“What are you working on over there?” Chris asked as I sat typing in our living room. “My Red Tent writing for the month,” I replied. “Oh good, what’s it going to be about this time?” “Sex!” I exclaimed with a suggestive smirk, which he definitely read!
We went on to talk at length about an article that had just popped up on his LinkedIn, about sex getting better as you age, written by a woman he met years ago on a business trip to Rwanda. They struck up a conversation at breakfast one morning in the hotel, and he learned she was bringing her experience working with trauma survivors to create a program for women and children in the DRC, victims of unimaginable sexual violence.
Recalling the memory led to a random, strangely interesting conversation that went off on a few tangents, and I found myself still thinking about it the next day.
I was very familiar with the sense I have when I listen to or watch my husband strike up conversations with total strangers, more often than not coming away with something significant about their story – and this one was no different. What an odd connection, about sex of all things, to make on LinkedIn!
And then I remembered how perfectly normal the conversation was, not much different from simply sharing the events of our day. Yet it was about sex! And our daughter was in the room. And I’m sure she was listening, because she has told us she hears EVERYTHING! And she wasn’t appalled. It struck me that these kinds of conversations certainly never happened in my home growing up, and not even for most of our married life.
It was evidence of the reality that sex, more specifically engaging our sexuality, has really shifted for our whole family.
For much of my married life, “Sex?” was the question that I thought was always on Chris’ lips, while I worked hard to manage all the shame I felt about my body’s response or lack of response; which translated into sex feeling like a lot of work for something that too often didn’t feel like much of a payback. I’d read countless marriage books suggesting the importance of communication with your partner about sex, suggesting seven easy steps to get the conversation, and your sex life, going. Frankly, they just felt painfully awkward, increased my shame, and left me with little hope that sex would ever feel “very good.”
After much work dealing with some deep, early wounds to my sexuality, as well as addressing the mess we had created in our marriage with both of our stories, sex has finally become something celebratory and sacred, exciting and unpredictable, playful and still messy. Now more often “Sex?” is the question on my lips, and I am the one left holding my breath, clinging to hope, fearing disappointment.
Here are a few things I’ve learned as we navigate this new territory together:
1. I am responsible for my own body, for blessing the sensuality I was created with, and doing what I can to keep myself in shape (physically and sexually) in order to preserve my ability to fully enjoy sexual intimacy with my husband. (Turns out increased blood flow really IS a thing!)
2. Regular sex has many health benefits in addition to the obvious feelings of relational intimacy. Sex releases endorphins and oxytocin, which have numerous “feel good” effects: lower stress, pain relief (endorphins have a morphine-like effect), less anxiety, depression, better sleep, and even softer, younger looking skin. It also boosts your immune system with antigens that help your body defend against colds/flu, and lowers blood pressure. Those are some pretty compelling benefits – who doesn’t want to feel better and look younger?
3. As much as I take responsibility to care for my own body, and experience for myself the health benefits of sex, I will always have a profound need for my husband. There is no substitute for the sacred, one flesh intimacy that comes in the joining of our bodies and souls. I can’t make that happen on demand, nor can he – the potential for it NOT happening making it all the sweeter when it does happen. And so disappointment and pain will always be just as possible as contentment and joy.
4. It is good for me to be reminded that my fallback of taking care of things myself rather than depending on another is not how I was created to be. The ache in my need for my husband echoes my even deeper ache and need for God, which, if I were honest, I would prefer to be fulfilled on demand. But God in his extravagant love and wisdom has intentionally left me needy and wanting.
I wonder as I write those words “needy and wanting” how they sit with you? There are times when I hear them in a very harsh voice, full of contempt. And, I am grateful that there are also days they feel just the right kind of vulnerable – soft and inviting. I invite you to welcome those words, or perhaps others that speak to a sacredly sensual place inside you; welcome them and then take a risk and bring them to a conversation with someone you love.
Janet Stark is a woman learning to embrace her depth and sensitivity. Inspired by Mary pondering things in her heart, Janet writes about her experiences here. She is grateful for the deep love she shares with her husband of 26 years, as well as her 4 children and 2 grandchildren. She is a life-long lover of words and looks forward to reading and sharing at Red Tent Living.