For this post, I'm sharing a partial transcript of a jewel from our Java with Juli archive, episode #132, "Honest Answers to Your Questions About Sex" with my friends Linda Dillow and Hannah Nitz. We opened this "mailbag episode" by talking about why I love my job so much: because I get to help women find answers to their questions—even questions about their sex lives—answered in God's Word. Let's dive right in!
Juli: One of my favorite parts of Authentic Intimacy, and I'd say this is particularly true at conferences, is taking questions –
Hannah: This is one of your favorite parts?
Juli: Taking questions?
Hannah: You love answering questions about sex!?
Juli: I do. I mean, I –
Hannah: What a great job you have!
Juli: OK, when you put it that way! But I love hearing from women who have very practical questions, and I love seeing how the Word of God and the Spirit of God are able to give answers. I think often when we talk about sex, we talk about it in ways that aren't practical.
For example, let's talk about singles: Often, we hold up a standard of purity and we leave it at that. But what if I was abused as a child and I don't feel pure at all? Or what if I've already been with a bunch of guys and I don't even know how to be pure again? Or how does God define purity? Does "purity" mean I've never kissed someone? We have this idea of what it should look like, but we're not always good at helping people apply it to real life.
Hannah: We're getting practical is what you're saying.
Juli: Yeah. Your questions force us to get practical.
Linda: I'm all for getting practical.
Juli: I know you are!
Hannah: Plus it's just a whole lot of fun—specially because I don't have to answer them! Alright, are you ready for this? I thought we would start real easy with a question about orgasms.
Juli: Oh, thank you, Hannah. Really?
Hannah: You know, let's just go for it. I say, let's jump in. We have a friend who wrote to us and said,
Linda: When I read that question, the first thing I thought was, tell him the stats! And then I thought, Ooh, that doesn't sound so good, but really he probably does need to understand that there are other husbands whose wives do not have an orgasm during sex. That he's not alone. What are the stats, Juli?
Juli: Well, I think the stats are that about 50 percent of women would say that orgasm isn't a regular occurrence with intercourse. And for many of them they require manual stimulation, and it's not just going to happen during intercourse. So, this is a problem that about half of women struggle with. But I will also tell you that the stats will say that 99 percent of women are physically capable of having an orgasm. So, very infrequently is it something that's biological or medical. A lot of the time, it's something in the mind.
Hannah: So how can this woman, as she says, ease my husband because he feels a lot of pressure in this area?
Linda: I thought it was sweet that she said that. "What can I say to him that will ease this personal offense?" And I think that first of all, they may need to just have an honest talk so that she can let him know how much she loves being close to him and how much she loves being in his arms, the emotional closeness and everything about being sexually intimate. For her, the orgasm is not the goal, it's everything leading up to that. Men don't look at it quite like that. Orgasm is the goal. Men are very goal-oriented, particularly when it comes to sex. But it sounds to me that she's a very tender woman and that she needs to express to him, "I love being with you. I love loving you. I love having you love me, and we're figuring this out, and my body's going to get this, but let's just love one another." It's about love. It's not about a goal.
Hannah: Another question that we received, and we often hear things along this line, this woman writes:
So, there's something in our sexual relationship that I'm kind of uncomfortable with. What do I do?
Juli: I'd like to drill into the the word "guilty" because guilt has this connotation of doing something wrong or doing something sinful or doing something shameful. And one of the things that I would challenge this woman to ask (about whatever acts she's thinking about here) is: is this a matter of conscience or is this a matter of comfort? I think sometimes we get those two things mixed up.
Hannah: It's a really important question.
Linda: I love those two C words.
Hannah: I know, me too. So help us understand those words.
Juli: Well, an issue of conscience is something where I have reason to believe that this is morally wrong or is against God's law. And in our resources like Passion Pursuit or Pulling Back the Shades, we look biblically at what God says is wrong. There are some things that a married couple might do that God would say, “That's not good for you. It's not morally right. It's off limits."
For example, if it's something that involves another person, not only in the living flesh, but if it involves watching pornography together, or if it involves fantasizing together about another person being involved in your intimacy, there's a reason for your conscience to be bothered by that because God says that's not why He designed this gift for you. So if it's a matter of conscience where you’re violating a standard that God has set for you, then that feeling of guilt or conviction is a good thing. And it's something that should prompt a conversation that might sound like, “God's given us so much to enjoy in our relationship, but this is something that He's told us to stay away from.”
But very often when a woman asks a question like this, it's not an issue of conscience. Often, there's nowhere in scripture where she can look and say that God says this particular act is wrong or enjoying this is wrong. It's more a matter of, I've just always thought that a godly woman shouldn't like this. Or, I was never taught that this was okay. It just somehow seems wrong. And so if it's a matter of comfort, I just don't know if I feel right about this. I'm not sure how to think about this, but there's nothing in scripture that addresses it, then I would say, you have to ask the Lord if you're feeling a false sense of guilt. Is the enemy wanting to take away from the enjoyment that God's given you and your husband to have in your sexual intimacy? And that's a whole different road that you go down. So it's really key to ask the question is your guilt is a true conviction from the Lord or is it a kind of leftovers of what you've always thought is right and wrong, not according to scripture, but according to culture.
Hannah: That's so helpful to go through those two questions. You know, you mentioned pornography in the bedroom, and I know that that is an issue that many of our friends have wrestled with. And we get questions on this a lot. This next question comes from a friend who is in this struggle right now. She says,
So this sweet woman is saying, "I know this is bad, and I want to heal from it. I'm just nervous to even say it out loud and to tell my husband." What would you say to this friend of ours?
Juli: Well, she's taken a courageous first step just by emailing this question to us, and I think in her heart of hearts, she knows what the right thing to do is because she said it in her question, I think this is necessary for my healing. And what we've found is that it is necessary for your healing. You know, scripture even says confess your sin one to another. There's a healing element in that. And a lot of it is being honest with God, which sometimes we're not. We can generalize our sin; Lord, forgive all my sins, even forgive my sexual sins — but we don't get as specific as she got in that question. So she's taken a big step.
She also asked, should I bring a third party? And, Linda, I don't know what your thoughts are on this, but I would say, first of all, we bring a third party in if there's any fear for safety. If there's any fear of, my husband could really fly off the handle or this could get violent. If you have any sense of danger, then it's a good idea to have a third party. But I don't sense that in this question. I think it's more a fear of being vulnerable, and what is he going to say? And what is he going to do?
Nobody can predict how your husband would respond to this, but I think Linda and I would agree that the more we hear stories about a man or a woman confessing something like this to their spouse, there can be some grief, and there can be feelings of betrayal and maybe some anger along the way, but by and large, those are overcome by the fact that you willingly brought this to me. And you trusted me with it. That doesn't mean it's not going to be a long road to healing. And there might be days where your husband says, "I just can't deal with this. I need some space." That's when you bring a third party, and that's when you bring the counseling in. But for the initial confession, the third person that needs to be there is the Holy Spirit. Pray it up, be ready, ask Him to be there with you and to soften your husband's heart. Also be willing to say, "Whatever happens, God's going to be in the midst of it. It might be a messy journey, but I have confidence that He's going to be glorified through it."
Linda: Yeah. The only thing that I would really ask this woman to bring before the Lord is, does she give all that detail to her husband? Because it is really hard when you hear from your mate or from someone you're going to marry details of their sexual involvement or their fantasy or the pornography they've viewed, because then you have those pictures in your mind, and it can be very hard to get rid of them. So my question would be: Is it better for her to say, I need to confess a sexual addiction to you, and my addiction is masturbation and watching porn? I'm embarrassed to tell you this, but I ask you to pray for me, and I want to have victory over this. Does he need to know that it's lesbian porn and that it's because the women are gentler? I think that could be really hard for a man to get out of his mind. And it's the same with women who've been abused or women who have a history of a lot of sexual partners. Do you tell your husband what you did with each person? No. He just doesn't need all that in his mind. So...Juli, you may not agree with me.
Juli: I agree with you that first conversation doesn't need to, and probably shouldn't, include details. But in the healing journey, there may come a time where he does need to know, not detail like, "Let me show you pictures," but detail like, "These are some of the specifics of my struggle." And I would highly recommend that you're sharing these details with a counselor. Particularly, you said it's a sexual addiction. That means you're going to need the intervention of someone who's trained in sexual addiction. Someone who understands what happens to the brain and someone who can even ask the deeper questions about what you're referring to with that longing for gentleness and intimacy. That might be an important part of building that within your marriage at the right time, sharing that piece with your husband, but not initially. It takes discernment in that journey.
Hannah: One of the books that you two have written is called Surprised By the Healer. In that book you talk about women who have had sexual brokenness and their story of healing. And one of the things that you two say is you've never seen someone successfully—I’ll use that word—go through healing without first coming out of hiding. And I just love how, even though this is hard, this sweet wife is saying, “Alright, I'm coming out of hiding,” and what a great step for her to take toward healing.
Alright. Going back to sex in marriage and trying to figure out these boundaries and what's OK, we have a woman who asked a very short question. She says,
Linda: She didn't just say my body parts. She said our body parts, so that could be mine or his. And I think what she's asking is, "Alright, I don't want to use medical terms. So, what do I use?" In the Song of Solomon, he calls her private area her garden.
You can make up names.
Can a Christian couple use sexually explicit terms that maybe someone might not think were totally appropriate if they heard them? That's between the two of them.
Juli: Yeah, I would agree with that. I think sexually explicit terms are bad words in our world because they're used outside of the context of sexual intimacy. They're used as slang; they're used to describe sexual actions that aren't intimate emotionally and spiritually. So sexual explicit terms, whether they're ones you make up or ones you heard elsewhere, are for the purpose of communicating within an intimate relationship.
So you have to decide with your spouse: what does that look like in our relationship? What is loving? What is affirming? What crosses the line in terms of being crass or reminding us of worldly things? But that's a very specific, personal journey that you have to resolve between the two of you.
Linda: A lot of God's standard is: one husband and one wife in private. From there, it's really what is pleasurable and what is communicative and what the two of you like.
Hannah: I have just never, ever, ever had that thought. I'm so thankful that we asked this question today because that's such a great point. When you two wrote Passion Pursuit and when you two have taught on sex in marriage, I am constantly surprised by the freedom that's in it.
Linda: God is a God of freedom. And he says it is for freedom that you have been set free.
Hannah: And that includes the words that you say to your spouse during sex.
If you'd like to learn more, listen to the entire Java with Juli episode, #132: Honest Answers to Your Questions About Sex.
You might also like Juli's blog, "Whats OK In the Bedroom?"
Sexual Pleasure: Getting Your Mind & Body to Work Together (a webinar series)
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