How should a husband and wife manage having opposite sex-drives?
Paul addresses this pretty directly in 1 Corinthians 7, in the first paragraph of that chapter, when he says to the Christian husband and wife, "Do not withhold from each other your conjugal rights," which means sexual intercourse. Do not withhold that.
"Does not the wife's body belong to the husband? Does not the husband's body belong to the wife?" Now those are radical and dangerous statements, to say to your wife, "Your body is mine." What balances it is that she says the same thing, and sometimes "I don't want your body on my body."
So what that text says is, "Compete with each other about how to bring the other person joy, to maximize the other person's gladness and satisfaction." Now that does not solve the problems, but it gives you an orientation that is so wholesome and so helpful.
It doesn't solve the problems because, if she says, "I'm too tired for sexual intercourse," and he is communicating, "It would be really nice right now," she should give and he should relent. That's the way it should be. His heart should be, "I'm not going to make you do this, no matter how strong I feel," and hers should be, "I'm here for you, no matter how tired I am."
Now, how does that bring a solution? It's a matter of degrees, I think, and who at that moment is maybe the most sanctified. Who is experiencing the grace to yield?
I just think that we should preach hard to husbands, "Serve her. Don't manipulate or use her. Don't turn her into a manikin for masturbation. Don't treat her that way. She's a human. You want her all there. You don't want to use her. You want her there—there, enjoying you. That's the point of this: mutual consummation, psychologically, spiritually, and now expressed physically." And those are the best moments of all, when the physical event is the consummation of a spiritual, psychological whole event.
I think we should be preaching to men, "Don't think of your wife as an instrument to be used for sexual satisfaction. Think of her as a whole person who has her own deep longings and desires. And you want to live in such a way as to draw her in."
Foreplay begins with whether you're washing the dishes or not. That's foreplay. If you help her wash the dishes after supper, if you help her clean up, if you serve this woman—this is about sex, right? Because if she has made a nice supper, and you finish it and go plop yourself on the couch and watch TV for three hours, getting red-hot sexually because you're watching 50 sexually-stimulating advertisements, and then at 10:30 say, "I'm ready!" she's not going to be ready! That's ridiculous.
So what I'm saying is that spouses manage their different sex drives by loving each other like they love themselves. They should not be demanding, but should each try to serve the other. And they meet somewhere in the middle in a way that both of them perceive the other wants the good of the other. Neither feels used by the other.
And the wife—I'm going to use her as the example, because it is more typical that the wife has less desire for sex than the husband (though that's not universally true)—she will want to accommodate his stronger desires. And he will want to avoid giving the impression that she is only there for his sexual satisfaction. And they'll find a way in the middle, as Christ gives them grace and humility.
Does it make a difference if one partner's lack of sexual drive is from a medical condition?
Well, I'm sure it makes a difference. And I think that what the man or the woman would want to do is to come alongside the partner who has the medical condition and empathize and say, "What's it like?" and then work at it.
I know a couple where sexual intercourse is painful for the woman. And it's not clear that the reason is entirely physical or whether there are psychological components.
I know another situation that ended in divorce. I did the marriage, and I was just heart-broken. Nobody at Bethlehem knows who this is anymore. As soon as this couple got married it emerged that she thought sex was filthy. Her mother had drilled into her—and she had seen it in her parents' relationship—that to have sex is to do a dirty thing. And therefore she was constantly pulling away and felt like his desires were unclean desires. And that never got fixed. They broke up. I couldn't provide the help that they needed. She was deeply deeply wrong about that, and deeply wounded by her background and maybe other things.
So I know that physical and psychological things, not just different sexual drives, do make things extremely difficult. And I would say that it calls for a lot of patient loving care so that the person who has the condition feels understood and listened to, so that you're not just saying, "Get yourself fixed, because that's what my marriage is supposed to be." Rather you should come alongside and do whatever medically or psychologically can be done in order to find a pattern that is workable.
There aren't any ideal sexual experiences in the world, I don't think. Every woman probably has a picture in her mind of what she would or wouldn't like. And every man has a picture in his mind. And they're never identical. Maybe once in a thousand you would say, "This marriage represents her receiving and giving exactly she wants, and him receiving and giving exactly what he wants. They're always in total harmony all the time." That just never happens virtually, which means that marriage is a test case for sanctification and for self-denial. And it works both ways.