Friday, March 9, 2012

How Can I Help My Wife Want More Sex? A Reader Question...

I received this question via email the other day, and with the author's permission I'm sharing it with you. Recently I've received variations of this question almost daily. These are tough issues for anyone to deal with in their relationship. Not being a therapist or having much knowledge beyond what happened in my own relationship, I can only tell you what our experience was. I hope others might find something useful in it.

There are a couple of big things I can't speak very well to: first, the impact of young children on your sex life. We've never had children, and I don't want to presume anything by giving lame advice. Also, we have never been through marital counseling, so I can't give any insight on its helpfulness, but I feel like it would be wrong not to at least mention it. Without further ado, here's the scenario:

I love your Tweets and blog. I have a question for you...
My wife and I have been married for nearly 13 years and been together for almost 18. We have a 2 1/2 year old son of which I am a stay-at-home dad with my own successful business. My wife works full time. My wife has a pretty strong body image problem and because of this we only have sex twice a month sometimes more, more often than not, less.

I will admit that yes, she has been overweight for a long time but it has never bothered me even though when she needs encouragement I will give it but I have made it know that her physique doesn't turn me off. She has amazing breasts and such a pretty face and I let her know this as well as letting her know that she still turns me on.

How can I help her get past this and have sex more often or to be more kinky and more into things like porn, talking dirty, initiating more, etc? I've told her before that I would like her to do all of this but it doesn't seem to register or matter. I'm always the one that has to initiate things but I don't like to do that much any more because to be honest, I'm tired of getting turned down and I don't like when she is not into it and is just going through the motions (which is about 80% of the time.).

Friends of our just went through a vasectomy and the doctor told them they needed to have sex 30 times over the next two months to be sure everything is as it should be. When she told me this I was going to make a comment to the effect of we don't do that in a year let alone two months... but I didn't :-)

Any advice?

First off, great job on being a husband who is so clearly in love. And second, great job on NOT making the comment about having sex fewer than 30 times in a year. The bottom line is communication, and until you can open up with each other about what's going on sexually, you may find your dynamic continuing.

There are so many things in this message that ring bells for me. D and I had mismatched libidos even in the earlier years of our relationship, and his was always stronger. I didn't always feel attractive, especially if I'd put on a few pounds, or if I was going through a rough time in school or work that made me feel badly about myself. D was the primary initiator and decided that he really wanted me to get it started from time to time. All of these things, compounded with the later chronic pain, eventually led to a virtually sexless relationship.

The first thing I notice about your post is that it's mostly about you--what you want, what you're not getting. And that's OK. But clearly something is missing for your wife (as it was for me), and I think you've got to do some work to figure out what that is and try to find some ways to get back on the same page together (assuming you were on the same page at one time?).

Is your wife currently on hormonal birth control? If so, is it different from what she used before getting pregnant? Does she take any other meds that can fuck with libido? Those are things to consider. They don't necessarily bring desire to a screeching halt, but they can make it harder to get over the hump of inertia.

So what to do about it? It sounds like your wife is bit closed off when it even comes to talking with you about sex. Let me start with the push to get her to initiate/ talk dirty/ watch porn, etc. STOP. DOING. THAT. Or at least, stop doing it the way you've been doing it. It took a long time for us to figure out that D pressing me to initiate and "do things differently" was when I really started to pull (or push) away. I was not comfortable with it at the time, and even though I told him so verbally and non-verbally, he continued to press. Looking back, it was a pattern we had elsewhere in our relationship--he would pursue an issue or a question to the point that I felt badgered and harassed. When I felt pursued I also didn't want to acknowledge or talk about whatever the issue was. It literally never occurred to us that the same thing was happening in our sex life.

Eventually we learned how to manage the pursue/ recoil dynamic. When I was feeling pushed or harassed, I would say so. D had to stop it immediately, and we would agree to a neutral time and place to discuss the issue. This ended up working very well for us, and after a while we changed the dynamic and our habits. However, we really should have put sex on the table and tried to deal with it this way. If we did, I don't remember doing it, and we must not have tried very hard.

Now, onto some of the practical matters.

Porn (videos, I mean) may not get her off the way it does you. Or she may like different things in porn but not feel comfortable saying what they are. Or she may have no idea what she wants out of porn. What really began to turn things around for me so that I started to feel sexy and sexual again was reading smutty stories and sex blogs. I joke that I'm an intellesexual, but it's really quite true. My mind has to be turned on before my body follows suit. Here are some suggestions:
  • Read her a sexy bedtime story. This may sound corny, but you're doing a few things that put her at the center of attention without any pressure or expectation on her to do anything except lie back and listen. As a working mom I suspect she will like this very, very much. Literotica is online and free, but you get what you pay for. A little hunting will find some good stories, though. Get comfy in bed, maybe with a glass of wine, just the reading lamp on, and go for it. There are also some stories with audio recordings of the author reading. Some are sexy, some are lame.
  • Check out Sonic Erotica, where very sexy audio files are posted. Some are just straight up sounds of fucking and orgasm. Others are pieces of fiction, or descriptions of fantasies. Regardless, there's so much hotness, your speakers will melt.
Now, about the body image concerns. Obviously a lot of women have body image issues, and unfortunately sometimes it's hard to believe our partners when they tell us we're hot. The little voice in the back of our minds says "well, he has to say that..." When I went through a particularly bad period of body image issues, and was otherwise withdrawn, I regularly took steps to hide my body from D. I just didn't want to deal with it or with him. As a result, I ended up very disconnected from my own body and its ability to feel pleasure. Something you can try is to give your wife sensual experiences that will help her feel pleasure in her body. These are not necessarily sexual sensual experiences, but they can very quickly go in that direction.

Massage is an obvious option, whether you rub her down or send her to the spa. There's something to be said for both choices. The spa is completely non-threatening, but she's still going to get physical pleasure from the experience. And as a result, she may be more open to feeling your touch. Massage can be a lot of work on you, and she could feel like you're doing it just to get into her pants, but if it succeeds in getting into her pants, then WIN! Not knowing your relationship, I can't guess how this would go.

Washing her hair is another lovely, sensual experience. If you already have at least an occasional habit of showering or bathing together, then get on it. If not, this may be harder to wrangle. However, I think most women love the 5-10 minutes they spend in the shampoo chair at the hairdresser, especially when they do a little extra scalp massage with the conditioner. It feels so good. I would have welcomed that from D even in my most withdrawn days.

Magazines like to recommend orchestrating romantic evenings and complex scenarios. Personally, I never reacted well to those because I felt like there was an overt expectation of sex. I'm not saying to quit romantic gestures, but a big evening of music, rose petals, oysters, new lingerie, candlelight, and wine may feel overwhelming. Whenever D went to great lengths like that I always felt pressure to perform, and then guilt if I didn't succeed. And that is not sexy.

So, those are my thoughts. I hope that together you can find a way to open communication about sex, which is really the only way to work on this concern. As a woman who perhaps felt not so differently from your wife, I had to get over a huge roadblocks. Reading smut and masturbating got me primed and ready to jump back into sex with D, and once I started feeling more comfortable with sex again, I was able to talk about it more freely. And to D's credit he has never once expressed anger or blame over the sexless years. He's expressed regret, but only regret. Now we can talk about everything, without judgement or shame.

I really hope this gives you some food for thought, and maybe a few ideas to start strengthening the intimacy in your relationship!

*The regular Formspring Roundup will resume next week


  1. Thank you for writing this post!
    @itisasecret312 :)

  2. I was in a similar situation after I had children -- I just didn't like my body. Now, there are two approaches to this problem:

    A. Change how you think about your body.
    B. Change your body.

    For me, all the "just do something that makes YOU feel sexy!" and "you should love your body the way it is!" was completely ineffective.

    So? I went on a diet, went to the gym, and lost 30 pounds.

    Once I wasn't self-conscious about being naked or having parts of my body I didn't like being touched my sex drive returned and the sex I had was better than it had ever been.

    1. I totally agree with you, but sometimes it takes a long time to get to the point of being able to change how you think and how you look. Some people just can't get there, for whatever reason. But, from my own experience, I can say that being overweight helped me sustain a "reason" for not wanting to do it. They helped keep me in a place of feeling undesirable and generally ill-disposed toward sex.

  3. Fantastic advice, as though you could give anything less. I can relate to the question-asker, both as a self-employed stay-at-home Dad, and as a wife with body image issues.

    I wish I had something more useful to contribute than just agreement, but the points you make are spot-on. The fact is that most people are wired differently and thus will be turned on by different things. We used to watch a lot of porn - and we still do watch it - but these days we're probably just as likely to masturbate or have sex while enjoying sex blogs, erotic images on Tumblr, sexy stories, and audio. I think what we like most about these things is that they are frequently created and shared by people just like us. There is no expectation of so-called "perfection" to which we are often subjected in mainstream porn. It may be less intimidating, especially to a woman - or for that matter a man - with body image issues.

    Your suggestions for helping overcome body image issues are great. Provided it's something with which the question-asker is okay, I would be inclined to suggest that she go to a spa. The idea of being naked in the presence of a stranger (i.e. the massage therapist) may be overwhelming for his wife, but if she can get past it she may find that it gives her a sense of acceptance and makes her more comfortable in her own skin. And we love that you mention washing her hair; Jill's head, hair, and scalp are among her biggest erogenous zones. Scalp massage has been known to make her orgasm.

    We are flattered that you found our blog suitable to include. We also appreciate the links you shared as there were a couple of which we were unaware.

    "Intellesexual" is brilliant, and really seems to fit the mindset of many of us bloggeres. I see myself using it in conversation.


    1. Thanks Jack, as always. Glad you found so much resonance here. Y'all have a very healthy and loving relationship that has clearly been able to weather the birth and babyhood of a little one! So of course your perspective is a key one for couples like this, I think.

  4. *Standing ovation*

    You gave such wonderful, sound advice. Kudos, bravo, applause for you, Liza for being so level headed and thoughtful on the subject.

    And a HUGE thank you for the blog pimp!

    1. Thanks Mia. I wanted to send readers to other awesome couples' blogs that show all sorts of different, but fantastic, relationships.

  5. I just wanted to share my thoughts quickly. I won't go into too much detail, but my wife and I have been going through something very similar though we are further down the path and things are improving greatly.

    Just a little background, both of us grew up in families that simply didn't talk about sex. We never had the birds and bees talk or anything. So we were complete noobs to communicating about it. Some highlights of our journey.

    1-My wife has a thyroid problem. Looking back, she probably had it for years and we didn't know it. It can seriously affect sex drive. Once she got on the proper medication things got better, but we had a LOT to still work on.

    2-We bought a good book that was not intimidating at all for people like us. It's called 'Because It Feels Good' by Debbie Herbenick. It's geared towards women, but we read a lot of it together and it helped us get started down the path of communication.

    3-One part of the book that really hit home was called the Cycle of Dread. Basically when sex starts to 'Not feel good' (in our case the thyroid issue decreased her sex drive) if she continues to have sex she can associate sex with negative feelings. That is exactly what happened to us. The book explains in a lot more detail about the issue and has really helped us overcome it.

    4-I realized that I wasn't being the kind of man I should be. This is kind of hard to explain, but I started being a yes man because I wanted to please her and hopefully get sex. I stopped being a man. I know that sounds weird, but I had to start expressing my own opinions (about things other than sex, because you don't want her to feel pressured) and she started feeling more positive towards me. I'm not suggesting that you be a jerk, but let your opinion be known in a clear and gentle way.

    5-We have been having slightly more frequent sex, but it has been much hotter since we started talking about it. I've learned that I'm OK with that. I got too carried away with frequency that I pressured her too much.

    That was much more that I was going to type. :) There is hope!

    1. Anon, I'm going to focus on number 3, though all these points are fantastic. I was *living* in the Cycle of Dread. I truly dreaded all sorts of things, especially things that would bring up D's desire to talk about "our problem," which always made me feel worse about "our problem." The dread became associated with absolutely everything sexual and sensual and eventually I just cut myself off. Ugh.

      Glad to hear you are coming out of it. Together.

  6. Body image is a huge deal. I've had a hard time with it myself, always struggling with weight. I've not had kids, but I know the toil that stress can take on your sex life. Couple things that make a world of difference for me: affection throughout the day, both verbal and physical will build me up emotionally and make me want to just be close with you. Telling me how much you love my body and exact details of it, seeing you get turned on by me, that's hot. Telling me how you want to please me, that's very hot.

    I agree - bugging me, asking me, constantly bringing it up? Yes it will drive me away. I really like how you point out that non-sexual touching is important - holding hands, massaging, showering together, all great ways to share.

    1. Love to have another woman's perspective here! I love the touches of affection that have (almost) nothing sexual behind them. They just...are. And they are wonderful.

  7. This is a total hall of fame post, well done Liza! I don't have any advice, so much as experiences to share:
    - Taking a massage class 20 years ago and again a few years ago is one of the best things I ever spent a day doing.
    - Having sex at any time of the day has been really good for us. It avoids the "going through the motions" sex at the end of the day when we're both beat because we put off sex for something we "had" to do.
    - Masturbating together really broke some kind of dam with us and we've been going for a crazy white-water ride ever since.
    - Communication has been paramount for us. Understanding each other's points of view, talking about what we each want, what does and doesn't turn us on, what kinds of compromises we can make, etc.
    And thanks for the shout-outs for my blog(s).

    1. Reed, I so appreciate your comments, because I know y'all went through a patch, too. We need to take a massage class, but other than that, the other stuff is solid gold and I agree a billion percent.

  8. Anonymous' point #4 "I realized that I wasn't being the kind of man I should be." above, is the single most important answer on this page. All the rest of this stuff is true, of course, but without the husband increasing his Alpha Male traits she won't feel sufficiently attracted to him and the other stuff won't matter much. The original letter writer needs to google "Athol Kay" and his blog "Married Man Sex Life" and buy his ebook. Trust me, I could have written this letter myself a few years ago

    1. I have looked at the blog you mention a few times. From a gal's perspective, I don't really agree with everything I've read there. But, I will certainly agree that everyone's needs are different, and it's definitely worth exploring.

  9. I really like this post, Liza, and without taking anything away from the awesome advice you give, want to come at it from a different angle.

    Your post's title, and your questioner's question - "How can I help..." reveals a certain construction of the "problem." The "problem" is that the readers's wife doesn't want "enough" sex, and she needs "help." This could be true, I guess.

    But maybe there's no problem. Maybe they're getting the amount of sex they each want, but he's not comfortable with "less than 30 times a year" being enough for him. Or maybe she's equally unhappy.

    And you gesture in this latter direction, but in my experience, relationships are very much two-way streets. There's almost nothing that happens that's "my wife's fault," or "my fault." In the end, we do everything together, like it or not.

    I would encourage the reader to re-frame the question - rather than looking for hot things that might appeal, or new ideas, I wonder if a conversation - about how both of them feel about sex, about the quantity and quality of it in their lives, about their sexual fulfillment - might lead somewhere good.

    Maybe the "problem" isn't that the wife doesn't want enough sex. Maybe, the problem is that, in the absence of communication, they want different kinds of sex and neither is getting it.

    In general, it's a mistake to try to change someone.

    His wife is how she is. He needs to get to know her, and introduce her to him, sexually. Maybe sex toys, adventures, are the solution.

    More likely, though, I suspect a helping of conversation and a dollop of acceptance will go at least as far.

    1. I agree, a million percent. Thank you for adding such great points.

  10. A general thought before I reply to individual comments: thank you to all the men who made such thoughtful and helpful additions. You guys, and I mean GUYS, see so many excellent ways of approaching this question--many more than I ever could have addressed on my own.

    Thank you for being such great readers, interested not only in the decadent and prurient, but the honest and caring, as well.

  11. Pressure to have sex is the biggest turnoff (if you don't want it!)
    I had a really bad body image for years and it certainly didn't help my feelings of sexiness. Children definitely brought my sex drive down - tiredness being a big factor.

    Great post! I love the answers you gave Liza and also all the people who have commented after!

    1. Thanks Sophia. Love having your perspective as a wife who was in a similar spot...

      And I totally failed by not linking to your blog. I will post a correction, because it really should be in the list!


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