For the past decade, my full-time job has been to address sexual issues from a Christian perspective. Knowing that, you can imagine the kind of emails I regularly receive in my inbox! What I’ve learned is that sexuality represents pain in a lot of lives and marriages. When people ask me, “What’s normal for a Christian married couple?” one of my responses is that it is normal to experience obstacles in your sex life.
And the list of potential struggles is long: A history of pornography. Differing levels of desire. Pain during intercourse. Inability to “sexually perform” or experience orgasm. Arguments about when and how often to have sex. Fatigue, depression, and illnesses that sap desire. Triggers from past trauma that make sex feel unsafe.
These are just some of the hurdles that Christian married couples are likely to confront throughout a lifetime of sex together. It’s enough to make many people ask God, Why did you create sex in the first place? It can seem to cause more conflict than unity and more pain than pleasure.
While everyone wishes for an uncomplicated and naturally fulfilling sex life, it could be that the obstacles themselves are part of the journey of marital intimacy.
Most of us enter marriage defining a great sex life by measure of sexual activity. We think of sex being good based on flawless bodies, compatibility, and frequent mutual pleasure. When those things don’t naturally happen, we think that the “gift” of sex is broken.
Instead of focusing on these measures of sexual activity, God would rather us direct our attention to building sexual intimacy. What’s the difference? Sexual intimacy is a journey, not an event. The focus is on who you are becoming as a married couple, not just on how satisfying a sexual experience might be in the moment.
One day, as a young mom and, frankly, frustrated wife, I had an epiphany: What if the gift of sex is more like a gift of single LEGO? At the time, I happened to be cleaning up my sons’ playroom which was scattered with LEGO pieces. Anyone familiar with the toy knows that it comes in a box with a picture of an elaborate design. The brilliance of LEGOs are that you must build the pieces in order to create the image that the box displays.
On the front of the “box” of marital sex is not simply a passionate night or perfect bodies entangled. The image on the box is Christ and His Church. (See Ephesians 5.) Sex is an expression of love, but it is also a great test of love. Husbands, will you love your wife as Christ loves the church? Sacrificing even your own body to prize her and make her holy? Wives, will you honor your husband and nurture his masculinity? Together, will you learn to love each other exclusively, sacrificially, and passionately?
You see, every obstacle you encounter in the bedroom can be viewed as an invitation to love. A long-term fulfilling sex life is absolutely impossible if both of you are unwilling to learn to love as Christ Jesus loves us. Forgiveness, mercy, grace, unselfishness, speaking the truth in love… these are the character traits that God desires to develop in all of His children. As it says in Colossians 3:12-13, “Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive and … forgive as the Lord forgave you.” These are the markers of true love and authentic intimacy.
Because sexual intimacy requires listening, sharing vulnerably, forgiveness, and patience, working on your sex life is an invitation to grow in the character qualities that represent the deepest kinds of love.
This is why a couple with wrinkled bodies that has been married for fifty-plus years can gaze into each other’s eyes with a passion that overshadows that of their honeymoon. Through the journey, they have not just “made love,” but have become lovers.
True intimacy takes time and intentionality. As you consider your own marriage and sex life, the following questions and prayer may help you get started on the path to greater sexual intimacy:
Lord, search my heart. I want every area of my life and marriage to reflect your character. Please help me to view the struggles we have in our sex life as invitations to learn to love as you would have me love.
You may also want to check out the following resources: Why Does Sex Matter in Marriage, Pt. 1; What's the Purpose of Marriage?; Does Your Husband Need Sex? Stop “Hooking Up” in Your Marriage; Your Marriage Should Be Fun; Java with Juli #151: The Naked Truth About Sex in Marriage (member exclusive episode); Java with Juli #286: How to Make Time to Make Love