Sexual intimacy is one of the most thorny issues for married couples. Messages we get from media and our world tell us that sex is supposed to be easy, natural, and feel good. Unfortunately, that’s often not the reality in marriage. Histories of past abuse, faulty beliefs about sex, conflict in your marriage, or past sexual experiences can influence sexual intimacy.
Add sex and love addiction into the mix and you’ve got deeper layers of trauma, distorted sexuality, and faulty communication styles that get in the way. Sex and love addiction is an intimacy disorder, meaning that all areas of intimacy, including sexual, are influenced by the addiction.
What does it mean to have a healthy view of your sexuality? Marnie Ferree, in her book for female sex and love addicts No Stones*, speaks of the cornerstones of healthy sexuality as sexual choice, sexual information and attitudes, and sexual presence. I also believe understanding expectations around sex, particularly those influenced by spiritual backgrounds, are important. Addressing emotional intimacy in the relationship is an crucial component of feeling comfortable in the sexual realm.
Sexual Choice, Not Coercion
Sexual choice involves the freedom to choose to be sexual out of a desire for the other person, rather than feeling forced or coerced into engaging in sexual activity. Sex with mixed motives (to feel good about yourself, to keep your spouse from bugging you about it, as a bribe) can distort your view of sex.
If you are feeling coerced into sexual behaviors with which you do not feel comfortable, or you are forced into sexual acts without your consent, this is sexual abuse. If this is happening, please call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE to get connected to help in your area.
Do I feel like I have to be sexual in order to be loved?
Do I feel like I need to give my spouse sex in order to keep them with me?
Do I not have a choice in the matter?
Messages, Information, and Expectations about Sex
Couples need correct sexual information and attitudes, as these are often flawed or distorted by past abuse and abandonment patterns, the influence of media, comparison with peers, and messages from family or the church. What you expect from your sexual relationship may be drastically different from the reality you experience.
Part of the issue comes from a lack of knowledge about sex. With school programs focused on abstinence-only education, and many parents feeling uncomfortable having the “sex talk” with their children, it is easy to see how we are left with misinformation about sex. For most of today’s teenagers and young adults, sex education comes from peers, media, or pornography, which all offer skewed pictures of healthy intimacy.
Unfortunately, distortions around the purpose of sexual intimacy can also come from churches. Sex may be seen as simply a way to procreate, or it can be associated with shame due to an overemphasis on abstinence. In reality, the Bible indicates that sex within marriage is intended for pleasure and delight. It gives couples the opportunity to honor and love someone other than the self in addition to creating new life. Song of Solomon is an entire book of the Bible focused on marital sexuality and its role in reflecting the relationship between Christ and the church.
Where or from whom did I learn about sex?
What were some of my earliest sexual experiences?
What expectations about sex did I have walking into marriage?
How have they changed?
What messages did I get from the church/my religious upbringing around sex?
Do I feel awkward or like I don’t know what I’m doing when I’m being sexual with my spouse?
Sexual presence, or ability to stay engaged in the present moment of sex with the partner, is necessary. It can be easy to become distracted or to have your mind on other things when you’re engaging in sexual intimacy with your spouse, particularly for women. Addicts may dissociate or fantasize during the sexual act as a residual coping mechanism. Body image issues can be a distraction to being present, as well as unresolved conflict or tension.
Do I have a hard time staying in the present moment in life in general? While being sexually intimate?
Do I tend to fantasize or distract myself during sexual intimacy?
Am I too focused on the way my body looks to relax and enjoy sex?
Another key element of healthy sexuality within marriage involves direct communication with your spouse about sex before, during, and after sexual activity. Without these clear lines of communication, there can be misunderstandings about what each of you prefers. Affirmation about what you like helps with closeness and understanding of sexual needs within marriage. Addicts who are dealing with sexual shame can be aided by honest communication about feelings and acceptance with their spouse.
Do I talk regularly with my spouse about sexual intimacy?
How would talking about sex make me feel? Nervous? Afraid?
Do one or both of us tend to be critical about sex?
I believe healthy sexuality involves not just sex itself, but also emotional connection in the relationship. The intimacy present in marriage outside the bedroom of knowing one another and expressing and receiving affection, appreciation, and respect feed feelings of intimacy.
Honesty and vulnerability are often difficult concepts to grasp, especially when you have been in situations where you were taken advantage of or unsafe. It involves great risk to open yourself up to emotional vulnerability with another person, and yet it elevates intimacy on all levels when you engage.
Do I struggle with any of the other areas of sexual intimacy because I don’t feel emotionally close to my spouse?
Do I have a hard time being honest or vulnerable, and turn to sex to create intimacy instead?
Do I use sex to run away from painful or uncomfortable emotions?
Are you and your spouse struggling with sexual intimacy? Is your story of addiction or abuse getting in the way of healthy sexuality? Do you have a hard time feeling safe being vulnerable and honest with your spouse? At Restored Hope, I’m here to support you on your path of restoring your sexual relationship within your marriage. I offer couples counseling at my Ann Arbor location. Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to schedule your first appointment.
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