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Sex Toys, Solo Acts and the Bare Facts

A friend told me that using sex "toys"—things like leather undergarments and battery-operated devices—has turned his sex life around. I admit it sounds interesting, but I wonder if he is seeking more out of sex than God intends for us to experience. And don't these sex toys create a sense of dissatisfaction with basic, unaided intercourse?

Louis and Melissa: Our own taste in romantic props runs more along the lines of lace and candle-power than leather and battery-operated gadgets. Within reason, outside "props" can make a positive contribution. But we have real concerns about relying on certain tools and sexual toys to accomplish dynamite sex.

One problem is that these devices have to be upgraded over time to provide the same level of excitement. In itself, this isn't necessarily evil or destructive. But for many couples it's a too-short step toward sado-masochistic practices. For the delicious pleasures of sexuality to be tainted by images of bondage or pain is far from what God designed sex to be.

Sexual pleasure should draw a husband and wife together in a powerful bond that helps them become "one flesh." We don't think there is any way to get "more out of sex than God intends" in the positive realm. The intense, joyous release of orgasm, free from fear and fantasy, is a divine possibility to be sought.

If the magic has gone out of your sexual romance, the first place to look is at your relationship as a whole. Are there ways to improve your feelings of passion, such as spending a quiet evening together away from the kids? You may be losing interest in passionate sex because you're harboring unresolved anger or heavy disappointments. Clearing those up can release tremendous energy for sexual enjoyment.

Next, evaluate your sexual interaction. Talk through the things you do before and during sex. Maybe what worked years ago no longer seems all that exciting. Have you stopped talking about what brings about erotic feelings? If you come to bed exhausted and settle for a "quickie" night after night, it may be time to invest new energy into the system. Whistles and bells and leather undies aren't going to overcome physical exhaustion.

Whatever you do to enhance your sexual enjoyment, be sure it draws you more deeply into passionate oneness with your mate and doesn't create barriers in your relationship with God. If something as innocent as lace and candlelight builds images of unhealthy, adulterous liaisons, it's as dangerous as chains and whips. On the other hand, a little leather and some new lighting may rekindle passionate love.

One final caution: Keep in mind who reaps the profits from the sale of sexual "toys." If purchasing these devices feeds the pornography industry, we recommend a boycott!

My husband of seven years has recently stopped approaching me sexually. When I ask him about it, he says we're just "out of sync." But I don't buy it. When changing the sheets, I've seen evidence that he masturbates while I'm sleeping right next to him. What gives? I don't even know what to think or how to approach him anymore.

Louis: Sex is often a barometer of the overall marital climate. Think about what has been happening in your lives to find signs of any of these common causes of a man's loss of sexual interest: fear of failure, fear of rejection or unresolved anger.

Fear of failure powerfully affects a man's sexual performance. Men derive much of their sense of well-being and identity from being "adequate." If this feeling of being capable is threatened, it can lead to premature ejaculation, erectile failure or diminished sex drive. Most men have a hard time admitting these fears. In fact, your husband may prefer masturbation because it's safer and physiologically easier than worrying about satisfying your sexual needs. He may also have involuntary ejaculations while he sleeps. A lack of interest may also may be caused by fatigue, loss of confidence on the job, or from medication, drugs or alcohol abuse. Once a man has experienced some failure sexually he may "suddenly" lose interest in order to avoid failing again.

The second great fear is rejection. It's fairly common for a man to become so fearful of being turned down that he decides it's just not worth the pain to risk initiating sex. His wife may be vaguely aware of occasionally saying "Not tonight, Honey," while her husband may remember 27 out of his last 30 invitations being unsuccessful. (But who's counting?)

The third possible cause, unresolved anger, is a powerful antilibidinous force. Who wants to cuddle up to someone who seems like the enemy? A man may feel turned off by his wife especially when his anger is related to feelings of being controlled or belittled.

Melissa: When one of these factors is dampening a husband's enthusiasm, it's normal for him to rationalize the change as you two being "out of sync." Talk with your husband about what may really be happening—not in an accusing way, but with compassion. And be sure to express your desire to be connected with him sexually.

If you haven't already tried breaking the distance between you by initiating sex yourself, go for it! Be your most seductive and really vamp him! Or try following the advice given in Neil Clark Warren's book The Triumphant Marriage (Focus on the Family). Chapter five offers helpful tips for reviving your sexual chemistry.

Professional help may also be necessary. If your husband isn't interested in seeing a counselor with you, go ahead and get help yourself. Do what you can to find ways to restore the old passion.

Recently, my nine-year-old daughter accidently saw my genitalia, and I didn't know what to do. In general, at what age should parents stop allowing their kids to see them naked?

Louis: If you're talking about the parent's age, I'd say about 39, when the bulges and sags become really embarrassing! But seriously, it's difficult to pinpoint an exact age at which children should stop seeing their parents without their clothes on.

Melissa: Many people are trying to move away from the idea of modesty, believing it to be based on unhealthy feelings of shame. But modesty doesn't have much to do with the problem of shame. According to the Scriptures, shame entered the picture at the fall—when Adam and Eve disobeyed God and sin entered the world. Most passages that refer to nakedness and covering up the body have more to do with vulnerability and loss of dignity. The Bible doesn't teach that the body is something evil or shameful that needs to be hidden.

Children should be taught that their bodies are made by God and that they are beautiful and precious. Modesty should grow out of a sense of gratitude for what God has given us and a sense of responsibility about how God wants us to use our bodies. The Bible teaches modesty for a very good reason: Chastity is made more difficult without modesty. Your children will need a healthy respect for and understanding of modesty as they mature.

Louis: But to get back to your question, nudity within a family seems to be very much a culturally determined standard. Japanese families traditionally continue communal nude bathing in hot tubs throughout life, and so do many Europeans. Psychiatrically speaking, the attitudes about nudity and the associated sexual behaviors seem to determine the effect of nudity on a child's development.

Attitudes about nakedness and sexuality begin to develop quite early. A baby senses nonverbal signals that demonstrate family members' feelings about sexuality. Shame, embarrassment, discomfort or delight are conveyed when diapers are changed or baths are given. On his or her own, a small child will discover the sensations associated with touching the genital area. Those pleasurable feelings may become confused if anxious adults bring shame into the picture.

Thus, nakedness within the family is interpreted through the lens of countless other experiences. When the experiences associated with nakedness are positive and healthy, that's fine. But when associated behaviors are inappropriately sexual or negative, real damage is done. Exposure to bare bodies is one thing, but any kind of erotic play is completely taboo! At early adolescence, children may become more uncomfortable about nudity because of the awakening of sexual arousal, especially if the family has been uncomfortable with sexuality or has never talked about healthy sex.

However, in a relaxed, intimate family circle, exposure to noneroticized nudity should cause no damage. If your nine-year-old of the opposite sex accidently sees your genitalia, don't make a big deal of it. Just say, "Sorry—I didn't know you were here." Then, if it seems appropriate, you might even talk with her about the differences between male and female anatomy. The talk could blossom into a natural discussion about reproductive physiology and the moral and relational aspects of sexuality. Nine might be a little late in these days of pervasive sexual awareness, but if you're comfortable with the subject you may learn a lot from the discussion!

Real Sex columnists Melissa and Louis McBurney, M.D., are marriage therapists and co-founders of Marble Retreat in Marble, Colorado, where they counsel clergy couples. The McBurneys have been married 35 years.

The McBurneys aren't able to respond personally to readers' letters. But if you have a Real Sex question you'd like them to address in this column, send your question to:

Real Sex
Marriage Partnership
465 Gundersen Drive
Carol Stream, IL 60188

Or you can e-mail your questions to: mp@marriagepartnership.com

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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Children; Marriage; Sex
Today's Christian Woman, Winter, 1996
Posted September 12, 2008

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