The Truth about Sex in Marriage

Contrary to popular belief, sex is not the overriding factor in either marital happiness or marital distress, says Scott Haltzman, M.D., author of The Secrets of Happily Married Men. It can be a barometer of how things are going, but research shows sex contributes just 15 to 20 percent toward making the relationship satisfying. However, unhappy couples report their sex life is responsible for 50 to 75 percent of their unhappiness. 

While it’s difficult to give blanket advice (no pun intended) to couples when they are each different, Dr. Haltzman says the most common issues involve:

1)      Most men (77 percent in his survey) have a higher sex drive than their wives. Dr. Haltzman says hormone and brain chemical differences are among the most likely reasons for the difference. In particular, testosterone levels are higher in men, with women having about 10 percent of men’s level. Testosterone levels fall as women age, particularly after having children.

2)      Women have an intimacy imperative. Women have 10 times the level of oxytocin in their brains than do men. This puts the emotional connection at a premium for wives, desiring closeness above all else. Men’s level of oxytocin surges to our level only after orgasm.

3)      Women want to feel intimacy, closeness, romance, relationship to help them feel “in the mood.” For women, good sex is as much emotional as physical. Men should use conversation to learn about their wife’s needs, says Dr. Haltzman. Let her know you just want to understand her feelings about sex. Being romantic just to get sex doesn’t work for women.

4)      Life is overly busy. Prima magazine showed women in the 1950s had sex more frequently than today’s women—an average of twice a week for our grandmother’s generation. Back then there was one TV station that turned off at 10 p .m. Generally, only one person in the family worked while the other looked after the children. Today’s families are often so busy and stressed they report they don’t have (or make) time for intimacy.

5)      Men tend to compartmentalize their feelings and concerns, while women’s more developed corpus collosum (the communication strip between the two cerebral hemispheres) allows women to integrate all the data in their brains and experience more subtleties. Her thoughts on one subject spill over into other areas.

6)      Men are more turned on by concrete things they can see, which is why 76 percent want the lights on during sex. Women are more turned on by abstract, emotional things—romance, commitment, intimacy. (Only 36% of women want the lights on.)

Dr. Haltzman says it’s a mistake to think that simply turning on the “romance” will make your love life flourish. Bringing gifts, helping around the house more, and spending time listening can be very erotic for the wife. But if a woman withholds until everything is “just right” the couple’s intimacy issues won’t improve. The longer married couples avoid sex, the more difficult it is to generate positive sexual relationship when they do start again.

The doctor’s advice? Make love even if you don’t feel emotionally connected. (Sorry ladies, I didn’t say it.) You sit through your son’s soccer game in the rain and do many other things out of obligation, and making love should be a part of a healthy marriage. “I’m not suggesting sexual coercion here,” says Dr. Haltzman. “I’m recommending a regular rhythm of sexual attachment with the understanding that some sexual experiences will be better for him than her and some better for her than him, but that the best sexuality does integrate intimacy, pleasuring and eroticism for both people.”

Husbands would do well to include separate activities of G-rated touching and kissing, sensual pleasures from massage to candles to cuddling (without expectations), being playful, and exploring eroticism as well as sex. Dr. Haltzman’s entire book (Secrets of Happily Married Men) is helpful for men who want to better understand their wives, so if you want to learn more, check it out.

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15 responses to “The Truth about Sex in Marriage

  1. What exactly does “exploring eroticism” mean here:
    “Husbands would do well to include separate activities of G-rated touching and kissing, sensual pleasures from massage to candles to cuddling (without expectations), being playful, and exploring eroticism as well as sex.”
    I’m absolutely sure that what comes to mind is not what is meant here… So in my journey on the road to being an awesome husband, could someone enlighten me (and the other husbands that are scratching their heads) as to what we should envision when we read that sentence… I got the “G-rated “and the “playful” down…my wife and I talked about that at length already.
    Some help please…my corupus collosum can’t figure this one out.

    • Good question. Chapter 9 of Dr. Haltzman’s book (read p. 225 for more detail) describes the five different stages or gears of marital sexual intimacy. In this gear (eroticism), he describes a world of opportunities before sexual intercourse, “usually involving nudity that stops short of intercouse but ends in high arousal for one or both partners.” He suggests some wives may enjoy the lower expectations of this gear. Hope that helps connect the cerebral hemispheres for you. 😉

  2. I have suggested this on different blogs and have been lambasted by women.
    The key is that men’s level of oxytocin only reaches women’s level after an orgasm. In order for men to be more connected, women need to give them sex more, even if the woman is not in the mood. I have also done other blogs suggesting ways for men to help their wives get into the mood such as a massage first, women first when it comes to cliaxes and post orgasm cuddling and even perhaps a hot towel massage followed by a talcum rub down and then cuddling afterwards

    Blessings on you and yours
    John Wilder

  3. John… That’s a recipe for a very staunch sexual aversion. If you make someone do something they don’t want to do, they will begin to hate it. I’m not a marriage expert, I’m just a mechanic, but even I can see this one coming (no pun intended, seriously).

  4. Lori,
    You write my favorite marriage blog. The science behind your posts is what brings me back every time and made me a subscriber. Such great work. I’m sharing it on every social network site I can. Keep up the great work!
    Happy Mother’s Day.

  5. Pingback: A Test and a Challenge | Daily Generous Wife Tips

  6. Rich
    I am not suggesting MAKING women do anything, I am suggesting to women that you get more if you give your man sex when he needs it. To not do it makes the guy feel insecure unloved and uncherished. When women FORCE a guy to masturbate alone, it breeds contempt for the woman, especially if it is done often. It creates separation.

    Many men react with passive aggressiveness by not helping around the house etc.

    I suggest that couples give 100-100 rather than 50-50. Most women fantasize about “happily ever after” but rarely consider what that means to a man and what his “happily ever after” looks like to him.

    I hope that this clarifies my previous comments.

    John Wilder

  7. Wow John! Profound. Simply profound…

  8. “Men’s level of oxytocin surges to our level only after orgasm.” That explains a LOT! I wondered why my prince became so inexplicably snuggly after the marital embrace…

    Thank you for posting this!

  9. So what if the wife is already dealing with a sexual aversion?

  10. I would imagine John’s comments apply in general. If this is a specific sexual aversion then I’d suggest finding a counsellor that you can both visit. Though you mention your wife is already dealing with it. If there has been some sexual trauma in the past it needs dealing very sensitively with and while I agree with most of John’s suggestions, if there is some specific aversion that most likely will need specific work.

  11. Rich
    It will take sensitivity and understanding on the man’s part if his wife has a sexual aversion. It is imperative that she work on it however. Too many women never heal from past sexual abuse and refuse to get help for it and suffer in silence. This does neither her or her husband any good.

    Blessings on you and yours
    John Wilder

  12. Um, has anyone actually read 1 Corinthians 7:3-4. You guys dance around the issue as if you were professionals. No one should be apologetic in preaching our marital duties. No wonder so many marraiges fail.

    • You are correct that these recommendations are consistent with this biblical teaching. There are lots of blogs that dissect this and similar teachings. Not all my readers are open to that kind of discussion in this forum. Here, I try to combine research that may be eye-opening along with a biblical worldview that is respectful of people whether they are Christians or non-Christians. My hope is that all marriages (and the children within these marriages) can benefit by looking at insights in new ways. You are always welcome to add your personal thoughts and faith-based conclusions. Thanks for your comment.

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