“My Spouse Doesn’t Want Me”: Differences in Sexual Desire

FamilyLife Today hosts David and Ann Wilson with Dr. Sytsma and Shaunti

Day 2 broadcast

Dave and Ann Wilson hosted Dr. Sytsma and Shaunti Feldhan on the popular Familylife Today program for day 2. The focus was on information from the new book, Secrets of Sex and Marriage.

Topics discussed included the different types of desire (initiating, receptive, resistant), scheduling sex, saying “no”, and initiating sex.

This is day 2 of a two-day broadcast. You can see day 1 here.

You can listen to the podcast on the FamilyLife website or most podcast hosts.

Look for the episode from 2/8/2023 titled: “My Spouse Doesn’t Want Me”: Differences in Sexual Desire.

Dr Sytsma and Shaunti Feldhahn at FamilyLife Today

Excerpts from the show:

Dave Wilson: Oh, it’s a great topic! And here’s what I was thinking about this topic—and I’ve told you this before: I didn’t know this about myself as a pastor and preacher, but I have no fear talking about this at church from the stage. I want our congregation to know what God’s heart is on sex. I have a whole ton of fear talking about this with Ann in our kitchen or our bedroom.
Ann Wilson: Or even with the boys, it was a little awkward for you.
Dave Wilson: It was weird. “Why am I so free here, but—?” It was a scary thing to talk about that. So, we’ve got Shaunti Feldhahn in the studio, back with us, and Dr. Michael Systma with us, who’s a sex therapist. You guys have combined to write The Secrets of Sex in Marriage: Eight Surprises That Make All the Difference. Welcome back to FamilyLife!

Dave Wilson: One of [the surprises] that I read in the manuscript [was] that desire tends to work differently for men and women, so, educate us!
Shaunti Feldhahn: The basic premise for this, which is why it is so helpful for people, is we don’t realize [that for] the average couple, we have in our heads everything that we’ve seen in the movies or, you know, seen on television; and we don’t recognize just how much we think that is what sex is. Now, we know that movies put people in crazy situations, but the process that we think happens—you have the boy and the girl, and they look at each other, and there are like sparks that fly, and they’re in bed.
It turns out, that’s only one type of desire. There’s another type of desire. That sort of Hollywood type, where you feel desire and you pursue it, that’s called “initiating desire.” And the average couple doesn’t know this. And here’s the key that is so powerful for people: it’s to recognize, “Okay, that is one type of desire;” but there’s a completely different type of desire, called “receptive desire,” which works almost in the reverse, physiologically, where someone who has receptive desire, which tends to be the woman, but it’s not always. I think it’s like 74-75% of women—


Dave Wilson: I was saying, “I don’t feel like you want to make love as much as I do.”
Dr. Michael: Right.
Dave Wilson: She was feeling like, “You don’t even love me. There’s no affection.” And it was initiating desire.
Dr. Michael: Right.
Dave Wilson: She has always been receptive, but I had never had categories for that. I’m like, “Oh, you really do want to make love! Probably as much as I do; it just looks totally different.”
Ann Wilson: But I felt really guilty about it, and I felt a lot of shame toward it.
Dr. Michael: Right. And that doesn’t facilitate intimate connection, when we step in with guilt and when we step in with shame. The invitation is two-fold. If you’re the receptive desire spouse, acknowledge that: “You know, I haven’t thought about it in a couple of days. And that’s okay; that’s how I work. I need to be drawn into it, and once that happens, it is going to turn on, and it is a legitimate type of desire. At that point, I do want to engage with you.”
And then, for the other spouse, to recognize they might not have thought about it in 2-3 days, and we need to ramp up our game; not of putting guilt or pressure or shame on them. Not saying, “There’s something broken” or “There’s something wrong with you.” No, there’s not. Your task is: how do I create a space that they want to step into? And when they do step into it, it’s rich for them? The next time I come back and say, “Hey, you look really cute. You wanna?” [Laughter]
And they go, “Well, last time that worked out really well for us. Yes, I want to create space for it. Even though I’m not hungry to start, you’ve created a space that I want to step into, and it’s going to be enjoyable when I do.”
Dave Wilson: Boy, that’s wisdom! I mean, you know, one of the analogies you use in the book—and I want to say it because you wrote it so well—was like a car.
Dr. Michael: Right.
Dave Wilson: Initiating desire is sort of the car in drive; receptive desire is the car in neutral.

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