Can Christians be sexually incompatible when they marry?
Last summer Rachel Pietka caused quite a stir by writing an article called “Christians Are Not Called to Have Amazing Sex.” In it, she argued that Christians were making far too big a deal out of great sex in marriage. In fact, she said, great sex could not be a requirement for marriage, because since God asks us to wait for marriage to have sex, we have no way of knowing whether or not we’re sexually compatible until after we marry. Thus, if God had wanted us to have great sex, and that this was an actual calling, and a requirement for Christian marriages, He would not have ordered chastity first.
Now, I’m paraphrasing, and you can read the whole article here. I already wrote a long post responding to it, talking about why great sex is important in a marriage and shouldn’t be just “pooh poohed”. But one point that I thought merited more attention was this talk of sexual incompatibility, because we’re starting to hear of it everywhere.
So let’s dive into this.
Our Sexual Selves Aren’t Static–They’re Relational
Here’s what sexual incompatibility says: he’s one way, and she’s another, and together we don’t match. We’re made different sexually, and we don’t go together.
The problem with that is that it assumes that we are sexual beings in ourselves, separately from another person. We have this “static” sexuality, and he has a “static” sexuality, and when you match them up, they don’t fit.
Yet what if sex was never intended to be “she’s like that, and he’s like that”, but rather, “together, we’re like this?”
I think the “together” model is far closer to the truth. Yes, we are each born with certain sexual drives. Everybody has these. In fact, our sexuality and our spirituality are very closely linked, because with both sexuality and spirituality we have this deep need and deep drive to be intimate and known.
And it’s that “known” word that’s really important. I explain it in a really humorous way in this video, but in a nutshell, it’s that sex is supposed to be a deep knowing between two people. It isn’t that two people come together and use each other to get their sexual needs met; it’s that our sexuality is supposed to be expressed with another person. Our sexuality is, at heart, relational.
People used to understand this, but if you think about it, it makes sense only if you also believe that sex belongs in marriage. As soon as you take sex outside of a committed marriage relationship, as our culture has done, then the only permanent thing in your sex life is YOU. It’s not US, it’s YOU. So in order for YOU to get your sexual needs met, you have to get to know yourself more, and explore yourself more. That’s why so many sex toys are masturbatory in nature! They’re marketed saying that they will help you know yourself, because you have to know yourself before you can have fun with someone else. But actually, your husband can help you to know yourself better. That’s the way we were designed to work.
We’re meant to be sexual in relationship. If we start saying that two people can be sexually incompatible, then we’re buying into our culture’s view that sex is something that is supposed to be experienced with many people, and that you can be most fulfilled by doing the most with as many as possible, and it’s not true.
Being “Sexually Incompatible” is Simply a Marriage Issue that Needs to be Dealt With
In truth, sexual incompatibility simply means that something is not working well in your marriage. And honestly, that’s quite normal. We all have baggage when we get married, and because our sexuality is so close to our spirituality, it’s deeply personal and harder to deal with than a lot of other conflicts. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t deal with it!
It took my husband and I six years to figure out this part of our marriage, because I had trust issues and frankly sex didn’t feel very wonderful (sex really hurt!). It would have been easy for us to say that we were “sexually incompatible”–that his libido was higher than mine, and that I was too frigid for him. But instead, we treated it like a problem that had to be dealt with, and gradually we grew together and things got better.
That’s how it is in most marriages. When I wrote The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, I took surveys of thousands of women, and one thing I found was that the best years sexually in a marriage were years 16-24. They weren’t the early years. It takes a while to get things right. But if we believe in “sexual incompatibility”, then we can say, “there’s no point in trying. We weren’t meant to go together.”
Look, we don’t do that in other areas of our marriage. If he leaves laundry on the floor and it drives you nuts, you don’t say “we’re housework incompatible”. You say, “we need to figure out a way around this so that we’re both happy.” Why not treat sex the same way?
“Sexual Incompatibility” Could be About Libido Differences
Often when we say we’re not compatible sexually it’s because one person wants sex more than the other. We tend to think it’s the guy, but in about one quarter of marriages it’s the woman with the higher libido, and she’s left wondering why her husband doesn’t want her.
Yet what if libido differences are actually a vehicle that God uses to push us towards more holiness? I wrote a 3-part series on this a while back, and you can see the round-up (with the links) here, on what does “Do Not Deprive” mean. I do agree with Pietka that God’s main aim for us to develop holiness, not happiness. And I think libido differences push us towards greater holiness, because in order to have a happy marriage we have to adjust. One of us will more naturally bend towards self-control, and one of us will more naturally bend towards passion. Both are good things. And these libido differences help stretch us, so that the one with more self-control learns more passion, and the one with more passion learns more self-control. That’s a good thing!
“Sexual Incompatibility” Could be About Preferences
Sometimes sexual incompatibility is simply that one person is more adventurous in bed than someone else. I’ve written at length on that, and you can find some of those posts here:
And my ebook 31 Days to Great Sex can also walk you through, step by step, enlarging your boundaries where appropriate, and admitting that some things aren’t appropriate. It helps you communicate and helps you have great fun in your marriage–without violating anyone’s moral code.
Again, this isn’t an incompatibility issue. It’s simply a tool that can help push us towards holiness. We may need to communicate and ask for what we want; we may need to step outside our comfort zone and find real passion; we may need to confront deep-seated fantasies and recognize that these are from harmful sources. Whatever the issue, it’s not your spouse that’s the problem. It’s simply something to work through together by becoming more vulnerable, more humble, and more passionate. And those are all good things, too!
“Sexual Incompatibility” Could Be Simply About a Learning Curve
I’ve had a number of women write to me telling me, “my husband and I just aren’t compatible in bed. He never makes me feel good. It’s just so boring.”
Yet is this really sexual incompatibility–or is it just that they haven’t figured out how to make it feel good yet? Usually it’s the latter, because our bodies were made to feel good together. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t. Sometimes you may have to try different positions to see what feels best, or try more foreplay, but there is no reason why someone can’t learn to make the other feel good.
The problem is usually that we’re really uncomfortable telling the other person what we want, or we don’t truly understand how the other person’s responses work. Here are some posts that can help:
The Pleasure Center (the importance of the clitoris)
Or, get all of these posts in a much longer form, with lots more information, in my book the 31 Days to Great Sex, which helps you talk through these issues with less stress.
“Sexual Incompatibility” Could Be About Sin
Most worrisome, sexual incompatibility could be a sin issue. If a husband is heavily involved in pornography, or a wife in erotica, then you can start to want things that are just not right, or you can transfer your sexual energy to something other than your spouse. This is sin.
It’s not incompatibility; it’s sin.
And it needs to be repented of and dealt with. Here’s a post on how to ask others for help.
“Sexual Incompatibility” Could be About Health Issues
The only area where there could be a true incompatibility–a real area where working on something will not make it better–is if there are health issues involved. Perhaps one of you is paralyzed, or has had cancer, or has chronic pain, or even has vaginismus. Some of these things can get better, but others are for life. I’ve written about what to do when intercourse is no longer possible.
But is that incompatibility? Or is this part of the “in sickness and in health” bit of marriage vows? Yes, it’s heartbreaking. And yes, it’s not what either of you signed up for. But sometimes in marriage we don’t get what we are expecting, and in those times, God is always big enough to see you through.
Being “Sexually Incompatible” Can Be Fixed!
In most cases, then, sexual incompatibility isn’t true incompatibility. It’s not permanent; it’s simply something that you need to fix. And fixing it may make you go out of your comfort zone. You have to confront your own baggage. You have to communicate about tough issues. You have to compromise and adjust. But these are all good things, and they’re all a part of marriage.
If you believe the compatibility myth that sex should be easy, and two people should just work together right off the bat, you’re likely to be disappointed. That’s not how we were made.
But it isn’t that we were made to have permanent problems, either. It’s just that as we work through what we want in the bedroom, we tend to have stronger marriages in all ways. We compromise, we talk, we grow. That’s a good thing!
So don’t give up on your marriage just because you feel like you aren’t sexually compatible. Just treat this like any other problem and start to deal with it. You may just find that you both grow together, after all!
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