The road to my parents’ cabin is six long miles of gravel, traveled mostly by heavy and speedy logging trucks.
The drive on that road seems to go on forever. Even if the logging trucks aren’t barreling toward us, we have to watch out for tall sharp rocks that can shred a tire. We can get so focused on being on guard against sharp rocks that we end up in the deep ruts in the road. We’ve never gotten stuck, but we have bottomed out the vehicle a few times.
The ruts are carved in by a combination of water flow patterns and the multiple-times-daily travel of logging trucks loaded down with the baggage of freshly harvest trees.
Every few years, a fresh load of gravel is laid down and the ruts are smoothed out, no longer slowing us down or bottoming out.
A fresh road makes a much nicer pathway to get to our destination.
Our marriage was in a rut, and we didn’t even know it.
The rut was a long time in the making, carved out by the flow of perception and belief and the heavy weight of baggage.
For many years, I thought of sex as mostly for men. Popular culture, the church, and my premarital misuse of my sexuality were major factors in how I saw sex.
When I married, the reality of our own sexual intimacy enforced this view. Sex seemed so simple for my husband. He was aroused quickly, and he finished easily. I, on the other hand, found that arousal was unpredictable and not always possible. The finish eluded me for months after we married; even then, it was rather finicky. I didn’t always want an orgasm, nor did I know how to communicate about any of this with my husband.
I was often frustrated by our sex life. Even when I was in the mood, sometimes it seemed like an awful lot of work to go to in hopes of getting to the point of feeling released and relaxed. Why not cuddle on the couch with some chocolate ice cream?
My husband and I developed habits that built on this foundation of frustration. Big Guy’s intention and desire was always to be more and do more for me—but I rejected those efforts and taught him not to bother most of the time.
I was far more sexual than either of us realized, but I didn’t know how to recognize that sexuality or claim it for myself. Instead, we spent years following a pattern that framed sex as for him, with me along for the ride.
Here’s how that pattern looked:
- I often used just the right moves to get him to finish more quickly.
- My frequent complaints and lack of involvement made it seem safer for him to not bother with trying to do anything for me. After all, if he made me mad during sex, I might just shut the whole thing down right away.
- If I had an orgasm, it was a happy accident and was rarely a result of intention on his part or mine.
- When he finished, we were done having sex.
- On those rare occasions when I initiated, it was usually in the form of “If you want to have sex tonight, we have to do it now between laundry loads” or “I suppose you want to do something this weekend.”
- On the even rarer occasions when I wanted to have sex because I was experiencing desire, I still phrased it in terms of my husband’s desire: “Do you want to have sex?” or “If you want to have sex, you can talk me into it.”
- When I wanted my husband to do something differently during sex, I didn’t know how to tell him without it sounding like a criticism (or without him hearing it that way)—so most of the time I just gave up.
I felt like a second-class citizen in our marriage bed—unimportant, inferior, insignificant, and lesser than my husband.
Honestly, I don’t remember how my husband viewed sex when we married. Although it is possible that he also believed in the “sex is mostly for men” model, the fact is that my words and actions over years eventually inhibited any growth on his part. He could have come into our marriage with the most Godly and mutual view of sex and it wouldn’t have made any difference to me.
My reactions over years laid pathways that eventually became ruts in the road. My views on sex forced us both into patterns of sex being about my husband and not about me.
Fast forward to the marriage we have now. I’ve been on this journey of transformed sexual intimacy for nearly six years now.
My views on sex are not what they once were. I see sex as a mutually beneficial and pleasurable way of connecting with each other. I see it as a way of building intimacy, connecting with each other, and making more love as time goes by.
For the past year, I have intentionally pursued a path of embracing and claiming my own sexuality and desire. Instead of letting sex happen, I began to speak about what I wanted.
“I’m not done yet.”
“I would like you to [action] my [body part].”
“I need for us to do X before we do Y.”
I learned how to move his head or hand. I learned how to stop us mid-action and reorient according to my needs.
My growth in the area of sexual intimacy continues, and our marriage bed (and, therefore, our marriage) is better for it.
The sexual pathway I am on is dramatically different from the one I used to travel.
But those ruts that got worn into the road from the years of resisting and avoiding sex and thinking sex was mostly for my husband? Those ruts are still there. We try to avoid them, but sometimes we are so focused on avoiding other potential snags that we find ourselves in those old patterns without even realizing it.
About six months ago, the existence of these ruts was highlighted.
My husband had been telling me for a while that he wanted me to initiate sex more often. (I wrote about that here and here.) I worked to get comfortable initiating in a way that would look like initiation to him.
I initiated frequently—when I thought he would be interested. If it had been a while since we’d hit the marital hay, I would make a point of being the one to get things going. I thought I was doing great. I didn’t realize it, but I was still acting as though sex was for him.
Earlier this year, as part of my continuing efforts to be aware of my own sexual desire, I recognized that a short while after we enjoyed some afternoon delight, I wanted some more. So I initiated, doing the things my husband had indicated would work: groping, telling him directly what I wanted, and taking his hand to walk him to the bedroom.
It was the first time in our marriage that I initiated because I wanted to have sex, without thinking about whether he would want to. I felt so good about myself for doing that. I wanted to have sex with my husband! Knowing that he may not have the energy for full-blown sex, I’d suggested a couple just-for-me activities. I had initiated with confidence and joy. Yay, me!
And he said . . . no.
When we talked about his response later, he made several comments that made it clear that he was still stuck in the rut I’d forced him into for so long: he was still seeing our sex life as something that was for him. He didn’t think it was only for him, but it was for him. “You should wait until I’m in the mood before you initiate,” he said. “We did it just a few hours ago and I wouldn’t be ready to really enjoy it yet.”
We had a good conversation that illuminated just how deeply those sexual ruts had been carved. This was the first time in 25 years of marriage that my husband was faced with my sexual expectations, so it is no surprise that it threw him.
In 25 years, I had never reached out for the splendor of the marriage bed except in response to Big Guy’s desire. It was new for both of us
For many years, we both saw my sexuality only as responsive to his, not as something that I claimed for myself.
As startling as it was to get that “no” from my husband, God used that moment to show us both that we still have some ruts to smooth out together.
As ruts are carved into a road, we fall into them easily. They are the path of least resistance, after all. They require little thought on our part—and that is where they can trip us up and bottom us out.
Big Guy and I had little idea how much of our sexual interaction followed a pattern of viewing sex as mostly for him. Now, however, we do know—so it is something we can now work on.
Growing and reaching toward God’s desire for the sexual intimacy in marriage is a good thing. Getting stuck in ruts can be frustrating, whether the journey is new or is getting on in years.
Fortunately, when we recognize a rut, we have a new opportunity to lay down new pathways to replace those long-time patterns of thought.
Do you find yourself stuck in any ruts on your journey toward renewed sexual intimacy in your marriage?
Image credit: Chris Taylor