“We have always wanted our intimacy to be great. We could use some help with how to get there.”
“We have a happy marriage, but our intimate life is a source of pain, frustration, and disappointment.”
“We have had some physical challenges that have affected our sex lives, and we don’t know how to overcome them or talk about them.”
“A lot of damage has happened in our marriage, and we’re having a difficult time being intimate with one another, in our sexual relationship and overall.”
Maybe these words describe how you’re feeling. Or maybe you’re just looking for ways to make things more fun! God’s plan for sexual intimacy in marriage is like the work of a master artist and genuine intimacy is like a beautiful masterpiece. Creating that kind of beauty in marriage usually takes practice and dedication. Like many of you, we have struggled to create that work of art in our marriage, to keep our marriage bed pure from anger, sexual sin, unfaithfulness, selfishness, worldliness, resentment, criticalness, and pride (Heb 13:4). All of us need help to make sure our marital sexual relationships bring glory to God and that sex is the life-giving joy that God intends.
We have talked with many married couples in the ministries we have led about their sex lives. Jennifer is also a marriage and family therapist and a certified sex therapist. In both of these areas, in our ministry and professional lives, we have found that many couples are experiencing challenges, but that the resources for help from a biblical perspective are scarce. The good news is that God has a beautiful plan.
Part of improving the sexual relationship is learning God’s view of sex. God’s word shows us that he designed sexuality in a way that would help us have a deeper knowledge and understanding of him. Having an intimate knowing of God (gnosko - John 10:14) helps us have a genuine depth of sexual intimacy and knowing in our marriage (Matt 1:25). Our knowledge of who God is can then guide and guard our sexuality. This knowledge of him keeps us from doing what “ought not to be done” (Rom 1:24-25, 28). Sex, when it happens within marriage as God intended, can draw us closer to God, closer to each other, and keep us away from the corruption of this world.
The words God uses to describe sex include passion, burning, honor, pleasing, satisfying, and intoxicating (Prov 5:18-19, 1 Cor 7:9, 33-34, 1 Thes 4:4, Heb 13:4). God is very positive about sex. When we look deeply at the descriptions of the sensual relationship between the beloved and the lover in Song of Songs, we find a beautiful, romantic, and erotic picture of what God intends for our marriages.Things may be going well in this part of your marriage. As a couple, you are a great intimate team. You may just want to explore new ways to deepen that intimacy. For others, you may look at the picture painted in Song of Songs and feel you are starving for that kind of intimacy—hungering for someone to hear you, to know you, to want you, to touch you. Some common refrains we hear are “We just aren’t close,” “My spouse doesn’t understand me,” and “We rarely touch.” You may be looking for resources to bring about hope and change.
When we work with couples, we teach about the kind of intimacy God intends when two of His children marry. Yes, we teach a lot about sex, but sexual intimacy truly resides within the quality of overall intimacy in marriage. God created us to be intimately connected but the reality is, people can have sex and not feel intimate. That is not God’s plan. He desires for us to enjoy, to be intoxicated by, to be set on fire by each other’s love and our sexual time together.
So where do you start? Sometimes it helps to examine your background. Negative experiences during childhood and adolescence can skew our view of sex, such as a lack of talking openly about sex, lack of affection, harsh/shaming responses to childhood sexual exploration, exposure to exploitative sexuality, harsh attitudes about the body, and sexual abuse. Though understanding your background doesn’t necessarily fix the problems, it can help you have a more compassionate attitude about yourself, your spouse, and the way you both respond to sex.
You may also need to grow in your overall intimacy skills. This includes deepening your emotional and verbal connection and having more fun together. Sexual intimacy has a much better chance of being mutually satisfying when there is a strong friendship and an emotional, spiritual connection in marriage. You may need better ways to resolve conflict. Conflict, when it is done right, can open the door to having a deeper connection in marriage. Learning to share feelings without attacking and learning how to listen with understanding and empathy are cornerstones to good marital and sexual intimacy.
Some couples need to work through problems with touch and affection. Couples that have grown in their affection are in a better place to explore sensual and sexual touch, necessary ingredients to mutually intoxicating sexual satisfaction. Sensual touch and sensual talk are found throughout Song of Songs. Both the Lover and the Beloved describe each other in sensual, poetic terms. Growing in affection and sensuality influences the quality of the sexual relationship.
Some couples have experienced betrayals involving pornography or affairs. Experiencing healing from betrayals is vital to a healthy sex life. Other couples have medical challenges that affect sexuality. It is crucial to address the distress caused by real physical and medical issues such as erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, low sexual desire, sexual pain, difficulties with orgasm, and medical and age-related challenges.
You may also need to learn practical and creative ways to make your sex life fun, romantic, and exciting. The Bible describes the sexual relationship with words like flowing water, stream, river, and cistern (Prov 5:18, Songs of Songs 4:15). These living, moving water analogies help us understand how important it is to intentionally keep the sexual relationship refreshed.
So here are a few steps to begin improving your sexual intimacy:
- Read this article and highlight and share the parts that stand out to each of you.
- Share with each other the memories you have of good times together sexually.
- Talk about your overall relationship first, your friendship and closeness. Listen, listen, listen.
- Make a plan to grow in your relationship. What do you need to change?
- Talk about how your touch and affection are doing. Be gentle in this conversation.
- Talk about how sensual touch is going and talk about spending more time cuddling and touching sensually.
- Make a plan for ways you can improve your sexual intimacy. Who can you talk to about it? What can you read? What can you do? Have you prayed about it?
As disciples of Jesus, we have the opportunity to have a deeper understanding of God’s loving heart through being deeply known and erotically bonded with our spouse. What God gives us is a road map to experience growth toward a more rewarding, spiritual sexual relationship.
Tim and Jennifer are the authors of The Art of Intimate Marriage, a Christian Couple’s Guide to Sexual Intimacy. They serve in the married ministry in the San Diego Church of Christ and they speak internationally. They have been married 23 years and have four wonderful children.