This series of blogs comes from FAQ’s from the guys in Summit’s “Preparing for Marriage” ministry. They represent a conglomeration of questions from many different husbands-to-be during the Engaged Discovery Weekend. If you are interested in serving as a marriage mentor or are engaged, click here to learn more about Summit’s “Preparing for Marriage” ministry.
Are men supposed to “lead” in sex as in other parts of the relationship? Is there an appropriate balance for initiating intimacy?
This question hinges on what it means for a husband to be a “leader” of his family, and I think intimacy is a needed place for this facet of family life to be unpacked. There are many great questions embedded within these two short sentences. How should leadership be expressed? Does male leadership remove female initiation (not just in sex)? Is “balance” a word that works against biblical role definitions?
These questions beg more questions, but they give us a taste of the arena we are stepping into. But with the broader context in mind, we will seek to answer these questions and break them down into three pieces.
What does it mean for a husband to lead? This is the pivotal question. If leadership means telling those “beneath him” what to do, then the initiation of sex (and other areas not covered in this post) becomes problematic. I will define leadership in marriage as assuming the responsibility to ensure that key elements of family life have been discussed and that there is a functional plan to accomplish those things that are most important.
With this said, the wife should not be put into a position to “nag.” Conversations should be initiated or invited by the husband as a primary expression of his leadership role. Once the conversation begins, leadership does not imply that the husband will always have the right answer or will assume the responsibility for carrying out the plan agreed upon. Leadership does not mean that the husband never defers his preferences. Often the strengths, weaknesses, and preferences of the one carrying out or benefiting from the plan will trump (because of wisdom and love not authority and hierarchy) the preference of the husband. With these practices in place, the husband will be trusted when times come that someone must have the “final call” on a decision in which there is not unity.
Leadership concludes with following up on how the plans were completed and evaluating what was good, bad, enjoyable, unpleasant, inefficient, new, modified, etc… in the plan. Leadership here is expressed by initiating conversation and then listening. Leadership may only reinforce the messages “you are not alone” and “what happens to you matters.” Leadership may also involve, but does not necessarily include, providing guidance.
What does this leadership look like in the sexual relationship of marriage? After three paragraphs treatment of a subject covered in many entire books, we turn to sex. Leadership begins (and continues) with asking good questions and listening well.
What do you like about sex? What aspect of sex is most affirming or satisfying for you? What prepares you to give yourself to me most freely? What fears or other negative emotions do you experience when we talk about or have sex? What things do you think about when you ponder “do we have a good sex life”? How can I approach you when I’m interested in sex that feels honoring and romantic to you? After sex, how can I affirm that I love you and am not merely enjoying the experience?
The conversations that emerge around these kinds of questions is what enables a husband to lead in the sexual relationship. It is with this information that a couple can be intentional, honor the other’s preferences, and maintain creativity. These conversations show leadership in that they allow the wife to feel protected, heard, and honored. These conversations should be had regularly throughout the marriage.
How does this leadership perspective affect the wife’s initiation of sex? Initiation of specific activities is no longer the focal point of “leadership.” Except for in a crisis, leadership happens long before an activity begins (in the absence of leadership there are more crises and it feels like everything must be settled on the basis of authority).
Both husband and wife should regularly initiate sex and do so in ways that express their desire to be with and bring pleasure to their spouse. When leadership has done its job, then initiation of sex is a form of service. The one who is initiating is demonstrating the willingness to hear their spouse and put their spouse’s interest (preference, desires) ahead of their own (Phil. 2:4).
As the marriage continues and the husband leads in initiating or inviting important conversations, then the activities within the marriage (including sex) remain acts of service done in love rather than demonstrations of authority done to exert control. Sex can be a good place to begin implementing this style of leadership for a newlywed couple, because (1) there can be a prompt, pleasurable experience to reinforce the pattern, (2) it can be an area where neither person has a knowledge advantage, and (3) it can force a couple to talk through insecurities which would affect many other areas of marriage.
If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Sex and Sexuality” post which address other facets of this subject.