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More Than Sex

Your physical relationship needs to keep pace with your changing marriage.
Image: Photograph by Gary Buss/FPG Int'l LLC

In the beginning, couples make love. They create their own private and particular means for expressing love, sexually, together. But if you're a bit past the beginning, if you're comfortable with each other (now that you know more about who your spouse is, who you are, what vast freedom you have for sex), you need to make love all over again. Over and over, as your situation and yourselves change, you can discover the sex that fits you.

You'll practice sex one way before your children are born. Then children make a difference, and your sexual habits reflect that. As your children grow, the time and energies you have for one another are revised—and your sex life can get nudged into smaller corners. Someday you'll be alone again together, but your bodies will have changed and your desires will have been refined. You won't want to go back to the exact same practices you had as newlyweds. Lifestyle changes force changes in your sexuality. But you can keep making, remaking, your loving, sexual expression to fit new circumstances. The mystery and joy of lovemaking is that it is a marital task that need never be completely done, finished forever. It can be done again and again, always with brave new results.

So how can you set out to find your finest, most expressive, most personal sexual behavior? You start by creating trust—earning it with each other by your truthfulness and dependability. Trust allows you both to be "naked and not ashamed." Naked physically: no part of the body is hidden since no curve of it, no organ or flesh of it, will be troubled by embarrassment. Naked emotionally and spiritually: no part of the personality, no feeling, no memory or fear or internal delight needs to be hidden. Trust encourages your mate to present his or her whole self to you, and your honesty hides nothing of your whole self from your spouse.

Desire draws the two total selves together. Your hands do not have to be commanded to move; they move on their own. Flesh finds flesh quite easily and happily. And you are free. Shame and guilt can't restrict you. Nothing whatever, except the law of serving each other, forbids anything you might do.

But some of your sexual practices will be more to your taste (the preference of both of you) than others. How long will you linger, just touching? What kinds of caresses, on what parts of the body, with what parts of the body, are most delightful and generous? What positions increase excitement, sustain desire? How do you know? How do you choose?

You find out by talking and listening. Before and after, and even in the very heat of, sexual activity, listen to your spouse. Don't ever be so busy with the driving of your own desire that you cannot hear him, feel her, talking to you. His breathing whispers, Good! Good! Keep doing that. Or the slightest stiffening of her lips says, Not that. Try something else. You listen with your skin, if there are no words. The naked, trusting body itself is talking all the time, sending out an endless stream of messages, and you know the subtle gestures that communicate.

For the sake of your mutual sexuality, use that personal knowledge here, never assuming the sex to be for yourself alone, nor ever letting it become so habitual it can't say something new to you. Listen.

And talk. Praise your spouse. Thank him or her for a gift well given. Praising preserves the gift, makes it part of your sexuality. (It's when we think we deserved the thing we got that we say nothing about it. Pride shuts our mouths. But a healthy humility teaches even the taciturn male and the shyest female to speak out loud their gladness.)

Don't be ashamed. There is no law to keep you silent about your bodies, about the sexual motions in them, the dampenings, the erections, all the sensations that come before a climax, the climax itself. One of the holiest joys of lovemaking is the spiritual entrance into another human being—to know what someone else of the other sex feels like on the inside. Our flesh divides us; we can be lonely inside our bodies and exiled from the deepest feelings of other people. But expressive lovemaking truly draws us inside each other. As you talk with each other, your spouse can know your body and your heart.

Trust encourages your mate to present his or her whole self to you, and your honesty hides nothing from your spouse.

Talk truthfully, without a hint of guilt or criticism, even about sexual difficulties. Where there is fault, there can be forgiveness, and forgiveness always permits a fresh beginning. Where there is no fault (sex can fail for reasons perfectly blameless), there can be helpful, open and constructive talk. Be sure you know the difference between fault and no-fault. How often our personal frustration makes us take things personally—when in fact there was no sin done against us.

But in either case, you can talk as partners who are discussing a third thing, your sexual togetherness, the way parents would discuss a child's needs. Your talk will be positive, building up and not tearing down. Speaking this way, you will be able to handle even heavy things (impotence, frigidity, genital pain, unexpected feelings of anger) without focusing guilt on one or shame on the other—which would divide and silence you and would perpetuate the problem between you.

Parents talk very well when sharing the work of healing a sick child, because together they love that child. Likewise, you can talk openly and share your talents, perceptions, opinions and actions to heal a troubled sex life—because together you possess that life. Doesn't the sexuality of a marriage mature precisely in the overcoming of problems? Don't you know it better and better each time you solve a new perplexity?

Talk and listen at all times for the sexual signals that come in the course of a day, so that time and place and readiness and frequency are learned. Then the thing you create for yourselves will have something of both of you—like a baby whose face shows characteristics of both your faces. Your sexual closeness will be yours, unique to you.

Then the sexual life you've created grows up, strong and stable and able to carry you through life's changes. It blesses you with confidence, both in bed and in each other, both now and in the years to come.

The years may steal the beauty from your body, but your body still will function beautifully in the sexuality of your marriage. What does it matter if muscles soften or the climax diminishes with age? Someone likes to touch you and does! Some one receives your aging flesh with delight. Someone is turned on by you—and that will be no small accomplishment when you both know you don't meet the physical standards of a youthful society.

You will be beautiful. This isn't a figure of speech or a comment on your personality, but a physical fact. You will be beautiful. And this will be the proof: that someone still is making love with you.

Walter Wangerin, Jr., a Lutheran clergyman, teaches at Valparaiso University. He is the author of a number of books of fiction and theology, including The Book of God (Zondervan). He and his wife, Thanne, have been married 32 years.

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

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