Tag Archives: sex in marriage

A Great Sex Life Requires Effort

I’ve been reading up lately on sex research, so you’ll probably see more of that on my blog. I’m in favor of well-conducted research about sexuality, because good science will confirm God’s design. He’s the one who created this universe, so if something’s true it should show up in the facts, even though faith is an important component of putting it all into practice.

One caveat: Not all scientific research is well-done. Sometimes researchers go in with a set of expectations and use a confirmation bias with the results. That said, we can learn a lot from well-performed studies. And today, I want to highlight one that goes right along with biblical principles.

Blog post title + couple helping each other up a mountain

As reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers at the University of Toronto set up a study to uncover the secret to a happy sex life in long-term relationships. Of course we all want that secret, right?

They wanted to see if it made a difference whether couples viewed satisfaction as the result of “sexual destiny” or “sexual growth.” One researcher defined these terms as follows:

“People who believe in sexual destiny are using their sex life as a barometer for how well their relationship is doing, and they believe problems in the bedroom equal problems in the relationship as a whole.”

“Whereas people who believe in sexual growth not only believe they can work on their sexual problems, but they are not letting it affect their relationship satisfaction.”

I bet you can already guess which one I think is going to win this tortoise-hare race. And you probably won’t be surprised by the results either.

Basically, the sexual satisfaction for both sexual destiny and sexual growth couples is high in the first two to three years, with no real difference. It’s that honeymoon phase we all talk about, when you can’t imagine wanting to do anything more than hang out in your beloved’s arms and stare into his soulful eyes.

And then you day, you wake up and realize that your spouse is a truly flawed and rather irritating human being. And you just signed up to have this person as your roommate for life.

Okay, I exaggerate. But the shine does tend to wear off a bit for most. It’s just what happens as our lives get complicated. Seasons bring new challenges, our bodies change, our expectations alter, old baggage comes for visit and wants to stay, busyness takes hold, and much more.

So now what? Is your sex life likely to taper off, or even take a nose dive?

Apparently, it depends.

Based on the 1900 participants in the study, researchers concluded that those who had a sexual destiny perspective showed less satisfaction and ability to work through problems in their relationship. Those who expected sexual intimacy to require ongoing growth fared much better.

This all makes sense because if you think something will be easy and then it’s not, you’re far more likely to think it wasn’t meant to be. Whereas believing that something will require effort means that you aren’t caught by surprise when challenges arise; rather, you were primed to expect them and be willing to work through them.

Sexual destiny believers sound like those who promote the idea of sexual compatibility. Many claim you need to sleep with someone before deciding to get married because it would be terrible if you discovered post-nuptials that you’re sexually incompatible. But we’re not static people all through life, not even in the bedroom. Rather, what singles should do is (1) adopt a sexual growth philosophy, and (2) marry someone else with a sexual growth philosophy. Then you’re both willing to put forth whatever effort you need to have satisfying sexual intimacy for the long haul.

And if you’re already married? It’s not too late! These researchers influenced participants’ beliefs by sharing information that either supported the sexual destiny or sexual growth perspective and then studied the results. Since we now know that sexual growth is the way to go, you can adopt self-talk that promotes that view.

You now know that if sex isn’t easy or satisfying or exciting right now, it doesn’t have to be that way a year from now, a month from now, or maybe even tomorrow. It certainly doesn’t mean your relationship is doomed. You and your spouse can grow!

Take to heart just this sampling of messages from the Bible about the rewards of exerting effort in the right direction:

“From the fruit of their lips people are filled with good things, and the work of their hands brings them reward” (Proverbs 12:14).

“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).

“I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:23-24).

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).

If things aren’t peachy keen at the moment, don’t give up! Don’t accept the status quo. And don’t doubt the love you have for each other. Rather, convince yourself and communicate with your spouse about the effort you need to exert to achieve a happy sex life, one that satisfies both of you and honors your Heavenly Father.

Choose sexual growth.

Source: Science Daily — Study reveals secret to a happy sex life

Cultivating Romance and Awesome Sex in Marriage

I’m back from France! It was a lovely trip, although I missed my husband terribly (twelve days away from each other) and I returned with a nasty cold. Looking at my draft posts for what to put up today, I realized I’d never properly shared a couple of interviews I got to do with the Awesome Marriage podcast.

Dr. Kim Kimberling, host of Awesome Marriage, is a professional Christian counselor with oodles of experience helping relationships thrive, not to mention his own happy 40-year marriage! He interviewed me for one podcast, and his producer, Christina Dodson, interviewed me for a second podcast — a bit of girl talk, so we could go a little deeper into the subject.

I really enjoyed both of these conversations, and the content is well-worth your time. Here’s a clip from one of episodes:

Now I encourage you to tune into one or both of these podcasts. Just click on the image below to go to their web page where you can listen. Or find the episode on iTunes or other podcast providers.

CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO FIND THE EPISODE

CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO FIND THE EPISODE

And remember that the best place to go for what I have to say about sex in marriage by God’s design is my book, Hot, Holy & Humorous. Check it out here!

Setting the Right Priorities in Your Marriage (and Your Life)

Pencil marking off list items + blog title

If you follow my blog regularly, you might have wondered if I’d fallen off the face of the earth. After all, the last time I put up a post was over two weeks ago.

You really don’t want to hear the whole story, but suffice it to say that I had three massive projects that all ended up with deadlines in those two weeks. And in the middle of that, I hosted my lovely friend and fellow podcaster, Bonny Burns of OysterBed7, and we attended the Authentic Intimacy Conference in San Antonio (with Dr. Juli Slattery).

J. Parker and Bonny Burns at the Authentic Intimacy Conference

One of those projects caught me by surprise, and a second one ended up being far more work than I’d anticipated, so I hadn’t planned well for this disruptions to my schedule. Sounds like life, eh?

But whether you’re in the midst of an overwhelming workload or a season of struggle or others needing your ever-so-precious time, you have to make choices. How do you set the right priorities?

When I ended up with a few minutes to spare, I didn’t blog here. I could have, but instead I offered to snuggle up with my husband on the couch and watch a show or go out to eat dinner with the family. I called back the friend who’d been unable to get a hold of me and asked how things were going with her. I chatted with my sister and my son on the phone. I went to church, worshiped with fellow believers, and attended Bible class. I headed to the grocery store, did laundry, made a cup of tea for myself and my hubby.

Each and every day, we’re faced with choices on how to use our time, our resources, our effort. People talk a lot about proper priorities, but how many of us are really living according to the ones we think we should have?

Each and every day, we're faced with choices on how to use our time, our resources, our effort. Click To Tweet

Most of the time, this blog is a high priority for me. I am passionate about passion, I care about your marriages, and I believe God has tasked me to do this ministry.

But these past two weeks, what I seemed to be hearing from Him instead was to not worry so much about the blog and attend to my marriage and my daily life. It’s not that Hot, Holy & Humorous doesn’t matter — I certainly believe it does! — but J. Parker herself isn’t necessary for anyone’s salvation or marital health. That’s God’s job, and I’m just here trying to do my part.

Where I am necessary is as a wife to my husband, a mother to my sons, a member of my church, and a friend to those with whom I’m close.

What about you? Have you really thought about how someone else could teach that Bible class or take a meal to another family? How if you didn’t redecorate the living room, life would be okay? How you could skip out on a social event or even a business meeting, and people would cope?

But if you skip out on your marriage, won’t there be real consequences? If you don’t prioritize your relationship with God, how will you suffer? If you aren’t there for your family, what will be missing in their lives (and yours)?

Likewise, I come here all the time saying that you can’t skip out on the sexual intimacy in your marriage and expect to have a good marriage. Sex isn’t the icing on the cake; it’s an important ingredient in the cake. But have you made it a priority?

You might suspect that within those two weeks, despite all the busyness, my husband and I did not deprive each other (see 1 Corinthians 7:3-5). Because I believe in the importance of sex to our marriage, and I’ve seen that this special intimacy brings us closer in other ways.

I will return on Thursday, hopefully right back on schedule from here on out. But while I missed you all, I don’t regret choosing the priorities I chose. Because honestly, what kind of marriage blogger would I be anyway if I neglected my own marriage and family to write another post that you can live two weeks without?

Q&A with J: “What Should We Call Persistent Porn Use?”

Usually on Thursdays, I answer a reader’s question. Today, I want y’all to answer my question. Here it is:

What should we call ongoing and persistent porn use? If you read various marriage blogs, you might have seen some recent discussion about porn “habit” vs. “addiction.” (You can see my post here.) Some say it’s a habit and calling it an addiction makes it harder to fight because that connotes that it’s outside their control. For others, it feels well beyond habit and calling it an addiction prods them to getting the help they need to overcome. 

While I understand that “addiction” isn’t quite the right word, “habit” doesn’t seem enough. At this point, I’m thinking maybe we need a better label. What alternative words could we use to refer to a porn addiction/habit?

Title with text over black hole graphic background

I’ve honestly believed this argument over semantics isn’t nearly as important as just fighting off this evil. But after reading various comments on the subject, I’ve decided it matters to some to use the right words.

Calling it a habit gives some porn users the empowerment they need to gain victory, because then they feel like it’s a behavior they control. For others who have tried to quit, repeatedly and unsuccessfully, labeling it an addiction encourages them to seek the outside help they need to break free.

Honestly, I don’t want to cause problems for either group. I’d hate to think that my word choice inadvertently hindered anyone’s ultimate victory over this terrible temptation.

But what is persistent use of pornography?

Is porn use an addiction?

Substance addictions and persistent porn use have these similarities:

  • Someone else often offers you the first “hit”
  • You try it out of curiosity or intrigue
  • Your body delivers a natural chemical reward
  • You might seek out stronger forms of the substance to receive the same or a more intense effect
  • You experience a mix of good feelings and bad consequences
  • If you try to quit, you may experience resistance or a sense of loss

Chris Taylor of The Forgiven Wife wrote an excellent post on Is Porn Use an Addiction (and Does It Even Matter)? In that article, she also points out:

For a person who is trying to medicate emotional pain, the “high” they feel after using a substance is a respite from their pain. When the effects go away, they often feel worse emotionally—but they don’t know how else to address the pain, so they continue using, again and again.

I also believe many porn producers are like drug dealers, in the way they entice users, offer increasingly intense experiences, and ignore the damage they do users and those around them.

However, recent research studies have shown that persistent porn use doesn’t behave physiologically like an addiction. For instance, in one much-touted study, “subjects who reported experiencing problems as a result of their pornography use did not display characteristically addictive brain activity when viewing sexual images” (The Daily Beast: “Your Porn Addiction Isn’t Real”; Journal of Biological Psychology: “Modulation of late positive potentials by sexual images in problem users and controls inconsistent with ‘porn addiction'”). Rather, some experts propose it’s more analogous to a compulsion (see American Psychological Association: “Is Pornography Addictive?”).

Moreover, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) — the manual used by psychiatrists, psychologists, and counselors to diagnose and treat clients — does not recognize a hypersexual disorder or porn addiction. The experts determined there was insufficient evidence to support these labels and the treatments that would follow.

Is porn use a habit?

Habits and persistent porn use share these similarities:

  • You form them through a system of cue/trigger, routine, and reward (see ABC News: “Science of habits: Understanding why we do what we do”)
  • You reinforce the habit through repetition
  • In anticipating the reward, you create a craving to engage in the routine
  • You link the habit to other environmental triggers (e.g., a certain room in your house or time of the day)
  • Even when the habit is clearly hurting you (or people you love), it’s an entrenched routine you tend to fall back on

According to researcher Dr. Wendy Wood, as you repeat behaviors in the same context, thus forming a habit, your brain shifts from processing in the decision-making center to a sensory motor loop that no longer retains information on the goal or outcome. The result, according to Wood, is “our minds don’t always integrate in the best way possible. Even when you know the right answer, you can’t make yourself change the habitual behavior” (Science Daily: “How we form habits, change existing ones”).

For example, in one interesting study on habits, 98 people watched movie trailers and were given popcorn to munch on, some of it fresh and some of it one week old. Those used to eating popcorn at movies ate the same amount of stale popcorn as fresh, because — even though stale popcorn is yuck — they had an entrenched habit triggered by the environment (LA Times: “People eat out of habit, a study finds, even when food is stale”). That sounds like the persistent porn user who — regardless of how yuck the porn is — feels compelled to watch, because it’s a triggered routine.

The habit argument is laid out well in “Does Your Spouse Have a Porn Addiction or Just a Bad Habit? The Difference Matters!” on Sheila Gregoire’s To Love Honor and Vacuum blog.

Yet, habits run the gamut in whether they’re good, neutral, or bad. Thus, when some hear the word “habit,” they’re more likely to think about how their kid puts his dirty shoes on the couch or their husband leaves the Worcestershire sauce on the wrong refrigerator shelf than someone taking up smoking or losing himself in hours and hours of porn. And calling it merely a habit sounds to some like you’re putting what is adultery of the heart (Matthew 5:28) on the same level as consuming more coffee than you know you should.

Moreover, the suggested way to kick a habit is to change the trigger. But what if the craving is the trigger? Or what if the trigger is something you can’t control, like having a computer (that you need for work, home tasks, etc.) or being sexually refused by your spouse? (This is not blaming the spouse for porn use! That spouse is not responsible, but that action could be something the porn user has in his habit loop.)

Is porn use something else?

I asked on my Facebook page for alternative words, and here are some of the answers:

  • struggle
  • affair
  • sin
  • betrayal
  • self-control problem
  • virtual adultery
  • compulsion
  • bondage
  • trap
  • spiritual stronghold

Let me clarify one more thing. I’m not a licensed counselor, but I went through a graduate program that prepared me to become a counselor, including making diagnoses. I do not contend that porn use can be classified for medical treatment or insurance reimbursement as an addiction, because that is a specific definition in that context.

However, if someone writes me a question or a comment that refers to the person or spouse being “addicted to porn,” I’m not going to argue with them. When your co-worker says, “I’m addicted to coffee,” or your best friend says, “I’m addicted to superhero movies,” or Robert Palmer says, “You might as well face it, you’re addicted to love,” we understand that they’re using “addicted” colloquially. I hope to use more precise language from now on, but quibbling over their terminology still seems far less important to me than providing insight, encouragement, answers, and hope.

Now I hope you’ll chime in! What alternative words could we use to refer to a porn addiction/habit?

Q&A with J: How Do I Express What I Want in Bed?

Last week, we talked some about difficulty reaching orgasm, and we’re back at it again today. But it’s a different issue with this wife, who needs some specific tips. Read on:

Do you have any tips for communicating with your husband during intercourse? Hubby and I have been married less than two years, and with most of that entailing some pretty serious physical issues, let’s just say orgasms for me have been hard to come by. We’re finally getting back on track, but still struggling with getting me “across the finish line.” I know we’re supposed to give our husbands in-the-moment feedback, but I literally can’t even figure out how to use words to describe what I want! And what words I can come up with, just the act of thinking and then speaking completely derails any momentum we had going, so end up either frustrated or bored trying to figure out how quickly I can wrap things up! I have tried guiding hubby’s hands but that ends up being more awkward and cumbersome than trying to speak! We talk outside of the bedroom, and I still have a hard time conveying specifically what I might want. And when I tell DH to try changing things up or experimenting a little, he seems to just go back to exactly what he’s used to doing! i love my husband dearly, but it’s like if I don’t give him point by point (by point by point by point) instructions he will always default to the same non-effective thing. Is it really completely my job to completely figure out and explain everything? (If you say yes I’ll believe you J 🙂 any tips for us?

Fessing up, I think communicating verbally during sex is one of the most awkward things I’ve done. Have you ever watched a lovemaking scene on-screen where someone said, “Hold on, I need you to move your hand a little to the left. Okay, there. Softer”? No. No, you have not. What do the scripts say? “I love you,” “You’re beautiful,” “You’re my soul mate,” etc.

And that’s all great. But sometimes you’re right in the throes of passion and intensity is building, and you know — just know — that if he could touch you differently, just a bit, you’d plunge into the orgasm pool with a great big aaaaah. So how do you help him know what brings you the greatest pleasure?

Let’s start with the last question this reader asked: Is it really completely my job to completely figure out and explain everything? No, it’s not. Ideally, you figure out together what works best for you. For instance, even though I’ve encouraged women to explore their own sexual organs to see what feels good so they can then translate that knowledge into the marriage bed, your hand and his hand feel different. So you still have some discovery to do together.

This is actually pretty cool, the way God designed sex. Rather than viewing it as an obstacle, it’s an opportunity take a guided tour of your spouse’s body and explore this amazing territory. What happens when I touch you like this? Do you like it when I kiss you here? How about here? What are your most sensitive places? How can I stir your sensuality and satisfy your senses? What can I do to take you over the edge?

So how do you do experiment and find out what works? Because that’s the first step. You can’t tell somehow what you like if you’ve had no experience with what you like. And it sounds like you two are doing this in the midst of making love. Maybe you need to step back, put intercourse on the back burner for a bit, and actually have a session of exploration, experimentation, and experience.

When you’re not focused on having intercourse or reaching an orgasm, you can slow down, take your time, and see what feels good. If you can swing it, it might be worth you stripping down but him leaving on his clothes, so that the focus is totally on you and your pleasure. Do this once, twice, or a few times, and it might be rather eye-opening for you both.

But even when you’re in the middle of exploration or foreplay, how do you know what you want? Do you really want more pressure or less? To be touched higher or lower? To have him go slower or faster? This is a mindfulness exercise for us women. We have to be very focused on what’s happening with our bodies. We have to mentally concentrate on the sensations we’re feeling and then think, What might feel even better?

It’s often very intentional at first. You purposefully set out to think about what you’re feeling, what might feel good, ask for that, then adjust — moment by moment, touch by touch. But it’s like learning anything else: after a while, you get better and know more quickly and intuitively what you like. Also, most husbands begin to read their wives better, recognizing certain kinds of tension in her body or sounds she’s making indicate greater pleasure.

But what words do you use? It depends somewhat on your own communication style. But, like you, I’ve found that forming words during lovemaking can be difficult at times. So I think a limited vocabulary can help in getting what you want. Keep it to single words and short phrases you can quickly get out and he can quickly respond to. Like softer, harder, faster, slower, up, down, deeper, etc.

Mind you, you might have to use opposite words in a row. Like if you say harder and he gets too rough, you’ll need to say softer to get him to back off little. By the way, hubbies, this is not a critique of your sexual performance. We’re actually more impressed with your lovemaking when you’re willing to listen to our suggestions and help us figure out how we can experience the most pleasure. Good lovers listen and learn.

Good lovers listen and learn. Click To Tweet

What about your momentum? Yeah, it’s interrupted. Once again … at first. When you start talking during lovemaking, it feels awkward and can disrupt your flow. But trust the process. Just because you’re playing scales now doesn’t mean you won’t be mastering Bach tomorrow. In fact, you have to play the scales first.

So let it be awkward. Even be playful about it. Faster, slower, there — yeah, baby [insert giggle here]. Feeling free enough to be a little off-kilter in the moment with your spouse increases intimacy. Because you’re sharing in this discovery, these private moments, and your eventual success.

One final thought: It’s okay to add yourself to this mix. I have encouraged wives to simply move his hand where you want it (hard to ignore that signal). But you can also put your own hand where you want to be touched and say here. Or even take over the direct stimulation, so that he can do something else that arouses you — and together, you bring yourself to climax. Not only is that okay, some husbands find it exciting to see their wives touch themselves. It shows them how into it she is.

I believe you can make this work and experience intimate lovemaking and amazing climaxes. May God bless your efforts!