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Sexual Scorekeeping
I think my sex drive is normal, and I love having sex with my husband. But lately I feel turned off because he seems to expect sex as a reward for everything. If he fixes my car, if he spends time listening to my problems, if he takes me out to dinner, he expects to be rewarded with sex. I hate feeling obligated. Do I owe my husband sex?

Louis: The question of whether you're giving to your spouse out of love or from a sense of obligation is a pivotal one—and not just in the area of sexual favors.

Married life works best when both partners focus on ways to express love and meet each other's needs. However, few of us are so emotionally and spiritually mature that this comes easily.

Several marital habits get in the way of unselfish giving. One is the propensity to keep score. Based on a keen sense of fairness, this outlook maintains a scrupulous internal tally sheet ("I did this, so he owes me that" or "He hurt my feelings, so I won't be overly concerned about his"). This legalistic ledger replaces the healthy give-and-take of a loving relationship.

A second intrusive pattern is the expression of desires or needs as demands. If your husband communicates his sexual desires in those terms, no wonder you resist. But it still would be good for you to try to change the way you interpret his interest in sex. Try to see his desire for frequent sex as an opportunity for you to show love. Of course, we hope your husband will start communicating his needs in a less demanding way, but you can still choose how you want to interpret those requests.

A third factor is the selfishness index. Some individuals have never learned how to give of themselves. You mentioned that your husband is sometimes giving in his behavior, so it doesn't sound as if he is completely selfish.

A fourth consideration is that a lot of husbands have never heard that "sex begins in the kitchen"—in other words, the sexual relationship encompasses how we treat each other in all areas of life, not just the bedroom. Your husband may be trying to win your heart by performing acts of kindness and service, but then confusing an appropriate tender response with sex as a "reward."

Fortunately, you can work on this together. With practice you both can get better at giving to each other out of love.

Melissa: You might try beating your husband at his own game. If you suspect he's being helpful because he wants a reward, you could try outgiving him. Obviously, sex shouldn't be viewed as a system of "payment for services rendered." But if you want to think in terms of cash flow, determine in your own mind that what he does for you is twice as "expensive" as what you do for him. So when he fixes your car, decide that he should receive sex at least twice—maybe three times—before you can ask for another favor.

If nothing else, his expectation of being rewarded will be thrown off—perhaps you'll even be able to examine the issue together. He certainly wouldn't be able to say that you "owe" him sex. Since you say that you love having sex with him, this should be a fun experiment for both of you.

Getting in the Mood

My husband tells me he often thinks about sex during the day, but I never do. I don't think I'm a very sensual person. I like being close to my husband, and I almost never turn him down when he initiates sex. But truthfully, I'm never in the mood. Should I just accept the way I am, or is there something I can do to become "sexier"?

Louis: There's more to being sexy than erotic daydreams. For a woman to accept and enjoy her own sexual feelings in response to her husband's advances is a wonderful expression of sexuality. Developing a level of trust and safety in the context of sexual play is another. That's expressed in being naked and unashamed, wanting to give your body to your husband. Even the simple act of touching your husband affectionately is a sexy behavior.

However, if you don't enjoy sex or are not usually orgasmic, your satisfaction level may increase by adding some sexual thoughts to your day. Thinking about your most romantic and sexually exciting experience just before your husband comes home can increase your level of responsivity. Most men want to feel needed sexually. Although you may never need your husband sexually as much as he needs you, your occasional initiation of sex can be rewarding in deepening your oneness. Do it as an act of the will, motivated by your desire to give love.

Melissa: It's often helpful to identify the ideas and beliefs that control your life. Think back on the sexual attitudes and ideas you developed as you were growing up. What did you hear about sex from the older women in your family? What input did you receive from friends (or enemies)? And how do those ideas affect your marriage today?

There may be some assumptions that are blocking your sexiness. If some of your attitudes need to be altered, now's the time to do it. Perhaps you can get a trusted friend or counselor to help you with the process.

Too Much Spice?

My wife and I have sex regularly, but it's always the same and I'm bored with it. The problem is when I try to spice things up, my wife becomes shy or embarrassed. Then I feel like a big jerk, forcing changes where she doesn't want them. I've heard that sex between married people should get better and better, but that's not true for us. What can I do?

Louis: A new book on sexuality illustrates 68 different positions and variations for intercourse. Some look very similar, some highly uncomfortable and several downright impossible. I have to admit that by the standards of that book, Melissa and I are amateur lovemakers. Still, we do have wonderfully enjoyable times of togetherness.

No matter what the sex manuals advertise, we've found a great variation in individual preferences and enjoyment of sexual play. Commonly, women prefer sameness and men prefer variation. That's just part of the fascination and frustration of being male and female. Often for men the fantasies about sexual variety are more exciting than the actual experience of some exotic position. For a woman, those experiments may feel threatening because she's uncertain how they'll feel or how well she'll perform. Some suggested variations may even seem uncomfortable, painful or demeaning. If so, she's not likely to be eager to try them.

But I'm convinced that sexual experience can become better throughout marriage. The keys are the ability to communicate about each spouse's desires and being sensitive to your mate's need for security, trust and fulfillment.

Melissa: At the same time, consider this: if something works why change it? It's always been hard for me to understand the male need for variety in lovemaking, so I appreciate Louis's patience. If you can talk to your wife about your feelings and listen to hers, it could lead to some helpful negotiating.

Learning to adapt to each other's wishes and needs is what marriage is all about. Being the one to "give in" or make changes is often hard, but it will improve your relationship. Marriage requires some give and take from both partners.

Real Sex columnists Melissa and Louis McBurney, M.D., were marriage therapists and co-founders of Marble Retreat in Marble, Colorado, where they counselled clergy couples. Louis McBurney passed away January 20, 2009.

Louis and Melissa aren't able to respond personally to letters from readers. But if you have a Real Sex question you would like them to address in this column, send it to:

Real Sex
Marriage Partnership
465 Gundersen Drive
Carol Stream, IL 60188
e-mail: mp@marriagepartnership.com

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

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