You thought you were getting sex tonight. You swear you even caught your wife giving you the look she usually gives when she’s nonverbally letting you know it’s going to happen when you get home, kids go to bed, or whatever the normal context is for you two to get lucky. But once again, you got denied…

Whether you’re the husband or wife – it can be frustrating, lonely, and stressful when you’re in a season of sexless marriage. In marriage, we possess this awesome gift of guilt-free sex through intimacy with our spouse. But despite what you may have thought before “I do”, that doesn’t mean all your sexual problems just magically go away.

A few things to consider before I share some practical advise:

  • The frequency of sex for a couple is often very different for each couple, and through different seasons also. The newly weds in their early 20’s are probably far more frequent in their sex life than the couple 18 years in, with teenagers in the house. And that’s ok!
  • One spouse may have a much higher libido than the other. Generally, we know men tend to want sex more often than their wife, but that’s not always the case. Once a week may be enough for him, but she may long for intimacy multiple times a week.
  • There are often legitimate reasons where intimacy is less possible. Your wife is 9 months pregnant and on bedrest… a little grace and understanding may be in order! Maybe there’s a particularly stressful season at work that’s killing the mood, or sapping your energy when you get home. Maybe there’s stress in your extended family that has you distracted. It’s ok…

But what do you do when things seemed to have just stopped, or significantly dropped in the frequency that you use to have sex? I want to offer some some practical application to help you get past a dry season, and more importantly, deal with the root issues behind the issue.

Sexual health in marriage = healthy intimacy. This is why masturbating alone in the bathroom doesn’t fix the problem. It’s not just hormones needing to be released, it’s harmony being missed. What your marriage really, really needs is deeper intimacy. True intimacy is based on vulnerability and trust. And you can not demand either.
Often husbands are not seen as being the “vulnerable” ones, but it is very emotionally risky to attempt to initiate sex after feeling rejected over and over again, whether you’re the husband or the wife. Trust for the man is often built when his wife sees his longing to be intimate, and reciprocates – if not this time than the next time, on her initiative. Wives may feel like their husbands have withdrawn, so maybe he just doesn’t want sex as much. But often, he feels rejected and is acting out in hurt, unwilling to risk rejection again. And the longer the time it takes for her to initiate, the longer and greater the feeling of rejection may last on his part.

Healthy intimacy requires consistent communication. I’m still amazed at how few couples actually talk to each other about their sex lives. But when an emotional wound exists, it can be very difficult to even try to bring up the subject. Married couples should routinely talk to each other about sex! What do you talk about? Well you’re married! So nothing is really off limits here! There is nothing dirty about talking to your spouse, about sex with your spouse! So here a few ideas: express your needs/desire for sex, ask questions about their desires, what they like, what they don’t like. It could be, that your spouse isn’t enjoying sex – and it’s your job to learn how! More than your job, you should see it as your privilege. So you have to speak up, ask good questions, and always demonstrate care and compassion towards them in the process.

Sex is more of a thermometer than a thermostat. In other words, while a healthy sex life does sometimes improve the overall health of your marriage, it is always an indication of the health of your marriage. Sex definitely helps set the mood for marital happiness, but in my personal and pastoral experience, it is always a reliable indication of the happiness that already exists between husband and wife.
When there is a lack of sexual intimacy and fulfillment in a marriage, it is almost always a sign of deeper issues. Maybe for one spouse, it feels like their partner has more of a desire for sex itself, rather than for actual intimacy with them. In these cases, one spouse often feels like nothing more than a means to an end – a sexual object – rather than a true lover. Perhaps there is an underlying issue that has caused your spouse to not feel very “intimate” toward you. Maybe they are simply going through a personal struggle and need you to reach out to them lovingly. Maybe they just don’t realize it, and need you to say something! Maybe they feel alone in the finances or household responsibilities, and hold some resentment toward you that is manifesting in not feeling very “sexual” towards you.

Sex in marriage, the Christian marriage specifically, is an act of consistent, mutual humbling of one’s self toward their spouse. In 1 Corinthians 7, the apostle Paul corrects the church in Corinth for this strange, aberrant view they had on marital sex. They had (incorrectly) come to the conclusion that all things of the “flesh” were evil, including sex – within marriage! Paul gives them a better word; “Stop depriving one another…” He teaches us that a husband’s body doesn’t belong to himself, but to his wife, and conversely that she belongs to him. Either of these two thoughts on their own would sound possessive, sexist, and potentially abusive. But together we learn to see that our body, our desires, our needs – belong to our spouse. It is their job to think of us, as it is our job to think of them.

Sometimes, the most loving, intimate thing you can do for your spouse is not try to figure out how to get them to “put out” tonight, but to lay aside your desires to see that she’s exhausted, stressed, or scared. So instead of making a sexual advance, you put the kids to bed, read them a book, and rub her feet. And the irony to it all, is that as you show true love for your spouse – not by demanding sex, but by modeling humility and intimacy towards them – your chances just got much better.

Sex is easy. Intimacy is rare, and precious. Marriage requires us to value the intimacy over intercourse. Instead of thinking, “how can I get my spouse to have sex tonight?” a better thought is, “what does my spouse need from me tonight?” Maybe he needs you to communicate your needs. Maybe she needs to talk to her husband about her day. Maybe they need you to risk making the move again. Maybe they need your arms around them, with no sexual outcome intended. Maybe you both need to get out and have a date together – no kids.

May your marriage be filled with deep, meaningful intimacy.
May you put your spouse ahead of yourself, and model sincere love.
May you communicate the real heart issues behind the issues.
And may you have a loving, strong, enviable sex life as a result.

Pastor John