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What Defines an Intimate Relationship?
A few years ago, I was speaking at a college campus about God’s design for sexuality. During a break, a young woman approached me with a question, “You said that God created me for intimacy. Isn’t intimacy the same thing as having sex?” (Presione aquí para leer en español) This brave woman articulated a confusion that I believe many experience. Intimacy and sex have become synonymous. For example, an eleven-year-old girl develops her first significant friendship with a classmate. They share secrets, hold hands, and think about one another. This is intimacy. Yet, in today’s climate, this young child is likely to wonder if the attachment means that she is a lesbian or bisexual. Unfortunately, she has no category for an intimate relationship other than to define it as sexual. This is also why our Christian subculture has no room for a deep brother-sister affection among adults. Any intimate relationship is assumed to be romantic or sexual.  Unfortunately, some modern theologians approach God’s Word with this limited framework of intimacy, suggesting that Jesus had a sexual relationship with Mary Magdalene and even with the apostle John. They also suggest that David’s relationship with Jonathan was sexual because it was so fulfilling and intimate. What a limiting view of intimacy and a gross distortion of biblical teaching! Sexual intimacy is one very specific form of intimacy, yet it is not the only or even the most significant form of intimacy. As we learn through the lives of Jesus and many of His followers, you can and should experience deeply intimate relationships that are not romanticized or sexualized. Yes, I have an intimate relationship with my husband, but I also have intimate relationships with my mother, some close friends, and even my sons. These relationships are deep and rich, yet are clearly not sexual nor romantic.  So, what defines an intimate relationship? While this is quite a complicated topic, here are three specific elements of any intimate relationship.  1. Commitment to one another over time While you may feel an immediate connection with a new friend, true intimacy can only develop over time. Intimacy involves a process of learning to trust each other as each person in the relationship prioritizes one another. This means that a group of friends can be intimate. In fact, the Bible encourages us to build intimacy not just with one other believer, but with many in the family of God. My husband and I have a small group that has been meeting together regularly for the past four years. We each make it a priority to get together, text each other, and pray for one another. We are far more intimate with this group now than we were a few years ago. In friendship, the potential of intimacy grows as you prioritize your relationship and time you spend with each other. This is why family relationships (siblings, parents, adult children, grandchildren) have the potential to be deeply intimate. 2. A progressive journey of being known Time together is not enough to forge intimacy. You may spend every day with your spouse or co-worker but feel miles apart from each other. A key element of any intimate relationship is deep knowing of one another. It sounds cliche, but some define intimacy as “into me see.” From the time we were children, we learned that there are certain aspects of ourselves that we don’t show other people. We quickly become skilled at saying what we think people want to hear and playing a part to cover up ugly truths about ourselves. You can’t be intimate if you wear emotional armor. Intimacy and authenticity are not the same thing. As you mature, you learn to be authentic with everyone. You don’t pretend to be someone you are not. But in your intimate relationships, you feel safe enough to let people know more of you. This is a progressive journey of building trust. I’m quite sure you have experienced the pain of sharing intimately with someone who took advantage of your vulnerability. Jesus was aware of this danger, which is why the Bible says, “He did not entrust Himself to the crowd because He knew what was in their hearts” (John 2:24). Jesus consistently demonstrated boundaries with people, trusting only a few in His inner circle. Notice that He only took three friends with Him to be near Him as He wrestled the night before He was crucified.  3. A feeling of affection and attachment While our feelings can deceive us, they are also an important component of intimacy. I feel a deep affection for people with whom I am closest. The journey of sharing and being loved forms affection and connection. Jesus showed deep affection when He wept for his friends Mary, Martha, and Lazurus. He cared deeply for His disciples, telling them unabashedly how much He loved them. The apostle Paul might seem like a stoic theologian in some of his teaching, but notice in his letters how often he expressed attachment and affection for his friends, co-workers, and those he discipled. Here just are a few examples: "[God] knows how much I love and miss you these days. Sometimes I think I feel as strongly about you as Christ does!" (Philippians 1:7-8 MSG) "I have sent you Timothy, my son whom I love…" (I Corinthians 4:17) "Do you have any idea how very homesick we became for you, dear friends? Even though it hadn’t been that long and it was only our bodies that were separated from you, not our hearts, we tried our very best to get back to see you. You can’t imagine how much we missed you!" (I Thessalonians 2:17-18 MSG) You might ask, where does sex fit into this picture? Does sex have any role in intimacy? And how do you know when feelings of closeness are meant to be sexualized? I’m going to warn you that you may not like my answer. It’s completely contrary to what you’ve likely been taught by the culture and even in some church circles. Are you ready? Here it is… Sexual intimacy isn’t a feeling or experience you follow but a journey you choose. I choose to pursue sexual intimacy with my husband because I have a marriage covenant with him. I choose not to nurture sexual desires and thoughts with anyone else. I share many aspects of myself with intimate friends and family members, but I only share the sexual me with my husband. As he and I share this sacred aspect of ourselves with each other, we add sexual intimacy to the many other facets of our relationship.  Feelings of sexual arousal and desire can come and go throughout your lifetime, but those don’t define intimacy. We steward our sexual experiences based on our choices, not the other way around. Friend, you and I were created for intimacy. We were not primarily created for marriage or for sex. Those are unique expressions of intimacy which we choose; we do not just fall into them.  When we mistake intimacy for sexuality, we will fail to invest in the core relationships that are meant to sustain us through life’s challenges. Church should not just be the place you hear a sermon, but where you find “your people.” Friends are not meant to be transient people you occasionally see, but those who are growing to know you more intimately through a shared journey.  Our world is becoming a desperately lonely place, in large part because we have co-opted sexual expression to be a substitution for intimacy. Our true need is to experience committed relationships in which we trust each other enough to truly be known and accepted for who we are. What steps do you need to take today to walk towards intimacy with friends, your church family, and even with your spouse?    Learn more about building intimacy in your relationships with these blogs by Juli: Are You a Good Friend? 7 Keys to Building Healthy Friendship  7 Ways We Unknowingly Sabotage Intimacy in Our Marriages 
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What If I Want Sex More Than My Husband Does?
I get asked this a lot. A woman often sheepishly approaches me at an event and says, “I’m one of those women you talked about who has a higher sex drive than my husband. What should I do?”  Because women in this situation defy the stereotype, they sometimes feel shame and inadequacy. I must not be pretty or sexy enough. Is there something wrong with me? For many women, the "men always want sex" stereotype has been fed to them for so many years that they assume their husband will always be initiating and constantly in the mood. When he isn't, they sit silently and make a list of all the things that must be wrong with them. STOP! Practically every couple has difficulties to overcome in their sexual relationship. Each husband and wife has their own unique set of strengths, weaknesses, and areas of incompatibility. If this is something you’re struggling with, please don’t add to it by assuming there must be something wrong with you. Despite what you might have picked up in Christian circles, there is nothing in the Bible that says that a husband should or does have a higher sex drive than his wife. In fact, the Bible assumes that both the husband and wife have sexual needs. I Corinthians 7 records Paul’s teaching that many use to promote a “wifely duty.” Here is the passage: 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 (I Corinthians 7:3-5a). Did you notice that a “husbandly duty” is mentioned even before the “wifely duty?” Interesting, huh? Even in Paul’s day there were probably women who were frustrated by the lack of sex in their marriage. Start with a conversation. Have you and your husband talked about this issue? Because these are such sensitive topics, many couples only address sexual differences when they are fighting. Instead of talking, they settle into patterns that lead to rejection and frustration. You initiate or hint toward intimacy and he turns you down. You get angry and lash out or avoid him. This kind of pattern becomes ingrained until even the mention of sex becomes a powder keg. Both husband and wife feel misunderstood and marginalized. You will never solve the problem until you learn to talk about it with the goal of understanding each other and getting on the same team. One of the first things to do is start a conversation with your spouse and not assume the worst. One wife put it like this: I would count how many nights in a row we weren't having sex and feel worse and worse about myself and our marriage. As friends were saying things like, "I can't get my husband off of me! I can't even change in front of him because he always wants it," guilt and insecurities filled my mind. After months of frustration, I sat down with my husband and explained that I felt like we weren't having enough sex. He responded with, "I never would have thought that. Why don't you ever tell me you want it or initiate?" I realized that I had carried the expectation that men will always pursue, and I hadn't shared my desire and drive with my husband. My sex drive is still higher than his, but instead of filling myself with guilt, I have now learned to talk with my spouse and show him my needs.  Initiating isn't just a man's job! This has not only helped my internal struggle, but our marriage as well.  Problems or conflicts become much more manageable when you can talk them through without blaming or hurting one another. Spend time asking God to show you the right time, to give you a sensitive heart, and the right words to express yourself. What if my husband never wants sex? We need to distinguish between a wife who has a higher sex drive and a marriage in which the husband never wants sex. One situation represents a normal difference in desire while the other likely indicates a deeper underlying problem. If you tend to be the one to initiate sex, but your husband is eager and responsive, I wouldn’t worry about it. While men typically think about sex more often than their wives, this is not always the case. There are some men who are more comfortable expressing love verbally or by enjoying activities with their wives. Other men avoid initiating sexually because they are afraid of rejection but are eager to engage when their wife initiates. While men and women have various sexual appetites, it’s not normal for a man never to want sex with his wife. If your husband is simply not interested in sex, it’s important for both of you to understand and address what is getting in the way of his desire for and enjoyment of sex. Sometimes, the problem is a physical roadblock, like thyroid disease, low testosterone levels, medications that interfere with sex drive or performance, obesity, or exhaustion. Stress, grief, and depression can also lower sex drive. One question I’d encourage you to ask yourself: do you think your husband feels dominated or overpowered by you? In some marriages in which a husband isn’t sexually aggressive, he is also passive in other areas of the relationship. When a wife is bossy or critical, sometimes this impacts a man’s confidence and results in sexual passivity. If this describes your marriage, I’d encourage you to pick up a book I wrote called "Finding the Hero in Your Husband." It will show you how to use your power as a wife to build up your husband in every area, including sexually. Your husband could also be dealing with an emotional trauma like childhood sexual abuse. As difficult as it is for a woman to talk about molestation, it is infinitely more uncomfortable for men. Dr. Dan Allender’s "The Wounded Heart" and Cecil Murphey’s "When a Man You Love Was Abused" are wonderful resources, in addition to counseling, in helping you and your husband work through painful past issues. Sadly, some men have other sexual outlets that keep them from desiring sex with their wives. An extramarital affair, habitual masturbation, a sexual fetish he is too ashamed to admit, or porn use could all come between the two of you. A lot of men were introduced to porn as boys and engaged with it throughout their teen and young adult life. The images from the past are seared into the brain and impact a man’s sexual response in his marriage even years later.  His brain is trained only to respond to more and more graphic sexual stimuli, so he is unable to enjoy normal sex with his wife. As you might imagine, it is very difficult for a husband to admit to his wife that he is engaged with porn or some other form of immorality. Instead, he makes excuses and often continues secretly with porn, masturbation, or another sexual outlet that will keep up with the demand. The encouraging news is that we can rewire our brains to learn a healthy sexual response. As porn impacts more and more marriages, God is raising up men and women to minister in this area of redeeming male and female sexuality. You may find help through BeBroken and Pure Desire Ministries, or Focus on the Family's network of Christian counselors is a great resource to help you find a counselor in your area. What about my needs? The truth is that while marriage is intended to fulfill our sexual needs and desires, millions of married men and women are sexually unsatisfied. Many who bail on marriage do so because of their sexual disappointment and frustration. I encourage couples to do everything they can to meet each other’s sexual needs. If sexual intercourse isn’t possible, find other ways to enjoy sexual intimacy together. Teenagers seem to be able to figure out how to be sexually intimate without having sex--why can’t we? Don’t allow this issue to be swept under the carpet. Even the Bible says that sex is an important part of marriage that should not be neglected. If your needs are vastly different than your husband’s needs, work together to find the right balance or compromise for mutual sexual fulfillment. You may have a spouse who is unwilling or unable to sexually satisfy you. While sex is an important part of marriage, remember that it is not the most important part. Marriages ultimately don’t die because people stop having sex; they die when people stop keeping their promises. God cares deeply about the covenant you and your husband made with each other. He also understands the limitations and longings of these bodies of ours. Because sex seems like such an earthy part of life, we often don’t bring our sexual concerns and frustrations to God. I would encourage you, friend, to pour out your heart to the Lord. Ask Him to bless your sex life but also ask Him to use the difficulties and frustrations to help you become more like Him.   Excerpted from 25 Questions You’re Afraid to Ask About Love, Sex, and Intimacy by Dr. Juli Slattery. © 2015 by Moody Publishers. Used with Permission. (Presione aquí para leer en español)    *AI may earn fees on affiliate links.
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Your 5 Favorite Java with Juli Episodes of 2022
Your Favorite Java with Juli Episodes of 2022 Thank you for being part of the Authentic Intimacy community! One way we engage with you is by watching what content you are most excited about. As we close 2022, here are the 5 most listened to podcast episodes of the year. We continue to pray for God’s wisdom and direction as we begin the 2023 Java with Juli season.    1. #262: Experiencing Sexual Pleasure, Part 1 Sexual pleasure does not have to be a mystery–women are divinely designed for pleasure! A woman's body, mind, and soul often need to be cultivated for intimacy–Dr. Juli Slattery and guest Dr. Jennifer Degler discuss practical ways to cultivate that intimacy.   2. #409: Divorce & Remarriage (Abuse, Infidelity, Porn & All the Hard Things) God’s Word does speak to complicated questions like, “What exactly is sexual immorality?” “When is someone free to remarry?” and “What can we do when abuse is happening?” While the Bible gives a very clear and beautiful theology on marriage, Scripture also acknowledges reasons why divorce is permissible and even necessary.  Whether you are happily married, struggling in marriage or have walked through a divorce, this episode is crucial to a proper understanding of what God says about this important topic.   3. #433: Can You Be Gay and Follow Jesus? with Greg Coles Conversations around gender and sexuality are not something we should fear or avoid. They are actually necessary and, if approached with grace, can help equip the church to address the deepest longings of peoples’ hearts.  God does not call us to heterosexuality but to sexual wholeness and integrity. As each of us – regardless of our sexual orientation or marital status – learn to steward our sexuality, we illuminate the beauty of the gospel to those around us. Christians sometimes disagree about the nuance of walking out biblical truth. Listen to episode #434 and #435 for a more complete understanding of the debate about Christians and sexual identity.    4. #407: Masturbation: The No. 1 Question You're Asking Us! Most Christians have questions about masturbation. While the Bible doesn’t address it specifically, there are biblical principles that give guidance.  Masturbation is more than a question of is it “right” or “wrong” or stopping a particular behavior. God wants to move into the places of wounding in our hearts and give us a fuller understanding of why we’re sexual.  A more important question to ask is, “How do I grow in my understanding or stewardship of my sexuality?” which applies to everyone: men and women, single or married.   5. #422: How to Care for Both Women and Children In the Wake of the Dobbs Decision Abortion is not just a cultural or political issue. Christians need to wrestle with the deeper questions of how to walk with grace and truth as individuals and a church community.  God’s heart is for both women and their unborn children. When Jesus was confronted with two conflicting ideas, He always pointed out that neither offered the complete picture and instead gave a third Kingdom response. In this case, there is a third option – one that is broader and deeper than the pro-life/pro-choice dichotomy. A truly pro-life perspective means being a voice for the unborn and for the women who are navigating an unwanted pregnancy. It also means ministering to those who have been impacted by abortion. The church should be a shining picture of a welcoming Jesus community to both women and their unborn child.    Have you listened to all of these episodes yet? If not, be sure to listen and share with a friend (or two!). And remember to hit the follow/subscribe button so you never miss an episode. Get access to all of these episodes and more of your favorites by becoming an AI member. AI members have access to our entire archive of Java with Juli episodes (over 400 episodes!).
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Finding Jesus on Christmas
True confessions... I don't love Christmas. I didn't say I hate Christmas; I just don't love it. My ambivalence around this holiday has developed over time. Too many years of disappointment when a family member's illness cancelled our celebration and all the best gifts broke before New Years. The busyness, the hype, and the commercialism inevitably promises something it can never truly deliver. To take time to be with family, enjoy good food, and give gifts to each other- those are good things. However, mixed in with the goodness, our hearts can quickly be distracted from the best things.  Those of us who recognize Jesus as the centerpiece of Christmas fight an uphill battle not only to focus on Him, but also to worship Him for who He is through this season of Advent. The apostle Paul wrote many letters to the early church. The emphasis of his letters was to make sure that God’s people worshipped the true Jesus, not some cultural variation of who they wished Him to be. Paul’s greatest warning to Christians was to not fall into believing false gospels and begin worshipping a made-up form of Jesus.  As I reflect on that warning in my own faith journey, I can see the temptation to transform Jesus either into a form of Santa Claus or into some version of the Ebenezer Scrooge. The truth is, Jesus came neither to grant all of our wishes nor to steal our joy.  The world’s caricatures of good and evil help us sort our experiences into understandable categories. We can all wrap our minds around a god who exists to make life pleasant and to reward those on the “nice” list. And Santa grades on a very generous curve. Only the naughtiest boys and girls get coal rather than presents. There is a part of us that wishes for God to be this way. We secretly hope that if our good outweighs the bad, God will give us a wink of approval and possibly spare us from painful experiences. We read our Bibles selectively, skipping over those portions that speak of judgment, hell, and suffering.   Others reject the concept of God’s goodness altogether. Rather than Santa, the only god that could exist is one more like Ebenezer Scrooge, unreasonable and sadistic in his demands. A god who condemns sin, allows a worldwide pandemic, or creates a place like hell doesn’t deserve our recognition or worship. We are higher moral creatures than such a supposed god.  So who is this Jesus helpless in a manger? Hanging on a cross? Seated at the right hand of God the Father? He is the mystery of God’s love. A mystery that completely transcends any earthly understanding of what it means to be “good” or “loving.” A mystery, Peter writes, that angels and prophets longed to see. A mystery of holiness that cannot coexist with pride, greed, and rebellion but who conquered sin and death through humility and love. For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor? Or who has given a gift to Him that He might be repaid? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:34–36).  Jesus has changed the course of history. He neither shows up once a year to bring us trinkets for our kind deeds nor condemns us without compassion. Jesus changed the course of my history. Because of Jesus, I do not fear death. Because of Jesus, I can grieve with hope. Because of Jesus, I can loosen my grip on all of the earthly pleasures the world clamors for. Because of Jesus, I am dressed in a white robe of righteousness in spite of my rebellious heart. And because of Jesus, I have fellowship and intimacy with my Creator. How has Jesus changed your history?  Christmas is the most joyful time of the year if, and only if, I can settle my heart and worship the One true God who sent His Son to save us. In the cacophony of parties, feasts, concerts, and gatherings, may we hear the whisper calling us to worship. My friend, receive with me the invitation of Christmas. Be amazed by Him. Emmanuel. God with us. O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord. What comes into our minds when we think of God is the most important thing about us. —A.W. Tozer     If you’re wanting to cultivate a deeper relationship with the Lord but feel overwhelmed by the distractions and stressors of life, we invite you to check out our Online Book Study "Calm My Anxious Heart," starting January 19, 2023. This 12-week study is filled with encouragement and practical help for moving toward contentment and trust in Him, no matter what your circumstances.   Photo by Tim Umphreys on Unsplash.