Within the past few months, several different people have posed questions to me about the importance of sexual attraction.
- A young woman asked, “I am in a dating relationship with a great guy. We connect on a lot of levels, but I’m not sexually attracted to him. When we kiss, it’s more like kissing my brother. Does this mean we shouldn’t get married?”
- A man wrote, “I just got married and discovered that I have no physical attraction to my new wife. If I had known this earlier, I would never have gotten married. What now?”
- Many single Christians have sex in dating relationships just to make sure there is a strong element of sexual attraction and compatibility. Is this a good idea?
God created physical and sexual attraction to draw us to one another. When you are attracted to someone, your brain lights up with dopamine, testosterone, and estrogen. This draw can be so strong that you can’t think about anything else other than the person you are attracted to. This desire is good because it compels us to pursue intimacy in relationships. Otherwise, we might be content to throw ourselves into work or hobbies without seeking deep, meaningful relationships.
However, the power of physical and sexual attraction is short-lived and cannot sustain a relationship in the long run. God created different hormones and brain chemicals like oxytocin and vasopressin to keep us connected to someone we love.
While sexual attraction can be a wonderful gift, I believe it is overemphasized in today’s conversations about dating and marriage. In his book “Counterfeit Gods,” Timothy Keller reminds us that even in Old Testament times, sexual and romantic connections were over-emphasized, making a good thing into a god thing. He tells the story of Jacob and how his blind obsession with the beautiful Rachel led to a series of dysfunctional patterns in his life and relationships. Keller points out, “Romantic love is an object of enormous power for the human heart and imagination, and therefore can excessively dominate our lives.” This is even more true in today’s culture that touts sexual and romantic fulfillment as necessary elements to a meaningful life and relationship.
Marriage is a long journey. It is absolutely essential that you build a friendship with the person you will spend your life with. While physical and sexual attraction fade with familiarity, true friendship in marriage can grow deeper with time. Now in my fifties, I look back at pictures of my husband and me when we were first married. I meet with friends my age who look much different than they did thirty years ago. Less hair, weight gain, sagging skin, and wrinkles testify to years spent on this planet. Some of my friends are still deeply in love with one another after decades of marriage. Others, not so much. The difference has nothing to do with physical attraction. The ones who have stayed connected have a deep appreciation for each other’s character and personality:
I love how Rob is such a hard worker.
Kathy is so insightful. I rely on her wisdom every day.
Glenn and I have been on more adventures than we can count!
Carmen’s relationship with the Lord makes me want to seek Him every day.
Instead of a laser-focused obsession on physical attractiveness, it’s far more important to look at the person you are attracted to. What do you love about his or her character, personality, and values? These will be far more important in the long run than how he kisses or what she looks like naked.
A lot of couples struggle to understand the place of good sex within marriage. They hear from a secular, cultural perspective (and even in Christian circles) that marriage is all about sex. I had one couple recently ask me if they should get divorced because they have been physically unable to have intercourse in the first year of their marriage. “If we can’t have sex, what’s the point? Are we even married in God’s eyes?”
The overfocus on physical and sexual attraction often reveals a wrong understanding of the place of sex within marriage. Sexual intimacy is how we express and work out our love, not the foundation of it.
Marriage is first and foremost a covenant based on a promise to love each other. The most central aspect of marriage is the promise — the covenant. Sex is the bodily celebration of the covenant. When a married couple has sex, they are acting out with their bodies what they have covenanted to do with their whole lives: “I give myself in love to you.”
The fact that you didn’t have cake or a party on your birthday doesn’t invalidate the fact that you had a birthday. Similarly, sex doesn’t make your marriage; It is a regular celebration of your marriage. Don’t get me wrong, the celebration is important! The couple who can’t have intercourse shouldn’t accept that as their lifelong reality. God wants them to work toward a sexual celebration, even if limited by physical or emotional wounds.
The sexiest thing about a person in a long-term relationship is their character. Will they be faithful to love, honor, and cherish each other? Will they work to create a safe emotional and relational environment? The overemphasis on physical attraction can actually work against your covenant love. In essence, a person is saying, “I don’t want to be married unless I’m fulfilled sexually. I don’t want to have to work too hard to love you.” What if you meet someone down the road you are even more attracted to? Will you choose to follow your attractions? Or will you discipline your feelings to align with your character?
Whether because of waning attraction or other hardships, marriage will be difficult. Make sure your relationship is rooted in your commitment, not in the celebration of that commitment.
I went through a season several years ago where I was losing my attraction for my husband. All I could see during this period of time were his faults. Although I never thought of divorce, I also didn’t look forward to the many decades we might have in front of us.
At that time, God brought a mentor, Linda Dillow, into my life. I didn’t tell Linda about the battle in my mind, but she somehow knew how to encourage me. Whenever I spent time with her, she began pointing out what a wonderful man I had married. She specifically named the positive qualities she saw in my husband. I also began to read Linda’s book "What’s it Like to Be Married to Me?" Convicted, I got out a sheet of paper and began to write down everything I appreciated about my husband — his physical, emotional, and spiritual qualities. He makes me laugh. He has broad shoulders. He is an encourager. He faithfully provides for our family. After I had filled a page with these qualities, I was in tears and began confessing to the Lord how I had been focused on all the wrong things. Yes, my husband has faults — physical, emotional, and spiritual — as do I. I realized that I will see what I choose to focus on.
This is true of every relationship. When you choose to stop comparing your spouse to some illusive image of perfection and begin to appreciate what is good, you will grow in attraction. The most important thing about you is what you consistently choose. Your feelings, even your attractions, will follow your choices.
God has many wonders to unfold for you in marriage, attraction and sexual fulfillment among them. Enjoy each season of physical and sexual attraction as gift, but a fleeting one at that.
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