A Sexual Testimony

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.

The Story

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I grew more withdrawn from men’s ministries and resources, which just seemed to pile on more guilt and despair.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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17 replies
  1. SecondMarge says:

    I feel for the two of you. I understand to a degree although none of our situations are identical. I appreciate your honesty and we need to realize your marriage is far far more common than what we are told. You will learn together after the wedding and you wii end up having great sex. If not just pray. In truth the vast majority of marriages couples end up settling. Or one gets what they need as the other does not. Or having no sex at all. They stay unhappily together for the children or because they promised until death do us part.

    Hopefully part of what MH can do is help some of those couples. Hopefully we can help you know you are not alone. Your situation is the usual not the rare. I wish there was a solution.

    • Atlantic Man says:

      Thanks Marge. I'm pretty sure we're not all that different from many other couples. But there is a very idealized norm, even or especially in Christian circles, that everyone is either having great sex, or can have it if they just try hard enough. It's good to work toward that ideal, but corrosive if you start thinking you're the only ones that aren't there already.

    • SecondMarge says:

      Believe me I understand. When I started on MH I read about the women and they loved sucking their husbands cock. Could not get enough. They orgasmed after being touched or during intercourse. They had orgasm after orgasm, multiples. Anal got them off to intense pleasure. They masturbated for their own pleasure and for their husband to watch. None of that was my experience. If anything I was the exact opposite and felt even more guilty that I was so different than these marvelous wives. I had come a long way from my first marriage after mostly strict upbringing. Sex was almost entirely for my husbands benefit and that is what I told was a wife’s duty. It seemed anything that set of my curiosity about sex like seeing my Dad’s erection, It was shot down as wrong, even evil to have sexual thoughts. Touching myself was strictly against the teachings in the Bible.
      My second marriage helped me turn the corner. Thoughts were not evil and fantasies could help make sex more pleasurable. Self esteem in my body grew as my husband praised it and made me aware others enjoyed looking at my breasts. I could be a sexual being without being evil.
      I wish I could say we started having sex three times a day and I had multiple orgasms while giving a BJ. But the truth is I still rarely cum during intercourse and have never had multiples. But we found a compromise in the amount and types of sex we had. I started having an orgasm from oral or manual stimulation. I was able to accept pleasuring myself and found combined with a naughty fantasy I could have a strong orgasm without the guilt I was taught I should have.
      No a prayer is not likely going to solve sexual issues with your spouse. Not all people are sexually compatible. Maybe both partners starting as virgins has benefits but it also has risks. If you never had sex you have no idea what to expect, what you will want or how often. I’m not recommending pre marital sex. But my second marriage we were both more ready and willing to please and be pleased. That seems pretty typical.
      Most marriages are about things other than sex and worth working on. But most marriages fail and those that survive mostly have at least one spouse sacrificing their needs in order to save the marriage.
      I know the remarkable wives here are the exception not the rule. No matter how much I would like to be like them, I can’t.
      I wish I could give you a simple solution.

  2. Bertie says:

    You are not alone in this journey. I went through much of the same journey with my first wife. Sex was good and we had a wonderful marriage. But it was not what I hoped for as far as frequency and experimentation. It would take many years for her to open to a new sexual experience. It was the one place of constant friction for us. Thanks to sites like this and SOTB it gave me a healthy outlet and a place for conversation. I learned to accept it without bitterness, but deep inside, I always knew it could be so much more.

    My second wife proved that to be the case. The sex is so fantastic. We make love at least once a day and explore every sexual avenue between us that we desire. There is nothing I wouldn't do for her, and nothing she wouldn't do to bring me pleasure.

    You are so right, that just because marriage is the place for sex, it does not mean that married sex is going to be as fulfilling and satisfying as we may like. It is not an easy journey. There are no easy answers. Not many places in the church where it is safe to talk about sex and the highs and lows so that we can weep with those that weep and rejoice with those that rejoice.

    I am thankful for the opportunity to have the sex life I have always dreamed of…and maybe even more.

    • Stag-on-a-hill says:

      Bertie, have you written here about your experience. Maybe comparing the two experiences and what you have learned about this.

  3. kdm1984 says:

    Always sad to read about what happens to women raised in more authoritarian homes. It sounds like you've done the best you can with a woman from that kind of background.

    As I've gotten older, I've learned that my father is pretty much the polar opposite of authoritarian — very easygoing and live-and-let-live — and I didn't realize this until I started spending time in more churches and more online Christian communities (my family primarily did "home church" while I was growing up, so I was raised in something of a bubble). My dad is the sort who emphasizes God's love, and avoiding judgment, much more than God's law, and the boundaries side of the faith. If anything, I probably didn't have enough rules and regulations growing up; I was naive to both the world and the more legalistic side of the church, because I wasn't raised that way. I was never taught to be ashamed of my body, or to be terrified of sex, or that I had to follow a long list of gender norms (my dad likes women who are into sports, who excel in business, and other things I learned that some men might discourage or find unfeminine in women!). As a result, I thankfully have never had the more typical sexual hang-ups of other women. Very conservative people might say my dad allowed too much (in fact, some indeed have said this), but if I had to choose between being in a home that erred on the side of excessive latitude, vs. one that had excessive control, I'm glad I was in the one with more latitude. Legalistic people always fear too much liberty, but seldom consider that extreme rigidity is often even worse. All this to say, due to my unusual and much more lenient upbringing, my perspective on sex is very different from many other women — and while I can't find many people who relate to it, at least I'm thankfully not traumatized!

    • Atlantic Man says:

      Thanks for sharing, kdm. I am glad to hear you had a positive upbringing. I think family of origin has a huge effect on our sexual attitudes, even more than is already recognized.

  4. SexyBeasty says:

    I’m sorry but this might come off as an unpopular opinion.
    You seem like you are justifying your wife’s unwillingness to even match your drive. That isn’t right. It doesn’t seem like your happy. You deserve to be happy.
    Sex is an amazing gift of discovery for married couple. This sounds so far from amazing. This was hard to read and if I was your guy friend I would have my wife talk to your wife as your using the word grieve to talk about sex that is rough. Sorry if this comes off rough but this isn’t right.
    Don’t give up and don’t settle.

  5. LovingMan says:

    I understand much of what you are feeling. Many couples have desire discrepancies, including us. We also quarreled about the frequency of sex. We finally went to a sex/marriage therapist. In fact we went to a second therapist when the first didn’t help us much.
    The next therapist was actually a husband and wife team and they helped us. I, like you, was researching solutions as well.
    Our sex was more frequent than yours but it never felt like enough to me. Via therapy/sex & marriage therapy… I learned to appreciate what we had together. We also negotiated a compromise that worked well for us. My wife suffered from childhood sexual abuse so she still is healing. With that healing comes more variety in our sex life. I have learned to be happy with her progress. Her willingness to negotiate a compromise really helped our sex life and our marriage. Both of us getting personal therapy has helped our marriage as well. We set up a sex schedule that we’ve renegotiated a few times over the years.
    I would say that in many ways you are on the right track, Your love and patience with your wife are beautiful…but I would encourage you both to get more personal and more marriage therapy. Look for a Christian sex positive therapist.
    Your faith is actually quite inspiring to me. Yet I still think we all can benefit from counseling/therapy… including a good sex/marriage therapist. We did not see the sex therapists until we had retired and I wish we’d gone sooner.
    God bless you in your marriage.

    • HigherQuest says:

      LovingMan, I find it so interesting how similar your marriage experience is to my own. My wife and I have experienced the same issues, and while we've never gone to any form of counsel for it, we have read extensively, talked deeply, prayed fervently, and done our best to be patient and gracious towards one another in our different sexual needs and desires.

      As the years have gone by I have watched my wife slowly and surely change, open up, and become far more sexually acclimated than years ago. There are still areas where we see things differently, and in those it is sometimes difficult to navigate through those differences, but forcing each other to accept the other's perspective has never worked well. Talking, listening, and praying has made all the difference we have experienced.

      My suggestion would be for you to read helpful articles, ask your wife if she would be open to reading them, and then spend some time discussing them. We did this with anal sex, something she just felt was "wrong" before, and after reading, talking, and praying she offered to try it. Well…it blew her mind in a good way. Now, if asked whether she'd like PIV or PIA, sooo often she will say "I want be fucked in the ass…" Who would have thought such a transformation would take place. Sooo, we'll be praying for you guys that you both slowly arrive at similar destinations and your sex life just gets better and better over the years.

  6. Frankie says:

    While it is normal for husbands and wives to have different levels of interest in sex, don't know of many couples with the intensity of the problem you described. Most of the folks that were willing to even discuss the issue approached it with an almost joking atmosphere minimizing the importance. While not to the degree you described, we went through similar phases at various times in our marriage. In one of the more difficult, we were helped by reading and discussing the book, "His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage" by Willard F. Jr. Harley which is available from Amazon for about $16. Reading the book didn't help near as much as discussing it.

  7. RockyGapMan says:

    Well written. Thanks for your honest vulnerability. Subjecting your desire for greater frequency/variety in sex for the more important overall state of the relationship is admirable/commendable as a picture of God’s sacrificial love for us.

    Prayers for a more fulfilling sexual intimacy for you both.

  8. Sexygirlhorny says:

    Aww. A man has such strong sexual needs and urges. A woman’s body was built for a man’s pleasure. I think she should offer her warm body to you to satisfy your sexual cravings.

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