Men don’t like to cuddle. We only like it if it leads to . . . you know . . . lower cuddling.  Ray Barone

The scene opens as the camera zooms in on the Barone house at night, and then into the bedroom where Ray is sitting next to Debra, his wife. She’s lying down facing the camera, with her back to Ray, about to fall asleep. Ray, the sports writer in the long-running sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, reaches over and gently touches her exposed shoulder. Eyes closed, Debra simply says, “No.” He withdraws his hand, then gently touches her again.

“No,” comes the deadpan response. Again, Ray touches her shoulder, and still without moving or opening her eyes, Debra says, “No.”

Then, with his brow wrinkled as if conducting an experiment, Ray reaches his hand over his wife’s shoulder without touching her.

“No,” comes the response — again with her eyes closed. Then, in response to three quick passes through the air over her shoulder, Debra says “No,” “No,” “No,” each in precise timing with the hand passing over her.

The scene ends as Ray reaches his hand far above her and, without touching her, swoops it down over her in what looks like an airplane pass. In a pitch that matches the height of the hand she cannot see, Debra responds, “NoooooOOOO.”

Ever felt like Ray Barone in this scene? Most married men readily confess to having their sexual advances toward their wife rebuffed on more than one occasion. In fact, most married men believe that women do not want to have sex as much as we do. Over time the old reliable “Not tonight, I have a headache” has morphed into “I’m too tired tonight,” but the message to us is the same. They don’t want to have sex when we do. Maybe your wife has even accused you of being “insatiable.” And you’re amazed at how long she can go without ever initiating sex with you.

So, you are wondering how I can be saying this is a myth? Don’t men, generally speaking, want more sex than women do?

Though it may seem that way for a variety of reasons, we are making a mistake to assume just because it so often feels that way, that it is true. The fact is that our sex drives, for both men and women, fall along a continuum that looks like a bell curve, and most wives are right in the middle, wanting to have sex with their husbands just as much as their husbands want to have sex with them. Of course, some women actually have a stronger libido than their husband, but these marriages are in the minority. So why all the hullabaloo about libido mismatch between men and women? And, more importantly, how can correcting this myth lead to better — and more frequent — sex in your own marriage?

I’ll begin with a brief lesson on the female libido.

Make no mistake, it is more complicated than ours. But if we accurately understand it, we’ll not only see that it’s unfair to unequivocally say that women don’t want sex as much as we do, but we’ll also know how to cultivate it more fully. I’ll then give you several practical suggestions for getting your seemingly disparate sex drives into the same gear.

What Women Want

In the film Annie Hall, Woody Allen and Diane Keaton are shown split-screen as each talks to an analyst about their sexual relationship. When the analyst asks how often they have sex, he answers, “Hardly ever, maybe three times a week,” while she describes it as, “Constantly, three times a week.”

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How is it that a husband and wife can view the frequency of sex so differently? The answer is found, in great part, in understanding how a woman becomes sexually aroused and motivated. Too often, men assume that the way our libido works is (or should be) the same way hers works. But it’s not that simple. In fact, it requires a bit of study. “Every woman is a science,” said John Donne. And if you take time to study your wife, you will discover that her libido, though quite different than yours, is more powerful than you think.  Here are some of the most important points in understanding your wife’s libido.

Women Equate Sex with Emotional Assurance

One reason for the perceived distinction in male-female motivations for sex is that we are socialized in different ways about sexuality and marriage. Men tend to see sex as a pleasurable, physical activity. In fact, even if you’re feeling stressed or out of sync with your wife, you’re unlikely to turn down sex with her. Not so for women. Your wife sees sex as a sign of emotional bonding and confidence with you. She needs to feel sure of your emotional togetherness before she can free up her physical togetherness. And if she doesn’t feel close and connected with you, your chances for feeling “close and connected” in bed are miniscule.

These separate meanings that the two genders ascribe to sex can become the source of a great deal of miscommunication and misunderstanding in marriage. Consider the following comments made by a wife and husband who stepped into my counseling office after three or four years of marriage:

Wife: He keeps saying he wants to make love, but it doesn’t feel like love to me. Sometimes I feel bad that I feel that way, but I just can’t help it.

Husband: I don’t understand. She says it doesn’t feel like love. What does that mean, anyway? What does she think love is? I want to have sex with her because I love her!

In this marriage, as in many others, the husband sees himself as showing his love to his wife by engaging her in sexual activity. The wife, on the other hand, sees sexual activity as something that should evolve out of verbal expressions of affection and love. Like a scene from a Woody Allen movie that cuts too close to home, this couple bickers continually about how frequently they have sex — never knowing that their socialization is contributing to their perceived difference in sexual motivation.

Women Withhold Sex When Feeling Hurt

Let’s say your wife spoke harshly to you because you left your dirty socks on the floor. You feel she overreacted. You’re perturbed. Maybe even angry. A few minutes pass and she walks into your den wearing nothing but a string of pearls around her neck and high-heeled shoes. Now tell me, are you going to punish her by withholding sex because she hollered at you just minutes earlier about your dirty socks?

I don’t even need to hear your answer.

But you probably need to hear your wife’s answer when the roles are reversed. Why? Because unresolved emotional issues, even little ones, are at the root of some low libidos in women. Resentment, unexpressed anger, and hurt feelings can lead some women to withhold sex. Maybe she’s too upset with you to let you touch her. Maybe she’s hoping that rejecting you sexually will send a message that she either can’t bring herself to say or can’t seem to get across no matter how often she says it. Maybe she’s simply punishing you. Is it right? Nope. Is it fair? No way. Is it healthy? Of course not. But it’s a common occurrence, and it rarely registers with men.

Women Are More “Hormonal” Than Men

When you’re feeling frisky and your wife has a “headache,” she may actually have a headache! Chances are, to her, it has nothing to do with your sexual desirability. And if you’re hearing, “I’m not in the mood” when you want to hear, “Meet me in the bedroom” whispers from your wife, it may be because her mood is being determined by her hormones. Again, it’s likely to have nothing to do with your sexual attractiveness. Biological changes are far more likely to sap her libido than they are to sap yours. When was the last time you weren’t “in the mood”? Is your memory failing you on this one? If so, that’s because, if you’re like most men, you can generally get in the mood at the drop of a hat (or any other article of clothing). You’re typically not battling a surge of hormones that cause you to question your body image or your wife’s acceptance of you.

A Woman’s Sex Drive Can Be More Easily Distracted

Okay. So you’ve given your wife “the look.” It says, “Let’s go!” You’re ready to rumble. She gets the message but says, “I’ll come to bed right after I fold this laundry” . . . or “make the kids’ lunch for tomorrow” . . . or “take out the recycling.” I know. I understand. You can’t imagine doing any of those things yourself if your wife were to give you “the look.” You’re ready to go. Now. So why isn’t she? The reason is not that men want sex more than women; it’s that men are often able to get aroused and sexually ready more quickly than women. This is critically important to understand. I’m not only talking about foreplay once you are between the sheets. That’s a given. I’m talking about initiating sex, being ready to even enter the bedroom with sex on your mind. Allow me to reiterate: women, unlike men, do not separate sex from the emotional aspects of the relationship. Women want a sense of connection that is experienced for more than an hour before approaching the sexual starting line. But they also don’t want anything distracting them from it once their sexual engine is about to be turned on. That’s why they take more care than we do to go through their mental checklist. They need to be sure the kids are in bed, the door is locked, the shades are shut, and so on. They don’t want any loose ends keeping them from focusing on sex once you get started.

Copyright © by Les Parrott, Used with Permission, Published by Zondervan. Adapted from Crazy Good Sex.