Each partner in marriage is to be most concerned not with getting sexual pleasure but with giving it. In short, the greatest sexual pleasure should be the pleasure of seeing your spouse getting pleasure. When you get to the place where giving arousal is the most arousing thing, you are practicing this principle.
When I was doing research for this chapter, I found some old talks that Kathy and I did together long ago when we were probably five or six years into our marriage. I had forgotten some of the struggles we had in our early days and some of the notes reminded me that in those years we started to dread having sex. Kathy, in those remarks said that if she didn’t experience an orgasm during love-making, we both felt like failures. If I asked her, “How was that?” and she said, “It just hurt,” I felt devastated and she did too. We had a great deal of trouble until we started to see something. As Kathy said in her notes:
We came to realize that orgasm is great, especially climaxing together. But the awe, the wonder, the safety and the joy of just being one is stirring and stunning even without that. And when we stopped trying to perform and just started trying to simply love one another in sex, things started to move ahead. We stopped worrying about our performance. And we stopped worrying about what we were getting and started to say, “Well, what can we do just to give something to the other?”
This concept also has implications for a typical problem that many couples experience in their marital relationship, namely that one person wants sex more often than the other. If your main purpose in sex is giving pleasure, not getting pleasure, then a person who doesn’t have as much of a sex drive physically can give to the other person as a gift. This is a legitimate act of love, and it shouldn’t be denigrated by saying, “Oh, no, no. Unless you’re going to be all passionate. Don’t do it.” Do it as a gift.
Related to this is the differences that many spouses experience over the what is most satisfying context for sex. While I am not saying this is universal, I will share that, as a male, context means very little to me. That means, to be blunt, pretty much any time, any where. However, I came to see that meant I was being oblivious to something that was very important to my wife. Context? Oh, you mean candles or something? And, of course, Kathy, like so many women did not mean “candles or something.” She meant preparing for sex emotionally. She meant warmth and conversation and things like that. I learned this, but slowly. And so we learned to be very patient with each other when it came to sex. It took years for us to be good at sexually satisfying one another. But the patience paid off.
Sex as a test
The Bible gives us a high view of sex. It is a sign and seal of our oneness with each other and with God. We should not, then, be surprised to discover that you may find problems “showing up in bed”, which, if it wasn’t for sex, you might never have seen. There may be guilt, fear, or anger over past relationships. There may be growing mistrust or disrespect, or unresolved differences in your present relationship. Sex is such a great and sensitive thing that you will not be able to sweep these problems under the rug. Unless your marital relationship is in a good condition, sex doesn’t work. So be very careful to look beneath the surface. A lack of “sexual compatibility” might not really be a lack of love-making skill at all. It may be a sign of deeper problems in the relationship. It is often the case that, if the problems are addressed, the sexual intimacy improves.
A fundamental rule of marriage is that time marches on, as Lewis Smedes said, you don’t marry one woman or one man, but many. Time, children, illness, and age all bring changes that may require creative, disciplined responses in order to rebuild a sexual intimacy that was effortless at an earlier time. If you don’t confront and adapt to these changes they’ll erode your sex life. Kathy and I often liken sex in a marriage to oil in an engine — without it, the friction between all the moving parts will burn out the motor. Without joyful, loving sex, the friction in a marriage will bring about anger, resentment, hardness, and disappointment. Rather than being the commitment glue that holds you together, it can become a force to divide you. Never give up working on your sex life.
The glory of sex
Sex is glorious. We would know that even if we didn’t have the Bible. Sex leads us to words of adoration, it literally evokes shouts of joy and praise. But through the Bible we know why this is true. John 17 tells us that from all eternity, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have been adoring and glorifying each other, living in high devotion to each other, pouring love and joy into one another’s hearts continually (cf. John 1:18; 17:5, 21,24-25). Sex between a man and a woman points to the love between the Father and the Son (1 Corinthians 11:3). It a reflection of the joyous self-giving and pleasure of love within the very life of the Triune God.
Sex is glorious not only because it reflects the joy of the Trinity, but also because it points to the eternal delight of soul that we will have in heaven, in our loving relationships with God and one another. Romans 7:1ff tells us that the best marriages are pointers to the deep, infinitely fulfilling, and final union we will have with Christ in love.
No wonder, as some have said, sex between a man and a woman can be a sort of embodied out-of-the-body experience. It’s the most ecstatic, breath taking, daring, scarcely-to-be-imagined a look at the glory that is our future.
Get Timothy Keller & Kathy Keller’s book, The Meaning of Marriage.
Excerpt from The Meaning of Marriage © 2011 by Timothy Keller with Kathy Keller. Published by Dutton, A Member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Excerpted with permission from the publisher. All Rights Reserved.