In your marriage, is sex more about quantity or quality?
One stereotype we always hear is that men just want it all the time and women do not. But the fact of the matter is, many factors come into play: body image, anxiety, menstrual cycles, social cues or influences, etc. So deriving meaning about the purpose of sexual intimacy from the frequency of sex is not always a great strategy.
Byers & Heinlein (1989) researched the initiation of sex in a marriage. What comes as no surprise is that they found men initiated more than women. But, they undid one cultural stereotype: men and women respond the same percentage of the time to those initiations.
Another thing they found was that if you experience greater sexual satisfaction in your marriage, there are more initiations. If you are less sexually satisfied, you are more likely to refuse an initiation.
All this to come to our first point – mutual satisfaction is one purpose for sex!
Selfless-ness & Mutual Intimacy
A key Bible passage that deals with the physical side of marriage is 1 Corinthians 7:3-5a, “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”
Some key points to see here:
- In a marriage, we don’t have “rights” over our own bodies. We are responsible to yield mutually to one another. In fact, marriage and sex are both wonderful facilities to reveal selfishness in ourselves! We need to remember that we give up exclusive rights to “me” and share them with our spouse when we marry.
- Sex loses its meaning when I stop giving. Think of making love as a “giving” gesture and not a “getting” (ie, what I can get from it) gesture.
- Culture teaches that men, in particular, have a right to ejaculation. We need to think about rights differently. What we actually have the right to, is to mutually give or serve our spouse in the context of absolute equality. Holding a right to give, not get, is a paradigm shift that will bless your marriage.
- There is one huge assumption here, which may be an issue for some of you. This passage says nothing of procreation and by virtue of this silence, validates the truth that God made us sexual creatures not only for procreation, but also for pleasure. That is one of the main points of sex: this very intense, very intimate, mutual intimacy and pleasure.
So often people ask, “How often do married couples have sex?” We look for benchmarks sometimes and I think we’re really asking the question, not so much “What’s the point of sex” but rather “What’s the meaning of how frequently/infrequently we have sex?”
Greenblat (1983) found that in the first year of marriage, three-quarters of couples were having sex more than 2x/week; after 6 years that dropped to 1.5x per week. One consistent issue related to the decline in frequency was exhaustion. Life stages change and energy levels change with them!
But the decline was found not to be negative – people often reported physical intimacy as being more relaxed, and more focused on quality than quantity. Other types of intimacy were coming in as well.
Sprecher & Schwartz (1995) also studied the frequency of sex in married couples and found that frequency changes over the course of life. The greatest influencing factor in the decrease of physical intimacy is age. The second is marital happiness and then other factors, such as pregnancy and the presence of small children, come into play.
The point is that frequency should not dictate meaning. Rather, we need to have the meaning we give to our sexual intimacy speak to the natural frequency that will result.
Why do married couples have sex?
- Shared pleasure – that’s the ‘giving’ and mutuality we spoke of, above.
- A means to deepen and reinforce intimacy – a different experience than just a relief from being horny.
- A way to reduce tension from life stresses – nurturing, safety, vulnerability, release of endorphins, etc.
What should sex look like?
- Intimate (is it too obvious to state that!?!)
- Giving of pleasure (not demanding or selfish)
- Eroticism (Wikipedia’s definition: the aesthetics of sexual desire, sensuality and romantic love)
Think about your own marriage for a moment. Has your sex life decreased? Is it because of natural causes (like children and exhaustion) or because of a lack of marital satisfaction? Who initiates the most? Are you being selfish and holding yourself back from your spouse? Or are you being demanding and not respecting your spouse?
There is a lot to think about here and now the next step is learning to discuss it. To help you get a quick read on where you and your spouse are at, ask your spouse, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how amorous are you?”
“On a scale of 1 to 10…” “I’m a 7.” “I’m a 1.” “Okay, how about tomorrow night/in the morning?
Be honest, be open, but most of all be giving!
From Anonymous (again!): “How important is it for a marriage to have another good couple as friends?”
Before you listen to our answer, think about how you would answer it. Leave us your thoughts in the comments below!
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