I want to share what I’ll call my “sexual testimony.” As believers, we are all used to the other kind of testimony. In this case, I thought it might be useful to share the story of my married sex life. This is just my side, not my wife’s. As you read along you’ll understand why it’s just me talking.
There’s no sudden story of conversion and redemption. But hopefully, I’ve learned some things that can be beneficial to others.
I’m middle-aged. I was raised in a Christian home with a great church and youth group background. I learned that sex was God’s gift for marriage and followed that rule. I didn’t have much initial success with dating, but I met a nice Christian girl in college. We dated and got married after graduation.
Though we fooled around, we saved sex for marriage. We also talked about sex and how much we were looking forward to it. But things didn’t unfold as I had assumed; our honeymoon was not the passionate sex-fest I had envisioned. Nor did things improve over time. My wife was into sex, all right, but nowhere near as much as I was.
We settled into a routine of sex about once a week, always initiated by her, with pretty quick sessions. I tried constantly to initiate and begged for more of everything – more sex, longer time, more variety. But it mostly led to fighting as she pushed back and said we were having sex, so why wasn’t I content? Why did I have to be thinking about sex “all the time”?
This constantly hung over me as a husband. I prayed to God and consulted every Christian resource I could for advice: books, the early Internet, men’s groups, etc. I tried EVERYTHING.
I constantly tried to talk to my wife about how to improve our sex life. I came up with countless ideas and suggestions. I tried direct approaches. I tried indirect approaches. I tried not bringing it up for a while. I suggested halfway solutions and alternatives to intercourse. Sometimes I tried confrontation. I poured out my heart and feelings. But in the end, nothing much changed.
Sex felt more and more like an occasional treat over which I had little control. This drove me into cycles of despair and anger, especially at God. I had followed all the rules! I was trying everything I could! Why was I not getting the rich sex life I thought I had been promised and deserved? And I could not understand why none of the advice seemed to work.
I grew more withdrawn from men’s ministries and resources, which just seemed to pile on more guilt and despair. There was no shortage of support for lustful thoughts, porn addiction, etc. But just a sub-standard married sex life? Well, that was simply a technical problem that a REAL CHRISTIAN MAN would fix. If there was a problem with my sex life, I just wasn’t praying and trying hard enough. So I just kept praying and trying all the things above, over and over.
I’d love to be able to write “then suddenly everything changed and now we have an awesome sex life.” But we don’t. Instead, we have both learned a lot and have much more perspective. I will explain how our thinking shifted and how we, and particularly I, learned to (mostly) accept the sex life we had been given.
Let me begin by saying more about my wife. Over many years of talking and counselling, we have learned to understand each other’s very different perspectives on sex.
I grew up in a loving, generous family. My wife grew up in a Christian but emotionally dysfunctional family. Trust and generosity were low. She had a poor relationship with her authoritarian father, who was not physically abusive but was self-absorbed and a control freak. It was a sink-or-swim family where you learned to fend for yourself.
We knew all that when we got married but did not appreciate—and I don’t think anyone understood back then as much as we do now—how much those past patterns would affect our marriage and our sex life.
Raised to stand her ground, my wife struggled with the vulnerability and surrendering nature of sex. Generosity and trust did not come naturally to her. She could only focus on sex and enjoy it if she felt in control. My constant attempts to make sex more casual and creative and varied—all the stuff the advice said to try—only triggered her defensive reactions and barriers.
Furthermore, her poor relationship with her father had taught her to resent and push back against male authority rather than respond positively to it. So she instinctively resisted my attempts to initiate and lead in the bedroom in a way that made me feel rejected and de-masculinized.
We also gradually realized that despite our similar Christian backgrounds, we had learned different messages about sex.
I received a lot of positive messages about sex within marriage in my youth group and elsewhere. My dad, an otherwise stoic man, made genuine efforts to talk to me about sex. My wife got almost nothing from her church and family except negative messages. Yet despite lots of conversation before marriage, we never really got how differently we had been raised to understand sex as Christians.
Pre-marriage, it wasn’t hard for us to talk about sex, because it was all theory and we were supposed to keep boundaries anyway. But post-marriage, this lack of positive grounding really inhibited her from being relaxed talking about sex or comfortable reading and seeking resources about sex, whether Christian or secular. Meanwhile, I had no such inhibitions and was completely clueless why she would.
Again, I’d love to say that all this changed with a miraculous awakening and now we have an awesome sex life. But that’s not the case.
Our sex life has not changed much over the years. There have been some small improvements, but it’s still once a week at most, and always much the same. But what has changed is our mindset and understanding of each other. It’s still an awakening, but a very gradual, ongoing one.
Over the years we each have learned to understand and appreciate how the other feels about sex. I have learned and accepted how challenging sex can be for her. She has learned and accepted that it is reasonable for me to want more sex.
We rarely fight about sex anymore. I don’t push her with demands, and she doesn’t push back with exasperation. This doesn’t mean either of us has given up! But we’ve learned that any change is going to be super-gradual. We no longer expect each other to just “smarten up” and change in the way we want.
Professional counseling has helped. We’ve gone for general marriage counseling, not specifically sexual issues. But understanding our marriage, especially many of the things above about our upbringings, helped put our sex life in context.
Talking to a trained third party helped my wife recognize and articulate many of the instincts that she had long buried but which were steering much of our sex life. And it helped me understand her and how many of my actions, including following much of the ‘advice’ I had consulted, were compounding rather than solving the problem.
My wife still finds it very hard to talk or read about sex. When we do talk about it, it’s a very careful, deliberate conversation on her terms. About once a year, she might actually read a Christian sex post or article that I suggest, and even then she rarely wants to discuss it. She also has some separate physical health issues that further complicate everything. But you know what? I accept that this is who she is.
I have learned an incredibly important point that I think Christians have badly failed to communicate and uphold: While sex is properly reserved only for marriage, this doesn’t mean that marriage will guarantee sexual fulfillment as long as you just try hard enough.
But “just try harder” was the message that I received for years and years, implicitly or explicitly, from youth groups to men’s ministries to many well-meaning Christian marriage resources. It drove me to despair because I couldn’t seem to crack the code and achieve the sex life I wanted, which in turn led to guilt that maybe I was the problem and was too obsessed with sex.
I’ve left that cycle of despair and guilt behind. I’m not saying I’ve figured it all out, but I’ve stopped beating myself up. I have allowed myself to grieve that I never had the intensive and varied sex life that I imagined I would have while also being very thankful that I do have a sex life. I accept—at least, on my better days—that this is the sex life God has given me.
Thanks for reading.
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