I hear from a lot of newlywed couples who are struggling to sexually connect, wondering if this is as good as it’s ever going to get. Here’s a portion of an email that recently landed in my inbox:
I’m a newlywed woman, and my husband and I are having trouble connecting sexually. This has been unexpected and frustrating for both of us because we thought this would come more naturally than it has. My husband and I were engaged for a year and dated for a year prior to that, and we kept ourselves pure until our wedding night. When we first got married, I had a really hard time getting over the mental hurdle that having sex was OK — that we were not in sin. As you can imagine, this made it really hard for me to relax! I’m at the point now where I realize that sex within marriage is both ordained and encouraged by God, but this is not translating into freedom or passion in the bedroom — and my husband has been particularly frustrated by this. The lack of fulfillment in this area is now leading to tension, even spats between us.
This woman is not alone in her frustration, and perhaps because of stories like hers, a fear of not being “sexually compatible” with one’s future mate is high on the list of many singles who are saving sex for marriage. But despite the cultural wisdom that advises couples to “try things out” before they get married, I firmly believe that God’s design for purity is the right way to begin a marriage. While waiting to have sex may mean getting a “slow start” sexually, not waiting can potentially set a couple up for greater complications like lingering guilt from previous sexual experiences, doubt about each other’s trustworthiness, and disappointment if marital sex doesn’t seem as fun as premarital sex.
Let me just say it: Sex is complicated. There is nothing you can do (or not do) to guarantee a problem-free sex life in marriage. That said, you’re much better off starting your sexual journey with God’s blessing than starting it in disobedience.
Complicated or not, there are some practical things a couple can do to overcome sexual disappointment early in their married life. Consider the following tips:
Understand this is just the beginning
Wouldn’t it be depressing if the greatest sex of your marriage happened on your honeymoon? Imagine staring at 50 years together knowing that “it’s all downhill from here!” Fortunately, God didn’t design sex that way. Instead, a couple learns and grows together sexually as they work at it. Their experiences together can become sweeter as they communicate and become a team in combatting the obstacles they face.
Most of us are not immediately good at anything the first time we try it. Only through practice, commitment and study do we become masters at a craft. Why should sex be any different? By God’s design, you are novices on your honeymoon. The exhilaration of seeing each other naked and sharing a bed makes the first few months of marriage special, but that doesn’t always translate into great sex. You are at the very beginning of your journey.
Learn to laugh at the awkwardness and clumsiness of early love, knowing that things will only get better with time. Give yourselves time and grace as you acquire new skills in this precious part of your relationship.
Embrace God’s blessing
The woman who wrote this letter has the advantage of knowing what was holding her back from enjoyment in her marriage: “When we first got married, I had a really hard time getting over the mental hurdle that having sex was OK and that we were not in sin. As you can imagine, this made it really hard for me to relax!” Many Christian brides harbor feelings of guilt and shame about sexuality without ever knowing how to articulate this specific roadblock to intimacy.
Our thoughts and opinions about sex run deep. Even if we mentally acknowledge that it’s OK to have sex in marriage, we may still feel a lack of freedom in the marriage bed. Is God really OK with you going crazy with your spouse? How much fun and pleasure are you actually allowed to have?
Let me put it this way. Imagine that your sex life represents a spiritual battlefield. On the one side is God who designed sexual intimacy. On the other side is your enemy Satan, who fights against that design. Which voice encourages sexual pleasure in marriage? And which voice accuses and causes sexual division between a husband and wife? God created sexual intimacy to be powerful, pleasurable and exciting for a husband and wife, and there is nothing spiritual about limiting that pleasure.
In his book Sacred Marriage, Gary Thomas writes: “Our God, who is spirit, can be found behind the very physical panting, sweating and pleasurable entangling of limbs and body parts. He doesn’t turn away. He wants us to run into sex but to do so with his presence, priorities and virtues marking our pursuit.”
Many Christian couples have not fully accepted the truth that God gives His blessing on sex in marriage. They don’t yet understand that God doesn’t want a husband and wife to be caught in mundane lovemaking but to delight in each other. King Solomon wrote to his son, “Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love” (Proverbs 5:18-19). Now that’s some pretty strong language for pleasure!
Get help when it’s needed
While sexual intimacy in marriage is a private pursuit, there can be times when you need to reach out to others for help. At the very least, take advantage of some of the excellent Christian resources available on the topic (see a list at the end of this article). Read, watch or listen to some of these resources together so you can learn to talk about sex in healthy, constructive ways.
Also, look for a mentor couple, a husband and wife who have been married for at least a decade. A seasoned couple will give you an entirely different perspective on the challenges you are currently facing. They can offer you helpful advice and encouragement from their own journey. Sometimes just hearing that another couple has had similar struggles can provide some much-needed hope.
You may run into an issue that requires more help than what a mentor or book can provide. Physical complications like pain during intercourse, memories from past sexual trauma, images and unrealistic expectations because of porn use, or a fear of trusting your spouse to be faithful can be silent intimacy killers. These issues don’t normally resolve themselves with time, but require direction and expert advice from skilled professionals. Fortunately, more and more counselors and pastors are learning about how to help resolve sexual issues. (See Focus on the Family’s counseling services for helpful referrals).
Remember the spiritual battle
Above all else, don’t forget that sexual intimacy is a holy expression of love between a husband and wife. In 1 Corinthians 6-7 the apostle Paul alludes to the fact that our sexuality has spiritual implications. God is honored when a married couple works to build a loving, satisfying sex life. His design is tarnished when sex happens outside of marriage or when it becomes selfish and divisive in marriage. You have an enemy who would love to destroy your marriage (or future marriage) and would be happy to use sex to accomplish his goal. Don’t let him have his way!
Make a habit of praying about your sex life. (Yes, you read that right.) Pray individually that God will give you the right heart attitude toward your spouse and that He will bring whatever wisdom and knowledge is necessary for you to grow as lovers. Cry out to Him with your disappointment; ask Him for encouragement. Take time as a couple to ask for God’s help in this area of your marriage.
My husband and I have been married for 21 years. When we first got married, I could have written the letter at the start of this article. Sex within the first few years of our marriage wasn’t great. We had a lot of struggles, and this became an area of conflict and resentment in our relationship. The advice I’ve shared with you in this article comes out of my own journey as much as it comes from my expertise as a psychologist.
Let me encourage you: Sex is worth the wait, the effort, the prayer and the commitment. Not because sex is always great, but because the journey toward true intimacy is an irreplaceable gift. Love is easy when everything works just right … but is that really love? God can use every challenge and disappointment to teach you what it means to really love each other.
List of recommended resources:
No More Headaches, Juli Slattery
Passion Pursuit, Linda Dillow and Juli Slattery
The Way to Love Your Wife, Penner and Penner
Intimacy Ignited, Dr. Joseph and Linda Dillow, Dr. Peter and Lorraine Pintus
The Gift of Sex, Clifford and Joyce Penner
Java with Juli Podcast
Copyright Juli Slattery 2015. All rights reserved.