Wifey Wednesday: When your Marriage Is in Crisis

When your marriage is in crisis: how to move forward by setting boundaries

It’s Wednesday, the day when we always talk marriage! I introduce a topic, and then you all can link up your own posts below. Today I want to tackle a really hard question–one that is left often in the comments. What do I do if my marriage is in crisis, but he doesn’t think it’s a big deal and refuses to change?

Here’s a comment, for instance, that was left yesterday when we were talking about the trauma of a husband’s porn use:

If he is unrepentant how do I set boundaries? I have read your article on 4 things a wife needs to do if her husband is looking at Porn… but if he isn’t to the place of wanting to be done how are boundaries set? Technology free hours would never fly with him. His phone took a dive into the fish tank last week and I was praising God. But he mailed it in and got it fixed, and nearly every night he would take his laptop and dissappear. And now the smart phone is back and it travels with him every where he goes. Even to the bathroom! He also deletes history.

I want to say first and foremost that I weep for women in this situation. A man who is throwing away a marriage to indulge in pornography is acting so selfishly and immaturely. Even though it is likely an addiction, it still makes me almost physically ill to think about this.

And I know there are men doing other things which are toxic to a marriage–gambling, overspending, refusing to work. I received an email last week from a woman whose husband, as soon as they were married, announced, “I believe that God will provide work”, and so he refuses to look for work. They now live in his parents’ cramped basement while she tries to hobble together what money she can while caring for the children, while the husband plays video games all day. And then there are the men who write in whose wives have refused to have sex for years.

These are horrible, horrible situations. And if you confront your husband (or your wife), and he does nothing to change or says he won’t change, what do you do?

I recognize that the vast majority of those reading this blog do not have marriages in crisis, and don’t worry–some “regular” marriage thoughts will be coming again soon on this blog! But I do receive so many notes from women in crisis situations that I thought it warranted a post. And because I rank so high on Google for certain search terms for people in crisis in their marriages, I get a lot of people in that situation here. So this post is for those who are in crisis!

Whatever you tolerate will continue.

I wish people could understand this earlier–even when they’re dating. If you tolerate a little bit of porn, it will continue until it’s a lot. Obviously we should never go ballistic over each and every sin, but there are some things which need to be non-negotiables, and I think being sexually pure and being responsible with money are two things that are essential in any marriage. I would not marry someone who did not have a proven track record on these two things.

But what do you do if you marry someone and then these things pop up? Or if you married someone assuming the problems would get better, and then they didn’t (hint: that’s a really bad idea).

You still don’t enable sin–you be a spouse, not an enabler. If you follow that link, I have an in-depth post on when it’s necessary to get some help in your marriage and to stop tolerating certain things, and I’d encourage you to read that first. Then come back here and we’ll call this a part 2.

Read: Are You a Spouse or an Enabler?

Get yourself some support

Something has to change. A man can’t be retreating into the bathroom to look at porn on his computer, all the while his wife knowing what he is doing. A woman can’t keep living in her parent’s basement while her husband refuses to work. These things must stop.

But likely if you’re in this position you’ve talked and talked to your husband, and nothing has changed. So what do you do?

First, get some support around you. That doesn’t mean that you confide in everybody under the sun, but find a few people who can pray for you and who can give you some wise advice and counsel. I’ve shared the story before of one older friend of mine whose husband had used porn for several decades in their marriage. They had gone to counselors, and he had promised to quit, but he never did. So one day she confided in their small group and in her pastor, and the small group came and helped her move out while the pastor had a meeting with the husband saying, “you need to get your life back on track, and if you don’t, we will support your wife.”

You need a church community that takes confronting sin seriously. Unfortunately, not enough do. To many Christians, the highest ideal is a couple that stays married–no matter what. Yet this is a misreading of what God wants. God doesn’t want marriage to be a cover for people having to work on their issues. God’s purpose is that we each look more and more like Christ. Yes, God hates divorce, but you know what He hates more? His children falling farther and farther away from Him and getting more and more sucked into sin. And when we tolerate horrible behaviour, it gets worse. I am not advocating divorce. I know the vow is crucial. But it should never be a cover for people to sin.

So find yourself a Christian community that understands the necessity of wholeness. That may take some time. It may mean switching churches. It may mean that you have to get involved in that church so that you have a natural group of people around you. It takes investment on your part to be part of community. But you need that community! This is a spiritual battle. You need prayer. You need people pointing you in the right direction so you don’t get bitter and vindictive. Search those people out!

Get yourself a counselor

Likely you will need a trained person to walk through this with you, too. Most churches have a list of counselors they can give you. Some churches even have them on staff so that people in crisis don’t have to pay.

Own your boundary

Now that you have support and you know that something must be done, the question remains: what should you do to make him stop?

Right?

Wrong. That’s not the question. You can’t make him stop. You can’t pressure him to do anything. The only thing you can do is enforce your own boundaries, not his. And that means that you have to come to terms with the fact that he may not choose to change. Things may stay exactly the same, no matter what you do. Grieve that. Feel that. That is really hard to live with. This is why you need people around you, so that you know that you are never alone, and so that they can point you to Jesus.

So what is the real question? It’s this:

What is the limit to what I will tolerate? And what should be my response if that limit is crossed?

For instance, you may say, “If he is not actively looking for work, providing an income, or caring for our children so I can work, then I will not work to support him. I will work to support our children and myself, but not him.” Or you may say, “I will not be intimate with someone who is turning to porn for release. I will be the sole object of sexual attention, or I will not be the object of sexual attention at all.”

Let the law of sowing and reaping play itself out

The best vehicle that God gave us to learn to listen to him was the law of sowing and reaping–we reap what we sow. You see this throughout the Old Testament, when Moses, for instance, warns the Israelites: if you follow what God says, you will be blessed. If you don’t, you will be cursed. And this cycle continues throughout the prophets.

Boundaries in MarriageWe see it in Galatians 6:7:

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.

We should reap what we sow. Too often in marriage, though, we disrupt the law of sowing and reaping, as Cloud and Townsend explain in their book Boundaries in Marriage. A man sows destruction by using porn, and the wife reaps the rejection and sorrow.

If he is doing something to jeopardize the marriage, then he must feel the full weight of that. That is God’s tool to move him towards repentance.

Please note, I am not talking about everyday sins, like being short with you, or not always helping clean up the house, or buying too many gadgets. I’m talking about fundamental things that are toxic to a marriage. (If you’re not sure that your issue is that fundamental, then talk to someone else and get their perspective!)

My friend Anna caught her husband Paul with porn, and her response was to gather her brothers and her father to confront her husband. They disconnected the internet, carted off all the equipment, and told him in no uncertain terms that he was getting help or else. They even made sure he went and saw the pastor and got in an accountability group.

Having an intervention from people close to you is a great first step, and for many people, this works.

But what if it doesn’t work? This may mean that you have to separate for a time. That’s a scary, scary thing. But not all separations lead to divorce, and I have seen many people reconcile after a separation. This does not necessarily mean that the marriage is over. But you have to be prepared for the marriage to be over. You’re not doing this to manipulate him; you’re doing this to preserve truth. There was no truth in a marriage where you tolerate the intolerable; you’re running back to God and relying on Him, and you’re putting your relationships right.

Please: do not separate unless you have first talked to some Christian mentors or a Christian counselor and pursued other options. Don’t take this option on your own, as the first step. This is HUGE. You owe it to yourself, your husband, and your kids to consult with others and get their support. If you do something without getting help, you’re likely to let emotions take over and do something really drastic from the start. And then you won’t have help! Let people offer you advice, prayer support, and emotional support. And then they can be there for your husband, too.

If I separate, can I move on with my life?

Quite frankly, no. You are still married. If those around you agreed that separation was the best option after other things had been tried, and you have separated, I hope you have done so not with the intention of leaving him permanently. I hope that this is to provide breathing space. Space for him to be confronted by God, and space for you to find healing. Rushing into another relationship cuts off the chance of healing of your marriage, and especially if you have children, you owe your marriage some time.

Again, this is where wise counselors around you can help you navigate.

(Note: There are exceptions–I talked to a woman recently who finally left her abusive husband after finding out he had sexually abused their teenage daughter. He went to jail. She remarried. He ended their marriage by abusing their daughter. Some things should signal the end, I believe.)

Be gracious–It’s the direction that matters

If someone has been addicted to gambling, they won’t lose that pull overnight. If someone has used porn habitually for years, successfully giving it up cold turkey is really hard. Focus on the direction: is he getting better and trying to get better with occasional lapses? Then take those lapses for what they are. They are temporary failings, but they do not mean that he is not committed to the relationship and that he’ll never get better. For most people it takes years for the lapses to stop entirely and for the pull to go away, but they can start going in the right direction almost immediately.

If the issue has been sexual refusal, and she (or he) is starting to try to have sex again, if they don’t seem into it, that’s not a reason to give up or get mad. Look at the direction. If they are trying and if they are humble, then give grace.

Final thoughts

I wish I had some magic answer: If you do this, he will change (or she will change). But life isn’t like that. I don’t know why some spouses get to the point that they don’t care what the other thinks.

But, please, no matter what you are going through, know that God sees and God knows. Know that God wants to help you through this. Know that you are not alone. And know that God’s desire is for two people who love and follow Him, not people who cover up sin and hide it.

WifeyWednesday175Now it’s your turn! Have any marriage thoughts for us today? Link up the URL of a post in today’s Wifey Wednesday link up party!



The Trauma of Your Husband’s Porn Use: 8 Steps to Dealing with It

Getting Over the Trauma of Your Husband's Porn UseThe most common email I receive and comment I get on this blog is about pornography. So many of my readers are struggling with their husbands’ porn use. I’ve asked several experts to write some guest posts for me over the next few days to help us deal with the trauma of porn use and point our way to recovery. Today Dorothy Maryon, a clinical therapist, shares with us about the effects of discovering your husband uses porn–and how to get through it.

Most women are blindsided when they discover their husband has a pornography or sex addiction.

Many wives struggle to deal with that realization while their world comes crashing down and the bottom falls out of the marital basket they were trusting in. It can be a devastating and disorienting experience and it takes a big toll on their self-esteem.

It’s not uncommon for a wife to wonder why she wasn’t enough to keep her husband from straying outside of the marriage. That “enough” takes in almost everything from feeling not interesting enough, not loving enough, not thin enough, not sexy enough, and so on. In addition to those feelings is the compounded emotions of feeling disconnected from him and for some time now. Unfortunately, and mistakenly, many women fear they are the problem and spend a lot of time and effort trying to be the ideal spouse.

In reality the situation is very different than what many women think. His looking at porn is not about you. His interest, desire and connection should be all about his wife, not about a counterfeit. Pornography robs a wife of playing a central role in his life and she feels demeaned and replaced by an air-brushed picture on a screen.

His turning away from you to pornography exposes a lack on his part, not yours.

Most people underestimate the addictive quality of porn and by the time they recognize its compulsive and addictive underbelly it’s too late and they are trapped in a repetitive cycle of shame, compulsivity, and often betrayal.

So what can a wife do?

How does she recover a foundation for her own self-esteem and a roadmap to go forward?

Honestly, there are no easy answers but there are a few things we know about the trauma this causes wives–and how to help.

First, recognize that it is trauma.

The closer you are to someone who betrays you the more profound the trauma. Therapists call this “relational trauma” and it ranks right up there with all the other traumas. Because as human beings we are wired to connect and it is a brutal experience to have that connection betrayed. Women often report that they feel “crazy” or “not themselves” after such a discovery.

Some of the more common symptoms of relational trauma include:

• Fear and/or anxiety
• Outbursts of anger or rage
• Intrusive thoughts of the trauma
• Feelings of self-blame or responsibility
• Feelings of panic or feeling out of control
• Sadness or depression
• Feelings of detachment
• Feelings of worthlessness or being broken
• Preoccupation with body image
• Difficulty falling or staying asleep
• Hyper-vigilance
• Feelings of helplessness

It’s normal after a betrayal to feel and act this way.

Second, don’t isolate.

Find a way to reach out. This can be a tricky place for women. Who do you tell? Many women don’t want to “expose their husbands” and so carry the burden of “the secret” as well as their own trauma. Find someone. Tell a spiritual leader, a therapist, or a 12-step group. This experience is too difficult to navigate alone.

Third, get educated.

Learn about compulsive or addictive behavior. It will help to learn about it as a disease, as a lack, as a method of self-medicating. It will help to understand how it impacts the brain. This knowledge will also help because over time you will learn that it isn’t a lack on your part. In fact your husband can still be in love with you despite the ugly issue in his life that he has kept secret and has prevented him from being fully in the relationship.

Fourth, get help.

Find a good therapist who specializes in relational trauma and compulsivity/addiction. They can help you create a roadmap for healing. Find a friend to pray with and encourage you.

Fifth, learn how to take care of yourself.

Be self-compassionate. Do things that help you feel stronger or more grounded. Exercise. Pray. Find a pilates class. And above all be patient with your own process.

Sixth, learn about trauma and triggers that reactivate the trauma.

Understanding will help you be less reactive and more forgiving when you are. Many women describe the experience of being “triggered” as being on a roller coaster. One day you feel fine and somewhat normal and the next something small can trigger feelings of anger, grief, fear, and loss.

Seventh, don’t give up and don’t give in.

Healing is a journey and in this case requires the deep soul work that takes time and great compassion. Insist that he get help. In the case of sexual compulsivity or addiction being sorry is not enough. Work and help is required.

(Sheila says: I totally agree with this! I’ve always said that a man who says he is sorry but who refuses to admit his fault to anyone else is not really sorry. Real repentance is accompanied by confession and accountability. James 5:16–Confess your faults one to another, and pray one to another, that you may be healed!)

Lastly, take heart!

You may be familiar with the term post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) but not as familiar with the term post traumatic growth. Post traumatic growth are positive changes that can occur as a result of coping with a traumatic event. Women get through this. Post traumatic growth can lead you to a stronger sense of yourself as well as a deeper and richer life that comes from moving through a difficult and deepening experience.

Porn reveals a lack on his part--not on yours.

Dorothy Maryon, CMHC, is a licensed clinical mental health counselor who specializes in partners’ issues associated with sexual addiction in marriage. She has worked as a counselor in the LifeStar program for 15 years, focusing on addiction and relationship issues. She is in private practice and has presented at several conferences on addiction, codependency, creating safety for partners, and grief and trauma issues.

Lies We Believe About Men: Men Only Want One Thing

Yesterday I started talking about the lies that women often believe about men. Today I want to tackle another one: Men only want one thing. And I’ve asked Julie Gorman to share an excerpt from her book What I Wish My Mother Had Told Me About Men.

Men only want one thingWhat more could he possibly want from me?

Greg seemed dissatisfied with our love-making. Displeased, discontented, and disappointed. Put a “dis” in front of it, and Greg probably experienced it.

I felt him becoming more and more distant.

“What’s the matter?” I asked, exasperated.

Without skipping a beat, Greg responded. “I want you to want me!”

I seethed with anger and thought to myself. What? You want me to want you? Oh, please! Get over yourself. I am so sick and tired of not measuring up to your standards. Why am I never enough for you? I never deny you sex. Give me a break!

“I don’t want to just have sex with you, Julie. I want you to want me,” Greg continued. “I don’t just want to have sex. I want to make love. I want to connect. I want you to want to kiss me passionately.”

TV scenarios of women dropping everything to respond passionately to their lover’s touch flashed through my mind.

Seriously, Greg? You’re going to complain about my level of passion now? Most men would feel ecstatic if their wife didn’t say no to their physical advances. It’s not enough that I push my fatigue to the side to engage with you in bed? It’s not enough that when I’m not in the mood I willingly avail my body. No, that’s not enough for you! Now, you want me to rip off your T-shirt at the drop of a hat and be some bubbling bombshell who …

Greg interrupted my thoughts. “Julie, I just want you to want me.” It was the third time he’d used that phrase, and I couldn’t take it any longer.

“You want me to want you?” I erupted. “Greg, I have never denied your needs. I’ve never declined your advances. I’ve never—ever—ever said no to you!” I snarled with prideful disdain. He couldn’t rebuff that!

“You’re right. You may have never said no, Julie … but you’ve also never said yes.”

As I looked into my husband’s eyes, I saw something I never noticed before. Greg displayed a passion for me, not just my body. I began to realize he wanted me to say yes to him in my heart, to love him with my soul, to connect with him in my mind. And so did God!

Unfortunately, my view of sex swung on a pendulum of great extremes, both of which were wrong! On one side, I manipulated sex to maintain and keep Greg’s affection. On the other side I despised and held sex in contempt, secretly angry and privately disgusted by its demands. I performed sex out of fear of what would happen if I didn’t. My limiting thoughts stifled my expression of love. I didn’t want to feel that way, but I couldn’t help how I felt. I desperately needed God’s intervention to overcome the lie that Men only want one thing.

Here’s the danger of believing that lie.

As a single person, if I believe that Men only want one thing, I am more likely to make concessions to my faith and compromise my standards, believing this is what I’m supposed to do next.

As a married woman, if I believe Men only want one thing, I’m tempted to treat sex as an item on my busy to-do list. Let’s see: I dropped off the dry cleaning, check. Chauffeured the kids to school, check. Made dinner by 6:00, check! Had sex with my husband, check! Check! Check! And, in the process, I miss out on the sexual intimacy and oneness God intended.

The deception that a man only wants one thing violates God’s design.

It mis-aligns God’s plan. God intended sex as a celebration of oneness—oneness of body, mind, and spirit reserved for the union of a husband and wife in holy marriage.

Married women, ask, “Do I express tenderness and connection in my love-making?” If not, ask God for a greater intimacy and renewed passion.

Single women, ask, “Have I given away my affection outside of God’s design?” If so, ask for His forgiveness, and commit to express sexual intimacy only within the confines of marriage.

God wants husbands and wives to enjoy His gift of sexual intimacy within the confines of marriage. He desires us to celebrate the marriage bed and keep it holy. And within the confines of marriage, God encourages us to drink in intimacy and embrace unity with our spouse, not treat sex as another duty needing to be checked off our ever-growing list of responsibilities.

For more help on this topic, pick up a copy of What I Wish My Mother Had Told Me About Men. You’ll discover strategic Scriptures, questions, and practical applications to align your thoughts with God’s and life-transforming insights on how to experience a more intimate relationship with Him.

What I Wish My Mother Had Told Me About Men: 12 Secrets Toward Greater IntimacyGorman-Standing-2Excerpted from What I Wish My Mother Had Told Me About Men by Julie Gorman. Copyright ©Julie Gorman. Published by Authentic Publishers; used by permission. Article originally published in WHOA Magazine for Women, Volume 4, Issue 2, spring 2014. Visit Julie’s website and hear her radio program at juliegorman.com.

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Some Weekend Links

It’s Thanksgiving in Canada, and I’m getting ready for two turkey dinners! One at my aunt’s, and then a small one at my daughter’s in Ottawa with her boyfriend and her best friend. Just the four of us–three university students who crave a good meal, and me!

In honour of Thanksgiving, let me share this one video that is my favourite of all time (#70skids)

In all seriousness, though, as my girls get older and move on with their lives, I am deeply thankful to God that they both have faith, and that they both have sought out friends who also have faith. And with the chaos in the world today, I am so grateful and thankful for my country as well.

I’ll Be in Colorado This Week!

I’m coming to Colorado Springs this week to film some things for Focus on the Family, and if you’re in Colorado, I’d love to meet you! Here’s how:

Wednesday, 9:15 a.m., Bethany Lutheran Church near Denver (4500 E Hampden Ave, Cherry Hills Village)

I’ll be at their MOPS meting giving my signature Girl Talk! Come on by if you’re in the area. Join the Facebook Event here!

Thursday, 7:30 p.m., Meet-up at In the Moo Self-Service Frozen Yogurt, Colorado 105, Monument.

If you’re in the Colorado Springs/Monument area, I’ll be dropping by In The Moo for some frozen yogurt. Come on by! I’d love to meet you–and have you meet other women who read To Love, Honor and Vacuum!

And Now, for something more serious….

So I’m sure you’ve all heard about those celebrity nude photo hacks. Really sad. Actress Jennifer Lawrence said,

I was in a loving, healthy, great relationship for four years. It was long distance, and either your boyfriend is going to look at porn or he’s going to look at you.

That made me really sad. It assumes that everyone will look at porn. It ignores the effects of porn. And as I’ve said before, you can’t defeat porn by becoming porn. The problem isn’t porn itself; it’s what porn does to you, and how it messes up your arousal process and your idea of intimacy.

Another thing for all of you women who have ever thought, “if only I were prettier he wouldn’t be tempted to look at porn”. We’re talking about Jennifer Lawrence! So once again, proof that porn use is not about you; it’s about a compulsion, and it needs to stop.

Can You Help Covenant Eyes in their Fight Against Porn (and get paid for it!)?

Covenant EyesCovenant Eyes is a great resource that helps with internet accountability. You can install it on all your devices, and then it sends an email to a person of your choice if someone tries to access a site that isn’t good.

Thy want to improve their service, and so they’re seeking feedback from married women with children. Here are three ways you can participate:

Fill out a survey

  • Incentive: Special e-book bundle from Covenant Eyes
  • Plus, a chance to win a $50 Amazon gift card in a raffle!
  • Must be completed by October 24

Test a part of the Covenant Eyes website. This interview should take 15 to 30 minutes.

  • Incentive: a $15 Amazon gift card for completing the interview
  • Plus, free Covenant Eyes software for your family for three months while you participate in the Market Research
  • Must let Covenant Eyes know by October 15th to participate. Email Leigh Seger if you’d like to.

Single question e-mails. Simply respond by e-mail to the question-of the-day for a week. Covenant Eyes will e-mail you the questions.

  • Incentive: a $25 Amazon gift card
  • Takes place from October 20 – 24

Interviews are conducted by the Covenant Eyes User Experience department to:

  • Find out how people use Covenant Eyes software/website.
  • Find problems that users have with the software/website.
  • Give out gift cards from Amazon to thank people for offering their opinions and time (Now that’s fun!).

If you would like to participate in any of these offers, please e-mail Leigh Seger and she will provide you with additional details to participate.

If porn is a struggle in your marriage, don’t forget to follow my “Dealing with Porn in Your Marriage” Pinterest board!

Top 10 Things I Want to Teach My Teens About Sex

Top Ten

Yesterday we talked about how to talk to your younger kids about sex. Today’s guest post from J at Hot, Holy & Humorous  offers some great advice for parents of older kids–how to begin, KEEP the conversation going and how to teach your teens about sex.

“Hey kids, gather around and let’s talk about sex!” No, of course, I don’t approach my teens that way. Instead, we have an ongoing conversation about sexuality in my home, because I want my kids to be well-informed, well-armed, and also well-excited about sex when done the right way.

As we raise our teens, here are ten things I want them to learn about sex:

Top 10 Things to Teach Your Teens About Sex

1. God created sex, so it’s good.

Sometimes in our quest to get across the message that sex before marriage is bad, we communicate that sex itself is bad. But it’s not. Sex according to God’s design is a wonderful thing—a beautiful gift—and I want my kids to have that foundational belief.

2. You can always talk to me about this topic.

One of my kids asked me a question about something mentioned at school, but prefaced that friends had warned him not to ask a parent because he might get in trouble. Thankfully, I’ve made it clear my kids can ask me anything about this topic. It’s not taboo. God created sex, He talked about it (the good and the bad), and He put parents in charge of instructing kids. I tailor my answers to age and context and so on, but my door is open for tough topics. It’s part of the parent job.

(By the way, that question was about condoms. The friends had erroneous information, and because he asked, I got to provide better information, along with our biblical values.

3. Pregnancy and STDs aren’t the only consequences for premarital sex or promiscuity.

These concerns get drilled into teens’ heads so much. Many believe the worst, or only, consequences of having sex before marriage or having multiple partners is unwanted pregnancy or contracting an STD.

Yes, kids, those things could happen, but the scars left on your heart, the disruption to your future marital happiness, the disobedience to God—these matter so much. They may be intangibles right now, but in time poor choices can wreak havoc on your life. So make the right choice.

4. Birth control is not 100% effective.

Speaking of which, many expect to dodge an undesired pregnancy with birth control. Sure, we have some great contraceptive methods that couples have used successfully. But I could also sit down and make you a list of couples I know who got pregnant while using contraception. If a birth control method is 99% effective, that means that 1 time out of 100, you’re on your own. So don’t rely on it, and only make love in the context that could properly support a child (aka marriage).

5. Sex is more than intercourse.

What constitutes sex? Is it merely intercourse? Is foreplay fair game? When I was a teen, the phrase “technical virgin” meant you’d done just about everything else, yet considered yourself a virgin because you hadn’t done “the deed.”

I look back and think how utterly stupid that perspective was! Sex is the whole kit-and-caboodle. If you’re getting the least bit naked to do something with someone, welcome to the world of sex. Even purveyors of porn and erotica know this, so we really have no excuse. I want my kids to understand sex isn’t everything but, and that sex encompasses far more than intercourse.

(By the way, this is good news for their future marriage. There could be times when intercourse is unavailable, but they won’t have to give up being intimate with their spouse!)

6. “How far is too far?” is the wrong question.

However, that’s the question youth workers hear again and again when the topic of sex is brought up with teens. Teens want to know where the line is—how far can they go without sinning or risking consequences. It’s basically, “What can I get away with?” Which is not the attitude God wants us to have toward Him or His gift of sexual intimacy.

Rather, we should ask, “How can I honor God when it comes to sexual intimacy?” Framing it that way, some of our nitpicking questions simply go away, and it becomes clearer what we should and shouldn’t do.

7. If you mess up, it’s not over.

Activities such as dabbling in online pornography, chatting promiscuously in a chat room, going much too far on a date, engaging in premarital sex—yes, they are bad, but they definitely don’t make the unforgiveable list.

Messing up doesn’t mean it’s all over… and you might as well give in, and God’s already mad at you so what’s the point, and you have to hide your ugly stuff or people will know how bad you really are, etc. No, no, no! If you fail at some point, God’s grace and healing can cover our sins and both He and your parents are here to help you get back on track.

8. The Bible has a lot to say about sexuality.

It’s easy for kids and teens, and plenty of us adults, to feel that a book written thousands of years ago has little bearing on our modern-day challenges. After all, where are the verses about sexting and 50 Shades of Grey and the hookup culture?

But the Bible is relevant. There are direct stories of sexual sin and sexual love, as well as many verses about guarding our hearts, measuring our actions, and honoring others. If God’s Word is true, it permeates every aspect of our life, including the bedroom. You can’t compartmentalize, believing that “loving your neighbor” has nothing to do with treating that girl or boy in your arms with respect. So if you want to know the real deal about how we should approach sexuality, read the Bible.

9. More sex happens in marriage than outside it.

One might think it’s the opposite based on media, entertainment, and conversations. But studies show that married couples are getting more, and more satisfying, sex. If kids think the sex well is going to dry up the second they say “I do,” they’ll buy into the sow my wild oats theory before marriage, or put off marriage for fear of their sex drive going unheeded.

But I love what one newlywed man told our youth group: “I’m having lots of sex now, and I never, ever think, ‘Man, I wish I’d had sex back in high school.'” It’s kind of like Christmas, kids: It takes a while to get here, but the gift you receive is worth the wait.

10. Your parents love each other—yes, even in the bedroom.

My kids are well aware that marriage includes sexual intimacy, because they see it hinted at with their parents. Of course, they don’t have details, because that aspect of our relationship is private. But they see us flirt and display appropriate affection in front of them, and they know the bedroom door gets closed and locked at times.

They might roll their eyes at our hugs or kisses, but they also smile. It’s reassuring to know their parents love each other and that marriage, even as long as we’ve been married, includes true passion.

What do you want your teens to know about sex? Which tip speaks most to you (for me it’s #6!)? Let me know in the comments!

Sex Savvy WifeJ. Parker is the author of Sex Savvy: A Lovemaking Guide for Christian Wives and writes the Hot, Holy & Humorous blog, where she uses a biblical perspective and a blunt sense of humor to foster Christian sexuality in marriage.

 

Is The Purity Message Making Women Ashamed of Sex?

Does the purity culture movement make women ashamed of sex? How to reframe our message to encourage healthy sexuality!Yesterday I was talking about how our Christian modesty message can make women ashamed of their bodies, and pleaded for reframing our message: let’s point to God, not make rules.

Today I want to talk about how the purity culture message can leave women ashamed of sex.

To reiterate, I absolutely believe that sex is meant for marriage. I do believe that we should wait for marriage for sex–not only because God tells us to, but also because when we have sex before we’re married, we make sex into something only physical, and we miss out on the spiritual and emotional intimacy we’re supposed to have.

Yet I fear that by stressing to young women, “you must never ever think about sex or you’ll be lusting,” and “if you so much as touch a boy or kiss a boy before you’re married you’ll end up in bed together, so you shouldn’t have any physical contact”, then we inadvertently make women scared of sex. This isn’t universal; some women can grow up with that message and be just fine. But not all.

And so today, rather than arguing the point myself, I’d like to share with you two different emails I’ve had from readers, and then follow up with my own thoughts. This first email came from a woman after she read my post about how the purity culture can go overboard.

I’m 21 and I’ve been married two years. Two nights ago my husband and I FINALLY had REAL sex. Our wedding night was a disaster, and a trip to the doctor’s office revealed that I had vaginismus, a condition that makes sex impossible because my brain tells my PC muscles to clinch together. I’ve struggled with this for two years, as I’ve felt like a bad wife. I wanted to have sex by our second anniversary, and, by completing a program my doctor gave me, I can now buy and enjoy your 31 Days of Great Sex book!!

Anyway, the biggest struggle I’ve had through the last two years is trying to figure out WHY I have this issue. I’ve had a GREAT life with a wonderful upbringing, but apparently I was harboring sexual shame. I was not properly educated, and, growing up in the church, I remember  how guilty my youth pastor made me feel just for having a boyfriend. Though I never had sex, I struggled with setting boundaries sexual, and now I’ve paid the price for the Christian’s obsession with how “evil” sex is.

Here’s another story from a woman who wrote to me after I asked for stories about sexual shame. She was active in a very conservative homeschool community. She’s now engaged. She writes:

I grew up saving my first kiss, planning to only have a quick hug at engagement and then only hold hands until my wedding day. I never planned to be alone with a guy. I learned to shutdown if I ever felt any bit of sexual attraction or sexual feel good emotions/hormones. I didn’t know how my body would work when I felt attraction and my sex knowledge was very limited. I didn’t even know all of my own body parts.

Because of my lack of education on sex, sexuality and the way my body would response I was sure that if I was alone with a guy it would lead to kissing and that kissing would easily lead to all of my clothes laying on the floor within about 15 seconds. It would be like standing on the edge of a cliff. Once you stepped off, even if it was a small step, there would be no going back. You would lose control, be unable to make rational decisions and fall into deep sin.

The first time I had a “real hug” from a guy I liked (he squeezed me, then put his arm round my shoulder and massaged my hand) put my body into shock for about three days. I felt overstimulated and my brain didn’t know how to respond. I was amazed that I was still in control and could still make choices not to have sex but I also realized that because I had learned to shut off any sexual attraction that I could barley enjoy the good feeling let alone reciprocate.

I began to realize that if I went from training my brain to be essentially asexual, rejecting my sexuality until my wedding night, it wouldn’t just turn on and work like it was supposed to. If a hug sent me into a three day shock what would it be like on my honeymoon?!

My amazing fiance never pressured me to do anything I didn’t want to do. We have abstained from sex and will continue to until we’re married. He always asks before we try something “new” and always respects my choice. That being said we talked and felt that it was wise for us to get to know each other a little bit physically so I would deal with my fear of sex. We would still be considered “conservative” in our physical interaction but he began initiating little things like hugging me close, touching my hair, rubbing my back etc. Each of these things were introduced slowly and he always gave with the intent of bringing me happiness and not expecting anything in return.

For each new thing I initially could not reciprocate because I had to focus so much on letting it feel good and not shutting down pleasure. I had quite a learning curve, I felt and sometimes still feel shocked by simple new things. I felt like I should be naturally responding but that I was held back because I had repressed these feelings for so long (by the way I am 22). I was very surprised at the way my body did respond to feeling good… physical and hormonal changes that are natural when there is a combination of touch and attraction. I was also amazed at the fact that I was still in control and that neither of us HAD to have sex right then like I had always been led to believe.

I am so thankful to my wonderful fiance. He always gives without expecting a return. He was/is so patient with me, letting me talk through my issues and insecurities. Truly my sexual health is a priority to him over his own enjoyment.

I think each couple needs to talk about their own physical standards and these may change some as your relationship does but I would encourage a serious couple to get to know each other at least a little bit physically. Are there wise boundaries? Yes! But sexual attraction is NOT bad. Feeling good is NOT bad. Enjoying each other is NOT bad. Not all physical interaction is sexual and not all sexual interaction (like kissing) is sex. We are sexual beings… and that’s ok.

I appreciate her sharing her story, and I want to leave a few thoughts:

1. Physical contact does not necessarily lead to sex.

I have had so many emails from women saying, “I thought that if we kissed the clothes would immediately fall off and we’d be unable to control ourselves. So I was scared to kiss him. But actually, that didn’t happen at all. We could totally control ourselves.”

When we tell young people that any physical contact leads to sex, we tell them that their bodies can’t be controlled by their minds or their wills. Their bodies become the enemy. And that makes women especially disconnect from their bodies–seeing them as evil, and not wanting to let their bodies feel anything. That does not go away just because you put a ring on your finger.

2. Some physical contact can be a good thing.

Affection is natural. To deny any kind of physical contact makes your body seem somehow evil, and makes us concentrate so much on avoiding any stimulation that it’s hard to reverse that.

I am not saying that physical contact is necessary in a relationship. Not at all. If a couple decides they want to save their first kiss until marriage, that is totally their prerogative, and that can work very well for some people. The Duggars live by that philosophy and are very vocal about it.

The problem is that not everyone emerges from that kind of purity culture whole. Some may, but others end up deeply shamed. We need to be very careful that we are not legalistic about this, telling people that kissing or hugging or holding hands is somehow evil. It isn’t. The Bible says sex outside of marriage is wrong, but kissing is not sex, and kissing does not necessarily lead to sex. It didn’t for me, it didn’t for my friends who dated and married the same time we did, and it didn’t for our parents and grandparents (most of whom kissed before marriage, too). Even Laura Ingalls kissed before she was married!

3. When we teach women to avoid sex at all costs, then marriage can seem like rape.

I think this gets to the heart of vaginismus. If you’ve been taught to avoid sex always–that it is bad, and that it is wrong to feel turned on, then what happens when you’re married and suddenly you don’t have a choice? Now, obviously all women still have choice, and for a man to demand sex when she doesn’t want it is wrong, and to take it when she says no is rape, even if they are married.

But even if he doesn’t force her–even if he’s as gentle as a kitten and is kissing her and trying to warm her up–she can still feel these conflicting, scary emotions: “sex is bad, and yet now I have to do it. It’s expected of me.” That tension can cause her body to refuse. She’s not consciously refusing; but it is affecting her nonetheless. Even if it’s not vaginismus, she can find it virtually impossible to be excited, because she feels so out of control in an area of her life where she has always been told she has to have complete control.

How We Can Reframe Our Purity Message

If I could reframe our message, I would talk less about why sexual feelings need to be avoided, and more about why they’re natural, and how to channel them elsewhere. I would talk about intimacy, and how it’s best in marriage, rather than saying “no sex until marriage”. I would talk less about setting up specific, rules-based boundaries, and more about how sexual feelings will be inevitable and good when you love someone–and here’s how to pursue God together to make sure those feelings don’t take over. I’d try to say something like this:

God made sex to be an awesome way to bind you and your husband together. It’s amazing physically, but it’s also incredibly intimate emotionally and spiritually, too. And it’s that intimacy we were made for–we feel it intensely physically, but we were also created with hormones that actually “bond” to the other person when we make love. It’s supposed to make you feel super close to one person.

Billions of people have had sex, but not all of them have made love, because the two are not necessarily the same thing. And if you want to truly make love, you need to save it for marriage, because that’s what God intended, and that’s what He promises you. You’re going to feel a real physical drive for sex, and that’s perfectly fine, because it’s a reminder to you about the real intimacy you yearn for. Don’t worry if you have that drive; ultimately it’s a good thing. Just ask God to help you channel that drive elsewhere until you’re married because then you’ll be able to experience sex the way it was intended.

That drive is really intense, though, so be careful to create some boundaries so you can stay pure. But it’s okay to be attracted to someone. It’s natural. It’s part of being a woman/man. And one day you’ll find someone that you can share with completely. And believe me, it is worth the wait.

I hope I’d say it a little better, and maybe some of you have something you’d like to add. But I think telling young people: don’t have sex, don’t even think about sex, sex is bad, isn’t a good message, because how are they automatically supposed to flip that switch once they’re married?

There’s one other aspect of the purity message I’d like to look at tomorrow, and that’s the way we talk about virginity. But for today, I’d like to know: did the purity culture make you ashamed of sex? What are you planning on telling your kids so that they can have a positive view of sex, while maintaining their desire for purity? Let me know in the comments!

Good Girls Guide My SiteIf you’re struggling with understanding sex and not being ashamed of it, please take a look at my book, The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex. It’s a fun book, and it explains in detail how God made sex to be intimate emotionally, spiritually, and physically. I think you’ll find it really helpful in dispelling some of the negative things you were taught!

 

Other Posts in The Healthy Sexuality Series:

Does the Modesty Culture Make Women Ashamed of Their Bodies?
Do We Need to Stop Using the Term Virgin?

How Our Culture of Sex Got So Messed Up

How Our Culture Gets Sex Wrong--and what we in the church need to do to combat the message

Today is the beginning of a 4-part series I’m running on this blog about the culture of sex, and how we in the church talk about sex. I’ll be discussing how we inadvertently make women ashamed of their bodies and ashamed of sex, and then I’ll wind up talking about how we need to reframe our discussions around purity. God meant sex to be something beautiful and wonderful in marriage; too often, as we try to keep people from sin we end up making it seem like sex–and our bodies–are bad.

I asked Michael Rittenhouse to set the stage for our discussion by sharing a little bit of his journey. He’s the author of Sex: What Your Parents Didn’t Tell You, which is a great book about how our culture gets sex wrong. Here’s Michael:

As a five-year-old, I didn’t get why Goldie Hawn danced on TV in a swimsuit and graffiti. But I knew it had something to do with “sex,” and even though they rarely said “sex” on TV, they did say “making whoopee,” so I figured that’s what we called dancing in a swimsuit and graffiti.

Miss Hawn’s outlandish show disguised the fact that there was a war on. Not Vietnam, not the Cold War, but a cultural war, rolling out on our TV screen every night.

On one side, we had hippies, streakers, sitcom characters, and various others who seemed to have it in for the established order. They waged a guerrilla war for what they called “free love,” by which they meant “sex” in a very specific sense.

Their side had at least one legitimate gripe: a stifling, predominant culture that pushed matters of sexuality not just behind closed doors, but so far away from normal discourse that many people felt uncomfortable even talking about it with a doctor.

In writing about this conflict in “Sex: What Your Parents Didn’t Tell You,” I needed a name for each side. For the hippie-streaker-sitcom axis, I borrowed “Liberators” from a James Thurber parable called “The Last Flower.” His liberators would “set fire to the discontent.”

Sex: What Your Parents Didn't Tell YouThe late 20th Century’s sexual Liberators set fire to every social more they saw as constraining their base impulses. Many of those fires continue to burn, in the forms of hookup culture, abortion on demand, 40 percent unwed maternity (U.S.), and a high divorce rate. The Liberators knew what they opposed, but didn’t seem to care much about what their rebellion unleashed.

But what to call the other side, the focus of all the Liberators’ anger? Whose sensibilities meant that children’s dolls could not have genitals under their clothing, or that “The Tonight Show” must not air with the phrase “W.C.” (water closet, an oblique British term for bathroom)?

I dubbed them Prudes. On TV they looked uptight, dressed for church 24/7, and old. In real life they were just ordinary people reared in a Victorian-influenced culture, where respectable folk tried to shun their base impulses. They extrapolated the privacy that humans instinctively feel about sex into a taboo on any talk of it. As a result, in their growing up, nobody had spoken to them much about sexuality, and they, in turn, said little to their offspring.

As a child, I noticed the way adults’ voices grew hushed over matters of sexuality; how everyone watching TV in the family room pretended not to notice the feminine-hygiene commercials; how my innocent questions about what I saw in public—XXX theater ads, Playboy magazine, even a Great Dane’s testicles—earned an abrupt change of subject, or a promise to discuss it later. (That promise was not kept.)

I would find my answers elsewhere. This usually meant going to the Liberators in some form or other because, unlike the Prudes, they were always reaching out to young people, whether through books, movies, magazines, or even the schools.

I knew I didn’t want to be a Prude, because they didn’t look like fun. But the Liberators seemed untrustworthy, like salesmen hawking goods certain to disappoint.

For all their differences, the Liberators and the Prudes shared one core belief: God was on their side. Both of them were badly mistaken.

Liberators rationalized that whatever we’re inclined to do is OK with our Creator, because, well, he created us. Adam and Eve, man, they had everything right before the fig leaves, and if we would just roll up these parking lots we could have paradise right here. Of the Trinity, they seemed to identify with Jesus most because he was young and always in trouble with the Man.

Prudes deduce from the Ten Commandments that God takes a pretty dim view of anything like a vice. Because sex appeal can overrun our defenses, we should just lump all those nasty carnal desires together and push them out somewhere else … like Nevada, along with the nuclear waste. Doesn’t God want to keep us safe from sin and self-destruction? We should follow his lead on that, starting with fig leaves and any notion that sex and gender underlie every human interaction.

What both sides missed is that God invented sex.

Doors are never closed to him. He’s present in every encounter, hoping we will welcome him just like we say grace before a meal. He’s put a little glimpse of immortality at the height of sexual intercourse, and the degree to which we experience it hinges on how much of ourselves we are willing to surrender.

Ideas like that didn’t originate with me. I would owe them to a courageous parish priest; to C.S. Lewis and Peter Kreeft; to a little-known but influential therapist and author, Alexander Lowen; and—although I’m not a Roman Catholic—to Pope John Paul II, whose “Theology of the Body” would reassert the connection between sexuality and spirituality via popular writers like Christopher West and Mary Healy. And, of course, I owe our host on this blog.

If such voices existed during the war, I didn’t hear them. Even now, they have to shout over the censorious Prudes and the cynical Liberators, neither of whom wants to admit leading a lost cause.

But I’m optimistic. The Web has opened new, lateral forms of communication—blogs, podcasts, self-publishing. Now all that’s left is for parents (like me) to shake off our inherited Prudery, get a handle on the sexuality God’s given us, and communicate that appropriately to our offspring.

God invented sexuality to bring us out of ourselves.

Without it, we’d be like the amoeba: self-serving, isolated, incapable of anything greater than the sum of our parts.

So I hope to spur more parents to get out of themselves and talk with their children about how they came to be. After all, we (pro-)created our kids through the gift of natural sexuality. And to distinguish this from a spectrum of contrived “-sexualities” claiming legitimacy, I use the term “orthosexuality”—sex as nature intended. Uniquely capable of creating whole new human beings, orthosexuality is worthy of celebration, reverence, and respect. The privacy naturally associated with it must never be confused with shame.

A culture that panders to our innate, selfish tendencies cannot and will not do this for us.

Plus, the one gift I can’t give my kids is mates who understand all this. That’s up to you.

Sex What Your Parents Didnt Tell YouMichael RittenhouseMichael Rittenhouse is passionate about bringing God’s message of sex back into the discussion. He travels around the nation in his RV, talking to MOPS groups and churches about how we can reclaim real sexuality.

Michael’s book, Sex: What Your Parents Didn’t Tell You, is available now! It goes into the historical reasons why we got sex wrong, and then talks about how we can figure out a healthy view of sex ourselves, and how we can pass that on to our kids. It’s a great read! It’s available on Amazon in paperback and for Kindle, and it’s available in .pdf in Sheila’s store!

The Two Shall Become One: Embracing Oneness

The Two Shall Become One Flesh: How does "oneness" actually happen?

“…A man leaves his father and mother, and cleaves to his wife, and the two become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24)

That verse is read at weddings, and we hear it often: “the two shall become one flesh”. But what does it really mean?

Does it just mean that the two shall become one FLESH–as in the two shall join together while making love?

Or is there more of the “the two shall become ONE” connotation–that somehow you actually form a true oneness when you’re married that transcends just our bodies?

To tell you the truth, I’ve often wondered about that. How can having sex, in and of itself, make you “one”? It’s just joining two bodies together, and let’s face it–people do that all the time. Is that the “oneness” that God was talking about? Or is it something deeper?

Here’s another picture of oneness:

I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. (1 Corinthians 1:10, NIV)

“Perfectly united in mind and thought.” I love that picture of oneness, too: that we have mind and purpose. And I’ve written about that aspect of marriage and how it relates to submission. I do believe that oneness is more than just physical, but today, as part of the “Embrace Your Marriage” virtual retreat, I’d like to talk about physical oneness.

Six other bloggers are participating in the Embrace Your Marriage retreat, and I think most of them will be writing about more of this unity aspect of oneness. Because I’m the resident Christian sex blogger, I thought I’d try to look at how unity and oneness truly are part of God’s plan for the marriage bed, too.

It’s hard for sex to make us feel like one flesh if sex seems kind of distasteful, or if it’s awkward, or sex, or if you’ve been abused in the past. So many of us have so many roadblocks for experiencing great oneness in sex, and I completely understand that.

Today, though, I don’t want to write a practical post on “how the two shall become one” when you make love, because I’ve written on practically how to get over some of these things before (and I did it in The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex). Sometimes I think we just need a picture of perfection to help us go in the right direction, and that’s what I’d like to do today.

I believe that God meant for this to be something beautiful and stupendous, but I am fully aware that sex is not like that for many, if not most, of us. I’m not trying to be insensitive to your needs; I just want today to ask you to put aside the problems, and recognize that all of them flow from this world’s brokenness in some sort. And I want you to just imagine–just imagine that those problems weren’t there, and look at what God did intend.

How can sex make “the two become one flesh”? Does it just mean because the bodies are joined? Or is there something more to it?

I think there’s something far more.

Great Sex Is Vulnerable–It Reveals Our True Selves

When sex works–when we’re experiencing real pleasure–what we’re also doing is becoming truly vulnerable. In order for a woman to experience pleasure, she has to let go of control. She has to stop thinking and trying to make things happen, and she has to just let things happen (that’s a big difference). I’m not saying she’s passive or that she can’t move during sex or something; not at all. But it is almost like the sex takes on a life of its own, and it sweeps you away.

That’s essentially what an orgasm is, after all. You don’t create it; it happens. And to allow someone to sweep you away, and to allow someone to be part of that whole process with you, means that you hand over a huge chunk of yourself. It’s dependent on trust, because it creates a huge vulnerability in you.

That’s why sex is so difficult when trust has been broken, either because you were abused in the past, or something has happened in your relationship. Great sex requires vulnerability, and vulnerability requires trust. But the essence of it is that we’re no longer trying, it’s just happening, and that means that we’re showing him who we are underneath all the masks we put on everyday. In our sexuality who we are is really revealed. He sees what gives you ultimate pleasure. He sees what gets you over the moon. Sometimes you don’t even want to see that–not necessarily because it’s dirty or shameful, but because it’s so personal. And yet, in great sex, everything is bare.

Great Sex is Transcendent–You Lose Yourself

She has to let herself just “experience”. It’s almost like, in some way, she loses herself. All the things that make her “her”–the way that we choose to talk, the way that we choose to make decisions, the way that we choose to present ourselves to others–all of those go out the window when you’re having great sex. You aren’t “you” anymore; you’re someone else, someone more primal. That’s why C.S. Lewis said:

We must recognize that…is the act of love we are not merely ourselves. We are also representatives. It is here no impoverishment but an enrichment to be aware that forces older and less personal than we work through us. In us all the masculinity an femininity of the world, all that is assailant and responsive, are momentarily focused.

(from the Four Loves). He goes on to say that in lovemaking, we cease to be Steve an Sally, and we become Her and Him, quite different.

Great Sex Is Intensely Private–He’s the Only One Who Will See You Like This

That kind of intimacy and vulnerability can’t be shared with just anybody. It would be emotionally impossible. We can’t open up like that for everybody. You can only open up like that if commitment is part of your relationship, and if you know that this is the only person who will ever truly “know” you. I think that’s what God meant by this verse in Genesis:

“And Adam knew Eve his wife…” (Genesis 4:1; NKJV)

That Hebrew word for “know” is an intensely personal one. It’s the same one that David used when he said, “Search me and know me O God”. It isn’t a head knowledge; it’s a deep intimacy.

Great Sex Literally Bonds You Together as One

And then there’s the chemical process God threw in. Not only does sexual arousal require us to bare ourselves; but at orgasm we release the hormone oxytocin, which literally bonds you. It makes you feel attached to this person. It creates a true emotional and sexual bond that is very hard to break (though ties with past lovers can be broken).

That oneness in marriage is a deep intimacy, and it can’t be found just in your friendship or just in your unity of thought and purpose–though that is an important aspect as well. It is most intensely found when we make love. And when we do, we open ourselves up. We reveal our true selves. We lose our true selves in each other. And we feel joined.

If that is happening in your marriage (and that is what God wants for you, even if you are experiencing roadblocks), then can you see how it would also be easier to achieve that unity of thought and purpose, too? When we feel bonded and bare, it’s so much easier to also get on the same page, because you will show each other grace, you will be kind, you will more naturally agree.

Making love is such a beautiful thing, and that’s the way that God designed it.

I know it isn’t always like that, but I’d encourage you to see it as an act of faith today: even if you aren’t experiencing it, can you believe that this is what God designed? And if this is what God designed, then can you agree with God that He wants that for your marriage, and can you start working towards it and praying for it?

Maybe if we worked on the sex side of our relationship, rather than some of the other things, those other things would fall into place more easily. I’m not saying it’s a simple process, but often when sex is going well, all those other things do seem to be easier to solve.

Good Girls Guide My SiteIf you’re having trouble experiencing this kind of oneness, I’d encourage you to check out The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex, which talks about how something can be “holy” and “hot” at the same time–and explains how sex was meant to be passionate. If it hasn’t been that in your marriage, please check it out! Don’t miss out on what God created for you to enjoy.

Thanks for being part of this Embrace Your Marriage series.

So far I’ve talked about:

Embracing Grace
Embracing Change
Embracing Your Differences

And all the other bloggers have, too! Today, you can follow their links and see what they say about embracing oneness in your marriage.

Embrace Your Marriage Virtual Marriage Retreat

Courtney: Women Living Well
Ashleigh: Ashleigh Slater
Darlene: The Time Warp Wife
Lisa: Club 31 Women
Jennifer: Unveiled Wife

The Good Girl's Guide to Great Sex

Marriage isn't supposed to be blah!


Sex is supposed to be stupendous--physically, emotionally, AND spiritually. If it's not, get The Good Girl's Guide to Great Sex--and find out what you've been missing.

 

For the Guys: When Your Wife Hates Sex

My Wife Hates Sex: What To Do

Usually I write this blog for women, but I do have a fair number of men who read it, and I get emails all the time from men saying, “my wife hasn’t had sex with me in months. She hates sex, just doesn’t think it’s important, and I don’t know what to do.”

One man writes:

What once (far too long ago) was vibrant, ecstatic, passionate and FREQUENT has become flat, robotic duty-oriented and only frequent enough to miss the definition of sexless. (yes, she actually brought that up in an argument once. She “makes sure” we have sex at least 10-times-a-year so I can’t say it’s a sexless marriage). This has been a downward spiral since we became pregnant with our middle daughter nearly 10 years ago. She had complications with that pregnancy, and I was afraid to hurt her, so we went for 10 months without sex. Steadily, over time, the variety of positions diminished as well. Now about the only “acceptable” position is with her on top.

Over the last year, or so, we’ve fought less and talked more about this and frequency is improving (on average about two or two-and-a-half weeks between encounters.) But it is still a major wedge between us. I fully accept responsibility for allowing our sex life to dissipate. I allowed myself to become bitter and selfish because my needs weren’t being met; deeply un-Jesus of me. I am working to die to myself and my needs, sacrificing myself for my wife in an effort to more fully live out the command of Eph. 5:25, but I struggle SO DEEPLY with feelings of resentment, anger and hunger for my wife.

She is in a very stressful season of life right now, and inasmuch as I know that frequent MEANINGFUL sex could help de-stress her, right now it’s just one more stressor on her to-do list. A messy, unpleasant chore.

And so I thought I’d write a post for the guys on what to do when your wife hates sex.

Figure Out Why Your Wife Doesn’t Like Sex

All of us–yes, even women!–were born with a sex drive. We were created to want to make love and to experience intimacy that way. Unfortunately, that often gets short circuited, and many women “turn off”. It’s important to figure out why. Here are some of the most common reasons:

  • Sexual abuse in the past
  • Feeling ashamed of sex and sexuality because of how she was raised or because of sexual experiences before marriage
  • Simple exhaustion and busy-ness
  • Physical problems (ie. it hurts, or they have low testosterone)
  • Emotional problems (problems with vulnerability, letting go, trust, always has to be in control)
  • Relationship issues (feeling distant from you)

Scenario 1: Relationship Issues

It’s really important to first examine yourself and make sure that relationship issues are not the cause. But, if they are–let’s say that you used porn in the past and really hurt her that way, or you’ve both been fighting a lot–the good news is that this is likely the easiest one to get over, because it’s largely in your control. You can talk to her honestly, tell her you love her, show her in word and deed that you care about her, help around the house, tell her she’s beautiful, and make every effort to acknowledge that you recognize the problem and that you take it seriously and that you will address it.

This may take a while for her to feel close to you again, but if you persist, it will likely get better.

For most marriages where this happens, though, I think #3–simple exhaustion and busy-ness, is the main culprit. It’s not a relationship issue, it’s not a psychological issue, she just never seems interested. She’s totally shut down. So let’s turn to that for a moment.

Scenario 2: Your Wife Hates Sex but There’s No Obvious Reason

Other than exhaustion, it doesn’t seem like there’s a reason. Your wife has time for everything but you, and you’re feeling really neglected and really sad and rather desperate.

I think this is the most common reason, and I want to try to explain what your wife is likely feeling.

Have you ever gone grocery shopping after you’ve had a big meal? It’s actually not that easy to do. You pick up something off of the shelf, and then quite often you put it back because  you can’t imagine ever eating it.

When you’re full, it’s very hard to imagine feeling hungry. When you’re full, it’s hard to imagine even wanting to eat a particular thing. Foods that would normally tempt you–say, chocolate cheesecake–just don’t seem that alluring.

Many women walk through life with that kind of feeling about sex. But how can they, if they’re not “full”, so to speak? It’s as if their libidos don’t exist. When women don’t make love for a long time, their libidos often go into hibernation, because for women libido is a use it or lose it phenomenon. And when your libido is in hibernation, you can’t even picture wanting to make love. It doesn’t even compute. You can’t imagine your body feeling that way.

So there you are, desperate for sex, and your wife acts like it doesn’t even exist and it’s rather distasteful. In this particular letter writer’s case, this could very well be a factor. They were having frequent sex; then they went ten months without it and she never regained her sex drive.

So what do you do? You simply have to talk to her. Don’t give her a guilt trip, like “you’re my wife and you aren’t supposed to deprive me” because guilt sex is totally unsexy. You want her to feel sexy again; you don’t want to give her another reason to hate sex!

Instead, talk about intimacy. You want to feel close. You want to experience that with her. You feel as if you guys are missing out on such a great part of life, and you want to try. Tell her about the use it or lose it thing, and ask if you could even try to schedule sex, twice a week, for a month and see what that does. But again, talk to her about intimacy and having fun and joy and experiencing something together, do not talk to her about what she owes you, or about how frustrated you are. The more you talk about how frustrated you are, the more you sound like some lesser being who can’t control himself. I know that’s harsh, but when a woman has no libido, someone who does can look kind of pathetic, like they can’t control themselves. That’s why keeping the conversation focused on intimacy is better.

Share with her this post on why you want her to start the sexual journey with you

Scenario 3: Physical, Psychological, or Emotional Issues She Needs Help For

Many women who hate sex do so for good reason. Maybe they were abused. Maybe they grew up in an environment where they had no control over anything, and they refuse to lose control now. Maybe they were shamed as children. In this letter writer’s case, I wonder if control issues also play a part. She had a difficult pregnancy (very scary for a woman), and now the only position she wants is the one where she is in control. She may have a few control/trust issues that she needs to work out.

These are deep seated issues that affect sex so much for women, because sex is an intensely personal thing for us. We’re literally letting someone else into our bodies. And our sexual response is far more in our heads than yours is. Yes, there are certain parts of our bodies that feel really good when stimulated, but they only feel good if our heads are in the game. If we don’t want to do it, we won’t feel good. We’re brain-centred  rather than genitalia-centred.

If she has these issues, then, they need to be dealt with before she’ll ever be able to enjoy sex fully. She needs to get some outside help, and ideally that would involve talking to a counselor who is trained in this sort of thing.

The problem is that because she doesn’t want sex, she’s likely perfectly able to keep going through life just as she is. It’s you that’s suffering, even though she’s the one who is hurt. That means that she doesn’t feel any urgent need to get help. Talking to her again and showing her that she does need to address it is crucial.

But perhaps when you talk to her about it she gets defensive and breaks down in tears right away and starts talking about how awful she is, and then you have to reassure her and you never get anywhere. That’s a very common scenario, too.

In that case, I’d take this tack with her:

“Honey, I’m not going to divorce you. Stop saying that. That’s a copout. You’re trying to push me away so that you don’t have to deal with your issues. I am not leaving. I am not going anywhere. But that doesn’t mean that I’m going to stand back and see you punishing yourself like this. For whatever reason, you are determined to live a small life and lose out on some of the huge blessings that God wants to give you. What kind of husband would I be if I let you do that? I’m responsible before God for you. He will hold me accountable for how I treated you. And when you push me away, or say that you just can’t work on this, that it’s too hard on you, I understand, but it’s not good enough. What you’re really saying is, “God created me for an abundant life, but He didn’t really mean it. He meant it for everyone but me. He made me broken.” And He didn’t.

What this really comes down to, honey, is an issue of faith, not an issue of sex. Do you believe that God is good? Do you believe that God loves you? Do you believe that God wants the best for you? Because if He does, then He wants to bless our marriage. And He wants us to feel really intimate. And He wants us to feel like we’re truly connected. You’re walling yourself off because you’re afraid to be vulnerable. And when you do that, you can’t grow. So you’re copping out on God, too.”

I know that may sound harsh for you to say to her, but it’s the truth.

And then try this,

“Honey, for the next two months, I don’t want to talk about sex or concentrate on sex. What I want to do is really work on our spiritual intimacy. As your husband, I want to pray over you every night, and ask God to bless you. I want to read Scripture with you every night, even if it’s just a chapter. And I want to pray together with you for our kids.

And in those two months, I’d like to pay for you to see a counselor. I’ll go too if you want, but I’d really like you to find someone to talk to so that we can get to the root of this. I don’t want to see you living your life small. I want you to live a life full of passion in every way, and I think God wants that for you, too”

Now counselors cost quite a bit–often $100 an hour. But let’s say that your wife needs 12-15 sessions. That’s $1500. Is that a lot? Yep. But as an investment in your marriage? It’s priceless. If you can afford it, please do, and tell her that she shouldn’t feel badly about the money.

And if it’s not a counselor she needs, perhaps it’s just a doctor to check her testosterone levels, or an ob/gyn or Christian sex therapist to help her through vaginismus (pain during sex) issues. Whoever she should go to, do your research and have it all figured out.

As for how  you act during those two months, pray a lot. Eventually work up to just holding each other, naked, without having sex. Let her start to feel close to you and accepted by you and intimate. And don’t give up! Keep telling her that no matter how hard she pushes you away, you’re going to fight for her.

Scenario 4: She Won’t Get Outside Help

You’ve talked to her. You’ve prayed over her. And she absolutely refuses to get help.

At this point it’s likely time to involve a third party. She is hurting herself. God created us for passion, and she is unable to feel it. As her husband, you are responsible for her, and you do need to help her find that healing.

So insist that you talk to a counselor or pastor together. Insist that she get help. If she won’t, talk to a pastor or counselor yourself and ask the best way to handle this. Talk to a few select men that you can trust to pray with you and figure out a strategy. But leaving it alone is not a good idea, because God wants healing for her. He wants love and intimacy for you. And He wants your kids to witness a vibrant marriage.

Good Girls Guide My SiteWhere to Go Now

A few more thoughts. If your wife has never seen sex as a positive thing, she may benefit from reading The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex. It explains how sex is far more than physical, and shows how it can actually be a beautiful, intimate thing. Many women have written me saying that they always felt sex was somehow dirty, but after reading it, they understand it so much better now. That may help her.

31 Days to Great SexAnd if you are ready to start again, the 31 Days to Great Sex challenge can help you ease into things. You don’t have to have sex for 31 days straight; many of the challenges aren’t sex, but are learning how to flirt again, how to be affectionate again, how to talk about sex. And you can stretch it out for more than 31 days. I do talk about libido differences and how to deal with them, and how to see sex in a positive framework. So it can be a fun one to work through.

I want to say to you guys dealing with this, I understand how hard it is. I’m sorry you’re walking through this. You are not alone. God does want more for your marriage. And I pray that something I said can help you find it.

Deciding to Think Differently About Sex

New Attitude Towards Sex

It’s Wednesday, the day when we talk marriage! Now, often when I say “marriage” I mean “sex”, since I’m one of the few Christian blogs that talks a lot about sex. And today I want to talk about how to decide to think more positively about sex.

A little while ago I received this mail from a reader:

I first came upon your blog under a year ago. Around the time my second baby was born. We were struggling. Just the normal stuff, me breastfeeding, exhausted, we had a toddler and a baby, our sex life was suffering, it was really straining on us. Never really in danger but not very happy and very resentful of each other. Then I started reading you articles on sex and marriage and you even posted a special one after I emailed you about sex and mothering young babies.

You put into perspective for me the importance of sex and the beautiful biblical portrait of sex. I honestly never thought about it that way! You really changed my mind on the issue. While I still wasn’t having fun (hormones…) I decided to try and really make an effort for my husband and our marriage. I decided to try and invest time, think about sex, exercise and change my body, sleep during the day so I could be awake past 8pm, etc… He noticed, and knew I was reading your articles (he really wants us to be real life friends!) and his attitudes towards me also started to change. I am no longer breastfeeding, still exhausted but my body is starting to follow my mind and we are starting to enjoy each other again! I know that if I didn’t decide to change my mind about sex (thanks to you) by the time my body decided it was ready again I probably would have given up on the idea that sex can be good for me too. I don’t know what shape we would be in today…

Emails like that just make my day! Woo hoo!

And I want to point out something really important that she hit on:

She made a decision to think differently about sex, and her body followed.

Ladies, we can’t wait for our bodies to suddenly kick in. For most of us it just doesn’t work that way. If you are waiting to suddenly feel “in the mood”, you could be waiting a really long time. When we’re tired, when we have little kids, when we’re approaching menopause–our bodies don’t say, “hey, let’s get it on, baby.” They say, “Hey, let’s get some sleep.”

And that can lead to a very lonely marriage.

One of the things that I say so often on this blog is that for women, our sex drives are almost entirely in our heads. When we decide, “tonight, I’m going to have fun!”, our bodies start to follow. When we don’t, nothing happens.

Let me get really graphic for a moment.

You can lie there during sex and make a shopping list. You can lie there while you’re making love and feel basically nothing at all. Most women can–not all, and maybe not when you’re ovulating and you’re feeling a little more “sexy”, but intercourse itself does not necessarily arouse us.

If, on the other hand, you decide to stop thinking about the shopping list and start thinking about what’s going on, and start paying attention to your body, and ask yourself, “what’s feeling good? What wants to be touched?”, suddenly your body can switch “on”.

But it all depends on how you decide to think about it.

Your attitude towards sex matters. Seriously, I dare you to try this: the next time you’re having sex and your mind wanders and you think, “how much longer is this going to take?”, stop. Instead, start saying positive messages to yourself, like “I like this. This is fun. What’s feeling good right now? What do I want to do?” And see if you can kick yourself into second or third gear!

Too many of us are being too passive with sex, thinking that if we’re not in the mood and nothing is feeling that great that it must mean that we don’t want it or that sex is awful. But if we can simply think differently about it, for most of us, our bodies will kick in. But you need to take the initiative. You need to tell yourself positive things. You need to decide!

Good Girls Guide My SiteIf that’s difficult, my book The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex can help you think differently about sex, and it has all kinds of practical suggestions for how to change your attitude towards sex and how to get excited about it again. I encourage you to read it!

Now, let me know, have you ever found that a mind-shift can make a difference in your sex life? I’d love to hear about it (and you can comment anonymously if you’d like).

Christian Marriage Advice

I think I’d like to start the Wifey Wednesday link up party again. I was getting a little uncomfortable because some things that I didn’t always agree with were being linked up, and I didn’t want to have to start policing it. But looking back in the archives, I did love seeing the link up parties! So we’ll try it again, but please recognize that just because a post is here does not mean that I endorse it!

So if you have a marriage post that you’d like to share, just leave the URL in the Linky below!