Q. My husband sees nothing wrong with occasional pornography. While he's not addicted, he thinks it's okay to watch it as entertainment. I asked him how he'd feel if it were the other way around, if I were the one looking at porn. But he replies, "That would be okay." I'm not confident enough in my marriage to give an ultimatum, because he might call me on it. What should I do?
A. There are two issues at work here. The first is the pornography question. There's a potential for marital trust and bondedness to erode whenever images of other individuals are introduced for sexual entertainment or arousal. It's a slippery slope, and we've seen hundreds of men and women who've slipped into disaster beginning with the infrequent, "innocent" use of pornography. If you're genuinely concerned that he'd choose his occasional use over you, we think you need serious help with your relationship.
The second is how to deal with conflict in marriage. Being able to talk about your concerns and fear is important, but presenting those in an ultimatum is probably not the most effective way to say it. An ultimatum is a "control talk" style of communication that usually elicits a defensive response—an aggressive counterattack or a passive withdrawal. Neither leads to resolution and connectedness.
An alternative is to use "straight talk"—make statements about your feelings or desires only, not your spouse's behavior. Your husband needs to hear your fear and your feelings of inadequacy or rejection. It's important for him to understand your desire to feel treasured and cherished, which is certainly more important than pornography. Let him know you want to be his Playmate of the month, year, and lifetime, and that you want to pleasure him in real, flesh and blood ways!
For more help, check out www.enough.org, Enough Is Enough's website—an organization dedicated to fighting pornography.
We Want It At Different Times
Q. It seems as though the only time my husband initiates sex is in the morning. We both work, and between getting myself ready and getting our toddler ready for daycare, there just isn't extra time to accommodate his needs. And don't even suggest getting up earlier—we're already waking up at the crack of dawn! In the evening, once we put our son to bed, I'm more than willing, but alas, my hubby usually falls asleep the minute his head hits the pillow. Help!
A. It seems most couples have some of the same problems. The one you're having is particularly troublesome since sexual intimacy is such an important aspect of oneness. Melissa and I have shared your distress through the years. Like you, I'm more of a night person, so suggesting getting up early never crossed my mind. Melissa, like your husband, turns into a pumpkin at sunset and has a hard time being romantic just when I'm becoming alert. For us, the help has come from three sources: communication, compromise, and creative scheduling.
Communication: Understanding each other's feelings is essential in all aspects of marriage, but especially regarding sex. Either of you could easily interpret the other's preference as a rejection. Talk about how the dilemma is affecting you and what your deep desires for connectedness are. It's important for your common concern about intimacy and each other's life pressures to form the foundation for finding a solution.
Compromise: Any couple who does not compromise is probably in an unbalanced relationship where control dominates their dynamics. That's unhealthy and not much fun. Finding ways to meet your spouse's needs is one of the most powerful expressions of love. It's also commanded in Scripture: Jesus said the second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor like you love yourself (Mark 12:31). A spouse qualifies as "neighbor." Negotiations about when to have sex are built on this principle!
Creative scheduling: Often finding solutions in conflicted situations requires thinking outside the box. First, commit to working as a team to create a new pattern, with you both willing to be flexible in your thinking. Next, set aside some time, maybe a day or weekend, when the two of you can get away together to relax, talk, and be romantic. In that context brainstorm how your schedules look and where you could make changes that might create space for lovemaking. That might mean giving up something else in your lives.
Consider a give-and-take attitude where a "quickie" or an extra cup of coffee after dinner will make interaction possible.
You may even have to set some dates at unusual times and places for sex.
Q. I know the Bible says intercourse should never happen during menstruation. But does that also include foreplay for either husband or wife?
A. The Scriptures in Leviticus 18:19 command abstinence from intercourse during a woman's menstrual flow. According to some Old Testament scholars, this may be because of the Israelites' view of blood in general as symbolizing life, that it belongs to God and thus warrants special precaution. But as with other Levitical laws, there could also be some health benefits. For instance, studies show that women having intercourse during their period have a higher incidence of endometriosis.
The law doesn't seem to forbid sexual foreplay without penetration. Considering Paul's comments in 1 Corinthians 7:5 that we not withhold ourselves from our mates except for prayer and fasting, we believe God smiles on the pleasure we give each other through sexual intimacy. That would include having non-penetration sex during a menstrual period.
Bored in Boston
Q. My husband and I have been married 25 years and we say and do the same old thing in the bedroom—over and over. I'm not sure how to change things—but I'm bored, which makes me not interested in sex. Any ideas?
A. Sex is much too enticing, exhilarating, and erotic for any couple to sink into boring monotony. Especially after only 25 years! Things should just be getting more adventuresome for you.
Take the bull by the horns, or other body parts, to add a new spark. Most men have a secret longing for their mate to have an unquenchable desire for him sexually! Become seductive: vamp him, kidnap him to a romantic getaway, wear a sexy teddy, say sexy things ("I need your body!"), touch him in erotic areas, go to bed naked, invade his shower, write him love notes, make unexpected phone calls to him inviting him to meet you for sex in the back seat of your car.
If he shows any life, tell him how much you like that!
We hope you're getting the message. You have choices and power to initiate change in the same ole, same ole rut you're in. You don't have to wait for him to wake up. He may have no inkling that he has a woman starved for sexual excitement!
As a last resort—tell him you're bored and losing interest, but that's not what you really crave!
Melissa and Louis McBurney, M.D., are marriage therapists and co-founders of Marble Retreat in Marble, Colorado.
Copyright © 2004 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.