What Does Making Love Really Mean? The Beauty of Sexual Intimacy

by | Nov 21, 2018 | Sexual Intimacy | 20 comments

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Making love and having sex are not the same thing.

One is far more profound. One is a deep love, a deep knowing. The other is simply about the physical act.

This month on Wednesdays we’re talking about different aspects of intimacy. I started by talking about the need for intimacy; then last week we tackled emotional intimacy and feeling close. Today I want to talk about sexual intimacy.

But first–let me tell you about a throwaway line about making love I used in an interview that has tortured me.

As those of you who subscribe to my Friday emails know, Keith and I went south in our RV last week. We drove down to Alabama and left our RV there (we’re returning to it in January!), and along the way I taped another instalment of The Huckabee Show, which should be out in January. On that, I was talking about how pornography is wreaking havoc on millennial marriages, and how we need to push back against the porn culture.

It was an important topic, and I’m glad I got to speak on it. But I said one thing that I’m just afraid sounds so lame! It’s not that I think it wasn’t true. It’s just that I don’t know if I was able to explain correctly what I meant, and I hope it didn’t make me sound all fuddy-duddy.

I was in the middle of explaining that our culture has made sex into a completely physical thing, and I said that if couples wanted to experience more fun in the bedroom, they wouldn’t find it at a sex toy shop or in a pornographic magazine. They should actually spend time praying together, because it was about being vulnerable that mattered.

I think I looked good when I said it (here’s a pic they sent me), but I just don’t know if I made sense.

What making love is all about

So let me explain what I meant fully here, in the hopes that maybe I can stop feeling so awkward about it (and stop waking up in the middle of the night haunted by it!).

Making love is about “knowing” the other

When I was researching The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, this is one of the most profound things that I learned that really resonated with me. In the Old Testament, in Genesis 4:1, we read “Adam knew his wife Eve….” That verb “to know” means a deep knowing, a deep longing, a deep intimacy. It’s the same Hebrew word that David uses in the Psalms when he says “search me and KNOW me.”

God made sex to be AWESOME!

It’s supposed to be great physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Feel like something’s missing?

And God uses that same word for sex. 

Why is that? It’s because sex is, at heart, about a deep connection with another. It’s the ultimate in saying, “you are not alone.” And that’s why sex needs to be about knowing “the other”. It’s not just about sexual pleasure. It’s about experiencing a deep longing to connect with another person.

God actually uses sex as an analogy of how He wants to know us. I think part of the reason He created the genders the way He did, and sex the way He did, was so that we had a mirror and a word picture to understand our own relationship with Him.

That’s why when people are desperate for connection they often yearn for sex. I shared in The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex about the night my son Christopher died. I won’t type it here, because quite frankly it takes a lot out of me and I don’t want to. I share the story from the stage every time I give my Girl Talk, because it’s important, but I don’t want to do it right now. I did it in my book. But let’s just say that in our grief, we were desperate for each other, because we needed to know “I am not alone. I am not going through this alone.” That’s what making love is.

In fact, as C.S. Lewis said in The Four Loves, that’s also why lovers often feel like they want to “devour” each other. It’s that need to possess and to be completely connected in as complete a way as possible. Making love is the doorway into that.

Now, people in the anonymous hook up culture are often desperate for connection as well, and so they keep trying to find it in sex, and may even get a temporary high. But the problem with anonymous sex is that you can’t really know the other. You can just use the other. The elements that make sex about truly “knowing” someone are really only found in a committed relationship, because:

Making love is vulnerable

You’re literally naked. That’s a very vulnerable place to be. All pretence is gone, because the way that we tend to present ourselves to others, to “invent” ourselves, disappears. No more clothing. No more masks. We’re not even really talking that much. We’re just the base versions of ourselves.

We have to be able to let our guard down, to tell him what we want, to stop thinking about what we should be doing and just to be experiencing what is happening. That’s very hard for a woman to do, and it’s virtually impossible unless she feels emotionally safe. You can write all the Cosmo articles you want about how to make sex great, but the truth is that in my surveys for The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, and in many other surveys on sex, what people report is that the best sex is not being had by young women in the hookup culture. It’s by women who have been married for around two decades, and who are totally and completely comfortable with their husbands. Commitment is the best aphrodisiac, because commitment allows vulnerability!

Making love is passionate

Making love is passionate

Passion is that act of being carried away. You’re not really thinking anymore; you’re able to just feel. That comes because you’re able to turn your brain off for a moment and live more in your body, in the experience end of it. I wrote more about this in how sex can be both hot and holy at the same time. But passion can’t be achieved by thinking. It has be achieved by letting go of control. It’s interesting that women can’t really experience orgasm when we’re concentrating too hard. We have to let go. And again, I think there’s a reason for that. You’re supposed to let go, and stop trying to control everything, so that you’re letting your husband in on who you really are. No more pretences.

Making love is playful

None of this means that sex has to be super serious. Part of letting go of control and letting go of pretence is that we can actually laugh at ourselves sometimes! In fact, sometimes the best sex is when we end up laughing our head off. People who take sex far too seriously often sap the joy out of it. Take it too seriously and it becomes about goals. Make it about the moment and experiencing each other, and you can laugh.


Making love is transcendent

Finally, this leads us to the last part. Making love is truly transcendent. You almost enter a different plane. Freud called sex “the little death”, because in orgasm you almost cease to be. For that moment you aren’t Jane and Jim or Susan and Bob. You’re not yourselves; you’ve somehow gone beyond that to experience on a different level. You can’t even think straight.

So to go back to what I said on the Huckabee show. When we take all of this into consideration–how when we can be truly vulnerable, we can lose control; we can stop trying to put masks on; we can be our most basic selves; we can almost become transcendent–well, that’s why praying together can be an aphrodisiac.

It’s not that you become super spiritual so that sex doesn’t need to be sexy because you’re above all that. It’s because when you’re totally vulnerable, you don’t have to pretend anymore. You connect at a deep level. And that’s why, and this is key, real vulnerability and intimacy is what also gives great freedom and adventure in the bedroom. It’s how hot and holy really do go together!

From The Good Girl's Guide to Great Sex:

In my focus group with husbands, one made a very interesting comment:

“When you’re one, sex becomes a part of that, and you lose all the shyness you had at the beginning of marriage. Now we can do a whole lot more because it’s not dirty; it’s just expressing who we are together, and we’re so much more comfortable.”

…Experiencing that spiritual connection during sex is not only done by doing more sacred things; it is done by claiming more things for the sacred realm. Isn’t that what God wants–to take more and more into his sphere? As we grow closer together, we’re able to grow in freedom together so that more is holy and right between us–even if it’s also hot. In fact, especially since it’s also hot, because sex is all about that urge to be together that reflects best the hunger that we feel for God. I can’t think of a better gift God could have given to marriage.

I’m reading all that I’ve written and it still seems inadequate. I just can’t really explain this, but maybe that’s the point. You’re not supposed to be able to explain it. Maybe that’s why God uses sex, which is ultimately unexplainable, to illustrate how He feels about us. It’s just too personal and too deep.

This, though, is the promise of sexual intimacy in marriage. This month, as we’re talking about intimacy, I want us to keep this picture in mind. Sex is all of these things–intimate, vulnerable, transcendent, passionate. And still playful. And so, a few warnings:

When you remove sex from marriage, your marriage will cease being vulnerable, intimate, passionate and playful.

Sex is meant to be a cornerstone of marriage. It isn’t optional. When we let sex go, we’re not just rejecting sex. We’re rejecting that ultimate “knowing” of our spouse. And those who run away from intimacy with a spouse often do so because they’re uncomfortable with intimacy with God. They can’t stand being laid bare before anyone.

When you make sex only about pleasure, you remove its power

Sex should be about knowing “the other”. When we let sex become too much about masturbation or even some sex toys we make it a solitary experience. That’s taking the power away from sex, which comes from connection. When it’s only about a drive, then it may be a physical release, but it will ultimately leave you empty.

When you make sex about pornography, you make sex about selfishness

Porn makes sex into self-gratification. It’s not about knowing another; it’s about using another for one’s release. It’s ugly. It will turn your sex drive ugly. And you will not be able to relate to your spouse at an intimate level if sex becomes about power.

I think the reason that sex gets stale in many marriages is because people have never understood its power, because they have made it only about release. That’s tragic. I hope that through my books and my blog we can start seeing that sex is supposed to be so much more than that.

And if you want to hear more, The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex delves into this in great detail.

Remember, it’s okay to have fun!

And if you’re having trouble, or if you just feel like things have gotten boring, I want to introduce you to my sponsor The Ultimate Intimacy App. It can do amazing things to spice up your marriage. It has a super fun game you can play that I explained here, but it also has articles to read on how to improve technique, how to have fun date nights, how to plan a weekend getaway, and more.

So even though it’s an app, it’s also something to read. And play. And enjoy! Check it out on iTunes or on Google Play.

I still feel like there is so much to be said, but I will leave it there, and just ask you:

Do you know what I mean about how intimacy and vulnerability can make sex more passionate? Or is that too far-fetched? Let’s talk in the comments!

What Does It Mean to Make Love?

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. L

    I know what you mean and I don’t think it’s too far fetched!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, thank you, L!

  2. Phil

    Oh Sheila – I have so much to say that I can’t even think about what to say so I am just not going to. This is such a wonderful post. This to me is your ministry summed up in a nutshell. And honestly, it gets me so excited and it gives me such gratitude. It is like you say – unexplainable. I have so much to say yet the only thing you can really do is go live it and try to carry the message to people who are willing to listen. I said my peace 2 weeks ago on the post that is no longer. I actually would love to have the words I wrote in comments back – it is my interpretation of what is written around here especially todays post. In addition, this post and my words that I wrote in those comments align with the messages I have gotten from my Pastor as well as directly from God. Maybe not an exact alinement but essentially the same concept of what I have picked up from being here for almost 2 years already. Anyway Shiela – thank you for this post. I am going to print it out and keep this with my many notes I have written out with regards to my own personal growth in my life. I am certainly going to ask Grace to read it and I want to put it in our family memoire Chest for future generations to read. I want to share this message with others. They need to find it! I also wanted to say to you with regards to your Huckabee interview. I only assume you are going back. One trick I learned in sales is this: YOU CAN ALWAYS GO BACK AND RE-PRESENT. I have forgotten important points during BIG sales meetings and I was taught that you can always pick up the phone and call the guy and re-adjust your statements or even schedule another meeting and get it right. While trying to say what all you wrote here is a bit cumbersome I am sure you can come up with a quick summary that gives people the gist of your message and maybe even entice them to come on over to your blog and find out what you are talking about! And Maybe your fuddy duddy comment you say you made did just that! I can only say from my own personal experience: What a joy it is when you can see and experience God’s intentional love and His gifts to you in your life. Thank you for helping me see this through your blog. You are Kind. Take care and have a great day.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, thank you, Phil! That means a lot. And that was very kind. I’m glad this kind of made sense. Rebecca said it did, too, but I still don’t think it does. Maybe it’s like the Trinity–you really can’t explain the Godhead, but it’s real, and the reason you can’t explain it is because it’s so meaningful. Thanks again!

      • Phil

        I know I clog your blog (that rhymed) with my comments but I had to add this: I have read a ton of near death experience books. In every one of the books that I have read the person always says there are no words from this world to explain what they have witnessed in their Heavenly Journey. The closest to explanations in our world of things that are not from this world I am aware of are the words of the Bible and of course particularly Revelations. For me this goes right along with what you are saying and makes perfect sense.

  3. Songs of the Believers

    Wow, Sheila, thank you for a wonderful post expressing the power that sex has! The adjectives you use – playful, transcendent, vulnerable, and passionate – are spot and and I wish more would express the unique nature of sexuality to bring all those things into one, holy act. Thank you.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, I’m glad you liked it! And thanks for tweeting it, too (I just saw that!)

  4. Ruthie

    Thank you Sheila for explaining that so beautifully. It is so interesting and mind boggling to think about how our hunger for connection with others and our hunger for connection with God are related. These connections were made to be perfect but we live in a fallen world. We are not broken if we hunger for true intimacy with our spouse – that’s how we were created!
    Living as Christians is about living life in it’s fullness through the freedom we have in Christ. Not about perpetuating the curse!
    If this is the case you can see why it would be a very effective lie for the enemy to spread around that sex is all about release and marriage is where sex goes to die.

  5. Nick Peters

    Sheila. As someone who has studied theology seriously, I have no problem with what you have written. Years ago I saw one of my Facebook friends say the problem in our society is that people think way too much about sex. Quite wrong! That is not our problem! It’s the exact opposite! We think way too little about it. We talk about it. We gossip about it. We dream about it. We fantasize about it. We watch it. We just plain do it. We don’t think about it. We don’t ask ourselves “What is sex?” and go from there.
    The church really needs to think about sex. What is it? What is its purpose? What does it tell us about God? Why do we love it so much?
    And also, any time you want to come on my show to talk about marriage, just let me know.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thanks, Nick! And I may take you up on that. I’m going to do more podcasts in the new year. I also think that the world treats sex just the way animals do, which is hardly going forward. it’s going backwards. And it’s nothing to brag about.

      • Nick Peters

        I hope you have my contact information if you do. I’ve loved your stuff since my wife showed it to me and I think it would be great to get it out there.

  6. Rosie

    I miscarried our first baby. Once I had healed physically we started trying again, without success. It came round to the first anniversary of the miscarriage and I was miserable but just felt I needed that deep connection with my husband (who was a bit surprised!). Our daughter was conceived that night.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Rosie, that’s beautiful. And I completely understand!

  7. Afriend

    Even the little sex I have with my wife (a handjob every Sunday night, which is better than nothing) is an awesome experience for me in my 50s in a way that it wasn’t years ago when we could have intercourse and my wife wanted it.
    The connection with her, looking into her eyes, touching her somewhere intimately or even just holding hands really is worth waiting for. But it doesn’t do anything for her and I’ve actually spent a lot of our nearly 30 year marriage trying to work out what sex was about. It wasn’t really anything special before.
    Thanks for explaining. I think David Snatch (Passionate Marriage) and Rabbi Schmuley (Kosher sex) talk about how sex can and should be much much more than just two bodies coming together. It’s something eternal and as At Paul says it is a picture of Christ and his bride, which takes a bit of working out, I have to say.
    Thanks for the article. I hope I can share your writing with my wife one day.
    God bless you.

  8. Danielle

    Casual sex is like boxed macaroni and cheese, where married sex is like a huge Sunday dinner made from scratch. Ideally, anyway. Your spouse is the only one who is allowed to tear down all those walls you put up for everyone else. The only one who gets to see you at your most primal. And that can be very liberating. My husband sets me free.
    And I wanted to say something about women having low libido. We have been married almost 9 years. We had a good sex life that gradually declined. I still loved him dearly, I just didn’t know how to want it again. A couple years ago I poured over trying to figure out how to get my libido back, but I was still missing something fundamental. Then I spent hours yesterday trying to figure it out again. Mom’s, learn to turn OFF Mommy mode. There is nothing more heartbreaking than realizing that you have been in Mommy mode so long that your husband and marriage have been put on the back burner. Eventually you literally turn off your libido. And then one day you realize you are emotionally exhausted with a wine problem. Put the kids to bed, determine to make at home date nights, and allow yourself to turn wife back on. If you and your husband generally have good communication, all it will take is for the two of you to talk out your bedroom issues, lol.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Great thoughts, Danielle! Thank you for encouraging others.

  9. Christy

    Hmmm i read it, i get the idea, but I dont feel closer with sex, i feel nothing. It is not fun or playful, it makes me feel blank. Ive tried to get past it, ive tried to force myself to feel something—— but if i feel anything at all, its usually further away

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m so sorry, Christy. I think it’s worth exploring two things, then: How is your relationship with your husband? Do you feel loved and cherished? And then what do you think about sex? Is it something dirty? Something you’re obligated to do? Something that’s dangerous? It could be that one of these things is holding you back, and figuring out which it is and addressing it can help. Even seeing a licensed counselor if you can afford it. But often the problem is in how we’re thinking.

  10. Bill Harms

    I am unable to properly view your webpages in my Firefox web browser. Over 90% of the screen is covered up by a menu and blocks the content. What can I do?


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