Monthly Archives: June 2017

Praying for Marriage Blog Readers

This week, I’m not asking you so much to pray for your marriage — although you should keep doing that! — but I want to focus instead on praying for other readers.

Blog post title + two sets of hands praying on tops of Bibles

In the comments and emails I receive, I see the wide variety of questions, struggles, and victories couples have in the area of sexual intimacy. If you read through comment threads on marriage blogs, you see some of that as well.

From time to time, I will answer someone with “I’m saying a prayer for your situation.” And then I do it, right then and there.

I used to say, “I’ll pray” or “I’ll be praying,” but I have to admit that I did a very poor job of tracking who I wanted to be praying for. Some people are great at this, but what organizational skills I have don’t really extend to my prayer life. Instead I found that it was better to pray for the couple when I felt emotionally moved in the moment and when their story was fresh on my mind.

Sometimes, couples are dealing with great conflict over sexual intimacy in the marriage, sometimes it’s a blind spot one spouse has regarding sex, sometimes it’s a lack of communication or bad theology, and sometimes — God be praised! — it’s redemption and healing in the marriage bed. All of these circumstances are worth bringing before God and laying them at His feet.

But while much of our prayer is done privately, there is power in a group praying together for the same thing.

“‘Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them‘” (Matthew 18:19-20).

In Jesus’s direct teachings about prayer, 33 of the 37 times he uses the plural “you.” (You know, if the Bible would adopt the Southern “y’all,” we could clear all that up.) It’s also interesting that the Lord’s model prayer, part of the Sermon on the Mount, uses the plural: “Our Father…Give us today our daily bread…Lead us not into temptation…”

I just love those comments when one reader offers to pray for another reader. Because I think we’re tapping into something really amazing when several people pray for someone. Some possible benefits are:

  • The peace and hope a reader feels when they know others are praying for them.
  • The community we all feel when we pray for one another.
  • The power that God unleashes when we come together in His name. (See Acts 4:23-31.)

Marriage bloggers do pray for their readers. But I invite you to pray for them too.

Pray that those seeking marriage help find the blog, book, or other resource they need. Pray that those who read this blog, and others, come with open hearts and minds, truly desiring God’s design for sex in marriage. Pray that those struggling in their marriage will find practical answers, emotional support, spiritual guidance, and personal healing. Pray that sexual temptations will be overcome. Pray that those who have begun the process of improving their sexual intimacy will have the strength and perseverance to continue along that path. Pray that those who find victory will give glory to God and share their testimony with others.

And if while reading through the comments, you are touched by someone’s situation, say a prayer for the couple right then and there. You’re also welcome to reply to that comment (with your name or something anonymous like “A Friend”) and tell that person you’re praying.

Let’s pray for each other — for individuals, for marriages, and for marriage beds.

Source: Lifeway – Sermon: The Priority of Praying Together – Acts 6 by Lloyd Stilley; GotQuestions.org – What is the importance and value of group prayer?

Q&A with J: When Your Groom Is Anxious about Sex

Today’s question comes from a lovely woman on the brink of new marriage. With just weeks until the vows, here’s what she wrote:

hi, im getting married in [a few] weeks, my husband to be has usually been a little reluctant to talk about sex which we always said was good to keep us from going too far before married. we did some sessions of premarital counseling a while ago and our pastor suggested looking at the site the marriage bed shortly before our wedding. I have read quite a bit on their site as well as yours which has helped me be less scared about sex, but now that he has read some things on their site he says he is super weird about the idea of sex. I asked if there was anything in particular that scared him and he said “putting my hands and face where they don’t belong.” I told him that I will never make him do anything he isn’t comfortable with but just the idea of sex is still scaring him. he is a very very logic driven person so has a hard time understanding why anyone would want to do any of the things he read about (even just normal sex). …

I don’t want him to be scared of sex and both of us have a really good understanding that sex is a good thing from God and its not dirty, it just is best within marriage. do you have any suggestions on ways I could make him less scared? I have told him its ok if we don’t have sex right away, we can spend time just becoming comfortable with each other and I will wait until he feels ready. I want to know how to love him best.

Blog post title + midsection of groom looking at his watch

I love that last line: “I want to know how to love him best.” Isn’t that a great way to approach your spouse, no matter how long you’ve been married?

But I wanted to tackle this question because it gets at a few issues that people often don’t consider.

Men also absorb the purity message.

Last year, Sheila Gregoire wrote 10 Things That Scare Me About the “Purity” Culture. One of those ten was “The Purity Culture can make women afraid of sex.” Now Sheila was writing specifically to women, but her point is valid for both genders: Well-intentioned Christians can preach sex as such a huge no-no that they create fear about engaging in the act even when married.

Here are clues that suggest this young man has been exposed to, and absorbed, some purity culture messages:

1. He’s highly uncomfortable talking about sex, but then they decide that’s a good thing so that they won’t go too far.

Except that talking about sex generally and talking about sex specifically are very different. As Christians, we need to be able to comfortably talk about our sexuality, our temptations and challenges, our longings for the future, etc. Silence isn’t always golden. Indeed, teens that have parents and mentors willing to discuss sexuality honestly and in the context of values tend to wait longer to have sex. 

When and how should much should you talk about sex before marriage? Check out this guest post from Eric and Heather Viets of Preengaged.comHow Much Should You Learn about Sex before the Wedding Night? Also, Lauren Hanna also guested here with Let’s Talk About Sex, Shall We?

2. He’s worried about “putting my hands and face where they don’t belong.”

Who said they belong there? I’ll deal with this issue more thoroughly below, but suffice it to say that I wonder if he’s absorbed the sense that godly sex involves a pretty narrow repertoire. It’s a message you get in some Christian circles, but it’s not what God’s Word says.

3. The questioner insists that they don’t believe sex is dirty, just best within marriage. That might be a completely innocent comment, or it could be that this young man is still trying to convince himself.

You know how we do that — tell ourselves something over and over so that we’ll eventually believe it. But if the belief is embedded deep, it can be harder to genuinely feel something is true, even when you know logically it is.

Men are simply not immune to the messages many Christian singles received about sex — that it’s dangerous territory. As being such an off-limits activity or even discussion before marriage, it’s hard to flip the switch after the vows.

What can you do? Here’s my go-to on this one: “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). To me that means that we get what we want when we want what God designed for us to have (see Aligning Your Sexual Desires with God’s Plan). You, as a couple, must learn to delight in God’s design for sex. That can take some time, but it’s worth the study, communication, prayer, and perhaps even counseling you may need.

Sex IS weird.

Let’s just be honest: The act of sex is a strange thing. You get naked, put yourselves in all kinds of positions you wouldn’t get into otherwise, and you match up body parts in unusual ways. I’ve often wondered what God was thinking when He created this act. Wasn’t there an easier alternative?

But if you think we‘re weird, go look at the animal kingdom. I’m fascinated at all the ways reproduction happens among creatures, like the female praying mantis that sometimes eats the head of her mate after copulation or the argonaut octopus that has a detachable penis. You can really get lost in articles about the strange mating rituals out there. I don’t know why God made it that way for some species, but it sure makes me grateful He chose our way of doing things for the creatures made in His image.

It might make your fiancé feel better to just accept that sex IS weird. But just because something is strange doesn’t mean it isn’t also natural and enjoyable. There’s a lot of strange stuff in nature that’s pretty cool. (See Travel & Leisure’s World’s Strangest Natural Wonders.)

So yeah, sex is weird, but give it a fair shot … because it’s also quite wonderful.

Where do your hands and face “belong”?

I grew up on the rural side of Corpus Christi, Texas, where my high school let out for the local livestock show and rodeo because too many students were involved to continue holding class. Those of us not involved still attended to check things out and cheer on friends.

After one livestock show ended, a friend shared how she’d been walking past the hog stalls where two hogs lay head to toe. A romantically involved couple just ahead said something like, “Hey, those pigs look just like us!” (referring to the 69 position). My friend was way creeped out and ranted for a while about oral sex, wondering why anything would do such a thing … right up until a married woman nearby calmly responded, “You’d be surprised what you’d do.” You could have heard a pen drop … or maybe me snicker — one or the other.

Anyway, it’s not unusual for sexual acts to seem really strange as well and even off-putting before you do them. Hey, I remember wondering when I was young why people would touch tongues together and how that could be enjoyable. Turns out, French kissing is quite enjoyable, but I didn’t know until I tried.

Of course not every sexual act is a good idea. So how do you know where your hands and face really belong — from a Christian viewpoint? Here’s the upshot:

  • God clearly wanted penis-in-vagina intercourse to be part of sexual intimacy in marriage. Just think of the number of times something like “he knew her, and she became pregnant” occurs in the Bible.
  • The vast majority of our bodies is hygienically clean enough for hands and mouths. One exception is the anus, but our skin and genitalia are pretty much fair game. It’s a wide, wide playground God gave us to work with.
  • If oral sex is among the concerns, I — and quite a few others — believe it’s specifically referenced in Song of Songs: “In his shade I took great delight and sat down, and his fruit was sweet to my taste” (2:3) and “Let my beloved come into his garden and taste its choice fruits” (4:16). Check out Hot, Holy, and Humorous: Sex in Marriage by God’s Design for more in-depth treatment of oral sex and other sexual activities.

Essentially, your hands and your mouth belong on your spouse’s body where God says it’s okay, where your spouse says it’s okay, and where you want to go. God gave us a lot of freedom in the marriage bed.

God gave us a lot of freedom in the marriage bed. Click To Tweet

How do you deal with your mate’s genuine anxiety in the bedroom?

Actually, I think you’re on the right track. You need to nudge, but not pressure; communicate, but not nag; request, but not demand. The beauty of sex in marriage is that you get a lifetime to figure this whole thing out.

Unfortunately, some people think their first few experiences of sex together represent the destiny of their married sex life. And they don’t.

Just because of how life works, you’ll have seasons when things are better and when things are more challenging. But you also have the opportunity to grow together in intimacy in all areas, including the physical.

However, you need to be intentional in pursuing a good sex life together.

You need to be intentional in pursuing a good sex life together. Click To Tweet

In addition to what you’re already doing, I’d suggest that you read a few books together, which you can probably do now since you’re so close to the wedding. For couples, here are a few recommendations:

While I wrote it for wives, it could also be very beneficial for you two to go through my devotional book, Intimacy Revealed: 52 Devotions to Enhance Sex in Marriage. Each devotion is brief, steeped in a biblical perspective, and includes questions that can help you communicate better and find out where you need to grow.

Take it slow, but don’t stop progressing. And many blessings for your upcoming nuptials!

The First Time I Saw Porn

I originally sat down to write about what all I’ve learned about pornography from research and then how the Bible looks at porn and what it does to marriage. I still want to write that post, but as I thought about the topic, my mind wandered back to the first time I saw porn.

Blog post title + XXX-adults only wordsOne little research tidbit I’ll include here is that the average age a person is exposed to pornography is around 13. And that’s how old I was when I was at a friend’s house and she reported that her older brother kept Playboy magazines in his closet. He wasn’t home, and she offered to show me one.

Curiosity impelled me to say yes.

I’d seen adult magazines in convenience stores behind sealed packages that blocked out the private areas of women sprawled on their covers, and I’d heard stories of the sordid features of porn magazines. I wanted to find out for myself what was going on inside those slick covers.

My friend pulled down one of the magazines, and we flipped through. I couldn’t tell you what all was in there, because only two pieces have stayed with me all these years. I’m going to describe them in as clinical a way as I can. One was a sexual fantasy story about a woman on an airplane who engages in various activities with several passengers. The other was an image of a woman wearing barely-there lingerie (not covering breasts or genitalia), positioned in a way that focused on her private parts.

I can’t conjure up the specifics of either the story or the image. However, I absolutely remember how I felt. And that’s what I want to share.

I admit that I was fascinated. My curiosity was assuaged, and I was amazed that this whole world existed. Who were the people who put out a magazine like this? Who wrote sex fantasy stories? Who posed for nudie photographs to be shared with anyone willing to pay a few bucks to ogle the page?

But mostly, I felt violated. My stomach muscles tensed, and bile rose to the my throat. I felt creepy and wrong and just off-kilter. Something inside me revolted against the idea of treating women and sex this way. It almost felt like a personal attack as well: Was this what men thought women were good for? Was this what they really wanted women to be? Were we just a collection of body parts? I certainly hoped not.

But then I had another moment of curiosity. Not just about what men wanted, but what my own body was doing. Was I only feeling tension and disgust? Or did something else in me, some strange trigger reaction, want to know more about this whole world of sexuality and what it all meant? Yes, I was repulsed, but also intrigued.

A wave of guilt followed. Not only did I think I’d get in trouble if my friend and I were caught looking at a girly magazine, but I felt it was wrong — both what this magazine was doing and my choice to look. I also knew what I’d seen wouldn’t soon disappear from my mind, and I’d be wrestling with these thoughts a while longer.

Yet another part of me just felt sad. I felt sorry for women who allowed themselves to be treated this way, as merely a tool for sexual arousal and fantasy. The photographed woman especially made me wonder about who she really is, and did anyone looking at the picture care? Or was she only valuable for the size of her breasts and her willingness to strike an erotic pose?

Now when I saw this magazine, I knew very little about sex. At that point, I might have held a boy’s hand. But in a way, my lack of sexual education and personal experience allowed me to look at the magazine with fresh eyes. And my personality is to mull and reflect thoroughly about my experiences. Had I reacted with such aversion purely because of my religious background, or was something else going on — some more deeper and instinctive response?

Of course I didn’t answer all those questions at the tender age of 13.

Throughout the years since, I’ve actually grown less concerned about the rules and more concerned about hearts, relationships, and honoring the Lord. And from that place, I’ve lost all that curiosity and fascination I had when I first saw porn. Yet, I’m left with the same disgust and sadness.

Whoever that poor woman was that appeared in the Playboy issue I saw, she was someone’s daughter and deserved better than to be consumed by greedy eyeballs wanting a cheap thrill. Honestly, even I can’t remember anything about her face, and that’s a shame. Wasn’t she a person? And yet how did I treat her? Like the object she was displayed as being.

That is nothing like how God tells us to treat others.

Some husbands (and some wives) say that looking at porn isn’t a big deal — they just like looking at naked women; it has nothing to do with how they feel about their wives; and it doesn’t affect their intimacy in the marriage bed. Some men suggest we ladies have just made up all this brouhaha about porn being bad and we get our panties in a twist over nothing.

Men still looking at porn: Do you know what your choice says about your view of women? Your view of sexuality?  Do you understand why it upsets so many wives? If you think it’s okay to treat women that way, what might your wife conclude about how you view her in the marriage bed?

Yes, you say it’s different, and I believe you to some extent, but your actions don’t send the right message. They’re making your wife feel emotionally unsafe.

Okay, someone out there is saying: “But my wife is different — she understands / watches porn with me.” You might even argue that it’s helping your sex life. But tell me what you’re doing to that person posing for you: Can you imagine Jesus ever treating someone the way you’re treating that porn star, as a collection of arousing body parts?

Do you recall how you felt the first time you saw porn? Because I suspect you had a mix of emotions too. Some of curiosity, fascination, and perhaps even arousal; but also something sinister in the back of your mind, the pit of your stomach, the core of your heart.

Maybe that sinister feeling was a warning, a nudge from our conscience.

Ultimately, porn is sin. Pure and simple. And it’s time to seek something better.

Praying for Sexual Health

One of the obstacles many couples face with sexual intimacy is their health. That can include anything from chronic illness to physiological problems to mood disorders. While sex is good for your health, sound health is also good for your sex life.

Most Christians have a lot of experience praying about health issues. We pray for those in our midst who are facing life-threatening disease, for those dealing with the consequences of an accident, for those having medical tests and wanting optimistic results.

But have you prayed about the health issues that impact your own marriage bed?

Blog post title with close-up of woman with praying hands

I suspect if I polled spouses, a strong majority would say that poor health has at one time or other negatively affected the sexual intimacy in their marriage. But do we recognize those issues readily? Do we bring those before God?

One of the two Greek words most used in the New Testament to mean healing is iaomai, which brings with it the connotation not merely of good health but wholeness. Yes, it refers to physical healing (like when Jesus healed the Centurion’s servant and an official’s son), but it’s also translated as being made whole.

I believe God wants us to operate from a place of wholeness in our marriage beds.

Of course, I don’t mean that every spouse will experience perfect health. Some of us will nevertheless face challenges, because this is a broken world, but we can pray for God to help us deal with our health issues.

Sometimes it means asking for God to put people in our lives—friends, mentors, doctors, therapists—who can give us answers and treatment. Sometimes it means asking Him to guide us to the answers we need to fix what’s amiss (see The Unveiled Wife’s story). Sometimes it means asking for strength and support to cope with physical issues that won’t go away, but can be managed. Sometimes it means asking God for a divine kick in the pants to get ourselves on that diet or exercise program we’ve been meaning to adopt. …

(Sorry, I had to stop to stare at myself in the mirror on that last one.)

Sometimes it means meditating before Him about what wholeness would look like and asking Him to point out where our health issues are. We might have overlooked how stress or depression or physical pain have hampered our sex life, until we look to our Heavenly Parent and ask Him to tell us what’s happening with our marriage bed. Like a doting mother, He may check our temperature and diagnose what’s wrong. If we’ll ask, and then listen.

I don’t know what this looks like for you, but I know that health challenges are a common issue with us marrieds. And I’m wondering if we’re really praying to be made whole. Not just for the sake of feeling better, but so that we can experience better physical intimacy in our marriage.

How have you prayed for health in your marriage? Have you prayed about health issues that affect your marriage bed?

“Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well” (3 John 1:2).

Q&A with J: “How Does Satan Target Women?”

A commenter recently asked:

J writes: “[porn] is everywhere, and Satan knows exactly how to target men. (He’s got other ways of targeting us women too.)” … How does Satan target women? And what do women do regularly that Christians call out frequently as sin?

Blog post title + arrows flying at target, with one bullseye

I could give you a long list of ways I believe Satan tries to sink his crafty claws into the hearts of women. But the focus of what I do on this blog, and the context of this commenter’s question, is in the area of sexuality.

So the question really is: How does Satan target women regarding sexuality?

Get ready, ladies, I’m going to give you to you straight.

Image of Betty Davis with "Fasten your seat belts. It's going to be a bumpy night."

All About Eve (1950) – Bette Davis

I mulled over several options. Are we ladies targets in the area of erotica? Yes, to some extent. Gate-keeping and sexual refusal? Yes, for some women. Immodesty? Yes, we can have that problem. Emotional affairs? Yes, some women are easily drawn in.

But those don’t apply to women largely. They are struggles wives definitely have, but not with so much frequency and generality that I can confidently say, “This is where Satan has our number.”

Rather, as I thought about the wives I’ve heard from who are harming their marriage bed, and as I delved deeper into the Word of God for the biblical answer, here’s where I concluded women on the whole have a big sin problem: We’re naggers. Complainers. Whiners.

Just look at what Proverbs says:

  • “Better to live on the corner of a roof than to share a house with a nagging wife.” (21:9, HCSB).
  • It’s better to live alone in the desert than with a quarrelsome, complaining wife.” (21:19, NLT).
  • It is better to live in a corner of the housetop than in a house shared with a contentious wife” (25:24, NRSV).
  • “A quarrelsome wife is like the dripping of a leaky roof in a rainstorm; restraining her is like restraining the wind or grasping oil with the hand” (27:15-16, NIV).

Truth is, we ladies are wired to notice when things aren’t how we think they should be and then to speak up about it. That’s not a problem in and of itself, but we can put this inclination on overdrive. We can easily become nagging wives. Even, and sometimes especially, in the area of sexuality.

All my life, I’ve heard complaints like:

  • “All men are perverts.”
  • “Men only want one thing.”
  • “He doesn’t care about romance, just sex.”
  • “I can’t even undress in front of him with being ogled.”

Or maybe the tables are turned, and she‘s the one with the higher drive. So the complaints become about him not satisfying her needs, not being like other men, not being manly (what a dig to a guy already struggling with low libido).

Many wives complain when sex isn’t done her way: the timing she wants, the atmosphere she wants, the initiation she wants, the activities she wants, etc. Such that sex itself becomes an area in marriage where he’s walking on eggshells, and you’re judging his performance like the Simon Cowell of sexual intimacy.

Some of you are now saying, “But I’m not a big complainer.” You’ve still likely had your moments. I certainly have.

Even the sex-positive wife in Song of Songs had a short fit of complaining when she was sound asleep and her husband arrived home wanting to make love:

I slept, but my heart was awake.
Listen! my beloved is knocking.
“Open to me, my sister, my love,
my dove, my perfect one;
for my head is wet with dew,
my locks with the drops of the night.”
I had put off my garment;
how could I put it on again?
I had bathed my feet;
how could I soil them? (5:2-3).

I can just hear the whine in her voice as she says, more or less, “Seriously? I just took off my robe, and you want me to put it back on and open the door for you? You want me to get my feet dirty to let you into my bed? I want to sleep, not have sex. Can’t this wait until morning?”

And it’s not just about sex itself. In various areas of our marriage — household, parenting, finances, relationship, religion, you name it — we think we know what’s what and then let our husbands know with disrespectful words, critical tones, and grumbling attitudes.

We become prickly.

And our quills-out approach might be the very thing killing our sexual intimacy. Because, frankly, who wants to make love to a porcupine?

Porcupine saying, "What do you mean I'm not sexy?"

It’s a battle we have to fight, because it includes our physical makeup. Even from young ages, females express emotion more than males, although some of that is certainly social conditioning. However, in research studies, women consistently report experiencing negative emotions, such as fear and anxiety, more than men.

So we’re more emotionally expressive and more anxious. Now add in our biology of the hormonal highs and lows that come with menstruation, pregnancy, and eventually menopause, and you have a recipe for a Big Nag Sandwich.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that we women don’t have legitimate concerns. I absolutely hate when you bring up a reasonable issue to some guy and he asks, “Is this ’cause you’re ‘on the rag’?” You want to reply, “No, it’s because you’re a jerk!” But at same time, let’s fess up and admit that our hormones can increase our intensity.

And just like Satan is happy to use male biology to dangle the temptation of porn underneath men’s noses, he’s more than happy to twist our biology for his ends. If he can take our fear, our anxiety, our expressiveness, and our hormones and fashion that into a quarrelsome, nagging, contentious wife who tears apart her house and marriage bed with her own hands…he’ll do it.

“The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down” (Proverbs 14:1).

By contrast, Proverbs 31 describes the role model wife this way:

Strength and dignity are her clothing,
  and she laughs at the time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom,
  and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue” (31:25-26).

Yeah, that woman is not a complainer.

Today’s question included this: “And what do women do regularly that Christians call out frequently as sin?” I have to admit that we don’t call this out often enough.

It’s certainly in the New Testament as well:

  • “Do everything without grumbling or arguing,  so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’ Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky” (Philippians 2:14-15).
  • “Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! (James 5:9).
  • And do not grumble, as some of them did — and were killed by the destroying angel” (1 Corinthians 10:10).

This clearly makes husband-bashing a problematic pastime. We gals might be surprised when our ladies’ circles get visited by the Destroying Angel.

I’m feeling uber-convicted right now myself, wondering where I’ve fallen short in my marriage. How have I made our sex life more difficult with my nagging attitudes? Have I nagged specifically about sex? Have I become prickly?

And have we ladies been letting each other get away with sin? I really hope there isn’t a chorus of men saying, “Here! Here!” in the comment section (though I promise to publish reasonably worded comments). Rather, I hope we women will own up and hold each other accountable.

What can we do to avoid being the nagging wife who makes her husband want to retreat to the corner of the roof? How can we change so that our husbands are instead drawn to us into our marriage bed?