In my practice as a Marriage and Family Therapist, I often run across the concept that men have sex for physical reasons and women have sex for emotional reasons. I have facilitated many a discussion with couples that center on this topic and the conflict that surrounds it. This notion often leads to the wife feeling used and the husband to be confused. In many ways society has trained us to buy into these ideas and we generally accept these as fact without question. Since we tend to believe that sex does not hold much emotion for a man, we also then believe that sexual rejection does not lead to any emotional pain or hurt. Heck, there are even a couple mainstream theories out there that hypothesize that sexual rejection for men does not have a significant emotional component. One is Sexual Script Theory, which essentially tells us that it is a man’s role in heterosexual relationships to be the sexual initiator, with women either accepting or declining. As such, men get used to rejection, as this is simply part of the script in relationships. The other is known as Masculinity Theory. This theory, put forth by Raewyn Connell in 1995, holds that men seek sex for physical, and not emotional or deeper reasons. Because of this, sexual rejection then also does not lead to any type of emotional pain; simply a swing and miss at the physical act.
I suppose this all sounds fine on paper, however, in my experience things just don’t play out this way in real life. I am far more likely to hear a husband telling me how he feels ashamed and emasculated by his wife’s sexual rejection. Most men talk about regular sexual rejection leading to self-doubt and a loss of self-esteem that impacts their own sex drive, motivation, and happiness. Consistently being turned away by the woman who is supposed to love and desire him the most leads to some pretty strong negative self-beliefs. Men in these situations will often use words such as worthless, unwanted, and incompetent. None of these men would agree with the suggestion that rejection lacks emotional pain. In fact, for many men the core of their masculinity is tied to their ability to be sexually desired and competent. When the husband is told, “I am not in the mood tonight,” what they hear is, “You are not good enough, not man enough, for me to be in the mood.” As such, consistent rejection becomes something of a masculinity wound. In many ways when a guy enters into a long-term, committed relationship, they are putting their masculinity in their partner’s hands.
I am certainly not suggesting that every husband should have sex on tap, with wives always sacrificing to maintain their husband’s sense of masculinity. There are, however, a few key takeaways for both the men and women out there:
Talk! Be open and honest with your wives; express your feelings. Explain how good you feel about yourself and your marriage when your sex life is vibrant and fulfilling. Tell your wife about how she can fuel your masculinity and fill you up with confidence. Throw in some emotions. If you can’t do that, go back and read some of my previous blogs. When you are handing your masculinity to your partner you might as well say, “Please be careful with this.” When your wife knows this she is more likely to respond to your initiations in a softer and more caring manner, even if the end game is, “Sorry, I am not feeling it tonight.”
For what it is worth, I have had countless wives sit in my office and tell me that when they say, “Sorry, I am not feeling it tonight,” they genuinely mean just that. It really does not mean that they find their husband unworthy or not masculine enough. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Don’t be afraid to remind yourself of this when your confidence goes jumping off a cliff.
Despite what society may be telling you, sex is more than just a physical act for your husband. Please remember that sexual rejection does indeed carry with it emotional pain and hurt, with that in mind, be gentle. Similar to the way you entrust your femininity to your husband, so does your husband entrust you with his masculinity.
When we increase our understanding of these concepts and have an open dialogue within the safety of our marriage, we can develop a more satisfying sex life and a more fulfilling marriage.
For more some related reading check out Sarah Hunter Murray’s take on this topic at https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/myths-desire/201611/how-sexual-rejection-really-affects-men-and-women
Kimmel, M. S. (2005). The gender of desire: Essays on male sexuality. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
Courtenay, W. H. (2000). Constructions of masculinity and their influence on men’s well-being: A theory of gender and health. Social Science & Medicine, 50, 1385- 1401. doi: 10.1016/S0277-9536(99)00390-1
About the Writer - Nicholas D'Amico, TLMFT
Nicholas is a Marriage and Family Therapist at Covenant Family Solutions. He has worked with families and youth for several years in a variety of settings. He has extensive experience supporting struggling families and individuals in crisis involving issues such as; abuse, anger, delinquency, trauma, depression, and relationship distress. Nicholas employs a strength-based, family systems approach that fosters hope and happiness by empowering clients. He is passionate about helping couples enrich and strengthen their attachments, guiding families towards harmony, and supporting youth as they overcome the impacts of trauma and dysfunction.