Conditioned Resistance to Sexual Enjoyment in Marriage

Imagine yourself being subjected to sitting in a room and watching several hundred hours of TV programming that eating chocolate ice cream was wrong. Plus you’re given a mild electric shock every time you looked at the chocolate ice cream they put on a table next to you. After being led out of the room and told the experiment is over, how much would you be able to enjoy eating chocolate ice cream? Even if we told you that chocolate ice cream was great and perfectly fine for you to eat now? Even if we handed you a bowl of chocolate ice cream and said go for it.

I’m imagining that you aren’t going to be able to suddenly grab a spoon and chow into the ice cream like nothing happened. I’m imagining you’re going to hold that bowl of ice cream with an inner conflict between desire and anxiety raging inside you. You know it’s fine to eat it… but you just can’t.


Assuming you were raised in religious circles and took their instruction seriously, you’ve very likely heard several thousand, maybe tens of thousands of messages to resist sexual temptation in one form or another. This teaching is well intentioned, and individual pieces of instruction are perfectly fine, but the sheer volume of the messages are overwhelming and have an effect.

There are some positive messages about sexual enjoyment, but the ratio of “NO!” messages to “YES!” messages are in about a 90% / 10% ratio. The overwhelming message is a default “NO!”

Even messages that are intended to be positive, say… “God designed sex for marriage and it’s a wonderful experience together with your spouse and all part of his plan for us…” still is received as a message to resist their sexuality to an unmarried person. So the married people get to have a rocking good time, but you young man… you need to just hold it… no no no, we didn’t mean literally hold it… we meant don’t touch, do or think anything about sex… for about another decade.

See how that positive sexual message to some is a negative sexual message to others?

So, after hearing tens of thousands of messages to resist sexual temptation in one form or another, you tend to become conditioned to resist enjoying sex. So even when sex becomes allowed by actually getting married, it’s hard for some people to let go and enjoy it fully. It’s like your Rationalization Hamster got brainwashed and instead of trying to find you sneaky ways of getting it on, it’s your own personal inner cockblock.

It’s this sort of programming that makes bizarre stuff happen from an evolutionary-psych perspective. Sometimes a man can game a woman over a few weeks and make better and better traction on her. Then when she decides she wants to have sex with him, she sets the scene for seduction and invites him over. There’s a little wine, a change into something more comfortable, privacy, a bed and that unmistakable look that says she’s available to him…

…and he says goodnight and leaves.

It’s not a moral decision that happened here. He’s actually incapable of having sex with her, the same way a little dog can’t run past the end of the driveway because of the invisible electric fence.

It’s the same sort of thing a wife can have with her husband, where he’s asked her over and over for her to give him a blowjob, the first of their three year marriage, but she can’t. She loves him, she’s attracted to him, she knows he’s getting deeply resentful about it, she wants to want to give him a blowjob… she just can’t. It’s dirty, it’s wrong, it’s sinful, it’s anxiety inducing. There’s the invisible fence in her mind stopping her. That’s why she always has a headache these days…

All your sexual pleasure and motivation is based in the Limbic System, aka your Body Agenda. It’s your Body Agenda that wants to get laid and played with. Your Neo-Cortex is your rational critical thinking center and doing it’s darndest to override the Body Agenda. Sexual enjoyment isn’t based on rational thought, it’s based on feelings, pleasure and emotionally letting go. So if you want to overcome your inner blockages to enjoying sex, there’s really only one way of doing so. You have to stop thinking about it and just start exploring your sexuality and defying your invisible fences. You need to break the rules.

Now some important caveats…

All that old time religious instruction isn’t all completely wrong. There are some serious pitfalls out there sexually and once done, it’s a case of what has been seen can’t be unseen. So my basic advice…

(1)  Limit all sexual exploration to you and your partner.

(2)  Small steps rather than trying to make big jumps. You’ve got your whole marriage ahead of you to explore things with each other.

(3)  Understand that only 30% of what you try is going to work for you both. You’ll fail more than you succeed. Just laugh about it.

(4)  Understand that fantasy is different from reality. Things you may never want to happen in reality may turn you on as a fantasy.

(5)  What happens in your bedroom is your business and no one else’s to worry about.

(6)  Don’t go from the ass to the vagina. Just… don’t.

(7)  Small amounts of alcohol are helpful once in a while when you try something new.

(8) Lubrication, lubrication, lubrication.

(9) Be open to doing things your partner wants to try that you have no interest in. Sometimes them really liking something is a turn on for you, and you end up liking it too.

(10) Understand that not everything is going to “work” the very first time you do it. Sometimes you need to try it a couple times to really get a feel for it.

It’s really a case of unlearning the “I’m not allowed because I’m single” conditioning, and learning the “I’m married now and this is what I’m allowed to do” conditioning. And yes, having some invisible fences in your mind isn’t a bad thing for married people to have. In fact you want some in each other. You want your wife to automatically react badly to some guy she vaguely knows sending her a picture of his dick via Facebook. You want your husband to feel uncomfortable when someone slips him a phone number. Fences are great, it’s just a case of where you want those fences erected. Keeps the bad stuff out and you can relax and play inside to your hearts content. You just don’t want to be all cooped up in a tiny area.

Also quite obviously not every religious person is uptight about sex with their partner, but some are, and this post is for them.


  1. justsomeguy says:

    So here’s a few religious (Christian) sex-positive resources:
    The book: Sheet Music. (and the forum: )

  2. When I was growing up, from churchward I kept hearing about how good virginity was, and I don’t remember even hearing the word “chastity” except as a synonym for virginity. The reality is that, biblically, a single person behaving chastely doesn’t have sex with anyone and a married couple behaving chastely have sex with each other. Somewhere back there, the church had lost the discernment to be able to call out a willfully non-sexual spouse for behaving unchastely.

    Unfortunately, the idea that the devout should be hostile to pleasure in general, and to sexual pleasure in particular, worked its way into the lore and traditions of the early church, and the present situation is some of the fruit of this.

  3. @Charles – yes I was thinking about the term chastity myself a couple weeks back. Marriage is a life of chastity no less than been single.

  4. It’s an adjustment, yes, even under the best circumstances. I had a very positive attitude toward married sex and never experienced more than the ordinary shyness – but I did have the occasional nightmare our first year together. They were usually of the oh, my goodness what have I done?! variety. It always made me laugh when I woke up.

    I’m trying to pass a positive attitude on to my kids about all this. I guess time will tell if I’ve managed to share my values about chastity pre and post marriage adequately.

  5. If he and the girl aren’t married, he shouldn’t be having sex with her anyways. I respect him for walking away, that had to be difficult.

    The reason the wife isn’t giving the husband a blowjob isn’t about right and wrong or some invisible fence. It’s about feeling degraded in the position that a blowjob puts her in. Him asking her over and over again for it isn’t going to change her mind. The only thing that will change her mind is his reassurances of devotion, respect, value, and encouragement to try new things. She won’t feel that if he is complaining, maybe he should lightly or playfully bring it up often, but at the same time keep reminding her of her value.

  6. @Sis – you missed the point of the post.

  7. This is a really good post. This issue is very significant for a lot of people, and they don’t really know how to resolve it. After hearing “no” for 20+ years, it can be very hard to switch to “yes – and excited about it.” The resources that justsomeguy mentioned are very good – I especially like “Sheet Music.” A couple of other good resources are two blogs, Intimacy in Marriage and One Flesh Marriage, and the archived blog Christian Nymphos. I also posted on my blog this week some encouragement to women to embrace and develop their sexuality –

  8. enlightened1 says:

    And, that’s the paradigm; “feeling degraded in the position that a blowjob puts her in.” Blowjobs; degrading? Wha? Blowjobs always make me feel powerful!! It’s an incredibly powerful gift. The only thing that can change a paradigm is truth. But, you have to be willing to examine your “held” beliefs…..If you inherently believe that giving a blowjob is degrading then no amount of him cajoling or playfully asking and trying to add “value” is going to help.

  9. An important post – thank you Athol.

    I’d like to add a courtship without sex unil each is sure of the other – which I think is important for getting to know each other and making a considered decision about marriage – is also likely to lead to learned inhibitions to sexual behaviour, e.g. knowing one should stop after kissing etc.

    Re blow jobs – actually many men do not wash properly, so that may be a reason wives resist providing them and avoid sex altogether. The notion that blow jobs are demeaning could be learned from hearing what people say or a result of being forced to do demeaning blow jobs. Either way, a learned response!

    :-) C

  10. The poster above serves as a good example of Athol’s point about of the pervasiveness of the anti-enjoyment and sex excuse message. She read a post that she has been conditioned to not enjoy sex, agreed with that premise and that it is not a good thing (i.e. “an important post – thank you Athol”, and then went right on to parroting the bullshit that reinforces the anti-enjoyment message i.e. “actually many men do not wash properly, so that may be a reason wives resist”. Obviously this is a deep belief she holds as it shows a huge lack of conscious thought to write that in this post.

    I am sure she has not personally examined a statistically significant sample of penii, so she is simply broadcasting the shaming message that she has learned somewhere that “men are dirty” and she is making excuses for women to avoid sex at the same time. For those of you that do not see that message, switch the genders. How does “actually many women do not wash properly, so that may be a reason husbands resist providing (head) and avoid sex altogether” sound to you? Doesn’t sound too reasonable, does it?

  11. As mentioned before I was raised catholic with the idea that “sex in marriage is the best way to have sex and the way God intended us to enjoy it”
    And I couldn’t wait till I got my ring so I can join in the fight.
    Hubby was not raised in any religion but he is american and he has more hang ups about sex in general like “I don’t want you to feel objectified and things like that” “Objetify me all night long baby” was pretty much my answer and I had been introducing things like spanking to our sex lives because he clearly won’t do it himself….me thinks culture has a lot more to do with this sexual issues.
    Most of my believer friends are happy to do everything they can in bed (or anywhere the mood strikes) to please themselves and hubby’s and really blowjobs degrading? Never heard that ever from my christian/catholic country women I think the biggest question about oral sex was about swallowing and it was more about “It doesn’t taste good for me” than about “eww man’s milk” , so yeah your culture needs more help this is a post about sexual hangovers than anything else, IMO, YMMV.

  12. Mormon’s hit on this point so often it becomes passe. Its intertwined into every type of religious discussion. Its like the “now don’t drink and drive” message said after something completely unrelated to alchol consumption. People in the church are constantly reminding youth that “giving in to temptation” and engaging in sex acts is wrong. In the end analysis its bad either way. Either they program themselves to be revolted at the thought of sex, or they use that as a way of rebellion, and seek the “fun” that they were warned against, and once they find out its no big deal, THEN it becomes an addiction, then a big problem.

  13. One word about oral sex- a lot of women don’t like doing it because they’ve had bad experiences with it, or because they’ve seen porn or other sexual displays where oral sex was used to “humiliate” and “shame” a woman. Most men wouldn’t suck a cock, either. The implication is that it’s degrading because you’re putting something that someone PEES WITH in your mouth (to be fair, I’ve complained about this before on feminist websites and I am still called a prude and told that women should give oral sex etc etc).

    They might also be afraid of the guy just orgasming in her mouth without telling her and making her choke, or the smell of musky urine that can permeate in a guy’s crotch area.

    I always found oral sex to be kind of a weird idea when I first encountered the idea. And it didn’t help that I had plenty of boyfriends who tried to pressure and cajole me into giving them blowjobs without even wanting to touch my own ladybits (this kind of turned out to be a good thing anyway, though, as I’m fairly sure that these guys would not have been fun sex partners anyway if that’s how they viewed sexual reciprocation).

    So, personally? I don’t particularly *like* oral sex as a Thing To Do because of the smell/taste, What To Do With The Cum thing (swallowing is the cleanest option, but I have to know when or it can hit my gag reflex which is not fun for anyone), and various other things that make it somewhat unpleasant. But I enjoy it with my husband in some situations because I trust him, he’s never EVER laughed in my face or done the bullshit porn crap that a lot of guys seem to do when women give them oral sex (and yes, women talk about shit like this, and it fucks you up when you hear about your best friend getting cum all over her face and being called “slut” by her fiance, or when some guy shows you a clip from a gonzo porn film where a girl is being slapped/choked while he throatfucks her, leaving her retching and gagging and gasping for breath).

    Positive reinforcement, lack of whining, and an overall reciprocative attitude towards pleasuring one another (none of this “you owe me a blow JOB” bullshit unless it’s playful and both of you know it) are probably the best ways to get someone to switch to “yes” when it comes to oral or even anal sex. But I’ve found that the problem is generally that most people want women to acquiesce to lackluster or altogether PAINFUL sexual experiences, and when it’s already kind of shitty in your self-lubricating genital orifice, how much worse is it going to be when someone is cramming their cock down your throat without a thought to how you’re feeling or shoves it in your anus without proper lube or arousal? The problem, in my opinion, is a sex partner demonstrating that he is inept, inexperienced, self-centered, and takes his cues from gonzo pornography. If you were used to being treated like that, what exactly is the incentive to do more?

    And yes, I think that this is more of a problem with women who have very little sexual experience. If your whole sex life is pretty “meh” to begin with, you won’t think that sex is amazing unless you’re with someone who actually knows what they’re doing and you also want to get better yourself.

    It’s not a man’s job to do 100% of the work. But the truth is, the penis is just a less complicated, more efficient genital configuration (lucky you!). It’s so easy for a penis to feel good and orgasm, it can be hard to wrap your head around the fact that everything that feels amazing for you can feel anywhere from “meh” to “OHGODTHEPAIN” and because most women who “save themselves” are unwilling to talk to their sex partners because they feel that they owe their deference to their husbands but still don’t care for the sex they’re having, you have a problem where there’s one person who doesn’t want to have sex because the sex they’ve had is not what they want, but they’ve committed and so they feel that the only option is to limit sex whenever possible and begrudgingly allow only as much sex as they can get away with having.

    To me, this sounds very sad for everyone involved, and honestly? It sounds like both people need to rise to the occasion to include more passion and pleasure into their interactions or just cut their losses. I don’t expect men to be these romantic Fabios or anything- but I do think that many women have swallowed the “wait for marriage and sex will be perfect and happy and wonderful” bullshit hook line and sinker, not realizing that a good sex life is pretty much like any other area in a relationship and it takes a lot of experimentation, open-mindedness, and respect, and so when it’s not explosions and fireworks and Fabio hair flapping in the breeze, they freak the hell out and do whatever they can to minimize the disappointment by passive-aggressive avoidance.

    Ideally, I think that you should want to have sex with your partner on a regular basis. That being around them is arousing and exciting and that sex with one another is always something both of you are thinking about to some extent. So if that’s not the case, it’s time to do some mutual sleuthing and figure it out. You wouldn’t just let your car make an increasingly horrific squealing noise until an essential part fell out the bottom and rendered it inoperable, so why would you do that with a relationship? Either diagnose it yourself if it’s simple enough, or take it to a professional and get a second opinion. And sure, maybe the relationship/car is beyond repair. But at least it’s better than “whine until woman says yes and think that’s actually a victory” or “no sex forever.”

    Both of those options suck.

  14. I’ve struggled with blowjobs. This post rang a bell for me on that subject. I now understand the way it makes a husbands feel loved and accepted. When my husband finally brought up the problem with frequency, I felt incredibly guilty, as though I needed to do something I physically couldn’t. It wasn’t quite that it felt immoral. Degrading, perhaps, although my very loving man would never degrade me (in fact I have asked for rougher sex and it seems to be very difficult for him.) Oddly enough in the context of a rough session, being commanded to suck it is what I would expect- and joyfully comply. Because of the command. So where and what is my electric fence? I might promise it one night and procrastinate

    rs. Somehow, just
    going for it, especially as a surprise, feels so impossible. And Iant to be a good wife.

  15. Swallowing isn’t a problem, I’m happy to do it if I’m down there. My first experiences with sex were degrading and didn’t feel consensual. It took years to enjoy sex without drugs or alcohol . I knew there was an oral problem when my husband informed me that he was prepared to live life without it. He thought he was trying to demonstrate his love, but I was horrified. I didn’t want that for him, even if he thought he could live that way. I started to change, but he was disappointed when I backslid. He then threw out another crazy ultimatum: “I know you don’t like doing it, so to make things easier for you, I will no longer allow it if you try to do it.” I was again horrified and in tears. He lifted this crazy “rule”, I still don’t know what the point was, perhaps to guilt trip me, or he really believed that was helpful to me and that his needs don’t matter. I fight every day to convince him his needs matter. Looks like I should just Do It, but now there is a fear of being pushed away, despite his admittance that he loves and wants head.

  16. Good post. As a woman who has had sex as a married woman and as a single woman (and enjoyed it both ways), here’s the way I see it: Marriage, or the intimacy marriage is supposed to offer, is exactly why you should be enjoying sex more, the sense of security and knowledge that this person isn’t going to harm you, but is (or should be) “a safe place to fall.” I always shake my head when I hear of normally healthy couples not enjoying great and uninhibited marital sex, that is one of the greatest gifts that comes with a marriage. The union. The freedom to be yourself, to (supposedly) not fear any diseases (for example) but to give of yourself, fully and completely without being harmed, judged or debased.

  17. Nosey parker says:

    I am so glad there are women here who stand up against the sheer *wrongness* of ‘oral sex’ as sex. It’s actually perversion, pure and simple. the penis was never designed to enter a woman’s mouth, for goodness’ sake. The fact is, most people before the sexual revolution had never even heard of the practice. It became mainstream through porn. There are still a minority of men out there – a lot of them conservative Christians – who do not want to practice it, possibly because they find it degrades women. As a conservative Christian woman myself, I am glad to know this. It really isn’t acceptable to attack or give a row to us women who disagree with ‘blow jobs’. We are not necessarily anti-sexual as a result. The natural ‘urgh’ factor that most females feel about it the first time they hear about it (usually as teenagers) should be a clue to its being a perversion, just like the natural ‘urgh’ factor to ‘anal sex’, requests for which most women refuse (and requests for which have also increased due to porn). By contrast, most of us never felt the same ‘urgh’ factor about the sex act itself. As a teenager, I made a decision based on my ‘urgh’ reaction of learning about ‘oral sex’ to never agree to it. The result is that I am happier with myself and more confident about my own feelings and boundaries.


  1. […] who does not LIKE sex or has been conditioned to not like sex? Athol talks about this in his blog here. Is it any wonder that some people come to this forum complaining that their partners are low […]

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