“Sex is for you, too,” they would say. I’d roll my eyes and wonder why they were trying to shove a Stepford wife/doormat pill down my throat.

It didn’t matter who it was: men, women, Christian writers, secular writers, people with and without academic credentials, married people, and divorced and single people.

As far as I was concerned, anyone telling me to have more sex with my husband was telling me that my needs didn’t matter, my feelings didn’t matter, and my husband’s attitude and behavior toward me didn’t matter. In other words, they were telling me that I didn’t matter.

Having sex was usually a caving in, a sacrifice, and a bitter pill to swallow. Even when I enjoyed myself physically, I felt like I’d given up a piece of who I was and was left with an empty place inside.

Yet here I am, having found complete freedom our marriage bed, full of gratitude that God made me a sexual being and an understanding that sex truly is for me, too, and not just for my husband.

In How Not to Think About Sex, I wrote,

The difference is this: I had learned that sex was for me just as much as it was for my husband. In the past, I would be thinking about his interest in sex, wondering what activities he would want, and being able to cross him off my list of things to do. In the past, sex wasn’t for me at all. Even when I began my journey of change, I was improving the quantity and quality of sex—to make my husband happy. Eventually, I got to a point where I was making the changes because I understood that sex was good not just for my husband, but for our marriage.

Now, I have finally come to embrace the knowledge that my sexuality (and my husband’s) is for me, too!

I made the journey from a husband-centered perspective of sex to a mutual marriage-centered point of view.

 But how? How did I come to understand that sex is for me, too?

My husband always referred to sex as intimacy. To me, what he really meant was sex. (See “Intimacy Isn’t Just a Code Word for Sex” at  A Grown Up MarriagePart 1, Part 2, and Part 3 for thoughtful discussions of this idea.)

While my husband had been talking about sex, I was craving the intimacy of emotional connection—through conversation, validation of my feelings, and attention to the things I cared about. To me, that was what intimacy was.

My Sacrifice

I saw my decision to work on sex in our marriage as a sacrifice of my hope for intimacy in my marriage. I craved emotional connection, and I was sure that giving in to sex for the remainder of our marriage required me to let go of the hope of ever having the intimacy for which I yearned.

Since my husband never knew when he would “get lucky,” he was often willing to woo me or attempt to connect with me in order to have sex. I believed so strongly that sex was his only goal, and I was convinced that once he could have sex whenever he wanted, he would no longer need to attempt or pretend an emotional connection with me.

I didn’t know how to trust my husband and I felt unlovable. I was afraid my husband didn’t love me enough (because, after all, who would?) to keep loving me when he no longer needed to in order to get sex. I was afraid that if I pulled down all my walls and became totally vulnerable that he would reject my heart because he no longer needed it in order to have sex.

This was the reality of my thinking at the time: once he was getting sex regularly, he would stop doing the things that I thought showed love for me.

When I decided to stop refusing, I believed I was giving up the possibility of ever being truly loved by my husband. I grieved as I learned to let go of that hope in my heart.

A By-Product of Sex

Even before my husband was able to recognize that our sex life was changing, our marriage began to benefit from my efforts.

The biggest problem between us was gone, we both were experiencing the physical benefits of sexual activity, and we stopped experiencing the tension surrounding sex.

One other thing happened without me even realizing it: spending more time together in the bedroom meant that we were spending more time together.

We had pre-sex conversation and post-sex cuddling. As the tension eased away from our lives, we began laughing together more. As I was no longer worrying about him getting ideas about sex, I became more comfortable being in close proximity to him in the house.

In the past, my husband’s attention to me had zeroed in on things that would indicate my willingness to have sex—how I said I was feeling physically, my sighs, my general mood. As he no longer had to pay attention to those things as a way of dealing with the biggest stress in his life, he began to observe other things about me.

Without the fear of having to earn or deserve sex, he began to share with me things he had not shared in the past. He talked about his frustrations, told me about his doubts and fears, and generally let me see him as a truer version of himself than he had shown me before.

I still thought of sex as something for my husband, but I began to notice something: I was actually feeling closer to my husband than I had before.

One day the thought crossed my mind that I was experiencing emotional intimacy with my husband.

Wait, what? Is that what people meant when they said sex was for me, too?

Could it possibly be that the thing I thought I was sacrificing was the blessing that came back to me?

One Destination, Multiple Paths

My husband and I both craved intimacy with each other. We both longed for oneness, for being fully accepted and loved as we were. What he wanted wasn’t any different from what I wanted.

The difference was in the path we thought we had to take to get there.

Intimacy was our mutual goal. I had thought the pathway to that intimacy was through emotions and conversation. My husband saw the pathway as through sexual connection.

After a long time of thinking we had to go my way, my husband’s way got us to where my heart had yearned to be.

When I saw the emotional intimacy that resulted from my efforts in sexual intimacy, I began to think again about the expression “sex is for you, too.”

In a way, I guess it was true because it was simply a different path to the intimacy I had wanted.

Reframing Sex

I began to rethink some things, putting them in a new frame to help me see them differently.

Intimacy isn’t a code word for sex as much as sex is a code word for intimacy. What I realized was that it wasn’t sex that was for me, too, it was intimacy that was for both me and my husband.

Instead of thinking of sex as a suppression of my needs for the sake of my husband’s needs, I saw it as achieving intimacy to fulfill both my needs and my husband’s. I stopped looking at sex as sex and began to look at it as intimacy.

Sex was no longer the goal, the thing on my to-do list that I had to suck it up to get through. Instead, it became the means to an end—the full intimacy that I had craved all along.

Once I began to see sex as intimacy that was for both me and my husband, my frame continued to expand.

Sex isn’t just for each of us, it’s for us as a couple. Sexual intimacy sustains marriage. (See Ann Voskamp’s “Dear Kids: Why Wait till Marriage — What No One Tells You & What I Wish Someone Had Told Me,” a piece full of so many profound sentences that I am still trying to process them all.)

Even more than being for both my husband and for me, I have come to appreciate how sex is for our marriage. The wholeness that can be found in sexual connection hints at the oneness we can have with Christ.

My views on sex have come a long way since thinking that having sex was a sacrifice. Learning to reframe my thinking about sex as just sex was an important step in that process.

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3 Thoughts on “When I Stopped Seeing Sex as Sex

  1. Wow, I felt like I was reading about me! That is exactly how I feel. Thank you so much for this post!

  2. Love this!
    I see it so often, be it about sex or something else – one spouse holds out on something thinking their control is getting them something. When they stop controlling, they learn they were limiting what they could have.

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