Sabrina* caught glimpses of Reggie’s anger before they were married — occasional road rage and embarrassing tirades directed toward customer service. But she never imagined his rage would target her. When it did, their “Hall of Fame” sexual relationship nose-dived in just the second year of marriage.
The fact that Reggie and Sabrina had enjoyed exciting sex at one point shows they knew how to have sex. Reggie didn’t need to learn how to be a better lover in bed. But his anger made Sabrina never want to be in Reggie’s bed. The key to better sex wasn’t Reggie improving his sexual technique; it was Reggie dealing with his anger.
In a committed marriage relationship, sex is dependent on the quality of the relationship far more than it is on the mechanics of the physical act. Spiritually healthy people have healthier marriages. And healthier marriages have healthier sex. As I share in Married Sex: A Christian Couple’s Guide to Reimagining Your Love Life, a great sex life is something you make, not something you find. Pursuing spiritual maturity is one of the best ways to elevate your sexual passion and pleasure as well.
What to take off to have better sex
Paul tells us in Colossians what we need to “take off”: “But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips” (Colossians 3:8, NIV).
Anger craters sexual desire. Even when sex does occur in an angry relationship, the presence of anger changes the nature of the sexual experience from one of connecting to the more soulless and often independent pursuit of pleasure for its own sake. As Giuseppe Scimeca writes in Psychology of Anger: Symptoms, Causes, and Coping:
Anger-prone individuals share a tendency to … consider partners as sexual objects neglecting their personality and to express aggressive tendencies during the sexual act. Overall, anger-prone individuals are primarily interested in seeking sexual pleasure rather than committing to a deep relationship: They are essentially interested in satisfying their own needs and desires neglecting those of their partners; they also experience their sex life without emotional closeness, commitment and love.
This is soulless sex, in which the angry person just needs a body — any body — to work out his or her issues.
When a counselor pointed out to Sabrina that Reggie’s anger needed to be addressed before their sexual intimacy could thrive, everything finally made sense. Now she knew why she didn’t enjoy making love to the same man she used to crave sexually. Angry sex was different. It felt different. Anger had wrecked a once-beautiful connection. If you’re prone to anger and are wondering how to be a better lover, you need to see a counselor about the anger before you try to “fix” things in the bedroom.
Paul tells us to also take off malice, and it’s easy to see how that, too, can wreck bedroom pleasures. If you think your spouse has any malice toward you, how can you surrender during the sex act? How can you trust him or her when you are naked and vulnerable? It would be foolish to voluntarily enter the vulnerable intimacy of sexual union with someone who might want to harm you.
Filthy language and slander
Filthy language and slander demean, hurt and belittle a person. It’s the opposite of the language used in Song of Solomon, where two lovers praise, extol and celebrate each other. Filthy language is worse than coming to bed with 3-inch-long toenails, garlic breath and dirty bodies. It destroys the basis of sexual intimacy, which is about caring, affirming, celebrating and cherishing. Every one of your words throughout the day either sets up your spouse to desire you or builds walls of distrust, hurt and avoidance. You cannot sustain healthy, pleasurable touch in a climate of filthy, demeaning talk.
To become the kind of companion our spouse wants to be close to, we must remove the spiritual “stink” that naturally pushes an intimate spouse away. But just as much as we have to take off what is displeasing, we need to put on what is endearing.
What to put on to have better sex
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12). The virtues Paul lists here create the kind of marriage that leads to delight and laughter, which paves the way for sexual ecstasy.
Kindness and humility
Elizabeth explains, “There’s nothing that makes me desire intimacy on all levels more than my husband demonstrating intentional kindness to myself and our children.”
Sexual foreplay for many women can be their husband’s intentional acts of virtue throughout the day that make them feel connected to him. A patient, gentle man who isn’t stuck on himself becomes a sexually desirable husband. A woman of compassion and kindness will be an all-star lover in the bedroom.
Chad discovered that a new sexual technique couldn’t “woo” a wife who, during a stressful season, wanted nothing to do with sex. But a change in his character did wonders to soften her heart. His wife, Sheri, explains: “When Chad embodies kindness, compassion, gentleness, patience and humility, it makes him exceedingly desirable, and my heart knows that it’s safe and cared for with him. My heart being safe makes me willing to entrust my body to him without hesitation. It’s such a sweet place to be.”
Kindness and humility show you how to be a better lover because they lead you to focus on your spouse. You’re thinking about how you can bless them, help them — or in the case of the bedroom — pleasure them. Is your attitude in the bedroom motivated by a sincere desire for your spouse’s pleasure? Or has the bedroom been all about you?
Compassion is sympathetic feeling that inspires action. Jesus healed and fed the crowds when he had “compassion” on them. He could see they were needy and wouldn’t just leave them in their hunger. He was moved by empathy to meet their needs.
Marital compassion means I understand that I’m the only person who can meet not just my wife’s sexual needs, but also her desires. Do I have compassion for her, or am I resentful about her desire when sex doesn’t always seem convenient to me?
Compassion filters not just what I give, but what I ask for. A compassionate husband thinks about what his wife is feeling and how he can make her feel better. He knows she has limited energy, so he does his best to help her long before it’s bedtime. He can imagine what it’s like for his wife to have children pawing at her body all day long, so he goes out of his way to offer giving touches, not taking touches. He’s able to say, “Life isn’t easy for you,” so he seeks to ease his wife’s concerns rather than add to her burdens. He not only thinks about how to be a better lover in the bedroom, but also how he can be a more compassionate husband outside the bedroom.
Patience is a particularly important virtue for sexual happiness in marriage because we live as fallen people in a fallen world. If we’re not patient with each other, we’ll lose our desire for each other.
Karen told me that while she longed for an intimate and even exciting love life, she rarely desired sex with her husband for the simple reason that he always criticizes her. “Everything I do is wrong. I don’t drive right, cook right, raise the kids right or even speak right. When you’ve been criticized all day long, you just know he’s also criticizing what’s happening in the bedroom. I can’t stand to have one more thing that I’m doing wrong thrown in my face.”
Karen has no problem with her husband’s sexual performance inside the bedroom; it’s being criticized outside the bedroom that makes her never want to have sex with him. Put on patience and watch your spouse’s heart stay soft and warm.
The path to better sex
In your attempt to become a better lover, don’t forget to become a better person. Becoming a better person actually makes us better lovers. By all means, work on sexual technique and understanding in your marriage, but work on your character as well. Take off the vices that destroy sexual desire and satisfaction; put on the virtues that make you desirable and generous. Sex between two virtuous people is the most intimate, enjoyable kind of sex a married couple can ever know.
*Names have been changed.