For the first 8 or so years of my marriage, a constant argument, struggle, fight, discussion, whatever you want to call it, was the frequency of sex. This seems to be a common theme with many couples. At least the ones who are willing to talk about it. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve talked to another couple where it isn’t an issue.
Now, I’m not going to get into why it was an issue, that’s a discussion for another post, and another time. In this post, I want to discuss the issue of the struggle. Why is it a struggle? How do you resolve the struggle?
In the majority of cases, the actual sexual frequency doesn’t matter that much. You hear the same arguments whether the couple of having sex daily, weekly, monthly, or not at all. At different points in our marriage, we’ve been in each of those categories. Note: The accepted definition of a “sexless” marriage is having sex less than 10 times a year (nearly monthly).
So, if the frequency isn’t the real issue when arguing about sexual frequency, what is?
I would argue that the real issue is security. The feeling that your sexuality is secure with your spouse. Let me explain:
For years in my marriage, and I believe this is the same in the majority of marriages, the answer of whether or not to have sex on any given night (or at any given time) was based on veto power. That is, at any given time, if either spouse said “no”, then sex does not occur. Now, what happens in this case is that the lower-drive spouse (the one who wants sex less) is generally the one who gets to pick how sex happens. When, in what way, how often, where, etc.. This seems to be the standard set by our society. TV-shows, movies, music videos, and general media are full of entertaining scenes of wives rejecting their husbands for sex because of a myriad of reasons. From the anecdotal headache, to chores not being done, retaliation for real or perceived slights, tiredness, laziness, or just to maintain control.
It should be no surprise then that if this is societies message, that God’s would be in direct contention:
Do not deprive each other of sexual relations, unless you both agree to refrain from sexual intimacy for a limited time so you can give yourselves more completely to prayer. Afterward, you should come together again so that Satan won’t be able to tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
– 1 Corinthians 7:5 NLT
I think many couples know this passage, but not many take the time to realize the implications. What does this mean? Do not deprive each other. Does this sound like a system based on a veto? I would argue that it does not. Quite the opposite. This is a system based on want, or need, of whichever spouse feels it. That sex is only to be taken off the table for short times, by mutual consent.
So, what does this look like in a marriage? I’m not sure I can answer that yet. I can tell you what it looks like in my marriage, and we’re still trying to figure it out.
The deal now in our marriage is that we go to bed naked. Every night. Unless it has been discussed previously that sex is off the table. Note: we don’t sleep naked. Why do we go to bed naked? It’s a symbol. It means that sex is on the table (not literally, it’s generally on the bed), every night. This means, that we have sex if one of us wants to. To put that in the negative: We have sex unless BOTH of us agree not to. Now I can just hear the complaints, because, well, I’ve hard them in my marriage before we changed to this.
We can’t have sex every night!
The big one is generally “My spouse will want sex every night!” Now, I have two things to say to that:
The first is “So what?” Now, except in some extreme cases, people generally enjoy sex. If you don’t, then sometimes one spouse has to spend some time learning. Either learning how to help their partner, or learning what they like themselves and teaching their partner. You know what helps this? More practice (read: more sex). Practice leads to improvement. What have you got to lose?
The second is that, yes, your spouse may want sex every night. For a bit. Let me tell you what happened when we started this. About a year ago, we participated in the 7 days of sex challenge. This was about the time that we were starting to reform our marriage. We decided to try 7 days of sex straight. This was an easier sell that “sex whenever I want”. We ended up having sex 12 days in a row! We had a one day break, and then did another 10 days in a row! It transformed our marriage. The intimacy it produced revitalized our marriage. It hasn’t been the same since. At this point we hadn’t quite figured out the “sex is on the table every day” ideal yet. We were still in a pendulum swing from the low-frequency sex lifestyle we had come from. Over time, it slowed down. We seem to have settled at sex every 2-3 days. Why? Why aren’t we having sex every night? I always thought that’s what I wanted. During the many years of our struggle about sexual frequency, that’s what was in my mind. Sex every day, multiple times a day. That was my “perfect” scenario.
Well, we tried sex every day. We even had a few “couple times” a day. You know what I found out? It’s too much for me! I think in the end my ideal is two out of every three days.
So, my ideal is 2/3 days (66%). We’re having sex about 1/2 – 1/3 days (33-50%). Why am I happy with the sexual frequency? Is it just because it’s better than it was? I used to think so. That I was settling, because it could be worse. But I’ve found out it’s more than that. As I said before, it comes down to security.
I heard a story in a sermon once about a family who adopted a boy. I don’t remember it verbatim, but I will try to relay the message:
When they adopted the boy, they were confused by some behaviour they saw. The kid was always hiding food. He never ate all his supper, but always saved a bit, in his pockets, pieces of bread, cheese, whatever. After a while, they finally figured it out. In his previous living situation, the boy was never sure where the next meal would be coming from. He didn’t know if there would be food in the morning, or at the next lunch, or supper. So, he constantly stashed food worrying about the future. It took a while to realize that there would always be a next meal. That there were snacks. That the pantry was full, and so was the fridge. That the boy would never have to starve again.
I realized that I was like that boy. I felt that I had been “starved” for long, that I had no security about when my next “sexual meal” would take place, that I always thought I wanted more than I could handle. When we did that 7 days of sex challenge, I gorged myself. We did 12 days in a row, a one day break, and then another 10 days in a row. Why? Because I didn’t trust that there would be supper tomorrow. Slowly, I learned that I didn’t need to worry about it. I stopped being anxious about when the next sexual encounter would be. Slowly, our sexual frequency leveled off.
So, why aren’t we having sex as frequently as at my ideal if in the end, I have the power to do so? Because now that I’m not “starved” for sex, now that my needs are being met, I can focus more on my wife’s wants. There are nights I know she wants to go to bed. I know she wants to go to bed more than I want sex. So, we sleep instead. And I am perfectly content with that. Why? Because I know, for a certainty, that if I said “I need sex”, she would be willing. Because I can have it, I don’t need it every time.
Veto Power vs Assume Sex
This simple change, from “veto power” to “assume sex” has changed something fundamental in our marriage. In our society, sex has been something that women use to control men. I believe this is contrary to God’s will as well.
…you wives should submit to your husbands in everything. For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church.
-Ephesians 5:22b-33a NLT
I’m not going to start an argument about submission and headship here, but I wanted to just bring this out to touch on a point. The point is that the Bible doesn’t describe marriage, sexuality, or really anything as being a method of controlling someone. I believe one of the core teachings of the Bible is that freewill must reign supreme. A marriage without freewill, a marriage that includes control of one spouse by another is not in keeping with God’s will.
So, what is your marriage like in this regard? Are there issues to be worked out? Can you both set aside your selfish nature and come together as God intended?