Monday, June 4, 2007

Let's Talk About Sex

Is it alright to have sex because we feel guilty? Is sexual desire in marriage ever idolatrous and sinful? Is it alright to have sex as a form of release or escape? I think that these questions address a situation that married Christians may struggle with. Let me lay out a scenario and try to sort through the issues.

Morgan loves his wife, Clarisse, very deeply. He is a good, supportive, loving husband. He strives to provide well for Clarisse and leads his family in devotion to godliness. Clarisse is a respectful, loving servant to her husband and children. She strives to please her family, whatever the cost to her temporary agendas. Morgan and Clarisse are Christian Hedonists - they long to be happy in Jesus Christ for his glory. Therefore, their first priority is to guard their hearts against all forms of idolatry. They are very active in their church, and seek to make their marriage a lighthouse of hope to those around them.

There's one other thing. Morgan loves to be intimate with Clarisse. Morgan has a desire for intimacy that some would think is excessive. It seems as though he could have sex every day - maybe even several times every day. He truly believes that his desire is for Clarisse alone. He has no desire for other outlets for his sexual appetite. Morgan realizes the demand that this desire puts on his dear wife. He loves Clarisse, and doesn't want to put her under pressure to be available at a moment's notice. He tries to keep his desire for intimacy in some sort of check, so that he's not a burden to Clarisse. Nevertheless, Morgan can't seem to tone back his desire for his wife, no matter how hard he tries. He senses that this attitude can't be healthy, and has searched the Bible for some clue that his desire for sex is wrong-headed. He wants to repent, but can't figure out what for. Nothing from Scripture has convicted him thus far, other than the necessity to serve his wife by not being demanding.

In fact, 1 Corinthians 7:1-5 and Proverbs 5:16-23 seem to take his strong desire into account. To Morgan's thinking, Solomon is telling him to be drunk on his wife's love - even delighted in her physical body. It's hard to be drunk on something one doesn't partake of. And Paul seems to say that the spouse who wants sex more sets the agenda of frequency. Fortunately for Morgan, Clarisse is a very accommodating wife who makes herself available throughout the week.

But there are those times when Clarisse finds it difficult to desire sex. She enjoys it, and even anticipates it at different times. But she can't honestly say that she's excited every time Morgan is frisky. There are times when his desires just seem on the edge of unreasonable. Clarisse can't put her finger on any sinful attitude that Morgan needs to repent of. After all, she's read the same Bible verses that Morgan has. His interpretation seems reasonable, and she's inclined to agree with it. However, that doesn't necessarily make it easier to want sex. Is sexual desire on a switch? There are times that Clarisse wishes it were. She would love it if every time Morgan touched her in a certain way, she would immediately long for intimacy. But that is just not reality. So Morgan and Clarisse have tried to settle into a sort of rhythm that appeases Morgan and doesn't overtax Clarisse. Still they wonder if this is how it's supposed to be. What do you think?


Jameson said...

The assumption here is that there is ever going to be a time when this couple does not have to negotiate about the boundaries of intimacy. I'm not sure that's ever going to happen. At some point Morgan's going to want it less. Clarisse may want it more. They may both find they want it once a month. But there's this silly romantic notion that being "one flesh" means sharing a brain, and it doesn't.

So much of Christian discussion of these issues centers around trying to find the right box to put ourselves in. In this case, we want to discover what's "right" to do so we can avoid what's wrong. Or more charitably, Morgan wants to discover what's least damaging to Clarisse, and she wants to discover what's least damaging to him. Cool enough, and best of luck to them... but they need to first get over the idea that there is a rule that needs to be applied. What it comes to is, "You love and presumably like this person. So play nice."

Truly, most of what you need to know, you learn in kindergarten.

brightflash said...

My wife and I have had to work through issues virtually identical to what you have described concerning Clarisse and Morgan. It took me 20-some years to finally learn a few lessons that my wife tried desperately to help me understand.

For example:

You say, "there are those times when Clarisse finds it difficult to desire sex. She enjoys it, and even anticipates it at different times. But she can't honestly say that she's excited every time Morgan is frisky."

What my wife and I have "discovered" and acknowledged in our relationship: She does not desire "sex," per se (or "sexual release"), anywhere near as often as I do. But that doesn't mean she doesn't desire to serve me in my sexual desires/needs. Put another way, she desires to serve me by giving me the pleasure/release that I crave/need.

I wanted so much for her to desire the sex itself--not for the sex, but for the relational implications that such a desire would seem to imply: "I love you! I want you! I desire you! I 'must' have you (in that way)." . . . but such a desire on my part was not realistic. My wife would never desire me in that way anywhere near as much as I desire her.

I pant for her. She rarely pants for me (as in, I think, maybe three times in the 30 years of our marriage!).

So "let it go," she urged me for 20-some-odd years. "That's the way it is!"

But I would not let it go. I wanted, somehow, to change her desires. But that was not to be.

Finally, after 20-some-odd years, she somehow convinced me that she was serious. Serving me "in that way" was really not only "good enough," but, in some strange and incomprehensible manner, truly her delight.

Darby Livingston said...

Well said, brightflash.

I have found the same to be true in my own marriage. You cannot usually fulfill 1 Cor. 7 if you wait for "mutual panting." Despite our modern cultural sensibility, Paul seems to sympathize with the heavier panter. Not because Paul is a male chauvinist, but because sex in this context is redemptive.

So it is completely valid for the wife to show love to her husband "in that way" even when she is not panting with desire. Of course it is also valid for the husband to defer sometimes, but only "for a limited that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control." (1 Cor. 7:5)