Enrich Your Marriage inevitably had to include an intimidating topic for me as a writer: SEX. I’m a private person and that, ahem, is the most private of topics. But I pushed past the nerves to discuss it in my book because it is so important.
Sexual intimacy in marriage can be the source of bonding and joy; it can also be an area of life that’s profoundly painful as couples deal with issues of neglect, low self-worth, lack of interest, pornography, unforgiveness, miscommunication, and so much more. It’s a difficult topic for a private person like me to write about, but it absolutely cannot be ignored in an honest discussion of marriage.
Common misconceptions and cultural lies about sexual intimacy in marriage only add to the difficulties many couples face in this area. Consider these 3 common misconceptions that I believe we need to eradicate from our mindset as we celebrate this God-created part of marriage:
Misconception #1: It’s like the movies. Hot steamy scenes in movies, TV shows, and even advertisements portray an appealing yet unrealistic brand of sexuality. Pastor and author (and my creative writing professor) Walter Wangerin Jr. exhorts us: “Society has no right into your bedroom. Its vision of sex is no more valuable to you than, say, its vision of love (which is always self-serving) or its vision of God (which is always blinded by human pride). . . . Your homage to it gives it power.” We can kick Hollywood to the curb here: No more homage to a false version of intimacy!
Misconception #2: It’s not spiritual. Unfortunately Christian history contains some quite confused theology about human sexuality which, for the most part, is some version of this message: sex is bad. For the most part, we’ve moved beyond this to a more healthy, whole-person understanding of theology that embraces human sexuality and sexual intimacy in the context of marriage. But I think this notion of sex’s “badness” can still be a nagging struggle for many Christian women. Cliff and Joyce Penner urge us to set things right with a firm commitment to embrace the Bible’s consistent message: “Our human sexuality is not something to be diminished as we become more ‘spiritual.’ It is a part of us as spiritual, godly persons, and it is good.”
Misconception #3: It’s super-spiritual. On the other hand, some Christian marriage books and speakers tend to over-spiritualize sex. Oohing and aahing over how intimate and “beautiful” sex is and going overboard (to a degree of weirdness!) about how God is a part of it, etc. Of course sex is part of God’s good and beautiful created order! But I think there’s a real danger in viewing something that’s primarily physical and relational as some euphoric ultra-spiritual, almost magical, experience. Why? Those expectations don’t reflect reality and, as I discussed in a previous post, unrealistic and overly-idealized expectations of marriage can lead to marital discontent and discouragement.
Unrealistic expectations are a heavy burden for a person to have to bear and, likewise, they shouldn’t be loaded onto the already fragile sexual-intimacy aspect of your marriage. Instead of over-spiritualizing sex or in some other way taking it way too seriously, Ed and Gaye Wheat remind us of “the importance of lighthearted approach to lovemaking in marriage.” They say, “Sex with your partner is far more than recreation, of course, but it is that as well: the best, the most relaxing, renewing recreation known to man, and God planned that too. . . . It is fun, not duty; high excitement, not boredom; something to anticipate, not a dreary experience to be avoided if you can.”
* * *
Want to explore this topic further? Consider reading these articles from solid Christian sex therapists and counselors:
• “God’s Rules for Sex” by Melissa and Louis McBurney
• “Keep Sex Fun” by Gary and Barbara Rosberg
• “Our Best Sex Advice” compiled by Marriage Partnership magazine
• “‘It’ Doesn’t Just Happen” by Cliff and Joyce Penner
* * *
Stay tuned: Next week an interview with “Marriage Gems” blogger Lori Lowe on her research about couples who’ve made it through really tough times.