Sex Talk: Eight Characteristics of Mutually Fulfilling Sex
The final installment of a three-part series
Sex is designed to be so much more than a momentary act of pleasure between two consenting adults. For us to access the deeper purpose of sexuality, we need to develop the following eight characteristics.
Exclusivity: When we say yes to our spouse, we’re saying no to everyone else. Our bodies now belong to one another and cannot be shared.
Oneness: Oneness is both mysterious and straightforward; spiritual but also physical. God designed marriage and marital intimacy to join together two distinct individuals who never lose their own identity and yet as a team become something more. This is most obvious in the act of sexual intercourse. As our bodies fit together, they are responding to an ancient call. We are meant to experience unparalleled connection with our spouse through intercourse and should always feel closer to each other after we make love than we did before.
Mutuality: I’ve had lots of candid conversations about sex during my twenty-plus years of pastoral care work where women have shared their frustrations and explained why they sometimes grow disinterested in sex. Because experiencing sexual pleasure and having an orgasm are more mysterious and less linear for women—particularly post menopause—sex requires a significant physical and emotional commitment. After fulfilling all of their professional and/or family responsibilities on a given day, women may feel making love requires more of them than they have to give. My husband Christopher offers these thoughts:
Men, we will experience richer, deeper, more fulfilling sex with our wives if we don’t push them or expect sex more frequently than they are able to engage. Women are often labeled as selfish or stubborn if they show any disinterest. There’s typically a lot more going on.
It takes most women’s bodies a minimum of fifteen minutes of foreplay to be physically ready for intercourse. Unlike men, sexual intimacy demands a level of physical, emotional, and mental focus that cannot be turned on like a spigot. Quick sex is rarely satisfying, often uncomfortable, and can result in women feeling used.
With regard to frequency, if we feel a compelling need to have an orgasm on a daily basis, it’s worth considering whether this is about being overly stressed and not knowing any other strategies to de-stress. Our wives are perceptive and will probably feel this disconnect, especially if sex is not really about being with her but about feeling better about ourselves or decompressing from our day. We would do well to consider sex as a form of communication rather than a performance.
Sacrificial: To achieve mutuality and oneness, we need to make sacrifices. When I’m in pain or tired at the end of a long day, I often prefer to settle into bed with a book than to be present to Christopher. But fatigue and pain are ongoing issues for me, so when I’m able, I need to push myself. On the nights when I can’t get around the pain, I ask for a rain check. Sometimes the equation is flipped. In the season when Christopher lost his mom and walked away from a job he loved, he was depressed and mostly disinterested in sex. Then I had to steward my sexual desires until he was ready. Our marriage vow should never become a credit card that we swipe at will to get what we want. Instead, our commitment should motivate and empower us to make sacrifices on each other’s behalf.
Honor and respect: Oneness, mutuality, and sacrifice should lead us to respect and honor each other—particularly when we’re naked and vulnerable. Christopher believes that
the measure of our humanity is how we honor each other. If your spouse had major surgery or if they have been a victim of sexual abuse, the more you honor their story, the more they will feel respected and loved. We don’t do this in order to get good sex: we do this because we want to honor our marriage vows and love our spouses well.
We also show honor and respect by loving our spouse’s body no matter how much it deviates from cultural norms, personal preferences, or pornographic illusions. Pornography amplifies the discrepancies between reality and our imagination. If we cling to the two-dimensional images and project these fantasies onto our spouse, we diminish them. Far better for us to accept, embrace, and love the whole of our spouse rather than some unrealistic, idealized image.
Vulnerability: Physical and emotional vulnerability are really about relinquishing control and trusting each other. Any number of issues or feelings can block us from being vulnerable including fear, resentment, trauma, abuse, or infidelity. Feeling ashamed about our bodies can also incline us to hide or hold back. While it may be difficult to fully give ourselves if we don’t feel at peace with our bodies, choosing vulnerability in light of our insecurities will help us move toward each other. In his book The Mystery of Marriage, Mike Mason observes,
To be naked with another person is a sort of picture or symbolic demonstration of perfect honesty, perfect trust, perfect giving and commitment. . . . Exposure of the body in a personal encounter is like the telling of one’s deepest secret.
Though this kind of vulnerability does not come naturally to all of us, we shouldn’t assume it’s out of reach. We may need to actively refute self-hatred or recommit to care for our bodies. Whatever it takes, however long it takes, accepting our bodies will translate to more fulfilling sexual intimacy.
Pleasure: God’s meticulous design of the human body offers compelling evidence that he cares about pleasure. Human beings are literally wired for pleasure. Skin is the largest organ and houses millions of touch receptors. One fingertip has more than three thousand nerve endings! Touch is the first sense to develop (in utero) and typically the last sense we lose in the aging process. Our spouse’s tender touch stimulates nerve receptors on the surface of our skin but also the production of endorphins such as oxytocin, known as the cuddle hormone.
During orgasm, our bodies are flooded with feel-good hormones that lift us up and out of our everyday reality. In its purest form, lovemaking between a wife and husband should be both bonding and transcendent. We need this, particularly as we age.
Healing and Restoration: Sexual intimacy is meant to serve as an agent of healing in marriage. If we learn to understand every act of lovemaking as “a reaffirmation of our marriage vows,”1 our yes! not only bonds us together but becomes a healing balm for our lover’s deepest wounds. Touch and intercourse allow us to bind-up each other’s broken hearts and speak life into each other’s dry bones.
Being an agent of healing in our marriage requires sustained patience, gentleness, and faithfulness. When our partner’s injuries are slow to heal, we may understandably grow impatient or weary. That’s our problem. Healing takes as long as it takes. (And the deeper the wound and the longer it has gone unaddressed, the more time healing takes.) If we try to rush the process, it may have the opposite effect. When we assure our spouse of our unconditional love and affirm that we’re not going anywhere, we create the kind of environment that facilitates healing and restoration.
When we fully grasp God’s creative intent for our sexuality and then align our thoughts and habits with his design, sex should grow more fulfilling and more meaningful with each passing year. This is good news!
This is the third and final installment of my series of married sex. You can read more in chapters eight and nine of Marriage in the Middle. If you appreciate what you just read, please consider subscribing to my Substack posts or to my monthly newsletter. Shares and likes are always helpful!
Photo credit iStock, Bartek Szewczyk.
Adapted from Marriage in the Middle by Dorothy Littell Greco. Copyright (c) 2020 by Dorothy Littell Greco. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
Christopher West, The Theology of the Body for Beginners.