A Damaging View of Sex
Fears of wedding night sex
My friend Liza Wright, a licensed marriage and family therapist who specializes in Christian sex therapy, told me this the other day. Many of the women come to her in tears, not knowing how to put feelings into words. They feel disconnected from their body, emotions, and spouse. They experience a surge of emotions that they thought would finally unify everything, but instead it just makes them feel more divided.
And the men Liza counsels often have a lower libido than the women. This leads the man to fear something is wrong with him, and possibly makes his wife feel she’s not attractive enough or something is wrong with her for having a bigger sex drive than her husband. Both feel sad for not being able to please each other.
The root cause of the low libido and divided self are similar for men and women; Liza suggests the cause is when we consider our sexuality to be sinful. We divide that part of ourselves from the rest and shove it into the shameful crawlspace of our soul. Or when we have engaged that sexual side of ourselves it was in a lonely, shameful way, pairing it with the opposite of intimacy.
Some couples, Liza said, don’t even consummate the marriage because they just feel so guilty about sex for so long, they can’t bring themselves to do it.
I know these aren’t the issues every person will deal with, but I asked Liza for her advice on how we can recognize and address them even before marriage.
Liza sighed and said it’s really difficult. It’s unique to each situation, but probably a slow and systemic change is needed.
Christians shouldn’t be afraid to, in the right situations, talk about sexuality in a healthy, guilt-free way. Part of the reason for the stigma is because Christians often discourage talking about it, as if the topic itself is wrong. At our age, we may already need some help to reunite the parts of ourselves, but if younger generations hear us talking about sexuality in a healthy way, they can avoid this dis-integration. In reality, God made us sexual beings. It is a beautiful, God-designed part of us that should not be shunned or guilted into hiding. It is just as worthy to be recognized at the table of self as our other facets.
Automatically pairing sexuality with guilt is what encourages the damaging mindset of, “What exactly can I get away with and not be sinning?” Looking at sexuality as a list of dos and don’ts is a big part of the problem. We need to see sexuality as a part of ourselves that was built for good — a part that needs to be recognized, cherished and nourished, but tempered with a happy fear and grateful self-discipline until the right time: marriage.
A good way to rescue our sexuality back from the shame pit is to talk about it with trusted people. If we can get comfortable addressing it in safe conversation, it will more likely feel safe to practice it when we are with our spouse. Liza referenced the book “Safe People” by Cloud and Townsend as a great resource in getting started. Think of a mentor or counselor you know whose marriage you respect, who you have not seen gossiping about others, and who seems likely to help you explore your feelings more than just tell you what you need to do. Ask if they’d be open to talking about it. If they don’t seem like a great fit, explore others. Then try to open up about your sexual feelings, your past experiences or abuses, your hopes and your fears. Let the counselor guide you toward truth and healing.
Liza uses her grandparents as a positive example of verbalizing healthy sexuality. At Christmas, her grandpa always gives his wife a note in front of everyone and says with a wink that she probably shouldn’t read it out loud. She blushes and everybody in the room smiles. One time he even said, not trying to hide it from anybody, that this year he was going to install a dancing pole in their room. And they always joke that there is a lump in the middle of their big bed because they sleep all night clumped together in the middle of the mattress. Their relationship communicates that sexuality is good and is meant to foster love that lasts.
Sexuality needs to be an integrated, valued, rejoiced and nurtured part of our person. It’s difficult to do that as a single person, but remember the sexual side of us is highly nuanced and multi-faceted. It can be welcomed at the table by its parts that aren’t only meant for under the nuptial covers. For example, affirming your attractions in healthy ways helps “normalize” aspects of your masculinity or femininity that are in danger of being otherwise suppressed or manifested sinfully. Even small things like not being scared of hugs are a starting place for some — simple hugs with friends can link intimacy with touch.
All things require balance. We don’t want to give sexuality a bigger, brasher seat and allow it to dominate conversation at the table, because then the other facets will be neglected. But each aspect requires affirmation and acceptance under God’s guidance. God has created all of our facets to work together in unity for something very, very good. He desires whole, healthy, and unified people, ready for His service.
Editor’s Note: For a continued conversation on healthy sexuality, listen to this week’s show featuring segments with author/pastor Gary Thomas and counselor M.T. Wilson.