Q&A with J: Is Modesty an Issue with Sexual Harassment?

I can’t stop reading and listening to all that’s happening with the #MeToo movement. This is a long overdue, watershed moment, and — as someone who is fiercely concerned about justice — I’m glad to see perpetual perpetrators of harassment and assault get a bit of comeuppance. More importantly, as someone deeply concerned about mercy, I’m glad that there is a shift to seriously investigating and believing credible stories from women and men who’ve been harassed and abused.

Yes, I know among the torrent of genuine allegations, there will be opportunists who make false accusations, those who wrongly equate an inappropriate comment with sexual assault, and those who choose sides based on who’s accused rather than the evidence at hand. And that can be discouraging.

While standing up for the oppressed should unite us, unfortunately it sometimes divides us. And makes us ask exactly how to handle these situations. That’s why I was happy to see an excellent question in my inbox related to what’s been going on. Here’s what the reader asks:

When someone works in an industry that is based on sex, sensuality, and beauty is the line more blurred as to what is appropriate? I really don’t want to discredit anyone or shame them as these stories come forward but they seem so detached from the realities that most of us, who do not use our sexuality to further our careers, live in. There are cases where the line seems hard and fast, like sex with minors, but others seems very blurred. I don’t want to say that women should “stay in their place” because that is not what I mean but it does seem that when you REALLY go as far out as some actresses and models do that you are opening yourself up to issues… I do tend toward thinking that its pretty silly to ask others to treat you with respect when your behavior reflects a lack of self-respect. BUT then I also think that the people who exploit these women are a perverts worth exposing…SO, I am sure you see that my thoughts are a bit tangled!

Statue of woman covering herself with a robe + blog post title

I titled this post “Is Modesty an Issue with Sexual Harassment?” but I want us to think beyond the typical how she’s dressed aspect of modesty. Modesty isn’t just what we wear, but rather “behavior, manner, or appearance intended to avoid impropriety or indecency” (Oxford Dictionaries).

So here’s the question: Does lack of modesty open you up to sexual harassment and/or assault? Would demonstrating modesty help us avoid sexual harassment and/or assault? Is talking about modesty in this context “victim blaming”?

Let me first be clear: Under zero circumstances does lack of modesty contribute to rape. It’s rape, people. I don’t care how much she was “asking for it” by how she was dressed or behaved. (Just writing “asking for it” nearly made me throw up — what an abhorrent concept.) I’ve heard many rape stories through the years, and in not one of them was it unclear that the victim did not want to have sex. If I’ve said it once, I’ll say it a gazillion times: Force is never okay with sex. Never. God’s Word plainly presents sexual intimacy as He designed as to be had within marriage and to be mutual. If someone rapes another person? That‘s all on them.

But these #MeToo stories exist on a continuum, and while rape is the far end, the continuum also includes unwanted touches, aggressive advances, and inappropriate comments. When we’re talking about harassment more than assault, is there something we women can do to discourage that behavior?

As unpopular as this might be, I believe the answer is yes. And that it’s a biblical answer.

Consider Proverbs 7, in which the father warns his son about the “adulterous woman.” When he describes that woman, she’s not behaving modestly:

  • She speaks seductively: “the wayward woman with her seductive words.”
  • She dresses wantonly: “Then out came a woman to meet him, dressed like a prostitute and with crafty intent.”
  • She harasses him: “She took hold of him and kissed him.”

In the end, “with persuasive words she led him astray; she seduced him with her smooth talk” (verse 21). Of course, that’s an egregious example (like I said, she thrust herself on him), but it didn’t start with her slamming her lips onto his. It began with her dress, her manner, her seduction. She was conveying a message, and the man in this example received it loud and clear.

Unfortunately, sometimes we women don’t think through or perhaps appreciate what messages we’re sending. And in some circles, “embracing my sexuality” has come to mean displaying your body in public in sexualized ways.

So I understand the confusion of today’s questioner when women are launching complaints against men for treating them like sex objects, but then you go look at what some of these women wore to, say, awards ceremonies and wonder what messages they thought they were sending. (By the way, these aren’t wardrobe choices dictated by a costume designer or movie director; I’m talking about what actresses themselves choose to wear to a work-related event.) Some women also behave provocatively, talk about their sexual desires publicly, and use their sexuality to gain advantages in the workplace.

Is it fair to blatantly use your sexuality for your own gains, but be angry when others view it as a thing to be used as well? Look, it’s not that person’s fault if a harasser doesn’t control their own thoughts or behavior, but at the same time maybe it’s not so surprising that some will abuse that situation.

Let me share a personal story. When I was in my late teens, I went dancing. At the club was a lovely young lady dancing provocatively and wearing a tight, white dress with holes up the sides that exposed her bare skin. Later while I was in the restroom, she was there telling a friend about a stranger moving his hands to her butt while they danced. She exclaimed, “What kind of girl does he think I am?” I recall thinking: You pretty much advertised the kind of girl he thinks you are.

Did her dress and movements give him a right to grope? Of course not! But two truths can exist at once:

  • The sin rests squarely on the shoulders of the sinner. (“God will repay each person according to what they have done,” Romans 2:6.)
  • Our behaviors can encourage respect or disrespect. (“In the same way, the women are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything,” 1 Timothy 3:11. This passage is about deacons, but I think it’s true for all believers.)

Now some men would grope a woman wearing a turtle-neck potato sack. However, some do respond to cues in their environment, becoming more assertive when they believe, rightly or wrongly, that the other person is sending a welcoming message.

And through our modesty or lack thereof, we women contribute to the culture around us. And if we’re conveying that we want to be seen not merely as attractive, feminine beings, but truly as sex objects, then we’ve played some part in being treated that way.

Now this is such a fine line to walk. Even as I write this, I know I’m angering someone out there. I myself could argue with points I’ve made taken out of context. But, looking at this in a big-picture and biblical way, it comes down to this: We are each responsible for ourselves. 

I can’t make someone else behave, but I can behave in a way that (hopefully) shows I will not welcome misbehavior on their part. I can’t make someone else respect me, but I can treat myself with respect. I can’t make someone else not sin, but I can choose not to sin myself.

I can't make someone else respect me, but I can treat myself with respect. Click To Tweet

I’m not blaming any victims in the #MeToo movement. Far from it! What I do want, however, is for us to take an honest look at our culture and ask ourselves if there’s anything at all we can do to encourage less harassment and more respect.

Hey, following God’s design for sexuality, keeping the most sensual parts of ourselves inside our marriages, is a good idea anyway. And it might help.

For those who have been victims (that’s pretty much all women), you should request and expect respect. Even if you wish you’d dressed or behaved differently, it still wasn’t okay what the harasser or assaulter did. You have a right to complain and try to change the culture.

At the same time, going forward we can be fully feminine in our dress and behavior while still behaving with modesty. We should do it not merely to stop someone from thinking the wrong thing (which they might do anyway), but because it demonstrates our own self-respect.

And for those of us out here hearing and watching these stories unfold, let’s support victims. As the questioner said, it can feel tangled when you have a scantily clad actress complaining about some powerful guy coming on to her, but the first doesn’t warrant the latter. We can make a case for the benefits of modesty at the same time that we hold harassers and abusers to account for their unscrupulous and predatory behavior.

For more on the #MeToo movement, be sure to listen to our Sex Chat for Christian Wives podcast episode titled “Sexual Harassment #UsToo.”

Sexual Harassment

10 Movies to Boost Your Holiday Spirit & Get You in the Mood

Now that Thanksgiving is over (in the USA), Christmas season is fully upon us. Perhaps you’re a total Christmas Fangirl, who delves into this season with all the excitement of a toddler in a ball pit. But maybe you’re more like me and struggle to get into the holiday mood.

When you listen to today’s podcast episode for Sex Chat for Christian Wives, you’ll hear about my challenges with this season and my determination to do better this year. One thing I’ve resolved to do, to channel my inner Santa, is engage in holiday activities I truly enjoy. Among those are great Christmas-themed movies.

If they have a romantic bent, all the better … because that reminds me that the holiday season is also a time to enjoy being a couple. ‘Tis also the season to be intimate!

With that in mind, here’s a list of Christmas movies to get yourself in the holiday spirit and in the mood for romance with your spouse! (Quoted descriptions all from IMDb.)

Illustration of movie camera with spotlight on blog post title

10. Christmas in Connecticut (1947). 

“A food writer who has lied about being the perfect housewife must try to cover her deception when her boss and a returning war hero invite themselves to her home for a traditional family Christmas.”

Movie still of couple riding in sleigh during snowfall

Dennis Morgan & Barbara Stanwyck

A domestic diva, I am not. Thus, I’ve always related well to this heroine’s efforts to appear like she’s got it all together for the holiday season, even if the truth doesn’t quite line up. But amid the comedy of this movie is a nice love story. And I admit (as you’ll see below) that I’m partial to the classics.

9. The Family Man (2000).

“A fast-lane investment broker, offered the opportunity to see how the other half lives, wakes up to find that his sports car and girlfriend have become a mini-van and wife.”

Close-up of couple

Tea Leone & Nicholas Cage

Accused of being a knock-off of It’s a Wonderful Life and filled with sap and saccharine, I respond that this film is “guilty as charged.” But that’s also what makes it a gem to watch! This movie hits all the right notes on what we believe about the deep power of love and family.

8. The Shop Around the Corner (1940).

“Two employees at a gift shop can barely stand each other, without realizing that they are falling in love through the post as each other’s anonymous pen pal.”

Heroine standing at the corner reading a book, while next to her hero reads a newspaper (both ignoring each other)

Margaret Sullivan & Jimmy Stewart

If that sounds a lot like the plot of You’ve Got Mail, that’s because it is. Nora Ephron didn’t remake the movie, but she used the same setup. The original story, however, was charmingly done with Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullivan and all takes place in the busy shopping season of the holidays.

7. Miracle on 34th Street (1947).

“When a nice old man who claims to be Santa Claus is institutionalized as insane, a young lawyer decides to defend him by arguing in court that he is the real thing.”

Heroine holding her daughter, with hero looking on

John Payne & Maureen O’Hara (and Natalie Wood)

Not only do we learn to believe in the spirit of Santa Claus, but a single mom finds love in the process. There’s also a remake from 1994 with Elizabeth Perkins and Dylan McDermott, which I thought I’d dislike (because I often dislike remakes) but it’s a rather sweet version as well.

6. White Christmas (1954).

“A successful song-and-dance team become romantically involved with a sister act and team up to save the failing Vermont inn of their former commanding general.”

Two couples dressed in Santa costumes and singing

Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, Vera-Ellen, and Bing Crosby

I’ve always thought the plot of this film was a bit thin, but as an avenue for some fun dialogue, wonderful music and dancing, and a lot of Christmas glitz, it can’t be beat. Four incredibly talented actors/singers make this film a classic that’s still worth watching.

5. The Holiday Inn (1942).

“At an inn which is only open on holidays, a crooner and a hoofer vie for the affections of a beautiful up-and-coming performer.”

Hero playing piano and singing, while heroine sits nearby and sings along

Bing Crosby & Marjorie Reynolds

Speaking of musicals, this one has less glitz but more appeal to me. Bing Crosby is joined by Marjorie Reynolds and Fred Astaire in this delightful film that features many holidays, including Christmas. And this film boasts the first movie placement of Crosby crooning “White Christmas.”

4. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993).

“Jack Skellington, king of Halloween Town, discovers Christmas Town, but his attempts to bring Christmas to his home cause confusion.”

Characters kissing on Pumpkin Hill with large moon behind them

Jack Skellington (“The Pumpkin King”) & Sally

Ah, Jack and Sally, what a beautiful kiss you shared on Pumpkin Hill! If a skeleton and a ragdoll can find love in the crazy world of Halloween Town, then there’s hope for all of us. Yes, I know this is a nontraditional choice, but it really is one of my favorites.

3. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946).

“An angel is sent from Heaven to help a desperately frustrated businessman by showing him what life would have been like if he had never existed.”

Close-up of couple after dance/pool scene

Donna Reed & Jimmy Stewart

I know what some of you are saying: “Why isn’t this film number one on the list?!” Because as much as I love this film, it focuses some on romance but a lot more on family as a whole. It’s a terrific movie, well worth watching again and again, but not quite as good as the next two (in my opinion) for getting in the romantic mood.

2. Sleepless in Seattle (1993).

“A recently widowed man’s son calls a radio talk-show in an attempt to find his father a partner.”

Heroine holding teddy bear and and hero with son facing her, all on top of the Empire State Building roof

Meg Ryan & Tom Hanks

This enchanting film is about finding love in unexpected places. What always strikes me about this movie is that, despite it lasting an hour and 45 minutes, Ryan and Hanks only spend about two minutes together on screen. I like that choice, because the storyline shows how much personal growth these characters must do to be ready for a life together — a lesson worth considering ourselves.

1. While You Were Sleeping (1995).

“A hopeless romantic Chicago Transit Authority token collector is mistaken for the fiancée of a coma patient.”

Couple standing outside in front of Christmas tree

Bill Pullman & Sandra Bullock

Lonely Lucy has no one to spend the holidays with, until her crush on an injured businessman leads her to a family who welcomes her with open arms. However, the kind of man she thinks she wants isn’t who she really needs. (Welcome to how God often works, by the way.)  I appreciate how romance takes the lead, but family is always right there as well.

Perhaps you notice a few of your own favorites missing from my list. Confessions: I’ve never seen Home Alone or Elf, and I disliked A Christmas StoryLove Actually has some great storylines and others that are just, well, ick to me. Meanwhile, I really like Gremlins and Die Hard, but concluded that they’re not the best choices for boosting one’s holiday spirit or getting you in the mood. 

But feel free to come up with your own list. And don’t forget that there are puh-lenty of made-for-TV Christmas movies every year, all in the spirit of holiday cheer and romance, which you can find on Netflix or Hulu or wherever you watch.

Your turn: What did I leave off the list?

5 (More) Christmas Gift Ideas for Your Wife

Last week, I gave y’all five more Christmas gift ideas for the hubbies. This week, let’s talk about what hubbies can get the wives. Again, remembering that my subject matter is usually the marriage bed.

I haven’t done nearly as many posts with ideas for wives, but here’s a previous one for Christmas: What Does Your Wife Want for Christmas? And from Valentine’s posts: here and here. Here are my five more ideas:

1. Making Love Potions.

How about some home recipes for foods and oils that could enhance your sexual intimacy? Making Love Potions has wonderful illustrations, inspiring quotations (including a couple from the Bible, but other sources as well), and instructions for making aromatic drinks for stimulating mood, to sensual massage oils, to natural personal lubricants. If your wife enjoys cooking or being crafty, this could be a great choice for her to use her interests and skills in ways that benefit your marriage bed.

P.S. You men can also make these recipes, of course.

Book cover - illustration of woman with "potion" bottle in hand

2. Aphrodisiac oils and perfumes.

Good Clean Love — and other companies, I’m sure — have a line of aphrodisiac products that includes essential oils, perfumes, and personal lubricant. Our sense of smell is definitely connected to the emotion center in our brain, and it’s this insight that has caused aromatherapy to really take hold in recent years. Some wives detect a difference in how sensual they feel with the use of aromatic products like these. Maybe your wife would enjoy them as well.

3. Comfortable Sleepwear.

I’ve advocated plenty for wearing lingerie and covered the why and how of getting lingerie in my book, Hot, Holy, and Humorous: Sex in Marriage by God’s Design (which is also a great gift). But when asked in my closed Facebook group what intimacy-related gift was my favorite, I answered that my husband once bought me sleepwear that was super-comfortable, but something that he enjoyed viewing me in. A few hubbies followed up with questions about what that means.

Well, some lingerie is so uncomfortable and/or revealing that many wives don’t want to wear it. Indeed, when I look through what counts as “sexy lingerie,” some items look more like contraptions than clothing. So why not get your wife something that feels really feels good and covers her, while still being suggestive or nice to look at. Here are some ideas:

illustration of cami + shorts and chemise nightie

  • Camisole and shorts set
  • Cotton or satin chemise
  • Long, single-straps nightgown (wives: wear without panties)
  • Pajama set in thin or sheer cotton
  • Satin nightshirt

Your best bet for finding such items is a local department store.

4. Behind Closed Doors.

When I’m not writing about Christian sex and marriage, I’m often writing fiction. While I write some other mainstream stories (under a different name), my book, Behind Closed Doors, was a labor of love in which I joined my passion for godly sex with my joy of writing fiction. The genre is basically Christian romance, but specifically covers issues of sexual intimacy in marriage. Each of the five stories deals with a different challenge in gaining or maintaining hot and holy intimacy, but none of the “lessons” are hit-you-over-the-head. They’re just stories, which I think your wife would enjoy.

Book cover - couple close to each other on top half, wedding bed on bottom half

5. Bedroom budget.

I admit this one isn’t necessarily cheap. However, ambiance matters to many women, yet we tend to spend money on other stuff for the house more readily than our bedrooms. What if you just handed her an envelope with money or an IOU inside with the caveat that it must be spent on sprucing up the bedroom so that it’s a place you both want to be?

Let her redecorate with better sheets, nice pillows, soft lighting, and even word art, like I have in my bedroom:

"I have found THE ONE whom my soul loves." Song of Solomon 3:4

Bless her with the opportunity to make the bedroom a place she wants to be … with you, of course.

What other ideas would you add to my list?

Praying When You Don’t Know What to Pray

As I contemplated what to say about prayer this Saturday, as part of my ongoing series about praying for your marriage bed, I felt empty. What else could I possibly cover? But then a passage from Romans came to mind—in that pushy way that scriptures sometimes do, as if the Holy Spirit is whispering, “Listen up, this one’s for you.”

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[i] have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:26-28)

Question mark with blog post title

And that, I suppose, is our prayer when we don’t know what we ought to pray for. It’s that moment of saying that we feel weak when it comes to our sexual intimacy, that our own strength isn’t enough to deal with the problems in our bedroom or to simply foster what we know our marriage should have.

It’s wishing that the Spirit would search our heart and see the good motives yet the heartache or exhaustion we feel surrounding this issue. Or simply seeing the few hangups that remain, even when we have good sexual intimacy in marriage overall.

It’s needing to know that God has it covered — that He’s working for our good. It’s trusting that God can and will care for those who love Him.

Yes, I know this passage is about salvation and living out our faith, about persisting through earthly struggles that threaten our relationship with God and our belief in Christ. I agree with those who say we need to consider the clear intent of any scripture in the Bible and not mistakenly apply something where it was never meant to be applied.

However, I also believe in underlying principles in the Bible — that the character of God, the virtues extolled in Scripture, the calling we have remains constant in every area of lives. Whether you’re in a Bible class, a boardroom, or the bedroom, your faith should be there with you.

So even this passage speaks to who we are in the marriage bed — about our need admit our weakness, to trust God’s goodness, and to just go before Him, wordless and knowing that He understands where we are and will be there with us.

Maybe that’s what you need to do today. Maybe your prayer is simply admitting that you don’t know what to pray for, but you want God involved in your life and in your marriage.

Intimacy Revealed ad, click to buy book

Q&A with J: What Can I Do About My Sexless Marriage? Part 4

For a whole month, I’ve been tackling sexless marriages as the primary Q&A topic, not to mention a couple of other posts:

Q&A with J: “My Sexless Marriage Is Making Me Lose My Faith in God”
Is the Church Failing Sexless Marriages?
Q&A with J: What Can I Do About My Sexless Marriage? Part 1
Q&A with J: How Do I Write a Post that Helps Sexless Marriages?
A Prayer for Those in Sexless Marriages
Q&A with J: What Can I Do About My Sexless Marriage? Part 2
Q&A with J: What Can I Do About My Sexless Marriage? Part 3

Today, as promised, I’m providing some concrete steps of what to do to address the issue of sexlessness in your marriage. But I encourage to look back at the above posts to make sure you’re laying a foundation of trust and avoiding negative communication styles that could undermine your efforts.

Blog post title + couple in bed, turned away from each other

And let’s return to this gem: Love must underlie all your efforts. Without genuine love for your spouse, it’s all for nothing.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-13).

If you do all the right things but your spouse feels manipulated, that won’t help your marriage.

If you do all the right things but your spouse feels manipulated, that won't help your marriage. Click To Tweet

Sure, your spouse might comply out of guilt or the seeming futility of arguing, but that short-term win will damage your relationship over the long-term. Not to mention that God isn’t impressed with a spouse getting more frequent sex merely to satisfy his or her selfishness; that’s just not the picture of sex in marriage our Creator paints. Rather, it’s one of shared, mutually satisfying intimacy.

Some of you are likely saying, “I don’t care how begrudging the sex is right now; I just need some sex.” Oh, how I ache for you! But I stand by the belief that it’s worth pursuing higher, long-term goals so that you and your spouse can have the physical blessings God wants you both to have.

So what can you do? Let’s talk about steps for addressing a sexless marriage.

Set reasonable goals.

According to the popular SMART acronym, goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Your goal, I presume, is specifically to have more sex which is measurable by a certain number of encounters per week or month. But the third and fourth criteria, which overlap, are tricky. Because what’s currently achievable and relevant probably isn’t what you ultimately want. It may be far less than you want.

However, if your wife’s issue is that she endured sexual assault in her past, she isn’t going to suddenly switch her emotions and start jumping your bones the moment you walk through the door. That’s not achievable. Nor is it reasonable to expect a mom of four little ones to clear her calendar for a long night of lovemaking twice a week when she’s exhausted and can barely stand the thought of being touched by any more hands. (Trust me, that’s a thing.) And the husband who stopped having sex because his libido tanked with his high-stress job and decreased testosterone with age won’t simply rediscover his mojo buried somewhere under the bedroom pillow.

So write out your ultimate objective, but then break it down into smaller steps. If you find out that you two can leapfrog a couple of steps, great. But by setting goals that are baby steps forward, achieving each one will show you’re making progress and encourage you both to continue. Here’s an example I put together:

ULTIMATE OBJECTIVE SHORT-TERM GOALS SMALLER STEPS

(covered later in post)

Have mutually pleasurable sex twice a week, in which orgasm occurs at least half the time Reboot our sex life with a sexual encounter in the next three months Start a conversation
Write down what issues my spouse brings up and consider how I can address (not argue) them
Show physical affection without any expectation of or overture for sex
Follow up with a second conversation one week later
Demonstrate through actions that I care about other forms of intimacy as well Plan a date with an activity my spouse enjoys
Line up babysitting, finances, and any other details required to make the date happen
Set aside fifteen minutes to talk with and listen to my spouse each day
Spend time in the Bible and in prayer aligning my desires with God’s plan for sex Identify relevant scriptures and read through one per day
Ask my spouse if they’re willing to pray with me and follow through if yes

You could break this into even smaller steps, but maybe this gives you an idea of how to approach such a task.

Start a conversation.

Notice I said start, not have. Few of us are convinced from a single discussion to change our minds, hearts, attitudes about any subject. So why do we keep thinking we can launch into one conversation with our spouse and achieve a major breakthrough? I’m betting 99.9% of you will need to have multiple talks about the lack of sexual intimacy in your marriage.

I’ve learned a lot about effective conversations from my parenting successes and failures. Those areas in which I’ve influenced my teens the most are ones where I opened up communication lines and slowly, albeit intentionally, got my message across. I didn’t push my opinion, but I did let them know where I stood. Then I asked what they thought, and I listened. When their perspectives seemed skewed, I calmly gave my two cents without expecting them to immediately see things my way. But when I’ve tried to control their conclusion in a single conversation? Yeah, that’s where I’ve fallen on my face. Most people don’t want to be told what to do, much less what to think.

Likewise, take an easy, multiple-conversation approach to your spouse with this sensitive subject. Start the conversation by letting them know that you want to be able to discuss issues freely and supportively in marriage, whether it’s finances or annoying habits or your sex lives. Don’t push much beyond that in your first go-round. Just get across that you intend to do whatever you can to provide a safe atmosphere for the two of you to work together to increase all forms of intimacy in your marriage.

Later you can follow-up with a “Have you thought about what I said?” and/or “Is there anything you wish I understood about your sexuality?” And yeah, listen and don’t expect a ten-second miracle. Miracles do happen, but oftentimes we forget how many steps the Israelites took to reach the Red Sea that God parted for them.

Invest in your friendship.

We’re far more likely to do things for people we like — including listen to their concerns, help them solve issues, and spend time together. But let’s face it: In some marriages, the spouses love each other, but they don’t much like each other. Is it any surprise then when sex doesn’t happen?

If you’ve neglected your emotional and recreational intimacy, it’s time to revive that part of your marriage. Do it because it’s a good and right thing to pursue, but you may well reap the benefit of better communication and progress with your sexual intimacy.

Think about what activities your spouse enjoys and make them happen. Show interest in their hobbies. Listen to their stories. Chuckle at that joke you’ve already heard eighty-seven times. Ask how you can help with their day. Engage in random acts of kindness, just because.

Again, don’t do it out of manipulation. Your spouse likely knows you well enough to sniff out ulterior motives like a hunting dog on a fox. This is when you’ll need to keep your own lines of communication open with the Heavenly Father, to stay on track with keeping a pure heart.

Woo your spouse like you did before.

Remember when you snagged that honey-bun of yours? All you did to capture their attention and adoration? Of course you can’t just pretend to be back on those falling-in-love days. In fact, half of your friends couldn’t stand how mushy you were back then, and it’s good that you’ve settled down into a more mature relationship with bills to pay, a home to maintain, and family to care for.

However, some of the ways in which we wooed each other could have hung around and benefited our marriage. I can’t say exactly what those things are because they vary from relationship to relationship. In my own marriage, we let dating fall by the wayside for too long after the kids came, and until a few years ago, we didn’t foster kissing nearly enough. Re-introducing such romantic connections helped us feel more connected and opened up more opportunities for sexual intimacy as well.

Ask yourself this question: What do I do regularly that makes my spouse feel special?

Not what do I do for my spouse, but what do I do that makes my particular spouse feel special. Some of you could write a page-long list of all the things you do for your spouse, but they don’t really speak love to your spouse. Figure out what actions make your spouse feel special and loved and then do them, regularly.

Set proper boundaries.

So far, you might be feeling like everything’s geared toward your spouse getting what they want and none toward you getting what you want. Well, here’s a rubber-meets-road statement: Your needs and desires matter just as much as theirs. Not more, mind you, but not less.

Some of you pursuing the steps I’ve laid out so far will get push-back that is simply unacceptable. It’s not okay for your spouse to call you a pervert because you want to have regular sex in your marriage. It’s not okay for your spouse to keep blaming you for past hurts you’ve apologized for and done everything to rectify. It’s not okay for your spouse to compare you to someone else who mistreated them. It’s not okay for your spouse to accuse you of egregious sins you haven’t committed. It’s not okay for your spouse to call you bad names.

Setting boundaries is the process by which you encourage the extinction of bad behavior. People tend to continue with bad behavior when it allows them to get what they want. Take away the payoff, and they’re less likely to repeat the behavior. However, where people get caught up in applying boundaries well is one of two areas:

  1. You stop before the process has sufficient time to work. It takes time for the other person to recognize that things won’t return to their former state. Most people are likely to push even harder before finally accepting that a new normal has been set and adjusting themselves accordingly.
  2. You start behaving badly yourself. Instead of setting a boundary, you launch a counterattack. Your message gets lost with the other person feeling like they have to defend or argue back. When using boundaries, you constantly need to check your emotions and remain calm.

What does a boundary look like? If your spouse calls you a pervert, it’s not: “I don’t have to put with that! I’m a completely normal husband who just wants to have sex with his wife.” Instead, it’s something like: “It hurts that you would call me a pervert when I just want to be intimate with my wife. I want to hear why you feel that way, but I reject that label.” And if your spouse continues on that trajectory, you end the conversation, calmly but firmly. “I really want to know why you feel like this so we can address it, but I just can’t stand here and let you call me names. We’ll have to talk later.” And then, you walk away.

But ack!I that means no progress happened, right? No, it doesn’t. It means you’ll need to take more time to establish communication guidelines to foster better conversations in the future. Remember — long-term view.

Offer to pursue outside help.

Let’s say your spouse is refusing because:

  1. They have an issue they own (e.g., prior molestation, health problems, a porn addiction) that makes it difficult to have sex; or
  2. Not feeling any real libido themselves, they see no point in pursuing sex in your marriage.

These scenarios cover the vast majority of sexless marriages. And both of them could benefit from outside help.

In the first case, you offer to move heaven and earth to help your spouse heal, emotionally and/or physically. You encourage your spouse not to give up on getting answers. You research the issue with them, making sure your sources are solid and biblical. You suggest a new doctor, a new treatment, a new support group, a new marriage counselor. You watch the kids while she goes to the support group. You have a garage sale to pay for his subscription to porn-blocking software. You make it clear that whatever outside help you (both) need, you’re all in. And you will not give up until you both experience the blessing of physical intimacy God intends for your marriage.

The second case is obviously harder. Because most such spouses just don’t understand how hurtful and isolating their refusal is. They don’t feel this need to have sex, and they can’t fathom why it’s such a big deal to you. It would be like someone trying to sell this South Texan a pair of snow tires. Why would I need that? Why would anybody need that?

You should still offer to get help — to speak with a counselor, a pastor, a mentor couple in your church. Tell your spouse you know this is an area of contention, but you’re willing to sit down with an external mediator and hear what they have to say. But here’s where you have to do your homework: Find out who will be sex and marriage positive. Don’t pick the first Christian counselor in the phone book, but ask around and see who’s got a good reputation for giving both spouses a fair shot in the counseling room. You don’t need someone just taking your side or just taking your spouse’s side, but rather someone who will listen to both of you and address the underlying issues so that you can find unity. Say to your pastor, “What do you think is going on with the sex lives of married people in our congregation?” and see how he responds. You can learn a lot that way.

Don’t try to stack the odds in your favor by speaking specifically about your situation and making sure that person’s on your side. Your spouse will likely learn about that and feel manipulated. (Because they were manipulated.)

Also, if your spouse thinks you need a help in some area, be willing to go get it for yourself. Indeed, some of you would benefit from saying to your spouse, “I want us to get marriage counseling, but if you don’t want to go, I’m going on my own. I need someone to talk to.” That alone will motivate some spouses to show up, if only to spout their side of the story. But if they don’t, you’ll still have someone to speak with who can help you get perspective and take active steps to help your marriage.

Call it quits?

That’s a question mark there, because it’s not what I advise, but something I get asked about often: Is it okay to leave my spouse if he/she refuses to have sex with me?

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After a lot of thought on this one, I believe divorce likely is permitted when sexual refusal is deep-seated, persistent, and aggressive. But in such cases, they’re are usually many other problems in the marriage that make calling it quits an option.

But just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should do something. There could be good reasons to stay.

I’ve heard from several spouses who’ve said that as soon as the children are grown, they’re done with their spouse. Do you really think divorce won’t affect your adult children? My parents divorced when I was in my mid-twenties, and it still hurt. Moreover, the consequences of having two separate families where there had once been one continues. Look, my parents had good reasons to call it quits, but I just want you to understand that divorce isn’t an easy walk-away for anyone. Sometimes divorce is the best choice, the only choice, but sometimes we think it is when it isn’t. As difficult as it would be for you, it might be worth staying for the sake of your family and community as a whole.

Here’s another reason to stay: I’ve got several testimonies in my inbox from couples who rediscovered their sex life in later years and are so glad they didn’t throw in the towel. Sometimes a refusing spouse finally realizes the damage they’ve done and decides to turn things around. Or a libido awakens when the demands of parenting or a high-stress job fall away. You just don’t know how this is going to go, and shouldn’t you give everything of yourself to your marriage before walking away?

Stop being a jerk.

I added this last one, because I do hear from spouses (male and female) who are so harsh in the way they talk about their spouses that my initial reaction is, “Good gravy, who wants to sleep with that?” Frankly put, some of you aren’t getting laid because you’re acting like a jerk. So stop it.

Stop insulting your spouse publicly and privately. Stop looking only for people to agree that you’re getting a bum deal and be willing to seek real answers. Stop grousing about the unfairness of life, and deal with the hand you’ve been given. (Someone else who’s getting more sex has a different crappiness in their life. Trust me.) Stop being an unhappy person your spouse doesn’t want to be around. For more on this point, you might want to read Kevin A. Thompson’s excellent post, I Wouldn’t Sleep with You Either.

And this is now the longest post I’ve ever written. If you stayed with me this long, I pray you found something helpful. Believe me, I’m pulling for you.

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