In the previous chapter I said that the main task in marriage is not raising children, or paying off the mortgage, or setting up a retirement plan. I said that the main task in a successful marriage is maintaining the intimacy that caused you to marry in the first place. If you do not have intimacy/closeness in your marriage, it does not matter what you do have, the marriage will not be a happy or satisfying one.
One way to cultivate intimacy is to build closeness at the intellectual, emotional and especially the spiritual level. Another important way to create intimacy is through satisfying sex. Of course, like everything else, satisfying sexual intimacy is learned and must be maintained in order to grow. Just because you like or need sex does not mean you know how to produce intimacy through satisfying sex. Many couples have to learn or re-learn this because there is so much misinformation about sex.
The History of Sex
In order to separate truth from fiction, I would like to briefly review with you the history of sex from Adam until today, all in several paragraphs! Seriously though, if we had to list some major false ideas about human sexuality throughout history it might look like this:
- The Garden of Eden: They Had It Right – Sex between Adam and Eve, two sinless people, is perfect and satisfying. After this, the lies begin.
- After the Fall of Man: Sex is Complicated – Sex becomes complicated, misunderstood and manipulated. For example, Jacob's two wives struggle to win their husband's affection and children.
- The 4th Century: Sex is Sin – Augustine begins to teach that Adam's sin is passed on from one generation to another in a physical way. This gives rise to the idea that the manner in which one generation created the next generation (sex) must be bad or sinful somehow.
- The 17th Century: Sex is Dirty – By the Middle Ages the idea that sex was basically evil had so taken hold that many women wore black, never referred to sex and were considered simply as objects of procreation. This attitude created the impression in people's minds that sex was dirty and only to be tolerated within marriage. Of course, people eventually revolted against this oppressive and false view, but as is often the case, they went to the other extreme.
- The 20th Century: The Modern Ideas on Sex – In the 18th to 19th century, puritanical ideas about sex were brought to North America, but by the 20th century, these were dramatically changed.
- 1900-1960: Sex is fun – Two world-wars changed attitudes. American music, movies and magazines showed sex as something that was fun. Hollywood, Rock'n'Roll and Playboy set the tone for American sexual attitudes during these times.
- 1970: Sex is free – The "hippy" generation promoted sexual freedom. Make love not war! The sexual revolution said, "Have sex with whoever you want, whenever you want, wherever you want."
- 1980: Sex is serious – The boomers grew up and sex became a serious matter, only for the mature. Sex advice columns, sex therapists, etc. Studies about human sexuality abounded.
- 1990: Sex should be safe – AIDS made people realize that some kinds of sex can lead to serious illness and death.
- 2000+: Sex is for yourself – Sex is for the individual's pleasure. Porn, homosexuality and internet sex fed the individual person's unlimited desire for private sex.
Of course, all of these false ideas about sex have an element of truth to them, this is what makes them so believable and powerful. For example:
- Sex is complicated: True, but not so complicated that with proper communication and attitude two people cannot have satisfying sex for a lifetime.
- Sex is sinful: True, when outside of a marriage relationship, but acceptable and blessed by God within marriage (Hebrews 13:4).
- Sex is dirty: True, when used as pornography or the abuse of others, especially children. However, sex is clean, pure and beautiful when shared between a married couple (Genesis 2:25).
- Sex is fun: True, but again only fun and joyful when people who are married engage in it, otherwise it is only fun for the people involved, but not for God and the angels who witness it.
- Sex is free: True, but only free to those who are in an exclusive, lifetime relationship. Otherwise there is a price to pay. (Galatians 5:19-20)
- Sex is serious: Very true, but serious not in itself but in the sense that it is the physical sign that two people are committed to an exclusive, lifetime relationship.
- Sex is safe: True, but the safest sex is sex according to God's plan, not human concepts and trends.
- Sex is for self: True, sex is for the full revelation of the self to our partner without guilt, fear or shame.
Of course, there are many variations of these ideas, but the ones mentioned here are the major concepts through which people view their own sexuality. The same activity that has the power to bond, build and comfort within marriage is equally powerful to create negative things if done outside of marriage (guilt, shame, unwanted pregnancies, disease, etc.). The idea of seeing if people are sexually compatible before marriage so they can be sure is foolish because engaging in premarital sex without the security of a marriage commitment undermines the development of the couple's relationship before it matures. Sex outside of marriage is a sin, and it is a sin because it compromises the sex one should be enjoying within marriage.
There is another point of view about sex that I would like to share with you. One that more effectively contributes to good sex for life.
God's Idea of Sex
The true purpose for sex is not pleasure. Its central purpose is to promote the feeling of being loved and united to our mates. The pleasure is a spin-off benefit. You can obtain sex in a lot of ways and in great quantities, but to feel loved and unified through sex requires an understanding of why God created sex and how God would have us express our natural human sexuality.
Sex is Good
27God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 31God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
- Genesis 1:27, 31
Throughout the Bible, God extolls the naturalness and beauty of human sexuality. Genesis 2:14-15 establishes the idea that married sex is without guilt or shame. It is sin that should cause guilt, not sex between a husband and wife (Hebrews 13:4). In the Song of Solomon 7:1-9, sex is portrayed as beautiful, exciting and passionate. In Proverbs 5:18-19, Solomon says that good sex is God's idea not man's. Satan is the one who has perverted sex into a sinful thing, but in its natural state it is a good and wonderful experience according to God.
Sex is for Marriage Only
"You shall not commit adultery.
- Exodus 20:14
1Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman. 2But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband.
- I Corinthians 7:1-2
God designed the activity of sex to be engaged in freely within the context of marriage. This is the basic teaching about sex in the Bible.
Sex is Unselfish Affection
2But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband. 3The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband.
- I Corinthians 7:2-3
The way to achieve satisfying sex within marriage is to focus on pleasing the other person, not self. When we have succeeded in doing this, we have succeeded (and have probably had good sex too). When we please the other we will be satisfied. That is how sex works.
For husbands, this means a shift of attention from the immediate need to consummate sexual desire, and focus on the needs of the wife to become aroused. For women this means a conscious effort to get into the "zone," to think about sex, to become sexualized so that she can truly respond to her husband's desire for her. Men want women to want sex, to get into it without it being a chore or a favor. Women, on the other hand, want men to want them and not just what they can get from them.
Marriage partners need to realize that the road to satisfying sex is different for both men and women but requires effort from both. For example, it does not come naturally for men to wait, to want just her, to want to please her. What is natural for them is to want release. On the other hand, it is not natural for women to zone in on sex because they are not visually stimulated and not motivated by release but rather by the need for intimacy and tenderness. Dr. Randy Eichner, OU Health Science Professor says, "Women view intimacy as a road to sex; men view sex as a road to intimacy." The frustrated man says, "You do not love me because you are not interested in sex." The discouraged woman says, "You do not love me because all you are interested in is sex." The key to satisfying sex is to understand and work with the natural differences between men and women, and avoid accusing each other of not caring.
Good sex requires a sacrifice by both partners. For example, a match must sacrifice some of its smooth surface against the roughness of the sandpaper, and the sandpaper must sacrifice some of its rough surface every time a match is struck if a flame is to emerge.
Sex is Uninterrupted
Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
- I Corinthians 7:5
Sex is meant to provide pleasure for all of married life. In marriage, sex is for life as love is for life. Paul, the Apostle, says that sex should be interrupted only by mutual consent, for reasons needing prayer (this could include disputes, illness, unavoidable separation - I Corinthians 7:5-6). When separation happens we should pray to remain faithful, and separate for these purposes for only a short amount of time (sex is not a bargaining tool or a weapon).
Abraham and Sarah had sex in their late years. God blessed them with a good sex life into old age. Barring illness and incapacity, our intimate life should last and be developed throughout the life of our marriage. Unfortunately, there are reasons why this does not always happen. For example:
- Ignorance about sex or poor communication concerning this topic.
- Lack of imagination. Partners unwilling to be creative, to experiment or to discuss and search for ways to please the other.
- Habit. We get into routines (TV, work, sports, hobbies, childcare) that leave no time to develop intimacy or desire, which take time. If you make the effort, it is worth it. Good sex requires faith at times because you have to work your way into the feeling. Patience and kindness in this regard are often richly rewarded.
- Nothing kills sexual desire like sin. Lying, laziness, vulgarity, meanness, cheating, impurity, etc.; these kill the sex drive.
God created marriage to last a lifetime, therefore, sex within a marriage should last a lifetime as well. Happy couples report that their sex life grows more intense and satisfying as they grow older. This is possible if we use God's ideas and instructions for married love. Here is another practical way to improve sexual intimacy in marriage.
Communication is the Key
Sex therapists tell us that the biggest problem that couples have with sex is not the mechanics, frequency or even looks. The biggest problem with sex is communication. The main sex organ is the brain. The brain is the part of the body that controls feeling, desire and the feeling of pleasure. If the brain is not stimulated and sexualized, the other body parts cannot function properly.
The best way to stimulate the brain is to communicate. The best way to improve sexuality in a marriage is to learn how to communicate more effectively about sex. The way to have good sex for life is to continue to communicate about it for life. One major problem in many marriages is that there are things we wished our partners knew about us and about sex in general, but because of shame, guilt, fear, embarrassment, anger or ignorance, we cannot communicate about these things with them. We think they will guess, and when they do not, we remain unfulfilled sexually.
I am going to finish this chapter by listing some things that couples find hard to say for various reasons. Now, I do not do this to offend or embarrass, but rather to open up lines of communication between couples who find it difficult to communicate about sex. As you read these, note and share with your partner the ideas mentioned here that you may have found difficult to say to one another in the past.
- "Tell me how to please you. Guide me so I will know what to do in the future when we make love." It is very difficult to know our partner's sexual likes and dislikes at times if they are not explained. There is no need to explain why something is pleasant or exciting, just that it is.
- "I want to make love just for fun." Sometimes a brief sexual encounter without much foreplay or romance is ok. We should not take sex too seriously. Sex should be fun and play at times.
- "Seeing your body excites me, do not hide it from me." You partner's naked body is the only body you have a right to see in a sensual way. Do not deprive each other of that right and privilege. Ladies, do not let the movies and magazines take over your privilege so that the only nakedness your husband sees is in a magazine or movie and not that of his own wife. Men, the more you remain exclusively focused on your wife, the more she will be willing to share herself with you. The more your eyes wander the less valuable you make her out to be.
- "Do not force me to do what I cannot do yet." Everyone develops sexually at a different rate, so you need to be patient with each other. It is fine to experiment, and good to be creative, but agree to do only what both accept to do, otherwise it is selfishness and can be abusive.
- "I wish you would initiate sex for a change. When you do, it makes me feel desirable." Nothing kills the ego like always having to be the one to initiate sex or affection. Sometimes men would be less demanding of sex if they had more affection. Sometimes women would be more willing to have sex if men demonstrated more affection unrelated to sex.
- "Be kinder to me. When you are unkind it makes it harder for me to desire you." As I have said, nothing kills intimacy, romance and sexual desire more than someone who is unkind, sarcastic, dishonest, abusive, self-centered, cheap or critical. Desire cannot grow in this type of environment.
- "Try to understand what stimulates me."
- Women - Biological fact: A woman's sexual desire is linked to her cycle. Emotional fact: Emotional stimulation is necessary before physical stimulation. The best sex happens when the wife's emotional needs are taken care of on a daily basis. You cannot buy sex at the last minute with flowers and candy. Take time to allow passion to rise; express love and affection before, during and after lovemaking in order to experience a continuous and enjoyable sex life. Men need to understand that women are different, they are not simply men in women's bodies.
- Men - Biological fact: The accumulation of seminal fluid within men acts as an ongoing internal sexual stimulation. This condition is normal and does not make men sex addicts. It is God who created their sexuality in this way. Emotional fact: Men are visually stimulated. Wives need to take advantage of this characteristic in claiming for themselves the right and joy of giving their husbands the exclusive visual pleasure of their natural beauty. His body belongs to you and your body belongs to him, and wanting to see what belongs to him is healthy and sexually affirming (I Corinthians 7:4).
I have only given you seven things you might say to each other in order to get the dialogue going. What is important is that you talk to each other about your sexual selves, not for the purpose of having sex (listen-up men!) but for the purpose of understanding each other's sexual character. We need to tell each other honestly and tenderly what we need, what we feel, what we want, what we would like to try and what we are not sure of sexually. And we can do this without shame, fear or guilt because God Himself wants us to have satisfying sex, since He created us as sexual beings with this capacity in the first place.
Great sex for life is possible if we follow the secure framework of an exclusive lifetime commitment of marriage. As a matter of fact, great sex for life is only possible within marriage because it is only within marriage that sex is blessed by God, its creator.
Finally, I would like to add that within marriage, all the mysteries about our own sexuality can be expressed and satisfied as well as made acceptable to ourselves, our partners and the God who loves us, even when we are completely naked before Him.