How It All Goes Wrong

Another discussion from fairly early on in the old Salon blog.


In the comments on “Ricky’s” situation (outlined in “Lying and Power“), “Jason” wrote:

It got to the point that I really did resent her. I resented the fact that she wouldn’t let me please her, I resented the fact that she would not respond to my sexual overtures the way that she had in the past. I felt Exactly the way Harry did, that she had masqueraded as a woman with a normal libido in the beginning just to lure me in, and then shut it off when she was comfortable.

While I’m sure evil genius females of this sort do exist out there, the vast majority of us are just garden variety human beings whose sociopathic behavior is limited to the shameless lying that gets us out of making cookies for the PTA bake sale.

Part of this common male suspicion about the dropoff in women’s interest in sex after marriage is because of men’s misunderstanding of what constitutes a “normal” female libido. They tend to measure sexual desire’s “normalcy” by the source, urgency and constancy of their own, but that’s a false yardstick when it comes to women.

And it is also absolutely true that many women’s interest in sex does tend to be greater when the relationship is new or when there is some challenge in it, some “luring” or “amazing” of her partner still to be done. It’s more exciting and emotionally engaging for us that way. When you take away the pursuit or “knockout” factor, some (or alot) of the ooomph disappears. But it’s just what happens, it’s not a matter of cold-blooded, nefarious plotting. See: Boredom.

For most (although not all) men, their sexual drive comes mainly from the gonads. It’s a constant background simmer that needs little impetus from relationship factors. So, as I like to put it, their desire for their wives is about 75% physical and 25% emotionally induced. For most women, it’s the opposite. Their sexual desire is prompted more by their relationship to a man and their emotional excitement about him, and less by hormonal pressure. (Yes, yes, this is all generalization. It’s absolutely not true for a certain percentage of men and women at both ends of a wide spectrum, and more or less not true for others as you move inward, but it is true enough of at least a huge plurality to be useful to us here.)

That’s why it’s so easy for so many women to be completely “turned off” by a man who bores or angers them, and why so many of us can shut down sexually altogether for years at a time: our gonads just don’t tend to scream at us for constant fulfillment the way yours do.

Jason continues:

I was damn well secure in my belief that I was the downtrodden, abused, deceived man. I had no idea what I had done wrong, it seemed to me that I had treated her great throughout the relationship.

One constant factor I’ve noticed from the men who’ve written to me or who’ve talked to me over the years about this problem is that — at first, anyway — they always insist that they are Princes. They have “treated her great.” They have provided their wives every possible material thing their economic circumstances have allowed. Given that most of the guys are generally pretty normal and decent human beings, I always accept their belief that they’d always done their best. And then I try to help them figure it out.

Again, I guess I need to reiterate that because I’m trying to help guys figure out their missteps and problems, I’m not saying that women are perfect and don’t need to examine their own dumbassity. I’m not saying that men are beasts and women are blameless. I’m only saying that if you, as a man, want to solve your marital impasse, you can’t sit back and tell yourself that your wife has to fix herself and fly right. Even if she is the main source of the problem, you still have to do what YOU can do. Yes, it seems extremely unfair to have to do all the work, but if you have a problem, you want to solve it, right?

Think of your wife’s sexual interest in you after you get married like a car windshield. With each spatter and bit of dirt thrown up from the road of life, her view of you gets dimmer, uglier and less interesting. The two major sources of road grime are “Anger” and “Boredom“, although the other factors I’ve mentioned in this blog, like “Disgust” and “Distraction“, etc. also play a role.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself right now about the gradual buildup of the anger factor:

* Are there things your wife has asked you to do (or not do) that you keep forgetting?

* Do you talk to her like she’s a six-year-old? For example:

“How many times do I have to tell you?”
“Could you possibly be any dumber?”
“I’ve told you and told you….”
* Do you make “jokes” about her appearance or failings?

* Do your mother or siblings or friends almost always “win” when there is a conflict between them and her?

* Do you feel free to “vent” at her about your daily dissatisfactions and irritations?

* Do you ignore her or take her for granted?

* Do you repeatedly blame her for the children’s behavior?

* Do you put her down in front of other people?

Remember, an angry woman is seldom a willing woman. You can’t piss her off all day and then expect her to fall into your arms when you get into bed with her at night.

Comments in response to this post from the original blog:
Great column today, Julia! (And yesterday, too). I don’t have a bunch of time to comment on the fact that I really AM a Prince of a guy, but I have to say that, of those questions you asked, the only one I was guilty of, and this one just slightly guilty, is the problem about forgetting to do those things she asks you to do. And, generally, these are household task-related. See, I’m just kind of a forgetful Prince.

Okay…the windshield definitely has its splatters: some money problems I have caused, some impatience in the past with our sex-life-limbo, some outright deception about starting smoking again, (oh, and that thing with the prostitute in Mexico…just kidding). Looking forward to your ideas regarding clearing it off, keeping it clear and having her view of me be a happy sight. God, I love this blog!

Harry • 11/20/03; 8:58:51 AM


THANK YOU!!!! My hubby and I have had many discussions on both why I lose interest from time to time, and why he can not seem to express himself and his feelings to me.

This blog is so amazing! You not only scratch the surface of the differences between how men and women can view the same subject, you also delve deeper and help us to find solutions or compromises that will work for us.

I am so glad I found this blog! I am planning to continue to use it as a resource to help strengthen the communication lines between myself and my husband. I hope that he will also your site as a way to better understand how women think and use that knowledge to communicate more effectively with not only myself, but his mother, grandmother, and female friends. (I can’t make him, but I can show him and hope.)

Thanks again!

New fan,

Monica • 11/20/03; 11:59:21 AM

Julia, I’ve recently moved from catching up on all the old entries (in two days straight) to being a daily visitor. I am disheartened by the fact that a lot of what you mention seems to happen (especially Boredom and Distraction) in my own relationship.I’m not married, but we’ve been living together for almost 4 years and a couple for over 6, so I shouldn’t be surprised that things have settled, and I know I’m not a Prince (although my Queen keeps telling me I am *wink*).

I know that if I want things to improve (and not just the sex-life, believe it or not I’m doing it for the ‘right’ reasons) then I need to do something about it, and indeed I try.

Thank you for the tips and pointers, sometimes though it all seems so inevitable. Perhaps humans aren’t meant for long-term happiness with one person.

Shadow • 11/20/03; 6:44:57 PM

The fault lies not in the stars, but in ourselves.

We want others to agree with us, for we are in love with being right. We need that more than results. Julia, this is a strongly male trait. Wars have been fought for less.

Ma Joad says that men go in jerks and rushes – I forget the words – but  that women are like a river. In terms of sexual desire, it is generally the reverse; men have, on average, more constant levels of desire while the average woman’s level of desire rises and falls, is situational – thus the “romantic” date – and can be enhanced or diminished by context.

Men are drawn to cheat when context draws their women into family and other non-sexual involvements, while women are drawn to cheat by situations which bring out their sexuality.

I wonder what hermaphrodites do?

jonathank • 11/20/03; 7:49:39 PM

jonathank, they make lots of money doing porn movies and don’t have to worry about their sexual needs being met.

Actually, my sexual desire doesn’t wane. I can chose to let it get buried under the “context of family things” but other than that it is always there. It is my choice as to how much of a woman I want to be and if sex is something that I want.

Lynn • 11/20/03; 8:07:44 PM

It is my choice as to how much of a woman I want to be and if sex is something that I want.

My basic point is that most men can’t do any “choosing” at all about that. They couldn’t “bury” it if they tried.

Most women, on the other hand — your personal experience to the contrary — can’t simply summon desire at will.

Julia Grey

On the one hand, I tend, like the other Lynn, to feel that my sexual desire doesn’t wane (at least not that much), and is really pretty constant. On the other hand,

a) I don’t have kids (which I imagine would make a huge difference), and

b) I can’t imagine having the level of regular sexual desire some men describe themselves as having (for instance I can’t imagine wanting to masturbate every day, even given no other sexual outlet at all).

Lynn Gazis-Sax • 11/21/03; 9:56:04 PM

Truly written by a woman. You first must understand that you can’t really fully understand the male perspective. So quit pretending you do.
You talk about how women use sex to lure their men in and then when they’ve got him all bets are off and “that’s just the way it is”???? Are you kidding me???? NO, that is just not acceptable. You’ve now entered into a relationship through fraud. How can you posssibly expect this to work well?
I real through your little check list of things we bad, bad men do. I’m no prince, but I’m a pretty good husband. But the bottom line is a wife needs to be a wife. She needs to get herself interested. Unless her man is a complete jerk, there isn’t much he can do, it is, in fact, up to her.
Sorry, you just can’t let women off the hook like this, but I’m sure it sells because most of your readers are women.
Take care of your husbands ladies or you may lose him.
Cantankerous • 11/30/07; 11:27:59 PM
Im not writing about masturbation. I am about to break down. I understand what your saying, I just dont know where to start. Everything has been building up to today, this terrible day, and my secret surprises I wanted to please her with (more than sex, ie, drinks, dinner, etc.) went completely down the drain and I dont know how. I am so lost. Please help me, if you can…Me
tkethoroughbred • 4/28/08; 3:01:29 PM

35 Responses to “How It All Goes Wrong”

  1. Mrs. Charles Says:

    Hello All! New to this blog, and have learned quite a bit after reading several posts. Laila’s response above is an excellent one full of insight and womanly perspective. I can also answer any gentleman who asks why his wife will no longer have sex with him.

    Please take a moment and think with honesty on the following: how good are you in bed? Do you have the faintest idea how her body works? Do you know how long it takes for a woman to become aroused? Has it been as enjoyable and satisfying for her EVERY time — or even half the time, as it was for you? My guess is you are “done” and snoring ten minutes before she is up to speed so to speak. And finally, do you care? Would bet the ranch your wife’s answers to these questions are different than yours.

    I will never forget the ridiculous jerk at a party who told the following joke: “How do you make a woman come?” The punchline: “Who cares!” And he laughed and he laughed… The rest of us looked on in a sort of detached pity at his beautiful wife, whose sad face told the bitter truth. Here her man proudly announced to a room full of friends that he is terrible in bed! Does she enjoy sex with him, have orgasms and all? He certainly does not care! Ha-ha! Perhaps you are this jerk.

  2. Ed Quigley Says:

    “Please take a moment and think with honesty on the following: how good are you in bed? “

    For every thoughtful and insightful comment that suggests that a problem in bed might partially be due to a man’s consistent mediocre sexual performance, there are a ton more that simply bulldoze men’s legitimate anxieties, concerns and complaints into oblivion with a ‘you’re bad at sex’ flourish with little insightful follow-up, designed more to put dissatisfied men in their place and bruise their ego than any real dialogue. It’s a far too reductionist tactic that leaves men in the same position they are currently in while removing any sort of responsibility women may have had in the relationship.

    “Do you have the faintest idea how her body works?”

    Knowing how her body works is intrinsically hinged on her ability to communicate what’s pleasurable to her. If she is unable or unwilling to share that, then there is a little a guy can do other than resort to blind luck and a (hopefully) positive response. Boys do not get a manual in the mail when they hit puberty on how to pleasure women. By and large, they have to rely on the feedback their partners give them. Yes, if she is telling him what she likes and he still can’t or won’t perform, there’s an obvious problem. But if she stays silent, what’s a guy realistically to do?

    “Do you know how long it takes for a woman to become aroused?”

    In the 10+ sexual relationships I’ve had, and another +10 casual sex partners I’ve had in the course of my lifetime, the time it takes for the SAME woman to become aroused varies wildly. In a general sense, yes, men’s arousals are somewhat consistent/women’s arousals are somewhat situational (with a LARGE degree of variation).
    The point is though, isn’t that arousal isn’t taking too long; it’s not happening at all. I’m willing to make a large effort to kindle her arousal, but not an exhaustive one. If it takes moving heaven and earth, hours and days of prep work, doing all sorts of ‘extras’ (which I maintain do little to arouse a terminally bored partner) to foster and nurture a fickle libido that can all be undone with the slightest misstep or ill-timed word then it’s unlikely I’m going to continue doing it, even if it occasionally ‘pays off’, nor do I suspect that she’s really attracted to me at all. This isn’t being careless or lazy, it’s being human with a sense of dignity.

    “Has it been as enjoyable and satisfying for her EVERY time — or even half the time, as it was for you?”

    Very few people have an enjoyable and satisfying sexual encounter EVERY time they have sex. If that’s your expectation, it’s safe to say no one is going to be good enough for you. As far as half the time goes, if I asked my ex-wife, as I consistently did, she would answer ‘of course’, and then we wouldn’t have sex for a month. So ultimately I guess I don’t know, and ultimately, I guess I got tired of worrying about it.

    “My guess is you are “done” and snoring ten minutes before she is up to speed so to speak.”

    Your guess is wrong, at least in my case. I was consistently the one who wanted more foreplay in my marriage; she was the one who wanted sex over with as quick as humanly possible (when we had it, that was). I suspect a lot of men who are reading this blog are in my camp.

    “And finally, do you care?”

    I also suspect men who are reading this care to a degree. After all, they are investing the time on the internet reading about this problem. But caring only goes so far. If your partner doesn’t at least meet you part-way (that doesn’t mean just having duty sex once in a blue moon, I mean actual, real communication followed up with actual, real action), then caring about a situation has limits. Sooner or later, you have to preserve your sanity and realize nothing you can do with an uncooperative and unwilling partner is going to have any reasonable, long-term effect. All I know is that if my ex-wife was unsatisfied with our sex life and instead of saying something about it, even after I tried numerous time to elicit open-ended conversations, subjected me to years of miserable sexlessness, while simultaneously making ME feel bad about having natural arousals and desires, I’d pack my bags and tell her in very clear terms to go jump in a lake.

    I will never forget the ridiculous jerk at a party who told the following joke: “How do you make a woman come?” The punchline: “Who cares!” And he laughed and he laughed… The rest of us looked on in a sort of detached pity at his beautiful wife, whose sad face told the bitter truth. Here her man proudly announced to a room full of friends that he is terrible in bed! Does she enjoy sex with him, have orgasms and all? He certainly does not care! Ha-ha! Perhaps you are this jerk.

    That’s right, men. Dissatisfied with your sex life? You are as big a jerk as a guy who publicly humiliates his wife. Okay then, that was helpful.
    I’m not necessarily discounting anything you say outright, I just find your tone a little… punitive?

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  5. gary Says:

    You didn’t help at all. My wife started cutting me off in my late 20’s we have now been married for 34 yrs. She has allowed me sex 4 times in 12 yrs and none in the past 5 yrs. She wont talk to anyone about it and says its her body and its her decision. I’m sleeping in the other bedroom now because I’m not gonna force myself on her but its like starving and having a meal set in front of me and not being allowed to touch it. Help. Please
    I’m so angry and hurt

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