Most women need and desire physical touch that does not lead to sex. They need to feel secure that every physical expression their husbands make isn’t with the expectation of moving toward intercourse. In our survey for our book The 5 Sex Needs of Men and Women, more than 59% of the women ranked nonsexual touch as a top sex need.
Guys, you may be thinking, Wait a minute. I thought we were talking about sex needs. What does nonsexual touch have to do with that? Isn’t most touch between a husband and wife supposed to lead to sex? Simply put, nonsexual touch, or affection, is intimacy in and of itself. It’s not the means to an end. In many situations it is the end.
“Touch me. Don’t touch me.” Have you ever had that experience with your wife? One minute she wants to be touched; the next minute she doesn’t. No wonder men are confused! But men need to understand what kind of touch works well for a woman. More than 80% of a woman’s need for meaningful touch is nonsexual. Most psychologists will tell you a vast majority of women appreciate and love a hug, a touch, a kiss, holding hands—any physical sign that they are special.
First, let’s differentiate between nonsexual touch and foreplay touch. Nonsexual touch is loving affection. It may have the tone of sexual arousal “around” it, but the goal of nonsexual touch is not intercourse. Foreplay touch, on the other hand, leads to sexual intimacy for a couple. The problem is, to a man, touch is touch is touch. It all feels the same. But that’s not the case for his wife.
We know it may be difficult to understand how an intimate touch can stay platonic. You start rubbing her shoulders, and think you’ve entered the sexual intimacy zone. She thinks she’s getting an affectionate shoulder rub. And when you start to make your move, she resists and pulls back.
What happened? Many men have felt “out on the sofa” relationally, when they long to be “in bed” with their wives. When men go from nonsexual touch to trying to score—they won’t. It’s that simple. Some men keep trying this pursuit, keep failing, and keep shaking their heads in bewilderment.
The reality is when you meet your wife’s needs for affection, you refresh her weary spirit and help her relax. You give to her, which begins to replenish her energy. When you touch her without any expectation that you will end up between the sheets, she will feel much more secure with you and much more open to sexual activity later on.
But when you offer her touch that you think will move into the sexual intimacy zone, you could drain her spirit and push her over the edge. Why? Because if your wife is like most women, she spends her day meeting other people’s needs—giving, giving, giving. She gets tired and drained. When her husband comes home and moves right into “take” mode, she doesn’t have anything to give. She’s empty. And that means sex isn’t going to happen for a long time. Your wife needs you to be a safe and nonthreatening place for her. Nonsexual touch refuels her energy and creates that place of safety. Yes, she really does want to meet your sexual needs, but she needs time to refuel. You can help her do that through tender affection with no strings attached.
For a woman, great sex happens in the context of being held, laughing together, feeling accepted, and sharing feelings. Emotional intimacy is intensely fulfilling for a woman. Although it does not replace her need for sex, her emotional need is as intense as her husband’s physical need. When her husband fulfills her emotional need and sustains it though affirming her, hanging out together, and being affectionate, she feels replenished and safe, making it much easier for her to be open to sharing herself physically with her husband.
For men: Responsiveness
When a wife rejects her husband’s advances, he often interprets her lack of sexual response as “I don’t care about you” or “Your needs are not important.” Responsiveness is so important to husbands that nearly 63% of the men surveyed ranked it as a top sexual need.
When wives hear this, they usually ask us, “You mean I can never say ‘Not tonight’? Not at all. There are undoubtedly times when having sex just isn’t going to work out. But it’s important to understand what a lack of response will communicate. When a wife turns down a sexual advance, her husband feels emotionally rejected. And deep down, men are extremely sensitive. Many people think women are the sensitive ones. Although that’s true, men are often even more sensitive, especially in the area of sex.
When a wife responds to her husband’s sexual need, he feels loved. But when she ignores or overtly rejects this need, he feels unwanted and unloved. He is hurt by her frustrated looks, half-hearted attempts, and complaints.
Sex is a man’s way of feeling close. When a wife rebuffs or ignores his sexual advances, she sends the message that she doesn’t want to be close to him. Some of you wives may be shaking your heads, thinking, That’s not what I mean when I don’t jump at every sexual touch or wink. You’re right. Even though your husband may know in his head that you don’t mean to communicate that message, in his heart he finds it difficult not to believe that.
One of the greatest threats to a husband’s sense of worth is his sexuality. After a wife says “Not tonight,” his mind may fill with irrational thoughts: She cares more about the kids than about me. I’m a waste of time to her. Her to-do list is more important to her than I am. Maybe I’m just a poor lover.
Most of you wives know the power of this kind of irrational thinking. You battle with it as well. When your husband makes a sexual advance and watches for your answer, he wants you to want him.
No one explains the benefits of a wife’s sexual responsiveness better than Kevin Leman. In his excellent book Sheet Music, he writes:
A sexually fulfilled husband will do anything for you. Sex is such a basic need for men that when this area is well taken care of, they feel immense appreciation and act accordingly. A sexually fulfilled man drives to work thinking, I’m so glad I married that woman. I must be the happiest man alive! And then heads home thinking, What special thing can I do for my wife this evening? . . . Instead of resenting requests to stop by the store or take a look at a leaky faucet, a sexually fulfilled man will jump with eagerness. Instead of being cold and distant when you talk to him, he’s going to want to hear what you have to say.
Some wives reading this may be thinking, I tried that, and it didn’t work. You can’t just “try” this; it has to become a way of life. One good time of sex will make a man thankful—for a while. But if he’s turned down the next five times, he’ll think about the five rejections, not that one special night . . .
A sexually fulfilled husband will feel good about himself. So much of who we are as men is tied into how our wives respond to us sexually . . . [E]very healthy man wants to be his wife’s hero . . . He many not be the top dog at work, he may not have the fastest car, . . . his hair may be falling out while his gut is getting bigger, but if his honey loves him enough to occasionally put a few scratches on his back in the heat of passion, he will still feel like the king of the world. Why? Because he can please his woman.
Responding to your husband’s sexual advances will build his sexual confidence and make him more tender and attentive. He will become a confident lover who pleases you in mature, appropriate ways. Although a wife typically needs tenderness before sex, a husband often needs a sexual release to experience tenderness.
“And remember,” writes Shaunti Feldhahn in her book For Women Only, “if you do respond physically but do it just to meet his needs without getting engaged, you’re not actually meeting his needs. In fact, you might as well send him out to clip the hedges. So enjoy God’s intimate gift, and make the most of it!”
Men, our challenge for you this month is to practice nonsexual touch with your wife. While you’re watching TV, offer a backrub—a good one! Try to help soothe the effects of stress from her busy day and let her feel completely relaxed. If back rubs aren’t your wife’s cup of tea, do more of whatever she likes—hold her hand, put your arm around her, play with her hair. And of course, part of this challenge is to do these things without strings attached. Simply do them because they relax your wife and make her feel safe and let her enjoy being with you. We hope nonsexual touch will lead to more frequent and better intimacy with your wife by replenishing her energy and her spirit…but don’t make sex the end goal.
Women, our challenge for you this month is to just say yes! When your husband asks for sex, try to respond yes as much as you possibly can. If you have a checklist to get done by the end of the day and sex just doesn’t seem to fit in, ask for help and let your husband know that if you get it done, you can relax and enjoy intimacy together. Most likely he’ll be happy to help! Remember that your responsiveness builds confidence and makes your husband feel more secure...which in turn will give you both more confidence and security in your relationship. Your “yes” plays an important role in your marriage!