4 Reasons People Don’t Initiate Sex in Their Marriage

A friend and I were having coffee, and the topic of initiating sex in marriage came up.

I was talking about it like it was the most normal thing in the world to express to my husband that I want sex (and vice versa with him initiating with me).

My non-chalant demeanor struck curiosity in my friend, though. She shared that to her and to some other women she knows, initiating sex in their marriages seemed anything but easy or normal. Such an undertaking brimmed with awkwardness and trepidation rather than eagerness and excitement.

“So how exactly does your husband do this — express that he wants sex?” she asked.

She was fascinated by the ease at which Randy and I express sexual desire. I was fascinated by her lack of ease.  Maybe you can relate to either end of the spectrum.

How do you ask for sex in your marriage? Do you even feel you can? What happens when your spouse expresses sexual desire?

They are good questions to ponder, right? I think how we behave whether we are the initiator or the one on the receiving end of such advances gives us clues as to how we feel about the state of the marriage overall.  Or maybe it just gives us clues on how we feel about sex in our marriage.

Sure, I could go hard core only on the biblical argument here — that your body is not your own when you marry, and by entering into the covenant relationship of marriage, you both are agreeing that sex is a given, not an option.

Healthy marriage and healthy intimacy fuel each other, and God clearly wants both a husband and a wife to be accountable for that healthiness. He wants us to protect and nurture the good stuff in marriage and to address and repair the hard stuff.

My experience has been, though, to preach only the biblical standpoint does little to sway those who are the sexual refusers in their marriage.  And it maybe does even less to console the ones being refused.  Where there is heartache and discord, no one really is game for me going all Jesus freak on them.

So while I do believe God and His Word are abundantly clear and helpful, I also want to expound with some practical insights that may be relevant to your particular situation and get you thinking.

I offer these within the context of marriages where sex could be happening often but isn’t (in other words, there aren’t chronic illnesses or injuries or crises that make sexual connection impossible or nearly impossible).

4 Reasons People Don’t Initiate Sex in Their Marriage

1. You are Always or Regularly Denied

I hear from so many people in this scenario. Has your spouse simply taken sex off the agenda yet has no reasonable reason for this? If so, you as the initiator likely have defaulted to self-protection mode because the pain of another sexual rejection is just too much to bear, especially from the ONLY person you ethically can have sex with.

If you have stopped initiating because you are always or regularly denied, have you addressed this pain with your spouse?  If not, I implore you to do so.

If your spouse refuses to engage in healthy discussion and healing, then get solid counseling for yourself.  Often a professional counselor has wisdom and insights you may not have considered in how to navigate the lack of intimacy in marriage.  Also, I encourage you to read my post  Sexless Marriage? 10 Questions to Ask Before You Leave.

If you are reading this and you are the spouse always denying sex, then I encourage you to take a humble look at that stance.  Did you honestly think marriage wasn’t going to include sexual intimacy?

If you did think that, why did you think it?  Sometimes healing from the pain you have caused in your marriage means you have to first look closely at some of your own pain and why you don’t desire sex.

2. There are Unresolved Issues 

This kind of segues from the last point, but let’s expand a little more. If there are unresolved issues going on in your marriage, it is no surprise that sex has been moved to the back burner or off the stove completely.

Even so, to stay stuck in that tension is never going to do your marriage any good.  If anything, it may be the complete undoing of your relationship.  I know that the issues can be profound — past sexual abuse, betrayals, stress, disagreements about kids, financial crises, and so on. But as long as you are still in the marriage, then commit to working on the issues.

And while I recognize that in the case of sexual betrayal (infidelity or pornography use), it is not uncommon for sexual reconnection to take time as the issues are being addressed, I also know that eventual sexual reconnection has to be a goal. Is this a messy journey? Um, yes. But worth it? Yes!

You both need to get to a place where you can initiate sex without the fear of shame or punishment.  And when healing and repentance work in harmony, God can do an amazing thing to not only restore sexual connection, but also to help you both savor it and enjoy it.

3. Your Spouse Does All the Initiating 

Sometimes this dynamic develops when a wife thinks it wouldn’t be proper for her to initiate.  So she waits for her husband to do all the initiating.

Sadly, though, this creates a lopsided responsibility, where he is the only one accountable for nurturing intimacy.  One of the most common complaints I hear from husbands is that they want their wife to desire them sexually, yet she doesn’t take the initiative to express this desire. (Check out my post What Husbands Tell Me They Want in Bed).

Same could be said if the wife is the only one initiating.  If only one of you is doing all the sexual pursuit in a marriage, then I encourage you to challenge this dynamic.  Could you both grow?  Could you share the privilege of nurtured intimacy?

If you have fallen into a pattern where only one of you initiates, that has become your normal.  But just because it is your normal doesn’t mean it is healthy.

4. You Feel Too Embarrassed to Initiate

Expressing sexual desire can feel awkward, even with the person we married, if we have not built into our marriage that such expression is healthy and holy for both a husband and a wife.

What happens in these scenarios is that when a couple does have sex, it’s a fairly haphazard “decision” that got them there.  Maybe they don’t even use words, but once they are in bed, they just start with some foreplay and go from there.

Don’t get me wrong — it’s nice to have this spontaneous approach in the sexual repertoire.  But if it is the only way sex is being initiated? Well, if that describes your marriage, I doubt you are having and enjoying sex as much as you could be. It would be good to grow in your confidence in being able to more directly express sexual desire before you make it to the bedroom.

A couple of suggestions that can help you get past the awkwardness of asking.  One, call the awkwardness out.  If you simply say, “Hey it is so awkward for me to initiate sex, but I really want us both to be able to,” then you have shed light on the awkwardness.

Ironically, doing this one thing can help minimize the awkwardness.  It’s no longer the elephant in the room.  Speak out loud about the awkwardness and it will start to go away.

Two, ask each other what kind of initiation turns you each on.  For some people, they love to hear it passionately said — “I really want to make love to you” or “Let’s have sex tonight.”  For other people, it could be a certain touch or just one word whispered in the ear or a note left on the steering wheel or a sweet text.

Initiate more and you will feel less embarrassed.  And you’ll likely enjoy sex more as well.

So what about you? Do you initiate sex in your marriage? Does your spouse?  Could the two of you read this post together and find ways to better nurture your intimacy?  Some additional posts to read include How to Get an A+ in Foreplay and the super popular Anything is Foreplay if You Want it To Be.

For more reading, cruise through my list of past posts. as well as my page with a bunch of posts on orgasm.

Copyright 2019, Julie Sibert. Intimacy in Marriage Blog. Links may be monetized.

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3 thoughts on “4 Reasons People Don’t Initiate Sex in Their Marriage

  1. Anonymous says:

    I think my wife’s lack of initiation of sex (once in 40 years) is best described by reason 4. She simply tells me that she just “feels uncomfortable” with initiating sex.

  2. Red says:

    we’re both Christians and I felt like I’m the only one who takes the first step when it comes to sex and most of the times I get rejected. Now, I felt like I shouldn’t be asking her anymore due to the denials I’ve been getting.

    It’s hard, I love my wife…

    I do pray that I don’t fall into sin.

  3. Erik says:

    I’ve read countless articles on why married couples aren’t having sex or one of the couple is avoiding intimacy. There’s one problem that seems glaringly obvious to me that is seldom (if ever) mentioned. They’re not in love anymore. Pretty tough situation to fix!

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