Jump directly to the Content

Are You in the Mood

Here's what husbands and wives need to know about each other's sexual wiring.

"Gary makes me feel like I'm something he uses just to satisfy himself," Sue, a patient, once told me. "It seems like thirty seconds after he reaches for me when we go to bed, he's ready, and I feel like he doesn't even care about my feelings. What can I do? It turns me right off."

Gary and Sue had failed to understand the great difference between a man's arousal response time and that of a woman's. Sue needed more time. She needed to be able to enjoy her own feelings of arousal without feeling that Gary was only considering his own needs.

I recommended to Sue if she was too intimidated by the thought of an actual discussion about this, or if she worried about shattering his ego, she could simply whisper in his ear, "Oh, honey, let's not hurry—it feels too good." Gary can learn or be motivated to slow down his responses and to give Sue time to respond to his lovemaking. She, in turn, will want to give him more pleasure now than she did before.

Arousal is perhaps the most fascinating phase of the sexual cycle. In my opinion, most people pay far too little attention to their wonderful, God-given ability to become suddenly, amazingly excited by their mate. You need only to read the Song of Solomon to glimpse the heights of arousal God wants us to enjoy. When the Shulamite maiden opened the door to her beloved, she describes becoming so aroused that "my hands dripped with perfume, my fingers with lovely myrrh" on the handles of the lock (Song of Sol. 5:5 [NLT]).

Let me offer my description of sexual arousal. It will not be phrased in the Bible's poetic language, or even in the romantic promises of the silver screen. I offer it in the language I know best: physiology. I think it is important to understand your body's sexual function. Far from being a subject of embarrassment or shame, knowledge of how we are designed to function frees us from incorrect assumptions, fears, and all the side effects of human ignorance.

In some ways, the arousal process is the same for men and women. In the womb, identical embryonic cells become either a penis in the male or a clitoris in the female. The nervous system is "wired" the same in both the male scrotum and the female vaginal lips.

Males and females are created to enjoy the same sensations via their respective organs. Many men don't understand that the many overwhelming pleasurable sensations available to men are correspondingly available to women. The sensations that engender pleasure in the male penis and scrotum are the same as in the female vaginal lips and clitoris. This knowledge alone can immeasurably enhance most couples' sexual enjoyment.

Husband and wife, endowed with differing sex organs, nevertheless have been given identical and equal opportunities for pleasure via the same type of neural pathways or "sexual wiring."

If you are a woman, think about how the clitoris feels when properly touched, caressed, and adored. Now translate that from receiving to giving to your husband's penis. Remember to touch it gently, caressing and adoring this part of his body. This is God's gift to you, and remember, your husband has a lot to give back to you—later in the sex act.

If you are a man, you have the capacity to give your wife the same overwhelmingly pleasurable sensations that you are feeling simply by focusing on the areas that have the same neurological pathways as your penis. Whatever feels good on your penis and scrotum, you can simply mirror back on your wife's clitoris and vaginal lips, especially the inner lips, called the labia minora. I guarantee you, this tip alone can bring you light-years along in pleasuring your wife.

As arousal takes place, the pathways to sexual pleasure are again similar. Blood flows to the male pelvis and erection begins. Blood flows to the female pelvis, and the vaginal lips begin to enlarge and engorge.

There is a perfect synchronization of feeling and response between male and female—with one important difference to be considered. A woman's excitement phase is lengthier than a man's. It often seems to women, therefore, that men are too quick to desire penetration.

What Husbands Should Know

It has been said that men are genitally aroused, while women are generally aroused. Even when genital stimulation has caused vaginal lubrication, a woman still may not feel aroused. The husband should woo his wife into romance. This demonstrates love for her rather than a demand for fulfillment of sexual rights as a husband. She may need more relaxation, seduction, or the creation of a certain mood. Maybe soft music, flowers, and who knows? Chocolate-covered strawberries could create such a mood. Or maybe it could be ushered in with just the soft, gentle whispers from her husband with promises of things to come.

Men, this is not difficult. Here's my own homespun version of a wonderful scripture in Psalm 37: "Delight yourself in your wife, and she will give you the sex life your heart desires." I know from letters and conversations with many men that a great "desire for the heart" is their yearning for great sex. Your wife wants to satisfy that desire, and she will do so if you eagerly and habitually delight yourself in her—in public as well as in the bedroom. That delight is what you want from her, so that's what you must give to her.

Exactly what do I mean by "delight yourself" in your wife? First, nonerotic caresses are important, enough so, in fact, to be virtually essential to a woman's sexual arousal. Little "honeymoon habits" like holding hands at the movies, the hug and squeeze when you help her on with her coat, pulling her close to you in the car as you softly declare your love. Such small touches are not only important but also fun.

Even if the two of you have been sexually intimate for years, you should continue to exhibit nonerotic touching. It's one of the secret pathways to good sex for a woman, which nearly always translates into good sex for her husband. Start noticing older couples who are still acting like honeymooners. Watch how the men treat their wives with loving care. Start imitating their behavior with your own wife.

Another form of nonerotic caressing is verbal strokes—sweet talk prior to the sex act. Use the Song of Solomon to give you word pictures to use as you communicate with one another your sexual desires and love for one another. Remember, it is the stirring of her emotions and imagination that helps her to respond. Communicate your feelings to one another as Solomon did to his love.

Your verbal affirmations to her are stored in her memory bank, and they go a long way toward furthering her arousal process. Her ears are an important tool—what she hears from you sets the stage. Remember, no amount of other sexual stimulation will be truly effective if your wife is feeling distant, remote, or silently resentful because you have been mean, critical, or harsh to her.

When you come together for a sexual encounter, don't place your hands immediately on her genitals or breasts. Often a man will reach directly for his wife's genitals because that is what he desires her to do with him. A woman, however, will often hold back from such immediate sexual contact or even recoil when her husband does so. Touch her in ways that are not immediately sexual. Stroking her face, smoothing her hair, rubbing her back, or nuzzling her neck are ways to make your woman feel weak in the knees.

I'm not saying you need an hour of foreplay. But taking time for general caresses will be wonderful for your wife. She will note that you are trying to please her—a fact that very often triggers a mechanism in her brain that leads to arousal.

Now I'll tell you another little secret about women. What turned her on last week may not turn her on today. Not that she's a capricious creature, but her present mood often depends on how her day or week has gone.

So, what is the answer to her arousal? Every woman I have treated or counseled over the years loves it when her husband pays attention to her. When I advise you to delight yourself if your wife, this may mean affirming her, becoming playful and affectionate, stroking her in a nonsexual way, complimenting her, talking sweetly, touching her face or hair, or anything else she loves from you. These things allow her to relax fully in your presence. Her "self-talk" becomes something like this: "Mmmm … my husband really likes me. He likes my body. I really turn him on. He loves touching me, and he finds me fascinating."

This will relax her, and she will open up. But if her self-talk says, "He's so selfish. What does he want now?" then I can assure you that the sign on her heart will read, "Go away!" And the sign on her clitoris and vaginal wall will read, "No trespassing."

When you do not immediately imply sexual intent, it allows her to de-stress without feeling she must "perform." Instead, allow her to become lost in the thoughts and feelings of physical pleasure. Not only does this make her receptive to your sexual advances, but often she may choose to initiate the sexual activity.

What Wives Should Know

There are actually two neurological pathways leading a man to erection. First, a man's brain may trigger the event. This can happen as a man thinks about sex, when he sees you in alluring nightwear, or as the result of a sexually stimulating comment or conversation. The second pathway is through physical stimuli such as erotic kissing, stroking, or touching.

Men achieve erections more easily in the mornings before they become stressed or tired. What could be better than an early morning sexual encounter to get his day off to a promising start? True, household logistics might take some working out. For instance, a lock on the bedroom door is a must with children. However, our world is not always an easy place, and many men find themselves slaying dragons in the daily workplace. Why not send them off sexually satisfied and feeling well-loved?

Sometimes husbands, like wives, are not in the mood to go all the way. When stress or extreme fatigue leaves him feeling bushed, a massage may be in order. Rub his feet for a minimum of ten minutes. Then, starting at his heels, slowly stroke his legs, continuing this massage for about fifteen to twenty minutes. By the time you reach the thighs, he may have something else in mind.

Learn to appreciate your husband's erogenous zones. While his penis may be central, his lips, tongue, ears, and nipples all contain exquisitely sensitive nerve centers you should explore. He would love for you to arouse him in some new and unexpected way.

It is very important to keep your voice soft and gentle around a man. This contributes to his arousal process. I have done extensive studies on male physiology, especially on how a man becomes aroused and how he progresses to an erection. It is through the parasympathetic nervous system. This system requires a quiet female. Loud or brash talking irritates the parasympathetic system. Just take a look at America's favorite sex symbol: Marilyn Monroe. Her quiet voice and slow speech pattern were half of her winning ways with men.

Initiating Sex

Women often signal their interest in a sexual encounter with their husbands in ways that are far more subtle than those by which their husbands signal a desire for sex. Wives may put on a particular article of clothing, dab on a favorite perfume, or set up a romantic setting in the bedroom. They may also speak in seductive tones or brush against their men in a provocative way.

Men, generally speaking, are much simpler creatures in this regard. A man seems to know only two main paths that lead to initiating sex. The first is simply to ask for it. The second approach involves touching his wife's body in a sexual fashion. These two direct approaches may work well in your marriage. However, if they are turnoffs, it's better to find another method for initiating sex.

Put a little imagination into the way you approach your sexual relations, and your marriage will take on new interest.

Helen Pensanti, M.D., is involved in the field of natural hormones for menopause, PMS, and osteoporosis and has a respected medical practice. Her television show, "Doctor to Doctor" is seen nationally on the TBN cable network.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

Free CT Women Newsletter

Sign up for our Weekly newsletter: CT's weekly newsletter to help you make sense of how faith and family intersect with the world.

Intimacy; Marriage; Sex
Today's Christian Woman, Fall, 2001
Posted September 30, 2008

Read These Next


Join in the conversation on Facebook or Twitter

Follow Us

More Newsletters