Sex: It doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means

Your spouse probably doesn’t view sex the way that you do--and that’s a good thing. When God created men and women, He did it in such a way that our differences work together to strengthen the bond between a husband and a wife. Unfortunately, we sometimes assume that our spouse values sex for the same reasons that we do. This is a recipe for frustration and conflict. How do men and women view sex differently--and how can these differences strengthen your marriage?

How men view sex

At the risk of generalizing that all men (or all women) are the same, we can still see patterns. Men generally approach sex as the starting point for intimacy. In the process for building closeness, physical intimacy often comes earlier for men than women. Making love to his wife often helps a husband feel valued, and respected, and it unlocks a part of him that promotes emotional, spiritual, and mental closeness to his wife. In other words, having sex lays the groundwork for a man to be connected with his wife, and creates a safe place necessary where he can be vulnerable in non-sexual ways.  

Of course, when his wife misunderstands his order of building blocks, the table is set for conflict. When he snuggles up next to her, and begins making his intentions known, but she rolls her eyes, and pushes him away, he takes it personally because to him, she isn’t just saying no to physical intimacy, she is saying no to him as a person. He wants to feel emotionally connected, and he is starting where he is designed to start: with sex! And wives who routinely turn down their husbands for sex--yet complain that “He never opens up to me about his feelings!” may find the answer by understanding that their rejection of sex makes it difficult for him to be emotionally vulnerable.

How women view sex

Women, on the other hand, often approach sex from the opposite direction. Sex is often the peak of intimacy that is previously nurtured through emotional, spiritual, and mental connection. Having sex with her husband feels deeply vulnerable for a woman, and does not usually feel safe until she feels secure and valued in the other aspects of the relationship. 

Naturally, when a husband fails to appreciate this, he can expect tension as well. If he spends all day criticizing her, or if he does little to show how much he values her, there is little foundation of intimacy from which to launch a sexual encounter. She needs to feel connected before she can be intimate! Husbands who expect their wives to be sexually intimate but do nothing to foster closeness in the rest of their marriage can understand the frustration that they feel at the lack of sex by owning their contribution to the problem: they expect intimacy without creating intimacy! Furthermore, demanding sex without emotional connection can be experienced more as violence than intimacy, doing more damage to the relationship than edification. 

Appreciating our differences

But when both the husband and the wife recognize the complementary pattern in God’s design, there is great potential for deep and fulfilling intimacy. Notice how both the male and female sequences of intimacy complement each other when both husband and wife are putting the needs of the other first. As a husband, when you are encouraging, affirming, valuing, and bonding to your wife, you are creating the intimacy in your relationship that opens the door for the sexual connection that opens the door for you to feel connected. As a wife, when you are committed to sexual intimacy with your husband, and when you communicate through your posture and your actions that a mutually-fulfilling sex life matters to you, you are creating the space for your husband to be emotionally, mentally, and spiritually vulnerable with you.

Some steps to deeper intimacy

Listen: Ask your spouse what sex means to them--and what they would want you to do promote intimacy; then, listen attentively and take to heart what they are saying.

Empathize: Try to put yourself in your spouse’s shoes. How do you imagine it feels when you respond to them as you do when it comes to intimacy? What response would you desire from them--and how can you translate that into what your spouse wants? For example, if you need your wife to be sexually receptive to your needs, assume that she also needs you to be responsive to her emotional needs--and consider how you are (or are not) meeting those needs. What needs to change in you?

Act: Ideally, the growth of intimacy happens when the both of you are willing to step forward together, and when both of you are willing to work on meeting the intimacy needs of one another. But it doesn’t always work like that--are you willing to take the first step of meeting your spouse’s need, even if there is no guarantee that they will reciprocate?

Take time: All of these elements of intimacy require time and attention. No intimacy can be built quickly, and one of the greatest barriers is our busy, busy calendars. Kids, jobs, weekend tasks, church meetings, clubs and sports, everything demands attention. If you don't demand your own attention for your marriage, your intimacy will suffer. Say yes to your spouse by saying no to other things. 

Sex is not an optional add-on to a marriage--it reflects the deep joy of coming together at the most personal and intimate part of our being. 1 Corinthians 7:5 instructs, "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." Sex is an important ingredient in a healthy marriage. Good sex requires understanding how God created men and women differently, and embracing these differences in your marriage. Enjoy your spouse in all the ways God made you to connect. 

About the author — Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra

Rob Toornstra has pastored a church in Salem Oregon for the past ten years. He has been married to Amy for fifteen years, and together, they are enjoying the adventure of raising two girls and one boy. For fun, Rob enjoys cooking, reading, aviation, and geocaching.  He is the author of "Naked and Unashamed: How the Good News of Jesus Transforms Intimacy" (Doulos, 2014).

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