Years ago, Jeanette and I partnered with some friends of ours to create StrongerMarriages.com — a resource dedicated to strengthening and sustaining lifelong marriage relationships.
After many years at XXXchurch, a ministry dedicated to serving men and women whose marriages are falling apart, I wanted to be a part of a conversation that spoke more to preventing fallout before we have to start talking about recovering from it.
As a means to that end, we had to talk about sex. Openly, honestly, vulnerably, and bluntly. We created a married-couples’ resource titled Best Sex Life Now, and dove straight into the deep end, beginning with our own stories and convictions.
Sex and strong, healthy marriages seem to be connected at the hip (pun intended). We’ve never heard of a “great marriage with horrible sex,” or “great sex in a horrible marriage.” Jeanette and I believe that couples need to learn how to have frank conversations about sex with one another and that until they’re able to, the overall health of their marriage will be stunted. From what we’ve seen, this is especially true in “Christian” contexts where sex is treated as taboo, and shame and secrecy thrive. As people who claim to be followers of the God who created such an incredible gift, I can’t even come close to describing just how frustrating that reality is.
They say that you can either complain about the way a thing is, or try to change it. So, my wife and I decided that we were going to model the frankness we longed for by talking about our own sex life.
I’ve spent the majority of my career in a ministry dedicated to destroying taboos. Whether it’s books like Questions You Can’t Ask Your Mama About Sex or Live Q&As assigned specifically to “nitty-gritty sexuality” at churches for the past fifteen years-we are every bit as much about encouraging more (and better) sex as we are about discouraging pornography use.
There’s a lot to tackle, and unfortunately, I think that approaching a conversation like this head-on can come across as abrasive to people who usually skirt around essential discussions. I remember a day when Levi told me he’d received a text from one of his friends about our “boldness.” He shared our workshop with a couple in his church community group, and they responded with discomfort instead of leaning into the very topics that they needed help with.
Personally? I don’t think we’re bold. I think we’ve seen how beneficial it is to make what should be a normal conversation into, well, a normal conversation.
All that to say: let me tell you about our sex life and five of the best lessons we’ve learned about the bedroom.
I’ll start here: I was a virgin when I married Jeanette. She wasn’t. Given the “purity-ring” idealism I’d been raised with and the resulting expectations about the way life “should happen,” I almost allowed that reality to ruin our dating relationship before we said I do. How many people are in the same boat, struggling with what should be in the face of reality? Are you going to talk about it? Are you going to sweep it under the rug? Are you going to separate in disgust or open yourself up to understanding and forgiveness, and move forward?
Now that we are married, we try to keep intimacy at the forefront of our relationship by remembering that:
1. Sex is fun. Jeanette says that of all the things we should be working on in our marriage, our sex life takes the highest priority. I’m more than happy to agree with her. She jokes that if sex is difficult to talk about with me, it’s because as soon as I hear the word, I want to stop talking and start doing.
We believe that married sex should be the best sex. I’d even go so far as to say that married sex as Christians should be the best sex because we claim to worship the God who made it and told us to enjoy it.
My friend and infamous porn-star, Ron Jeremy, says that after having sex with more than 5,000 women during his career, he can’t image how monotonous monogamy must be. Sex with one woman for an entire lifetime?
But that’s what I’ve experienced with Jeanette, and our sex is only getting better. Even physiologically, we know that investing (and what a fun investment it is!) in our physical intimacy decreases our stress levels, makes us laugh more, and has helped us view life with way more positivity and fullness than when we’re lazy about our relationship.
Don’t be awkward about it. If you’re too afraid to start talking, how are you ever going to start acting?
I can’t say it loudly enough: THERE IS NO SHAME IN SEX. I know that many of us were raised believing the exact opposite. A one-off “talk” with your dad or mom awkwardly staring at the ground and saying “don’t watch porn or masturbate, and don’t have sex until you’re married” doesn’t precisely scream open and healthy conversation, but you don’t have to follow suit. We talk with, about, and around our kids about sex all the time. They’re well aware that it’s a natural and enjoyable part of life. One of the most exciting results of our work in this space has been hearing about how other parents have begun to do the same. I’m convinced that fighting against shame in adulthood begins with killing it in childhood, and we’re trying to reframe the narrative of sex as “gross” with sex as “good.”
2. Set Do’s and Don’ts in bed. If you’re anything like us (or, I think, human), then you’ve probably been asking some form of “what can we do?” since well before marriage.
For most Christian adolescents, it begins with something like, “How close can we get to having sex without *technically* having sex?”
To be clear, I’m not saying that’s the right question to be asking…I’m just saying kids ask it.
Once you’re married, though, the question shifts: “Well…what are we allowed to do now? Is anything off-limits? Should some things be off-limits?”
Even though I’ve grown to enjoy talking about the things I’m for above the things that I’m against, I’ll start with what you’d expect to come first from the XXXchurch guy:
Don’t bring porn (or other people) into the bedroom.
Chances are, if you can relate to the vast majority of men and women who have wrestled with pornography in your past, you’re already bringing enough baggage to the table, personally, without continuing to allow it a foothold in your relationship. Despite how “progressive” people think I might be when it comes to other subjects of conversation that I’ve chosen to tackle through this project, I’m conservative when it comes to a Biblical perspective on pornography. It creates unrealistic expectations and doesn’t contribute to purity in any way whatsoever. (For example, anal sex is all the rage among porn consumers, but most people don’t realize that it’s likely not as common a position in real life as it is on screen for actors and actresses. They get paid double to engage in it for the sake of viewership and analytics).
God calls us to flee from sexual immorality. Luckily, he’s also given you an attractive, naked man or woman to escape to. Invest in the real, physical person next to (or above or below) you.
As far as sex positions and experimentation, Jeanette and I defer to the rule-in marriage, mutuality is critical. If you’re both down for it, go for it. Scripture says that all things are permissible, but not all things are beneficial. Be conscientious of one another. That said if you want to get creative, do it! If you’re into role play, play away. If you’re into oral, give and receive it. If you want to get crazy with lingerie, enjoy. Whatever two married people respectfully decide is beneficial, is. (And by the way, hotel sex is amazing. You’re out of the norm, and you don’t have to worry about the dirty laundry.)
I love this passage from 1st Corinthians as a general outline for marital intimacy:
“It’s good for a man to have a wife, and for a woman to have a husband. Sexual drives are strong, but marriage is strong enough to contain them and provide for a balanced and fulfilling sexual life in a world of sexual disorder. The marriage bed must be a place of mutuality — the husband seeking to satisfy his wife, the wife seeking to satisfy her husband. Marriage is not a place to “stand up for your rights.” Marriage is a decision to serve the other, whether in bed or out. Abstaining from sex is permissible for a period of time if you both agree to it, and if it’s for the purposes of prayer and fasting — but only for such times. Then come back together again. Satan has an ingenious way of tempting us when we least expect it…”
3. Understand why you’re not connecting in bed. The number one question we’ve received from people related to sex in marriage is: why doesn’t my spouse want to have it?
Jeanette has had some excellent feedback for husbands who are frustrated by their wives’ lack of interest, and I’m going to pay it forward here:
- She’s had a bad experience with sex in the past that she’s never worked through. Some friends of ours had sex on their wedding night, and it ended up being a traumatic experience for the wife because it triggered her memory of having been molested in the past. After that, her husband tried to avoid putting her through that pain again. However well-intentioned, though, their “abstinence” meant his needs weren’t met, and eventually he sought fulfillment elsewhere. Instead of finding yourself in a similar situation, you need to lead your wife by encouraging her to pursue counseling or a woman’s pastor who will be able to help her work through prior abuse. It very well might take years to work through her pain, but failing to be proactive about healing will only allow the past to continue destroying the present (and — eventually — the future).
- She doesn’t enjoy it, or isn’t having an orgasm. Listen to your wife and what she wants. Maybe she needs touch and physical affection throughout the day, and not only right before you’re looking to get some. During sex, she may think she enjoys a position, but then come to find out that a different one leads her to orgasm. Just ask what she might want to try and make sure she orgasms before you do.
- She’s too tired. This one, especially after you’ve had kids, is real. You may have to get on her schedule for a while; sex is fun even if it’s at 6 pm after the babies are in bed. Also, you can help build sex into her schedule by clearing other to-dos out of it. Help out around the house. Take care of the kids. Do what you can to relieve some of her obligations to make sure she feels able to have and be present during sex without the weight of all else that remains to be done.
- Her walls are up. A woman can’t seem to compartmentalize conflict (before I get in trouble, remember that these are my wife’s — a woman’s — words, not mine). If you get in a fight before you head off to work, she’s stuck thinking about it all day. Husbands tend to go to work and forget about whatever happened until they walk back through the door that evening. Meanwhile, women are at home trying to fight their emotions about what was said and how much it hurts. Make sure she knows everything is okay before you leave (and assure her that you will work things out when you get home).
- She’s insecure about her body. If your wife hasn’t had babies yet, get ready for this: her body is going to change, and it will never be the same again. Weight goes up and down during different seasons of her life. Please, encourage her by telling her she’s beautiful. Tell her that you love her just the way she is. We always want to be beautiful in our husband’s eyes. If you can, offer to go on walks (or to the gym) and eat healthy together, it’s easier to stay in shape and eat right if you are helping the situation instead of tempting her by taking her to McDonald’s every day.
When it comes to the men, while we certainly do deal with issues related to body image and insecurity, as well, I will break down some of our sexual hangups more bluntly:
- No man wants to have sex with his mom. I know this is harsh, but it’s true. If we begin to feel like our wives are treating us more like mothers than friends or lovers, it’s a huge turn-off. Women, we long for respect. Men, that also means we have to act in a way that makes us worthy of it. If you’re not respectable, then, of course, you won’t be treated with the admiration you desire.
- He doesn’t feel wanted.
- He’s dealing with medical issues or depression.
- You pay more attention to Facebook or Instagram than him.
- He’s getting it somewhere else.
No more excuses! Start working on overcoming these issues and creating a more fulfilling sexual relationship. To reiterate what God himself has to say about it, “Marriage is strong enough to…provide for a balanced and fulfilling sexual life in a world of sexual disorder.”
4. Set clear [s]expectations. Setting clear expectations with one another is so important to a healthy and thriving sex life. In marriage, two separate individuals say “yes” to becoming one. That oneness might happen — physically — in a moment, but it doesn’t last for long without discussing the expectations that both of you have brought in to your marriage bed. Porn, as I mentioned earlier, creates a slew of unrealistic expectations that could very well crush spouses unable to (or uncomfortable with) living up to the fantasies it has created. Regardless of whether anyone is bringing a negative sexual history into the marriage, there are still worthwhile questions to ask about how to build a life together.
For example: how many times a week will you have sex?
We tend to go on autopilot after the honeymoon phase wears off. We give one another our best at the beginning of the relationship, but eventually, our enthusiasm falls to the wayside. Work together to make communication about sex a priority in your marriage. Transparency and honesty always lead to intimacy, and intimacy — among other things — helps reduce the chance of either spouse giving into temptation that exists outside of the marriage.
5. Don’t do what your parents did. Maybe this final point doesn’t apply to everyone, but we’ve heard far more horror stories than we have positive examples of parents killing the Birds & Bees conversation.
It’s worth saying that if you don’t want to become your mom or dad, then you’ve got make an intentional change in the way you discuss all of this with your kids. It’s not going to happen unless you’re purposeful about it, because what other experiences do you have to pull from than your own awkward and uninformed one-off “conversation” (in reality, they probably just talked at you) with your folks at some point during puberty?
Jeanette offered something that I think is super true and insightful: the easier it becomes for you to talk to one another about sex, the easier it will become for you to talk to your kids about it, as well.
To the parents out there: start talking to your kids about sex sooner than later, and make it an ongoing conversation. The more you’re able to transform “the talk” into “a bunch of talks,” the more natural and more normal it will be, and the less unnecessary, awkward silence will rule the home. As you uncover you and your spouse’s values, share them with your kids. Who would you rather have them learn from — you, or all that you’re already afraid of “out in the world?”
To close this chapter, I want to give you a little bit of homework. It’s called The Conversation Challenge. And yes, you guessed it — the conversation you’ll be challenged to have is about sex.
You know those magazines you pass by in grocery store checkout aisles with headlines that read, “How To Get Hot & Heavy In The Bedroom,” “Have Better Sex Than Ever,” and “Six Tricks To Make Her…”
Well…I made my own version. Sort of. But instead of giving away answers, I wanted to ask questions.
I don’t care about what some author says about how my wife and I can have a better sex life, I care more about what my wife says about how we can have a better sex life.
Today, I’m inviting you and your spouse to take The Conversation Challenge here, at ReclaimingSex.org. (Don’t worry — you don’t have to pay for it or anything.) There are no wrong answers — all Jeanette, and I would ask is for you to be honest.
Here’s to your best sex life, now.