I am a 32-year-old man. My problem is that my wife, who is 34, never ever initiates sex at all. She is never in the mood. I have to initiate sex to get her aroused. She has no medical problem. What can I do to help her?
Next problem: We are constantly not seeing eye to eye. I had an affair a year ago and she knows about it. We discussed it and cleared the air and she still brings it up. What can I do to change that? We have been married for seven years.
Dear "Sex Initiator,"
It isn't clear from your letter if your wife is never in the mood since she found about your affair or it's something that was going on beforehand. It sounds like your wife is still very angry and hurt about your affair, which could definitely influence her desire for you.
Women, in general, have more difficulty initiating sex. Many men are frustrated by this and feel it is unfair that the responsibility of starting always falls on them.
Women often talk about getting into sex as another "project" that they feel they have to do. It seems that the switch that allows men to go from the different roles that they take on -- father, worker and lover -- works differently for women.
Women describe the feeling of being unable to cut off from their thoughts and feelings of the day and suddenly think of being sexually turned on as they get into bed. Most men, on the other hand, have no difficulty getting turned on very quickly and can concentrate on sex.
Very often couples will tell me if they have been arguing, the man will think the bed is the best place to make amends while the woman gets even more angry at the thought of engaging in an intimate act with someone she is having a hard time with. This, of course, does not hold true with everyone. There are men who have trouble with the "switch," and there are women who initiate, but from my clinical experience, they are in the minority.
Why is this so? Perhaps it is the way we are brought up, in a society that encourages men to be always ready for sex and encourages women to be the ones that hold back. Perhaps it is a biological difference. But what, if anything, can be done about it? Men can understand that lack of initiation on the part of their wives is not a sign that she doesn't love him. In order to get her into the mood, he might have to figure out what makes it easier for her to do so. Perhaps, it's letting her relax a bit more before bedtime -- doing more of the household chores, giving her a glass of wine or giving her a foot massage in front of the television.
I don't think it falls on the man to do it all, however. Women also have to take responsibility for getting into sex, if, of course, that is what they want. They can tell their partners what they need from them, as well as figuring out what they have to do internally to get into a more sexual mood. If couples want to have enjoyable sex, they must invest in it.
Getting over an affair is not an easy thing to do. Your wife sounds like she is worried that you might not be committed to your marriage. Hoping that she will completely forget about your affair is not realistic. Affairs are betrayals of trust. Your wife might be doubtful if she can ever fully trust you again, but her real issue is if she can ever fully trust herself to do what she thinks is the right thing to do. The same thing goes for you. Can you really trust yourself not to break your commitment to her again?
If you're not satisfied with your sex life, and your wife knows it, both of you still might have other women on your minds -- for her, as a possible threat, for you, as a possible way of satisfying your sexual needs. Therefore, both of you must work on being honest with each other about your feelings towards sex, towards intimacy, towards your relationship. You both must decide whether you want to honor your commitments or make other decisions concerning your future. Good relationships, as with good sex, comes as a result of taking risks in revealing ourselves to our partners.
Marsha Ellentuck, MSW