the other day i posted an answer to a ‘how much sex in marriage?’ question that someone left after a ‘Singleness’ blog post and it got a whole lot of attention… realising that Sex in Marriage is a bit of a Taboo Topic that doesn’t get much attention, this felt like a healthy conversation to continue and so i had an online chat with Val about some of the stuff that came up in the comments section, so we could share it with you:
[Brett]: Hey Val, so when you read through the comments section on the ‘How much sex in marriage?’ blog, there were one or two things that got your back up. What would you say was the biggest of those that caused a reaction in you?
[Valerie]: Hi B. I think for the most part I appreciated the comments and agree that sex (or at least one or both partner’s interaction with it) can be an indicator of deeper issues in a marriage. I think my biggest issue was the implied suggestion that a lack or reduction of sex is indicative of marital problems. This comment in particular got me: “I think that if a relationship is done properly, and both people are happy, comfortable and secure in the relationship, sex will follow, however if there are issues elsewhere in the relationship, sex will illustrate that.”
[Brett]: Hm, interesting. I agree that if there are issues elsewhere in the relationship then sex is likely to be one of the places where that will be picked up. But I imagine you are more hesitant about the idea that if things are good in a relationship that sex will naturally follow? Is that right or what exactly is it about that statement [in the context of what you've said about problems with sex can be an indicator of deeper issues within a marriage] that you are taking issue to?
[Valerie]: I think what I heard some folk say is that a lack of sex is ALWAYS an indication of deeper issues and marital “rot”. I don’t like the idea that the natural result of happiness, comfortability and security is SEX! The implication being that sex is directly correlated with happiness, comfortability, security and general health of a marriage (the more you’re having the better it is; the less you’re having the more “in danger” you are.) My concern here is that this plays strongly into the dominant role sex plays in our culture, both within the church and without.
For many churches, the prime focus on relationships before marriage is sex. Don’t have it!
And the prime focus on relationships after marriage is sex. Have it!
So sex dominates our understandings of relationships, marriage, love, mutuality, fulfillment, sin and right living, and health – in the church. Meanwhile, outside the doors, sex dominates too. We have a culture driven by sex and sexuality – it pervades our music, movies, the market place, books, magazines, and is placed at the forefront of relationships.
I feel uncomfortable with this preoccupation with sex both in and out the church, both before and after marriage. is all
[Brett]: I hear you on that and definitely agree with you. The church could definitely improve their stance on sex in terms of the way it is presented and spoken about [and not spoken about]. Ultimately if the church is not speaking about sex, then we have to turn to the other voices on it which will primarily be the media and Hollywood, not great proponents of healthy attractive sexuality.
Karen seemed to have a similar opinion to you on sex not being at the centre of marriage, but also spoke of how it can be a good indicator if something is not healthy.
“Many counsellors and leaders in churches that I know, when helping couples will ask what the sexual relationship is like to get an indication of the health of the marriage. So although it is not the be all and end all and both parties should be happy with the amount of sex that happens in the marriage, we have to make sure our marriages are healthy, that our relationship with God is healthy so that we lack nothing, that He fulfills our needs and makes us happy, so that we don’t expect our spouses to make us happy.”
Is that something you would agree with? That a good marriage is not defined on how much or little sex you are having [other commenters mentioned things like emotional issues, abuse in the past and other aspects which can affect your sex] but that it might be a warning sign, a smoke alarm if you will, to the possibility of there being a fire needing to be taken care of?
[Valerie]: In short, I don’t think the strength or health of a marriage should be defined on how much or little sex is happening. But, if one or both parties are finding the amount of sex (shall we leave the quality to the side for now?) an issue, which I believe is where the first blog post started, then by all means that needs to be addressed. And I think the first blog did that well – in essence you flipped it on it’s head from “how much am I entitled to” to the deeper issues that could, and often do, underlie a question like that. The back-story if you like.
My main concern is that we don’t perpetuate the myth that sex is the pinnacle of a relationship. It’s what we tell Christian young people before they get married and create in essence a mythical “IT”, much like Hollywood does. When the newly-wed couple eventually gets down to it we have bogged them down with so much guilt, shame, expectations and assumptions along with an idealized vision of “IT” which, let’s be honest, has little to do with the actual messy, fun, awkward, emotional, vulnerable, experience of sex-in-real-life that it’s little wonder they get so easily entangled in the complexities of it.
And I’m worried that similar discussions of sex and it’s place in marriage do essentially the same: elevate sex to being the “IT” of marriage – the purpose, the indicator of health, the thing we should be striving for (more or better of), the reason why we do the things that make our spouse feel loved etc (ooh, and that last one especially, the “I’m buying you flowers because I love you, but secretly I’m really just earning brownie points and we both know it.”)
[Brett]: Yes, exactly. You’re talking about the ‘No sex til marriage’ whip that is held above Christian young people [which becomes completely guilt-inducing every time they mess up in any way sexually] and then at some stage they get married and are instantly meant to change to a “sex is allowed and great” mentality. That is such a confusing thing we do to people and it can take years to work through that one.
Sex in marriage IS great. But you know what is also great in marriage? Cuddling. And cooking a meal together. One of my favourite things [and I think yours] is to lie next to each other at the end of the day and just talk about life and ‘solve all the world’s problems’ [well, most of them]. Also playing board and card games together. Watching a series we both enjoy. And so on. I think this is a message that could be given out a lot more on this one – that sex is great alongside a lot of other things that are great.
[Valerie]: Totally. We follow up the “no sex outside marriage” whip with the “sex in marriage” whip (that’s another story!) that creates a lot of guilt about how much is being had, shame about what is and isn’t allowable now that the general veil has been lifted, expectations about what it’s going to be like. So phrases like “if a relationship is done properly, and both people are happy, comfortable and secure in the relationship, sex will follow” just add guilt on guilt and shame on shame and resentment and disappointment and even blame at its worst. Yes, it IS wonderful. It is messy and awkward and vulnerable. It is fun. But it is also one – yep, just ONE – of a myriad things that make my relationship good and fun and healthy and fulfilling and satisfying and comfortable and secure and and and. Let’s get a little perspective in here, yo!
We would LOVE to hear your thoughts and comments on our thoughts and comments and any follow-up questions you might have…
[to read the original blog post that started this all, click here]