Thursday, May 6, 2010

Unmet Marriage Needs, Part 3 of 3

So continuing from the last two days, sex is a need at some level. If it's not being adequately met (and it's not met in many marriages), how can that need be met without destroying the marriage?

One option is masturbation, with or without porn. Christians have a lot to say on both masturbation and porn, often with passionate arguments on both sides. My supervisor recently gave a lecture to a group of female nurses on sex addiction. He started by asking them if their husbands were masturbating to an image of a beautiful nude woman on their computer screen, how many would consider that cheating. Only about 1/3 raised their hands. Adjusting the situation, the woman is now in the room, while the man is doing nothing different. Now the whole audience thought it was cheating. Sure, there are dynamics as to why the man would be in the same room as the nude woman. However, the action itself is the same, under slightly different circumstances.

This emphasizes the very fine line between what is considered cheating and what is not. Affairs are a clear example of being on the cheating side (that's the definition of affair). But what about blow-up dolls and other anatomically-correct tools to self-stimulate?

So then there's the option of an open marriage. Both parties agree that sexual needs are not being met within the relationship, so they agree to let them be met in other ways.

Interestingly, most people are more appalled at the idea of an open marriage than affairs. We are not shocked to hear spouses straying. We're not even shocked by pastors having affairs. Yet a couple has found (what they believe to be) a mutually satisfactory solution to a problem in their lives in which they can protect their marriage. The couple in House brought up this point. I think it's an excellent one and shows the hypocrisy of much of our societal judgment on sexuality.

This reminds me of a point a friend made about a group he knew of that attempted to "help" homosexuals. In the group, the people were encouraged to discussed ways they "slipped" into having a one-night-stand or anonymous sex. But talk about a meaningful relationship, and you're out of the group. Interesting approach that is very similar to this topic.

How can we approach the topic of unmet sexual needs without condemning and while finding a satisfactory solution. Open marriage and affairs are not particularly satisfactory on a theological, psychological, and emotional level. Masturbation for most people is not satisfactory on a physiological level (or emotional level due to the lack of emotional intimacy).

Many marriages have unmet sexual needs due to relational, physiological, emotional, and psychological reasons. As I provide therapy to these couples (or an individual), I would not be sure what to suggest. There does not seem like a good solution about ways to get these needs met.

Of course, to complicate and at time negate this whole conversation, it's also important to remember that sexual desire is also a symbol for other desires within a relationship and may, in fact, have nothing really to do with sex...


  1. You have made some interesting points. Questions kept popping up in my head:
    What does God say about our needs? What are ways we can meet them within the context of marriage?
    If your needs are not being met... are your spouses?

    A thought to ask your clients... patients... the people you talk to, Have you tried focusing all your efforts on loving the other person in the way THEY feel loved??
    If both parties focused on outloving the other person, then they wouldn't have any time to wallow in the 10% of "unmet needs".

    If you haven't read it already a really good book to read is His Needs, Her Needs. It goes over the 10 basic needs of every human. There is also some workbooks for the couple to use to rate how they see them and what order they NEED each one the most. It is interesting what happens when both people start using the same language and can have some useful communication in their marriage.

    Another really helpful way to have your needs met is to PRAY about it. God has done some amazing things through our obedience to talk to Him and be honest with what we want/need.

  2. Thanks for your comments, Beky!

    You bring up an excellent point that we often can get caught up in our own needs not being met when in fact our needs could be met if we focus more on the other person and loving them. Using stereotypes here, the man who is emotionally unavailable and at work all the time may complain about not having enough sex. If he actually spent time with his wife, that may change.

    However, those are not the circumstances I was thinking of in these posts. I know plenty of people in situations where giving love or praying enough is not the problem.

    Here's three circumstances I know of:
    1. The man had his prostate removed and so cannot have intercourse. He can have an orgasm through oral sex, but what about the woman? And orgasm isn't the whole point of sex. No one has done anything wrong. Sexual intercourse just isn't physically possible.
    2. The woman physically cannot have sex because it is painful. She therefore has lost interest in it, and the man's confidence in sex is thus impacted because he has "caused" pain in her. Again, no one has done anything "wrong" or not loved enough.
    3. A woman's husband is in prison. She is committed to appealing the conviction. They can still have an emotional relationship and connection, but not sexually, on either end.

    None of these situations will be solved by loving the other more or simply by praying. And we, as Christians, are often not willing to admit there are those circumstances where there is not a clear answer or solution. It's part of being in a fallen world.

    Further, I think it's important to always recognize unmet needs. While we usually can do something about them, ignoring them and just loving others more will create deeper, longer-lasting issues of various sorts over time. I've seen that many times, too. In psychology, we often diagnose it as a personality disorder...



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