Why Does Sex Matter in Marriage? Pt. 2

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For the past decade, my full-time job has been to address sexual issues from a Christian perspective. Knowing that, you can imagine the kind of emails I regularly receive in my inbox! What I’ve learned is that sexuality represents pain in a lot of lives and marriages. When people ask me, “What’s normal for a Christian married couple?” one of my responses is that it is normal to experience obstacles in your sex life.

And the list of potential struggles is long: A history of pornography. Differing levels of desire. Pain during intercourse. Inability to “sexually perform” or experience orgasm. Arguments about when and how often to have sex. Fatigue, depression, and illnesses that sap desire. Triggers from past trauma that make sex feel unsafe. 

These are just some of the hurdles that Christian married couples are likely to confront throughout a lifetime of sex together. It’s enough to make many people ask God, Why did you create sex in the first place? It can seem to cause more conflict than unity and more pain than pleasure.

While everyone wishes for an uncomplicated and naturally fulfilling sex life, it could be that the obstacles themselves are part of the journey of marital intimacy.

Most of us enter marriage defining a great sex life by measure of sexual activity. We think of sex being good based on flawless bodies, compatibility, and frequent mutual pleasure. When those things don’t naturally happen, we think that the “gift” of sex is broken.

Instead of focusing on these measures of sexual activity, God would rather us direct our attention to building sexual intimacy. What’s the difference? Sexual intimacy is a journey, not an event. The focus is on who you are becoming as a married couple, not just on how satisfying a sexual experience might be in the moment.

One day, as a young mom and, frankly, frustrated wife, I had an epiphany: What if the gift of sex is more like a gift of single LEGO? At the time, I happened to be cleaning up my sons’ playroom which was scattered with LEGO pieces. Anyone familiar with the toy knows that it comes in a box with a picture of an elaborate design. The brilliance of LEGOs are that you must build the pieces in order to create the image that the box displays.

On the front of the “box” of marital sex is not simply a passionate night or perfect bodies entangled. The image on the box is Christ and His Church. (See Ephesians 5.) Sex is an expression of love, but it is also a great test of love. Husbands, will you love your wife as Christ loves the church? Sacrificing even your own body to prize her and make her holy? Wives, will you honor your husband and nurture his masculinity? Together, will you learn to love each other exclusively, sacrificially, and passionately?

You see, every obstacle you encounter in the bedroom can be viewed as an invitation to love. A long-term fulfilling sex life is absolutely impossible if both of you are unwilling to learn to love as Christ Jesus loves us. Forgiveness, mercy, grace, unselfishness, speaking the truth in love… these are the character traits that God desires to develop in all of His children. As it says in Colossians 3:12-13, “Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive and … forgive as the Lord forgave you.” These are the markers of true love and authentic intimacy.

Because sexual intimacy requires listening, sharing vulnerably, forgiveness, and patience, working on your sex life is an invitation to grow in the character qualities that represent the deepest kinds of love.

This is why a couple with wrinkled bodies that has been married for fifty-plus years can gaze into each other’s eyes with a passion that overshadows that of their honeymoon. Through the journey, they have not just “made love,” but have become lovers.

True intimacy takes time and intentionality. As you consider your own marriage and sex life, the following questions and prayer may help you get started on the path to greater sexual intimacy:  

  1. What are some of the obstacles you and your spouse have encountered in your sexual relationship?
  2. How are those obstacles an invitation to learn to love?
  3. Think about the current state of your sex life. Are you more focused on sexual activity or sexual intimacy? How would your conversations and sexual encounters change if the goal was truly to become sexually intimate?
  4. Read Colossians 3:12-13. Does this describe your sex life? Why or why not?
  5. Pray this prayer: 

Lord, search my heart. I want every area of my life and marriage to reflect your character. Please help me to view the struggles we have in our sex life as invitations to learn to love as you would have me love.

 

You may also want to check out the following resources: Why Does Sex Matter in Marriage, Pt. 1What's the Purpose of Marriage?; Does Your Husband Need Sex? Stop “Hooking Up” in Your MarriageYour Marriage Should Be Fun; Java with Juli #151: The Naked Truth About Sex in Marriage (member exclusive episode); Java with Juli #286: How to Make Time to Make Love

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  • In the woods.

    In the woods.

    My wife just doesn't care about sex anymore. She gets very ANGRY when I try to get her to read or listen to ways to help with sexuality in our marriage. We USED to have a great sex life. Not anymore. For HER it is a CHORE. We make love MAYBE once a month,.... Anymore if I try to initiate anything, I get the old,.. " All you want is sex, and I DON'T." And EXCUSES!!! How much time do you have? I have a laundry list FULL! She doesn't grasp the FACT that I NEED her. If she does, she runs from it. It breaks my heart, and SHE KNOWS IT and then says she's sorry, but she's just not interested. Change is becoming very hard for her and she refuses to listen to any solutions. It's become a brick wall. But,...… I LOVE HER and will always be her man. Sex or not.

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Are You Entitled to (Good) Sex In Marriage?
A man approached me after hearing me speak on the topic of sexual intimacy and thanked me for talking openly about such a vulnerable subject. Then he began sharing his story with me. He had just divorced his wife of 29 years because of a lack of fulfilling sex in their marriage.  I wish I had heard you speak when we first got married. At this point, it’s just too late for us. Neither of us have been sexually satisfied in our marriage. Although she didn’t want the divorce, I really believe it is a kindness to her. Now we can both pursue someone who will meet our sexual needs. I’ve heard hundreds of stories like this. Christian men and women use Scripture to say that great sex is an essential right in marriage. One spouse forces another to have sex when and how he likes because “it’s my marital right.” A spouse goes through decades of miserable sexual experiences because “it’s my duty.” If sex is broken for too long, they assume their marriage isn’t worth saving.  Unfortunately, a lot of Christian teaching on marriage and sex has reinforced this thinking. All of the focus is on whether or not a couple fulfills a sexual obligation. Does the Bible teach that great sex is a right in marriage? Some point to Corinthians 7:1-5 to suggest that it does. Let’s take a look at what Paul wrote: Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. As we walk through this passage, we need to remember two things: 1. This instruction is within the context of an ongoing discussion with the Corinthian church. This is why Paul quotes them. He is responding to something they asked, and we don’t know the full context of this conversation. 2. This instruction is within the context of the entire Bible. When we build a theology of sex (or anything else) on a few isolated verses, we will often end up with a theology not representative of the entire message of the Bible. This is what I fear has happened in the case of these verses.  If you only read I Corinthians 7:1-5 to understand sex in marriage, you would probably conclude:  Sexual desire is a really bad thing. God made marriage to try to tame us sexually. That’s why you have to give each other sex whenever one of you wants it. Otherwise, you (or your spouse) will fall into sexual sin. The only reason why you should deny your spouse sex is if you agree to have a period of prayer—and how long can a person really claim to be praying?  For much of the early years in my marriage, this is what I thought the Bible actually taught about marriage and sex. I heard sermons and marriage seminars essentially reinforcing this message. I was supposed to meet my husband’s sexual needs because if I didn’t, he would be justified in cheating on me. This made me feel like a sex object to my husband. Although I knew Mike loved me, I still sometimes felt like physically I was being used for his pleasure based on a biblical teaching.  Oh, I wish that for those many years I had a more complete understanding of the beauty of God’s gift of sexual intimacy! Here are three things I wish I had learned about God’s design for sex in marriage.    Sex is about mutual love. The spirit of I Corinthians 7 is not to present sex in marriage as an obligation, but a call to take seriously the symbol of two lives united as one. My friend Linda Dillow describes this passage as a picture of a “gift exchange.” Both the husband and the wife share their bodies with the other as a gift of love, symbolizing their lifelong promise. Notice that Paul emphasizes both the wife and the husband’s sexual needs. The call to meet your spouse’s sexual needs does not just refer to the person who has the higher sexual desire. The lower desire spouse (whether it be the man or the woman) also has needs, feelings, and even fears to attend to.  Unfortunately, most couples apply this passage only to the person who wants sex and completely ignores the needs of the person who has to “give it.”  If your sex life revolves around one of you, something is wrong. If your spouse rarely enjoys sex but engages in it just to keep you from temptation or to please you, your sex life is unbalanced. In almost every marriage, one spouse will need to nurture the sexual desire of the other. This may include communication, counseling, patience, and learning to trust through non-sexual touch.  Most men and women who have a low sexual desire in marriage stay stuck in that place because they never take the time to explore and address barriers to intimacy. Mutual love calls us to consider the emotional, relational, and sexual needs of both the husband and the wife, no matter who expresses the desire for more sex. I Corinthians 7 is calling a couple to take seriously the journey of sexual intimacy, understanding that it has the power to unite or divide them.    Sex celebrates sacrificial love.  Let’s say that we have a big anniversary coming up and I tell my husband, “Mike, I want to go to Hawaii for two weeks to celebrate our 25th anniversary.” And what if Mike responds, “That’s a nice thought, but we don’t have the money for that kind of trip. And if we were to plan a trip like that, I’d much rather go to Europe.”  In response to Mike, what if I said, “I don’t care how much it costs. I don’t care if you’d rather go to Europe. I don’t care if we have to get a second mortgage on our home. I want you to take me to Hawaii for two weeks. I deserve this after twenty-five years of marriage!” What’s wrong with this picture? The purpose of an anniversary is to celebrate our love and to remember the vows we made and have kept. But in the planning of the celebration, my demands show a selfish, uncaring heart. If I acted like this, not only would we have a miserable trip, but my husband would likely be dreading the next 25 years of marriage! The Bible clearly teaches that marriage and sex are a reflection of Christ’s love for His church. The act of sex should point to the unconditional love of Christ, not a selfish attitude that requires you meet my needs. Any man or woman who demands sex from a spouse has missed the whole point. Sex is a symbol of love. Demanding the symbol ironically obliterates the love sex was created to celebrate.  The celebration of covenant love means that both the husband and wife take steps to pursue actual oneness and unity. The sexual journey is not just about what’s happening with your body, but the pursuit of intimately knowing each other. Both the spouse that demands and the one who withdraws puts a moratorium on this pursuit of unity. Sacrificial love calls both of them to work toward genuine intimacy, not just a sexual release.    Self control is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is also a gross misinterpretation to think that Paul is blaming a wife for her husband’s sexual sin (or vice versa) or putting pressure on her to meet his needs so he doesn't look at porn. It’s not marital sex that helps us control sexual temptations. As Paul taught in Galatians 5, it is only yielding to the Holy Spirit that can have that effect in our lives. Christian husbands and wives, under the power of the Holy Spirit, steward their sex lives for the greater purpose of covenant love.  Why do we expect Christian singles to have total self-control and denial sexually, and then assume within marriage we have the right to have every desire and fantasy met, even at the expense of the one we are called to love? Whether you are single or married, self control is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. 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He has invited you to journey together toward intimate knowing, exploration, and learning to love each other in the most profound way.      You may also find the following resources helpful: Beyond a Happy Marriage (blog)  Passion Pursuit: What Kind of Love Are You Making?, a 10-week Bible study through the Song of Solomon. Java with Juli #151: The Naked Truth About Sex in Your Marriage (member exclusive)   Photo by freestocks on Unsplash
1
Why Does Sex Matter in Marriage? Pt. 1
Most of us have been told that sex in marriage is important. But why does it matter? For many of us, sex may just be “meh” or tend to cause more division in our relationships than unity. The reality is that sexual issues are always among the top reasons for marital conflict and even divorce. Many couples fight about sex, and they don’t know where to go for answers. In addition to the marriages that dissolve because of sexual infidelity, many more couples endure decades of sexual disappointment. Often, even when sex is a regular part of a marriage, one spouse can feel like it’s more of an obligation owed to the other. One of the most profound truths I’ve learned about marriage is that a “so-so” sex life is not God’s plan for any marriage. God cares about your sexual relationship. I Corinthians 7:3-5 is often used to justify the importance of sex in a Christian marriage. Paul writes: The husband should fulfill his wife’s sexual needs, and the wife should fulfill her husband’s needs. The wife gives authority over her own body to her husband, and the husband gives authority over his body to his wife. Do not deprive each other of sexual relations, unless you both agree to refrain from sexual intimacy for a limited time so you can give yourselves more completely to prayer. Afterward, you should come together again so that Satan won’t be able to tempt you because of your lack of self-control. At first glance, this passage seems to simply say, “You owe each other regular sex because you will be tempted to stray if you neglect your sex life.” But what Paul is actually saying, in context with other passages on marriage, is far more profound. Sexual intimacy between a Christian husband and wife is to be viewed as a mutual gift exchange. It is a profound way that a man and a woman say with their bodies, “I give myself completely to you.” In sexual intimacy, husband and wife engage in a physical celebration with their bodies, marking the covenant they have made to one another. Some theologians like Timothy Keller describe sexual intimacy as a sacrament: a physical way that we remember a spiritual truth. This is why God created sex to be holy, vulnerable, pleasurable, and frequent within marriage. Unfortunately, that is not the experience for many married couples. Instead, sex often represents feelings of resentment and fear. You don’t have to look very far to see that sex is messed up in our culture. All around us is evidence of how God’s beautiful design for sex has been vandalized. Satan distorts sexuality by tempting us to separate the spiritual and relational significance of our sexuality. Pornography, hookups, and prostitution are obvious examples of this destruction. Yet we often don’t realize that a Christian marriage is the most powerful place to reclaim all that God created sex to be. Marital intimacy is the one place where we get to play “offense” in a spiritual battle where we so often feel defeated by counterfeits. When Christian couples settle for subpar intimacy, they give up a tremendous opportunity to honor God within marriage. Most couples don’t just decide to “not like sex,” but they settle because they are confused about how to take steps toward health and wholeness. A great place to start working on your sex life is to prayerfully ask yourself and your spouse, “How have we allowed Satan to rob us of God’s best in the area of our sexuality?” Jesus said that Satan is the father of lies and that lying is his “native tongue.” This also applies to how he confuses us about sexuality. What lies have you believed about sex that keep you from experiencing God’s best for you in this area of your marriage? What is God’s truth? Many Christian couples feel strange about inviting God into their sex lives. But it’s important to know that God created you as a sexual person. He inspired Solomon to write an erotic poem about marital sexual love to be included in our holy Scriptures. He created sexual intimacy as a gift for you—one He designed for you to enjoy to the fullest.   Read part two of this two-part series, Why Does Sex Matter In Marriage, Pt.2  You may also want to check out the following resources: Stop “Hooking Up” in Your Marriage; Your Marriage Should Be Fun; Java with Juli #151: The Naked Truth About Sex in Marriage (member exclusive episode)