It’s easier when you remember that it’s about love.

contemplator-couple-1b1A posting by Psychology Today blogger Anita Kelly produced a lively discussion (including some prudish comments on masturbation). The basic idea was that your wife is tired and resents you because she does much more of the chores and child care than you. But there also seemed to be an honest recognition of a fact that’s been proven as well as any fact about sex differences: average women desire sex less than average men. (See “Sex Differences in…Sex “). But Dr. Kelly seems to want all the compromises from him:

“Find out how much sex your wife really wants to have…Let’s say she says once a week. And…your ideal is five times a week. Don’t worry about that discrepancy…she is still imagining herself wanting sex. Good! Your focus can now be to shift your expectations …down to once per week, perhaps masturbating the other four nights, and looking forward to trying to make that one time with her excellent for both of you.”

Not exactly what I would call meeting halfway, but at least a dose of realism, too much for some readers. But chores and childcare can be divided equally, or men can do more of them, the average heterosexual couple will still have a lot more “not tonight dear”s on the woman’s side than the man’s. Men’s anger and frustration came through in the comments, as did women’s.

No wonder, given Kelly’s vignette: “You’re lying next to your wife after a long day for both of you. You catch a whiff of her freshly washed hair and suddenly your mind jumps to how nice it would be to get her naked. You know she’s wearing those not-tonight flannel pajamas, but you slide your hand over her closer breast anyhow as you press your hips against her.”

I guess I could think of a lamer approach, but it would take some time. One comment was, “Um…this dude’s seduction tactics just sucked” and went on to say, “Maybe if he started off by holding his wife and kissing her first, she wouldn’t be so reluctant. Dude has got to bring his game if he’s looking to initiate!”

Kelly promised another posting with a secret solution, but that was even lamer. It was just Masters and Johnson’s treatment for sexual dysfunction, which is to swear off intercourse, orgasm, and genital contact (Kelly calls it “reverse psychology”) while you touch each other for long periods. This is a good clinical intervention but is neither helpful nor needed for the average marriage.

“Dude has got to bring his game”? It’s not a game. It’s love, friendship, commitment, and yes, lust too, and disappointment and frustration and hurt and regret and forgiveness and healing. If it isn’t all that, especially the love, commitment, and forgiveness, it’s probably time for the lawyers.

So where does the lust go and the seduction come in?

It’s in the play of eyes over hours and days. It’s a hug and a touch and a kiss whenever possible, including in front of the kids. It’s a certain smile from across the room at a party you’re ready to leave. It’s a furtive touch that is not lewd but is still somehow one that would not be exchanged with anyone else.

This is the ebb and flow of desire in marriage, sex in friendship, lust in love. Have code words to use in the morning that set up day-long expectations for the night, but be prepared in real life for it not to go as planned. Somehow, find a way to occasionally have daytime sex. You’d manage if you were having an affair. Have it with her.

Want oral sex? Obviously, you also offer it. If she’d rather have a massage, don’t get obsessed with tit-for-tat, it’s not that simple—although in fairness you can expect to put a lot more time into the massage than she puts into the you-know-what. If the massage relaxes her and makes her feel sexual, great; if not, you can live to get it on another day.

When you do get to sex, don’t neglect her clitoris. It’s the only human organ evolved for the sole purpose of pleasure, and your life will be better if you are thoroughly acquainted with it. Your penis is well-designed by nature for making babies; making sure she fully enjoys sex is not usually a job it can do all by itself.

And yes, doing your share of the chores and more can be the best foreplay-if you haven’t figured that out you haven’t been paying attention. Tell her to take a bath while you do the dishes. If she has a crush on some TV guy, tell her to watch him.

But women need to know: in most couples he needs sex more than you. When he doesn’t get it he doesn’t just feel frustrated, he feels rejected and uncared-for. It’s one of the reasons he married you. It calms him and takes the edge off masculine resentment. Trust me: the way to a man’s heart is not through his stomach.

Above all, don’t expect him to become like you, any more than you can become like him. If you’re heterosexual, get used to it: you’re doomed to spend your life with someone who functions quite differently. Learn the mysteries of that other class of person-plus of course all the individual mysteries of whoever it is you married-and you can find out why some of us think marriage is pretty great.

And by the way, when the mood is right, flannel pajamas can be pretty damn sexy.

*”Wife-Wooing” is the title of a very nice story by John Updike; titles are not copyrightable, but you can consider this a sort of homage.

Note: By invitation, I’ve started a blog on the Psychology Today website, and my latest post can be read there or here, although different comments may be  posted there.


  1. diana says:

    “It’s in the play of eyes over hours and days. It’s a hug and a touch and a kiss whenever possible”

    Amen. The thing about men is that they think sex only happens when you have sex. To women, it’s not just a whole body but a whole life thing, 24/7/365. (Actually, it’s that to men too but they don’t know it, poor dears.)

  2. Mel Konner says:


    What you say about women is incontrovertible, certainly by me. What you say about men…

    Well, let’s just say that the cardinal error is to think that the other sex works the same way we do 🙂

    Thanks for reading and commenting,


  3. diana says:

    I didn’t say it right. It’s a hard thing TO say right.

    Hm. Let me try this again.

    I think men and women are thinking about sex all the time. But perhaps we define “what sex is” differently.

    How does that sound?

    • Mel Konner says:

      Getting close to what I think, Diana, although when researchers ask men and women how often they think about sex (without defining sex) men consistently say they think about it more.

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