Q&A with J: Can Sex Be Used as Comfort? Yes, But…

I’m back again for another installment of the Summer of Q&A with J. Here’s today’s question sent to me from a husband. He describes a conflict he had with his wife:

I have been giving a lot of thought to a recent disagreement on sexual intimacy. We had been through some tough things over the prior week, and one night I said how much I wanted to make love and feel her in my arms and forget the world for a while. And she got upset with me. Really upset.

At issue was the idea of using sexual intimacy as “comfort.” She was adamant that sex should not be used as “comfort” at all, ever, and felt that my request was inappropriate.

My question is this: Is it ok to consider sexual intimacy as a “comfort” in a marriage? When would it be appropriate? When would it be inappropriate, when would it be “using” rather than “sharing”?

Can Sex Be Used As Comfort? Yes, But...

Let me point this reader and others to a post I wrote on 4 Ways Sex Can Comfort in Crisis or Grief. Specifically, consider these verses from the Bible:

“Then David comforted his wife Bathsheba, and he went to her and made love to her” (2 Samuel 12:24a).

“Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he married Rebekah. So she became his wife, and he loved her; and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death” (Genesis 24:67).

Thus, my answer is an unequivocal yes — sexual intimacy can absolutely be comforting in marriage. I’ve certainly experienced it myself.

HOWEVER, before you all bring out your thick Bibles to thump your spouses, the issue is more than who is right or wrong. I’m rather curious what the wife thinks sex is for — what are her “appropriate” reasons to engage in sex in marriage.

Some wives who don’t engage in sex frequently in marriage don’t feel listened to and valued, so here’s an opportunity to demonstrate you care about her thoughts and feelings. Ask what she thinks about sex: What purpose does it serve in marriage? Why did God include create it the way He did? Why is there an entire book about marriage and sex in the Bible (Song of Songs)?

Now don’t corner the poor girl and drill her like you’re the hard-nosed detective in the last cop show you saw. In The DNA of Relationships, marriage researcher and author Gary Smalley talks about how we draw close and open up to others when we feel “safe.” He defines as a safe environment as “no one has to worry about being shamed or rejected or punished or attacked for stating personal beliefs and feelings.” Then he notes, “In a place like that, heartfelt communication can bloom and grow.” Ask open-ended questions, invite conversation, and affirm your wife. Listen and rephrase what she says to make sure you understand where she’s coming from.

It’s perfectly fine for you to feel sex is comforting; it’s obviously in the Bible. What’s at question here seems to be her view of sex altogether. Who knows what beliefs about sex she’s learned or ingrained over the years? Some of us have loads of sexual baggage or received negative messages about sex.

When a big disagreement breaks out over something seemingly innocuous, that’s a red flag that you have hit a sore spot. Instead of digging in your heels further, as we are all tempted to do when we’re right, it could be a time to tread lightly and make extra effort to create that safe environment.

By the way, you won’t be able to do this on your own. That’s my heartfelt, been-there-tried-that opinion. I cannot achieve this kind of extravagant love in my own strength. Because yeah, when your spouse fires back at you, you’re wounded and the last thing you want to do is to put aside your pain and minister to your spouse.

Still, that’s what we’re called to do. Extra prayer is warranted. James 1:5 says: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” You’ll need wise words, so ask for them. I also like finding verses that remind me of the kind of person I want to be in that circumstance and try to memorize them. For instance, I wish every married person had 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 memorized, so they could recall to mind what agape love really looks like. But if you’re struggling specifically with compassion or patience or gentleness, find those scriptures and arm yourself accordingly.

In summary:

  1. You’re right: Sex can definitely be comfort in marriage.
  2. Being right isn’t the same as being good: Be careful how you approach your spouse when you’re right and they aren’t there yet.
  3. Foster a safe environment: Better conversation and problem-solving will happen when you both feel safe to express your thoughts and emotions, whether they make sense to your spouse or not.
  4. Ask for God’s help: No one has the power to love perfectly at all times — no one but God — so ask for His help as you work through sexual issues in your marriage.

What do you think about sex as comfort? Have you faced similar conflicts in your marriage? What advice would you give?

9 thoughts on “Q&A with J: Can Sex Be Used as Comfort? Yes, But…

  1. SomeoneElsesBigGuy

    Thanks, J, for taking my question 🙂

    I realize now that this “issue” has to be taken in context: “when we feel “safe.””…that seems to be the core of our issues, or at least a better starting point than whether sex is comforting or not.

    There is a lot of known emotional baggage that she is working through right now, and intimacy is a struggle. I do my best to support her, and FWIW, I have no plans on confronting her or pushing this idea. Frankly, “forced” comfort isn’t what I was looking for then or now. My reason for asking was for my own understanding and benefit. Sometimes you just need to hear that you aren’t completely out in the weeds in your desires.

    That said, I know I have my own things to work on to create the safe environment. I have been counseled to be patient and loving (both of which are hard….faith is easier than patience sometimes, even though they are one and the same at times). I am working on myself as best I can, and while her rather aggressive and negative reaction to me on this and other things makes it hard for ME to feel very safe, my calling is to love and server regardless. It is all I can do.

    Sex as comfort I think only works when things are going well and damage from the past or present is repaired (or repairs are well under way)/

    Thanks again!

  2. Lynn

    When my husband is fretting over some worry, I’ll sometimes offer to ‘distract’ him, especially if he can’t sleep. Usually he says no, sometimes yes (and then I feel like a terrific wife!) But I think I can guess what might be going on with the wife in the above scenario. I’m betting she feels used, and I’m betting this is coming from some other part of the marriage. Not casting blame here, but it may be how she feels.

  3. alchemist

    I would think sex as comfort is perfectly legitimate.

    I’ve been strongly tempted to offer comfort in the form of sex to my significant other in the past. Not really to seek comfort in that way, only to offer it.

    From my naïve position, it seems like it would help. When you’re feeling so overwhelmed with emotions, it gives you a concrete channel for expression with someone you love.

  4. IntimacySeeker

    There was a time when I would have likely reacted like the wife did, a time when sex was a frightening, emotionally painful place for me. I think feeling comforted can be part of feeling loved, so when sex is part of feeling loved, comfort fits in naturally. I could do that not, no problem.

    There was a post by another some months ago, suggesting that a husband might be able to say he hadn’t been sleeping well, and sex would help, or he simply needed physical release so “let’s have sex.” Most days, I could be okay with that now too. But at the time, I winced, grimaced and cried. I was horrified to have something frightening, vulnerable and painful for me equated with a sleeping pill or receptacle for semen.

    Thus, I identify with the wife here, and laud SomeoneElsesBigGuy for his patience.

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  6. FarAboveRubies

    I married into a family business. His folks were the thorns in both our lives. My husband had it much worse. Sex was approached every night as a way to sooth and comfort each other in this dilemma. They may have tried to control us during the day, but there was no way we were going to let them spoil our nights. Can sex be used to comfort? A resounding “Yes!” is the answer. Our marriage depended on it during those long, hard days. Now-a-days, life is good both day and night.

  7. Mary

    Our marriage has been excellent these last years. We read our bible and pray together a lot (twice a day) that’s were we find our comfort in life. Ever since our sex life is a comfortable and fun. He’s a lot happier we are very adventurous.

  8. Kay

    I think it was probably in Shaunti Feldhan’s For Women Only when she describes a time when her husband and her had just come home from a very difficult funeral and she was appalled that her husband immediately tried to initiate sex. But the more she learned about what sex means to men, she gradually came to understand it was comfort sex and that actually can be a beautiful thing.

    I finally learned to view sex this way more recently too, as comfort to me. Sex had been a major problem after our second daughter was born because of severe PPD, so as we planned for the postpartum period after our third, I made sex a priority and was surprised how comforting it was for me in the midst of my recurring depression. Comfort sex is different than other sex… It’s very raw, somehow. But it was an amazing way for my husband to communicate, “I see all of you and even in your dark moments, I still choose you. I still want you.” Very comforting when my depression tried to convince me I was worthless and no one wants me. Sex counteracted that lie and was therefore very comforting to me during that time. It wasn’t particularly orgasmic for me by any means, but there was such a deep sense of safety there I had never let myself experience before. Very emotional.

    That said, I’m glad we are back to the fun stuff now. 😉

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