Contrary to the euphoria of how really good sex makes us feel, we do not make love in mid-air. Sex happens in a location; in an environment. We’ll examine three environments that are important to consider for cultivating a healthy sex life: (1) physical environment, (2) emotional environment, and (3) relational environment.
First, a couple should consider the physical environment in which they make love. What follows is not a prescription, but a list of things that are important to many people; things you should discuss with your spouse to learn how important they are to him/her and consider as you cultivate your expectations and fantasies about marital sex.
- Privacy – An important part of energetic sex is being comfortable being naked. The fear of being seen by someone else or walked in upon by children can be a strong inhibitor to playful sex. Knowing and honoring how important this is to your spouse is essential to being a good lover.
- Cleanliness – Sex is messy; body fluids are involved. Having a washcloth available to account for this is important to be able to not rush the afterglow part of sex. Our bodies are not always “fresh;” we get stale (or worse) throughout the day. Being clean, smelling good, and non-bristly on the face or legs can be an important part of removing environmental distractions from enjoying each other.
- Comfort – Sex requires bodies to move on their knees, backs, stomachs, and sides. If the environment is not right this can make the movements of sex painful or difficult. Freedom from thinking about these kinds of things is important for the desired release and euphoria of sex. Make sure your love-making environment sets you up to succeed in this way.
- Ambiance – This is where you can be creative as you continue to learn and romance your spouse. What is arousing for your spouse? Candles. Scents. Clothing. Location. How many things are you aware of that would make a particular sexual encounter “more special” for your spouse? Most of your answers will probably take five minutes or less.
Second, a couple should consider the emotional environment in which they make love. We do not engage a highly personal and emotional activity like sex in an exclusively physical environment. It is not just our bodies that are uniting as we become “one flesh” but also our souls. Sex that does not consider its emotional environment assumes people are not different from animals and sex is just for reproduction or personal fulfillment.
- Conflict – Romance and conflict are two sides of the same coin; both reveal what is most important to us. For more on this, visit bradhambrick.com/romanticconflict. A couple that can maturely discuss when their “most important things” are in conflict, is greatly aiding (not just protecting) their sex life. A couple that gives into immaturity in these moments is sabotaging their sex life.
“More often, however, the female counterpart to grabbing is needing control. Making love with clothes on can be hampered by always wanting exactly the right time and place (p. 127).” Doug Rosenau in A Celebration of Sex
“You see, what we expressed towards our wives and how we behave towards our wives in the days and hours before we make love is actually far more important than what we do when the clothes come off (p. 58).” C. J. Mahaney in Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God
- Areas of Neglect – Unkept promises and unfulfilled responsibilities contribute to the sense that sex is merely recreation instead of a celebration. We celebrate hard work towards an outcome that was mutually invested in (i.e., 10 year anniversary). When this mutual hard work is absent or unreliable, then sex becomes about merely the sensations instead of the relationship. The more committed or dependable spouse begins to feel used.
- Insecurities – The person who should know you better than anyone else is your spouse; this knowing includes both your strengths and weaknesses. This is what is great and awkward about marital sex – the person loving you, knows you. Whether the two of you openly discuss your insecurities, encourage one another, and put these areas into perspective for each other will go a long ways towards determining the quality of your sex life. These conversations are not always thought of as “romantic” but they are vital to romance.
“Arousal is dependent on feeling safe and inviting vulnerability (p. 71).” Doug Rosenau in A Celebration of Sex
- Personal Challenges – Couples should be intimate when life is going well and when life is hard. There will be seasons when couples abstain from sex to pray for a hard season (I Corinthians 7:5) or because of physical injury. But a couple needs to learn how to effectively care for another emotionally during hard times. This protects the emotional climate of the marriage during these seasons and allows sex to carry the connotation of comfort and support as much as passion and romance.
Third, a couple should consider the relational environment in which they make love. Having sex without considering the relational environment is like doing the standing long jump in the Olympics. You can do it, but you’re not going to get as far as you would if you take a running start. The momentum of how you pursue each other in daily life should be the momentum that launches your sex life.
“People are not born romantic. Romance is a combination of skills and attitudes that are learned (p. 153).” Doug Rosenau in A Celebration of Sex
- Regular Times of Closeness – The neurotransmitter most closely associated with trust and bonding—oxytocin—is triggered in large part by skin-to-skin contact. Holding hands, cuddling, massaging, and other forms of closeness are not just “nice things to do;” they are intensely bonding. A couple who relies exclusively on service, conversation, and sex for this bonding are practicing bad biology and may, therefore, be disappointed in their chemistry (for more see bradhambrick.com/oxytocin).
- Date Nights – Season of life and finances will influence how frequently a couple “goes on a date,” but a couple should always date one another regularly—setting aside blocks of time devoted to reconnecting and romancing one another. This is why Appendix A in every Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage seminar has ideas for implementing that seminar’s content on a date. Here are a few key qualities of a healthy date life:
- Both spouses prioritize and protect these times on their schedule.
- Frequent enough neither spouse wonders “When will our next date be?”
- Balanced in who plans the date and whose preferences are the focal point of each date.
- Not a burden to the family budget; don’t stress yourselves with something intended to be romantic.
- Focused on each other more than the activity or event; talk more than you eat, watch, or do.
- Cover your city with pleasant memories of your marriage to encourage as you do anything else.
- Romantic Surprises – The day is absolutely full of opportunities to romance your spouse. If you do not see these opportunities, it can only be because you’re not looking. Your spouse’s phone should be full of affirming text messages he/she can review whenever encouragement is needed. Written notes, screen saver messages, wearing a favorite outfit, smiling for no reason, getting the paper, or anything else that would be “special” to your spouse can be a romantic surprise. Creating and protecting this kind of culture is another overlooked powerful “technique” to enriching a couple’s sex life.
- Enrichment Trips – This might be a vacation or an overnight stay at a Bed & Breakfast, but the title “enrichment trip” is selected to help you remember the purpose of getting away. A simple, short trip where a couple connects is better for the marriage than a long, elaborate trip where a couple is merely entertained. When a couple focuses on connecting it helps them enjoy these trips even when finances are tight, and not get distracted from the main point when/if time and finances are more plentiful.
These resources are excerpts from the following seminar:
CREATING A GOSPEL-CENTERED MARRIAGE: INTIMACY
Part One: Saturday April 26, 2014
Part Two: Saturday May 3, 2014
Time: 4:00 to 5:30 pm
Location: The Summit Church, Brier Creek South Venue
Address: 2415-107 Presidential Drive; Durham, NC 27703