John Fuller: Today on Focus on the Family we’re talking about marital intimacy which is a topic not appropriate appropriate for younger listeners. Here’s Dr. Cliff Penner.
Dr. Cliff Penner: The message we’re trying to get across here is that the greatest gift a woman can give her husband is to enjoy herself sexually, because there’s nothing that makes a man feel better than the woman who is experiencing full joy and pleasure in the experience, rather than just doing her duty for him.
End of Excerpt
John: Today, we’re gonna help you in your marriage and your host is Focus author and President Jim Daly; I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, here at Focus, we believe it is important to talk about intimacy, because it’s something that God designed for you as a woman and as a man. AndHe has a plan within the context of marriage for you to experience that. And He wants you to both enjoy sex within that context of marriage. Sadly, we do live in a broken world that tries to undermine the very design God has put in place. And it certainly is sweeping our kids out of God’s design and it’s taking many Christian marriages out of His design. And that’s why it’s important to talk about today. I know it’s uneasy.
We talk about spiritual intimacy. We talk about emotional intimacy, but we fidget; we get nervous when we, the church, talk about physical intimacy. Yet, God has designed it that way. We’re not surprising Him with what we do sexually in the context of marriage. He made it that way. It’s our wedding present and that is why it’s healthy for us to discuss it.
John: And if you have any questions, you’ll find resources, articles and a variety of helps at focusonthefamily.com/radio. Our guests, as I said, include Joyce Penner and her husband, Dr. Cliff Penner. They’ve devoted their lives to helping couples in this area of marriage and they’re always popular here. They’ve written a book with Focus on the Family. It’s calledEnjoy: The Gift of Sexual Pleasure for Women.
Jim: Cliff and Joyce, welcome back to Focus on the Family.
Joyce Penner: Thank you, it’s great here.
Cliff: We’re delighted to be back!
Jim: Okay, as sexual therapists, the proof is really in the pudding, so you’ve been married about 54 years, I think--
Joyce: That’s right.
Jim: So tell us, is it working? (laughter)
Cliff: So far, it’s working! (laughter) We’re just eager for the next 10-15 years.
Jim: Yeah, that’s fantastic! And what do you think is that one key ingredient that you’ve experienced, not as sex therapists, but as believers bound in marriage for 54 years-- happily--I see the smiles on your faces! It’s genuine! What is that one thing that you guys have done well?
Joyce: Well, I think it’s gonna have to be two.
Jim: Okay, what’s the two things?
Joyce: I think the idea that we did connect our spirituality with our sexuality. That we believed right from the beginning-- in fact, because we were raised in Mennonite homes where it wasn’t talked about, we spent the first year of our marriage for our joint devotional time just studying every passage in Scripture from- that talked about sex--
Joyce: --to try to figure out whether this was okay to be enjoying it. And realized that Scripture holds sex very highly as God’s design, as a way to understand how God wants to relate to us--
Cliff: So what’s the second thing?
Joyce: And the second thing is that I’m married to a wonderful husband, who is--
Jim: (laughter) You were prompting that one!
Joyce: Yeah, yeah!
Cliff: There we go! (laughter)
Joyce: Who’s very affirming in that women, for them to really enjoy sex, they have to feel good about themselves.
Jim: Ah... that’s so true...
Joyce: Whereas a man tends to respond to the woman. The woman, in a sense, responds to herself, and then shares herself with him. And when that works, it keeps itself going in a positive direction.
Jim:Let me start with the first question. Today’s discussion and next time’s discussion will be really aimed at women and we want to help women better understand what God has created with physical intimacy and I so appreciate that, because as I said in the setup, that’s one of the challenges that many womenface. In fact, some women will even describe it as they feel in their marriage it’s their duty, their responsibility. Describe why that’s not healthy to think in that term and why many women do think that way.
Joyce: That is a common thought, particularly for women who have been raised in the church, because we don’t know exactly how that interpretation of Scripture happened, but it did, to indicate that. It sort of comes across that sex is for the husband and the woman is just there to keep him happy and at home.
And long term that doesn’t work for either, because when she’s just focused on doing her duty rather than enjoying it for herself, it’s not great for him either. We’ve had men say, “Well, I guess duty is better than nothing,” but it’s not a wonderful experience when we are both to be in it to delight in each other, to enjoy each other.
And 1 Corinthians, chapter 7 is the best passage for that, but every passage in the New Testament starts with or incorporates a command for mutuality. But when we look at 1 Corinthians, chapter 7, from … reading from The Message, the paraphrase, Paul has got … answering the question from the church at Corinth, is it good to have sex … ?
Cliff: Yeah, but the church at Corinth had written, “Is it a good thing to have sexual relations?” And he says, of course, it is, but only in a certain context. Marriage is the place for that to happen and sexual drives are strong, but marriage is strong enough to contain those drives in a world of sexual disorder.
Joyce: But then it goes on to say, “Marriage must be a place of mutuality.” The husband seeking to satisfy his wife, the wife seeking to satisfy her husband. Marriage is not the place to stand up for your rights. Marriage is the place to serve the other, whether in bed or out.
Jim: Interesting.You know, I’ve often said that it seems to me that the Lord with a very simple approach, is trying to teach us something straightforward in marriage and that is, to lay your life down for your spouse--
Jim: --to become more Christ-like and—
Jim: --be selfless in that relationship, which draws you to … to a closer relationship with God, right?
Jim: I think that’s kinda fundamental, but in this area there’s so much strife, Cliff and Joyce, when it comes to physical intimacy. In fact, the way we’ve already kind of approached this, I’m sure some women are feeling guilty that they haven’t seen it as a spiritual uh … anointed thing, that you know, it’s the thing in the back yard that we don’t talk about.
Cliff: Well, and …
Jim: How do we get to a healthier place?
Cliff: Well, so often, that has grown out of the fact that as we were growing up, we got the warnings about not misusing sex, but we didn’t get the flip side, the positive side that says, this is a wonderful gift from God, that was there before there was any talk of sin in the Bible. Genesis 2:24 says, “Therefore, a man leaves his father and mother, clings to his wife and the two become one flesh.” This is about the physical, sexual union and yet, we somehow have made it that it’s not a positive part of this … of the life.
Joyce: And it’s gift, it’s a wonderful gift that God has waiting for you, rather than, “Don’t do it; it’s bad.” And we get that feeling that it’s … we never get the teaching that it’s wonderful. We just get the “Don’t do it” so …
Jim: Well, yeah and here’s the thing that we communicate and I’m just using the “we,” the larger church—
Jim: --is that when it comes to this area of sexual intimacy, that it is something wrong.
Jim: And I don’t even know if we ever flipped the switch. I remember, you know, talking to some couples where they have saved themself for marriage and they said the most difficult thing, particularly for women, was trying to flip that switch emotionally—
Jim: --which of course, women, it’s all about that emotion.
Joyce: We hear that all the time, yes.
Jim: So, the physical is secondary typically, but um … you know, that overnight, literally on their wedding night, they had to go from this chasteness, this attitude of—
Cliff: From no to yes.
Jim: --no to yes! And they say it’s not a dimmer switch. It’s like—
Jim: --wham! Now the switch is supposed to be on and it’s hard to do. How does a woman who’s feeling that kind of contrast and maybe she’s been married a few years and she still struggles with this, how does she begin to relax and say, “Okay, this is God given?”
Joyce: Well, hopefully the bookEnjoywill really help her (Laughing) and that’s what we’re hoping that it will open women to realize that when they understand how their bodies work, that God designed us as women to enjoy sex, that that’s how we’re made. And when we do, it’ll be so much better for our husbands. So, to open up and give ourselves the permission and then kinda learn to listen to our bodies and go after those feelings.
Jim: What does that mean to listen to your body?
Joyce: That’s a great question and that … we have a whole chapter on that.
Jim: My body says, I’m hungry. (Laughter) What does your body say?
Joyce: Yes-- and we listen to being hungry, but often we haven’t been … because we thought it was bad, we didn’t listen to those sexual urges. And even in kids dating, we try to teach them, your drives are strong as 1 Corinthians, chapter 7 teaches us. That’s God … how God made us. It doesn’t say they’re strong when we get married. They are strong and that’s how we’re wired.
And that’s okay. That’s good. We can listen to those feelings, but we can make choices and be in charge of those drives and make decisions not to act on those till we’re married.
Joyce: But we try to help young couples as they’re preparing for marriage, to keep the feelings alive, while they’re controlling their actions. To separate those is very helpful.
Jim: Now, the proof is in the pudding,so the test question is, how have you done it? That’s basically what you said here inEnjoy, right?
Jim: So …
Cliff: Well, let me jump in with that (Laughter) for a moment.The message we’re trying to get across here is that the greatest gift a woman can give her husband is to enjoy herself sexually, because there’s nothing that makes a man feel better than the woman who is experiencing full joy and pleasure in the experience, rather than just doing her duty for him.
So, what we try to do, both in our writing, but also in our own life, is that this is a place of fulfillment for the woman and when the woman feels fulfilled, then the man does. There’s a great passage in Ephesians 5 where Paul is talking about marriage and he talks about the husband loving his wife like Christ loved the church. And then he talks about how you lavish the woman with all this affirmation and all that. And then he ends it by saying, “But you’re really just doing yourself a favor.”
Joyce: The man.
Cliff: Why is that?
Joyce: The husband.
Cliff: A man—
Cliff: --is just doing himself a favor, because when she’s feeling good and enjoying it, he’s gonna enjoy it himself even more.
Joyce: And if we help husbands realize that she’s more likely to be able to enjoy herself and share that with him when she feels good about herself. And that’s different than men. Men respond to the woman, but the woman responds to herself in a sense and then can open up sexually. So … and he’s a great affirmer to say how we’ve done it. He’s a great affirmer. He tells me how good I look and … and he comes by and then I’m working on the book or working on a talk or whatever, how great I did it. I mean, there’s just that constant feeling that I …
Joyce: --aff ... of affirmation from him.
Jim: Yeah, that is so good. And in so many marriages today, that’s lacking because it … it becomes competitive or something.
Cliff: Well, you see what so often happens is, that the man gets into the role of trying to correct her, to … to evaluate her--
Joyce: Fix her in a sense.
Cliff: --and … and … and fix what’s wrong, which only makes her feel worse about herself—
Cliff: --which makes her feel less likely to be responsive than more likely to be interested and responsive.
Jim: Well, give us a practical example. So, for the men listening that are in that spot where they sometimes belittle their wives, you know, this isn’t the way I would expect it or how come you didn’t do this? How does he trigger himself not to do that and be more affirming, rather than denigrating?
Joyce: Uh-hm and that is a common pattern, particularly when the woman isn’t interested in sex because she doesn’t feel good about herself. Then it’s a downward spiral.
Joyce: And what we do in sexual therapy is, really try to switch that downward spiral and start fresh and say, okay, every time you’re tempted to tell her how she could do it better or buy her the next book, rather say … find something about how she was or is that you really appreciate, that you can affirm, that you can come alongside and say, “I just love how you do that with the kids.” “I just love …”
Cliff: It doesn’t even need to be of a sexual nature.
Cliff: It could be anything. The best model we have of that is in the Song of Solomon. In fact, you probably know John Ortberg. He … he suggested we should call this book,Why Solomon Sang(Laughter)--
Jim: That’s another … yeah.
Cliff: --because all he does throughout the whole book is affirm and enjoy. He tells her how gorgeous she is and how he likes this part of her body and how he likes this response that’s going on and then she gets all turned on and is inviting him. See, she’s saying, “Come on; let’s get going.”
Cliff: And … and he affirms and she invites. And …
Joyce: And that’s the model that works that we’ve really discovered as … what’s been fun for us is becoming experts in the field of sexuality is to see that Scripture fits with what works.
Joyce: Even in the secular world, what’s being taught is what Scripture affirms.
Jim: But this is the challenge and again, for couples, I think of all ages, but so good for young couples particularly to get this right—
Jim: --so that their marriages have the greatest chance of success, not just in physical intimacy, but borne out of that, too—
Jim: --is emotional intimacy, the thing that a wife typically craves so much and we’ll get to that. But it’s this linkage that you talk about in the book,Enjoyabout a person’s spirituality and their sexuality being aligned.
Jim: And again, it kinda cuts at the core of the way the church in general thinks, which is mostly negative, that you would even put those on the same plane—my spirituality and my sexuality—because that’s the closet thing we don’t talk about. Get us out of that routine and do connect it for us. Give us the best argument why you gotta connect these two.
Cliff: Okay, the best argument we feel is, that in both the Old and the New Testaments, when the writers are trying to communicate how we should understand our relationship with God, they use the marriage and—
Joyce: Sexual relationship.
Cliff: --and the sexual relationship in marriage as the picture of that.
Jim: The metaphor.
Cliff: The metaphor. There’s lots of examples of that in the Old Testament, in the New Testament, that passage in Ephesians 5 that I was talking about again, does that exactly. It’s saying …
Joyce: Where Paul quotes the Genesis, leave your father and mother, cleave to your wife and become one flesh and then says, “This is a great mystery, but I take it to mean Christ and the church.”
Cliff: And they go back and forth between the sexual relationship and the relationship with Christ. So, if there’s ever an example of how the Bible is teaching us about how to be sexually, enjoying our sexuality with our spirituality, it’s this picture of our relationship with God.
Joyce: And you asked about, how can we teach a woman to listen? And one thing we recommend is that she starts when she wakes up in the morning and thanks God for the new day and asks Him to be with her, that she thank Him for creating her as a sexual person and asks him to get with her body and feel those feelings and as she feels them, she pictures being with her husband. And it’s an all-day thing of anticipating the next time they’re together.
Jim: So often we talk in this way and I want to recognize that maybe it’s the 80-20 rule, that this is true of 80 percent of the popula[tion]. I don’t know what the number is, but a large percentage, a majority function in this way, where the husband, it’s engrained in him. He’s, you know, he’s wired with testosterone and other things to pursue. He needs that. And the wife is less interested.
Jim: And yet, sometimes the other 20 percent, it may be the wife who is actually more interested and she’s not getting that responsiveness from her husband.
Cliff: We have almost as many men come to the office reporting lack of sexual desire as we do women.
Jim: So, almost 50-50.
Cliff: And what we know is, that … that while the stereotype out there is that it’s the man who wants it all the time and the woman who doesn’t want it, there are lots—
Joyce: And we do hear—
Joyce: --that more—
Cliff: Oh, sure.
Joyce: --in the public realm.
Cliff: But there are lots of women out there who are frustrated because their husband isn’t interested. And … and this usually goes back to something that happened in their past--
Joyce: His past.
Cliff: --his past in particular that set him up in that way. It could be a medical thing. Sometimes it’s hormonal. There are a variety of reasons and … and we always try to work with that. But yes, you’re absolutely right. For those women who … out there who are saying, “Wait a sec. You’re talking about it as if I don’t want it all the time and he wants it all the time. In our family, it’s just the opposite of that.”
Joyce: And …
Jim: What can she do? Give us some practical examples of—
Jim: --what that wife can do—
Joyce: Right, well—
Jim: --who has that appetite?
Joyce: --and let’s say it’s a lot more difficult in that situation, because our finding is, that when the man lacks sexual desire, the couple isn’t having sex or having it very infrequently.
Jim: Oh, interesting.
Joyce: When the woman lacks desire, it may not affect the frequency.
Jim: Right, ‘cause the … he’ll be—
Cliff: He’ll be pursuing it.
Jim: --pursuing constantly.
Joyce: Right and so, what they really do probably need to figure out what it … what’s going on and sometimes it can help to set aside time to be together, to make the connection, for her to pursue it physically. Rather than nagging him about it, to be more physical with him … if this works. It doesn’t always work, to kiss passionately every day without demand, so, if she can do it without being demanding or nagging.
Jim: Are you describing a way to, and I mean this in a most positive sense—
Joyce: Yeah, yeah.
Jim: --kind of the enticement--
Jim: --to use other means to kind of entice your husband into having relationships with him.
Joyce: And that depends somewhat on the reason for his lack of desire.
Cliff: Yeah, sometimes—
Cliff: --sometimes he lacks desire because he feels so inadequate as a lover.
Cliff: He either feels like he’s not doing what she needs or he’s not responding in the way that he needs to. And so then, he will … will back off, ‘cause what we know about men is, that we would rather not do something than feel inadequate at something.
Jim: We’ll back up from inadequacy.
Joyce: Their need—
Joyce: --their need to not feel inadequate takes over their need for sex.
Jim: That’s how powerful it is.
Cliff: How powerful.
Jim: Think of that statement, that’s a man.
Jim: That’s how men think. Let me ask you about this, ages and stages. I know (Chuckling) just in my own experience and I’m sure everyone else’s experience, when you are a younger couple, maybe with kids that are 1-, 2-, 3-years-old, that’s a very hectic time for mom particularly.
Jim: And there’s a lot of strife that can occur in that moment of your … of your family’s life cycle, because men, their appetite hasn’t gone away.
Jim: Yet mom is feeling overwhelmed. She’s feeling really tired. What are some things that could be done in that moment for her to think that through and to understand how to manage all of that.
Joyce: Yes, the statistics show that the sexual frequency about drops in half after the first child. So, it is a drastic change and how they work that out is important.
Jim: Well, let me say this, too. With … with the men, we need to do our part to understand the environment—
Jim: --and not have an unthinkable expectation there.
Joyce: And not to come out having … being needy, ‘cause she’s got three little kids that are needy. And if he’s needy, too, it’s just one more child tugging at me.
Joyce: And it can’t feel that way. It really can’t feel that way.
Jim: Yeah, she doesn’t want another set of hands pawing at her.
Joyce: That’s right.
Jim: I mean, that’s how … you know, Jean—
Jim: --expressed that to me one time.
Jim: It’s like, you know, “Ah! Help me.”
Joyce: Yes, give me a break.
Jim: “I just need, you know, I need sleep.”
Joyce: Yes, yes and when my … when my head hits the pillow, sex is the last thing on my mind. It’s sleep. So, there are different practical solutions. One is that if the kids nap, that she tries to get a nap. And that’s hard for moms to do.
Jim: ‘Cause that’s when you’re doin’ the other stuff.
Joyce: That’s right.
Cliff: That’s when you’re gonna catch up with all that you didn’t do while the kids were awake.
Jim: Right. It’s almost an impossible task really, when you think about it.
Joyce: Yes and …
Cliff: The other things that we know is absolutely necessary is, for couples to begin to plan their sexual experiences into their life, rather than hoping that they’ll happen spontaneously. Because once you have kids or are building your business or career or whatever you’re doing, and then the second child comes along and then pretty soon, they’re adolescents who are staying up later than you and all of that stuff.
Joyce: The preschool stage and the adolescent stage are probably the most difficult—
Joyce: --for parents sex lives. (Laughter)
Cliff: But you have to design it into your life. Now a lot of people resist that idea and we say, “Well, how’s spontaneousness working out for you?” And they’ll usually say, “Not very well.” So, then we say, “Design it into your life so that you agree on it.” Yeah, we’re gonna … you know, if … if it’s the wife who’s with the children, then he’ll put the kids to bed that night while she takes a bubble bath or whatever does it for her, so that she can get with herself on that night when they’re planning to be together. And you don’t have to feel in the mood ahead of time.
Jim: Yeah, now how does that … that “want to” mom and wife not just think of that as another thing on the to-do list?
Joyce: And it may have to be that. (Laughter) And that means …
Jim: So, it may have to be just that.
Joyce: Yeah and—
Jim: And she needs to understand.
Joyce: --as long as she does it on her to-do list by decision, not by duty. And let’s explain the difference to that and I teach a lot of mothers’ classes, MOPS, Mothers—
Joyce: --of Preschoolers. And what I say it, at this stage of your life, if you’re the mom at home, you probably don’t, when he comes home from work, don’t feel like meeting him at the door and just ripping his clothes off.
Jim: (Laughing) Yeah, right.
Joyce: You know, you ‘re not gonna feel like that. But “duty” is, “Oh, my gosh. It’s been three days. I know he needs it. Now I’ve gotta do it.”
Cliff: And he’s gonna be in a bad mood if—
Joyce: If I don’t.
Cliff: --it doesn’t happen soon.
Joyce: And “decision” is, the same content, but a different approach. “You know, it’s been three days. I know it’s good for me. I know we need it. Let me plan a way that I can make it good and the best it can be given our reality.”
Jim: Well, I think today we’ve shared at least some great stories and examples on where women can begin to get into a healthier better place in their sexual relationship with their husband. There’s more to talk about though. (Laughing)
Joyce: Yes, there is.
Jim: And I want to do that. This is a wonderful resource,Enjoy: The Gift of Sexual Pleasure for Women. And we definitely want to put this book into your hands. John, how can somebody do that so they get it?
John: Well, they … they can call us. Our number is 800-232-6459 or online, we’re at focusonthefamily.com/radio. And when you get in touch, please donate to the work here at Focus on the Family. We’re a not for profit organization and we need your help to continue to provide messages like this to help strengthen marriages worldwide. And today as you donate a gift of any amount, we’ll send a copy ofEnjoy-- it’s our way of saying thank you for partnering with us.
Jim: And you can also contact us for counselors, as I said before. We’re here for you and I thank those that have donated to allow us to provide that kind of support. It’s what we’re here to do. We want your marriage to be as healthy in Christ as it can be. And don’t look the other way when it comes to sexual intimacy. I think the Penners have made a great case for why sexual intimacy and spiritual intimacy are very closely aligned and I think that is exactly the point we have tried to get across today.
Jim: Cliff and Joyce, as we sign off today, we want to come back next time and highlight your formula for intimacy, but give us a taste of that. What are you talkin’ about?
Joyce: Right, we have found that for most couples, that we need to be intentional about our sexual relationship. And it’s another way that marriage sex life is like our relationship with God. When it’s new, we’re just driven to it. But over time, we have to have some disciplines that keep us growing in our relationship with God and in our sexual relationship with each other.
Cliff: So, we have a little formula that we call a formula for intimacy that is designed to help couples keep connected, not a formula for sex, a formula for intimacy, that is that closeness that can then lead to sex.
Jim: Okay, I’m gonna … we gotta stop there and that’s for everybody tomorrow. Next time—
Jim: --tune back in and you’ll get the formula for intimacy. Let’s leave it there. I know we’re leavin’ you hangin’, but we hope you’ll join us next time, so we can talk through that formula for intimacy.
John: And for today, on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening to Focus on the Family. Do be back with us tomorrow. The Penners will return and we’ll once again, help you and your family thrive in Christ.