As a Sex Therapist in an age where many are finding their voice, I am often asked, “How do we respond to what is happening sexually in the world around us?” First, we have to remember that nothing under the sun is new. Sexual harassment, sexual abuses, incest, and infidelities, have occurred for a long, long time. But this is not the way it was meant to be.
We humans are at our best when we are treating one another the way we want to be treated. How true this is when we apply it to human sexual behavior. Does anyone want to be treated like an object of sexual gratification? Does anyone want to be used, threatened, demeaned . . . I think not. We all share a human desire to be valued, loved, seen, and heard.
I think we have a lot of reason to feel hopeful, in spite of the daily reports of sexual misconduct. At last, we are creating a culture where keeping secrets silent are no longer what is expected. The #MeToo Movement has caught on in recent months because of brave people coming forward and telling their stories. It takes tremendous amounts of courage to say me too. So, let me just take a moment here to say—me too.
I experienced a sexual assault in high school by an adult authority figure that left me stunned and speechless. I was so traumatized by his shocking behavior that I quickly tried to disassociate my memories from what happened to me. My brain kept telling me, surely this respected man would never behave in a violent, sexually abusive way. Surely, I must have done something wrong to deserve such treatment, in spite of me begging him not to do what he did. I felt tremendous shame and embarrassment.
What he did to me reinforced the shame narrative that I had deeply ingrained into the wiring of my brain because of the violence I experienced from the hand of my own father. I already believed I was dirty, less than, unworthy . . . this man just validated what I already believed about myself deep down inside. No one would have known I felt that way. On the outside, I appeared to be happy, I did fine in school, I participated in activities, I had good friends, I dated, I skied, and enjoyed many positive things about life. But it was in the quiet places within myself that I felt my losses most profoundly. It wasn’t until I was married and felt completely safe that I started to explore my hidden secrets with the help of a professional therapist and the loving support of my husband.
Much later, after years working on healing from the traumas of my early life, I became a sex therapist. They say, often our most important work comes from our own experiences with pain, grief, and loss. This was true for me.
As a sex therapist, I have learned many valuable lessons from my clients. They have taught me that nearly all humans experience some sort of sexual pain. Whether they experienced a sexual attack as I did or use sex as a way to medicate deeper emotional pain, human sexuality is often a misused and misunderstood topic.
Perhaps, before we can tackle our sexual, social ills, we need to have a better understanding of the purpose of sex. Like any great athlete knows, you have to go back to the basics over and over again. Most of us have never even thought about what the purpose of sex is. Perhaps, if our parents had started this discussion with us at birth things wouldn’t be so complex. So, let’s go back to the basics and see if we can establish a working understanding of human sexuality.
1. We are all sexual creatures. Every person is born with sexual parts specific to his or her gender.
2. Children are curious about nearly all things, including sexuality. Children need his or her mommy and daddy to celebrate their gender, teach them the proper names for male and female genitalia, and help their child develop appropriate sexual behaviors such as, privacy, respect, and valuing sexuality as something special.
3. Teenagers need a lot of guidance with sexual feelings. Imagine your brain and body are flooded with sexual hormones and feelings, but your brain isn’t fully developed until you are twenty-five. The pre-frontal cortex, the governor, or CEO, as some refer to it, takes time to become an adult. In the meantime, teens are making life-altering decisions about sexuality with little to no guidance. I think we need to recognize this as a form of neglect.
4. Sexual shame is wired into our personal narrative at very young ages. Children are regularly shamed for being curious, touching themselves, and for playing doctor. This shame narrative then continues into adulthood. It’s no wonder we have been silent. Shame says we are too dirty to ask for help with our sexuality. This silence hasn’t helped any of us.
5. When exposed to sexual stimuli, our bodies will respond. We have an automatic sexual response system. Yet, just like when someone cuts you off in traffic and you feel angry, but compose yourself, so we need to understand our feelings don’t rule our lives. We all have the ability to practice self-control. We are not animals. We are humans with the capacity to regulate our sexual feelings. We all have to take personal ownership and responsibility for our sexual behaviors.
6. Sexual behaviors were intended to be an expression of love and love desires the good for the other person. If sexuality were framed in this context, our world would be free from sexual violence, sexual harassment, sexual abuses, infidelities, and incest.
7. We all need help in developing healthy sexual behavior.
I am grateful we are creating a culture where it is socially acceptable to say #MeToo. It’s about time. It’s time we care for the victims of sexual harm. It’s time we say enough. But we have to personally do more. We have to stop polarizing and demonizing people so we can have dialogues and ask ourselves and others these questions:
1. Have I done the hard work of sorting through my sexual past?
2. Do I struggle with porn use, which dehumanizes every person involved?
3. Do I think sex is the solution to everything?
4. Do I medicate pain with sexual behaviors?
5. Do I avoid sex or have a knee jerk reaction to sex?
6. Am I stuck where sex began for me?
7. Am I growing myself up to be a sexually healthy, happy adult or am I using someone or not valuing myself?
We have to understand that sexual behavior has a root cause. Often sexual behavior can become a way of medicating deeper pain. 91% of sex addicts come from either a dysfunctional family of origin, experienced personal trauma, or were exposed to adult sexual behavior at too young of an age. We have to understand that when children are sexually used and abused, they often reenact that behavior in some way unless they get help or guidance.
Also, we have to understand that demonizing people because of bad behavior doesn’t end up helping any of us. We have to get off our high horse and come down to the reality that people need help. They also need compassionate care and understanding to work through their sexual messes. Offenders need consequences and boundaries and all need access to professional help.
I want to challenge every reader to ask this question, “Am I a part of the problem or the solution?” If we can stop pointing the finger, learn to tell our stories, and humbly ask for help, perhaps we could become a more loving, compassionate, sexually healthy world.
It is my heartfelt desire that my new book Love and Sex is a helpful, professional guide for those impacted by human sexuality. Love and Sex is available now for pre-order at Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com.
Top 3 Tips for Singles on Sexuality
It’s silly to think that because you are single you are any less or any more sexual than a married person. God made you a sexual creature on purpose and with a plan in mind. It isn’t a cosmic mistake that is meant to be a curse to you. Sexuality is a powerful gift, when stewarded well.
So, what do you do with your sexual urges and surges? Our culture says, “Do anything you want, when you want, how you want, and with whom you want!” Yet, we see the consequences of this thinking everywhere we look. Millions of Americans live with an STD. Millions of abortions have taken place, and sweet innocent blessings have been annihilated.
Some of you have experienced sexual harassment and sexual abuses. If I could sit with you and hear your story, you may tell me about how your heart was broken by sexual decisions. Maybe you have experienced someone taking from you sexually. Maybe you gave yourself to someone who you thought would love you forever. Maybe you hoped if you gave yourself to someone, they would value you more. Perhaps, you have used your sexuality to prove something to someone. Misuses of sexuality are a human condition. The Bible is full of stories of saints who have misused this gift. But again, God made you a sexual creature on purpose; it is a gift to be stewarded.
Here are my top three ways to steward this part of yourself in ways that hopefully will bring life to you and those around you.
1. Acknowledge your sexual urges and surges. Celebrate that everything is working the way God intended it to. Don’t repress your sexual feelings. When you repress them, they have a way of sneaking out of you in ways that can surprise and shock you. Instead, acknowledge them so you can thank God everything is working and then you can let them go and move on. Go work out, connect with friends and family, create meaningful non-sexual relationships. Have non-sexual affection met non-sexually. You need hugs and warm embraces.
2. Acknowledge that your sexual desires have a deeper purpose. God gave us sexual desire to draw us towards a future spouse. If we didn’t have desire, we wouldn’t marry and we wouldn’t make babies together. The world, as we know it, would cease. Sexual desire is meant to pull you towards someone so you can get to know them. Intimacy begins with friendship, exploring if you would be good together. The problem with hopping in bed with each other is then sex becomes the focus instead of cultivating a deep friendship and discovering the depths of this other person’s personality, spirituality, and character. Listen, sex is great, and I get that many of you want to have sex. I think that’s a good thing, but it needs to be in the right context to be the liberating type of sex that God made you for.
3. Acknowledge that God’s plan is the best plan. I don’t think God is a sexual prude. Quite the opposite. He is the one who created erogenous zones and decided to give males a penis that fits into a vagina and gave thousands of pleasurable nerve endings to enjoy sexual union. He gave curves to women with breasts and hips and other pretty parts. He gave men equal but different beauty. He isn’t a prude, He is a protector. He teaches us to protect our hearts. Marriage was meant to provide a safe context where you are loved and cherished and you have a solid covenant to hold you together in good and bad times. This covenant was intended for you to feel safe and trusting. Trust is the ability to be careless. In this context, you can let go sexually, explore, play, and feast with one another as you learn how to make love together.
Forgive us married folks for not presenting a great picture of married sex. We have failed our single friends. I want you to know that marriage can be a delight. Married sex can be a feast. Maybe you love being single and I want to echo what the Apostle Paul advocated when he said, “I wish you all were single like me.” But, if you have an ache for a companion, don’t wait for him or her to magically show up. Go out and find him or her. Pursue what your heart aches for. But, in the process, steward this beautiful, valuable, part of yourself. You may have already had sex, maybe lots of sex with lots of different partners. Ask God to forgive you, put support around yourself, and pursue the kind of sexual relationship that will fill you up, instead of leaving you more empty than before you had sex.
Happy Married Sex
Not every married couple has happy sex. Some couples are shy and awkward with one another. Some were raised in homes where they were taught sexual feelings are shameful and even disgusting. For others, he or she bring sexual baggage into the marriage and that baggage becomes a wall—prohibiting sexual enjoyment. I think some folks are just more selfish by nature and haven’t learned how to share themselves with his or her spouse.
There are also situations where sex has become painful and downright horrible. If a man uses his power to force his wife to have sex or perform sexual acts against her will, well . . . no one wants to be treated like a sexual slave. If one partner has cheated or has a porn problem, this kills sexual desire for their partner. If there has been selfish taking instead of generous sharing, this also destroys love—as does withholding from one another.
So, how do we heal when these things have happened? I would say, no probably shout, get help! Don’t wait and hope, and then hope some more that things will magically change. Most likely they won’t unless you get help. Seek out a professional, find a wise mentor, seek godly counsel, but stop trying to fix this on your own. The problem is bigger than the two of you.
Today, I’m talking to those marriages that are good enough. Not perfect, but just need a few ideas on how to bring some heaven to earth in the bedroom.
Here are three ideas for you to cultivate into the soil of your marriage.
1. Set the tone: Decide ahead of time that you will be the one to bring the fun!
a. Husbands start by calling her in the morning and reminding her of how much you love and appreciate her. If she is taking care of your children, thank her. If she is at work contributing to the well-being of your finances, thank her. Remind her of how beautiful she is to you. Caress her heart throughout the day with kind, loving, nurturing words.
b. Wives start by thinking about the last sexual encounter you had with your husband that was good, connecting, warm, and loving. Think about how it felt to have his body next to yours and take in the memory of how bonding it felt to be with him. Now, think of something new you could bring to the bed. Something fun to wear? A new perfume, or candle, or light for the room? Take a shower and put your hair up, spray perfume on and then come to bed with a message that says, “I want you and I am here to play with you.”
2. Attitude is everything: What you say to yourself about your spouse and yourself matters.
a. Husbands if you are rehearsing negative things in your head about your wife, she will notice it. She will perceive that you are criticizing her and it won’t draw either of you into intimacy. Instead, start rehearsing all of the wonderful things about her. After all, you could have picked one of thousands of other women, but you picked her. So, love her and love her well. She will thrive and flourish under your love. Scripture says your words wash and heal her. Speak life over her. Scripture also encourages you to love yourself. If you are criticizing your body or telling yourself you are a lousy lover, well guess what? You will be. If you come to bed like a starving man sexually, you will miss attuning to her sexual needs. Calm yourself, reduce any performance anxiety, by breathing deeply and reminding yourself that you are a loved son of the most high God. Then focus on connecting with her, not on having an orgasm.
b. Wives the same goes for you. If you are obsessing over all of the ways he disappoints you, he will sense it. Neuroscience teaches that whatever we focus on grows. Do you want to grow your respect and affection for him? Then remind yourself of all of the ways you do love and respect him. Surely, you can find a few things you like about him. After all, you picked him and you could have chosen not to. You wanted to spend the rest of your life with him. So, love him and love him well. Sex for married women largely becomes a choice. Quit waiting for the Oh-La-La sexual feelings. Instead, cultivate them. Once you remember the sexual creature God made you to be and engage, wow, it’s fun and bonding and good. An orgasm is super good for you and releases all kinds of feel good hormones that bond you to your man more deeply and soothe some of the annoyances of being married.
3. Be the teacher: You have to be open to teaching your spouse how to make love to you.
a. Husbands I sometimes think you guys get a bad rap. Women can assume that you are the sexual expert. That isn’t fair. Every woman’s body is different and every woman has different sexual preferences. Tune into her body. Notice when she sighs or moans with pleasure and when she gets quiet and freezes up. Ask her to show you what she likes. If she is shy about talking about sex, go for a drive where you aren’t looking at each other, but side by side and then ask her to tell you what turns her on. You could say something like, “the car has brakes that slow the car down, and it has a gas petal that speeds things up. What are your brakes and accelerators? What turns you on and what turns you off?” Make it safe for her to tell you. Do your best to not take any offense, but stay open to what she shares with you.
b. Wives you have to talk to him. Women’s bodies change nearly daily. What turned you on last week may not this week. He doesn’t know unless you talk to him. But talk to him sweetly. Don’t be mean to him. Men are actually pretty sensitive on the inside and need some compassion just like we do. Put your hand over his and show him what you like. Or demonstrate for him what you like. He will most likely really appreciate you teaching him, unless he has some other personality issues. I would also encourage you to tune into his body. We can treat men like they are sexual machines, they aren’t. They have sexual likes and dislikes, preferences and even things that trigger them in a way that isn’t arousing. Make it safe for him to talk with you about what he likes and what he doesn’t like. Be his sexual friend and companion. Understand his sexual needs without judging him. Sexual intimacy means more to your man than he knows how to put into words. It goes deep into his soul when you make love to him.
I think God sent Jesus to restore heaven on earth. Married, sexual intimacy is meant to be one of those sacred spaces where sexual pleasure is cultivated, invited, and nurtured and where married couples can share a little slice of heaven together.
Life brings us many challenges and each challenge begs the question, will we choose to become softened by our circumstances or hardened? Sexuality is one of those places where I see couples quickly moving from sexually soft and tender with each other, to hard and cold.
Last week I saw a client (I will call her Tiffany) who could attest to this truth. She experienced sexual abuse in childhood from a trusted relative. In high school, she dated a young man who she thought she loved and later married. Sadly, their sexual relationship included pain after her husband had an affair early in their marriage. Disappointment and loss scathed the landscape of her sexuality. We spent months grieving her losses, giving words to her pain, allowing her emotions and anger to be named and felt, addressing the shame, and recovering her soul.
Too many times, especially in the religious realm, many of us are told that if we give ourselves sexually to someone other than a spouse, we have lost something we can never get back … I don’t believe that. I believe that we can go back and reclaim the pieces of ourselves that were either stolen or given. We are powerful people by God’s design, and He never intended for us to live hopeless and dis-empowered.
Tiffany courageously jumped into the deep end of the healing process and found hope that indeed she could heal from her past. She invited Jesus, who proclaims in Isaiah 61, “I came to heal the brokenhearted,” to be her healer. I watched her heal, as she was real, honest, and raw with me and a few other trusted friends. At the beginning of our time together, she described herself as a broken cup—her life leaking out through the cracks. But last week, she described herself again, this time as a cup lined with love. She let the love of God fully into her soul—healing the fractures of her heart, and changing her sex life.
Tiffany felt so loved by God, and she allowed that love to flow through her to her husband. She began making love to her husband, as an expression of her love for him. She realized that she had never given herself to her husband but had always held back. We wondered if his affair was his way of searching for the missing piece in his own marriage. He said to the new Tiffany, “I feel so loved by you … who are you? You are loving me like I have never been loved—and sex—wow! It’s so erotic and fun! I didn’t know we could have this much passion together.” She smiled knowing she has more surprises for him.
Thought bomb: Has life time-hardened you? Do you hold back sexually because you don’t want to be hurt again? How is that keeping you from having a sexually passionate marriage?
A recent talk from Nancy Houston about God's desire for us to all have healthy attachments.
In the traditional view of marriage, sex is viewed more as a man’s pleasure and a wife’s duty. But God, in His creative design of the woman, refutes this belief by giving females a sexual body part—the clitoris—that has absolutely no purpose other than to give her sexual pleasure. It is much like the penis in that it is a bundle of nerve endings that become engorged when stimulated. Interestingly, the male counterpart—the penis—has several other functions since it is also how a man urinates and makes babies. Realizing that God gave the clitoris to women solely for sexual pleasure invites husbands and wives to enjoy sex.
Neuroscience teaches us that the male brain is wired to be extremely visual. This wiring in the nucleus accumbens resides in the back of the brain. It controls things we don’t consciously think about like digestion and breathing. Clinical studies teach us that this part of the brain lights up in a man when he sees a sexual image, like his wife getting out of the shower. When the nucleus accumbens lights up, he will most likely experience a primal, physical urge to sexually “consume” what he sees. This is why men have many more sexual thoughts than women, and why sexual self-control is typically a man’s battle. In order for a woman to compassionately understand her husband, she must know that sex means so much more to him than that initial desire to “consume” what he sees. Men report that just having sex isn’t enough—it isn’t satisfying unless their wives want them as well.
Females are just as sexual as males, but they travel a different route. The females’ sexual pathway is more leisurely than the racetrack of male sexual desire. When a woman sees an attractive male, the nucleus accumbens typically stays dark and, instead, the cortical centers ignite and a woman thinks, What a handsome man—that’s it. Women don’t usually have an automatic sexual response like men do.
Typically, sex is more of a choice for a woman who has been married for a few years, or after she has her first child. In the early stages of a couple’s sex life, the oh-la-la-I-want-you impulses may reign, but it is normal for her desire to slip into sexual neutrality. At this point, arousal begins after making the decision to engage with her husband.
It is important to understand that men and women are wired very differently. God did this on purpose—it’s part of His design and plan. Let’s celebrate those differences and make room for them. Let’s let one another off the hook and begin to really enjoy one another.
Sex is an important part of married life and God wants it to be a sweet and satisfying part of your marriage. He’s inviting you to play in its waters, uninhibited. If that’s not where you and your spouse find yourselves, get help, but get the right help. It might start with prayer. Perhaps you’ve never asked God to enliven your sex life. Invite Him into the bedroom. This is His idea, after all. He will redeem it to be all He created and designed it to be.
Thought Bomb: Have you asked God to make your sex life fun, playful, erotic, and passionate?
Here are some basic things to help you self-differentiate and to grow a healthier you:
1. Calm your own anxiety. The more anxiety you carry the less solid self you have. Anxiety is typically contagious in family and marriages. Learning to calm yourself is a big step in the right direction to building a solid self.
2. Own your own attitudes. If you need an attitude adjustment then give yourself one. And if you can’t give yourself one, ask for help.
3. Become comfortable with disagreements. To disagree with your spouse is healthy and normal. But disconnecting because your spouse doesn’t agree with you, disrupts a healthy self and a healthy union. Question if being right is worth breaking the connection.
4. Develop your spiritual maturity. God repeatedly says, “Don’t be afraid” or “Be anxious for nothing.” Relax into His love for you. Christian spiritual maturity is the foundation for a healthy self.
5. Monitor your negative self-talk. Self-hatred refuses to let love in. Perhaps your spouse doesn’t love you the way you want to be loved. But self-evaluate. Is there any attempt on your part to refuse to let love in? Whatever your belief system is, you will do whatever it takes to prove that it is true, even if it means inventing evidence that is from the imagination. For example, if you believe you are unlovable, nothing your spouse can do will ever make you feel loved. Your spouse isn’t responsible to convince you that you are loveable. Their love for you can have a positive impact on your belief system, but ultimately it is up to you if you will let love in or not. You must love you.
6. You take responsibility to re-wire your brain. Remember, we were wired for love (or not) during those first three to five years of life. If that wiring did not go well, you have to participate in wiring your brain for love. Very little will change or help you in the growth process unless you take personal responsibility, create a positive structure for change, and engage the help of others such as coaches, comrades, and mentors.
7. Decide to trust that God is the master of rewiring our brains, hearts, and bodies for love. He is more than able. He promises to engage with us in this process … will you engage with Him?
8. Your past does not define your future. Changes begin to happen, when you start living from the belief of Christ within you. You instinctively calm down, anxiety lowers; love grows, because it is Christ inside of you doing His good and perfect work.
9. We are created for relationships. We are relational creatures, with a need to be rooted in relationships with God first and others second. We get into trouble relationally when we become dependent on others for our self-worth and when we expect others to calm our personal anxiety. The outcome of this is a needy and clingy self that pushes others away—believing relationships are too painful.
10. The more we are able to stand securely with our identity in Christ, the more love we are capable of giving and receiving. Love isn’t a feeling, love truly is an ability.
If a relationship has become enmeshed, sometimes you have to move away from the other to learn how to stand on your own two feet. Once you have become more stable, you are then ready to move towards the relationship as a healthy differentiated self. And the better self-differentiated you are, the more you are able to let those you love in. You are less insecure and more able to ask for what you need in a direct, clear way, in this growth process. For example, you ask for comfort, instead of attacking your partner and saying things like, “You are never there for me.” The healthy self, does not freeze up and shut down or move away from the other in a way that resembles withdrawal. Withdrawal isn’t helpful in becoming a healthy person. Neither is attack. Health is the ability to let the love of others in.
Thought Bomb: Which tip resonates with you the most, and how can you begin practicing it today?
In learning that I was a powerful person, I realized I had a choice to use that power like Jesus does, for the good of others, or to use that power for the destruction of others. Jesus models how to use personal power for the good of others.
Jesus is our Savior, but He doesn’t enable us. In the gospels, when someone wanted something from Jesus, He asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” His questions helped people practice becoming a healthy self by taking personal responsibility to ask for what they wanted. Scripture says, “You do not have because you do not ask God” (James 4:2 NIV). Jesus wants us to be assertive and to learn how to ask for what we desire, without demand or entitlement.
Jesus invites people to follow Him, but He never uses coercion. He is not a bully. Jesus says, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me” (Revelation 3:20 NIV). He doesn’t kick the door in or threaten us with hell and damnation. He doesn’t demand loyalty. He made us in His image with free will and choice; He chose us and He invites us to choose Him. Sadly, some people do not honor free will and use it destructively. Thus the brokenness we see in our world and why we have to set limits with others and ourselves.
Jesus always uses His power for the good of others. He is not a victim. He chose to die on the cross for our sins, was buried, and rose again—victorious! He empowers people. God has a limitless supply of power, and He shares that power with His children. Surrendering your personal power to Jesus releases His love to flow from you to your relationships. That is exactly how Jesus chose to live His life on earth. His personal power was submitted to His loving Father and then He used that power for our good.
Thought Bomb: How are you using your power?
Imagine with me for a moment you want to practice something different in your marriage. Imagine you decided to work on your selfhood, becoming the best you that you can be by committing daily to the growth process and dedicating yourself to the freedom, the maturity, and the welfare of your spouse. Imagine if you stopped focusing on what doesn’t work in your marriage and focused on your marital strengths, embracing yourself and your spouse as two powerful people with competencies to build a beautiful union. Imagine how delightful your marriage would become if you celebrated one another’s differences instead of trying to conform your spouse to your image of how he or she should be. Imagine what it would look like to create the type of marriage that is rich with sexual passion because your understanding of sexuality has matured past fear of intimacy into being freely naked and unashamed. Lastly, imagine a marriage with two fully self-differentiated and healthy individuals nourishing and cherishing one another the way Christ does His bride.
Invite the word of God to be your compass for developing love in your life and marriage relationship. The Bible commands the weak to declare that they are strong (Joel 3:10) and says that the power of life and death is in the tongue (Proverbs 18:21). 1 Corinthians 13 is a powerful declaration. Consider its truth as you read the verses in a personalized way, replacing the word “love” with “I.”
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NIV personalized), “I am patient, I am kind. I do not envy, I do not boast, I am not proud. I do not dishonor others, I am not self-seeking, I am not easily angered, I keep no record of wrongs. I do not delight in evil but rejoice with the truth. I always protect, always trust, always hope, always persevere.”
Marriage will challenge you. It isn’t for the faint hearted, the weak of character, or those who give up easily. The reason it isn’t easy? Anything of value requires character. Character requires growth. And growth requires maturity.
Ron and I pray you will experience the kind of love and depth of connection that we have grown together over the years.
Thought Bomb: What new thoughts can you imagine for your marriage today?
A recent talk from Nancy Houston where she teaches about how to have a healthy human sexuality.
I have discovered the most profound truth you could ever realize and incorporate into your heart is—Jesus loves you. This trust is vital because many couples find they marry for love, and for the feelings of love, without realizing they are already loved. In Christ’s secure love, we lack nothing; we have a solid attachment even when our spouse doesn’t seem solid. When we fully open our hearts to the truth of God’s lavish gift giving, love being the greatest of these gifts, then we can truly base our marriage relationship on love and desire instead of need and desperation.
Once we know we are loved, we can develop a healthy sense of self. It is vital to grow a healthy self in order to have a healthy marriage. Two healthy “I’s” create the greatest possibility of becoming a healthy “we.” If any of us want a better marriage, we have to be committed to the personal growth process. Marriage is an invitation to open our minds to think new thoughts about marriage and open our hearts to allow God’s truth to shape our beliefs. Whatever the state of your marriage, it can grow. It only takes one willing person to change the dynamics in a marriage. You can be the spark that lights the fire of your own marriage.
Becoming a healthy “we” starts with becoming a healthy “me” and becoming your best, healthiest, God-authored self is a continual growth process. None of us is ever finished. Make sure you are giving yourself permission to be on this journey. Give your spouse room to grow too. Don’t beat yourself by thinking, “I am such a mess. Where do I even start?” Beating yourself up won’t help. You have done the best you could with what you have been given. We all have to start somewhere.
Isaiah 41:10, “Don’t panic. I’m with you. There’s no need to fear for I’m your God. I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you. I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you.”
Thought Bomb: How are you loving, encouraging, and de-shaming your own life?
Sex is a gift from God, created to bond a married couple and to reflect His nature, but it isn’t always easy to navigate two bodies becoming one. About the time you think you have it figured out, something can challenge a couple to revisit its purpose. Sex is about intimacy—connection and pleasure—not just about the physical act.
Sex is celebrated and encouraged, throughout scripture. God encourages Adam and Eve to consummate their marriage. This happened before they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, before sin ever entered the world. In the Song of Solomon, God celebrates sexual passion and pleasure. In scripture, He encourages couples to come together frequently and declares the marriage bed pure (Hebrews 14:3). He also says, “The marriage bed must be a place of mutuality—the husband seeking to satisfy his wife, the wife seeking to satisfy her husband” (1 Corinthians 7:3-4). Sex is meant to be a beautiful, mutual, celebration of husband and wife, made in the image of God enjoying all that He created, including the ability to make love and become one flesh.
For sex to become a loving, tender, mutual experience for the husband and the wife, we have to learn to understand our differences and keep the focus on connection and pleasure. Sex is more than skin on skin, more than intercourse and orgasm. Sex penetrates our souls and bonds us to one another. And what is needed is a healthy view of sex.
Thought Bomb: How are you connecting with your spouse?
Nothing is more defeating than believing that we are powerless, yet, too many of us have lived life feeling just that—powerless. We feel powerless over the condition of our relationships, our finances, and our future. And worst of all this is completely the opposite of how God intends us to live our lives. Powerless people tend to blame everyone else for their messes in life. And they don’t connect the difficulties in their lives with their own choices, someone else is always to blame for the life they are living. Sadly, they don’t believe they have the power to change or make choices that will impact their future for the good. Powerless people are fueled by fear and they create an environment of anxiety wherever they go. Often they use control and manipulation to communicate to others “they better submit—or else!”
The world sees power in limited supply. Because of this perspective of lack, people scramble to increase their personal power using manipulation, control, and competition. The lie is that there is not enough power to go around. There is plenty! When an individual battles for power, they try to get their way by using attack, withdrawal, and threats. These tactics result in an empty victory and are relationally detrimental.
When a person chooses to empower and serve others, they begin to experience healthy relationships. No longer are they driven by fear and lack, now they believe they have power over situations instead of situations having power over them. As St. Irenaeus said, “The glory of God is man fully alive.” We are only fully alive when we begin to see ourselves as able to make decisions, affect our relationships, and have a hand in our future.
Thought Bomb: How are you empowering those you are in relationship with?
Being rooted in Christ is the only way to create a healthy self. Our worth is found in Him and, as His child, our value and worth are established and confirmed. Growing a healthy self is how we are able to connect and attach to one another. Jesus said, “love others as well as you love yourself” (Mark 12:31). The truth is, you will only allow the amount of love in that you have for yourself. I am not talking about a narcissistic, destructive self-love, I am talking about loving yourself so you have the ability to love others and receive the love they have for you.
Life is to be lived by actively responding to God’s invitation to live our own story. We are not designed to passively stand on the outside of ourselves looking in, hoping and waiting for things to change. God wants us to take responsibility for the life He gives us and, with Him, become the healthy person He designed us to be. Becoming a healthy self is when you start living from the inside out. You own your own emotions, behaviors, and attitudes. And you take personal responsibility, realizing that you truly only have control over yourself. The more of a solid self you grow, the less dependent you are for the approval and acceptance of others. The less solid self, will adjust what he/she thinks, says, and does in the attempt to please others.
Practice doesn’t make perfect, but good news, perfect is not our goal! Perfectionism will never bring happiness—it’s a deception that only brings dissatisfaction—plus, the bondage of perfectionism doesn’t allow us to humbly admit that we are wonderfully imperfect and have a lot to learn about love and life. Be willing to put in the hard work to grow a more beautiful you. A “God-authored self” is a continual growth process. None of us is ever finished. So make sure you are giving yourself permission to be on this journey. Don’t beat yourself by thinking, “I am such a mess. Where do I even start?” We all have to start somewhere and, thankfully, we aren’t alone.
Thought Bomb: Are you passionately committed to growing a healthy-self?
Scripture teaches us to love our neighbor as ourselves. But did you ever consider that love, empathy, and kindness start with you? Practicing self-empathy, self-kindness, and self-love are foundational for healthy relationships with others. If we can’t receive empathy for ourselves, then we will be incapable of giving it to others.
Another way we can empower our relationships is by getting into community. God wired you for attachment. Adults need attachment as desperately as an infant does. You were never intended to do life alone. That is part of the purpose of relationships. God wanted you to have secure attachments throughout your adult life—individuals who know and love you just as you are—with no shame.
But re-wiring our brains and transforming our hearts, is a process. The enemy of every healthy relationship is shame. And toxic shame doesn’t go away overnight. Sometimes, I feel relatively shame-free and then something can happen and a critical judge inside of me takes over and tells me how deficient I am. When this happens, I choose to reach out to others and share my failures. I stop and allow Jesus to remind me who I am in Him, and I practice letting love in. I also monitor that critical judge and refute the critical voice with empathy and lovingkindness towards myself. Shame is the great kidnapper of humanity and keeps us from living the empowered, relational life Jesus longs for us.
Thought Bomb: How has shame affected your role in community, and how can you actively de-shame your life each day?