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Prioritize Sexual Intimacy by Getting Your Mind Ready, Part 1
“Your most important sex organ is your brain.” I remember when I first heard this statement as a young married woman. Enjoying sex is practically impossible without thinking about it.   Both men and women can struggle to know how to think about sex in a way that is both exciting and honoring to each other. However, the link between thinking about sex and preparing for it is particularly strong for women. Many wives describe feeling like they have “sexual ADHD.” They can’t get their mind to co-operate during sex. There is a neurological reason for this. “When a man’s brain is in a resting state, at least 70 percent of his brain is shut down. On the other hand, when women were resting, at least 90 percent of their brain was active, confirming that women are always thinking, thinking, thinking.”  This means that in order for a woman to enjoy sex, she needs to be able to shut down all of the distractions and think about sex.  The problem for both men and women is this: How do you think about sex in a way that is both holy and erotic? For many, these two adjectives have been mutually exclusive.  Maybe you can relate. Perhaps for you, thinking about sex means pulling up memories of pornographic images or scenes from your old life. Because thinking about sex reminds you of the shame of your past, maybe you’ve decided to shut off that part of your thought life. This was true of Jeremy who for years battled an addiction to pornography. Through a recovery program, Jeremy learned how to not think about pornography. Unfortunately, this resulted in a fear of thinking about sex at all.  Sexual maturity is not just what you are moving away from, but also what you are actively moving toward. Healing means rewiring your experiences toward healthy arousal and intimacy.    How do you think about sex in a God-honoring way?  Most Christians don’t know what to make of the tiny Old Testament book called Song of Solomon (or Song of Songs). This erotic ancient poetry seems out of place among books of history, the Law, and the prophets. Why would God inspire this book to be among those preserved for us to read and study?  One of the reasons must be that God knew married couples would need help learning to enjoy the pleasures of sex. God anticipated that we would be plagued with doubts and shame and that we would need a portrait of an imperfect married couple pursuing holy sexual love. The Song of Solomon gives you as a married couple the permission and examples of how to use your memory and imagination in a way that awakens sexual desire and honors your spouse. In this blog, I will highlight four practical things this couple from the Song did to think regularly think about sex.           1. Think about your spouse’s body.  The couple took turns describing each other’s bodies: “My beloved is radiant and ruddy, outstanding among ten thousand. His head is purest gold; his hair is wavy and black. His arms are rods of gold set with topaz. His body is like polished ivory decorated with lapis lazuli. His legs are pillars of marble set on bases of pure gold" (Song of Solomon 5:10-16). “How beautiful are your sandaled feet, O prince’s daughter! Your graceful legs are like jewels, the work of an artist’s hands. Your navel is a rounded goblet that never lacks blended wine. Your waist is a mound of wheat encircled by lilies. Your breasts are like two fawns, like town fawns of a gazelle" (Song of Solomon 7:1-3). Notice how they used their imagination in their descriptions—and imagery that was also encouraging! We would probably never use the same imagery this couple did, but how could you creatively and erotically describe what you love most about your spouse’s body?    2. Recall special memories together.  “At our door is every delicacy, both new and old, that I have stored up for you, my beloved" (Song of Solomon 7:13). Their sex life was a treasury of creating new memories and recalling special times together in the past. This is one of the benefits of age and having been married for many years. Your bodies might not look or respond like they once did, but you have private and meaningful memories.  Share with each other your top three sexual memories together. What made these times so special or arousing? How can you work to create new memories like this?    3. Plan a sexual field trip.  “Let us go early to the vineyards to see if the vines have budded, if their blossoms have opened, and if the pomegranates are in bloom—there I will give you my love" (Song of Solomon 7:12). This couple planned a sexual date, giving each other love out in nature. Planning a sexual field trip is definitely one way to make new memories! Have you ever done anything like that? Maybe it’s time for you to get out of the bedroom.  Planning = forethought. Changing the scenery also adds excitement. Even if your “sexual field trip” doesn’t turn out like you think it will, you will have something to laugh about together for years to come. Be willing to try new things, be adventurous, and be willing to risk a bug bite or two!    4. Anticipate your sexual love.  Both the husband and wife in the Song intentionally think about wanting to share sexual love with each other.  “Like an apple tree amongst the trees of the forest is my beloved among the young men. I delight to sit in his shade, and his fruit is sweet to my taste. Let him lead me to the banquet hall, and let his banner over me be love… All night long on my bed I looked for the one my heart loves; I looked for him but did not find him” (Song of Solomon 2-3). “Come with me from Lebanon, my bride...You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride; you have stolen my heart with one glance of your eye, with one jewel of your necklace" (Song of Solomon 4:8-9). If they had the ability to text back then, the lovers in the Song probably would have sent a few coded, sensuous messages throughout the day saying, “I’m thinking about you!” My friend Linda prompted herself to think about sex by writing a mysterious “ts” on her calendar every couple of days. It was years before her husband learned that this was her secret, personal reminder to “think sex.” Another couple I know uses dry erase markers to leave each other messages on their bathroom mirror.    Research consistently shows that thinking about sex is a key to enjoying sex. Our culture offers a lot of ways to think about sex that will compromise true intimacy. God’s design for married couples is that they learn to use their creativity and imagination to enjoy the holy gift of sexual pleasure together. Song of Solomon gives us some very practical how-tos. Using this template, there are so many fun and exciting ways to use your brain and imagination to celebrate sexual love with your spouse!  How about you? What are some fun and practical ways you can start anticipating sex with your spouse? What are some helpful prompts you can use personally to remind yourself to think about it? If you're ready to start this journey, here are a few more resources to get you started: Pick up 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. Join us at our Reclaim 2022 conference on Oct. 14-15. Listen to our recent Java with Juli episode #263: Experiencing Sexual Pleasure, Part 2 Learn how to get your body ready for sexual intimacy with our next post in this series—coming August 10!
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A Road Map to Sexual Integrity in the Midst of Sexual Brokenness
Do you want to know the question that keeps me up at night? It’s this: How can I honor God with my sexuality in the face of my sexual brokenness and unmet desires?  At Authentic Intimacy, we often use words like sexual wholeness or sexual integrity instead of sexual purity. The first time I remember hearing this distinction, I was skeptical. Isn’t that just a fancy repackaging of the ideas I’d grown up with in the purity movement? But as I started to digest it a bit more, I realized it is possible to walk in sexual integrity, even though my life and past may be filled with regrets.  Sexual integrity is about pursuing wholeness, a daily surrender to God in every area of our lives, including our sexual brokenness. I’m not a piece of chewed up gum or a discarded flower pedal. My purity is bought with the blood of Christ and does not change according to my daily decisions. This gave me hope. Suddenly it seemed possible for even someone like me to honor God with my sexuality. I’d like to share with you a practical roadmap in the form of an acronym “MAPS” that has helped me understand how I can pursue sexual integrity while also openly acknowledging my sexual brokenness. They are not mutually exclusive. In fact, I think a healthy awareness of our brokenness is actually a first step to sexual integrity.    Movement Think for a moment about the last time you felt you failed to live up to God’s standard. What was your gut reaction as you realized your sin? Did you run toward God like a child assured of His love and acceptance? Or were you like our parents of old who ran and hid, covering themselves with fig leaves because of their shame? The directional movement of our hearts in these moments can be very insightful. If I hide from God, it may mean I still buy into the idea that my purity depends on me and can be lost rather than believing God is safe to run to because nothing—not even a momentary moral relapse—can snatch me out of His hand. We all have deep God-given longings for intimacy and connection that will either drive us to move toward God or away from Him, seeking satisfaction and fulfillment elsewhere. When I face temptation, it helps to ask myself: If I meet this desire in the way my flesh is urging me to in this moment, will that draw me nearer to God or make me want to pull away? And as I get to know the heart of God toward me on a deeper level, I am reminded that I’m His beloved and there’s nothing I can do to make Him love me any less. I am also learning, in my moments of failure, brokenness, and angst, to move toward Him and call out to Him for help, forgiveness, and mercy in my moments of need. I take great comfort from Psalm 121 that reminds me that God welcomes my need and guards my foot from slipping. “I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord,  the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”  You will always be moving, either moving toward God or away from Him. Sexual integrity means making the choice to always walk toward Him, trusting His promises of love and redemption.    Accountability  Sexual integrity doesn’t mean that you’ll never struggle (or fail). Rather it means choosing to run toward God and others with authenticity and honesty. We need radical accountability in our lives. Solomon reminds us, “Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” Paul urges us, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for each other that you may be healed” and “to restore a brother or sister gently and to bear one another’s burdens.” The Bible is full of exhortation to invite others into our lives and struggles, and yet, often the reality of our lives looks very different.  Do you have someone who knows your deepest fears, pains, and temptations? Do you feel safe confessing your sin to a brother or sister in your life? Do you have someone who knows the hard questions you want to be asked but are afraid to bring up? The answers to these questions often determine the extent to which we can effectively battle particular temptations and weaknesses. When we don’t walk in integrity, we split off pieces of our lives that we never share openly with other people. I remember the internal rupture that my sexual confusion and missteps can cause in my life. The shame and secrecy clings like a wet cloak, weighing me down and making me feel inauthentic as a believer. Now I have a depth of community and two people, my mentor and my counselor, to whom I have given permission to ask me anything. No question is off limits, and when I answer with raw honesty, I know they will hold whatever I say with grace. People like this are blessed barriers to sin in our lives. God desires us to wisely open our hearts to others for our own good.    Perspective Our sexual experiences and pleasure are not ultimately about us. In today’s world, that is a shocking—and to some downright offensive—statement.  When I'm faced with a difficult choice or am tempted to compromise, I need to be reminded that my sexuality is about something, Someone, so much bigger. Here is something to consider: sexuality is really about the glory of God. Think for a moment about this: What is our ultimate purpose as believers on this earth? Jesus tells us pretty clearly in Matthew 5:16, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” The purpose of us letting our light shine or having our good works be seen is not about us at all. It’s so that other people may see and give glory to God. When we live in a way that honors God with all aspects of our lives, especially our sexuality, it reveals the true substance and value that a relationship with Jesus brings to our lives. If we walk humbly, admitting our dependence upon God to live with integrity and repenting when we fall, we put the goodness of God on display. Living with sexual integrity—surrendered to and embracing God’s design for our sexuality—is about so much more than being committed to monogamous sex or celibacy. It’s about living a life that points to the ultimate wedding and the ultimate Lover, who laid down his life for His bride and presents her spotless without blemish. On my hardest days, this perspective shift gives purpose to the wrestling and shines rays of light into my despair. Perhaps God, in His kindness, is using my choice today to reflect His light a little bit brighter into the darkness around me.    Surrender Originally I had written this acronym with only 3 letters: MAP. But as I reflected, I sensed it was incomplete. We can move toward God in our struggle, have radical accountability, and adjust our perspective and still fight to have control over our lives. Ultimately, just knowing these truths is not enough. I know this firsthand as I continue to wrestle with God over broken dreams, disordered desires, and longings that may always be unmet in this lifetime. This is the hardest, often gut-wrenching part of living with sexual integrity: God calls us to surrender. To be brutally honest, I often approach surrender the way a child valiantly tries to delay bedtime, finding a million and one distractions or excuses to postpone the inevitable. Sexual integrity is impossible without surrender. Laying down my deepest longings and placing them in God’s hands takes unflinching trust as I give Him the treasures of my heart. David expresses his surrender this way, “Search me, God, and know my heart; Put me to the test and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there is any hurtful [lit: way of pain] way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way.” David knew that opening his whole heart to God and surrendering to His way was the only way to walk in integrity before God. I tell you, these words are written with tears, penned with the pain that comes from fighting to believe, “Jesus will cost you everything, and He’ll be worth so much more than that" (Greg Coles: Single, Gay, Christian). Now, when I lay awake at night mulling over this question, I remind myself that God has not left me without guidance. He reminds me in those moments to move toward His heart (even as He moves toward me). I seek out radical accountability, entrusting my heart to others. I fix my eyes on eternity just like Jesus did as He looked to the joy set before Him, knowing that my greatest gain lies in surrendering every part of my heart to Him. Then, broken though I am, my Savior takes the offered pieces of my heart and makes me whole in Him. This is sexual integrity.   If this article was helpful to you, you may also like: Q&A: How Can God Be Good if I Can't Overcome My Porn Addiction? (video) What Is the Most Important Thing About Me? (video) What's the Most Important Thing About Your Sex Life? (Juli's blog)