Wives, there’s something you need to know about your husbands that many women don’t know. Your husbands aren’t likely to tell you about it, because they fear it might sound self-serving or perhaps that it might terrify you. So let me be your husband’s advocate and tell you something that you need to know if you want to truly understand your husband:
Sexual struggles are different for men than they are for women.
They just are.
Wives, if you want a connected marriage, an intimate marriage, a marriage based on understanding, a marriage in which your husband is so grateful to you for “getting” him and knowing him, you have to avoid comparing your sexual struggles and temptations with his.
They’re not the same.
They will never be the same.
They’re just not.
Yes, women struggle with porn as do men. Women have affairs, as do men. Women struggle with same-gender sexuality, as do men. But the underlying causes are usually very different.
For example: it is rare that a happily married woman will have an affair, while many men who say they are very happy in their marriage end up in an affair. Why do you think this is?
And while it isn’t universally true, many women who desire lesbian experiences have had horrendous experiences with men, including sexual abuse. Many didn’t start off with lesbian desires. They just got fed up with how they were treated by men and women were the only option left. That’s not generally true—and in fact is probably rarely true—of male homosexual desire.
Dr. Al Mohler helped me understand the importance of making the distinction between male and female sexual desires when he contributed a chapter to the book Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, published over a decade ago. In that chapter, Dr. Mohler talks about how we must be honest with scriptural condemnations of homosexual behavior while also being sympathetic toward the temptation to do wrong, as some form of sexual sin is a universal struggle among all men. There isn’t a man alive who isn’t bent in his sexual desires. While the vast majority of us do not have homosexual desires, we have other desires that do not honor God. That’s the burden of being a man. Women have untoward desires as well, but they are different.
Here’s what Dr. Mohler writes: “No man, not even the most committed heterosexual husband, will be able to say on the Day of Judgment, ‘My sexual affections, my sexual arousal, was always, from the very beginning, only directly toward that which was holy—the covenant of marriage and the wife that I was given.’ Every man struggles with a corrupted affection, and that corrupted affection, given the reality of the male sex drive, is often directed toward a desire for fulfillment entirely at odds with the glory of God. Every man bears a different sexual struggle, but every man is engaged in a sexual struggle, and this should give us an attitude of sympathy as we address homosexuals with the truth.”
I particularly appreciate that line, every man bears a different sexual struggle, but every man is engaged in a sexual struggle. If wives don’t understand this, they will never understand their husbands. Though sexual temptation often comes upon women, for men it will usually be an ever present struggle in more intense ways. Few men can forget about it.
Speaking as a man in his fifties, I do think the battle changes somewhat as we get older, but it doesn’t end. As a pastor who has had many men openly share their struggles with him, I have developed an ever deeper compassion for this universal struggle. As a man who has faced and still faces the constant stream of his own sexual temptation, the form sexual temptation takes doesn’t interest me as much because we all are tempted to go wrong in some way, and most of us will occasionally fall in some way. (I’m not, by any means, suggesting we will all be physically unfaithful to our wives or look at porn. But if we accept Christ’s definition of sexual purity, few men will be one-hundred percent “successful.”)
I am not excusing sexual sin. A wife should not just “accept” ongoing, unrepentant, sexual sin. Any form of sexual sin will destroy marital intimacy, assault our integrity, diminish our worship, handicap our ministry, detract us from our parenting, and sap our spiritual energy and desire. Every form of sexual sin should be confronted, and if the man doesn’t repent, the church needs to support the wife, not imprison her with an unrepentant and increasingly bent husband. She should never be asked or guilted into just “going along” or putting up with shameful treatment to “keep the peace.”
This post is rather all about pleading with women married to common struggling sinners, helping them to understand that they are not doing their husband justice if they think, “Because sexual temptation is, for me, a two on a scale of one to ten, then it shouldn’t be higher than a three or a four for my husband.”
That’s not a fair comparison. That would be like a weight-lifting husband saying to his wife, “Because I can bench press three hundred pounds, you ought to be able to push up two hundred fifty pounds.”
I don’t want you to excuse your husband or conspire with his sexual sin or accommodate sinful sexual desires. I just want you to understand him, to realize that it is different for him, to pray for him, to be watchful for him in a caring, cherishing way, rather than with a judgmental condemning attitude.
Fire Ant Therapy
While I love many things about Texas, what I like least (and even hate) are fire ants. They’re not native to Texas, so when I want to kill them all I’m merely cooperating with God’s creative intentions. Fire ants are tiny, but their bites are brutal. It takes a couple hours to feel them, but then the burn and the itch are with you for days.
Some of these insects invaded our house recently and assaulted my wife. She was bitten all over her body, at least in a dozen different places. She was miserable. I felt sorry for her, but not sorry enough. It wasn’t until one of them got me a few days later, on one of my hands, that I was reminded of the intensity of their devilish assault.
When I faced my own struggle (one bite kept me from sleeping one night) and then tried to multiply it by ten, I realized just how awful the struggle must have been for Lisa, and how I should have had one hundred times the empathy and compassion that I demonstrated. I had one bite; she had a dozen. I knew what a little sting was like, but she had to live with multiple stings. That made me more sensitive not less.
Can you have that attitude with your husband? You know what sexual temptation and bent desires are like. Multiply that struggle by a dozen and you’ll begin to understand what it’s like for your husband.
Most of us Christian men want to love our wives with purity and walk with our God with integrity. We want to let the light and life of Jesus Christ change not just our actions, but our very desires. But all this takes time. Sanctification is a process. You don’t help us by ignoring sin or accommodating sin, but you also don’t help by shaming us or by acting as if your relative lack of struggle is proof that we shouldn’t struggle as well.
Of course, whenever a writer makes generalizations there will be exceptions. I am sure there are some marriages where the wife struggles with sinful sexual desires more than does her husband. But I do believe these are exceptions more than the rule.
Which means, wives, if you happen to be married to a man who takes his sexual integrity seriously; who fights to save all his sexual interest and desire for you; who makes himself accountable to rein in his untoward desires; who is committed to being faithful and true, please don’t take him for granted. Sadly, that’s not “normal.” It’s becoming something of an exception.
And to the husbands: we have to understand that when we fight sexual desires that do not honor God, we’re not just fighting for our integrity, we’re fighting for our wives. Help your wives understand what it’s like for you in particular. Years ago, knowing the vulnerability I have as a man, I gave Lisa three names. “If I start misbehaving in any way and won’t listen to your appeals, go to one of these men and tell them what’s going on.”
These aren’t the kind of men who will tell Lisa to “settle down.” They’ll call me that day and force the issue. I did this because I know the heart is deceitful, and men much better and stronger and godlier than me have fallen. Lisa as my accountability partner is a comfort to me, not a threat, because I know in my brain that there is no ultimate satisfaction in any sexual activity outside God’s will. So I want her to “save” me if I become spiritually delusional or just self-indulgently weak.
Our wives are so vulnerable to our sexual sin. I urge every man reading this to give your wife the names of at least two men she can appeal to if you won’t listen. Lisa hasn’t had to make that call, but knowing that she could significantly alters the battle for me. It’s actually a comfort.
And to all you wives who show understanding, encouragement, and generosity in this regard: thank you. You are a true treasure, gifts from God himself. Your husband is immensely blessed. I write this as one married to such a woman.
Let me end by re-stating the main point: wives, you will never truly understand your husband until you understand that his sexual temptations and struggles are fundamentally different than yours. They just are. While this should not lead you to excuse or accept your husband’s sin, I hope it will help you understand him and pray for him and appreciate his struggles in a new way, as well as motivate you to keep pursuing a healthy and generous marital sexual relationship.
Women: does this surprise you?
Men: do you think I’m being fair? Am I overstating the case?