Monthly Archives: September 2012

Is Sex Work?

In many marriages books and on marriage blogs, you hear some form of Marriage is work. We are admonished to pull up our sleeves and get busy learning how to communicate, how to solve problems, and how to mesh our lives together so that our marriage can last a lifetime. The overriding message is that if you want a good marriage, you have to work at it!

So what if you want a great sex life in marriage? Is sex work too?

That hardly jives with our notion that sex should be about pleasure. Yet, when you look at the definition of work, you see that it’s true:

"Work" in special fontWork [wurk] n. 1. exertion or effort directed to produce or accomplish something; labor; toil.
2. something on which exertion or labor is expended; a task or undertaking.

While I would quibble with applying the word “toil,” experiencing satisfying sexual intimacy within marriage will likely require exertion and effort. Why? Because there are obstacles to getting it right. Just like Adam had to deal with thorns and thistles after the sin entered the world, we know that the world we live in doesn’t allow the good stuff to sweep into our lives without effort. We as people are formed in the struggle.

So what work does sex require? At different stages of marriage, it can be different things. We must put effort into dealing with:

Time constraints. Your job or childcare or household duties or ministry responsibilities or your extended family or whatever can put a crunch on your schedule. You may struggle to find time to wind down and heat up in the bedroom together. It takes work to sit down and iron out some plan and stick to it so that you and your spouse can continue to foster marital intimacy in spite of these challenges.

Health problems. At one time or another, one of you is likely to experience health problems that interfere with your sex lives. It can be anything from urinary tract infections to depression to prostate cancer. I recently heard from a wife who had broken her back, and she and her husband had to exert some effort finding comfortable sexual positions. Whatever the health issue, there may be times in your marriage when you need to take a sexual time out, find other ways to be intimate, or adjust your lovemaking.

Relational strife. Sometimes you just don’t wanna because things in the relationship aren’t that great. In this case, you need to work on both your relationship and your intimacy. I recently wrote a guest post for Sheila Gregoire about whether you have to wait on fixing the relationship to work on your intimacy. It’s a chicken-and-egg argument. In fact, I think that wives need to understand that withholding sex from your husband may not have the motivating effect we would expect. Because men are designed to feel bonded to their mate post-coitus, continuing to have sex even in the case of relational strife may actually motivate a husband to try harder on the marriage. I’m not saying that this is a no-matter-what sort of thing. Obviously, if your spouse is cheating on you, abusing you, etc., there are other considerations. But most marital strife is of the “we aren’t getting along” variety, in which case it may be wise to work on the marriage and the sex within marriage.

Unmet desires or needs. This is certainly an area that screams for extra effort! Plenty of spouses are unfulfilled in their marital sexuality because they want or need something that isn’t being met by their mate. For instance, he wants her to participate more. She wants him to slow down and take more time in foreplay. He wants greater variety. She wants him to pursue her more. He wants to have sex more often. She wants to have sex more often. You get the point. I have talked to wives who basically say something like: “I’d enjoy sex more if he were better at it.” Ouch!  That’s not the kind of thing you want to tell a guy, but there is some truth there. In marriage, you need to work at understanding your mate’s body and their physical arousal, communicating your desires and needs, and trying to meet their desires and needs, whether or not you even understand them. Of course, there are some things your spouse can declare is a “need” when it really isn’t (like dressing up in a certain way or performing a fringe sexual act), but most unfulfilled spouses are just seeking more attention, more connection, and more pleasure with their mate.

These are just a few of the areas that demand effort or exertion — WORK. Yes, sex is work. But does that mean it won’t be pleasurable. Here’s a little inspiration for working at sex in your marriage:

“Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” – Theodore Roosevelt

“Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.” – Aristotle

“The secret of joy in work is contained in one word – excellence. To know how to do something well is to enjoy it.” – Pearl S. Buck

“The true way to render ourselves happy is to love our work and find in it our pleasure.” – Francoise de Motteville

“So I saw that there is nothing better for a person than to enjoy their work.” Ecclesiastes 3:22

Now get after it!

Bridal Boudoir Photography

Q&AI am still responding to questions left on my Q&A with J at HHH post. Today’s question was left by an anonymous reader who wants to know whether bridal boudoir photography is okay.

Hi! I asked this somewhere on the blog before, but I don’t think I asked in the right place. I basically wondered what you thought about bridal boudoir photography. In some senses, I think it’s a really cute and special thing to do for my husband-to-be (I’m getting married in December), because I won’t always have the body I have right now, and I’d like him to remember our wedding day from those pictures, so maybe bridal boudoir is kind of a way to remember our wedding night in pictures (except we definitely won’t have pictures that night, because I hear it will be messy and awkward.)

On the other hand, I feel really weird about a photographer seeing me in that state of undress, but maybe it’s kind of like a gynecologist, where it’s their job, so it’s not a big deal. And also, I feel a little bit weird about him getting the pictures the morning of the wedding, because (and this is way legalistic of me) then we’re not officially “married” yet. I don’t know. I guess I just wonder if I’m overthinking this and if it would actually be a fun, cute thing to do for him.

Here’s my response–short and sweet.

Bride's Garter

Here comes the bride. Get ready, groom.

This wasn’t popular when I was getting married, so I had to do some research. There’s a wide range of boudoir photography, from an artistic black-and-white photo with a peek of the shoulder and a sexy grin to a come-get-me pic of a naked derrière or breasts. Part of it depends on what we’re talking about here.

However, I agree that these photos should NOT be presented before the wedding. Sexy pictures of the bride should not be thrown at the groom until he can have some of those goodies you’re tempting him with — after the vows are exchanged. You don’t want him standing there uttering “I do” but really thinking “I wanna.” (Yeah, yeah, male readers. Pipe in here and say you were thinking that already, but you gotta agree you didn’t need visual teasers in your brain.)

Yet a bridal boudoir photo as a wedding gift (post-vows) might be fun for a couple.

Remember a few things when taking pics:

You need to choose a photographer wisely. I would not pose sans clothing with a photographer I didn’t know. I’d probably set up a self-timer on my camera or find a close same-gender friend to take shots for me. That said, I know that photographers can be very professional about it. If the photograph is a mild teaser, you can certainly use a professional photographer. If you’re posing in the buff, you might think carefully about whether you want such photos in a photographer’s portfolio. I don’t think it’s wrong because let’s face it — the bikini waxer and the spray tan gal at the spa see as much or more. But I’d be uber-cautious about choosing someone.

You’d better have a great plan for keeping the photos private. You don’t want your in-laws helping you move one day and suddenly they come upon the boudoir photo of you in your hubby’s nightstand. We got some ‘splainin to do! Then again, some parents might just see that and think, “Yay, grandkids soon!”

The photo is a teaser of the real thing. The poses are fun, but it’s the action that matters. You don’t want your hubby attached to a photo of you. You want him attached to YOU. The picture should be like him finding a trail of clothes to the bedroom when he gets home from work: It’s a preview of the main event.

Speaking of all that action, your hubby will still love your body even as it changes with age if your sexual relationship is a good one. Looking at a boudoir photo of yourself later in life would probably be no different than looking at a clothed photo; sure, you’ll both look younger in those early photos, but with age and experience you have a deeper appreciation for one another. In fact, studies show that most couples are happiest with their sex lives after several years of marriage.

Congratulations and best wishes! Next week, I’ll be back answering a question about preparing for the wedding night!

Anyone have experience with bridal boudoir photos and want to add any tips?

How to Try New Sexual Positions

Some time ago, I wrote a post called Mission Position about seeking new positions for lovemaking. If you want to click over and read it first, I’ll wait.

I was recently in a secondhand bookstore perusing the shelves and, as usual these days, ended up in the sexuality section. I like to see what’s being published and read on this topic, especially those books written by Christian authors. On this visit, I picked up a book on sexual positions. (One caveat: I never open up the sex books with photography to illustrate.) In it were some interesting configurations, along with a drawing of a woman in a back bend and the man thrusting into her.

Seriously? A back bend? I’ve also seen a drawing of a man in a back bend with the woman on top. Who does that? Circus people?!! I was both intrigued and appalled that anyone would get into that position to have sex.

That said, there are a lot of sexual positions worth trying. Some provide more access to view each other, some more control for one partner or the other, and some provide different sensations. So let’s say you want to try a new sexual position. How do you know what to try? Besides a back bend (heaven help us all), what are the options?

What I’ve figured out is that all of those positions suggested in books (like the 64 positions of the Kama Sutra) are really variations on a theme.

FIRST, THERE IS RELATIVE POSITIONING.

Man on top. Face-to-face, husband on top, and wife underneath.

Woman on top. Also face-to-face but wife on top, husband underneath.

Side by side. A couple facing each other side by side.

Rear entry. Husband entering wife’s vagina from behind.

NEXT, THERE IS GENERAL POSITIONING.

Lying down. Husband and wife are mostly lying down.

Kneeling. One or both are on your knees.

Sitting. The wife sits on her husband’s lap.

Standing. Both husband and wife standing up.

THIRD, THERE IS THE ANGLE OF YOUR TORSO AND LIMBS — MAINLY WIFE.

Crouched. Your torso is bent. For a wife, this usually means bending at the waist to create a shorter distance between entry and the end of her vagina. Bending in this way can increase the likelihood of her husband thrusting into her elusive G-spot.

Spread wide. The wife spreads her legs wide which gives the best access for viewing, touch, and entry. In this position, the husband may be able to go deeper into her vagina as well.

Legs together. When a wife keeps her legs together, it can create greater friction on the man’s penis and squeeze the opening a bit to provide more pressure.

Legs bent. One or both legs can be bent just slightly, moderately, or with the wife’s knees all the way up to her chest. Each configuration provides a different sensation to both the husband and wife. In particular, the knees-to-chest position can feel more intense and allow the penis to brush against the wife’s G-spot.

Legs up. Throwing your legs up in the air may feel awkward at first, but lifting the legs up changes the angle of the body as well. A wife can even drape her legs over her husband’s shoulders.

It is my contention that you can come up with all kinds of positions by simply playing mix-and-match here. Let me show you what I mean.

DISCLAIMER: I am a terrible artist. However, since I didn’t want anything too graphic here, I decided that stick figures would work just fine for my purposes. Thus, the following are my own pitiful renderings of the sexual positions. Nothing shown below should be attempted based on an erroneous belief that these stick figures are anything like the real you. But I tried.

MIX AND MATCH.

So here’s your typical sexual position: Man on top, lying down, spread wide.

Now here’s Man on top, standing, legs up.

Well, that’s different.

How about woman on top, sitting, legs bent?

Rear entry, kneeling, legs together?

You see what I mean? You can achieve numerous positions just with these basics (and I am a terrible artist).

Also, wives, tilting your hips is another way to shift the angle and feel something different. For example, in that last position, the wife can move her chest toward the bed or ground and tilt her hips up to meet her husband. In the missionary position, she can tilt her hips up off the bed.

If you’ve never tried anything adventurous in this area, start small. Keep the other two positions as usual and change the third. For instance, keep direction and general position and change the angle. Or keep direction and angle and change general position. You get the idea.

By the way, many scholars believe that Song of Songs 2:6 is a reference to a sexual position: “His left arm is under my head, and his right arm embraces me.” It sounds like side by side to me, but it certainly doesn’t appear to be the missionary position (man on top). So I guess the Lover and the Beloved were a little adventurous themselves.

Masturbation: Hands On or Hands Off?

Q&AWe’re getting toward the end of readers’ questions for me from my Q&A with J at HHH post. If you want to ask something I haven’t covered, click over there and leave a comment.

In the meantime, here’s today question about masturbation in a Christian marriage:

What about masturbation in a Christian marriage? Is it ok? Is it a good way for the spouse with the higher sex drive to deal with the times when their spouse isn’t in the mood and doesn’t want to be sexual? What about for husbands after their wife has a baby, is it serving her to not impose on her with his sexual needs?

I covered this topic in more detail with Julie Sibert of Intimacy in Marriage. You can head over the following posts for more information:

Two Wives & Candid Conversation about Masturbation at HH&H

Two Wives. Talking about Masturbation. at Intimacy in Marriage

More Candid Conversation about Masturbation at HH&H

More Masturbation Talk. From a Couple of Wives. at Intimacy in Marriage

Briefly here, though, I have concluded from my study of the Bible and sexuality studies:

1. Masturbation can serve a positive purpose.

2. Masturbation is often negative because it draws energy away from the sexual relationship between the husband and wife.

From the Bible, we don’t have specific mention of masturbation. Some have presumed that masturbation is sinful based on God’s rebuke of Onan for spilling his semen on the ground. However, a study of that passage in Genesis 38:9 indicates that the sin was that Onan had sex with his widowed sister-in-law but refused to fulfill family duty of giving her offspring in his brother’s name. He wasn’t fulfilling the express command of the Law (Deuteronomy 25:5-6). Besides, he didn’t pleasure himself; he got pleasure through intercourse and then pulled out.

Since there is no “you may” or “thou shalt not” in the Bible regarding masturbation, we turn to its principles — which are often our guide for making daily decisions that honor the Lord. What was God’s design for sexuality? Sex was intended for a husband and wife to reproduce children (Genesis 9:7), increase relational intimacy (Genesis 2:24; Song of Songs 6:3), and experience physical pleasure (Proverbs 5:19; Song of Songs).

Then we ask whether masturbation in any particular moment fits that bill. Can pleasuring yourself ever help reproduction? It might if a couple is undergoing fertility treatments and the doctor needs a semen sample. So can a hubby take care of biz in that case? I’d say yeah. Most of the time, however, reproduction is most decidedly not the motivation for masturbation.

Can masturbation increase relational intimacy? Mutual masturbation, if agreed by both partners, could. It might be an option for couples when a woman is unable to engage, such as post-childbirth. There are also couples distanced by job or military demands who might feel closer by talking to one another provocatively and engaging in masturbation at the same time.

Can masturbation give physical pleasure? Yep. In fact, most people can achieve climax faster through masturbation because, as both the giver and recipient, one can adjust placement and pressure more quickly to bring about orgasm.

However, that last one can become a problem too. Because it’s not okay to seek your own physical pleasure and sexual release without regard to your mate. We are to act with love in marriage, which is patient, kind . . . not self-seeking (1 Corinthians 13:4-5).

Here are some concerns:

  • Many who masturbate do so to pornography or visualizing another woman or man, and this is most certainly not okay. Third parties of any kind — real or imagined — get a “thou shalt not” from God.
  • Frequent masturbation primes your brain and body to expect release in that way. In fact, men who masturbate very frequently can experience difficulty climaxing in intercourse.
  • Higher drive spouses who use masturbation as a way to fill in the gap between sexual encounters with their spouse are merely sending a signal to their bodies to desire release more frequently. Climax every day, and your body may protest when you skip a day. Our bodies are built to adapt to the habits we form.
  • Intercourse provides things that masturbation cannot.

Essentially, masturbation can be part of your repertoire as a married couple. However, I’d advise that you partake infrequently. Also, it isn’t the best way to handle a difference in sex drives. Oftentimes, the lower drive spouse can choose to engage and become aroused as foreplay begins. The higher drive spouse can also hold off a day or two and build up anticipation. I’d suggest leaning to the say-yes-far-more-than-no side because, as discussed above, God’s design for sexuality includes increasing relational intimacy, and the more frequently you touch and kiss and make love, the more connected you can feel to your spouse (especially for men).

Masturbation should not replace the more challenging, but ultimately more enjoyable, goal of finding ways to sexually arouse and satisfy one another so that you truly represent one flesh when you make love.

But it can be incorporated for positive impact in marital intimacy. For instance, a wife can self-stimulate while her husband is inside her and increase the likelihood or intensity of orgasm. A wife could masturbate and allow her husband to watch as part of foreplay that leads to the shared big event. A husband could masturbate while his wife is off limits (perhaps on her period, post-childbirth, etc.) with her kissing and touching him. A couple could simultaneously masturbate when time and distance separate them (hello, phone sex?).

So whether masturbation is okay or not, I believe, relies on whether it meets God’s plan for sexuality in marriage. If we’re honest about it, probably 95% of the time people masturbate, it doesn’t meet that plan. However, it can. Just ask yourself some questions about the purpose and goal of masturbation when you are considering it. That’s a good way to decide whether it is selfishly-motivated or marriage-focused.

Shame, Shapewear, and Sexiness

I am ashamed. I am ashamed that I have let myself go like this. There is a woman in our church who is about six months pregnant, and I’m pretty sure my non-baby bump is bigger than her baby-bump. Perhaps I should start shopping in the maternity section.

I started the summer in good shape, having eaten fairly healthy and exercised. But then the alternating schedule demands and laziness of summer brought too many skipped exercise classes, too many runs through drive-through windows, too many times of sitting on the couch with a family movie on and my mouth munching on something, anything. Now when I enter my closet, the question is not “What should I wear?” but “What can I still zip up?” *headdesk*

Yes, I’ve started back to exercising, and I’m trying to eat better. However, it’s going to take a while to get everything tucked back where it belongs. And let’s face it: Some of it is never going back. I ain’t 20 anymore. In fact, I read once that to simply maintain your weight, you have to eat 15% less each decade after age 40. That’s daunting, isn’t it?

So in the meantime, I’ve been considering a step I had mocked previously: Purchasing “shapewear.” Having referred to these tummy and butt tuckers as “modern-day corsets,” I refused to fall prey to the notion that a woman must conform to unrealistic standards of beauty. I would not support the fashion industry in its pursuit of perfection through binding undergarments!

But as I survey the muffin top hanging over my pant waist (which is way bigger than a muffin, more like a bundt cake) and then walk through the lingerie areas of local stores, I find myself pausing at items with labels that suggest “light tummy control,” “smooths tummy and buttocks,” and my favorite, “Good muffin, bad muffin” with pictures of the dessert and a lumpy lady. Hmmm. Maybe there is something to this after all.

Spanx ad

Does anyone else blame Oprah who featured this company?

Perhaps what I need is a little help in the redistribution department. A little squeeze here, a little push there, and voilá! an hourglass figure appears. It sounds like magic, doesn’t it? And it would sure beat sucking in all the time.

I haven’t yet pulled out my wallet and gone this route. Had the shapewear been priced at $9.99, I might have bitten already. But do I really want to pay $42.00 for an item that my grandmother called a “girdle”? Is $15.00 for a single pair of panties — no matter how much control it takes over my tummy — reasonable? Is the extra around my equator bad enough to warrant a separate line for shapewear in my monthly budget?

Not according to my husband. His response to my frustrations? “More of you to love.”

I’m sure it could get to a point where he felt that there was too much of me to love and he feared for his life with the woman-on-top position, but we’re nowhere near that yet and, thankfully, most husbands don’t care about a few pounds this way or that. He still thinks I’m sexy.

When I peel off my strained pants, his eyes still gaze at my body. When I sit in bed and my stomach creates folds, he scoots closer. When I curl him next to him, he spoons my body and strokes my tummy and breasts, happy that he gets to touch his wife’s naked body.

And gals, we need to remember that.

Of course we should pursue our health. God gave us these bodies, and we should take care of them.  A healthy body is also a more attractive body, so focusing on good health often results in feeling prettier.

We also want to dress in a way that flatters us. Forgetting the shapewear for a moment, if you’re struggling with some extra poundage, tight shirts are not your friend. (I am currently favoring empire waists and dresses with ruched waists or belted in the middle.) There are clothes that will bring out the best in you, whatever your shape and size.

But you are still sexy. God created you as a beautiful woman. Your husband enjoys looking and touching you not because you are a supermodel, but because you are a woman. Your body is vastly different from his, and those differences are intriguing to him. He also has a relationship with you and sees more than just your body when he looks at you.

It can be difficult to let your guard down and allow your husband to delight in your body when you are self-conscious about it, but sexiness doesn’t rely on perfection. One of the best things that has happened since I started talking about this subject is finding out that some of the married couples with the most amazing sex lives are rather average in looks. They are sexy because of how they approach each other, their focus on one another’s bodies as gifts from God, and their own confidence that they are sexy.

So yeah, I’m still carrying around a little shame for all of those French fries I ate this summer, and I may buy one piece of shapewear for a specific event I have coming up. Yet my sense of sexiness hasn’t gone anywhere.