Is Anything “Off Limits” for Married Couples in the Bedroom?


I was eating lunch with a friend recently when he shared some frustrations about his “boring sex life.” I thought he might complain about a lack of frequency (which is the most common complaint I hear from sexually-frustrated spouses), but that wasn’t his grievance. He launched into a frustrated tirade as if his feelings had been bottled up for years.

He said, “When we first got together, there were no limits in our sex life. My wife was ready to act out any fantasy I could imagine. Both of us had a wild past and our views of sex were shaped by our own experiences and a lot of exposure to porn. We even watched a lot of porn together as a way to spice things up. Our relationship wasn’t great, but our sex life was amazing.”

“When we got serious about our faith, we realized that porn was ‘out of bounds’ in a Christian marriage. Jesus taught that to look at another person with lust is to commit adultery in your heart. It was tough to give up, but we both felt like it was the right thing. The problem now is that while our marriage is better overall, our sex life feels like it’s at an all-time low.”

I asked him to elaborate and what he said next surprised me…

He said, “Porn taught me that certain things are just part of sex. We used to do those things and she doesn’t want to do them anymore.” I didn’t ask for specifics, but I was pretty sure he was talking about oral sex and/or anal sex which are both acted out in pornography with as much frequency as vaginal intercourse. I know this from my own past struggles with pornography.

He said, “Because she’s not willing to do ‘it’ anymore, I feel like she doesn’t want to give all of herself to me in the same way she used to. Even though she has given herself in the same way to many other men in her past. I mean, I’m her husband and she’s giving me LESS than she gave to random men she hooked up with before we were together.”

As my friend continued to process these complicated thoughts and feelings, I began to realize that his frustration with his sex life wasn’t just the lack of a specific physical act; it had an emotional aspect to it as well. Sex is never just a physical act. Her preference to stop doing certain things in bed was causing him mental and emotional torment.

He was picturing his wife giving “all of herself” to other men in her past in a way that she’s not willing to give to him. It was like she was saying those other men in her past were more worthy of her uninhibited sexuality than he was. He wasn’t just feeling sexually frustrated, he was feeling REJECTED and disconnected from his wife.

He asked with frustration in his voice, “Other than hurting each other or bringing someone else into the act, I don’t think ANYTHING should be ‘off limits’ in the bedroom for a husband and a wife! Am I wrong?”

I weighed carefully what I said next, because I knew that this situation was complex. I also knew that many people face these same struggles of feeling bored in the bedroom, but no two situations are exactly alike. I believe that God gives an enormous amount of freedom in the marriage bed and wants us to have a thriving and passionate sex life. But if I simply validated my friend’s feelings and frustrations, I could ultimately hurt his marriage by fueling his sense of entitlement. I didn’t want my friend to leave our lunch only to make selfish demands from his wife instead of making the necessary effort to love and serve her with tenderness and selflessness.

Here’s what I told him.

I told him that he needed to talk openly about these issues with his wife. But not just in a demanding way, trying to coerce her into complying with his specific desires. I told him that by withholding certain sexual acts, his wife wasn’t trying to deprive him or give less of herself to him, but to actually give MORE of herself to him. He looked really confused by that so I elaborated further.

I said that his wife had probably come to associate certain sexual acts as part of her painful and promiscuous past, full of brokenness and regret. For her, certain acts might remind her of baggage that she wants to let go. The memories of her past made her feel dirty, defiled and devalued. She is forgiven of her past and the Bible describes her as a new creation in Christ. She wanted to give her best to her husband as a pure bride, but it made him feel like she was a prude. If God really created sex and wanted it to be at its best within marriage, then why were they both so frustrated?

I told my friend that this (like most issues in marriage) wasn’t about who was “right” and who was “wrong.” It was about BOTH spouses communicating with transparency and expressing their feelings with vulnerability. It was about striving to serve each others’ needs with selflessness, thoughtfulness, mutual respect and love. The goal was to find a solution that strengthens their marriage. If they both would approach the conversation without demands, but with a desire to truly understand each other, they’d be off to the right start.

EVERY couple has to deal with issues in the bedroom. Your sexual intimacy can and SHOULD be one of the most fulfilling and FUN aspects of your marriage, but it won’t happen automatically. Both you and your spouse possess baggage, expectations, hang-ups, hurts, and a myriad of other factors that need to be communicated for both of you to experience physical pleasure, emotional intimacy and the spiritual oneness that God intends to happen whenever a husband and wife make love.

In our work with married couples, my wife Ashley and I have found that most couples won’t (or don’t know how) to have these important conversations. It feels too vulnerable or scary. Perhaps they just don’t know how to put words to what they’re actually feeling without making demands or accusations.

To help married couples have these important conversations in healthy ways, Ashley and I wrote a book called The Naked Marriage. In it, we share stats, stories and Scriptures about sex, because we’re convinced that God created sex and His plan for it is still the best plan on the planet! The book also includes some of our own stories about sexual baggage, expectations and my own past struggles with pornography.

This book doesn’t claim to have all the answers, but many of the couples who read it said that it made a massive impact on how they communicated about these issues and ultimately it made a tremendous improvement in their sexual intimacy. It also helped them communicate more effectively in other areas.

The book, along with our blogs and all the resources here at XO Marriage are designed to help you and your spouse connect on a deeper level physically, emotionally and spiritually. I believe that deeper connection always begins with communication. When you improve your communication, you’ll improve your sex life, but you’ll also simultaneously improve every other aspect of your relationship!

We know these issues can be uncomfortable to talk about, but they’re vitally important. As husband and wife, you should be able to talk about ANYTHING. Get naked (both physically AND emotionally). Get vulnerable. Put your spouse’s needs ahead of your own. It will do wonders to help you both grow deeper in your intimacy both inside and outside the bedroom.

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