5 Characteristics of a Lasting Marriage - Sexual Intimacy
As we reflect on the Radical Love series, we have learned that there are five key characteristics to a lasting marriage: acceptance, conflict resolution, communication, managing finances as a team and our last we will discuss today: sexual intimacy. In our contemporary society, a widespread view of the sexual relationship, is that it is primarily a pleasurable physical act with little or no deeper relational, emotional, moral, or spiritual meaning. In the Biblical view, however, the sexual relationship between a husband and wife is fraught with profound significance in all those areas. Our culture has marketed sex as solely existing for an individual’s pleasure and fulfillment and a commodity for sale to the masses. The mystery is now cheapened and we are sold that sex out of marriage is just as fulfilling. We have been robbed of the incalculably valuable treasure. But we know this is a lie.
The extramarital experience is less satisfying than a person’s overall sexual pleasure with their spouses. The thrill of engaging in the forbidden turns out to be a disappointment instead. (Lauer & Lauer, 2008, p. 226). Monogamous couples, in fact, have the most sex and are happiest with their sex lives (Edward O. Laumann, 1994). Sexual infidelity is usually, if not always, a neurotic form of behavior that will be observed only in an unhappy and immature man or woman (Strean, 1980, p. 18).
Viewing sex as just a physical act can take away the intimacy God longs for you to have in marriage. So far is it from being viewed as just a physical act that it is actually regarded as something sacred. In Matthew 19:4-6, Jesus says that God created human beings male and female and that "for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate" (NIV). God Himself is thus said to unite the husband and wife in marriage and in sexual union. So in the Biblical view, sex within marriage is considered neither dirty nor simply an amoral physical act of pleasure. “The Bible teaches that sex is part of a man’s calling to live his life to the glory of God. Thus sex, like all aspect of our lives is to be placed in the service of God.” (GMF; 4.80) Finding pleasure in your spouse is not just a physical act but instead a way to serve and honor the Lord. It is an honorable expression of the most profound intimacy with another person and is ordained by God Himself. "Sexual 'knowing' is the worship service of marriage" (McDonald, 1976, p. 149). When one partner denies the other of sex, they are not just denying a physical act, they are breaking connectedness in their marriage. (1 Corinthians 7:3-5) (FFYM; 5.177) If God calls us to have sex with our spouse as an act of worship, are we not denying service to God in this area of our marriage?
So how do you build sexual intimacy in your marriage?
In a world of how-to manuals we are not going to go into technique (as Elisabeth Elliot put it, “If you get too technical you’re going to miss the blessing, You can’t learn the meaning of a rose by pulling it to pieces” (Elliot, 157). If you want to become sexually intimate with your spouse, you are going to need more than technique or to think of sex as a performance. We must see the act of love making as a way to spur on more important parts of your marriage such as honesty, good communication, and sacrificial love. Sex in a marriage should be part of a fulfilling intimate relationship and should be seen as the emotional and spiritual barometer to your relationship.
Sex contributes significantly to the happiness and fulfillment of the marriage relationship but cannot furnish the total or chief basis upon which a successful marriage is built. "There is no relationship between frequency of sexual activity and the stability of the relationship. A good sex life must include something more than intercourse . . . We can have intimacy without sex, but we cannot have satisfying sex without intimacy. In other words, sexual satisfaction is likely to be the result of, rather than the cause of, marital satisfaction" (Lauer & Lauer, 2008, p. 222). Elisabeth Elliot beautifully tells us:
Sex is not the most important thing that makes a marriage work. But it is important. It has no authority of its own. It cannot lead to freedom. It must not control. It cannot finally fulfill In love’s highest ecstasies the lover knows that this not all there is. The closest closeness is not close enough. The “I-thou” that we thought was ultimate brings us ultimately to that other Thou. It is the will of God that leads to freedom. It is the will of God that finally fulfills. The world and all its passionate desires will one day disappear, but the man who is following God’s will is part of the permanent and cannot die…Sex is part of the will of God for husbands and wives. It is one way in which they glorify Him. They are not to deny it to one another. Love your spouse, love to be close. Read the beautiful Song of Solomon, a love poem included in the inspired Word of God. The essence of sexual enjoyment is self-giving. Give yourself wholly, joyfully, hilariously (have we ever talked about the hilarity of sex, no one prepared me for how rollicking it can be at times!). You belong to each other. Each has “power” over the other’s each holding the other’s in holiness and honor under God. You will find that it is impossible to draw the line between giving pleasure and receiving pleasure. If you put the giving first, the receiving is inevitable.
Ways to Build Spiritual Intimacy
Couples should communicate freely and frankly about their satisfactions, dissatisfactions, and desires with regard to the specifics of their sexual relationship. There is a need for patience; it takes time to adjust sexually.
Some knowledge of sexual technique should be acquired through reading or other instruction in a biblical context (Sheet Music by Kevin Leaman)
Inhibitions that were proper before marriage must not hamper sexual expression in marriage.
It is the spouse's responsibility to communicate with his/her partner. Your spouse cannot read your mind and does not automatically know what you need or desire.
The differing attitudes of men and women toward sex should be understood.
A man has a greater tendency to view sexual union as an expression of love in itself.
For a woman, sexual union is more a response to an emotional sense of being loved and cared for in other aspects of the relationship.
The sexual expression of the couple should be the result and climax of their total relationship.
Sexual interaction is most rewarding when it is part of a caring, enduring relationship.
Affection, respect and trust are required.
Overall, we must go back to scripture to find truth about sexual intimacy, in the bible sexual intimacy is “to know” ( Adam knew Eve (Gen. 4:1 ) total human communication; far broader and more expansive that just the physical act; it is genuine. Sexual knowing is the result of a relationship, not a cause of the relationship. The nature of this pleasure is at the same time both physical and spiritual. It involves the total physical body and the total mental, emotional, and spiritual nature of both husband and wife.
To understand how sexual intimacy is different than sex, we will see it in this story of the mountain:
"There is a climber's ecstasy at the summit, as there is an ecstasy in the moments of sexual relations. But in both cases the summit experience is what it is because of the climb behind it.
The struggle, the planning, the pain, and the exhaustion were all part of the climb, and the thrill at the summit is compounded by the price that was paid to get there.
Imagine with me two climbers who have groped their way to a precarious summit on a climb that lasted three days. They have braved danger, fought the cold, and said 'no' to a thousand temptations to turn back. As they stand there triumphantly taking in the view their struggle has procured for them, a helicopter appears. It approaches the summit and discharges two passengers. They also stand on the same ground, feel the same wind, and see the same topography. They gasp at the beautiful panorama. But you may already sense with me that there is a difference between the two experiences.
One ecstasy is marked by the previous three-day climb and its accomplishments. The other ecstasy is relatively cheap. No pain, just an airborne bounce which cost nothing but money and a few minutes of time. You simply cannot equate the two experiences just because their momentary act of standing on the summit appears to be similar. The route and the price of getting there make all the difference in the world" (McDonald, 1976, pp. 140-41).
Seeing the sexual relationship with your spouse through this lens will help you to understand that true intimacy can only occur when the foundation of your marriage (acceptance, conflict resolution, communication) is laid. We must dispel the lies that have told us that performance and instant gratification is sexual intimacy. Sexual satisfaction is not about the individual. Sex was created as a triune in which husband and wife thank the Lord for this beautiful gift in the act of lovemaking. Although God has given us the gift of sex, we have used it for our own purpose, marring the beauty of the gift and using it as a tool for our own destruction. May we understand this truth and bring blessing to our marriage. May we see sex as a gift to be shared and as an expression of our love for each other and for the Lord.
Resources on Issues that Prevent Sexual Intimacy
Spouses with Differing Sexual Appetites
https://www.youtube.com/watch?annotation_id=annotation_1865186011&feature=iv&src_vid=MDRFB6rAMjw&v=Ep2MAx95m20Pornography and Sexual Intimacy
Wisdom for Husband and Wives