Question from a reader: How do we help our husbands endure periods of abstinence? (UPDATED)

by Hallie @ Moxie Wife on November 14, 2012

Hi, girls!

I hope you’re all having lovely mid-Novembers! I still can’t quite believe the holiday season is upon us, can you?

I’m sure that, like me, you’re all super busy, but I just found a great question waiting for me in my inbox and was thinking that maybe we could discuss it between sips of cider and trips to the store! What do you say?

Here, I’ll let you read it…


How do you weather the time when making love is either too stressful or you just plain cannot do it (ie, late pregnancy and postpartum, respectively)? I’m fine waiting until my body heals and is ready but my husband seems like he can’t…

How can we as a couple work through this time, and further, how can he learn to wait? He seems to think that physically, he has to relieve the “pressure”, but I don’t understand why he can’t just work hard to put his mind off of it (and not think about it all the time) and maybe pray more, at least until I can catch up with him? It is really bothering me. I don’t even know how to go about talking about it with him.

We’ve only been married 3 1/2 years, so I realize we will take a long time to understand each other, but I’m at the point where I feel like I am doing something wrong. I try hard to show my love for him in other ways, but he seems to not be able to do this. Is this the way men work? Please help!


Can you help a fellow sweet wife out?

Have you ever been in her shoes? How did you handle it? Has your husband ever shared with you anything that could be done to help ease his burden a bit?

I suspect this is a struggle which many couples face so it would be awesome if those of you who have some insight into this topic would weigh-in! I’ll try to leave my 2 cents in the combox soon!





UPDATE: I’ve been receiving a lot of comments regarding how it’s regrettable that the abstinence challenge is so often framed as pertaining only to men. I certainly didn’t mean to imply that! I was simply seeking to address the questions and concerns of the sweet reader who contacted me. I think it would be great to talk about how to love well when both of husband and wife struggle with the desire to be more physically affectionate than is possible within their current circumstances, though. So, let’s do that soon, yes? Take care, friends!



Dresses from Shabby Apple

{ 54 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathi November 15, 2012 at 12:10 am

We’ve had many trials in this area, due to several high risk pregnancies resulting in months of bed rest, high risk deliveries resulting in long recoveries, auto accidents resulting in more recoveries and finally several pelvic surgeries with, you guessed it, more abstinence! My husband swears no sex is every doctors’ first rx they write for me! How I’ve conceived so many precious babies, is truly God’s will. Top all my physical struggles off with endocrine issues that cause near zero labido for me and my poor husband too often has a wife with little mercy for him. I must, must keep myself focused on a gentle heart for him, almost childlike, he thirsts for my love. A priest reminds me, my spouse can only find his home in my arms, and to try to be as welcoming and as comforting as I would my child…more, for he’s my husband. So, I try to work on my own character and keep myself gentle towards him. I let him hold him, touch me, enjoy my body, but he understands the painful limitations it has now. We enjoy what we can and talk openly, very openly, about the limitations I now have, as well as what I’m still capable of doing. We joke,”Darn! If we hadn’t have become Catholic, this wouldn’t be such an issue.” When you’re ignorant, the world is open to you! But, I feel so lovingly honored and my husband knows he is loved without being dismissed. We’ve become very creative within the realms of honoring one another in this area. If you set your mind to it, you can find many solutions between you, your spouse and with the aid of a good priest.

anonymous November 15, 2012 at 1:22 am

As far as the “pain/pressure” issue. I think it’s a bit of a maturity thing. Yes, it’s hard for them when they are used to frequent sex. Yes, it hurts them. But for goodness sake, offer it up! My husband doesn’t complain to me about the pain- even when I know those blue balls are hurting him. I think that takes maturity. He does tell me how he misses that special physical bond, but it’s not in a pressuring way. It’s just letting me know how much he loves me. There’s a difference. Guys should not pressure their wives when sex cannot be had or make their wives feel guilty. That’s definitely an issue if that is happening.

As far as being supportive, I read an excellent article in Catholic Mom before they became Catholic Digest and on this very topic. I wonder if it’s still in the archives on their website… Anyway, one of the things I got from it, was to let your husband know how much you miss having that special bond with him as well and how you can’t wait until you can be intimate again. Even if it’s slightly exaggerating. My husband always loves to hear me say that and it is very reaffirming for him during that difficult time.

Giving extra physical attention is obvious. Hand holding, cuddling, kissing. But I think it is wise to stay away from too much arousal touch because that can just make it harder on your man to abstain- if you haven’t already figured that out!

anonymous November 15, 2012 at 1:40 am

“Showing your love in other ways” Have you read the five love languages? His love language may be “physical affection”. In which case, holding hands, cuddling, hugging etc. are all great ways to show him you still care. It’s my husband’s love language and he tells me that making love is the ultimate way for him to show and feel his love for me. It made me understand him much better when I found this out. I am now aware of his needs in this area and sensitive to them when I used to feel like that’s the only thing he wanted.

Your husband, however, needs to read the book to figure out your love language because it sounds like you are in need of affirmation as well.

You’re right, there’s a lot to learn about marriage and about each other, but most of all, I think we learn about ourselves in this thing called marriage! It sounds like your husband may have a bit of learning and maturing to do, so don’t be so hard on yourself! Just telling your husband you love him and wish you could be there for him, is all you need to say. I wouldn’t give him suggestions or be demeaning about it. Just have him read a marriage book with you and then “discuss” it. I’ve learned that it’s better to get a delicate point across when you aren’t directly doing it. Let someone else do it for you- Dr. Popcak has some excellent marriage books that you could read together. I can’t tell you how many times I have had my husband read a book about something I’ve been dying to have him understand. It works like a charm every time. Spiritual direction is a good idea as well if it is really a problem.

Melody November 15, 2012 at 2:38 am

Tough times. Tough times. We know them well. :) I don’t have a lot of advice but I can offer two things:
1) Respect how tough this is for him and don’t ever make light of it or accuse him of just thinking of one thing (not that you would). It’s tempting because females don’t always get what guys go through. For many men, physical intimacy is their dominant “love language”. We don’t experience life the same way (we might be just as happy cuddling and talking) and at some point, we have to just say, “I don’t understand how you feel but I believe you.” It could mean a lot for a wife to simply believe that this time is uniquely difficult for our husbands.

2) Make the best of your “on” time. I cannot emphasize this enough. If you are generous and interested and attentive during the yes times, he will not feel as deprived. He will know that he is attractive to you and he will have something pretty great to look forward to at the end of the “dark period.” Sometimes, women (especially tired or new mothers) can simply forget that the beloved spouse has lost any desire… even if we have. We roll from day to day all bleary-eyed and before you know it, three days have passed without any expression of intimacy given. If there is a lot of abstinence in the yes times, he might be more resentful in the no times.

Hope this helps a little. Prayers coming your way.

Jennifer Fitz November 15, 2012 at 7:32 am

I’ll echo Melody and add a few things:

1) Don’t underestimate the physical difficulty your husband is dealing with. Pretend you’d just been told to not eat every single one of your favorite foods . . . but you had to look at them spread out on the dinner table every evening. It really is hard for a guy, especially a young one.

2) Modesty!! Now is a good time to wear something a little frumpy, haha. (Ask him and he may be wiling to tell you — honey, please don’t wear the short skirts, your legs just drive me wild . . . or whatever it is.) Keep in mind he may need you to back off physically as well — you want to snuggle, but your body pressed against his is, perhaps, tempting. Ditto for undressing in front of him, slipping into the shower as he’s getting out, etc.

3) Do offer up your own suffering for his purity and chastity.

4) Make it your goal to be Yes Girl whenever you can. It’s one thing to not feel like it after fifteen days straight of twice-daily intercourse. But when lots of abstinence is part of the program, when you do get a shot at it, put your Catholic on and love him like only a lovin’ wife can. Okay, or at least say a few nice things as you assure him that just because you’re stone tired and will probably fall asleep halfway through, you sure would prefer to be awake if you could, and you certainly aren’t thinking about England.

5) Which means, you need to be a master at NFP. Learn it. Live it. Find those available days.

6) DO NOT expect him to help you chart. It would be like asking you to pour through the dessert catalog every day, but stick to that diet all the same.

7) Don’t let his moods bother you. If you’ve only been married 3 and some years, there’s a chance the two of you are still working through some spiritual / marital maturity issues. So what. We all take a while to grow up all the way. It’s okay. (Actually, you’ll always be growing up. That’s life.) When he throws his man-tantrum because life’s not fair, etc etc, just let him kick his toys and go about your business. You aren’t responsible for the entire fallen world. He’s a good guy (or you wouldn’t have married him), and he’ll move on when the mood passes. Be extra nice, but not extra guilty. You can be hopeful that when you throw your mom-tantrums, he’ll give you a pass too.

Good luck! It is NOT easy. To be young, in love, and abstaining . . . well, that’s how we fill this world with new eternal human souls. Count it as positive pressure to open up your family to as much new life as possible, and confirmation that if you are avoiding, you’re doing so for serious reasons. It’s a good, though painful, reality check.
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Erin November 15, 2012 at 8:29 am

I am not Catholic, so I do not know if want I am about to advise is against the teachings of the Church, but here goes anyway! I am currently coming out of an abstinent time. My youngest is 6 months old and I have had a terrible struggle with PPD. I just started Zoloft about two weeks ago and when we made love this past weekend it was the first time since I gave birth that I actually enjoyed it and wanted to do it. The past 6 months have been hard for my husband, but he has been wonderful about putting my needs before his. Of course, there have been times when I’ve had to “close my eyes and think of England” in order to help him feel loved, but he insists that he doesn’t really want to be intimate if I’m not totally into it either. That said, we have also indulged in some intimate times that didn’t involve intercourse – I pleasured him, relieved “the pressure” and then I didn’t have to worry about him bothering me for a few more days! ;) I think it’s important for your husband to understand that this is a season of life, and it’s a short one. This too shall pass.

Katie November 15, 2012 at 8:40 am

I totally sympathize. In addition to postpartum, abstinence periods at any time can cause tension, even after 12 years. You have to just get out there and talk about it. You know he wants it. He’s dying. Have a conversation and let him know that you do see his need and you appreciate his sacrifice.

Don’t feel wrong or guilty that you “can’t,” for whatever reason it is. If it’s a no, it’s a no, and that’s part of marriage: it is good for men not to be able to consume every time they have an appetite!

On that note, though, do pray for your husband (and yourself, if necessary). A novena to St. Joseph, that perpetually abstinent spouse, will work wonders in his attitude. Pray for him for patience, for continence, for respect and love for you, and then keep encouraging him.

Remind him that this time does pass, and that these seasons (we call them “poverty” & “plenty”) in your marriage are healthy for our souls. They create mini-honeymoons, too, when the YES time returns! Even if you don’t feel excited or interested right now, you will again, and you can honestly tell him that you look forward to the passion returning.

Keeping you both in prayers!

Colleen Martin November 15, 2012 at 9:36 am

As Catholics, we believe that intercourse is the only way a man can relieve “the pressure” as you say :)
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Tiffany November 15, 2012 at 9:48 am

Jennifer, I disagree about not having him help you chart. For us, his eyes on the chart means he knows which days are infertile without asking and he can initiate even if I wasn’t originally planning to. Often his interest helps me get into the mood and his needs can be met. I prefer to think of it as watching the train schedule, waiting for your number to come along. But this is a couple preference issue.

And Erin, that is against Catholic teaching, but thank you for trying to help :)

Colleen Martin November 15, 2012 at 9:48 am

When I was in college (go Steubie!) I took a marriage class and learned about being a truly generous spouse. This means that whenever you are able to give of yourself to your husband, you do so openly and lovingly. It also means that when you can’t make love, your husband should lovingly and completely support that.

Obviously, we are all humans and fall into sin and it is so easy to hold grudges and ask “Why doesn’t he understand how I feel?” but we just need to turn that question around and ask “Do I really understand how he feels?” The beginning stages of marriage are difficult because spouses often feel like they have a green light to sex, and are disappointed when libidos or illness or physical/emotional barriers pop up. Everything takes time to work itself out and it really is fun getting to know the other person’s wishes.

I’m sure your husband loves you and doesn’t just want your body, and having a faithful husband in your bed that loves and desires you is usually the only turn on we need, right? (at least that’s what I say to myself when I’m not feeling particularly in the mood!)

Also, with my very…ahem…virile husband, i found that giving him a day when the abstinence should end is very helpful. Otherwise, it seems like he gets stuck with the thought that this abstinence is going to last forever. Since we’ve been using NFP for so long, I can usually estimate when we can come together. Having that date to look forward to does wonders for our marriage. We flirt and talk about it every day leading up to it. I tell him how difficult it is for me too, and he feels loved and wanted.

Good luck!
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Jennifer Fitz November 15, 2012 at 9:59 am

Tiffany, if it’s helpful, then definitely do it. I suppose it will depend on the guy, and how he sees it. I mentioned it because there’s this thing in NFP circles, sometimes, about how any man worth his salt will be Mr. Charty. Sometimes really good husbands keep their hands off the charts in order to be good husbands.
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K November 15, 2012 at 10:09 am

Lots of good suggestions already but just one more.
Maybe Your husband needs more physical activity and discipline. Our marriage has endured deployments with lots of abstinence (obviously) and I know that massive amounts of Physical activity not only helps with the self mastery part but also the pressure part. Men can really handle those issues better when they are more physically active. Especially if they have to get up early before work to do so, it generally wears you out in the evening. I’d Encourage him to take some time to go for a run or attend a pick up basketball game or chop some wood. Anything that gets those good endorphins going!

waywardson November 15, 2012 at 12:16 pm

From the guys’ perspective:

1. It can get rather uncomfortable after a few days, which is something women may not fully understand.

2. Men need to feel loved, and sex is an easy way to show this love. The challenge is being able to show love amd receive love without sex.

3. Don’t make avoiding sex the focus of your marriage relationship. You are still married even when sex isn’t available. For example, don’t avoid non-sexual touching out of a fear that it may lead to sexual touching. And if you do get carried away, far better to follow Erin’s advice than have your husband take care of it himself. (He very well might. See #1.)

4. Have Nike sex: Just do it. Make an effort to use the days you have. For both husbands and wives, satisfying you spouse’s needs is a good thing. It’s when sex becomes selfish that couples fight about it.

5. Guys need to know the charts. Knowing there is an end to the abstinence makes it a LOT easier.

6. It’s not always the husbands who struggle with abstinence. Sometimes it is the wives. Often it is both. If it’s a struggle for you, let him know. If he thinks that it’s only his problem, it may lead to resentment.

Martha November 15, 2012 at 12:33 pm

Hallie, you have an amazing group of followers here; I’ve read all the comments, and can’t think of anything else to say! I wonder if maybe your Dan would chime in? Not a very comfortable chat for him, I don’t suppose, but I thought it might be nice to hear a man’s perspective on all this. Of course, like women, they’re all different, and yet so very the same, if you know what I mean!

My husband and I had a year of abstinence for (my) health reasons, and he’s one of those guys who is about to run off into the woods naked at any moment, so he’s no effeminate man. It was not easy for him, but my reassurance that I desired him in spite of my inability, and he told me later, his resignation that it was not possible, was what got him through. So, a change in his mindset that, instead of getting all upset about it, he needs to just accept it and cope would be helpful. Oh, and don’t let him fool you with that ‘blue ball’ argument. That might work on teenage girls, but we’ve been around long enough to see through that one. With that argument, all Priests and single men would be in a dire state of physical danger. Silly. Self Control is a fruit of the Spirit!

Talking about desserts and favorite foods- there’s a difference if you’re avoiding them because you want your hips a little smaller (easy to break that one!), or if you’re avoiding them because they make you horribly sick (much easier with a good reason). Appeal to your husband’s sense of protection for you, and it may seem a more worthy goal.

That St. Joseph novena and chopping wood sound great in a combo, btw!

Anonymous November 15, 2012 at 2:32 pm

Chris Stefanick has a great video for guys to watch to deal with this issue – it’s on the website and can also be found on youtube here: It might mean more coming from the mouth of another man. Sending prayers!

Kathi November 15, 2012 at 2:47 pm

We openly admit to “shopping fertility methods” searching for the NFP book that gave us the pass for the night :) Each method, has different rules, some have much longer periods of abstinence than others. There are: CCL, NaproTechnology, Mercedes Wilson’s Love and Fertility and more. We finally settled on Mercedes Wilson’s because 1. We were always open to life and if we conceived, a child was a very welcomed blessing in our home 2. Hands down the easiest to learn and practice with very little cost and little abstinence. I only needed to monitor mucous and she includes pictures to show exactly what you’re looking for in case you’re nursing and seem to always have mucous. My husband was much happier after a male friend, who specializes in fertility education, directed me to Mercedes materials. I’m grateful for his guidance as he helped us find a very easy to use method, I too have recommended for years.

KH November 15, 2012 at 3:43 pm

My husband and I are presently going on to 8+ months of abstinence. We have been married for 4.5 years and had three kids in 2.5 years. We have abstained since our third was born 8 months ago. I exclusively BF on demand but I have nonstop fertility signs and there hasn’t been a time postpartum where we have been sure enough to take a break from abstaining. Yes the abstinence is hard for both of us but I think people can really overblow it and make it out to be something that is out of this world difficult. We made the decision to abstain completely b/c it is at this point the best thing for our marriage that we don’t open the door to another pregnancy this soon. So as hard as total indefinite abstinence may be, having another baby right away would be harder. Really it is about being unified on the decision. My husband understands that, although it wouldn’t be such a huge deal for him if we had another pregnancy/baby this soon, it certainly would be for me! Therefore he has set his mind that this is the way it is for now. Recently I have begun using a fertility monitor along with charting (both of which my husband is in the loop on and has full understanding of how it all works) and have had two regular cycles in a row. The added technology and the return of my cycle may or may not make us confident enough to resume having sex during what the charts and monitor show as my infertile times. No guarantee, yet to be determined! I certainly agree that it is in most cases more difficult for men to abstain. However, it sounds like this particular husband needs to work a bit more on being more selfless and giving to his wife and marriage. She shouldn’t feel guilty for the decision to abstain or for the fact that he finds it hard. Certainly if he is having a hard time with it physically (which may be a bit of an excuse, men don’t “need” sex) he should consider upping the exercise in his life. Physical exercise helps a ton. But it is mostly his mindset that needs to change. Undoubtedly maturity plays a big part as doesthe recognition that marriage will likely call for lots of periods of abstinence. I find a lot of Christian/Catholic women say they can’t “deny” their husband for more than a few days or weeks or whatever….. I think the mindset that it is denying something is a big red flag in the tone of the relationship. What is good for the goose is good for the gander!

Miriel November 15, 2012 at 5:56 pm

Wow. That’s a terrific video! And it seems to apply to lots of situations beyond the ones he’s directly addressing. Thanks for the link.

waywardson November 15, 2012 at 7:18 pm

+1 to learning multiple methods. Getting better at NFP when abstinence or insecurity is a problem shows that you value the physical relationship which will probably mean a lot to your husband.

For us,

With Creighton, she could not identify ovulation and found it a lot of work.

STM gave us a long stretch of abstinence. (The added security of cross-checking means more abstinence.)

Billings has been the easiest, made the most sense to her, and gave us the least abstinence (although we still temp to confirm peak).

Other women may find a different method suits them better. I’ve heard good things about Marquette. So look around.

Married Catholic November 15, 2012 at 9:14 pm

I haven’t been married much longer than you have (almost 5 years), but one of the things that was surprising to me was just how important sex is to my husband. We were virgins before we were married, so I thought, how hard can it be? Why doesn’t he just switch back to that pre-married mind frame? What I’ve learned though is that sex is a need for him; he needs to express his love in that way just as I need to hear him say with his words and his time that he loves me. When there is a legit reason (that 4-6 week postpartum period, for example), then he says it’s easier to abstain, because it’s not just me not wanting to receive his love.

I don’t know how simliar our husbands or situations are. We’ve read a lot (Popcak and Penner–Penner isn’t Catholic but is a Christian), prayed a lot and are still have room to grow in this. :)

Tara Sz. November 16, 2012 at 12:34 am

Absolutely agree…husbands need to help with charting as a way of keeping communication open. My husband and I are much more in sync when he keeps the chart.

Lynn November 16, 2012 at 3:32 am

Elephant tranquilizers.

TracyE November 16, 2012 at 7:52 am

LOL!! SNORT!!! Most hilarious!!! Does CVS sell those??
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TracyE November 16, 2012 at 7:58 am

What a great thread and so many helpful ideas. I don’t have much new to add other than to affirm the additional physical exercise and prayer time. Keep. Him. Busy. During the “go” cycle I definitely make the effort even if I’m not all that interested because we’ve talked and for my husband sex is affirmation of my love for him…in addition to his other love languages, but that is the most powerful.

He also charts for us and we use Thermo-sympto along with Marquette as a cross-check and twice now that’s come in super handy with either faulty sticks OR anovulatory cycles. Either way, knowledge is power and super helpful.

There’s no denying it’s tough; open communication and faith sharing is helpful and stokes the fire of faith, growing your marriage and relationship with Christ. Blessings!!
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Elizabeth November 16, 2012 at 12:52 pm

What a great thread.
1. It does sound like the husband needs to mature a bit. But so what? Selflessness doesn’t come easily or automatically for any of us. It takes a lifetime of marriage (and probably some time in purgatory ;)). Pray for him. Pray that the Holy Spirit will show you areas in your life where you are lacking generosity too.
2. We haven’t had any long periods of abstinence. Just the 6 week recovery time after delivering my son. My husband didn’t put any pressure on and made us wait another 2 weeks when I thought I was ready at 4 weeks postpartum. We did talk a lot about coming together again after the wait though! He ended up planning a very romantic evening for us which was such a gift to this sleep-deprived new mom.
For me, it was really a struggle to be sexually receptive for several months after my son was born. The combination of physical discomfort and low libido was hard to overcome. It was a wonderful opportunity for us to practice honest communication. The sex is better now than before because we had to talk so much!
3. Something I didn’t understand at first is that it is actually physically uncomfortable for my husband to go without for more than a few days. That was a real eye-opener.
4. Initiate during “yes” times even if you don’t feel like it. Take a shower, put on something beautiful and let him know that he is loved. Talk to your husband about your needs. Would it be helpful if he planned something romantic? Watched the kids so you can get gussied up? Whatever it is, I’m sure he’ll be willing to help if it helps you get in the mood.
5. During “no” times, let him know that you look forward to being reunited.

KH November 16, 2012 at 1:29 pm

Ok so I have to be direct and detailed with this question/statement…. sorry. This idea that it is physically uncomfortable for men to go without sex for more than a few days is odd to me. I understand that it can be painful for men if they get aroused for a while and it doesn’t end in sex. Is that what is being referenced here??? B/c if men are saying that it is physically uncomfortable to just go without sex for a few days outside of being aroused then I think they are feeding women a line!!! What on earth are all the chaste men of the world dealing with on an ongoing basis then??? What about unmarried men and priests….. are they just dealing with some level of physical discomfort or pain b/c they are not having sex?? I really am asking for clarification on what is being stated here…. Sorry if I offended anyone.

Anon November 16, 2012 at 3:41 pm

KH, my husband tells me this isn’t true (about not having intercourse being uncomfortable or painful for men). Maybe that’s just him, but he says that a lot of men make that up.

For my husband, abstinence during NFP times or postpartum has been a maturation issue. He had to learn to be unselfish because any time we were abstaining, it was for a good reason! It wasn’t like I was just saying I didn’t feel like it! And I try to gently remind him at those times of why we are abstaining. On the other hand, I follow some of the same advice given here – tell my husband how much I miss him that way, how much I look forward to when we can again, and say yes as much as possible when we can be intimate. And be sensitive to what another poster said – that for him it is really a need in a different way than it is for me, and also his ultimate way of showing he loves me. I think the Five Love Languages suggestion is great, and has been helpful for us as well – both me meeting his language, and he mine. It can get to feeling like they *only* can show their love through sexual intimacy at this time, so them making the effort in another way is huge. My husband’s love language is physical touch, but unlike another commenter, I have to be careful showing too much physical affection with him during this time (even non-sexual), because this can send him mixed signals. It’s tricky, and again, this is something even he says he just had to mature on. We still have our struggles, but much, much less than we used to. Actually, it is a lot harder for me than it used to be, now that I don’t feel like I have my “guard up” all the time during times of abstinence to keep him at bay ;)

And, of course, there is plenty of prayer involved for both of us. Hang in there, girl, and keep working on it! It’s like anything else in marriage – it takes lots of work, prayer, and give-and-take – probably to the end of our lives :)

KH November 16, 2012 at 4:05 pm

Thank you! My husband says that it isn’t physically painful to go without sex either – and if you see my comment above you will know that we have been abstaining for over 8 months at this point. The part that bugs me is that women are buying this idea. Men do not “need” sex. Maybe some men could contribute and help explain this. A strong physical desire or strong sex drive does not equate a need for sex.

Elizabeth November 16, 2012 at 4:39 pm

To clarify, yes, he is talking about becoming aroused without being able to have sex. The discomfort increases over a few days, but will subside over weeks of abstinence. He had the same experience as a virgin when we were engaged.
I’m honestly quite offended at the suggestion that my husband is “feeding me a line.” He is honest about the ins and outs of his sexuality just as I am with him. He abstains without a word of complaint when necessary, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a physical and emotional sacrifice.
Have you ever asked a priest about the sacrifices of celibacy? Perhaps some of them do experience physical discomfort and it is part of their cross.
I’m not saying all men have this experience, but some, including my husband do and it is cruel to belittle the sacrifice they must make during times of abstinence.

Anon November 16, 2012 at 5:19 pm

I’m sorry – I didn’t mean for my reply to sound uncaring or inconsiderate. I am only repeating what my husband shared – admittedly the only man I’ve ever talked to about it! I’m sure that there can be men who have discomfort, and I know for my husband that long periods of abstinence are the only time he has “wet dreams”, so obviously there can be physical repercussions/reactions. I didn’t mean to imply your husband was exaggerating or being dishonest – I didn’t read carefully through all the replies and I certainly don’t want to belittle his experience.

I do know that in my days of being a fallen-away Catholic, men would use say that to me or my friends, and I know it was because they wanted to manipulate us. I know that doesn’t mean that faithful, loving husbands are the same way.

JQ Tomanek November 16, 2012 at 5:57 pm

A great topic, thanks Hallie.

Ok, a male’s perspective. The condition of pain called “blue balls” is slang for vasocongestion. Assuming my experience is consistent with other males, it is not the result of being without sexual intercourse itself. Rather, it happens when a male is aroused to a certain point and something interrupts the completion of intercourse. For example, husband and wife are together and are steaming the room up and all of a sudden the door bell rings and you are surprised by a mother-in-law visit makes the completion impossible.

If this happens in all men, I don’t know. It is common enough to hear about from the guys.

In regards to enduring abstinence, I think each person will be a little different. The husband and wife hopefully communicate these issues so that each are helping the other to heaven.

KH November 16, 2012 at 6:04 pm

Thanks for clarifying that you were speaking specifically about having discomfort after being aroused and not just b/c of going for a phase of time without sex. Big difference.
To clarify my statement about women being “fed a line” – - I have had discussions with married women who do have husbands that tell them stuff like that. I have also heard older women telling young married women that they shouldn’t “deny” their husbands sex. These examples include women who have had three or more kids in three or four years and are strung out and exhausted. There is a myth surrounding the whole issue about men’s need for sex – both emotional and physical need. That is the issue that drives me crazy.
I certainly don’t underestimate the sacrifice involved in long periods of abstinence. It is a huge sacrifice for my husband and it is for me as well.
I apologize if I offended you. Not intended.

KH November 16, 2012 at 6:05 pm

Thank you!!!!

Elizabeth November 16, 2012 at 7:46 pm

Sorry. I probably overreacted a bit. I’ve just heard a lot of wives second guessing everything their husbands say and assuming the worst…that attitude can do a lot of damage to a marriage and it breaks my heart to hear.
Some thoughts on sex as a need…
Obviously, nobody is going to die from abstinence. Still, I do think sex is a legitimate need. To make an analogy, I don’t need to have intimate conversations with my husband. I can and will have to sacrifice those conversations when he deploys. Still, for us to make superficial talk the norm would be incredibly damaging to our marriage over time. Likewise, my husband can and does survive without sex when the need arises. However, the absolute best way for him to know my love is through physical embrace.

Monica November 16, 2012 at 9:27 pm

I haven’t seen this addressed, but the original questioner mentioned the last weeks of pregnancy being uncomfortable for intercourse. Unless the doctor has given the red light, there is really not any reason to abstain, other than your physical discomfort (which can be a big deal, don’t get me wrong!) My husband and I have dealt with this through a combination of trying out different positions and him promising to be very gentle.

With later pregnancies, we have even ramped things up a bit, in hopes of bringing those contractions a little sooner! :)

Postpartum (once its okay) can be difficult too because of low libido and some soreness. I found (shocker, I know) that my husband doesn’t want to hurt me either, so he was really open to suggestions of foreplay ideas that would help me get in the mood. And then, even if it didn’t work as well as I wanted, sometimes just going along with him for a few minutes helped get me back in the swing.

Try to be gentle with him in your thoughts-hormones always make my inner voice nasty, so I can understand if this is hard. I totally second offering up your discomfort for him (and, kindly, let him know you’re doing so-it might help him to know that you are thinking about him and uncomfortable yourself.)

Monica November 17, 2012 at 2:24 am

I have lots of practice with this, but I’m only going to suggest one thing at the moment (and since I don’t have time to read the other comments, maybe it’s been addressed already) — help him get some serious exercise! This can work off some of the testosterone. I made time and space in our busy schedule for my husband to start karate when we had a toddler and a new baby, and it has served us well through the good times and bad since then. I also make it a priority to help him figure out how to bike for part of his commute so that he can get that exercise. It’s good for his health, it’s good for him to work out frustrations (and not just with abstinence, but with other frustrating things), and it keeps him in great shape. Karate and biking aren’t for everyone, but there are lots of great things a man might be into!

Anon November 18, 2012 at 11:37 pm

Just a comment from a man’s perspective regarding the discomfort of abstinence. I am not speaking here of arousal that is thwarted, but general discomfort from lack of any ‘release of pressure’ over a period of time. I imagine that, like anything, there are some differences between men, but my impression is there is a great deal of commonality too. It is not surprising that many women would not have heard detailed feedback from men on this, or been able to pick up any clear basis to form their own judgement. While I imagine some men do ‘improve on the truth’ at times for their own benefit, in general the discomfort they are complaining about is quite real. I hope you don’t mind if I try to explain this in a bit more detail.

As everyone knows, there is a cycle in which semen builds up, and eventually has to go somewhere, if not in sexual intercourse, then hopefully in a ‘wet dream’. During this cycle a man experiences a range of sensations, that can be quite hard to describe adequately. One of them is a growing sensitivity to sexual stimuli. When the pressure has built up he can become hypersensitive to even seemingly innocuous sights or other ‘triggers’. Things that he normally would not feel as notably ‘sexy’ can have a disproportionate effect. The problem is that this can go on over quite a period, though it will not usually be literally continuous, but wax and wane during the days and weeks.

At the same time another kind of sensation builds up, the one men are usually referring to as ‘discomfort’, ‘pressure’, ‘need’, even perhaps ‘pain’. Naturally this build-up happens more quickly in a young man, which is why wives in the first 5-10 years of marriage are under more pressure. The term ‘pressure’ is quite apt, because this build up of pressure a man feels can feel quite explosive, and in its outcome can be surprisingly so! In this area it is quite possible that there are differences between different men based on the underlying biological causes. So it is never really going to be possible to know what the subjective experience is exactly like for another person.

From personal experience I can say that it at least includes the following kinds of experience. The sensation in the testicles can become ‘heavy’, a peculiar kind of discomfort that some men might describe as ‘painful’ for lack of any better way to describe it. It is not ‘pain’ like a toothache or headache, but it can have a kind of ‘burning’ feel to it, or a ‘throbbing deadness’, or ‘pressure’, like a dull ache. It can be palpable enough to prevent sleep, leading to restless, disturbed nights, perhaps many in a row. Yet it does not tend to be continuous, but waxes and wanes, and is affected by other activities and preoccupations. There can be periods when it subsides of its own accord and is no longer experienced as troubling. Ideally this pressure should be released in a wet dream, but this is unpredictable, and might not occur, but disrupt sleep, preempting release and causing ongoing frustration and disturbance.

Various methods such as physical exercise, strenuous attempts to shift one’s focus of attention, or cultivating other absorbing interests can help, but I think most men would find them only partial solutions. The fuller solution has to include drawing these unavoidable physical difficulties up into a fuller experience of loving relationship.

A number of the other posts have made this really crucial point – the assurance of love is the key to integrating these feelings into a sustainable emotional life. Any negative feelings will tend to make it much more difficult. Suspicions that your wife is not taking it seriously, or is generally not understanding of, or open to, the central importance of sex in a man’s experience of love can be quite disturbing to emotional, and hence sexual equilibrium.

For those who are single the spiritual part of the solution becomes even more important, which is why those living a genuine celibate life can be of big help to married couples, being a complementary witness to the central importance to the sexual dimension of every person.

Over time it can become more apparent that what initially seemed simply to be a physical sensation of discomfort includes a partially spiritual sense of ‘emptiness’. But this can be hard to identify clearly so that the full angst of one’s personal experience receives added emotional weight from a loss of hope. This is the deeper underlying challenge for men, and their wives have an indispensable role to play. A woman’s deep acceptance and belief in her husband heals and calms the spiritual component of his disturbed feelings, making it easier for him to sustain his hope. The sensations become more manageable and his wife becomes a stronger focus for his gratitude.

anonymous November 18, 2012 at 11:40 pm

It depends on every guy. You should ask your husband how HE feels when you don’t have sex and if it’s only when he is aroused. Have you ever heard of the term “Blue Balls?” I bet your husband has. My husband says it hurts pretty much all the time- whether aroused or not. But that after weeks of that, it starts to go away. For men who don’t have sex frequently or ever, it’s different. They will not experience the pain that the occasional abstaining man does, but only once a month or so when they eventually relieve themselves through wet dreams, which are out of their control. Really, you should be talking to your guy about all this. It’s all part of the intimacy factor- getting to know your man, your man getting to know you.

not so much November 18, 2012 at 11:45 pm

I’d like to know when the Catholic church has made exceptions to oral sex for relieving sexual pressure. I’m pretty sure that’s never ok. making the wife commit the sin instead of the husband?? never heard of that rule!

anon also November 19, 2012 at 12:00 pm

In my experience, what helps my husband is a lot of “hanky panky” (cuddling, caressing, french kissing, etc. that doesn’t go too far, but is still quite arousing). I know that this is not true for a lot of men–they find it too arousing, and then it’s painful and hard to stop and frustrating. But my husband likes it, especially when I initiate it, because he says it makes him feel like I still love and desire him even when I’m not available for sex. He says even though it can be physically uncomfortable and feel a little frustrating, it’s worth it because it makes him feel loved. He says it’s not the lack of sex that is hard to deal with so much as the feeling of being unloved, unwanted, or rejected.

I know this doesn’t work for a lot of people, but ask your husbands if it will work for them! I always make sure he knows beforehand that it’s not going to end in sex, and I try to ask him during the hanky-panky if it’s too much and he needs to stop or take a break. The absolute most helpful thing you can do, I think, is ask your husband exactly what he wants and how various things make him feel.

anonymous November 19, 2012 at 3:28 pm

Actually – my husband, a physician, states there is no “build up” of semen that needs to be released via sex or a wet dream or whatever. The semen is simply recycled back into the body if not released. The sense of heightened arousal after a period of abstinence has to do with mental state (where 90% of sexual arousal occurs) and consequential blood flow to the penis.

Mike November 19, 2012 at 4:37 pm

There is no such exception. This is an assertion that waywardson has tried to put forth in many comboxes but it’s simply not the case. Catholic teaching on this is decided and clear.

I am sympathetic to the struggle that he and his wife seem to have, but it’s a shame that he continues to lead others astray in an attempt to assuage his guilt by justifying his own misguided, sinful actions.

Anon November 20, 2012 at 4:48 am

Some clarification might be needed here. I wasn’t making a scientific point about a literal need, as though something might explode if a man didn’t have sex. If the body is only considered as an organism then the various processes just are what they are. The notion of ‘build up’ or ‘pressure’ I referred to is the subjectively experienced lag associated with, I presume, the ‘recycling’. It happens too slowly! But the notion of ‘too slowly’ is not essentially a physiological one but an experiential one. Whatever are the underlying processes, it is a discomfort which for various reasons is experienced subjectively as suffering, of a kind that can be peculiarly trying. I don’t mean trying in the sense of an absence of anticipated pleasure, though it can be that too, but as an absence of ‘relief’, and the associated literal discomfort especially of the testicles.

The topic of course is much larger than this, but I was only trying to offer a contribution related to the request by ‘KH’ regarding physical discomfort. (I meant to put my reply under her query but got mixed up.) The early replies to her query highlighted the problem of thwarted sexual arousal. I was trying to offer something about the burden of abstinence as such, which strikes me as by far the larger problem as far as the physical aspect of sexuality is concerned.

This all leaves aside the larger question of erotic desire and its emotional implications, which gets intermingled with the physical so it can be hard to distinguish what exactly a man is referring to when he groans and complains. This is actually the harder one to clarify. That is why I limited myself to saying something about the genital discomfort associated with abstinence. Yes, it can be quite real, but it is a subjective experience very hard to convey, especially as to
the ‘weight’ of significance it holds.

No doubt different men experience it somewhat differently, and differently at different times in their lives. I forgot to mention in my main post that I personally have never experienced the problems I described as quickly as within a few days. I am talking about at least some weeks before it became a specifically physical problem, as distinct from desire. The kinds of symptoms I described in my main post were associated with that longer kind of delay.

Anon November 20, 2012 at 4:51 am

KH, I made a post in response to your query, but got mixed up and it ended up further down, under ‘Anon’. It is on November 18 and begins ‘Just a comment from a man’s perspective…’. Not being familiar with blogs I also erred in using ‘Anon’ when there was already another Anon. I’ll get the hang of it eventually.

Elizabeth November 20, 2012 at 9:57 am

Perfectly said. Thanks!

waywardson November 27, 2012 at 10:55 pm

I never said oral sex was ok, but it is preferable to masturbation.

I’m glad you don’t sin, Mike, so that you are able to give advice to the rest of us.

Mike November 28, 2012 at 10:34 am

How is leading your wife into sin along with you preferable? You have a duty to get her to Heaven. When you selfishly encourage her to perform oral sex without any intention of actually having intercourse she falls into mortal sin right along with you. Where is the love in that? If you simply cannot resist climaxing during periods of abstinence at the very least man up and protect your wife’s soul.

waywardson November 28, 2012 at 8:07 pm

I think you may have misunderstood my earlier post, and perhaps I misunderstood your response.

I made no mention of oral sex, my wife, my own sex life, or any personal issue, other than that extended abstinence can become uncomfortable for men. Anon has a couple of very detailed responses on this issue down the page.

I also mentioned that mutual encounters are preferable to masturbation. Mutual encounters are, well, mutual, while masturbation is purely selfish. I believe very strongly that masturbation has no place in a marriage. The comment was anti-masturbation, not pro-oral sex.

I hope I have cleared up any misunderstandings about my previous post. I know you strive to be a good Catholic, Mike, and take care to avoid rash judgment and calumny on internet comment boards.

waywardson November 28, 2012 at 11:13 pm

What Anon said. For some men, there really is significant physical issue and Anon has provided an excellent description of it.

The hypersensitivity, discomfort, and sleepless nights can become occasions for sin on their own. Not all sin is sexual sin and not all sexual sin involves orgasm.

NFPhusband January 9, 2014 at 2:46 pm

If you read anything on the internet about blue balls and NFP, a chorus of voices will say, “Go see a Catholic urologist.”

I did that. I was hoping he’d find an enlarged prostate (small chance, I’m 35) and prescribe a medication that would not only ease the pain of blue balls but decrease my libido (as some prostate meds are said to do).

Unfortunately, I’m in perfect health. He said the congestion of the prostate due to abstinence is normal and the body takes care of it naturally by ejaculation. This usually happens in nocturnal emissions. If those aren’t happening (and they are not for me), then you can get a prolonged period of congestion that is painful but not unhealthy. He said that you see this often in Catholic priests. But he said that eventually the body will modulate its semen production and/or cause nocturnal emissions.

I also told him that I have to urinate frequently, and he said it’s because I drink too much water and coffee. His advice was to give up caffeine and drink less water.

So plenty of common sense from my Catholic urologist, right? Who needs a urologist!

However, I gave the caffeine thing some thought, and thought, why not? Why not try some big lifestyle changes with the end to another breastfeeding cycle approaching, and the consequent periods of mega-abstinence?

So here was my original plan of attack from then until regular cycles returned (and I’ve continued aspects of it since, as discussed below):
1. Give up caffeine experimentally, minimum one month, on the hypothesis that it makes me anxious and we could all use a bit more peace around the house. (With the risk that because I make my living as a researcher/writer, I will have a tough time without that caffeine zone.)

2. Exercise more. In addition to my daily 50 min. of aerobic exercise, I’m adding 2 hrs/wk of strength and flexibility training, which is something I need to start doing at my age anyhow. And one day a week I’m doing a run at work with a friend.

3. Get a consistent but slightly tiring 7.5 hours of sleep a night. Plenty of sleep gives me plenty of sexual energy; too much sleep makes me concupiscent. A bit too little takes the edge off.

4. I’m starting 120mg/day, first thing in the morning, of Vitex, also known as Agnus castus or Chaste Berry extract. Medieval monks reportedly used it to help with abstinence, and it has been anecdotally reported to ease testicular/prostate congestion. It has been shown in one scientific study to promote the production of prolactin, a hormone men produce after orgasm. See info on a study here: In large doses, however, it could reduce prolactin and increase testosterone.

5. When the long abstinence periods are really kicking in, I will add licorice extract to this regimen. A study has shown that licorice can reduce testosterone in men by 1/3. But you are not supposed to use licorice for prolonged periods of time, so I’m saving it for the really tough times. Here is some info:…-lower-libido/

6. I’m contemplating making three drinks my limit for alcohol. I have always been a fairly heavy drinker, and a large night definitely makes me more desirous of sex the next couple days. My daily glass of wine doesn’t have any effect, nor do three beers with a friend after work. It’s the long nights that do it. However, if I give up caffeine and that mellows me out, maybe I won’t even want to drink!

However, while intoxicated, I usually don’t want sex and instead want all the things my wife wants: intimate conversation, dancing, etc. We have great times together and both love nothing better than to put the kids to bed and stay up all night drinking wine, talking, and listening to music. A good drink will also dull or completely remove the sensation of blue balls. So limiting my drinking would also make it harder to maintain nonsexual intimacy during those tough times. (I’m sure somebody will say, “Why can’t you and your wife have nice long talks without alcohol?” Answer: we can and do. But we also have a different kind of nice long talk with alcohol, and it’s a tradition.)

7. No-brainer: all the good movies and TV are off limits. No HBO series, no harrowing European thrillers. (Or if reality TV is your thing, none of that either.) Turn off the commercials on football games. Nothing remotely sexy or showing skin or figure. Also no reading about sex tips online. And avoid news sites that traffic in bosomy gossip (Slate, HuffPost, Salon, even NRO and Weekly Standard). And of course the fundamentals: Custody of the eyes on the street and at work. Sit in the front row at Mass. etc.

8. And of course keeping a consistent rule of life and not being afraid to disrupt the day’s schedule for a bit of extra prayer time.

Once I detox from caffeine, of course, all this will be really easy and I will just be a serene center of peaceful detachment and mindfulness, ready to join the local ashram.

[Update over four months later, regular cycles having returned, with average abstinence 21 out of 29 days in the cycle (can you tell we're serious about not having baby #6 just yet?)]

1. Have been off caffeine for over 4 months. Doesn’t seem to have an effect on libido, but I’m definitely somewhat more mellow, which my wife appreciates. However, if it were not for other side effects that caffeine gives me, I would probably still drink a moderate amount of coffee to get into a “zone” at work where I am less distracted by weeks 2-3 “abstinence ennui.”

2. Exercise going as planned. It’s generally healthy, though I don’t think it makes a huge difference one way or the other. What does make a difference is lying around doing nothing, and if I stay home from work with a cold and don’t exercise, the libido definitely has a chance to grow.

3. I have not done a good job of consistent sleep schedule. I do think a full sleep -1 hour is a good thing, and it seems to help keep me on track when I’m being disciplined about it.

4. The Vitex has definitely helped–hard to believe! I experienced my first testicular pain after three weeks of abstinence, rather than the usual 7-10 days, and even then it was mild. It also went away after a day, and then came back periodically, but never all day. Then when I stopped taking Vitex for three days, in false anticipation of a green light day, I had intense, constant pain for four days until we could finally have sex. That particular abstinence period was four weeks, two days of sex, then another two and half weeks. The Vitex, and perhaps the licorice, which I took starting week two, definitely eased the pain and perhaps even made my libido milder.

6. The three drink limit also definitely works. When I went over the limit on a couple occasions, I felt distinctly more sexual desire in the following days. It’s possible that this also made the blue balls worse, too, but I can’t be sure, since they were never too terrible while using Vitex.

7. Also works, and when a green light day was approaching and I thought it would be OK to watch a sexy, artsy movie–that was a really bad decision. We abstinence athletes have to be much more ascetic about what we watch than other people. Even what is perfectly acceptable and innocently beautiful can make things really hard for us.

8. Even though much of this makes a big difference, there’s no avoiding blue balls if we make out or do some late night bump and grind to the kitchen stereo. Even a conversation about the coming green light day can bring them on. But sometimes these intimacies are worth it, and in general the blue balls symptoms are much less severe than they were before I started taking Vitex and being generally more cautious.

Aiden February 26, 2014 at 9:09 pm

Abstinence has always been a struggle for me. Before marriage and after marriage. I mean a serious struggle with failings that just made me feel useless and weak. I would think I was desperate for sexual release followed by feelings of abandonment if that is the right word. If I lapsed then the ecstasy of the moment would immediately transform to feeling low a weak looser.

I read lots including the posts above. I read the 5 love languages and my love language is definitely physical.

What has worked for us is honesty and communication. Reward and punishment to put it bluntly. Basically reward is cuddling. Hugging. kissing and I mean all over each other passionate kissing, hugging, touching. Yes I get aroused but we do this always with me wearing jeans with a belt so no chance of me forcing a quickie on her. A bit like when we were passionately in love as teenagers where there was absolutely zero chance of sex. This physical passion means a lot to me. It validates me. She loves me.

Communication is important. We talk about how we feel. It also means if I lapse I confess it to her. Punishment is I kneel and pray on my own then no physical intimacy until she feels like I have been punished enough. Usually several days.

We also celebrate success hence my posting here. We have now gone just over 11 months without a lapse.

anon March 4, 2014 at 8:25 pm

Wow this really resonates with me.

“Over time it can become more apparent that what initially seemed simply to be a physical sensation of discomfort includes a partially spiritual sense of ‘emptiness’.”
This was true for me.

I end up with several feelings:-
1. Physical pressure
2. A feeling of worry that I will never be able to do it (if the opportunity were to arise). ie a feeling of uselessness or inability.
3. A feeling of being abandoned. Spiritually as well as physically. Similar to loneliness.

I found that lots of hanky panky as the poster above described is just wonderful. It just so lets me know that my wife still loves me and finds me attractive. It validates me. It really nullifies the feelings of abandonment and that helps to give strength to endure the physical pressure and somehow get rid of other worrying feelings. We have found that it really is best to go for complete abstinence rather than re start the clock and have to get over that initial hurdle that seems to come about a week into a period of abstinence.

Aiden November 4, 2015 at 1:12 am

I posted above back in feb 2014 that I had achieved almost a year of abstinence. It has taken a lot of strength and prayer on both our parts to continue that abstinence. Now in October 2015 I have passed two and half years. There have been times of anger and frustration. Times when I have begged her for sex and later of course begged her forgiveness for my weakness. Luckily she has remained resolute in encouraging me. It has shown that men do not need release as some suggest. That given appropriate commitment and supervision and limiting the opportunities to fall into weakness that it is possible.

Aiden March 26, 2017 at 11:17 pm

It’s march 2017 and I relised now that I have maintained abstinance for four years. It’s now settled in and I am so thankful for her strength in insisting on this. We are very physical in hugging kissing and touching. First thing we do in the morning is hug and kiss and the last thing at night too. We hold hands when we walk together. I know she has to sometimes really make the effort to be physical. I know that I have gone through emotional highs and lows and have felt this is stupid and so on. But now it seems the body and the mind have both gotten used to it and the physical and psycological pressure seems to have dissipated.

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