After about ten years of marriage, I noticed that intimacy had become . . . well . . . boring. In fact, I was so bored with the "same old sex" that I calculated in my mind approximately how many times my husband and I had probably done the same thing. I figured that, if we had sex on average twice a week, that was about 100 times a year or 1000 times over 10 years of marriage. (Yeah, I know. Who thinks like that?) The next thought I had was: Something's gotta change. My bedroom ceiling just isn't that fascinating!
That little mental exercise was a wake-up call for me. I wanted sexual intimacy in my marriage to be fun, new, and creative. If sex seemed dull after 10 years, how would I feel after 30 years of marriage?
I've wrestled with the question of how to make sex exciting while also maintaining a sense of reverence for God's standards. There are guidelines for things that are "out of bounds" for Christian couples, but you might be surprised at how much freedom we have to pursue adventurous sex in marriage. Consider the fact that the Song of Solomon includes things like the bride planning a sexual rendezvous in a vineyard!
God created sex to be fulfilling for both men and women on many different levels. We have learned from scientific research that exciting, adventurous sex serves a different purpose in marriage than the "normal" episodes of sexual intimacy between a husband and wife. The truth is that both are important aspects of building a strong marriage.
A chemistry lesson
To understand the importance of both "normal" sex and adventurous sex, it helps to know the impact each have on your body and brain. Although I loved school, I hated chemistry. So, I'm going to make this explanation as simple and painless as possible.
There are a lot of brain chemicals involved in sex. What you look at and what you think about have a powerful impact on what chemicals are flowing at any given time. When a couple in a committed relationship has sex, their bodies release endorphins and oxytocin. These two chemicals lead to feelings of closeness and bonding and also a general sense of well-being. Oxytocin and endorphins help reduce stress, promote sound sleep and pain relief, and may even help slow the aging process. So frequent "normal" intercourse in marriage actually helps a husband and wife feel closely connected as they weather the storms of life together.
On the other hand, when a couple has a new, exciting sexual experience, their bodies release different chemicals, including phenylethylamine (PEA) and adrenaline. The combination of these two is powerful—much stronger than the steady impact of oxytocin and endorphins. In fact, PEA and adrenaline impact the brain in a way similar to crack cocaine. A person becomes intoxicated with sexual pleasure. God designed this as a wonderful treasure for young lovers to experience on their honeymoon as they venture into sexuality together and for lovers who find delight in exploring new things.
Two potential dangers
Some couples err on the side of never trying anything new, sort of like I was ten years into marriage. It's easy for sex to become as routine as brushing your teeth or driving to work—just part of regular life. When sex becomes merely humdrum, couples aren't receiving the fullness of God's good gift of intimacy.
I believe God gave us the incredible experience of renewed sexual pleasure so that married couples can experience what it means to feel like "the finest fruits are at our door, new delights as well as old, which I have saved for you, my lover" (Song of Solomon 7:13) In Proverbs 5:19, a young man is told to always be "intoxicated" with sexual love for his wife (NIV). For this to be true, a couple needs to work on having fun, trying new things, and—yes—being adventurous!
On the other side of the spectrum is the couple who always seeks new and adventurous sex. There can be a feeling of pressure to constantly push the envelope and achieve a euphoric sexual high. This mindset isn't healthy either. The chemicals that cause great sexual excitement are subject to the impact of tolerance. In other words, what was exciting and arousing last week won't be enough to achieve that same high today. This can lead a couple to become desperate to find the next high. Often this attitude can also lead to harmful sexual practices that are outside of God's plan, like bondage, dominance, sadism and masochism (BDSM), or pornography. The quest for a constant sexual high will eventually replace the emotional and spiritual intimacy that sex was meant to express. Loving each other ends up getting lost in the quest for physical euphoria.
What's for dinner?
So how do you find the balance between staring at your bedroom ceiling on the one hand and feeding a sexual addiction on the other? The best illustration I've ever heard is comparing sex to cooking. In your sexual relationship, there will sometimes be "fast food," sometimes "home-cooked meals," and sometimes "holiday feasts."
Fast-food sex is all about meeting an immediate need. When you are exhausted and your husband desperately wants to be intimate, sometimes you just have sex to satisfy his immediate need (or vice versa). It may not be super pleasurable or fulfilling for you, but that's okay—it serves a purpose. This kind of sex is sort of like stopping at McDonald's on a busy day. It fills your stomach temporarily, but you certainly don't want to make a habit of it.
Home-cooked sex is the basic standby. Usually it requires some thinking and planning ahead. You and your husband take time to enjoy each other physically, even though there's no 12-piece orchestra playing or fireworks display in the background. But you both are fulfilled sexually and emotionally, and the interaction helps you feel connected and close.
A holiday feast happens every so often. The table is filled with rich and new foods to try. Like on Thanksgiving or Christmas, you splurge for your celebration of each other. This type of sex is important, even if it isn't frequent. It's for that weekend getaway or anniversary celebration. You and your husband put thought and planning into it, setting aside a significant amount of time simply to explore and enjoy each other.
Trying new things in the bedroom isn't simply a matter of being adventurous. In fact, it's just as likely to lead to laughter as it is to sexual pleasure. There have been times when I've felt quite ridiculous trying something new. However, my desire to grow as a lover to my husband and to continue to enjoy the beautiful gift of intimacy motivates me to take Dr. Lewis Smedes' advice in his book Sex for Christians: "The Christian word on trying out a sexual practice that is not prohibited in Scripture is, 'Try it. If you like it, it is morally good for you. And it may well be that in providing new delight to each other, you will be adventuring into deeper experiences of love.'"
By Dr. Juli Slattery
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