Does the idea of “Mutually satisfying sex” seem foreign to your marriage? Is sex mostly for him?
It’s Wednesday, the day that we talk marriage! I introduce a topic, and then you all can link up your own marriage posts in the linky below. Today I want to talk about mutually satisfying sex.
Let me ask a question: In your marriage, is sex all for him?
If you read this blog, you’ll know that I don’t think sex should be all about him. But it’s awfully easy to see how many women get that idea. It’s certainly what I thought at the beginning of my marriage! It’s easy for men to get aroused and to feel pleasure; women are much more tricky. Men pretty much always get satisfaction from sex; women aren’t guaranteed orgasm. And men have this need for sex that we women are told we have to fulfill if we’re going to have a happy marriage. So your husband bugs you for sex, because he won’t feel loved without it, yet for you maybe it doesn’t even feel that great. You have to do something you don’t like that much in order for your husband to feel loved. Sounds pretty awful.
Now, it doesn’t need to be that way! But there’s an undercurrent in a lot of Christian writing about sex which goes something like this:
Men really truly need sex, and so women have to give it to them when they need it. Never say no, or you’re hurting him, and he could end up having an affair.
That’s not the message of this blog, and I hope none of you has gotten that idea.
When I wrote The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, what I was trying to do was to write a book that would show that God designed sex to be a mutually satisfying experience. Both of us are supposed to enjoy it. It’s supposed to make both of us feel more intimate. Both of us need it. The only real difference is that men, in general, have more of an urgent felt need for it. But the best way to meet that need is to realize that we have a need for it, too, and then to act on it. And to realize that when we step out to meet our husband’s needs, if our heads are in the game, it’s likely to be a very good experience for us, also.
But remember that men really need to be wanted, not to be placated.
And if we give this message that men “need” sex, and women therefore must perform, it’s all too easy to start seeing sex as something distasteful, and men as animals.
That’s hardly a recipe for real intimacy. It also is EXTREMELY damaging to a woman’s sexuality and libido. Instead of talking up mutually satisfying sex, we seem to talk about sex primarily being for him, while we’re almost bystanders. When it’s constantly preached that men need sex, and women need to provide, and that is the primary context (which I see in many popular marriage books), I can totally understand why so many women think, “God must hate me. God made me as a receptacle that’s just supposed to be there so my husband can use me.” That is NOT what God intended at all.
The solution, to me, is to stress mutually satisfying sex–sex that you both want, that you both feel pleasure from, and that you both feel intimacy from.
It should be something that is both fun and frequent, and desired by both. That takes some work, but that’s the goal. It’s not that he’s an animal who needs it all the time; it’s that God made it to be wonderful, though different, for both of you, and He made both of you to experience real intimacy in sex. It’s for both of us!
Now, last month I wrote a rant on things I’d like to say to men about sex, and one of those things was this:
After she’s had a baby, she needs six weeks before she can have sex again. Let her have those six weeks to get used to the baby. You do not need her to “help you” in other ways.
If she’s having her period, and she feels distinctly unsexy, go for five days without sex. You really can do it (some women feel aroused during their periods; others just don’t). To demand that she satisfy you in ways other than intercourse when she finds intercourse really distasteful and uncomfortable is a little much. Use some self-control! You can have a healthy sex life for the other 22 days of the month. You really will survive.
And if she’s in her first trimester and she’s puking all the time, instead of worrying about your own sex drive, how about getting a cold cloth for her head? Or giving her a massage? Or letting her sleep? She’s sacrificing a lot physically for this baby. It is not too much to ask you to do the same thing.
If she’s withholding sex for an extended period of time, yes, you need to confront her and do something about it. But if it’s just occasionally for physical reasons, I think that’s why God says one of the fruits of the Spirit is self-control.
In response, a number of commenters said it was unreasonable to expect men to go that long without sex, and that women should “lend a hand”, so to speak.
I’d like to address that just for a moment, because it is a question I get a lot. “My husband can’t wait the five days while I have my period. What should I do?”
In a nutshell, here’s what I think:
A healthy marriage consists of give and take in every area, including sex.
So the wife should give when she’s able, as much as she’s able, and as enthusiastically as she’s able. At the same time, when she is not able, the husband should then give grace. To me, that’s a healthy marriage. For most of the month, you have a great time, and then for those five days you concentrate on other areas of relating, like talking, or cuddling, or watching a movie, or whatever–unless, of course, she would like to do something more sexual (and about 30% of women do. There’s nothing wrong with that!)
This idea that a man cannot go for five days without release is a little much. Yes, a man will feel an urge for sex if he waits for five days. But that doesn’t mean that this urge needs to be met. After all, before you are married a Christian man will refrain from sex. I think five days is enough to wait. And ditto the six weeks (or however long you individually are told to wait) after having a baby. I normally think six weeks is too much to refrain from sex, but after having a baby, you’re exhausted, and you have something totally new to concentrate on.
To say that the wife “must” help her husband some other way is to ignore the mutuality of sex.
Now, all of this is said with a caveat, which is that both of you should be enjoying frequent, fun sex at other times. If you’re doing that, a husband will find it easier to wait the five days, or six weeks, or whatever, because he isn’t fundamentally insecure that his wife doesn’t desire him. When a husband doubts whether his wife really loves him or wants him, then he often wants sex more frequently.
So I wouldn’t say that you can refrain from sex during the entire pregnancy, or during the baby days at all, and I’ve written before on how to deal with sex if you’re nauseous for months on end, or if your hormones are all over the place. Again, we need to have give and take.
But I do not think that it is unreasonable to ask your husband to wait five days while you have your period (and indeed, that’s what the Old Testament demanded anyway. One commenter noted that while the Old Testament said this, in a patriarchal society men had more than one wife, and so were unlikely to be waiting that long. First, only the rich had more than one wife generally. And secondly, I do not believe that God set up rules to do with sex and marriage assuming anything other than monogamy, when monogamy is His ultimate plan and anything else is a distortion). This doesn’t mean you HAVE to wait. Many women actually enjoy sex during their period, and many women like surprising their husbands and helping him in some other way. It does give you a feeling of power, which is, in and of itself, fun. I’m just saying that it shouldn’t be an obligation.
When sex becomes an obligation in a marriage, that marriage is going downhill.
If she feels like it’s just for him, she’ll start to resent him and resent sex. If she feels that he only wants her for his release, and not because he wants to feel close to her or wants to show love to her, that’s the quickest way to shut her off that I know.
Look, both parties should give sexually. A wife should make love as enthusiastically and as often as she can. But a husband also should love and honor his wife when she is unable to do that. And to say, “well, she’s only having her period, and her hand is still fine”, or “she has to wait six weeks to have intercourse, but she could do something else”, to me, is being a little selfish. First, many women are just simply sick through their periods. I know several friends who can’t get out of bed for three days, and one of them has a husband who is still asking her to satisfy him in other ways. How is that loving your wife?
I spend a lot of time on this blog telling women to step up to the plate and learn to love sex and learn to love their man. That’s so important. But that message should not be distorted. Men should also step up the plate and learn to love their women, and that means being patient when she is feeling distinctly unsexy or extremely tired and sick–assuming these conditions are temporary. If you demand something during those times, you’re not really loving her, anymore than if she is consistently refusing him when she is perfectly able to make love, then she is not really loving you.
If you really desire true intimacy in your marriage, both parties should learn give and take. That’s the mark of the Christian life. It isn’t getting every physical need met; it’s learning to love and learning to experience intimacy. Isn’t that what we should aim for?
UPDATE: If you want another look at this same issue, here’s my series on what the Bible passage “Do Not Deprive Each Other” means.
Again, I urge all women not to use this as a “get out of sex free” card. If you really resent sex and want any excuse not to have it, the best route is to figure out a way to actually love and anticipate it! And for that, may I suggest The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex? 🙂