Physical Intimacy – Puzzled
Our perspective on physical intimacy can be compared to working a jigsaw puzzle. And according to Juli Slattery, it's important to put it together using the right picture.
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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
Our perspective on physical intimacy can be compared to working a jigsaw puzzle. And according to Juli Slattery, it’s important to put it together using the right picture.
Physical Intimacy – Puzzled
Juli: The Bible’s puzzle of sexual intimacy, actually, highlights—not just roles/not just pleasure; those are part of it—but more importantly, the broader picture is that it highlights covenant love.
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: So we get to hear a message today from the FamilyLife Love Like You Mean It® virtual cruise.
Ann: Didn’t you wonder what it would be like when you heard it was virtual, like, “What is that?”
Dave: I mean it actually ended up being a great idea; you know?
Ann: There were thousands.
Dave: We couldn’t get on a boat because of COVID; so we decided: “Let’s do a virtual cruise.” Couples all around the world zoomed in online and experienced talks, workshops, music. I mean, there were couples doing ballroom dancing in their family room. I’ve heard couples had their beach towels out, sitting at home.
Ann: It was really fun, but let’s admit the real cruise will be better.
Dave: Yes; the great news is, in February next year, 2022, February 6th-13th, we are back on the water. Actually, if you want to get on that boat, you can sign up right now; before June 28, you’ll get a better deal. I’d go to FamilyLifeToday.com right now and sign up for the real cruise—not the virtual—a real cruise next year.
We get to listen to a message that Juli Slattery gave on the virtual cruise on a pretty hot topic.
Ann: Yes; she called it, “God, Sex, and Your Marriage.” We both know Dr. Juli Slattery; she is a great friend. She’s a known clinical psychologist; she is an author, speaker, broadcast professional; but she is also the president and cofounder of Authentic Intimacy; and she has her own podcast called Java with Juli, and she just answers tough questions about sex.
I love Juli because—not only is she brilliant/she has a brilliant mind—but she, also, is an expert in this area. She just brings it down to earth and talks about the things we all struggle with and we need help with.
Dave: She always comes from a biblical—
Dave: —perspective. This message was dynamite because she walks us through different perspectives that we have, especially we in the church, have about sex. It’s honest, and it’s real. I’m telling you: it’s life changing.
[Previous Love Like You Mean It Message]
Juli: As often is the case, I’ve been asked to speak on sexual intimacy in marriage; that’s what I kind of do for a living now. I will tell you, in the course of the ministry that I run, that I have literally been asked thousands of questions about sex. If you can think about it, I’ve been asked it. I think, as I look at those questions, all of them boil down to one central question that I think most of us don’t know how to answer. That question is: “What should our sex life look like? What’s normal? What’s healthy?”—and most importantly—“What is God honoring? Why did God give us this gift of sex in the first place? As we navigate the challenges of a sexual relationship, what are we actually supposed to be working towards?”
I think a lot of Christians don’t know how to answer that question. It’s even possible that you guys disagree, as a couple, on how to answer that question. One person thinks it should look this way, and the other person thinks it should look that way. I think the best encouragement that I can give you in the time that we have together is to help answer that question, as you are working through challenges, and asking yourselves questions about: “How do we overcome issues we have in our marriage, as we overcome differences in our opinions?—what should we actually be striving for?”
You know, one of the things that I’ve been doing during quarantine—and I’m asking you not to judge me, because some of you will think this is really nerdy—is I like jigsaw puzzles. At one point, I got my husband to agree to do a jigsaw puzzle with me. The first day we did it, he is like, “This is awful; how could you enjoy this?”
But I think it’s relaxing; so on a weekend, I might put on some headphones, go downstairs, listen to an audio book, and just work on a 2,000-piece jigsaw puzzle. Now, the way I do my jigsaw puzzles—actually, if you go down to my basement right now, you’re going to see a jigsaw puzzle there. I’ve got the box propped up so I can see it; because when I do the puzzle, I’m looking at the context and what the front of the box is telling me that I should be creating.
I really can’t imagine doing a puzzle without having that frame of reference to show me what I should be creating. I really can’t imagine doing a jigsaw puzzle if I were looking at the wrong box. If I thought I was creating this picture—when in reality, I was supposed to be creating another—none of the pieces would make sense.
That’s an analogy I would like you to think about as we consider the question: “What are you supposed to be creating with sexual intimacy within your marriage?”—because if you are working from the wrong picture, then you’re going to be very confused about how to overcome some of the common challenges that we face when it comes to sexual intimacy in marriage.
Before we get into the right picture, I want to talk about two pictures that a lot of couples will be working from that are actually the wrong pictures and can create confusion in your sex life. Let’s take a look at those two first.
The first one I want to look at is a puzzle that is based on really the world’s perspective. The world’s puzzle really highlights the idea that sex is about self-fulfillment/about your pleasure. It highlights the fact that: “You guys have to experience great sex all the time,” “It’s always going to be pleasurable,” “It’s always going to be fun,” “You are always going to agree on the fundamentals of sexuality.” If you are looking at this puzzle/at this picture as you are trying to navigate the issues of sexuality in your marriage, here is what you are going to believe:
First of all, you are going to believe your sex life is broken if it’s not always pleasurable/if you go through a season where it is not fun. You also think that sexual compatibility is the most important thing in your marriage. You believe that: “Hey, if my spouse’s desires are different from mine, we’re forever broken; that’s just never going to work.” You’ll probably believe that you are sexually healthy as long as the physical experience of sex is good.
You know, I think all of these statements come from the wrong perspective; because this is really not how the Bible teaches us to view sexual intimacy within marriage. Now, is there a place for self-fulfillment and for pleasure?—for sure, there is; and a healthy sex life should include aspects of pleasure; and we’ll talk about that a little bit later.
But when your whole perspective says: “It always has to be pleasurable,” “We always have to be compatible, sexually”; you’re going to get very frustrated when you run into situations and seasons in your marriage, where that’s not the case. I think this is why some Christians think things like: “Porn is good in our marriage, because porn helps the physical experience be good; and that, therefore, must be healthy.” Scripture would say, “No, actually, that’s not health. That’s not the way you want to navigate sexual challenges in your marriage.”
It might also be why someone might be thinking about leaving their marriage, because sex in the marriage isn’t pleasurable or good. I’ve talked to both men and women/Christian men and women, who feel like, “God would not want me to have to struggle this much in this area. Maybe, He wants me to leave my marriage.” Again, that’s the wrong perspective.
Or it’s the reason why I hear so many single Christians, who say: “Why in the world wouldn’t I have sex with somebody before I get married? Don’t I want to know that we are sexually compatible?” Again, that’s the wrong perspective; because the most important aspect of the puzzle you are putting together is not compatibility; it’s something else. Again, we will get to that in a minute. That’s the first picture that I think a lot of couples are trying to create; and again, it’s a wrong perspective.
Now, the second picture that I think a lot of couples are trying to create—and this might surprise you a little bit when I talk about it as the wrong picture—but I’m going to call this the traditional church’s puzzle of sex. It’s kind of the teaching that a lot of us got, growing up. It’s the emphasis that sometimes we hear in a lot of Christian teaching about sex, and it highlights the rules and the duty.
So when you go to church, or you read your Bible, you read these lists of things that God says are wrong—that are defined as sexual immorality—and you hear that over, and over, and over again. You learn that sexual immorality is wrong; but you may also have begun to believe that sex, itself, is wrong or sexual pleasure is wrong; and that the most important thing is following these rules. Or you may have heard that sex in marriage is all about an obligation or a duty.
Now, I want to say that, when I bring up that traditional church puzzle on sex—and I talk about obedience, or rules, or duty—there definitely is truth in this puzzle. There is definitely truth when we look at that picture of God’s design for sex. God has really clearly said, “Sexual intimacy is supposed to be reserved for a man and woman within the covenant of marriage,”—that’s true. There is also a truth in the fact that, when we get married, there is this sense of: “This is part of our love for each other; we shouldn’t withhold it.” But the problem with the traditional church’s picture of what we’re building in our sex life is it emphasizes those two aspects and neglects the broader picture of what sex is supposed to look like in your marriage.
As I’ve worked with couples, who really are rooted in trying to create this picture of sex all around rules and duty, here are some of the things they might believe.
First of all, you might believe that your sex life is broken if you have any sexual sin in your past. You carry around this sense of shame and unforgiveness.
I remember talking to one lady, who had been married for probably close to 30 years. She, honestly, told me that sex in her marriage had never been good. It’d been okay for her husband, but she never really enjoyed it. She couldn’t figure out why. She went through a Bible study through our ministry; and in that Bible study, she discovered that she had believing a lie for 30 years of her marriage. The lie said, essentially, because she and her husband had sex before they got married, she felt like God could never bless their sexual intimacy within marriage. She didn’t realize that, essentially, she had kind of been punishing herself for the last 30 years of her marriage because she really didn’t believe that God could give her forgiveness and freedom. When she learned that, it was like this light bulb just going off: “You mean I don’t have to live in that shame?”
I think, when we over emphasize the rules—without also bringing in the redemption and freedom that Jesus offers, and the complete picture of what sexual intimacy is supposed to be—we can really feel like we can’t move past something even as difficult as an infidelity/that God can’t bring healing and redemption. We start to believe that God doesn’t even want us to be free, but the Scripture tells us that Jesus died for our freedom. He died to set us free; and that’s in every area, including any kind of past sexual shame or guilt that we are carrying around.
If you believe this puzzle, this is what you are creating—and it’s all about obedience and duty—you might also think that your spouse owes sex because you got married. Now, again, let me say that there is a passage in 1 Corinthians, Chapter 7, that communicates that we have a sense of meeting each other’s sexual needs within marriage; that’s one of the things we are called to do.
But we’re never to use the Scripture to have the kind of attitude, where I’m demanding something from my spouse, where: “You have to give this to me.” That’s a very unloving attitude, and it’s not at all representative of the heart that God calls us to have within marriage towards one another. That would be an attitude that, again, that if you are creating this puzzle and you’re looking at that picture, you might get that a little bit skewed there.
Or you might feel like: “Hey, I am resentful toward my spouse,” or even “…resentful toward God, because I’m not enjoying this part of our marriage.”
Another thing you might believe is you might believe that we are sexual healthy as long as we avoid sin.
I think of a young couple/Christian couple, going off to their honeymoon. Essentially, the advice we give this young couple often—we might not say it out loud—but we pretty much like say, “Alright; you are free now. Go have fun, just don’t break the rules.” But we don’t give them any context for the kinds of things that they are going to encounter, not just on their honeymoon, but they are going to encounter early in marriage.
I want you to think back to your honeymoon/to your first year of marriage. Did you run into challenges in your sexual relationship? Were you prepared for those? Did anyone tell you that you would encounter those?
My husband and I ran into very serious disappointments on our honeymoon. It actually led to conflict, because we didn’t know to expect that. We followed the rules, but we still experienced pain; we still experienced some disagreement. Things weren’t working right for us. We were really confused, like, “Hey, if we follow the rules, why is this so difficult?”
You know, what I’ve learned now, over 26 years of marriage, is that God—not only calls us to be sexually moral—but He also calls us to become sexually mature; to grow in our understanding of this gift within marriage and to grow within our love for one another. This picture of your puzzle—again, if you’re just looking at the rules—doesn’t give you a glimpse of what that maturity even looks like. That’s why it is so important that I think that you understand that God presents this beautiful picture that we’re supposed to be creating of sexual intimacy from the Scriptures that is so far beyond just following rules.
The Bible’s puzzle of sexual intimacy actually highlights—not just rules/not just pleasure; those are a part of it—but more importantly, the broader picture is that it highlights covenant love. Now, what do I mean by that? Why does the Bible highlight covenant love as an aspect/as the key aspect of our sexuality? Well, let me put it this way. The Bible begins with a wedding. If you go to the book of Genesis—the first book of the Bible—and you read just two chapters in—Chapter 2, before sin enters the world, God has created a man and a woman; and they are stark naked in the garden. It says: “They are not ashamed.” Then, as you read through the Scripture, all the way to the end—the last book of the Bible, Revelation—we see there is another wedding. This wedding is between Christ [and His bride, the church]/who comes for His bride [as] the bridegroom. There is a wedding ceremony, and we’re united; and we’re taken to His new home.
The Bible begins with this wedding [Adam and Eve in Genesis], and the Bible ends with this wedding [in Revelation]. This very common verse that we often talk about when we talk about marriage—but sometimes, don’t unpack—is in Ephesians, Chapter 5, where Paul essentially combines these two weddings; he makes the connection between them. He says the purpose for marriage and the purpose for sexual oneness—he is actually referring to one-flesh union there—is a mystery that helps us understand God’s love for His people.
What Paul is saying here, essentially, is that the whole Bible is the story of a wedding. That wedding of Adam and Eve in Genesis—and every wedding since: your wedding, my wedding, our marriages—they foreshadow the ultimate wedding of Christ and His bride. I really love how author and teacher Christopher West explains it; he says, “The Bible can be summed up in five words: ‘God wants to marry us.’” In the very beginning of Genesis to the very end of creation, we see that God—has created male and female, the covenant of marriage, and the sexual union of a husband and wife, not only to be something that is sacred; but it is symbolic of the wedding that’s to come.
Now, I know that that kind of blows your mind. It’s like, “Alright; that sounds very theological, Juli, but how is that going to help me?” Here is what I want you to think about:
That is the front of the puzzle box. That’s what you use to make sense of all the different pieces of sex within your marriage. It’s what you use to get perspective when you’re going through things like conflict around your needs versus your spouse’s needs. It’s what you use to work through disappointment when your bodies aren’t working the way you wish they would, or where you’re just exhausted all the time.
When we look at the puzzle box of God’s love for us/of His covenant for us: “How does that inform?” “How does that help me make sense of how I should be stewarding sexual intimacy within my marriage?”
Dave: We’ve been listening to Dr. Juli Slattery as she gave a message on the Love Like You Mean It virtual cruise this past February. Boy, oh boy! Not only is she talking about a hot topic, but she is giving a perspective that is so helpful and life changing.
Ann: Well, I think that we’ve all been there. I liked that she just kind of broke it down into the world’s puzzle, traditional church puzzle, and then the Bible’s puzzle. I don’t think most of us really have an idea of what God’s blueprint looks like for sexual intimacy in a marriage.
Dave: I know that we didn’t.
Ann: We didn’t.
Dave: We didn’t—we knew the world’s plan—that’s all that we had really heard. We went to a conference two weeks before our wedding—the FamilyLife Weekend to Remember®—and that was the first time, in all my years,—and yours, too; right?—
Dave: —that we had ever even considered God’s perspective. To think that we’re just going to snap right into that, as we got married a couple weeks later, is what Juli is talking about. It was a real struggle—I mean, this was the biggest struggle of our first year of our marriage—is understanding God’s heart in this.
Ann: I’d say the first ten years because, not only did—[Laughter]
Dave: Wasn’t ten years.
Ann: No—because not only did we struggle in the beginning—because we, in our relationship, when we dated, we really tried to do it God’s way; so that was good—but then we carried so much shame from our past.
Then I would say the thing that really was hard, too, was having kids because now, we’re like, “Oh, this is really hard.” I felt like it became a duty.
Dave: Talk about that; why’d you say that?
Ann: Well, it felt like I was a mom; I was raising kids. We didn’t have much romance in our relationship, and I felt like the only time you were affectionate with me was when you wanted to have any kind of physical intimacy. We stopped holding hands; we stopped really kissing; and I felt like, “Oh, great, that’s all you want from me.”
Dave: Let’s just tell the world—[Laughter]—our struggle. I mean, we can laugh now; but yes, I obviously had no concept of what real intimacy was. It’s much more than physical—especially, for you—it’s affection, and conversation, and sharing our hearts together, and it is non-sexual touch/holding hands and just a hug. I had no idea.
Ann: I think, at that point, we knew God’s Word—we were studying it; we were teaching it—but I’m telling you—to really apply it/for all of us, it can be difficult.
Dave: Yes—not only is it difficult in the bedroom—it’s difficult in your marriage.
Ann: —and in life.
Dave: Yes; so you need someone to come alongside and say, “Let me help you.” That’s what Juli did.
Ann: It’s interesting; because a lot of us think, “We don’t need help!” Do you remember, when we first got married, and my dad came to visit us?
Dave: Oh, yes.
Ann: You know, Dave and I have all these books on the bookshelf on marriage, on sex, on intimacy. He’s kind of going through all of our books. He pulls out—I can’t even remember the book—maybe, Intended for Pleasure. He pulls it out; and my dad—he wasn’t walking with Jesus at that time—he looks at the title; and he goes, “Is this book about sex?!” We’re like, “Yes.” He goes, “Wow! You guys must be bad if you have to actually read about it to know how to do it.” [Laughter] You were so offended.
Dave: Yes; I think I made some quirk comment like, “Well, your wife would like you to read a book or two about it.”
Ann: Yes; you totally said that. [Laughter]
Dave: I mean, the truth is I am so glad we did; and we—
Ann: And we all need that help.
Dave: I mean, it’s/that’s why we have Dr. Juli Slattery helping us. I mean, it’s like: “This is not something you just figure out on your own. You need God’s perspective, God’s Word, God’s truth.” That’s what she’s given us today.
Ann: Yes; she’s also helping us to be super practical: “Here is what God’s Word says, and this is how we can live it out.” That’s what we all need.
Bob: As it is with everything in life, when we can align our thinking with God’s thinking on any subject/when we renew our minds about what is true, it changes everything. We’ve been hearing today from Juli Slattery about how this applies in the area of intimacy and romance in a marriage. Honestly, this is a subject that, regularly, I hear from couples, who say, “We are challenged in this area.” That’s why I’m so glad we are able to address this appropriately on FamilyLife Today.
She presented this message on the Love Like You Mean It virtual cruise in 2021. We weren’t able to be on board a big cruise ship because of COVID this year; but the good news is, next year, we’re going to be together again, back on the boat, sailing the seas in the Caribbean. The cruise is starting to fill up. All of our Love Like You Mean It marriage cruises have sold out in past years; we expect that to be the case, again, this year.
This week, we’re making special pricing available to FamilyLife Today listeners. It’s our Back to Cruising event. You can get all the information on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com; or this is even simpler—just call 1-800-FL-TODAY—we can answer any questions you have. We can reserve your cabin over the phone. Again, the number is 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” I know the last year-plus has been tough for a lot of marriages. Make the Love Like You Mean It cruise in 2022 your opportunity to get away, to reconnect, to realign with God and with each other. Again, call us to reserve your cabin. The number is 1-800-FL-TODAY.
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to hear more from Dr. Juli Slattery about how thinking biblically when it comes to romance, passion, and intimacy in marriage—how that can be a game changer for our relationship. I hope you can join us for that.
On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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