I Can’t Have Sex Unless I’m Feeling Emotionally Close

Myth #5 in the series 5 Myths Women Believe About Sex is: I can’t have sex unless I’m feeling emotionally close.

This is probably the comment I hear most frequently from women in my office. After a fight, a period of disconnection or sitting on a long-standing pile of resentment, wives have difficulty bringing themselves to be sexually intimate. Most often they feel it would be a betrayal of themselves or a lie to engage. They may also fear that to give in to sex would reward his behavior or emotional disengagement.

The truth is, the opposite, is more likely to occur. Men feel closer and are able to be more vulnerable after sex. They open up. The very thing you long for – the heart of your man- you may be sabotaging if you hold out on sex until you feel entirely emotionally connected. When you are open to sexual encounter you are actually inviting his engagement.

A fascinating fact about our physical make up explains why this myth can undermine a couples happiness. Both husband and wife have a hormone called oxytocin, known as the loyal bonding chemical. On a typical day, a woman has ten times more than her husband. It’s the chemical that surges in our body when we have a baby and attaches us emotionally to our child. There is only one time that a man’s level of oxytocin matches that of his wife. Yes, you guessed it- after intercourse. It appears God has given your husband a hormonal motivation to stay emotionally connected to you! When my husband says, I love you after sex I wonder, Why then? Why not earlier in the kitchen when I had food spills on me? It’s because he really feels it then! It is genuine!

When men feel secure and effective they want to step up and meet the needs of their woman. Their worth is associated with their ability to please you in and outside the bed. When they feel good about themselves they are able to give themselves more emotionally.

If we look at the male version of “I can’t have sex unless I’m feeling emotionally close” it would go something like, “I don’t feel like talking to and connecting with my wife unless I get sex.” How would this comment make you feel? Would it feel like an ultimatum? Chances are, you wouldn’t like it and it surely wouldn’t inspire you to move toward your husband. Imagine going for a week or a month without talking. How close would you feel. That’s how a man feels when we go that long without sex. It is how he emotionally connects with us!

The reality is, whoever likes sex the least has the most power in bed. When you withhold, you have a gift no one else can give. Anything you deny from your husband becomes an absolute denial if he is to remain faithful. When you withhold, he feels rejected, powerless, ineffective, depressed although you may just see his irritation or anger. We can use our power in ways that damage our marriage or we can use our power to serve.

This doesn’t mean you always have to be available and can never be tired- just be intentional about saving energy for him and respond positively more often than not. Jesus used his power to serve. I’d like to be more like him. How about you?

Love to hear your thoughts or questions about Myth #5! Please comment below!

I hope you have enjoyed this series on “5 Myths Women Believe About Sex!” If you have any ideas about a new series, send them my way!


  1. This is something that a lot of women don’t know! I’m really glad you called it out. I actually had a conversation with a young mom about this awhile ago, but I didn’t say it as well! I talked about how God made woman to be man’s helper and she has a God given role to support her husband. Now I have some science to go with what God created!

    1. The word for “helper” here is the same Hebrew word (Ezer Kenegdo) used 18 times in the Old Testament to refer to God as the helper or rescuer! Ezer comes from two Hebrew words which mean “to help or rescue” and “to be strong.” Kenegdo translates to “corresponding to.” So a true translation would be “I will make a strong rescuer corresponding (exactly) to man.” No inferior status here!

  2. I am so glad that you defined helper as you did. As a counselor I have shared this with many women to underscore the power and responsibility we have in our marriages. It is a definition that rings true to today’s women but there it has been all along in Scripture!

  3. As a 55 year old I still desire to make love to my wife regularly, unfortunately she most often responds very negatively and even with hostility, and lots of excuses, I would never be unfaithful or view pornography and I have not but am tempted to masturbate as i am so Unsatisfied, frustrated and empty but feel it would be sinful. I identify with “Anything you deny from your husband becomes an absolute denial if he is to remain faithful. When you withhold, he feels rejected, powerless, ineffective, depressed although you may just see his irritation or anger. We can use our power in ways that damage our marriage or we can use our power to serve” and was wondering would masturbation where I keep my thoughts only on the physical sensations or my wife be ok? Or would that be sinful.

    1. John,
      When a wife is experiencing this kind of negativity about sex it can be the result of many factors including:
      -she feels she is wanted for her body and not for the person that she is
      -she has had abuse in her past and has cut off from her sexual desire
      -she is angry about something else in the relationship, ie: her needs not being met in some area.
      If you want your relationship to change you will need to invest in getting out of the demand/avoidance cycle you are in. You will need to pursue her in a different way. Ask her what she needs from you to feel more loved. Find out what her love language is and move toward her in that way. Demonstrate your heartfelt desire to care for her needs. Ask her how you might be a more sensitive lover. When she experiences your selfless love in this way it will open her heart to you and to eventual sexual reconnection.
      Masturbation will not solve your marital problems. It is designed by God to be a mutual experience shared by husband and wife. When they engage in foreplay and orgasm a hormone (oxytocin) is released which bond them together. Also, during orgasm a neurotransmitter is released, dopamine, that causes an experience of pleasure. That’s why experiencing orgasm while looking at images can be addictive. Masturbation over time can lead to further isolation for the couple as he gets his physical needs met while leaving each more alone physically and emotionally.

      1. If your wife remains stuck, John, a good resource is “Rekindling Desire: A Step-by-Step Program to Help Low-Sex and No-Sex Marriages.” You might also consider seeing a Marriage and Family Therapist, if you haven’t already.

  4. Our marriage is the opposite of this. My husband withholds sex from me and gets irritated if I try to make any sort of connection. It’s exhausting. He doesn’t know why he’s so irritated and angry. But I’m prayerful and hopeful that God will soften his heart.

    1. Jen,
      Getting to the bottom of why your husband is so irritated and angry is important. The fact that he doesn’t know why himself indicates there is some root to his responses. I would urge him toward self-awareness in this as I don’t think it will get better with just the passing of time. Proverbs 20:5 says “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.” Self-knowledge gives us more choice. Sometimes when men respond in this way it is due to a fear of inadequacy, sexual inappropriateness or abuse in his past, or any number of other reasons. The book mentioned in my previous post might be helpful for you as well.

  5. I’m so traumatized by my wife’s callous and total rejection of my sexual interests that I’ve been depressed for 20 years and I seek comfort in having imaginary relationships with other women, dreaming that another cares enough about me to touch me and to accept my sexual touch. Sexual intimacy is about feeling accepted, wanted, and valued. Imagine feeling not-wanted, not-accepted and not-valued. Physical touch is greatly important to any living being, and for a married man sexual touch is equally important. I don’t understand why this deep desire (need) of a husband is so difficult for a wife to care enough about to meet.

    1. I am so sorry for your pain. To feel rejected and devalued is so very hard. I am wondering if your wife is at all willing to pursue therapy to explore the reasons for her disinterest. If your sexual relationship was better earlier in your marriage and then declined it would be important to explore the reasons for the change. If it was never good, it is likely she came to marriage with negative messages or experiences of sex which may be causing her refusal to engage. If this is the case, I would hope she would have the courage to address this. The book I mentioned in the previous post would be a good read for you as it may help you know how to communicate with your wife about this very vital area of your relationship.

  6. I would like to point out that equating talking with sex within the marriage relationship is extremely harmful. While I understand the point you are trying to make in regards to the differing needs of men and women, sex should always, ALWAYS occur with full and enthusiastic consent. The viewpoint you shared is one that has been ingrained in me for much of my adult Christian life. There have been many nights of having had sex purely to meet my husband’s needs, only for me to feel used and dirty and to cry myself to sleep after (and I adore my husband!) Not to mention how incredibly triggering this piece can be for women who have been sexually abused or whose husbands are sex addicts. Please consider revising the piece or even removing it entirely. A man who talks when he doesn’t feel like is NOT EVEN REMOTELY THE SAME as a woman who has sex when she isn’t emotionally connected and doesn’t desire it. While it may be true that women overuse various excuses in regards to having sex, the fact that anyone who is not ready to engage sexually is being shamed for it or having their reason referred to as a “myth” is extremely problematic. Please know that you have a very wounded reader here, and I hope you will humbly consider the impact of this piece.

    1. You are completely right, Joy, that sex should always occur with full consent. If you or any woman offer sex to their husband and feel used and dirty afterward, this is not okay. A loving husband would not want this for his wife either. Understanding where these feelings come from and having a sense of full and free choice in the matter will be essential to enjoying your sex life together.
      If a woman has been robbed of choice due to sexual abuse in her history, it is much more difficult to engage in sex when she is not feeling emotionally connected. I do not in any way advocate for a woman to just keep offering herself sexually when there is a chronic disconnection. To do so will just trigger the feelings of shame, low self-worth and distrust that resulted from her violation. I would recommend she pursue help for the healing of these feelings that get triggered by sex with her husband and that the couple seek therapy if the experience of disconnection is long-standing. I am truly sorry, Joy, if my post wounded you. I would have done well to include this comment about sexual abuse as it has been the experience of far too many women. My post was addressing the common experience of many women who withhold sex until their emotional needs are met.

  7. You’ve certainly hit a sore spot with this particular column.

    Please tell us women how we are supposed to respond sexually to our mates when we’ve been told that sex is all one is good for. Or, when asked why the need to be mean, receives this, “don’t I have the right to be mean when I want to?” I’d dare say there are many women who are not looking for frequent, deep soul conversations with their mates; what happened to the smiles? the winks? pat on the shoulder? a gentle hug? a long hug? a look across the room? holding hands? You know, all those little things that makes a women feel connected. Why is it that all those actions do not cause a man any trouble to express before the I do, but yet after, disappear?

    I have lost count of how many times we’ve been out and he is happily conversant, yet when on the drive home, he’s suddenly mean spirited and I’m left wondering what I did.

    I have lost count of how many times I’ve spoken to him on my cell on my drive home, he is happily conversant, but when I walk in the door, it goes downhill, often before I can even say a word.

    I have lost count of how many days we have spent together, happily, and suddenly he makes a snide or unkind comment.

    I am middle aged. Within my lifetime, I’ve experienced at least 4 major depressive episodes, 3 of them in this relationship, one of which was last year. Is it any wonder my anxiety level is so high?
    Along with the mental/emotional aspects of menopause, I have a physical issue which is only exacerbated by the environment.

    Please don’t suggest talking with him, he is skilled at turning it all around on me. As a matter of fact, he believes it is all me. In the few times he has actually listened, heard and made the effort to do those little things, I have responded appropriately, without issue emotionally or physically.

    I am very close to just giving up. To just be two people living in the same house. I am so tired of the struggle.

    1. It can be exhausting and depleting to live with someone whom you experience as unpredictable and unkind. To be told you are only good for sex is contemptuous and cruel. When we are feeling unloved, we are pulled to react to our mate’s behavior. It is a powerful boundary when we can remain calm and tell our mate what is and isn’t okay about the way they are treating us and use that clarification every time they cross the boundary (the broken record approach).

      I would highly recommend two resources: “Boundaries in Marriage” by Cloud and Townsend and “How We Love” by Milan and Kay Yerkovich. Your husband sounds like a vacillator in their language and the book offers good tips about how to respond to his ups and downs. Some of what you describe may indicate a verbally abusive relationship. If that is the case, a good resource would be “The Verbally Abusive Relaitonship” by Patricia Evans.

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