15th June 2003
Hurrah for sex! It's one of the most excellent and exclusive elements of a marriage: something that binds the two of you together in a way that absolutely excludes everyone else in the world. Just the two of you, physically close in a way that perfectly parallels and expresses your emotional and spiritual closeness. It's an integral and crucial part of a healthy marriage. Not only that, it's fun.
If you want to know how God feels about sex, read the Song of Solomon. There are people who argue that the whole book is an allegory of the love between Christ and the church, but even if that's true then the imagery that God chose to use to express that allegory is clearly intended to be seen as very positive. The Song of Solomon is extremely enthusiastic about sex, and very suggestive of all sorts of exploits. [Do your own research and use your imagination in interpreting the metaphors.] Sex can and should be intimate, passionate and creative.
Paul writes that ``the wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife.'' (1 Corinthians 7:4). You already belong to each other anyway, so your physical relationship should express that. So you should be completely uninhibited, enthusiastic and wholehearted in giving yourselves to each other.
Do you both know each other's previous experience, if any? It's important that you come to the marriage honestly, so that there are no secrets in your past to come out later. If your sexual backgrounds and attitudes are different, that may cause emotional problems for one or both of you; if so, then it's better to know up front.
Deal now with any guilt from previous sexual experience with others or each other, so it doesn't linger on into your marriage. With God's grace, the past is past, so once you've dealt with anything that causes guilt, you can forget it forever (God will) and come to each other as though it had never happened.
You'll need to figure out what you're doing about contraception (assuming you don't want babies straight away, and trust me, you don't). Basically, every form of contraception is pretty awful. Condoms are hard to swallow, some pills can make you frigid (and there's no way to tell how a given brand will affect you). IUDs and the mini-pill may cause early abortion.
Do you have well-defined boundaries of what you will and will not do together before you're married? If not, you should probably get some :-)
Don't necessarily expect good sex on the honeymoon (though the novelty value more than makes up for that). Different people have different experiences, of course, but we know of plenty of couples who describe their honeymoons as the worst sex of their lives - at that stage, they didn't know any better. However, you may be lucky ... Especially with all this expert advice you're getting.
For women who have spent years hanging on to their virtue, and for men who have spent years fighting against their sexual impulses, it's hard to make the change overnight into being a wild, crazy, untrammelled sexual beast. For most people, it takes time to make the change, and you probably can't just flip a switch on the wedding night and make the mental change. For some couples it seems to take literally years before they can make themselves believe wholeheartedly that sex is acceptable. That's unhealthy, but don't be surprised if it takes a few days or weeks to get into gear.
Not only that, but it takes a while to figure out the technical details. So the cards are stacked against you on Day One!
Nowadays most people, even Christians, go into their honeymoon having seen sex scenes in films, even if it's only Richard Gere and Julia Roberts. That's not helpful for two reasons: firstly, it can give inflated expectations of what to expect (at least until you've figured out what you're doing); and also because most such scenes in films are between people who aren't married, so that an unconscious mental association can build up between sexual passion and sin. Provided you're aware of these effects, though, you should be able to sidestep them.
Don't worry: our experience is that sex gets better and better as time passes, experience accumulates, and you get to know each other better.
Sex is fun. Have fun. It's also funny. Don't be afraid to laugh about it (or indeed during it).
Play strip blackjack. (They never told us about this on our Marriage Preparation course.) Strip scrabble works OK too.
Communicate your sexual fantasies to each other.
Many men find surprises very sexy: e.g. coming home from work to find a trail of arrows pointing up to the bedroom. Better still, coming home from work and finding that the boys had been dumped thirty miles away. Women tend to be less turned on by surprises.
Some people find it takes time to get used to sharing a bed (for sleep) especially if one of you snores.
You'll enjoy sex less if you're over-tired, over-stressed or preoccupied; or you might not want to do it at all. Recognise and be sympathetic to these afflictions in your partner; but if you feel these things you have a duty to overcome them. Don't allow yourselves to accept continually being ``too tired'' - if you need to make an effort to keep your sex life going, do so.
That said, when things are tough elsewhere, sex can be a wonderful release of tension. This is as true for women as it is for men.
Paul says, ``Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer'' (1 Corinthians 7:5).
You may find that you sometimes differ in your level of enthusiasm towards sex. The classic situation is that men often want or need more sex than women (although for some couples the reverse is true). That's not necessarily a weakness on either side, it's just how you are. From time to time one of you may need to lovingly give yourself to the other while not being hugely enthusiastic yourself. OK, this isn't as good as completely mutual sex, but it's a legitimate expression of love.
When necessary, find ways to increase your enthusiasm. For example, a woman may be more on for it after watching a romantic film, or (provided it doesn't make her too tired) after an evening out. Your mileage may vary. Experiment. In general, it takes longer for women to get into the mood than men. Spending time during the day thinking about an evening she's about to spend with him will make her more enthusiastic when the time comes; whereas most men like to be surprised.
Finally, send clear signals: when all you want is an affectionate cuddle, it's helpful to say clearly up front that it's not going to turn into sex, so your other half can enjoy what is on offer rather than trying to get what isn't.
Make sure you have compatible long-term expectations concerning children. For example, do you want any? How many? When? Who will look after them? Do you want to use child-minders? A nanny? How long will one of you be off work with the children before they go into nurseries or schools?
Please - don't rush into this!
When you're actively trying to conceive children, you need to guard against purely mechanical sex. Don't let it become unsexy, unromantic or unenjoyable. Enjoy the freedom of not needing to use contraception.
Children will make you more tired that you have ever imagined being. We are not kidding. Think of an essay crisis every single night for six months. We are not exaggerating. We really mean it. (I am talking about the woman. Mostly.)
Try to avoid letting yourself becoming a full-time child-carer in your own mind, especially the woman. Even if you're a full-time mother, that is not the your whole identity. You have many other roles, including that of Wife! Once the kids are in bed, try to forget about them until the morning. It's not always easy to do this, swapping the ``mother'' hat for the ``wife'' hat on demand.
Never, ever, ever, ever let your baby sleep in your bed with you. Not even once. Fiona thinks that I (Mike) am being over-dogmatic here and that it's partly a cultural thing, but I am sticking to my guns. We could tell you too many stories about parents who let their children come into their beds and have never been able to get them out again.
If you're reading a paper copy of this document, the soft-copy can be found at www.miketaylor.org.uk/xian/marriage/3-sex.html