In my counseling practice, I find that this is a fairly common experience for men and women who have held off from acting on their sexual desires until marriage. It seems to be especially true for individuals raised in very conservative religious cultures.

For many young people, it takes a lot of psychological energy to repress the sexual impulse, which is very strong at this age.  Marrying without having had prior sexual experience can add to the awkwardness of shifting gears and moving into this new state of social permission and religious support for having sex.

The beliefs about premarital sexuality perpetuated in conservative social and religious cultures are often applied unequally to men and to women.  Men are seen as innately sexual and their strong impulses toward sexual thought and activity are considered normal. Women have historically been seen as relatively uninterested in sex and been told that it is up to the woman to keep the man’s sexual urges in check by maintaining her purity and abstaining from sex.

If men deviate from the ideal of virginity before marriage, they are usually forgiven; after all “boys will be boys.”  However, women are generally characterized based on their sexual behavior as either “good girls” or “bad girls” and it is pretty much an all or nothing proposition.  Good girls maintain their sexual purity and if they deviate from this expectation they are often seen as “bad” and frequently labeled as sluts or whores. These harsh judgments are changing in large segments of American culture and even in many religious denominations.

However, those religions that put sexual purity as the highest sexual standard a girl or woman can aspire to also tend to believe that when marriage occurs, women will naturally be able to shift gears and open up to their sexual desire for their husband. Sex is seen as so natural that sex education is not needed.

In this context, women and their mates are ill-prepared to move into the reality of marital sexual relations. It is hard to immediately turn the switch from “off” to “on” when it comes to sex. You may continue to feel uncomfortable with sex and experience feelings of guilt and shame when starting to have sexual desires or responses.  Fortunately there are several tools available to assist you and your husband in making this transition.  Here are a few ideas:

1)       You will want to seek out some education about sex and sexuality.  It is important to know what sex is . . . . . and what it isn’t.  Media portrayals of sex are simplistic and unrepresentative. You don’t have to be gorgeous and have a perfect body to feel desirable and enjoy sex.

2)      Sex is both natural and unnatural.  Eros, the erotic instinct, is our urge toward life, both the perpetuation of the human species and our urge towards pleasure. But learning how to make love with your partner in a mutually satisfying way is not a blueprint we are born having.  It is valuable to learn everything you can about sex, ranging from male and female anatomy to specific sexual techniques.

3)      It will take some experimentation to find out what you personally enjoy and don’t enjoy within the realm of sexual expression. Be patient with yourself and each other. This is a learning process.

4)      It is really important to review, question and update your beliefs about sex. Sex is neither sinful nor shameful and especially given that you are developing a sexual relationship that is sanctioned by your religious beliefs. It takes time and conscious effort to replace old beliefs and attitudes with new, healthier ones, but changing your concepts and attitudes about sex are key to a lifetime of sexual happiness.

Sex is a complicated subject for anyone. These ideas may help. However, if you find that your lack of desire persists even after working with these suggestions, I would suggest that you find a qualified counselor who understands and deals with human sexuality and work with her/him individually or together as a couple to achieve the intimate satisfaction that I’m sure both of you desire.