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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Get your sex life off the merry-go-round and ride the roller coaster once in a while.

As part of my Gift of Sex series, we have looked so far at giving more sexually, both in terms of frequency and engagement.

Today I'm concluding my Gift of More segment with one more area that comes into play for many in determining sexual satisfaction: variety.

Sexual boredom can hinder sexual fulfillment whenever couples fall into narrow routines that limit activities during lovemaking. It's easy to get comfortable and even lazy, because we humans tend to be creatures of habit. We tend to gravitate toward familiar patterns.

Competing Chemicals

There is an interesting tug of war going in your head, whether you realize it or not. Brain science has shown that these two competing forces are: 1) our desire for comfort and 2) our need for adventure.

Young love is dominated by the presence of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain, which act like a narcotic and give us that head-over-heels-in-love feeling. Over time, these chemicals lessens and are overtaken by oxytocin, which is important for bonding the long-term relationship and puts us in a more contented, even keel state.

What does all this have to do with sexual variety?

The excitement in our brains over new sexual experiences causes us to feel similar sensations to when we were in that early, head-over-heels, giddy-in-love stage of our relationships, aka the honeymoon phase.  At the same time, over the same set of experiences, we can also experience fear and be driven by a desire to seek “safer ground” for the relationship.

When it comes to sex, our desire for the security and safety of the familiar fights against our desire for the thrill of the new and different. Depending on your personalities, one or the other of these may have a stronger influence on you than on your spouse.

Where's the Line?

You see a lot of marital advice about "keeping things fresh" in the bedroom. Certainly changing things up from time to time and trying out new sexual territory together can keep your relationship from getting stale, but it's important to keep focused on the fact that sex is designed to build intimacy. Growing in intimacy should be at the heart of every discussion you have about new sexual experiences.

The goal of sexual exploration is not experiences for the sake of experiences, but experiences for the sake of building intimacy.

So where is the line between what's okay to explore and what isn't?

The fact is that the Bible doesn't draw many of those lines. If it stays between two married people and both agree, then it's probably not out of bounds from a biblical perspective. But just because it's permissible, doesn't mean it's a good idea.
'I have the right to do anything,' you say—but not everything is beneficial. 'I have the right to do anything'—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.
1 Cor 10:23-24 NIV
Exploring new things together (whether in or out of the bedroom) can certainly yield increased excitement and intimacy, as long as it is done in a healthy and selfless manner.

The Merry-Go-Round and the Roller Coaster

Sex drive and personality both play a significant role in the level of sexual adventure you are comfortable with. A high drive spouse who is the adventurous type is going to want to do a lot more exploring than a lower drive spouse who tends to be more conservative in nature. In addition, you or your spouse may have some history or past baggage that causes you to consider certain erotic behavior as being "over the line."

In general, I think every relationship needs a balance between tried-and-true and new-and-different. If your sex life is mostly like a merry-go-round, get off it once in a while, step outside of your comfort zone, and take a spin on a roller-coaster. You might just find a roller-coaster or two that you actually enjoy.

Expressing sexual desires requires a degree of vulnerability. However, your spouse might be more interested in accommodating your interests than you realize. In my recent survey, 98% of husbands and 86% of wives agreed or agreed strongly that they should at least try to accommodate sexual requests made by their spouse. Even among wives who did not see their husband's sexual satisfaction as their responsibility (just 11% of all wives), greater than half agreed that accommodating requests was still a good idea.

My friend, Paul Byerly, of The Generous Husband, wrote an excellent post on his X-Y Code blog that explains sexual exploration using a playground analogy:
Bottom Line: Your husband probably wants to play in more of the playground than you do. Please do not blame this on his porn use or past sin. While those things do have an effect, men free of those influences also want to explore most of the playground. His desire to play on all the toys is part of being a man; it is part of how God made him. 
I strongly suggest you read Paul's entire post, He Wants to use the Entire Playground, which includes six specific steps you can take if you and your spouse aren't quite on the same page concerning sexual exploration.

Don't Settle

Society will try to feed you the lie of inevitable sexual decline. Don't buy it. Sure there are challenges to keeping your sex life exciting for the long haul, but there are plenty of things you can do to stoke the flames of desire and excitement if you are willing to take a little bit of risk once in a while.

Here's a specific challenge to prompt you to action: take turns with your spouse bringing something new to your sexual repertoire once each month for the next six months. (Work out between you whether or not you want to talk about it ahead of time or if you want it to be a surprise "in the moment.")

I'm curious to know. If you could choose between increasing sexual frequency and increasing the variety of your sexual repertoire, but not both, which would you choose? Leave a comment

image credit: analina / 123rf.com

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

7 ways to be more fully engaged during lovemaking.

We are in the middle of a Gift of Sex series that started back here.  As part of the series, a few weeks back we started exploring ways to give "more" in the sexual dimension of your marriage, starting with The Gift of More Often, which explored the issue of sexual frequency.

Today we are looking at:

The Gift of More Engagement

As I said in The Gift of More Often, frequency is not the only factor in sexual satisfaction. You could be having sex often, but if you do not you feel your partner is fully present and engaged during your sexual encounters, chances are you'll be left feeling less than satisfied. This fact probably accounts for those in my survey that were having fairly regular sex but rated their sex lives as less than satisfactory.

Sex was designed by God as the ultimate and most intense expression of intimacy. If both of  you are not fully present during your sexual encounters, the intimacy you experience will be inhibited. Intimacy is about fully knowing each other, and if either of you is "absent," that's not really possible.

Eventually, dissatisfaction will cause frequency to decline, because lack of engagement sends  the message that your spouse isn't interested in you or attracted to you sexually. Ouch! Most people will respond to this by withdrawing sexually in order to avoid being hurt further. Remember, in my recent survey, 98% of husbands and 97% of wives said it was either important or very important for them to feel that that their spouse desires them sexually. Communicating your sexual attraction to your spouse really matters! (BTW, if you haven't yet, please take my sexual satisfaction survey)

That communication of desire starts with giving yourself to your partner frequently, but engaging freely and fully during your sexual encounters sends an undeniable message of "I want you." 

What does engagement look like?

What matters most is that you engage in the ways that mean the most to your partner, so the best idea is to have a conversation about it.  Ask each other, "are there ways in which I can more fully engage with you during our lovemaking?" As with any discussion about sex, it's important listen to your partner's answer without being defensive or passing judgement.

If you or your spouse have trouble finding the right words, here are some common ways in which to more fully engage with each other.
  1. Be present - keep your mind focused on your spouse and on what you are feeling.
  2. Be involved - actively find ways to provide pleasure to your partner.
  3. Be enthusiastic - express desire with eager words and bold action
  4. Be vocal - get comfortable communicating pleasure.  It not only shows engagement but also helps your spouse know how to please you more. 
  5. Be focused -  keep your mind in the game and push aside those thoughts that want to distract you (this is often a challenge for the ladies due to the different way their brains are wired).
  6. Be free - don't allow fear or shame to cause you to hold back. Let yourself go. 
  7. Be immersed - press fully into both giving and receiving pleasure as an expression of your love for each other.
Whether you realize it or not, you bear a significant part of the responsibility for your spouse's sexual satisfaction. My survey found that 89% of  husbands and 86% of wives agree or agree strongly with this notion. Here's an unavoidable truth:

Engagement plays a significant role in sexual satisfaction, and without it you can't experience the fullness of intimacy God intends for your sexual relationship. [Tweet This Now]

Pick a Place to Start

If engagement has been an issue for you, don't be overwhelmed. Start slowly. I challenge you,  next time you make love,  pick just one avenue of engagement, either as suggested by your spouse or from the list above, and do your best to stretch yourself in that one area. Once you find a degree of comfort with that one, pick another area to focus on developing.

What dimensions of engagement do you find the most challenging? Which ones are most important to you to receive from your partner? Share your thoughts below in the comments.

image credit: analina / 123rf.com

Friday, January 2, 2015

Welcome to 2015! 

The turn of the new year is always a great opportunity for fresh starts. Whether your are a person who makes resolutions or not, it's a chance for all of us to reflect on the previous year and to dream a bit for the year ahead.

Blogging with Peace and Joy

I went into 2014 with some high hopes and big plans for this marriage ministry thing I do. Yet, after a year of juggling a demanding more-than-full-time job and my blogging and other marriage ministry activities, I find myself in a similar place to where I was at the turn of the previous year. I'm still wanting to do more, to reach more people, to write more, and ultimately to impact more marriages.

In many ways, many of my aspirations for 2015 are carrying over from last year. Yet, this year I'm more comfortable with the fact that there will always be more. It's taken an especially challenging blogging year to realize that I need to be okay with wishes and dreams that may sometimes have to be deferred, yet without losing hope.

I sense that Lord is calling me to be at peace and to take joy in the doing of the things that He has called me to. I need to take joy in the doing, not just in being done. He wants me to live in the moment, each moment, and to stop striving. Easier said than done!

God makes it clear in his Word that I have available to me "the peace that passes understanding" - that's a supernatural peace that has nothing to do with circumstances or how much I accomplish.

He has also made it clear that living at peace (that is, Shalom - the concept of whole being wellness) is the key to also living in joy. Not happiness. Joy. Joy that springs from an inner well, that finds pleasure in being and not just doing. Joy that places my identity in who God says I am and not in what the world says.

Joy - the ability to delight in God, in his endless love and grace toward me, and to eagerly anticipate whatever He has for my future. [Tweet This Now]

I often need to remind myself that peace and joy are both fruits of the Holy Spirit. That keeps me grounded in the reality that these are not things I get by striving in the natural. These are not things I will get from making New Year's resolutions over.

These are gifts that come from Him by the Spirit. If I want to enjoy them, I need to learn to abide in Jesus and to be continually being filled with the Spirit. He is my ultimate source of peace and joy.

Marriage with Peace and Joy

What marriage struggles have you faced in 2014? What hopes and wishes have been deferred, and what are your desires for the year ahead? Do you find yourself another year further along in your marriage journey and yet facing many of the same issues?

Whether 2014 was a breakthrough year for your marriage or it feels more like a year stuck in neutral, there is always more ahead for your marriage. In that way, not surprisingly, marriage is a lot like our walk with Christ. There is always more to discover, more to grow in, new levels of intimacy available, a deeper levels of surrender, new experiences to enjoy.

But the Lord does not want you to strive and struggle in the marriage journey. He wants to infuse it with His supernatural peace and joy. His desire is that you lean into Him and trust that He only has the best intentions for you and for your marriage.

It's fitting to recall what the angels proclaimed at Jesus' birth.
I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people...
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men.
(Luke 2: 10, 14)    [Tweet This Now]
My prayer for you, me and our marriages in 2015 is that it would be a year full of supernatural peace and joy.

Oh and one other thing. I feel that the Lord has declared to me that when I learn to walk in peace and joy, power will follow. Power to do all that he has called me to. Power to see lives and marriages transformed. Power to see the will of God on the Earth, just as it is in heaven.

Peace >> Joy >> Power!  So let it be, Lord!

PS  Don't worry, we'll be back to The Gift of Sex series next week!

image credit: ryanking999 / 123rf.com

Saturday, December 27, 2014

More Great Gifts for Your Marriage

There are three unique aspects to this final Friday Freebie of 2014.

First, I'm posting it on Saturday (blame it on the holidays). Second, I'm actually giving away THREE books instead of just one, so there will be THREE winners. Finally, I'm extending the length of this contest through midnight, New Year's Eve.

Each of these books would be a great gift for your marriage!

Yes, it's after Christmas, and I'm still talking about giving gifts. That's because The Gift of Sex is something to be given to your marriage all year round! So I'll be continuing with the series for at least a few more posts. (To get all these great posts sent right to your inbox, you'll want to subscribe here, but if you want credit toward the giveaway, sign up through RaffleCopter below).

Please help me spread the word about this giveaway.
  • Visit my Facebook Page and like and share any post you find there about the giveaway! 
  • Use the Facebook buttons at the bottom of this page to like and share this post with friends.
  • You can also click right here to Tweet About The Contest now.
You can also share by using the Rafflecopter social media entries as part of the giveaway contest.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

You can explore the books from the giveaway using the links below.  Also if you choose to purchase them through the affiliate links below, you help support this ministry:

The Good Girl's Guide to Great Sex: (Kindle Edition)

The Good Girl's Guide to Great Sex: (Paperback)

Pursuit of Passion: Discovering True Intimacy in Your Marriage (Kindle Only)

Keep Your Love On: Connection, Communication & Boundaries (Kindle Edition)

Keep Your Love On: Connection Communication And Boundaries (Paperback)
Monday, December 22, 2014

It's not high drive vs. low drive.  It's the two of you, as one, battling for intimacy in your marriage.

We're exploring the ways you can give your spouse The Gift Of More as part of our Gift of Sex series. Let me set up this post by reminding you of an important principle from my last post.

When your spouse says they want more sex, chances are what they are actually wanting is more of you.

It is very helpful to remind yourself, when you are working on improving your sex life, that the real goal is increased intimacy between you and your spouse. The end goal is to enjoy more of each other.

Today's "more" is a common battleground for couples: frequency. How much sex is enough sex for you? How much is enough for your spouse? How do you negotiate the difference?

The Once Per Week Dividing Line

Of course frequency is not the only thing that matters when it comes to sexual satisfaction, but two things rang true in my recent poll. First, there was a strong correlation between frequency and satisfaction. Second, almost everyone wanted "more" sex than they were currently having.

Look at how the shape of the two lines in the chart below track together pretty closely through the various stages of marriage. The line of lips is the frequency of sexual encounters in an average month. The smiley face line shows the overall sexual satisfaction on a ten point scale.

Non-geeky-chart-person interpretation: more frequent sexual encounters corresponds to a higher level of sexual satisfaction (and conversely, fewer encounters meant a lower satisfaction). Certainly there are other factors that cause sexual satisfaction to ebb and flow through the years of marriage, but it appears to me that frequency is one key factor.
click to enlarge chart

The "average" number of sexual monthly encounters from the poll was around 8, or roughly twice per week. But averages can be deceiving. What was interesting was the sharp break in satisfaction level when a couple was having sex less than once per week compared to more than once per week. Have a look:
click to enlarge chart

For couples who were having sex more than once per week, 85% reported being satisfied or very satisfied in their sex life (97% of women and 74% of men). Maybe even more importantly, only five percent (1 in 20) were dissatisfied when having sex two or more times per week. Conversely, when sex dropped below once per week, 68% were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied (68% of men and 69% of women). The contrast is startling.

Compromise or Cooperation

You hear a lot of marital advice around the notion of compromise.

Personally, I think compromise isn't necessarily the best solution. To me compromise means somebody (or both parties) gave in and probably neither person actually got what they wanted. Compromise is often simply managing each other's degree of unhappiness. 

Remember, you are talking about lovemaking, the deepest form of human intimacy, not negotiating a deal!

Better than just a mathematical medium point between how much sex you want and how much your spouse wants, why not have a conversation about what is best for your marriage and the intimacy you share.  Ask important questions like,  "what is keeping us from having sex more often?"  How long before lack of sex becomes difficult for the highest drive spouse? Are there things the higher drive spouse can do to contribute to the sexual interest of the lower drive spouse (including emotional intimacy outside the bedroom)?

The thing to remember is that you are both on the same team in the frequency debate.  It's not high drive vs. low drive.  It's the two of you,  as one,  battling for intimacy in your marriage. And I'm not using "intimacy" here as a euphemism for sex.  I mean intimacy in all forms, which will definitely be capped when there is sexual dissatisfaction in your marriage.

The Desire for More

The numbers above say that if you aren't having sex more than once per week, both of you are more than likely unhappy about it. And I do mean both. And both of you probably want it more.

The survey found that when sexual frequency dropped below once per week, 93% of husbands and 64% of wives said that they wanted more sex (or much more sex). Overall, only one in six wives (and almost no husbands) reported actually wanting less sex than they were currently having. It's probably safe to say that for these few people, there are non-sexual relationship issues that need to be resolved.

It's important to understand, however, that those who indicated that they want more sex, don't necessarily mean they want more sex in the current state of their marriage. Many may be saying they want a better marriage, and thus would want sex more. The thing to realize is that while a lack of sex may point to unhappiness in a marriage, it can also contribute to it. 

Now if frequency is not an issue in your marriage bed, I'm happy for you. But stick around. We'll look at another kind of "more" next time: more variety. You can subscribe here to make sure you don't miss out.

I challenge you to try upping your game to having sex at least twice a week and see what happens to the atmosphere of your marriage. If you are already doing that, step it up one more notch to three or four times a week.

How have you and your spouse settled the frequency question?  Do you have some thoughts you would share with my readers on this very important and often contentious topic? Leave a comment.

The Marriage Bed survey on Sexual Frequency

core image credit: lightwise / 123rf.com

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