By Meg Gemelli, Crosswalk.com
When you have a wedding to plan, all the extra worries are easy to push out of your mind. The flowers become a dire responsibility all of a sudden, and the fact that Grandma Ruth might not want to sit next to Aunt Helen seems pressing. At least, more pressing than the experience of being married. Let’s just get through this... then everything will be perfect.
Depending on the type of church family you were born into, or joined in adulthood, there may not be anybody asking you the relevant, real-life questions either. For instance, where are you getting your sex advice? Who will you go to when marriage isn’t working out the way you thought it would?
Who can you trust enough to call with a middle-of-the-night crisis?
Of course, believers look to the Word for comfort, inspiration, and guidance. And who doesn’t love the sacred words whispered by generations of starry-eyed brides and grooms:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 1 Cor. 13:4-8
Indeed, love is both a feeling and a lifestyle choice.
It’s interesting to note that 1st and 2nd Corinthians happens to lack a certain portion of text entitled, “What to do when you catch your spouse looking at pornography.” Certainly, we understand what perfect love looks like, and we also know what’s right and wrong according to God’s holy standards. But next steps can feel a little murky when a real crisis hits.
How did we get here with our expectations for marriage, and what does sexual commitment actually look like once we’ve been together for a while?
Here are 3 myths about married sex that Christians sometimes believe, and the truth that sets us free.
Myth #1: Married sex is ultimately boring, and couples lose attraction to one another over time.
How beautiful you are, my darling! Oh, how beautiful! Your eyes are doves. How handsome you are, my beloved! Oh how charming! And our bed is verdant. Songs 1:15-16
This scripture showcases what attraction can do to us early on in our marriages. But, without care, it is possible for this to fade.
I’m thirteen years into marriage, and personally I can attest: Married sex can be boring. But it can also be steamy, playful and risky... especially the risky part.
Ask any married couple with kids and they’ll beam with pride over any successful, sexy moment hidden from the prying eyes of their littles!
The myth that couples lose attraction to one another over time is perpetuated by the notion that the best sex is “novel” sex--as in, exciting, adventurous, and impromptu. A privilege set aside for the young.
This is the same myth that results in men and women lying lonely in their beds at night, wondering if they can hold up to images of porn stars and cover models.
Perhaps surprisingly to you, this myth doesn’t hold up when it comes to decades of couples’ research.
In fact, couples who’ve been married the longest report the most satisfaction when it comes to physical intimacy and happiness. They also report being the least sexually satisfied. Confusing? Here’s why.
In Proverbs 3:1-3 we read:
...Don’t forget all I’ve taught you; take to heart my commands. They’ll help you live a long time, a long life lived full and well. Don’t lose your grip on love and loyalty. Tie them around your neck; carve their initials on your heart.
The author of Proverbs gets it: Appreciation and satisfaction have less to do with the exciting circumstances of life and more to do with the loyalty of a heart.
The same is true of relationships.
Couples who invest in each other’s feelings of belonging and desire, experience it for themselves. To the opposite effect: Couples who play out narratives of dissatisfaction and blame become more disconnected and unhappy over time. It’s the epitome of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The truth is that those of us who are invested in having strong, secure relationships report being happier overall. So if we could boil it down to one sentiment when it comes to keeping the bedroom fresh and satisfying, it’s this:
For where your treasure is, your heart will be also. Matt. 6:21
Myth #2: Sex will become obligatory, something you “have to do” because you got married.
Abstaining from sex is permissible for a period for time if you both agree to it, and if it’s for the purposes of prayer and fasting--but only for such times. Then come back together again. Satan has an ingenious way of tempting us when we least expect it. 1 Cor. 7:5 (MSG)
Have you ever read this scripture? Every time I come across it, I think, “Boy, married couples must be praying and fasting every day for as much as I hear folks complain about having to plan sex.”
This is a joke, of course, but it’s true that our hearts aren’t always in it. In my years of work with couples, it occurs to me that most truly believe that sex is obligatory, just because they tied the knot.
But we’re missing the point.
Sex isn’t necessarily mandatory or even possible for all couples, depending on their health and physical ability. But serving one another is, and so is loving our spouse as ourselves.
Physical intimacy isn’t the final destination, but rather a measurable byproduct of the closeness of our connection (or a lack thereof).
Submit yourselves one to another... Eph. 5:1
We gave our word to love and cherish the one we called beloved at the altar. So when pain, offense, or numbness has taken root to the extent that sex feels like a chore, the answer isn’t to just force ourselves to have more of it, to numb out and go through the motions.
The answer is to question the “have to,” and discover the “want to.”
Obligation is a warning sign. It tells us when the distance between us is too great. We’re wired for closeness, for monogamy. And while yes, the types of hormones we experience change over time, they never fail to draw us close to one another. It’s the way God made us.
What begins as exciting in the dating stage (adrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin), gradually becomes more secure and stable. It solidifies our feelings of reliance on one another. The bonding chemical, oxytocin, is the most powerful influence on our bodies for 24-48 hours after sex. This is why men will see their wives as more attractive than any other woman during this time frame.
In other words, sex begets sex. And that’s the truth.
It’s not an obligation, but a thermometer of the strength of our bond. When we truly want to please our spouses because we’re open and secure, we’ll find creative ways to show up for them--the bedroom being just one of many ways to do that.
Myth #3: My spouse will be disappointed in my past, my desires, or my insecurities if I tell him/her the truth.
...let us not love with words or speech, but with actions and in truth. 1 John 3:18
Newly married couples slip beneath the sheets having invited far too many people into their bedrooms for comfort. They do so unknowingly, since the shadows of past hurts and unmet needs are sneaky and covert. And just as ambiguous as those unwanted guests are, couples sense a danger to bringing those kinds of issues to light.
And so, they suffer important questions in the dark:
Will he judge me if I’m honest about my sexual experiences with past boyfriends? Maybe a white lie is less offensive.
Will she reject me or think I’m gross if I share my desires with her? I’ll settle for whatever she seems comfortable with.
I enjoyed sex before marriage. Does that make me a terrible Christian?
Both men and women admit fearing upset and disappointment with the choices they made before marriage. This isn’t surprising. When it comes to talking about sex in the church historically, sermons have been laced with a sense of shame and punishment.
It’s no wonder that couples feel they have no place to go to have healthy conversations about it.
And so, many of us ascribing to faith succumb to the pressures of society instead. Perhaps this is why few marital statistics differ between the religious and non.
Women tend to lie about their sexual experiences before marriage, diminishing the number of encounters they’ve had. Men do the opposite--attempting to impress their friends by exaggerating their experiences of sex.
Whether blatant or by omission, Christians couples are hiding from one another.
It reminds me of a young couple I worked with years ago. *Katie and Jarrett had been married for five years at the time. They had a two-year-old little girl, and Katie was pregnant with their second child. Sex hadn’t been great and both of them were exhausted.
They initially came to me because pornography had been an issue in their marriage.
Over the course of our time together, we learned that Jarrett had experienced sexual abuse in elementary school, but that Katie had learned to enjoyed sex--having had a number of partners before committing to Jarrett. Both lived in shame, some related to personal choices, and the rest due to circumstances beyond their control.
The fear of honesty had kept them holding one another at arm’s length for years. They’d been going through the motions of what they thought was expected of a young Christian couple.
They eventually broke. They’d looked good on the outside, but each was dying of loneliness within the four walls of their home.
Sound familiar? It does for far too many of us.
The truth about good married sex is that freedom and connection is found on the other side of our courage to be seen. To be perfectly known in our imperfections. Bearing each other’s burdens without condemnation, we bring healing to an otherwise painful past.
It’s a love that can only be found on the other side of the cross.
“...there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1
Rejection, abuse, embarrassing decisions, or hurtful secrets--there’s nothing that can compare to the love and acceptance we can receive from one another with the help of Holy Spirit.
Is it a risk? Absolutely. But what’s a reckless love without it?
Father, let us be holy, but so very whole too. Spiritually. Emotionally. Sexually. We thank you for the oneness of flesh, and the uniqueness of two souls connected. Help us to model Your unwavering love in our marriages every single day. Amen.
Meg Gemelli is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and the founder of The Making of a Marriage. She spends her time earning Crossfit participation trophies, and laments over her lack of kitchen prowess. She’s a happy wife to Pete and mom to two awesome boys. Most importantly, she practices faith over fear, all day, every day. Check out our marriage and family related convos, groups, and challenges at www.theMakingofaMarriage.com.
Photo Credit: ©Charlie Foster/Unsplash