Note to my children: this blog post is about sex which, obviously, I know nothing about. After all, parents don’t do such things, and you were all conceived through the sharing of toothbrushes, which is gross enough to think about. So you can stop reading now.
Note to everyone else: that was a joke.
And now back to my actual post…
I should not read Christian blogs about marriage.
Especially the Protestant ones about sex.
At least not many of the ones that I unfortunately seem to keep encountering — specifically the ones telling me over and over again that I’m all wrong and need to change. My personality is wrong. My thoughts are wrong. My feelings are wrong. My desires are wrong. And I am sinning. Big time. Merely by being me.
Supposedly, if my husband says otherwise, he’s just being nice. Or cowardly. Or he’s lying. Because what he really wants is for me to be his porn star. That’s what all men want, but are too afraid to admit it to their sinfully inhibited wives, who have all sorts of wrong, immature, selfish hang-ups. If he doesn’t want me to be his porn star (perhaps possible if he has spent all his life locked in a room with no access to the outside world and thus has no idea what a porn star is) he does want me to be his fantasy lover. He wants me to blow his mind regularly. So the Christian sex blogs claim.
It’s all about the performance.
If I don’t enjoy sex on those terms, supposedly there is something wrong with me. And I’m in sin. Because God commands us to enjoy sex frequently, and He commands wives to be naked and unashamed, and He commands us to be sexually adventurous, and He commands us to do with wild abandon whatever it is that the blog author manages to conjure up out of Song of Solomon. Despite the sex bloggers’ enthusiasm for finding sex tips in that book of the Bible, I don’t recall it having anything to do with pretending you’re an actress engaging in humiliating and degrading — even violent — sex acts outside of the context of marriage with an actor in a movie that strangers on the internet watch while masturbating…but maybe I didn’t read it carefully enough the last time. Oh, and the “command” to be “naked and unashamed”? I guess I missed the part where God told Eve she was wrong to be ashamed and she didn’t need to wear clothes around Adam. (I don’t remember God saying, “I’m only making you this garment of animal skins for you to wear in the future, when there are other human beings around besides Adam. Because, since you are supposed to be naked and unashamed around him, you won’t be needing clothes for quite some time!”)
If a Christian woman says she wants her husband to act like a romantically suave and debonair movie star, completely out of character with his true nature and personality, people jump all over her for reading too many romance novels, tell her to repent and grow up, insist she adapt herself to her husband’s “love language”, and rebuke her for not appreciating and accepting her husband for who he is. As well they should. After all, if that sort of husband was so important to her, she should have held out for him, and not married the man she did.
And then the same people tell her to act like a prostituted woman providing masturbatory fodder in front of a camera, thus encouraging her husband to treat her in a way devoid of love, affection and respect — because actresses in porn receive nothing of the sort — all so that she can become his fantasy lover and blow his mind in bed. Now. Or she is sinning.
No matter what life is like outside the bedroom, what sort of personality the wife has, what ailments she might suffer from, what sexual trauma may lurk in her past, the worst thing she can possibly do to her husband and to her marriage is to be herself in the bedroom — unless, by nature, she doesn’t have a shy bone in her body, is incapable of embarrassment or humiliation, possesses no sense of boundaries or human dignity, has no desires of her own, needs neither love nor relationship, enjoys being the target of selfishness and disrespect, can put on a show of boundless enthusiasm and exuberance, is brimming with confidence, thinks she is hot and sexy, and is capable of acting like a born performer who loves to show off her body. If she’s not all that, she needs to repent. Now. Even if she is, that’s not enough, because she needs to be constantly eager for sex, skilled at every technique her husband desires, and creative in bed. (No, not procreative! Those little sex-conceived pests tempt us to lose our focus on sex, to use tiredness as an excuse for not being eager sex-performers, and to think our bodies may not be quite as sexy hot as they used to be — and that might interfere with our husband’s enjoyment of sex. Plus, we might worry about silly, inconsequential things like what the children are supposed to do while we keep having all this constant, mind-blowing, uninhibited sex. Because marriage is apparently mostly about sex, which is why I used the word so many times in this parenthetical remark.)
And somehow she is supposed to become this porn star almost immediately upon marriage, abruptly transforming herself from completely inexperienced and innocent young virgin to expertly skilled sex performer. If she is on the other end of the age spectrum, the sex bloggers have even less patience with her and less sympathy — if that is even possible — for the realities of her life.
Oh, the blogs may talk about intimacy (usually as a codeword for sex) and they may give lip service to things like communication and making love, but what they emphasize is that sex is about pleasure. In fact, it’s really all about orgasms, lots and lots of orgasms. As Christian wives, we should be giving and having them regularly, with great frequency and variety — because God invented sex.
He also invented fruit, but no one seems to be urging us to behave unrealistically while eating it. No one is telling us it is our duty to become exuberantly wild about plums, insisting that there is a special and uninhibited grape-eating demeanor that we need to adopt, preaching that we need to gorge ourselves on apples fixed 100 different ways whether we like them or not, or trying to make us feel guilty for not being over-the-top enthusiastic about our husbands’ fruit preferences.
OK, I might be exaggerating, but only a bit. And not every Christian sex blog places such demands on wives, but far too many do — and I’ve read enough to make me want to scream:
Inhibited women of the world, unite!!
(Quietly, in the privacy of your own homes. Don’t worry, no one is watching.)
I’m so sick of this bashing of shy, inhibited women, and this ridiculous notion that we need a personality transplant during sex. In fact, I’m weary of introvert-bashing and shy-bashing in general, but that’s a bigger rant.
Plus, I’m tired of the ridiculous advice uninhibited women give us to help us overcome our “hang-ups”, which usually boils down to attempting to have sex in the most anxiety-producing, nerve-wracking, and embarrassing way possible for people with inhibitions. If you feel self-conscious about your body, the sex bloggers insist that you should allow your husband to undress you with all the lights on, so that he cannot help but scrutinize your every flaw up close. Supposedly that will make you less inhibited! (It might very well make some trauma victims dissociate, but the sex bloggers have very little patience with us. We need to get therapy and get over ourselves ASAP. So do shy women. I don’t know what wives are supposed to do if their husbands would rather not have to confront the sight of their wives’ very un-porn-star-like, scarred and aging bodies up close under bright lights.)
The real problem goes much deeper and can’t be solved by certain wives getting personality transplants while shedding their inhibitions and senses of identity. It can’t be solved by certain husbands repenting of their longing for sexual experiences with the fantasy sex partners they wish their wives were, and instead learning to desire making love to their real-life wives. The problem goes even deeper than the shocking fact that most men — even in the church — get their sex education from porn, training themselves to desire, find erotic, and derive sexual pleasure from the filmed prostitution, abuse, and humiliation of women. The problem is much more serious than disappointment, unrealistic expectations, or even sinful desires.
The problem is that our theology of marriage and sex is extremely lacking, and falls so very, very short. You can’t baptize our porn-ified culture’s view of sex by slapping a “for married people only” sign on it and preaching sermons. Thinking you’ve gone the extra mile by carelessly throwing a few Bible verses around only makes things worse, not better.
No doubt at least a few readers will assume I’m some tight-lipped prude who is anti-pleasure. Whether I am or not is hardly the point, and such an assumption would only underscore what is really at issue: our view of sex is way too small. This amazing thing God designed is a grand mystery and, like all of His creation, it has His fingerprints all over it. Sin may dim our eyes to its beauty; it may even make sex appear so tawdry and ugly that we are incapable of seeing any evidence of God’s handiwork. But I believe there are profound truths in God’s plan, and I believe that there is no other act besides sex that has the potential to connect a married couple in such a deeply intimate way — physically, mentally, and spiritually. (I also believe the opposite is true: there is no other act besides sex that has the potential to divide and harm the marriage relationship in as deeply a wounding, destructive way.) The Biblical euphemism for making love — describing a husband as “knowing” his wife — is only rich with meaning when we discover that sex itself can be indescribably rich with meaning.
Sex is not a performance. It is about far more than pleasure. It is about intimacy, unity and life….and even more. It is a profound, beautiful mystery. Or at least it should be. And the true intimacy and oneness of sex is only possible if we cease to play a role, cease to put on a performance — and cease to demand that our spouses do so. Until we are willing to be our authentic selves with all the vulnerability and humanity that entails — and until we learn to fully love and fully embrace our spouse’s very real and authentic selves — we are incapable of true intimacy and unity. That is because true intimacy requires giving up our unrealistic expectations and fantasies. It requires creating a safe place, a haven, in which we and our spouses can receive encouragement to become more of who we truly are — not less — a safe place in which there is never a need to take on a role or to perform.
Within such a magnificent view of sex, there is no room for pretending to be a porn star, because that would only degrade sex and miss the point entirely. But there is room — there is in fact a grand and welcome invitation — for ordinary, shy, even supposedly inhibited, people like me. What should be more important to those who claim to be Christians is that there is plenty of room for Jesus…and for holiness.
Holiness? Coming into agreement with God’s standards for purity? Yes, I know. Holiness and sex don’t seem to go together much these days, do they? (Holiness and porn certainly don’t, and never will.) But if we are uncomfortable with the idea of linking holiness and sex, it is probably because our ideas of both are terribly, terribly flawed.
And, in that case, we probably shouldn’t be writing supposedly Christian marriage blogs. At the very least, we should stop trying to baptize porn culture, stop trying to pretend that is what sex is supposed to be about, and stop trying to claim our misguided ideas are Christian.
Updated to add:
Whether you are are a man or a women, before defending or justifying your use of porn (as in, “It was only a few times”, “I didn’t watch any of the bad stuff”, “It was harmless”, “I think it helped my marriage”, “The stuff I watched was really loving and respectful to women”, “Don’t be such a prude”, “You Christians all hate sex”, or whatever) read this report from a researcher who is not a Christian.