Making Marriage Work : Is S8x A Need Or A Drive?
When we talk about people’s “s8xual needs”, are we muddying the waters?
One thing that kept going around in my mind, that fits into our discussion about the obligation s8x message that we started last Thursday on the podcast, was that our framing of s8x may be part of the problem.
What does it mean when we call s8x a need?
When you say something is a need, you mean that they can’t exist in a healthy way without it. But does that phrasing cause a problem? I think it does, and let’s look at a few reasons.
Not all needs are equal
Anyone who has ever taken Psychology 101 will be aware of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs pyramid. On the bottom are things like food and shelter and clothing, and then further up there’s social needs, like relationships and s8x, and then you have your needs for actualization and purpose.
Basically, you don’t care about the further up needs until the more basic ones are met. So your need for actualization is not going to register when you’re starving. Your need for s8x won’t register when you’re running from a bear.
When we call s8x a need, though, people don’t tend to picture Maslow’s Pyramid and think to themselves, “well, sure, that’s a need, but there are greater ones, so it’s okay if I tend to my greater ones first.”
No, when we call something a “need”, we tend to put it on the same level as the other things that we know we need–food, shelter, etc. And the “need” for s8x is simply not analogous to many other things we truly need.
Calling s8x a need changes the nature of s8x
When we say that s8x is a need, what are we really saying the ultimate need is? In our Christian literature, it tends to be about physical release. The book Power of a Praying Wife, for instance, says:
But for a husband, s8x is pure need. His eyes, ears, brain and emotions get clouded if he doesn’t have that release.
Power of a Praying Wife
This is quite similar to Emerson Eggerichs in Love & Respect–“if your husband is typical, he has a need you don’t have.” And that need? Again, physical release.
But is the main need for s8x physical release? Is s8x primarily about physical release?
I think physical release is a huge part of it, and I do think orgasm is important–for both! We should not have a 47 point orgasm gap between the genders, and if orgasm is a problem for you, check out The Orgasm Course.
The real point of s8x, though, is intimacy. S8x is about a deep longing to be totally connected in every way–physically, emotionally, and spiritually–all at the same time. That’s the way it was designed. That’s the way it’s talked about in Scripture. And s8x is supposed to be mutual.
So when we make s8x about a husband’s physical release, we diminish the purpose of s8x and what it is supposed to be.
There’s a difference between how we think about needs and desires.
One of the things I criticized about the book Love & Respect was the subtitle–the love she most desires; the respect he desperately needs. From the get-go, Eggerichs is saying that she has desires, but he has needs.
Now, needs take precedence over desires, don’t they? Because when it’s a need, we think of it in a certain way. We think: “they can’t function without this. They can’t help how they act without this.” Whereas when we think desires, we think, “this is her preference. This is what she’d like.” But you can still function well even if you don’t get what you want! That’s what we’re always teaching children, after all.
When we say that someone has a need, we also say something implicit about that. We say–therefore, someone must fulfill that need.
If someone has a genuine need, then whoever is in place to fulfill that need should do it.
When we phrase s8x as a need, then, we turn s8x in marriage into an obligation. And as we discussed on the podcast last week, that has terrible repercussions for a couple’s s8x life.
But what if someone really wants s8x and can’t function well without it? Is that bad or wrong?
No, I don’t think so. I just think we need better language for it.
I think we should talk about s8x as a desire or a drive. Some people have a higher felt desire or higher felt drive for s8x–and that’s totally healthy and okay. But when we recognize that it’s a desire or drive, then we also recognize that the responsibility for that desire or drive rests on our shoulders. We need to act responsibly with that. That means that we need to treat our spouse well, woo our spouse, honor our spouse.
And we need to realize that not every urge for s8x is a need. I want chocolate chip cookies a lot, but I don’t eat them every time I want them. A desire for food is necessary and healthy; a desire for chips every time I’m hungry is not. Gluttony is a thing with food, and s8xual gluttony can be a thing too. But when we say “s8xual needs”, we imply that every time someone has a s8xual urge, that represents something that must be fulfilled. That leads to a lot of frustration. I have had so many women comment here and on Facebook and send me emails since I started talking about the methadone podcast (how s8x keeps him from watching porn) and the obligation s8x message telling me that their husbands need s8x multiple times a day.
That’s not a need. That’s selfishness and gluttony.
Here’s how I think we should talk about it:
S8x is a necessary component of a healthy marriage.
Absolutely. A healthy marriage will have a healthy s8x life at the heart of it. S8x should be something you both desire, that you both enjoy, that you both prioritize. Ideally, s8x should be quite frequent (studies show at least once a week, and several times is even better, if you both enjoy it and if you can swing it due to your stage in life). But at the same time,
A healthy marriage is a necessary component of s8x.
S8x on its own can’t create a healthy marriage. We have to focus on the other aspects of the marriage as well. And that means that your spouse matters. Your spouse has dignity and honor and should be treated that way. Your s8x drive does not supersede his or her need for sleep, or for rest.
I’m all for great s8x. But I think we’d do better to recognize s8x as a strong desire, not a need.
Marriage needs a s8xual relationship, but not every s8xual urge needs to be fulfilled.
That puts the responsibility back on the person having the s8xual urge, rather than telling them they can’t help it, they need a release–which puts the responsibility on the spouse and excuses the one with the “need” of bad behavior.
Our survey of 20,000 women found that the obligation s8x message just doesn’t work. It lowers libido and orgasm rates and causes s8xual pain to skyrocket. And you can read all about that in The Great S8x Rescue! And when we talk about s8xual needs, we give the obligation s8x message. We just do.
How about we talk about s8xual desires, which need to be negotiated and compromised and honored just like all other desires in a marriage? Your spouse’s s8xual desires and drive is important. If you love your spouse, you should care about something that they really want, and you should want it, too–especially since s8x is really the drive for intimacy. But in caring about it, there’s always the recognition that BOTH of you still matter. Wouldn’t that be healthier?
And when we talk about it like that–I bet more women’s libidos would return as well!