I love the way God designed sexual intimacy between a husband and wife as evidenced in Genesis Chapter 2. The scene is set as the man realizes he is different from everything else around him. The scenery is beautiful and every living creature has another just like itself, only slightly different. There goes the male elephant and the female elephant, the male and female cat, lion, zebra, etc… “But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:20).
Genesis 2 goes on to say that the Lord caused the man to fall into a deep sleep, and while the man was sleeping, the Lord removed one of the man’s ribs and fashioned a woman out of it. When the man awoke, he was amazed! “AT LAST,” he cries! “This is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!” There was one that was like him, but also different in some amazing ways.
Genesis 2:24 says the man and woman became one with each other, enjoying the fruit of sexual intimacy as God designed and intended. There was no pornography, no body image struggles, no comparison, and no swimsuit issues of Sports Illustrated. Just a husband and his wife, enjoying the gift of sex that God created.
Yet somehow we have royally messed things up. Where there was once fidelity, exclusivity and enjoyment, there is now porn, infidelity, comparison, and all kinds of sexual sin. One thing we all have in common is that we each know the brokenness of sexual intimacy. Dysfunction, pain and sin are common threads among all human beings when it comes to intimacy.
The fifth barrier to sexual intimacy as God intended is unresolved personal sexual pain or sin. Of all the posts in this series on The Most Important 0.625% of Your Marriage, this one has been the most challenging to write. How do you rightly capture, in a few sentences, the pain one has walked through? How do you provide the solution to work through the struggle in a few brief sentences? At risk of oversimplifying some very complex challenges, I will attempt to share a few thoughts and potential next steps for some of the pains and hurts that are a significant barrier to sexual intimacy as God intends and as we desire.
First, a few key scriptures to help us with this barrier:
Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
1 Corinthians 6:18 says, “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.”
Much can be included on this list and much more can be said on each topic, but I hope this will at least spark some personal reflection and further conversation between you and your spouse.
- Sexual abuse. Different sources quote different statistics, but generally 1 out of every 3-4 women and 1 out of every 5-6 men have been sexually abused at some point in their lives. A history of sexual abuse can radically impact an individual’s ability to be intimate. Abuse affects every man or woman differently, but please do talk to someone if abuse is part of your story.
- Pornography. So much can be said on this one, but porn is killing us. It breeds selfishness, degrades/hurts your spouse, creates false expectations, and is sin (Matthew 5:27-30). Porn is not just about you and your lust. Pornography is a horrible industry and every click of the mouse or video you watch helps fuel the perpetuation of abuse and use of women who are a part of pornography. Porn is a large part of my story and one of the reasons I walked through my church’s recovery program.
- Author and pastor Mark Gungor says the #1 key to a great sex life is exclusivity. His formula says a turned-on-man plus a turned-on-woman minus pornography equals the best possible sex.
- And, a reminder: pornography does not just affect men. Women are also consuming pornography at increasing rates. Do not let your spouse bring pornography into your marriage. Single men or women reading this post, do not look at porn and think your habit will go away once you get married.
- Recommended Resources: re:generation recovery, Celebrate Recovery, accountability/community, Tim Challies blog post collection, Finally Free.
- Body image. We know many men and women struggle with body image. In general, we can either worship our bodies and become obsessed with them, or we can neglect our body’s health and wellness. Either way can be sin, as we are to honor God with our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). The world puts a whole lot of pressure on both men and women to look good and to have bodies the world finds attractive. Body image struggles and insecurities can prevent us from being truly vulnerable with our spouse in intimacy, and can lead us to focus on ourselves instead of our spouse.
- Women especially face enormous pressure to keep up with the fake images that dominate the cultural landscape. The pressure to maintain, return to and improve their physique is just as intense for women during and after pregnancies. This world is cruel to women, and it’s no wonder so many women struggle with body image. We can sabotage our sex lives when we place too much value on our bodies or when we neglect our bodies. We need to remember we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139).
- Recommended resources: Intimate Issues, re:generation recovery and Celebrate Recovery.
- Unconfessed sin and/or adultery. Many couples have unconfessed pornography, infidelity or emotional adultery as part of their story. Any unconfessed sin that is not brought into the light becomes a barrier to oneness in marriage. If infidelity or hidden sin is part of your story, please check out the re|engage ministry.
- Infertility. Most couples desire to have biological children in marriage. When couples struggle with infertility, intimacy can be negatively affected. You are not alone if this is part of your story. Recommended Resources: Shiloh and When Empty Arms Become a Heavy Burden.
- Abortion. If a woman has had an abortion in the past or a man has been the father to a child who has been aborted, either the woman or man could be plagued by guilt and shame from this decision. Recommended Resources: Someone Cares or Forgotten Fathers.
- Sexual Repression. My friend Ted Cunningham jokes about what the church often tells premarried couples: “Sex is wrong, dirty, and gross, so save it for the one you love.” That makes no sense at all! It is important to tell couples to save it for marriage, but we need to be careful about the way we talk to premarried couples about sex. No wonder newly married Christian couples often struggle with believing sex is good and right within marriage. The solution: right thinking about sex in the context of marriage. See my second post in this series, The 411 on the Most Important 0.625%.
- Guilt and shame from past sexual sin. All men and women bring different levels of past sexual sin into marriage. Some are virgins but have seen pornography or had lustful thoughts. Others have had many sexual partners before marriage and bring sexual baggage into the marriage. Wherever you are on the spectrum, you need to pray for healing and wisdom to overcome the consequences of past sexual sin. Be honest about your past and ask for forgiveness from your spouse as needed. Sexual sin tends to have significant consequences that we each bring into marriage (1 Corinthians 6:18). re:generation recovery was a great place for me to talk through my guilt and shame of the past.
Again, many more topics (i.e. grief) can be included and MUCH more can be said about each of these issues/struggles. The bottom line is to make sure that you address and discuss with each other and someone else any unresolved sexual sin, pain, or addictions.
I recently thought how grateful I am for my home church, Watermark Community Church, because our leaders have helped create a safe and authentic environment to address these challenges. We live out Romans 8:1 (see above). We have so many great ministries like Shelter (sexual abuse for women), MenD (sexual abuse for men), Someone Cares (women who have had an abortion), Forgotten Fathers (men who have participated in an abortion decision), re:generation recovery (Christ-centered, 12-step recovery), Shiloh (for couples walking through infertility), and re|engage (for couples who want to reconnect, reignite or resurrect their marriage). I hope you are a part of church where you can find Jesus, safety and authenticity to talk through the pains, struggles and sin related to sexual intimacy in your life.
- Have I worked through my sexual hurts/habits/addictions?
- What do I need to confess or share with my spouse and/or my community?
- Do I have a right view of intimacy?
Also in this series:
- Part 1 – The Most Important 0.625% of Your Marriage
- Part 2 – The 411 on the Most Important 0.625%
- Part 3 – The Law of the Farm: Will you Work Hard to Make the 0.625% of Your Marriage Great?
- Part 4 – Unmet Expectations: The Second Barrier to Intimacy as God Intends
- Part 5 – Let’s Talk About Sex: The Most Important Skill Needed for Great Intimacy
- Part 6 – Crazy Busy: The Fourth Barrier to Sexual Intimacy as God Intends