I’ve been married for 16 years now. While that’s not as long as some of you — and certainly not as long as my husband’s grandparents’ 70 years (!) — it’s still long enough to have seen and heard a lot of marriage advice.
And you know what? Some of that advice makes me cringe. So I can tell you up front: I’m not going to advise you to make sure to meet your husband’s needs by having lots of sex with him. And I’m not going to tell you that the purpose of marriage is to make you holy. (It isn’t.)
What I do want to talk about is walking in sexual wholeness.
How can I possibly talk about a topic as big and complex as human sexuality in a single blog post? While I can’t offer the comprehensiveness or the nuance that a book or a therapist can offer, I’ll give you my basic framework.
These are the things I want to teach my daughters someday: what the foundation for healthy married sexuality is, potential obstacles in the bedroom and what to do about them, and potential temptations outside of marriage and what to do about them.
1) The Philosophy of Nakedness
I believe Nakedness is the foundation for healthy married sexuality. Remember how Adam and Eve were naked in the garden and not ashamed? Yes that was before sin, and yes now we live as sinners in a sinful world, but their unashamedness in marriage? It’s still possible.
And yet. It’s not the nakedness itself that’s so key; it’s what the nakedness represents.
Nakedness isn’t about taking off your clothes just for the sake of taking off your clothes (although that’s helpful). Nakedness is about much more than that. It’s about being comfortable in your body, just the way it is right now. It’s about being with your husband, with the lights on and your clothes off.
(Practical note: this is why locks and curtains are so important.)
Nakedness is about loving the body God formed in you and declared good. It’s about delighting in all your cells, including the ones that bring pleasure — and yes, even including the ones that don’t look “picture perfect.” It’s about being with the one you love, fully accepted and fully at home.
It’s about skin touching skin and souls sharing secrets between the sheets: being seen, being known, being loved, ALL of you, and all of me. It’s about the tremendous trust it takes to let go and let someone see your wilder side without fear of rejection or disapproval.
This kind of Nakedness goes beyond the “frequency fights” many couples have and speaks to the tenor of your relationship when you are together. Is it easy-going and uninhibited, characterized by affection, acceptance, and trust? Because that’s what Eden feels like, and what we all long for.
But… what if Nakedness isn’t easy?
2) What to do when Nakedness is hard
It’s no casual matter to search for this kind of open-hearted, unembarrassed nakedness. You can’t just throw off your clothes in a desperate attempt to grasp at this intimacy. If you’re new to marriage, or if your marriage is wounded, remember that getting Naked may be a slow journey, and there may be obstacles in the way.
You may feel shame about your body. You may have long-standing body hatred or even struggle with some accompanying disordered eating. You may have suffered abuse before or feel shame over your sexual past. You may even bear physical or emotional pain from your marriage itself.
Or maybe it’s your husband who’s struggling. Maybe he’s looking at pornography, dealing with sexual addiction, or reeling from abuse of his own.
We carry our wounds and insecurities, our body image issues and porn addictions, with us into marriage. They don’t magically go away when we say our vows and put on a sparkling ring. We carry our whole selves into our bedrooms; we’re not separate people there. We may lock the door behind us, but it’s not a strong enough door to keep out the rest of our soul and spirit.
Some of the things I’ve mentioned are deep, deep spiritual issues. And while they don’t necessarily start in the bedroom, they do show up there and, sadly, they won’t go away on their own. They often require extra care and help. So could I gently suggest you seek some outside help? You may need to reach out to a qualified counselor for some of the psychological and emotional issues. You may need to seek medical care if you’re experiencing physical pain or wonder if your hormones are out of balance.
The unfortunate catch, of course, is that finding a good counselor or medical doctor may prove difficult if you’re living overseas. You may need to do these things on a visit to your passport country or in a neighboring country for respite, or consider talking to someone on Skype. I want to give you permission to think about, pray for, and plan a time to get some outside help.
If you struggle with marital intimacy, that there is no shame in it. My husband and I dealt with several of these issues, including body hatred, disordered eating, past sexual abuse, and guilt over choices we made before marriage. Whatever your particular struggle, do not be ashamed, and remember: you are not alone.
3) When temptation comes my way
Finally, I want to talk about what happens when our sexual energy starts unfolding in the wrong direction — that is, away from our husbands. What happens when you find yourself attracted to another man? (Because yes, this happens to married people, and it’s happened to me before.)
My husband once infamously wrote that, as a way of protecting our marriage, he tells me when he feels attraction to another woman. We didn’t expect to receive so many private emails asking us how exactly that works in our marriage. How are we able to trust each other like that? While the full answer to that question is outside the scope of this post, it brings up an important topic: how can we deal with temptation?
Part of the answer lies in the understanding that sexual desire is more than physical attraction. (I mean, it’s also physical attraction; otherwise what’s all that Naked Time for?) But sexual desire is also emotional and intellectual attraction. It’s being interested in the things a person is talking and thinking about. It’s being paid the ultimate compliment of attention to your thoughts and feelings.
People think temptation comes in pretty little packages, but it doesn’t have to. Certainly temptation may be physical, but more often I believe it’s metaphysical. And if we want to take our marriage vows seriously (and we do), we’ve got to be aware of the spiritual and emotional side of attraction.
But here’s the good news: we can use this aspect of attraction to our advantage. We don’t have to let it lead us away from our husbands. We can let it lead us to our husbands. So pay attention to what interests you. Pay attention to the kinds of things you find yourself talking about with other people.
And those things you find interesting to talk about with other people, talk about with your husband. The things you find fun to do and to watch and to laugh about, laugh about and do with your husband. Take your desires home to him.
Then dig in deeper. Go beyond talking about the kids, ministry or work (although some of that is fine and good and healthy). Ask about his childhood and what formed him. Ask about his dreams and tell him yours. Talk about how you fell in love. Talk about what you love about God. Talk about how God is talking to you and how He’s not talking to you.
Lastly, remember to be guarded around any man with whom you feel that special spark of connection.
Thus ends my Big Picture understanding of married sexuality.
I believe in getting naked, body and soul.
I believe in getting outside help when we can’t find the kind of Edenic intimacy we all desire.
And I believe in protecting our marriages from temptation, body and soul.
I believe sex is more spiritual than we usually like to think.*
And I believe that spiritual component is vital in making marital sexuality flourish.
May you and your husband experience the raw joy of knowing and being known. May you know the thrill of intimacy between the sheets and between hearts. And may your souls and your bodies grow into and around each other as you spend your days and your lives together.
*Don’t get me wrong: the mechanics of sex are enormously important in bonding between husband and wife. We can talk about that in the comments – anonymously if you prefer. What would you add to this most important of conversations?