My last post covered what I believe to be the top myth women learn about sex in Christian circles: Sex is for him. (If you haven’t, go read the whole post here.) Today I wanted to follow up with what I’ve concluded is the top myth Christian men learn.
Again, this is not a scientific conclusion, since I don’t have data to back me up. But I listened to men — in person, online, in articles, in research, etc. — and asked husbands in my closed Facebook group to give their answers. And nearly all responses related to this one myth:
Your sexuality is a problem.
While we see messages in the opposite direction — that something’s wrong with a guy who isn’t wanting it all the time — most Christian men seem to hear at one point or another that their sexuality is a problem for them and/or their wife. Why? Because it’s too shallow, too intense, too aggressive … just too much.
You have my sympathy, men. And my acceptance — because I wholeheartedly believe God created male sexuality to be a wonderful benefit to marriage.God created male sexuality to be a wonderful benefit to marriage. @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet
Let’s look at the some of the specific messages husbands reported learning about sex that lead to this overall myth that his sexuality is a big, big problem.
You have to earn sex.
We speak both seriously and jokingly about all the things a husband must do to create the right atmosphere for her to say yes. And while there’s some real truth to that, it can also feel to a man like sex is a reward he has to earn. His sexuality only gets attention when he follows all the “rules” or completes the necessary requirements.
As an intimacy author and speaker, I can attest to the difficulty in threading this needle just so — because yes, we should put forth effort to make sex feasible and meaningful, but it shouldn’t be used as a bargaining tool. (See The Bad Plan of Bartering for Sex.)
Your desire for sexual intimacy with your wife should matter more than you taking out the garbage or mowing the lawn. Those are good things too, but you shouldn’t be made to feel like sex is a treat you earn.
Emotional intimacy is better.
Through the years, several husbands have reported going to Christian marriage counseling, bringing up the lack of sex in their marriage, and being told by the counselor that sex wasn’t that important — that the wife’s desire for emotional closeness through communication and affection were far more worthwhile.
Um, excuse me, would someone like to tell God that?
We have biblical commands to make love in marriage, but — racking my brain — I cannot think of a scripture that specifically says we must converse in marriage. Now don’t go away thinking that you’re off the hook! Because all those verses about loving each other strongly imply that you listen, engage, and respect your spouse. But my point is simply that sex is clearly important in marriage, because it’s specifically addressed in God’s Word.
More importantly, sex is emotional. Or should be. Emotional intimacy matters! But sexual intimacy should not be pushed to the side as if it is lesser than. Especially when that’s a significant way many husbands connect emotionally to their wives.
She’ll never enjoy it as much as you do.
Some men are prepped from the get-go to believe that their sexuality is and will be a problem, because she won’t like it the way he does. Thus, it becomes this conundrum of how he can satisfy his sexual longings while not being too much of a bother to his wife.
Husbands choose different strategies, such as playing “will she or won’t she?” with tentative advances or attempts to read her mood day by day. Perhaps they try to get sex over with quickly, and some wives encourage this (because they heard their own myths), or they downplay her orgasm. They might masturbate instead of pursuing her. Or simply build up resentment against their sex drive.
Meanwhile, husbands with higher-drive wives are caught off-guard to discover that she enjoys it as much or more than he does. And squaring the myth with the reality proves challenging, and can even make him feel like less of a man. (You’re not, but I get it. See A Letter to the Low-Drive Husband.)
Look, few couples have equally matched sex drives. About 70-80% of the time, the husband has the greater desire. But that’s still a lot of marriages where it’s the wife. Regardless, if the mismatch causes a problem — it’s a we problem that you just have to work out together.
She’ll enjoy it as much as you do.
Hold up, hold up, you’re saying. This is the exact opposite of the previous point, so how they can both count as spreading the overall myth? Great question! But what I noticed in husbands’ responses is some guys learned that if you wait until marriage, both husband and wife will be all over each other, all the time, and it will be fantastic — like Skittles candy rainbows all day, every day.
And then, they get married, and it doesn’t happen quite like that. So they conclude on their own or get told that their sexuality is the problem. Perhaps it seems like they want sex too much. Or what actually happens is that she enjoys it more than he does — and what on earth are you supposed to do with that?!
We are complex beings, with a range of physiology, personality, values, and experiences that all shape your sexual interest. When you get married, an individual marries an individual, and then your sexuality becomes about our sexuality — and you have to work that out together. Welcome to the challenges and joys of relationship!
Once you’re married, temptation will end.
“Once you get married, you won’t be so tempted to lust or watch porn because you’ll be getting sex with your wife.” And you might think this doesn’t work with the whole your sexuality is a problem myth, because on its face, this statement sounds like your sexuality isn’t a problem — as long as it’s directed at your wife.
But when you get married, and you’re still struggling, you can feel like your sexuality is a problem. When what’s actually a problem is sin.
We probably use food analogies with sex too often, but they work so well! So here I go: The idea that getting married will quash your porn habit makes about as much sense as saying that a well-prepared meal will keep you from eating junk food between meals. Good food will help, but if you’ve trained yourself to raid the pantry every day for Red Bull and Twinkies, that habit isn’t going to go away just because someone put a healthy salad in your face. And the problem isn’t food, but your misuse of it.
You have to work on the bad habits and the temptation itself. A quality sex life can help, but it will not stop you from sinning. And really, your sin will make it difficult for you to have a quality sex life, because your spouse deserves your full sexual attention.
Is Male Sexuality a Problem?
Some Christian men received a mixed message that could almost be expressed as: Left to its own, the male sexual desire is a savage beast beating at its cage, and if completely released, it can wreak destruction! … So go use it with the woman you love.
Wait, what?! Even if your sex drive is an animal, you can train it. Just like you have to train everything in your life! As a child, you had to figure out how to walk, how to talk, how to use the bathroom (they even call it potty training). But nobody says walking, eating, and using the bathroom are a problem. They are good and healthy parts of being human, knit together by the Master Himself.
One particular husband in my closed Facebook group summarized so well how some men have been made to feel about their sexuality:
“…it’s not just that we are taught our sexual feelings are ‘big and bad’, which we totally are. It’s that we are not taught that our sexuality is as divinely appointed a part of the whole of who we are as is our spirituality, our intelligence, our physicality, etc. We are taught, or left to conclude, that our sexual self and all of the accompanying feelings, is corrupt, fallen, should be despised, and must be defeated. It’s not just our actual struggles we feel guilty about, it is for having sexuality.”Ray, married 26 years
If you’ve been taught your sexuality is bad, gentlemen, that’s a lie. Yes, Satan desires to twist anything and everything in our lives to move us away from the vast blessings God can give us. But your sexuality is from God, and He knew exactly what He was doing when He created you. “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well” (Psalm 139:14).Your sexuality is from God, and He knew exactly what He was doing when He created you. @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet
If your sexuality has been marred by sin, address that! But embrace your sexuality itself as a God-given benefit to your marriage, one that can spur you on to greater intimacy with your wife.
72 thoughts on “#1 Myth Christian Men Learned About Sex”
I grew up in the church (60’s and 70’s) and every teaching (I mean myths) was taught in most evangelical churches and parachurch organizations. I still have a hard time dispelling these lies after nearly 40 years of marriage. Over the years, my wife and I have attend many marriage seminars and these lies are still being taught. It has been a few years since our last marriage seminar so I am hoping the tide is turning, teaching the truth and exposing the lies. Most of my Christian guy friends (my age) have admitted to sex-starved marriages. I am now convinced that these lies that we were taught is one of the primary reasons for our lousy sex lives. 🙁
The big myth I learned about sex was that I’d enjoy it. I didn’t.
God help me, but compared to jumping out of aeroplanes, engaging in lethal out-of-country work, playing rugger, and busting up a pub with my mates, it was BO-RING!
How’d I stay married? Unswerving support and loyalty. I mean, I made a promise before God and everybody.
Now that I am dying of pancreatic cancer, I thank God for a wife who understood.
When it comes time to go, I’ll leave her with a fist-bump and a bad joke, and she’ll value those far more than a kiss.
Great article J. It’s very insightful and obvious that you’ve listened to many men. I’ve certainly struggled with all of these beliefs. I thought this part:
“Left to its own, the male sexual desire is a savage beast beating at its cage, and if completely released, it can wreak destruction! … So go use it with the woman you love.” was very interesting. I don’t actually believe this is a myth or anything of the sort. In fact, I don’t think anything could better describe typical male sexuality.
I would say that a variation on this describes masculinity in general: “Left to its own, masculity is a savage beast beating at its cage, and if completely released, it can wreak destruction!….So go use it in a way that God intends.” Masculinity, and male sexuality is part of this, is both awesome and dangerous. Much like a stick of dynamite, masculinity can be amazingly useful, or terribly destructive. God gave us this gift, and it must be used in the way he prescribed in order for it to be a blessing. Otherwise, it becomes an awful impediment to us and others around us.
Brian, I rather disagree with your extension of the ‘caged beast’ premise from male sexuality to masculinity.
I’m hyper-masculine, but certainly nor a ‘savage’; my wife describes me in Byron’s words from Don Juan:
He was the mildest manner’d man
That ever scuttled ship or cut a throat
Masculinity is not defined by lack of control; quite the opposite. It’s defined by combined strength and discipline, by courtesy that does not prevent violent action in protection of the weak.
And it is NOT absolutely connected to sexuality. I worked at the sharp end of my profession, and found that there are things that are far more interesting than sex; spending time in bed is time you could have been training. A lot of PMCs and Tier One guys (I’m not a T1, but worked with them) feel that way, and it’s one reason for an astronomical divorce rate..
Indeed, some of the least impressive examples of manhood I have seen are possessed of large libidos; one has only to look at various members of the entertainment industry to see that.
Okay, but sexuality IS a part of masculinity; not the only part, but part. And a fair number of men would not feel (as you apparently do) that sex isn’t as interesting as other activities. In fact, as a woman I don’t feel that way: While I enjoy many activities of various kinds in my life, sex with my husband uniquely provides an intense physically-experienced bond to the man I love.
Point taken, J. I guess I’m an outlier on this one!
I always found more ‘bonding’ with my wife through shared work, particularly charitable stuff. Doing volunteer work together really brought us closer.
I’m just blessed beyond measure that she put up with me.
And we wish you and yours a wonderful Thanksgiving!
Andrew, from what I’ve read from your comments, you are an exception in almost every way when it comes to sex. I also worked with T1 guys while I was in 3rd Special Forces Group and on the whole most of them were as sexual as they come. I had to deal with a lot of sexual misconduct on lots of occasions.
That being said, masculinity isn’t bad, and neither is it good. It depends on how it’s used. You used yours for good, and I did too. However, some men destroy. Masculinity, if not controlled, is certainly savage. In fact, sometimes it’s savage when directed in a good way. After all, when we sent in a team on a raid we didn’t want them to be nice to the enemy. We wanted them to be savage and violent, but within certain borders.
To me, that’s what God calls men to do with our masculinity. To keep it within certain borders that he gives us. You can swing an axe to cut down a tree in order to build a house, or you can kill your fellow man with the same axe. It’s the same with sex. Some men rape or take advantage of women. Good men don’t.
Well said, Brian. In today’s atmosphere of political correctness, men are being shamed not for abusing their masculinity, but simply for being male. I’m glad I’m not in college now. Young white men are being bombarded with the message that they are by nature privileged predators, that they really don’t deserve to exist. Heaven forbid if they are fraternity brothers!
Unfortunately the church, as a whole, has fallen down on the job of solid Biblical teaching on marriage, especially sex in marriage. We hear pat answers, to-do-lists of things to make our marriages more godly, bandaids for a cancer. Until root issues are addressed, surface problems never go away. They just fester and get worse.
While I know there are cases where young white men are treated with suspicion, I think the problem is less prevalent than some might think. My young white men sons are doing just fine in college. I just want to reassure some out there that the world is still quite navigable for most young adults. 🙂
Bob, the interesting thing is that many people think the answer to men acting badly is for them to act less like men and more like women. In other words, masculinity itself is the problem. Now of course feminists invented a new phrase to disguise their hatred of masculinity on the whole, and call it “toxic masculinity”. However, ask any of these people what non-toxic masculinity is and they will either have no answer for you, or they will say something along the lines of “masculinity is whatever you want it to be.
What’s wrong about all of this is that there isn’t an over abundance of masculinity. There is a lack. Look at virtually any of the behaviors people point to as evidence of “toxic masculinity”, such as excessive drinking, sexual assault, being physically abusive, etc. Statistics show that the number one influential factor in whether a boy/man acts in that way is whether or not he had a father active in his life. So many boys are raised by women in single parent homes, are taught by overwhelmingly female teachers, and get indoctrinated by feminist colleges. Male influence is at an all time low. The problem isn’t too much masculinity, it’s that there isn’t enough of it in a boy’s life all too often.
To address J’s point about boys in college… if your sons refrain from going to parties and stay away from girls entirely (at least never be alone with one), they should be ok. There are ways to reduce your risk.
Brian, my sons do not go to “parties” as you might define them, but certainly enjoy social gatherings. And of course they spend time with women, because they enjoy and respect them. One son even has a girlfriend, whom we like very much. It shouldn’t be risky to spend time with the other 50% of the population if you’re choosing your friends well and behaving well yourself.
By the way, I would agree with a lot of what else you said, with the distinction of saying “some feminists.” I get asked sometimes whether I’m a feminist, and I find it a tricky question because it all depends on what one means by feminist. (In case you recognize the name, I’d say I’m more like a Christina Hoff Sommers feminist.)
I think my perception of this is colored by 32 years as a public high school teacher. I’ve seen so many changes over the years, most not for the better. And I’ve seen a big push, even in a relatively conservative community like where I live, to “tame” the masculinity of boys.
Now, I will never excuse bad behavior by saying “boys will be boys.” But the pressures of such stupid ideas as “gender fluidity” and “gender identification” have tried to blur all lines. The very word “masculine” has practically become a swear word. And any boys who behave in what I would consider properly masculine ways are often regarded as boorish Neanderthals who aren’t “woke” enough to realize that their behavior is passé, at the very least.
In my profession, men are in fairly strong evidence at the high school level, but in lower grades, the females so far outnumber the males that the influence of men is barely felt. And for so many boys, fathers are absent from their lives. Even if Dad is present, he’s often not much of an influence. (That’s nothing new. My workaholic dad was largely absent from my boyhood in the 1950’s – 1970’s. Hence a lot of the problems I faced.)
I remember reading a column by William Raspberry about 25 years ago. He was addressing problems in the African-American community, and his strong advice was “save the boys.”
So many churches are heavily dominated by women. I remember seeing a broadcast of some mega church service. The camera panned over the congregation, and I was struck by the absence of men.
Again, this is a “threading the needle” topic, because I don’t believe most men realized how many of us women had been harassed or abused by the small percentage of jerk men out there misusing their “masculinity.” So it’s hard for many women if/when men say that things were better before, because they weren’t better for us; the issues just weren’t as obvious. At the same time, I dislike the pendulum swinging the other way to blame all or even most men for the problems perpetuated by a few. It’s not masculinity to blame, as if femininity were inherently superior, but selfishness and sin. What helps is when good men stand up to bad men, and then teach boys to become good men.
I very much respect Christina Hoff Summers, even if she’s a definitely not Christian in any way. At least she isn’t crazy and anti-male, and fights against the ones who are.
Good luck to your sons. Christian men that protect themselves by not spending time alone with girls and don’t drink alcohol to excess in college have almost zero chance of anything bad happening. The college binge drinking mixed with hookup culture is 99% of the problem.
I appreciate that, Brian, but I wonder why you think it’s 99% of the problem. I didn’t engage in college binge drinking or the hookup culture, and—believe me—I still got harassed from time to time. And I know girls who simply went on a date and got raped. I’m only making the point that, yes, what you mention is definitely a huge problem and needs to be avoided, but it’s hardly the whole of the thing. Plenty of abuse/harassment and false accusations happened before the rise of that culture. Also, I really appreciate this article from pastor Kevin A. Thompson: “What a Drunk Girl Deserves”
I just really want us to be on the same page of fighting the real evil in our society. Pointing fingers against a group like “feminists” or “toxic masculinity” (no, I don’t know what that really is either) doesn’t seem to advance justice. Rather, we can band together and demand respect for both genders, while holding perpetrators responsible for their actions.
Well said , sir. As a man whom has seen “the dragon” in service to his country, and have many times in younger years used the tool known as controlled violence, to stop acts of agression, I know that the ART of being a man is compromised of strength tempered by gentleness, and love is the ONLY reason to fight for ANYTHING. This is what along with GOD giving her the go signial to me…any less we would NOT be happy husband and wife
Amen to everything you just said HubbyM.
Good, good job as usual…what bothers and kills me is the idea, at least in my home that…ahh, we’re married now, you don’t like it, sorry about your luck…and there’s the door if you’ve got a problem with it, instead of caring enough to possibly get help if it’s needed or at the very least take it seriously and try to meet each other’s needs…to feel that my feelings and desires don’t matter is totally against scripture and opens the door even “wider” to the enemy himself when one is made to feel that they don’t matter and aren’t loved…I know and have been told that they don’t understand how I could feel that way, but that’s exactly how it feels when rejected time and time again…How else are you supposed to feel??…Thank you again J, always, always a great job!!
Sounds very familiar. Every has to be on her terms. No oral, no showers together ( we have a large double shower). Sex is not a priority. In almost 30 years of marriage I can count on my fingers the number times she has initiated. She doesn’t try to understand. I showed her an article I believe it was from the Generius Husband blog about the 10 things husbands wish their wives knew about sex. Our love life was better for awhile but has gone back to the old norm.
What are the underlying issues? Oftentimes we try to get our spouse to have sex with us by understanding where we are coming from, but do you understand where she is coming from? What background or messages does she have that make her resist sexual intimacy?
One of the comments is “Its never good enough” I will try and get to the underlying issues. She is satisfied if everything is on her terms and sees no reason to change. No baggage from previous relationships I am her one and only. She sees no reason to talk about it. In anger she has said she could go the rest of life without it. I told her the other night while watching TV that was turned one just being in the room with her right then. She was honestly “weirded” out by the comment and didn’t see it as a complement. I told her it was just like a statement made by Josh McDowell once “ my wife turns me on and there is nothing wrong with that!” She didn’t think Josh’s wife would appreciate the comment. She would never in a million years visit your site or any similar site I appreciate the opportunity. I will re-read your post on how to talk sex with your spouse,
She sounds rather uptight about this topic. Have you considered visiting a marriage counselor with her?
I like your comment about your sexuality becoming our sexuality in marriage. Brings to mind the often overlooked verse about mutual submission to one another. I think a big myth for women is that they are less than their husbands. Submission to husbands is taught, but mutual submission is neglected. Been married 22 years, we are finally digging out from under that terrible lie. For a short time I thought I needed to be like a parent to my new wife. She thought her ideas, thoughts and dreams needed to be set aside in place of mine. My wife feels like she lost too many years of her life to this twisted thinking. The pastor who married us seemed to be a somewhat domineering husband, with a meek, submissive worn out wife. They seemed super holy, so we thought they were the right example to follow. Experience is a great teacher, though sometimes extremely painful.
The thought process in many Christians’ minds goes something like this:
“Sex is physical. Conversation is mental and emotional. Physical = the flesh, and we’re supposed to flee fleshly sins, so sex is, if not bad, at least very unspiritual. Conversation, especially spiritual conversation. Is very good, in fact, that’s the way husbands and wives should talk. So the husband should enjoy the spiritual conversations and the resulting emotional connection, but he should realize that his desire for sex with his wife is WAY down on the list of important things to do. In fact, he should be ashamed of this desire because it’s of the body, the flesh, and his enjoyment of sex proves how unspiritual he is.”
No doubt we put this in much nicer or “spirtual” terms, but that’s the message most Christian men get. When I was being refused, I hated myself for having such a strong sex drive. I hated the fact that my body betrayed me and made me less of a Christian. God help me, I was jealous of my wife’s Bible studies and devotionals. Where did I fit in on her list of important things? This battle made me think I was such a loser and a spiritual low-life. And I felt like I was a project for her, to make me more,spiritual.
All of this stems from the proto-Gnostic dualism prevalent in the ancient world and handed down to us in more “Christian” terms. Spirit = good, body = bad, so apart from making babies, sex is about the most unspiritual thing we do. This lie from hell is destoying so many marriages. It almost destroyed mine.
Yes, and I’ve also talked about this myth of physical = sinful. But Jesus often talked about the physical expressions of our love for others; for instance, read Matthew 25:31-45 where He says, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” Likewise, sexual intimacy is a physical expression of a deeper love between spouses, and even more interesting when we consider how God often uses marriage as a metaphor for the intimacy He desires to have with us.
At the risk of pushing an idea too far, I’d like to propose that marital sex is more than a metaphor for the relationship between Christ and His bride. Stealing an idea from C. S. Lewis, I think of sex as a sacred drama, if you will, where we enact something that is much deeper than the surface appearance.
For the husband, there is the idea of desire and pursuit, of penetration and fulfillment. For the wife, if I understand female sexuality at all, there is a desire that is responsive to the desire of her lover, a willingness to be invaded, so to speak, by her husband, and fulfillment. And from this physical act can spring new life.
Now of course, Christ is the perfect Husband, the One I need to emulate. The believer is pursued by Christ, has to surrender to His invasion, receive Christ into himself. And from this union is new life, a new creation. It may sound strange, but thinking of marital sexuality this way has helped me wrap my mind around being the Bride of Christ. As a man, I can relate to God as my father, brother, boss, friend, captain, comforter, defender, shepherd, etc. But to be His Bride was a very foreign idea.
I realize that some may find this idea too much to accept. Because as the God-Man Jesus was sexually a virgin, it seems to us that therefore sex is an unspiritual, un-Christlike thing. But He made me, including my sexuality, and He knows what He’s doing. Sex is an echo of this spiritual reality. But and echo is not unreal, and it is a true portrayal of its original.
I’ve written about this metaphor in both of my books, and I agree that it is a mirror of our relationship to God as bride to bridegroom.
Amen brother bobthemusicguy. Preach!
This Gnostic tripe is alive and well and preached or hinted at practically EVERY service in our “church”.
And then no one can seem to figure out why congregations are mostly women (and very old men) these days.
A hearty ditto to brother Ben on 20NOV18 at 559 too. What mine told me about 3 days into our “marriage”; “If you don’t like it, tough, you are married now…sucker.” Talk about bait-and-switch.
Going on 34 years of “Holy Deadlock” now. Gnostic church totally useless.
So why are you staying in those churches? When there really are good ones out there?
J, I wish it was easy to find such a church. It’s hard to imagine having a conversation with the pastor of a church I was considering along the lines of, “Tell me clearly what, if anything, you teach about married sexuality in this church.” Many otherwise solid churches don’t necessarily teach wrongly about sex. They just ignore it.
Maybe you can help. You and other Christian marriage bloggers probably (?) are networked much better than your average Joe or Jo in the pew. Could there ever be something like a church network that could be tapped into by your typical confused layperson? Now I’m sure that such churches wouldn’t want to known as the Sex-Positive Church Association. But if there were a church network along the lines of the Christian Marriage Bloggers, it would be a great resource. And it might encourage other churches to evaluate what they teach about marriage and married sexuality.
Intriguing idea! But I’d think that would be a role better played by a pastor. That said, I’ve had conversations with colleagues about how useful it would be for some of us to guest-teach a class about sexuality at colleges and seminaries that prepare ministers. I strongly believe that embracing a healthy and holy view of God’s design for sex and learning about real issues couples face in this regard should be part of a pastor’s training.
Regarding the idea of speaking/teaching to pastors where they learn, I think this is the best idea I’ve heard. Seminary schools and pastor retreats would be a great opportunity.
Ooh, I hadn’t considered pastor retreats! That’s a great idea, Brian.
Maybe there’s a pastor reading this who would be willing to take this on. It’s obviously a subject that is a major source of confusion and hurt. Putting sexuality prominently in its proper place in God’s design for marriage would go a long way towards strengthening marriages and parenting. And it would positively counteract the lies we have all learned along the way. A short discussion of sex in premarital counseling simply doesn’t cut it.
J, how many “sex starved” marriages are because of these myths? I was surprised at the comment above. I thought we were doing better in the bedroom. Are there still a lot of sex starved Christian marriages?
Short answer: We don’t know. Studies have typically shown 10-15% of couples qualify as “sexless,” meaning fewer than 10 encounters per year, but I don’t believe there are a lot of breakdowns within those studies (besides age and gender) to get a sense of the movement among populations. I believe we’re doing better in the Church overall, but nowhere near well enough — a lot of people are still hurting. By the way, I hear from plenty of wives about their frustration with a sexless marriage too, and I suspect some portion of their husbands learned this myth and suppressed their sexuality such that it’s hard to wake it back up.
I once heard a radio broadcast from a pastor I greatly respect, about adultery. Since it was in a sermon, he used child-friendly terms but got the point home. It was part of a series on sexual sin. Since I had been a refused husband at one point, I wrote to him and asked him if he was going to address sexual refusal as sin. He actually wrote back, but his answer was that he and his staff may talk about that privately with couples, but he wasn’t going to address it from the pulpit. Huh?
Sin is sin, and if a pastor is going to address sexual sin from the pulpit, it should include all. I really think that wrong thinking about our sexuality is at the root of it all, and from what I read, conversations I have, and a few honest times with other Christian men, I think “sex-starved” marriages are a lot more common than anyone wants to admit.
I also think the clinical definition of “sexless” is woefully inadequate. A couple might be having sex once or twice a week. But what if it’s always out of a sense of obligation (rather than desire) from one partner? What if one partner is desperately craving variety, yet the other refuses anything other than vanilla missionary? What if you’re having regular sex, but any sort of affection outside that is absent?
Obviously, a sex life like that is a big problem. It’s just not technically “sexless.”
I once read that men are way too ravenous by nature, to settle down and accept the responsibilities of husbandry and fatherhood. God, in his infinite wisdom, gave them a sex drive that is intense, and more or less constant. It keeps them going back where they belong.
I once read a book (forgot the author or title, its been a decade or so) in which the male sex drive was called “a beautiful urge”.
Yet such a phrasing is so far outside my observable realty as to be incomprehensible. “Ray” in the original article nailed my experience 100%. My experience growing up (in the church) was sex=bad, sex-drive=bad, having a sex drive=bad person. Forget anything about using it rightly or within the boundaries God has given; just having the drive itself was shameful and sinful. I spent my teens and tweens feeling like an irredeemable monster and a disgusting freak because of my drive.
Being married has helped, but only in parts; I can point to the many good things that marriage has brought; I can point at these and say, logically, that these good things have come as results of this beautiful urge; emotionally though – it is still a disaster. For example, my wife has said that feeling loved during sex shows a disappointing lack of spiritual maturity; my pastor and many others in my church feel that strong sexual desire for one’s spouse is sin.
The daily struggle is two-fold. The first is to overcome the deeply entrenched lies and swim against the enormous current and tell myself that this drive is good, perchance even beautiful, and accept it as part of myself. This struggle masks the second (and far more important) battle – to believe that God is good (i.e., given that a sex drive is morally bad, and given that God gave me this drive, therefore it follows God is not good) and that He was not mistaken in giving this drive to me.
Wynd, Yep, yep, yep and yep!!! A terrible logical, spiritual struggle isn’t it? Fortunately, as a teen I began to throw out all the churchology that was destroying my spiritual life. Along with all the list of don’ts I began to throw out all the sex codes, laws, restrictions, church laws, youth don’ts, keep pure, etc. etc. I did have a strong moral code drilled into me that kept me on the straight and narrow most of the time. Without that I would have been in deep trouble, and been in prison or had a bunch of illegitimate children running around. Of course that did not keep me from having a sexless marriage for a couple of decades. Things are better now that we have J. giving us some great tips.
The problem (for husbands) is epidemic.
Didn’t Al Mohler say men had to “earn privileged access to the marriage bed?”
I wonder, though. Would Mohler say a higher drive wife has to earn “privileged access to the marriage bed.”
I read the article, and the pertinent part is this:
“Consider the fact that a woman has every right to expect that her husband will earn access to the marriage bed. As the Apostle Paul states, the husband and wife no longer own their own bodies, but each now belongs to the other. At the same time, Paul instructed men to love their wives even as Christ has loved the church. Even as wives are commanded to submit to the authority of their husbands, the husband is called to a far higher standard of Christ-like love and devotion toward the wife.
“Therefore, when I say that a husband must regularly ‘earn’ privileged access to the marital bed, I mean that a husband owes his wife the confidence, affection, and emotional support that would lead her to freely give herself to her husband in the act of sex.”
I consider that a poor choice of words, Mr. Mohler, because while these are both commanded, they are not in a sequence that implies one earns the other. Moreover, the privilege of sex in marriage is a mutual one, not something exclusively bestowed by her to him. And, as you point out, Mitch, higher-drive wives throw a wrench into this reasoning as well. I get what Mr. Mohler is saying, but it’s just off in how portrays the marriage bed.
I think the reason this portrayal is “off,” as you say, is because marriage is a portrayal of Christ’s,relationship with His Bride. And that relationship is best characterized by the word “grace.” Every part of a marriage, both in and out of bed, should be infused with grace. Showing grace to each other is living out agape love, love full of right action, whether or not the feelings we call love are in evidence at the moment.
I’m so glad that I don’t have to earn anything with God. Granted, things I may do or neglect to do may hinder a deeper relationship, but the relationship is there always. My wife uses a good illustration for marriage. It’s like the two sides of a triangle rising from the base. As they draw closer to the apex, they draw closer to each other. We work on our relationship with God, and it draws the two of us closer together.
One more thought on this and then I’ll shut up.
I’ve been struck over and over with how often we approach problems as if they’re perfectly normal, everyday events. We lose sight of the fact that in this fallen world, nothing is really as it should be. Even our most “everyday” conflicts are the result of our fallen natures. Therefore, the things we need to do to deal with conflicts and mistakes are corrective.
As Christians we have the Holy Spirit indwelling our lives, so we have what we need to more nearly approximate in this world what God intended in His perfect creation. We have His truth to counteract the myths we all have learned. We have His strength to plow through hard times. We have His wisdom to better understand each other. And we have His conviction within us when we need to admit our sin and ask for forgiveness and grace.
Wouldn’t it be nice if blogs like yours weren’t necessary? That we lived in a world where men and women embraced their God-given sexuality? Where there was no abuse? But since we don’t, I thank God for you and your ministry, and other Christian marriage bloggers, and other Christian bloggers on many topics.
I heard a pastor talk about an economist who said that most of the poverty in the world would be eliminated if people would simply follow Christian principles. I say the same about our marriages, including our sexuality. If we apply Christian principles, we won’t go wrong. It won’t always be easy, but God will bless our obedience.
But we shouldn’t think that this is the way God made the world, including our marriages. We have to seek His ideals as found in the Bible and do the work necessary. As C. S. Lewis pointed out, we shouldn’t mistake medicine for food.
Oh, I would love to be unnecessary tomorrow. Every marriage bed holy, healthy, and happy? SOLD!
Since Al Mohler is a professional wordsmith, saying he used a poor choice of words is a very significant criticism. But if you read closely, notice the asynchronous nature of his depiction: Wives have RIGHTS. Husbands only have PRIVILEGES which must be EARNED. But that is a contradiction. That which is earned becomes an obligation not a privilege. That which is a privilege is, by definition, unearned.
In the first paragraph, he quotes from the very scripture that totally refutes his subsequent argument. The discontinuity is jarring. Paul depicts the marriage bed as a “due benevolence” that is based on the marriage covenant itself, not based on performance tests or trading of favors within the marriage.
One last thing. The requirement of husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church, is a significant requirement. But it by no means is “far higher” than the wife’s commandment to respect and submit to her husband. Both commandments are in direct confrontation with the sin nature of each spouse. Both commandments are extremely difficult, and given our feminist culture, the commandment to wives is made even more difficult.
Al Mohler is certainly more successful and well-known than I, but I’m also a “professional wordsmith.” Believe me, people are just fine being critical about what I say too. It goes with the territory! And hey, I’m not perfect, so I misspeak sometimes. I think Mohler misspoke here.
Just as a personal aside, I personally think it’s a much more difficult task to sacrifice yourself unto death on a cross for a person than it is to submit yourself in all things and respect a person. To me, husbands have a much more difficult requirement and at times it feels impossible to fulfill. God didn’t do men any favors by giving us the role we received.
I think it’s kind of like the verse “Be perfect therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect.” We have a high goal to aim for, but God knows y’all aren’t Jesus.
Read this passage from 1 Peter 3 and then tell me how much easier wives have it:
“Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, 2 when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. 3 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. 4 Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. 5 For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, 6 like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.”
That doesn’t sound so easy either. But what has been difficult in the past is now next to impossible because so many pastors are afraid to preach submission to women because they’re afraid of being called misogynists. There currently is no effort underway even in complementarian circles to elaborate on the true extent of wifely submission and many denominations are trying to weasel out of it by simply ignoring or re-interpreting the relevant verses.
Contrast that with the mandates to husbands, which are preached on and elaborated on and pounded into husbands, especially during sermons on Father’s day, which used to be a celebration of fatherhood and now is often simply a chance for pastors to attack fathers and lament the sorry state of fatherhood.
I’ve heard a LOT about submission in the course of my lifetime, Mitch. I think what’s different is that this teaching often happens in female-only circles, so maybe it’s not clear how much it’s been taught in certain churches.
I think anyone who believes that submission is an easy task, easier than sacrificial love, needs to remember how difficult it is for Christians to submit to God. Our wills are so powerfully set towards self that to break that hold is impossible without God’s intervention.
And we need to remember that even Jesus, who loves us so sacrificially, also lived a life on this earth of total submission to His Father. And He set the pattern for us by being led by the Holy Spirit during His earthly life. That is the real lesson to learn from the passage in Ephesians. It follows a discussion of being filled with the spirit, and then being mutually submissive to each other, ALL believers to ALL other believers. It is only in this context that any husband or wife can even begin to live a live of submission and sacrificial love.
Indeed. I’m SO OVER the comparisons of who has life worse! Just stay in your own lane, people. You have enough to worry about with all of God’s commands that you are not following. (And yes, I’m totally talking to myself here too!)
I couldn’t agree more. All the same, it is the expectation and we should never stop striving towards it. I definitely think I’ll be held to account for the level I loved or didn’t love my wife. And if I give my excuses, I feel as if Jesus will show me his hands, feet, and side in reply.
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I didn’t say it was easy in the least for wives to submit, and in many cases it’s incredibly difficult. I said it was MORE difficult to do what husbands were commanded to do. The only reason I point it out at all is that we treat submitting as a very conditional thing, and make it out like a completely unreasonable expectation. We give all kinds of “outs” for when it’s ok for a wife not to submit. Surely Paul didn’t mean for wives to submit “in all things” when he made that statement did he? I mean, God couldn’t possibly expect a wife to submit to a mean, unloving, even abusive husband would he?
And yet, I have yet to hear any conditions on a husband’s role to love his wife as Christ loved the church. There’s a serious double standard in how we treat it.
You might be surprised to discover that I don’t believe in unconditional love. Gasp! I know. How could I?! Look, I believe in extravagant love, but not completely unconditional. Nor would I go for unconditional submission, and there are numerous passages in which it’s clear that God’s will takes precedence over any human’s will. So if my husband is abusive, no, I don’t have to submit to that. Of course not! To stay and put up with that would be enabling sin.
I’m sorry if you feel put upon, Brian, but if we start keeping track of what we believe are double standards, males and females can both play at that. And it really ends up just fostering division and resentment.
I don’t feel “put upon” by God. He’s God, so he must know best whether I think I understand why or I don’t. What I don’t like is how most of the church today treats submission. Now, I totally understand why preachers are reluctant to talk about it. Our culture abhors women being submissive and sees anything like that as oppression.
But in the end, you’re right that we should worry about whether or not we are living up to God’s expectations and less about our spouse.
This particular post meant a great deal to me.
I grew up in the church and was very much led to believe the Skittles candy rainbow above – that all I (and my future wife) had to do was hold out until marriage. Then – after a little trial and error and learning – our self-discipline would be rewarded with Great Married Sex all the time. Real simple, said a million youth pastors (or so it seemed).
It didn’t work out that way. My wife came from an emotionally dysfunctional (Christian) home and that affected many aspects of our marriage, including our sex life. It took us many years to fully realize this. And we struggled with sex from the beginning, especially frequency.
Not knowing how deep-rooted our problems were, I scoured every Christian resource and followed every tip I could find to improve our sex life, but nothing really worked.
Instead I mainly just felt worse. Because the message I got over and over is that I – and my wife – just had to work harder to get to the Skittles Candy. Self discipline and hard work = reward, after all.
And some of the worst was from Christian men’s groups and resources. Because all they seemed to empathize was how volatile and dangerous our sexuality was…unless it was channeled though marriage, in which case, hey, it’s all great, right? Praise God!
Nothing ever seemed to really speak to me and my frustrations. Instead it made me feel there was something wrong with me for not being content with what sex life I did have.
Just once I would like to hear a men’s speaker say “ hey, sometimes married sex does not work out that well and that really sucks and is frustrating.” I never seem to hear that.
My wife and I continue to heal. It has been many years. Our sex life remains difficult but we can talk about it. But I am suspicious and hostile to most men’s ministry these days including almost all of the Christian male sex bloggers out there. Because all I see is the Skittles self-discipline = reward scenario still being passed on. So I appreciate very much this post and your ministry.
Your story is heartbreaking, and all too common. I applaud your commitment to get answers, despite how difficult that’s been. I believe God really wants you both to have exciting, intimate, satisfying sexual intimacy. May you nurture that in your marriage and be blessed!
Thank you. Again, I appreciate this blog very much.
Thanks for reading!
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I fell for one of these myths. I spent my whole youth being told that as long as I waited for marriage, I would be rewarded with a fulfilling sex life in my marriage. Sex wasn’t even discussed by my parents or pastor other than the standard “wait for marriage” line. I didn’t know that it was a discussion I was supposed to have with my fiancee before the wedding. I found out too late that she wasn’t interested in me physically. She rejected me on our wedding night and successfully avoided me for almost all of the honeymoon except for a single, guilt induced, tearful acquiescence. We barely had sex 10 times a year for our entire marriage. In the first 4 months of 2020 so far she has shown interest in me exactly once.
I wish that churches prepared young people to have these discussions before marriage to prevent this kind of thing from happening. If my wife and I had talked about this openly and honestly before we got married, we wouldn’t have gotten married. This would have been an absolute deal breaker for me but I didn’t figure it out until too late.
I think this is so key: “I spent my whole youth being told that as long as I waited for marriage, I would be rewarded with a fulfilling sex life in my marriage.” Waiting until marriage is a good idea—a godly idea—but that alone isn’t anywhere near enough. That time of waiting should be filled with quality teaching on sexuality, honest conversation about sex in marriage, and strategies to address any challenges that might arise in the marriage bed.
If it doesn’t happen before marriage, it must happen after. (Which is basically why I’m here, doing this ministry!) I’m heartbroken for you that your wife did not receive any reasonable preparation for sexual intimacy in marriage or prioritize it, nor has she been convinced in all this time to change her thinking.
I would assume you’ve spoken with her about it, but if not, you should. In case it helps, here’s a link to my final post in a series on sexless marriages which has the links to all the other posts included: Q&A with J: What Can I Do About My Sexless Marriage? Part 4
Praying for you!
J, I have tried speaking to her, written her letters, asked her to read articles (from here and other marriage sites), and asked her to read books with me. She has refused to acknowledge that this is anything more than “my” problem. I asked her to go with me to counseling but she refused that also, unwilling to even entertain the idea of talking about sex with an outside third party.
I only posted this as a warning for others in church leadership positions to deal with this before marriage, when it will actually make a difference. After a decade of this, we barely even touch each other anymore. There is no intimacy or connection. It’s a cold, and distant roommate arrangement with no passion, desire, or even conversation anymore. I can’t force her to change and I’m done humiliating myself by begging to feel loved.
And well-said, Bob. Every. word. The church has fallen down on this whole subject. That’s what makes J’s work so valuable. She’s filling in a desperately -needed gap!
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