Modern wives often lose the sensuality of womanhood. They are feminine when they marry but are quickly relegated to the roles of caretaker, wage-earner, housekeeper, and waitress. Burdened with responsibility, fatigue, and what can feel like a monotonous, uneventful grind, many experience a loss of libido and the gradual diminishing of the deep yearning of youth. They exist but are not fully alive. They live up to their responsibilities but fear that every day will present the same, uneventful grind. After a while they are no longer women but wives, no longer females but mothers.
Paradoxically, the grand extinguisher, often, is the wife’s own husband. Financial instability, moral uncertainty, consumerism, and shifts in the essence of masculinity have led husbands to exchange the untamed sensuality of a woman for the predictable safety of a functional wife. In an attempt to maintain control over an uncontrollable world, the husband’s need for order, routine and a sense of competence has been displaced onto his wife and he has reduced and contained her in an attempt to forestall his fear of confusion and inferiority. The result is a wife who meets his basic functional needs, but whom he may find uninteresting.
The wife is trapped in a double bind. If she acquiesces to what her husband wants of her, she becomes boring to him and a shell of her true self. There is little room for her to express her authentic sensuality or self-actualize. Why pursue beauty? Why pursue wit, insight, creativity, personal sensuality? Is she forced to choose between marriage and selfhood?
The individual psyche of the woman is particularly important to her expression of sensuality. To be desirable, she must be separate from her husband. She must have a sense of herself. She must know, at a visceral level, the presence and power of her beauty. Too much familiarity and functionality, undermines her sensual nature. A woman wants to be wanted, longed for, and lusted after.
In my counseling of married couples, I have seen this phenomenon at work. What often robs a marriage of erotic longing is a husband’s subconscious desire to transform his wife from a woman into a homemaker and from a seductress into a nanny (without the sexy nanny outfit). I say subconscious because most husbands would vehemently protest that, to the contrary, they want their wives to be sultry and sexy. But irrespective of what they say, they end up turning turn their wives into housekeepers.
Why would any sane man sexually extinguish his wife?
Because buried deep within the male psyche is the fear of not being able to fully possess his wife, not being able to control her natural attraction to other men, and not being able to snuff out a woman’s sexual insatiability. A husband’s greatest fear is that as a man he will not be able to measure up, sometimes quite literally. This is especially true once men confront the sheer erotic power and multi-climactic nature of the female libido which is so much more potent than a man’s. By domesticating her, he robs her of her passion. He may now possess her without much effort because she is diminished. By slowly extinguishing his wife’s libido and making sex into a once-a-week encounter lasting seven minutes at a time (the American national average) he gains proprietary rights to her body even as he guarantees that she will never excite him as much as an illicit love.
How tragic that the modern American male has little clue as to the consequences of his actions. Does he realize that by failing to compliment his wife he teaches her to think she is not special? Is he aware of the fact that by failing to go shopping with her for beautiful clothing he makes her feel she is not worth the effort? And is there no friend who can tell him that sex without foreplay ensures that her body will go through the motions but will never come alive with real sexual lust?
And why doesn’t he see all these things himself? Because he cannot look past his own insecurity. He does not realize that he is uncomfortable being in a relationship that will really challenge his masculinity. He looks for challenges at work on and the sports field. But at home he looks for nirvana and bliss. A compliant wife will provide it. A seductress will not.
The sexually insatiable woman generates excitement for her husband, but excitement that is always accompanied by the pain and panic of incurable tension. His comfort zone is gone. He must now permanently pursue her, woo her, and compete against paramours even after he is married. Sexual tension may get a husband’s engines revving, but it can also make him feel as though the floor is collapsing beneath him. He spends his days trying to impress his boss, does he have to spend the night impressing his wife as well? Give the man some peace! Did he not get married so he could enjoy a tranquil domestic existence? Why should he have to put on a show at home, too?
If he sees his wife as a woman who could get another man in a heartbeat, not only does he have to worry about keeping her as his woman, but also that there’s a possibility that he is not up to the job. And this he fears more than walking a tight rope over the Grand Canyon. To get out of feeling inept and inadequate, and more importantly, to stay in control, he subconsciously and systematically douses the embers of her sexuality.
Being married to a seductress means that he will forever be at war to retain her fidelity. As a man begins to recognize how his wife, like all women, is desirable to, and desirous of, other men, and that attraction increases commensurately with the degree to which she feels unappreciated or ignored, he will be shaken with feelings of inadequacy and anxiety.
Men are naturally competitive. They don’t want to have to compete for a woman they’ve already won. Sure, they want the erotic thrills that come from seduction and pursuit. But they also want to know, now that they’re married, that they have a comfortable, safe haven to come back to. So they want to know that their wives are not attracted to strangers or attractive to strangers, at least not in a way that’s in any way unsettling. Also, if they want to pursue their own erotic thrills by finding women outside of the marriage, they don’t want to feel that their neglect of their wives will lead their wives to pursue other men in order to satisfy their own erotic needs. Much better, therefore, to subtly and even subconsciously extinguish her sexuality.
What ensues is the boring domestication that most married couples suffer. Two people who live in the same house, share a life, share kids, have perfunctory sex, but never make love. Two people who are married but never generate true erotic friction.
Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi” whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” has just published his newest best-seller, “The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.