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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

What do you do when your spouse refuses to give "The Gift of Sex?"

It's time for me to wrap up my Gift of Sex series.

For the most part, I've written this series to the lower-drive wife or husband, and yes, 20-25% of husbands have a lower sex drive than their wives. I've been encouraging those husbands and wives to help improve the atmosphere of their marriages by giving more sexually. If you have missed any of these posts, the series starts here, and contains a list to all the posts in the series.

Today, however, for the conclusion, I want to write to the high-drive spouse who is doing most or all of the giving in the sexual aspect of your marriage. Or maybe you feel like your spouse is doing nothing but taking.

In either case, this is for those who are longing for The Gift of Sex to fill your marriage.

You Aren't Alone

The number of sexless marriages (or almost so) astounds and saddens me. The numbers are bad, with somewhere around 5% not having had sex in more than a year and 20% not in the past month, and things are trending worse in recent years.

It may not be much consolation to know that many marriages suffer from mismatched sex drives and less-than-fulfilling sex lives, but the fact remains that this is a common issue. In my recent survey 70% of people reported a severe mismatch in sex drives in their marriage. True, dissatisfied lovers are more likely to click on a survey entitled "Sexual Satisfaction in Marriage," but even given that caveat, the bleak numbers surprised me. Only 12% said that their sex drive was pretty close to equal that of their spouse. These are the fortunate few.

Of those reporting a big mismatch in sex drives, 37% ranked their sex lives as "poor" (1 to 3 on a 10 point scale). Even if you include those with "slightly" mismatched drives, the number reporting unhappy sex lives is still 35%. That's over one in three. Think that unhappy sex lives are only for those long-married? Nope, not at all. Just looking at those married 5 years or less, 42% with strongly mis-matched drives rated their sex lives in the basement.

Bottom line, there are plenty of sexually unhappy people out there.

Never Give Up

For my wife and I, our sex life has only had a few rough seasons when frequency was an issue, and we've never had what I would call a "poor" sex life. So maybe you think me unqualified to offer advice on the topic.

Though I may not have walked in your shoes, I can still share truth with you:
  1. It's never too late - I've read plenty of stories of marriages (even sexless ones) restored after many years of sexual drought.  
  2. God is a redeemer - God is for your marriage and His nature is to redeem. His desire is to restore the years to you that the enemy has stolen. Ask Him to.
  3. You can only change you - You've no doubt read this before, but it is true. Work on you. Work on being the best husband or wife you can be. 
  4. Get help - every situation is different, so I'm not going to spout some universal answer here. Getting to root of sexual problems can be hard. It may require medical attention, a counselor, a pastor, close friends. Do what you have to do to fix this.
  5. Grow in Non-sexual intimacy - sex is a very important component of marital intimacy, but you can work on other forms of intimacy to strengthen your marriage as much as possible. Don't withdraw. Don't give up. 
  6. Communicate - I can hear you, "I've talked until I'm blue in the face." But how you communicate your sexual needs matters a lot. Don't demand. Don't berate. Don't whine. Make it clear that it's for the sake of your marriage, for the sake of being one, for the sake of drawing and staying close. Sexual intimacy is an essential ingredient. That's the way God made it. It's okay to be strong and persistent, but be sure that the overriding message is "I love you, and I want us to have a great marriage." Work on communication in general, not just regarding sex.
  7. Keep Giving - Keep doing what you know to be right in the area of sexual generosity. Be a willing partner, stay engaged during lovemaking, Turn about may be fair play, but it won't help heal your sex life. 
Called to Christlike Love

In the end you have a choice to love your spouse with selfless, Christlike love or not. Long seasons of unmet needs of any kind, but especially sexual needs, make that really, really hard. I understand. But it doesn't change the standard to which we are called. I'll remind you of a passage of scripture that is found just before Paul's famous teaching on marriage:
Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents.  Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn't love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.
Ephesians 5:1-2 (MSG)
Christ died for us while we were still mired in our sin, with no guarantee that we'd ever come into intimate relationship with him, much less even acknowledge his sacrifice on our behalf.

There are no magic answers or absolute guarantees when it comes to dealing with sexual issues, but the truth is that love is always the better choice. Choose to love. Choose to love well.

And cling to Jesus.
And now we have run into his heart to hide ourselves in his faithfulness. This is where we find his strength and comfort, for he empowers us to seize what has already been established ahead of time— an unshakeable hope! We have this certain hope like a strong, unbreakable anchor holding our souls to God himself. Our anchor of hope is fastened to the mercy seat which sits in the heavenly realm beyond the sacred threshold, and where Jesus, our Forerunner, has gone in before us.
Hebrews 6:18-20 (The Passion Translation)

As I said, this is a road I've had to walk on briefly.  So I would love to hear from those of you who have been through this.  If you  have a spouse who was withholding sexually or acting as a sexual gatekeeper and have seen a turnaround, please share your story to encourage those who are in the middle of it. 

PS  Many of my marriage blogging friends have written eloquently on this topic. In my next post I'll share some links to some of what they've written.

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 /

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 /

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 /

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