Hmmm . . . . now I've got your attention, don't I?
This weekend is the couple's retreat at our church. My husband and I don't participate, and I am okay with that. We have lots of ways to renew our marriage, and most of that happens best in solitude. We also have lots of ways now to be active socially with other couples, and I prefer baseball moms and dads to a church retreat where my husband would be uncomfortable. I understand that my happiness is wholly tied to my own spiritual state and my own obedience, and that a good marriage is just icing on the cake.
I do not begrudge all the couples who are going to the retreat their time away or their time together, though! It is a wonderful thing to have an opportunity as a couple for some time of solitude and some time of community with others who share your values and world-view, and it is a wonderful thing to get some teaching on marriage. They all have my prayers, both for the friendships between couples and for the marriages represented. I do believe that God delights to see two people who love Him live out that love in faithful kindness to each other.
I also think God delights to see married couples enjoy each other sexually for years and years and years. I think that's the height of sexual pleasure, and that it works best when we women really get what it is all about. (I think men have an easier time with this one, for some reason.) It is about fun. Period.
We women can make sex into lots of things it was never designed to be:
- Some of us make it into a means of courtship, which we find unnecessary for a long-term love relationship.
- Some of us make it into what the wider culture tells us it is: something we do when we feel strong desire, but not something to do if desire is absent on either side.
- Some of us make it into a way to control our spouse, bribing them with it, or, more negatively, withholding when we’re angry or disappointed in order to get them to “shape up” or even in order to punish them.
- Some of us make it into something we associate with the negative parts of the wider culture in its attitudes toward sex, and think that we serve some sort of corrective function to witness to an idea that sex is unnecessary for happiness, even if we are married.
- Some of us think that only bad girls really like sex, and are afraid to admit to ourselves that we like it too . . . so we don’t, even though God wishes we would!
- Many of us run into sexual challenges over the course of our lives that make sex less appealing, and we don’t value it highly enough to understand that God wants us to make a healthy sex life a priority if we are married.
- Most of us are at least conscious enough of the evangelical culture’s “proprieties” that we are cautious about doing or saying anything that would give away the idea that we think sex is fun, even though we all give lip-service to the idea that sex within our marriage is a good thing that God ordained.
- Some of us think that sex is wonderful when we are emotionally and spiritually connected to our husbands, but that sex without that context is empty and disappointing.
Sex is hugely connectional -- and that is why it needs to stay within marriage. But, within that context, sex is just wonderful God-ordained FUN! Sex is best when it is free of a need to make it a hugely spiritual experience. (That allows those hugely spiritual experiences to happen, though -- just like making sex about your spouse's pleasure makes your own pleasure more intense.) You don't need to "feel in love" in any intense way at that point in time. You don't even need to start out with a strong feeling of sexual desire yourself. You just need to show up for a team sport, improve your skills over time with the help of your teammate, and enjoy the one thing that can be fun and refreshing to the two of you even when you are not sure you really want to stay together any longer. Then when you actually do "feel in love", you get those spiritual experiences!
Lots of us women don't get this! We haven't learned to accept our own sexuality enough to practice using all the skills we need to really make it fun. That is one of the reasons I am glad for the Song of Solomon and for the book of Esther. We can be like Esther and groom ourselves to be sexual toys for our husbands as well as intellectually and spiritually alluring women, and honor God in doing so. We can be like the lover in the Song that pursued her King, even when circumstances in life make the pursuit less than "smart". We can understand the role of our sexuality in God's plan for a full, abundant life, and that that, like all the rest of our "following after Jesus", has absolutely nothing to do with our husband's goodness or desirability to us at any given point of time. (I wonder if Esther had ever actually seen the king before she had to show up and perform sexually, knowing that she would likely be with the concubines the next morning, cast off and never called for again?)
Like Esther, if God has put me in the position of allowing me to fully express my sexuality with another human being (in Christian marriage), I can prepare. If I am naive about sex, there are many tasteful and helpful Christian books to give me ideas about physical techniques, which my husband can help me actually master. If I have little physical or emotional desire or enjoyment of sex, my doctor can help me figure out the best way to address that. (Many women find proper hormone balance or addressing depression or loosing weight and gaining muscle tone to be miraculous things for their libidos!) And if I am disillusioned or disappointed or angry with my husband, I can learn to imagine him as God sees him: capable of wonderful things, capable of being forgiven and free, capable of learning to love me as I let God teach me how to love Him. And if sex makes me feel guilty, or I see it as somehow "dirty" or distasteful, I can use all God's tools to find enlightenment and healing there: prayer, Bible study, good Christian books on marriage and sex, and private conversation with women friends and/or therapists or women pastors or spiritual directors.
So part of "following after Jesus" is this: I not only seek to remain chaste before marriage and seek to remain faithful during marriage, I also learn the skills of sex (in grooming, seducing, responding, making love, using my imagination as God intended, etc.) and use them in my marriage for the fun and restoration that God intended -- for my own fun and restoration, and not just for my husband's! -- and let that enrich my walk with God, whether it enriches my marriage or not. :-)