Beauty from Ashes: Part 2

Sexual Shame in Marriage: A beautiful 2-part series of a true story of how one woman broke free of sexual shame and found God's love--and a great marriage!

What is it like to recover from sexual shame and live a full life with your husband? That’s what Joy McMillan is writing about in her book XES:Why Church Girls Tend to Get it Backwards…and How to Get it Right. Yesterday I published an excerpt of her story, and today, for Wifey Wednesday, I’m going to run the ending to that story. There’s so much more to Joy’s book, but I thought you’d really enjoy her lovely testimony, which moved me.

Read Part 1 of Joy’s Story here.

XES: Why Church Girls Tend To Get It Backwards...And How To Get It RightThe very same week my world fell apart, Jehovah Sneaky was at work behind the scenes. The women from the Bible study that my mum led on a Thursday morning were taking a trip down to North Carolina for a conference. And I just happened to be desperate enough to go with them. While I don’t recall too much from the weekend, teaching or ministry wise, I distinctly remember the women who carried me through some of the loneliest days of my life. They scooped me up, lifted my chin, and like a flock of mommas, enveloped me with love.

I spent the next couple of years digging into my relationship with God, avoiding boys like the plague, weaning myself off shop-lifting, and trying desperately to avoid the temptation to slip into the sexual habits I had created years before.

Painfully aware of my inability to have healthy relationships, I told God that my heart was His. Fully and completely. I knew I couldn’t be trusted with my heart, as I had flung it at every passing boy over the past several years, so I surrendered that decision to Him, committing to not pursue a relationship again without knowing He was releasing my heart into their care.

I started leading youth group, teaching a Bible study, and even stumbled my way into Christian radio. I had started over, stuffed my past down deep enough that it was hardly even discernible, and was now determined to earn my way back into God’s good grace. I was going to prove to Him that I was worth saving.

After three years of celibacy, while perfecting my new ‘God’s girl’ image, a pastor I worked with at the radio station introduced me to a young man. While I didn’t notice him at first, we kept running into each other at random media events, first at a Michael W. Smith concert, then at a SonicFlood concert, and again at Festival Con Dios. We finally started to connect the dots when the general manager of the station, and our pastor friend, exchanged our emails and got the ball rolling. Because of the hour-long distance between us, we got to know each other via phone and email, and after a month of lengthily conversations, we had our first date.

When I had surrendered my heart to God a couple of years earlier, I had begged him for wisdom. Having run so quickly into physical encounters with boys in the past, rarely connecting emotionally, and never sharing a spiritual bond, I had asked God to reverse that trend when the man He had for me came along. I watched him honor this request in the following months as we connected instantly over our mutual love for Jesus first, developing a sweet friendship after that, and carefully putting boundaries in place for sexual purity. Everything seemed to be going just peachy!

An interesting thing happened on our second date, however, when the topic of sexual purity arose. Sitting in his Ford Escort in the Farmer Jack’s parking lot, I panicked. The conversation had turned to me and I had a choice to make. To tell, or not to tell. Dry heaving out the window, I turned back to him and whispered, “I was date raped when I was 15.” Nothing more. I had decided to share the ‘poor me’ part of my story, and keep the ‘bad me’ portion in hiding, assuming the basic knowledge of me being ‘used goods’ would validate the presence of some junk to work through.

Heaven knows, if he really knew the amount of sexual baggage I came with, he’d head for the hills.

Our relationship progressed and in March of the following year, he proposed in the white sand of a Florida beach at sunset. It was beautiful and glorious, and on that day I was only slightly aware of the farce I had become. I had grown so accustomed to pretending that I had almost managed to convince myself that my ugly past was simply a figment of my imagination. I would go through the mental motions of carving out ground at the bottom of the ocean, dumping all my iniquities into the pit, and then smothering them in cement. I would repeatedly drown out the memories each and every time they threatened to rear their ugly heads and remind me of who I was.

From the outside looking in, I had it all. The perfect job, a wonderful family, an amazing fiancé, and impeccable faith. The only problem was, I knew my life was still a charade, and the fear of exposure — and the subsequent ruin — kept me tightly enslaved.

While everything blossomed on the outside, I was quietly withering on the inside.

Secrets will do that to you.

I have learned over the course of the past decade or two that whenever I keep dirt hidden, it has power over me. These secrets fester and take on a life of their own, devouring my confidence and joy, and driving me further back into the shadows of insecurity. But when brought out into the light, they lose their power, and I gain power over them. As long as we allow the enemy a foothold in the darkest recesses of our heart, in amongst the secrets and cobwebs, he will poison our self-image, smudge our purpose, and chain us down with fear.

I developed such a warped sense of reality that I — to this day — have chunks of memory completely blotted out. I remember several times waking up in a cold sweat from a dream that left me gasping for breath, heart pounding out of my chest. Vivid scenes of my involvement in a murder, and the messy attempt to cover it up. I spent many days searching through my fractured memories, desperate to know whether this was something I had actually been a part of, or whether the devil was simply capitalizing on my inability to separate fact from fiction.

In the months leading up to our wedding, we did everything we knew to do in preparation — we took every marriage class, read every book, and spent time with older, wiser couples who invested in our relationship. While at times I felt like a fraud in talking about past experiences, simply leaving out massive chunks of my history, I had finally managed to convince myself that as long as I could keep up the performance, no one would ever be the wiser. But the alternative was no longer an option.

It was mind over matter, and I was determined to protect this beautiful new life I was living.

Two months before our wedding, in August of 2003, I ended up driving to New York with a close friend for a media event. I assumed it would just be a fun-filled few days at Six Flags, hobnobbing with artists and brushing shoulders with the big wigs of the music industry. But God had other plans.

On the final evening of the event, I found myself sitting front and center in the stadium, media pass hanging proudly around my neck. After Michael W. Smith’s set, TobyMac rocked the stage, followed by the delightful presence of Kirk Cameron. I was loving my front row seat, until she came out. Pam Stenzel1, purity advocate extraordinaire. She talked about abstinence and purity and virginity and boundaries, all the things I assumed I didn’t really need to hear at that point. After all, I was gettin’ hitched in 2 months. She went on to share how important it is to live with full disclosure in marriage, to dialog with honesty and transparency. And I wanted to die. I hoped the earth would just open up and swallow me whole. This was not what I wanted to hear. After all, I had quietly dragged these secrets around for the past several years, and with my wedding just around the corner, it made no sense for me to go rummaging through the trash now. Let bygones be bygones. Don’t stir up this hornet’s nest, woman.

But the pit in my stomach deepened as she drove home the need for relationships to be built on foundations of trust. “Fine, God. Just fine. I get it” I whimpered. Paralyzed in my seat I watched as people flooded the prayer tent. I was so very aware of an urgency in my spirit, a sense that God was saying, “Joy, I’m giving you the opportunity of a lifetime…but you have got to act within the lifetime of this opportunity.” I knew that window would close quickly, as making it to our wedding day without telling him the truth, would mean taking my secrets to the grave. I couldn’t possibly burden him with that after he was tied to me.

It was now, or never.

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives”

Genesis 50:20

The thought of allowing my fiancé into those dark, dirty places of my life seemed impossible, so I thought I’d outsmart God at His own game. “Okay, God. Let’s make a deal,” I started, “if I speak to Pam and she tells me I should tell him everything, I’ll do it.” Looking at the growing mass of sniffling bodies in and around the prayer tent, I was certain this was my ticket out. I wandered over, sheepishly standing off at a distance, trying to plan my next move, when I turned to go. Standing directly behind me was Pam Stenzel. How He did that, I will never know, but there she was in all her purity-advocating glory, and I couldn’t escape. 7 years of running came to a screeching halt and I fell apart in her arms. She cried with me, prayed with me, and confirmed what I felt God was prompting me to do; it was time to take out the trash.

I am so thankful for the precious friend who accompanied me on this trip, a dear friend of my fiancé’s long before she became my own. She quietly listened as I processed through my raw emotions, ranging from terror to anger and back again, and then helped me prepare my heart for what was about to take place in my relationship. She, too, prayed with me, encouraging me and speaking hope into my heart, and was the first person to hear snippets of the life I had kept secret.

Once home in Michigan, I went to the apartment we were renting, where my fiancé was currently staying, and waited for him to return home from work. Apart from the day I spent staring at my newborn son through cold ICU glass, being intubated and cardioverted, as medical staff fought to save his life, this was the longest day I’d ever known.

After avoiding eye-contact and dancing around the subject for as long as possible, he pried, and I cracked. I don’t recall how the words emerged from my lips, but through snot and tears, he heard snippets of a life very different from the one I had painted. Certain the filth of my true identity had manifested on my face, my chin remained planted on my chest as I dredged the secrets up from hiding.

Lies upon lies. Relationship after relationship. Sin cloaked in more sin.

And then he asked me what I feared most he might ask. “How many were there?” The number slipped from my lips, and then I was gone.

Convinced this sealed the fate of our relationship, I left my engagement ring on the couch and ran for the bathroom. Curled up in the fetal position on the bathroom floor, I ached for God to just take me home. I was an undone, incoherent and utterly destroyed by my own failed masquerade. Surely death would feel better than this mess I had made.

What felt like hours later, but I’m sure was closer to 30 minutes, I heard him in the doorway. He bent down, scooped me up and, hands firmly holding my face, forced me to look at him. I will never forget the pain I saw in his eyes. A pain I had caused. But mingled with the hurt, was a compassion I didn’t understand.

He took my hand, got down on his knee, and asked me — once again — to marry him.

Restored

Oh, friend. This moment will forever be sealed in my memory. Heaven kissed earth in the wee hours of the morning in that little apartment on Potter Street, and through this extravagant expression of grace and forgiveness, that boy changed my life. For the first time, truly, in my life, I understood — tangibly — the radical love of Jesus. The love that says, “even though I know you completely — with all the ugliness and brokenness you carry — I still want you!”

I was utterly wrecked in the most beautiful of ways.

The next morning, puffy-eyed and surprisingly courageous, I sat on my momma’s lap and told her what had happened back on the night of September 15th, 1996, and how it had impacted the choices I’d made over the next few years. We wept together as she wrestled to understand how they’d missed the warning signs that I was so deeply in trouble. She asked to share it with my dad, and shortly afterwards asked that I share my story with our women’s group at church.

Faster than I ever thought possible, this terrible tale that had held me captive all these years lost its power and become a powerful weapon against the very one who had tried to destroy me.

The following year, as we navigated the unchartered territory of life as newlyweds, we spoke at a purity conference. Sharing honestly and transparently from our personal journey, we were able to reflect on some of the struggles we were working through as a couple as a result of our poor choices, while celebrating God’s extraordinary faithfulness.

And while I’d love to tell you that our life has been sunshine and roses since the truth emerged, we’ve had a whole heck of a lot to work through.

My husband wisely sought counsel from a Godly mentor. He reminded him how hard it must have been for me to bring this to him, and how important it was that he work through it, forgive me, and then let it go. “Never bring it up again,” he added. And I am so incredibly thankful and blessed to say, he never has.

While I’m still uprooting lies I believed and associations I made during sexual encounters as a teenager, we’ve come a mighty long way! Despite the years of junk we’ve had to wade through, the many soul ties we’ve had to sever, and the deep insecurities I continue to wrestle with, the sweetness and freedom of our intimacy has grown exponentially over the past several years.

To add to the sexual baggage, I dragged a boatload of emotional wounding into our marriage. I had so cemented into my mind the notion that ‘conflict destroys relationships’ that it took me years to not shy away from it. Past experience had proven this theory time and time again, so when something was bothering me, I stuffed it. And when my hubby picked up that something wasn’t right, and brought it up…I hid.

Fear of disappointing him fueled my drive for perfection and gave voice to my inner critic. The lingering sense that I was never good enough, in the kitchen, bedroom or laundry room, bubbled close to the surface, rearing its head in hyper-sensitivity and defensiveness.

This poor guy had NO idea what he had gotten himself into.

I cannot imagine what life would be like for us today, had I tried to keep everything locked up inside.

I wonder whether we would have even survived. Secrets tend to breed more secrets, which destroy the trust and safety of a marriage, and eventually unravel the very fabric of your relationship.

While those tools we’d placed in our marital tool belt came in handy when dealing with love and respect issues, or gender roles, and finances, nothing could quite prepare us for the daily walking out of married life. Especially one that required much healing and reprogramming for our interludes between the sheets. Our sex life, once settled into, was lack luster at best, as I struggled to stay emotionally present, while shying away from anything creative that might recall the experiences I’d had years earlier. Honest, open discussion, coupled with prayer, really helped us overcome many of these issues, and continues to act as our go-to when, from time to time, unexpected things emerge.

It’s been amazing watching God use our journey and our struggles to encourage other couples wrestling with the same stuff. We’ve had the opportunity to mentor several couples, and lead many different marriage courses, simply because we’ve made our imperfect selves available to Him, and because we truly love watching our resourceful God redeem our brokenness and use it for His glory.

Redeemed

We had the opportunity to fly home to South Africa and Namibia in 2006, in celebration of our third anniversary, and to connect my hubby with the family of mine he’d not yet met. Many of our fondest memories together were created during the 5 glorious weeks we spent gallivanting across the countryside.

On our last evening in South Africa, before heading over to Namibia for our final week of vacation, I had another of those ‘God opportunities’. One of those, “I’m giving you the opportunity of a lifetime…but you have to act within the lifetime of the opportunity” moments.

We had spent a week with my parents’ best friends in Johannesburg and I had been sharing how I was still wrestling with some severe insecurity. In fact, my people-pleaser streak was threatening to become a fully-blown way of life. I was terrified of disappointing people and in my effort to never rock the proverbial boat, I had become relatively passive-aggressive in the way I dealt with things.

My mom’s longtime best friend, who had headed up their area’s Theophostic Ministry2 (and inner healing ministry; ”Theo” meaning God, “Phos” meaning light), had asked whether I’d wanted to set aside some time to really pray about these things and ask God what the root issue was. Initially I’d been eager, but as the clock ticked down and our final hours with them became fewer, I felt a mild panic. “I don’t really feel like being an emotional, snotty mess,” I reasoned. “Don’t worry about it…I’m good.” But there, in the pit of my stomach, was that bubbling sense of urgency.

Don’t miss it, Joy. Don’t miss what I have for you.

Just before we were scheduled to be picked up by my dad’s sister, who was going to take us to their place, and then drive us to the airport in the morning, I dove in headfirst.

Wait. I want in. I want everything God has for me…bring it on!

So we called and asked her to come 2 hours later, then jumped in with both feet. As I sat cross-legged on her bed, begging God to uproot this life-sucking burden from me, we waited. Allowing God to take me back to the beginning, where lies took root and truths got twisted, the tears and snot began to flow. From the forgotten parts of my heart, God brought to mind snippets of scenes that had taken place when my older sister and I were 4 and 6. He took me, in my mind’s eye, to the white garage door of our favorite worker’s apartment on the grounds of the hostel we’d lived in. As vice-principle of the high school, my dad also had the position of superintendent of the girls’ hostel attached to the school, and it’s the place we called home for 4 years after our arrival from Cape Town.

What took place in that small bedroom had been all but erased from my memory. Only fragments had remained, but slowly things shifted into place. Suddenly it all made sense.

All those years I’d wrestled with shame and guilt because something about our childhood had felt mysteriously dirty, but without remembering what had actually happened, I simply stuffed the feeling, owned the shame, and believed that something must just be wrong with me. I was broken. And dirty. And disturbed.

All those years my sister and I dabbled in things we had no place dabbling in. And now it made sense.

This was the missing piece of the puzzle I’d been desperately trying to assemble, and God — in His sweetness — had revealed it at the perfect time. The very next day we landed in Namibia, and as we walked the grounds a few days later, hand-in-hand, processing through and releasing the wound of innocence stolen, God brought closure to an incredibly confusing chapter of my life. We stood outside that white door, cried, and let it go.

Upon arriving home in the States, just before Thanksgiving, we discovered we were pregnant with our first child. We did the math and discovered our little lady was conceived in Namibia. How like our God to bring new life out of a chapter of my life that had reeked of decay.

We named our daughter ‘Alathea Grace’, Alathea being Greek for “truth.”

For she, our precious gift, was the new life birthed out of a season saturated in truth, and seasoned heavily with grace.

XES: Why Church Girls Tend To Get It Backwards...And How To Get It RightIf you’ve enjoyed these excerpts from Joy’s book, XES: Why Church Girls Tend to Get it Backwards…And How to Get It Right, pick it up now! She shares not just her own story but also what she’s learned along the way about how to nurture a fulfilling sexual relationship with her husband, too–despite sexual baggage, exhaustion from kids, or shame.

Joy-Bio-ROUNDJoy McMillan is a freelance graphic designer, writer, conference speaker, and tea drinker extraordinaire. She is the founder of Simply Bloom Productions LLC, a creative little company with a big heart and an even bigger dream.

Joy & Joe have been involved in leadership & marriage ministry for as long as they’ve been married (2003), and with one foot planted firmly in the law enforcement world, they feel a tremendous burden to champion and celebrate God’s passion & purpose for marriage.

Originally hailing from Southern Africa, Joy lives with her scrumptious husband and two beautiful loin-fruit in Michigan.

WifeyWednesday175Now, what marriage thoughts do you have for us today? Leave your own URL of a marriage post in the linky below!



The Unglamorous Life of a Porn Star–and Why We Don’t Have to Compete

PureEyesCleanHeartIt’s Wednesday, that day that we always talk marriage! Today’s guest post is from Jennifer Ferguson, whose husband, Craig, battled through and recovered from a pornography addiction. Together they’ve written the book Pure Eyes, Clean Heart: A Couple’s Journey to Freedom from Pornography. Today she tells part of her story and how she had an attitude shift, regarding the unglamorous life of a porn star.

I used to think the voluptuous girls with the sleek bodies, cascading hair, and pouty lips were the enemies.

I would think horrid thoughts about them, judging them as they flaunted their goods in front of a camera to be broadcast for the entire world to see. I judged them the first time I saw them by accident on my husband’s computer screen and every time the incident replayed itself in my mind.

Unglamorous Life of a Porn Star

I couldn’t ask him, “What do they have that I don’t?” because the answer was obvious to me: Everything.

And it seemed that everything I had was detrimental to my ability to even try to get close to achieving what they had:

  • Baby fat…from 2 babies
  • An “A” cup
  • Stretch marks
  • Cellulite

The only time my lips were pouty was when I was complaining about lack of sleep. Not sure that jives with the sex appeal I was going for.

Even though I knew I could never look like them (at least, not on my budget), I tried to do what I could. I lost weight. I became a runner. I started trying to look better generally (a.k.a. taking five minutes to throw on some mascara).

But a shrinking me didn’t equate to less porn use by my husband. Trying to become more like them did not draw him more towards me. And the bitterness and rage building in my heart towards these porn stars started making me a jealous fool regarding any woman.

I gave anyone the power to make me feel less-than without the utterance of one single word. All they had to do was walk by. Wear a low-cut shirt. Breathe.

As Craig started his journey to freedom from porn addiction, God pointed out I had been ensnared by images of fantasy, too. Where he had been trapped by lust, I had been trapped by comparison.

Somehow, while working on our book, a miracle happened. I found myself filled with compassion for these women who had paraded across the screen and in my husband’s mind. Those whom I perceived as home-wreckers, I now viewed as women with wrecked hearts. Those whom I thought had it all, I realized had very little: safety, self-worth, family who cared. Those I thought were the definition of sexy were actually sex slaves.

Instead of spending so much time pitying myself, I found myself weeping for them.

And repenting. I had judged deeply and wrongly. I had let hate obscure my vision, not only of them, but also of myself. I thought I knew their world, but the truth is, I knew nothing. I started to turn my harsh language into compassionate prayers, that the women in the industry would find freedom, hope, and Jesus.

Because no one should think this is the way to live. No one should think they are worth nothing more than what the porn industry has to offer. The grass is definitely not greener. Consider these facts:
• One male pornographic performer, Rocco (600 films and 3,000 women), said: “Every professional in the porn-world has herpes, male or female.” (www.covenanteyes.com)
• The average life expectancy of a porn performer is only 37.43 years. The average American lives to be 78.1 years old. (www.shelleylubben.com/porn-industry)
• The US adult film industry earns between $9-13 billion annually. Performers make $400-$1000 per shoot and are not compensated based on distribution or sales. (www.shelleylubben.com/porn-industry)
• “Nobody really wants to date a porn star, stripper or escort. Also the whole family thing and having kids, I’m like ‘who’s gonna have kids with an ex-porn star,’” Belmond said, according to the Christian Post. “And even when I’m 60 I’m still gonna have this porn on the Internet. It’s like having a virus or something that never goes away.” Vanessa Belmond, former porn star (http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2013/10/24/ex-porn-star-reveals-the-horrors-of-working-in-the-sex-industry/)

Ladies, these women, or any woman, you deem as prettier, sexier, whatever-ier, is not your enemy. As Paul writes in Ephesians, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12, NIV)

When you feel the need to compare, pray.

Pray for yourself that God might show you how intricately you were made.

Pray for the woman you feel you’re up against, that she might know the same – that there is a God who loves her passionately.

Pray thanksgiving for beauty – that which is in you and every other sister – the beauty that is worn on the outside as well as the beauty that blooms on the inside.

Pray against the forces of darkness that belittle, that lie, that damage – those things within the porn industry and all the other dark places in this world.

And pray there would be no room for bitterness or rage to take root, for there is little beauty in those things at all.

JenniferFergusonPure Eyes, Clean Heart: A Couple's Journey to Freedom from PornographyJennifer Ferguson and her husband Craig are the authors of Pure Eyes, Clean Heart: A Couple’s Journey to Freedom from Pornography.

WifeyWednesday175Now it’s your turn to be part of Wifey Wednesday! What advice do you have for us today? Leave the link to your marriage post in the linky below.



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.

The Myth of Sexual Incompatibility

Myth of Sexual IncompatibilityI’m a columnist for Canada’s Faith Today magazine, the magazine for the evangelical Christian community. And in this month’s issue I’m talking about the myth of sexual incompatibility! I’ve written before about how Christians can’t be sexually incompatible, but I thought I’d sum it up in this column.

The evangelical church has found sex.

After years of being rightfully accused of prudery, many Christians have done a 180, deciding that the best form of evangelism is showing the world just how much we get it on. In July 2013, Pastor Joe Nelms of Family Baptist Church in Lebanon, Tennessee started a firestorm when, in his opening prayer at a NASCAR race, he thanked God for his “smokin’ hot wife”. Disgraced megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll was renowned for riddling his sermons with sexual innuendos. Closer to home, Christians are hosting “Passion Parties“, just like Tupperware parties, except without as much plastic, where women can shop for lingerie, sex toys, and lubricants in their own homes, with friends.

The message: sex in marriage is awesome!

But is it? This sexual evangelism caused Rachel Pietka to pen an opinion post for Relevant Magazine saying that “Christians Aren’t Called to Have Amazing Sex.” After all, if we aren’t supposed to have sex until we’re married, there’s no way to find out if you’re sexually incompatible. Obviously, then, God never meant for amazing sex to be a staple of a good Christian marriage.

And so here I find myself in this messy middle, wondering when the church will get our act together to properly evangelize about healthy sexuality.

Let’s go back to first principles. God made sex to unite us in three ways: physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Yes, we feel a physical rush, but sex is also designed to make us feel like one–the mystery of “knowing” each other, as the Hebrew word used for the sexual union suggests. This spiritual intimacy then feeds the physical side. That’s why many studies–including my own that I conducted for The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex–show that married Christians enjoy sex more. Commitment is a powerful aphrodisiac!

But our culture doesn’t understand that because it has divorced sex from marriage, and then all that’s left is genitalia. It becomes crude and ugly.

And yet the “sexually incompatible” camp pigeonholes sex as well.

If we’re capable of being sexually incompatible, then our sexuality must be something static. She by herself is a static sexual being, and he by himself is a static sexual being, and the two may not match. Not true. God designed sex to be a relational thing. And because sex is far more than physical, as we open up to each other by becoming more vulnerable, more giving, and more trusting, sex will change.

That’s why I hate the phrase “sexually incompatible”. You’re not incompatible; you just have things you need to work out. If one spouse wants to make love much more than another, and this causes hurt, it’s sin, because one (or both) are not loving each other as Christ did. If one is being selfish in bed, demanding unreasonable things, or refusing to learn how to pleasure the other, it’s sin. When physical problems come, and one spouse doesn’t make allowance, it’s sin. If the spouse experiencing difficulties won’t get help, it’s sin, too. If one is using porn or erotica to get aroused, it’s sin. If one is feeling ashamed of sex, that, too, is sin, though it may not be theirs. Perhaps they grew up in a house where their parents made them feel ashamed of the fact that they were sexual, and now they need healing. Or perhaps they were abused (someone else’s sin) and that, too, has impacted their ability to enjoy sex.

Just like in every other area of our lives, our problems with sex stem from either from our own sin (selfishness) or from being
sinned against (brokenness). And so we need to go to God for healing and restoration.

God promised that we could have amazing sex; He never promised that we would.

In the same way that we can’t live a holy life without surrendering more and more to God, we can’t have great sex without surrendering more and more of ourselves to God and to each other. Sex isn’t something that’s static; sex is a journey that married people take as we grow closer to each other and closer to our Maker.

So it’s time to stop seeing sex like the world does–as something only physical–and start remembering that real passion and intimacy come from a true spiritual connection. As we grow more and more like Christ, we’ll feel that passion more and more, and we will have amazing sex. But I still don’t think we should announce that at NASCAR races.

The newest issue of Faith Today has tons of great articles, including an expose on missing aboriginal women; a Q&A with the director of International Justice Mission, which frees child sex slaves (a ministry near and dear to my heart, that our family has recently started supporting); an in-depth examination of the euthanasia debate; and a look at how churches can agree to disagree–graciously. Plus tons of news about Kingdom Matters in Canada!

Check it out here.

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.

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.

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.

 

 

 

Top 10 Ways to Show Your Husband He’s Important After the Baby Comes

How to show your husband he's important after the baby comes!

How do you show your husband he’s important when you have a new baby and you’re exhausted?

A reader asks this question:

I’m wondering what there is that I can do to make sure my husband feels looked after in the time after a baby arrives. We just welcomed our first 16 days ago and I feel bad for my husband because taking care of the baby takes so much time I feel like I have no time to take care of his needs too. Do you have any advice? I know it’s very soon after baby but I want to make sure my husband knows he’s still a priority despite how much the baby needs.

That is a challenge, isn’t it? I’d say carve out “us time” when the baby goes in the swing for half an hour, but my youngest was colicky and that wouldn’t even have been an option. So I asked Arlene Pellicane, author of Growing Up Social and 31 Days to a Happy Husband, to share her best tips for letting your husband know he still matters to you.

When our first baby came into the world ten years ago, he was like little Simba being presented in the Lion King.  That exalted, tiny 7-pound lump was about to cause some serious changes to the kingdom of our home.  When baby makes three, it’s extremely helpful to realize that baby is prince (or princess) but daddy is still king.

If you’re not intentional about it, your husband can become like wallpaper in your home, quietly existing while all your attention goes to your sweet baby.

Here are the TOP TEN ways to make your husband feel special after baby:

Keep gazing into his eyes. 

The picture of a mom gazing into her baby’s eyes is powerful and iconic.  Deep bonding happens through this eye contact.  Make sure you spend time gazing into your husband’s eyes too.  You don’t have to stare at him for hours, but whenever you have the chance, savor each opportunity to look into his eyes.  By the way, this includes putting your phone down more often and looking him in the eyes when talking.
Top Ten

Oxytocin is for him too. 

Oxytocin is the bonding hormone – if you’re breast feeding, oxytocin is produced so you feel close to your baby.  When you kiss or hug your baby, your oxytocin level goes up and you like your baby more.  Guess what?  Oxytocin is necessary for you and your husband too!  Don’t forget to kiss, hug, and make love (once you’re physically able to again) to your man.  It will make you like him more and vice versa.

Kiss everyday for 5 seconds. 

In my book, 31 Days to a Happy Husband, I interviewed sex therapists Dr. Cliff and Joyce Penner who suggested a daily 5 – 30 second kiss.  Since you have a baby, I’m making the assignment easier:  5 seconds will do!  Let your husband know that this daily kiss is not the “GO!” signal.  It’s just a way that you want to stay close and keep the pilot light lit between you.  These 5 seconds will speak volumes to your husband.  Just 5 seconds will let him know you still find him desirable and you care about him.

Bring on the babysitter.

Whether it’s a grandparent or a trusted teenager, hire a babysitter so you can go out.  Sometimes mothers are afraid to leave their precious baby, but trust me on this one.  As long as your baby is being watched responsibly, your baby will not remember that you went on a 3-hour date when he or she was 6 months old.  (But your husband will).

Skip the donut.

I had three babies and two miscarriages in my 30s.  My weight went up of course with each pregnancy, and it meant a lot to my husband when he saw me trying to lose that baby weight.  Men are wired to be visually stimulated so don’t be mad at your husband if he would love to see your “before pregnancy” body back.  Obviously your body changes through the years.  But when you skip the donut and grab the apple instead, it communicates you are doing your best to by physically healthy which means a lot to your husband.

Plan for sex. 

Exhausted and sleep deprived, you may not want to have spontaneous sex for a very long time!  But when your body is able, plan for romance and put it on the calendar.  Dr. David Clarke says parents who don’t schedule their sex, don’t have sex.  I agree!  You’ve got to make room in your calendar for what’s most important to your marriage and lovemaking falls into that category.

When baby naps, you nap.

It’s hard to be a caring wife, let alone an amorous one, when you are so sleepy and tired.  When your baby takes a nap, leave the laundry alone.  Fall off the planet with social media.  Don’t watch TV.  Take a nap instead.  The more you can snatch pockets of time to catch up on your zzz’s, the nicer you will be to your husband and everyone else.

Connect with other positive moms.

You need time with adults who are not burping, drooling, or needing to be changed.  This way you’re not expecting your husband to meet every conversational need in your life.   Join MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) or other mom group that will connect you to positive moms.  Or you can have a weekly playdate with a friend who has a child similar in age.  Just make sure that the moms you hang out with are positive.  Avoid moms who constantly complain about their spouses and their kids.  Complaining is contagious and that’s a virus you don’t want to catch.

Pray for your spouse.

My friend Sharon Jaynes has a wonderful book, Praying for Your Husband from Head to Toe.  It’s easy to use, giving you Scriptures to pray over your man to protect and bless him.  As you bring your husband to God in prayer, he will feel your prayers and love.  And your heart will turn towards your husband.  When you’re praying for your husband, it’s hard to be irritated or callous toward him.

Respect his opinion.

Yes, you may know more about how the baby should be burped and when she was last changed, but when your husband has something to say about parenting, listen to him.  Continue to show him respect in your marriage, especially in this new role of child rearing.  So many men feel inept as fathers because their wives make them feel foolish.  Instead view parenting as a team sport, where both husband and wife have something valuable to offer.

Okay…which way are you going to practice today to make your hubby feel special?  After all, it’s awfully hard to compete with a 7-pound lump of cuteness and perfection! 

family website

Arlene Pellicane31 Days to a Happy Husband: What a Man Needs Most from His WifeArlene Pellicane is a speaker and author of Growing Up Social: Raising Relational Kids in a Screen-Driven World (co-authored with Gary Chapman), 31 Days to a Happy Husband, and 31 Days to Becoming a Happy Wife.

Arlene has been featured on the Today Show, Fox & Friends, Focus on the Family, Family Life Today, The Better Show, The 700 Club, Turning Point with Dr. David Jeremiah, and TLC’s Home Made Simple.

She and her husband James live in San Diego with their three children.  You can learn more about her ministry at www.ArlenePellicane.com

Pulling Back the Shades on Fifty Shades of Grey

Why 50 Shades of Grey will hurt your sex life and your marriage

Erotica has become mainstream. And that scares me.

Today I’d like to share with you about a great book I read recently: Pulling Back the Shades: Erotica, Intimacy and the Longings of a Woman’s Heart by Dannah Gresh and Juli Slattery.

They’re talking about how the book series Fifty Shades of Grey and other erotica can wreck your sex drive, your marriage, and your spiritual life. And they’re so right. We can’t ignore this stuff.

I write a lot about pornography on this blog: I write about the effects of porn, how to deal with a husband’s addiction to porn, and more. But while porn is a major problem for men (and increasingly for women, since 30% of porn users are women), that does not mean that women are immune from these types of struggles. They just take different forms–and erotica is one of the main forms.

And so I’d like to share with you some quotes from the book, and some of my own thoughts. They write:

We believe that the release of the Fifty Shades of Grey series was a transforming moment that fueled the erotica craze, normalizing its use. The series has done for women and erotica what the advent of the Internet did for men and porn.

Fifty Shades of Grey made erotica become mainstream–and acceptable.

My family and I were on a cruise shortly after the craze, and my girls were gobsmacked by how many women were reading it on their Kindles on the pool deck–with their husbands sitting beside them, where everyone could see. It’s socially acceptable now, because it’s seen as empowering! It just boosts a woman’s libido, and what can be the harm in that?

Well, Dannah and Juli show how it boosts that libido in a very significant way, by appealing to a woman’s five major longings:

  1. To escape reality
  2. To be cherished by a man
  3. To be protected by a strong man
  4. To rescue a man
  5. To be sexually alive

Think about how a book that’s about a strong, rich, multibillionaire who is troubled getting a young, naive girl involved in bondage will answer each of those 5 needs. The woman reading it escapes reality. She enters a story where this man who has everything is nonetheless obsessed and enthralled with this normal girl. He showers her with gifts, yet at the same time he is very strong–he totally dominates her. But he has these demons that only she can get rid of for him by her love. And in the midst of all that she has amazing sex (and as you read them you get aroused, too.

Erotica feeds right into our essential desires, but it does it in a counterfeit way.

“Erotica strategically and masterfully pulls you in by exploiting what your heart secretly longs for.”

Then Juli Slattery says this:

Having read the Fifty Shades trilogy, I will say with great confidence that these books are not merely fiction—a story that could be true but is not—but are actually fantasy— something that could not possibly be true.

Sure, they may meet our needs, but it’s completely not true. If you look at the plot, it can’t possibly be true. And that makes it a fantasy. The Narnia series is a fantasy–it breaks the laws of physics and nature by creating an alternate world you can travel to. Lord of the Rings is fantasy because it breaks other laws of nature to create a magical world that can’t exist. But those fantasy worlds are good ones, because they do not break moral laws. The erotic novels, on the other hand, actually change the laws–moral and relational laws. That’s why it’s called shades of grey–there aren’t black and white anymore. And the author says so explicitly in the book.

Breaking down moral rules is part of what she sets out to do in Fifty Shades of Grey.

Her main character is even called Christian. And look at what passes for love–dominating, humiliating, being abusive and making someone else complete you.

They do a wonderful job of explaining the black spiritual undertones to the books, but then they show why it is that even with these undertones we gravitate towards them.

Think about this, though: having to call someone Master–it’s a spiritual thing. And Jesus came to proclaim freedom! But they show how the BDSM lifestyle can appeal to women who are desperate to have a man act more like a man. Ultimately, though, it doesn’t enhance intimacy. It replaces it with adventure and danger, which does heighten sexual response because it releases certain hormones which make us feel more alive. But it isn’t intimacy. And the more that sexual response is paired with this kind of thing, the less your sexual response will even work when you’re trying to “make love”–when you’re trying to be intimate.

They share many stories of girls and women who have read the books and have gotten caught up in erotica. Some of you have shared those stories with me, too. I’ve had several women write about how they grew up in very conservative households, and they started with the Beverly Lewis Amish books. They devoured all those from the church library when they were 12 and 13, so then they moved on to the Karen Kingsbury and other romances there. When they had read all the romances, they went to the public library and looked for secular romances. And soon they were reading Nora Roberts and books with explicit sex scenes.

And before you know it they were seeking out erotica online–even as teens in a conservative Christian home.

Now they’re adults and they can’t stop. They count the moments until they can take some time to themselves and read an erotic novel. And they can’t have sx with their husbands without picturing some scene from the novel. It’s invaded everything.

But that kind of “boosting your libido” is fake.

The authors write,

Erotica like Fifty Shades of Grey is aimed at awakening your physical sexual desire without any connection to emotional, relational, or spiritual reality. Even if the main characters are “in love,” you are not! Whatever emotional and sexual response these novels create in you, they are disconnected from your love relationships and your longing to know and honor God.

Good Girls Guide My SiteIt’s not that adventure in bed is wrong–and they do a good job of what’s okay and what’s not okay in the bedroom, and came to EXACTLY the same conclusions I did in The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex on EVERYTHING, so I’m glad about that! Adventure is good, and discovery and exploration is good. But when it’s combined with something that isn’t about intimacy but is about humiliation or degradation, there are some serious problems.

Their conclusion:

While erotica might originally heighten sexual feelings, over the long haul it erodes something much more important—intimacy.

I know many of you are struggling with addictions or temptations towards erotica.

I know for many of us it IS a huge temptation. And that is not wrong. We’re all tempted towards something. But if you continue to read this kind of erotica, it will impact your sex life with your husband in a very negative way. You’ll be living your sex life through fantasy, and that is basically the same as cheating. How would you feel if your husband had to picture porn to get aroused? If you have to picture a scene from a book, you’re doing that, too.

Pulling Back the Shades: Erotica, Intimacy, and the Longings of a Woman's HeartIt changes what we respond to. It changes how our bodies work. It makes us dissatisfied in our marriages and with our husbands. And it just plain is dangerous.

Pulling Back the Shades is a great book. It’s not only about Fifty Shades of Grey–it’s about the whole erotic, BDSM phenomenon that is sweeping through our culture. And I’d encourage you to read it, even if you’re not struggling with this, because we need to understand what’s going on so we can talk to our friends, our sisters, and our daughters about it.

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.

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.

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.

Wifey Wednesday: Sex and the Gospel

Sex and the Gospel: How God designed real intimacy to reflect His love

It’s Wednesday, the day when we always talk marriage! And today guest poster Abigail Alleman explores whether making love can actually be a vehicle God uses to show the depth of His love. Here’s Abigail showing us where sex and the gospel intersect:

It’s Easy to Be Blind

During the first couple years of our marriage that my husband and I went to a Family Life ‘Weekend to Remember’ Conference. There were fun talks from married people including some about sex. Considering my ‘mum’s the word’ upbringing regarding ‘intimate things’ I was eating all of this good teaching right up.

It was then that I remember hearing that women need to feel loved in order to be ready for sex. I clung to that and, at times, used it as a club to beat my husband away if he wanted to have sex but I wasn’t feeling loved…for whatever reason. Even if I truly wasn’t feeling loved, those who know my husband and what an amazing servant he is, can feel free to call those ugly moments for me. I know I do.

But if any woman is willing to be honest and take the journey to find what holds her back from giving fully to her husband–and ultimately, God–she will find similar things. When we say we ‘don’t feel loved’, at the heart is the shame and mistrust and rebellion towards God we inherited from Eve. We are afraid of rejection or having our weakness used against us, so we hide and cling to some semblance of control. At the heart we are cutting ourselves off from God and therefore can’t feel His love or anyone else’s. Sadly, because we are one with our husbands, they pay the price.

…And then comes the Gospel

And yet, in the middle of all of this is the Gospel. It is where God in Christ redeems, or buys back, everything. He rescues us and binds up our wounds through His own. We are transformed by this Love that entered time and space and a fallen world and gave all of infinite God to buy back the darkness.

Nothing looks the same.

As I have been looking at my own faulty views on sex, that unconsciously included lies that it is somehow dirty (even as a married woman) or ultimately for men, I have seen how utterly wrong and devastating this thinking is.

I have become convinced that the more fiercely the darkness clings to something, the greater its potential to be transformed into something totally new this side of Calvary. This is absolutely true about sex.

God wants to blow the top off of our limited, boxed thinking about His gift of sex in marriage.

And through transformed thinking and practice, send us boldly into the world with a message it desperately needs. It’s the one where sex in God’s bounds and for His Glory brings both husband and wife healing and fullness instead of pain and emptiness.

What Is Hard to See

Let’s go back to the truth that women need to feel loved to have sex. Did you know that the reverse is also true? Men have sex to feel loved. They probably shared this at the Family Life Conference, but it conveniently did not make it into my head and definitely not my heart. It wasn’t until after 10 years of marriage, three kids, international moves, and reading Sheila’s book that I saw the whole picture.

And when I did, I was humbled at the gift God has given me as a wife. Through giving myself fully to my husband in sex, I partner with God in the revelation of His love for my husband. I had prayed for years that my husband could experience God’s infinite love for him in radical ways. So when I read that my husband’s desire for love was expressed through his desire for sex, I was blown away. I instantly saw that his seeking of physical intimacy and my full open response are a tremendous gift through the Gospel where he can know and receive the love of God.

You see, it’s not just the sex, it’s the experience of it when two people have put their faith in the Gospel .

Recently, at a concert in a conservative Baptist Church, I heard one of the pastors describe the beautiful worship we had experienced in a way that made me think of sex. He said that for him, as a guy, he often lacks the language to express what God’s love and beauty means to him. But when he worships God through great music and lyric, his heart, soul and mind find satisfying expression.

I tapped my hubby on the shoulder and whispered in his ear, ‘Honey, that’s what sex is like for guys, isn’t it?’ He smiled at me in a way that told me, ‘yes, that’s just how it is.’

Why It’s So Important To See

I’ve heard a lot about my duties as a wife. Obedience to God is a key element in the life of the believer. And, yes, the Bible says that my body is no longer my own and as a married woman I no longer have authority over it (neither does my husband over his).

But if I stop there, I do an All-Gracious God, myself and my husband a great injustice. The chief end of my life is not obedience, but to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. My body, and my life, are not my own BECAUSE I have been bought with a price. Infinite God emptied of infinite Glory to make a way back to the Presence of God where I know as I am fully known.

In this, my understanding of sex, through the lens of the Gospel, is completely transformed. So are the patterns of guilt and shame or whatever may keep me holding back a body, a life, that is no longer my own. I am called to give it all freely to my husband so that in great beauty and mystery we experience the fullness of Grace and Truth that is meant to shape every area of our lives. In the consecrated act of sex in the sacred space of our marriage we BOTH are wrapped more tightly, fully, deeply into the only Love that remains.

The felt needs of love for me and sex for my husband are becoming, for us, one consuming desire to know and embrace and enjoy God together. It is changing everything for us. And I want that for you too.

AbigailAbigail says: I am wife to a wonderful man, mama to three precious now-little-but-soon-will-not-be loves. Each born in a different place–two states {Pennsylvania & Florida} and two countries {U.S. & Hungary}. I can now claim fluency in 3 languages: English;) Spanish & Hungarian. I am a sojourner longing for Home. Yet, in my messy and broken, I embrace the moments given with all I have. For the past few months I have been writing about my journey in understanding sex and sexuality in a series called Pure Passion. You can check it out here!

 

Christian Marriage Advice

Good Girls Guide My SiteThanks for joining me for Wifey Wednesday!

If the idea of sex and spiritual intimacy seems foreign to you, I talk about how to get to the point where sex is something more than physical in both my books The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex and in 31 Days to Great Sex. I encourage you to check them out–don’t miss out on something this amazing in your marriage!