I receive quite a few emails and/or comments on posts, asking for my suggestions or insights on specific sexual intimacy struggles.
Increasingly, I cannot respond to these because of time constraints, so I thought I would create a post that would address at least some of the more common questions.
For purposes today, I do want to clarify I am not talking about abusive marriages. Abusive marriages are characterized by ongoing fear, manipulation and harm. The abuse can be emotional, spiritual or physical or a combination of those. If you believe you are in an abusive marriage, I encourage you to confide in a mature Christian confidante who is your same gender in an effort to figure out next steps on distancing yourself from the abuse.
The questions I’m exploring today are within the context of marriages that have varying degrees of sexual intimacy struggles. Please read through this post to see if I’ve touched upon your question.
9 Common Questions I Get About Sex and Marriage
1. How do I get my spouse to read your post(s)?
Ask them to read the post(s)—but do it in the context that your motive is you want sexual intimacy to be a vital part of the relationship because you love your spouse. Many of my posts, as well as posts from other Christian writers on sex in marriage, can be tremendous conversation starters.
Present a post as a conversation starter. Generally speaking, I don’t think just being subtle or “hinting” at the topic is effective. In other words, don’t just leave the post up on a computer screen or print it off and casually leave it where they can see it without also saying something about it.
Be mature. Say (or text if you are sending the link) something along the lines of, “I read this and I was hoping you would too, so that we can talk about how it may apply to our marriage. I want us to be able to talk more openly about our sexual intimacy.”
There’s no guarantee they will respond positively or be willing to read the post, but you never know unless you ask.
2. How do I get my spouse more interested in sex?
Express why you want sex to be a more integral part of the marriage. If your spouse thinks you see sex as nothing more than a physical act, and you know in your heart that sex means so much more to you, then be sure you clearly communicate what it means to you.
Also, seek to understand what’s behind your spouse’s lack of interest in sex. Are there unresolved issues from their past? Are there physical issues that make sex painful or uncomfortable? Are they struggling with body image? Did they hear some skewed messages about sex growing up? Are they not experiencing sexual pleasure?
Better communication about specifics, as well as a willingness to work together on overcoming hurdles, helps bank the odds in your favor that your spouse will become more interested in sex. But just like with the above question about getting a spouse to read a blog post, there are no guarantees.
3. I was raised that sex is a sin. After so many years of being told to say “no” to sex when I was single, how do I enjoy sex now that I am married?
Not surprisingly, this question or some version of it comes primarily from women.
I think this is because an underlying tone of the purity message has historically been that it is primarily the girl’s responsibility to say “no” or to “not tempt” boys. I also think it is because girls probably hear more from their mothers or other Christian women cautionary warnings and tales about the sin of premarital sex. Boys I don’t think hear as many similar messages from their fathers or other Christian males.
I do believe we’ve come a long way to reach a more mature purity message—one that is more well-rounded in emphasizing healthy respect for one’s own body and actions, a desire to honor God rather than simply say “no” for no’s sake, and an attitude of God’s grace that a young person who has crossed a line is not “unredeemable” or “broken.”
I get why some women (and a few men) really struggle with “flipping the switch” once they are married. They want to embrace sex fully, but struggle with feeling ashamed or embarrassed.
My response to this question is always to point people to scripture. While God is not a fan of premarital sex, He is a big fan of marital sex. He designed sexual arousal and pleasure to bless a married couple, and He didn’t do so simply so they would procreate. Sex is a gift.
I also try to remind married couples that phenomenal sexual connection is learned. A husband and wife need to be intentional and willing to give and receive feedback about what is pleasing sexually. The best sex is rarely experienced on a wedding night. It is experienced through shared sexual history, built through countless sexual encounters as a marriage moves along.
Dig into God’s Word. Commit to learning each other’s bodies. Communicate openly. Address sexual struggles. Make love often. Replace negative or incomplete messages you’ve heard about sex with healthy and marriage-edifying messages. Be intentional. Pursue each other sexually. Don’t give up on sex.
God wants to bless your marriage with healthy sexual intimacy, but as husband and wife, you need to partner with Him to make that a reality. Becoming uninhibited sexually and fully enjoying sex is possible with a thorough understanding of God’s heart for sex in marriage, as well as a healthy attitude about sex.
4. What is allowed sexually from a biblical perspective?
My general answer is that the basis of marriage needs to be love and respect, as this is so clearly communicated in the Bible. That being said, I also think God gives a husband and wife tremendous freedom to enjoy each other sexually. The four barometers I use are these:
ONE: Is the sex act specifically prohibited in the Bible?
I completely recognize there is never going to be universal agreement on interpretation of the Bible. So obviously there is not universal agreement on what is permissible sexually. But you can dig into scripture together and pray and talk about sexual intimacy in relation to what the Bible says about sex, as well as what is applicable in your specific marriage.
For example, God is very clear that adultery is not okay, so having sex with someone other than your spouse would fall into the prohibited category. He also doesn’t want you having sex with animals. Rarely are people asking me about these sorts of things, though. They mostly are asking about various other sexual acts between a husband and wife.
I think there tends to be a “permissibility” spectrum, with more agreement among Christians on permissibility on one end and less agreement on permissibility on the other end. For example, Christians across the board, regardless of denomination, agree that God wants a husband and wife having penis in vagina intercourse. It’s not to say this is the only sexual touch they can experience, but If they are physically able to have vaginal intercourse, then they should be having this as frequently as reasonably possible.
Most Christians also believe it is permissible for spouses to kiss and to touch each other’s bodies passionately.
As we move on the spectrum, we encounter other sexual acts. For example, oral sex is a form of sex that many (but not all) Christians believe is permissible, usually referencing Song of Songs scripture as support for it.
Various sexual positions also would be on the spectrum, with many Christians believing that some positions are more acceptable than others. For the most part, positions for vaginal sex are more about preference (and physical ability to actually do them) than they are about whether a position is “permissible.”
Also on the spectrum would be whether it’s okay to use sex toys or engage in role play.
As we move to the other end of the spectrum, we start finding sex acts where there is less universal agreement on biblical permissibility. Sex that involves bondage or domination or anal sex, for example, causes more debate among Christians on whether a married couple can from a biblical perspective incorporate such things into their sexual intimacy.
Like I said… hard to find universal agreement across the board.
I think as you read through ALL of the next three barometers, though, you and your spouse would be able to determine what is permissible within your marriage…
TWO: Are a husband and wife maintaining exclusivity?
Sex is meant to be an exclusive experience between a husband and wife, meaning no third parties of any kind—real, depicted or imagined.
So, this means no other people actually there when you are having sex, either participating or watching; no use of printed or digital pornography; no fantasies about people other than your spouse.
Have good discernment. You need to try to maintain privacy in your lovemaking, including in your sexual playfulness. In today’s world of digital communication, I would encourage you to be wise too about what you are documenting and/or texting. There’s just a high risk that photos and videos you take of your private sexual encounters, as well as elicit sexual texts, could end up in the wrong hands, accidentally or intentionally.
Err on the side of maintaining exclusivity so that sex remains a sacred private experience between the two of you.
THREE: Is there certainty neither spouse is being hurt spiritually, emotionally or physically?
Marriage is supposed to be a place of love and respect. One spouse’s sexual pleasure can’t come at the expense of the other spouse’s pain. It’s not okay to demand, berate, intimidate, coerce or force your spouse to do something sexually as a pathway to your own sexual pleasure. That’s selfish and would contradict what it means to love and respect the person you married.
Where some people challenge me on this is they will ask about something that maybe is “painful,” but both spouses find it to be sexually arousing. For example, maybe the wife likes to be spanked during sex. While it would be impossible for me to address every scenario, I think the key here is mutuality and willingness on both parties. In other words, if one spouse is feeling apprehensive or scared or “talked into” doing something, then that’s a red flag, in my opinion.
I also think spouses need the freedom to change their mind, especially on sex acts that may be considered more risqué. For example, let’s say a husband and wife agree they want to try something. There is mutuality. But then within the course of the particular act or afterward, one of them decides they have reservations about it. Love and respect should be the guide. We need freedom to change our minds on acts that even though we agreed to initially, we now have decided is something we don’t want to experience.
The last barometer that further expands on the above points…
FOUR: Is the sex act bringing a husband and wife together or driving them apart?
A key element of sexual intimacy is that it would be enriching to a couple’s marriage. Sex should be a place of safety, healthy vulnerability, love, fun, pleasure and passion. God designed sex to be a unifying experience that draws a husband and wife into oneness (spiritual, emotional and physical).
So if there is an aspect to your sexual encounters that is driving you apart, I encourage you to decide if the “gain” is worth the cost to your relationship.
Along these same lines, I would make this incredibly important point. Just as it is not loving and respectful to demand certain sex acts, it also is not loving and respectful to deny sex in marriage for no reasonable reasons.
The Bible is clear that God designed sex to benefit a marriage and that it is one of the key elements that sets marriage apart from all other human relationships. God also is clear in 1 Corinthians 7 that a husband and wife are to have equal access to each other’s bodies and that sex should be an essential aspect of the marriage, not an optional aspect.
5. My spouse refuses to do a sexual act I believe is biblically permissible. How can I get them to change their mind?
Various versions of this question come in, most commonly in reference to oral sex, but sometimes to other sexual acts as well.
Keep in mind I am talking about sexual acts that are different than vaginal intercourse. Basically when people ask me some version of this question, they are usually saying, “My spouse just likes plain old vanilla sex. Just vaginal intercourse. I want more sexual variety.”
A common theme I have woven throughout my posts is that marriage should be a place of love and respect.
Ephesians 5:22-33 gives us a tandem vision of marriage. While I have no desire to debate theologically what submit means, I do think we can clearly see that these verses taken as a whole speak of respect and love on the part of both the husband and the wife. The verses work in tandem. When a husband and wife embrace this mutual love and respect, they are better equipped to each love from a place of selflessness.
So back to the situation where one spouse is refusing to do a sexual act that the requesting spouse believes is biblically permissible. Err on the side of love. If you as the requesting spouse have compassionately and lovingly expressed your desire for the particular sex act and your spouse still refuses, then sacrificially let this request go.
Likewise, if you are the spouse who is refusing, genuinely reflect on whether your denial is reasonable. It may very well be. But that doesn’t mean you can’t decline with a tone of love, as well as grow in your enthusiastic desire to incorporate sexual variety where you do feel comfortable.
6. I’m struggling having an orgasm. What should I do?
Many wives struggle experiencing an orgasm. This can be for a variety of reasons, such as they are afraid of intense pleasure, they aren’t sure what it will take to have an orgasm, they have mental blocks about it, and/or their husband isn’t willing to listen and learn what will help.
Some wives choose to fake orgasm, either because they are embarrassed they aren’t having an orgasm or because they want to protect their husband’s ego (they don’t want him to feel like he’s doing something “wrong” that is preventing climax).
I caution against faking, because nothing good comes from it. It brings a lie into the marriage, it can cause more distrust and confusion, and there’s still no pleasure for the wife, which will likely create growing frustration and maybe even resentment. So if you have faked orgasm, come clean about this. Explain that your heart was in the right place, but you now realize that it’s inhibiting sexual connection not creating it.
If a wife is struggling experiencing an orgasm, the husband and wife definitely need to work together on this. I offer a few suggestions.
As a wife, your clitoris likely needs more stimulation or a different type of stimulation than you may realize in order for you to climax. A little self exploration on your own can help you understand your body and its response to arousal and touch. I know some women are not comfortable with this, but if the goal is to better understand your own body so you can then better teach your husband what you need, then I see that as something positive for the marriage.
More foreplay also may help, as well as varying positions. Some women say it is difficult for them to climax through missionary position, but they have an easier time if they are on top where they can better control the rate and type of movement on the clitoris.
The right amount of lubrication is important as well. Too much lubrication and there is not enough friction against the clitoris; too little and there is too much friction, which can be annoying or painful. This is true with natural lubrication and artificial lubrication.
Communication is most important. This is actually true for pleasure for a wife and for a husband. As a married couple, it’s vital you give and receive feedback. I like to call it show and tell. Show and tell each other what feels good sexually. Don’t rush through sex or just go through the motions, but create the time and space to enjoy each other’s touch.
Also be proactive in learning. There are a handful of Christian writers and speakers like myself who have books, blogs, courses, seminars, etc. You can find so much information now from reputable sources on sexual response, arousal, climax, anatomy and lovemaking. A lot of trial and error goes into enjoying incredible sexual pleasure.
Don’t give up. Once you learn what it will take to bring each other incredible pleasure, you will experience profound breakthrough and enjoyment in your sexual intimacy. I have a whole page on orgasm, which you can check out at this link.
7. My spouse won’t acknowledge and/or address our sexual intimacy struggles. What should I do?
I regularly encourage open and mature conversation. If there is a problem, don’t assume your spouse knows how deeply the problem is affecting you. And don’t hint at the sexual intimacy struggles, hoping your spouse will “catch on” that the struggles are serious.
Tell your spouse how you feel, including the toll you feel the sexual disconnect is taking on the marriage overall. Sometimes a verbal conversation is hard to initiate, so consider writing a letter—with the goal that it would be a springboard into intentional effort as a couple to work toward solution.
Suggest professional counseling and/or other resources, like books, seminars, websites, and/or webinars.
But what if you do all this, and your spouse is still resistant and not interested in taking an active part in overcoming the sexual struggles? I then am a big advocate for self care for yourself. Certainly continue to pray for your marriage, but also proactively find ways to navigate.
Visit a counselor on your own to learn strategies for communicating and coping with an uncooperative spouse.
Invest in your spiritual, emotional and physical health. Develop and/or foster deeper interest in hobbies and volunteering. Build a good support network of mature Christian confidantes who will listen compassionately and also pray for the wellbeing of your marriage. (Females should have female confidantes; males should have male confidantes).
In many marriages with sexual struggles, the struggles continue, yet there isn’t reasonable justification for ending the marriage. In these cases, the spouse who feels sexually neglected should increase their self care.
8. My spouse has betrayed me sexually. How do we restore our marriage?
Sexual betrayal in a marriage usually comes in the form of adultery (having some kind of sexual encounter with someone other than your spouse) or pornography use. I think for a marriage to heal from this betrayal, both the husband and wife need to be committed to that healing process, which may be arduous and long.
I also highly encourage professional marriage counseling, as marriage counselors have the experience and training to assist a couple in repairing damage, rebuilding trust and restoring communication. There also are specific resources designed to address adultery, pornography and/or other betrayal in a marriage.
I personally know couples who have healed from sexual betrayal, and through my work, I am aware of countless other couples who have. While it can be difficult, it is not impossible. Can every marriage heal from sexual betrayal? No. But many can and have.
9. Our marriage is sexless. Is this grounds for divorce?
While there is debate over what constitutes “sexless,” general agreement in the marriage counseling industry defines sexless as less than 10 sexual encounters in a year.
Now common sense will tell us that each marriage is unique and there are a number of factors that impact sexual frequency. On whether a sexless marriage is grounds for ending the marriage, I wrote the post Sexless Marriage? 10 Questions to Ask Before You Leave. I always point people who are considering leaving their marriage based on lack of sex to this post, because I think it does a great job of unpacking such a serious decision.
The above questions certainly aren’t the only questions I receive about sex and marriage, but they broadly cover a lot of the questions I receive.
If after reading this you still don’t see your question addressed, I encourage you to do a topic search in my search bar to explore other posts on my site, as well as visit the sites of fellow Christian marriage bloggers I frequently reference.
I wish I could quickly respond to every email or comment I receive, but I’m not always able to. My heart is to continue to write and speak to a broader audience as much as possible in order to help as many marriages as possible.
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.