If you look at Adam and Eve in Genesis 2, before everything got cracked and fragmented, theirs is a beautiful story told in pictures of love, connection, and true relationship. They truly knew God and they truly knew each other. Their union is where the idea of leaving your parents, cleaving to one another, and knowing one another is introduced. The word for sex in Hebrew stems from yada. The clearest rendering of the word is a sense of truly knowing one another. A couple who have “known” one another have been, in the deepest sense, intimate with one another. With that definition, I can’t help but see Adam and Eve’s sexual relationship—the first true sexual relationship—as a natural extension of their genuine connection.
Now, in our fallen world, what fights genuine connection and disrupts that healthy sexual relationship between spouses is when that connection becomes a means to an end. That’s not connection. That’s a hustle.
An Incomplete Narrative
My family and I have lived in America for three years now, and I’ve been watching how distinct and dysfunctional the American sexual narrative has become. It’s this cat and mouse chase about women who hold out and men who have to beg, plead, hustle, and strike it lucky to get something. I don’t know if it’s cultural stereotypes, shame, religion, or stigma, but it’s not all that uncommon to find couples who have gone extended periods—even years—with no physical intimacy. The consequence is more adultery than I’ve seen in my life! That tells me there is something profoundly dysfunctional in the American narrative of sexual connection.
Hear me out before you throw me out of the country! Sometimes at marriage conferences or in marriage circles, there’s a conversation about the differences between men and women. It’s a bit of low-hanging fruit, an easy topic to preach about, and it’s honestly an important conversation. From an elementary standpoint, we should understand the psychological differences between spouses: men are testosterone-driven, women are estrogen-governed. Because of that, sex isn’t a purely physical thing; it’s an emotional and psychological thing. However, I think we need to be incredibly cautious with this narrative.
I throw in a shoulder rub here and a question about her day there, and even though we haven’t talked all day, we’re making love tonight? That emotional connection that was so pure and beautiful in Genesis has now become a means to an end. I might be wrong, but if I was a wife and I felt like the only time my husband cared about me and my thoughts was when he wanted to get something, that would put my marriage in a whole different realm of trouble.
The problem with this teaching—I’ve seen it in action—is that it’s incomplete. Leaving this narrative undeveloped, misunderstood, or even just badly quoted leads to men who might have great sex with their wife for about a month because they’ve learned how to push her buttons in the right way to get what they want. They’ve gone from infrequent sex to manipulative sex. This narrative might lead to better sex for a couple of weeks, but it inevitably leads to deep dysfunction in the years ahead.
To break the cycle of manipulation, you need to dig into your motivations for sex. Why do you think you have to manipulate? Where have you been selfish? Where have you been ill-disciplined inconsistent, or lost genuine connection? How have you gotten to this place where it’s been a long time since you’ve talked but, “Babe, let’s go on a date night and talk all night so that afterward, we can have sex…”?
My standard premarital talk always starts the same, with what I was taught: marriage is a beautiful, miraculous, mysterious union designed by and delivered by God. It’s about truly knowing and finally being known. The reason the Bible (especially the New Testament) is relatively quiet about marriage is that there’s not a lot to be said. Simply put, a healthy sex life is connected to a right view of what marriage really is. If the purpose of marriage is to deliver you something, then sex is something you’re always working, manipulating, or hustling toward. But if marriage, in the deepest core of your relationship, is about connection, emotional availability never becomes a means to an end. It always remains a means and an end.
I’m saying a genuine emotional connection is better than sex. Understanding and being understood is wilder than any climax that you can experience in your natural body. If you ever have time to read about someone who has some fascinating insights on sex and sexuality, Debra Hirsch has a brilliant theological viewpoint that sex is an extension of our deepest longing: to know and be known. That sense of knowing is the fruit of being made in the image of God. She always says sex is not about nerve stimulation, it’s about knowing and being known in our deepest states. Therefore, sex without knowing and really being known is not biblical sex at all. That’s the reason manipulative sex can never truly be fulfilling and eventually leads to dysfunction. But when you understand what sex is from a biblical perspective, you can engage in connection outside of physical intimacy and feel a deeper connection.
This narrative of using emotional availability and intellectual connection to lay the groundwork for sexual intimacy is important, but it should never become a means to an end. The best marriages that include the best sex lives are the ones where both involved understand that practicing genuine emotional connection and knowing and being known are the means and the end. When that happens in your marriage, the stress and worry about a healthy sex life completely dissipate.