Pillow Talk: Talking about Sex with Your Spouse

by Annie Higgins, LPC

Sex. It’s one of the top three things that couples fight about within marriage. Why? I can think of at least two major contributing factors. The first is that sex is deeply personal and vulnerable. And the second is that very few people are actually taught how to talk about this sensitive topic in a healthy manner. If the couple happens to be Christian, then the chances are even slimmer that they’ve learned how to communicate their sexual desires or concerns to one another. Many of us who were raised in Christian homes are told that sex is bad and not to be discussed or even thought about until we are married. As if all of the sudden a switch within us flips and we go from seeing sex as “bad” to appreciating it as “good and God-honoring” the moment we say “I do.” – WRONG!

In order to talk about such a vulnerable topic, I believe it is absolutely vital to establish a foundation of safety and trust. Without that, all of the “tips” in the world will not be helpful. God’s original design for marital intimacy was that we would be “naked and unashamed” (Genesis 2:25). Intimacy means a “deep knowing” and we can develop a certain level of this deep knowing with family and friends. But God reserved the deepest, most vulnerable, two-becoming-one type of intimacy for the marriage relationship alone. Because sex is so incredibly personal and vulnerable it is never neutral; it carries a power that either strengthens or destroys connection. Sexual intimacy is beautiful and soul-quenching when it is treated with the honor and dignity God intended, but it can easily be misused and abused if handled wrongly. Within the protective hedge of a covenant marriage, a couple can say to each other, “I love and accept you – imperfections and all – so you have nothing to fear. You can trust me and even lose yourself within our sexual union.” I believe that this kind of security is the basis for the best sex anyone could ever imagine!

The type of safety and security I’m talking about here is cultivated over time. It starts during courtship when the couple takes the time to ask questions of each other, show genuine interest in what each other thinks or dreams about, and uses that information to demonstrate care and commitment. It is refined in the fires of grief and heartache and perseverance, and is maintained within a marriage by recommitting each day never to use the knowledge you’ve gained about each other against each other. That is the only way to be emotionally, spiritually, relationally, and physically naked and unashamed with each other. This is hard, but the alternative is much harder!

Once you’ve committed to honor each other in all of these ways, talking about something as vulnerable as sex becomes a little easier. If you believe you and your spouse have already achieved this level of safety, count yourself very blessed. However, if you know that you have some work to do in this department, here are a few practical ideas to help you strengthen your communication regarding sexual intimacy.

  • Normalize: Talk about God’s design for sex and how it is good and honoring to Him within your marital union.
  • Establish expectations: This may sound something like, “I know we haven’t really talked about what we enjoy sexually before but I want this to be an area of trust and safety, let’s agree that whatever we discuss will be respected and considered without judgment or criticism.”
  • Discuss terms: Talk about positions, preferences, and body parts in a way that both of you can agree upon and feel respected. If you want to use proper terms for body parts that is fine. If you’d rather refer to Song of Solomon and the more poetic terms such as fruit, garden, flowers, wine, etc. that is also fine. The point here is to develop your own safe (and playful) sexual language.
  • Affirm: After being sexually intimate, make sure you let your spouse know that you truly enjoyed being together. Even if one or both of you didn’t reach climax, let your spouse know what you enjoyed about coming together sexually. If you’ve already set the stage with an affirmation then it makes the ‘debrief’ less intimidating.
  • Debrief: After sex ask each other questions such as, “What was your favorite part?, Was there anything you’d really like to do again, or anything you’d rather not do again?” Yes, these are sensitive questions, but if the goal is deeper understanding and to love each other well, then you’ll want this information and won’t take it as a personal slight.
  • Lighten up: It does not take away from the sanctity of marriage or our sexual union to be playful in our discussions of sex with our spouse. Just make sure you talk about it in a way that is respectful and honoring to you both.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but will hopefully shed some light upon ways you and your spouse can continue working toward being truly “naked and unashamed” with each other.

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