Q. I've recently become a Christian and now I'm praying that my husband will, too. We've had a rocky marriage, but the most stable part of it has been our sex life. Unfortunately, our sex life was pretty adventurous, involving toys and some porn. Now I'm trying to get up the nerve to tell him I don't want to do those things anymore. I'm afraid it'll make him resent my faith and that it'll take away the one point of connection that's been really good for us. What should I do? Are those sexual "helps" really so bad?
A. Louis: I've often wondered what percentage of adult men became Christians because of the love and prayers of a woman. It was true for my own father. After about 35 years of Mom's patient acceptance and persistent prayers, he finally responded to God's Spirit and her love. I'm glad you're praying for your husband and assume that maintaining and improving your marriage is going to remain a high priority for you.
Many newly converted Christian wives have to live with all sorts of "pre-Christian" behaviors as part of their relationship and to win their husbands to the Lord. I know that the pain of being "unequally yoked with an unbeliever" can be consuming. It's hard to balance your own obedience with Paul's admonition for a wife to remain faithful and by her manner to attract her husband to Jesus (1 Cor. 7:11-14).
Let me affirm your instinctive reaction that sexual toys and porn have no place in the believer's sex life. The practice of using sex toys and porn to enhance eroticism is not ideal and is not without definite dangers. In our counseling practice, Melissa and I are seeing increasing numbers of individuals of both sexes who have become seriously addicted to pornographic stimulation. This tends to erode marital intimacy, create mistrust and a sense of betrayal, and often leads to a broader exploration of sex—including even extramarital encounters. These possibilities are emotionally and relationally destructive, eroding your self-respect and your mutual trust and pleasure. They are also physically destructive. These days, sexually transmitted diseases have reached epidemic proportions. HIV, human papilloma virus, and antibiotic-resistant bacteria infect about 50 percent of adults in the U.S. and even greater percentages in many other countries. Condoms do not (I repeat, do not) provide reliable protection.
But you are married to an unbeliever and longing to see him come to Christ, and such practices may be forgivable if your picture of loving submissiveness will convince your husband that your Christianity is a reflection of God's grace. I suspect your nonbelieving husband will know without you saying anything that the toys and porn are not compatible with your new faith. As he becomes convinced of your willingness to honor him, he will be more likely to consider your God.
Melissa: Now would be a great time for you to do a Bible study about marriage to discover just how important marriage is to God. Marriage can be an illustration of—and even a training ground for—how we should relate to God. You'll discover that we believers (the church) are the bride of Christ and that fidelity is crucial in God's plan for marriage. Now that you are a Christian, you have God's Holy Spirit living within you to give you the love and power to make your marriage the way God intended it. Let the Lord guide and lead you as you work through what it means to have a Christian marriage. Your concern about sexual practices is an important one, but only part of the bigger marriage picture. Make it your goal to learn to love both God and your husband as completely as you can—and everything else will fall into place.
My wife and I have fallen into a pattern of having sex once a week—and once a week only—always on Sunday night. This suits her fine; she's a schedule-oriented person. To me, once a week is not only not enough, it's not spontaneous enough. Because of the schedule, I never feel that she really wants to have sex but that she's just checking off another item on her weekly "to do" list. I tried to understand that this is just who she is, but I'm starting to resent her.
Louis: The differences in your libidos as husband and wife are not unusual. Many couples disagree on the frequency issue. But I think a key to reaching your wife, who likes order and predictability, may be to communicate your desires and frustration in a different way. Try writing her a careful letter expressing your love and desire to be a thoughtful husband. Point out the things you appreciate about her. Reveal to her that you carry an area of hurt and frustration—you can even tell her you feel awkward about telling her.
With that preamble, talk to her about male sexuality in general. You might even refer her to Arch Hart's book, The Sexual Man. Share how you feel, as a husband, when you are controlled in the area of your sexuality. Indicate your willingness and longing to discover a better solution for achieving oneness with her.
Open, vulnerable, straight talk about your feelings and desires is your best chance of getting your message across. It's the only way to avoid sounding critical or delivering ultimatums or the humiliation of having to beg.
Melissa: Doesn't she resent this pattern too? While you're resenting this path to sexual intimacy, she may be feeling unhappy with your emotional intimacy. Sex for sex's sake is not very appealing to many women. But sex as the outcome of relational intimacy can be very appealing. You may be surprised to discover that neither of you is very happy with the status quo. As the two of you talk openly, I hope mutual satisfaction will be the result.
My husband cannot climax while having sex—although he can by masturbating. Is this common? I've never heard of such a thing; I've always heard it was easy for guys. I've tried to keep him from seeing that this really bothers me, but it does. I think he'd be appalled at the idea of seeing a sex therapist. What else could we try?
Louis: If you and your husband are able to discuss his practice of masturbating with some openness, you may be able to discover what's behind his practice.
Talk about what he believes about ejaculating inside you. It could be he's concerned about pregnancy and is practicing coitus interruptus as a birth-control technique. If this is true, he'll be happy to discover that there are many more effective forms of contraception. Coitus interruptus is not reliable because sperm are often released before ejaculation occurs.
Perhaps he is a fastidious individual who doesn't want to leave you the task of dealing with the "mess" of his ejaculation intravaginally. There are women who resent that aspect of intercourse. Somehow he may have gotten the idea that it's better to save you from that bother.
Another area of exploration would be to talk about his own sexual pleasure. Most men first experienced the intense delight of sexual climax through masturbation in adolescence. The individual pattern of self-stimulation may take many forms and be associated with various sexual fantasies. The rhythm of stimulation, the amount of pressure applied, the excitement of seeing his erection, or of watching the ejaculate shoot out may all have become an important, built-in part of his sexual reflex. Any of these could be affected when he's having vaginal stimulation.
Identifying and sharing an understanding of what his ideas about masturbation or intercourse are will help you come to a mutually satisfying solution. And while you're getting a clearer picture of what he thinks and feels, you can share with him your own expectations and desires. Explain what receiving his ejaculate within your body means to you. There's no substitute for good communication between a husband and wife to develop satisfying sex.
Melissa: Short of seeing a sex therapist in person, you may want to read books by competent sex therapists. We often recommend Intended for Pleasure. For best results, read it together with a willingness to try what these authors suggest. Above all, keep talking as openly and honestly as you can.
Melissa and Louis McBurney, M.D., are marriage therapists and co-founders of Marble Retreat in Marble, Colorado, where they counsel clergy couples.
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The Sexual Man, by Archibald D. Hart
Intended for Pleasure: Sex Technique and Sexual Fulfillment , by Ed Wheat
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