Bringing Back Sexual Love to Our Marriages

May 2005

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). This statement with which God instituted marriage obviously is a key to the Christian understanding of marriage. It is so important that Jesus and Paul also quoted it (Matt. 19:5; Mark 10:7; 1 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 5:31). According to this verse a tie of exclusive oneness is the key to marriage. It is a tie even closer than that between parent and child.

The verse also says, “And they shall become one flesh.” In other words, a key aspect of marital unity is physical or sexual unity. The Bible has a lot to say about sexual love and physical unity. It is a very important part of marriage, and is portrayed in the Bible, especially in the Song of Solomon, as something very beautiful and enjoyable. However, I believe that many Christians in Sri Lanka have absorbed wrong ideas about sex which are found in our culture, and that this is very dangerous to Christian marriages.

Please note that I am saying in the article that sexual relations are vital to a fulfilled marriage. I am not saying that they are vital to a fulfilled life. Those who are not married can experience the fullness which Christ came to give humans (John 10:10). But once one is married, the sexual side becomes an important part of the relationship, and thus it must be viewed as a thing that is very important.

Even within marriage sometimes couples are unable to enjoy sexual relations because of sickness or some such reason. But they too could still enjoy physical intimacy. Touch is a wonderful way of expressing sexual love, and there is much joy associated with that when it is backed by love for each other. Then there is the issue of geographical separation where married couples live in different places for short or long periods of time. Here there is the call to self control. All this reminds us that sex is not a biological necessity. You can be a completely fulfilled person without a sexual relationship. But we affirm that sexual relationships are an important part of God’s plan for a normal marriage.

Many couples in Sri Lanka stop having sexual relations after “sufficient children” are born. This puts a severe strain on the marriage relationship, especially on the man. So in our villages there is rampant sexual activity by men outside marriage, and sometimes by women also. Christians do not believe this is right, so a huge strain is placed on them; and sadly many succumb to sexual temptation. We must remember, of course, that the Bible views adultery as a terrible crime similar to murder. Therefore in the Old Testament the death penalty is decreed for adultery. Under no circumstances is it acceptable for Christians even though the media is presenting it as a normal aspect of life in society.

The Bible is alert to the possibility of serious problems if couples neglect their sexual relationship. Paul says, “So do not deprive each other of sexual relations. The only exception to this rule would be the agreement of both husband and wife to refrain from sexual intimacy for a limited time, so they can give themselves more completely to prayer. Afterward they should come together again so that Satan won’t be able to tempt them because of their lack of self-control” (1 Cor. 7:5—NLT). In other words, Satan loves when Christian couples do not have regular sexual relations because then he can tempt them with alternate forms of sexual gratification. And today, especially with the internet and videos etc., there are plenty of such forms on offer.

Yet the primary reason for having sexual relations is not the desire to stay away from temptation. It is love. Sex is one of the most important ways to express love within marriage because one of the keys to marital love is being one flesh. Sadly, however, there are many Christian couples for whom this has never been true.

  • Sometimes the first sexual experiences during the honeymoon have not been very positive. This is why I oppose the supposedly fun activity of troubling couples during their first night together. Our refusal to do so is a statement that physical intimacy between husband and wife is very important and a primary aspect of marriage. Because of initial problems during the first sexual experiences there is a fear or wounds which act as a deterrent to future enjoyment of sex in marriage. And sometimes the affects of this are seen all through their life together. Because they are shy to talk about it with others they do not get the help that could easily remedy this situation.

  • Sometimes sexual relations are not an expression of love but rather an expression of the selfishness of the husband who forces himself on an unwilling wife without thinking about her wishes and her pleasure. My wife has encountered women who refer to sexual relations as “karathara karanawa” (Sinhala for “he troubles me”).

  • As a man’s sense of self-worth is closely tied up with his sexual performance, some men have bad feelings about sex because their wives resist their advances. They feel humiliated by the rejection and develop a bad attitude to sex.

  • People work so hard in our busy world that often at the end of the day they are too tired to think about sex. This has become a serious problem all over the world.

I believe that looking at sex as an expression of love ordained by God to make us happy and united will solve most of these problems. Let’s apply this to the four situations described above.

  • Those who have had bad sexual experiences at the start of their marriage would, because of love for each other, be very eager to change that situation so that they can give expression to this summit of enjoying physical intimacy. So they will try new things, read up about sex, ask someone they could trust or go for formal counselling so that they could solve the problem and enjoy love through sex.

  • The sex act is not an act of selfishness at night but the culmination of physical and other expressions of love that take place all through the day. Loving touching, caring, speaking kindly, helping out with work are all necessary preludes to the sex act. And the sex act itself, being an expression of love, becomes an occasion for both husband and wife to devote themselves to enjoying the other. They will spend the time that it takes in order that it may happen. Deep down the conviction that drives them is, “When my spouse is happy I am also happy.” So they are dedicated to bringing enjoyment to the other and to themselves. They listen to the other’s emotional and sexual heartbeat and seek to bring maximum joy to him or her.

  • A husband who loves his wife would never want to do anything that would hurt her or to thrust himself on her. Therefore if he finds that she is not ready for sex he will not force himself on her. This will result in an initial blow to the ego which Satan will try to use for his purposes. But that is soon overcome by loving concern for his tired or stressed out wife. On the other hand, the wife will not keep rejecting his advances. Loving couples often find that while sometimes tiredness or stress is a hindrance to their initiating sex, soon love takes over, and they enjoy a wonderful time together. So she will not keep on rejecting every attempt at sex.

  • Married people who are committed to sex as an important aspect of their walk with the Lord would find the time out of their busyness for this. In other words, when scheduling their lives in order to fulfil their obligations, they would include sex as one of these obligations and make sure that time is separated for that.

But deep down what lies at the heart of a happy sex life is a happy love life. It would be deeply dissatisfying to have sex just as a physical act if there is no emotional and mental unity. We must be aware that the media is presenting us the lie that there can be true enjoyment without committed love. That will perhaps give a kick; but not real enjoyment!

When we are committed to achieving this happiness through exclusive love and physical unity, we will talk through issues if there is a problem. But more importantly, each spouse has as one of his or her primary ambitions in life the deep desire to make the other happy. That is a key indicator of true love. The husband is always asking, “How can I make my wife happy.” And the wife is always asking, “How can I make my husband happy.” Of course, this is not as self-sacrificing as it seems, for we could never be truly happy if those we are close to us are not happy.

Sometimes, after the children are born, the affection that was once directed towards the spouse is directed towards the children, and the spouse is neglected. But this is bad for the children. One of the keys to the healthy growth of a child is a harmonious relationship between the father and the mother. People often struggle to accept God’s love for them and to trust other people when they have not seen deep, trusting and self-sacrificing love at home between mother and father. It is still true that “the best way a father could love his children is to love their mother.”

We are facing a huge challenge to the Christian understanding of holiness today. We are being bombarded with a message which says that the way to happiness is not through holiness but through what Christians would call “sinful pleasure.” We, however, believe that at the heart of authentic humanness is the need for committed relationships. We believe that true satisfaction and joy is found here. This is the way Christian community operates. And one of the key ways to experience the joys of committed relationships is through the marriage bond.

We believe that being totally committed to one’s spouse for life opens the door to a truly happy life and real, deep and satisfying enjoyment. The world is presenting us with a different model. In the media we are seeing sex separated from committed love, and a message is being communicated that this is where real satisfaction is found. It is a lie! But we must show it to be the lie that it is by demonstrating in our marriages the depth of joy that can come only through exclusive, committed and undying love.

The day after I wrote this article I visited the homes of two of our staff workers and also the home of a former staff worker who is now a pastor. They are struggling to raise young families with limited financial resources and the huge strain of not having enough time and energy. I thought, “Where would these people have energy left for sex and romance?” Then I remembered that the love we have for our spouses is primarily not our own. Even in marriage, “We love because [God] first loved us” (1 John 4:19). If we receive God’s love daily we would face each day with the freshness and joy of having been loved and we would have the strength to look beyond the present pressures (even though they may be huge) and reach out to our spouses in love.

What a difference the love of Christ makes in our lives! Every day it gives us a reason to be happy, and every day it frees us from bondage to circumstances and gives us a motivation to reach out to our loved ones with joyous affection. Whatever we do without in life, may we never lose our vital connection with the love of God!

Ajith Fernando

Youth for Christ/Sri Lanka