Google “gatekeeping definition” and you’ll get this:
“the activity of controlling, and usually limiting, general access to something.”
When we talk about sexual gatekeeping, it refers to a spouse controlling or limited access to sexual intimacy. Unfortunately, it’s happening in many marriages. Here’s a question I received from a wife:
I’ve been reading more and more about your posts on gatekeeping and sexual refusal. Before our marriage my husband and I were (obviously) very excited by the idea of sex and I read a lot about women refusing their husbands, and I just didn’t get how they could do it! Now, almost 2 years in and one baby later, I have pretty much become one.
I have a few things working against me — several instances of sexual abuse throughout my life, chronic disease which makes almost every instance of sex very painful (endometriosis), association of the physical feeling of sex with shame, and just general leftover injury from the birth. This has all resulted in me feeling dread every time my husband (who is the most wonderful husband, always makes me feel comfortable and safe) wants sex. I never feel like it (I’m still breastfeeding so my ‘heat’ hasn’t returned at all), it’s super painful, it’s been so hard to get back at it since our son’s birth, and it always makes me feel ashamed and vulnerable.
Where on earth do I start to try and tackle these issues?
This wife knows she’s gatekeeping and doesn’t want to be like that — but you can also understand why. She didn’t just wake up one day and think, How awesome it would be to have a sex-starved marriage!
Most gatekeepers have real reasons for what they’re doing, which is why trying to understand your spouse’s reluctance and anxiety is far better than trying to demand or shame your lower-drive spouse into cooperation.
Let’s tackle the issues this reader brings up, one by one — which are legitimate concerns that need to be addressed.
Past Sexual Abuse. It’s absolutely heartbreaking to consider how many people — women and men — have experienced sexual abuse in their past. We should certainly oppose abuse wherever and whenever we can (see Isaiah 1:16-17, Jeremiah 22:16), but I also know God has their final destiny taken care of (see Ecclesiastes 12:14, Psalm 73:27). What I most want the abused to hear is this verse: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).
He knows. He gets it. And He wants to save your crushed spirit, lifting that heavy burden you’ve brought into your marriage.
But does your spouse get it? Tensing up or raising guards when it comes to sex is a standard reaction of abuse victims, because sex was misused against them. If you have abuse in your past, you need to be honest with your spouse about what happened and what effect it has had on your view of your body, sexuality, and security in the bedroom.
Talk openly about what’s happened and be willing to take extra time to get you feeling comfortable and safe in the marital bedroom. You may need to establish a signal if panic sets in, and have the agreement that you can take a moment to breathe slowly, remind yourself that your husband is nothing like your abuser, and ease back into lovemaking.
Having spoken with abuse
victims overcomers, I know it takes time to establish a new script in your head, but it can be done. I sometimes think of it like the balance of scales. Abuse is a heavy load on one side, but over time when you pile up positive sexual experiences in your marriage, they will outweigh the abuse and a new perspective of sexuality can take hold. Don’t let your painful past steal your future intimacy.
And please seek professional help if you need it. Most abuse victims really do need outside resources to help them sort through their past and its consequences in their life and find healing.
One last thought: Sexual abuse is a horrible experience, but even mistreatment can cause a spouse to feel insecure in the marriage bed. For instance, a wife whose breasts were inappropriately ogled or grabbed might respond very negatively to being touched there even by her husband. Likewise, it can take time to establish a safe environment, a new script, and whole sexual intimacy.
Physical Pain. There are various reasons for physical pain during intercourse — including hormonal imbalance, vaginismus, structural impediments, scar tissue, infection, and yes, endometriosis. You must talk to your doctor honestly and specifically about your issues. It may require persistence to get across to your primary care physician or gynecologist the full impact your physical condition is having on sexual intimacy. But be an advocate for your marriage and discuss treatment options with your doctor. Oftentimes, something can be done to alleviate your pain.
With sexual pain — and specifically with endometriosis — you may find that certain times during the month are better for sexual intercourse and some positions are more comfortable. Be willing to experiment and explore alternatives with your husband.
Speaking of which, intercourse is the crown jewel of sexual intimacy, but it isn’t the whole treasure. There are plenty of other gems you and hubby can enjoy. If you can’t handle penetration this time around, try other pleasurable sexual activities, like oral sex for him, oral sex for you, manual play for you, or a hand job for him.
Expand your view of what making love really is — because sexual intimacy involves all kinds of physically pleasurable interaction. Instead of focusing on what you can’t do, find things you can do. Then when you’re able to have intercourse, enjoy that experience fully!
Personal Shame. Too many Christian wives have shame about having sex in the marriage bed. Even if they logically know what they’re doing is God-sanctioned, they were raised to believe that good girls don’t or had a past experience that connected shame or guilt to the sex act. It’s hard to flip a switch when you get married and feel deep-down that what you’re doing is a beautiful, magical thing.
But it is. Good wives desire sex (Song of Songs 2:16-17), have sex (Song of Songs 7:12), initiate sex (Song of Songs 1:4), enjoy sex (Song of Songs 2:3). I believe the best way to combat the feelings of shame are to replace them with biblical truth.
It’s one of the reasons I wrote Intimacy Revealed: 52 Devotions to Enhance Sex in Marriage — to help wives embrace the goodness and beauty God’s design for sex in marriage. Learning what the Bible says about sex and intentionally dwelling on that can help you get past the obstacle of shame.
I entered my marriage with shame about my past, and it negatively affected how I viewed myself in the marriage bed. What shifted my perspective was thinking long and hard about this passage in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11:
Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (emphasis added)
Rehearse the truth in your mind again and again, even as you begin to engage in sex with your husband and throughout the day. Combat the lies about sex with the truth of God’s Word (Psalm 119:68-70).Combat the lies about sex with the truth of God's Word. Click To Tweet
Lack of Desire. Finally, the reader said that she’s struggling to get back into things with her recent childbirth experience. It’s fairly common to have a dip in desire with a new baby in the house. You’re exhausted, you’re nursing, you’re touched all day long by a small human being — it all makes the prospect of hands-on sex with hubby less appealing. At least for many wives.
I recently wrote about having sex after the baby comes. Read that post for more, but a quick summary of my ideas is: communicate with your husband, set reasonable expectations, pursue self-care, ask for help when you need it, and prioritize intimacy with your husband. And by intimacy here, I mean the whole enchilada — companionship, recreation, conversation, and physical intimacy.
You are parents now! Which is awesome, but the foundation of your home remains the relationship between father and mother, husband and wife. Stoke your desire by keeping some energy for the two of you, and even for you alone so you can prepare mentally and physically to engage in sex with hubby.
Hope something in there helps you tackle the issues, unlock the gate, and begin to experience God’s gift of sexual intimacy in your marriage.