Great sex sometimes requires you to hold onto two opposing truths at the same time.
In my “Great Sex” series this month we’ve been exploring the ways in which a healthy and satisfying sexual union between husband and wife requires attention and effort – it doesn’t happen on its own.
Today we will see that great sex also requires tension. Not tension as in stress or anxiety, but tension as in being able to hold onto two sides of a truth that may seem at first to contradict each other. A thriving sex life necessitates being able to hold truths in tension.
Selfless vs. Selfish
I’m a big proponent of selflessness in marriage, of laying down your life for each other, of serving and sacrificing for each other’s good. At the same time, I also believe it’s important to voice your needs to each other, which, in a way, amounts to being a little selfish.
While it’s critically important never to push your spouse into sexual activity they are uncomfortable with, it’s equally important that you be open with your sexual desires, needs, and interests. Sexual transparency, met without shame or judgment, is a must for sexual intimacy to thrive. Maybe it’s not exactly selfishness, but it does require for you to be true to your sexual self. (For more on this, see my post “Getting Real in the Bedroom.“)
What does it mean to hold selflessness and selfishness in tension?
- Higher and lower drive partners need to be honest with their expectations yet be considerate of each other’s idea of “enough” sex.
- The more adventurous one in the marriage needs to express his or her wishes in a non-demanding way that respects the more tentative spouse.
- Be forthright with your desires, yet be willing to set aside your preferences and be accommodating of each other’s sexual differences (see my post, Great Sex is Not Natural). Realize you have a lifetime of learning and growing ahead of you.
- Selflessness requires you both to be willing to grow and step outside your comfort zones once in a while in order to move toward meeting each other’s expressed wishes.
- Selflessness means sharing and hearing without shaming, even when it is past your comfort zone.
Safety vs. Adventure
I recently heard Tony Robbins describe his theory of the six basic human needs, the first two of which obviously stand in tension with each other:
- Certainty – the need for safety, comfort, and security
- Uncertainty – the need for variety, change, new ideas and experiences
Brain science has proven that there is a tug of war going in your head around these two needs.
Young love is dominated by the presence of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain, which act like a narcotic and give us that head-over-heels-in-love feeling. Over time, these chemicals lessen and are overtaken by oxytocin, which is important for bonding the long-term relationship and puts us in a more contented, even keel state.
What does all this have to do with sex? A lot, actually.
The excitement in our brains over new sexual experiences causes us to feel similar sensations to when we were in that early, head-over-heels, giddy-in-love stage of our relationships, aka the honeymoon phase. But the same experience that brings a thrill can also bring fear and drive us to seek “safer ground” for the sake of not risking the relationship.
When it comes to sex, our desire for the security and safety of the familiar fights against our desire for the thrill of the new and different.
A healthy sex life contains both certainty and uncertainty. Typically one spouse will have a higher need for certainty and the other a higher need for uncertainty and variety, but truthfully, you both need some of each. The trick is to learn to navigate successfully between the two in a way that respects your differing needs.
The Rules of Happiness
In my post 3 Rules of Happiness in Marriage, I offered the following maxims:
- The primary purpose of your marriage isn’t to make you happy
- You need to take responsibility for your own happiness
- Love and serve your spouse as if their happiness depended on you
Numbers 2 and 3, bring us to our third and final truth in tension for the bedroom.
Happiness maxim 2 dictates that I need to take responsibility for my sexual happiness. If I am unhappy then the burden is on me to do something about it. That means I can’t sulk and withdraw until she figures out how to meet my needs, which is unattractive and ultimately self-defeating. Instead, I need to be vulnerable enough talk about my unmet needs in a non-demanding yet honest manner, without accusation or manipulation. The same is true for her. She needs to respectfully share her feelings about our sex life, without judgment or defensiveness. Ultimately, we both need to be open and honest, working together to find mutual ground where we can move toward each other with the mutual goal of growing in sexual intimacy.
The other side of this happiness coin is maxim 3. There is a clear biblical mandate in 1 Corinthians 7:3-7 that a husband and wife each need to take responsibility to see that the other is sexually fulfilled. This scripture implies more than doling out “duty sex,” Remember, you are the only sex your spouse will ever have. Make it a goal to be all the sex they ever dream of.
There you have my sexual truths to hold in tension. It would certainly be easier if everything was more cut and dry, but in the process of finding the balance between these truths with honesty, respect, and vulnerability, the sexual intimacy in your marriage will be greatly enhanced and strengthened.
If talking about your sex life is difficult, you can get a free copy of my report “How to Have a Succ-Sex-Full Marriage” when you sign up to receive my blog posts by email. Designed as a tool to help couples engage in meaningful conversation about how to improve sexual intimacy, each section of the report includes key takeaways from my sexual satisfaction survey findings and helpful discussion questions.