Discovering Mutual Pleasure

By Dr. Clifford and Mrs. Joyce Penner
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Sarah Carter
Men and women, and individual needs, are different. If your differences have caused tension in your sex life, learn to make those differences work for your marriage.

Working together as Christian sexual therapists for more than 40 years, we’ve often heard complaints from couples struggling with intimacy in marriage. Husbands frequently complain, “Men need sex; women need affection, but I can’t get my wife to understand my need for sex. Please help!” Then we hear the counter complaint from wives, “All he ever wants is sex. No matter how frequently we have sex, it is never enough!” We’ve also heard contrary comments from women who are concerned because they want sex and their husbands aren’t interested.

Indeed, men and women are different, and individual needs are, too. But if your personal differences have caused tension in your sex life, you can learn to make those differences work for your marriage.

When you understand and embrace your differences as husband and wife, it is often those very differences that can prove to be the key to a vibrant sex life. So, keep learning about yourselves and about each other. Be deliberate about growing together as you make your differences work for your marriage, so you both discover mutual pleasure.

Just for husbands

Men, you can enjoy a more satisfying sex life, but not by pursuing your own sexual needs. Sex isn’t about meeting needs; it’s about a husband and wife giving themselves to each other in marriage and freely delighting in mutual enjoyment.

Scripture calls husbands to love their wives like Christ loves the church. Ephesians 5:25 is paraphrased in The Message: “Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church — a love marked by giving, not getting.” The apostle Paul continues in that chapter by referencing the Genesis 2:24 instruction for the husband to leave his father and mother and become one flesh with his wife — referring to sexual union in marriage. So the biblical model is about the husband loving his wife sexually. It’s about giving up his rights and loving his wife as Christ does. Although it may not be easy, loving your wife in this way will be what makes the difference for mutually satisfying sex in your marriage.

Whether your sexual relationship has no problems or has tremendous struggles and frustrations, the sexual relationship often gets better when you are willing and able to move in your wife’s direction sexually, so you can follow her lead and respond to her desires.

The apostle Paul exhorts believers in Philippians 2:5-7 by saying, “Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status. … When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human!” (The Message, a paraphrase). Likewise, the husband sets aside his rights and privileges to love and serve his wife. That is the Christ model.

Just for wives

How does a woman keep the sexual relationship interesting? Before we answer that question, it’s important to first understand that women are more complex than men. Men usually function on one track — when they are physically aroused, they tend to be emotionally ready for sex. However, women usually function on two tracks — they have to feel emotionally ready as well as physically aroused, and the two tracks must be in sync. Wives may not even be aware of their physical readiness if for some reason they feel emotionally disconnected from their husband. Add to that situation the fact that women change from day to day due to hormonal fluctuations and external situations. Yes, women are more complex, but it’s the ever-changing complexity of females that can keep sex interesting when both spouses embrace the wife’s God-given design.

Many women have never learned about themselves as sexual beings. A wife may believe that sex is primarily for her husband, and her responsibility is to be sure he is sexually satisfied, whether or not she is. We have found that this one-sided approach to sex doesn’t bring long-term satisfaction for either the man or the woman in a marriage relationship.

Once again, Eugene Peterson paraphrases Paul’s writings in The Message: “Sexual drives are strong, but marriage is strong enough to contain them and provide for a balanced and fulfilling sexual life in a world of sexual disorder. The marriage bed must be a place of mutuality — the husband seeking to satisfy his wife, the wife seeking to satisfy her husband” (1 Corinthians 7:3). We believe that Paul’s exhortation implies that sex must be as good for the wife as it is for the husband if it’s going to be good for both of them for a lifetime together.

Here are two tips for wives so they can become more comfortable with their sexuality:

Get to know your body. Start by gathering information about how a woman’s body is generally designed to work, and then get to know how your body works. As you learn about yourself, share your findings with your husband. You can experiment with ways to enhance what you know is best for you and eliminate factors that interfere with your enjoyment, and then express appreciation for your husband’s willingness to learn with you.

Focus on building your feelings about yourself. How you feel about yourself will greatly impact how you enjoy sex. When you walk by a mirror, do you feel good about what you see? What would increase your positive self-view? Are you attending to your body in ways that build you up emotionally? Men tend to feel better about themselves as a result of having sex; women tend to be open to sex when they feel good about themselves. This would explain why mutual satisfaction for a married couple is enhanced when the husband affirms his wife and the wife affirms her own sexuality.

5 ways to work at great sex

When it comes to sex, serious work is often a prerequisite to fun. Here are a few ways to do the “work” that leads to great sex:

Talk. Your spouse wants to talk; he or she wants you to be interested. You’re probably going to have to do the “talk” part if the “have” part of sex is going to be any good. Every time you move in your spouse’s direction, both of you benefit.

Learn. Learning about sex is a lifelong process. You can still grow in this area 20, 40 or 60 years into your marriage.

Negotiate. You can negotiate differences in your sexual preferences just as you can negotiate in every other area of life. Great sex is satisfying for both spouses; it shouldn’t be dictated by one person.

Take responsibility. Sex works best in a loving relationship where each spouse takes responsibility for himself or herself.

Expect change. Expect to grow in sexual understanding and experience — and never to reach perfection in either.

Adapted from The Married Guy’s Guide to Great Sex, a Focus on the Family book published by Tyndale House. © 2017 by Dr. Clifford and Joyce Penner.

5 ways not to love your lover

If you recognize yourself on the following list, consider making changes:

Avoidant lovers may be unsure of themselves. They may be naive, they may have been hurt in a past situation, or they may be self-conscious about their body.

Possessive lovers are jealous lovers. Jealousy eats away at them like termites in a wood-frame house. It stifles love and creates inhibitions in the bedroom.

Selfish lovers are self-centered in bed — and usually in the rest of life, too. If you focus on your needs and have difficulty caring about those of your spouse, you’re probably a selfish lover.

Power-needy lovers want to dominate. They can’t respond when they’re not feeling more powerful than their spouse.

Distant lovers avoid intimacy; they remain aloof. They have to keep their distance.

Adapted from The Married Guy’s Guide to Great Sex, a Focus on the Family book published by Tyndale House. © 2017 by Dr. Clifford and Joyce Penner.

Charting the Differences

Men and women generally differ in their natural sexual response. A man’s sexual response rises dramatically to a peak and then drops suddenly. A woman’s sexual response, however, occurs more in waves. If a wife can learn to ride the waves, enjoying both the peaks and the dips, and her husband can learn to join her on the ride, letting her lead with her sexual responses, then both of them can enjoy the waves together.

Proven formula for intimacy

15 minutes a day:

connect emotionally: look into each other’s eyes (increases oxytocin: trust hormone); share a positive thought, feeling or affirmation of the other

connect spiritually: share an inspirational reading and prayer

connect physically: hug for 20 seconds (increases oxytocin); kiss passionately for 5-30 seconds without leading to sex (increases dopamine: passion hormone)

  • One evening a week: walk, date, shower, caress, no demands
  • One day a quarter: fun, play, lead and teach enjoyable touch
  • One weekend a year: together away or at home; no distractions

Adapted from Enjoy!: The gift of sexual pleasure for women, a Focus on the Family book published by Tyndale House. © 2017 by Dr. Clifford and Joyce Penner.

If you or someone you know needs marital help, Focus on the Family has resources and counseling to assist. You can contact us Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Mountain time) at: 855-771-HELP (4357) or [email protected]

©2017 Focus on the Family

Learn How to Cherish your Spouse and Have a Deeper Connection

Do you cherish your spouse? Couples who cherish each other understand that God created everyone different, and as a result they treasure the unique characteristics in their spouse. We want to help you do just that. Start the free five-part video course called, “Cherish Your Spouse”, and gain a deeper level of connection with your spouse.

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About the Author

Dr. Clifford and Mrs. Joyce Penner

Dr. Clifford Penner and his wife, Joyce, are sexual therapists and educators. They work as a team in counseling couples and individuals, leading sexual enhancement seminars for couples, teaching sex education for pre-teens and their parents, and more. Cliff is a clinical psychologist who earned his Ph.D. from Fuller’s Graduate School of Psychology in Pasadena, Calif. Joyce a clinical nurse …

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