As a couples therapist, I see quite a great deal of miscommunication about sex between partners. And this is in the rare scenario where there is any communication at all. Generally, each partner thinks that the way they think about sex is obvious to the other, and nothing could be further from the truth. Here I come, like a psychology-wielding superhero, to vanquish common misunderstandings about sex for once and for all. Really. Also, I create world peace. But seriously, this post may at least function as something to email to your husband to show him how normal you are, and/or to start an honest and open discussion about your sex life.
Here are the most common incorrect assumptions that men make about sex, with my rebuttals after each.
1. Frequent and strong sexual desire and thoughts should be natural and normal for all people in long-term relationships.
Frequent and strong sexual desire and sexual thoughts are natural for normal for SOME PEOPLE in long-term relationships. These people are usually either men, or they are women who feel close, relaxed and attractive, or who are in a new and exciting relationship. Note the lack of qualifiers after the subset "men." Note all the qualifiers after the subset "women." I am not saying women don't want to have sex. However, all the recent research shows that sex drive in women tanks in monogamous relationships (see What Do Women Want?), unlike what was previously thought, which was that men grow tired of women after a while but women never get sexually bored by their partners. So basically, it is entirely normal and natural for your wife NOT to want to have sex with you, unfortunately.
The facts of the matter are that if your wife is experiencing decreased sexual desire, it is entirely normal. She is likely hitting the trifecta of libido-killers for women: long-term monogamy, exhaustion and body image issues (the latter two particularly apply after having kids).
Furthermore, any resentful feelings she has about you or the relationship in general, or anything that makes her feel insecure, will also kill her sex drive. If any or many of these issues apply, she will have to apply some real effort to get into a sexual mood, and this is completely normal. See Mating in Captivity for a more in-depth discussion of why your wife is normal in not wanting to have sex more. (Sorry, buddy.)
2. Most married couples are having sex at least three times a week, if not more.
Check out this chart. Almost half of married couples with husbands aged 25-49 fall into the "a few times a month to once a week" category. And only 5.8% of married men in their 30's are having sex four or more times per week. And who knows about these guys, anyway, because this chart doesn't distinguish between how long couples have been married for, whether they have kids, whether their wives are pregnant or nursing or whether one or both suffers from depression, anxiety or any other condition that would dampen sexual desire. From my clinical experience and Moms Night Out confidences, married fathers of small children are having sex a bit less than once a week on average. Pretty much, they aim for one to two times a week and then life and small kids get in the way of that aspiration. (Co-sleep much?)
3. Women go into sex expecting and wanting the focus to be on their pleasure.
Au contraire, women generally do not want the primary focus of the sexual encounter to be on their pleasure. Instead, I hear female clients share frequent fantasies of being with men who are overpowered by lust and desire. If a woman feels like her partner has the sole goal of giving her an orgasm, it is quite a lot of pressure and can make her feel self-conscious and awkward. This does not mean that women do not want to enjoy sex; but, they have to feel that their partner is enjoying it at least primarily because he finds her so attractive sexually that he feels urgent desire for her. Women do not respond well to a man who is trying to use various "techniques" in order to be a better lover. This makes us feel like a sudoku puzzle you are trying to solve.
4. Men who focus on a woman's pleasure (read: enjoy giving oral sex) are few and far between, but I myself happen to be one of these rare ones (note how every male client I have met thinks this).
Dispelling this myth can be my great contribution to humanity. If I had a nickel for every time I heard a man say that "unlike most guys," he "really likes" to go down on women, I would have enough nickels to build a life size statue of a man going down on a woman. And then I would auction it off on eBay, because I have children, for God's sake. Anyway, men, listen up, I would wager from clinical experience that about 80% of you say that you really like to do this. You are not the minority.
Meanwhile, back on Earth, very, very few women in long-term monogamous relationships want frequent oral sex. Really. Even the hot girls you dated in college that were all about it. Do you know why they were all about it? A few reasons: a) they were young and hormonal. Women and men are fairly similar in terms of their sexual peak; it's a myth that men peak at 18 and women at 40. Doesn't this make evolutionary sense? (This myth got propagated probably because women are too shy when young to speak up about what they want in bed, but older women are more confident so may seem more sexual.) Then, b) you were new and exciting. As I said before, women's libido decreases greatly with monogamy. Even a few years of college dating is nothing like the monogamy that comes with living with you and your underwear on the floor.
Many women find oral sex to be overwhelming (too much physical sensation in one place), it may make them feel distant from you (physically and emotionally) and not to mention, you try it at the wrong time. Many women are likelier to want oral sex when they are already aroused; trying it too early in the encounter may physically hurt and make women feel self-conscious. When their inhibitions are lowered is a better time to try, but even then, many women do not enjoy it.
5. I must last as long as I can and be in full control of myself at all times.
In my clinical experience, women do not want a man to last forever. This is consistent with what I said before, that women like when men urgently desire them. If you last forever, how urgent is your desire? Not very. Of course, if premature ejaculation (within a minute or less) is an issue, this can be helped with sex therapy or techniques you can practice yourself.
6. Also, I should engage in a lot of foreplay, all the time, because women want this.
Some do, and others prefer to just start having sex pretty soon into the encounter. For many women, having sex is what gets them into the mood to have more sex. Additionally, if your wife thinks you'll be disrupted in the middle of sex (e.g. by young kids waking up, etc), often a long elaborate sexual episode can make her anxious. Moral of the story: Don't assume your wife wants a long, drawn out sexual experience every time. Ask her, or see how she responds to something more, say, to the point.
7. Women orgasm from intercourse alone pretty frequently.
About 75% of women don't orgasm from intercourse alone. If you didn't know this already, this statistic will change your worldview. So your wife is not weird or not in touch with her sexual side. She's just your run-of-the-mill non-intercourse-orgasming woman. Phew.
8. The women I dated in high school/college/my 20's who I had lots of crazy sex with are still doing that with the men they married.
I call BS on that one, friend. I just told you about the whole monogamy and age and babies leads to decreased libido in the majority of females. If you had married that hot young thing, she would be a less hot, less young thing who wants to sit around and watch TV at night too. You know it's true if you think about it rationally.
9. My wife makes up excuses not to have sex, and other women just go with the flow and are happy to feel desired.
10. After the baby, most women get their sex drive back reasonably quickly.
If by reasonably quickly, you mean, after the last baby is 5 years old and sleeps through the night. And also if by that point they've gotten back to working out, eating right, sleeping well and feeling good about who they are as a person and not just as a mommy. In that case, yes, pretty quickly.
11. Watching porn does nothing to hurt our sex life or relationship.
I beg to differ. Yes, it's normal to masturbate and so on and so forth, BUT people have only a limited amount of energy -- mental, physical and sexual. If you're giving the best of yourself to an Internet person, it's not going to your wife. I am further willing to bet that it makes your wife feel pretty crappy to know that you're looking at other naked women, many of whom are going to look more conventionally "hot" than she looks (or feels that she looks). And the more porn men watch, the less likely they are to be satisfied with the physical appearance and sexual appetites and behaviors of their real life partner. See #7 above -- did you ever see a porn movie where the woman didn't get off from intercourse? Of course not, yet this is how the majority of women function. Anyway, watching porn is the male equivalent of when your wife sees a movie like The Notebook and then she hates you for a couple of days.
Now, I am in no way saying that women cannot work on being more open to sex and get more in touch with their sexuality within their marriage (and alone, for themselves). However, the purpose of this post was to discuss the vast differences between what many (not all!) men assume about sex, and the reality of what the majority of women think and feel about it. Discussing this post with your spouse is a great way to see whether you two are on the same or different pages about sex. If you'd like some more reading on this topic, try the excellent book Wanting Sex Again by Laurie Watson.
And don't worry, next I'll tackle all the ways many women are wrong about sex.
Follow Samantha Rodman PhD on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DrPsychMom