When counseling couples one issue I hear over and over is the difference in sexual desire between the husband and wife. Most of the time, the husband desires to have sex more frequently than his wife and he can’t figure out “what’s wrong with her”. Some women have been accused of being frigid, based on the mere fact that they don’t want sex every time their husband wants it.

I try to help couples understand several things that enter into the dynamics of frequency issues:

The first fact is that most men have much higher levels of testosterone than women. On average most men have 3 times the testosterone that women have, so it stands to reason that they would be interested in sex 3 times as often! Knowing this biological information helps us understand that it’s in our wiring and in our hormones, and it’s not about anyone being deficient or oversexed.

A major difference in men and women is that men are visually stimulated, and there is never a shortage of images in the media, from advertisements, movies and printed material. It’s all around them so it’s no wonder they are thinking about sex more frequently than women. Women on the other hand are stimulated by touch and by feeling loved. They don’t receive loving touch throughout their day so they aren’t necessarily in the mood at the drop of a hat. A smart husband will gently hug his wife, hold her hand, caress her throughout the day, and demonstrate his love in practical ways. When they are intimate he can continue to help her get in the mood and his investment will be well worth it! Someone said that men are like microwaves and women are like slow cookers. I may take a slow cooker a while to warm up, but when it’s hot, it can stay hot a long time.

A woman may see herself as a mother, chauffeur, cook, nurse and everything else that she performs daily, but may not see herself as a sexy, desirable partner. It’s difficult to feel desirable when the baby just spit up on her, she’s gained a few pounds and she’s been picking up toys all day. She may need to take some time for herself to pamper herself and start feeling like a woman again! This might require her husband to take the kids to the park for a couple of hours while she takes a bubble bath and relaxes.

Another aspect to consider is that women’s minds go in many directions at once. They may be doing one thing but can be thinking about three other things that need to be dealt with. She is a mental multi-tasker and may have a hard time focusing on only one thing. She may have a hard time switching gears mentally. Some “down” time, listening to music, sipping a glass of wine and transitioning from the “mommy role” to the “I’m your lover role” can be helpful.

Women have a hard time feeling amorous toward their spouse if things have been tense or their husband has been critical during the day. Once again, a woman can’t easily switch gears when she has been put down or ignored during the day, and is then expected to be ready for fun at night. The wise husband will treat his wife with love all day, every day, so that when the opportunity arises, she will be ready. As a woman feels valued and protected, she is drawn to her husband and wants to please him.

Sometimes a woman isn’t interested in sex with her husband because frankly, she doesn’t like what he does in bed. She may need to guide her husband to the things that she likes. I have heard husbands say “I don’t need her to tell me what to do. I know what I’m doing in bed!” The fact is that every woman is different, and it would be crazy to think that a man automatically knows what his wife likes, even if they have been married for some time. Being teachable and getting the ego out of the way can go a long way in learning what she likes and what makes her feel good.

I encourage couples in this frequency dilemma to each move toward the middle of the continuum: If the husband can decrease his expectations as far as frequency, and the wife can increase her willingness and interest in sex, they usually end up at a spot that works for both of them. When neither of them is willing to budge and each stands their ground, nothing can be resolved and the distance between them grows.

Ultimately good communication and honesty will allow the couple to express their feelings, their wishes and needs, and a happy medium can be found where both partners’ needs are taken into consideration and satisfied.

Deborah (Debbie) Pinkston, Ph.D.