It's not an exaggeration to say that sex is an integral part of the marriage relationship. God designed it that way!
For a husband and wife, the sexual act is the focal point, the symbol, and the physical expression of the leaving, the cleaving, and the becoming one flesh (Genesis 2:24) that define the very essence of marriage. To put it another way, sex is like the glue that uniquely bonds a husband and wife together. It places their relationship in a category apart from any other human relationship.
That's probably why the Bible is full of sex! I'm not talking about the frequent references to concubines, prostitutes, polygamy and other symbols of our sexual brokenness. Rather, I'm referring to the fact that the sexual relationship itself is often equated with the bond between Christ and the Church. The mystical, spiritual reality of this bond is something we often take for granted.
But think about it. A high regard for the "marriage bed" (Hebrews 13:4) must be central to the Christian faith, because the Bible consistently uses it as an image of God's relationship with His people. For a few powerful examples of this, see the Song of Solomon, the book of Hosea, Ezekiel 16, Ephesians 5:22-33, and Revelation 21:2.
A theological understanding of God's design for sex would be incomplete, though, without considering how God designed your body. Even in the physiological differences and compatibilities between men and women, we can see the hand of the Creator at work. Let's see how this is reflected in terms of how you relate to each other as husband and wife.
Men, when it comes to sex, your primary mission is to woo, pursue and initiate. This may sound old-fashioned or even sexist, but trust me; it's the way you were designed. In fact, the word "erection" is linked to the Latin term erigere, which means "to guide" or "to direct."
Relationally, this means you should always be thinking about how you can "woo" your wife. It's not reasonable or realistic to expect her to give herself to you sexually if you haven't taken time to pursue her heart first. When it comes to sex, keep this thought at the front of your mind: "Win her heart; win her body" — in that order!
Not surprisingly, we find allusions to this in Scripture as well. Hosea 2:16 reads, "But now I am going to woo her — I will bring her out to the desert and I will speak to her heart" (CJB). Many translations use the term "allure" in place of "woo" — suggesting that the male is charged with investing time and energy in enticing his wife. This is the antithesis of the "Take off your clothes and let's get to it!" approach. Again, we see the relationship between God and Israel depicted as that of a husband dealing softly and tenderly with his wife.
Now, I'm not suggesting that it's never appropriate for wives to initiate sex. It's healthy for both marriage partners to take an active role in initiating from time to time. This will vary according to circumstances and each spouse's mood, feelings and desires. At the end of the day, though, it's important for husbands to remember that the act of initiating sex is closely tied to how they love and connect with their wives in other ways. You can't expect your wife to be interested in sex until you can first show that you're interested in her — body, mind and soul.
Wives, what about you? If the man's role is that of initiator, then you are primarily designed as the receiver — responding to what is offered. This means that you need to prepare physically, mentally and emotionally to receive sexually. Even with all of the challenges of carpools, career and household duties facing you, it's important that you take care of yourself and save time for sex. This is easier said than done, I realize. But the chances of sex being fulfilling and mutually satisfying for you both will be greater if you can make every effort to be ready to receive when your husband initiates.
For both husbands and wives, as you journey through the seasons of life together it's important that neither partner regard sex as a "chore" or an "obligation." Instead, seek to embrace it as a delightful "dance" in which each spouse puts the other's needs and interests ahead of his or her own and explores ways of giving sexually to the other.
In order for that to happen, though, you need to overcome another obstacle that many couples face, and that is simply talking about their sexual relationship and communicating openly and honestly about their disappointments, expectations and desires. In our next article, we'll explore how to do just that.Dr. Greg Smalley is vice president of Marriage and Family Formation at Focus on the Family and the author or co-author of several books, including Crazy Little Thing Called Marriage.
For more on God's design for marriage and how to build a solid foundation in your relationship, see Focus on the Family's complete guide to The First Five Years of Marriage.
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