Most of us have heard the rumor that once you get married, your sex life goes downhill.
“Before we were married we couldn’t keep our hands off each other, but afterwards… not so much.”
“Our first couple of months were so exciting, but then… I don’t really know what happened.”
“I always thought God would bless our sex life because we worked so hard to stay 'pure' before we got married, but we’re really not reaping the benefits like I’d hoped.”
I hate that this is true for so many couples, but it’s common. There are a lot of causes, but there are also some great solutions! You can have healthy, exciting sex after marriage—but you’ll have to do some work.
In David Schnarch’s book Passionate Marriage, he notes that couples in their 40s, 50s, and 60s report the most satisfaction in their sex lives. That’s right—it's not the able-bodied 20 somethings. Wonder why?
Satisfying sex is dependent on a couple of important, seemingly opposed factors: closeness and separateness. Esther Perel, one of the great sex-researchers of our time refers to the two forces as love and desire. Love is focused on having, while desire is focused on wanting. If we talk about love as “closeness,” we can talk about desire as “separateness.”
Closeness in a Healthy Marriage
Closeness is the element of marriage that includes commitment, teamwork, clear communication, and healthy navigation of conflict. That might make it seem like the boring side of marriage, but it’s actually foundational for feeling safe. God even demonstrates the importance of this in the Bible, by setting a standard of exclusivity for sex within marriage. He knows (because He designed it) sex is a very vulnerable experience and therefore needs protecting and supporting with ongoing connection and commitment. He expected exclusivity from the Israelites, and He expects exclusivity in our worship of Him as the one and only Creator God.
Deep closeness comes from working together as partners, clarifying your roles as life circumstances change and following through with agreed upon expectations. As humans have yet to learn how to read each other’s minds, this takes overt communication. You have to actually say what you want, what you think, what you’re feeling, and listen to your partner’s wants, thoughts, and feelings in turn. This requires you to take good care of yourself, know yourself well, and advocate for yourself. Therefore, a healthy marriage requires healthy individuals.
Closeness is also dependent on both individuals’ ability to consent to sex within the marriage. If I can’t freely choose no, then I can’t voluntarily choose yes. If I’m not voluntarily choosing yes, what’s actually happening is marital rape–which definitely does not honor the God of love.
Many recently married couples find closeness difficult because they’re just learning about each other and their unique needs. It takes time (decades!?) to really get to know each other, especially on an intimate level. They haven’t experienced enough productive conflict to trust one another. They haven’t been through enough hard things together to know that their partner is really committed.
If you want to increase closeness, you have to take the time to do just that… talk about the hard things, work through them, spend time together, develop your character so your partner can trust you. Learn how to work well together. If you’re interested in a deep dive on this, consider my free guide: The Marriage Staff Meeting.
What’s one thing you could do this week
to help you and your spouse to feel closer?
Separateness in a Healthy Marriage
The other factor for a healthy sex life within marriage is separateness, where couples establish their unique differences in erotic desires. By erotic I am referring to its latin base of “excitement energy.”
“Eroticism is not sex per se, but the qualities of vitality, curiosity, and spontaneity that make us feel alive." —Esther Perel
Separateness embraces the excitement and life-giving motivation found in one’s unique personal desires that often have nothing to do with a partner (originally). Establishing separateness in a life-long marriage means making room for and encouraging individual identity, even in togetherness. Folks, it’s not only okay for us to be different, it’s good.
God shows us the value of differences in his illustration of the Body of Christ— different parts working together for a common good. This is the same in marriage! What a joy that we have differing talents and skills! What fun we have bringing unique gifts to the table.
While many Christian couples take seriously their desire to protect each other and their own sexuality by guarding sex within the boundaries of marriage, they often fail to recognize the equally important need to utilize the energy found in their unique eroticism—eroticism that I would argue is designed by God and for His glory.
Many Christians misunderstand the idea of “the two becoming one flesh” to mean that married people somehow merge into one another in all things, or worse, that by marrying, a wife becomes her husband’s property. (While this verse could be equally weaponized to mean the wife owns the husband, I’ve curiously never heard it used that way).
“Two becoming one flesh” is actually describing the physical act of intercourse—an impressive illustration of two separate bodies coming together to accomplish one shared goal. That goal could vary from mutual pleasure, orgasm, connectedness, joy, pregnancy, etc.. The couple gets to decide.
To really establish solid separateness within marriage, you have to leave room for a bit of mystery and lack of control over one another. This may be a scary thing to consider, as Christians typically intend to marry for life (and thus end up with the ball-and-chain analogy as well). To really give your spouse freedom would require you to continue to do the work of being a good partner, rather than slacking off on loving behavior because you’ve finally “caught” your mate. You’ll also have to demonstrate some trust in your partner and their commitment to you.
What’s one thing you could do this week to make space in your marriage
for you and your spouse to enjoy separateness?
How to Improve Sexuality in Marriage: Embrace God’s Design of Eroticism
A lot of Christians have experienced shame in their sexuality, meaning they feel yucky or embarrassed about the things that get them excited sexually. They assume that anything outside of “getting the job done” is nasty or naughty. But viewing sex as just “a job to get done” falls short of God’s better design.
While sex can be used for many things, including making babies, God designed sex for more than that. His biggest goal appears to be intimacy, meaning a deep knowing of one another. If we’re each uniquely made, there are an infinite number of ways we might be different from one another, meaning there are an infinite number of ways we might invite one another into a brand new experience of excitement and deep knowing.
Should there be bounds to this deep knowing? Certainly! Anything that harms, steals, or deceives needs to be checked at the door. Those qualities are not of God, but against Him in His goodness. The point of sex is not to consume, dominate, or use one another, but to collaboratively enjoy one another. To enjoy, we must include an element of protection and solid respect for one another.
If you are a Christian who is sexually undeveloped because of the oppressive shame you’ve experienced, it may take some work on your part to figure out who you are erotically. This is one of the reasons I created my Truth About Holy Sex Workshop.
If you’re ready to do this work, I suggest first having a conversation with the Lord about the sexuality He designed within you. Confess your fear and give Him your shame. Ask Him if those are from Him or from some twisted version of human authority. If He says, “Kid, I love you. I made you as you are. You don’t have to be afraid of Me. And you don’t have to be afraid with Me,” then it’s time to get curious. Ask Him to help you figure out who you are and how He made you uniquely. Let Him wake up the parts of you that have been asleep for ages. Even if you’re afraid of what you’ll find, trust Him (and perhaps a solid counselor and pastor) to unpack what you discover, so that you can share it eventually with your lover and spouse.
Give God your shame
Ask Him about any guilt you feel
Get curious (What do I like? What interests me? What turns me on?)
Watch God work
If you find a mess in there, consider working through a program like Unwanted by Jay Stringer that can help you untangle your wounds and find healing. Every child of God deserves freedom. Every child of God is being set free. You also may find a whole treasure of excitement through which you can worship God!
Diversity amongst humanity is exactly as God intended. Diversity within eroticism needn’t be any different. How better to show His incredible, miraculous goodness than to unite a complex, diverse, multi-talented Body into one glorious work of art?
Yes, we’ve all fallen short of God’s intention, but His creation is being redeemed right now through Jesus Himself. Redemption doesn’t mean assimilation. It means cleansing, clarifying, refining. The kaleidoscope doesn’t become a dull, single color when taken care of, it becomes a gorgeous, eye-catching, fascinating instrument of delight.
Better Sex After Marriage Means Inviting Each Other into Your Own Eroticism
Once you have discovered your own unique eroticism, you can learn to invite your spouse into those delights with you. Not sure where to start? You might consider my free guide: How to Talk About Sex with Your Partner. It’s okay that different things turn each of you on. It’s not just okay, but good to share those interesting, unique desires with your most treasured, safe, committed partner. Even if they don’t share your same enthusiasm, they can affirm your belovedness, beyond what you knew from them before. And what fun you can have inviting each other into those interests! The freedom to be separate leaves room for the great joy of freely coming together.
If Christians followed these two biblical ideas for sex inside marriage–closeness and separateness–ideas modeled by God Himself, we would have the best sex lives on the planet. If you are a Christian interested in healing and developing wholeness in your sexuality, check out my course, The Truth About Holy Sex: A Workshop for People Who Love Jesus and Want to Love Sex.