Sex: overhyped and undervalued

by Mar 3, 2008

It’s no secret that most married couples have some underlying tension when it comes to sex. Men want it more, women not so much, and neither side really wants to talk about it.

This CNN article explores the prevalence of sexual incompatibility in marriages. Here’s one husband’s story:

While he and his wife, who live on the West Coast, started off with great chemistry, the cracks in the relationship began to show before they traded rings. After a four-month dry spell during their engagement, his wife brought up the idea of canceling the wedding. “I just really wanted to get married,” Jon says. “I felt that it was what I was supposed to do.”

Now Jon is having an affair with a woman — also in a sexually unsatisfying marriage — for whom he feels intense passion. “I didn’t realize the importance of sex,” he says.

A sex therapist interviewed for the article says this is not uncommon, and not surprising:

Klein notes that the expectation of eternally passionate sex may be setting people up to fail. “People have the assumption that you can have long-term, monogamous, hot sex,” he says. “It’s never been done (on a large scale) in the history of the world.”

Most couples would at least like to try to prove her wrong, assuming they can improve their marriages by figuring out how to have more and hotter sex. In fact, a pastor in Florida recently challenged the married couples in his church to have sex every day for 30 days, hoping that a better sex life will lead to a better marriage.

While I think it’s great for couples to bring a subject out into the open that most people leave covered in a simmering pot of unspoken conflict, I also think the approach is a little misguided. It’s a reflection of the way our culture overhypes sex as the highest possible pleasure, which, in our pleasure-seeking society, means that it’s the most important thing in life.

Don’t get me wrong – sex is a great thing, and obviously God agrees or else we wouldn’t have the just-shy-of-pornographic poetry of Song of Solomon in the middle of our Bibles. But in my view, sex is primarily the thermometer of a marriage, not the thermostat. It’s a gift for our pleasure, but it also has great value in showing us how we’re doing in every other part of the relationship.

A wife is more likely to desire sex if she feels her husband is caring and compassionate toward her. And a husband is more likely to treat his wife with care and compassion if he senses that his wife respects and admires him. When both sides put aside their sinful pride and selfishness (along with their bitterness over times in the past when they haven’t felt cared for or respected) and seek to love each other in these ways, then great sex will almost always be the natural result.

It’s the culmination of sacrificial love saturating every part of a marriage, as both people humbly offer everything they have and everything they are to the other: “For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.” (1 Corinthians 7).