Flourish (Part 7): The Sex Part

And now, dear readers, we come to one of the most damaging parts of this book.

In some ways, oddly enough, I've been looking forward to this part, because it is here that my thesis shines through so clearly, and it is here that I can lay out some counterpoints to a few really flawed teachings out there that are unbelievably common.

I remember when I first really learned about sex, and understood what it was, and it was like eating the Fruit of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, or having scales fall from your eyes, because suddenly, so much of what made the world tick made sense. And I became aware of this whole subtext that lay at the foundation of every part of culture. I think it's important to note that here at the outset. Our views about sex matter, and so often, they remain unexamined, especially in conservative settings, because they can't be talked about directly and openly. Once in a while, though, we have an opportunity where those underlying beliefs and ideas are laid bare (so to speak), and we can address them head-on.

And this is one of those times.

Now, for the purposes of this article, I'm not going to work through the book in the order it's written. For some reason, the chapter entitled "When Your Love is Betrayed" comes before the chapter called "Intimacy in Marriage," which strikes me as odd, because generally, one begins with general principles and then deals with edge cases. 

So I'm going to take it from the other direction, beginning with general ideas about sex, and then focusing in on the applications in the "When Your Love is Betrayed" chapter.

The discussion opens with this passage.

What is your first reaction when you think about your husband and sex? Do you cringe and wish that sex was not part of marriage, or does your heart beat a little faster with delight at the thought of you unclothed in your husband's arms?

Many a girlfriend purposes in her heart to be a willing lover for her future husband. But then conflixt arises between the husband and wife in the area of marital intimacy. Unmet expectations or even the frequency with which the husband wants to make love can be overwhelming. Add in babies, lack of sleep, inhibitions from past influences and experiences, and the trouble can easily snowball. The desire that once was a flowing fountain can slowly dry up to a begrudging trickle.

Overall, this is a pretty good opening, with one concern: The underlying message that sex is something for men that women cooperate with. The fact is that sex is designed to be something for men and women.

In all fairness, she does state this later, saying that God designed both men and women to enjoy sex. But, in a sad turn, what the large print gives, the small print takes away. Witness.

God designed for a husband and wife to enjoy sex. Whether we enjoy it or not depends on how we choose to think. Will our thoughts be channels of love and delight, "a well of living waters," or will we allow our thoughts to travel down the rough, dusty channels of duty: Do I have to? Again? What is he? An animal? I just obliged him yesterday.

The whole tone of this paragraph indicates that sex is for him, and that her pleasure is incidental to the exchange. The fact is that if sex is good for both parties, and he is making sure that she is being taken care of as well, it's not going to feel like a duty. Why would it? People don't go to King's Mountain or Space Point or Cedar Island or whatever those worldly amusement parks are called, and say "Boy, I certainly am feeling obligated to ride those rollercoasters, even though I don't feel like it."

Pictured above: The face of obligation

The rest of the passage continues to push this point home. The main thing that you as a wife should be concerned about is your attitude.

You can choose to love your husband and give yourself to him with delight for your mutual pleasure; or you can choose, for whatever excuse, to hold yourself back. But if you hold yourself back from physical intimacy, you both lose. It matters not what is hindering you -- whether embarrassment, parental influence, a false notion that sex is bad, or whatever -- you have to power to choose your attitude.

Here's the problem. "Choosing your attitude" just papers over all these other underlying issues. If you keep having sex, while deep down feeling embarrassed, or like sex is bad, or whatever, and ignoring those problems, you are making the problem worse.

Oh, and frequency matters. And this is one of the big problems here, which isn't talked about nearly enough in conservative circles, and here's another shout-out to Sheila and her Great Sex Rescue (seriously, go read it, everyone!) Obligation sex will kill everything nice.

Many wives respond negatively to the idea of making love with their husbands once a day. Every night! What do you think I am -- a superwoman?  Yet these same women may pour themselves out teaching their children, clearning the house, going for coffee with a friend, and maybe even spend the time to pluck their eyebrows one hair at a time. Why are we so quick to refuse the good things produced by marital intimacy? Are we really too busy with household management or other pursuits to participate in an activity that invests so much gain into our marriage?

I don't even know what to say to this. I mean, I've heard of couples who are intimate every day, but I think it's kind of a bad idea to posit that as a normative thing. And frankly, that sounds a tad like a sex addiction to me.

Don't get me wrong. If you're both into it that often, go for it. But as an expectation? There are so many yikes on bikes that there is no more room for cars on the road!

I have a few other concerns as well. Doing sex well takes time. Placing this level of expectation on a wife means that you are urging her to put her feelings and needs aside most of the time. If she was arguing that couples should make time to share physical affection every day, I wouldn't take issue with that. And I think it's meaningful to point out that if we believe sex to be important than we should prioritize it. But it feels like there's a big thing missing in what sex actually does in a marriage, which is to bind the two into one, and that takes more than just frequency.

And comparing getting coffee with friends or cleaning the house to having sex is kinda weird. They require completely different activation energies and mindsets, and effort.

If you want your husband to act like a man, treat him like a man. His need for sex from you is much less complicated than some of the demands you may place on him. You may withhold your affection and your body from your husband just because he forgot to pick up a gallon of milk on the way home from work, or because he spoke impatiently to you just minutes before going to bed. Maybe you think that once or twice a week is enough, but perhaps he wants to make love with you every night, or sometimes even in the morning.

Seriously, this is really driving home the message that if you want to be a good wife, you have to be fine with participating in an unending, unfettered sexfest, and that's just not true.

There's so, so much to unpack here.

First, who does that? I mean, seriously. Are there really wives that look at their husbands and say, "We were definitely totally gonna have the sex tonight, but since you forgot to pick up the milk, we're not. Maybe you can learn from this." I mean, if you guys are doing that, please, for the love of what's right and good, cut it out. That's just pretty weird.

But let's look at the second point, which feels like some people aren't getting, and maybe there are people reading this even now that aren't getting it. Imagine the scene.

The couple is getting ready for bed, making light chit chat, the lights are turned down low, there's soft music playing, the kids are in bed, and both are feeling mellow and relaxed. In the midst of this mellow mood, there's a minor disagreement, and the husband's eyebrows furrow and he makes a snarky comment just as he exits the room to brush his teeth before bed. When he returns to the bedroom, he's all intent on snuggles, and kisses, and sweet love, but she seems cold and distant. 

What just happened was that he made her feel like he didn't care about her, and then expected her to participate in the activity that God created as an emotional and physical demonstration of complete devotion and love. Why would she NOT feel cognitive dissonance? He killed the mood. Shouldn't he expect that he needs to do something to repair things if he expects to have sex with her?

But this seems to be completely lost on the author in this passage, and a woman withdrawing is depicted as the one in the wrong. But the truth is that if she yields to intimacy in that moment, it will damage her soul and their long-term relationship.

But... she better do it, because if she doesn't, he might stop wanting her, and turn to other women.

Your willingness to get rid of grievances and to present yourself as a smiling, delightful lover will bring out a certain kind of strength in your husband. It is astounding what a good man will do for a wife who makes him feel loved and appreciated. Actually, a good man will do things for his wife because he's a good man, not because she sexes up his sex tank with suitable frequency. He is not asking for a life with you free of differing opinions from time to time. But your sharp, angry words and disinterest will quickly kill his desire for you.

A man may walk away from his marriage vows and strike up a relationship with a woman who is much less physically attractive than his wife because she makes him feel like a real man, someone to be appreciated and admired, and she is not afraid to tell him so.


OK. Something else that needs to be pointed out here.

Her husband, and men like this, are confused about sex. They are hungry for intimacy, real true actual intimacy. And that isn't found in sex. At least not per se.
Sex is an avenue of actual intimacy when it includes love, and understanding, and closeness, and attentiveness to the other's needs, and is the ultimate living and breathing expression of all those things being lived out in the relationship.

But when you have this view of sex, you treat it like a shortcut, and confuse a physical transaction for actual intimacy, and the emotional high of those moments for actual relationship.

They are the equivalent of the guy standing in front of the fridge and staring at the assortment of food, and saying, "There's nothing to eat here." Because the truth is that they're bored, or sad, or lonely, or depressed, and they confuse those emotions with hunger, but the truth is that what they are really looking for -- what they are really hungry for -- isn't in the fridge.

Yes, it is wrong for a man to choose to walk away from his wife, break his marriage vows, or deliberately view sensuous material. But, dear wife, do you have any idea what influence you hold to help him be stronger when he faces temptations? What impact do you think it has on your husband when his wife...

...withholds herself from intimacy to punish him for decisions she doesn't agree with?

...sees herself as more godly or better than her husband and points out his faults continually?

...communicates silently or with words that his desire for sex is far more than necessary?

...falls asleep night after night on the bed of a child or stays up late working until long after he is asleep?

...has time for shopping, their children, her blog, the house... but little time for intimacy from him?

Generally speaking, the lack of desire for intimacy doesn't come from lack of time on a schedule. It comes from a lack of desire because you are exhausted, or emotionally and mentally drained, and sex is supposed an act of total commitment and devotions, and requires some mental and emotional energy to truly participate.

It is the husband's choice to stray. But are you, his wife, doing all you can to make your marriage and intimacy hard for him to walk away from? No man can be ravished with a bitter, angry, controlling distant wife.

I gotta point this out. She's saying that the husband might stray, because of not having enough sex, and that he might not be attracted to a nagging wife. Which makes sense, I guess.

But the clear implication throughout is that any non-sex-having that's going on is the result of the wife's choice, which means that the husband is happy to forge ahead, whether the relationship is good or not, which means that he's lacking an understanding about what the whole point of sex is.

Do you make it too easy for him to trade his sexless marriage for another cheap relationship or gratify himself with pornograpy? Just as surely as twisted women are able to lure men into sin, a virtuous wife can use her influence to encourage her husband to morality, love, and godliness.

That's a heavy load, ladies.

This is so sad and bad. Your sexual relationship with your husband isn't supposed to be interchangable with porn or sex, and if it is, it's because it's a him problem. He has what other writers have called a "pornographic view of relationships."

No amount of sex will fix this. You are not a living, breathing sex doll. If he strays, it's because he has a straying heart, and there's no way you can satisfy that, and I'll tell you why.

Lust is the desire for what you can't rightfully have.

If a man has a lust problem, and he's single, that means that there are roughly 4 billion available women to lust after. If you marry him, that reduces the number by 1, so now there are roughly 3,999,999,999 women for him to lust after. See the problem?

When you want what isn't yours, no amount of being given what is yours will fix it.

Think about King David. Everyone likes to blame Bathsheba for bathing in public or whatever (which is dumb), but no one talks about the fact that David had multiple wives at that time. If the sight of Bathsheba had gotten him all aroused and in the mood for sex, David could have pulled out his cell phone, and sent Abigail a quick text.

But he didn't. Because he had a lusting problem, and he didn't want sex, he wanted Bathsheba. He wanted what wasn't rightfully his, and no amount of Abigail sex would have changed that.

One estimate I read says that David had eight wives and concubines at that point. You think he was sex-starved?

Note: I want to make clear that it would also have been wrong for David to lust after Bathsheba and then turn to Abigail for sexual release. Some men do this with porn, and it's wicked. Wives are not sexual receptacles to deposit your rampant sex urges into.

Expecting women to keep men on the strait and narrow is a common theme in this culture. Don't pick up that load and put in on your shoulders, ladies! You weren't meant to carry it. You're not responsible for him, and if he's a cheater, it's because, as one famous guy whose name currently slips my mind once said, he has already commited adultery in his heart.

I have lots and lots of other things to say, but this post has been super long already, so you'll have to stay tuned for Sex Part 2.

Until then.

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