Wednesday, April 22, 2015

SucSexful Marriage

We've been going through a series on marriage with the men of Grace and a few weeks ago I had an opportunity to talk about the sexual relationship in marriage.  It's been a while since I've talked about sex. (That sounds really strange to say).  As a youth pastor, it was a topic I'd hit usually once a year.  I figured since teenagers were thinking about it the other 364 days out of the year, I might as well talk about it at least once.  Most of my experience talking about sex has been with teenagers (again ... that sounds really strange to say) so talking with adult men was a new experience for me.  But, there was great feedback and really powerful discussions that took place afterwards.  It's obviously something that we, as men, think about and something that needs to be discussed between husbands and wives in marriages.  So, I thought I'd take a moment to share some of the things that we discussed about sex in our marriages.  Much of what was discussed came from my personal experience as a husband and also as a pastor who has talked with many married couples.  I can't give an exact number, but I'd venture to say that any time I have counseled married couples, a majority of the time, sex comes up in the discussion.  So, the talk came from personal experience and also books I've read by Doug Fields and Tim Keller and a series called A Man and His Marriage.  

I am very thankful that God talks about sex in the Bible, but the unfortunate reality, at least for me, is that, while growing up, most of the messages I learned about sex did not come from the Bible.  They came from the culture.  We all know that we live in a totally sex-saturated society.  We see more sexual images than any other generation.  But, even before the internet (or even the printing press) men seemed to find a way to malfunction sexually.  The reality is that from the moment sin entered our world, the purpose and meaning and beauty of sex started to malfunction and we can easily begin to miss what God says about sex.

If we miss it, we’ll usually miss it in one of two ways.  On the one hand, some of us tend to underemphasize sex, especially if we were taught growing up that sex is “bad” or if we’ve been hurt or abused sexually in the past or if we’ve been disappointed with the sexual experience in our marriage.  Maybe we thought it would be like what we saw on TV or in movies but come to find out it’s nothing like that.  Surprisingly, my wife doesn’t jump at the chance to have sex with me when I get home.  Surprisingly, after taking care of kids all day and changing diapers or working hard in the office herself, there are times when she’s not feeling so romantic or frisky.  This is not necessarily what I thought marriage would be like.  We're married!  We should be having sex whenever I (emphasis added) want too!  It doesn't take long, however, to discover that's not how real life is.  If we find this difficult to accept, we can easily become disenfranchised with our sexual experience in marriage and we can begin putting it off and telling ourselves that it’s just not that important.  Or we can find ourselves going other places with our sexual desires (more on that later).  Or, even if we admit that it is important, we live lives that are so busy, that we sometimes don’t prioritize sex in our marriages and so we just settle for living in a sexless or sex-deprived marriage.  This was something I never dreamed possible as a single man.  When I was single, the thought of being too tired or too busy for sex never crossed my mind.  But, then I got married and had kids and got old and realized that it can easily happen. 

The other temptation is to overemphasize sex … to put entirely to much hope in it and expect it to validate our manhood or to bring the ultimate joy to our marriage.  This is a huge temptation today because our culture has enthroned sex in relationships.  My wife and I were both virgins when we got married.  And, on our wedding day … if you talk with her, that day was all about the little girl dream of her wedding day finally becoming a reality.  It was about her friends and family being there … the dress … the flowers … the ambiance.  For me … the only thing that was on my mind was the fact that I get to have sex later in the evening.  That’s it.  Wish I was more mature than that, but I’m not.  It’s what I thought about the most … how was it going to be?  How was I going to be?  How was she going to be?  At that time, sex was purely physical for me and all about my performance in the bedroom and her performance in the bedroom.  And, I kept that mindset for far too long in our marriage and, early on, really did some damage to our relationship and to our sex life because I found myself making everything in our relationship about having sex and I was focused purely on the physical and not at all on the emotional and spiritual side of it.  But in reality, physical piece is only one piece of intimacy and only one aspect of a marriage relationship. When we overemphasize it, instead of making it one piece, we make it the number one piece.  This can put a large, unnecessary strain on any marriage.
I know there is this idea out there that states that God wants to take all of the "fun" out of sex and that His "restrictions" make it impossible to fully come alive sexually. But, the first thing to make absolutely clear is that God is not down on sex.  If God is down on sex, why did He create it?  Why did He tell Adam and Eve  be fruitful  multiply.  (I think the original Hebrew says "Go make babies!" ... but I could be wrong.) It’s not like God looked down from heaven one day in shock and horror seeing Adam and Eve being "fruitful."  The sexual relationship between a man and a woman in marriage is exactly how God designed it to be..  God designed it and He designed it for more than just making babies.  He created it to be enjoyed.  He created it to feel good.  It was His idea … a gift to Adam and Eve and He deemed it to be good.  So, from the very beginning, God gave the gift of physical intimacy to husbands and wives as they pursue oneness in marriage.   Marriage is a pursuit of oneness with our wives … “a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife and they shall become one flesh.”  I like holding fast to my wife, if you know what I mean.  And, I just personally believe that God is happy about that.  I love giving gifts to my kids and watching my kids just have fun with the gift.  And, I just personally believe that God is totally fine with sex being fully enjoyed between a husband and a wife.  God deemed sex to be "good." 

Not only is it good, the Bible tells us that God wants husbands and wives to fully enjoy this gift of sexual intimacy.  God tells us to delight in it.  Proverbs 5:19 … “Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer (I'm not sure about that one), a graceful doe (I'm not sure about that one either).  Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight (yep, definitely sure about that one); be intoxicated always in her love.”

Now, I love "delighting" in my wife, but it's really important for me to remember (and I think for all men to remember) that sex isn't just about physically delighting in each other.  That is really easy for guys to do and this is something that I fully didn’t understand until after marriage.   I only understood the physical side of sex.  And, especially at the beginning of our marriage, I only focused on the physical part of sex and I really saw it do some damage to my relationship with my wife because I made it all about me and my physical needs.  But, what I have really come to understand and honestly appreciate is the deeply intimate and emotional side of sex.  Sex is so much larger than just an orgasm.  It is deeply emotional.  Deeply spiritual.  Deeply intimate. 

Sex is more than just a physical act … which for us guys is probably the hardest thing to understand.  Sex is about intimacy … sharing yourself with another person in a way that you share yourself with nobody else.

I can’t completely explain it.  I’m not even sure I really understand it, but when you share yourself sexually with another person, you are opening yourself up to them in a way that only having sex allows you to open up with a person.  You are vulnerable in every way … not just physically, but spiritually, mentally, and emotionally.   Once you have sex with someone, you’re connected emotionally and physically forever.  Sex impacts our inward being, not just our body.   "The Bible says don’t unite with someone physically unless you are also willing to unite with the person emotionally , personally, socially, economically, and legally. Don’t become physically naked and vulnerable to the other person without becoming vulnerable in every other way, because you have given up your freedom and bound yourself in marriage." (Tim Keller)

Just a side note, the grace of God covers our mistakes.  For anyone who feels shame or condemnation about sexual mistakes from the past, remember that God's grace is bigger than our history.  We can never make a mistake too big for Jesus.  We may be messy, but we're never messy for Him.  Jesus heals.  It's what He does.

So, as husbands, how can we have a healthy sex life in our marriages?  There's really no magic formula here.  I can't give you a list to follow and guarantee that if you do steps A, B, and C, you're sex life will thrive in marriage.  I don't think it works that way.  And, as husbands, I don't think we should think that way.  I believe it was Gary Thomas who said that when we begin to look at marriage as an opportunity to make us holy instead of happy, it totally changes that dynamics of things.  It causes us to act in a Godly way, even if the response is not a Godly response.  It causes us to take responsibility for our actions and to be men of character and to respond as a servant leader even if our wives do not respond in a way that we would like them to respond.  The ironic thing is, when we begin to act in this way, marriage not only makes us holy, but will truly begin to make us happy as well.  

That said, I think many of us would experience a healthy sex life in our marriages if we would take action in the following ways:

First, does your wife know and believe that you go to her and to her alone with your sexual desires and needs?  "Other people can buy you gifts. Other people can say nice things about your character. Other people can spend quality time with you. Other people can do little things to serve you. But no one else is designed to meet your sexual needs and desires other than your wife.  No one.  She needs to know that you go to her and to her alone for sexual fulfillment and intimacy.  Now, this can be a struggle.  Sexual images and temptations are everywhere.  If our wives don’t know, they need to begin to know or understand that we are visual and these visual images can be a battle for us.  She needs to understand the need for sexual release that we as men have.  She needs to know what pressures we are under, where we are weakest, and how much we need to feel like men in sexual ways. She must completely understand men and sex and why the two shall never be separated on this earth.  If she doesn’t know these things already, I think it’s important to have an honest conversation with your wife and explain these things to her but also clearly explain that she alone is who you will go to sexually." (Doug Fields)

Second, if you want to have a healthy, vibrant, godly sex life in your marriage, let your wife hear in your voice and see in your eyes that you find her to be beautiful.  We don’t only want to focus on the physical when it comes to our wives, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important.  I love how my wife's eyes light up when I say how beautiful she looks or that she looks "hot" in those jeans.  One thing I know for sure is that my wife will never tell me that I am complimenting her too much.  No one else will have as many opportunities as I will to pour encouragement and words of beauty in to my wife.  No one.  But, I don't just want her to hear it in my voice.  I want her to see it in my eyes.  I want her to see in my eyes that I am looking at her in the "I want to 'know' you in the Biblical sense." ... if you know what I mean!  I want to starve my eyes of everyone else so I can feast them on my wife.

Finally, communicate.  Talk to your wife about your sexual needs and desires.  Be open and honest in your relationship with each other.  If you hit a road block, talk to someone else.  Go to a professional who can help you both to work through whatever issues may be in the way.  "Whatever it is, you must dig for this answer as though it was a hundred million dollars buried in your back yard.  Whether it’s your issue or hers, this is an area you must talk about and work on until it is solved.  You cannot go years living in sexual frustration." (Doug Fields)

Wow!  This was a long post.  But, the reality is that it doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of it all.  I'm certainly no expert in this area.  I'm a husband and father just trying to love his wife and work through my brokenness as my wife works through hers as well.  But, I hope that some of this has been helpful ... whether you're a husband trying to love your wife or a wife trying to understand your husband.  

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