Category Archives: Current Issues in Sexuality

Q&A with J: “What Can I Do About My Sexless Marriage?” Part 1

So no one actually asked that question exactly as the title communicates. But it’s been asked of me, and several marriage bloggers I know, quite a few times. Too. Many. Times.

Blog post title + woman sitting on bed with head in hands

You might be wondering how prevalent sexless marriages are. Someone asked this question in the comment thread of my last post (Is the Church Failing Sexless Marriages?). Here’s my answer:

It’s really hard to get great statistics with sex. For obvious reasons, it’s all self-report, and people don’t always report accurately. Maybe someday, some tech guru will devise a study where you wear an innocuous gadget that will note when you have sex and then report that. (Although, even then wouldn’t people try to game the system like they do with FitBits?) But the primary estimate I’ve seen is 15% of marriages being sexless, meaning fewer than 10 encounters per year.

As for actual data, here are two snippets:

“Searches for ‘sexless marriage’ are three and a half times more common than ‘unhappy marriage’ and eight times more common than ‘loveless marriage.’ There are 16 times more complaints about a spouse not wanting sex than about a married partner not being willing to talk.” – Searching for Sex, New York Times

In a survey of nearly 16,000 Americans between age 18 and 60, by the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture, 12% reported not having sex in the prior year. How common are sexually “inactive” marriages?, Relationships in America

So yeah, it’s a common issue which needs to be addressed.

And as much as I’d love that title above to say, “5 Foolproof Ways to Bring Your Sexless Marriage to Sizzling!” that’s more cow pattie than I’m willing to step in. Even in my tallest boots.

Thus, I’m going to take some time with this topic, probably a series of three posts about marriages that are sexless or experience highly mismatched drives. If you’re in a drought, you’ll likely want to stay tuned.

But if you’re not in a sexless marriage, you may be tempted to skip the next few Q&A posts. I urge you to keep reading, however. Because you know someone in a sexless marriage. It could be a neighbor, a co-worker, a close friend, a family member, the woman who sits next to you in the pew at church, or the preacher standing at the front. How can our churches minister to them if we as individual Christians don’t understand the problem, show compassion and support, and help them address their struggle?

So let’s begin…

In everything I write, I want to be both biblical and helpful.

When I turn to Scripture, there is a specific answer for confronting someone who sins against you, in Matthew 18:15-17. But is it wise to follow that prescription to the exclusion of others on the topic of marriage? Shouldn’t we have a broader understanding of what God thinks about marriage and problems therein? After all, just one chapter later, Jesus says this:

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Matthew 19:4-6).

So what should you do? Should you start with confronting sin, as persistent, unyielding sexual refusal is? Should you focus on praying for your spouse? Should you just suck it up and “love your spouse more,” as is often suggested?

After thinking about this long and hard (and with a thanks to this comment from E), I believe the starting point must be this: TRUST.

Most spouses do not one day decide to turn into Maleficent or Darth Vader and become your worst enemy, at least in the realm of sexual intimacy. They don’t think to themselves, I don’t care how much it hurts him/her.

Instead, what I’ve most often heard from formerly refusing spouses who turned things around is they were protecting themselves from something that felt worse to them than denying their spouse sex. Meaning their refusal came from a place of fear.

That fear could take all kinds of forms:

  • Fear of not being good enough
  • Fear of awkwardness
  • Fear of being in pain or discomfort
  • Fear that their spouse’s love is only about the physical
  • Fear of being taken advantaged of
  • Fear of being made to do something they don’t like
  • Fear of being compared to previous lovers
  • Fear of being compared to porn

I’m not saying every single instance of sexual refusal is about fear, but I’d venture to say it’s a very high majority. For some reason, the refusing spouse feels unsafe in the marriage bed.

For some reason, the refusing spouse feels unsafe in the marriage bed. Click To Tweet

So is it any surprise that when you bring up the topic of sex, they become defensive right away?

But what if you’re confronted by someone you trust entirely? When you are 100% sure that the person has your interests foremost in your mind, that they genuinely want the best for you, that they are a friend who loves at all times? What if you feel entirely safe with someone?

That’s what Dr. Gary Smalley in his book, The DNA of Relationships, identified as a core principle of a healthy marriage — a safe environment. Too often, we are caught up in a “Fear Dance,” in which we protect ourselves by building a wall or even a battering ram against others.

Truth is, you have your own fears too. I get it. But if you want to make progress in a sexless marriage, you should make every effort to create a safe environment in which your refusing spouse can share and feel validated, loved, and supported.

I’m not saying you support the sin — of course not! But you show understanding and sympathy for the fear underlying their refusal.

(By the way, yes, I also believe you should feel validated, loved, and supported in your marriage. But your spouse isn’t reading this post, so let’s start the change with you.)

Intimacy Revealed ad, click to buy book

Consider that church discipline passage mentioned above, Matthew 18:15-17. Immediately before that section, Jesus tells the Parable of the Lost Sheep, in which the loving shepherd seeks tirelessly for the one lost sheep and rejoices when he finds it. Jesus starts by valuing others and showing that He can be trusted. Likewise, it’s our compassion and trustworthiness that allows us to confront a fellow believer and have a chance of breaking through to reconciliation.

Look at these verses as well:

Wounds from a friend can be trustedbut an enemy multiplies kisses.” (Proverbs 27:5-6).

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)

[Love] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 4:7).

Whatever you do next, the foundation must be trust. Isn’t trust something you had when you married each other? Didn’t you believe that this person loved you and thus wanted good things for you? Didn’t your spouse believe that about you?

But it’s easy to lose trust over time. Or for the falling-in-love feelings to fade and fear in your present or from your past to come creeping back in. And we often don’t even realize what happened. We just feel like we have to fend for ourselves, because no one else is going to do it. Or at least not as well as we can.

Our barriers are intended to preserve our soft places, to cover our crevices of fear.

What I’m asking is easy to understand, but extremely hard to do: Let go of your own fear, your own barriers, and open yourself up to your spouse’s fear. It’s what needs to happen to create or rebuild trust.

For you to make any headway with “I want more sex,” your spouse has to believe that you want more sex not just for you, but for them. They have to see you as a safe person with whom they can share themselves fully, and still be accepted and loved. They have to trust that your perfect love can drive out their fear.

Your spouse has to believe that you want more sex not just for you, but for them. Click To Tweet

Which, no, won’t be perfect, but buoyed by the Holy Spirit, it will be enough.

Next week, I want to talk specifically about how to build that trust — that is, actual steps to demonstrate your trustworthiness and begin to break down the barriers that divide you. Then we’ll get to some specifics on addressing the issue of sexlessness in your marriage.

In the meantime, I want to hear from those of you who went from a sexless or sexually unsatisfying marriage to healthy and holy sexual intimacy. Please send me an email and tell me your story, particularly what actually began the turnaround. Thanks!

Is the Church Failing Sexless Marriages?

After writing what turned out to be a controversial post on faith and sexless marriage, I spent a lot of this weekend thinking about my next Q&A post, which I would like to be about practical steps you can take to address a sexless marriage.

In preparation, I Googled that subject and found various posts on the matter of sexual refusal as a sin (which yes, I believe it is). Many of them were posts written by fellow marriage bloggers I’d already read, but there were some additions.

Here’s what stopped me short, though: In pages and pages of my search, I found almost no posts or articles written by pastors or biblical scholars on sexual refusal in marriage.

How is that possible – I thought – when I know that it’s an ongoing issue for too many in the Church?

Blog post title + two pairs of feet in bed turned away from each other

Most of the posts I did find suggested the prescription of addressing your spouse’s sinfulness according to Matthew 18:15-17. The steps as described are:

  • Speak directly to the person who has sinned against you (your spouse)
  • If they won’t listen, take one or two others along as witnesses (being careful whom you choose)
  • If they still won’t listen, bring the matter to the attention of the church (not really the whole, but church leaders)
  • If they still refuse to listen, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector (remembering that Jesus treated pagans and tax collectors as outsiders but not enemies)

And I agree with all of that. It’s in the Bible! Spoken by Jesus! How could I not?

But here’s where the prescription, sadly, seems to break down in real life: How do I tell those in you in sexless marriages to go to your church for help with this issue, when I know full well that many of you will find precious little support there?

I’ve had spouses write and tell me that the Christian counselor they went to see brushed off the total lack of sex in their marriage, choosing instead to concentrate solely on communication issues or even saying that sex wasn’t that big a deal. I’ve had spouses tell me that they’ve begged their minister to preach or teach about sex in marriage, including the need to address sexual refusal, and they get waved off. I’ve had spouses tell me that they’ve approached church leaders and explained the heartache they’ve experience in their marriage, only to be told to suck it up, pray harder, and love their spouse more.

Poet Robert Frost famously said, “I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.” And that is how I feel about the Church. My community of believers has been an anchor for me in many of life’s storms, and they feel like family in so many ways. I love the Body of Christ.

But I also get frustrated with our shortcomings, especially in the arena of sex in marriage.

I get frustrated with our shortcomings, especially in the arena of sex in marriage. Click To Tweet

These sad, true stories above have been told to me both through my ministry here and personally. Moreover, my Google search on the subject demonstrates how silent the Church as a whole is on this topic. So where are the ministers and church leaders willing to speak boldly for the sake of all kinds of intimacy in marriage, including the physical intimacy God clearly wants spouses to have?

I know they’re out there. But their numbers aren’t large enough yet. We still have work to do in the Church.

Look, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with Jesus’ prescription for dealing with sin. Our Lord knows what He’s talking about! It’s a beautiful process done well and has turned back many hearts to God.

And if your spouse’s sin was adultery, I suspect the vast majority of you would receive compassion and support from those in your local church. But what if your spouse’s sin is the unfaithfulness of refusing you for years and years? What if they have cut off the physical intimacy entirely in your marriage and won’t even talk about it? What if your heart is a gaping wound in your chest that just happens to involve your private parts as well? Will you get the support you should get?

I want to say yes. I soooo want to say yes.

Because I love the Body of Christ.

Yet I’m a realist, and I know that too many churches, too many Christians, have failed in this area. We have left a large segment of emotionally pained spouses with nowhere to go.

We can’t accept that status quo. Something has to change.

So today, I’m just throwing this out there and asking my readers to answer any of the following:

  1. Have you personally experienced a church leader or counselor brushing off your concerns about a sexless marriage? If so, would you calmly share what happened? (Note: I don’t think berating individuals will help and just adds our own sin to the mix.)
  2. Has your church taught or preached on sex in marriage? If so, was sexual refusal included in the message?
  3. Have you helped someone in your church address a sexless marriage? What did you do, and was it (in any way) successful?
  4. If you’re a pastor or church leader, why has it been difficult for you or others to address the issue of sex in marriage head-on?
  5. What do you think needs to happen to make the Church more willing, competent, and compassionate in dealing with sex in marriage?

Where this goes, I don’t know. But it’s past time we talked more positively about healthy and holy sex in marriage and more honestly about all the sexual sins that can entrap us and damage the intimacy of our marriages.

And I want to be a part of the conversation that changes our churches for the better.

Role Play, Movie Sex, and More Questions…Answered

It’s time for another Sex Chat for Christian Wives podcast episode. This one is the first time my schedule allowed me to participate in answering listener questions. Here’s what we tackled this time around:

  • Does anyone really have sex like they do in the movies?
  • Is role play okay in a Christian marriage, even if it involves imagining something that would be wrong to do in real life?
  • How can an older couple maintain sexual intimacy?
  • Is it sexual when my husband says he enjoys looking at other women’s feet?

Interesting stuff, right?

This podcast has become one of my favorite activities, because (1) it gives me another avenue to reach out to wives, (2) I get to talk about one of my favorite subjects with three of my favorite bloggers, (3) I recognize the value of four Christian wives sharing foundational beliefs about sexual intimacy but coming at it from different histories and angles, and (4) we provide an example of how women can speak personally and authentically about sex in marriage with a biblical perspective. We pray that conversations like this become the norm in churches, where wives can find help, encouragement, and hope for their marriage bed.

Okay, all that mushy stuff aside, here’s the latest. Just click on the image, and it will take you to our website page where you can listen to the episode.

For Christian Wives - The podcast team answers listener questions

 

Q&A with J: “Is It Okay to Use Sex Toys?”

Today’s question is brief. Here’s what the reader asks:

Is it okay to use sex toys or would that [go] against God??

You know, when I first started writing about sex, I wasn’t interested in sex toys, but I didn’t really have a strong opinion about them. Early posts on this subject include:

Is It Playtime? Sex Toys

Why I Don’t Use Sex Toys

But the more I’ve researched, heard from people, and studied what the Bible has to say about sex generally, the more I’ve come to believe that what really matters is how and why you’re using the sex toy.

Sex toys as marital aids.

Some sex toys are helpful aids to deal with challenges in the marriage bed. For instance, a man who has difficulty achieving or maintaining a strong erection could benefit from the use of a penis ring. Or a woman whose physiology makes it extremely difficult to orgasm could benefit from adding a clitoral vibrator.

Sex toys used in this way are essentially the same as any other treatment we might advise someone to use, like taking testosterone to address low male sex drive. And frankly I’m grateful there are options available for those who struggle with a physical challenge and need some help. These marriage beds are likely blessed by the inclusion of certain sex toys.

Sex toys as periodic spice.

Others use sex toys as an occasional activity to experience different sensations. This I totally understand as well. It’s perhaps in the realm of changing your location or position to add a little spice now and then, just like I talk about in Hot, Holy, and Humorous: Sex in Marriage by God’s Design.

Such couples are selective about what they use, making sure it adds to their marriage bed rather than taking away. They view it as a treat, like pulling out the flavored lube instead of the regular lube. And both spouses feel pleasure and respect in how the sex toys are used.

Sex toys as a substitute.

Here’s where things shift. God’s ideal for sex in marriage is that we can bring one another to pleasure and peaks — physiological obstacles not withstanding — using our bodies. Although you can make a case of locations and positions being mentioned in the Bible, you can’t find any place that suggests the use of a sex toy to fulfill one another sexually. Fulfillment comes through engaging with one another’s bodies, yet plenty of sex toys mimic body parts.

Not only are there toys that resemble or simulate vaginas and penises, they improve on them. That is, those toys can do things that no vagina or penis can do. Moreover, if you incorporate sex toys regularly into your lovemaking, you might find that you lose some of the pleasure you could and should get with your spouse. Just read this post: Q&A with J: “I’m Desensitized to My Husband’s Touch!”

Are such sex toys a sin? I can’t say that, but they’re unlikely to take you in the direction God wants married couples to go with sexual intimacy. Thus, their use is unwise.

Sex toys as “chasing a high.”

Finally, I’m concerned that too many Christian couples are chasing a high. Because of the varied sensations sex toys can produce, it’s tempting to find anything that gives you new and/or better pleasure. Toy choices can become kinkier and kinkier.

But it isn’t the kink that matters so much as the sheer selfishness of this approach. God created sex to help us become one flesh (see Genesis 2:24). But when it’s just about the physical high you can get, your sexual encounters can become more like parallel play. Perhaps you’re both feeling a lot of pleasure, but it’s not from each other; you’re just in the same space while you use the toys.

We have to really think about how and why we’re using sex toys, to make sure that we’re not just chasing a selfish sexual high. Rather, again, it’s about intimacy.

For more discussion of sex toys and whether they’re good or bad for a marriage, listen to our podcast episode on that very subject by clicking the image below:

Sex Toys - Is it Okay for Christians to Use Them?

A Letter to the Low Drive Husband

I’m not sure how many low-drive husbands read my blog, but I know quite a few high-drive wives read it. Sometimes they comment or email me about the issues in their marriage, and I personally lament how few resources there are for couples in this scenario.

Today it’s on my heart to write not to the high-drive wife (though I have done that and will continue to do so), but to the low-drive husband because that’s also a tough position to be in.

Blog post title + woman's hands writing a letter

Dear Low-Drive Husband,

You live in a frustrating world. All around you, the message is that men want sex constantly, that their appetite for sex — particularly with the woman they love — is nearly unquenchable. It’s a message you grew up with, so much that it seems like masculinity itself is linked with a high sex drive.

And while you’ve got the equipment and it works, you’re just not that needy for sexual encounters with your wife. Sure, you like them. But on any given day, you’re not busting out of your pants zipper at the thought of sex, or even the thought of your sexy wife — as gorgeous as she is. And plenty of nights you long for sleep as much or more than you do sex.

Confessing this to other guys, however, might get your Man Card revoked. So you haven’t gone around asking how it’s going with others or seeking resources for your “issue.”

Even admitting it to your wife is difficult. Especially if your wife is high drive and wants sex more than you expected her to, or than you feel like. In fact, something about how much more she wants sex makes you feel like you don’t measure up.

As someone who has studied and written on married sexuality for almost seven years and hears from higher drives wives almost every week, let me see if I can explain a few things.

You’re all man.

Totally man. Completely, thoroughly M-A-N. A more passive sex drive doesn’t make you any less male. If you’ve got the package and you know how to use it, rest assured you’re good to go. God knows what He made, and he made you XY — man. In fact, this is a big factor in why your wife wants you so much. Because she’s very into you being different from her and how you fit together as male-female so perfectly.

Please don’t listen to the messages that equate masculinity with unbridled sex drive. They aren’t from God. Rather, principles of biblical manhood within marriage are controlling sinful appetites, providing for one’s family, and servant leadership.

Pay attention to these words from King David: “When the time drew near for David to die, he gave a charge to Solomon his son. ‘I am about to go the way of all the earth,’ he said. ‘So be strong, act like a man,…’” His next words were not, “And show off your sexual prowess, thus getting lots of high-fives in the men’s locker room.” Rather, David finished his instructions this way: “and observe what the Lord your God requires: Walk in obedience to him, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and regulations, as written in the Law of Moses.”

Also, consider what the Apostle Paul said: ” As for you, Titus, promote the kind of living that reflects wholesome teaching. Teach the older men to exercise self-control, to be worthy of respect, and to live wisely. They must have sound faith and be filled with love and patience” (Titus 2:1-2,  NLT). These are pictures of biblical manhood.

You’re not alone.

You’re not the only one out there whose sex drive isn’t in high gear 24/7. You’re in the company of 15-30% of other husbands. Let me break that down for you. In terms of the U.S. population, that’s about 22 to 45 million men. If we’re talking world population, it’s 0.57 to 1.13 billion men. So while some may make you feel like a stranger in a strange land, you’re not.

While it seems risky, if not dangerous, to admit to another guy that you have a lagging sex drive, there are resources for you. Some have written about low-drive husbands, and you can also take many married sex articles, books, resources and just reverse things in your mind (if they say the wife is lower drive, but you are in your marriage, then pay more attention to the advice on that side).

That doesn’t always work, which is why I have a chapter in Hot, Holy, and Humorous: Sex in Marriage by God’s Design about higher-drive wives and the men who love them. And I’m also working on a whole book about higher-drive wives, mainly aimed at women but there will still be information for you.

You need to take action.

Dude, your wife is hurting. I hear from higher-drive wives all the time who question their desirability, their marriage relationship, and even their husband’s love, because they feel like the weird one whose husband doesn’t want them sexually. Even more importantly, God intended for you and your wife to have regular sexual intimacy in marriage.

You have a biblical obligation to engage in the marriage bed: “The husband should fulfill his wife’s sexual needs, and the wife should fulfill her husband’s needs” (1 Corinthians 3:5). Now that doesn’t mean that you should schlep to the bedroom with duty, duty, duty playing through your head. The second part of that verse, and so many other places in the Bible, show us sexual intimacy in marriage is for both spouses and should be pleasurable and connection-building.

Rather, this is a call to action. If you’re not currently fulfilling your wife’s sexual needs, you need to work on why and what to do about it. How can you create a situation in which you both desire sexual intimacy? I don’t know what your issues are, but I’ll throw out a few possibilities:

  • Your body chemistry is off
  • You had/have a porn habit
  • You have sexual baggage
  • You were taught that sex = sin
  • You’re not attracted to your wife (see note below)
  • You have self-doubts
  • You’re super-stressed
  • You’re just a passive guy

This is a really long letter now, playing right into the stereotype of the talkative female (which I totally am). So I’m going to hold off on explaining each of those issues and some fixes until next week. But it’s my prayer that you will find something here to take steps in the right direction. You might need to see a doctor, seek help to deal with your porn problem, study more about what the Bible says about sex, etc.

And if your wife shared this blog post with you, maybe it’s time to take a walk together hand-in-hand or sit across the kitchen table and have an honest conversation about sex in your marriage.

Because she wants you — all of you. And I suspect, once you work out a few things, you want her a great deal too.

Note on “not attracted to your wife”: High-drive wives will likely read that as physical appearance, but men tell me it’s almost always things like feeling disrespected or ignored that makes her less appealing to him.  You, dear woman, are beautiful, but relationship issues can tense men to the point that they don’t feel as drawn to their wives. I’ll cover that more next week, but I really didn’t want to leave the wrong impression!