Is Sex Work?

In many marriages books and on marriage blogs, you hear some form of Marriage is work. We are admonished to pull up our sleeves and get busy learning how to communicate, how to solve problems, and how to mesh our lives together so that our marriage can last a lifetime. The overriding message is that if you want a good marriage, you have to work at it!

So what if you want a great sex life in marriage? Is sex work too?

That hardly jives with our notion that sex should be about pleasure. Yet, when you look at the definition of work, you see that it’s true:

"Work" in special fontWork [wurk] n. 1. exertion or effort directed to produce or accomplish something; labor; toil.
2. something on which exertion or labor is expended; a task or undertaking.

While I would quibble with applying the word “toil,” experiencing satisfying sexual intimacy within marriage will likely require exertion and effort. Why? Because there are obstacles to getting it right. Just like Adam had to deal with thorns and thistles after the sin entered the world, we know that the world we live in doesn’t allow the good stuff to sweep into our lives without effort. We as people are formed in the struggle.

So what work does sex require? At different stages of marriage, it can be different things. We must put effort into dealing with:

Time constraints. Your job or childcare or household duties or ministry responsibilities or your extended family or whatever can put a crunch on your schedule. You may struggle to find time to wind down and heat up in the bedroom together. It takes work to sit down and iron out some plan and stick to it so that you and your spouse can continue to foster marital intimacy in spite of these challenges.

Health problems. At one time or another, one of you is likely to experience health problems that interfere with your sex lives. It can be anything from urinary tract infections to depression to prostate cancer. I recently heard from a wife who had broken her back, and she and her husband had to exert some effort finding comfortable sexual positions. Whatever the health issue, there may be times in your marriage when you need to take a sexual time out, find other ways to be intimate, or adjust your lovemaking.

Relational strife. Sometimes you just don’t wanna because things in the relationship aren’t that great. In this case, you need to work on both your relationship and your intimacy. I recently wrote a guest post for Sheila Gregoire about whether you have to wait on fixing the relationship to work on your intimacy. It’s a chicken-and-egg argument. In fact, I think that wives need to understand that withholding sex from your husband may not have the motivating effect we would expect. Because men are designed to feel bonded to their mate post-coitus, continuing to have sex even in the case of relational strife may actually motivate a husband to try harder on the marriage. I’m not saying that this is a no-matter-what sort of thing. Obviously, if your spouse is cheating on you, abusing you, etc., there are other considerations. But most marital strife is of the “we aren’t getting along” variety, in which case it may be wise to work on the marriage and the sex within marriage.

Unmet desires or needs. This is certainly an area that screams for extra effort! Plenty of spouses are unfulfilled in their marital sexuality because they want or need something that isn’t being met by their mate. For instance, he wants her to participate more. She wants him to slow down and take more time in foreplay. He wants greater variety. She wants him to pursue her more. He wants to have sex more often. She wants to have sex more often. You get the point. I have talked to wives who basically say something like: “I’d enjoy sex more if he were better at it.” Ouch!  That’s not the kind of thing you want to tell a guy, but there is some truth there. In marriage, you need to work at understanding your mate’s body and their physical arousal, communicating your desires and needs, and trying to meet their desires and needs, whether or not you even understand them. Of course, there are some things your spouse can declare is a “need” when it really isn’t (like dressing up in a certain way or performing a fringe sexual act), but most unfulfilled spouses are just seeking more attention, more connection, and more pleasure with their mate.

These are just a few of the areas that demand effort or exertion — WORK. Yes, sex is work. But does that mean it won’t be pleasurable. Here’s a little inspiration for working at sex in your marriage:

“Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” – Theodore Roosevelt

“Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.” – Aristotle

“The secret of joy in work is contained in one word – excellence. To know how to do something well is to enjoy it.” – Pearl S. Buck

“The true way to render ourselves happy is to love our work and find in it our pleasure.” – Francoise de Motteville

“So I saw that there is nothing better for a person than to enjoy their work.” Ecclesiastes 3:22

Now get after it!

5 thoughts on “Is Sex Work?

  1. Lauren Goetze

    Thank you so much for having this blog. I just recently got married (June 2012) and it is sometimes hard to find good, CLEAN, sexual advice on the internet. My husband and I waited until marriage and I am so glad we did. We saved ourselves for each other and I am so thankful for that! Thanks again for answering questions that I have had, but have been reluctant to ask because I feel a little inexperienced (which is a good thing!). Keep it coming!

  2. Jenny

    Hm, I wonder about the “being better at it” argument, because all of us (men and women) get better at it with practice. When my guy and I first started out, we were both virgins and we weren’t so great! We enjoyed it, we had fun, it was intimate, we both had orgasms; but our technique wasn’t exactly top-notch, and we didn’t know one another’s bodies completely. He had heard such-and-such from the guys, and they said it worked on every woman – but guess what, that stuff didn’t work for me! My nipples and clitoris are extremely sensitive, and too direct contact was far from arousing – it was more uncomfortable. As for me, I had no idea what the heck I was supposed to do when I was on top, and it took some coaxing from him for me to even try because I felt like I couldn’t measure up to the experienced women in porn videos that he watched when he was in high school. But with practice, exploring one another, and experimenting together, I have to say that we are both darn good at it, and our sex life is amazing! He’s incredible in bed and knows my body completely, he knows just how to touch me; and I’m the same way with him. So the “not being good at it” thing only lasts for awhile – with enough practice that won’t be an issue anymore. And what a fun thing to practice! 😀

    We’ve dealt with health issues in the past as well, and found ways around them so that we could still enjoy our intimate life. Fortunately time isn’t an issue – we don’t have kids, so anywhere and anytime works for us!

  3. Paul Byerly

    There are many things I enjoy that are work. My garden is a lot of hard work, but I enjoy it a great deal.

    I want plenty of good fruit from my marriage, and my sex life, so the work is a joy!

  4. Anonymous

    None of any of this really matters when you have a mate that doesn’t really understand or care……friends (maybe) withOUT benefits. I keep reading to get ideas and some hope, but it is all too depressing.

    1. J

      Comments like these break my heart, and they are not terribly uncommon. My advice to someone who has an unwilling spouse is to take care of yourself by investing in your faith, emotional health, and happiness. Find a counselor, mentor, or close friend to help you sort through your disappointment. Most of the time in a situation like this, there is something going on with your spouse that has little to do with you–perhaps depression, lack of desire, etc. Sometimes, the spouse will come around when you least expect it. Thankfully, I hear from quite a few couples as well who say something like: It all turned around after 5, 10, 20, or even 30 years, and now we’re happier than ever. Praying that comes to you.

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