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Sex, Success, and Security

Best selling author Dr. Warren Farrell’s Women Can’t Hear What Men Don’t Say  is filled with lot’s of valuable insights for both men and women.   It’s given me much to ponder.

One line of thought that I would like to share with you stems from his thesis that men seek women for sex while women seek men for success.  Put even more bluntly,  men seek “sex objects” and women seek “success objects.”

Farrell’s would agree that this maxim describes just a “tendency” that does not sufficiently reflect all of the more complex and noble aspects of human relationships.

Clearly, men want more than sex and women want more than financial freedom.   On the other hand, it is sometimes useful to boil down even the most complex systems to the most base generalities.

Acknowledging that caveat–and with your promise of tolerating the following over generalizations–let’s follow the lead of a few of these stereotypes to see what insights they might give us.

First, it it noteworthy that Farrell’s formula can apply to both people who are avoiding marriage and people seeking marriage.Women Can't Hear What Men Don't Say: Destroying Myths, Creating Love

For example, men avoiding marriage are attracted to beautiful women who offer sex without commitment. Women avoiding marriage are attracted to wealthy men who offer gifts, meals, housing, travel, and excitement without commitment.

For those seeking marriage, men marry seeking sexual security and women marry seeking financial security.


Marriage as A Promise of Security

Again, if we temporarily ignore all the many beautiful and important nuances to look at the differences in focus on sex and success, this is difference between what a bride and groom hear when they make their marriage vows:

  • a groom hears his bride promising to do her best to always be available to him for sexual intimacy, and
  • a bride hears the groom promising to do his best to always provide the necessities of life which will allow her to form their household, raise their children, and pursue all of her dreams for a happy productive life.

As Farrell notes, in our modern culture, many women do not want to have children.  So his ability to provide financial support for children may not be on her agenda.   But even then, women who do not want to have children are still attracted to a “success object” because a successful man’s promise of material security gives her more options for pursuing her own dreams.   A husband who is a “success object” relieves her from worrying about their basic necessities.  With their basic income needs satisfied by his success, she has greater freedom to pursue a career option that she finds more emotionally rewarding than financially rewarding, like teaching, writing, or photography.  Or, the security of his regular income may free her to pursue a risky entrepreneurial dream.

The importance of security, for both genders, is described as an evolutionary drive by Dr. Helen Fisher the author of Why We Love,  who writes,  “[R]omantic love is one of three basic brain systems that evolved for reproduction. Each evolved for a reason:  The sex drive evolved to get you out there looking for partners.  Romantic love evolved to enable you to focus your energy on just one person at a time, conserving time and energy.   And attachment, the feeling of security you can feel with a long-term partner, evolved to help you stay together long enough to raise kids.”

According to Fisher, “romantic love” is the emotional glue which inspires both men and women, but especially men, to sacrifice the pursuit of  “every available sex object” for the sake of “one secured sex object.”

In short, marriage is a mutual commitment but on two different levels, one of most interest to men and the other of most interest to women.  It is a promise of sexual attachment which satisfies a man’s desire for sexual security and a woman’s desire for provider security.

This is why husbands seek affirmative feelings of security through marital intercourse.  It is also why wives seek affirmative feelings of security in larger paychecks.

Both of these desires for security fit within the larger context of an even more fundamental desire for love, of course.

The Irresistible Desire to Be Loved

But what is love?  It is a deep, complex, and beautiful mystery that will continue to inspire and baffle philosophers, theologians and poets until the end of by freya.gefn cc flickr

But for the sake of this posting, I like Robert Frost’s definition: “Love is the irresistible desire to be irresistibly desired.”

Frost focuses our attention on what might be called a selfish aspect of love, the desire to be loved.  While we all desire to love (an outward impulse) in a more fundamental, selfish sense we most of all desire to be loved by the ones we love.

This deep rooted need to be admired and desired runs through both genders.

At the extremes, the vain, single man imagines and hopes that every beautiful women will love and admire him.  Even better, he would like every woman to be willing to prove her admiration of him through sexual intimacy.

Similarly, the vain, single woman imagines that every man will admire and love her.  But rather than seeking proof of all men’s admiration through sexual intercourse, she would prefer gifts (though cash is nice!) as evidence of every man’s admiration.

These fantasies, which everyone recognizes as fantasies,  reflect the fact that deep down we all want to be liked, even loved, by everyone in the whole world, not just the opposite sex, but everyone.  Fundamentally, we want to be understood, valued, respected, and honored by literally everyone.

An Insatiable Need and Reoccurring Insecurity

Here’s another important characteristic of this insatiable need to feel valuable and “irresistibly desired.”

Even when we are loved by a that special one person to whom we have vowed a lifetime of love, we are remain insecure and need constant reassurances that we are valued and “irresistably desired.”

Being romanced, once, is not enough.  Making love, once, is not enough.  Winning an award, once, is not enough.  Nor are ten, or twenty, or a hundred reassurances that we are loved and desired enough if you live long enough to either run into some new disappointment in your life — or even if you simply run into a boring week without some new reassurance.

Again, it is one of the great attractions of marriage, and of being a parent, or even a dog owner, to be in a position of receiving daily reassurances that one is loved, and valued, and irresistibly desired by someone (or at least your dog).

But every such reassurance is satisfies us for only a short time.   Just as we need to regularly eat in order to sustain our body, so we need to regularly experience feeling loved (that our love is accepted and returned) to sustain our spirit and emotional happiness.

Moreover, the experiences of daily life, both good and bad, can increase our thirst for yet another dose of loving.   Any disappointments or setback can renew the doubts of our worth and desirability.  And even a new success, or just the joy of a beautiful day,  can only be enshrined as truly special when the one you love shares that joy and assures you that you deserve that joy, too.

So keep this in mind.  This fundamental need to be loved (desired) is common to both men and women.   How this need is expressed and how it is satisfied differs between individuals and genders, but the underlying need is the same.

The reality of this fundamental desire to be universally loved is demonstrated by the fact that if even a total stranger scowls at us, our immediate reaction is to feel insulted and hurt because that the stranger somehow failed to recognize us a lovable person.  In many cases, that feeling of rejection will trigger anger and rejection toward the offender.

So, while we all desire universal love, we also all soon learn that the reality is that we will be lucky to be liked, and especially loved, by only a small number of people in the world.

It is that realization, plus the desire to have a meaningful, long-lasting difference in the lives of the people we love and who return our love, that leads to romantic love, attachment, commitment, and marriage.

But before returning to why the desire to be loved is the key to understanding both men and women, it is important to note why this is an insatiable desire and why we should remain aware of that fact in order to keep this need in perspective.

Theologians say this desire to be universally loved arises from a desire to be perfectly and completely loved.  If even one person fails to love us, then the love we are receiving is not yet perfect, which is what produces discontent.  From this premise theologians argue that since the human spirit desires perfect love, it must exist.  For if it did not exist, how could we know to desire it?  But that perfect love is God, and so our discontent will never be satisfied until we are fully united with God in the afterlife.

I believe that is an important point to remember because it helps us to have more realistic expectations for our experiences of love.

No earthly love will ever fully satisfy our need to feel love.  That’s such an important point it is worth repeating, and even memorizing.

No earthly love will ever fully satisfy our need to feel love.

Therefore,  it is both wrong-headed and self-destructive to expect or demand that another mortal person should or could every fully satisfy our needs for love.   Our desire to feel loved is infinite.  But to ask for infinite love from a finite being is absurd.   Furthermore, if you attempt to place absurd demands for love upon your spouse this only guarantees your own disappointment, engenders feelings of rejection in your spouse, and makes you less lovable.

With that warning in mind, however, it is equally true that we must also recognize a duty to try our best to offer our spouse the love and security that is within our means.

The Same Needs But Different Expressions

Now let’s return to the paradigm that “men are seeking sex objects while women are seeking success objects” to see how the insatiable need to be irresistibly desired is expressed differently by men and women.

Looking to extreme examples, this insight suggests that the promiscuous  James-Bond-type is not just seeking opportunities to ejaculate.   He is really seeking “conquests” which affirmation that he is admired and desired by the woman he himself finds desirable.   And even a bumbling, overweight salesman frequenting prostitutes, strip clubs, or pornography of women with lustful eyes is not just seeking an orgasm.  He is really seeking an orgasm in the context which feeds the illusion, if only for a few minutes, that he too is the object of a beautiful woman’s desires.

Conversely,  a gold-digging bomb shell may run through her conquests not just to accumulate jewelry, cars, and million dollar inheritances.  These trinkets of success are more than just a livelihood.  They are an affirmation of her need to prove that she is so desirable that she successfully manipulate wealthy men into giving her anything she wants.  Meanwhile, an homely, insecure teenager gives up her virginity to a boy whom she know, on one level, is not good for her, but her need for affirmation is so strong that she can hardly help herself from hoping, maybe, just maybe, this gift of herself will transform both him and her into lovers whose love will last forever, and then her unquenchable need for affirmation will finally be satisfied.

Insecurity is obviously not the only factor at play in sexual relationships.  Lust is there too, of course.  But it is a mistake, and even an insult to attribute the desire for sex, especially between married persons, primarily to lust.

The primacy of the need to feel desired and loved is demonstrated by the fact that while physical desires of lust may be satisfied by masturbation, masturbation never leaves a person feeling desirable, much less “irresistibly desired,” or in a word, loved.

This Is Why Men Don’t Just Want Sex

It is said by many deeply hurt women.  It is said by many fathers of teenage girls.  It is repeated in countless movies, talk shows, and magazines.

“Men just want sex.”

But this disdainful accusation is really just a way to depersonalize men as “animals” or “sex addicts.”

Why?  To excuse people from looking more deeply, and with more empathy, at men’s real needs, feelings and fears.

Men don’t just want sex.  Sex is just the tangible means by which men feel loved.  More specifically, as Frost defined it, the feeling of love men want to satisfy is their “an irresistible desire to be irresistibly desired.”

It is especially unfair and misleading to say “men just want sex”  in a culture where the media so frequently portrays sex as just an isolated physical act culminating in an orgasm.

It is more accurate to say that men, like women, want sexual intimacy.   Even more accurately, in marriage a man who made a lifelong commitment wants marital intimacy.

If we substitute “marital intimacy” everywhere one might use the word “sex,” the charge that “men just want sex” becomes  “men just want marital intimacy.”   That one change turns an accusation that men are “rutting animals” into an affirmation that husbands just want to both show their love and desire and to experience their wive’s love and desire.   Or to apply Frost’s phrasing, a husband’s desire for marital intimacy is the desire to physically express and experience  “an irresistible desire to be irresistibly desired”–i.e., love.

The simple fact is that men want to be desired just as much as women want to be desired.

This is why nothing will quench a man’s desire for sex more than a “dead fish” woman who expresses no reciprocal desire, a fact used for eons by women to show their rejection of a husband or soon to be ex-lover.

Sexual Rejection in Marriage

Sexual intercourse is a means by which spouses seek to both express and experience a profound emotional, physical, and spiritual intimacy with the person who most loves and admires them in the whole world.

And that is exactly why husbands experience sexual rejection from their wives, as not just a rejection of the sex act but a rejection of him (spiritually, emotionally, and physically) and a breaking of her promise to love him, for better or worse, for richer or poorer.

This is also why wives experience sexual rejection as a repudiation of a husband’s vow to always love, honor, and desire her.

While a spouse will generally understand a temporary rejection of sexual advances, especially within a few hours of a heated argument, a persistent and unyielding rejection is a form of emotional abuse, as I’ve described elsewhere.

Persistently refusing marital intercourse is also a form of martial infidelity.

The promise “to have and to hold,” forsaking all others, has both a positive and negative aspect.   To “have and hold” is just a euphemism for sex.  The vow includes two obligations: to have sex with one’s spouse, and not have  with other persons.  It is absurd to think that the latter obligation is more important than the first.  Indeed, the vow “to have and to hold, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health” makes clear that the promise to have sex is not limited to only when everything is good.  To the contrary, it is a vow to do one’s best “to have and hold” the other no matter how bad times get.

In keeping one’s marriage vows, it is not enough for a spouse to just withhold sex from other people.   One is also promising to have marital intercourse with one’s spouse, not just once, but throughout a lifetime of marriage.

Adultery is just one form of marital infidelity.  Emotional abuse in the form of withholding marital intimacy, either physically or emotionally, is another form of marital infidelity.   Indeed, the latter infidelity often contributes to the former.

Both before and after marriage, men are more likely to look for and experience affirmation of their worth and lovability in sexual intercourse.   Conversely, men, and especially husbands, are very likely to experience rejection of their desires for marital intercourse as a personal rejection–a declaration that the wife they desire does not desire them in return.

Are Traditional Marriage Vows Unfair?

To the degree that men marry for sex and women marry for success, this interpretation of traditional marriage vows may seem unfair to the interests of women.  After all, it appears that marriage vows promises sexual security for men but not success security for women.  It suggests that a wife is obligated to make love to a husband even when his business has failed or he can’t get a decent job?

Yes.  It’s true.  The marriage vow is more concerned with upholding the promise of what each spouse can control (their own bodies, their own emotions, their own imaginations) than what they can only hope to control (their future successes and failures).

But there is a lot of wisdom packed into this “one sided” emphasis on marital intimacy (sex) irrespective of success (prosperity).

First, it really does protect both the husband and wife.

Second, it really does help to improve the chances of success on all levels.

After all, there is a lot of merit behind the idea that “behind every great man is a great woman.”

In short, a husband’s chances of success in every area of his life are enhanced by the support, love, and good example of his wife–including her displays of trust and willingness to follow his lead both in the home and in the bedroom.  (See “Wanted: Leaders not Tyrants — What Women Want in Men and How They Can More Likely Get It“.)

Undermining a man’s sense of security in his own home will undermine his ability to maximize his successes outside the home.  Conversely, enhancing his sense of emotional security, leadership, attractiveness, and competency in the home will enhance these virtues in his work life.

The Vow to be Receptive to Marital Intimacy Helps Both Husband and Wife

Remember, just as the marriage vow cannot guarantee financial success, neither does it include a guarantee of great sex.  Many newly weds have discovered that their sexual relationship is fraught with difficulties and disappointments. Sometimes these difficulties can arise from a history of sexual abuse, physical problems or psychological problems.

Also, even if the sex is great in the early years following a marriage, a man’s natural desire for his wife may wain as she add some years, some pounds, some wrinkles, and more.

So men who take the vow to refrain from seeking better sex elsewhere are indeed taking as much of a risk that all of their desires for sexual satisfaction will not be met just as women are taking the risk that their desire for financial success will not be met.

But more fundamentally, as described above, what both husbands and wives really want is emotional security that they are desired and loved by someone else.  That’s a basic human need.  The desire to be accepted, respected, admired, and loved by all, which is at least symbolically satisfied by one person, your spouse, constantly and faithfully doing his or her best to accept, respect, admire and love you despite all of your imperfections and failures.

There are no guarantees in life.   So it is no surprise that if after 35 years of marriage a sixty-year-old woman wishes her husband had been more successful.  But if he has faithfully tried to love her and stir up sexual attraction for her (despite the objective fact that she has lost most of the sex appeal she had thirty years earlier), he is honoring their marriage vow, and visa versa, since he too is likely less attractive then he was in his prime.

The obligation regarding marital intimacy is simply this:  each spouse should try his or her best to be open to and desirous of martial sex.  This duty to try one’s best to stir up amorous feelings for one’s spouse is especially important when one is not naturally feeling amorous.   The vow to love is precisely necessary because the passage of time and the trials of life inevitably produce a weakening of sexual desires.  So it is right and proper to draw on acts of the will to actively takes steps and to actively nurture and rekindle sexual desire and emotions of love.

Wouldn’t you still want to feel loved and desired by your spouse even if you gained forty pounds, or a hundred?  Or suffered from scarring in a car accident or fire.  Or lost your job.  Or failed in any number of mutual dreams and aspirations.

Of course you would.  And doesn’t your spouse deserve the same . . . even if you don’t feel the attraction or desire to give him or her this expression of love they desire?

The bottom line is that all of us yearn for an unconditional love that persistently seeks to find the central good in us even when so many things can go wrong and we are no longer obviously desirable.  And the vows of marriage are intended to bind us to the obligation of unconditionally loving each other.

And so it is that a central and inseparable tenant of the vow to “have and to hold” one’s spouse despite all ups and downs in life includes both a right marital intercourse and an obligation to the welcome  the marital intercourse desired by one’s spouse  for any legitimate reason: to conceive a child, to feel admired and loved, to simply enjoy sexual release, to re-imagine days of youth, to share a joy or sadness, or many of hundreds of different reasons.

Once one puts oneself into the position of refusing sexual intimacy with a spouse for any reason, one has started upon the path of eroding one’s marriage commitment.  In the language of the body, rejecting the body of one’s spouse is a form of rejecting one’s spouse.


Withholding sex outside of marriage, for any reason, never violates a vow and therefore is never a form of emotional abuse.  This is because unmarried couples are not bound by a promise of a lifetime of love which is to be expressed and renewed through sexual intercourse.  Unmarried couples, are unmarried precisely because the reserve the right to withhold or withdraw their love.

But withholding sex within marriage both violates one’s marriage vows and deeply offends one’s spouse’s need to feel “irresistibly desired.” In return, he or she has made a similar promise to make continual, life long efforts to nurture an “irresistible desire” for you.  Perhaps most practically, withholding sex in a marriage deprives both you and your spouse of the positive physical, chemical, and neurological experiences which help to renew your energy, affection, attraction and commitment to each other.  Biochemistry matters.  Don’t let grudges get you into a cycle of mutual deprivation of the good feelings sex is intended to produce in marriages.

Worse of all, while withholding sex may sometimes “work” in that your display of being distant and unattainable compels your spouse to to give in and “compromise,” it is a victory that is planting the seeds for future conflicts and animosity.  If your spouse feels pressured to “compromise” in order to receive the love you previously vowed was unconditionally his or hers, he or she will feel manipulated and betrayed.  While you may insist on calling your victory a “compromise,” and he or she may feel forced to call it a compromise too, his or her experience is simply that they were forced to capitulate in order to salvage whatever remains of the love that you had promised to give them . . . but now for a price.  And once you go down this path, he or she will feel that you are repeatedly asking a price, and even raising the price, on what they had originally been promised was free and unconditional love.

So, whenever you face the temptation to withhold sex when you are angry, or upset, or want leverage in some conflict–don’t.

Doing so will always be experienced by your spouse as a deep affront of his or her most fundamental desire to be “irresistibly desired” which in turn fuels his or her efforts to desire you . . . even when you are not being your most desirable.

If emotions and anger are running high, it is reasonable for you to ask for 24 hours or so to get some distance from your most intense negative emotions.  But looking to your vow and the ideals your marriage seeks to develop, it is your obligation to do the best you can in those 24 hours to focus on the good things in your spouse, the things you love and treasure and want to honor in your love making.   This is necessary no matter how many unresolved issues hang over the two of you.   Try to be as loving and passionate as you can make yourself to be, because this itself conveys that no matter how many troubles you face, you are still committed to loving your spouse through every high and low of life.  That’s powerful, and it will inspire the same from him or her and encourage positive feelings that will help you through the trouble issues.

Obviously, if there are a lot of conflicts and obstacles, neither you nor your spouse may be performing at your “sexual peak.”  But that’s not important.  What is important is that your spouse sees you are doing your best to be sexually available to him or her, even when you are upset about other issues.   This experience reinforces his or her feelings of security in your marriage.

Don’t avoid making love in times of distress.  These are actually the times when making love can produce the most positive impact on each of you, your relationship, and even supply the much needed graces you both need to work through the issues you face…or if it is not possible to work through them (for some issues can’t be resolved, which is another hard lesson to accept) to be able to better  endure the unresolvable issues.

Bottom line.  Withholding sex from a spouse is a form of emotional abuse.  It inevitably feeds a cycle of rejection.  Even when it succeeds in leading a partner to capitulate on one issue or the other, that victory comes at a price that will be exacted in future conflicts, emotional distance, feelings of betrayal, and more.

For marriages to survive conflicts, unconditional love making is more important then ever.   If you want to feel irresistibly desired,  show your spouse he or she is irresistibly desired.  When you both feel irresistibly desired by each other, the sparks will fly!

2 Responses to “Sex, Success, and Security”

  • avatar mjay says:

    When a woman can bolt, file false accusations and clean out a man for life, while he pays for her kidnapping his children in the process….well, all bets are off.

    There are still subintelligent submissive men out there, though, don’t worry. Men are still marrying like cattle strolling into the slaughterhouse and up the kill chute.

  • avatar Audry says:

    That’s totally true The same need but difference expression

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