I see advice all the time in both Christian and secular realms telling married couples to “prioritize your sex life.”
And you know what? I agree! That’s why I’ve written three books on sex.
(including 31 Days to Great Sex; I don’t talk about that one enough anymore but it’s an awesome, fun challenge to do with your spouse! And no, you don’t have to have sex for 31 days straight. It’s all about building things into your life that lead to amazing sex. Yes, some spicing up and some technique, but also getting rid of baggage, getting more affectionate, dealing with libido differences, and more.)
Sex is meant to be something AMAZING in your marriage.
With that being said, though, when people say, “prioritize your sex life”, what do they mean?
I was tagged by some of you on Facebook alerting me to an article on XO Marriage called “The Ten Secrets of Happy Couples.” It’s not a bad article, with pretty good advice on what makes a happy marriage, though they don’t go into depth on any one thing. But let’s look at what they say specifically about sex:
Prioritize your sex life.
It takes much more than sex to build a strong marriage, but it is nearly impossible to build a strong marriage without it. Prioritize your spouse’s sexual needs. If your spouse is the one with the higher drive, then work to meet their need since you are the only legitimate source on earth where that need can be met. With prioritizing your sex life, don’t prioritize just the act itself but also more affection, foreplay, flirtation, and celebration of each other. Work to find solutions when you face setbacks in your health or sex life and be patient and tender with each other when insecurities or limitations occur. Sex is a gift from God that’s meant to be enjoyed in marriage, so enjoy it!
Okay, on its face this is fairly good, generic advice. What are we being asked to do?
- Prioritize your spouse’s sexual needs
- The lower libido spouse should work to meet the higher drive spouse’s needs
- Don’t prioritize just sex but also put more affection, foreplay, flirtation, and celebration in your sex life
- Find solutions when you face health problems or sex problems
- Be patient and tender with each other when limitations occur
- Enjoy sex
Again, all good advice. And I like how they didn’t assume the higher drive spouse would be the man, either.
But if you were to describe what the MAIN piece of advice was to prioritize your sex life, what would it be?
Likely this, because it’s the only place where they say anything more than something generic:
“If your spouse is the one with the higher drive, then work to meet their need since you are the only legitimate source on earth where that need can be met.”
That’s the main piece of advice. So the big problem that they see is that people aren’t having enough sex, and the high drive spouse is left without their needs met.
The article then goes on to say that you need to increase affection and foreplay and flirting, and you need to find solutions to problems. But it doesn’t say anything more than that.
The reader is left with the feeling that the big problem that needs to be addressed is making sure the lower libido spouse has sex more, and then everything else is a series of tick boxes.
There’s just one problem: As we found in our survey of 20,000 women, frequency and libido are not the issue.
Frequency and libido tend to be symptoms of something else–at least when women are the ones with the lower sex drive, which is more common than the other way around.
I have said this repeatedly, and I’ll say it again:
When women regularly reach orgasm; when they feel connected to their spouse during sex; when they have high marital satisfaction; when he isn’t using porn; when there is no sexual dysfunction–frequency tends to take care of itself.
Why do we talk so much about telling the low libido spouse to have more sex, and we never mention the orgasm gap?
We have an orgasm gap of 47 points, where 95% of men almost always or always reach orgasm during a sexual encounter, compared with just 48% of evangelical women.
If we want to talk about how to prioritize your sex life, I think the very first thing we should talk about, before we talk about frequency at all, is making sure sex is actually good for her. Yes, this article spends one word (!) on foreplay, but only one word. It says nothing about ensuring that BOTH spouses reach orgasm, but only about ensuring that sex is happening frequently enough.
I don’t mean to beat up on this one article, it’s just such a good example of the problems with the way we talk about sex.
We tend to use generic terms (note how they never say arousal, orgasm, etc.), which means that they could claim they were implying that she should reach orgasm, since it did say to meet each other’s sexual needs. But it would be really easy to read that article and come away with the idea that the lower libido wife, even if she never reaches orgasm, should be having sex more; not that the higher libido husband had to figure out how to bring her to orgasm. After all, what do “sexual needs” really mean?
That’s what we’re trying to do in The Great Sex Rescue: reframe sex so that BOTH people’s experiences are prioritized. Biblically, sex is MUTUAL, INTIMATE, and PLEASURABLE for both. A good sex life isn’t one where intercourse happens frequently. It’s one where both people regularly reach orgasm and where both feel intimate and cherished.
What if you're NOT the problem with your sex life?
What if the messages that you've been taught have messed things up--and what if there's a way to escape these toxic teachings?
It's time for a Great Sex Rescue.
When we talk about prioritizing our sex lives, I would like the church to address the orgasm gap FIRST, before we talk about frequency.
The fact that we are so silent about the orgasm gap is telling. What would happen if we stressed the importance of women’s orgasms as much as we did men’s frequency? We’d change the whole emphasis!
Again–I’m not saying that your sex life is inadequate if you never reach orgasm, or that you’ve failed. So many couples take a long time to get there! And as we found in The Great Sex Rescue, so many women believe things that artificially lower their orgasm rates. You’ve likely grown up in a church culture that has taught you things that have made it much harder for you to reach orgasm, and that is not your fault.
The good news is that you can get over that! And if you want more help, our orgasm course goes into depth on how to reframe how you see sex and orgasm, and different techniques that can help you reach it!
And if you’re a guy and you are frustrated that your wife doesn’t want sex more, here’s an exercise to take you through to see if you may be contributing to the problem at all (you may not be; but it’s good to check first).
Another one of my goals for The Great Sex Rescue was to help you all become discerning when you read marriage & sex advice.
Next time you hear someone talk about the importance of “prioritizing your sex life”, listen to what they’re saying. Are they emphasizing women’s orgasm as much as they’re pressuring women to give men more sex? Are they mentioning the importance of making sure that sex is great for both of you BEFORE you start talking about spicing things up or frequency? Because if not, the emphasis is off, and we need to do a course correction.
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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