I know most of the women here have a strong, healthy sex drive, and more than a few would like more sex than their husband is willing to provide. Based on discussions Lori and I have had with such women, I suspect most of them think they know what it feels like for a man to be “hard up”. With all due respect, I don’t think these women have any idea.
Male and female sexuality is radically different. You ladies feel things men don’t, and we feel things you don’t. Even where it seems similar, there are different things going on.
He Feels it More:
The part of the brain devoted to sexual pursuit is more than twice as large in men as in women. A major review of studies on sex drive1 concluded men have stronger drives by every possible measurement. The summary of the study said, “No contrary findings (indicating stronger sexual motivation among women) were found.” There are individual women who have stronger sex drives than individual men, but as a whole men have significantly stronger drives, and there’s not a single well done study saying otherwise.
Another study2 found men and women have the same level of sexual self-control. Men are more likely to give in to sexual impulses not because they lack self-control, but because their sexual impulses are much stronger. This study did some clever things to sort out drive vs. self-control and it seems men are just as able to control themselves, but choose to do so less often because they want sex more.
For men a lack of sex is felt on many levels.
- Physically it’s an annoying pressure. Some men describe it as being similar to but less defined than needing to urinate. It’s always there, even when we push it to the back of our minds, and the only way to end it is to climax.
- Mentally it’s also constant. We can distract ourselves, but it’s still there just under the surface. It affects how we function. It also affects how we process what we see; any hints of sexuality are picked up more strongly. This is beyond our control; it’s like being more aware of food when you’re hungry. Of course we can and should make wise decisions, but we can’t avoid being more aware of and influenced by sexual stimuli when we are “overdue” for sex.
- If we’re feeling sexually hungry because of our own choices, that’s one thing. If we’re sex hungry because our wife has said no, that’s another thing all together. It’s like being hungry because you choose not to eat (to lose weight or because you are going to a food-filled gathering) versus someone keeping you from eating. It’s natural to feel antagonistic about someone keeping you from satisfying your hunger, be the hunger for food or sex. The reason he gets grumpy and nasty is because he is upset at you controlling something he wants and needs.
- Occasionally being sexually hungry because your wife is unavailable or unwilling is no fun, but most of us are mature enough to deal with it. When it becomes chronic the situation changes. It feels personal, and it feels cruel. Most men decide their wife is intentionally trying to hurt them. They assume she understands the effect of her choices, and based on that she must have malicious intent. This cuts at the heart of a marriage because a woman who loves her husband would not choose to hurt him in this way. I know it’s not an obvious line of reasoning for you, but regular sexual refusal tells a man his wife doesn’t love him, and her words to the contrary feel like empty lies. This is why sexual refusal is so devastating to men and to marriages; it destroys the emotional foundation of the relationship. Unfortunately, we men aren’t into talking about feelings, so we tend to talk about sexual refusal on the physical level.
- A lack of sex can also be spiritually difficult for a man. He prays for his wife to be more understanding of his needs, and nothing changes. He prays for his drive to lessen (I’ve talked to many, many men who have done this), and nothing changes. He struggles with lust, or porn, or worse. Even if he never gives in, the temptation remains and prayer seems to be of no help. This can cause a man to start doubting God. Or he might keep believing but get mad at God.
Why am I harping on this? Because I want you to understand. I’m convinced most women have no clue – and how could they? They assume he feels what they feel when there’s not enough sex, or maybe the same things just more so. Neither of these is the case.
If you get it, you can help. What that looks like will depend on a number of things and will vary from couple to couple. However, once you understand you can help.
For more on this, I suggest Understanding Your Husband’s Sexual Needs, an excellent series of posts by Juli Slattery on the Focus on the Family site.
If He’s “Low Drive”:
I’ve found most “lower drive men” are not really low drive. Porn use (with masturbation) is the most common issue, but there are others. Men suppress their natural drive for a variety of reasons. They want it, but they won’t do it nearly as much as they want. Some are masturbating instead, but many are just holding back across the board.
I know some will argue “however you are is fine” but in my experience men who “just have a low sex drive” without any medical, mental, emotional, or relational issues are rather rare – and most of them don’t seek out marriage. I’m not saying something else is going on or something is wrong if he wants very little sex, but I think the odds are good it’s not that simple.
~ Paul – I’m XY, and I have no idea what it’s like to birth a baby or have menstrual cramps.
1 Is There a Gender Difference in Strength of Sex Drive? Theoretical Views, Conceptual Distinctions, and a Review of Relevant Evidence Roy F. Baumeister, Kathleen R. Catanese, and Kathleen D. Vohs Personality and Social Psychology Review 2001, Vol. 5, No. 3, 242–273
2 Sex Differences in Succumbing to Sexual Temptations: A Function of Impulse or Control? Natasha D. Tidwell Texas A&M University Paul W. Eastwick The University of Texas at Austin