Today’s question is a frustrating one. Yet another example of the terrible effects pornography can have on how we view sex and our ability to enjoy it in marriage the way God intended. Please say a prayer for this wife today. Here’s her question:
I get incredibly shy in bed with my husband. When I am on top, unless I have had like a bottle of wine, I get so much anxiety. I forget how to even be on top and it feels awkward.
I know I don’t have to feel embarrassed to tell you this. My husband has had a past with porn and we are still in the process of dealing with it. Because of the porn, he can’t stay hard sometimes, and I can see him closing his eyes and going into his ‘spank bank’ to try and get hard again. This is traumatizing to me and makes getting on top even more anxiety ridden. Do you have any advice for me?
I see four issues in this short question.
1. Anxiety about being on top. I don’t know exactly why this wife feels shy about the on-top position. Maybe it’s the full view her husband’s getting of her, and she struggles with body issues. Maybe it’s the feeling that she’s in the dominant sexual position, and she feels uncomfortable being “in charge.” Maybe it’s a lack of experience and not feeling like she knows what she’s doing. Maybe it’s just physically hard to make things happen (it can wear on a gal’s knees).
Whatever the issue, some things are awkward when you first do them in the marriage bed. The first time, the second time . . . even the fifth time. But if you continue doing something with positive results, it gets easier and easier. Your comfort level increases.
To relax about any position, just pay attention to your breathing, making sure it’s steady and soothing. Lean into the pleasure you feel in that moment. Ask for feedback from your husband about what he enjoys of what he’s seeing and experiencing.
Remember that all sex is a little awkward. You never just suddenly find yourself in that position with your legs apart and hiked up or sprawling over your husband’s lap. You’re aiming for the pleasure that you get from pushing a little outside that comfort zone and connecting with one another in a way you don’t with anyone else, ever. But over time, that intimacy can become the most comfortable thing in the world.
2. Dealing with anxiety by grabbing the wine. I’m personally not opposed to a glass of wine. But I have concerns about dealing with anxiety in the marital bedroom by grabbing alcohol. Julie Sibert of Intimacy in Marriage had an excellent post about this topic called Need a Few Drinks to Get in the Mood for Sex?
By using wine to deal with the anxiety, you’re likely evading the process of getting comfortable with being on top. You’re priming your brain and body to feel okay about it only when alcohol is involved. Remove the alcohol, and the anxiety is back.
Rather, trust that you can find ways to enjoy the experience without relying on alcohol or any other crutch.
3. Her husband’s porn past. Once again, porn rears its ugly head. You can also label this Satan, because he is all too happy to steal healthy intimacy in marriage by tempting people with a twisted version of sexuality. Remember who your real enemy is.
I’m so glad that you’re dealing with this porn past. That should include taking tangible steps to keep the temptation out of your home and off his phone and him getting support from others through accountability partners or ministry groups. Very few people who used porn much in the past simply say, “Not using porn anymore,” and stop altogether. You need a more involved strategy to conquer this evil.
However, it has obviously affected his ability to get aroused. Unfortunately, more young men now struggle with maintaining an erection because of the prevalence of porn. Viewing those images distorts how our brains register arousal and satisfaction. Sex becomes a two-dimensional, self-serving act, rather than the face-to-face, we-focused intimacy God intended.
The way to overcome this challenge is to unlearn bad habits and learn good ones instead. Not only does he need to throw off the porn, but you should both accept that he needs to awaken the arousal that comes from being with a real person — you. It may take some time for his body to change how it views stimulation, but with time and patience you can figure it out. God created his body to respond that way.
4. He’s going into his ‘spank bank.’ For those who don’t know what a “spank bank” is, that’s a colloquialism for a collection of mental images you can access to become sexually stimulated or to heighten arousal. In this case, it’s stored memories of pornographic pictures.
First off, that’s sin. Just to be clear here: There’s no justification for lusting after other people while making love to your spouse. Or at any other time. (See Matthew 5:28, Hebrews 13:4, Job 31:1, Proverbs 6:25.) Your sexual energy should be focused entirely on your covenant mate. It matters what happens not only with our bodies, but in our minds and in our hearts. (See Jeremiah 17:10.) Part of getting over this porn past is your husband retraining his mind. And you can help.
Explain to your husband that those images are another obstacle to your sexual intimacy — that they are prolonging the problems by maintaining that brain connection of two-dimensional images and sexual arousal. I get that it’s frustrating for him to have erection difficulties (not that I know what that’s like, but I can imagine); however, the long-term answer is to establish your one-on-one connection.
Be willing to set some boundaries. You can tell him, “If I see you going into your ‘spank bank,’ I cannot continue making love. It just doesn’t feel like you’re making love to me, but to those images. So if you go there, I’m going to ask you to stop and refocus on me. If you don’t stop, I’ll have to discontinue our sexual encounter until you can pay attention to me.” Reiterate that you’re not trying to punish him, but rather help him. You are on his side. But you also aren’t going to settle when you know that God has loving sexual intimacy awaiting you both for your marriage. You want your husband to be fully involved with you, and you want to be fully involved with him.
You may need to reassure him many times of your support and your love, because this is a difficult struggle. Yet you have every right to expect his respect in the bedroom — meaning he doesn’t get to bring other women in there. In reality or mentally.
[I wanted to add a great point that commenters have called me on. Rightly so. I’m not infallible, and I missed the very real possibility that this husband isn’t recalling past porn images at all. When he closes his eyes and concentrates, he could be regaining his focus on the moment with his wife. Rather than assuming you know what’s going on in your husband’s mind, ask. We should extend grace and believe the best about our spouses, rather than choosing the worst possible assumption. Anyway, I apologize if I got this one wrong. If he accessing past images, my advice stands. But, if not,…]
Your issues aren’t likely going to be settled in a week or even a month. But step-by-step, with intentionality and love, I am confident you two can move toward far more fulfilling sexual experiences. One or two years down the road, you might be amazed by the beauty and pleasure you’ve discovered in the marriage bed.