We are deeply sexual people. God designed us this way. But it's all too obvious that sin has distorted sexuality, in public and in private. One of the primary sources of conflict between married couples stems from the bedroom. Even in marriages where concerns like pornography or infidelity are not problems, sex can still be a hot-button issue for both husbands and wives. Why? Part of the reason lies in the fact that sex often means something different for husbands and for wives. To improve your physical intimacy, it might help to recognize and respond to those potential differences.
Perhaps you can relate to this busy woman: You work under the pressure of a boss who is never quite satisfied, even with your best effort. You deal with colleagues who can sometimes be hard to get along with. You have your arms full with children who place relentless demands on your time and energy. At the end of a good day, you might have just enough energy left to sip a glass of wine while you read a chapter of a good novel, before finally collapsing into bed, anticipating a repeat of the entire performance tomorrow. Just as you begin to unwind, your beloved husband, the one you have pledged your life to, the one you have committed to have and to hold, for better for worse, for richer or poorer… looks over at you with raised eyebrows and a knowing smile, and says, “Hey honey, the kids are asleep…” Restraining yourself from wiping that smile off of his face, you think to yourself, “Can’t he see how exhausted I am? I haven’t seen him all day, and now he just expects me to be in the mood for sex?”
Or maybe you resonate with this husband: You’ve both been looking forward to an evening out on the town – dinner at a classy restaurant, maybe a concert or a romantic walk, topped off with what you hope will be a night of great sex! Halfway through dinner, your lovely bride shares some of her frustrations that she is having with your children. Wanting to keep the romance of the evening, you brush off her concerns, and abruptly change the subject. Suddenly, this lovely evening has lost some of the magic. Back home, you can’t figure out why this long-anticipated evening lacks the sizzle you had hoped for.
Husbands and wives often experience sex differently, and these different understandings, if not recognized, can lead to disappointment, hurt, and strain in a marriage. Sex, for one thing, does not just involve our bodies; it is meant to connect us with another on all levels of our being. Many of us recognize this. In sex, men and women are seeking more than just a physical release; we are looking for deep, intimate bonding with another person. What differs, however, is how we use sex to bring us this bonding.
A husband who looks knowingly at his wife, hoping that she will reciprocate his sexual advances, might be dismissed as being more obsessed with sex than with her – particularly if his wife has had a long and stressful day. She may reject his advances, but she is turning down not just his sexual desire, but his longing to be connected with her. For husbands, sex is often the beginning of intimacy. It is often sex that allows a husband to feel connected to his wife, appreciated by her, open to her, and loved by her. Wives can misunderstand this – seeing only her husband’s sexual appetite. However, he may feel that her automatic rejection of his advances is a rejection of him.
At the same time, husbands easily make the mistake of ignoring their wives’ need for mental and emotional intimacy first, an intimacy which precedes a desire for sexual closeness. He can unwisely brush off her frustrations, worries, and problems, because he fears that they will ruin the mood. In fact the opposite is true! Many women desire the emotional connection that comes from knowing they are being heard and from the reassurances that come from a caring partner. Once this emotional connection is made, she may be more ready to share an even more personal side of herself – namely, her sexuality.
To be made in the image of God is to reflect these differences. When recognized and even appreciated, these differences can be mutually encouraging strengths. How? Two suggestions can serve as a starting point.
Remember that at its best, intimacy is a gift we give our spouse, not something we take or demand. In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul calls us to honor God with our sexuality by reminding us that “all other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.” The positive implication is that our sexuality can be a way that we share the deepest and most intimate part of ourselves with our spouses. This improvement happens as we honor the differences God has given us.