5. Healthy sexuality is based in truth.
Christianity is about authenticity, reality, truth, being connected to a real person and giving real pleasure. The world keeps promoting sex that is all about artificiality, fantasy, deceit and escaping from reality.
“Looking over your shoulder,” lying, afraid of being “caught,” not wanting anyone to find out—these are all markers of sex that is based on subterfuge and deception. No married couple need be ashamed if others think they are being sexual. Nor do they have to pretend they are something or someone else in order to desire and please each other. I’m not suggesting all forms of fantasy (within marriage) are wrong; just that the sexual experience should serve a real couple in a real relationship who know each other, value each other and are truly present for each other.
To mentally imagine yourself making love to someone else while your spouse thinks you’re focused on them is one of the worst forms of fraud imaginable. You’re sinning against your spouse even as you are using him/her. As they give themselves to you, you are taking what’s offered to you and handing it over to another.
A man who wants to dress like a woman to get sexually excited (there may be other reasons; I’m focused on something specific here) misses the point of biblical sexuality that affirms a man as a man. He will be most satisfied and his wife will be most satisfied when he embraces who God made him to be. If you have to pretend you’re something you’re not in order to experience pleasure or be fulfilled, by definition you will never be fulfilled, because even doctors can’t turn you into something other than what your Creator made you to be.
The same is true for a wife who believes she has to turn herself into a “centerfold” to keep her husband’s attention. She deserves to feel cherished and desired for who she is not who her husband wants her to be.
Healthy sex isn’t just about excitement or reaching a climax—it’s about the two of you relating, connecting, knowing and authentically being there for each other. Of course, finding legitimate ways to enhance pleasure and serve each other is relationship-enhancing; planning something special, being creative, even searching for something “new” can be a generous act of love.
6. Healthy sexuality affirms your sense of self.
In a healthy sexual relationship, you feel that the sexual experience affirms who you are: as a spouse, as parents raising kids together (and protecting/serving their family), as a believer in Christ (sex should never feel as if it is asking you to compromise your faith but rather be an expression of your faith), as a person who is cherished and loved. In unhealthy sexuality, the sexual experience leaves you feeling empty, alienated, almost like you’re role-playing or an object.
You may realize that, for any number of reasons, your sexual sense of self has become distorted. Maybe from a hook-up culture that promotes porn, a repressive upbringing, trying to medicate pain or hoping sex can create a shortcut to intimate connection. If sex doesn’t affirm who you are, there’s a good chance you’re not being made love to; you’re likely being used. Perhaps you feel like you have to be someone you’re not to keep your spouse interested or from acting out inappropriately. That’s manipulative sex; that’s co-dependent sex; it’s not healthy sex.
Sex should affirm and reaffirm who you are, your sense of worth, your sense of being valued and your sense of relationship. A healthy sense of your sexual self will promote both a profound sexual intimacy and an amazing sacred marriage full of deep connecting moments.
As a side note, one of the ways it does this is to remind us who we are as people on the way to eternity. As wonderful as sex can be, as intoxicating as marital passion can feel, we were made for more than this world, and the fact that something as marvelous and even transcendent as sex doesn’t completely fulfill us reminds us that healthy sexuality actually points us toward heaven as our ultimate destination.
Healthy Sexuality Resources
If after reading this list you sense you are in an unhealthy or coercive sexual relationship, please note that you’ll want to receive some professional care. There’s nothing I can say in the comments section of a blog to solve or even adequately address your problem. This post is to unmask unhealthy relating in order to point you elsewhere toward a place of healing and redemption.
So, for help:
• Harry Schaumburg’s website http://stonegateresources.org/ offers many additional articles and advice for those facing sexual brokenness and addiction (including articles and information about intensive programs). His offices are in Wisconsin.
• My friend Dr. Mitch Whitman mitchwhitman.com specializes in helping men and couples overcome sexual brokenness; he lives and works north of Seattle, Washington, but often counsels via remote website connections.
• I’ve referred several couples to Dr. Doug Rosenau, whose office is near Atlanta, and who co-founded the organization Sexual Wholeness (.com). Doug is a Christian sex therapist and author. You can find more information about Doug at http://dougrosenau.com/.
• My friends Dr. Juli Slattery and Linda Dillow have a wonderful site geared for women that can be found at http://authenticintimacy.com. I’m also a fan of Shelia Gregoire’s blog: http://tolovehonorandvacuum.com/2012/10/where-to-find-specific-marriage-advice/ Though Sheila doesn’t exclusively address sexual intimacy, she frequently does, and her advice is well thought out and biblical.
Please understand that I’m neither qualified nor able to deal with specific questions here or via email or Facebook. I would be interested, however, in general, posted comments related to other markers of healthy Christian sexuality. Please help us have a redemptive conversation in the comments below.
And if you disagree with me or my conclusions above, please don’t take offense. I don’t have any authority over you, and my intention isn’t to slander anyone—it’s just to offer sincere help to genuinely confused couples where one partner senses something is wrong but isn’t sure why. You are free to disagree with any of the “lines” I’ve drawn—I’m just trying to respond to those who have raised genuine issues and have sought my opinion. I write as a Christian who believes our authority is found in Scripture—if you don’t accept that belief system, or if you think I’ve handled Scripture poorly, I don’t expect you to understand or accept my conclusions.
I’d like to thank Dr. Doug Rosenau, Dr. Harry Schaumburg, and Dr. Mitch Whitman, who all made many helpful suggestions for this extended blog post.
Gary Thomas recently spoke about marriage on the Church Leader’s podcast. Listen to his interview here.
Check out Cherish, Gary’s latest book on marriage, here.