This summer I’ve been in my “writing cave”, spending countless hours finishing my next book about sexual discipleship, called Rethinking Sexuality. (The message of this book is challenging Christians to be grounded in biblical truth and equipping them to surrender their sexuality to God.) While I’ve been writing, the world has kept on spinning, and stories about sex continue to show up in your news feed. While there have been new stories every day, I want to address two specific headlines that have garnered a lot of attention last week: Teen Vogue’s advice for teenagers on how to engage in anal sex and the controversy about Eugene Peterson’s comments (and retraction of those comments) regarding same-sex marriage. The ministry of Authentic Intimacy exists to help you make sense of sexuality, so let’s take a look at the implications of these two stories together.
As a parent of teenagers, I’m disgusted by the advice offered by Teen Vogue. Because of my job at Authentic Intimacy, I’m used to seeing all sorts of articles and books encouraging sexual exploration, but this one is just over the top. It encourages anal sex as a fun, pleasurable type of sex for teens to explore. Here is a sample of the advice given in the article, “Anal sex, though often stigmatized, is a perfectly natural way to engage in sexual activity. People have been having anal sex since the dawn of humanity. Seriously, it's been documented back to the ancient Greeks and then some. So if you’re a little worried about trying it or are having trouble understanding the appeal, just know that it isn’t weird or gross.The anus is full of nerve endings that, for some, feel awesome when stimulated. The opening of the butthole is where the the most nerves are, so you don’t have to put anything that far up there (if you don’t want to) for it to feel good.” Even secular medical and political organizations have expressed concern and outrage that such information is being targeted to our teenagers.
The second story involves Eugene Peterson, the 84-year-old author of The Message paraphrase of the Bible. Peterson, a highly respected Christian leader, was interviewed by Jonathan Merritt for an article in religiousnews.com website. In the interview, Peterson responded to questions about gay marriage and homosexuality by affirming both. He stated, “I wouldn’t have said this 20 years ago, but now I know a lot of people who are gay and lesbian and they seem to have as good a spiritual life as I do. I think that kind of debate about lesbians and gays might be over. People who disapprove of it, they’ll probably just go to another church. So we’re in a transition and I think it’s a transition for the best, for the good. I don’t think it’s something that you can parade, but it’s not a right or wrong thing as far as I’m concerned.”
Peterson’s comments understandably stirred up a lot of debate and conversation on social media and within religious circles. He was perhaps the most influential conservative Christian leader to publicly endorse homosexuality. Less than a day after the article hit, Peterson reversed himself and retracted his statements. He said that he was not prepared to be asked these questions and hinted that his responses were taken out of context. “When put on the spot by this particular interviewer, I said yes in the moment. But on further reflection and prayer, I would like to retract that. That’s not something I would do out of respect to the congregation, the larger church body, and the historic biblical Christian view and teaching on marriage…To clarify, I affirm a biblical view of marriage: one man to one woman. I affirm a biblical view of everything.”
My friend, these two stories are why I feel so passionate about sexual discipleship. Confusing advice and destructive teaching about sexuality will undoubtedly continue to show up in our newsfeed in the years to come. It’s not enough to write an article about the dangers of teenage anal sex or to help you sort through how to make sense of a Christian leader’s conflicting statements about gay marriage. The problem goes much deeper: we don’t have a comprehensive, practical understanding of sexuality. We don’t know how to help our children sort through what they watch on Netflix and what they are taught in school. To be honest, we don’t know how to make sense of what’s happening around us… so how can we help our children?
The ministry of Authentic Intimacy is dedicated to sexual discipleship…. challenging you and teaching you to think biblically about sexuality. How does what the Bible teaches about sexuality practically relate to the struggles you are personally experiencing and the larger conversations happening in culture? We are so far past the days when Christians could remain silent about sexual issues. Each one of us needs to be engaged in prayer, study, and honest conversations about God’s design for sexuality.
Articles about anal sex and controversies over gay marriage are not the problem. They are simply symptoms of an epidemic of sexual confusion and brokenness. God’s truth and wisdom must invade every area of our lives, including our sexuality. Sexual discipleship is not an optional endeavor for Christ followers. We need God’s truth to help us find “true north” and pursue healing in the midst of a broken and confused world.
(Want to learn more about sexual discipleship? Log into our website and click here to read a chapter Juli wrote!)
Do you have questions you want to ask around these articles, sex in the news, or your own sexuality? I’ll be hosting a live Q&A webinar where you can text in answer questions and I’ll be answering them. Learn more information here!
I just read a book by Dr. Lisa Wade called American Hookup which describes the sexual culture on college campuses. Sexual activity has been so severed from relationship that kids “hooking up” are discouraged from even talking to the person they just had sex with. One of the foundational truths about sex is that God designed it to be intertwined with spiritual and relational significance. Satan, God’s enemy, works to undo the spiritual and relational connections of sexuality, convincing us that having sex can be an act as morally neutral as what we chose to have for breakfast.
While the hookup culture is an extreme example of this division of the sexual, spiritual and relational, we have all been impacted by the cultural trend to view sex as separate from our personhood. This occurs even within marriage. You can be sexually active without being sexually intimate.
I believe this is far more common in marriage than we realize and can happen for a variety of reasons. Maybe while sharing their bodies, a husband and wife nurture separate fantasies to become aroused. This is oneness in body, but not in heart, mind and spirit. Or perhaps the wife has experienced sexual trauma and has learned to get through sex by disassociating. Her body is there, but not much else. Couples can also have sex without being intimate because of unresolved conflict or simply because they perpetually lack the energy to work on intimacy.
I’ve met with couples who have been married for decades and have never experienced sexual intimacy. They have had sex hundreds of times, but always with invisible barriers that keep them from oneness in mind, soul and spirit. A woman will complain that she feels like a “sex object” and a man will feel like something is missing in his marriage.
God created sexual intimacy to be more than a sensual experience. It is a journey that, when taken together, can forge your hearts in a way that nothing else can. At Authentic Intimacy, our desire is to encourage you on that journey; to help you to fully integrate who you are as a relational and spiritual woman with your sexuality.
If you can relate to the sense that you and your husband don’t experience sexual intimacy, here are three things you can do to grow as a couple:
1) Pray about your sex life. Most Christian couples pray and they have sex, but it never occurs to them to pray about sex. It’s as if God can help us with everything except sex. This plays right into Satan’s lie that sexuality and spirituality are two separate categories. God cares deeply about your sexual relationship and is glorified when you and your husband pray together about it. Pray regularly that God would bless your sexual intimacy, that He would help you to experience true intimacy as you share your bodies and that He would guard your sexual relationship from temptations. After sex, thank Him for the gift of sexual intimacy and for the ways He is helping you and your husband to love each other through it.
2) Share your sexual struggles. The most intimate couples are those who have been in the trenches together. They have built trust to share the most vulnerable of their thoughts and struggles. I think of Justin and Salome who sought healing together for Salome’s history of sexual trauma. Justin didn’t think of it as “his wife’s problem” but as their challenge as a couple. Together, they learned how to identify triggers and how to make their sexual relationship a safe place. Or Lynn and John. In the early years of their marriage, John hid his sexual temptation from his wife. Eventually, Lynn discovered porn on his computer and confronted him with anger and tears of betrayal. What could have torn this couple apart became a journey of intimacy, including confession, forgiveness, accountability and creating a pattern of honesty about weakness and temptation. Every barrier you face in your sexuality is an opportunity to build true intimacy, rather than hiding from your spouse.
3) Save your best for sex. After a full day of work, parenting, and daily life, you’re exhausted. You fall into bed, so excited to sleep only to find that your husband is excited about something else. Inwardly you groan, “Really? Sex is the last thing on my mind.” What do you do at this crossroads? Tell him what you’re really thinking or let him have the “leftovers”? While this kind of sexual encounter is bound to be part of sex in marriage, it shouldn’t be too frequent. Having sex doesn’t take a ton of energy, but sexual intimacy requires that you be fully present. This is one of the negatives of those who encourage women to always say yes when a husband asks for sex. You begin to establish a habit sex around a sexual release rather than a sexual relationship. Over twenty years of marriage, I’ve learned that it’s better to say “yes” to building intimacy, which may mean saying “no” in the moment. To build sexual intimacy, you have to give the best of your time to each other, not just the leftovers.
As I look in the mirror, I don’t exactly love getting older. But one great thing about accumulating years is a growing confidence in God’s truth. It makes me so angry to see how Satan’s destruction of sexuality is being embraced as “normal” in our world. God created you to experience your sexuality as fully integrated with your spiritual and relational longings. Resist the hookup culture, even within your marriage.
Follow Up Resources:
Passion Pursuit- A 10 week Bible study for wives about sexual intimacy in marriage
“He slurps his soup, bites his fingernails and always leaves his dirty clothes on the floor. I expected the relational challenges of marriage, but my biggest problem is that I can barely stand to be in the same room with the man!”
I wonder how many marriages are derailed by the little things. Living with someone will certainly bring out every annoying habit. Even if you know you are being petty, you can’t stop yourself from being annoyed, can you?
Mike and I just celebrated 22 years. Have we annoyed each other over that time? You bet! I can give you a list of the things I do that can drive my husband crazy. And, yes, I’ve made a mental list of his annoying habits too. I can honestly say that we are no longer annoyed with each other—at least most of the time. I hope it won’t annoy you if I share three of the breakthroughs I’ve had on the journey to an irritation-free marriage.
Your husband’s annoying habits are not the primary reason why you’re annoyed with him. Irritation is almost always the symptom of something much deeper. Annoying habits are sort of like background music . . . sometimes you don’t even notice them but other times they become incredibly distracting. So what makes the difference? Why did you used to think his quirky laugh was cute but now it drives you crazy?
My growing irritation with my husband around year two was rooted in intimacy and identity. As we were becoming “one,” I deeply disliked anything about Mike that I didn’t think represented me. For example, I would never be late, so I resented the fact that he was always running late.
I’ve found this to be true in other close friendships as well. When annoying habits bother me, there is almost always a deeper issue gnawing at my love. Once that issue is addressed, the “background music” fades into its proper place.
My husband has a habit of clearing his throat and sinuses when he’s congested that I really don’t like. Most of the time, I try to ignore it, but sometimes it really gets on my nerves. It’s one of those gross guy things that girls would never do. So, one day I was biting my tongue in the car as my husband did his sinus clearing. We had the same cold and I internally congratulated myself for handling my sinus issues in a much more dignified manner. Out of the blue, Mike said, “Would you stop sniffling already and blow your nose? I hate it when you keep sniffling!”
It dawned on me that for every irritating habit I complain about, I have one too. We both stink up the bathroom, get grumpy when we’re tired, and have compulsive ways of handling stress. Yes, he picked up some things from his parents that get under my skin, but I’ve got my share of ideosyncrocies too. He has as much reason to be annoyed with me as I do with him.
At this point in our marriage, we reached a comfort level to begin sharing what bothers each other. Out of consideration, we’ve tried to get rid of things that are annoying. (Although he still does his man sinus clearing thing and I still sniffle occasionally.)
I first met Linda Dillow, the co-founder of Authentic Intimacy, when I interviewed her for a Focus on the Family broadcast. Linda asked me if I would read her newest book for a possible endorsement. Feeling fairly confident as a clinical psychologist and “marriage expert,” I began to read What’s It Like to be Married to Me? And Other Dangerous Questions.
What neither Linda nor anyone else knew was that I was struggling in my marriage. There were days when all I could see was what irritated and annoyed me about my husband. He parents so differently than I do. He loves movies and I just want to read a good book. He wants everything to be neat; I just want to get through the day. On and on my internal complaints would go. Reading Linda’s book was a gentle smack in the face (if there is such a thing.) God convicted me about my attitude toward my husband.
For 16 years, I had been making a mental list—a list of my disappointments, what annoyed me, and what I wished were different. Linda, through her book, challenged me to make a different list—a list of the qualities I love about Mike. So, standing at my kitchen counter I turned over the manuscript and wrote on the back of it my new list. He’s sensitive, caring, and funny. I love his blue eyes and the fact that he’s 6'2". He always wants to protect me . . . even from myself. I wrote all over that paper why I love this man God has given me. By the end of my list, I was in tears asking God to forgive me for my petty complaints.
That list changed my marriage. My husband is the same man, but he has a wife with a different perspective. The “background music” went from annoying to comfortable.
God has taught me that you don’t really know how to love until you don’t feel in love, but you choose love anyway. He just may be using those annoying habits to teach you what love truly is. Love not only covers a multitude of sins, it also covers a multitude of irritations.
The Bible says, “Love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). Well, it covers a multitude of annoying habits too.
Follow up podcast episodes from Juli:
Why you need to learn to loose arguments in your marriage
The second installment of the Fifty Shades trilogy just hit the big screen. We’ve had this conversation before - first about the book and then about the original movie. We’ve sounded the alarm about the dangers of pornography and other forms of counterfeit intimacy. (You can read a blog about Meeting Mr. Grey, listen to a podcast about the books, or read a blog on sexual junk food.)
There are plenty of bad things to say about the release of Fifty Shades Darker but, to be honest, I don’t have the stomach for it. Do you? My social media feed is filled with negativity, harsh words and bad news. Is yours? The last thing I want to do right now is flood the Authentic Intimacy community with yet another thing to be worried and argumentative about. So, I’ve been asking the Lord, “How can we talk about this movie in a positive light? Is there any good news?”
God has been reminding me of the Great Commission. These are the words Jesus said to His disciples right before He ascended into heaven, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).
When I think of this passage in light of our current cultural debates, I see three pieces of good news that I want to share with you.
The first piece of good news is something that we may overlook. We know God has authority in heaven, but sometimes we forget that He has ALL authority here on earth as well. I have needed to remember this truth in recent days. It brings me back to trusting God...To trusting that God is sovereign in the politics of our country and even in the sexual brokenness that is now celebrated in our world. None of it surprises Him or overwhelms Him.
How does this relate to Fifty Shades Darker? Sometimes it feels as if “darkness” is winning. My heart is burdened because I see before my eyes a culture that actively rejects God and a Christian culture that marginalizes His authority. But the good news is that nothing in heaven or on earth will ever dethrone Jesus as the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords.
It’s not my job to fix the world or even to fix one person. It’s my job to surrender my life to the love and to the work of our awesome God. It’s my job to be sure that I am His disciple and that my life is about sharing the Good news of Jesus. Every day and piece of bad news provides the chance to show God’s love. Jesus is King, sovereign with all authority both in heaven and here on earth.
The Fifty Shades of Grey is the fastest selling book in the history of publishing. In 2014, it reached the top ten selling books of ALL TIME. We have to take a step back and ask why? What is the draw? While there are many answers to this question, I believe a key component is that women are lonely, bored with life, disappointed by love and eager to experience romantic and sexual thrills. In other words, women are thirsty.
We all have a relational and spiritual thirst that lurks beneath our busyness and productivity. I believe 50 Shades taps into that thirst, but offers salt water instead of refreshment. The women we interact with don’t ultimately need to hear why 50 Shades Darker is dangerous. They need to know they are not alone and that there is a Jesus who offers living water. This is essentially what Jesus told us to do. Go out and make disciples.
This movie provides yet another opportunity for you to engage with women on a sensitive and personal topic that just might lead to God. Think of how Jesus offered the woman at the well (John 4) living water by talking about her sex life and her loneliness. If God gives you the chance to talk to someone about 50 Shades, remember that the ultimate goal isn’t to convince them that the movie is bad, but that God is good.
Oh, to know that Jesus is with me every minute. I know that in my head, but I live the majority of my day without remembering this promise. Christ is with me when I don’t know what to say to a struggling friend. He’s with me when people disagree with me. He’s with me giving me wisdom to speak His truth and demonstrate His love. He’s there when my heart aches at the pain and confusion around me. And He is with me when my own heart feels thirsty and unsatisfied. If I truly embraced this promise, how would it change me today?
If you have trusted Christ as your Savior, do you know that He is always with you? Do you depend upon Him as your Counselor, your Comforter, and your Wisdom? Do you know that you don’t have to do marriage, singleness, ministry or parenthood alone?
My friend, there is so much bad news that’s it easy to lose heart or simply to stop pursuing God’s truth. The gale-force winds of our culture are relentless and convincing. If you feel confused, discouraged, or weary, let the good news of Jesus’ words fill you heart with hope.
Over the next few weeks, the ministry of Authentic Intimacy will be addressing Fifty Shades Darker. We have recorded two podcasts on the topic, will have a live webinar, a few speaking events and our book Pulling Back the Shades. Our desire and goal is to declare the Good news in the midst of the conversation. Will you join us?
Register for our webinar with Dr. Juli Slattery & Hannah Nitz talking more about the good news.
Enter to win a copy of Pulling Back the Shades- we are giving away 50 copies this week!
Endless romance. Hot sex. Being best-best-best-best friends. These are just some of the idealistic hopes we pile onto marriage. There are good motivations behind each of these hopes, but let's just be real. It's probably not all going to happen.
Though it is a wonderful thing to be your husband's best friend, I actually don't think that is necessary for a great marriage. In fact, putting the expectations of best friends, steamy lovers, and perfect co-parents all in one relationship can end up hurting your marriage by making it seem subpar.
While being your husband's best friend may be unrealistic, being his friend is a critical aspect of a healthy marriage. Like most aspects of marriage, friendship doesn't just happen. You have to work at it. Think about the friends you had in college. As much as you may have loved and enjoyed them, you've probably lost touch over the years. Your lives have drifted apart. Even though you live under the same roof, this can happen in marriage too. You and your husband can forget to have fun, develop separate hobbies and passions, and lose the art of enjoying each other's company. You can slowly start to exist as roommates.
So how can you prevent the friendship-fade in marriage? Here are three tips for nurturing a friendship with your husband throughout the decades of marriage:
When it comes to friendship, men tend to like to do life together while women prefer to process life together. For you, building a friendship may mean weekly coffee dates where you share your thoughts and feelings with your husband. You connect by talking. Most likely, your husband isn't wired this way. He feels connected with you by doing life with you. Guys don't usually meet at Starbucks to share thoughts and feelings. They golf, bowl, or work on a project together.
While there may be times for a "talking date," make the effort to become your husband's friend by sharing in what he likes to do. Watching a movie, running on side-by-side treadmills at the gym, or going to Home Depot may not seem very romantic. But even if you aren't talking, this may be how your husband shares friendship with you. As you spend time doing life with your husband, times to talk become a natural part of shared activity. This morning, my husband and I did a 5 A.M. swim class together. Not exactly my cup of tea, but it made his day. As I was swimming my laps, I'd hear him yell across the pool, "I love you! You're doing great, Juli!" After our swim, we went out for coffee, which made my day. (Now if I can just stay awake!)
Managing a household and family together can get boring. Your discussions can revolve around the budget, disciplining the kids, the backed-up septic tank, and carpool schedules. I've been there! There have been seasons of marriage in which Mike and I simply forgot to be friends. Then we created our marriage bucket list.
Together, we came up with 100 things we wanted to do throughout our lifetime. Some of them were extravagant, like traveling to Rome and Paris. Others were immediately "doable," like going on an adventure race or leaving an exorbitant tip for someone who served us dinner. Some of our goals were also spiritually-focused, like service projects or meeting great men and women of the faith. Over the years we have completed almost half of the things we dreamed of doing together. And we are still adding new items to the list.
A big part of keeping friendship alive is dreaming together. Marriage only has as much passion as you put into it. Many marriages die because the relationship is viewed as a roadblock to dreams. Sure, your spouse may not share your exact interests, but any couple can find common ground if they really look for it.
That might sound like very strange advice coming from a psychologist! Don't get me wrong. Your feelings are important indicators of what is going on in your marriage. However, your feelings should always be viewed as "diagnostic" rather than "prescriptive." In other words, let your feelings inform you, but not direct you.
There will be seasons of marriage in which you just don't feel close to your husband. You don't want to go on a date, laugh together, or have fun. Do it anyway. Research overwhelming indicates that our feelings follow our actions, not the other way around. When you make the effort to have fun with your husband, your feelings will follow. You can choose to be friends with your husband—not based on feelings, but based on your priorities.
Picture where you and your husband might be in a few decades, in the winter of your marriage. Your kids will be grown and gone. The heat of sexual intimacy may have faded because of health. One or both of you will probably be retired from your formal occupation. What is left? How will you fill an empty house and hours of silence? Through friendship, the powerful bond that will keep you connected through each season of joy and grief. It's worth working toward now!