Sexual Problems in Marriage, Part 2
About the Guest
Have those sparks in the bedroom dwindled to ashes? Today popular author and counselor Dan Allender offers hope and help for those faced with sexual problems in their marriage.
Have those sparks in the bedroom dwindled to ashes?
Sexual Problems in Marriage, Part 2
Dan: Are you aware that you might just be resentful about your own body, resentful to God about the way you are made, resentful at your spouse for not understanding. There can be a whole lot of factors going on from anxiety to resentment. So as long as those issues are percolating in a person’s heart, even if they are unwitting, they are still going to affect one sexual vitality and engagement with the other.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, August 17th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife Dennis Rainey, and I am Bob Lepine. We are going to talk today on what we trust will be both appropriate and biblical terms about some of the challenges women face when it comes to sexual intimacy in marriage.
Welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Tuesday edition. I am glad that we are taking time this week to talk about the subject we are talking about, about marital intimacy and some of the challenges couples face because as I talk with couples, for a lot of husbands and wives, this is an area of frustration. They don’t know where to go to talk about it and how to talk appropriately about it and who should you share your challenges with. And so we thought let’s get someone in here and let’s talk about it appropriately, as I have said, and also biblically and try and get these issues dealt with.
Dennis: That’s right, and we are going to be specifically talking with wives about the problems they face and what they can do in the marriage relationship. Yesterday, we talked with Dan Allender about problems men face and what husbands need to do in a marriage relationship. And Dan, first of all, I want to welcome you back to the broadcast.
Dan: Thank you.
Dennis: For those of you who do not know Dr. Dan Allender, he is the Founder and Director of Wounded Heart Ministries, a writer, a speaker. And among his books, he has authored The Cry of the Soul, The Wounded Heart, Intimate Allies and also The Healing Path. But today, Dan, we want to talk about a subject that comes up in your counseling practice that you have. You counsel 15 to 20 hours a week. It's the area of sexual responsiveness in marriage. And today, specifically, we want to talk about a wife’s responsiveness. Where do we start as we begin this? What’s a wife’s #1 problem that she is facing here?
Dan: And let me go back to we talked about in the other show if I might and that is what’s the core problem, sin. Now, to put it into more simple terms, what does a man struggle core in terms of the issues of the curse. It's failure or futility.
For a woman though, it's different. And I believe that the core issue for her is the issue of loneliness. That’s going to affect everything we talk about. A woman is going to struggle sexually just like a man will. But how will her struggle show itself? I think in many ways, it is a lack of responsiveness. There will be many women who struggle with inorgasmia. Forty some percent of women have never experienced one orgasm in marriage. That’s staggering, I mean it's just so apart from God’s plan.
Certainly, there will be many other women who experience some pleasure but not often and not thrilling. One out of every four times there is sexual intercourse, a woman will on average experience an orgasm. That implies very much that a woman will not regularly have an orgasm every time she has sexual intercourse and nor should she feel any sense of pressure that every time she has sexual intercourse, there will be an orgasm. But if there isn’t at all, hardly ever, once a year, then all I can say is don’t learn to live with it. There is something going on and it's time to begin to address.
Bob: Is that sometimes a physiological problem?
Dan: Absolutely. Certainly during certain hormonal periods, during certain periods of life, there will be a lack of sexual pressure in part because the body was not intended to be aware of the pleasures that are there during high seasons of care of children, exhaustion. There may be a lot of physical factors. And that’s one of the things that a woman ought to do is go see somebody who is gifted in this area like an OB/GYN to deal with those issues that might be affecting her sexual responsiveness.
Bob: You mean to go her OB and say I am struggling with orgasm?
Dan: I know how hard that must sound. And again, I am not a woman so I can only say you go to some person in the medical field to begin the process of seeing if there is a small chance that your lack of responsiveness has to do with either very significant season in your life or that there are physical problems. Very seldom will that be the case. But why not exclude that possibility. Yes, it's very hard to do so.
Dennis: And if she is in a season of life where let’s say circumstances are not conducive for her own sexual appetites, what should happen there?
Dan: Pray for time to pass and for the children to grow and for diapers to be dispersed and for the exhaustion that comes from some of those early periods of mothering to somehow weed their way out of one’s life. Now, there are obviously practical things that can be done during that period. Ask your in-laws to come and stay with your kids for three years.
Dennis: I will tell you something Barbara did. We are laughing but she would take a nap in the afternoon and many times that nap was for me. It was an ability to recapture some energy to have something left over to be with me in the evening. And that was conversation but that was also sexual intimacy.
Dan: Absolutely. Get a babysitter between 2 and 6. Let them eat macaroni and go somewhere hopefully in an appropriate place to be able to have energy for your spouse. I mean they are practical things but let’s just be realistic.
There are periods in your life where because perhaps you have just given birth, you are 10 or 15 overweight, you don’t feel very lovely, you are exhausted, you are breast-feeding. I have never been in that position but I can only say from watching my wife, that was not one of the heightened periods of sexual joy.
Bob: All right. So if it's not a season of life issue and if the OB says everything looks fine physically, then it's an emotional issue?
Dan: Again, you are asking a great question. When you say an emotional issue, here are three things that might be going on. #1, is there anxiety? Anxiety often is due to performance pressure. And if there are pressure issues, guess what, it's not a sexual issue it's a communicational issue that needs to be addressed. And that is you feel pressure from your spouse or you feel your own pressure from whatever cultural world you come from that you bring expectations that need to be addressed.
Second issue and that is anger. Just as we talked about yesterday and I brought up three issues and Dennis brought up the real core one, and that is resentment. You resent your spouse even in subtle silent ways. It will show itself eventually in your ability to enjoy, be aroused by and move toward the point of orgasm. Let me speak for a moment about issue of orgasm.
God has designed it in such a way that you cannot control as a woman your capacity to have an orgasm. There is a sense in which you must surrender to pleasure in order for arousal to occur, to grow, to grow, to grow. Your sexual responsiveness couldn’t be any more different than your husband’s. His is easily aroused often by sight. Yours is much slower usually aroused by sound, that is words, by communication.
The process for you to reach a point of plateau to be able to have an orgasm takes much longer and is much more susceptible to fragility, to sound, to a child crying outside the door. That can immediacy destroy your arousal in a way that may not for a man. So now, as we begin to talk about the differences between male and female, are you aware that you might just be resentful about your own body, resentful to God, about the way you are made, resentful at spouse for not understanding. There can be a whole lot of factors going on from anxiety to resentment.
Now to the heart, third, and that is the issue of disgust. I cannot tell you how often this is a factor that plays itself out, disgust for one’s own body, for arousal, for one’s own sexuality, for engagement with the other. I can't tell you how many wives dissociate when they are involved in sexual activity.
Bob: You mean they are just kind of aren’t there?
Dan: Well, yeah. Dissociation to be very honest is just I am escaping from a situation I find somewhat intolerable. Individuals who are bored disassociate. Somebody is driving – and I love thee State of Kansas – but they are driving on I-70 through that long, long prairie and they begin to lose track of distance and time. They are dissociating. So the reality is when you are in the situation that you find intolerable you will escape and go somewhere else.
Dan: In many ways, that’s a good example of dissociation that can become even more severe than that, literally where a person is having sex with their spouse and they are not there.
Dennis: Emotionally, they have gone somewhere else.
Dan: And again, I want to say yes, emotionally, but I want to say even more than that. Literally, I’ve worked with individuals who because of past sexual abuse are literally watching the intercourse from the corner of the room. They have ability to leave their body and look down on what's happening and not be present. You must be present for sexuality to grow to a point where surrender can occur to the pleasure and then ultimately to an orgasm.
Bob: It is the issue of disgust usually because of some past sexual abuse?
Dan: Or some past sexual immorality that one does not know, great, great forgiveness for. In other words, I hate my body. I was involved in this immorality and it makes me feel so cheap. I was involved in this abuse and because of this complex issue of ambivalence, the abuser touched you and abuser touched you likely in a way that was sexual. And as he touched you sexually, you felt pleasure. You may have hated it. I am absolutely not saying that the individual who was abused wanted to be abused. But nonetheless, there was some level of pleasure.
Now, you see the sense of I didn’t want to be touched, I was touched, I felt pleasure and I hate the arousal and now I come to do what, I come to hate myself and my sexuality and my ability to respond and give to my spouse. So as long as those issues are percolating in a person’s heart, even if they are unwitting, unconscious, unseen, there is still going to affect one sexual vitality and engagement with the other.
Dennis: Dan, I want to go back through all three of these and let's talk in terms of solution if we can. First of all, the wife who is feeling under pressure for performance. Speak to her and speak to her husband, what’s some of the solutions that she can begin to apply there and he can also help her with so that she can sexually respond?
Dan: Knowledge, knowledge, and knowledge. Get a book on sexuality. There’re so many good resources. Ed Wheat’s book. Many of the resources that we offer at the FamilyLife Conferences are just plain great books. And not that at the FamilyLife Conference, we deal with sexuality in any way other than a very appropriate, honoring, and joyful way. But you need knowledge and the FamilyLife Conference is certainly one of fantastic ways to get some hard data to begin to look at this issue. So pressure begins to be relieved when you begin to get a knowledge of your own body, your spouse’s body and the reality of the pressure you feel is not legitimate.
Dennis: And one of the thing you get at the FamilyLife Marriage Conference in terms of knowledge is knowledge of how a relationship works. I think a lot of sexual problems really go back to the fact we don’t know how to resolve conflict. We don’t know how to get along. We don’t appreciate the differences of male and female and the way God designed us. And a lot of men are trying to make women be like them.
Dan: We can't say that enough. If we say that endlessly, it’s still important to say again and again.
Bob: And it may be that the communication that takes place between a husband and wife is a big part of that knowledge just as a wife opens up and says, “You know what, I feel performance pressure.” And a husband says, “Huh, I didn’t know that.” That’s interesting.
Dennis: Well, I will say this. There was a period in our marriage where Barbara expressed that in our marriage and it took an evening where she cried and wept for me to kind of get the point as a thickheaded young man who frankly was being selfish. And that experience helped me begin to understand that even if she did perform, that wasn’t what I needed as a man. I needed a relationship with a woman who wanted to be with me, not someone that I was forcing to “perform.” And men sometimes don’t realize that in their selfishness and in their pressure that they are feeling, they are not truly getting what they truly need, are they?
Dan: Well, absolutely and let me just say it this way. Don’t bother asking me about the second point because you have just answered it, and that is what's the issue, how do we deal with the resentment and anger in a relationship. You go to FamilyLife Conference, you begin to read, you begin to think, you begin to talk.
And you have an evening where you watch your wife weep and realize you have been a real jerk, you put pressure on her. And her resentment has a certain level of righteousness. She should be angry. You have been a turkey. Now, you have got a framework to begin to deal with perhaps what might be the real significant issue and that’s the third issue of disgust.
Dennis: Well, let's talk about disgust. A wife who is contemptuous for her body, she thinks that sex is disgusting, something to be tolerated in a marriage. She quite frankly hasn’t enjoyed it maybe in months, perhaps years or only occasionally in her marriage. There has got to be some responsibility that the husband should bear there but let's first of all speak to what a wife needs to understand as she deals with this subject of disgust.
Dan: Well, let's at least starts with a huge category that I want to cover very quickly and that is our culture. Even our pagan culture sends such ridiculously mixed messages about what is lovely, what is beautiful, what is good sex.
In one sense, I am not trying to create more unnecessary conflict but I hate women’s magazines in most cases because virtually every one of them has something about sex on it. And if you have ever looked at it, a lot of times the information is just misleading. It's really written from an outright pagan standpoint that leads not a Christian heart to a deeper love of God and deeper love of the body. So what we need to go back to is don’t define yourself according to the principles of this world.
Dennis: And sometimes it doesn’t come from the secular evil world. Sometimes our disgust for sex can come from the Christian community. I had a conversation with a young man a number of years ago whose wife had been in a group of women and these women were all complaining about their husbands’ desire for sex and the frequency for sex that they wanted and how their husbands were oversexed.
Here was a dear wife who was meeting her husband’s needs. Her husband said to me “I am pleased with her. We are together frequently. I have no concerns.” But this dear wife, because she was in this Christian group of women who were discussing their disgust for this area quite frankly began to question whether she was attractive to her husband because her husband wasn’t complaining that he didn’t get sex enough.
Dan: I bet there was something in her that was questioning her own pleasure and sexuality as if there was something wrong for her for enjoying sex. We have culture, we have got the church, let’s put those aside and go to a whole another issue and that is the disgust that comes because you have not had the courage, because you felt shame, you felt criticism from the world, from the culture, from the church to deal with the issues of both immorality and/or perhaps abuse. All I can say is you can't run from it, you can't hide from it. It's only going to stay within you and affect every portion of your ability to love and to be loved.
Bob: Dan, if a woman today is 30 years old, married, has two children, what are the odds that she was sexually abused as she was growing up or that she was involved in some kind of immorality prior to marriage?
Dan: Let’s talk about abuse. The figures are such that one out of every two women have been sexually abused by the age of 18 and that’s with a fairly narrow definition of abuse. Now, if you really were to include all sorts of assaults, verbal, other interactions, what I can almost say is, is there any woman in North America, any woman in the world who has not had some sexual encounter that has caused her to feel for a period of time cheap and dirty? I don’t think there has been one, not single.
Now, as for immorality, the figures are very hard to pen down. If you look for example at 18 year olds, some 65% have had sexual encounters by the time they graduate from high school and the age is dropping, dropping, dropping, dropping. And so what we are finding is this culture and its madness, sexual madness is inviting virtually children into sexual encounters in 4th and 5th grade. So what we would have seen as a result of what we call those rebellious 60s almost looks nostalgic for what we are seeing now.
Bob: Now, we are seeing what price is in marriage relationships.
Dennis: You spoke a few moments ago about how someone who has been sexually abused, they are invited into a relationship with the abuser and the abuser begins to touch them sexually and that creates ambivalence, that creates a confusion within the heart of the person who is being abused. You can begin to see how that’s transferred over to the marriage relationship.
Speak to the immorality issue because, Dan, I feel like there is a lack of discussion and interaction around this whole subject of women who have been sexually permissive prior to marriage and how that impacts their marriage bed.
Dan: Let’s just be very frank and that is this is a very difficult topic. It’s difficult because we have appropriate biblical passages to say it’s immoral and wrong and there ought to be a sense of one sense guilt and sorrow and shame. But it is a guilt, sorrow and shame that ought to open the door to incredible gratitude that God sees me in beautiful white robes and virtually he calls me a virgin.
So you know what I love is to hear someday that women heard this broadcast and just the words opened the door to saying, “wait a minute, redemption of my soul is going to show itself as well and redemption of my body.” And with that, go to your prayer closet, fall on your knees and ask God to begin to restore for you a sense of the beauty of your body and the entire glory that God has built within the sexual response.
Dennis: A couple of points I would make there, Dan. #1, that has already happened. As a result of previous broadcast where you have been on where you talked about the Wounded Heart, there were women and even men who wrote in who had been sexually abused, who as a result of reading your book, as a result of going through that series with us on the air, did find the healing touch of God and the healing path that you have written about in your book and they found hope as a result.
Bob: I don’t know how many people over the years I have mentioned your book to or given them a copy of the book because they have opened up about sexual abuse being a part of their past experience and I have had folks come back and say, “Thank you so much. It was hard to read. It was hard to work through but I am glad we did.” And in fact, the best way that folks have done that I have heard of is where a husband and a wife go though it together, read through it together and interact over it. And it is hard. It's hard work. It brings up a lot of stuff but there is something better on the other side. And I know that’s why you wrote the book.
We have got copies of The Wounded Heart in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Go online at FamilyLifeToday.com for more information not only about Dan’s book but we have got other resources available to help you in the area of your sexual relationship in marriage.
You can also call us toll free at 1-800-FL-TODAY. It's 1-800-358-6329. And when you contact us, we will make arrangements to get the copy of Dan’s book or other resources you request out to you.
Now, a quick update for you on what's been going on all month here at FamilyLife. We have been asking those of you who are regular listeners but who have never gotten in touch with us, never made a donation to support the ministry of FamilyLife Today, if you would be willing during the month of August to step up and identify yourself and make a donation, just let us know you are there, that you are listening and that you believe in what we are doing.
And we have heard from a number of folks. Our goal has been to get 2,500 new friends to identify themselves as regular listeners to FamilyLife Today and to make a donation. We appreciate those of you who have already done that.
In fact, you can go to our website Familylifetoday.com and we are keeping a tally of how we are doing toward that goal of 2,500 new donors to FamilyLife Today. And this month, we have been offering as a “thank you gift” to those of you who can make a donation of any amount whether you are new or whether you have made a donation previously, a copy of the two CD series that we have with our friends Tim and Joy Downs who wrote a book of the Seven Conflicts of Marriage.
We are talking about the common causes for conflict in a lot of marriage relationships and how you work your way through those. When you make a donation of any amount this month, if you will type the word “SEVEN” in the online key code box when you make your online donation, we will send the copy of CDs to you. Or if you call to make your donation at 1-800-FL-TODAY, just ask for the CDs on conflict and we will get those out to you as well.
Let me also mention if you are a first-time donor and if you are able to make a donation of $100 or more this month, we would like to send you as a “thank you gift” the certificate so that you and your spouse can attend one of our upcoming FamilyLife Weekend to Remember Marriage® Getaways.
We are going to be hosting about four dozens of these events this fall in cities all across the country. We kick off the season next month and we would love to have you attend. So again, if you can help with the donation of $100 or more, ask for the certificate for a Weekend to Remember Marriage Getaway and we will send that to you. Again, that’s for first-time donors. And by the way, the certificate is transferable. If you want to pass it along to someone else you know, to your daughter and son-in-law or your son and daughter-in-law, you can do that. And let me just say thanks again for your support to this ministry. We appreciate your partnership with us and it's nice to have some of our new friends joining us.
Now, tomorrow, we are going to talk with a couple who early in their marriage experienced infidelity. The wife was unfaithful to the husband. That issue came to light and they faced some very difficult choices and decisions. We will meet Ron and Nancy Anderson, and hear their story tomorrow. I hope you can be back with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today Keith Lynch and our entire broadcast production team on behalf of our host Dennis Rainey. I am Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
Family Life Today is a production of Family Life of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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