Y’all know that I believe having lots of sex in marriage is a great thing.
(It just felt right to begin that sentence with y’all, even to this Canadian. 🙂 )
But that doesn’t mean that having sex is always the right thing to do. And it certainly doesn’t mean that having sex will fix all marriage problems.
I’m so excited that in just six days my new book, 9 Thoughts That Will Change Your Marriage, will start to appear on shelves! Yay! And for the last week or so we’ve been talking about what some of those thoughts are.
We talked about:
Thought #5: I’m not in competition with my husband! Submission isn’t about who gets to make all the decisions; it’s about servanthood. And sometimes the best way to serve your husband is to say, “no”!
Thought #3: My Husband Can’t Make Happy. Ultimately our happiness is our hands.
And today I want to talk about Thought #8: Making Love is not the same thing as Having Sex.
Here’s part of what I wrote in the book, talking about the advice that the church seems to be giving to “just have sex!”:
Book series have been written about the battles that men face with sexual temptation, and wives are told that they can help men defeat these temptations by having sex more often. Some pastors challenge couples to have sex every day (in some cases for a week, and in some cases, for a month) to reap the benefits in their marriage. (my 31 Days to Great Sex book isn’t sex-every-day-for-a-month; it’s let’s start talking–and THEN let’s rock each other’s world!)
I have sympathy with this “just do it” approach. On a spiritual level, every time you make love, you reaffirm your relationship and you feel more committed. And from a practical standpoint, libido in women is largely a use-it-or-lose-it phenomenon. When we make love more frequently, our bodies tend to respond more easily, and we’ll find that our libidos increase. When women make love less frequently, our bodies often shut down and our desire for sex diminishes.
Also, remember my story of “sex flowers”? My husband felt close to me after sex, and so he brought me flowers. That’s how God designed us. When we experience sexual release, we release the bonding hormone oxytocin, which helps us feel closer to each other. When we’re having sex with relative frequency, we tend to feel more positively toward each other, and we tend to find it easier to let go of small issues in the marriage.
These are all good things, yet simply having more sex will not make everything automatically better. Our religious “just do it” pat answer seems too much like a mirror image of our culture’s attitude toward sex: both ignore the fact that sex is more than genitalia. It isn’t a cure-all for every-thing, and too often it’s portrayed as such. That cheapens sex too.
Making love—experiencing genuine intimacy through sex—is truly beautiful. But too many couples haven’t experienced that because they’ve bought into this “sex is only about genitalia,” sometimes without even realizing it.
This “just have sex!” approach too often reinforces the idea that sex is mostly for men, anyway–and “obligation sex” is never sexy for women. Talking about the benefits of sex is a far healthier approach!
But the real issue, I think, is that we’ve forgotten that God created sex to unite us in three ways: physically, spiritually, and emotionally.
If we stress only the physical side of sex, we can actually harm the other two aspects of intimacy. And sometimes we can do great damage to the hearts of those involved.
I’m not saying that quickies are bad or that sex can never just be to “have fun”! Not at all. But when other factors are involved that are affecting our intimacy, using sex cheaply can drive us apart.
Here are three examples of when “just do it!” is the wrong approach:
1. Just Having Sex won’t cure sin–and can even reinforce it
If a husband (or a wife) is using pornography; if a husband is sexting other women (believe me, I get lots of emails about it); if a spouse wants to pursue something really deviant (like involving a third party or something), then having sex isn’t going to cure any of those things.
I’ve had so many commenters (mostly men) on this blog saying that if their wives would just have sex with them they wouldn’t use porn. And yes, having frequent sex can diminish the temptation for these things to a certain extent. But it won’t cure all temptation, and if the addiction gets to a certain point it won’t help the temptation at all. It will just reinforce it.
Here’s what I mean: porn trains the brain so that what is arousing is an image, rather than a person.
If a single guy has been using porn for years and then marries, the problem is that he’s trained his body to respond to porn, not to his wife. And it really doesn’t matter what his wife does, the pull to porn will still be there because the problem is not his wife. The problem is in his brain. It is possible to retrain your brain, but he has to get real about the problem, pray, and find someone to hold him accountable. (and he should be willing to use Covenant Eyes or something to give him accountability online. If he’s not, he doesn’t really want to get better).
Now, in some marriages, the porn problem only STARTS after sexual refusal, and in those cases, then, yes, having more sex may reduce the temptation. But if the porn use predates the marriage (which, for most new couples today, it usually does), then the situation is completely different.
Here’s another problem: If a guy (or a woman) uses porn to get aroused, and then wants sex, he’s using his spouse as an object. There’s nothing about real intimacy there. (The same would go for shows like Game of Thrones, by the way). And if he wants to act out something he’s seen, then again, sex is not about intimacy. If a woman gives in and allows her husband to treat her this way, she will be part of the train-your-brain-to-respond-to-porn chemical reaction that’s going on, because she’s reinforcing the fantasy and the use of porn to get aroused before sexual release.
If there’s major sin in the marriage, then the sin needs to be dealt with BEFORE you bring sex back. This doesn’t mean you never have sex until he’s cured of the porn; I can’t give blanket statements like that because I do think every relationship is different. But he must be trying to give up the porn; have an accountability partner; and working towards real intimacy. Yes, he will slip up occasionally, and be his ally when he does. But if he won’t get rid of the porn, having sex won’t help.
And the more women are told they should “Just have sex”, the more they will feel used, like objects. And that reinforces a very negative view of sex for her, and wrecks the ability for sex to be something that brings her closer to her husband, too.
2. Just Having Sex Can’t Rebuild Trust
Let’s leave the porn for a minute; here’s another scenario: one of you has had an affair, and you’re trying to rebuild your marriage.
In this case, “just have sex” can hurt your recovery.
Because having sex does reinforce an intimacy, and it does make you feel closer. That, in turn, can mask a problem.
This works to our advantage in healthy marriages; the more we have sex, the less little things that he does bother her, and vice versa.
But it can be harmful when trust is being rebuilt, because it can allow us to ignore big issues or to paper over things that really do need to be addressed. If something needs to be healed in your marriage, heal it, don’t rush the process by jumping into bed.
Again, this doesn’t apply to every problem. After all, make up sex is a real thing, and often making love helps us resolve conflict! But if it’s something huge, it shouldn’t be rushed, and that’s where counsellors should likely be involved.
3. When Sex Itself Hurts, Just Having Sex Can Damage Your Heart
I’ve written before about how when we first married I suffered from vaginismus, a condition where sex is extremely painful because you’re just too tight. (I share the whole story in The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex).
I was so devastated and upset, because I knew how important sex was to my husband, and I didn’t want to feel like a failure. So instead of saying, “let’s just take things really slowly and figure out what’s going on”, I just bowled through despite the pain.
That was the wrong thing to do. It reinforced in my brain that sex was awful. It made me feel used (even though I was the one that told my husband we should). It made me start to get mad at God (why would He make something that hurt me so much be so necessary for Keith to feel loved?)
And I healed from the ordeal physically much quicker than I did emotionally.
Since then God’s given me the opportunity to speak into so many women’s lives who have been going through this, and they all share the same emotional scars: “why is something that hurts me so much so necessary in our marriage?”
In retrospect, both Keith and I know that if we had taken time to explore sexually without intercourse, and then worked on my issues, it would have been a healthier course of action.
But what if that’s not your problem? What if you suffer from chronic pain, or have other reasons that sex hurts?
We have to find ways to be sexual that are mutual–even when intercourse is painful. If we reinforce intercourse above all else, then we can kill the sexual confidence and libido of the person with pain, and we can really harm that spouse’s heart. I’ve got other posts on what to do when intercourse isn’t possible.
I’m not trying to tell people that they can get out of having sex.
Indeed, I have a series on what “do not deprive“, in 1 Corinthians 7, means.
But I do believe that we should be encouraging couples to make love, not just have sex.
We need to be encouraging an intimacy that builds up, not one that tears down. We need to be encouraging two people feeling like one, not one person feeling used. We need to be teaching mutuality, not selfishness.
If you’re in a marriage where you wonder if you fit one of these categories, I really encourage you to seek out a third party and get some help. Don’t walk through this alone, and don’t arbitrarily say, “we don’t have to have sex because I read it on a blog!” I’m saying–get some help. Seek some wise counsel. Pray.
And let’s see the beauty in making love again, rather than the starkness that just having sex can bring to a marriage. By stressing the physical over all else, we deny the beauty of what God created.
Great sex is wonderful. Most of this blog is dedicated to helping you all have great sex! But you can’t have great sex without intimacy, and sometimes you’ve got to deal with that first.
Maybe you aren’t dealing with any of these big problems, but you still don’t necessarily feel that intimacy when you have sex. You can’t quite figure out what “making love” means. Then 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage can help you see how the way you see sex can be holding you back–and open the door to a wonderful and abundant new marriage!
UPDATE: Nine Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage is now in stores! It looks at 9 misconceptions about marriage that we often hear in the church (just like “Just have sex!”), and then gives 9 different thoughts that are more biblical, and that will change your marriage for the better!
So get it today!