I love my wife dearly, but I'm frustrated by our sex life. It's good, once we get going, but I always have to initiate it. Even then, I get rejected a lot because my wife has so many excuses—she needs ten hours of sleep, she wants to watch the soap operas she recorded earlier, she needs to finish the ironing. I can't figure out why sex is such a low priority for her.
Louis: Life isn't fair in lots of ways, and the difference in men's and women's sex drives is one of them. But I'll pass along a few insights that have helped me.
First, my wife (and yours) is a normal woman. Melissa and I have counseled more than a thousand couples, and out of that number I can only recall 10 to 20 in which the wife had a greater sexual appetite than her husband. So I've tried to accept that reality and adjust to it.
Part of that adjustment was understanding that my sexual prowess was not on the line. Early in our marriage I assumed, like most guys, that if I were an adequate lover, Melissa would be more interested. I imagined her desiring my body so intensely that she'd vamp me at every opportunity. Eventually, though, I realized her lack of interest is primarily biological. That knowledge took us both off the hook—me from doubting my desirability, and Melissa from feeling frustrated by my demands.
Now we try to minimize the frustrations caused by our differences in several ways:
- I accept my God-given sex drive as a sensible reason for me to take the initiative (even if it's all the time).
- I try to find creative ways to awaken my beloved's passion.
- We have agreed that our sexual play is beneficial to our marriage. So we try to maximize our relationship outside the bedroom, increasing the chances that sex will follow as a natural expression of our love.
Melissa: I used to think Louis had a one-track mind. Now I know he does! But I've also learned that he is normal.
Another thing I've noticed is that Louis's work, moods, attitudes and behavior in general seem to improve when he is sexually satisfied. That gives me the ability to significantly influence his effectiveness as a person. I like being a part of his life in this way, so I've tried to grow beyond my natural lack of drive and take more initiative. (This hasn't been difficult—it doesn't take much to seduce Louis!)
Erections in Midlife
My husband and I have hit middle age, and suddenly his erections seem less firm. He says this is normal, but intercourse just isn't the same for me. Is there something we can do about this problem?
Louis: What you're describing is normal. Most males after middle age experience changes in sexual function. They may not develop an erection as quickly or as often as before. Their erections may not be as firm. They may not maintain the maximal erection as long. Ejaculation may not occur as quickly, and there is typically less volume of ejaculate.
These changes usually develop slowly and may not always occur to the same degree. In other words, the erect penis may be larger and firmer one day, but not the next. Sometimes other factors affect a man's system: fatigue, alcohol use, some types of medications, depression and anxiety—particularly "performance anxiety." Actually, this problem of performance anxiety is a good reason for you not to express your concern about your husband's erectile changes in derogatory terms or accusatory tones. The added stress could make him worry more about loss of potency and make normal sexual function even more difficult.
On the positive side, some couples find that the changes in a husband allow him to last longer in intercourse, which can potentially provide greater stimulation for his wife.
However, when changes in erectile ability are creating serious tension between spouses, it's a good idea to consult a urologist or sex therapist. Urologically, there are treatments that can enhance a man's erections. Suction devices can draw more blood into the corpus cavernouscum, which creates the erection. The use of such a device, combined with some type of stricture applied to the base of the penis to keep the blood in place, creates a firm erection. (To create a similar stricture, a wife can enhance her husband's erection by putting pressure on the upper side of the base of the penis, where the major venous drainage flows. This can be done comfortably during penetration.) Injections of medical compounds are also available to stimulate erections. This treatment is quite effective and relatively painless. But beware of scams such as injections of goat testicles and ingestion of rhinocerous horn. Check with a competent physician before you pay out good money for useless cures.
Melissa: Your husband is extremely interested in and perhaps anxious about your reactions to his problem. He's also probably very sensitive about it. Be as reassuring as you can about your love, admiration and respect. Eliminate words that might be interpreted by him as rejection. A problem like this calls for teamwork, and you might find yourselves more satisfied with your emotional intimacy as you work together to tackle the physical problem.
Slowing Down Sex
My husband and I have had a good sex life during the seven years we've been married. But with a hectic life of jobs and kids, we've gotten into the habit of speeding things up. There are times when we don't have to be in such a hurry, but I still feel rushed. Any suggestions for things I can do to slow things down?
Louis: Microwave cooking, e-mail, instant oatmeal and cell phones are great, and so is an occasional "quickie." But I'm with you—some things should be savored and prolonged. A stroll through the woods in autumn provides a vastly more satisfying sensual experience than a sprint to the supermarket check-out counter. Sexual pleasure is lots more enjoyable when it can be slowly orchestrated with prelude, allegro, andante, finale and postlude—each movement arranged with passion and finesse.
But an erotic symphony requires some careful planning; it won't just happen on its own. So begin by planning the location. The bedroom, filled with reminders of other demands—telephone calls to make, computer e-mail to check, laundry or cleaning to be done—isn't always conducive to relaxed sex. Using a different place can break the power of old habits and leave you free to improvise. As long as you can be reasonably assured of privacy, why not try the woods, the beach or a comfortable spot in front of the fireplace? We'll admit it: we've even enjoyed an "auto-erotic" experience in the car.
Next focus on time of day. Most couples have a fairly set routine for lovemaking. Varying that from night to noon can encourage a rhythm change. So take a half-day off work, or meet for lunch.
Then consider the atmosphere. Soft music, candlelight, aromatic fragrances and no television blaring away in the other room help create a more relaxed setting. Along with these special effects, begin with gentle conversation about your favorite things and your love for each other. All these elements set the tone for slowing things down.
Melissa and I have found that the more familiar we are with each other's "melodies and harmonics," the better we can orchestrate more exciting lovemaking. Building crescendoes and soft interludes combine, for us, into an experience that demands an encore. It does take time and planning, but you can find the time. It always amazes me how many busy people in all walks of life somehow still find time for adulterous relationships. Why not use that same kind of resourcefulness to have a torrid "affair" with your spouse? The rewards are so great you'll want to do it again and again.
Real Sex columnists Melissa and Louis McBurney, M.D., are marriage therapists and co-founders of Marble Retreat in Marble, Colorado, where they counsel clergy couples.
The McBurneys aren't able to respond personally to readers' letters. But if you have a Real Sex question you'd like them to address in this column, send your question to:
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Carol Stream, IL 60188
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