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Focus on the Family Broadcast

Rethinking Godly Sexuality in Your Marriage (Part 1 of 2)

Rethinking Godly Sexuality in Your Marriage (Part 1 of 2)

Dr. Juli Slattery recognizes that many couples possess a poor foundation for understanding God’s design for intimacy — that our sexual relationship is a metaphor for the intimacy God longs to have with each one of us. Therefore, God is very interested in our sexuality and, in fact, designed sex for our pleasure. She encourages married couples to have “covenant love” rather than contractual love. (Part 1 of 2)
Original Air Date: July 14, 2022

John Fuller: Today on Focus on the Family with Jim Daly, we’re going to address a common longing that couples have for their marriages. But many of us just aren’t sure how to get there. The topic is not something that we recommend for young children. So please direct their attention elsewhere. Uh, here’s Dr. Juli Slattery with an explanation.

Dr. Juli Slattery: Now, if I meet a couple who will really describe sexual intimacy, fulfilling sexual intimacy for both of them, I know that couple has been on a long journey of learning to communicate, learning to forgive each other, learning to show each other grace, learning to seek God, because it’s impossible to achieve that without walking through selfishness and brokenness.

Jim Daly: John, we’re going to have many, many couples leaning in today to this conversation. And I hope some single adults as well, uh, because what Julie described right in that clip is the desire of all of our hearts, a lifelong committed marriage where we can celebrate the intimacy that God intended for us. And I don’t know why, but in this modern era, it seems very elusive to get there. Tragically, far too many couples aren’t experiencing that kind of intimacy. And it’s a hidden shameful secret in their lives, because they don’t know how to communicate, uh, through the pain and frustration with each other, let alone with a friend, a pastor, or some confident person that they can go to. If that problem describes where you’re at in your relationship, uh, where your sexuality feels more painful and broken, then healthy, uh, we have some important help for you today.

John: We certainly do. Dr. Slattery is with us, uh, here today and is a clinical psychologist and the president of Authentic Intimacy, which is a ministry devoted to reclaiming God’s design for sexuality. Juli has written a book that will be the basis for our conversation today called God, Sex, and Your Marriage. And we’ll have details at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast or call 1-800, the letter A, and the word “FAMILY”.

Jim: Let me also add, John, that we have caring Christian counselors. I want to say that right at the top of the program. So, if you are, uh, you know, being touched deeply by the content we’re about to discuss, make sure you get ahold of us. Uh, Focus on the Family’s equipped because of generous donors to be able to provide these counselors to talk with you. And I would encourage you to take advantage of that. Juli, turning to you, former colleague, Juli Slattery. So good to see it’s been far too long.

Dr. Slattery: (laughs). It has. It’s always good. It feels like coming home.

Jim: Yeah.

Dr. Slattery: And hanging out with you guys is a blast.

Jim: Yeah. That’s a good feeling.

Dr. Slattery: Yeah, it is.

Jim: At least for us to have you back. So, uh, man, we’re talking about this issue of sexuality and marriage. And, Juli, um, it’s not a theoretical topic for you. And I so appreciate your own vulnerability. In the book, you talk a lot about you and Mike. And that’s so refreshing. I understand, uh, that you and Mike struggled for many years. That’s what you mentioned in the book, maybe 15 years before you started to really figure out how to deal with some of these core issues. That’s probably really typical of all of us, uh, maybe longer 20, 30 years.

Dr. Slattery: Yeah.

Jim: But describe that kind of desert and then finding an oasis in your communication where you could really dig in and start dealing with things.

Dr. Slattery: Yeah. We did run into some problems early on in our marriage related to sexual intimacy. And I think there are pretty common barriers, problems. And I think where we really got stuck was, we didn’t have a vision for what sexual wholeness looks like. And that’s what I found that is so common for Christian couples is they know God’s design for sex, they know it’s supposed to be reserved for the covenant of marriage, but beyond that, they’re kind of like what’s normal. And is it normal for us to argue about frequency? Is it normal for us to struggle with things from the past? Is it normal for sex not to be pleasurable for one of us? And so those are some of the things that we were wrestling with, and we really didn’t have clear answers of, do we just kind of settle with sex isn’t going to be great or it will always be a source of conflict for us? And as you mentioned, Jim, it probably wasn’t until about 15 years into marriage that God began to show me that there’s a much bigger picture here that we didn’t see. And when you don’t know what you’re working toward, you really feel stuck. You feel like, well, I guess this is as good as going to be.

Jim: Yeah. Let me, let me go to the bigger 40,000-foot view, because Jean and I talked about this too, because as Christians, especially if you gave your life to the Lord as a teenager and you know, you stayed pretty true, maybe perfectly true in this area of physical intimacy until you got married. And then there’s this like weird switch you’re supposed to throw on.

Dr. Slattery: Yeah.

Jim: That you go from like a total stop at the line and then you get married and then you’re, you’re supposed to just be able to know that all of this is good when you’ve been told it’s bad, it’s not good, don’t go there, don’t ever think about it, don’t ever look at it.

Dr. Slattery: Yeah.

Jim: Then you got to go. And it’s like, wow, a lot of people, both men and women struggle with this. Uh, I hear from a lot of women that really struggle with this.

Dr. Slattery: It’s so true. And there really is a journey and there’s a process of discovering what God designed sex to be. And I, I think within the Christian community, traditionally, we focus so much on sexual morality, sexual purity, which are biblical principles, but we didn’t teach those within the context of what’s the bigger picture of sex. And actually, what does it look like to be sexually mature, not just sexually moral. And so, the couple that gets married and they’re like, okay, now we’re married, now we can enjoy this, we’re not sinning by having sex together. But what does it look like to grow in the fullness of the maturity of what God created sex to be? And there’s no vision for that. If there’s not a vision for it, it’s like, okay, now we’re good morally, we’re following the rules, but there’s still no joy, there’s still no progress in learning to be lovers.

Jim: Well, and part of that too, it’s again, that long conditioning growing up in the church, perhaps, uh, that it’s taboo.

Dr. Slattery: Yeah.

Jim: And I guess I want to pull that out of you, because how… Specifically, I think for women, they really struggle with that. How to make that transition. And some women probably in their 40s and 50s, they’ve been married a long time, have still not really been able to fully embrace that God designed this, that this is a good thing.

Dr. Slattery: Yeah.

Jim: In fact, I know, you know, that Jean talking to some of her friends, that’s, they kind of get very squirmish about that. And, you know, they just don’t even know how to talk about it amongst themselves.

Dr. Slattery: Yeah.

Jim: …because it’s uncomfortable.

Dr. Slattery: It is. And some of that is cultural. You know, you talk to a woman in her 20s or 30s today, and she’s less likely to struggle with that because she’s grown up in a culture where it’s more acceptable to talk about sex, you’re exposed to sexual things. There’s a negative element to that as well. But I think what you’re hitting on, Jim, there is so key. What I’ve learned in the last 10 years of ministering on sexual issues is that most of us have the wrong picture of what God designed sex to be. And we don’t even realize it. It’s like a backstory that impacts how we think about sexuality. And the metaphor that I use in the book is sex is like a big jigsaw puzzle. So, if you’ve got like a 2000-piece jigsaw puzzle, you have to know what picture you’re creating. You pick up each piece and you say, okay, where does this go in the larger picture? But most married couples are actually working with the wrong picture of what they think sex should be.

Jim: Hmm.

Dr. Slattery: And there are two predominantly wrong pictures that we can work from. One is the one that you mentioned, Jim, which is all about following the rules, it’s about duty, it’s about the fear of getting God angry because of our sexual choices or our longings. And there is this shame and fear that, again, as you mentioned is sort of conditioned, that my sexuality, I guess God created it, but it’s also somehow shameful because of things I’ve experienced in the past, because of sin that I still feel really guilty about, or even just my body, I’m not comfortable with the sexual aspects of my body. And so that’s one picture that if a couple is looking at or even the woman or the man is looking at and saying, it’s all about the rules, there are a lot of pieces in your puzzle that aren’t going to fit into that picture. And so, you get really confused. Um, the other picture that I think is becoming more predominant today is the culture’s picture of sex that is fueled by pornography and the idea that sex is all about your personal fulfillment, you have to be compatible. It’s always going to be pleasurable and fun. And when it’s not, something is really wrong. And if you’re working towards the wrong picture, you really don’t have a hope of how to make sense of the struggle. And I feel like that’s sort of where Mike and I were years ago. I know that there are couples that are dealing with much deeper things than we’ve encountered that make this really difficult, things like trauma, uh, recovering from betrayals, but regardless of what you’re walking through, God has a beautiful picture for you to be working towards where he can begin to redeem even though it’s really painful pieces.

Jim: Yeah. It’s so interesting, Juli, because sex is a powerful thing.

Dr. Slattery: Yeah.

Jim: I mean, let’s face it. It is powerful and it can divide couples.

Dr. Slattery: Mm-hmm.

Jim: You know, it puts you in different corners that isolates you potentially over all the arguments and whatever they might be. It seems like moving up now, if, if that’s 40,000 feet, what we just talked about, if you go up spiritually at 50,000 feet, why do you think Satan has such a heyday in this area? And it’s one of the things that he uses to create division in something God created to be beautiful and to be within marriage and the two shall become one flesh and will look out for each other, will try to satisfy each other, will hopefully put the other before us and all those good things. And then Satan comes along and just whack, whack, whack, until we get upset and angry at each other. And you know, some couples we know because they contact us here at Focus, they’ll go months, maybe years with no more intimacy, because they’re so angry at each other.

Dr. Slattery: Yeah.

Jim: And it’s so sad that, that Satan is getting that victory. So, speak to that issue of Satan and the enemy of our soul getting involved in this very intimate place that God’s created for us.

Dr. Slattery: It’s a… That’s a great insight, Jim. We have to ask the question, why is sexuality under such attack? And not just within marriage, we see it under attack in the larger culture. And uh, when we step back, we say, okay, Satan puts his resources where he knows the battle is most important.

Jim: Right. Like any military strategist.

Dr. Slattery: Right. Yeah. And so, he sees the important significance of sexuality. He sees the spiritual power of sexuality. One thing that I’ve realized is that sex will never be a neutral issue in your marriage. It’ll either be-

Jim: Well, that’s a statement.

Dr. Slattery: It’ll either draw you together or tear you apart. And I also think that sex will never be a neutral issue in your relationship with God. It’s either going to be revealing God’s goodness or also for so many people is a barrier to, uh, I can’t get close to God because I’m angry or because I feel shame. Now-

Jim: Can I, can I jump in on that one?

Dr. Slattery: Yeah, sure.

Jim: Because I’m just thinking of women who are thinking, I can’t even put those two thoughts in the same category. My spiritual development, my closeness to God and my sexual life and my husband. Are you kidding Juli?

Dr. Slattery: Hmm.

Jim: I mean, you, you hear what I’m saying?

Dr. Slattery: Oh yeah.

Jim: Is that something you hear from women particularly?

Dr. Slattery: Yeah. I think women and men, I think we’ve been conditioned to think about sexuality and spirituality being in separate categories.

Jim: Right.

Dr. Slattery: So, our sexuality is sort of this box of who we are that we certainly don’t bring to church. We don’t-

Jim: It’s in the closet.

Dr. Slattery: Yeah. We don’t pray about it.

Jim: Right.

Dr. Slattery: We just think, well, that’s just part of my humanity, but God doesn’t really care too much about that. Or I’m too ashamed to bring that before him. But in reality, what you’re getting at, Jim, here is what is the picture on the front of the box for the puzzle. And that is the reason why sex is under such attack, because the picture that we’re supposed to be creating, and this is going to be a paradigm shift for a lot of people is God’s relationship with his covenant people.

Jim: Right. Now you’re going to blow my mind that God uses this as a parallel to his relationship with us.

Dr. Slattery: Yes. So-

Jim: Are you kidding?

Dr. Slattery: Yeah. So, um, so we ought to back up a minute and say, is it true that everything God created reveals something about his nature?

Jim: Mm-hmm. I say yes.

Dr. Slattery: Yeah. Do trees reveal something? Do mountains reveal something? The stars? Like you cannot read a chapter in scripture without it referencing a part of physical creation to show us something about God’s character. And the same is true in the interpersonal world. So, God has created two really powerful interpersonal pictures to help us understand his love. One of them is the picture of a father and child. We see that predominantly through the Bible. And the other one is the picture of a husband and wife. And so, when we read the scripture from Genesis all the way through Revelation, sexuality and marriage are most often talked about in the context of this being a way to reveal to us how God loves his covenant people. Now, that’s a really complicated picture. So, I think for a lot of people, they just revert to the rules, they revert to the culture’s understanding of sexuality without fleshing out we’re missing something there, like does God’s relationship with me actually teach me something about what healthy sex should look like within our marriage?

Jim: Juli, let me ask you, if a person hears this and now, they’re uncomfortable-

Dr. Slattery: Uh-huh.

Jim: I mean, you’re pushing a button there. What should that indicate to them about where they’re at and how they’re thinking about these things, because I can imagine some people going, whoa, whoa, whoa, what?

Dr. Slattery: Hmm. Well, you’re right. You know, first of all, if you’re feeling uncomfortable, join the club.

Jim: Yeah, that’s where we all start.

Dr. Slattery: I think, I think when I first heard this, it was a real disconnect for me, because I’d been trained for so many years without realizing it that we just don’t talk about sex in front of God. And certainly, he must leave the room when we have sex. Like he doesn’t, he’s not interested in that part of us, which is antithetical to everything we read in scripture. But I think the other piece of it is for a lot of people, sex is the most painful part of their lives. And so, they can’t reconcile the goodness and love of God with their experience of deep, deep pain or trauma around their sexuality. And this is what I encounter the most when I talk about this message is somebody who has been sexually violated in childhood or repeatedly betrayed sexually, and they’ll be like, I can’t, uh, I can’t even think of God having created sex because then he seems cruel to me, because sex has been the source of my greatest pain.

Jim: Yeah.

Dr. Slattery: And so, when we talk about sexuality, this is why I love what God has called me to, we’re not just helping marriages get better, we’re helping people address sometimes their most significant barriers to the heart of God.

John: You’re listening to Focus on the Family with Jim DalyI’m John Fuller. And we’re talking today with, uh, Dr. Juli Slattery about her book, God, Sex, and Your Marriage. We have copies of that here, contact the ministry, when you call 800, the letter A, and the word “FAMILY”, or stop by focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.

Jim: Let me expand on that concept of the uncomfortableness of talking about this, because I know even doing the radio program, there’ll be some stations that won’t want to air this. And one of the things I often, um, suggest is one of the reasons Satan is having such success, unfortunately in this area is because we don’t talk about it.

John: Yeah.

Jim: We don’t talk about it in churches, pastors don’t really preach about it, uh, Christian radio stations are uncomfortable talking about it.

Dr. Slattery: Mm-hmm.

Jim: And therefore, we kind of hand over the territory keeping that military description going to the enemy-

Dr. Slattery: Yeah.

Jim: …because we won’t talk about it in a way that is God honoring and God intended. And so, I really applaud you for, for your work and what you’re doing. Um, I think it’s really critically important. And wouldn’t it be nice if people would say at that little tea party when women are talking about it, wow, I wish my husband and I had the kind of relationship you and Bill have.

Dr. Slattery: Mm-hmm.

Jim: Right. When it… Because it should be different. It should be so positive in a Christian context. We are honoring the Lord in our physical relationship.

Dr. Slattery: Yeah.

Jim: And this is how you can do it too. And that’s what we’re really getting at today. Um, in your book, uh, God, Sex, and Your Marriage, you’re critical of some of the teaching coming from Christian community about, um, saving sex until marriage. Um, I don’t think you mean, we need to be more liberal in our sexuality. Describe what you’re getting at there. And what is that healthy? You know, I’ve got two boys, you have children in the same space about 19, 20, 21-

Dr. Slattery: Mm-hmm.

Jim: …what’s the message we should be communicating to them before marriage?

Dr. Slattery: Yeah. Well, first of all, I don’t want to come across as being critical of that message, uh, because I’m certainly grateful having grown up in a Christian home that I was taught that sex is meant to be for marriage. And that has been a blessing to me.

Jim: That’s a biblical teacher.

Dr. Slattery: Yes, it is.

Jim: Yeah.

Dr. Slattery: And so, we don’t want to undo that. I think what we’re pushing on here, not just in this book, but in our conversations around Christianity and sexuality is that there’s a far bigger picture than just save sex for marriage, that everything has to be within the context of the gospel story. And the gospel story is that God created something beautiful, but we live in a fallen world, our own sin, other people’s sin have twisted every good gift, but Jesus came to redeem everything that’s been broken. And we have to apply that same message to the conversation around sexuality. God created sex and gender and all of it to be beautiful, to be this amazing revelation of his love. But we live in a fallen world. Our own sinfulness, the brokenness of our world means that our experience of that is going to be twisted. In one way or another, um, I, I really believe all of us have sexual brokenness.

Jim: Mm-hmm.

Dr. Slattery: Even if we’ve saved sex for marriage, our sexuality is broken. But Jesus says, bring it to me and let me redeem it. Now, I think the message that was sort of too short and incomplete in what we might call purity culture in the past or historic teaching on sex, just had the rules. So, we would just look at the passages that say thou shall not. We didn’t paint the picture of how all this fits within the larger gospel story of how we’re all broken. All of us have sinned. None of us are righteous, not one. And we all need to bring that brokenness to Jesus. In past, I think we’ve tried. We haven’t done this on purpose, but it’s made it seem like some people are broken and some people aren’t. And so that’s created a lot of division, a lot of shame, hesitation of people admitting their brokenness and bringing it to God. It’s more been a performance. Like if you follow the rules, God’s going to bless you. Instead of God’s relationship with us is about surrender and our behavior comes out of our surrender and his redemption in our life. So that’s the shift that I think is so critical for us to make, not only as we talk about marriage, but as we address other aspects of sexuality in our culture.

Jim: Hmm. Juli, I think, I think that is so accurate and um, you know, so encouraging for Christians to bring it to the feet of the cross. Man, that’s where everything should come. But somehow, we do kind of think of God as a, a grandfather figure. Right? We don’t want to about sex in front of our grandfather, even though he created it.

Dr. Slattery: Yeah.

Jim: But it’s kind of that imagery that we have, like, don’t tell him what we’re doing, and he knows exactly what’s going on (laughs).

Dr. Slattery: Yes.

Jim: And he made it to be positive, to be a good thing.

Dr. Slattery: He sure did.

Jim: And uh, that’s the, the place we need to get to. And let me, let me also ask you, uh, you described God’s design for sexual intimacy as covenant love. And we really need to better understand what you mean. That’s where that parallel with-

Dr. Slattery: It is.

Jim: …God’s love for us. And what we experience in this life physically really begins to line up spiritually. So, what is covenant love in the context of sexual intimacy?

Dr. Slattery: Boy, that word covenant is something that we don’t use often in our world today. The only time I’ve ever heard covenant talked about outside of church was like your HOA covenants. Like what does that mean?

Jim: That’s not a happy place to be. Let’s not go there.

Dr. Slattery: No, it’s not. I don’t want my marriage; I don’t want my marriage to be like that. So, when we use this word covenant, I think sometimes people are confused, because it’s not a common word in our language. The only way to really understand a covenant is to contrast it to what we typically have, which is a contract. We know how to do contract in our world. And most of us get married with a contract mentality. Even if we don’t realize it, we think as long as this marriage is fulfilling to me, then I’m all in. As long as my spouse is meeting my needs, as long as he makes me look good, as long as our sexual relationship is fulfilling-

Jim: Sounds like a scorecard.

Dr. Slattery: Yeah.

Jim: Yeah.

Dr. Slattery: And it’s a deal. It’s a bargain.

Jim: Mm-hmm.

Dr. Slattery: And again, I don’t think any of us go to the altar thinking that we’re bargaining. But even our dating system is about trying to pick somebody who, in, in the economy of romance that man, you really won there, you got a big… Good deal there. Like we get married, because this person is supposed to make me better and happier. And then when we hit a roadblock, it’s like that covenant gets challenged, because are we going to think contract or covenant? Are we… Covenant is loving with your character. It’s loving because you promise to, and that’s the beautiful thing about how God loves us. If God had a contract with me, I’d be in big trouble. If I have a contract with him, God, I only love you as long as my bank account’s full and I stay healthy, then we don’t have a long-term relationship. And this is what’s so significant about marriage is it’s the one relationship that God created to stretch towards that kind of love that is based on faithfulness and character and promise. And its why marriage is so difficult and also why it’s so important to fight for.

Jim: Yeah, no, I agree. Um, I want to make sure we cover, uh, your comment about Deuteronomy 6:5, which is the first and greatest commandment. If you’ve been in the church any length of time, you know this, of course, which is to love God with all our heart, our soul and mind. How does that commandment relate to our sexuality and marriage?

Dr. Slattery: Well, the way it relates is that commandment is telling us to be undivided people, to not have one area of my life that isn’t surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. And I’ve found in my own journey as well as in ministry that sexuality is often an area that isn’t surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. And I don’t just mean following the rules. I mean having territory of your heart that has never been surrendered. I mean wounds that you hold onto instead of bringing to the healing power of Jesus. Conversations that need to be had that are closeted. Conflicts that we need to work through. Confessing our sin to one another. And because we don’t talk about sex in church, we haven’t learned how to integrate God and his power and his truth and his love into our sexuality. So, we just kind of do it on our own. Like when I speak to married couples on this issue, I’ll often ask, raise your hand, how many of you regularly pray together about your sex life? And typically, it’s about 10% of married couples. Now, these are Christians, they’re coming to a marriage conference. So, you’re getting a pretty selected sample. And even so, 90% of them never think to pray about their sex life, because we don’t integrate God into it. And so, this commandment in Deuteronomy, which is really what Jesus said is the greatest commandment is I want to be part of every nook and cranny of your life, every hidden secret, every wound, every struggle. And when we start living that out in married sexuality, it’s a game changer.

Jim: Yeah. Juli, I mean, it’s like pins and needles, quiet. I could feel it out there. People are listening. This is such a sensitive area for every, everybody. If you’re married or not married, it’s where we have the least amount of conversation. I would suggest not the healthiest guidance either, because the culture’s just, you know, pounding away at images and messaging about how we should think about sex. And it permeates not just the culture, but the church too, unfortunately. And there’s so much more to talk about. We’ve just started, man. I looked up and went, wow, we’re already through today. And uh, I want to come back next time, if you can stay with us, and talk more about this great topic, I think, you know, profound topic, God, Sex, and Your Marriage. And again, you’ve done such a brilliant job. I’m just grateful that you’ve taken this on as kind of your life’s call-

Dr. Slattery: Yeah.

Jim: …to help so many couples do so much better in this area. So, can we do that? Can we keep going and come back next time?

Dr. Slattery: I would love to. Thank you.

Jim: Okay. Let’s do that.

John: And in the meantime, get a copy of Dr. Juli Slattery’s great book, God, Sex, and Your Marriage. We have copies of that here at the ministry. And we’re a phone call away 1-800, the letter A, and the word “FAMILY”, or stop by focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.

Jim: And, John, like we often say, if you can, uh, send a gift or sign up to be a monthly contributor, we’ll send you a copy of Juli’s great book as our way of saying thank you for being part of the ministry. So that’s another great way, uh, to partner with Focus on the Family.

John: Donate today as you can and get a copy of this great book. Uh, again, our number is 800-A-FAMILY or stop by focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. And on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for joining us today for Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller, inviting you back next time as we continue the conversation and once more help you and your family thrive in Christ.

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