Let's Talk about Marital Sex for a Change!
I am 45 years old and about to get married. At this point in my life, I have woken up most days to silence, observed 1000 lives with an introspective mind, probed into my friends’ lives with uncomfortable questions, have seen a few marriages thrive and many more be dashed into 500 pieces. As my wedding day grows closer, I am more and more aware of one primary thing: I have no idea what I am doing. What in the world?!
Now, I don’t want to be dramatic. Or to fling emotion all over this blog post. But I do want to be honest and say, if the Lord had not parted the Red Sea in Scott while I sat across from him in an Adirondack chair, I would not have the gumption to forge into marriage. Not at this age. Not after seeing the tidal wave that one too many marriages have gotten curled into and spit out of.
So I pray.
I believe wholeheartedly in the Spirit of God to make impossible unions, possible. And that is what I moor to. Not Scott’s faith. Not mine. Not Scott’s humble servant’s heart. Not money. Not the communication we work on. Not the counseling skills we have both developed over the years. But the Spirit of God. That’s it. Amen, and amen.
As I approach marriage, questions have surfaced and hovered like summer gnats around my head. Questions the church has unfortunately ignored. The internet scrolls with help for designing invitations, how to plan a rehearsal dinner, “the top 10 tips for a destination wedding.” It takes roughly two clicks and I can see cake options, centerpieces, wedding gowns, ideas for a ceremony and how to pack for the honeymoon. But if you want to read about how to keep sex pure, within marriage, I have never found one article, until yesterday, that is. Thank you Tim.
I am fortunate to have friends who have been transparent with me over the years. They say it with confidence and bravery—“adjust your expectations.” The good thing (and bad thing) with me is that my expectations could use a little more air with which to rise when it comes to marriage. The formulas we have been taught leave a wake of confusion and no preparation for the rest of the story:
“Do not have sex before you are married.”
“God’s best is for you when you wait.”
“Keep sex as God designed it.”
Now, I have no hesitation saying to anyone, and to all, everywhere, “I AM A VIRGIN.” In fact, I may be the last 45 year-old virgin living and breathing on this here planet earth. As a side note: I won’t be at all shocked if I get a call after posting this to participate in the filming of a documentary: “There are still virgins among us.” We are some rare gems. It is a strange state to periodically scan a room and be fairly certain that I am the ONLY one who has not had sex. For all the good days and bad days, I made a commitment. It wasn’t an option I allowed myself to have. For certain, it has been a temptation, but it wasn’t an option. So here I am, 45 and about to plunge forward into holy matrimony. So indescribably different at this age.
If I were 22 or 23 facing marriage as a Christian, I would walk in with what I had been taught:
“You have saved yourself for this man, and you will be blessed.”
“Your marriage will be stronger because you have waited as God told you to.”
Over the years, many Christians have held to this prescription. And yet, it hasn’t panned out quite like the advertisement. But I am not 22. I am 45, almost 46. The years so far have already not gone the way I assumed. And it seems to be true for 99.9% of humans. I feel compelled to write this blog, to break open the box of an ignored subject. If I were even bolder, I would say it would be disobedient to not write this. The Christian community needs to set up some scaffolding around the floundering marriages in our over-sexualized nation. It is not doing anyone any good to repeat, for centuries, such pithy, non-helpful words.
Here is the truth, I have NEVER heard spoken: sex can be as sinful and complicated before marriage as it can be after a biblical ceremony. Generally speaking, men will consider it justified to have sex whenever they feel the urge. And women will continue to use sex for power, manipulation and control.
Too many fragments of life have been tossed up in the air, only to land upside down. Backwards. Sex is just one that has been upended and left disorganized. We all thought marriage would deliver the glory days of sexual fantasy. Yet couple after couple land in therapy face first on the couch, sex: the presenting problem. Lost in a maze raised up by the mirage of fairy tale stories on the screens and the lack of reality spoken from church leadership, we are grasping for some much needed re-set. Meaningful talks, generous listening, earnest questions, lots of laughter, working through conflict, apologies, focused attention, being vulnerable, learning to know the mystery of another, making the load lighter for each other...this is human relationship. Sexual intimacy is meant to be the overflow of a connection already in place. When sex is happening outside of this substructure, it is working against the marriage. Instead of an outcome of closeness, it divides by a selfish attempt at gratification or a lazy attempt to secure what is insecure.
The clutter is created by both parties. Men and women each have their injurious ways.
I cringe when I have heard pastors say, “A wife should never deny her husband sex.” When a woman does this, he expounds, she unravels the intimacy and unity of the marriage. And worse, sets her husband up to look elsewhere for this great “need” he has. The assumption here is that a married, Christian man, is never lustful, selfish or lacking self-control when it comes to his desire for sex. This reasoning fails to acknowledge the fact that men sometimes settle for sex, when they need conversation and emotional connection with their wives. It negates the massive problem we have as humans with a lack of self-control and respect. Men need to be conversing and questioning and calling each other to purity with other men, even after marriage. In a society drenched with the message that women are sex-objects, and only pursued for their bodies, a man is given the honor to be an agent of healing of the woman he chose. This man is to be a contrast to the consumer we see on the screen. The call of a Christian man is to die to himself as Christ died for the church. Culture has told men that their drive is strong and robust. That “men will be men;” and it’s “just so hard to resist sexual temptation.” So once the wedding is done and the honeymoon starts, all is well to unleash desire. What a false understanding of the covenant of marriage. For many young, Christian men, marriage is the ticket to guilt-free sex. This may be subconscious, but true and destructive nonetheless.
Women are not innocent. As a high school teacher, I have watched girls morph into power-trips in heels. The way they carry themselves, dress, flaunt and tease are manifestations of what seeps into them from the jungle of Netflix and commercial-smut everywhere. They have adopted their own set of lies: “men want sex, we want to be wanted, so sex will win us the prize.” But it doesn’t. Not in singleness and not in marriage. Women seek their identity too often in their boyfriends, husbands and children. We use them to feel more confident when we spin around in insecurity. We withhold sex to make a man pay for his wrongs, or we use it to pacify a man so we can live our independent, guarded lives. Vulnerability is scary, so we separate our hearts from our bodies and remain protected from being known. In the end, we become the objects we never wanted to be and, subsequently, lead men to an objectified state as well. Mutual harm becomes a way of functioning.
Fear of rejection and the hard work of change drive both husbands and wives instead of companionship, interconnection, and personal growth. It’s far easier, though dangerous, to be robotic than to be vulnerable and connected. In marriage, we should be evaluating our finances, our time management, our health goals, our family priorities, and we should evaluate our sex lives. Have we become so habit-driven and nonchalant in our approach to this essential part of marriage? Have we used each other and forgotten to find out how our partner is experiencing our expectations that easily mutate into demands? Have we existed in such a whirlwind of busyness that we don’t allow ourselves to feel if something is off or harmful?
I wish I could stand on the highest point, with my rather loud voice, and scream to the church:
“Help us!!!! We have no idea what we are doing!”
We know the message of abstinence really, really well, but what about the war waged against us after we walk the aisle?
Be brave, talk about the uncomfortable topics for a change.