What does it mean if my husband doesn’t want to have sex? Is there something wrong with him? Is there something wrong with me? The answer to both is… Probably not! However, if you came to see me in in my couples practice, my first question would be “what do you mean when you say he doesn’t want sex?”
The Higher Desire Partner
Do you mean he doesn’t want sex as often as you do? If this is the case, it’s not surprising. Generally, in most healthy relationships, one partner is the “higher desire” partner who wants sex more often than the other. Our cultural stereotypes tell us that it is usually the man who is the higher desire partner. However, that stereotype does not hold as much as you might think. The truth is that in 40% of healthy heterosexual relationships, the woman is the higher desire partner. And when that happens, it can often feel shaming for one or both of the partners.
I am dating myself a bit here, but who remembers the classic “Analyst” scene from Woody Allen’s Annie Hall? In a split screen we see Woody Allen and Diane Keaton each talking separately to their respective analysts. Both analysts ask the same question: “How often do you have sex?” Woody replies, “Almost never. I’d say three times a week.” Diane replies, “Constantly. I’d say three times a week.” Often, the problem is about expectation.
My Husband Doesn’t Want To Have Sex—A Common Complaint
When couples come to me with this problem, the first thing I do is gauge the desire gap. That is, how much sex would each partner want to have in a perfect world? Are we talking about one partner wanting to have sex once a month while the other partner wants to have sex every day? Depending on how big that desire gap is, there are various methods I would use to help bring couples closer together. But I find that if couples can come closer emotionally, the desire gap often closes too.
Sometimes the problem is a little deeper though. If he is wanting sex less than a couple of times per month (and that is not enough for you), there may be other things going on. I have found from my work with couples in therapy that there are often very good, though not-so-obvious, reasons for low sexual desire in men. Two of the most common are performance anxiety and erectile dysfunction.
Movie sex is the bane of couples counselors. It’s full of love and passion and almost always ends with mutual orgasms. It’s spectacular and life-changing every time. And it proves that art does NOT mirror life!
Real life sex is quite different. Studies have shown that in normal, healthy relationships, couples report that 10% of their sex is amazing and “toe-curling”; 65% of their sex is “good, but not amazing”; and a full 25% of the time, something goes wrong (he couldn’t maintain an erection, she felt pain, the phone rang and he answered it… something was not right). Men and women (but especially men) often compare themselves to the unrealistic ideal of movie sex, and when they fall short (which they always do), they put such pressure on themselves that sex becomes overwhelming. So they just shut down.
Occasionally, when a couple comes in for sex therapy, just explaining to them that they are actually normal is enough to relieve the pressure that men feel and, voila, his desire goes up.
Erectile Dysfunction can also play a role in lowering a man’s sexual desire. It can be a very embarrassing and shameful thing for a man to talk about. It’s also frustrating for the woman. There is nothing more likely to prevent an erection than worrying about whether you will get one. In many relationships this is so difficult to talk about that the man will just shut himself down sexually, or turn to other things such as porn, which leaves them both to despair the lack of this very important connection. The good news is that, if we can get them talking safely in couples therapy, there are often easy ways to address erectile dysfunction. Sometimes you don’t even need the pills.
The EFT Approach
As a therapist specializing in emotionally focused couples therapy (EFT), I believe that good couples therapy is the best sex therapy. If we can get couples feeling safe enough to have the hard conversations (no pun intended), many times the sexual issues fade. And the toes start to curl – well, at least 10% of the time.