In Christian communities I saw mentioned advice that you shouldn’t get married primarily for sharing intimacy and sex with your partner, as it is not a good enough reason. Other spiritual reasons should take precedent. How is one supposed to deal with a higher libido whether natural or unnatural (coming from stress or trauma) in a way that is “pleasing” to God then? If you sleep around outside of marriage it’s not good, if you get married primarily for that reason it is not good either. Then what’s a solution and why should one feel guilty for pairing up outside marriage if this is so pressing for the body? Any advice that is compassionate against this issue would be highly appreciated. it is not necessarily physicality I am looking for I feel intimacy with another person is what my mind and body crave underneath but it gets translated into higher libido. I hope it makes sense and doesn’t sound too crazy. Thanks again.
Good questions! You don’t sound crazy at all. Instead, you’ve brought up several important issues that Christians generally don’t do a good job of dealing with, so let’s discuss each of these topics and see if we can sort out the confusion.
First let’s talk about why Christians (and most spiritual teachers) tend to be so lousy at teaching on the subject of sex…and psychological issues in general…and even spiritual topics, if we’re honest. (I realize that sounds a bit harsh, but there’s no point in pretending otherwise.) The problem here has to do with core beliefs. You see, human beings have three different elements to their beings: mind, soul and body. It’s technically four elements if you divide the mind into the subconscious and conscious (and you really should distinguish between these two elements as they are quite different in personality and abilities). So clearly we have a complex design (no surprise there, given how complex our Creator is). The problem with religions like Christianity (and many others) is that they don’t recognize all of these elements. Instead, they hyper-focus on the soul, while they lump the other elements together into one package (aka “the flesh” in Christianity). After lumping the other elements together, they treat those elements like rather despicable things that give the soul no end of grief. You are taught that your soul is the only “good” part of you (or at least it has the potential to be good, if you make the right choices). You are taught that the rest of you (mind & body) is bad, fallen, depraved, sinful, and a source of endless trouble for your soul.
Now once we declare the majority of our design to be some messed up, offensive yuck (which is hardly a respectful attitude to take towards God), we become very resistant to Him trying to teach us about our inner workings. Instead, we confidently decide that we already understand ourselves enough to make smart decisions about how to handle our problems. For religions like Christianity, the general answer to body problems is to pray it away. The general answer to psychological problems is to either deny it’s happening, mislabel it as a spiritual problem that indicates we’re being spiritual failures (or rebels), or assume it’s a demonic attack and pray it away (preferably while quoting several Scriptures and using Jesus’ Name a lot).
Because Christianity elevates the soul as the only part of your being worth valuing, it tries to turn everything into a spiritual issue. The problem is that not everything in life is spiritual. We have three components to our being, and they each have their own set of needs. Food, for example, is primarily designed by God to satisfy physical and psychological needs. Food is not designed for the soul. Sure, your soul will be happy by proxy if it senses that your mind and body are really enjoying your eating experience. But your soul does not experience a hunger for food, it doesn’t have taste buds, and it simply just doesn’t care about edible items unless it happens to attach symbolic meaning to them. A good example here is serious God followers in the Old Testament being spiritually distressed by the idea of eating “unclean food.” Many of the foods that God labelled as “unclean” when He first launched Judaism can be quite tasty to the body and pleasant to the mind. But serious God followers are very spiritually distressed by the idea of disobeying God, so once their souls link eating a lobster or ham sandwich as an act of spiritual disobedience, their souls become strongly repulsed by things that they normally couldn’t care less about.
Sex & Relationships
So what about sex? Sex is designed by God to satisfy physical and psychological needs. It is not designed to be a spiritual activity. Sure, your soul can attach symbolic meaning to sex, and it will, but that doesn’t change the fact that sex is not designed for your soul.
What about human relationships? God designed humans with a strong need to socialize with each other. Sometimes we try to suppress that need as an act of self-defence, but it’s wired into us. So what’s the purpose of relationships? Which of our elements are they designed to satisfy? Relationships are fascinating in that they are very complex and multi-functioning. But despite the fact that different kinds of relationships can meet a wide variety of needs for all of your elements at various times, there is a clear hierarchy of purpose. Relationships have the strongest impact on your mind, meaning that they are primarily designed to meet psychological needs. But relationships also provide extremely important physical needs, primarily through the exchange of touch. All humans have a very strong core need to experience positive, affirming touch from other humans. There are different types of relationships, and each type allows for certain kinds of touch to happen while other types are banned. A stranger, for example, can shake your hand, but he can’t hold you in a long embrace without you feeling repulsed. A friend has a broader range of options. A friend can shake your hand, hold your hand (briefly), embrace you (briefly), and put his or her arm around you (briefly). A best friend gets to do all of these things for a much longer amount of time without things feeling weird. The key principle here is that the more intimate a relationship is, the more touch is allowed, and the more effective that touch is at communicating positive sentiments. The less intimate the relationship is, the less touch is allowed, and the more likely it is that touch will communicate negative sentiments (because it becomes very repulsive when it is overdone).
Marriage is the most intimate kind of relationship two humans can have. As is the case with every category of relationships, marriage comes with some unique rules. It is only your spouse who should be given access (visually and physically) to your naked body. It is only your spouse who you should be having sex with (more on that in a minute). It is only your spouse who you should be sharing your most sensitive information with (even best friends don’t qualify for your most sensitive material). In a healthy intimate relationship, you and your spouse know things about each other that no one else knows. You trust each other more than you trust anyone else (because trust and sharing information about yourself are linked concepts). But here’s a vital principle for you to understand: it is all of the mutual trust, sharing, and respect that causes your spouse’s touch to be so powerful.
Now you say that you strongly link sex with emotional/psychological intimacy. For a woman who is not grappling with some kind of intense distress, this is the correct way to view sex. Women are designed by God to strongly associate sex with emotional intimacy. Men are also designed this way, but they have a much stronger biological need for sex which women simply can’t identify with (unless they have certain kinds of trauma).
Imagine that a desire for emotional intimacy is like a cup of blue water. Imagine that a desire to relieve biological stress is like red water. For a “normal” woman, we could represent her desire for sex with a cup of blue water. But for a normal man, we’d have to pour a cup of blue water and a cup of red water together, which would result in a cup of purple water. The point of this analogy is to help you appreciate that there is a significant difference in how males and females view sex. For men, that desire for emotional intimacy is certainly present, but they have another very strong factor involved that you probably can’t identify with as a female. Understanding that this difference exists is a very important caution for both genders, because a lot of pain can be caused by assuming that your opposite sex partner views sex the same way you do.
Due to the principles I’ve just explained, it’s extremely difficult for a woman to have sex with a man (even a complete stranger) and not feel deeply impacted by it. It is simply wired into women that a sexual encounter is supposed to be “proof” of his interest in pursuing a relationship with her. Yet because men are designed to view sex differently, it’s much easier for a man to view a sexual encounter like he views eating a tasty meal: it’s a way to satisfy a biological need, nothing more.
Now in real life, because men have both red and blue elements in their cups, they are psychologically impacted by their sexual experiences–often far more than they realize. A string of “one night stands” or a bunch of “casual sex” has a very negative cumulative effect on a man’s psychological health. So just because a man can sleep with you and forget about you fairly easily doesn’t mean he isn’t negatively impacted by passing his body around so cheaply. Meanwhile, you are going to have a much harder time forgetting about him, and you will feel the negative psychological impacts of extramarital sex much faster than he will. But why is this? It has to do with how God designed sex…
The Purpose of Sex
God designed sex to be a physical activity with a very powerful psychological impact. While masturbation (self-arousal) is primarily designed to relieve specific kinds of physical and psychological stress, having sex with another person is designed to celebrate and affirm a strong emotional bond which already exists.
It’s those last two words that set you up for major pain if you try to have sex with people other than your spouse. This is because sleeping with someone who isn’t your spouse is like trying to drive a car after you poured a bunch of sand in the gas tank. Just as you can’t experience eating a chicken dinner by smearing the food onto your arms instead of eating the way God designed you to eat, you can’t experience the kind of sex you are craving unless you do it with a man who you have already established an intimate relationship with. The relationship must be built first, then the sex added on after. Think of it like a cake: you bake the cake first, then you frost it, not the other way around. If you try to frost before there’s a cake, you just have a pile of sticky glop that is so rich it turns your stomach.
Now because God knows how harmful sex becomes when it is done out of its proper context, He teaches us not to have sex outside of marriage. It’s useful to realize that God is not being a controlling Nit-picker when He teaches us to marry first, then add on the sex. Instead, He warns us away from extramarital sex for the same reason that a good mother warns her child not to touch the stove burner: He’s trying to help us avoid pain by helping us understand how He designed sex to work.
Now God is also an extremely Compassionate Being who knows all about psychological trauma. Some kinds of trauma cause us to feel completely obsessed with having sex–so much so that we can’t afford to be choosy about who we sleep with; we just need to sleep with someone ASAP in order to reduce our psychological angst. Some kinds of trauma cause us to feel a strong need to constantly change who we sleep with, and in these cases, we feel totally incapable of staying faithful to a single partner. Some kinds of trauma cause us to feel deeply repulsed by sleeping with an opposite sex partner, while we feel intensely drawn to same sex partners. The human sex drive is strongly influenced by the subconscious–so much so that the subconscious actually defines who we want to sexually interact with, and how we want those sexual interactions to go. Many people are not psychologically or physically comfortable with “normal” or “vanilla” sex. Instead, they only experience internal relief when their sexual interactions involve elements of torture, humiliation, emotional abuse, or even non-human partners. Christianity labels all of these deviations as perverse, abominable, sinful, and shameful. But what does God say? He sees these things for what they are: humans trying to cope with very real, and often extremely intense internal anguish. God is an extremely compassionate Being, and He certainly does not shove us away in disgust because we are drowning in pain. Since these issues are usually very complex, God doesn’t expect us to just “fix ourselves” overnight, either. Many of us struggle our entire lives with “perverse” sexual behaviours and desires, yet such issues do not prevent us from being able to greatly please our Creator.
I want to caution you against being too quick to decide your libido is abnormally high. Thinking we’re “abnormal” in some way can cause a lot of stress, so we want to be cautious about misdiagnosing ourselves so we don’t start stressing needlessly. In deciding if your libido is “normal” or not, consider who you are comparing yourself to. Also realize that since Christians are taught to view themselves in a very negative “depraved” light, in order to feel accepted by each other, they often pretend not to have certain desires or struggles. Christian companions often feel like unsafe people to discuss your sexual desires with, because there’s a fear that they’ll instantly judge you as “carnal”–and many will, since many have had a very false view of sex drilled into them by their leaders. My point is that if you’ve concluded your libido is abnormally high compared to a bunch of Christian ladies who are probably afraid to even admit they have sexual desires, then you might have come to a false conclusion about yourself. It is entirely natural for young women to feel their sex drives revving. It’s also a good thing that you are self-aware enough to know that you have a strong mental association between sexual interactions and emotional intimacy.
Now earlier I explained that marriage is an intimate relationship. All relationships take effort to cultivate, and the correct reason to put in the extra work that is required to form an intimate relationship is because you desire intimacy. So it’s not wrong or abnormal for you to crave intimacy. God designed all humans with a deep need to form meaningful relationships with each other. He also gave us a very strong desire to find “the one” who we can experience an intimate relationship with. The kind of intimacy I’m talking about here is primarily psychological. If psychological intimacy in marriage is like a cake, then physical intimacy is the frosting on the cake, and spiritual intimacy is like decorative sprinkles which might or might not exist. It is quite possible to have a good marriage without spiritual intimacy, because marriage is primarily designed to meet psychological and physical needs. Once God becomes important to you, you’ll be much happier with a partner who also cares a lot about God, because relating to God correctly has a profound effect on your priorities, desires, perspectives, and goals. Pairing up with a partner who has no respect for or interest in God will cause God to become a point of contention between the two of you. This same principle is true when there is any kind of obsession going on. Whether it’s pursuing God or saving polar bears from going extinct, any goal that is very important to you will create division and stress if your partner can’t share that interest with you to some degree. But while it is very wise to seek out a partner who shares your spiritual priorities, that doesn’t change the fact that marriage is primarily designed to be a psychological bond, not a spiritual one. This is a point which most Christians don’t understand, which is why they try to promote marriage as a tool for forming a spiritual bond with another human and/or furthering your own relationship with God. They then portray sex in a negative light, when God designed sex to be a beautiful, joyful, and emotionally satisfying way to celebrate the emotional bond that exists between you and your spouse. This kind of sex is entirely different than the kind of sex that is portrayed in movies.
Through movies and books, we are constantly taught that the primary goal of sex is for both partners to experience intense physical pleasure via orgasms. While men are taught to sleep around as much as possible, women are taught to feel ripped off and cheated if he doesn’t “thrill” them. All of this has nothing to do with real sex. When we do sex right, we’re not focused on orgasms, we’re focused on the intimate bond we share with our partner. While physical pleasure is a nice addition, it’s not our main goal.
Realize that the way sex is portrayed in entertainment media is utterly false on every level. Virtual strangers are depicted jumping into bed with each other, immediately having smooth, synchronized movements with no fumbling about (which is utterly absurd), acting all dramatic when they experience their orgasms, and then waking up the next morning acting oh so satisfied, even though they barely know who they just slept with. This is not at all how it works in real life.
In entertainment media, we are constantly bombarded with the message that sex quickly gets “boring” and “unsatisfying” unless we “get creative” and “spice it up” by introducing negative elements such as abusing each other emotionally and physically. This is another complete misrepresentation of how real sex works. When we do sex the way God intended it, it gets better and more satisfying as time goes on; not boring. This is because real sex is a celebration of the relationship. As the relationship matures and the partners become more deeply bonded to each other, their celebration of that bond becomes more joyous. So you see, how you experience sex and what you get out of sex are largely determined by your focus. If you’re just looking for a physical sensation, you won’t experience how wonderful sex is designed to be. If you want to experience the joy of intimacy (which is your case), then you must build an intimate relationship first so that you can have something to celebrate. If instead you sleep with a partner who you don’t trust, don’t respect, and don’t feel known and cherished by, you simply won’t experience what you’re craving. So your goal is good, you just need to understand the correct way of attaining it, and that starts by understanding what the purpose of sex actually is. That purpose was chosen by the One who created sex (God), and it’s not a purpose that you can change anymore than you can just decide that your car no longer needs a battery in order to function. Just as the engineer who designed the car built features into it that you can’t change, God built sex to function in a ways that we can’t change. The better we understand how He designed sex to work, the better we can understand what we need to do to experience sex at its best. The relationship must be built first, then you add the sex, just as you’d add a roof after you build the walls of a house. With no walls, there’s nothing for the roof to attach to. With no intimate relationship, there’s nothing for the sex to celebrate. These are linked concepts.
So how do you build an intimate relationship? There are right and wrong ways to go about this. One very important principle to understand is that this is a process which requires time. You can’t rush into an intimate relationship without undermining trust, and intimate relationships are built on trust. If you want in-depth guidance on how to form healthy relationships and how to steer around common mistakes, I recommend that you read my book What’s Wrong With My Relationships?.
Since you are interested in this topic, here are some other posts that you might be interested in:
- The Dating Game: How to Attract the Right Partner
- How Should I Approach Dating?
- Jesus Isn’t All We Need & Humans Aren’t Selfless: Identifying Bad Marital Advice
This post was written in response to Martina.