A few months ago, I wrote about healthy sex in marriage, specifically why spouses don’t owe each other sex in the sense we think they do.
I promised to write a follow-up post and highlight some of the things I wish I knew about sex earlier and how to overcome damaging beliefs in marriage.
You see, I grew up believing sex was mainly for the husband. I didn’t hear many conversations on sex being for wives too, or men receiving instructions on how to make intimacy feel great for their wives. It seemed as long as the men were enjoying it, it was all that mattered.
Ultimately, I figured out that God did indeed create me to enjoy intimacy in marriage. But still at the back of my mind, I felt as if my husband’s pleasure and enjoyment mattered more than mine.
My husband thought differently. And it was his belief about my desire and fulfillment that kept me growing.
So today, let’s talk about healthy sex in marriage – what I wish I knew earlier, what I am learning, and how we can all do better.
Let’s get started with #1.
1. It’s okay to grow and change your mind about healthy sex in marriage.
Often we feel as if questioning long-held beliefs, including beliefs around sex in marriage, is equivalent to straying from the faith. But asking questions is actually Scriptural: God gave us a mind for a reason.
The book of Haggai in the Old Testament reveals a God in full pursuit of his people. It carries a brazen invitation to process circumstances rationally so we can take decisive actions that lead to healing, freedom, and restored relationship. (See Haggai 1:5,7 2:15,18)
Growth is a good thing. But it can be scary. That’s why we need each other because there’s power in our collective voices coming together to champion healthy mindsets, including healthy sex in marriage.
Making sex healthy in a marriage
Some of the marriage writers I respect have been talking about wholesome sexual intimacy for as long as I can remember. But more recently, some have been clarifying their views or changing their minds all together about specific subjects.
These women’s candidness has helped me, and thousands of other women, inspect what we believe and, for those who are teachers like me, how we teach what we believe.
I’ve been writing about marriage since I was a newlywed wife. In fact, I started this website (which was under a different name) because my husband got tired of hearing me say I was a writer with no audience: He took away my excuses by setting up a little website on blogger. That was over eleven years ago.
Eleven years is a long time not to grow, so over the years, I’ve been revising and deleting tens of older blog posts, mostly because of poor penmanship. But more recently, I’ve looked at some of the things I wrote years ago and cringed for different reasons.
Some of the older posts come across as detached from peoples’ pain and reality. My fervency in urging wives to go to God with marriage problems seems to lack understanding of the complexities of marriage.
I still hold the same values I did when I wrote these posts but the way I communicate has. Further, I am aware that you can’t teach what you don’t know so some of my naivety came from being a newlywed wife myself. But as we grow, we do better. And that’s what I’ve been doing.
- I have purposed to be more nuanced in my writing. I issue caveats and clarifications, so readers know who the content is meant for and who it is not meant for.
- I’ve taken down a bunch of YouTube videos because I didn’t issue enough/timely caveats.
- I will be updating my books, so they reflect my growth.
- Over time, I’ll be revising or deleting some of my old blog posts so they reflect when I am now.
Looking back, I wish I knew all I know now. But because nobody knows everything. The best thing we can do is embrace growth when it comes knocking on our doors.
2. Sometimes, we have to do with what we have. And that’s okay.
Failure is not the entire story of the church. But looking at how we talk about the church, it would seem like it is.
A while back, I was thinking about some of the things I missed while growing up. I was coming up with quite the list when another thought interrupted the romp.
I pondered on what my parents missed out on while growing up and some of the things my grandparents didn’t get right. As I walked through the hallways of their upbringing, my list sounded more ridiculous.
My parents had it rough. But despite the hardships, they did their best with us, and we turned out great. It was then that I realized that each generation does the best with what they have. And instead of of bellyaching, the subsequent generation is supposed to do better.
I feel that way about the church.
Often, we (and by we, I mean church people) tend to see where the church has failed us. Of course, acknowledging failure and seeking to do better is a great thing. We must confront every practice and mindset that departs from the truth of the gospel.
But failure is not the entire story of the church of Jesus Christ. If we are going to be a balanced people, we must consider the good that has been passed down through the years and how, because of that good, we can do the good work we do today.
That’s what I had to do a few months back when I was whining about my parents. God turned my attention to the good things passed down from my grandparents to my parents and how each generations’ choices have shaped me today.
My paternal grandfather, a traditional African man, was one of the earliest people in his village to accept the gospel from the missionaries. As a result, his children became familiar with the church and the gospel. His son (my dad) and my mom eventually made a choice to bring up their children in the church.
We didn’t get it as kids: we loathed the rigors of our denomination. But looking back, it was those church roots that led me to a personal relationship with God in my early twenties.
I am standing on the choice my grandfather made decades ago.
We as a church are standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before us: their work, their effort, their courage. We wouldn’t have anything to build on if we didn’t have their foundation.
Looking back, I now appreciate what I have and what has been passed down to me. Again, not everything can be celebrated. Not everything can be tolerated when we look at our collective church history.
But even as we mature and do better, we must discern and point to the good too. In fact, I dare say we’ll fail to do the necessary work of maturing if we never acknowledge and thank God for the distance we have traveled.
After all, Christ, the head of the church and He has been engaged all along, and that makes our history redeemable.
3. Saying “sex is not an obligation” won’t automatically open the door to selfishness
One of the questions that come up when we talk about sex being for both spouses is selfishness.
Some people worry that if we talk about healthy sex in marriage as being mutual, something that is to be enjoyed by both spouses, it will set up couples to be selfish and self-centered.
I agree it’s possible to skew the “sex should be mutually pleasurable.” You know, in the same way it’s possible to skew all truth.
But here’s the thing. Historically, sex has been cast as something wives do for their husbands. Sex hasn’t always been pleasurable for many women. Still these women continue to have sex and prioritize their husband’s pleasure. The skewed sexual message in favor of men hasn’t caused a mass exodus of women from their marriages.
So we can hypothesize that this one piece of good news – that God was thinking about them too, when He created sex – won’t turn these women into self-centered villains who “make a break for it” or only think about themselves.
They stayed married and gave when there was nothing for them: well-adjusted women are not going to sabotage their marriages just because they have a new tool in their marriage tool box. All they want is real, authentic intimacy and freedom in the bedroom.
But there’s another way to look at this.
Maybe it’s okay for some women to make a run for it.
Women married to selfish men who are unwilling to change and prioritize their sexual pleasure: Maybe these women need to break free. They need to gather courage, pursue those uncomfortable conversations, work through the destructive beliefs and implement strategies to bring mutual freedom and satisfaction to the bedroom.
Instead of worrying that we’ll encourage selfishness in marriage, maybe we need to enable some women to think about themselves more, not less.
For women in toxic, abusive marriages, where the gospel has been used to coerce and shame them to having sex, resulting in dying deaths every time, these women need to know they are more than marriage or a husband’s sex drive. They are neither the cause nor the cure for their spouses’ abuse and toxicity.
A woman should not feel obligated to have sex with a man who abuses her or who has long abandoned her. No relationship, including marriage, is above God’s design for His children. Or above the government/civil law, for that matter.
(If your spouse is abusive or toxic, please get to a safe place and get help immediately. Check out the resources at the end of this post to get you started in the right direction. You are loved.)
A caveat: Benefits of sex in marriage
Let me also add that this: Indeed, we actually signed up for sexual intimacy with our spouses (when it’s possible) when we said, “I do.”
But let’s also talk about how both spouses vowed the same thing to each other. In other words, two people made promises, and we can’t demand one spouse to hold up their end when the other intentionally refuses to hold up his.
There’s a time and place for perseverance, of course: sometimes we will give when we are getting nothing in return. (Check out this post, Persevering in Marriage Through Difficult Seasons.) Plus, there’s nothing wrong with serving your spouse sacrificially.
But it shouldn’t be that you are the only one in the relationship who sacrifices and gives while the other person just takes. So when it comes to intimacy in marriage, let’s make a big deal about the responsibility of both spouses to meet each other’s sexual needs.
4. Sex and “purity message” are different depending on where you grew up.
Many years ago, I wrote a bunch of purity-themed posts (including one on why my husband and I saved kissing for marriage.) Some folk thought I was crazy.
I didn’t know then, but I have since learned that my idea of purity and the American idea of purity is not exactly the same. It’s not all “spiritual”. And some of our differences are cultural.
Some of what is considered “purity movement” messages here in Northern America are somewhat the norm where I come from.
Let’s talk about saving kissing for marriage, for example.
While warm and friendly, my Kenyan culture is not very expressive, emotionally or physically (with some tribal/regional variations, of course.) As a result, observing some physical limits when in a romantic relationship wasn’t so strange. In my dating days, it all fit into who we were already.
But speaking to a mostly North American audience, who are more expressive compared to where I came from (though culture differs even here) I see how and why we didn’t flow.
Knowing what I know now, I wish I had taken to heart how culture played into my outlook and not “spiritualized” everything. At the very least, it would have made for more enlightened conversations!
5. Healthy sex in marriage: Husbands have full self-control over their sex drives.
Recently, my husband and I were talking about lust and how women were tasked with keeping men from lusting through regulating their behavior. He made this observation “A man’s response to sexual stimuli is all on him.”
It was a profound statement that many women didn’t grow up hearing.
My general culture and church culture taught me to dress modestly, keep those hugs to the side, etc., so as not to be a temptation to my brothers. There wasn’t much teaching about value and self-respect or listening to the Holy Spirit. It was all about not being a stumbling block.
And so many of us got married and continued to feel responsible for our husband’s sex drives. Even when we knew different, we had to continually, intentionally switch off that voice that said, “have sex to keep him pure.”
I wish I knew that men were entirely in charge of their sex drives, whether single or married. It would have saved me (and the people I influence) unbelievable amounts of guilt, grief, and struggle in marriage.
It would have helped many women identify a lack of sexual control or blaming women for sexual sin as real red flags in dating relationships.
Importance of sex in marriage
I am issuing a lot of caveats in this post and here’s another one: I don’t mean spouses should not feel responsible for meeting each other’s sexual needs. Healthy sex is a part of the marriage deal, like we’ve already said.
In fact, the Bible instructs couples not to intentionally abstain from sex for long periods, other than for purposes of prayer (after which they should resume regular sexual intimacy.)
My thought here is solely about responsibility for sin.
And while we are talking about men’s sex drive and the responsibility they have over that, let’s also talk about what is sinful and what is not.
When a man “notices” a woman or feels sexually attracted to a woman, in and of itself, that is not a sin. There’s a difference between temptation (the initial attraction that has nothing to do with his will) and a willful engagement of that stimuli. What a man does with sexual stimuli determines if he falls into sin or not.
So having full responsibility for their sex drives isn’t the same as saying healthy men are never tempted. We are all tempted, yet we don’t consider ourselves fallen into sin just because we were tempted. It’s what we do with the temptation, how we handle it, that determines our outcomes.
How can I have better sex in my marriage?
So many couples have unsatisfactory sex lives in marriage. And they want something better. Unfortunately, nurturing healthy sex in marriage demands effort. Moreover, you can’t get out of an unhealthy sex life using the same mindset that got you in.
I love something I saw on Instagram recently by a renowned licensed counselor, Debra Fileta.
“Just because you’re a Christian doesn’t mean you’re healthy. Loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength means becoming healthy emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and physically. It’s not an automatic process – it just doesn’t happen when you become a Christian. You have to become intentional. You’ve got to do the work.”
I am glad we are having these conversations because they spark something in us. They challenge us to want better and overcome marriage sex problems. And I hope my thoughts today inspire you to want better for your marriage and your life.
Your turn: Let’s talk about our beliefs! What did you grow up believing about healthy sex in marriage? What are you learning or unlearning that has had the most impact on your life? Or what point stood out to you the most?
Here are conversations around healthy sex in marriage worth checking out
Do You Owe Your Husband Sex? Duty Sex in Marriage (the previous post)
Evaluating Sex Resources, with Phylicia Masonheimer from Sex Chat podcast
Where Purity Culture Got It Wrong, Let’s Get It Right from Hot Holy Humorous.
Love and Respect: Why Unconditional Respect Can’t Work from To Love Honor and Vacuum
Why are So Many Sex Problems in Marriage So Hard to Solve? from To Love Honor and Vacuum
My Thoughts on Love & Respect: Part 1 from Hot Holy Humorous.
Resources for Abusive/Toxic Marriages
If your spouse is toxic or abusive, please get to a safe place and find help immediately. You are loved. Here are a few resources to check out
Faithful Counseling – online counseling
National Domestic Violence Hotline 1.800.799.7233
National Sexual Assault Hotline (RAINN)– 1.800.656.4673
National Child Abuse Hotline – 1.800.222.4453
I created How to Navigate Conflict in Marriage, an online course with 24 videos (with lesson transcripts if you prefer to read) and a jam-packed workbook to help you address marriage problems in a way that empowers, addresses problems, and gets dinner fixed on time. (Or am I the only one who loathes cooking when upset??) Check it out.