If you grew up with any type of religious or faith-based household, chances are you were surrounded by negative messages about sex, overtly or subliminally. You may have been told that sex was reserved for marriage, hence it’s “bad” outside of marriage. Or, perhaps in a more sex-positive message, you were encouraged to save your virtue for your future spouse. The reasons may have still been quite vague about why we should keep a natural human impulse repressed. The mystery and beauty about the one-flesh union was never truly explained for most of us. It’s hard to openly express that to your child.
In my case sex wasn’t discussed in my home. There were the vague allusions to “bad girls” or women considered to be “hussies.” Makeup and stylish (aka “revealing” clothing) were discouraged. “Boyfriends,” “going steady,” and dating was frowned upon (and ultimately I just didn’t bring young men around to meet my disapproving dad). I think I sensed my parents’ fear about sexuality in their daughter. My parents were extremely private about their own love. They rarely exhibited affection for each other in public or in their home. The message was clear. Keep your hands to yourself. Don’t think about much less talk about sex. It was a topic to be kept under wraps, in the dark, mysterious, and forbidden.
It doesn’t take much to rack up a sex-negative vibe from our childhood. And, it more than likely didn’t stop many of us from experimenting or possibly falling into lustful situations and premarital sex. By the 70s “free love” was in vogue, and modern culture seemed to be giving us a green light for exploring our sexuality. Contraception was more readily available, Roe v. Wade became the law, and women could be in charge of their reproductive choices. Sexually transmitted diseases weren’t as rampant, and HIV/AIDS hadn’t raised its ugly head yet.
Men and women were postponing marriage as women were finding more professional opportunities in the workplace; men no longer were the “masters” of a woman’s destiny. It totally changed the dynamics of relationships and sexuality between women and men. The median age of first marriage for women and men in 1965 was 20.6 and 22.8; compared to 23.3 and 25.5 in 1985; and 25.3 and 27.1 in 2005 (source: US Census). By 2015 it was estimated the average age for first marriage was 27 and 29. Since the time I was a young girl, the average age of first marriage for a woman increased by 26 percent.
Single women and men are waiting a lot longer for marriage, and if choosing celibacy, for their first sexual experience. Teens are bombarded with sexual messages and pressure. As parents we taught the “true love waits” philosophy to our preteens. We knew we were fighting an uphill battle, but we felt led to train them up in the admonition of the Lord and give as many reasons as we could for waiting. We were well aware of the statistics of abstinence-only education, and also discussed safe sex. The statistics on virgins is probably much less accurate; however it seems a minority make it to their late twenties or marriage remaining “pure.”
Sexual images have always been a part of any society, but never have they been so openly attainable as they are in our current age. Anyone can find nudity and porn free and plentiful on the internet, including our young kids and teens. Porn can have negative and addictive properties; the debate on this is too big to address here, but suffice it to say that once those images are burned into your eyes, you don’t forget.
Those of us who hoped to stay true to our beliefs, and what we had interpreted from scripture, were bombarded with temptations and guilt. Many of us succumbed to temptations of the flesh. We didn’t remain celibate in our long singlehood. In many cases, we thought we were with “the one” we’d marry, only to be heartbroken to find out a year later, 5 years, or perhaps even longer, that marriage was not a part of the plan. Sex is also the proverbial potato chip that you can’t have just one of… Sex feels good, it is bonding, it is affirming. Once you’ve had it, it’s mighty hard to steer clear of it. Our Creator saw to that, in a bid to populate the earth. But for those of us who did burn with lust, the issue of guilt compounded our sex-negative views. The apostle Paul rather simplified his solution for “burning with passion” (clearly acknowledging this would be the case for many of us): “be married” (1 Cor. 7:9). If only it had been that easy!
If you and or your spouse came to marriage without having maintained your purity, you may be surprised to find that sex is a land mine full of potential booby traps, all set into place by the above realities, and perhaps a truckload of self-imposed guilt. Of course you want to enjoy your marriage bed, the wife of your youth, your beloved, to drink your fill of love. You want to experience, at last, the guilt-free joy of sexual union. Instead of coming together on a completely level playing field (and how often does this wonderful miracle happen?), you often bring quite a load of baggage into a marriage. And sometimes you don’t unpack it. At times you don’t fully accept the forgiveness God promises to confessed sin, and continue to wallow in the guilt.
If you can get to the procreation part of marriage, you often can justify continuing on in the marriage bed. But then there are little people around, and you start to justify putting off the marriage bed. Before you know it, time is short supply, you are exhausted, the wind is out of your sails, and you are looking for ways to avoid the complicated feelings you have about sex.
I came to our marriage wanting a full, profound and exciting sexual relationship with my husband. After a long-distance courtship of approximately 10 months (which equaled approximately 7 actual in-person dates together) and a major move for me, we had procreated 3 little human beings by our 3rd anniversary. We both worked outside the home (initially I was part-time), devoted every waking hour to being great parents, and life became a blur. The awkward settling-in process of actually getting to know each other in the biblical sense had been hijacked by sheer crazy, busy life. As the years progressed we found ourselves increasingly drifting apart. We seemed to put so little energy and communication into our expressions of physical love, that we both ignored our unhealthy issues, guilts, and attitudes about sexuality that needed to be addressed. We went into hiding, escaping into our busy-ness. Without passion and sex and one-ness, our marriage became dull and flat and contentious. It made us both increasingly question each other’s love.
I’d read quite a bit of the Christian literature out there on sexuality, husbands and wives, and marriage; we tried counseling and Marriage Renewal workshops. It was suggested to me to read The Gift of Sex by the Penners, and for the first time in my life I truly understood what sexuality was supposed to be. For the first time in my life I realized that every sexual part of me and my husband were created by God not only for procreation, but great pleasure together, something necessary to the well-being of our union. God liked sex, and he wanted us to enjoy it. He made us to be wonderfully creative and passionate and open to mutually pleasing each other in unique, personal ways; there was no “guidebook” per se. He truly didn’t give us any real boundaries in our sexuality, other than to respect one another, and to not deprive each other except by mutual consent and only for a short while (1 Corinthians 7:5—The Message translation really rocks). Scripture was also very clear about the need to trust each other and to show respect and love in selfless ways we’d forgotten along the busy way of life.
My secular reading choices haven’t always been the most elevated. I found myself enthralled by a serial best-seller that explicitly described the sexual relationship of a man and a woman, sometimes in unconventional ways. Perhaps unlike most who read these novels, a message I received from this series involved not only the unique ways in which monogamous couples may find pleasure, but the dynamics of a traditional male-female relationship, and the importance of communication. I learned that husband-wife sexual pleasure does not fit any one mold and is as unique as the individuals in the relationship—constantly morphing and changing.
As I will detail in my blog, I finally accepted my husband’s more dominant and leadership role in our marriage by finding my own submission as a Biblical wife. Through that transformation, we have been more able to fully open ourselves to the amazing, wonderful, fabulous, and bonding gift of sex. Our love has grown and found completeness in this gift that God gave us to enjoy together as husband and wife.