I see advice all the time in both Christian and secular realms telling married couples to “prioritize your sex life.”
And you know what? I agree! That’s why I’ve written three books on sex.
(including 31 Days to Great Sex; I don’t talk about that one enough anymore but it’s an awesome, fun challenge to do with your spouse! And no, you don’t have to have sex for 31 days straight. It’s all about building things into your life that lead to amazing sex. Yes, some spicing up and some technique, but also getting rid of baggage, getting more affectionate, dealing with libido differences, and more.)
That’s why I’ve written courses on orgasms and libido and even how to talk to kids about sex.
Sex is meant to be something AMAZING in your marriage.
With that being said, though, when people say, “prioritize your sex life”, what do they mean?
I was tagged by some of you on Facebook alerting me to an article on XO Marriage called “The Ten Secrets of Happy Couples.” It’s not a bad article, with pretty good advice on what makes a happy marriage, though they don’t go into depth on any one thing. But let’s look at what they say specifically about sex:
Prioritize your sex life.
It takes much more than sex to build a strong marriage, but it is nearly impossible to build a strong marriage without it. Prioritize your spouse’s sexual needs. If your spouse is the one with the higher drive, then work to meet their need since you are the only legitimate source on earth where that need can be met. With prioritizing your sex life, don’t prioritize just the act itself but also more affection, foreplay, flirtation, and celebration of each other. Work to find solutions when you face setbacks in your health or sex life and be patient and tender with each other when insecurities or limitations occur. Sex is a gift from God that’s meant to be enjoyed in marriage, so enjoy it!
Okay, on its face this is fairly good, generic advice. What are we being asked to do?
- Prioritize your spouse’s sexual needs
- The lower libido spouse should work to meet the higher drive spouse’s needs
- Don’t prioritize just sex but also put more affection, foreplay, flirtation, and celebration in your sex life
- Find solutions when you face health problems or sex problems
- Be patient and tender with each other when limitations occur
- Enjoy sex
Again, all good advice. And I like how they didn’t assume the higher drive spouse would be the man, either.
But if you were to describe what the MAIN piece of advice was to prioritize your sex life, what would it be?
Likely this, because it’s the only place where they say anything more than something generic:
“If your spouse is the one with the higher drive, then work to meet their need since you are the only legitimate source on earth where that need can be met.”
That’s the main piece of advice. So the big problem that they see is that people aren’t having enough sex, and the high drive spouse is left without their needs met.
The article then goes on to say that you need to increase affection and foreplay and flirting, and you need to find solutions to problems. But it doesn’t say anything more than that.
The reader is left with the feeling that the big problem that needs to be addressed is making sure the lower libido spouse has sex more, and then everything else is a series of tick boxes.
There’s just one problem: As we found in our survey of 20,000 women, frequency and libido are not the issue.
Frequency and libido tend to be symptoms of something else–at least when women are the ones with the lower sex drive, which is more common than the other way around.
I have said this repeatedly, and I’ll say it again:
When women regularly reach orgasm; when they feel connected to their spouse during sex; when they have high marital satisfaction; when he isn’t using porn; when there is no sexual dysfunction–frequency tends to take care of itself.
Why do we talk so much about telling the low libido spouse to have more sex, and we never mention the orgasm gap?
We have an orgasm gap of 47 points, where 95% of men almost always or always reach orgasm during a sexual encounter, compared with just 48% of evangelical women.
If we want to talk about how to prioritize your sex life, I think the very first thing we should talk about, before we talk about frequency at all, is making sure sex is actually good for her. Yes, this article spends one word (!) on foreplay, but only one word. It says nothing about ensuring that BOTH spouses reach orgasm, but only about ensuring that sex is happening frequently enough.
I don’t mean to beat up on this one article, it’s just such a good example of the problems with the way we talk about sex.
We tend to use generic terms (note how they never say arousal, orgasm, etc.), which means that they could claim they were implying that she should reach orgasm, since it did say to meet each other’s sexual needs. But it would be really easy to read that article and come away with the idea that the lower libido wife, even if she never reaches orgasm, should be having sex more; not that the higher libido husband had to figure out how to bring her to orgasm. After all, what do “sexual needs” really mean?
That’s what we’re trying to do in The Great Sex Rescue: reframe sex so that BOTH people’s experiences are prioritized. Biblically, sex is MUTUAL, INTIMATE, and PLEASURABLE for both. A good sex life isn’t one where intercourse happens frequently. It’s one where both people regularly reach orgasm and where both feel intimate and cherished.
The Great Sex Rescue
Changing the conversation about sex & marriage in the evangelical church.
What if you’re NOT the problem with your sex life?
What if the things that you’ve been taught have messed things up–and what if there’s a way to escape these messages?
Welcome to the Great Sex Rescue.
When we talk about prioritizing our sex lives, I would like the church to address the orgasm gap FIRST, before we talk about frequency.
The fact that we are so silent about the orgasm gap is telling. What would happen if we stressed the importance of women’s orgasms as much as we did men’s frequency? We’d change the whole emphasis!
Again–I’m not saying that your sex life is inadequate if you never reach orgasm, or that you’ve failed. So many couples take a long time to get there! And as we found in The Great Sex Rescue, so many women believe things that artificially lower their orgasm rates. You’ve likely grown up in a church culture that has taught you things that have made it much harder for you to reach orgasm, and that is not your fault.
The good news is that you can get over that! And if you want more help, our orgasm course goes into depth on how to reframe how you see sex and orgasm, and different techniques that can help you reach it!
And if you’re a guy and you are frustrated that your wife doesn’t want sex more, here’s an exercise to take you through to see if you may be contributing to the problem at all (you may not be; but it’s good to check first).
Another one of my goals for The Great Sex Rescue was to help you all become discerning when you read marriage & sex advice.
Next time you hear someone talk about the importance of “prioritizing your sex life”, listen to what they’re saying. Are they emphasizing women’s orgasm as much as they’re pressuring women to give men more sex? Are they mentioning the importance of making sure that sex is great for both of you BEFORE you start talking about spicing things up or frequency? Because if not, the emphasis is off, and we need to do a course correction.
Since men basically orgasm every time they have any kind of sexual encounter, it’s not surprising that they advise more frequent sex. OF COURSE men will always give this advice. Whether that’s subconscious, a complete lack of empathy to how too many women experience sex, or sheer ignorance is irrelevant.
What would be wonderful is for a male author or pastor to give the guys a severe reality check:
“Gentlemen, suppose that it takes you ten minutes to orgasm, and that every time you have sex with your wife, she stops proceedings one minute in, tells you it was great for her and hopes it was great for you, and rolls over to go to sleep. When you hear in a sermon or read in a book that happy couples have sex more often, would you want more of THIS experience? Night after night, every single time, you barely get going, then it’s over.
“For far too many wives, this is EXACTLY what they go through. And statistically, it’s HALF of Christian women. Think about that the next time you’re out to dinner with a couple. One of the two wives is likely NEVER orgasming. Night after night, she’s barely starting to get excited, then you orgasm, say it was great for you and you hope it was great for her, then you roll over and go to sleep.
“If the orgasm shoe was on the other foot, with you never orgasming and her orgasming every single time, what would you like to have happen? Some concentration on you at each encounter to help you get there? A night now and then where she focuses exclusively on you, since she always orgasms anyway? Well then, DO UNTO HER AS YOU WOULD HAVE HER DO UNTO YOU.”
Precisely! Have you read my Going out to Dinner Saga where I tried to explain this? It’s a good analogy that may help people understand what’s wrong with the “just have more sex regularly” talk without also talking about orgasm.
That IS a terrific analogy! The only improvement I would make is to say that the wife gets to go out to eat as often as she wants!!! 😜😜😜
Oooh, more improvements to the dinner-out saga…
The husband has been conditioned by sermons and books about going out to eat that he is NOT allowed to complain to the staff or his wife about the poor service, because that might make her feel bad, and HE needs to be careful to protect HER feelings.
Nor is he allowed to leave a negative Yelp review.
In fact, he is encouraged to express his delight at simply being with his wife, even though he leaves the restaurant hungrier than when they arrived.
Wow, have we women put up with crap teaching for a LOOOOONG time.
Yes, I’ve had a lot of people suggest additions to the saga! I think I may write another post adding to it sometime. 🙂
“he is encouraged to express his delight at simply being with his wife, even though he leaves the restaurant hungrier than when they arrived.”
This had me laughing so much!
Yes, it’s the equivalent of women convincing themselves that the “closeness” they feel during their unpleasurable sexual experiences is enough. I heard a more graphic secular analogy recently, which said imagine guys if a woman rubbed her clitoris up and down your penis (so no penetration) until she came, and then rolled over and went to sleep.
After reading both The Great Sex Rescue and your other book about marriage (something about 9 truths), I realize that I can never go back to reading marital and sex advice from many other evangelical authors like Dave Willis (though he does have some great advice). Like you mentioned, the problem with their sex advice is that it’s generic and not specific enough. From that bit you shared with us, I come away with thinking that it’s just another evangelical “male” author telling women it’s THEIR responsibility to satisfy their husbands and give them enough sex. Still, these men are trying to keep the status quo of patriarchy in the church. At least, that’s the feeling I got of his brief message on here.
My church (Assemblies of God) has hosted XO Marriage conferences in the past. I’m not married so I’m not interested in attending. Now, that I am more aware of the unhealthy sex messages from the church, I no longer want to involve myself in women’s Bible studies or marriage classes (if that be the case for me someday) at any church. My friend and her husband teach marriage classes at their church and some of the stuff she tells me just makes me cringe. She stresses gender roles too much and says things like, “Women are this way” or “Men are that way because that’s their nature.” Gosh, I want to puke!
Your books have helped me to become more discerning of Christian teachings about marriage. Keep up the awesome work and I cannot wait to read your next book!
I think it is important to note here that Shelia’s goal, as I understand it, is not to just go out and cancel every other Christian author that discusses sex.
The goal is to reframe how we talk about sex. As Shelia noted above it is entirely possible the author here believed that by saying, “meet each other’s sexual needs” he was implying the importance of the female orgasm.
In other words he may not be a “bad guy”. He could be just someone who needs to update his language and what aspects of sex he highlights.
Yes, I think that’s very true. What he said wasn’t bad–it’s just that he wasn’t clear enough about what “sexual needs” meant, and the only place he was clear was that they should be having sex more often. We really need to change how we talk about this stuff, because the way that we give advice too often is far too generic.
(Of course, that’s assuming the best. I am very concerned that XO Marriage, which published this piece, has Mark Driscoll on the board. I don’t understand why they’re still platforming him when he has given such misogynistic advice about sex).
I know Sheila is not out to cancel the other Christian authors’ teachings on marriage and sex. It’s just that so many of them have given either generic/vague advice and/or one-size-fits-all advice. I think that’s why it’s important to read a variety of advice and see how it lines up with scripture. I also have to consider if it sounds unhealthy to me. For example, what I read in Love and Respect did not sound like healthy teaching to me. I came away feeling beaten down as a woman and feeling like men are the enemy. I come from a place where I had been in an abusive marriage so I saw the unhealthiness of L & R’s teaching on marriage and that one chapter about sex (Have it more often so your husband doesn’t cheat on you and/or look at porn).
I know there are other healthy teachings about sex which come more from secular books than Christian ones. Sheila’s books are the first Christian books I’ve read about healthy marriage and sex.
Seeing as we’ve had how many decades of harmful teaching, I don’t think it’s ok to not explicitly state that women should expect to have orgasms most of the time they have sex. The bad teachings have to be actively dismantled. It’s not enough to say, “meet each other’s sexual needs” and then to say the female orgasm is implied. BECAUSE IT IS NOT IMPLIED. Half of all married Christian women are not having orgasms. AND we are actively being told to tell our husbands that they are doing a great job.
I’ve been reviewing all of the Christian marriage/sex books on my bookshelf. One of them has this line – meet each other’s sexual needs – but then explicitly states THREE times that women don’t need, or can’t achieve, orgasms.
My marriage has been gravely harmed by these bad teachings, and by extension my children have been harmed, my ministry to the lost has been harmed, my ability to showcase God’s glory in my marriage has been harmed, and the church as a whole has been harmed.
We can’t continue to see these bad teachings as neutral or as “not that bad” because they are bad, and they have a LARGE detrimental effect.
I’m so glad! Thank you, Laura.
‘A good sex life isn’t one where intercourse happens frequently. It’s one where both people regularly reach orgasm and where both feel intimate and cherished.’
I love this! And I really love the way your writing always focuses on intimacy rather than intercourse. So much Christian marriage advice implies – or direct teaches – that if you’re not doing PIV then you’re not doing it ‘right’, which is very discouraging when it is physically impossible!
I think they should both be mutually prioritizing the other’s wants and needs. (Wouldn’t be reading this blog if I thought otherwise.)
What would it look like to do that in regards to sex? It would vary from one couple to another. And even from one stage in life to another for the same couple. Here are some ideas, though.
Lower-drive spouse needs to rest instead of having sex every week. Higher-drive spouse tries to meet that need for rest by accepting the lower-drive spouse’s libido. No pressuring. No guilt tripping. Just accepting.
Lower-drive spouse who needs rest tries to figure out why they don’t have energy for sex every week. (And in this example let’s say that tiredness is the only obstacle. No porn, no relationship issues, everything is great. This spouse would have a higher libido if not for being so tired). Well, the tired spouse could try to address the issue. It might need a team effort. Like if they have an unbalanced workload, the tired spouse doing more than the other. It might be a health issue, like having sleep apnea and being exhausted because of that.
So, whether it’s valuing both spouse’s needs and wants during the act itself. Or, valuing both spouses needs and wants when deciding whether or not to have sex that night. Both spouses matter equally, and sex should be treated like they both matter.
Oh, let me tell you something about the Willis ministry… 3 years ago I got an email advertising their materials by saying that any marriage could be saved. They mentioned that abuse and infidelity were too common, but instead of admitting that that most abusers don’t change, they believed that “fighting for your marriage” was right because it could be saved.
Their view was supported by a story about “Bob” who cheated on his wife right after they had a baby and made the other woman pregnant, but was able to save his marriage!! It didn’t even seem inspirational to me because it indirectly pressured wives to tolerate infidelity AND there was no mention of him supporting his other child. It said that he had to avoid the other woman to save his marriage, but what about her innocent baby??!!
So, I replied saying that I hope Bob spends time and money on both kids because the other woman’s baby doesn’t deserve to be fatherless. And… no response… ever…
Oh, wow. That’s rather disturbing isn’t it?
Any ministry that Focus on the Family (FOF) supports and endorses is definitely a ministry I would be questioning. From what I’ve read, I think FOF supports XO Marriage and of course, if Mark Driscoll is on their board, I would also question that.
“If your spouse is the one with the higher drive, then work to meet their need since you are the only legitimate source on earth where that need can be met.”
Wow, to be considered “the only legitimate source on earth where that need can be met.” Not sure if this is flattering or insulting to the lower drive partner. Also, sex is not a need because if it was there would not be any celibate people on the planet. Food, water, clothing, and shelter are needs because you will die if you don’t have those needs met. Sex is a drive, not a need. You can live without it.