As we round the corner into late spring, it’s wedding season. Although every new marriage has its unique struggles, some questions newlyweds ask are somewhat predictable. One of them is represented by the title of this blog.
This question is not just asked by the bride who has waited for marriage, but also for those who have “tasted the forbidden fruit” of sexual pleasure as a single woman. I also realize that newlyweds are not the only ones who struggle to say “Yes!” I’ve met women who have been married for many years and still not been able to enter into the ecstasy of sexual pleasure in marriage.
This dilemma has been a source of criticism for the purity movement.
After years of associating sexual pleasure with guilt and shame, how does a woman undo those messages? How can her body, soul and mind make the dramatic shift once sexual pleasure has now become a good thing?
Although I’ve now been married almost twenty-two years, I remember this struggle as a young bride. In fact, it took me many, many years of marriage to fully embrace the permission God gives a married woman to enjoy the marriage bed. For a long time, I lived by the subconscious rule that sexual pleasure was primarily created for my husband and that my role was to be a “dutiful wife.” When sex wasn’t as fun or pleasurable as I hoped it would be, I resigned myself to the belief that I wasn’t supposed to enjoy it.
If this thinking represents your marriage bed, I highly recommend the Bible study Passion Pursuit. God used the writing and teaching of this study to bring transformation in my heart and mind. But to get you started, here are three keys to unlocking the “Yes!” in sexual intimacy.
Why no then and yes now?
Rarely do we speak out loud the underlying beliefs that fuel our sexuality. We don’t scratch beneath the surface of “sex before marriage is bad, but after marriage it is good.” The Bible is clear that sexual immorality is sinful, but sexual pleasure is encouraged between a husband and wife. Rather than simply accept this teaching, I believe we need to push into the underlying truth it represents.
Sexual intimacy was intended to be a powerful, pleasurable and spiritual expression of covenant love. This one biblical principle is the foundation of much of what we teach at Authentic Intimacy. It is absolutely essential that you meditate on this truth – don’t just read right past it.
Sexual intimacy was created to be fully integrated into the choice you make as a bride to give your life to your husband. When you have sex, you are celebrating with your body what you have chosen to do with the rest of your life. Just as you said “yes” in your vows, you say “yes” over and over again in your bedroom.
Making this mental shift may be a challenge for a woman who has saved sex for marriage, but I think it’s an even greater one for those who had sex before marriage. Here’s why.
Sexual intimacy between two people who are not bound by covenant love is not safe. They get naked, they lose control in the pursuit of pleasure, and are completely exposed to someone who has made no promise of faithfulness and love. Sex was designed to be the most vulnerable act two people can share. Outside of the safety of a covenant promise, sex sets you up for rejection, shame, and abandonment. To cope with this vulnerability within a “casual sex” environment, women learn to dissociate (or cut off) their heart and soul from their physical sensations. Sex becomes purely a physical act as a protective mechanism. In essence, you decide, “I’ll give my body, but nothing else.”
Then a woman gets married anticipating that she will be able to fully engage in sexual intimacy when she has trained herself to “check out” emotionally and spiritually. Even if she physically enjoyed sex before marriage, she can’t seem to let go now that she’s married.
Most women I meet have a vast amount of “unlearning” related to sex. The key embracing that sexual intimacy must be an expression and outgrowth of the covenant love we have in marriage. It invites vulnerability physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Maybe for years you have trained yourself to separate your physical sensations from your deepest emotions and longings. Saying “yes” to sex means saying yes to the full integration of who you are as a spiritual, relational and sexual woman.
Let the body follow the will.
The second key to unlocking sexual pleasure in your marriage is understanding that your choices cannot be dictated by your feelings. As a single woman, you struggled with this when your body wanted to be touched and caressed. Purity meant saying “no” to your sexual desire in order to walk consistently with your choices. The struggle is now the exact opposite. How do you say “yes” when your body feels completely unresponsive?
It has often been said that the most powerful sexual organ is your brain. Your body is much more likely to respond to thoughts than to touch. Your brain must give your body permission to become sexually aroused.
This has been extremely helpful to me in my own personal journey. What I’ve realized over the years is that I had set up unconscious “stop signs” on the mental pathway to sexual pleasure. Here are some of my old stop signs:
- What if it hurts?
- What if my husband isn’t thinking about me?
- I’m not sure I want to do this.
- I don’t want to lose control and act like a fool.
- Is God really ok with us doing this specific sexual act?
I’ve had to learn to mentally tear them down and replace them with green lights that encourage me to “go.”
Rather than get frustrated when my body seems to shut down, I’ve learned to engage my mind. Sometimes I pray, “Lord, you want me to fully enjoy this time with my husband. Will you please help me embrace the freedom to let go and enter into this pleasure?” Other times, I tell myself “I want this. This is good. I choose to enjoy my husband’s touch.”
Not an event, but a journey
The most important thing I can tell a new bride is that sexual intimacy in marriage is a long journey. The beauty of God’s gift of sex can never be fully experienced in a moment because it wasn’t designed simply for a moment.
I’ve been honest in some of our Authentic Intimacy resources that sex on my honeymoon was very disappointing. In fact, we didn’t consummate our marriage until our honeymoon was almost over. Even then it was painful and clumsy. The pain I experienced led to fear, which over time led to more pain. Mike and I stumbled through many years of this struggle, resulting in deeper issues of trust and resentment. God has used every difficulty we experienced to deepen our love for each other, but it took time.
I would love to save you from the years of frustration we experienced in the marriage bed. Hopefully, resources like those at Authentic Intimacy can save you time and heartache. But even so, you can expect that the journey of intimacy will be filled with landmines and challenges to overcome. I don’t say that to discourage you, but to help you see that the gift of sex is growing through the journey, not just arriving at the destination.
No matter what you encounter, don’t give up on God’s design for sex in your marriage. It is the enemy’s voice speaking discouragement, shame and conflict over your marriage bed. Your Father God is delighted when you and your husband learn to fully delight in each other. Invite Him into this journey of learning and love.