Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Men*

(*But Were Afraid to Ask). Ladies, we’re going to pull the covers down on men in this article. My intent is to provide some insights that may help you be more effective in achieving your relationship goals. And to do that we’re going to have to discuss s-e-x. I’ll be using generalities and obviously this won’t fit everyone–but hopefully it generates some new conversation and better understanding between the two of you.

According to Michele Weiner-Davis, internationally-renowned relationship expert, “Sex is truly the tie that binds. It leads to emotional intimacy.”

Okay, by default many men are sex crazed. We are not depraved. It’s just how we’re made. And it’s a good thing. It’s during sex that men feel most alive. It’s the reason we pursue a woman and marry her in the first place. Sex is an appetite that keeps returning. It’s often said that men physiologically need sexual release every 48 to 72 hours. So it keeps us coming back to you again and again. It forces men to work through our differences with you and apologize when we’re wrong or have acted selfishly. It reminds us to treat you well, to talk with you, to listen to your heart, to be romantic, and to help you.

A man loves most everything about his wife when their sex life is good. But if he’s not getting any, it can be a struggle to even remember something he likes about you. More diplomatically stated, guys feel an emotional connection that flows from physical intimacy. And without sex guys lose that connection. Most guys aren’t comfortable saying, “I miss feeling close to you and making love helps me to reconnect.” And you probably wouldn’t believe us if we said it! Sex or the lack thereof can also affect our mood in general. Without sex, life seems dreary, we’re more irritable and less patient, problems appear bigger and more unmanageable, and we feel less hopeful. During lovemaking and orgasm, the neurotransmitter serotonin is released–the body’s natural mood lifter. So after sex, life is good again and we remember everything we love about you. Sounds a little like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, doesn’t it? But then, to be fair, ladies have their own mood cycle that we men have to live with.

Q: What happens when the first baby comes along? A: The new daddy typically experiences an unexpected, sharp reduction in physical intimacy–and he assumes that’s the new normal, that things won’t improve. The highest rate of divorce occurs during the first five years after baby is born. Q: What happens when the marriage inevitably gets distressed? A: The wife often withholds sex to punish her partner for his bad behavior. Then, as I’ve indicated, the man loses his emotional connection, he gets a bad attitude, and loses his motivation for being in and working on the relationship. But, she didn’t see that coming, did she? So women need to know that sex isn’t just something optional that guys use as a form of recreation–it is, in a very real way, the tie that binds a couple together. Avoiding, neglecting and withholding sex destroys the couple’s bond.

A man’s sexual desire can be a precarious thing. For as much as guys want sex, we also hate rejection. Men can quickly lose interest in sex if their advances are repeatedly shot down. As few as 3 or 4 consecutive rejections and he may stop pursuing. In a similar way, a man may also lose interest if he feels frequently criticized by his partner. A guy will even tend to lose interest if his wife consistently wants sex more than he does–men are evidently designed to be the pursuer, not the pursued. In spite of this, many men tell me they wish their wife would initiate sex more often. And I’m sure that actually would be welcome on occasion. But perhaps what he’s really wanting is some kind of “signal” from her that the coast is clear to pursue her–that he need not fear rejection if he does. That signal might be sexy clothing, flirtatious behavior, or fresh sheets. One can even buy a reversible pillow that says  “tonight” on one side and “not tonight” on the reverse. These are but some of the many ways that a woman can affect a man’s desire.

Here is another way. I believe that men have a deep yearning, not merely to get their own pleasure or to leave something inside a woman, but to have a powerful impact upon her–to succeed in bringing her to ecstacy and surrender. In the movie Dangerous Beauty, the main character, Veronica Franco, articulates this much better than I ever could, “I confess I find more ecstasy in passion than in prayer. Such passion is prayer. I confess… I confess I pray still… to feel the touch of my lover’s lips… his hands upon me… his arms enfolding me. Such surrender has been mine. I confess I hunger still to be filled and inflamed. To melt into the dream of us… beyond this troubled place…” That’s something guys want–for our partner to be that way with us. If our wife denies that part of herself or withholds it from us, that too can be a form of rejection.

Unfortunately, husbands can also lose interest because they’re getting this need met somewhere else. With all these many ways of feeling sexually avoided, neglected, punished, or rejected, what’s a man to do? He could be stoic. He can focus on work or drown his sorrows. He might have an affair. But ladies, men have voted and the overriding winner is pornography. As a hint to its pervasiveness, consider that over half of all spending on the Internet is related to sex. United States pornography revenues have been estimated to exceed the combined revenues of the television networks ABC, CBS, and NBC–at $13.33 billion in 2006. And that overlooks the seemingly unlimited supply of free pornography. Most guys who view porn probably don’t pay for it. Porn is incredibly easy to access and it comes relatively guilt-free. But it’s a dismal substitute for a real woman, for our wife. And porn has the net effect, once again, of destroying the couple’s bond.

I’ve intended to provide some insight into the male perspective that I hope will help you avoid some common relationship pitfalls. I’ve had many couples enter counseling who haven’t been sexual in a very long time. Many tell me that’s just not an issue they need to deal with. But after reading this, perhaps you will begin to see the circularity–lack of sex can be simultaneously a consequence of and a cause of your marital distress and “stuckness.” No matter where your marriage is right now, how far off track it might be, or how long its been there, I believe it is never too late to save your marriage. And you might be surprised how easily and quickly that can happen.

© 2011 David Bentley, MA, NCC. Parallels 1 Corinthians 7:1-6 The Message.