My wife and I have been married for almost a year. We’re pretty open people. We’re good at talking about sex. We’re not prudes. It’s pretty important to know that we’re not prudes when reading these reflections. These are the reflections of a young, Christian couple who are perfectly happy to talk about sex. In fact, we talk about it too much. The other important thing to know is that this comes from our experience as a Christian couple who didn’t have sex before we got married. Obviously that’s not true of everyone. We did marriage prep, which was great, and when it came to talking about sex that was fine. Really. Absolutely fine.
Except, in Christian circles you don’t really talk about sex, do you? You talk about everything surrounding sex, but not really sex itself. You talk about expectations, about being able to talk to each other, the emotional and spiritual side of it… but not the physical act of, y’know, sex. This means a couple of things: one, there’s a whole heap of learning and discovering to do. Two, at first sex is ropey at best, which bearing in mind we spend so much time (especially in Christian circles) building up the wedding night to be wondrous, exciting and magical, pretty much means your sex life can only start by falling short of expectations – hooray!
You don’t need me to tell you that we’ve got a problem with sex. Western culture is saturated with it. And those societal sexual norms creep in when it comes to doing it ourselves, whether deliberate or not. The biggest example of this is the orgasm – we’re obsessed by it. All conversations or depictions of sex revolve around the orgasm. This isn’t me talking as someone with a porn problem (which again is orgasm-obsessed) but this is tv shows, films, conversations about and allusions to sex – all of these revolve around moment of climax. Sex has become framed as an activity to be completed – did you orgasm or not? Was it successful? We’ve diluted this beautiful, intimate thing down to a box-ticking exercise.
All of which makes it pretty tricky when one (or both) of you doesn’t orgasm, which was something that happened to us. We weren’t sure what we each liked and didn’t like, what worked for us and what didn’t, so sometimes, we never reached that moment. Which, in hindsight is fine, but at the time it felt like failure.
Haven’t we got a better story to tell? Could we try and subvert society’s shallow enshrinement of the orgasm? It seems to me that the biblical view on sex is far more focused on intimacy than orgasm. Right from the start of Genesis, as God calls Adam and Eve together to create one flesh, sex seems to be a vehicle towards marital communion rather than the end in and of itself.
THE PARADIGM SHIFT
This is where Church and wider culture are so different. While society, in everything from Lynx adverts to makeover shows tells us that sex is the answer to most of your problems, the Church tells us not to talk about it, and that we should feel guilty when we should. We might do an annual sex talk with our young people, but the lack of teaching and conversation about sex from the pulpit impies that once you get out the other side of purity, the Church has nothing to say about your sex life. The purity movements of the last half-century, rather than giving opportunities to talk openly and frankly about sex, have pushed those conversations aside. You end up with a situation where all your fears and worries about sex are put in a box, before they all tumble out on your wedding night.
We’ve constructed this horribly binary experience where sex goes from unacceptable to something to be incredibly excited about overnight. It’s like Peter getting the vision from God and being fed bacon sandwiches, sausages, black pudding and pork scratchings straight away – there’s going to be some residual confusion and guilt. This isn’t to say we should continue to abstain for a while, but we need to talk about this paradigm shift when it happens.
There’s also the physical side of it. Like I said, I’m not someone with a porn problem, but I have (obviously?) masturbated. And as anyone will tell you, immediately following that moment of solitary climax comes the regret, guilt and shame – why did I just do that? Similarly, in those moments of weakness before getting married, where we went a little bit further than we’d like, those moments led to the guilt pangs.
All of which means that this link is created between the moment of orgasm and feelings of regret and shame – and this association doesn’t just disappear overnight once you’re married.
IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU
Here’s the thing about sex that definitely no one told me: it’s not that easy. Like, on the most basic level, it’s pretty easy – that goes there – but beyond that, it’s not immediately simple, it can be painful, it doesn’t happen as smoothly as it does in films.
The other thing is, that it’s really, really not about you. Or in my case, it really wasn’t about me. My previous (solo) sexual experiences were about me – satisfying my desires, getting from A to B. But sex isn’t like that, it’s about intimacy, it’s about the other person and satisfying their desires.
At the risk of being overly personal, sex is definitely at its best when you find a rhythm and together, when you both arrive as it were, together. In our limited experience, the best orgasms are definitely the ones when two of them occur at the same time, and this means being less focused on reaching my own personal nirvana, but instead focusing on both of us. This then radically reshapes the way we view our wider relationship – it becomes about how best the two of us work together and find contentment together, rather than two individuals searching for our own personal sense of self-fulfillmen
Obviously a load of this stuff will be obvious for those readers already married, or those with more sexual experience. But how many of us who ‘saved ourselves’ for marriage (eugh) had these conversations before we got married? How many of us knew what we were letting ourselves in for?
This all feels a little bit ‘woe is us’, and that would be an untrue picture to paint. In other words, don’t worry readers, we’re getting there. It’s not perfect, there are still plenty of times sex is leading to disappointment and arguments (by far the least dignified way to have an argument is when naked and out of breath) but the journey and exploration has been brilliant and life-giving. It’s created intimacy and stripped away and kind of post-marital pretence we were holding onto. It’s, quite literally, stripped us bare in all the right ways.
I’ll tell you the final thing I’ve learnt – I’ve never been so convinced that waiting to have sex was the right thing. Our early marital sex life has been a chaotic, painful, occasionally difficult learning experience, and that was all with the person I’ve chosen to spend the rest of my life with.
The idea of doing all of that with someone I’m not intimate with, with someone I don’t love and am committed to is genuinely terrifying. There’s no one I’d rather learn about sex with than my wife, I just wish we’d learned some of this stuff a bit earlier.