Sex matters in marriage.
When sex is mutual, intimate, and pleasurable for both, sex makes you feel connected. It minimizes minor tensions and makes you laugh. It helps you sleep and makes you feel more relaxed. And it contributes significantly to marital satisfaction.
For the last month we’ve been talking about the dangers of obligation sex–the idea that a wife is obligated to give her husband sex when he wants it. In our survey of 20,000 women for The Great Sex Rescue, this was the most dangerous message that we measured. It lowered women’s libido, lowered orgasm rates and sexual satisfaction, lowered marital satisfaction, and increased rates of sexual pain. It was horrible.
I’ve been trying to argue the other side–that sex is not a male entitlement and a female obligation, but rather something that is for both of you. And when we turn it into an obligation, we change the very nature of sex.
As we’re coming to the end of that series, I wanted to add another element into the discussion, and it’s this:
Sex is a vital part of a healthy marriage.
Please pay attention to those last two words: healthy marriage. Sex cannot create a healthy marriage on its own. It can’t fix an unhealthy one. And, indeed, having sex when you don’t feel close can even contribute to the marriage feeling worse, because she can end up feeling used.
If you’re feeling distant in your marriage; if you’re feeling at all used; if you’re feeling like your spouse sees sex as an obligation; if you’re carrying too much of the mental load and emotional labor for the family and you’re exhausted; if your spouse won’t emotionally connect with you; if your spouse won’t deal with important issues–that’s what you work on first.
Sex is meant to be the culmination of everything you are together; it isn’t the cause of it.
And if sex is supposed to be intimate emotionally, physically, and spiritually, then that intimacy has to already be present. You can’t really “know” someone in different ways if you’re holding back from each other.
I’m not saying that you should never have sex if there are problems in your relationship; everything depends on the type and severity of the problem, as well as your own relationship. I will say that if you feel like it’s necessary to take sex off the table for your own mental or relational health, please see a licensed counselor and work through the issues, even if you have to go alone (and in abusive cases that’s really the only way to do it).
So please, please remember that I am talking in this post to people who don’t have substantial marriage problems, who do feel pleasure during sex, who do feel like they have an otherwise good marriage. If that’s not you, then please go back to the beginning of this series on obligation sex and read there!
Here’s where things get tricky, though:
Just because obligation sex is wrong doesn’t mean that sex doesn’t matter in marriage.
It isn’t okay to tell someone they don’t have a choice about when to have sex (and that’s what this whole series has been about!).
But it also isn’t right to take sex off the table in an otherwise healthy marriage, or to put it so much on the backburner that you leave your spouse really lonely and disappointed. I want to add that balance into the obligation sex series, because I’ve spent so long arguing that sex is not an entitlement, but I don’t want people to think I’m saying that sex doesn’t matter.
When we marry, we do vow that the marriage will be a sexual relationship. That’s what sets marriage apart from other types of relationships–you’re sexually exclusive with this person for life.
Of course, sex is not merely intercourse. Being “sexually exclusive” does not mean that you give your spouse access to use you as a masturbatory aid with no pleasure for yourself, or to see you as primarily a sexual outlet. As we’ve talked about at length, sex is meant to be mutual, intimate, and pleasurable for both, and if those conditions aren’t there in your marriage, that’s what you’re meant to address first. And if your marriage is great and even sex is on the road to being great, but you just can’t figure out the orgasm piece, we’ve got an orgasm course that can help with that!
But good sex is supposed to be a part of a great marriage. When you marry, you are saying that this will be a sexual relationship.
You may also enjoy:
- Redefining Sex: Seeing sex as an expression of your relationship, not an individual need
- The Myth of the Magic Penis podcast (why sex needs to center on her too, and why sex that focused on him isn’t a “gift” for women)
- The Orgasm Series
- The “Let’s Go to Dinner” Saga, and why women may not want sex
- Is Sex a Need or a Drive?
What does the research say about sex frequency?
Here’s how we explained it in The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex:
Does that mean frequency doesn’t matter at all? No, not exactly. It’s just that the relationship isn’t as straightforward as we may think. A study from York University in Toronto, led by psychology professor Amy Muise, found that more sex is better—to a certain extent. Time magazine reported her findings: “Muise and her study team found that couples who have a lot of sex tend to experience better wellbeing. ‘Sex is associated with feeling more satisfied in a relationship,’ Muise says. But beyond once a week, the wellbeing benefits of sex seem to level off. That’s not to say that having sex a few times a week (or more) is a bad thing. It just doesn’t seem to make couples any happier, she says.”
So frequent sex is good, but it’s not everything.
That’s what our data found, too. There’s a huge increase in marital satisfaction once couples have sex at least once a week, and more keeps being better–until you hit daily sex. Then things take a big dive (because people who have sex everyday are often doing so because of major obligation and entitlement. Sex should ebb and flow with what’s happening in your life. If it doesn’t, that’s usually a sign that something is up).
People who have sex more frequently, in general, tend to have happier marriages.
Yes, it’s true that happier marriages also tend to have sex more frequently, and it’s a bit of a chicken and egg. But we do find that marital satisfaction really suffers if sex becomes infrequent.
Now, we also found that very few happy marriages make sex infrequent!
When things are going well, people tend to want to have sex.
But I do want to just emphasize in this post the idea that, if you are in a good marriage, sex should be a priority.
It’s harder to prioritize sex today.
Life is really, really different today than it was even when Keith and I were married. There was no high speed internet. Video games were far less widespread and kind of lame. There were only a few TV channels.
At night, then, your options were quite limited. By 11:00 the dramas and good shows were over. The local news was over. You could stay up and watch the late night talk shows, but other than that, your options were pretty much gone. So people tended to head to bed together at earlier times and at the same time.
Today what often happens is that you may have every intention of having sex tonight, but you get into another show on Netflix and just keep watching the next episode. Or you get on a rabbit trail looking something up on the internet and suddenly it’s late. You’re exhausted. There’s no natural “off” cycle anymore in the evenings.
It’s just harder to prioritize each other at all. Keith and I have noticed the difference from when we were first married. We didn’t really have a problem heading to bed at a decent time then (now, that was also because we had small kids and we were exhausted), but the pull was very different than it is today.
When we don’t prioritize sex, our spouse can feel lonely, and our marriage can grow more distant.
Neither of those are want we want.
As we’re wrapping up our obligation sex series, then, I wanted to remind people that sex is actually important.
The reason that obligation sex is so ugly is that it takes something which is supposed to be a beautiful expression of how you feel about each other and it turns it into an entitlement. Instead of it being a deep “knowing” of someone, it actually erases someone’s personhood, because it says, “I have the right to use you however I want.” That’s disgusting.
But precisely because sex is supposed to be this beautiful expression is also why we can’t let it go by the wayside. Obligation sex would not be as ugly if the intention for sex was not so beautiful.
For those who have been living with obligation sex, the aim needs to be safety for the one who was pressured and healing from the obligation message, while ending entitlement.
But if that isn’t your story, then please, remember that sex truly is meant to be a gift, and it is a vital part of a healthy marriage. That’s what we tried to convey especially in The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex and The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex. We tried to show the beauty while also getting rid of obligation.
And if you want to prioritize sex, but it just isn’t happening, check out our Boost Your Libido course too!
Our goal here at Bare Marriage is to change the evangelical conversation about sex and marriage to make it into something mutual and beautiful rather than entitlement and obligation. But once it is mutual–then let’s also prioritize sex and make it wonderful, because that was the intention. And you don’t want to miss out on it!
What do you think? Is it harder to prioritize a good sex life today? How important is sex to a good marriage that’s otherwise healthy? Let’s talk in the comments!
The Obligation Sex Series
- 10 Things to Know about Obligation Sex
- Why Obligation Sex Destroys Libido (and how it affects us long-term)
- Are Obligation Sex and Marital Rape the Same Thing?
- A Way Forward to Recovery from Obligation Sex
- Why Obligation Sex Can Make Sex Feel Disgusting
- You Don't Need to Consent to Being Used (what to do when your husband insists on obligation sex)
- How Higher Drive Spouses Can Avoid Giving the Obligation Sex Message
- 10 Ways Men Can Initiate Sex Without Pressuring Her
- The Obligation Sex podcast
Previous Posts on Obligation Sex
- Can We Honor our Bodies' Rhythms?
- Does 1 Corinthians 7 Mean that Women Have No Sexual Autonomy?
- What Happens When Men Believe the Obligation Sex Message?
Previous Podcasts on Obligation Sex
- New Research on the effects of Obligation Sex
- The Myth of the Magic Penis
- Marital Rape, Consent, and the Problems with Obligation Sex
Plus please see our Great Sex Rescue Toolkit for handy downloads about the effects of obligation sex that you can give to your pastor, counselor, small group leader--anyone who teaches it!
And see chapters 9 and 10 in The Great Sex Rescue for all our charts, stats, and commentary!