Q. Is the use of instructional sex videotapes and books—within marriage—the same as using pornography? My wife and I have seen ads for these types of videos and wondered if they would "spice up" our sex lives—neither of us are very creative people. Could it end up harming our marriage?
A. For many individuals, particularly males, seeing videos or photos of sexual acts is erotic. Even looking at drawings can produce arousal. Some sex manuals depict unusual positions for intercourse that probably should have the disclaimer, "Don't try this at home." There is no question that these introduce a whole new level of "creativity" into sexual play that requires unusual strength or acrobatics to achieve.
There are two problems associated with using these materials: self-critical doubts and seduction into pornography and promiscuous sexual behavior.
The first of these is one that sex therapists have recognized for years. The training or therapy videos and photographs are done with models who possess exceptional bodies. Consequently, one effect of watching the models at work is feeling intimidated that your own equipment just doesn't measure up. A corollary is noticing that your spouse doesn't compare favorably either. That can create a level of dissatisfaction. You might learn some exciting technique but lose interest in trying it out together.
Books about sexuality usually have drawings rather than photographs and that reduces the risk of unpleasant comparisons. The figures are not designed for arousal as much as for instruction. It's wise to avoid those materials that are distinctly erotic. The less erotic allow the "spice" to be added by the reader. The more erotic supply the excitement, which creates a dependency on external stimuli for satisfying arousal.
The second negative effect of sex videos and photographs is their tendency to develop an involvement with pornography. As with any addictive stimuli, viewing sexually explicit material leads to tolerance. That is, it takes increasing amounts or intensity of the stimulus to produce the same result. Like a heroin addict who has to increase the dose he takes for the same high, a pornography addict will need more frequent and more tantalizing pictures to produce the desired excitement.
This danger is particularly keen in our Internet era. Pornography is simply too available. I just heard a report that there are roughy 350,000 sites on the Internet offering every possible range of pornographic material. We're convinced that this exposure is leading to increased lack of intimacy, sexually promiscuous behavior, and adultery.
These seem to be reasons enough not to experiment with sexual videos or other erotic materials to spice up your marriage bed. There are good books about sexuality written from a biblical perspective that lead to better understanding, deeper marital intimacy, and improved sexual technique without risking your relationship.
I Hate My Stretch Marks
Q. When I was pregnant with our son twenty-seven years ago, I got hideous stretchmarks on my abdomen, pubic area, buttocks, breasts, and backs of my arms and thighs. I have tried everything, including ignoring them, but I am so embarrassed about them. I won't even put on sexy clothing for my husband because of how ridiculous I look in them. My husband acknowledges my stretch marks, but says he desires me anyway. He doesn't understand why it's important for me to be wanted visually and not just because I'm his wife. We do continue to have good sex, but how can I ever fully enjoy it when I'm overcome with embarrassment about my body?
A. The old saying, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," is hard to swallow when you don't see yourself as beautiful. Millions of women and I identify with you. Our culture and its constant message about the perfect body lead us to feel imperfect and ugly. I saw an ad the other day about getting a makeover. I laughed when what came to my mind first was, let's try for tall and thin (I am short and fat). For me stretch marks are not the problem; fat is. Probably almost every American woman has some "flaw" that she cannot help but see when she looks in the mirror. I hate catching myself in a mirror or window when I'm not expecting it. I must do some emotional preparation when I know it's coming just to survive the experience. Louis, my husband, cannot believe that I don't see myself as he sees me.
I felt a sadness as I read your question because of all the years I have wasted hiding myself from my husband. He is an honest man. And he is easy to read. When he tries to keep some feeling or opinion from me I always know it. So I believe him when he says that the way he sees my body is very different from what I see. Yet, I have hung on to my perception like a drowning person with a float. Why? Why do you? That question may be more important than the stretch marks themselves. If you had no stretch marks would you be satisfied with your body? I suspect that some other "flaw" would surface as the reason for dissatisfaction.
"You will know the truth and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32) encompasses more than spiritual truth. I have seen people set free by all kinds of truth in our therapy sessions at Marble Retreat. Your belief system is either based on truth or it is not. It may be true that you have stretch marks and that they are ugly. The truth that might set you free is to know that what your husband sees is desirable to him. After all, that's what's important, isn't it?
Medical solutions include good skin care, perhaps with a dermatologist's advice. There is also the alternative of plastic surgery, which might be helpful, but it's expensive and not a guarantee of cosmetic perfection.
So what should you do? That depends on how practical you are. When you weigh the benefits of fully enjoying sex against whatever it is that you now believe is "truth," which is the most valuable to you? Only you can change your focus. No one else can do that for you. But you do have the power to control your thoughts and thereby your feelings. I hope that you give this a try. Let me know how successful you are.
His Sex Drive Vanished
Q. We have been married for thirty years, and my husband's sex drive has come to a screeching halt. We have not had sex for sixteen months, and before that it was six months between each time we had sex. He has, at my request, seen the doctor, but tests show his testosterone level to be normal. The doctor gave him an anti-depressant to see if that would help, but my husband didn't bother to take it. He smokes, and we have discussed how that can hinder the sex drive, but he doesn't want to quit. I understand that he may have a problem, but I don't understand why he isn't beating a path to the doctor to get help. I don't know if I'm willing to live the rest of my life without intimacy. Is there help for this marriage?
A. If you've been married thirty years I'd guess your husband must be around fifty years of age. It's not uncommon for men to begin to lose sexual ability and sometimes interest at his age. Since his interest had decreased to twice a year before ceasing completely we're thinking it wasn't exactly a screech, but more of a sputter. If he began to have trouble achieving or maintaining an erection he may have become reluctant to risk failure. He may also have begun to experience a change in the intensity of his ejaculations. It's unlikely he'd talk about that. Men are so hesitant to admit problems about their sexuality. Any of these difficulties can develop despite normal testosterone levels. They are mostly related to neuro-vascular changes.
That he agreed to go to a doctor tells us that he does have some concerns about his loss of drive. It may be good that he didn't take the antidepressant; they often inhibit sexual libido and function. However, if he's depressed about the problem he may be willing to go to a sex therapist with you. If the problem is related to the normal aging process he might be relieved to know that he could be helped medically. If he is able to get a good erection and have a normal orgasm through masturbation, there may be some relational issues that need attention.
Although fifty-ish is a bit soon for these changes to occur physiologically, it's not rare. It's also common for most couples to have to adapt to a decrease in their frequency of intercourse. That does not mean they have to give up sexual intimacy. To continue finding ways to achieve closeness and to pleasure each other without genital union can be satisfying and bonding. This can include good sexual arousal and stimulation to orgasm for you. Living without intimacy should not be a consequence.
Melissa and Louis McBurney, M.D., are marriage therapists and co-founders of Marble Retreat in Marble, Colorado, where they counsel clergy couples.
If you have a question you'd like addressed, send your question to:
Real Sex Marriage Partership 465 Gundersen Drive Carol Stream, Illinois 60188 firstname.lastname@example.org
2001 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.