I've been married for several years, and our sex life is pretty good. But I admit that occasionally I masturbate. Is this something that will damage my relationship with my wife?
Louis: It's clear that masturbation holds some potential dangers to your marriage. The first is if your masturbatory fantasies are adulterous. if you find pleasure in thinking about having sex with another woman, that can erode your erotic feelings toward your wife. And that's a thin-ice situation.
The second danger is in gradually replacing marital sex with self-stimulation. Some men find this a convenient way to avoid marital intimacy.
A third danger is giving your wife a feeling of being inadequate or unappealing. Many women have no inkling of how common masturbation is, and they are astonished when they discover that their husband does that.
On the other hand (no pun intended), masturbation can have some positive effects.
It can relieve sexual tension when a man and his wife have very different sex drives. It can be an alternative way to find pleasure together when intercourse isn't desirable due to advanced pregnancy, recent childbirth or a mild illness. It may also provide a hedge against unfaithfulness when your wife is unavailable and temptation presents itself.
Since you have doubts about the effect masturbation might have on your marriage, it would be good to ask your wife how she feels about it. Her response will tell you a lot.
I've only been married one year, and I love my husband immensely. But our sex life is terrible! We have sex barely once a month. This surprises me, because we had intercourse before we were married, and I had no problem getting "turned on" then. I've been to a doctor, and there are no physical problems holding us back. We know that having sex outside of marriage was sinful. Did having premarital sex ruin our married sex life?
Louis: What happens between the steamy encounters of courtship and the marriage bed is as unpredictable as the winter snows in the Rockies. Things can turn frigid overnight. Some of the sources are complex and require professional help. Others are relatively simple and easily resolved. Here are a few that come to mind:
- 1. Guilt or anger over having had premarital intercourse. Whether you were carried away in passion or felt coerced, there are often regrets about surrendering your virginity before marriage. This problem may require some counseling and spiritual help to come to mutual forgiveness and a sense of God's grace. It's good to remember that your sexual passion didn't surprise God, and that he still redeems sinners.
- 2. New discoveries about your husband. We men are often able to effectively mask our "jerkhood" during courtship. Unfortunately, those flaws become glaringly apparent in the wonder of marital togetherness. It may be pretty unromantic to crawl into bed with the same guy who smells up the bathroom. So try some lifestyle adjustments that emphasize courtesy and consideration. Also, various deodorant products may help, as will greater acceptance of the male "mystique."
- 3. Allowing the romance and adventure to evaporate. One problem with marriage is that, in contrast to courtship, it's such an "everyday" thing. When Melissa and I were courting, we saw each other only once every two or three weeks. And we didn't have concerns about bills, household chores, dirty laundry, job demands, the flu or hormonal cycles. We put enormous energy into creating a few hours of paradise—great dinners out, romantic picnics, moonlight in Vermont, Johnny Mathis love songs on the Hi Fi, our spiffiest clothes and best bottled fragrances! Now we have bills and chores and responsibilities that we have to intentionally set aside to make way for all the romance we can muster. And believe me, the juices are still flowing after 35 years!
- 4. Unresolved conflicts and petty irritations. It's easy to ignore the principle of keeping short accounts with your disagreements and disappointments. But ignore that rule at your peril. Letting hurt or anger build up is deadly. Men may be able to go directly from a heated argument to a heated sexual encounter, but women can't. Clearing out the backlog of negative emotions is crucial.
- 5. Expecting your husband to have total responsibility for sex. The best sex continues when both partners plan for it, and when both contribute to the pleasure. The men we counsel invariably say they want a wife who will vamp them, making them feel that she needs and craves her husband's body. Sometimes when a woman initiates lovemaking, the whole event becomes much more erotic for her.
Melissa: I recommend that you read The Sexual Man, by Archibald Hart (Word). Many times women are surprised by male thinking, so understanding more about what makes men tick may help you. And knowing what's "normal" and what isn't might give you ideas about how to "vamp" him occasionally. Look for other resources for spicing up your sex life. The Triumphant Marriage, by Neil Clark Warren (Focus on the Family), has a chapter on how to rekindle desire. Also, don't hesitate to ask a close, trustworthy friend for ideas.
Does the Bible say anything about infertility? How can a Christian couple know what medical options are acceptable for achieving conception?
Louis: God is all for pregnancy and having children; the Bible generally reflects the idea of pregnancy as a sign of blessing. But there are, naturally, no biblical guidelines anticipating the vast array of scientific possibilities that are now available to help couples conceive.
I looked up what Dr. Joe McIlhaney, a Christian gynecologist who specializes in infertility, has to say in 1250 Health Care Questions Women Ask (Focus on the Family). He writes: "It is my personal commitment to do all I can, within my ethical and moral limits, to aid infertile couples in achieving pregnancy. In the process I remind myself and the couple that there are higher goals in life—the protection of the dignity of an individual, the preservation of the family as ordained by God, and the maintenance of healthy relationships within those families. Despite the intensity of their desire to have a child, I believe infertile couples must not and should not be coerced into using any technique they cannot wholeheartedly accept."
I'd add, from a psychiatric point of view, that mutuality and full agreement between husband and wife is essential whatever is done. If either partner has spiritual or emotional doubts, it would be unwise to proceed.
McIlhaney reminds his readers that "new" procedures are not necessarily wrong, recalling that there were people who refused penicillin when it was new, because "it interfered with the 'natural' process of life and death." He sees laser surgery, in vitro fertilization and greater knowledge about the hormones controlling reproduction as "exciting advances" that "herald real hope" for couples dealing with infertility.
But he warns couples to evaluate these procedures carefully before moving ahead.
He makes a good point: "The fact that these techniques are possible does not eliminate the validity of the feelings and emotions that are a part of life itself. Human beings are not meant to go through life as pawns of science, and the ultimate goal of life is not achievement of pregnancy."
Melissa: Being unable to get pregnant is very difficult emotionally. Lots of prayer is advisable, and lots of understanding for each other is necessary. Listening to one another and searching into each other's soul can reap great benefits from this hard time.
Avoid blaming and put-downs at all costs. It is so much better to come through to the other side with your relationship enhanced rather than damaged. Perhaps a support group for each of you would be a good place to express the feelings that might damage your relationship. Being with other men and women who have gone through the same experience might be helpful and reassuring.
Copyright © 1997 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.