When my four kids were little and life resembled a 24-hour paper towel commercial, I read a statistic in Parents magazine that something like 78% of new moms, when choosing between sex and sleep, chose sleep. Um. Duh. (And to the other 22%: Please divulge your secret.)
I needed a REM cycle so badly I probably shouldn’t have been operating our Cheerio-infested minivan. As soon as my body got horizontal, wild horses couldn’t stop my eyes from closing, as long as said horses had clean pants.
Now that I have kids old enough to both bathe themselves and microwave a plate of nachos, it’s easier to prize and cultivate the gift of sex to my marriage. Like money or time, sex is a microcosm of any marriage. It was true when our kids were young, too, amplifying my burnout and my husband’s and my need to sacrifice for each other in a thin season.
But even then, our marriage needed sex.
I needed my husband to completely see and gently welcome my postpartum body, granting tenderness to the all the overused, newly sagging parts.
I needed him to say in ways more than words, You are desirable to me even when you feel like you have nothing left to give. Let me focus on your needs and pleasure for this sliver of your day.
And personally, even when short people wanted something from me around the clock, I needed to open-handedly offer my last drop of energy to my husband and reiterate, Your needs and our connectedness still matter. We still take priority, floating here on this sea of apple juice.
What’s your sex life tell you about your marriage?
Does your marriage need sex?
Maybe we need sex more than we think. Our souls are welded to our bodies. (Doubt it? Watch how hunger, rest, hormones, and health issues affect our interactions with others, with God.) The God who associates Himself with feasts, rest, healing, and freedom also, particularly in Song of Solomon, affiliates Himself with sex.
1. Sex restates, over and over, our connectedness in ways that cling to us.
Our married relationships furiously need the marital glue that is sex. We need that refrain of “naked and unashamed” (Genesis 2:25), the mini-vacations to our private kingdom, the return to the lush, steamy garden of Song of Solomon. Sex restates our intimate unity.
And just like in marriage as a whole, when we’re not consistently turning toward each other, we’re turning away.
Sex is love and connection we choose to experience in our very bodies, a wash of intimacy in our minds and emotions. Paul sets a high bar for connection between any believers: “Have unity of mind” (1 Peter 3:8). And sex is a physiological refresh of our unified passion, devotion, and feeling for each other. So it’s more than about what our bodies participate in.
If sex is only checking off a box of “generously” meeting your spouse’s needs, that’s a problem. If you’re disengaged during sex, examine where that’s emerging from. Turning the tables, would you want your spouse’s heart distant or apathetic while you’re making love?
Juli Slattery, president of Authentic Intimacy, asks whether we’re pursuing sexual intimacy together—becoming connected lovers (“naked and unashamed” with more than our bodies) who share a journey. Or is the bedroom just about sexual activity, focused on compatibility and frequency, physical attraction, and the immediate pleasure of having our own needs met?
2. Sexual rejection and injury hit hard—and leave us vulnerable.
Because God designed sex as holistically intimate (see 1 Corinthians 6:16-20), rejection of either spouse stings our sense of being wanted, desirable, or even worthy as a person at the most intimate level.
As one rebuffed wife reflected, “His list of ‘reasons’ [for not wanting sex] is endless. This leaves me feeling unloved, undesirable, and rejected.” (Check out “‘I want sex more than he does!’ 4 Tips for the Sexually Frustrated Woman.”)
And this rejection can propagate a vulnerability to fill the void, albeit illegitimately, through emotional or physical affairs, addictions (like workaholism), marital conflict, and porn.
Does this mean a spouse is responsible for the other’s infidelity or porn usage? Absolutely not. When sex becomes an obligation—particularly out of fear—that’s problematic. It causes pain for both of us.
But we do care about how we can nurture and receive a spouse as our “brother’s [or sister’s] keeper” (Genesis 4:9, Galatians 6:1-2).
Author and podcast host Brian Goins explains there’s a “sense in which porn—which we’re not endorsing—is like McDonald’s. I’ll settle for counterfeit or cheap or bad nutrition because I’m just hungry. It tastes good for a little bit, and then afterwards, I feel a little sick. But I’m willing to eat that if that’s all that I have.”
In a healthy marriage, both spouses embrace sex that welcomes and pursues their whole selves—starting with the foreplay pillow talk all the way to the next morning’s pre-work flirtation.
But we also need sex for our healing. One in five women will experience sexual violence in her lifetime, almost half from an acquaintance, and statistics suggest one in six men have also been sexually abused or assaulted. At this holistic, intimate level, trauma and pervasive damage mar us. We need exceedingly safe, gentle, tender places that facilitate the long process of healing from the inside out. Places that rewrite brokenness and theft with a narratives of wholeness.
Wondering where to start? Check out this podcast on “God’s Heart for the Sexually Broken.” Or read The Wounded Heart.
3. Sex expresses our story together.
Sex in a committed relationship evolves to so much more than the lusty, honeymoon-style, can’t-tear-my-clothes-off-fast-enough version alluded to in movies (fade to black).
One of the beauties of healthy, married lovemaking is the growing, layered knowledge and understanding of each other, the communication and variety. The little adjustments as you learn one another. The mutual honing of technique and familiarity. The crazy memories (“Remember that time…!”).
Yes, still purposefully fan passion for each other. But we need sex also to express the ways we’ve journeyed and locked arms just as much as lips—perhaps through pregnancy, repentance, grief, playfulness. Returning from that isolation of deployment or a work trip. Rolling over toward each other for consolation after a tough day, or the texture of each other’s skin.
Continuing the fast-food analogy, married sex travels far beyond ripping the wrapper off the drive-thru hamburger when you’re famished. Married sex can impart the warmth of home-cooked comfort food … or languish like five-course gourmet from the crostini all the way to the Crepes Suzette.
For me, fulfilling sex is about the person I’ve known and loved and walked with all along. And in that rich, time-cultivated tenderness, I see God’s own fidelity: the depth of His steady companionship, His attentiveness, His generosity, and our intimate communion.
4. Sex shows God to us on an intimate level.
Read the cover of Cosmo (or maybe don’t?) and you’ll get the idea sex is an animal need like food or, hey, sleep. Secular media will nod that void of sex we’re deprived, maybe with the right to expect or even demand satisfaction.
That level of sex frankly cheapens what goes on between us.
Slattery reminds us sex displays God to our bodies, but also our hearts and souls. We have sex with the whole person. And it’s one way God intimately demonstrates physically and otherwise His faithfulness, passion, and sacrifice.
Both men and women need sex because we need the holistic expression of Someone loving us with constancy. Ardent desire and pursuit. Someone who sees us, accommodates us, cultivates and waits for our minds and bodies, unpacks the day with us before we mutually receive.
Not only that, but (attention, Cosmo) we also need to be the ones loving like that, selflessly sacrificing for our lovers.
That’s why it matters to be superb lovers. It’s not a line item on our spousal list of excellencies. It’s an outplay of how God loves both of us.
Embracing our worn, embattled selves. Kissing our metaphorical stretch marks. Cradling our fears. Cherishing the private knowledge of our embarrassments and ecstasies. Working patiently to learn and procure our intimate delight. Jealously, loyally rejecting counterfeits and competitors. Forgoing personal fulfillment at times for the pursuit of long-term mutual delight.
Who doesn’t want to be loved like that?
Pro tip: Check out the 52-question assessment, “How Can I Be a Better Lover?” in FamilyLife’s online course, The (Nearly) Complete Guide to Better Married Sex.
5. We need sex when sex is tough.
Sex can feel challenging, incompatible, and weird because marriage is challenging, incompatible, and weird. As Slattery points out, so often love requires we reach toward each other. And despite the ease implied in movies or novels, that reach sometimes requires some Herculean effort.
It might mean a supernatural effort at forgiveness. Or finally talking to your spouse about the ways you don’t feel seen or respected by them. Maybe it takes prayer and thought to figure out why you want to hold back, or why you’re angry or hurt on a level that just doesn’t want to be wholly naked with this person.
Sex is intimate and holistic enough … it’s hard to hide what’s really going on.
If sex isn’t happening in your marriage, it’s time look beneath the symptom to what could be damaged. In fact, pursuing sex without addressing some deeply rooted emotional pain can create more harm. Have infidelity, porn, or other trust issues fractured your sense of safety? Could you use counseling to find where your lack of sex stems from?
Your marriage needs sex more than you think
Ultimately, married women and married men need sex for the same reasons. Even when Adam was in the Garden of Eden with only God, before sin broke the world, God said it wasn’t good for Adam to be alone.
Our spouses show us a version of God we can touch, see, hear, feel, taste—and thoroughly, intimately enjoy.
Copyright © 2022 Janel Breitenstein. All rights reserved.
Janel Breitenstein is an author, freelance writer, speaker, and frequent contributor for FamilyLife, including Passport2Identity®, Art of Parenting®, and regular articles. After five and a half years in East Africa, her family of six has returned to Colorado, where they continue to work on behalf of the poor with Engineering Ministries International. Her book, Permanent Markers: Spiritual Life Skills to Write on Your Kids’ Hearts (Harvest House), empowers parents to creatively engage kids in vibrant spirituality. You can find her—“The Awkward Mom”—having uncomfortable, important conversations at JanelBreitenstein.com, and on Instagram @janelbreit.