A book about sex isn’t for everyone. It can’t be — and it shouldn’t be.
Many of you know that my co-author Gary Thomas and I recently published a book called Married Sex. We took turns writing different chapters, adding our own individual and professional perspectives and opinions to the conversation about sex in marriage. With that in mind, I wanted to take some time to reiterate who this book is for vs. who it’s not for.
Throughout the book, we make reference to a crucial point in the conversation about sex: a book about sex should be read in and only in the context of a healthy marriage (we make frequent references about this throughout the book, i.e. pg. 23. “The advice isn’t absolute — it’s specific to a healthy marriage with both spouses committed to the truth of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7”, pg. 84 “We’re referring to the average healthy married couple and the importance of seeing your role in your personal arousal. We’re not referring to broken and abusive relationships, and in no way are we implying that one spouse is responsible for another spouse’s sins and struggles. In cases of addictions, adultery, pornography use, deceit, and the like, your personal responsibility is not to make your sex life better but to set clear boundaries and limits and take care of your emotional, physical, and mental health”). Time and time again, we remind the reader that this advice isn’t a one-size-fits all approach. It can’t be. No marriage advice should ever claim that. But I want to take the time to make that point even more clear right here.
Healthy relationships. That’s where it has to start. When you have a healthy relationship in which you feel safe, loved, and cherished — you can build on that. When you don’t, the words fall flat because there’s nothing to build on.
The truth is, even the words of Scripture — if taken out of context and applied to an unhealthy marriage situation end up causing more harm. For example, Philippians 2:3 which calls us to “think of others as being better than yourselves” can help to cure our personal selfishness when applied to the context of a person who is listening to the Holy Spirit and trying to become healthier, but should never be applied to the context of a broken or abusive marriage or used to keep a spouse powerless and stuck. How you take content and apply it to your life and the life of others matters. It will either empower you, or hurt you. And taking the content in context matters even more. Some of you know the personal sting of content like this being taken out of context and used to hurt and manipulate and tear down….and for that I’m truly sorry. My heart goes out to those of you who have been hurt by misapplied information and misquoted Scriptures.
Working on your sex life, instead of working on your personal life and health and wellbeing- is not — and never will be — the answer. It will only make the problems worse. In chapter 14 of Married Sex, I spend some time camping out on the reality that sometimes our “sex problems” are actually relationship problems in disguise. Trying to focus on the sex, without focusing on the actual health (or lack thereof) of the relationship is neither effective or helpful. Here are some of the things I mention (from pg 204-205, Married Sex)
Your sex problem might actually be a relationship problem IF…(this applies to either spouse)
- Sex is something you fight about often, but the fighting ends in tension and bitterness rather than resolution and intimacy.
- You feel like sex is the only time you physically or emotionally connect as a couple.
- When you feel hurt, you use sex to cover up the relationship problem rather than talk about it and deal with it.
- You find yourself blaming your spouse and harboring resentment for the sexual problems in your marriage.
- Your sexual struggles have gotten so bad you think about leaving the marriage or imagine what it would be like being with someone else.
- Your sexual struggles have led to fantasizing about others or engaging in pornography or masturbation.
- You commonly see sex as a duty and an obligation rather than something you want to enjoy with your spouse or a way to express your affection.
- You have no interest in sex, and frankly, very little interest in your spouse in general.
- You’ve experienced serious relationship wounds like adultery, addictions, or abuse in your past that seem to be triggered by sex.
- You feel anxious and uncomfortable around your spouse during sex and find yourself filled with insecurities.
- You never feel aroused by your spouse or interested in them sexually.
- You go into sexual intimacy with the automatic assumption that it’s not going to be a good experience.
- The only time you touch or kiss is when you’re having sex.
- You’re generally disengaged from what your spouse is feeling. They have to express some monumental emotion for you to notice.
- You’re no longer curious about each other — what your spouse has done during the day, how they are feeling, how you can help them, what their opinion would be.
- You can’t remember the last time you laughed together.
- You dread the thought of being alone together for any significant period of time other than when you’re sleeping.
Let me start by saying that this is not an exhaustive list, but just a list to get you thinking about the health of your relationship. You deserve a healthy relationship where you feel loved, honored, and cherished — and just because you’re a Christian or married to one, doesn’t mean your relationship is automatically going to be healthy. You hear me say that all the time, but I’ll say it again and again and again.
Some of these things above might seem obvious to some of you, that this is a relationship problem not a sex problem, but they aren’t obvious to everyone. Sometimes, we can get so used to what’s familiar, rather than what’s healthy. If your relationship is struggling, that’s where you have to start. Sometimes, this means couples counseling where both people in the relationship are working on themselves. But other times, if one spouse is not willing to go, that means getting yourself plugged in with a counselor who can help you get to the roots, protect yourself from harm, set limits and boundaries, and start to heal and move forward even while standing alone.
Secondly, I think it’s important to say it again here that sex advice (in this book and in fact most others) shouldn’t be applied to broken and abusive relationships. In cases of addictions, adultery, pornography use, deceit, and the like, your personal responsibility is not to make your sex life better — but to set clear boundaries and limits, and take care of your emotional, physical, and mental health, and get yourself safe. Your personal responsibility is not to make your sex life better or even your marriage better — it’s to take care of yourself. For those of you who have been reading my writings, this is nothing new for you as you’ve heard me say it time and again before. But for those who are new to me, I want to make sure to be as clear as I can.
Get yourself plugged into counseling and surround yourself with people who can help you receive the healing and support you need. Being in a marriage where porn is rampant, where you don’t feel cherished and loved, where you’re either feeling neglected or used is completely unacceptable. You deserve better, you were made for better, and God wants better for you. It is not only good, but it is right for you to expect more out of marriage, and to set limits and boundaries to protect yourself.
Who is this book for? After having reiterated the above, I want to put it simply: this book is for the couple who feels safety, security, trust, and reciprocal love in their marriage. There’s no such thing as a perfect marriage, but there is such a thing as a safe one. It’s for the couple who believes they have a safe and healthy marriage, but want to work on making their sex life better. It’s for the couple who both fully trust and believe in the overwhelming love of Jesus — and they both see that love clearly overflowing into their marriage.
A good sex life has to be the overflow of a healthy marriage. Because it can never, ever work the other way around.
DEBRA FILETA is a Licensed Professional Counselor, national speaker, relationship expert, and author of Choosing Marriage and True Love Dates, and Love In Every Season, and Are You Really OK?, and Married Sex. She’s also the host of the hotline style Love + Relationships Podcast. Her popular relationship advice blog, TrueLoveDates.com, reaches millions of people with the message of healthy relationships. Connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, or Twi