My husband and I have twice taken the general marriage course provided by Joe Beam’s Marriage Helper and offered at church. It’s based on His Needs, Her Needs by Willard Harley, which posits that there are 10 primary needs in a marriage relationship. Five of them lean more toward husbands, and five lean more toward wives. As you might expect, the His Needs list includes “sexual fulfillment,” while the counterpart for Her Needs is “affection.”
However, the course recognizes that individuals may not follow the typical pattern, so each spouse takes an Emotional Needs Questionnaire to determine his/her own top five needs. When you come back together in class, you share your list with the group. The first time I took the course, I was the only female who had sexual fulfillment in my Top Five.
It was awkward. Like really awkward to stand up in front of a group of people and admit that sex was super-high on my list. (It was #3, in case you’re wondering. And by the way, sexual fulfillment was #1 on several husbands’ lists.) When I announced my results, it felt like this moment from A Knight’s Tale:
Yep, for some in the classroom, I might as well have been speaking gibberish. A Christian woman who really “needs” sex with her husband? It was a bit like the speech from this guy. When I finished my statement, there might have even been crickets.
Recently, I’ve been thinking and talking about the need to discuss sex in churches — whether from the pulpit, in Bible classes, or in specialized programs like marriage courses and retreats. I suspect my story is one of the reasons we just don’t go there sometimes. It’s flat-out awkward.
And we worry we’ll end up revealing something that paints us in a strange light. Or even learn something about others. We could learn about the sexual struggles of people we see every single Sunday. We could discover others are having better sex lives or worse sex lives or no sex lives, and we don’t know what to do with that. We might end up admitting that we experience conflict over this topic or don’t understand how to reach godly sexual intimacy in our own marriage.
We don’t want to hear or reveal information that makes us feel like we’re stuck back in that junior high classroom where the video of How Your Body Is Changing plays on the screen . . . and you’re either in that group doing everything you can to avoid eye contact or the group cracking jokes and snickering because it stirs up jitters you don’t know what to do with.
Interestingly enough, the second time I took the course, I had a compatriot — another wife who placed sex in her Top Five. Her presence felt like that moment in the film clip when the second man yelled “Yeah!” and his encouragement started a crowd uproar.
Frankly, I think that’s what we need in order to get past all the awkwardness — just some voice or voices from the crowd saying “Yeah!” As in “Yeah, we’re all in this together!” Because as Christians in the Body of Christ, we are.
Of course, what happens in your marital bedroom is a private matter! I don’t need details of your stuff, and you don’t need details of mine. But our marriages matter in the larger context. You and I both having fruitful marriages contributes to the well-being of our families, our churches, and the effectiveness of our message to the world. I feel invested in you making it! And I have tangibly felt others supporting my marriage as well.
Once that first “yeah” comes, it’s surprising to find that it really wasn’t a big deal. In the marriage classes I’ve been in, we all had different needs, and they were all important. They all contributed to healthy marriage, and we all wanted to thrive in being all we could be in our marriages — to fulfill our covenant love to our spouses and to honor God and His beautiful design.
Maybe the awkward moments are what we need. Maybe it’s okay to stand up and be the one to admit what’s going in your marriage and where you need help. Maybe we need to confess that sex is a strong part of our relationship to our spouse, and sometimes we need the prayerful help and godly wisdom of other Christians. Maybe we can move past the awkwardness toward openness, conversation, and health.
Maybe we need more marriage-focused learning opportunities in our churches, ones that involve the subject of sexual intimacy.
Have you been to a marriage class or retreat in your church? Did you deal with the subject of sex? Were honest comments welcomed and respected? What do you wish your church would offer when it comes to learning more about marriage and sexual intimacy?