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“Holy desire” or just horny?

Updated: Sep 29, 2023

Do you have a “holy desire to be with your spouse” or are you just horny?

When couples are frustrated with abstinence in the fertile window, I will often hear something along the lines of “I just don’t understand why I cannot be with my spouse in this intimate and holy way.”


Sometimes this is absolutely the case.

Other times, not so much.

Let’s take a moment, tap into some holy curiosity and self-awareness, and ponder the following:

Am I truly desiring to be a gift to my spouse and show them authentic love?

Or am I just spiritualizing being horny?


Please don’t hear that with shame or condemnation.

A sex drive is a natural urge for humans. Sometimes you just want to enjoy that pleasure. And when you’re at a place in marriage and family planning where you can both enjoy those days, have fun! 😉

That isn’t a bad desire— in fact, it is GOOD, but it’s also not always the same as desiring to be fully known and to fully love your spouse with Christ at the center of your marriage.

Ideally, sex in marriage is BOTH— the biological urge combined with a desire to bring Jesus into this space and authentically love your spouse. The marital act is strong, powerful, holy, and a unique relationship. It’s not just a morally acceptable way to orgasm whenever you feel the desire.


Unfortunately, many of us (not all, but enough to warrant addressing this) didn’t learn about sex in marriage with a both/and approach of pleasure and authentic love with Christ at the center. Sex was reduced to use and pleasure.

Then we heard theological language about “gift of self” and decided that since we are married, we must be making that authentic gift of self and living a holy, Christ-centered sex life, right?


Here’s the problem with conflating the two: if you only want an orgasm and still have a view of sex rooted in lust and use, but are dressing it up in church-y language about “loving your spouse,” you are selling sex short of its full potential AND you may be using your spouse for your own pleasure (which isn’t love).


One spouse may feel used (because they know it’s about ”scratching an itch” and not self-gift, authentic love, bringing Jesus into their sexual relationship, etc.) but hear their spouse saying, “I just want to express my marriage vows to you and love you,” which is essentially sexual gaslighting.

And it will hurt your marriage and sexual relationship in the long run.


If one spouse has a belief that within marriage, they should never have to abstain when the urge arises (which IS something we hear expressed from some of our clients after some digging) but they say they have a “desire to authentically love their spouse through sex,” it’s disingenuous. It also doesn’t bring their true concern to the surface to allow it to be addressed. The self-awareness and curiosity is key to uprooting these beliefs and concerns so the couple can have the most fulfilling intimate relationship.

So, back to the question.

Are you just horny?

Let’s call a spade, a spade.

It IS frustrating to tell our bodily urges “not right now.” And it’s totally doable.


Ok, let’s say you do have a true desire to know and love your spouse in addition to a natural urge for physical intimacy.

Perfect. Well done, my friend!

And I have good news— there are MANY ways to know and love your spouse in a self-sacrificial way with Christ at the center that are not sex, if it’s a time you are choosing to abstain.

Is it the exact same as physical intimacy?

No.

But can it exercise this muscle of truly willing the good for another and help us remember what authentic love (versus lust or use) should look like— a love that culminates in physical intimacy *and* fulfills that biological desire with Christ at the center? Absolutely.


AND that desire should translate into marital intimacy outside of the fertile window because a desire to be a gift of self and authentically love your spouse isn’t solely dependent on biological urges.

Both spouses will believe marital intimacy is about self-gift and authentically being known and loved if that is actually practiced.


If you are totally dependent on hormonal urges (i.e. ovulation) to initiate or respond to desire for sex, that may be (ahem, probably is) a red flag that sex is about being horny and biological urges rather than also incorporating a spiritual component of being known, loved, and a gift of self.


Hormonal disruptions (breastfeeding, low hormone levels, the pill, etc.) can tank sex drive. A woman should not be unarousable for most of the cycle. See a provider and get help if this is the case! It is common, but it is not healthy, normal, or ideal. There can be physiological reasons for low energy: thyroid problems, hormonal imbalances like low estrogen post peak, adrenal fatigue, medication side effect, plus all of the mental and emotional components. There are a lot of avenues to exhaust before you simply deem yourself “naturally unarousable.” Sex should be pleasurable and enjoyable for both partners throughout the entire cycle.

There is a need to understand how hormonal shifts affect a woman’s baseline sex drive, how foreplay and initiating intimacy may be different, and when arousal fluid may be lower (get some good lube!) in order to navigate different phases of the cycle, but sex can (and should) still be pleasurable and enjoyable.

If you need the hormone surge around ovulation to override a feeling of shame, disgust, or being used— that requires work to identify and heal. It’s worth the work, I promise.


If you need ovulatory horniness to override having an exhausting mental workload and too much on your plate, you need to have a conversation with your spouse. Your marriage is worth the hard conversations.


If sex is about a gift of self and a holy desire to know and love your spouse— and to be known and loved— that won’t be solely dependent on hormone surges.

We can fall into the trap of holding up an urge or a desire we don’t really have to work at as the gold standard for arousal and sex drive. Then we are resentful that NFP might require abstinence during that time if we are seeking to avoid pregnancy— usually because the time outside of the fertile window requires more work for arousal.

We assume that not having excessive hormones pumping through our veins means we can’t be aroused or enjoy sex— or our spouse assumes we can’t enjoy it if we aren’t on a hairpin trigger like ovulation day. This is simply not true. That is a message from a pornified worldview that says sex should be on demand, easy, and is solely about pleasure.


And yes, telling ourselves “no” to a biological desire IS frustrating, but it’s not an attack on our marriage or something that should cause resentment or anger. Fighting, anger, manipulation, guilt trips, silent treatments, etc. during the fertile window are all major red flags that assumptions and beliefs about marital intimacy and sex need to be examined.

We aren’t animals. We can CHOOSE to tell our bodies “no” and to be with our spouse other times of the cycle. We can be driven by a desire and choice to express love in all phases of the cycle, not only driven by physical urges.

Frankly, if we cannot tell our bodies “no,” then our “yes” doesn’t mean anything.

We become a slave to an urge, and that’s not freedom to give ourselves to our spouse.

If sex has always been only about urges and easy pleasure, this will seem foreign, different; and maybe impossible. It’s not, but it will take time, intention, and patience.


Our pornified world has warped our views—often from a very young age. It shows sex as being about consumption, and that it should be on demand. There is never a need for an urge to go unsatisfied in the world of porn, and there is never work required to determine what makes it pleasurable and enjoyable and safe for our spouse.

Marriage is not a real life porn film.

It’s not a morally acceptable way to live out a pornified view of sex and using others for pleasure.


In order to see and know the difference, we have to be careful about thinking every sexual urge we have is a holy desire to express authentic love with our spouse, especially if there has been sexual wounding in our past that has gone unaddressed.


Just as we can shut Jesus out of our sex life before marriage, we can do the same within marriage. Just as we can use others for pleasure and reduce sex to satisfying an urge before marriage, we can do so within marriage. The marriage vows do not automatically make every desire for a sexual encounter a holy experience of love and pleasure with Christ at the center. That is absolutely the goal, but if/when we are not seeking this goal in our marital relationship (authentic love + physical desire + Jesus), we need to do some self-examination and address how to recalibrate our marital intimacy path.


Love: to will the good of another.

Use: seeing someone as a means for my own pleasure or gain.


Am I loving my spouse or using my spouse?

Am I truly desiring to be a gift of self and truly know and love my spouse?

Or am I simply horny right now?


These are good questions to start with while having a disposition of curiosity, not judgment.

I can tell you, as someone who has worked directly and indirectly with almost 1,800 couples— there are a number of people struggle with a desire to use their spouse for sexual pleasure and nothing more. They’ve never experienced sex in a way that is focused on being a gift of self and knowing/loving their spouse and bringing Jesus into this area of their marriage in addition to the physical urge they feel.

Porn and use (or being used) formed their view of marital intimacy, and now it’s just covered up with theological language, which prevents it from being healed.


So, you are not alone, if this is you. Shut that lie (“you are the only one”) down immediately and kick that shame to the curb. It will only leave you feeling isolated and discouraged.


But the good news always is that there can be redemption! I’ve seen many cases where bringing something into the light is over half of the battle. Identifying the true thoughts and desires; naming the problem, and acknowledging there is a better way (and praying about how to get there) is a huge part of the healing process.

Then you can seek therapy, spiritual direction, intentionally talking with your spouse about it, immersing yourself in the truth about sex that our world has turned upside down. Theology of the Body is always my go-to recommendation, and there are many great authors as well as a TOB Institute YouTube page that can be super helpful with rewriting the narrative in your head about sex and learning how to bring God into this area of your life.


Then, hopefully everyone’s answer can be “Ok, I do have this physical desire (aka I’m horny) AND I truly desire for this to be rooted in Christ and an expression of authentic, self-giving love.”

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7 Comments


BreAnna Dillon
May 19, 2022

I’ve gotta admit, this entire article unintentionally describes the issues I personally had. I had so much anxiety over whether or not I was “using” my husband when I desired sex and didnt deny myself “or my husband“ (we attempted NFP our first year of marriage). Ive always been told that I’m using him if I just “can’t control myself.” I could never reconcile that with the fact that we both follow those desires, are on the same page, communicate, etc. We had many conversations that ended in the conclusion that neither one of us has ever doubted that the other one is “using” the other simply because the other doesn’t want to abstain. Turns out, my thoughrs of worry…

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BreAnna Dillon
May 20, 2022
Replying to

Yes! I’ve seen so many women talk about the strain NFP has had on their marriage. I’m talking severe depression, guilt, shame, tension, stress, unrealistic expectations, etc. And they’re trying so hard to do what they’re told is right. But it’s physically and mentally harming them and their marriage. And I just want to lift that burden off their shoulders. Show them that they are FULLY capable of making decisions about their sex life with their husband. Without the shaming tactics from a priest or other women. Without being told theyre a failure for being scared of having 10 children and putting their life at risk. This is not normal but it is COMMON in Catholic NFP Facebook pages. …

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Mila Sz
May 04, 2022

I'm not sure if some of the parts of this text are just overly optimistic. A woman should not be unarousable for most of her cycle? I dunno, for me progesterone seems to be the libido killer, both in the luteal phase, and when I was pregnant (that was like not even zero libido, but negative scale libido!). Seems also consistent for the years I've been tracking my cycle. I know for some it can be a matter of trying different things, but for me, my body is just not clicking with progesterone and does not respond to anything sexual at those times. It may be true that sex should not depend solely on the urges, but the hormonal aspect…

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Theresa Gilmore
Apr 23, 2022

Completely disagree with this. Give Fulton Sheen a read. Especially ”Three to Get Married“.

This is a sad sad post. Trying separate love and our urge for our spouses. Also check out St Paul. 1. corintheans 7:9.

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FeminineGeniusMinistries
FeminineGeniusMinistries
Apr 23, 2022
Replying to

I love Fulton Sheen and that book. And we encounter many sad situations in our work. I am not saying separating urge from authentic love is good or ideal, but we see many situations where it has happened. However, the couples are not recognizing that they’ve cut out authentic love and Jesus from their marital relationship (or never had it). Lust, not love, guides desire in a number couples we work with— but then spiritual terms like wanting to ”make a gift of self” are used because that’s the “correct” Catholic speak, even if it’s not present for them. Acknowledging where a couple is at has to happen first— and church-y language has become a cover preventing that acknowledgment. Usually the use/lust…


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Julie Johnson
Apr 22, 2022

Uuuugggghhhh.

Very good. Very needed. Thanks.

Sigh.

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