Throughout their eight years of marriage, Becky and Matt had enjoyed being part of a close-knit group through their church. Most of the couples had known one another during their university years, had attended each other’s weddings, and had celebrated each announcement of newborn arrivals. Because of the longevity of their relationships and how they had together experienced each stage of young-adult life, the couples in Becky and Mike’s small group shared openly with one another.
Whenever the women got together for social time, they compared notes on in-laws, labour and delivery, and the common joys and frustrations of married life. Becky was happy to join in on the conversations, except when her friends alluded to sex. All of them griped about how their husbands constantly wanted sex. They joked about creative ways to say, "Not now, honey."
Although Becky chuckled and pretended to share their experiences, these conversations created a deep sense of inadequacy and shame. She could never tell her friends that she longed for the day when Matt would sexually pursue her or even respond to her requests for sexual intimacy. Surely, there must be something repulsive about her.
The ’20 percent club’
Of all the hidden sexual secrets that couples carry, one of the most painful is this reversal of sexual stereotypes. Without fail, every single time I have spoken on sexual intimacy and mentioned this problem, women have approached me, relieved to know that they aren’t alone. Like Becky, most of them have been silent for years, listening to friends rant and rave about their amorous husbands.
Almost all marriages go through periods when the man has a lower sex drive than his wife. Stress at work, depression, grieving, a physical illness, or extreme tension in your marriage can each radically decrease your husband’s interest in sex. While these periods are disconcerting or frustrating, they pale in comparison to the pain and conflict caused when this is a couple’s consistent pattern of sexual intimacy.
Although it doesn’t alleviate all of the pain and conflict, it helps couples to know that around 20 percent of marriages fall within this category. Both men and women are reluctant to share this struggle with others because it is so private and potentially humiliating. Because people don’t talk about it, couples in the "20 Percent Club" can begin to believe that they’re alone in the universe—that no one else could possibly relate to their struggle.
A primary challenge for you if you fall within this group is the shame and blame that’s often attached to your sex life. As a wife, you may struggle deeply with feelings of inadequacy. You may wonder what’s wrong with you and why your husband seems to not be attracted to you. You may even question your femininity and sexuality. Along with those feelings and doubts, you may also wonder if your sex drive is abnormal. If the average wife seems bent on avoiding sex, is there something wrong with you if you actually crave it?
Other days, you probably shift from shame to blame, feeling angry with your husband for his seeming inability or unwillingness to meet your needs for love, affirmation, and sexual fulfilment. Your situation may cut to the very core of who you are as a woman. You desperately want to be cherished and embraced by your husband. His disinterest feels like a total rejection of who you are as a wife and a woman.
To make matters worse, your husband may be dealing with wounds just as deep as yours. While you long for affection and affirmation, he yearns to be a competent husband. Your husband’s sense of well-being and confidence is tied to his ability to perform in all areas, including his sexuality. From the time he was a young adolescent, he has been programmed to believe that masculinity equals sexual conquest and that real men can perform in bed. Although he may not be able to articulate it, he likely feels deep shame and inadequacy rooted in his inability to perform on demand.
So, here you are, both feeling incredible shame and inadequacy. How can you reassure him when you are the one reeling from rejection? Likewise, how can he comfort you when your pain is rooted in something apparently "wrong" with him?
This topic is discussed in further articles published on our website by Dr. Julianna Slattery.