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You can do many things as a married couple and even pretend to get along, but sex is the litmus test. It is not unusual for a couple to attend church together for thirty years and be miserable in their marriage. They can pretend in the public domain but not so much in the privacy of their bedroom. People can be faked out, but when it’s time for physical intimacy, there is no faking. Though a wife may do her duty sex and the man may be oblivious, the fact is that the marriage is on hard times.
Intimacy is either right, and your marriage is good, or it is not, and your marriage is in trouble. If your sexual life is disappointing, there is a reason: sin separates, and the bedroom is the most prominent place where you will discern this division. A good counseling question is, “How is your sex life?” or “Talk to me about your sex life.” Fortunately, the Bible speaks to everything (2 Peter 1:3-4), so we do not have to go elsewhere to figure out what is wrong with our marriages.
If you do not deal with sin biblically, the tectonic plates of your sex life will shift, and your marriage will be off kilter. You will be out-of-harmony with each other, no matter what kind of front you present. Sin is what happened to our first sexual couple. Sin entered the picture and division arrived. They felt shame, which motivated them to hide from the truth (Genesis 3:7). This one verse in Genesis explains eloquently, powerfully, and sadly why sex can be such a problem in marriage and why it is an indicator of the more profound issues a couple can experience.
Sex is as transparent as two people can be, and if the marriage is not right, one or both partners will begin layering themselves with fig leaves. When sin enters, the fig leaves come on, people start hiding from each other, and there is no desire to be entirely vulnerable, exposed, open, transparent, or honest with the other person.
You cannot have real physical intimacy wearing layers of fig leaves. If there is unresolved bitterness, anger, frustration, guilt, disrespect, unforgiveness, hurts, malice, or insensitivity in any marriage, one or both partners will be hesitant to become completely naked–vulnerable and transparent–to thoroughly enjoy biblical sex.
No doubt a man can be mean to his wife and demand sex from her. I am also aware a woman can despise her husband and have sex with him. Hate or disrespect toward each other does not equal biblical sex. Biblical sex is an uninhibited willingness to unite with another person in God-centered, other-centered unity physically. God-centered sex is the most intimate picture of Christ and His church– thoroughly and comprehensively joined as husband and wife (Ephesians 5:28-30).
Biblical sex is the height of physical/spiritual unity. Sin will not only alter this kind of intimacy, but it will reduce sex to a person’s self-centered, self-satisfying, and self-serving cravings. Paul was able to bring the gospel to bear on all of life, which is why it is not surprising that he had so much clarity on how the gospel should shape and form our minds when it comes to sex.
“The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise, the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does” (1 Corinthians 7:3-4).
You cannot read this passage without seeing the gospel orientation of what Paul was saying. The gospel–Jesus Christ–is all about going, giving, serving, and helping. Jesus was clear about His purpose and role on earth (Mark 10:45). He poured out His life as a ransom for others. The word Christian means Christ-follower: we imitate Jesus (Ephesians 5:1; 1Corinthians 11:1; Philippians 4:9). Imitating Christ is not rocket science. We follow Him in all things.
When it comes to sex, we are to implement and fulfill the gospel’s expectations. Sex is not mainly for or about me; it is primarily for my wife to enjoy. If she has a gospelized view on sex, she’ll think similarly. The real question is whether I want to pollute the gospel by turning sexual love into a selfish pursuit. Porn is one of the worst manifestations of this kind of self-serving sex. Masturbation is another form of the me-centered sex worldview as the person satisfies himself (or herself).
A poor sexual relationship is a symptom, not a cause. Though the symptom is inside the bedroom, the reason is outside. If you do not fix the real cause, your sexual experience with your spouse will never be right. Let me say it another way: If you are having sexual issues in the bedroom, sin is the culprit, and the first place you should look is outside your bedroom, where the sin is happening, specifically in your hearts.
Sex is an extension of who you are as a couple. If your intimacy is not right, there are things in your marriage that are not right. Your sexual life cannot be wrong, and that be the only thing wrong with you and your spouse. Let me illustrate with an illustration: Suppose Biff slapped Mable across the face at 5 PM. It is now 10 PM, and Biff wants to have sex. Do you think Mable can freely give herself to Biff?
Though you may have never slapped your wife, it is possible you could have done things that have caused her to put layers on, which has restricted your sexual experience. Some have said sex is a 24/7 experience for a wife and jokingly said it’s about 5 minutes for a man. That is an ignorant statement. Physical intimacy is a 24/7, lifetime experience between a man and a woman. To understand this, you must know what is involved for a woman to be genuinely free to give herself up to a man.
For a woman to be free to give herself up to a man, there must be conditions put in place. Think about this with me. Let’s begin with the typical sexual experience of a man on top of a woman. That can be a picture of what a biblical marriage should look like–a man leading and a woman following (submitting). For the woman to freely follow her husband, she needs assurance in two primary areas.
Think about your most vulnerable moments in life where you sensed fear or the possibility of danger. What did you want to know from God?
If you know God loves you and you are aware of His protection (Romans 8:31), you can be vulnerable and free to follow where He leads. God has your back (Genesis 39:2). Love and security are two of the most powerful things a man can provide for his wife: give her your love and protective care.
God made Eve for Adam, not for Himself. Adam had a responsibility to take care of Eve, which he did by doing for her what God did for him: He loved her while providing a safe context for her to be vulnerable. If Eve sensed shame, guilt, harshness, frustration, disappointment, unkindness, or any other type of disapproving sin, she would have been reluctant to open up to Adam freely. Sin inhibits intimacy. Ultimately, this is what happened in Genesis 3:7.
Do You Want a Super-Hero Marriage?
Think about what orgasm is like for a woman. (I know, I’m not a woman, but I can still think about it, and this is how I think about it.) Orgasm for a woman is a fantastical trip to a place where she loses momentary awareness of where she is as she enjoys the height of physical delight. Let me illustrate.
Have you ever played the game where you were blindfolded, and someone put a mystery food in your mouth? You would not play that game if you knew the other person did not love you and was not interested in your well-being. Similarly, a wife needs assurance that her husband is entirely in love with her and he only has her best interests at heart. He is her lover and protector. This kind of assurance releases her to enjoy and experience love-making fully.
If she is not confident of your loving and protective care, she will have one eye on you during sex and one eye on her desire to enjoy it. She will be torn (James 1:5-8). At best, it would be a double-minded sexual experience, which is a frustrating experience. She will not have assurances of your love because of how you respond to her outside the bedroom. You cannot fake genuine love. If you love your wife, she will know it. That kind of love looks like the love of Christ, which frees your wife to close both eyes and take a fantastical, delightful trip.
There are several templates that we find in God’s Word to give us clarity on what the love of Christ looks like in marriage.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 is one such template. Another one that I like is what we call the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Galatians is the main template that I use to gauge how I think about and treat my wife. Nothing will remove the layers of reticence and send a wife into the freedom of intimate love like a man who is exhibiting these Christlike character traits. These nine questions are excellent to assess your “outside the bedroom love” for your wife.
Imagine if your wife experienced this kind of love from you. The love of Christ coming through you would release her to be vulnerable with you. If you both are humble, I would recommend you talk about this chapter (James 4:6). If one or both of you are not humble, I suggest you find help because there are unresolved problems that hinder you from getting to a place of maturity to where you can have a “Christian conversation” about your sexual relationship.
The critical thing to know is your wife must be free to be sexual with you, and if you are not treating her like God’s treasure, (1 Peter 3:7), your bedroom experience will always be less than what God intends. You cannot be snarky, mean, non-affirming, nasty, or unforgiving to your spouse and expect things to be right in the bedroom. You make things right outside the bedroom, and things will take care of themselves inside the bedroom.
One of the most overlooked aspects regarding how to make things right outside the bedroom is a lack of daily repentance in the Christian home. Most Christians do not clean up their messes: they do not know how to repent. Active repentance is the only way God has given us to clean up our messes.
Be a leader. Lead your wife. If you want her to respect you, act like Jesus. If you do not imitate Jesus, humbly, repent and remove the mistake, and begin emulating Jesus again. As God told Job, “Dress for action like a man” (Job 38:3).
That means, “Pull up your britches and be a man.” Give your wife something to respect. Take a hard look at the character of Christ, as seen in the fruit of the Spirit. Ask God to give you the grace to soberly assess yourself. Find a real friend who will help you change.
Unless your wife is unregenerate or insane, she will love you for it. Perchance she refuses to change, you can still be right with God. Be a God-centered, gospel-motivated, Christ-loving, Spirit-empowered, Bible-informed man for the glory of God regardless of how she responds to or treats you.