Making love and having sex are not the same thing.
One is far more profound. One is a deep love, a deep knowing. The other is simply about the physical act.
This month on Wednesdays we’re talking about different aspects of intimacy. I started by talking about the need for intimacy; then last week we tackled emotional intimacy and feeling close. Today I want to talk about sexual intimacy.
But first–let me tell you about a throwaway line about making love I used in an interview that has tortured me.
As those of you who subscribe to my Friday emails know, Keith and I went south in our RV last week. We drove down to Alabama and left our RV there (we’re returning to it in January!), and along the way I taped another instalment of The Huckabee Show, which should be out in January. On that, I was talking about how pornography is wreaking havoc on millennial marriages, and how we need to push back against the porn culture.
It was an important topic, and I’m glad I got to speak on it. But I said one thing that I’m just afraid sounds so lame! It’s not that I think it wasn’t true. It’s just that I don’t know if I was able to explain correctly what I meant, and I hope it didn’t make me sound all fuddy-duddy.
I was in the middle of explaining that our culture has made sex into a completely physical thing, and I said that if couples wanted to experience more fun in the bedroom, they wouldn’t find it at a sex toy shop or in a pornographic magazine. They should actually spend time praying together, because it was about being vulnerable that mattered.
I think I looked good when I said it (here’s a pic they sent me), but I just don’t know if I made sense.
So let me explain what I meant fully here, in the hopes that maybe I can stop feeling so awkward about it (and stop waking up in the middle of the night haunted by it!).
Making love is about “knowing” the other
When I was researching The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, this is one of the most profound things that I learned that really resonated with me. In the Old Testament, in Genesis 4:1, we read “Adam knew his wife Eve….” That verb “to know” means a deep knowing, a deep longing, a deep intimacy. It’s the same Hebrew word that David uses in the Psalms when he says “search me and KNOW me.”
And God uses that same word for sex.
Why is that? It’s because sex is, at heart, about a deep connection with another. It’s the ultimate in saying, “you are not alone.” And that’s why sex needs to be about knowing “the other”. It’s not just about sexual pleasure. It’s about experiencing a deep longing to connect with another person.
God actually uses sex as an analogy of how He wants to know us. I think part of the reason He created the genders the way He did, and sex the way He did, was so that we had a mirror and a word picture to understand our own relationship with Him.
That’s why when people are desperate for connection they often yearn for sex. I shared in The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex about the night my son Christopher died. I won’t type it here, because quite frankly it takes a lot out of me and I don’t want to. I share the story from the stage every time I give my Girl Talk, because it’s important, but I don’t want to do it right now. I did it in my book. But let’s just say that in our grief, we were desperate for each other, because we needed to know “I am not alone. I am not going through this alone.” That’s what making love is.
In fact, as C.S. Lewis said in The Four Loves, that’s also why lovers often feel like they want to “devour” each other. It’s that need to possess and to be completely connected in as complete a way as possible. Making love is the doorway into that.
Now, people in the anonymous hook up culture are often desperate for connection as well, and so they keep trying to find it in sex, and may even get a temporary high. But the problem with anonymous sex is that you can’t really know the other. You can just use the other. The elements that make sex about truly “knowing” someone are really only found in a committed relationship, because:
Making love is vulnerable
You’re literally naked. That’s a very vulnerable place to be. All pretence is gone, because the way that we tend to present ourselves to others, to “invent” ourselves, disappears. No more clothing. No more masks. We’re not even really talking that much. We’re just the base versions of ourselves.
I’ve written before about how vulnerability is actually a necessity for women to experience real sexual pleasure. We have to be able to let our guard down, to tell him what we want, to stop thinking about what we should be doing and just to be experiencing what is happening. That’s very hard for a woman to do, and it’s virtually impossible unless she feels emotionally safe. You can write all the Cosmo articles you want about how to make sex great, but the truth is that in my surveys for The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, and in many other surveys on sex, what people report is that the best sex is not being had by young women in the hookup culture. It’s by women who have been married for around two decades, and who are totally and completely comfortable with their husbands. Commitment is the best aphrodisiac, because commitment allows vulnerability!
Making love is passionate
Passion is that act of being carried away. You’re not really thinking anymore; you’re able to just feel. That comes because you’re able to turn your brain off for a moment and live more in your body, in the experience end of it. I wrote more about this in how sex can be both hot and holy at the same time. But passion can’t be achieved by thinking. It has be achieved by letting go of control. It’s interesting that women can’t really experience orgasm when we’re concentrating too hard. We have to let go. And again, I think there’s a reason for that. You’re supposed to let go, and stop trying to control everything, so that you’re letting your husband in on who you really are. No more pretences.
Making love is playful
None of this means that sex has to be super serious. Part of letting go of control and letting go of pretence is that we can actually laugh at ourselves sometimes! In fact, sometimes the best sex is when we end up laughing our head off. People who take sex far too seriously often sap the joy out of it. Take it too seriously and it becomes about goals. Make it about the moment and experiencing each other, and you can laugh.
Making love is transcendent
Finally, this leads us to the last part. Making love is truly transcendent. You almost enter a different plane. Freud called sex “the little death”, because in orgasm you almost cease to be. For that moment you aren’t Jane and Jim or Susan and Bob. You’re not yourselves; you’ve somehow gone beyond that to experience on a different level. You can’t even think straight.
So to go back to what I said on the Huckabee show. When we take all of this into consideration–how when we can be truly vulnerable, we can lose control; we can stop trying to put masks on; we can be our most basic selves; we can almost become transcendent–well, that’s why praying together can be an aphrodisiac.
It’s not that you become super spiritual so that sex doesn’t need to be sexy because you’re above all that. It’s because when you’re totally vulnerable, you don’t have to pretend anymore. You connect at a deep level. And that’s why, and this is key, real vulnerability and intimacy is what also gives great freedom and adventure in the bedroom. It’s how hot and holy really do go together!
In my focus group with husbands, one made a very interesting comment:
“When you’re one, sex becomes a part of that, and you lose all the shyness you had at the beginning of marriage. Now we can do a whole lot more because it’s not dirty; it’s just expressing who we are together, and we’re so much more comfortable.”
…Experiencing that spiritual connection during sex is not only done by doing more sacred things; it is done by claiming more things for the sacred realm. Isn’t that what God wants–to take more and more into his sphere? As we grow closer together, we’re able to grow in freedom together so that more is holy and right between us–even if it’s also hot. In fact, especially since it’s also hot, because sex is all about that urge to be together that reflects best the hunger that we feel for God. I can’t think of a better gift God could have given to marriage.
I’m reading all that I’ve written and it still seems inadequate. I just can’t really explain this, but maybe that’s the point. You’re not supposed to be able to explain it. Maybe that’s why God uses sex, which is ultimately unexplainable, to illustrate how He feels about us. It’s just too personal and too deep.
This, though, is the promise of sexual intimacy in marriage. This month, as we’re talking about intimacy, I want us to keep this picture in mind. Sex is all of these things–intimate, vulnerable, transcendent, passionate. And still playful. And so, a few warnings:
When you remove sex from marriage, your marriage will cease being vulnerable, intimate, passionate and playful.
Sex is meant to be a cornerstone of marriage. It isn’t optional. When we let sex go, we’re not just rejecting sex. We’re rejecting that ultimate “knowing” of our spouse. And those who run away from intimacy with a spouse often do so because they’re uncomfortable with intimacy with God. They can’t stand being laid bare before anyone.
When you make sex only about pleasure, you remove its power
Sex should be about knowing “the other”. When we let sex become too much about masturbation or even some sex toys, we make it a solitary experience. That’s taking the power away from sex, which comes from connection. When it’s only about a drive, then it may be a physical release, but it will ultimately leave you empty.
When you make sex about pornography, you make sex about selfishness
Porn makes sex into self-gratification. It’s not about knowing another; it’s about using another for one’s release. It’s ugly. It will turn your sex drive ugly. And you will not be able to relate to your spouse at an intimate level if sex becomes about power.
I think the reason that sex gets stale in many marriages is because people have never understood its power, because they have made it only about release. That’s tragic. I hope that through my books and my blog we can start seeing that sex is supposed to be so much more than that.
Remember, it’s okay to have fun!
And if you’re having trouble, or if you just feel like things have gotten boring, I want to introduce you to my sponsor The Ultimate Intimacy App. It can do amazing things to spice up your marriage. It has a super fun game you can play that I explained here, but it also has articles to read on how to improve technique, how to have fun date nights, how to plan a weekend getaway, and more.