I have a friend who hates the word “sexy.” It has a negative connotation for her, while I’m eager to embrace the word when my husband uses it to refer to moi. Our histories and perspectives aren’t the same, and that’s okay. I’ve learned to adjust my word choice when I’m in conversation with her.
Especially since I have my own words about sex that trigger a negative feeling. Do you have trigger words as well? Do you know why they don’t work for you? And have you and your spouse discussed what language you both like?
Two Words I Dislike (from Ministries I Admire)
Juli Slattery of Authentic Intimacy has a fantastic ministry that addresses sex in marriage, but also sexuality throughout one’s life and in various circumstances. I heartily recommend that people check out her resources. But…
She talks a lot about “sexual discipleship.” And I cringe every time I see that phrase. I recognize her use of this term refers to something biblical and beautiful. However, years ago, someone close to me joined a “Christian” cult that emphasized having a mentor (monitor) who discipled you in the faith. That person eventually left, but the damage done by that experience left a scar in my life. From that experience, I concluded that, rather than relying on those who might abuse their power, I would allow myself to be discipled by Jesus alone.
But here’s the thing: the verb disciple simply means to teach or train. In that sense, Ananias discipled Paul. Aquila and Priscilla discipled Apollos. Paul discipled Timothy. And so on. My background makes me wary of that word, but that’s not Juli Slattery’s problem. She’s saying that Christians who understand God’s design for sex need to teach and train Christians and searchers who don’t know God’s design. Which is a great idea!
The second term I struggle with is “sexual anorexia.” It was coined decades ago by psychologist Nathan Hare to refer to a deep aversion, or a “loss of appetite,” for sexual activity, but it was perhaps more popularized by author Patrick Carnes in his book titled—[checks notes]—Sexual Anorexia. Many Christian counselors, marriage coaches, and sex therapists have adopted the term to discuss how individuals starve themselves of sexual intimacy due to fear, anxiety, and a desire for control—sometimes due to past trauma.
While I entirely agree with describing and confronting this scenario, the word anorexia was used against me time after time after time growing up. You see, I was a very thin girl. The most I ever weighed in high school was 104 pounds, my senior year. Believe me, I ate. But no matter what I took in, I was still a size 4 or less. And before you hate me for that…my thin frame involved having little to no curves. I ached to weigh more, to feel more womanly, to shop for clothes and have them just fit.
Instead, I had people constantly asking me if I was anorexic. Including my father. That word became a reminder that I was odd, skinny, less than woman. So I would never, in turn, use the word anorexic about someone without sure evidence, even with sexual in front of it. Something inside me flinches at the idea.
But that’s not Hare’s or Carnes’s problem. They weren’t the ones labeling me anorexic when I wasn’t. (And let me pause here and say that I have enormous compassion for those who have struggled with anorexia. It’s a terrible condition, and I pray for all who have experienced it, especially that they find healing and health.)
Have I Used Your Trigger Word?
Sometimes I say something in a way that triggers a reader and they let me know. I try to clarify my meaning, but it’s more than possible that I used a word or phrase that has a negative connotation for them. And I don’t always know what to do about that. Should I stop using perfectly good words because they don’t work for a few people out there?
If someone makes a good case why I shouldn’t use a term, I certainly take that into account. On our podcast, Sex Chat for Christian Wives, I try to stay away from words that don’t land quite right for my cohosts. Knowing, of course, that they represent not only themselves but other wives who feel the same way. But of course, we can’t catch everything that might trigger someone out there.
Indeed, when I read the Bible, I may come across a word or phrase that hits me all wrong. Sometimes I wish we could change some words that have so much baggage the core meaning of a passage gets lost (e.g., submission). But that’s not the fault of God’s Word. Rather, I have to know my triggers and discern accordingly.
Still, if I’ve used a term that made you wince, I’m sorry. That was not my intention. Rather, I try to speak clearly while also varying my word choice to reach an array of readers.
Does Your Spouse Know Your Trigger Words?
Whatever I say pales in comparison to how your spouse speaks to you about sex. I’ve devoted a fair amount of time and effort over the years helping couples communicate more tenderly and effectively about sexual intimacy. I wrote a whole book about it!
I’ve also addressed using words that work for your beloved, with such posts as Talking Flirty vs. Talking Dirty, 5 Sex Words I Really Want to Change, and 101 Words for Your Private Parts (But No Curse Words).
But the best way to know what triggers your spouse is to ask. And the best way your spouse can learn your trigger words is to tell them. I’m hoping this post will encourage couples to have this important conversation!
The best way to know what triggers your spouse is to ask. And the best way your spouse can learn your trigger words is to tell them.Tweet
Just find a time when stress is low, when you can focus a bit, and when you’re in a neutral or positive-for-both-of-you space and then pose questions like:
- “Are there words or phrases I use to talk about sex that bother you?”
- “What words would you like me to use to talk about our bodies and sex?”
- “Did you know that I don’t like _____ [word/phrase]?”
Talk about the why behind your triggers. Some spouses use vulgar or condescending language that most spouses would object to, but sometimes—like the words I shared above—it’s just about your own background. If that’s the case, interpret their words in the best light while requesting a change in how you discuss the topic.
And if you’re the spouse asked to change your words, follow through. It doesn’t have to make sense to you. You may not ever understand why a particular term makes your beloved cringe, but “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31). Show love and honor by cooperating with their request.
By speaking in ways that demonstrate esteem for your spouse, you foster emotional safety and greater marital intimacy overall—both of which are prerequisites for a healthy and happy sex life in marriage.