The Conversation About Sex You Need to Have with Your Spouse by David White for The Gospel Coalition
Years ago, I was eating in a restaurant with a friend. As our meal progressed, the conversation devolved into a lament over the state of his marriage, particularly their sex life. He grew increasingly animated, finally exclaiming loudly: “I knew marriage would be hard, but sex was supposed to be easy!”
Struggling to ignore the turned heads and raised eyebrows at nearby tables, I focused on what my friend was saying. He’d grown up in the church and been taught that if he “saved himself” for marriage, his sex life would be awesome. The reality was, as other diners now knew, quite different.
Sex in marriage isn’t easy. This is due to many reasons, including profound differences between spouses. God designed sex as union with a mysterious other. Even beyond gender, couples must reckon with differences in desire, expectations, and particular preferences.
As I interact with Christian couples, I repeatedly hear of discontent in their sexual relationships. Our extensive differences mean a great sex life doesn’t just happen; rather, it takes time, intentionality, and lots of practice. And in order to know one another and to grow emotionally and spiritually in this area of marriage, open conversation between spouses is critical.
Scripture’s ‘How To’ for Sex
Discussions about sex between husbands and wives find their basis in the Bible’s own teaching about sex. Scripture may not prescribe (or forbid) specific sexual behaviors in marriage, but it does teach the importance of sex as an act of service and love. In fact, there is really only one “how to” passage for marital sexuality:
The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. (1 Cor. 7:3–5)
Each spouse’s body belongs to the other, and a primary function of sex is to serve and bless each other. The ethic that runs throughout the New Testament applies to sex in marriage: we are to selflessly serve, thinking of the other first.
But in order to serve one another, we must understand one another. Instead of feeling ashamed, couples should talk about their intimacy regularly. Here are three important aspects of this ongoing conversation.
1. What Is Preferable in Our Marriage?
Because we’re built and wired differently, spouses need to continually learn from each other. Unless you talk about your body—what feels good and what doesn’t, which behaviors are exciting and which are awkward, uncomfortable, or even painful—your spouse won’t know. Spouses need to talk before, during, and after physical intimacy. This is certainly true at the outset of marriage, but the conversation should be ongoing.