The benefits of marriage (over serial dating, cohabitation, and divorce situations) have long been studied: it's pretty much agreed upon that married people have healthier kids, a longer lifespan, & healthier lives. A book was even written about it in 2001, called, "The Case For Marriage: Why Married People are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially."
And what about sex? Various research will tell you that married people do it more, less, better, or worse than their unmarried counterparts. Though you can find various viewpoints, research more frequently supports the notion that married people have considerably more sex and better sex than sexually-active singles.
I've written previously on freedom within marriage, and freedom in the marriage bed. But today, I want to examine and debunk the myths and feelings that can and do harm Christian marriages. Here are some of the common ones. Though not often spoken, these underlying beliefs negatively affect sexual intimacy between couples.
(1) "Sex is sinful."
This belief ultimately stems from a faulty view of God.... namely, that He didn't design, intend, and bless the sexual union of a married man and woman from the very beginning.
Satan did not come up with sex. God did. In fact, Satan has never come up with anything good. He is not a creative being. He is created. The only thing Satan has ever done is pervert and twist God's designs. In the beginning, the Holy God designed a beautiful garden; Satan perverted it into a power-struggle and convinced humans to defy God's laws (namely, "don't eat the fruit of that tree") and see for themselves what God was withholding from them. All they got out of it was death, shame, and broken fellowship with the Creator. The Holy God designed a beautiful garden of pleasure for husbands and wives to enjoy together; Satan has perverted it into a recreational activity and convinced humans to defy God's laws (namely, one man, one woman, for life) and see for themselves what God has been withholding. But all we get out of it are death (of spirit and sometimes body), shame, and broken fellowship with the Creator, as well as the possibility of broken fellowship with our spouse.
We must stop viewing sex as sin, and instead view it as a special gift, a set-aside package meant to be opened by two people, together, at an appointed time.
(2) "Men want it, women don't."
This can be the case at times, for chemical reasons, particularly as a woman nears the menopausal years. But the reverse of this can also be true, as it is often the case that a woman's sexual drive heats up about the time the man's sexual drive is cooling down.
But I am of the opinion that far too many women rely on this pervasive belief to beg off from intimacy, when really, a little good conversation would warm them up quite nicely. Oftentimes, the problem lies in a lack of communication. Women often need to tick off their mental list before they can relax in the arms of the one they love. Sharing these thoughts (which Shaunti Feldhahn likens to a pop-up window that won't shut down until it's dealt with) helps a woman feel connected to her husband, and more likely to be "in the mood." So if men can learn to be good listeners, and women can open up and share their heart with their husband, belief #2 will no longer be a reality.
For women, sharing their hearts leads to physical intimacy, for a lot of men, physical intimacy is a primary way that they share their hearts. So 'a little less talk' doesn't necessarily lead to 'a lot more action' in reality. Instead, more talk can lead to more action.
We also need to be aware that many, many marriages struggle silently with the opposite of this issue. Despite the increasing frequency of prescription drugs that target helping men boost their libido, there is still a difficulty for men in our culture to admit to just not wanting it. They've been told all their lives that that's "all they think about"... so when they don't want it all the time, it can lead to all sorts of problems in a marriage. Both partners have no framework for how to deal with this particular issue-- they've never been told it could be a difficulty. If not dealt with, it can lead to shame, bitterness, and as 1 Cor. 7:5 tells us, a stronghold for attacks from the enemy.
No matter which partner is "not wanting it", it needs to be addressed and overcome (whether through biblical counseling, medication, or just sheer determination) so that both partners do not feel deprived.
(3) "Christians have boring sex." (a.k.a. "Good Christians can't have good sex.")
I've elaborated on this in the other posts (referenced above), but let me just sum up here with a little parable: when you're in your own backyard, playing with your best friend, there are no limits to the fun you can have. Fenced in, with complete freedom, there is ultimate safety and ultimate privacy that awaits you in this most incredible and sacred place. That's how God designed it. So, play (be intimate) to your hearts' content, with your best friend (husband or wife), within the fence (boundaries) God built for you.
(4) "Sex is to be enjoyed when you're young, and should taper off after the first couple years of marriage."
In what other arena of life do we hold this to be true? Do we really think that a tee-baller could play in the major leagues? I mean, technically, they're playing the same game, but the technique and talent are vastly different!
Why have we as Christian men and women bought into the lies of the world that only swinging singles can have good sex? That sex can't get better over time? We need to realize that, just like baseball, chess, or gardening for that matter, the longer you do it, the better you are, and the better you are at it, the more fun it is! And like playing doubles in tennis, the more time you spend playing with that one partner, the better you'll be together! When we marry, to harken back to the earlier analogy, God has given us a backyard that's more fun than Six Flags- full of delight, surprises, and thrills- and He's given us a lifetime pass. Why not explore the whole park, ya know what I'm saying?
(5) "I __________ before I was married" (fill in the blank with whatever it was: fooled around, was molested, raped, had sex), "and I'll never be able to forgive myself or get past it."
This one affects more women and more marriages than we realize. Some statistics set the number at 1 out of every 4 women that have been sexually victimized. And with reports showing that 95% of Americans engage in premarital sex, sexual history is, more than ever, an issue that Christian marriages must face.
Concerning the person who has the history (of being raped, molested, or having been promiscuous), whether it is the man or woman, this has the potential to greatly affect their views of intimacy with a spouse.In cases of promiscuity, it can put flashbacks or pop-ups in the mind of that person that can significantly interfere with intimate moments in the marriage relationship. In the cases of abuse, it can taint or even eliminate the physical pleasure because of the mental and emotional associations with intimate touch.
Coping With Past Sexual Sin
I'm no psychologist, and I don't even play one on TV, so I'm not going to try to examine all the possible problems that can arise from this kind of sexual history. But while it is of a more personal nature than most difficulties one faces in life, and certainly can affect someone throughout his or her life, as a Christian, it doesn't have to. Our God is the Great Physician, and that's not just for physical hurts... Our God is the Comforter and Counselor... and as our Creator, He knows each of us better than anyone else ever could! He is trustworthy and we can pour out our deepest hurts and the scars of our souls to Him and rest in His faithful arms. We can be healed of bad memories, painful abuse, or any other sexual issues that we have.
The Bible tells us to take each thought captive in obedience to Christ Jesus. If we are intentional about taking each thought, each memory, each picture in our minds captive, in order that we might instead have a joyful marriage relationship and keep the marriage bed undefiled, God will honor that obedience on our part. He will give aid when we need it. He will purify our minds, over time. He will turn sadness or pain into joy, if we are faithful to ask. That's the kind of redeeming God we serve.
There are emotional issues that may come up when your spouse has a difficult sexual history, and questions may surface like, "do you compare me to him when we're together? " "Did you do this with her?" "When I do this, does it make you remember ____?" And while this, too, can be very difficult, as Christians, we have options as to how we face such difficulties. Jesus told His disciples to forgive seventy times seven... we are to be forgivers. That is not to say that these things ought never be talked through, but a good marriage is made up of two good forgivers, and this is very true of past sexual sin.
However, let me say, there is no biblical reference that tells us to forgive ourselves. Once a human being has been forgiven by God (and sought human forgiveness if there is a need), there is no higher authority who can hold sin against him or her. Not even ourselves- we do not sit in the judgment seat. God does. And if we have confessed our sin to Him, "He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from ALL unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9) Once we have been cleansed of sexual sin, we must walk in that purity and not allow the enemy to dredge things up from the past that have been forgiven by God Almighty.
ULTIMATELY, YOUR BODY IS NOT YOURS ONLY
The Bible tells us that, in marriage, we are not to deprive one another of our bodies (1 Corinthians 7:4-6) except for instances of prayer (and that even then, we are to reunite quickly so that Satan will not tempt us in our lack of self control). We are not to claim ownership rights over our own body, though modern psychologists, feminists, and talk show hosts would have us believe that we should. When you choose to become one with another person by entering into marriage, your body does not belong only to you, but now it also belongs to your husband or wife.
Our marriages can be a way that others see Christ in us. The old song says, "they will know we are Christians by our love", and this biblical principle can play out in our marriages. The way we love each other will show our unbelieving friends and neighbors just how good God is.
Just think! He can take two broken people, with possible abuse and sin, and turn their physical relationship into a gleaming example of intimacy. The sexual union of two Christians can give a glimpse into what it will be like when Christ raises Christians up to spend eternity with Him. When we turn our thoughts and our hang-ups over to Christ, stay within the boundaries He's given us, and remember that our body is not our own, our sexual lives can honor God and bring joy and fulfillment into our marriages and our individual lives. May it be so for you.
[Edited to add: Apparently, I wasn't the only one examining the relationship between the sexual and the sacred... Newsweek posed this question to its "On Faith" panelists: "Why do you think some religions have regarded sex as sacred while others have regarded it as a sin?" View their answers here.]