6 Marks of Healthy Sexuality

Women, you’re not helping your husband if he tries to fight the urge to crossdress by openly doing it with you. A potentially ruinous desire will grow, not diminish, by being indulged.

In our culture today, the most common silly notion (not even questioned by many) is that all desire must be legitimate, equally respected, tolerated and even indulged. That’s foolish, ruinous and not true in any other life experience. It’s possible to desire something that is harmful. You can eat yourself sick, you can spend your way to bankruptcy and you can “sex” your way to disaster. So no, you are not obligated as a spouse to indulge every one of your spouse’s desires.

As one example: Specialists whom I respect have told me that in their work with men who demand anal sex, there are usually two reasons: They are trying to re-live sexual exploitation from when they were young (but now they have the power by demanding it, instead of being the victim hurt by it), or they are acting out a desire that was cultivated through pornography. Neither is helpful; neither should be indulged. I’d be at least suspicious about ever wanting something that the medical community generally says is not healthy for a woman’s body. Healthy sex is mutually affirming in all aspects: spiritually, emotionally and physically.

Dr. Douglas Rosenau stresses that a poor body image, sexual shame, repression of healthy sexuality and sexual immaturity are also aspects of sexual brokenness. In other words, not wanting to do something that is holy can be every bit as much evidence of brokenness as does wanting to do something that is wrong.

Sex outside of God’s lines is like a snowball. If sexual coercion, obsession or immaturity is allowed to “roll” it only gets bigger, not more manageable. By giving in to your spouse’s unhealthy urges, you’re not “managing” anything; you’re creating a snowball that may bury you, your marriage and your family. The sooner we stop the snowball from rolling, the better chance we have to attain sexual health. Allowing your husband to wear your undergarments or indulging some other fetish so that he’s not shamed by it is sort of like holding a needle while he injects himself with heroin. He’s no longer doing it alone, but he’s still doing it. It’s still harmful and the longer he does it, the more harm it does.

One of the most common ways for women to let marriage perpetuate sexual brokenness is by being non-sexual. Instead of challenging deep-seated feelings that sex is “nasty,” she expects her husband to develop and share her aversion to sex rather than develop a mutually satisfying sexual relationship. If she allows past sexual abuse or faulty thinking to undercut or even annihilate sexual activity in her marriage, she’s perpetuating her brokenness, not confronting it. In such instances, she will want to talk to an experienced, professional counselor who has dealt with this issue—few women can just “get over this” any more than they could give themselves a kidney transplant.

When the marital sexual relationship reveals an ongoing weakness that a change of mind simply cannot heal—whether it be desires for unhealthy activities or aversion toward healthy activities—it’s time to seek help. (Resources are listed below.)

4. Healthy sexuality is about mutually shared pleasure; perverse sexuality is about numbing the pain with selfish indulgence.

Sex was created by God to (in part) produce offspring and renew intimacy between a husband and a wife. It offers a very pleasurable moment for husband and wife, helping them to cope with (and giving them a vacation from) mundane or difficult duties in life. It is also comforting, and naturally reduces anxiety. These are all wonderful byproducts of healthy marital sexuality. Sex is not meant, however, to be used like a drug.

Unhealthy sex seeks to numb pain rather than serve your partner with true pleasure. Instead of enhancing the present life of your spouse, unhealthy sex tries to escape your past life or selfishly use your mate’s body for personal and ultimately unfulfilling sexual gratification.

I was fascinated recently reading a classic book on sexual addiction (Don’t Call It Love by Patrick Carnes) that’s 20 years old. It describes (as almost pathological) the kind of activity that The Fifty Shades trilogy and movies have tried to de-stigmatize. Carnes warns against “the use of pain to escalate sexual excitement. Chains, whips, sadomasochistic games, self-torture, self-strangulation—how can these be pleasurable? The answer is that often they are not. But the associated emotions of fear, risk, danger and rage are very mood altering. We can make fun of people who are ‘into pain’; media portrayal of ‘S and M’ roles often involves humorous exaggeration. Grim reality exists that we in our cultural denial attempt to avoid and deflect with humor. For most of us, the combination of pain and sex is as repugnant as violence.”

That quote, just a couple decades old, is already outdated, isn’t it? Our culture no longer laughs at S and M, nor does it make it seem repugnant. Instead, the agenda seems to be to tell us that we are missing out on something if we’re not practicing it. I emphasized the phrase “very mood altering” because that’s the marker of unhealthy sex—using it like a drug (as opposed to an expression of relationship). It’s not even pleasurable. It just puts us in a trance. Healthy sex affirms lasting pleasure; its focus isn’t to feel less of something negative, but to experience more (and help our spouse experience more) of something positive.

A due warning here: Our Christian culture has often promoted a husband’s selfishness by stressing the wife’s duty to serve her husband sexually, rather than discussing how together a couple can create the mutually shared pleasure of a healthy sex life. Dr. Rosenau, Sheila Gregoire and others have been strong dissenting voices against this vicious strain, for which I am very grateful.

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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.