6 Marks of Healthy Sexuality

Healthy sex says to each (willing) participant: “You matter. You are desired. You are cherished. I am not having sex with a body but making love to you as my special three-dimensional (body, mind mixed with emotions and spirit) spouse. I affirm you and want to please you.”

Be wary of any form of sexual excitement or fulfillment that is separate from an appropriate relational connection. If it’s not drawing husband and wife closer together, it’s not healthy.

2. Healthy sexuality supports a relationship rather than being the relationship.

Healthy sex serves a relationship; unhealthy sex becomes the relationship, which is asking too much of sex. Sex should be an expression of what is, not a way to momentarily and artificially create what you hope to be true. Our culture tries to make sex the pathway to intimacy, rather than healthy sexuality flowing out of an expression of intimate connection.

By nature, sex can last only so long and be performed only so often and sexual chemistry eventually slows down. Sexual desire simply cannot sustain a lifelong marriage. But an intimate sacred marriage can sustain a tremendous lifelong sex life.

When sex becomes the relationship it’s like trying to support a 50-story hotel on a foundation made of toothpicks. You build a healthy sexual relationship by building a healthy marriage on all levels: emotionally, spiritually, intellectually and relationally. As Dr. Harry Schaumberg so ably puts it, “To be spiritually mature, you must be sexually mature; to be sexually mature, you must be spiritually mature. And I’d say that to be spiritually mature, and sexually mature, you need to be relationally mature. In other words, a mature marriage is a three legged stool of spiritual, relational and sexual maturity.”

My friend Dr. Mitch Whitman points out that the absence of healthy sexuality sometimes increases the aggrieved spouse’s focus on sex almost to an obsession so that it becomes practically the only thing that matters to the frustrated spouse.

If one spouse says, “The rest of our relationship is so strong you shouldn’t need sex,” that’s tantamount to the other spouse saying, “Our sex life is so good you shouldn’t need anything besides sex.” In other words, we can fall off the rails on either side of the equation: asking sex to do too much, or not taking advantage of its power at all.

3. Healthy sexuality confronts rather than perpetuates sexual brokenness.

Be careful here—this discussion may hurt some people, but I pray it’s a therapeutic hurt that gently confronts and leads to healing rather than further shame. I don’t want to shame anyone. I write as a Christian who respects God’s creational intent and accepts the Bible as the best expression of that intent. If you disagree with that, you’ll disagree with these conclusions.

Many of us stumble into marriage as sexually broken people. We think marriage will cure our sexual brokenness, but problems re-arise when we want to express our sexual brokenness as part of our marriage. That’s like asking a doctor to serve your addiction instead of curing it.

Beware of coercive marital sex. Some men and a few women will use their spouse to serve a sexual addiction—let’s watch pornography together. Let’s swap partners. Sometimes, men will use sex with their wives to deaden their own pain—anesthetizing themselves—and thus put inordinate physical demands on their spouses. Men who insist on daily sex (I’m not talking about the honeymoon phase here) may be using their wives to fight back an addiction or an intimacy problem rather than cherishing and affirming their wives by giving her pleasure.

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Gary Thomas is writer-in-residence (and serves on the teaching team) at Second Baptist Church, Houston, Texas and author of 18 books that have sold over a million copies worldwide and have been translated into a dozen languages. He and his wife Lisa have been married for 30 years. Please visit his amazon link.