“When Your Husband Doesn’t Want Sex” Part Two: Causes of Male Desire Problems

This is the second in a series of blogs on the topic of husbands with low sexual desire. Yes, that’s right, there are husbands who aren’t interested in sex—statistics suggest about 20% of husbands have sexual desire problems. According to Barry and Emily McCarthy, the authors of Rekindling Desire: A Step-by-Step Program to Help Low-Sex and No-Sex Marriages, there are many causes of male desire problems, including, but not limited to:

  • Pressure for perfect sexual performance
  • Fear of pregnancy
  • Embarrassment due to sexual dysfunction (e.g., premature ejaculation, erectile difficulties, ejaculatory inhibition)
  • Greater confidence with masturbation than with partner sex
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • A way to maintain emotional distance or punish the spouse
  • A secret such as a fetish arousal pattern or sexual orientation issue
  • Being distracted by work or money concerns
  • Being involved with children or extended family to the detriment of couple time
  • Not valuing marital sex
  • Side effects of medication
  • Few spontaneous erections so he is hesitant to initiate sex
  • Feeling intimidated by the wife’s sexual desire
  • Feeling that it is unmanly to ask for stimulation to facilitate arousal
  • Low self-esteem
  • Depression

That’s quite a list, isn’t it? Some of these causes overlap with the causes of female desire problems, such as medication side effects, fear of pregnancy, and depression, while others are unique to men. It helps to “think like a man” when trying to understand why your husband lacks sexual desire. If you try to explain his behavior based solely on reasons why women might lose interest in sex, you may fail to see the true underlying causes for his loss of interest in sex.

Most of the time, sexual desire problems in men are what we call “secondary.” That means he once had sexual desire, but something has changed, and he now has little to no sexual desire. It’s uncommon to see men who have never been interested in sex (that’s called “primary inhibited sexual desire” and it’s more common in females), although it does happen in males. For the purposes of this blog series, I will assume that the husband has secondary inhibited sexual desire: he used to show interest in/want/have sex with you, but now he doesn’t.

As the McCarthy’s explain, “for the great majority of males, the causation is clear—sexual dysfunction results in desire problems.” That means something isn’t working correctly in his sexual functioning, and this difficulty has caused him to lose interest in sex with his wife. Men have three main sexual dysfunctions:

1)      Premature ejaculation

2)      Erectile dysfunction

3)      Ejaculatory inhibition

A typical pattern would include a husband experiencing one of these sexual dysfunctions, followed by worrying that it will happen again (called “anticipatory anxiety”). This anxiety leads to him performing poorly during the next sexual encounter. If this happens repeatedly, he may begin to avoid sex due to embarrassment and failure to perform well. It’s much like what happens when a basketball player misses a few free throw shots. He starts to worry that he will shoot poorly again, and this anticipatory anxiety interferes with his performance the next time he is at the free throw line. He misses more shots, feels ashamed and even more anxious about his next performance which leads to another poor performance. If the damaging cycle continues, he may eventually come to avoid or dislike basketball—a sport he once enjoyed.

According to the McCarthy’s, another pattern for men that can cause sexual desire problems in marriage is called “variant sexual arousal,” which includes:

  • Compulsive masturbation (often accompanied by the use of “900” numbers, online sex, or pornography)
  • A paraphiliac arousal pattern
  • An issue of sexual orientation

Subsequent blogs will address all of the above and how they can lead to a husband who doesn’t want to have sex with his wife. If you would like to read Rekindling Desire, please be aware that it is not a specifically Christian resource and does have a few recommendations that I do not agree with because they are not biblical (e.g., watching erotic movies with your spouse to increase eroticism); however, it is a good resource for husbands or wives who have low sexual desire. The writing style is straightforward with clinical terms, and the book has no objectionable photos or drawings.

As always, I welcome your comments and questions.

Comments 129

  1. Chris
    February 1, 2012

    I admit that I fall into feeding one of those fears: if my husband approaches me for sex but doesn’t have an erection, I wonder if he really wants it or isn’t attracted enough. How can I understand what he’s thinking better? What should my response be, instead of being offended that I have to “work” to make him want me?

    1. February 1, 2012

      Great question, Chris! Please don’t judge your husband’s interest in sex based on the strength of his erection. There are a multitude of factors that can contribute to erectile difficulties, many of which I’ll discuss in upcoming blogs in this series. Many men with normal sex drives need additional stimulation to achieve and maintain an erection, and the older they get, the more stimulation they will need. Wives tend to personalize an erection, sort of like “Firm erection = He wants me” and “Semi-soft or flaccid penis = He doesn’t want me.” Husbands can make the same mistake by personalizing a wife’s lubrication (see this earlier blog http://www.cwives.com/?p=118 ). He can’t control his erection anymore than you can control your lubrication.

      You asked “How can I understand what he’s thinking better?” You might want to try asking him, gently, about his experience of sex with you. You could both share about changes that have happened over your marriage. He may be embarrassed or worried about the changes in his erections, and this anxiety is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. If he hasn’t talked to his doctor about the changes, he should because erectile difficulties can be an indicator of other health issues.

      In terms of what your response should be, try to not get offended that you have to provide more stimulation for him to achieve an erection. He might need some ED medication or he might just need more stimulation. Think of it like your favorite old car: it will still take you to exciting places, but you have to give it extra attention.

      Thanks again for these good questions,

  2. Rachel
    February 17, 2012

    Im in my early 30s and my husband is 10 years older than me. We’ve been married over 5 years and are now expecting our 3rd little one 🙂 Honeymoon aside, I am definitely the one with the higher sex drive. We have largely worked through the heartache this has caused me at times – the feelings of rejection and wondering why as the other women on your blog have described. Talking is one of my husband and I’s strengths, and he, unlike a lot of men, talks pretty openly about whats going on for him. Hes also not afraid to show emotion and shed tears – I love his softness! My hubby’s explanation, aside from obvious stress during periods of difficult circumstances (of which we’ve had a lot of in our married lives!), is our age difference, so I wanted to add that into the mix as no-one that I am aware of has mentioned it yet. He says that men peak physically earlier in life ie 18 to mid 20s and that women peak in their 30s (apparently a fact well-known). In addition we’ve also noticed a difference according to his fitness levels in terms of his drive. Needless to say I encourage him to cycle to work as much as poss for the consequent benefits to our sex life 🙂

    So there you go! Any comments welcomed please!

    1. February 22, 2012

      Thanks, Rachel, for adding your perspective to the mix. Age difference can be an issue as you pointed out. The sexual peak that your husband is referring to is the time from first stimulation to orgasm. So, men are considered at their sexual peak in their late teens and early 20’s because that’s when they reach orgasm the quickest. From a woman’s perspective, that’s not a good thing because women typically need more time to reach orgasm. As women enter their 30’s, the time they need to reach orgasm typically shortens, and as a couple enters their 40’s, they may find that they have reversed roles: she’s now the one to orgasm first and they are waiting on him to finish.

      Your point about level of physical fitness is also well-taken. Research clearly shows that regular exercise contributes to better sexual functioning. Your husband might also want to have his testosterone level checked. The level of “free testosterone” is particularly important when it comes to sex drive.


  3. Rhonda
    March 11, 2012

    I know stress is a problem for my husband, but I don’t know how to help him. We are both teachers, (only I stay home with the kids now) but it has always been harder for him. I don’t understand how he can be so stressed. I don’t know any teacher that appears to be as stressed about work as him. I offer to help grade and lighten any load he will let me take, but he never takes me up on it. I ask him about work and he never has much to say. I don’t know how to help him have less stress. Also he claims that he likes it when I come on to him, but I have been turned down so often that I don’t try anymore. It is just to hard knowing there is a high chance I will be rejected. Is there a way to help this, or do I need to just continue convincing myself that this is just the way our lives are going to be?

    1. Rhonda
      March 11, 2012

      By the way, notice the time 10:30 pm. He is at work right now.

      1. Rhonda
        March 16, 2012

        I know people are going to look at this and think, “a teacher at work at 10:30 at night. She is just in denial, he is having an affair. ” I have had this suggested to me. Honestly though it is only on very rare occasions that I call his work phone and he doesn’t answer and the school he words at is only a two-teacher school and the other teacher is old enough to be his mother. I have definitely gone down that road, but it really isn’t happening.

    2. March 14, 2012

      Thanks for your question, Rhonda. It sounds like you have tried to be supportive and help relieve his reported job-related stress, but he isn’t responding to your offers of help or sex. This makes me wonder if something else is going on with your husband besides a stressful job. It could be any number of things, but please don’t make the mistake of devoting tremendous mental and emotional energy to figuring out your husband on your own. Many women do that when they would be better served devoting that energy to their own lives.

      You asked “is there a way to help this, or do I need to just continue convincing myself that this is just the way our lives are going to be?” If you choose to tell yourself “this is just the way our marriage is,” you are settling, and over time, settling often leads to resentment and bitterness. Please consider making an appointment with a marriage counselor and attend that visit whether he will go with you or not. Hopefully, he will attend with you, grow comfortable with the idea of counseling, and possibly even receive individual counseling to help him manage stress or whatever is leading him to disconnect from you and spend long hours at work.

      I am praying for you today,

      1. Rhonda
        March 16, 2012

        Thank you for your advice and prayer.

  4. Kim
    May 24, 2012

    About 5 years ago my husband began taking cholesterol medication. We noticed a severe drop in his libido, which his doctor assured us had nothing to do with the new medication. After some research I learned that cholesterol is is used to manufacture testosterone, and so a drop in cholesterol can mean a drop in testosterone. We experimented: off the medication, sex drive returned, on the medication sex drive fell. He had his T levels checked and indeed they were low. Not wanting to stop the meds (he has a family history of high c) and not finding a doctor willing to treat the low T, I thought our sex life was finished. After years of sorrow I convinced him to see a urologist specializing in sexual health. He prescribed Viagra and thrice-weekly sex. The Viagra helped (apparently he had performance-anxiety issues) and, as the urologist suggested it would, the frequent sex led to more “natural” desire for sex. We’ve come a long way, and one of the biggest adjustments I’ve had to make is to not let my feelings get too hurt when he isn’t in the mood or doesn’t have an erection. The book “He Comes Next” has been helpful – I would recommend it. The sexual issues in our marriage have been more painful than anything else, but it is getting better – and if it can for us, I know it can for others too.

    1. August 14, 2012

      Thanks for the book recommendation, Kim. I will have to check it out as a possible resource to recommend. I also appreciate you sharing your story so that others can be educated and encouraged.


  5. Amy
    August 7, 2012

    My situation is a bit different. First before we were married we didn’t have sex. Just holding hands and kissing and that was about it maybe this was a hint as to what was to come.
    When married we had sex on our wedding night, which for me was uncomfortable and it lasted maybe 15 minutes, then there was no cuddling and things newly married people do. He was up out of bed and sat outside till day break. He woke me up and said I’m going home, but I said we are going on our honey moon. He blew that off and said again I’m going home to get some sleep tonight I start working the midnight shift. All of this happened 45 years ago, he never took me on a honey moon nor a vacation in all these years. I fact we hadn’t had sex, intimacy, slept together for 45 years. The day after our wedding night he moved his things to the basement and I was told not to talk or bother him again. It was like he just shut me off and I didn’t exsist. He still won’t talk to me so I guess I’ll never know what happened or what is on his or bothering him. I stay busy with a part time job and go on lots of vacations with a ladies church group. I see a shrink twice a week and shes helped but I’m still depressed, disappointed, lonely and just plain angry. He just stays cooped up in the basement, with no TV, computer, radio, or phone he has no friends, goes no where except when necessary. He looks terrible long straggly hair and beard and wears old holey clothes. My life was happy one minute and the next minute equaling 45 yaers was a train wreck.

    1. August 14, 2012

      Hello Amy,

      Thanks for sharing your heartbreak with us. I’m glad you have made a life for yourself and continue to see a therapist to help you cope with a very challenging marriage. I wish your husband would go to counseling with you so that he could explore his issues as well.


  6. Hayley
    April 27, 2013

    I had not had sex before marriage, but my husband had (with previous girl-friends). We dated 4 years, then got married last year. Ever since we got married, my husband doesn’t want to ever make-out with me or want sex. (He ALWAYS wanted to make-out when we were dating). I would be happy with sex as often as humanly possible, but he has no interest. Even on our honeymoon, he was very reluctant to have sex. I feel so disappointed and robbed. I waited 26 years to have sex, and now that I’m married, I’m denied it by my own husband. We’ve only been married 6 months and I feel like I married an old man. I cry when I see couples being intimate on TV or on movies, thinking, “what’s wrong with me? Why can’t I have that?” I feel so alone.

  7. Susan
    May 23, 2013

    I’m writing as a very concerned mother. I have a wonderful ,beautiful daughter in her late twenties that has not had sex with her husband in over a year. He is only two years older than her.I’m sure they are very much in love, but he has no interest in sex.She said their sex life slowed and then stalled very quickly after they were married. She is so depressed about it and it breaks my heart. They haven’t even been married two years yet. At this time I don’t belief he would go to counseling He is just too embarressed. He is in good health, very handsome,stays physically fit. They make a beautiful couple! No one would ever guess their secret. what advice would you give her ? Should she see a sex counsellor on her own ?

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