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As a sex therapist, at the top of the list of things I get asked about the most are the “what’s okay and what isn’t” type questions. These questions and concerns often act as mental distracters and inhibitors to true intimacy. Resolution is needed in order for women, in particular, to have the peace of mind necessary to allow lovemaking to flow freely.
The following are some of the concepts to consider as you work through your own “what’s okay and what isn’t” type issues. Questions for couples to discuss will also be provided.
- Feel Free to Express and Explore
- Principles Over Practices
- The Spirit of the Law
- Spiritual Self-Confidence
- Inappropriate Versus Inhibited
Feel Free to Express and Explore
Couples need to feel free to express and develop their lovemaking within the intimate sanctuary of marriage. Though we hear very little affirmation of the goodness of sexual intimacy even within marriage, sex is approved and ordained of God as a divine gift for husband and wife to enjoy. The sexual learning of a husband and wife is meant to freely occur within an atmosphere of love, respect, and trust, not in an atmosphere of fear, anxiousness, guilt, or shame.
Some people experience overactive feelings of guilt, shame, and discomfort about sex, already inhibiting their sexual desire and response. It can make it difficult to grasp the idea of the intimate relationship being a sacred sanctuary free of such negative emotions. It can make it difficult to freely embrace and nurture this vital aspect of marriage.
When the intimate relationship between husband and wife is seen as a haven of God-given privacy this allows couples to freely and openly express, learn about, communicate regarding, and understand the unique and powerful blessings of sexual expression. According to the counsel we continue to receive from church leaders, these matters are between husband and wife and the Lord.
Principles Over Practices
Some couples look for a laundry list of do’s and don’ts to guide their intimate relationship in marriage. Because of the variety of individuals, experiences, history, personalities, etc., it may be more effective to operate on the principles of love, mutual respect, trust, fidelity, etc., rather than seek a list of specific practices in determining what’s okay and what isn’t.
God doesn’t need to command in all things, especially when we can go to Him directly for specific personal counsel and guidance. This requires that we understand God’s principles governing sexual intimacy. We must then work to develop our spiritual senses, so that we can trust in the inspiration we receive.
Many people have wanted me to give them a “yes” or “no” answer to specific questions, but my response is always the same. It doesn’t really matter what I think. It only matters what you and your spouse think, and what you both feel comfortable with and willingly agree upon.
What’s the point of someone even saying that a particular behavior is okay, if your spouse feels that it isn’t? That counsel would only be useful for one spouse to, in essence, beat the other spouse over the head about it. That’s not the best way to create a close and intimate loving relationship, especially if you’re looking for intimate connection that’s freely given.
This is why couples must take responsibility for working through their intimate differences between themselves and God, if needed, based on divine principles. A therapist may be helpful when the relationship is being negatively affected by their differences in sexual preferences and opinions. Providing accurate information about differing sexual wiring between men and women can be helpful.
The Spirit of the Law
Jesus Christ replaced the strict and specific written commandments (the do’s and don’ts) of the Old Testament’s Law of Moses with the New Testament’s higher law. Blind obedience to specific behaviors–the letter of the law–was replaced with following the spirit of the law.
It almost makes lists of moral do’s and don’ts unnecessary when the underlying spirit of the law is presupposed. It’s the intent of our hearts that matters most in determining what’s right or wrong for one’s relationship based on divine principles of mutual love, respect, trust, etc. Operating under the spirit of the law regarding intimacy in marriage not only includes maintaining appropriate behavior, but also relies on following the intent of God’s counsel for sex in marriage.
Couples cannot overlook individual idiosyncrasies in each spouse either. If there has been abuse in one’s past or betrayal trauma in the relationship, for instance, that will significantly affect how “what’s okay” type questions are resolved.
In addition, the Savior used symbols and parables to teach divine truths. Parables and symbols allow for people to learn what they are ready to understand at that moment in time. Parables rely upon the Spirit to teach what is right according to when one is ready, willing, and able to receive it. This might mean that husband and wife may have different impressions based on their uniqueness as an individual.
Depending on the knowledge, experience, and degree of spiritual understanding an individual has, parables can potentially allow for each person to understand the same principle a little differently. If the Savior chose to use parables to teach, then maybe we too can give each other greater latitude in our learning. We can let it be okay for others to see things differently even in matters of physical intimacy.
Following the spirit of the law requires refinement of the heart, greater spiritual insight, and a greater ability to hear and heed spiritual direction. We must, therefore, examine the intent of our hearts regarding our desires within the sexual relationship, in order to determine what’s appropriate.
The spirit of the law allows for flexibility in making decisions for our particular situation. It means making a decision, then checking with the Lord for confirmation when needed. One caution here is to beware of using the spirit of the law as simply a way to rationalize the law away.
An example of applying the spirit of the law might be when a husband, for instance, is overly fixated on a particular sexual activity even though the behavior isn’t expressly forbidden. His insistence makes his wife upset and resistant to sex altogether. The spirit of the law might then be applied that while something isn’t technically “not okay,” it is affecting the relationship in a way that is harmful to the warmth and connection there. This significantly affects a woman’s intimate wiring, since it’s based on a foundation of trust and a feeling of safety.
I applaud couples who are trying to create a healthy and godly sexual relationship. God wants couples to enjoy His divine gift of sex. By personally tackling the difficult issues of what’s appropriate regarding intimacy in marriage, couples will be able to develop greater confidence in their ability to identify and receive spiritual direction, and rely more directly on God for guidance in other matters as well. Spiritual self-reliance is as vital today as ever, if not more so.
I often see couples wanting approval for or against certain behaviors. My concern comes when couples are not sufficiently versed in the language of the Spirit of God, and/or are not confident in their ability to receive divine guidance for themselves on this delicate subject.
Some may not want to put in the effort required to study, and gain insight directly from the Lord on such things. But on matters especially as sacred and personal as sexuality, God may be the only true source of sound guidance versus relying on human opinion and validation.
No one outside the couple has enough information about the circumstances in the relationship to make accurate judgments about what’s okay and what isn’t. Only God perfectly knows each one of us. He knows our strengths, our weaknesses, and the dynamics of our marriage relationship. He is the only one that can answer our “what’s okay” questions correctly.
We must also be careful not to condemn or judge our spouse, or others, based upon our personal interpretation or perceptions of right and wrong. We must work together as husband and wife, with the help of the Lord, to determine what will enhance and strengthen our intimate relationship.
Each couple has a responsibility to develop their own spiritual self-confidence–especially within the delicate and intimate relationship of marriage. Couples need to work together using wisdom, in order to govern themselves in matters of their intimate relationship.
Inappropriate Versus Inhibited
Negative thoughts, beliefs, and experiences we accumulate about sex create distorted perceptions about sexual intimacy that we may incorrectly see as reality. We internalize this conditioning, which manifests itself in varying degrees among both men and women, though women seem to internalize it more readily. These negative core beliefs can affect one’s perceptions of right and wrong. Men (and women), too, can pick up negative learning and conditioning about sex through pornography and other unhealthy media.
Being able to receive definitive divine guidance is a complex, delicate matter. Personal revelation involves preparation, study, righteousness, and a sufficiently developed sense of, or familiarity with God’s “voice,” in order to be able to accurately hear and heed the whisperings of the Spirit.
Distinguishing between sexual inhibitions caused by negative conditioning, and reticence prompted by divine direction, is no easy task. Couples must consider the possibility of negative sexual conditioning, as well as the strength of their spiritual connection when determining what’s okay and what isn’t in their intimate relationship.
Let’s say a husband wants his wife to participate in a particular behavior, but she feels uncomfortable with it. She considers her feelings to be a spiritual indication that the behavior is wrong. It is possible that the husband is out of tune with his spiritual guidance system, or it could be that things like pornography have negatively influenced his appetites and desires. He may not see anything wrong with the behavior, even though it may actually not be in keeping with God’s designs for sexual relations in marriage.
On the other hand, it is possible that the wife is unaware of her underlying negative conditioning (Good Girl Syndrome) that causes her to believe or feel something is sinful, when it is not. As the husband develops spiritually, or roots out the effects of pornography, for instance, he may come to see that the particular behavior he previously desired isn’t appropriate.
As the wife overcomes her unnecessary inhibitions, the sexual activities she previously felt were sinful can now be seen as perfectly acceptable, and even enjoyable within a trusting and loving, intimate marital relationship.
Though there is no clearly defined list of do’s and don’ts, the Lord has not left couples alone with the important issues of intimacy in marriage. Couples can counsel with the Lord in all their doings–even in the area of sexual relations–and He will direct them to that which is good.
Questions to Consider in Resolving Sexual Differences
Here are a few questions couples can discuss to help sort out the many what’s okay and what isn’t questions that abound. What might be okay for one couple might not be okay for another. So, these questions can help you personally identify your uniquely individual/couple answers:
- What is the purpose or intent of the desired sexual behavior?
- Does either spouse feel demeaned, degraded, or objectified by the behavior in question? Does the behavior maintain the dignity of both spouses?
- Is either spouse demanding a particular behavior, or seem overly preoccupied with it?
- What is motivating the desire for the behavior? What is motivating the other spouse’s resistance to the behavior?
- Do you think God would approve of the behavior? Why or why not?
- What are the short-term and long-term outcomes or consequences of adding this activity to your intimate relationship?
- Is the marriage relationship more likely to be strengthened or weakened in the long-run?
- Who generally has to do the most changing in the sexual arena? Is there compromise, or a balanced mutuality in resolving your differing sexual interests and desires?
- Do both of you feel fully heard about the issue at hand? Are you both confident that each other has honestly and openly expressed their true feelings? Have either of you shut down to avoid confrontation or negative reactions?
Resolving what’s-okay-type questions in your relationship is an important aspect of developing a healthy state of mind about sex, which can then support and sustain a healthy sexual relationship in marriage.
Excerpted from Chapter 2 — “THOUGHTS” of Laura M. Brotherson’s NEW book — Knowing HER Intimately: 12 Keys for Creating a Sextraordinary Marriage. Get your copy here for a fabulously discounted price…especially for Meridian readers!
Other articles in this series:
- “12 Keys for Creating a Happy Intimate Life in Your Marriage” (Sep 8, 2016)
- “Sexuality is Part of Your Divine Nature” (Oct 3, 2016)
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) and Certified Sex Therapist (CST), Laura M. Brotherson, is the author of the best-selling book, And They Were Not Ashamed: Strengthening Marriage through Sexual Fulfillment, and her latest book Knowing HER Intimately: 12 Keys for Creating a Sextraordinary Marriage. She counsels with individuals, couples and families in private practice (and online), and is the host of “The Marital Intimacy Show” podcast.
As a Certified Family Life Educator (CFLE), Laura is actively engaged in providing marriage education through Couples Cruises, articles, a newsletter, radio and television broadcasts, and presenting at conferences and workshops. Laura is passionate about helping couples navigate the intricacies of intimacy to help build stronger marriages and families. She and her husband, Kevin, of 25 years are the founders of StrengtheningMarriage.com—your trusted resource for education, products and services to strengthen marriages… intimately!
You can connect with Laura at: