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I know this is a divisive and sensitive topic. But my goal always is that hearts will be stirred. Awareness raised. Transformation—however small—started.
And before defense mechanisms get locked and loaded, please hear me that I do know there are reasonable reasons that sex is denied in a marriage.
Common ones would be illness, injury, unrepentant sexual sin (pornography use, adultery, etc.), ongoing unaddressed addiction that is devastating the family, and abusive situations.
There also are a sundry of other reasons, probably of the less common variety, that would explain the lack of sexual willingness in some marriages. Today I’m not talking about those marriages. This post isn’t for those marriages where the lack of sexual intimacy can reasonably be explained.
I hear from both wives and husbands who are denied sex. Yes, I hear from more husbands, but I do hear from wives as well (which is why I have a page titled Wives Who Want More Sex and Aren’t Getting It.)
And if your spouse courageously printed this post for you or sent you the link, I implore you to take a few moments and read it. Don’t assume they are trying to be manipulative. Maybe they are desperately trying to convey what they are feeling, in the hopes you will authentically hear them.
Take a breath before you answer this question. If you answer it too quickly, you’ll likely go with an impulse answer that doesn’t get at the root of the question. In all my years of writing and speaking about sex in marriage, I have noticed some common threads that come up when people truly start to look at why they don’t like sex and/or why they avoid it or deny it.
Some of those common threads are quite serious. Do you recognize yourself in any of the below scenarios? For example, maybe there was sexual abuse or assault in your past and you have not healed from this. Since the abuse, possibly you have always associated sex with pain or violence or betrayal, and this isn’t any less true even though you are now in a marriage with someone you love. Abuse is devastating.
Also devastating is when lack of healing from it continues to rob you of intimacy in the very relationship where you need intimacy the most.
Another thread may be you are still struggling to overcome skewed messages you heard about sex and/or an over emphasis on sex being sinful, no matter the situation. Maybe you had well-meaning Christians in your life, but instead of helping you see that sex in the right context of marriage is holy and beautiful and worthy of pursuit, they painted with a broad brush that sex is bad.
Maybe your sexual denial finds its roots in your past promiscuity, meaning you have convinced yourself that you don’t deserve passionate and fulfilling sex in marriage because you were careless with sex in the past. But this doesn’t align with God’s heart of forgiveness and His desire that sex be a fulfilling experience in your marriage.
Or maybe your sexual denial is because you either are apprehensive about intense sexual pleasure or you are struggling to experience any pleasure at all. Maybe where growth needs to happen is both you and your spouse better learning each other’s bodies.
And maybe your sexual denial is about health/physical issues that you could address, but simply haven’t. Some of these could be the result of aging, such as menopause or erectile dysfunction. I’m certainly not suggesting that physical issues don’t affect sexual intimacy, but when no attempts have been made to explore options and/or still nurture sexual touch and connection, that is damaging to a marriage.
Possibly there are other reasons you deny sex. Only you know. Why do you deny sex? Once you truly understand the depth of where your denial is coming from you’ll be better equipped to then address and heal those struggles.
You may tell yourself it’s no big deal. That sex isn’t like water or food or air, so clearly your spouse can go without. In your mind, you possibly have convinced yourself the costs are fairly minimal, maybe even to the point that you see your spouse as the insensitive one for even wanting sex in the first place.
But what if indeed the costs have been quite great? What if your lack of sexual availability and interest have compelled your spouse to question if you truly love them or if you truly want to honor God? What if your sexual denial has chipped away at your spouse’s sense of self-worth? What if your sexual denial has limited the depth of the friendship and joy and connection you could have with your spouse? What if your sexual denial has made your spouse regret marrying you all together? And what about the costs to you?
The cost of missed sexual pleasure and oneness with the person you love. The cost of missing out on loving well and being loved well. So many costs. So many costly costs. My guess is that when you said your vows, you did so out of a deep love and commitment not only to the person you love, but also to the covenant nature of marriage. You wanted to get married, right?
And yes, I know that marriage is probably more work than you ever imagined it would be. Planning a wedding is one thing, but navigating a life together? Sure, that’s not for the faint of heart. But you did it. And you went in to it knowing that sex was part of marriage.
If you are a Christian, you were likely well aware that sex is one of the vital ways God differentiates marriage from all other human relationships. Sex in marriage is not a negotiable that you can easily toss aside. So sit down with a piece of paper and start to consider what your sexual denial has cost your marriage.
Every marriage is different, and I don’t know the extent of damage in your marriage because of sexual denial. BUT I do know this—as long as you are still married, you can at least try to heal the sexual disconnect and pain. I could say this is just a matter between you and your spouse, but at its core it also is a matter between you and God.
Sex is a gift God has given married couples. He wants it treated with intention and care. So if you are now coming to this realization, don’t get stuck in guilt. Guilt is so unproductive. Instead, embrace repentance and humility and a commitment to growth. Express to your spouse that you are sorry and that you want the two of you to work together toward healing the damage to your sexual relationship. Maybe you can express this in a verbal conversation or maybe a letter would be a better approach.
Only you know what would be best in your marriage. The goal, of course, is ongoing intention to nurturing sexual intimacy in your marriage. Don’t rule out enlisting the help of a professional counselor. Trust me on this. Professional marriage counselors have heard it all. The two of you sitting across from a counselor with a heart toward untangling this sexual mess will not shock a counselor. They are trained to help you restore what has been broken.
Remember that the sexual struggles in your marriage didn’t develop overnight and you won’t fix them overnight. The nuances of sexual healing take effort and time and heart.
Copyright 2020, Julie Sibert. Intimacy in Marriage Blog. Links may be monetized. Never want to miss one of my posts? Subscribe via email on this page. And be sure to join my more than 10,000 followers on my Facebook page and 11,000 followers on Twitter.