Reader Question: I’m Not Attracted to My Boyfriend

Reader Question of the WeekCan you marry your boyfriend if you’re not attracted to him?

Every Monday I like to post a Reader Question and take a stab at answering it. This week’s question is a doozy, and I’m going to need a lot of input from you, my readers.

A reader writes:

I’ve been dating a guy who’s my best friend for two years – he loves me, and wants to marry me as soon as possible, and is definitely physically attracted to me. I love him deeply in a care for him sense, in a trust him sense, in a he’d be the greatest dad sense. But he’s short and fat and sweaty and I can’t, I can’t imagine being into him sexually. Even kissing sometimes is good, but frequently repels me. I’m a virgin with no other experience at all (and frankly with little natural interest in sex most times, anyway). Is there…what on earth can I do? I can’t bear to break his heart, but I don’t want to forever resent that he isn’t even in shape and he’s 25….

Oh, wow. That’s one I’m not sure I even have an answer for! And this likely falls into the category, there isn’t a definite answer, and you have to ask God and just feel right about it. The answer could be different for different people.

So I just want to give a few thoughts, that may be a little contradictory, but which hopefully raise a bunch of things to consider as you pray/think through this.

What if you're not attracted to your boyfriend? Can you still marry him? Some thoughts!

Sex is an intrinsic part of marriage. When you marry, you have to commit to having regular, enthusiastic sex.

Seriously. Anything else just isn’t fair to the person you’re marrying. If you’re thinking to yourself, “well, I’ll agree to have sex once or twice a week, but I don’t think I’ll ever enjoy it, and I’ll have to grin and bear it”, I just don’t think that’s fair to the guy. So much of a guy’s self-esteem comes from knowing that he can bring pleasure to his wife–not just that she “lets” him have sex with her. It’s when it’s a mutual thing that he feels like a man. If him touching you repulses you, that’s not a good thing.

Sex is more than physical

At the same time, sex is more than physical. For most couples, those butterfly, intense attraction feelings fade after a year or two. What you’re left with is a deeper love that’s based on companionship and togetherness, and that can actually make sex more intense. It’s not just hormonal; it’s actually based on a deep and abiding love.

And when you do totally love someone, that vulnerability that you share with them becomes sexy. Having someone that knows you that well becomes sexy. And being able to explore and figure out how he can make you feel great (which is possible even if he’s bigger), can leave a woman very sexually satisfied. Many women, for instance, marry guys who are trim and slim, and ten years later end up with someone who is very overweight. But you can find a way to make the marriage work, even if you aren’t as attracted to your husband anymore.

This is an extreme example, and perhaps one I shouldn’t bring up because of the controversy, but I do think it fits. I have known one couple who married where he was homosexual and she was heterosexual. Yet he found that he was attracted to her–just not to any other women. God helped him to channel his desire to her, even though she wasn’t what he normally found attractive. And their sex life worked because it was based on this deep emotional connection.

My concern, though, is that this secondary attraction–the one that is based on love and companionship more than just raw hormones–should likely have kicked in by now. If you were going to be able to be attracted to him based on his good character qualities, I would have thought that you would have felt it already.

Settling in marriage hurts everybody

It sounds from the letter that you’re around 25 years old. That’s still pretty young. Marrying someone because you feel like you “owe” him since you’ve been so close for so long, and you can’t bear to break his heart, could easily do more harm in the long run. Yes, it would be devastating to break up now, but if you married him, would you always yearn for something else? Would you always feel like you had settled? Would you always secretly wish there was something else for you?

If you think that, and then you face a tragedy together or some stressful times, those thoughts will be magnified tenfold. And he will sense them. You’ll be chronically unhappy, and he will feel like a failure.

When you marry, you have to be prepared to love and embrace wholeheartedly. I do believe that this is possible to do without a lot of sexual attraction; I’m not sure it’s possible if he actually repels you. There’s a difference between being neutral and being a net negative.

If you really can’t picture marrying him, I think it’s better to break it off sooner rather than later. If you keep waiting for those feelings to find you, you’re keeping him from finding another woman, and you’re keeping yourself from finding another man.

Let’s be realistic about finding a marriage partner

One last thought: let’s be realistic when we are looking for who to marry. People tend to marry someone of similar attractiveness. So I don’t mean to be offensive here, but if you’re waiting for a Brad Pitt (and I’m not saying our letter writer is), but you yourself are no Angelina Jolie, then perhaps you need to be more realistic. There are things other than looks that are important, and if we’re too picky about who makes a good mate, and if we judge solely on looks, then we may paint ourselves into a corner.

Attraction is a hard thing to define. It is certainly partially hormonal and almost animal, so that the thinking part of our brains play little part. But it is not entirely that. When we choose what we want to find attractive, quite often we can overcome physical shortcomings if the other things are important enough to us.

So that’s my answer. I guess I’m going back and forth on this one a lot, because I’m not sure there is a definitive answer!

But I’m hoping my readers can chime in (you all gave such great feedback on the wedding ring controversy last week!).  Were you always attracted to your husband? How important is attraction? Let us know in the comments!

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UPDATE: Our Reader wrote back with an update on her life! She says:

First, I want to say thank you so, so much for taking the time to answer. Secondly, I want you to know that your answer, and the answers of the many commenters, have really blessed me. Not, perhaps, in the way that might be expected – by the time this article launched, I had already broken up with the poor, sweet man. But, I have to say, I felt like God sent me your voices after the fact to help confirm in me that I need not feel guilty about having been honest.
I did break up with him, and it wasn’t easy at all. With the help of prayer (some of it y’all’s, no doubt!) and my counsellor, I was able to break up with this boyfriend for deep and honest reasons, without skewering his sense of self-worth. It was really important to me to love him as a friend and as a brother in Christ, and that ability came from outside of me. He took it much harder than I did, but he is recovering well now.
It really was just a case of a great friendship, where he really, really wanted marriage – and for a long time I thought maybe I could do it?? I didn’t know; but eventually it became clear to me that I couldn’t do it. There were sexual and simply practical and even emotional logistics that were just…off.
So, thank you for listening. Thank you for writing this up for other girls like me.
And, in case you wondered, I am single and much relieved to be so (that was a shock! Didn’t realize how miserable I had made myself trying to make it work until I was…free. Felt AMAZING, and in a right way, too.) Anyway, I met this gorgeous young man not long after the breakup…and it’s so different, I am floored. I don’t know if this new guy likes me yet, or if he’s just friendly, but wow – this is literally the only time I have EVER been attracted to looks and personality at the same time. It’s wonderful to even be able to HOPE this romance materializes!
So, thank you for helping to free me from my best intentions to do the wrong thing. And…if you ever want to pray that God maybe guide the new man and I into at least a trial relationship…I wouldn’t mind!

Wedding Ring Issues

Reader Question of the WeekWhat does a weding ring really mean?

Every Monday I like to post a Reader Question and then take a stab at answering it. I’ve had two questions lately about wearing wedding rings, so I thought I’d try those today!

Should you always wear a wedding ring?

One newlywed writes:

I’ve been married about 6 months now. The problem I’m having is my husband often forgets or chooses not to wear his wedding band. Sometimes his hands swell up and it doesn’t fit his ring finger (on these days, if he wears it, he puts it on his pinky finger, which isn’t a problem). Also, his parents work in a factory, so they don’t often wear their rings; he may have developed the habit by seeing his parents’ use of their rings. He also may not see the wedding ring as important as I do.

To me, though, the wedding ring is important. It’s our way of telling the world “I’m taken, I’m off the market.” When he doesn’t wear his ring, I feel as though he doesn’t find it necessary to tell the world he’s taken. It seems as though he spends less time with his ring on than off. I only take my ring off for sleeping, doing dishes, or showering, and it hurts to see that he wears his so rarely.

I’ve mentioned to him several times that I would like him to wear it, and he usually says something about “It wasn’t fitting today” or “I forgot it” but doesn’t actually change anything. Sometimes, if we’re on the way out the door and I see it sitting somewhere, I’ll mention it and he’ll put it on without saying anything or making an excuse, but I don’t want to turn into a nag–I want him to wear it because he wants to show the world he’s married, not because I bug him to.

How can I approach my husband about this without making him feel guilty? I don’t want to cause a fight, but I do want him to see that this is a topic I feel strongly about.

Interesting! Here are a couple of thoughts, in no particular order:

Why you should wear your wedding ring--and your husband should, too!

Make sure his wedding ring fits

Honestly, it’s odd for a man’s hands to change size that much. It could be that his ring is a little on the small side. If his hands swell up a lot and he can’t wear it often, perhaps having it enlarged by half a size would help. I’ve had to have my ring resized several times over our marriage, and my husband has had his resized once. It isn’t really a big deal, and if it’s that much of a problem, it may be worth looking into. People’s hands really don’t change in ring size that dramatically that frequently, so it honestly could be that it’s too small.

Taking your ring off means you’re more likely to lose it

I don’t take my ring off for doing the dishes, showering, or anything. I really NEVER take my ring off unless I’m making meatballs or bread or doing something with food prep that would get it all over my ring. If your ring is sized properly you shouldn’t have to take it off.

Remember, the more you take it off, the more likely you are to lose it. It sounds like he takes his off and leaves it around the house. Bad idea. That is a recipe for losing it! If he needs to take it off for some reason, have him take it off and leave it in a particular place.

Also, if you wear it all the time, it feels really, really odd to have it off. It could be that he’s never worn his for long enough periods of time to make it feel normal to have the ring on. Encouraging him to wear it straight for a week (when it’s been resized) may help to get him to wear it all the time.

Some people have to take their rings off for work

Your husband’s parents had to take them off working in the factory. My husband takes his rings off when he’s in surgery or when he’s working with premature babies. But he always puts them back on. He hides his ring in the car, and then as soon as he’s done work, he puts it back on again. So if your spouse has to take it off at work, perhaps encourage him (or her, if you’re a guy reading this) to leave it in the car so that it’s on at all other times. (I know it can get stolen in the car, but that’s a really remote possibility if you hide it well).

People SHOULD wear their rings

At all times, in public, it’s good to wear a wedding ring. It does show the world you’re taken. It absolutely is important.

So, with that being said, here’s really the most important issue:

Talk to him openly

The real issue here isn’t with rings. It’s with how they learn to communicate the things that are important to them. And I just wonder from this letter writer’s question if she has ever sat down with him and told him flat out how it makes her feel.

I think that many of us assume our husbands know how we feel, and are making a deliberate choice to disregard our feelings and do what they want. But in my experience, it’s far more likely that he has no clue what you’re thinking. And even if you hint at it, (“I see your ring on the table. Do you want to put it on before we go out?”), he may have no idea how important this is to you.

It’s early in your marriage now. You need to get in the habit of sharing how you feel. This doesn’t mean that you have a fight. This is simply sitting him down and explaining how you feel, and then making a request of him.

If he chooses not to follow your request, then you’ve got a bigger issue and you’ll have to decide how to deal with it. I do have other posts on resolving conflict, and you can look them up in my Marriage FAQ page; many are listed there. But with most issues like this, he likely doesn’t know. Unless you talk openly and don’t beat around the bush and make an honest request (“I’d like you to wear your ring unless you can’t because it could get wrecked/dirty”), you don’t know whether he would willingly wear the ring. It may be something he’s just never thought of and doesn’t realize is important to you. So try being open about it, and see what happens!

Can wedding rings lose their significance?

Here’s a very different slant on the wedding ring question:

My husband had an affair and with God at the center of our healing we are working through it. We believe that we have a new covenant within our marriage. The issue is that I still cannot bring myself to wear my rings. He wears his, and I am okay with that since I did not break my vow. I feel that my husband made a promise with the ring he placed on my hand, and he has broken that promise. The ring is not worth a lot monetarily, but it has sentimental value. We plan to renew our vows soon and my husband is going to propose and marry me all over again. I struggle with using the same ring this time or purchasing new rings for a new start. How do you feel about this. Is it just a gem and piece of metal that can be blessed again, or should it be stored away?

First, I am so glad that you are fighting for your marriage and rebuilding it! That is wonderful. An affair does not necessarily mean the marriage is over, and I have known so many couples to emerge even stronger. So great to hear!

As for the ring, if you would like a new one, I don’t think there’s a problem with that (if you can afford it). If you want to use the old one, I certainly think that can be blessed, too. It’s really the meaning that YOU give to the ring. If you would feel more comfortable and excited about a whole new start, and he understands that, then by all means get another ring. But if you want to say, “we’re together forever, and we’re never giving up,” and using the old ring can signify that, then that’s all right as well. It’s what you both think that matters.

So I’m going to throw this one out to the readers and ask them: would you get a new ring if you were in this reader’s position? Or would you use the old one? Leave me your thoughts in the comments and let’s help this woman!

Reader Question: When Do I Give Up Trying to Get My Ex Back?

When do I give up on my ex-husband? Thoughts on when to stop trying to reconcile and move onWhen should you give up on trying to get your ex back?

Every Monday I like to put up a Reader Question and take a stab at answering it. I know most of my readers are married (this is a Christian marriage blog, after all), but a lot of people in crisis marriages also land on this blog. So there are plenty of separated/divorced people who also send in questions. And here’s a heartbreaking one that I’d like to tackle today:

I’ve been divorced for 8 years, and during all that time I have tried to reconcile with my husband. It’s just not working, but I’m scared to move on. When do I give up on my ex? When have I done enough? And what if I really want it to work?

I want to start by telling you a story.

When I was just getting started writing and speaking, in my early 30s, I was asked to come and speak to a MOPS group. I gave a talk about how to keep your priorities in order and how to feel as if you’re making a difference even in the diaper/temper tantrum years. The talk went well, and at the end everyone was mingling around eating some snacks.

An older woman who hadn’t been in the talk approached me. She explained that she was a grandma, and as a way of serving her daughter she acted as one of the baby-sitters for MOPS, so her daughter could enjoy the socialization and the teaching. So she asked me for a synopsis of what I had said, and I gave it to her.

She smiled as I explained, and nodded vigorously. “Oh, that’s so wonderful that you’re teaching these young women to rely on God in everything. I’ve had to learn that in the last few years. My husband left out of the blue 5 years ago to be with another woman. He spread lies about me and turned many in my family against me. It was so difficult. I lost my house and so much of my self-esteem.”

My heart went out to this poor woman. That’s so awful to have a spouse betray you like that!

But then she said this,

“But God has promised me that my marriage will be restored. I read verses about how God restores what is broken. I put them on post-in notes all over my apartment, so that when I doubt I can read them and know that God will bring him back. I pray all the time about it. And I have peace that one day my marriage will be saved.”

And at this point I felt distinctly uncomfortable. I didn’t know what to say, though, and so I left. But while driving home it suddenly hit me what I should have said. I don’t know who that woman is, and so I could never communicate this to her. But now, when I speak, I always share to the audience what I wish I could have shared to the woman:

“I am glad that you have faith that God can bring your husband back. But do you have faith even if he doesn’t?”

Do you have faith even if God doesn't answer your prayers as you would like?

Because isn’t that the point? God needs to be the centre of our faith and not a reconciliation. That’s why this truth is so important:

Your life needs to become about God, not about winning your ex back

That doesn’t mean that God WON’T bring your ex back. But ultimately, after you have been through such a trauma, you are really hurt. You’re beaten down. And you’re often desperate to get the marriage back together, thinking that this will fix your broken heart. But it won’t, because that kind of pain can only be fixed by God. And once He does this great healing work, so that you know that whatever happens, God will carry you, then you are whole again. You are strong again.

And if your marriage has any chance of working again, you need to be whole and you need to be strong.

Ironically, your marriage’s best hope is for you to let go of your marriage and cling to God. To do that doesn’t mean that you’re giving up on the idea of reconciliation. It’s just saying that your faith if based on God, not on your marriage, and that you know that you will be okay.

Let go of the dream of your ex-husband and get real

When a marriage breaks up there is usually a reason. In my story, the husband had left his wife. I don’t know what is happening with my reader, but I know many on this blog have had to separate with husbands who wouldn’t give up a pornography addiction, or who refused to work and squandered money, or who had affairs. But even though they couldn’t live like that anymore, these women often have difficulty letting go of the dream of their husband.

They could still see the potential–they could still see what the marriage could be like if their husbands would just get their act together. And because of that dream, these women had a difficult time moving on.

Letting go of the dream does not mean that you let go of the idea of reconciliation. But you need to stop living in the “what ifs” and start living with what is real.

Be honest about where you are at and where your husband is at, and reconciliation is not a healthy or wise idea right now, then put it out of your mind and focus on the now.

I am not saying that this is easy. This is likely the most heart-wrenching thing you will ever have to do your whole life. You can’t do it alone; you need a good church community and good friends around you–and often a good counselor. But it is the wise thing to do.

What is the right thing for me to do in the here and now?

If reconciliation isn’t possible, because your husband hasn’t gotten real about the steps that he needs to take, then you need to start living in the here and now and take steps to make your own life better as it is in the present.

Get some schooling or get a job if you have to support yourself and your children. Find a great church to be involved in and start serving. Start an exercise regimen to help you feel better about yourself. Move closer to other support systems that you will need, if necessary. Get your finances in order. In other words, do things that will help you so that if things stay exactly the way they are right now, you (and your children) will be in a better position. If you refuse to do these things because to do so seems like you’re saying “the relationship is really over”, then in the long run you’ll likely hurt yourself.

Love Must Be ToughLook, sometimes if a relationship is in really bad shape, the best way to turn it around is to give someone a big jolt and help them to realize the consequences of their actions. If he knows you are waiting in the wings to take him back at a moment’s notice, what incentive does he have to get his life together? But if he realizes, “she’s serious. We’re not getting back together until things change,” then he might do something.

That’s what the book Love Must Be Tough teaches you, and I highly recommend it for people in this situation. It shows how the worst thing that you can do is to show your ex that you’re always available to him, that you’ll always take him back, that you’re always there. Groveling does not work. Having sex with him when he comes over to visit you, when he’s not showing any kind of remorse, will not work. You need to show him, “this is who I am without you, and even though I don’t want to be alone and even though I’d rather be with you, I will choose to be without you and I will get on with my life until you show me that you want a real marriage.”

But when do I date again?

Ultimately, though, what I think women are really asking is, “when is it okay for me to date again? When can I actually move on?”

I can’t answer that one for you, except in generalities. Every situation is different. In some cases there are definite biblical grounds for divorce, and in some there really aren’t. (That being said, even if there aren’t grounds, if he has abandoned you by not reconciling, then that becomes a biblical ground, in and of itself.) In some cases he has made a lot of progress, or he is fixing things, and you do need to wait and give him a chance.

I had a friend who left a marriage, telling everyone it was because of his porn use and his cheating. The problem was that these things had been in the past, and he was working at making them better. Soon after she left him she started dating someone else, and she is now remarried. She claimed she had biblical grounds, but the fact was that he was getting right with God at the point where she started dating. That is not right.

One rule of thumb: I think it’s dangerous to get into a new relationship too soon. I’d give it at least a year and a half, if not two years, after a split with no sign of reconciliation. You need to give him time to change his mind, but you also need to give yourself time to heal, because otherwise you’ll be going into a new relationship with a lot of baggage.

That’s not set in stone, but I do think it’s wise to give some time, and likely the more the better.

Does God ever bring about reconciliation?

Absolutely! In fact, if you want a great story of reconciliation, my friend Juana Mikels has just written a book called Choosing Him All Over Again, where she shares her story.

Choosing Him All Over Again: A Story of Romance and RedemptionThirty-five years ago Juana left her husband. He didn’t give her what she needed, he didn’t know how to show her love, and they were drifting apart so fast she didn’t think there was anything left. They had only been married for two years, but it had all gone downhill.

A few months after their break-up, Juana started attending a Bible study. She became a Christian, and realized that the break-up was not her husband’s fault. It was hers as well. She hadn’t given selflessly in the marriage. She hadn’t loved him properly. And now she wanted him back!

There was just one problem. He was seeing someone else and had no interest in reconciling. Juana had hurt him too much.

So now what was she to do? She continued to draw closer to God and decided to just show her husband unconditional love. And after months and months of that, her husband’s heart began to soften. It took a long time to rebuild the marriage that Juana had already torn down, but God did it as He slowly started to change Juana’s attitude.

It’s a great story of hope–check it out here!

So, yes, God can rescue marriages. In fact, God loves picking up broken pieces and molding them back together again. He’s in the healing business. But sometimes the thing that He wants to heal is YOU, not your marriage. So chase after God now, and focus on God, not just on your marriage. And then, no matter what happens, you will find you still are strong.

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Reader Question: I Caught My Dad Watching Porn

Reader Question of the WeekEvery Monday I like to post a Reader Question and try to take a stab at answering it. With the Christmas holidays approaching and extended family being more on our minds, I thought this sad one would be an important one to answer. What do you do if you catch your dad watching porn (or another married relative)?

My reader writes:

I’m in my mid-twenties and still living at home while I finish up graduate school. I’m very blessed to have parents who are willing to support me financially while I pursue my career goals. But I have a HUGE problem: two years ago I walked in on my dad watching porn while my mom was at her weekly women’s bible study. In the two years since, I have walked in on or came close to walking in on him watching porn several times so I know this is a regular occurrence. I believe that God has allowed me to discover this about him. My dad has acted like nothing has changed between us, and I think that is because he has convinced himself that I did not actually see anything. There are times that he is colder towards me or dismissive and angry. He has verbally abused me on a few occasions and yelled at me for being a “petulant child” then the next minute swings back into his normal temperate state like nothing was even said. He has never treated me like this when my mom is around, and no one else in my family knows what he is like behind closed doors. Either my mom has no idea that he watches porn or has convinced herself that there is nothing that she can do about it. She has counseled me that porn use is an automatic no in a dating relationship (my dad was in the room when she said this-awkward few minutes for me).

I really need advice on what to do. I really do not want to see my dad in sinful bondage like this, but I am fearful because I am financially dependent on my parents allowing me to stay at home. I have debated and prayed and asked for advice on whether or not to confront my dad. I want him to get help, I want my parents to have a real, healthy marriage. But I have no idea how to go about that as an adult daughter still at home. There are lines that I am afraid to even toe for fear of retribution. I’ll be honest, I am very uncomfortable living in my own home and spend most of my time shut up in my room. I need advice on something, anything I can do to try and help make this situation bearable. Keeping my dad’s secret is exhausting, not just the porn use, but his verbal treatment of me at times.

This is a really hard situation, and I want to raise just a few issues which could help people make decisions about what to do in a case like this.

Do you keep the secret if you catch your dad--or another married relative--watching porn? Some thoughts on how to stop the cycle of lies in families.

You Are Not Responsible for Keeping Someone’s Marriage Together

No one is responsible for anyone’s marriage other than our own. Yes, we need to support our friends’ marriages, but that doesn’t mean that if we rock the boat and the marriage falls apart we are somehow to blame.

If something falls apart because of truth, then that something wasn’t really together in the first place. Look, what you want is for your parents (or other relatives in other cases) to have a good marriage. A good marriage is one that honors God. And Jesus said that He was the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Jesus is the Truth, and Jesus is in the Truth. We should never flee from the truth.

And if you really are the thing holding a marriage together (like if you telling a secret would break up a marriage) then that marriage wasn’t really together in the first place. Our aim should be for truth and God. God works when things are brought to light, not when things are hidden and when people refuse to address issues and work on them. Hiding things is lying. Often family tries to suck us in to agree with a big “family lie”, but that isn’t your role and it isn’t right. The Truth is what is right, and don’t ever let someone else convince you otherwise.

Secrets Eat at a Family

Secrets get replicated. What happens in one generation often gets passed on to the next, even if it’s never explicitly talked about. A woman marries a man who cheats, and even though the kids never specifically know that he cheats, somehow they all pick similar people to marry. These patterns repeat.

I once knew something about a young man at our church that I knew the parents would want to know. I went through a bit of a crisis of conscience, wondering if it was really my place to get involved. Is it honestly my business? But it came back to this: If someone knew something like that about my child, I would want to be told. And so how could I not tell his parents? They had the chance to do something about it if they knew; by not sharing the secret I wasn’t actually helping him or helping my friends (his parents). I was just allowing him to engage in really damaging behaviour under the radar.

In this case, her father is engaged in really dangerous behaviour. That sinful porn addiction is also likely responsible for the verbal abuse and the cavalier attitude about other things. Porn affects all aspects of our lives. I believe it needs to be told, either to her mom or to a pastor or to somebody, but it is absolutely not fair that she be put in a position where she feels like she has to keep a secret. That’s too big a burden to put on someone.

If you’re the one dealing with this, though, one word of caution:  you may tell your mom and she may choose to do nothing. That is her choice. But you have now given her a choice, and that’s important, in and of itself. Now you can let go of it.

We All Need a Support System

Find some mentors that you can tell these things to–not a whole lot of people, but some, who can pray for you before you disclose the secret and who can pray for you as you try to live in this environment. You can’t carry this all by yourself anymore.

We Need a Safe Place to Live

Here’s another thing that’s so important to realize: we all need a safe place to live. So many studies have been written about the effects of living in a toxic environment. If you are putting up with verbal abuse and lies because you need to save money, you still are likely paying too high a cost.

Toxic people hurt you. They give you a negative outlook on life. They wreck your self-esteem. They make you pessimistic and sad. That’s not a good combination.

Sometimes Life Involves Risk

Disclosing your dad’s porn use is risky; you may not be able to live at your parents’ house anymore. But often doing the right thing is also doing the risky thing. The reason so many of us live miserable lives is because we choose to live with the secrets rather than rocking the boat. And when we do that we limit what God can do.

God really can do amazing things, but He tends to do those things when we open ourselves up, make ourselves vulnerable, and stop trying to protect ourselves.

And that may mean not just disclosing a secret, but also moving out.

And it doesn’t have to be that expensive! A female grad student who stays in her room on wifi? Do you know how great a tenant that is? My mom rented out a room to a college student a few  years ago really inexpensively. If you’re prepared to just take a room in someone’s home, you can often find an older woman or an older couple who just needs a little more income and who has a spare room. Sometimes someone in your church, if you let the need be known, may do it for free to help you get on your feet. It’s not like you necessarily have to rent a whole apartment.

The unknown is scary, but when we step there, God opens doors.

One More Thing: Porn is Not Inevitable

This woman’s mom said that porn is inevitable in a dating relationship. She’s right, it is inevitable–IF you date people who use porn and IF you tolerate it. Whatever you tolerate will continue.

Whatever you tolerate will continue. #marriagetip

Most teens will be exposed to porn (which is why it’s so important to protect the gadgets in your home! See here for a special 2-month free offer from Covenant Eyes).  But while many teens will be tempted (including girls) not all will become habitual users. And if they are habitual porn users, that needs to be dealt with before an engagement or marriage–but it absolutely CAN be defeated.

People say porn is inevitable because it gives them an “out”–if their significant other uses porn, and they haven’t wanted to rock the boat for fear of losing that person, they likely justified it to themselves by saying, “everyone uses it”. But it’s not true.

If, in your circle of friends, everybody uses it and no one is struggling to stop, then you need a new circle of friends. Porn isn’t inevitable, porn can be defeated, and many, many people are fighting for pure marriages.

So those are my thoughts for this poor woman, but I know that there are many of you in the same position–people who caught their brother-in-law using porn, or their married brother, or an uncle, or whoever. Let me leave you with one last thought: what if your sister-in-law (or whoever the spouse is) has been struggling under this burden of her husband’s porn use? What if she has thought it was hopeless? What if she has convinced herself there is nothing she can do, and she feels so alone and so dirty? And then you come to her and say, “no, this is not acceptable. You’re right to be upset.” You actually free her from the trap that she’s built for herself. You’ve spoken truth into a web of lies, and it’s amazing how one word of truth can often turn a situation around. Maybe she’s hurting, and she needs the strength to do something about it. Maybe you’re the kick in the pants, the reality check, the support she needs.

Now, I’d love to know: have you ever been in a situation where you caught a relative using porn? Or did you have secrets in your family? What did you do? Let’s talk in the comments and encourage each other!

Reader Question: Should You Wait Until You Finish College for a Relationship?

Reader Question of the WeekEvery Monday I like to post a Reader Question and take a stab at answering it. Today’s comes from a college-aged friend of my oldest daughter Rebecca. Should you wait until you finish college to have a relationship–or to marry?

This is a question that’s rather emotional to me, because both Rebecca and myself dated men who felt this way–and eventually ended it. Both of us were just starting relationships early in university, and those men, who genuinely liked if not loved us, decided that they didn’t want to pursue a relationship because school was more important.

In retrospect, we’re both glad, even though it hurt horribly at the time, because I got my amazing husband and Rebecca is now in a serious relationship. But that man that I would have married in a heartbeat has now been divorced at least once, and the man Rebecca would likely have married is now alone.

I am not saying that we are the ones who caused these men’s heartache–as if, had they chosen us instead, they’d be happy now. I actually think that this idea they both had that school came first was the main cause of their current predicament–not that they lost us in particular. So let me share my reader’s question, and then I’ll look at it from several angles: the young woman; the young man; and the parents of that young man.

I’ve been best friends with a guy from my church for years, and lately I’ve been interested in him for an actual relationship. We went on a few dates, but then out of the blue he told me that he didn’t want to keep seeing me because he doesn’t want a relationship until he’s finished medical school–and he hasn’t even started yet! Do I let him go? And if so, how?

I’m going to answer that by talking mostly to the guy in this scenario, so here goes:

Should you wait until college is over to pursue a relationship? Some thoughts on why that can backfire.

Priorities Follow You–if you prioritize work above all early, you will prioritize it later too

Rebecca and I were chatting about this question yesterday, and she said an insightful thing: “in marriage you have to deal with personality differences and family of origin differences and differences in expectations, but these can all be overcome if you share two important things: you both love God, and you both feel the relationship comes first.” And she’s right. If you both love God and you both value the relationship, you can work through anything else.

But here’s what happens to many people when they approach school: They think, I have made certain goals for my life academically and career-wise. And I can’t afford to have anything distracting me from my goals.

There’s a problem with that line of thinking, and it goes like this: If you decide that the main focus for your life will be your career, then the main focus of your life WILL BE YOUR CAREER. It will not automatically change once you graduate. Essentially you’re saying: I need to concentrate on my real life now, and when I am ready I will add a wife and children (or a husband and children, if the roles are reversed). And that’s the problem: you’re ADDING the wife to your life; she is not the central focus of it. You have compartmentalized your life, and you likely will continue to do so. It will be very difficult to all of a sudden do a 180 and then start thinking of your wife, and here’s why:

Life Does Not Get Any Easier After College is Over

This essentially is the biggest misconception people make about relationships and college. They’re so focused on reaching their goal–whether it’s becoming a doctor or getting that Ph.D. or whatever–that they think that once this is over I can start to live my real life.

But let me tell you: I have been married to a physician all during his training (including medical school and residency), and I have done postgraduate work myself. And while there is a unique kind of stress to school, there is stress at every stage of life. Every single stage. And it doesn’t get easier.

If you train yourself that your way of handling stress is to be alone and buckle down and get it done, then that is also the way you will handle stress when you are married. If you think you have no time for a relationship now, you will have no time for a relationship later, either–even if you do marry. Everything in life is about priorities. And deciding that a relationship is a lower priority now is also toxic to a marriage later. Those who prioritize school now are far more likely to become workaholics and have distant marriages later. Which leads me to this thought:

Don’t Underestimate the Asset that a Relationship Can Be During College

I grew up without my dad. I endured my mother and my step-father splitting up at a very vulnerable age for me (14). My son died.

But with all that, I can tell you that the thing that took the worst toll on me is the fact that my now-husband initially broke off our engagement. For three months I was alone, thinking that relationship wouldn’t work, until he came back and we started again.

Why do I share that? Because as terrible as the death of my son was, I could deal with it because I was in a good marriage. Being married strengthened me; being alone shattered me. I learned a lot from that period of my life; it was a spiritual turning point, and God used it for good. But looking back, I also know that one reason God gave us a marriage partner is so that we don’t have to take the storms of life alone. Having someone to walk through the hard times with you is a tremendous boon.

I was married during some of Keith’s hard struggles with school. Medical school was awful for him; he’s an outgoing, energetic, kind person, and having to do extreme bookwork for two years with professors constantly talking down to you was debilitating. He almost quit, and he often says that he would have had it not been for me encouraging him and telling him that being a doctor would be completely different from being a medical student. If he could just get through this, he could get through anything.

And the sex didn’t hurt, either.

Seriously. Sex is a great stress reliever!

So here’s the thing as a student: you’re going to go through stress anyway. It’s going to be a lot of work. So you can choose to go through it alone, or you can say, “if God brings me someone, I’ll really consider it.”

There is a degree of pride in saying “I can do it on my own better.” God made us for relationship.

God’s Agenda is Not Always Our Agenda

I’m a goal-oriented person, and so I can understand being so focused on an academic goal that you decide that relationships have to wait. But I don’t think this is a wise spiritual decision.

You may have the best plan in the world–but that’s all it is. It is a plan of your own making. Do not EVER become so wedded to your own plans that you miss out on what God has for you. Keep open to the Spirit. Keep open to new things. Keep open to changing your plans. If your plans become your life, then you are cutting God out and you are standing in His place, and that’s pride. It may seem like it’s selfless–I don’t want to get into a relationship with someone when I know how much I will have to work to get through this degree, and so I’m sacrificing my own happiness for the sake of the person I may end up hurting–but it’s really pursuing your own goals no matter what.

For some people that may be what God has for them. But in my own life, every time I have thought I had a really great plan God has changed it. The people that I see who are miserable today or not living up to their potential tend to be people who have pursued their own plans. Be careful.

A Quality, God-Fearing Spouse is Not Easy to Find

Many people who delay relationships for school figure that they will meet someone wonderful later. They may even see this as an act of faith–believing that God would bring someone else when they had made themselves ready. (And if God has honestly told you to wait, it likely is an act of faith. But save a word from God, I’d just be very careful.)

God does not work on our timetable. And if you find someone that you respect and admire and get along with easily and laugh together who also loves God–do not give that up lightly.

Break Up Because the Relationship Won’t Work, Not Because the Timing Won’t Work

If you end something, it should be because God has shown you the person won’t work. Timing isn’t a deal-breaker; it’s an obstacle, that’s all. Jacob had to work fourteen years for Rachel in the Old Testament story, but he didn’t abandon her just because of timing. “A wife of noble character is hard to find”–as is a husband of noble character. Don’t shut a door that you don’t know will open again. That may feel like an act of faith, but from what I’ve seen, it’s more likely that you’re substituting your own plans for God’s plans.

But What About Money to Support a Spouse?

After all, if you marry, shouldn’t you be able to support someone? Isn’t that a legitimate reason to wait?

It may be a legitimate reason to wait to marry; but I don’t think it’s a legitimate reason to wait to have a relationship.

First, if you’re living off of student loans and part-time jobs to put yourself through school, chances are it’s cheaper to be married and live in one household anyway, so money shouldn’t really be a factor in that case. When Keith and I married we saved money, and because we were married we also qualified for more government assistance because they stopped taking our parents’ income into account.

But what if you’re going through school on your parents’ dime? Here’s where parents need to enter the conversation. With our daughters, we are paying a certain percentage of their undergraduate costs (once you’re in grad school you can earn your own way). We have always decided to do that, and it doesn’t change if they marry. So they don’t get cut off from support for school just because they marry.

Last Words to the Young Woman:

To the woman who asked this question, you need to move on and run far away from this guy. If he can’t prioritize you now, he would not be able to prioritize you if you ever married, either. Run close to God, and God will fill the gaping hole you’re feeling right now. And God will bring someone into your life who WILL prioritize you–don’t ever settle for less.

Last Words to the Young Man:

I do understand how important school is. I understand the urge not to pursue a relationship because everything is so up in the air, and you don’t feel you have the time to dedicate to a relationship right now. If no young woman presents herself, then this may honestly be okay. But be careful of ending a potential relationship with a great young woman over timing, because the timing will never get better. And ask yourself this: in twenty years, what do I want most? A great career, or a great marriage and family? If the answer is “a great career”, then you likely should remain single always. That isn’t fair to a spouse. And if the answer is “a great marriage and family”, then that doesn’t happen automatically.

You can’t wall yourself off from people now and expect to be able to prioritize them later. Tread carefully; listen to God’s voice; and keep your eyes open.

Last Words to the Parents:

We live in an age where we value status and career almost over everything else. This is a mistake. The most important aspect of your child’s life will be the legacy he or she leaves behind. For some of us, that will be about career, but for most of us, it’s about family. And family often speaks more to character than anything else. Don’t push your child away from relationships in college, because that’s giving the wrong message about what’s really important in life.

You may also like: Top 10 Reasons to Marry Young

And now, let me know: what do you think? Can and should college and relationships be combined? Leave me a comment and tell me your experiences!

 

 

 

Christian Sex Toy Parties: Are They a Good Idea?

Christian Sex Toy Parties: Are they a good idea?

What do you do if you’re invited to one of those “fun” sex toy parties?

Reader Question of the WeekIt’s Monday, the day when I post a Reader Question and take a stab at answering it. Today I want to tackle these sex toy parties–especially the “Christian” sex toy parties. Here’s a reader’s question:

I love to read your blog and when I was wrestling with this in my head I was curious what you would do. A good friend of mine has a direct sales business with “girls’ nights in” to explore sex toys, lubes, lingerie, other “fun” things for couples that her company sells. She’s asked me to do parties for her before and I’m skeptical only b/c we don’t like toys, and I just feel like this area of my life is more private (like I don’t share w/ anyone except for my BFF, not a room full of guests in my home). So what are your thoughts on this? Am I too uptight? Thanks!

Great question, and I’ve got a bit of a multifaceted answer. So here we go!

There’s a Difference Between Sex Aids and Sex Replacements

I’m all for using lube–It’s indispensable when you’re just married and you’re nervous about sex, and it becomes indispensable again when you’re in perimenopause/menopause and you aren’t quite as well lubricated as you used to be. It makes quickies easier, and it often makes arousal easier.

Similarly, I’m a big fan of lingerie. I think most women feel a lot more confident with a little bit of material on, and most men really appreciate us in lingerie! It also shows that we’re making an effort.

Massage candles, massage oil, even feathers–awesome! Some of the things that you use to make intercourse easier or more pleasurable–I’m fine with that. Really (though I’m not going to spell them all out). But there is a difference between something that makes enhances sex and something that basically replaces a partner during sex. For instance, I know there are times when vibrators are important–I’ve talked to some readers with health issues who have found that a husband using a vibrator on his wife is one of the only ways that he can give her pleasure, and I do understand that.

It’s just that, in general, the more you use a vibrator, the less likely you are to orgasm during intercourse because the feeling is so much more intense. No guy can vibrate like that. And I could say similar things about some other sex toys.

And the problem is that most of these parties don’t distinguish between the two, and that makes me uncomfortable. Many of them ask to advertise on this site, and I always say no. It’s not that I think sex toys are a sin–I don’t. It’s just that I think that many fall into the category of “Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial” that we read in 1 Corinthians 10:23.

You don’t want to stress the physical aspect of sex over the spiritual/emotional aspect

Good Girls Guide My SiteHere’s an argument I’ve made before, so I won’t dwell on it much here. But those who tend to enjoy sex the most are also those who are the most intimate–who have been married for about a decade and a half, and who rate their spiritual intimacy as quite high. In the surveys that I did for my book The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex, where I explained this point in great detail, I said that the best way to make sex better was to feel more intimate already. In fact, prayer actually makes a woman more orgasmic (which I know seems weird, but it’s true!)

I firmly believe that you can be both hot and holy–and indeed, the two tend to go hand in hand (as the holy-meter increases, so does the hot-meter!) But because of that, if we ignore the holy part entirely and simply look at the mechanics of sex, we often lose out on the beauty.

Those who feel closer will also feel more vulnerable and will be able to explore more. Sex will be awesome. But if you only look at the increasing the physical aspect without the other, then you often lose something. And especially in this culture where I’ve found the biggest sexual problem most couples have is that they’ve made sex completely physical–because of porn, or the way they were brought up, etc–then doing something else which reinforces that doesn’t end up helping sex.

You can read more about this in the Good Girls Guide to Great Sex, or in my post on Christians and sex toys.

Bondage is a slippery slope

Here’s another issue–many, if not most, of today’s sex toys are bondage oriented, especially after the success of books like 50 Shades of Grey. And bondage humiliates and degrades, and treats a woman as if she were an impersonal object.

Pulling Back the Shades: Erotica, Intimacy, and the Longings of a Woman's HeartLook–tying someone up playfully can definitely enhance sensation. When you can’t move, you feel everything more. Tying them up with the intention of hurting them in some way (like spanking and whipping) or humiliating them is an entirely different thing. And as I wrote before, I just don’t see how that correlates with treating someone in a loving way.

For more about this argument, see the book Pulling Back the Shades.

Remember the “weaker brother” argument when it comes to sex toy parties

In Romans 14, Paul makes a long argument about how we have to be careful not to put a stumbling block in another person’s way. We may not have an issue with something, but if another Christian does, and we pursue it anyway, it could cause them to stumble.

The classic example here is alcohol: you and your husband may enjoy a glass of wine, but if you serve alcohol to someone who is a former alcoholic, you’re causing them to stumble. Better to leave the wine somewhere else and serve orange juice.

So let’s say that you have a friend whose marriage has been under strain because of porn issues, or because her husband wants her to do things she doesn’t want to do, or because she’s wanted to push some boundaries a little too far. And then you invite her to one of these parties, thinking it’s just a “fun” way to spice up your life.

Her conscience may have been working on her lately: I need to confront my husband and tell him we’re not watching porn together anymore. I need to confront my husband and tell him that I want our marriage bed to be pure.

You then invite her to a party, and she thinks, “Maybe I’ve been hearing God wrong! Maybe I’ve just been too uptight. I mean, here’s my friend who is an awesome Christian and she’s advertising dildos and vibrators and lots of things, so obviously I’ve been wrong thinking that our sex life has become too impersonal. Anything goes, because there’s freedom in marriage!”

And she’s now silenced the Holy Spirit who has been working on her in this area.

Look, for some people using all of these things may not affect their intimacy or marriage in the slightest. But for some it really might. And in the same way that you wouldn’t host a wine tasting or shots party for the College & Career group in your church–even if you drink wine or the occasional mixer–why would you host a sex toy party for people when you really don’t know their back story?

Spread the word about how great sex is

The church has been really sex-negative in the past, and we do need to become more sex-positive and start talking about sex more. We need to tell our friends, “I enjoy sex, and if you’re not having sex in your marriage, that’s bad and I want to help you”. We need to stop making this a secret.

I totally agree.

I just don’t think that these sex toy parties are the way to do that. So I’d love to know in the comments: How can we become more vocal and sex positive WITHOUT going to the extreme? And if you think I’m wrong about the sex toy parties, leave a comment, too! Let’s start a discussion.

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Reader Question: My Husband is Too Tired for Sex

Reader Question of the WeekEvery Monday I like to post a Reader Question and take a stab at answering it. Today’s is one that lots of people struggle with: what do we do if we’re just too tired for sex?

What advice do you offer women who are married to men who are a little older and say they have the desire to have sex but just don’t feel up to it? I’m 36, hubby is 56. I have lupus, he has injuries from the war in Iraq. Neither one of us are rock stars. But I married a sex crazed man four years ago and now I’m doing good if we have sex once a month. It’s hard not to take it personally. When I try talking to him about it I see the hurt in his eyes, like he feels he’s letting me down. How do I accept that this is just the way it is? How do I protect my heart and mind?

Okay, ladies, it’s time for a bit of a pep talk today!

Maybe I’m just in an energetic mood because I finally finished all the major revisions for my new book (9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage) and got it off to the publishers, and I feel like I have my life back, but let’s think positively today! I’m going to comment on the general issue of feeling too tired for sex, and not on this particular letter writer’s issue, because I really don’t know what his health condition is. So let’s think of some general principles:

Too Tired for Sex? How to find energy again in your marriage!

Live out your priorities–If you’re too tired for sex, are you too tired for everything else too?

I’m not trying to diminish the reality of being exhausted. I know many people are–especially when we’re getting little sleep because of shift work or because we’re in school studying for exams or because we’re pregnant. And when it’s a short term thing–like exams or pregnancy–grace should abound.

But look long-term for a moment. If sex is a priority (and it should be), then make sure you prioritize it! Don’t make it come last. If you have health issues, then you are only going to have energy for certain things. Make sure sex is one of them. Don’t overcommit yourselves to stuff. Don’t have all kinds of energy to clean the house or work on a hobby, and then collapse into bed. Make sex one of the first things on your list–not just something you do at the end of the day “if” you have energy left.

I’ve written in previous posts about how scheduling sex can work for some people, and in this case it may be a very good idea. If you know, we’re going to make love Tuesday night, then you can make sure that Tuesday you get ready! You don’t play video games until 1 in the morning. You don’t work late if you don’t have to. You get ready for sex!

Read it here: Scheduling Sex

Wasting time makes you more tired

Here’s another truth: when we’re tired, we tend to gravitate towards inactive things, like watching TV or surfing the internet. These activities, however, SAP your energy. They don’t preserve it.

That’s true for several reasons, but here are just a few: we know that these things don’t actually add tremendously to our lives, in the same way that talking to a friend, doing a hobby, journaling, or taking a walk do. And because of that, they tend to sap our souls. There’s nothing wrong with them in moderation (and I knit now when I watch netflix, which turns it into a hobby!), but have you ever spent an entire day watching TV and then at the end of the day thought, “where did today go?” It’s depressing because that’s time you can never get back. And if you have tendencies towards depression already, screens tend to make it worse, while fresh air tends to make it better.

God created us for a purpose, and when we spend too much time on activities with no lasting value, we hurt our own souls (and we contribute to mental  health issues, which is often a reason that we feel too tired for sex).

Also, when we’re tired and in pain, sitting in one place for prolonged periods of time tends to reinforce that. I have a friend who suffers from circulation issues due to severe burns she suffered as a child and rheumatoid arthritis (and she’s relatively young)! She recently got one of those pedometers that counts the number of steps you take a day. Her average is 16,000–and she doesn’t really go for walks. She’s just always on her feet at home. I took her out to dinner last Saturday for her birthday, and we sat at the restaurant and talked for a while. It was much longer than she usually lets herself sit down. When we got ready to go, she was really stiff.

“That’s why I don’t let myself watch TV,” she said. “If I were to sit and watch a movie, I’m done for. I have to keep moving.”

Of course this depends on the severity of the problem, but in the vast majority of medical issues, moving helps, and sitting in one place hinders. Another friend of mine with fibromyalgia qualified as a life guard when she was 50 and now teaches Aquafit. If she doesn’t swim, her body stiffens up too much. Of course it’s hard to get the motivation to move when you’re in pain, but ultimately it can help get that pain under control.

Again, it depends on the condition (certain back issues, for instance, make any movement too difficult). But sitting in one place watching a screen is rarely a good idea.

Do you get enough rest?

The average person needs eight hours of sleep a night. Certain chronic pain conditions, of course, make it difficult to get a full night’s sleep.

However, most people just don’t sleep enough today because of screens. We get watching a show and we stay up later than we intended. Or we stay up until we fall asleep on the couch. That increases our chances of depression and makes our sleep far worse. If you want to sleep well, turn off the screen at least 45 minutes before you intend to hit the pillow.

If you want to make sex a priority, set a bedtime when the screens go off! Head to bed at 10 and just talk with each other. Give each other a massage before bed.

Make it happen

As we get older our bodies fall apart, and some of us will have conditions that will cause that to happen more rapidly. It isn’t fair–but it’s life. The question is: what will you do about it? And likely there is so much more that you can do than you think!

Talk to your spouse and say, “I want us to have as much fun as possible, and to have as much energy as possible!” And sex, of course, increases your energy levels because it releases good hormones, relaxes you, and helps the quality of your sleep.

Many of us have bodies that are falling apart because we just aren’t treating them well. We live far too sedentary lives, we don’t feed them well, and we don’t rest enough.

So schedule sex. Turn off the screens. Move as much as you can. Go to bed at a decent hour. Give LOTS of massages. This won’t work for all health conditions–I’ve written before about what to do if health issues make intercourse impossible. But I think many of us are settling for crumbs in life when we can still have so much more! Sometimes we get into these bad habits because it’s just so easy. We’re tired at the end of the day, so sitting in front of  a screen seems enticing. But it won’t really help in the long run.

Ask yourself: is the way I’m living my life sapping my physical and emotional energy, or giving me more? If it’s sapping it, do a re-examination. Sometimes it just takes a few tweaks for you to find you have your life back!

Let us know: what have you found? Have you had something in your life that sapped your energy that you had to get rid of? Or did you find another way to boost your energy? Leave us a comment and tell us!

Reader Question: How Do I Talk To My Kids About Sex?

Reader Question of the WeekThis week I’m going full throttle, doing the final edits for my upcoming book, 9 Thoughts That Will Change Your Marriage. So I’ve asked some awesome friends to guest post for me. And I thought I’d start with this week’s Reader Question about talking to your kids about sex. A mom wrote in and asked:

I have an 3 kids under 8. We have had conversations about aspects of the relationship between men and women, how babies come out of the women’s body (not yet talked about how they get in there in the first place though) and other things like that. But we have not yet talked about the actual act of sex. I’ve heard reports that you need to have this conversation with your kids between the ages of 7-9, after that age they will have most likely gotten the information from friends or stumbling across it online.

So my question is, how do you start this conversation? I am very comfortable talking about sex with adults, but my 8 year old son is a whole other area! So I thought i’d see if you had any thoughts or advice on how you may have done this with your kids. Thanks so much!

Great question! And so I’ve asked Luke Gilkerson, from Intoxicated on Life, who has just come out with a book on this very subject to chime in. Here’s Luke:

Talking to Your Kids About Sex

“Why is my penis so big?”

This was the way my five-year-old greeted me one morning. Though he probably had experienced an erection hundreds of times before this, for some unknown reason, on that morning it confounded him. I explained to him, “That’s called an erection. Your penis is supposed to do that from time to time. There are special blood vessels in your penis that fill up with blood and make your penis hard and straight.” In the flurry of morning activities, that was all that was said, and that seemed to satisfy his curiosity for the time being.

Children are sexual beings—not in the sense that they are mature enough for sex but in the sense that they have sexual anatomy and curiosities. Their gender defines something important about who they are. For that reason, teaching our kids about human gender and sexuality is an important piece of their education, even from a young age.

Anxieties About Sex

Ever since I released my parent-child Bible study about sexuality, The Talk, I’ve received questions from many parents—some of them filled with questions and anxiety—about how talk to young kids about sex. I understand this anxiety. For many of us, sex has either burned us in the past or we were raised in a world where sex was never discussed. We remember the angst of puberty, first crushes, first kisses, discovering masturbation, discovering pornography, and perhaps specific sexual sins we regret. Sex is not a topic some relish talking about.

In some sense, the fear of talking about sex with our kids is normal because we know sex is a powerful force, and whatever we say to our kids about it, we want to say right.

Too Much Too Soon?

Some parents fear saying too much too soon to their young children. Won’t these conversations spark sexual curiosity in them too early?

I think it is important to dissect the question a bit.

  • First, what is meant by “sexual curiosity”?
  • Second, what is meant by “too early”?

For some parents, curiosity about sex, especially in children, is seen as somehow dirty. For these parents, sexual curiosity is intimately linked to sexual sin. In reality, this is far from the truth. Sexual curiosity includes a wide variety of interests: curiosity about sexual anatomy (one’s own and that of the opposite sex), curiosity about how babies are made and grow, curiosity about romance, and curiosity about sexual intercourse are all as natural as the day is long. None of these curiosities is an indicator of an unhealthy or premature desire to have sex.

Furthermore, the fear that we might initiate conversations about sex “too early” is often based on the assumption that our kids are living in a sexual vacuum. This is far from the truth. Kids are coming home from the playground learning about oral sex at age 6. Kids are seeing sexual themes in video games, TV advertisements, and in the grocery store checkout aisle. Even if you take away the overtly sinful examples, kids hear about sexual themes in the midst of wholesome activities all the time: listening to a sermon, watching you and your spouse kiss, and even reading the Bible. The reason why you, as a parent, need to start conversations about sex now is because you have the opportunity to shape and mold what they are already picking up from the environment they’re in.

You will not rob a child of his or her innocence by giving them biblical and biological information about sex. Focus on the Family’s Complete Guide to Baby & Child Care says it well:

Giving a child facts about reproduction, including details about intercourse, does not rob him of innocence. Innocence is a function of attitude, not information. A school-age child who understands the specifics of sex, while seeing it as an act that, in the proper context, both expresses love and begins new life, retains his innocence. But a child who knows very little about sex can already have a corrupt mind-set if he has been exposed to it in a degrading, mocking, or abusive context.

Talking to Young Kids About Sex (Ages 4-7)

1. Get used to it.

I have a friend who routinely speaks to groups of parents at churches addressing hot-button sexual issues like pornography. He’s a dynamic speaker and well-loved by all the audiences he addresses. He gets one complaint everywhere he goes, however: “It was a little uncomfortable when you said words like ‘testicles’ and ‘clitoris.’ Next time you do this talk you should really censor some of your words.” Good grief. If you can’t get together in a room with other adults—adults who have all chosen to gather in a room to hear a talk about pornography—and you can’t stand to hear basic anatomy terms, no wonder you can’t talk to your kids about sex.

For some, sex is embarrassing. They can’t picture saying words like “penis” and “vagina” in the same sentence—let alone talking about how they go together.

If this is you, you have three choices: push through the awkwardness, get comfortable with it, or be silent. If you don’t speak, the world will be more than happy to fill the void.

2. Teach it like you would any other subject: according to what they can grasp

You need to talk to your kids where their cognitive abilities will allow them to go. For the same reason you don’t teach your child their times tables at age 4, you also don’t have a long chat with them about the birds and the bees at age 4. Toddlers are in what is called the preoperational stage of child development. Though their language skills are maturing, they do not have logical reasoning skills. They think very concretely. Concepts like cause and effect are unknown to them.

During this stage of life, talks about sex should be brief and very concrete. My brief conversation with my son about his erection is an example of this. It was not a no-holds-barred everything-you-need-to-know conversation. It is about giving them little bits of information about sexual biology and sexual norms over time. Sometimes, time will permit you to have longer conversations, but remember to keep things focused on one subject at a time.

3. Teach it like you would any other subject: progressively over time

Don’t feel the need to have a single talk about everything sexual. Not only would this take far too long, these conversations and themes work best when they are repeated over and over, progressively over the course of a child’s life. In the early phases of life (0-3), give them correct labels for their body parts and confidence that their bodies are created by God. As they start to notice gender differences, explain some of the obvious outward differences between boys and girls. Affirm them in their gender identity. Help them practice modesty. Model how your child should joyfully react to things like pregnancies and weddings.

As your child gets older (4-8), you can unpack more information about human reproductive organs (male and female). Model the importance of privacy when it comes to nakedness. Warn them from time to time about pornography: tell them that if they see images, cartoons, photos, or videos that show naked people that is not healthy to see. Especially as they get closer to 1st and 2nd grade, children start to enter a new phase of development where they can reason more logically and can start to understand things from another’s perspective more easily, making more detailed conversations much easier.

These do not need to be sit-down, fire-side chats, but they can happen in the context of daily life as questions are asked or opportunities arise.

4. Let the Bible break the ice for you

For more formal discussions about sex, the best context is during conversations about the Bible.

First, get into the habit of opening the Scriptures together as a family, reading from the Bible, praying together, and talking biblical truths. This is Christian Parenting 101: establish a routine in your home that communicates the importance of the Bible to our understanding about God and human beings.

The Talk: 7 Lessons to Introduce Your Child to Biblical SexualitySecond, use specific passages from the Bible to break the ice on these sexual topics. I recommend texts like Genesis 1:24-31, 2:18-25, Exodus 20:14; Psalm 139:13-18, and 1 Corinthians 6:18-20. These texts cover major themes like the creation of male and female, the command to procreate, the mystery and beauty of life in the womb, the evil of adultery and sexual sin, and the importance of honoring God with our bodies.

If you need help with this, my family Bible study, The Talk: 7 Lessons to Introduce Your Child to Biblical Sexuality, gives you a script to walk through these texts with a child

5. Let real life break the ice for you

Sometimes the most natural conversations about sex happen in the context of real life—all the way from the very wholesome or mundane to the perverse.

  • Some kids are naturally inquisitive and will be forward about their questions, like, “How do babies get in your belly?”
  • If you are around farm animals or wildlife, or if you have pets, your kids might catch animals “in the act.”
  • If your pastor preaches something with a sexual theme, your child might become curious about what is being taught.
  • If you see a pregnant woman, you can always stoke their curiosity about how God makes a baby grow in the womb.
  • If your child sees something inadvertently on TV or in a movie that has a sexual theme, don’t be silent. Ask them, “What’s wrong about the way they are portraying this?”
  • If your child comes home from school or a play date and relates some bad information he heard about sex from one of his friends, take time to correct the error.

Encouragement to Parents

The book of Proverbs, written especially for the young, warns its readers many times about the seduction of lust and easy sex. But the readers are promised they can avoid the snare of sexual sin. How?

…keep your father’s commandment,
and forsake not your mother’s teaching.
Bind them on your heart always; tie them around your neck.
When you walk, they will lead you;
when you lie down, they will watch over you;
and when you awake, they will talk with you. (Proverbs 6:20-22)

Be encouraged. Your words have power. Your commands are life giving. Your teachings are critical. In years to come, the echoes of your voice will watch over your children even in the darkest corners of temptation.


Luke GilkersonThe Talk: 7 Lessons to Introduce Your Child to Biblical SexualityLuke Gilkerson is the Educational Resource Manager at Covenant Eyes, where he teaches others about staying pure online. He blogs about adventures in parenting at IntoxicatedOnLife.com with his wife Trisha.

You can buy his book, The Talk: 7 Lessons to Introduce Your Child to Biblical Sexuality, on Amazon in paperback or get a digital version in his online store.

Reader Question: When Your Husband’s Job Stress Wrecks Your Sex Life

Reader Question of the WeekWhat do you do when your husband’s job stress wrecks your sex life?

Every Monday I like to post a reader question and take a stab at answering it. As a doctor’s wife, I could really relate to this question from a woman whose husband’s job stress sucks the romance out of their marriage:

Hi Sheila,

I just had to write and say that hands-down, your book “a good girls guide to great sex “has been the most useful book I’ve read all year. My husband said there has been such a difference that he owes you a box of chocolates. (Sheila says: tell him truffles are my favourite!)

Speaking of my husband I have a question. He’s a youth pastor and my biggest challenge now is how do I change the mood at night for us? It’s common for him to get texts/calls from teens at night who are cutting or dealing with eating disorders or drunk parents. The mood goes from light-hearted and me being excited to having quality time with him in the bedroom to heavy burdened for these kids. Besides praying together any suggestions?

I have to admit that this is something I’ve struggled with and I don’t think I have an easy answer.

On the one hand, people would be quick to say, “you need boundaries! Just turn off the phone at night.” But when there are such horrible things happening that’s hard.

Sometimes Job Stress is Inevitable

My husband is a pediatrician who often has to respond to life and death emergencies at our small town local hospital. When we first moved here fifteen years ago, there weren’t enough pediatricians to cover the call schedule. There were often days that were completely uncovered.

And then, if an emergency happened at the hospital, what would the hospital do? They would phone Keith at our house because they were desperate, and he had a very hard time saying no, because a child could actually die.

I remember my daughter Katie’s second birthday party. We had family over, and it was a day that we had looked forward to for weeks. And just as I was lighting the candles the phone rang. A baby had been shaken and was unresponsive in the Emergency Room. Could Keith come?

He rushed to the hospital and stabilized the little boy for transport. He died a month later, and Keith testified at the trial that put the step-father in jail.

To this day I still remember that little boy’s name: Tyler Barriage. I write it here because I don’t want that poor little boy to be forgotten. He was only a little younger than my own daughter, and we were celebrating her birthday just as he was being killed.

I could have gotten angry at Keith for going into the hospital, and plenty of times I did–when it wasn’t as life and death. But that ultimately wouldn’t help.

So I don’t just want to say “get better boundaries”, because I really do understand the pull of these difficult jobs. But let me still give you some “big picture” strategies that perhaps you can use to reclaim your marriage in the midst of job stress.

Job Stress and Marriage: When job demands intrude on your relationship

Is the Job Stress Life or Death?

Some men (and some women–I can be guilty too) let their work intrude on everything. Often business owners are especially guilty of this. We have started a business and so we want to have control and make sure everything is okay. When people call at night, or when we have some spare time, we immediately respond to these job demands, and often family life falls by the wayside.

Is this life or death though? Certainly there are seasons when a business is in trouble and it needs more attention. But a relationship can’t sustain a workaholic spouse. This isn’t really the issue I’m addressing today, but I know that it is a very common one, and if your husband has a hard time putting his work away at night, perhaps you can leave some comments and I’ll try to write a follow-up post that addresses workaholism.

Does the Job Stress Just SEEM Life or Death?

What I do want to talk about today, though, is what to do with the job that actually IS life and death. But sometimes what looks like life and death may not actually be life and death.

In the letter writer’s case, I wonder if this is what’s happening. Let’s face it: if teens know that if they threaten to cut themselves that the youth pastor will drop everything and talk to you for hours, what’s going to stop them from keeping threatening to cut themselves?

If you are always at everyone’s beck and call for everything they deem a crisis, then crises will multiply.

My husband faced this, and finally the pediatricians sat down with the hospital and emergency doctors and obstetricians and said, “if you call us for everything we will burn out, and then you won’t just have 5 days a month with no one on call; you’ll never have anyone on call. So from now on you can’t call us unless it is truly life and death.”

So perhaps you can set up some systems so that people are still able to get a hold of you in emergencies, but only in emergencies.

Here’s one idea: turn off your cell phone outside of business hours, and let people know that if they have a crisis, they will have to actually phone. People text without giving it much thought. To pick up a phone and have to call someone’s house is different. You realize that you’re calling a family. You realize that it may be dinner hour. There’s more of an inconvenience aspect. And to teens who text all the time, having to phone may slow them down.

With my husband, we also got into the habit of me answering the phone. That way I could screen his calls if necessary. If you set up the expectation that “I am available all the time by text during the day, but in the evenings I’m only available in emergencies”, perhaps some of these calls will lessen.

 Recruit Others to Help

If you are in a job, especially a ministry position, where people are constantly in crisis, then you should not be the only person handling this. It isn’t healthy for the church, for you, or for the people you’re ministering to. What happens if a dozen teens rely on you for everything and then suddenly you’re in an accident or you quit your job from burnout? They have to be connected to the church, not just to you.

So set up a system where several adults become “buddies” for several friends. Or in a churchwide situation set up a system where certain elders in the church (it could be an actual position, or it could be volunteers with great wisdom) divide up the church phone book between them, and everybody knows who their own person to call is. That way the expectation is that you only call the pastor if it’s an actual emergency.

I went to a church like that almost two decades ago now. If I had an issue to talk about, I called a woman, and she was wonderful. But when my son died in the middle of the night, we called the pastor and he came down and sat with us. Now, if we had called him for everything, he would have been so burnt out he couldn’t have come the night we really needed him.

So perhaps having a talk with the leadership team at the church, or the hospital, or the police station, or wherever, and talking about how to divide up the task so that others are also responding to crises can work.

Get Out of Town Regularly

Finally, you can try all of these things and sometimes they just don’t work. With my husband’s job we managed to certainly minimize the intrusions, but they were still there.

What saved us was that we left regularly. We camped a lot in the summer. We took trips. We visited friends for weekends. And when we were away, Keith wasn’t able to help, so they didn’t call him.

Sure, there were still life and death situations, but Keith didn’t feel responsible if he wasn’t actually able to help.

For people who are always being bombarded with requests, physically removing yourself regularly throughout the year may be the only way to get some breathing room. Yes, people will still be in crisis, but you can say, “I can’t help you this weekend, and my cell phone is off, so you’ll have to call Mr. Smith instead.”

How Do You Reclaim the Evening When Job Stress Strikes?

There are some ideas about how to set some limits, but the letter writer also wanted to know: how can we reclaim the romance after a horrible phone call? I don’t have an easy answer. Certainly you can pray and try to leave it at the foot of the cross, but I know it can still ruin the mood. And that’s why I think it’s better to deal with the root of the problem and limit the requests on your time.

But if anyone has a good, practical answer to this part of the question, please leave it in the comments. How do you turn your brain off of your job and back onto your spouse after a crisis? I’d love to know!

 

Reader Question: I Think My Sister’s Husband is Controlling/Abusive

Reader Question of the WeekWhat do you do if you fear your sister is being abused (or your friend is being abused)?

That’s the question I want to tackle today. Every Monday I take a stab at answering a reader question, and this one is a really sad one. A reader writes:

My family and I are very concerned about my baby sister. She’s 15 yrs younger than I, married for over a decade. I’ll call her Sister1. We saw signs of this going in, but recently she moved closer to us, to be nearer to her family. However, she rarely replies to our emails, always has an excuse as to why she can’t get together with us, and once sent Sister2 away at the door because Sister1 had forgotten to tell her husband Sister 2 was coming. We’ve tried to address this with her, but again, she becomes defensive and evasive. We love her and her family very much.

We think that Sister 1’s husband is monitoring her email and other social media, maybe deleting some especially if it contains stuff he doesn’t want her to see or respond to. We don’t see any signs of physical abuse, but when we do see her without Hubby along, she is a very different person (as was her daughter, notably).

How do we handle this? I think she has a warped sense of what it means to be submissive.

Abuse is a very serious issue, and I can just imagine how heartbreaking it is to feel as if someone you love is being controlled or abused, when there’s so little you can do to help.

I’m not an abuse specialist, but I want to give some general thoughts today. I know many of my readers know more about this than I do, so if you can leave specific places for help in the comments that would be great!

Controlling Behaviour Usually is Accompanied by Abuse (and can be abusive in and of itself)

I know many people will read this letter and say, “but you don’t know if she’s being abused!”, and to a certain extent that’s true. I wrote a post earlier about what is abuse and what isn’t, and one of the characteristics of abuse is that you are always trying to appease the person and walking on eggshells around them. It does sound like this is happening here. She is scared of him for some reason.

Controlling behaviour–limiting someone’s access to friends and family, monitoring their communications–is a sign of abuse and is abusive in and of itself. It isn’t treating someone as a human being with the right to make decisions. It’s treating someone as your chattel, and that is wrong.

Such controlling behaviour is usually accompanied by other negative behaviours, whether it’s physical abuse or consistent verbal or emotional abuse, and that is dangerous.

No, we don’t know if she’s being beaten to a pulp obviously (I’m just already anticipating what some of the comments will be to this), but I would still be very concerned. Controlling behaviour is a HUGE red flag.

That being said, here are some thoughts I have on where to go from here:

My Sister is Being Abused: What to do when you fear for someone you love

1. You Can’t Force Someone to Leave an Abuser

Here’s the hard part: you can’t make someone leave, and often you can’t convince someone to leave, either. It has to be their own decision. If you coerce someone or put a lot of pressure on them to leave before they’re ready, chances are they will end up going back with the abuser.

Thus, in this case the main job should be keeping the lines of communication open and letting the sister know that you will always be there to help her leave.

However–and this is a BIG however–there is not just the sister involved. It’s clear from this email that there is also a daughter (and there could be other kids), and that daughter can’t be more than about 14 (given the length of the marriage). So she’s really young. If you ever suspect that a child is being abused, you simply must call children’s services. In this case, the sister has never seen any signs of physical abuse, but if there ever are any, you don’t have a choice. Call.

The same thing is true for the sister. If you ever see any bruises, call the police. Sometimes getting the authorities involved can also show the sister that this is something serious.

2. Tell Your Sister You are Always There for Her

Let your sister know that no matter what happens, you are there for her. You love her, and you will stand by her. And this is hard: that means standing by her now, even if she decides to stay. If you condemn her for that and get in a big fight, she may not feel that she’s able to trust you in the future. Let her know that you love her and you are worried for her.

3. Talk Up Your Sister’s Good Points

If you fear your sister is being abused,  your tendency will be to talk about how awful her husband is and all the things you see that are red flags. To a certain extent you do need to mention these. But I would spend more time saying to her, “you are a strong woman”, “you are a godly woman”, “you are so kind and so generous”, and telling her examples of each of these things.

When a woman is being controlled or emotionally abused, one of the key weapons an abuser uses is to totally demoralize the person so they feel they don’t have the ability to leave. They’re too stupid, too weak, too vulnerable. If you can continue to tell her the truth–that she is capable, that she is smart, that she is strong–that may be a better message to give her.

4. Get A Nest Egg Together for Her

When I asked on Facebook what the sister should do, one commenter wrote, “start saving up money so she can leave”, and that’s actually an excellent idea. Money (or lack thereof) is often what keeps someone in an abusive/controlling relationship. Tell your sister that you have money put aside for her, and you are adding to it all the time, so that if she ever does need to leave, you can help her get set up somewhere.

5. Have your Husband Talk to Her

In this case, it sounds like part of the reason for staying may be incorrect theology. Many men believe that the wife must obey, and they don’t try to build oneness in marriage. They try to build a very dominant/submissive relationship, thinking this is what Christ wants (though I can’t remember Christ ever being dominant like that). If this is what she believes about marriage, she may think that even if she’s miserable, God wants her miserable.

If a man she respects can come alongside her and say, “God doesn’t want a husband to treat his wife that way”, this may actually go further than a woman saying the same thing.

6. Talk to the Daughter

As much as possible, keep the lines of communication open with the kids in this family. In fact, these children would be my primary concern, simply because they are minors. Talk to them as much as you can, and have them visit as much as the parents will allow. Try to be a big influence in their lives. Let the kids know that if they ever need you, you will be there, and make sure that the children know how to contact you in a hurry, and have a means to contact you in a hurry.

7. Pray a Lot and Let it Go

And now here’s the hard part. Once you’ve done all of this, you need to pray and put it in God’s hands. You can’t force the situation. And the longer I walk with God the more I realize that His timing is much better than mine. Even though I want things done immediately, often they take much longer. And it’s that delay that helps people solidify their decision and often get closer with God.

Dayspring Pray Art

It’s agony to watch someone you love become a shell of who they were in a controlling or abusive relationship. But you can’t force anyone to do anything, and they have a right to choose that (as long as their children are still safe). Love on them, keep the door open, and talk, but then you must try to let it go and leave it with God. Don’t let it sap all of your emotional energy.

Now, if anyone has anything I should add, please do so in the comments. And if anyone has any tips on how to “let it go”, please leave that in the comments, too, because I can only imagine how agonizing this would be. Thank you!