When Sex Gets in the Way of Pursuing Intimacy

God created you with the need, desire, and capacity for intimacy. When you said “I do” you expected intimacy, including sexual intimacy, to be a big part of your marriage. However intimacy is sorely lacking, and you may think that having sex again would fix things. But sometimes sex actually gets in the way of pursuing intimacy.

Many of the spouses and couples I work with come for help with a troubled or absent sex life. There may be some couple out there where simply having sex again will solve things, but I have yet to meet that couple. Without exception, in every case I’ve seen the couple’s troubled sex life is a symptom of troubles deeper in the relationship.

As a physician, when I see a patient experiencing pain I’m obligated to look for the cause. If I only medicate their pain I could easily miss the patient’s heart attack or cancer or internal bleeding. It’s the same with sex and marriage; jumping into bed without addressing the underlying marriage problems can overlook issues that could kill the marriage itself.

You may think you want sex. Or your spouse may think they want sex. God created you with a biological sex drive. But there’s a whole lot more going on when we talk about pursuing intimacy.

What Do You Really Want?

As a husband, what do you really desire from sex with your wife? If all you want is a physical release, get a manikin. I hear they make such things. If your primary reason for being married is to have a sex object, save yourself the financial and emotional angst of marriage! (In case it’s not obvious, I’m being wildly facetious.)

You want the physical release of orgasm, but you also want to feel desired, to feel like a man, to be connected and safe and excited and satisfied. Sex releases oxytocin (and other good stuff) that leads you to feel bonded to your wife; that feels good. You want to be wanted.

As a wife, why do you really want sex with your husband? You have biological drives, sure. But just imagine if your husband changed absolutely nothing except agreeing to a mechanical act of intercourse every x days. Like some of the women I talk with, you’d be furious! And if all you want is a conversation partner, get a girlfriend. (Again, over the top to make a point.)

So “just sex” isn’t enough. You want connection, to be seen, known, understood, safe, satisfied. You want to be desirable. And you want to be cherished, to have him seek your heart.

And if you don’t want sex, what is it you are pulling away from? Physical pain with sex can be a real problem. But almost always there’s other stuff. Perhaps you can’t stand being objectified, used, and abused any longer. Why would you open your body to someone who doesn’t care about your heart? Your spouse feels dangerous in some way. Or there are walls in your own heart from old wounds, religious baggage, etc.

Can you see why it’s not only about sex?

When Sex Too Soon Becomes Harmful

I’m not talking here about sex at too young an age; that’s for another day. I’m talking about jumping into sex too soon after trust in a relationship has been broken, or when there is serious unfinished business between you.

If a spouse is walking through recovery from sex addiction (porn or some other variety), they may feel that regular sex with their spouse will somehow solve their addiction. That is simply not true. On the other hand, some in that situation develop sexual anorexia, pulling back from intimacy because of shame, guilt, and pain.

Some spouses who have been betrayed by porn or an affair feel an internal (or external) pressure to jump into having sex again quickly in order to “fix” their relationship. But trying to use sex as a Band-Aid will not solve the underlying issues, and it won’t work long-term anyway.

When sex is coerced, it’s harmful.

When sex is done only out of obligation, it’s harmful.

When sex is used to manipulate or control, it’s harmful.

When sex is used as a “quick fix” while ignoring deeper issues, it’s harmful.

When sex happens without real measures of honesty, safety, and trust, it’s harmful.

Sex used in those ways requires one or both partners to erect walls around their soul even while their clothes may come off. One or both of you is not truly present. That drives you farther apart and make true intimacy more difficult. It adds to the wound in the relationship rather than healing it.

Fighting for Intimacy

Sex as God intended it to be is healing, and leads to a deeper and stronger connection between you. That kind of intimacy is worth fighting for! The enemy would love nothing greater than to use any means possible, including sex, to keep both your hearts and your bodies apart. Don’t let him win!

If you’re the spouse who is desiring sex, see yourself as the invitation. What it’s like to be married to you? Look for any barriers in your relationship and work to resolve them. Seek to understand your spouse’s perspective and their heart. BE the invitation to your spouse to come closer.

If your spouse wants sex and you’re ambivalent, consider if you can offer yourself sexually as a gift to your spouse. You don’t have to always “feel” like it. If saying Yes right now would lead you to resent your spouse, then say No! Whenever possible, say No to sex right now and still say Yes to your spouse.

And if you hate sex, if there are big marriage issues that make you resent attempts at intimacy, if you have unhealed sexual baggage from the past, deal with it. Jesus does not look at you with condemnation; He issues you an invitation. “I see you. I understand. Come, let’s deal with this!”

That’s how you fight for intimacy. And it’s worth fighting for!

Your Turn: Have you assumed having sex would fix your marriage problems? What deeper issues – either in your own soul or in your marriage – need addressing? Leave a comment below.

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Is Your Sexual “Stuff” Affecting Your Marriage?

Your relationship with your spouse is affected by your attitudes, beliefs, feelings, and history when it comes to sex. That’s why we’ve created the Sexpectations online course – to help you deal with your sexual story, find the transformation Jesus offers, and write the next chapter with hope. You can do this regardless of what your spouse does or doesn’t do.

Join me in the Sexpectations online course, and take the next step in finding the wholeness Jesus offers.