God, Sex, & Your Marriage: Dr. Juli Slattery
Dr. Juli Slattery challenges your assumptions about married sex—and reframes it as a stunning metaphor of God's covenant love.
Where does our identity come from? Does it come from looking inward, or does it come from looking upward, and knowing God, and knowing who He says that I am? If you are not a believer in God, it makes perfect sense that you have to look inward or you have to ask people's advice to figure out who you are. But if we are believers in God and we trust the Scripture, then we find who we are by knowing Him and by putting faith into what He says about us. -- Dr. Juli Slattery
About the Guest
- Connect with Juli Slattery at authenticintimacy.com or on Instagram @authenticintimacy
- Relcaim the conversation around sexuality at authenticintimacy.com/online-book-studies
- Check out Juli's podcast, Java with Juli
- Intrigued by this episode? Check out another episode from FamilyLife Today: Porn Addiction: Your Exit Strategy
- Find resources from this podcast at shop.familylife.com.
- See resources from our past podcasts.
- Find more content and resources on the FamilyLife's app!
- Help others find FamilyLife. Leave a review on Apple Podcast or Spotify.
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Authentic Intimacy. She hosts a podcast called Java With Juli, where she answers tough questions about relationships, marriage, spiritual, emotional and sexual intimacy. She has authored eight books, including 25 Questions You're Afraid to As...more
Dr. Juli Slattery challenges your assumptions about married sex—and reframes it as a stunning metaphor of God’s covenant love.
God, Sex, & Your Marriage: Dr. Juli Slattery
Shelby: Hey, Shelby Abbott here. Today's conversation on FamilyLife Today covers some sensitive but important subjects that might not be suitable for younger ears. So, please use discretion when listening to this next broadcast.
Alright, now let's jump into it!
Juli: Where does our identity come from? Does it come from looking inward, or does it come from looking upward, and knowing God, and knowing who He says that I am? If you are not a believer in God, it makes perfect sense that you have to look inward or you have to ask people's advice to figure out who you are. But if we are believers in God and we trust the Scripture, then we find who we are by knowing Him and by putting faith into what He says about us.
Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I'm Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: Go ahead [Ann] and tell them what you just said. [Laughter] We're going to talk about a sensitive topic today. The topic of sex—
Ann: I started the program, even before—I said, “Ah, I have a headache.” [Laughter] Which, with this topic, wasn't purposeful. I really do have a headache. It's so funny because of this topic though. [Laughter]
Dave: Yes, I know! I mean, that's why it's funny! And Doctor Juli Slattery is sitting over there and she said—
Juli: —I'm analyzing you! [Laughter]
Ann: I know!
Juli: Yes. A headache is never just a headache, you know? [Laughter] I mean, there's something underneath this—
Dave: Juli, do you know what? We haven't gotten into anything yet. But what is going on in our marriage? What does that mean? [Laughter]
Ann: Juli is such a good friend. She's an author. She's a therapist. She and her husband are traveling, speaking, [and] working together now.
Dave: Well, you wrote a book that we're going to talk about today: God, Sex, and Your Marriage.
Ann: And Juli, tell us about your ministry. What are you and Mike doing?
Juli: Yes. Well, it's not just us. We have a team that works with us. The ministry is called Authentic Intimacy. The idea of it is, “Let's reclaim the conversation around sexuality and not just play defense with trying to address problems.”
Ann: And your podcast is called Java with Juli.
Ann: It's amazing!
Dave: We've been on it.
Juli: You have!
Dave: Yes, it was awesome!
Ann: You do such a good job.
Dave: Now, when you say “reclaim,” what do you mean?
Juli: Well, what I mean is, if you think about topics of sexuality, whether it be marriage, or pornography, or conversations around sexual identity, gender identitym the world really owns those conversations. I think even for a lot of Christians, we're trying to react to what the world is saying, because God's people really haven't had a compelling narrative of sexuality over the last couple of centuries, even though it's in the Scriptures. So, instead of just saying, “How do we deal with the pornography problem?” or “How do we deal with the teenagers in our lives that are wrestling with gender identity?” We want to say, “Alright, how do we actually take over this conversation from a biblical perspective and have God's framework for the whole topic of sexuality?” So that, now we can even begin to understand, “What is wholeness and what is brokenness?”
Dave: Yes, and you know this better than anybody, the church has often been silent. Or if you heard anything from the church—I think it's a little different today, but, growing up in my day, I don't think I ever heard a sermon, or even a pastor, talk—about sex from God's perspective. I'll tell this quickly: when we started our church [in] 1990, we knew that, and we were like, “We're gonna be a church that talks about real issues.” My first sermon ever at my church on sex was called Sex - What a Great Idea! Right?
Dave: And all I was trying to do was sort of what you did in your book: “Here's God's perspective on sex.” “Here's what the Bible says. It's not a bad thing. He actually celebrates this in a covenant of marriage between a man and a woman.” Anyway, we were dreaming that non-church guys would come, right? I get done with this sermon [and] this guy comes walking up to me and says. “Hey! I don't know what they call you around here, but that was one [blank] of a sermon.” That's what he said.
Dave: He curses right there.
Ann: Well, I don't even think he said “sermon”, did he? Didn't he just say “talk”?
Dave: Yes, “one [blank] of a talk,” you know? And I said, “Hey, man! What's your name?” (I'll never forget this.) “Mike.”
[Dave:] “How'd you end up here?”
[Mike:] “Well, you won't believe this. My wife came last week. I don't go to church. I haven’t been to church in 30 years, but my wife came. She came home, and she said,“Hey, I think you'd like this place.” And I looked at her and said, ”I'm not going to your stupid church.” She said, ”Guess what they're talking about next week? It's called Sex - What a Great Idea!”
[Dave:] He said, “He's got that right! I'll be there!” [Laughter]
Dave: So, he came. Six weeks later, Mike gave his life to Christ—
Juli: Oh my goodness!
Dave: —It was just this beautiful story. I think he was drawn in by, “That's the heart of God?” about this topic that the Church often has been silent about. You start the book saying, “We need to understand God's heart for sex,” and then, obviously, in the area of marriage. This is your calling, right?
Juli: Yes! Dave, I love that story, because sex is the place where there's just so much pain and confusion in the world. If we are talking about it from a biblical perspective, we have the opportunity, really, to share the love of Christ. Just look at Jesus's interactions in the gospel and how many times, particularly with women, his interaction was around a sexual wound, and the topic of sexuality. So, it's not just—
Ann: —Now, some people are going to say, “Wait, wait—what did you just say?! So you're saying that Jesus talked to women about a wound.” Some are thinking, “What do you mean?”
Dave: You get the woman at the well. You get the woman caught in adultery. I mean, there are very popular stories; you're right! As soon as you said that, I thought, “Oh, I never really considered it that way.”
Juli: And the purpose wasn't to straighten out their sex life. It was to address their wounds, their longings, their hurt, their rejection, their identity. When we avoid the topic of sexuality, we're not just letting go of this territory (that's kind of a side issue). The way God has created our sexuality is so intrinsic to who we are, relationally and spiritually, that when we give up that ground, we're actually giving up significant spiritual ground.
Ann: You talk about two truths, and one of the truths is, you say, “Sex will never be a neutral issue in your marriage.”
Juli: Yes.What I mean by that is: any couple, if they share about what's happening in their sex life, it's never going to be this thing that is just neutral in terms of impact. Now, they might say, “Oh, we don't talk about it. It's really neither good or nor bad.” But if it's not good, it's pulling them apart in some way. One of them, likely, is resentful that they're not having more sex, or one of them is resentful that they feel objectified; or it's a point of contention that they can't talk about. It's conflict.
Dave: By the way, you just described points in our marriage. Honestly, we've had those very—
Ann: —Oh, for sure!
Dave: —hurts with each other. I'm guessing a lot of couples have.
Dave: Like you said, “It's not neutral.” That one flesh thing is more than flesh; it's emotional and spiritual. Is that what you're saying?
Juli: Yes, and it was like that in my marriage as well. The way God has designed sex, it's designed to glue you together, to draw you together, to give you an embodied way of loving each other. Even the chemicals that are involved in sexuality—the dopamine and the oxytocin—are meant to cement you as a couple. But the opposite is also true. When sex is not going well for one reason or another, it will divide you.
Dave: The second thing you say is, “It's not neutral in your relationship with God.”
Ann: What's that mean?
Juli: Well, in the same way, God designed sex to be a form of revealing His covenant love to us, and that's a big concept that takes time to unpack, but this is something everybody is going to identify with. Sex is either going to be something that makes you feel close to God because you're thankful for it, because you really understand the love of your spouse in a deeper way. Or for most people, it's a barrier. It's the issue where there's shame that has not been addressed. It's the place in their life where people secretly wonder, “God, where were you? Why didn't you spare me from this betrayal or from this horrific thing that happened to me?”
Or it's that issue that you can't bring to God. You can't bring your pornography issue to God because you're so ashamed of it. In everybody's life, this is going to be an area of their humanity that is either drawing them into understanding more deeply God's love for them, or more likely, unfortunately, it's going to be an area where they think, “I can't bring that to church. I couldn't pray about that. God doesn't care about this part of my life.”
Ann: As you say that, Juli, I’m thinking about—as I was a young bride, I remember first hearing, “Bring God into the bedroom.”
Dave: “Bring His perspective.”
Ann: Yes, but even when we first started hearing that, my first thought was, “Are you insane?” But then, as you think through, “Why did I have that feeling?” It's because I felt [as though], “God can't be a part of that.” I have abuse in my background. There was so much pornography in relatives and family. I grew up with that; to me, that was sex. To bring God into that felt like, “Why would I ever bring Him into that mess?” I didn't know—when somebody said, “We want God to have a part of this,” I was kind of blown out of my mind: “Why?” I had no idea the connection of God and the beauty of it.
Juli: Yes, thank you for sharing that, Ann, because a lot of people can relate to that. At the time, you probably had a very strong relationship with the Lord. You were discipled in a lot of areas of faith—
Ann: —and young in my faith.
Juli: —but sexuality is this area that, because we're silent on it, you kind of just store away and you say, “Okay, this has to be part of my marriage, or it's part of my past, but God doesn't belong there.”
Ann: And I was never discipled in that area—
Ann: —which, I'm thinking now, “We should disciple people in this area.” That's what you do.
Juli: That is what we do. It's so needed. I think it really has taken the pain of the last 20 or 30 years, and the confusion, to wake the church up and say, “We've got to do something about this!” There's not a parent of a teenager today that isn't worried about this, whose kid isn't struggling with the whole gender conversation, pornography, sexting. . .
Every parent is thinking, “I need resources. I wasn’t raised with it. I don't know how to think through these things.” Every pastor is faced with dealing with this. Yes, it's the culture, but it's also marriage. It's the brokenness of marriage that we don't know how to talk about and address. We don't know how to find healing. It's just this pervasive spiritual battle that we've neglected for decades, and it's time to really take it back.
I think the most pivotal thing in this is, actually, that we think about sexuality rightly. We all want the solution to the problem. There's a parent listening who’s saying, “Just tell me how to protect my kid from pornography,” or “Tell me how to help my daughter through sexual assault.” There are married couples listening right now who are [saying], “Just tell us how to deal with this conflict. We fight about sex all the time. We haven't had sex in years. Sex is painful.”
So, you have all these problems that people want you to solve, but we can't solve problems if we don't have the right perspective. I think this is the first part of the work: stepping back and actually saying, “Why does our sexuality matter to God in the first place? Why is it so powerful? Why are sexual wounds so crippling? Why do I feel shame about something that happened to me 30 years ago?”
A lot of the work that we do at Authentic Intimacy is helping people step back and really seek God's help and His perspective on the big picture of sexuality before we get into the granular level. Again, people want that quick fix right away, but for a big problem, there's not a quick fix.
Dave: So, when you do a 30,000 foot view—I'm putting words in your mouth, maybe—you're trying to say, “Okay, here's the big picture.” It could be for a parent. It could be for a narried couple. Where would you start?
Ann: Yes, disciple us. [Laughter]
Juli: Well, I like to talk about sexual narratives. So, your sexual narrative is the back story that you're believing about your sexuality. It's how you answer the questions, “Why does sex matter? Why does my sexuality matter? Why does my gender matter?”
I'm going to paint with broad brushes here, but I think the most prominent narrative of our sexuality today is what I'm going to call the “Cultural Narrative.” The culture’s narrative says that sexuality is so pivotal and important because it's a key part of your identity. It's how you discover who you are. It's how you live a happy life, by looking inward and discovering, “This is what I'm attracted to. This is what I desire. This is what I want, and I should have the freedom to live that out.”
We see that playing out in all different ways: in marriage, in singleness, in sexual identity issues, and [in] pornography. I would say, even within modern Christianity, we want God to give us permission to act out whatever sexual desires we have. And we say, “A loving God would allow us to experience what we want.”
If that's really why sex matters—if it's because it's this search for self, and it’s happiness and fulfillment—then that makes sense, that God would want you to have freedom to go on that discovery and never put parameters on how you exercise your sexuality. Unfortunately, again, even a lot of Christians in our day and age are thinking that way, and they look through Scripture to find verses that would support that thinking.
This plays out in marriage like, “I've fallen out of love. I'm not attracted to my spouse anymore. What's the purpose of being married?” Because “we're not happy, let's go find somebody who will make us happy.”
Ann: Or “Our sex life feels dull and we need something to enhance it.” There is a secular therapist that said, “Porn can enhance it.”
Ann: And yet—
Juli: —it has devastating effects.
Dave: So, that's a cultural perspective. How would you combat that?
Juli: Well, I would combat it in a few ways. First of all, as a follower of Christ, it's completely against what Scripture tells us. God tells us that everything was created for Hisglory and for His purpose. So we don't say, “What's in it for me?” We say, “How do I glorify God with my sexuality? Why did He create it?” But, if we look at the cultural narrative of sexuality through the lens of Scripture, we're really looking at a false idol. We're looking at the worship of self, and the fulfillment of self as the goal of my life, instead of to know and glorify God.
The second thing I would say is that—and some people don't like it when we say this, but it's all over Scripture—we can't trust our own hearts and desires. The Scripture, over and over again, says that our flesh is going to want things that go against God. There's this big battle between what my flesh wants and what the Spirit of God is calling me to in godliness. That certainly plays out in sexuality. We all are going to have sexual thoughts and desires that feel very authentic to who we are, but they go against God's will for us.
Dave: Now, what would you say about—because you hinted at it before—the identity? My identity is tied up primarily with who I'm attracted to.
Juli: Yes, sure.
Dave: I'm not saying that's true for me. I'm just saying that's what you hear. That is so important. It's who I am.
Dave: Not true?
Juli: In our world today, it feels very true.
Juli: But where does our identity come from? Does it come from looking inward, or does it come from looking upward and knowing God, and knowing who He says that I am? If you are not a believer in God, it makes perfect sense that you have to look inward or you have to ask people's advice to figure out who you are. But if we are believers in God and we trust the Scripture, then we find who we are by knowing Him and by putting faith into what He says about us.
So, this cultural narrative is the idol of our day. It's what we worship today. We've got to realize, as the people of God, that we will always be tempted to mix Christianity with the worship of our culture. We see a lot of that today, but it's contrary to the whole message of Scripture.
Ann: Juli, I know that in your ministry, you're hearing so many stories. Do you have a story of transformation from the cultural view to now? They've discovered, “Oh, this is a biblical view!” Have you had anybody that is, “Oh, this is cool!” just to see they're getting it?
Juli: Yes! Oh, yes, we have a lot of stories. I'll share about one woman that I know who is a believer, and she actually went on the mission field. [She] began to serve God in the mission field and struggled a lot with same-sex attraction. [She] really didn't have any support on the mission field to work through that, and she began to live out of that and, eventually, started losing her faith on the mission field.
Somehow, a few years ago from another country, [she] saw an e-mail about doing an online book study with us on Rethinking Sexuality. This young woman thought, “Well, I've got nothing to lose. I'm losing my faith. I'm depressed. I'm isolated. Somewhere, I need to get help.”
So, she went through this online book study through our ministry on Rethinking Sexuality, and for the first time, started hearing Christian women talk about sexuality from a biblical perspective. Then she did another book study, and another book study, and her life really has been transformed. She said, “The thing that you wrote that really caught me in that book is, you wrote, “What we think about sex begins with what we think about God.” That led her on a journey. That would be one example.
I know another: a married couple that actually heard me first speak on a FamilyLife cruise. They were in a place of real brokenness sexually—both of them were. They were separated at the time. The woman heard me speak on sexual issues. For the first time again, she heard somebody say, “A Christian woman can struggle with pornography. A Christian woman can struggle with same-sex attraction.” At the time, she was desperate, but she followed up, got an online book study, got into community; and their marriage is completely restored after a few years.
We have stories like that and, you know, our books are not that good. [Laughter] You know we're not that good. It's God! It's God's truth! People are so hungry for God's truth. That's the other piece of the cultural narrative that we need to realize. It will lead to brokenness and pain. The Scripture says, “God is not mocked. Don't be deceived. What you sow, you will reap.” [paraphrased]
When we look at what's happening in the culture today, the more freedom we have sexually, the lonelier, the more anxious and depressed we become. Because ultimately, we were not created for sexual expression. We were created for intimacy. Even secular psychologists and sociologists are saying, “Something is wrong here with our sexuality. All this freedom isn't leading to happiness and flourishing.”
Dave: And freedom, often, when we go after it thinking we'll be free, we end up in bondage—
Dave: —whether sexual or not. I love both your stories. They're saying, “I thought freedom was here.” The last place you think you're going to find freedom is with God. “He's all about boundaries and putting you in a box.” That's where real freedom happened for them, and for all of us. I'm thinking of a listener thinking, “I relate to those stories, but I haven't got the freedom part yet.” You’ve got to go vertical. You’ve got to find God's perspective on this area, and that's where you’re going to find freedom.
Shelby: Wow, we were not created for sexual expression. We were created for intimacy. When you think about that, this is literally the opposite of everything our culture communicates to us about sex and sexuality. Just amazing stuff today.
I'm Shelby Abbott and you've been listening to Dave and Anne Wilson with Juli Slattery on FamilyLife Today.
We're going to hear more from Ann and Juli on surrender and freedom here in just a second, but Juli has written a book called God, Sex and Your Marriage. You can find a copy of her book at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can give us a call at 800-358-6329. That's 800, “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word “TODAY.”
We've been talking a lot about relationships. And right now, when you're on FamilyLifeToday.com and you donate to the ministry of FamilyLife, you're going to receive a three-book bundle from the Letters to a Romantic collection by Sean Perron and Spencer Harmon. They were guests earlier this week. They've written three books about dating, engagement, and the first years of marriage. Again, those books are going to be our gift to you when you give and partner financially with us at FamilyLifeToday.com. Or you could give us a call with your donation at 800-358-6329. Feel free to drop us something in the mail. Our address is FamilyLife, 100 Lake Hart Drive, Orlando, FL 32832.
Alright, now let's hear more from Ann and Juli Slattery about sexual surrender and sexual freedom.
Ann: There's a point where all of us have to decide if we will surrender our sexuality to God and let him have it. If there's a part of you that thinks, “Oh, I don't know if I can surrender that.” That's just, “Hmm, I wonder what's going on that's creating that angst in my soul to not want to give it over?” But I think there is a beauty of getting to the point. It may not happen overnight, but I think that's why we need to be discipled in this area of surrender to God. He created us. He created our sexuality. He created sex. So, if there's anyone that can restore us and give us freedom, it's Him.
Juli: Yes, and I'm so glad you used that word “surrender” because it dawned on me one day that if God doesn't own my sexuality, who does? I might feel like it's me, but really it's a stronghold of the enemy. It's a stronghold of fear. It's a stronghold of pain. It's a stronghold of, “I don't trust God”, and I don't want the enemy to have any access in my heart or in my marriage or in my family.
Shelby: Now coming up next week, Dave and Ann Wilson are going to be joined by radio host, author, and speaker Brant Hansen. He's going to talk about his life and struggles with autism. That's next week. We hope you'll join us.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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