In the course of my twenty-five year marriage, we’ve made good sex a priority. That doesn’t mean it’s been effortless. Anything in marriage that’s good takes effort and intentionality. In all regards, we’re still a work in progress.
We had more than a few vulnerable conversations about our hopes for the marriage bed before saying “I do!” At the top of our list was the desire to always be present to each other while we were intimate. Then and now, if we can’t be present, we wait. This has sometimes translated to lying side by side for half an hour until both of us can clear out the day’s debris. (And if we can’t, we ask for a raincheck.)
In order to be completely present, my husband had to ruthlessly end his addiction to sexual fantasy. He had to not only leave behind the familiar images, but also invite me into his sexual expressions. (Control and self-centeredness being two of the more nefarious effects of pornography that rarely get discussed.)
And I had to learn how to trust him. To believe that I was enough. That he could enjoy my flawed and imperfect body. My default response in the face of fear is to withdraw. When you’re naked next to the one who knows you best, no act of resistance goes unnoticed. Even when the lights are out.
Our work in progress also includes refusing the broken narratives offered by our culture. The former, as illustrated by Fifty Shades of Grey or What Women Want whispers that we should simply acknowledge our animalistic desires and seek to get them met, regardless the potential cost to us or to our marriages. Apparently, the momentary pleasure of an orgasm supersedes the sacred vow made before friends and family.
But it’s not only secular culture that muddies the water. Far too many Christians adhere to broken patriarchal systems that make mutuality in the bedroom harder to achieve. For example, if a husband mistakenly assumes Paul’s passages on submission (i.e, Ephesians 5:22-24) means a wife forfeits her right to say no to his advances, sex will fall short of God’s divine design. Or if a husband mistakenly understands sex as a birthright rather than a gift meant to increase intimacy and strengthen his love for his wife, he runs the risk of alienating her—rather than loving her as Christ loved the church.
Thankfully, my husband has never made sex his number one priority. Nor has he ever expected sex on demand. We both believe that sexual intimacy is so much more than one person routinely surrendering their body for the sake of someone else’s pleasure (which sounds an awful lot like prostitution). It’s about mutual submission, mutual trust, and mutual pleasure.
Perhaps because of my husband’s connection to pornography, perhaps because we’ve sat with so many couples over the years who are shattered due to someone’s choice to pursue hedonistic sex, we err on the side of sobriety regarding sexuality. No erotica, no romance novels, no Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, and no movies that earn their R rating due to adult sexuality. This means we walk out of the room during Super Bowl Halftime show. It means we see fewer movies than your average American adult. It also means that we’re less likely to be disappointed in the bedroom because we’re not falling short of what we’ve seen.
This sobriety fosters trust and that trust fosters intimacy: emotional, spiritual, and physical intimacy. The trust and intimacy translate to tremendous freedom. Freedom to laugh, or cry, or ask if we might pause. Yes, this commitment to mutuality does mean that we may not have sex as often as either of us would like. The choice to honor each other’s no, results in days, or sometimes even weeks of waiting and stewarding our longings.
But when we do give ourselves to one another, it’s deep and rich. It’s an extension of the ways we help each other to flourish. We unselfconsciously offer the whole of who we are in a way that allows us to truly and beautifully become one. And that is totally worth the work.