book, and this new podcast season. So it's very exciting.
[00:05:29] Brian Goins: So it's great to be back and it is gonna be an exciting one cuz you did a little research project over the past few years. Tell us about it.
[00:05:36] Shaunti Feldhahn: Yeah, this was really good timing in a way. During the pandemic, we decided let's go all in on trying to tackle this topic of kind of our intimate lives and what is it that we don't recognize that if that is an issue in our marriage? Because just like money is a big issue in marriage, sex is a big issue for so many marriages and to be able to dig into what's underneath the surface of that, like what are some of the obstacles that people don't know are there, that once you know them, you can really make a big difference and be much more connected in that way that everybody is longing for really.
And so that was the topic of the research. And it was fascinating because, you know, everybody knew how to do stuff over Zoom. And so we were like, let's do anonymous interviews with people over Zoom with the cameras turned off and fake names.
[00:06:35] Brian Goins: Yeah, you had some funny fake names on these. You would interview these people and you didn't wanna know anything about them so they got to pick their own names, right?
[00:06:41] Shaunti Feldhahn: Yeah. So people were like, “okay, we're Wanda and Vision.” So it's us because our camera was turned on so they could see us. But yeah, they were just a blank screen with “Wanda and Vision” and it was really funny to listen to them process stuff that they would normally never tell another human soul. But this was an opportunity to do something anonymously to help us understand. And so they were really honest. It was really helpful.
[00:07:09] Brian Goins: It's amazing how we're willing to talk to a stranger, but we're not willing to talk to a spouse.
I don't know what it is about us that, you know, in that moment, we know we wanna unpack this stuff. We don't know, and we can't seem to do it with our spouse, but we'll do it with a stranger.
[00:07:21] Shaunti Feldhahn: Yeah and this was something we heard, interestingly, from a bunch of these interviews, and we'll talk about some of this going forward in some of the episodes here, but,
One of the things that to me was very telling was we would be asking them questions and there would be a pause, for example, something super simple like, you know, “Just how often do you wanna be together?” “How often do you wanna be together?” To the husband and the wife.
[00:07:50] Brian Goins: And by by saying together, she's really saying, have sex, just for the rest of us that are listening
[00:07:53] Shaunti Feldhahn: Have sex. Yes, we're, we're trying to be, have a little euphemism here, but we’re gonna…
[00:07:56] Brian Goins: Shaunti gets a little nervous, I've noticed this. She's writing a book on sex, but she doesn't wanna talk about certain things.
[00:08:02] Shaunti Feldhahn: It's, I am, I am exhibit A.
[00:08:04] Brian Goins: She's a blusher.
[00:08:05] Shaunti Feldhahn: I am a blusher, I'm Exhibit A of, of having difficulty talking about this topic.
But that's the point, right? Like, we would be asking this husband and this wife, you know, “how often do you want to?” And you know, the husband would answer, the wife would answer, and then there would be this pause and you'd hear, “Really?” like there was this surprise. And at the end of, after we've asked just some really basic, you know, questions, we would often hear,
“Man, I feel like we've just had a counseling session.” Just literally, because it's not stuff you ever think to ask one another. Because you think talking about sex means techniques and body parts, and it doesn't. It means talking about all that stuff that you care about that's under the surface, of why it matters to you, and those kinds of questions that we just often don't get to.
[00:08:56] Brian Goins: Well, I'm so glad we're bringing it into the light and you guys turned it into a, a book called The Secrets of Sex and Marriage: Eight Surprises That Make All the Difference. And I remember you sent me an advanced copy of this to get my input on it, which I really appreciate.
And definitely as I read it, my first thought, even after the first chapter, I looked at the rest of the chapter titles. I went, “This needs to be our next season.”
[00:09:16] Shaunti Feldhahn: Well, and especially because, and we need to mention right up front, we didn't do this alone. We couldn't do this alone. When we first said, we need to be able to dive into this topic, Jeff and I knew like we had tackled, “how do you have a great relationship around money?” Okay, we could tackle that one, right? Because it's not about budgeting, it's, you know, it's about, you know, what's what is, again, what's under the surface.
[00:09:42] Brian Goins: And you guys have done so well in that area, right?
[00:09:44] Shaunti Feldhahn: Oh, us of course. . Absolutely. Because of course we never had conflict over that. No, that's totally tongue in cheek. That was definitely our big issue.
Um, but when it came to this topic of sex, I knew there is no way that Jeff and I could tackle this and be completely accurate. Cuz if you're not, on this topic, if you're not really attending to getting rid of some of the mythology, for example, and dealing with some of the assumptions that we have under the surface that may be wrong. Like we could do damage on this topic if we unintentionally were wrong. And so we actually enlisted a longtime advisor that we had had on this topic going back years, Dr. Michael Sytsma, who's one of the most renowned sex therapists in the field, and one of the people who has really led the Christian community honestly in this arena.
He's the one who trains the other sex therapists and he and a group of other leaders founded the Institute for Sexual Wholeness years ago to train Christian sex therapists. And so we enlisted him and he was so, I mean, it was amazing. And as people hear, Later in this series. I mean, he just brings so much to the table. So we brought him in for multiple episodes of this series.
[00:11:04] Brian Goins: Right, and he really does add a ton and couldn't have done it without him. And so I'm excited for our listeners to be able to benefit. This series really is gonna feel like free sex therapy.
[00:11:13] Shaunti Feldhahn: It kind of is.
[00:11:14] Brian Goins: You know? I know, I know. He would cringe at that cuz he is like, no it's not.
But as I sat through these episodes, I'm like, I'm getting some great therapy right now. And it doesn't replace it, but it's some great insight.
[00:11:25] Shaunti Feldhahn: Well, it's basically how often, and let me just ask the listener this, how often do you get to just sit down and talk to a sex therapist? I mean, that's basically what this is.
And he's also an incredible researcher. Like it was such a privilege for me to be able to do this research project with this giant in the field, right, who's just so well respected and see that he has massive amounts of PhD level training on research that goes far beyond anything that, that I've done.
[00:11:59] Brian Goins: I know a lot of listeners right now have a spectrum when it comes to thinking about this topic.
You know, there's a spectrum of people that are listening that, you know, you, you're probably one of, in one of many categories. You might be like, like Shaunti. She's a blusher. You know, and it's just like, it feels uncomfortable. It's kind of icky to talk about. I don't really want to have this conversation.
Some of us might be gushers, like, we're so excited. Like, let's get around the table. Let's talk, let's watch videos. What do we need to do to actually talk about this topic? For others I think there's a lot of, there's some pain. And we're gonna talk about that, especially in episode six of when you have some significant pain in this area, it just makes you just dread the conversation.
Because of what it, what it dredges up. And then there's, I think there's a lot of just, just having indifference, like, “Why does it really matter?” Uh, what's the big deal? And we're finding more…
[00:12:46] Shaunti Feldhahn: And just kind of wanna avoid it.
[00:12:47] Brian Goins: Yeah. Wanna avoid it. And we're finding more and more couples, uh, even younger couples.
I just got an article from our executive producer, Jim, from the BBC about millennials in sexless marriages. These young 20 somethings…
[00:12:59] Shaunti Feldhahn: It does happen.
[00:13:00] Brian Goins: that you would not think, you think they're in their prime… And more and more we're finding people that they're married and just not having sex.
And so, you know, you've, you've experienced that even in talking to people about like, seriously, why does it even matter that we talk about sex?
[00:13:12] Shaunti Feldhahn: Yeah. That is a very, very common dynamic and, I'll tell you just a really brief illustration of this that just hit me because of going through the breast cancer treatments, there are certain things that you do for cancer treatments that completely reduce your sex drive, right?
It changes your libido. And anybody out there who's done certain medications or gone through these kinds of treatments, you know exactly what I'm talking about. And so I raised this with one of the medical professionals that I was seeing, cuz of course, I basically spent, you know, two years…
[00:13:47] Brian Goins: you've been in front of many medical professionals
[00:13:50] Shaunti Feldhahn: in, in front of many, many different doctors and PAs and techs and, you know, just tons of people.
So I, I was talking to one of them about this and somehow, I don't even remember how we got into this conversation, but I raised this as a concern and… I said, you know the reason I'm asking is also not just for me, but we're doing, you know, this research project and I explained the sex research project and I'm curious.
And she kinda looked at me for a second and then she said, “can I take my medical professional hat off, and ask you a question?” And I'm like, “Okay. Sure.” Opportunity to actually interview somebody on this topic. And she looked at me with this kind of semi-exasperated look. She's like, “Look, I have been married for 20 years. We are way past our newlywed phase. Like that was a thing in our newlywed years. We are way past that. Does sex really matter?” I mean, come on.
[00:14:47] Brian Goins: Wow, and I, I bet there's a lot of couples that are saying the same thing.
[00:14:52] Shaunti Feldhahn: And certainly a lot of individuals, I don't know about couples, it may just be one person in the couple. And the impression that I got was that her husband would love to engage more and she's like, “Really? Does it really matter?” Right?
That's the impression I got. And it is very interesting. We'll talk about this a little bit later, but the reality is what we found in the research is, yeah, actually it does really matter.
[00:15:16] Brian Goins: It makes a significant difference on your marriage and we'll, we'll talk about that at the end. Yeah, just the, the kind of benefits this, this whole podcast is about, Married with Benefits. Are there benefits that God has for us in saying “I do”? And are there benefits that God had wired into us as being sexual beings?
And so I'm excited to unpack some of those. I know for me why it matters is because I came into marriage, you know, Jen and I have been married now 26 years and…
[00:15:42] Shaunti Feldhahn:That's awesome.
[00:15:43] Brian Goins: Yeah. And I, I think we're one of those couples that rarely talk about sex. And, and I definitely didn't talk about it right when we were coming into marriage, but I did come in with a ton of expectations. So I had all these…
[00:15:52] Shaunti Feldhahn: You, really?
[00:15:53] Brian Goins: I had all these, and I call 'em sex-pectations. I had all these sex-pectations and I think a lot of couples have sex-pectations more than conversations. And one of my new favorite verses about sex, um, it doesn't come from Song of Solomon as you might expect, and it does come from 1 Corinthians, but not the chapter that everybody likes to go to, 1 Corinthians 7.
It comes from 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter, but it's a, it's a passage that, that Paul talks about where he says this, he says, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child. I thought like a child. I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” And I think for much of my married life, I've had very childish thoughts about sex.
I thought it was basically just about me, or I thought, I expected Jen to read my mind. Honestly, when I got married, I thought that the sex shop would be open 24/7 . No one told me that it was more like banker's hours. And I'm not talking about like online banking where you know it's open anytime. I'm talking about like old school banking where you have like unexpected holidays and you know, it shuts down sooner than you expect.
Sometimes the teller has a headache. You know what I'm saying? I mean, just, I had a ton of expectations. Sex-pectations. Um, I thought Jen would always be in the mood when I was in the mood. So I did what most children do when my expectations weren't met, I'd pout, you know?
[00:17:08] Shaunti Feldhahn: Ah, and that's very attractive. Of course. Absolutely
[00:17:11] Brian Goins: Very attractive, very sexy. That's what women want. They really want a man who pouts and I would suffer in silence. I'd be frustrated, and I wasn't really sure where to go to help. For, for help. Um, like it wasn't something… you feel this shame, like, “who do I talk to about this?” And I think there's a lot of couples in that space.
[00:17:27] Shaunti Feldhahn: A lot. Actually it was interesting when we crunched the numbers on the survey and, and I should explain before I tell you this number. Everything we're gonna be talking about is not our opinion. We've actually done these large nationally representative surveys of people that are, you know, in order to, to really do a truly representative sample of people across all ages, racial backgrounds, religious backgrounds, ages, geography, socioeconomics, to be able to kind of figure out what is common, right?
Not just common for like a group of people that I've polled on Facebook who just happened to see it, but, you know, common. And it is common for people to not be able to talk about this topic very well. We found that 73% of people kind of avoid it, like they can't talk about it. Well, it's awkward, it's difficult.
Now, obviously that means 27% do talk about it well. And that's the, sort of the cool thing. There is that group that's learned how to do it. And I do see that if we understand and unpack what is going on underneath the surface, then we can talk about it well. Uh, we can move from the group that doesn't to the group that does.
The problem is, is that we have this misunderstanding and it gets worse because if we can't talk about it and we're curious, we just Google it. Right? We just, we try to figure out…
[00:18:48] Brian Goins: Yes, that’s right. “I won't talk to my spouse, but I'll just talk to a random internet site.”
[00:18:51] Shaunti Feldhahn: Yeah, exactly. And so it was actually funny, the digital marketing folks here at FamilyLife, they actually, at your request, Brian, they actually figured out what are the top Google searches on this topic.
And it was so interesting to look at what came up because it's not necessarily what you think like everybody else is going, “Ooh, that could be dangerous,” no, actually, what was really interesting is that they were all these questions like, “My spouse doesn't initiate anymore, what do I do?”
Or “They have no creativity or desire, you know, what do we do?” Um, “What skill could we increase that would increase our sexual satisfaction?” Or “Give us a tip.” And most of these top Google searches, they were all about techniques, and body parts, and “How do you do this or that?”
And I look at this and I go, “You know what? Because we, we don't recognize some of these things that are running under the surface, we don't know what to talk about. So we focus on this stuff that's up here on the surface that's not gonna make a difference.” Like yeah, I can give you some tips based on some of the stuff that I've learned in the research and we will, we'll talk about some of the to-dos.
But it's actually all this emotional stuff that's running under the surface. It's the expectations. It's these insecurities that we have running deep down inside that we don't even know are there. And so that's the issue is people are scared to talk about it because they think it's this uncomfortable technique conversation and instead, no, it's just getting to know you. Getting to know myself. Good. Understanding what some of those expectations are so that we're actually talking about the right things.
[00:20:41] Brian Goins: And so much of my expectations, you know, when expectations don't meet reality, they say what's in between is disappointment or sadness or frustration.
[00:20:47] Shaunti Feldhahn: Oh, that's good. Yeah.
[00:20:49] Brian Goins: You know, and so, you know, it's sad that a lot of us as couples, Christian couples, um, are married and disappointed in this area and don't know what to do, don't know where to turn and what you said, even that word “curious”, we're gonna, that word's gonna be a pretty key word.
[00:21:03] Shaunti Feldhahn: You'll hear it a lot.
[00:21:04] Brian Goins: You'll hear it a lot, and so much of my sex life has been imprinted by what I saw in porn, what I saw in movies, what we heard in songs, what we read, reading stuff, and it, it really is about me and about my demands versus really, “Man, how do I move into the conversation and become more of a detective?”
[00:21:21] Shaunti Feldhahn: Well, it's also these assumptions. That we just come to this topic with all these assumptions, and we have no idea that a lot of them are wrong. Like you were talking about, you thought everything was gonna be open 24/7. That was an assumption, cuz that's of course, that's just the way it works, right?
Now obviously that's an example, “I thought as a child”, right? Like that's a sort of a childish assumption, and yet, even into our thirties, forties, fifties, sixties, we still have many of these and don't realize that we have them. And one of the things that I wanted everybody to hear is that, there is this great benefit of actually, “Okay. Uh, let me, let me hear what you're saying and let me try to maybe talk about a couple things.”
Because we actually found that people who could talk about it, even if it wasn't perfect, right, even if it felt a little bit uncomfortable, awkward, but they still did it. We found that those people were far more likely to actually be having sex and having sex relatively regularly.
We found that 74% of people who had really good communication had sort of figured that out in this area, 74% of them were having sex at least once a week or more. Compared to if you have poor communication, only 22% of those people were having sex once a week or more. Like that says something.
And so for example, the person out there, whether it's the husband or the wife who's like, “I would love to be more engaged in this area. I just, you know, I have this longing to have more intimate connection.” Okay. This implies, learn how to talk about it. And that's an answer. One answer.
[00:23:03] Brian Goins: And it's interesting. That's where our mind goes is, “Okay, how do we do it more?” versus I think the question is, “How do we talk about it more?”
If you're a spouse, who is that higher desire, you want to have more sex, or if you're that spouse that wants to honor your spouse and maybe you’re lower desire, but it's like, well, we should be doing this more.
We want to be doing this more. We don't wanna have disappointment, then, man, let's start talking about it. That's the bottom line. So how many couples did you actually get talking about sex?
[00:23:26] Shaunti Feldhahn: A lot. We added up in terms of the people whose data was included in the research, it was 5,300 people. So more than 5,000 people.
And two of the big surveys that we did that were the big nationally representative ones, one of those was what's called a matched pair survey. So we know that. for example, husband 137 is married to wife 137. Right? Like we know that those two are married to each other, so we can compare their answers. And we believe this is actually the largest matched pair survey ever conducted that's nationally representative on this topic. And so we got a lot of really good data in order to be able to sort of, I hate to say it, people are just curious. Like, what's the reality out there?
[00:24:16] Brian Goins: And they're asking the questions. This is our first question for this series is “What's normal?”
And it's like, what's, what's the average couple doing? And am I close to the average couple? Am I less than the average? Am I more than the average couple? Cause I hate to be average personally, and I wanna be above average. You know?
[00:24:30] Shaunti Feldhahn: I'm gonna have to have a conversation with Jen about, again, let's set those expectations, Ryan.
[00:24:35] Brian Goins: I know, because we all, when we say we wanna have great sex, everybody here is great and immediately thinks their own version of great.
For some people it might be numerically. For others, it might be the experience. It's more quality than quantity. And so as you're saying, if we don't bring those assumptions to the table and unpack them, you're gonna be set up for disappointment.
So, What's normal?
[00:24:56] Shaunti Feldhahn: What’s normal? So, okay. There's a lot behind that question, right? Because what are you basically asking, like everybody listening to this is curious about something different. Like you were just saying, like, what's the normal amount, like how often are people on average having sex, you know, what's the, the, what are the normal practices, uh, what's the normal amount of pleasure? Does everybody get there? And our research is done…
[00:25:18] Brian Goins: “Does everybody get there?” Again, we have a note here that actually has a word that she's supposed to say and she's not saying that word. “Does everybody get there?” Get where, Shaunti, what are you talking about? Go ahead and say it, Shaunti.
[00:25:29] Shaunti Feldhahn: You’re gonna make me say the word orgasm.
Okay. So, but the question is in people's minds, does that, is that happening? All these things. And we did dig into all of that. Now, when it comes to things like practices, I'm gonna let you go read the book. I am not gonna be talking about that on air. I know you would, but no.
[00:25:51] Brian Goins: Yeah that’s right. I would, but it's like, you know what? My wife's gonna go, “Yeah. That's not something you should be talking on air with…”
[00:25:54] Shaunti Feldhahn: Exactly. And so the answer in terms of what's normal, one of the most important things that people do wanna know and understandably so, is kind of what's the average frequency. Right?
Like how often are couples having sex? And there's one important caveat, let me just mention this. If Mike were here as a sex therapist, he would say, sex therapists hate answering that question, and this is actually important for me to say, is because “normal” actually translates to what's normal for you.
And what is normal for the season you're in? What's normal for what's going on with you, for example, medically?
[00:26:36] Brian Goins: Right, when you're diagnosed with cancer, things change.
[00:26:38] Shaunti Feldhahn: Things change. Exactly. And so the key is it's really what's healthy for you, and that's kind of a, a key point for you to remember as I start talking about like numbers and averages and whatever, is that what's healthy and normal for you may be different than for the couple who lives next door to you. The, the analogy actually that we use in the book is, you know, maybe 70% of the people in your neighborhood have a pet and you're one of the 30% that doesn't, but it's because you travel all the time.
And there would be no way that you could care for a pet correctly. And so, yeah, it may be different than the average, but there's actually a really good reason for that. And so the average frequency for couples, if you exclude people who are in sexless marriages, which I'll talk about in a second, but if you exclude people who just aren't having sex at all, the average is one and a third times a week, and…
[00:27:34] Brian Goins: so is is the 0.3 when the kids come in?
[00:27:36] Shaunti Feldhahn: That’s, I knew you were gonna ask that. I know people are like, “What's the, what's the third, like, you get interrupted a third of the way through?” No, it just means four times every three weeks. Okay? So one and a third times a week is the average.
[00:27:51] Brian Goins: And right now my mind is going, “Okay, what was the last month like, and I know there's, there's other people that are, and honestly, if I'm not average, if I'm not there, is, is that a concern for me?”
[00:28:00] Shaunti Feldhahn: And the answer to that is it totally depends on whether you two are happy with that frequency as a couple in general, right?
Because if you're happy with it and it works for you guys, no, of course you shouldn't be concerned. Now you still may want to work on certain things or whatever, but, it's, again, it's what's healthy for you as a couple. And what we found just sort of numerically, just so you know actually again in terms of normal is that we found that actually 43%, so pretty relatively high number, 43% of couples are really quite happy. Uh, both the husband and the wives…
[00:28:37] Brian Goins: That's good. That's good news.
[00:28:38] Shaunti Feldhahn: Are happy with how often they're having sex. Yeah. And 33% are sort of in the middle, like yeah, they're decently happy but maybe like one person is wanting more than the other and it's, they're not at that top level.
[00:28:51] Brian Goins: Sounds like that medical professional you were talking to, they might…
[00:28:53] Shaunti Feldhahn: uh, or she could be in the 24%. That is, unhappy. Um, as a couple with how, with their frequency, because she might be okay with it, but if her husband isn't, then they don't belong in the, you know, the middle or the high group.
That's the couple we would say, as a couple, we would categorize them as unhappy because one person is unhappy. And so that's the guess anyway. So most of the couples that are sexless or in very low sex marriages are in that unhappy category, maybe not surprisingly. We actually, just as a sort of semi-sobering note, we actually found that 23% of couples are in that kind of low sex, no sex category.
These are the people we excluded from that average, right? 23%’s a pretty high number. Now when you look at ages, that explains a lot of that because we surveyed people up to age 75. And so the graph, we actually put a graph in the book that shows what is the average of being in sort of a low sex or no sex marriage by age.
And it goes up dramatically as you get older.
[00:30:05] Brian Goins: As you get older.
[00:30:06] Shaunti Feldhahn: Mm-hmm. Into the older years.
[00:30:07] Brian Goins: Yeah. And so, what about climax? What’s normal?
[00:30:11] Shaunti Feldhahn: I knew you were gonna ask me that. So what people are really asking, if they're asking what's normal there, usually what they're asking is, “Is it normal to not?”
Right. Because somebody who is isn't gonna be asking that question.
[00:30:25] Brian Goins: Right. They're like “Of course it’s normal.”
[00:30:27] Shaunti Feldhahn: Yeah. But you know, stereotypically, it's often the wife who isn't quite getting there and is kind of wondering, and maybe her husband is wondering, you know, is that normal?
And yes, very common. Like, let me give you a couple of numbers just so that you all have them. What we found is that 84% of men always or usually climax, and that 16%, most of them are like in the often category, right? The 16% that aren't, there's still, there's still a lot of regularity there. And it's often the older men.
[00:31:02] Brian Goins: What I liked about our series is that we got to talk to Dr. Mike about, sex isn't just about the orgasm.
[00:31:08] Shaunti Feldhahn: Yes, exactly.
[00:31:09] Brian Goins: And even for men that would go, there's men out there going, “Really? I thought that's all it was about.” It's like, no, actually it's a lot bigger than that. There's a bigger vision behind sex.
[00:31:19] Shaunti Feldhahn: The sexual connection and that intimate connection, which we'll talk about cuz if you're, if you truly are orgasm focused, it's gonna create all sorts of imbalances.
It's not wrong to want that. We'll talk about that as well. If you want that and it's not happening, it's actually unhealthy to not pursue, you know, “Okay, how can we work on this?” But it can't be the goal. Because if it's the goal, then we're missing the real goal that God has. Which is that connection, which I know we'll talk about, but okay, so all the women are like, “Stop interrupting.”
[00:31:53] Brian Goins: Yeah, sorry.
[00:31:54] Shaunti Feldhahn: The women are like “84% of men?” But the sobering news is that compares with only 57% of women who are in the always or usually category. And so the 43%...
[00:32:08] Brian Goins: That's pretty high.
[00:32:09] Shaunti Feldhahn: You aren't always, or usually it is pretty high. And it's all over the map. It's not just, you know, older women. A high degree of that group is actually, 15% of women are rarely or never. And that's only 3% of the men. And so we'll talk about this topic again in episode six, I believe, with Dr. Mike and dig into that a little bit more.
But the key there is, as sort of an encouragement, is, this is something that we care about and should care about, and there is help and there is support for that.
[00:32:47] Brian Goins: Yep. And I think what I loved about the book was that you guys, the biggest thing you found about the research.
You know, you did all the asking about what's normal, frequency, levels, desires, climax, all those things, what was the encouraging thing you discovered?
[00:33:01] Shaunti Feldhahn: Oh, by far, well, actually when you and I first talked about the book, you said the most encouraging thing, and I'm like, yes, it really was, is that we are not as far apart as we think we are.
Is that there is actually so much more that what we want is, when we compare it to what our spouse wants, it's actually really close, and we'll talk about that a bit more in later episodes, but that's really good news, is even couples that are really unhappy with how often they're connecting, for example, or with, “Well, I really want this certain practice, but my spouse doesn't.” You know, whatever that is, that that's causing a little bit of that pain.
When you dig into it, you actually find, they're actually pretty close in most cases, and it's understanding some of this internal stuff and let's dig it out. Let's surface it. Let's address it so we can get on the same page. And it's easier than we think. It's much more simple than we think.
[00:34:00] Brian Goins: That was what really gave me hope.
And as I think about all the couples that come up to us and ask, we get a ton of questions about intimacy at A Weekend to Remember. And there's, there's people you can just tell in the audience that are just dealing with pain that's gone unspoken for so long…
[00:34:13] Shaunti Feldhahn: You can see their arms crossed.
You know, the looks on the face. It’s just so painful, yeah.
[00:34:19] Brian Goins: It's so painful. Or just like you said, meh, it's just like, eh, doesn't really matter. Is that really that big a deal? Or It used to be, but now it's not and it's…
[00:34:26] Shaunti Feldhahn: kind of giving up.
[00:34:27] Brian Goins: Yeah. And so I go, “Wow, if this series could do anything to be a conversation catalyst to help couples be curious. And actually move into conversation.”
Uh, and so that's why I'm so glad that we're gonna be having a great therapist with us on the journey, and I think about James 1:5. I was reading that this morning. “If any of you lacks wisdom, ask of God.” And “the beginning of wisdom is this,” it says in Proverbs 4 verse 7, “get wisdom.”
Like if you don't have wisdom in this area, the beginning of wisdom is: go get it. And, and the word there is hunt. The Hebrew word is hunt for wisdom and…
[00:35:00] Shaunti Feldhahn: I did not know that, interesting.
[00:35:02] Brian Goins: Yeah, it's actually “Go on a hunt for it.” So if you have pain in this area, if you're struggling in this area, just kind of meh in this area, you're all over that spectrum.
Or frankly, if you're doing great in this area, but want to continue to do better, we're gonna be able to give you some wisdom. Because we can't cover every topic on sex, but I think some of the questions that we're gonna be asking, that every couple's gonna asking…
[00:35:19] Shaunti Feldhahn: Are these common ones that everybody is…
Well, and also we hope that this will be a resource not just for you, but the people you know. Because this is one of these areas where, we don't talk about it with our spouse, we certainly don't talk about it even with the people who are, we're closest to, like our closest friends or family members, we just don't talk about it with anybody.
And so it's like, okay, look around at the couples in my small group and go, “We're not talking about this topic, but you know what? I heard this great podcast, like it's a really interesting resource for you that might be interesting to you.” And that’s it, right? Like we don't have to talk about why I'm saying that.
It's just in case you're interested, you know…
[00:35:59] Brian Goins: Because chances are three-four of your friends aren't talking about it. And it's a struggle for them. So it's like if you could be that catalyst to go, “Hey, this helped me, I think it'll help you.”
[00:36:08] Shaunti Feldhahn: Well, and just as another, what is normal? We'll talk about this in a later episode, but what is normal, is that 79% of couples are on different pages when it comes to how often they wanna connect in this way. And so that's, again, more than three outta four of the people in your small group, that is probably the case.
[00:36:27] Brian Goins: Right. And so when I think about that, even that idea, way to talk about it.
Some of you're already cringing and like, “Okay, well okay, we'll listen to a podcast. Like how do I do that?” And I, I think that's one of the reasons why I think Dr. Mike is so helpful on this journey with us is that he is even gonna give us a tip here right now about how do you create a safe place to have these kind of conversations.
Cuz frankly, for some of us, it may not be easy to talk about other things. So how do we create the safe place right now to talk about sexual intimacy? Listen to Dr. Mike:
[00:36:58] Dr. Michael Sytsma: I think, uh, “safe space” is a great way to reference it because to have a sexual conversation that's a, a core part of who we are, and it does require a safe kind of environment for me to even go there with myself.
First off, I would say, you know, relationally, it needs to be kind of safe. There needs to be a sense of that we truly do care for each other. Uh, I think couples need to have some decent communication skills. If you can't talk about, um, the finances or how to parent or you know what to do with the mother-in-law, then you're not gonna be able to talk about something as close to our heart as, uh, our sexuality, but then we have external.
We want to have a space that's uninterrupted, uh, especially if I'm gonna talk about something that may have some shame or may have some concerns, some, some questions with the thought that our teenager might interrupt at any moment is going to keep me legitimately closed down. I'm not gonna be as open.
So we want an uninterrupted space. Uh, I'll also see couples do it in a retreat. They'll schedule an overnight down at the beach or up in the mountains. And the whole point of it is to have these kind of conversations and that creates an external type of a environment that is safer for them. But while it's easy to say, my spouse needs to be, or the environment needs to be, the real key comes down to what we're doing internally, do we create safety internally?
Do I respect who you are? Truly respect who you are. That creates a safe space for us to, to talk about things that we may or may not have really thought through. I may need to be able to retract it and to work on remembering that we do have a shared vision. Even if you disagree with me, we're going the same direction.
We are working on developing a marriage that is, is rich and connected and intimate that we're fostering. Curiosity, that I'm truly curious about who you are, what you think, or curiosity Scripture says, you know, “Perfect love casts out fear.” I used to think that meant if we loved good enough that fear wouldn't be there.
But the tense of the verb is that it actively goes in and removes fear. So if I'm loving well, I'm not allowing any space for fear, and that allows for a curiosity.
[00:39:20] Brian Goins: And as you heard him say that word, “curiosity”, that's really our goal. How do we be curious? How do we move from being that demander, that dictator to that detective of our spouse?
And, and what he's saying is “have some self-awareness.” You know, when our expectations get so high, it's really easy for us to get angry when they're not met. It's easy for us to get angry when, uh, we can get defensive with this conversation.
[00:39:40] Shaunti Feldhahn: It's very easy to feel pressured, right? Like if you're the lower desire spouse, to feel like “I don't measure up,” to feel like, “Can we please talk about something other than this topic?” Right. But that's just a signal both of us need to have that stance and we'll talk about what that actually means in a later episode, but just be aware. You can do this.
[00:40:02] Brian Goins: Yeah, you can do it.
And I think the book will be helpful. Grab the book. You're gonna want to read that even as you're going through this podcast. Some of you aren't readers, so listen to the podcast. It will have things at the end of every podcast that say, “Start here.” You know, talk about what's normal. Talk about what maybe some of your sex-pectations were, uh, with each other.
And so I think it'd be great as we close this podcast, like just, I'm just so curious, did you find out as a result of your research, does sex really matter?
[00:40:27] Shaunti Feldhahn: Yeah, going back to that, what that medical professional asked me, “Does it matter?” And the answer is, yeah, it really does. It does matter for the marriage a lot.
It matters for the health of the marriage in a way that I think a lot of people instinctively know, but don't really understand like what does that mean? And so for example, couples who have even a semi-regular sex life are far more likely to be thriving in the marriage and have a happy marriage than couples who aren't.
Like in 94% of couples who are happy, you know, as a couple with how often they have sex, 94% are also happy in their marriage. And that drops all the way down to only 35% of people who are happy in their marriage if they're unhappy with their frequency. Now it's good news that if you're unhappy with your frequency, more than a third of marriages can still be very happy, right?
Like that's, that can still be a, a great marriage, that this is not the end all and be all, of our life.
[00:41:30] Brian Goins: But that's not why you get married.
[00:41:31] Shaunti Feldhahn: But that's not why you got married. Yeah. Like you want to be able to have all of it, to have that intimate connection and we'll talk about, you know, if there's those issues that get in the way, there are things that we can do to still have that intimate connection because it's not just for the marriage, it's also for our emotional lives that it really does matter.
There's power in feeling connected. There's power in feeling wanted and desired. There's power in feeling this focused attention from my spouse, um, and that how much they care about me, not just my body, but they care about me. We'll be talking a lot more about that in episode four. We actually found, oh, this was fascinating for anybody out there who, for example, is dealing with maybe anxiety or depression.
That’s a big deal today. Right? And we found that if you're dealing with anxiety or depression, it does have an impact on your marital satisfaction. Like that statistically it's likely that that degrades it a little bit. Well, we were stunned when we got the data back that people who are having a regular sex life, who are having a regular intimate connection, statistically it almost compensates for that.
[00:42:42] Brian Goins: It's almost like, it's almost like medication.
[00:42:45] Shaunti Feldhahn: It’s crazy. Like, and we don't know why. There's a lot more research that needs to be done, but it was clear as day in the data that those who are having an intimate connection are more than twice as happy in their marriages as those who have those mood disorders, but they're not having sex.
And so we are not saying it's medication… I don't wanna get angry emails, but it clearly does seem to have an impact…
[00:43:12] Brian Goins: It has an impact. It affects you.
[00:43:13] Shaunti Feldhahn: to help that emotional, that emotional peace.
[00:43:15] Brian Goins: And I, I remember hearing a, a buddy of mine, uh, one time say that, you know, when his wife desires him and pursues him, it feels like a sav on a soul. And I just like, I mean just even that idea of, boy, there's something in my soul that gets affected. In my mind. And sex has an impact in that.
[00:43:33] Shaunti Feldhahn: It does. And let's just also be really blunt about the fact that this is one of the tools that God created to create oneness in marriage.
And it, there's a lot of issues there because like some people are like, “Well, I don't wanna have oneness in the bedroom if I'm not already one in marriage.” And, other people are going, “No, no. But getting into the bedroom creates the oneness for the marriage.” And, but there is that kind of both and, and so it is just, big picture, does sex really matter? Is it worth it to work on this? Yes.
[00:44:07] Brian Goins: Yeah, absolutely. And that's one reason why even thinking about that last reason about oneness is that we were created for that. That the two shall become one flesh. And that wasn't just about sexual intercourse. It was, it was about this sense of no shame, no blame.
All the things that…
[00:44:25] Shaunti Feldhahn: True intimacy.
[00:44:26] Brian Goins: True intimacy, that I am fully known and fully loved. And so that's why we, we debated about what do we title this season? And so we really wanted a title about sexual intimacy. Questions every couple's asking about sexual intimacy, cuz we weren't just created for sex. We are created for lifelong intimacy.
And yes, sex is a significant part of that. And as we've heard, it can show that there's great benefits to having that kind of sexual intimacy that go beyond just that sense of pleasure.
[00:44:52] Shaunti Feldhahn: And the good news for anybody out there who's listening this and going, “But this is such a difficult thing for us for physical reasons, we can't have intercourse,” right? You know, whatever that is. Is it possible? Is this for us? Yes. There's one of the things I loved hearing Dr. Mike say is that this is for everybody. Every couple can engage in an intimate sexual way together.
[00:45:16] Brian Goins: That’s right. And so just realize we're gonna have a sex therapist on this, uh, season, or you're gonna hear him in the next episode.
So you may not wanna listen to this podcast in your carpool lane. Um, because you're gonna hear turns…
[00:45:27] Shaunti Feldhahn: Well, if you have the windows up before the kids get outta the car…
[00:45:29] Brian Goins: Yeah. Make sure the kids are outta the car and then turn it on, but, we want to go on that journey with you. We look forward to hearing from you as thoughts come in questions.
Don't hesitate to send them in, but we're excited about season three of Married With Benefits. Shaunti, thank you so much, our sound engineer, Bruce, thank you so much for being a part of this and we look forward to seeing you on episode two.