Physical Intimacy – Designed
What is God's picture of physical intimacy in marriage? Today, Juli Slattery shares the perspective of the One who designed intimacy.
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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
What is God’s picture of physical intimacy in marriage? Today, Juli Slattery shares the perspective of the One who designed intimacy.
Physical Intimacy – Designed
Juli: Sexual intimacy is the key way that God has given a married couple to remember and to celebrate our love for each other. It’s like our bodies have a way of expressing the commitment that we’ve made; it’s remembering that: “I’ve given myself completely to my husband, and he’s given himself completely to me.” We did those with words, but sex is the way that we remember it by doing it with our bodies; it’s supposed to be a celebration.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.
Dave: I’m excited; because we get to hear the rest of a message by Dr. Juli Slattery, who, you know, is a friend of ours and a clinical psychologist. She has a podcast, Java with Juli; but she is mostly known as a woman you can ask any question about sexual intimacy.
Ann: Yes; she’s/we were talking the other day. She goes, “Ann, can you imagine being me?—like you’re known as the sex guru. It’s not the best title to wear all the time”; but she does really give us guidance and help from a biblical perspective. Juli is great. She is married; she has three sons; and she’s always willing to be really honest, and real, and practical.
Dave: —and always biblical.
Dave: I mean, she’s coming straight from the Word of God.
This is a message she gave on the Love Like You Mean It® virtual cruise. We didn’t get to get on a boat this year, so we did a virtual cruise. Couples all around the world were watching on their computers. Juli gave, I think, a powerful message—very, very helpful—to couples to understand, as she calls it, the puzzle box. You’ve got to know what you are shooting for when you do a puzzle. We’ve done many.
Ann: Yes; have you ever tried to do a puzzle when you haven’t seen the cover of what it is supposed to look like?
Dave: I mean, I’m pulling the cover up every second—
Dave: —because I am lost.
Ann: I have it placed right there so I can be looking at it, continually, as you put it together.
Dave: Yet, if you asked a couple, “What’s God’s puzzle box for sexual intimacy in marriage?” there is not a clear answer.
Dave: She got into in the first part of her message.
Ann: Yes; I love it because she talked about three different puzzle box highlights. The first one was the world’s, which really just highlights self-fulfillment. And then you have the traditional church’s puzzle box; that one highlights rules and duty. Then she finished with the Bible’s puzzle box, which really highlights God’s covenant love; that’s the one we are really shooting for. But we’ve all experienced all of them.
Dave: So today, we get to listen to her talk about four practical ways that God’s puzzle box helps us steward sexual intimacy within marriage.
[Previous Love Like You Mean It Message]
Juli: The first one is that we recognize that: “Sexual intimacy within our marriage needs to be built on the foundation of faithfulness.” You know, the greatest commandment in the Old Testament is this one—and Jesus repeats it in the New Testament and says it’s the greatest commandment—it says: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, with all your strength.” In other words, you should be completely undivided to the Lord your God. You are in a covenant relationship with Him, and you are to be sold out for Him.
The first of the Ten Commandments, actually, reiterates this. Jesus/God says, “Have no other gods before [Me],”—“Don’t worship anyone else”; in other words, “Be true to Me; be faithful to Me.” God is really serious about your spiritual commitment to Him. In fact, in Exodus, God actually calls Himself by the name, Jealous. He says, “My name is Jealous.” I think, in the Hebrew, you say, “El Kana”; I think that is how you pronounce it. He doesn’t just say, “I am jealous”; He says, “I am/that’s My name,” “That’s My identity: I am a jealous God.”
We often think of jealousy as something that is bad; but when we look at God, Himself, as calling Himself jealous, that means that there is an element of jealousy that is righteous and right within covenant. This means that, within marriage, there is a healthy jealousy. Have you ever thought about that?—in terms of your covenant promise being exclusive between one another, you should be jealous for that.
Now, let me also say that there is an unhealthy jealousy that we can have for our spouse. Any jealousy that is based on fear—or is trying to control your spouse—that is not healthy. I am not talking about, maybe, the husband who says his wife can’t see her family or the wife that says her husband can never work with a female coworker. That’s based on a fear; it’s not based on this sense of healthy, covenant love. Healthy jealousy is rooted in the awareness that marriage is binding, and it calls us to emotional and sexual faithfulness to one another.
This means it shouldn’t be okay if your spouse is reconnecting with old flings on social media; you should not be alright with that. It shouldn’t be okay if you or your spouse are looking at pornography; you are bringing someone else into that one-flesh, covenant relationship. You should be jealous in protecting that.
You know, even our larger culture acknowledges this. Even as we look at all the sexuality immorality in our culture, and all the things we say are okay today, surveys show that over 90 percent of Americans say that cheating on your spouse is morally wrong. This is a higher percentage of people than actually objected to human cloning, suicide, or polygamy. Over 90 percent are saying it’s wrong to cheat on your spouse.
Now, why is that? I believe it’s because this covenant faithfulness is actually written on our hearts. We intuitively know it’s wrong. We know that infidelity is something that causes great pain and that it breaks apart families. God created it that way, because His love is faithful; so we want to emulate that within our sexual relationship in marriage.
Let me just tell you—this is an honest fact—you are very likely going to be sexually or emotionally attracted to someone else when you are married. Nobody really tells you that, but it is true. You have feelings; you have drives; you have desires. Sometimes, you are attracted to someone who is very different from your spouse; because you are reacting to the pain in your marriage. It’s normal to be tempted; but because we understand the front of that puzzle box, we choose to act on our promise and our covenant instead of choosing to act on our feelings.
Now, even as I teach this, I know that some of you are going through this right now. I know that some of you, right now, actually, have a secret that you are keeping from your spouse: maybe, you are struggling with a sexual addiction; maybe, you have infidelity that you haven’t confessed. My encouragement to you would be: “I know so many couples, who have navigated those hard waters, and come through it on the other side, actually, even stronger than they started.” But you have to be honest with one another; and you have to do the work of pursuing faithfulness in your marriage, and healing where faithfulness has been broken; because that’s really the cornerstone of the picture that God has called us to create within this aspect of our marriage.
The second one is realizing that: “Sex is meant to be a mind, body, and spirit celebration of love.” For me, personally—I don’t know if you can relate to this—but one of the hardest things about COVID has been not being able to gather together, as the family of God, like we are used to—not being able to be in church services, where we can sing from our heart, take communion like we used to, all the time, take. These are parts of what it is to be in the family of God.
When I think about the past Love Like You Mean It cruises that I have been able to be a part of—that’s my favorite part, I think—is that gathering in those auditoriums. FamilyLife does an incredible job of getting just amazing worship leaders and lifting up our voices together in praise for our God, feeling that passion that we have for Him. There is a sense that our worship—our corporate worship and taking communion—[is] the mind, body, and soul celebration of our love for God. God says we should be doing that often: we should be entering His gates with praise and thanksgiving; we should be celebrating communion often. These are things that awaken our love for Him, that awaken our passion for Him, that help us communicate how we feel about Him.
We not only do that corporately, but we also do that privately; so I try, every day, to spend time connecting with God through personal prayer, Scripture meditation, through personal worship, just remembering the love I have for Him—reminding myself—expressing my love.
Now, in a similar way, sexual intimacy is the key way that God has given a married couple to remember and to celebrate our love for each other. It’s like our bodies have a way of expressing the commitment that we’ve made; it’s remembering that: “I’ve given myself completely to my husband, and he’s given himself completely to me.” We did those with words, but sex is the way that we remember it by doing it with our bodies; it’s supposed to be a celebration.
We see this even when we look at the way God has designed sex to happen within our bodies. He [created] our brains to be washed with dopamine, and endorphins, and oxytocin. These are neurotransmitters and hormones that make us feel bonded and make us feel good. They are the pleasure centers of the brain. God created sex to be something that is/that is meant to be fun and pleasurable.
Here is the truth: there are a lot of challenges to enjoying sex within marriage; and some of them, my husband and I have experienced in pretty profound ways. There are things like little kids, who cause you to be exhausted all the time; so you can’t even think about sex. There are physical problems, like pain during intercourse; or maybe, trauma from your past makes it so that, when you think about sex or you experience it, you are anxious instead of enjoying it. What God calls us to is to work through those things, because this is supposed to be a celebration of our love.
It’s almost like—if you were to go to a party, and you saw someone at the side of the party, who is off by themselves, and they were really, really sad—you want to go up and say, “Hey, what’s wrong? We should be celebrating. This is a party; you’re supposed to have fun.” I think there is that similar attitude when sex isn’t pleasurable in marriage; we want to just say, “Okay, it’s not that our marriage is broken, necessarily. It’s not that our sex life is broken; but this isn’t the fullness of what God has designed us to experience.” We want to, as a couple, say, “Alright, how do we address that problem?”
Now, let me clarify something: sexual intimacy isn’t based on pleasure—remember, it’s based on covenant; it’s based on faithfulness—but pleasure needs to be a part of celebrating that faithfulness and that covenant. God created it that way, so that’s the second piece I would encourage you to think about in terms of: “That’s what a healthy sex life should look like.”
Alright, the third thing I want you to think about is that: “Sex was designed to be a journey of intimate knowing.” Within Christianity, you might hear a phrase like this: “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?” When we say that, what we mean is that Christianity is not just agreeing to rules that God has put in the Bible; it’s not just saying, “Hey, this is my faith commitment,”—that’s part of it—but actually, to enter into that faith commitment is to have a personal relationship with God, Himself, through Jesus Christ. That’s unlike any other religion.
God calls us into an intimate, personal relationship, both as individuals, and then as being part of the body of Christ. That’s profound. God doesn’t just want you, one day, to sign up for Christianity. He invites you to do life with Him; Jesus says that He wants us to abide with Him as He abides in us. The picture He gives is one that—if you are a farmer, you might relate to; or if you like to garden—He talks about a vine and the branch abides in that vine so much that they are stuck together; all the nutrients from the vine are coming into that branch.
That’s how close God wants us to be with Him; to have this intimate journey with Him. When we go through hard things, He wants us to run to Him and trust in Him. When we go through blessings and happiness, He wants us to rejoice and celebrate with Him. When we’re not sure what to do or are faced with a hard decision, He wants us to lean upon His understanding and not just our own wisdom. That’s a journey of intimate knowing.
The same is true with the way God has created sexual intimacy. It is this long journey of learning to know each other in an intimate way throughout the years, through ups and downs, through good times/through bad times. I think sometimes the way we talk about sex, both in the culture and in the church, it doesn’t highlight the beauty of this journey: it’s not just knowing each other’s bodies; but it’s knowing each other’s hearts, and minds, and going through just all the different things that sex can bring to a married couple.
There are times, where you are going to laugh together, and memories that you might build that you’ll laugh on years later; times, where we can just say, “Wow, that was a really special time of connection.” But there are also going to be seasons that we walk through that are very difficult, and that’s part of the journey of intimate knowing. There might be a difficulty of infertility—where for a season, sex feels like one big aspect of disappointment, every month grieving that we didn’t get pregnant; and sex feels like it is more like a lab of: “How do we make a baby?” rather than “How do we express love?”—that’s not a fun season, but that is a season that God can use to help you grow in your intimate knowledge with each other.
You might be through/going through a season where there is a heavy battle with temptation or sexual addiction. God doesn’t want you to be isolated in that journey. He wants you, as a couple, to be seeking help together, and growing together; because it’s not just about what is happening in the moment; it’s about how He’s forging your character and forging your love for one another.
There are all kinds of examples like that: when our bodies don’t work; or we’re aging, and our bodies can’t enjoy sex, maybe, the way we used to. I would just encourage you and your spouse to ask the question: “Do we know each other more intimately today than we did a year ago?” and “What role is sex playing in our relationship?” Because God wants you to continue to move together on this journey of intimate knowing, and sex can be a big part of that.
The fourth thing I want to talk about that is key to this picture of the puzzle that we are putting together—and again, this is maybe something you’ve never thought about in reference to your sex life—but: “Our sex life, at some level, should be characterized by mutual sacrifice.” Now, what do I mean by that? Well, let’s go back to the picture of Christ and the church.
The very cornerstone of the Christian faith/of God’s covenant with His people is that God sacrificed/He gave His Son for us and that Jesus Christ gave His life for us. He sacrificed everything for us. His love cost Him dearly; and actually, He calls us to respond in a way, where our love for Him costs us dearly. Jesus says to His followers, “Take up your cross and follow Me daily. Be willing to do the hard things out of love for Me.”
If that is a cornerstone of the Christian faith—if that’s a key component of what’s on the front of that puzzle box, where Paul says that your love for one another, as husband and wife, is supposed to be like Christ and the church—why are we so surprised when marriage costs us something? Why are we so shocked when our sex life is difficult and costs us something?
Now, I talk to a lot of single Christians on issues of sexuality. One of the main things that we always come back to with single Christians is we talk about the importance of self-control and self-denial—that this is part of following Christ—is stewarding your sexuality in a way that is characterized by self-control.
For some reason, I think we sometimes believe that when we get married, we no longer have to have self-control or self-denial in our sex life—because we’re, now, married—we should be able to have everything we want. But that really doesn’t make logical sense. God is still forming our character; He is still teaching us to take up our cross—to deny ourselves to follow Him—and to deny ourselves, at times, out of love for one another. There are times in your marriage, where your needs may not be met the way you wish they would be.
There might be seasons, where it’s really hard. You’ve got to walk through some tough things of giving grace to each other and forgiveness; and there are aspects where you just wish, like, “Hey, I didn’t sign up for this. I didn’t know this was going to be this difficult.” But I want you to remember that that doesn’t mean your marriage is broken, because God’s greatest desire is to make you and me more like Himself. He uses those seasons, sometimes, in our marriage—sometimes, very specifically in our sex life—to teach us about the nature of His love for us: that He forgives us, that He’s gracious towards us, that He gave Himself for us.
I hope this gives you a sense that God’s picture of sex/His puzzle of sex is so rich. And here is why: because it gives you purpose and context in whatever season you might be in. If you’re in a season right now of celebration and intimacy—and you feel close with your spouse; and quarantine, actually, has been great for you because your spending so much time together—then praise God! Enjoy that!
But if you are in a season, where you are encountering significant struggle, where sex represents conflict and pain for you, look at the front of that puzzle box: “What is God trying to teach you?” Invite Him to teach you about the nature of His covenant love for us. I love that, because it gives you purpose; it gives you redemption in every aspect of this part of your marriage that you might be struggling through.
Now, I’m not sure where you might be on the spectrum; I’m not sure what you and your spouse might be going through, but I encourage you to remember what’s on the front of that puzzle box to give you some perspective: “What does God want to teach you about His love?” and “How does the example of His love help you to love one another well?”
Dave: We’ve been listening to Dr. Juli Slattery give a powerful message on the Love Like You Mean It virtual cruise. I tell you what: she is talking about stuff nobody wants to talk about—
Ann: I know; yes.
Dave: —and giving a perspective that—I mean, she said it there at the end. It’s very difficult/you know, the thing we never thought, going into marriage, would be difficult was the bedroom. We just thought, “Oh my goodness! How hard can this be?” We’ve struggled; and I know there are couples, listening right now, that are really struggling. Juli gives you hope.
Ann: Well, as I was listening to that last part, when she says, “How does His love teach us to love one another well?” I would have never guessed, before we got married, that I am continually looking at God’s love and bringing that—God’s love—into our marriage, into our bedroom, into our parenting. It is that continual looking back to the cover of the puzzle piece, which is actually God’s Word. It makes me realize, “Oh, we have to be in God’s Word. We need to be in community with other people, who are always guiding us back to God’s Word and His plan.”
Dave: And I think/you know, listening to a message like this, you ask this question: “Should my spouse and I talk about this?”—yes.
Dave: I think this is one of the hardest topics to talk about in a marriage. It’s just difficult: you just/you feel hurt; you feel rejected; or whatever you are feeling; and you are afraid. A conversation about this begins the healing process.
Ann: Well, what would it look like—I mean, this kinds of sounds weird—but if we would just every night pray, “Lord Jesus, help us with our physical intimacy”?
Dave: Every night, we’re going to pray that?
Ann: Yes! Why wouldn’t we?
Dave: Yes; and I think, like I was just saying—it’s not just praying about it—but talking about it with your spouse. I mean, you know, it’s been easier for me to preach about it to a thousand people than walk in the bedroom or the kitchen and say, “Honey, can we talk about our...”
Ann: You would say, “Why do we have to talk about it? Let’s just do it!”
Dave: No; I mean, being honest here—
Dave: —when we have struggled, I don’t want to talk about it.
Dave: It’s uncomfortable.
Juli has opened the door to say, “Have a conversation.” I’m guessing there is a spouse listening, or his spouse is not listening at the same time; and you are feeling, right now, like, “Man, I really want to talk to my husband” or “my wife about this.” I would say, “Go for it!
Dave: “Ask God to enter that conversation.”
Ann: Or listen together, and then talk about it.
Dave: Yes, and He’ll bring healing.
Bob: Dave and Ann Wilson’s recommendation that you and your spouse listen to this message together—it’s a great idea—the message is from Dr. Juli Slattery. Just go to our website and find a time when the two of you can listen, and pause the recording, and have a conversation about this subject. This is one of the messages that was presented this year on the Love Like You Mean It virtual cruise.
We are all glad that the 2022 Love Like You Mean It marriage cruise is not going to be virtual; it’s going to be face to face, in person, on a boat in the Caribbean with the warm winds, and the ports of call, and great speakers, and great food—just a great week together. All of our Love Like You Mean It marriage cruises have been sellouts, and we expect it is going to be this year. We are starting to fill up quickly.
This week, we’re making a special offer to FamilyLife Today listeners—the Back to Cruising event—lowest cabin prices for the rest of the year are available right now. You can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to find out more or to reserve your cabin over the phone. There is also information about the cruise on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com; but again, let me encourage you: “Reserve your cabin today and join us Valentine’s Week of 2022 for the Love Like You Mean It marriage cruise.” We’d love to have you with us.
With that, we’ve got to wrap things up for this week. Thanks for joining us. Hope you and your family are able to worship together in your local church this weekend, and I hope you can join us back on Monday. In fact, if you know somebody, who is a single mom, encourage her to tune in Monday because Peggy Sue Wells and Pam Farrel will be here with us to talk about some of the best decisions any single mom can make. I hope you can tune in for that.
On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. Have a great weekend. We’ll see you Monday for another edition for FamilyLife Today.
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