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Prioritize Sexual Intimacy by Getting Your Bedroom Ready, Part 3
One very practical and creative way to work on sexual intimacy in your marriage is to put thought and intention into the physical space of your bedroom. Whether or not you are aware of it, the environment of your bedroom impacts your sexual intimacy. Here is a quick exercise to show you what I mean:  Close your eyes and imagine walking into the following different physical spaces. For each of these familiar environments, use your imagination and pay close attention to what you might see, hear, feel, and smell.  #1 - A spa #2 - A driver’s license bureau #3 - A romantic seaside restaurant #4 - A child’s birthday party #5 - A church service I’m guessing that each of these environments had a different impact on you. Do you feel stressed? Calm? Excited? And what did each room cause you to anticipate? For most of us, the spa is more relaxing than a child’s birthday party. Both environments provide a huge amount of sensory stimulation. The spa intentionally targets your five senses toward relaxation with calming music, soft lighting, essential oils, quiet voices, and cucumber-infused water. The birthday party has the opposite strategy, appealing to fun and excitement. Bright lights, upbeat music, children’s laughter, primary colors, and sugary snacks all say, “It’s time to celebrate!”  The combination of sensory intake and past experiences determine how an environment will affect you. Maybe spas are not relaxing because of a bad experience you once had. All five of our senses create the capacity for new memories and trigger old ones.  Companies that create great experiences put a lot of thought and money into what you see, feel, hear, smell, and taste. Disney World. Apple. Ikea. Chick-fil-A. The experience they create determines how long you stay, what you do, and whether or not you want to come back.  Let’s apply this concept to your sex life. Whether or not you’re aware of it, your five senses are always at work, cuing you to feel a certain way. Relaxed. Excited. Anxious. Sad. Aroused. Safe. Being intentional about your physical environment is one way to invest in intimacy.  Walk into your bedroom. Yes, right now. If you’re not home, do it as soon as you get home. Take a few minutes to notice. What do you see? Hear? Smell? What is the general ambiance? Does it feel more like a retreat, a place of rest, or a reminder of things that need to be done?  Because we don’t usually show people our bedrooms, they often get the least amount of attention. Remember, our minds and bodies respond to environmental cues. Does the look and feel of your bedroom cue you toward intimacy and pleasure or toward chaos and stress? Think sound: What do you hear? Kids crying or relaxing music? Is the space soundproof enough for privacy?  Think sight: What are the visual cues that set the mood? Candles or dirty laundry? Think touch: Is the air hot and stuffy? Are the sheets and pillows soft and inviting? Do you have lotion or massage oil? Think smell: While scent is a personal choice, research shows that “your sense of smell is the strongest of the five senses and highly involved in sexual freedom, pleasure, and irritation.”   Here are some quick and low-cost ways you can create a different ambiance in your bedroom: Get rid of clutter like laundry baskets, hangers, and that pile of books on your nightstand.  Soften the lights with a dimmer or soft light bulbs.  Invest in a small speaker to play relaxing or romantic music and white noise for privacy.   Invest in things that ignite your senses like a full-length mirror, silk sheets, massage oil, or scented candles. (The smell of cooked cinnamon is a natural aphrodisiac for men. For women, the scent of baby powder, cucumber, licorice, lavender, and pumpkin pie all increase vaginal flow.) Paint. Just a bucket of paint and an afternoon of work can transform the feel of your bedroom.  Make your bed. I know your mom told you this growing up, but a made bed invites a different state of mind.  Create a tech-free zone in your bedroom. Smart phones, tablets, and TVs often replace uninterrupted talking, praying, and cuddling. Make the bedroom a kid-free zone. Get a lock on the door and use it. Teach your children to first knock or ask permission before coming into your bedroom.  Investing in the physical space of your bedroom is not as important as addressing the internal chaos of conflict, shame, and trauma. That is why the majority of the work we do at Authentic Intimacy is focused on the internal environment of your heart and mind. Even so, God created us to respond to stimulation, either positively or negatively. Paying attention to the physical environment of your bedroom can be helpful in both eliminating negative sensations and accentuating the positive.  Now that you know how to prioritize intimacy in your mind, body and bedroom, it's time to grab your ticket to Reclaim 2022!  Together we'll take a closer look at God's design for sex in marriage to: Learn the difference between having sex and building intimacy Be challenged to address violations of trust that make sex feel too vulnerable Be encouraged to pursue intimacy, even in the busy or difficult seasons See the beauty of navigating what seem to be sexual incompatibilities Can't travel this fall? Join an online book study TODAY and experience God, Sex, and Your Marriage in a safe space with an AI-trained leader and a like-minded community.
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Priortize Sexual Intimacy by Getting Your Body Ready, Part 2
Much of my work in helping people navigate sexual issues revolves around how we think about sex. Your thought life, and your understanding of God and sex, are very important to your sex life. However, the basic truth is this: you can’t have sex without a body.  Sex, at one level, is a gift exchange of two bodies. I give my body to my husband and he gives his to me. There have been seasons where I felt like I was giving a very subpar gift—kind of like that Christmas present you found on the clearance rack. Even as the recipient opens it, you find yourself apologizing. What I’ve learned over time is that the gift of sex is muted when we don’t give with joy and confidence.  When I was struggling with body image, my friend Linda Dillow gave me some advice that really helped me. “It’s not what you have that matters, but what you do with what you have.” Don’t focus on what you can’t give; focus on what you have to give.  There are some things we can’t change about our bodies, but there are also ways we can make the most of what we have.    Take Care of Your Body Get some Z's. In The Secrets of Eve, the authors found that the greatest deterrent to sexual desire for women is exhaustion. It’s not just the inability to muster up the energy for sex.  A lack of solid sleep interferes with testosterone production in both men and women. Given that testosterone is a main factor in sexual desire, getting your eight hours can have a direct impact on your sexual desire and enjoyment.  We all know that we should get more sleep. The Centers for Disease Control reported that 35% of Americans are sleep-deprived. The question becomes, what are you going to change in your life to make sure you prioritize sleep? One simple step might be turning off electronics at least an hour before you need to be in bed. (You might even find some fun ways to fill in that hour of extra time in the evening—wink!) Get some exercise.  Working out can do more than just help you shed a few pounds or tone your body. It also has an effect on sexual performance. Research consistently demonstrates that exercise like weight lifting, resistance training, and high intensity interval training boosts testosterone levels, particularly in men. (Training for a marathon, however, might backfire as extreme endurance activities can deplete testosterone levels.) For women, research shows that “women who exercise regularly tend to have more active sex lives, are more easily aroused, and reach orgasm more quickly than those who don’t work out.” There is also evidence that non-impact exercise like yoga can be beneficial in stimulating blood flow to the genital area. Seek medical help for sexual issues. I don’t know anyone who actually enjoys going to a doctor. And then add on the additional awkwardness of asking a question about sex: “Intercourse is painful. Can you help me?”  “I can’t maintain an erection. What should I do?”  “Ever since I started taking this medication, I have no sex drive. Could that be a side effect?” To add one more layer to this awkwardness, there is a chance that the first medical professional you ask won’t help you at all. They may respond with a generic, “Everything looks good from what I can see” to dismissive advice like, “Just have a glass of wine before you have sex. That should help you relax.”  Dr. Carol Tanksley is an OBGYN who specializes in helping women overcome barriers to sexual intimacy and pleasure. Her advice is good, but difficult to accept. “Don’t stop looking for help until you find answers.”  Be willing to engage in some difficult and vulnerable conversations to save you and your spouse from years of frustration.    Pay Attention to the Five Senses God created us with powerful senses through which we interact with the physical world. Our senses of sight, smell, touch, and sound are particularly important to sexual pleasure and arousal.  Pay attention to how you look. Have you ever asked your spouse how he or she likes your hair or what you wear? This may be particularly important to husbands. A research study from Emory University “found that the amygdala, an area of the brain that controls emotions and motivations, is much more activated in men than women when viewing sexual materials…It is also no mistake that women spend more time caring for their physical appearance. How they look has much more impact on a man’s brain than the other way around.” Please don’t read, “I must look perfect for my spouse to be aroused by me.” Feeling insecure about your body may actually be the real turnoff—not how you look! The takeaway is to consider your spouse’s preferences as part of blessing him or her with your body. Why not plan a fun date to go shopping and pick out for each other what you would like your spouse to wear when you get home?  Pay attention to how you smell. I was leading a group of small women through a marriage study when we began talking about the topic of sex. One woman said, “Will you please write something for men about body odor and bad breath?” That led to a ten-minute conversation of women sharing about what a turn off smells can be for them. It turns out that a woman’s sense of smell in general is more sensitive than a man’s.  While men might tune into how she looks, she is more aware of how he smells! Before intimacy, consider a quick shower, brushing your teeth, using mouthwash, and introducing smells like cinnamon, lavender, and vanilla that can heighten arousal.  Pay attention to how you feel. The Old Testament story of Jacob and Esau vividly describes two different types of men. One was hairy, and one was smooth. You might picture the burly Esau, covered in body hair and smelling musky with outdoor activity. His brother Jacob probably couldn’t even grow a beard on his smooth and silky skin. Have you ever talked about your preferences in the area of touch? Some wives find a little five o’clock shadow to be sexy. Others prefer a clean shave. Some men love it when their wives shave or wax parts of their bodies. Others find the natural look sexier. The point is, sexual intimacy involves touch. Use that to your advantage, and be aware of sharp nail edges or itchy stubble that are particularly irritating when in contact with sensitive areas.  Pay attention to how you sound. God gave you a unique voice print. One day I was in the grocery store, and I distinctly heard Mike’s voice a few aisles away. Without question, I knew it was him—but I had no idea he was at the grocery store. It was such a surprise to hear my husband’s voice at a completely unexpected time. Your voice is a gift to each other, but also a gift that can be cultivated. Pay attention to how you sound. Is your voice friendly or harsh? Demanding or inviting? How do you use words and inflections, even encouragements and verbal signs of excitement, to build sexual intimacy in your marriage?  These suggestions are not meant to add shame or give a husband or wife ammunition to make demands.  The spirit of intimacy in marriage involves tenderness and sensitivity. If you don’t have that, all of these practical tips will fall flat. Building intimacy will always require intentionality. For many couples, the barriers to sexual intimacy can seem daunting.  While there is certainly a time to tackle big issues like trauma and betrayal, making small changes can also make a significant difference in your love life. Perhaps start by picking two or three of the suggestions in this blog, or check out some these resources:   Grab a copy of Juli's new book, God, Sex, and Your Marriage or join an online book study this fall and read it with other like-minded couples. Listen to Java #262: Experiencing Sexual Intimacy, Part 1 Don't miss part one from this series, Prioritize Sexual Intimacy by Getting Your Mind Ready Join us in-person for Reclaim 2022: God's Design for Sex in Marriage