Is it healthy and appropriate for wives to take the lead when it comes to lovemaking? My husband and I enjoy a fulfilling and satisfying sex life, but that's one thing I've wondered about . There are times when I desire physical intimacy, but I have doubts about whether it's right for me to get things started. I guess I've always felt that should be the man's place. What are your thoughts?
This can be a sensitive and complex problem in cases where the husband is "sexually anorexic" because of addiction to pornography. Excessive exposure to impersonal sexual images tends to desensitize a man to genuine physical intimacy. As a result, it causes him to lose interest in his wife. In some instances he may even "shut down" sexually. Among other things, this is a way of manipulating her and exercising control over the marriage. If this is your situation, we'd advise you to proceed with caution. Seek out the assistance of a trained marriage therapist.
If, on the other hand, porn is not an issue in your marriage, your struggles may be nothing more than the result of biblical misunderstandings, cultural stereotypes, and misguided notions about marital sex. We're assuming that this may be the case since you've indicated that your sex life is on the whole enjoyable and fulfilling. Let's take a look at some of these stereotypes and misunderstandings.
It's true that God has made man "male and female" (Genesis 1:27) and that the sexes are distinct from one another in some profoundly important ways. Among other things, men and women approach physical intimacy differently. It's also true that the Lord has appointed the husband to serve as leader and initiator in every aspect of marriage. This includes the sexual arena. Even from a biological standpoint, the female is designed to function primarily as the receptor in the sexual act. But none of this implies that women can't express themselves sexually in a free and spontaneous manner. That would be a serious misinterpretation of the biblical standard. Stereotypes of this kind can do a disservice to both husbands and wives. They rob couples of a vital source of joy and satisfaction and place on them heavy burdens of unnecessary guilt.
Nor is this the only source of confusion. In some Christian circles, people have the idea that a godly, pure-hearted, spiritually minded wife maintains a sort of chaste and respectable disinterest in sex. This is based largely on a misunderstanding of the apostle Paul's teachings on the subject of the "flesh" (Greek sarx). "Flesh," according to Paul, does not refer to the physical human body. It denotes the old sin nature in man. The inherent goodness of the body and of the pleasures of sexual intercourse is solidly established in the Bible's account of creation (Genesis 1:27, 28; 2:23-25). It is celebrated in Solomon's Song. It is spiritually fulfilled in the New Testament's recurring references to marriage as a fitting image of the relationship between Christ and His Church (Ephesians 5:31-32).
In a healthy marriage, both partners should have the liberty to be honest and authentic with each other. This includes the freedom to express feelings and desires, sexual and otherwise, in open, transparent, and non-manipulative ways. The Bible frankly acknowledges that both husband and wife have needs and longings for physical intimacy. Each should respect these needs and longings in the other and do his or her best to meet and satisfy them: "Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control" (I Corinthians 7:3-5).
Biblically speaking, then, it's good, healthy, right, proper, and appropriate for both marriage partners to take an active role in initiating sexual relations. This will vary according to circumstances and each spouse's mood, feelings, and desires. Here, if anywhere, a couple's relationship should be characterized by the give-and-take of a dance. The important thing is to maintain the kind of mutual affection and respect that enables you to be open and honest with one another.
Among other things, this means taking time to talk about sex outside the bedroom. Remember that in marital sex the two of you are co-creating something that is radically exclusive and uniquely your own. It's a painting, a tapestry, a work of art that requires active input from both parties. It's all about you and your spouse becoming who you want to be together. So be creative, set yourself free, and use your imagination.
If you think it might be helpful to discuss these ideas at greater length with a member of the Focus team, our staff counselors would consider it a privilege to speak with you over the phone. They can also provide you with referrals to Christian marriage counselors and sex therapists practicing in your local area. You can contact them for a free consultation at this number. They'll be happy to assist you in any way they can.
In this iQuestions video from Focus on the Family, Debra Taylor offers encouragement and reassurance to wives who may feel awkward at initiating lovemaking with their husbands.
The Gift of Sex: A Guide to Sexual Fulfillment (book)
Intimate Issues: Twenty-One Questions Christian Women Ask about Sex (book)
Passionate Commitment - An organization directed by Dr. Clifford and Joyce Penner that offers resources and seminars to educate couples and guide them toward the goal of achieving healthy sexuality.
Marriage Alive - The Web site of Dave and Claudia Arp, a husband and wife team who strive to help couples build better marriages and families.
Love and Respect - This ministry offers materials, articles, and conferences designed to help those already married to enrich their relationship and for those considering marriage to prepare for the journey together.