What Christians Can Learn From a New York Times Article About Sleeping With Married Men

by Elizabeth

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The New York Times recently published an article by Karin Jones entitled, “What Sleeping With Married Men Taught Me About Infidelity.” A friend shared it, and I read it. I found I had a lot to say about it, so I commented on my friend’s Facebook share, where it received so much positive feedback that I thought I’d share it here. But my response will make more sense if you take the time to read the article first.

My worldview obviously differs from the author’s – in fact I might say it diverges greatly – but I think she makes some important observations. My thoughts on this subject are influenced, of course, by nearly 18 years of marriage. But they are also greatly informed by my husband’s readings on relationships and sex.

Before you think that sounds too weird, let me explain why he reads extensively about these issues: he works with a lot of couples in his pastoral counseling ministry. For the record, I don’t know who any of his clients are; I only know about the ideas in his books. (The only exception to this would be when a client of his walks up to me and announces, “Your husband is my counselor.” This is not frequent but has occasionally been known to happen.)

And now that I’ve finished all my caveats, we can move on to my thoughts about the New York Times article.

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I know it might sound crazy to say this, but I think a lot of “Christian” wisdom is not super helpful to marriage and that we can learn from “secular” or research-based sources. First off, sex is more important to a marriage than we in Christian circles sometimes like to think. Dr. Barry McCarthy, author of the 2015 book Sex Made Simple: Clinical Strategies for Sexual Issues in Therapy, claims that a counselor simply cannot afford to treat only the communication/relationship aspect of a marriage and assume good sex will follow.

Rather, McCarthy claims, sex must be addressed separately and intentionally, in addition to other relationship needs. Sex is too important to the marriage for a counselor to be silent on the issue. And it’s highly complex and individual. This is part of the reason it needs purposeful addressing, though even many counselors are uncomfortable talking about it.

The research shows that couples in America are having less and less sex, with a good percentage (around 15%) being in what is considered a “sexless marriage” (sex 10 times a year or less). The research also shows that when a couple stops having sex, it’s more often the husband’s decision, not the wife’s (this information was also found in McCarthy’s book, where he quotes H. Feldman’s 1994 article in the Journal of Urology).

The fact that sexlessness was primarily dependent on the man was news to me as women often get slandered in culture for being “frigid.” This mischaracterization seems key to common “Christian” teaching that women want affection and connection, while men want sex. Research shows that this traditional approach is unhelpful in the sexual arena: women want good sex too. This is something the author of the New York Times article touched on and something proponents of the traditional view often neglect. God made us all sexual beings, and satisfying sex is important for both spouses in a marriage.

Another aspect of relationships that the article’s author noted was that men do not just want sex. They want connection and affection as well. Maybe it’s modern American culture, or maybe it’s American “Christian” culture, or maybe it’s both, but men are sometimes expected to be emotionless and connectionless in favor of more “manly” behavior.

If you want support for that claim, you can listen to this radio program about the way men’s human needs are marginalized in modern American culture. I think the church needs to push back against this aspect of mainstream culture and show a better way — one based in our foundational beliefs of a relational Godhead and of humans created in God’s image. The Bible is actually good news for culture, even when culture accuses it of being otherwise.

This artificial differentiation between men’s needs and women’s needs is unhelpful for marriage and society in general. Men are images of God as well as women, and God is a relational God. Men and women both want loving, secure attachments, and men and women both want satisfying sex. I wish we didn’t have some of these stereotypes, stereotypes I learned before marriage as important for maintaining a happy marriage: a man should give his wife the affection she so desires, so that she will be more willing to give him the sex he so desires.

(In my mind this teaching is parallel to the teaching that women only need love and men need respect, which I believe is categorically untrue. Both men and women need both love and respect, and behaving otherwise treats human beings as too one-dimensional and cheats them both of intimacy and relational fulfillment. But I digress.)

The Bible does not even support this idea of “his needs, her needs” or “women give sex to get love and men give love to get sex.” The woman in Song of Solomon showed strong sexual desire and initiation. Paul, often accused of being misogynistic (though I no longer think he was), told married couples that sex goes both ways — the wife’s body belongs to her husband, and the husband’s body belongs to his wife’s. Meaning: the woman has desire too. Men aren’t the only ones who want sex. It seems to me that sex is actually a place in marriage where our theology gets worked out, but we rarely think about it that way.

I do appreciate the author’s note that even the urge to have an affair could be the beginning of an important conversation in marriage. Of course we as Christians believe this: temptation does not inevitably lead to sin. Temptation can be a wake-up moment and lead to increased marital intimacy, but only if we, like the author suggests, are willing to be honest with ourselves and with our spouses.

If we desire something we are not currently experiencing, we need to talk to our spouses about it, and not (if the Bible is our authority) seek out extramarital affairs. Research from the Gottman Institute indicates that being able to talk about sexual issues is essential to sexual satisfaction:  “Only 9% of couples who can’t comfortably talk about sex with one another say that they’re satisfied sexually.”

Meaning: if you can’t talk about sex with each other, the likelihood that you’re having mutually satisfying sex is pretty low. But, like Jones explains in her article, talking about sex can be risky. You might find out something about yourself that you don’t want to know. You might feel rejected. And that was apparently too high a risk for the married men she was sleeping with.

Esther Perel, who is referenced in the article, has a fascinating TED talk on the interplay and tension between love and desire. I’ve actually watched it several times as I believe its vocabulary is helpful. It may not be specifically Christian teaching, but there is nothing anti-biblical about it. It frames the monogamy conversation better than it has sometimes been framed, and I encourage you to watch it (TED talks are, after all, fairly short).

The Bible seems to indicate that the intimacy — including sexual intimacy — that we can experience in marriage is only a small picture of God’s love for us and what He intends for us to experience with Him for all eternity. So it only makes sense that Satan would attack our sexuality as it is intended to be lived out, both before marriage and in marriage.

Our cultures are obsessed with sex, but according to research, few people are actually having mutually emotionally and physically satisfying sex. So the ways we as a culture are seeking sexual fulfillment are not working. We’re seeking it in all the wrong ways. Sometimes because terrible things have been done to us, sometimes because we have simply believed the culture’s (Satan’s) lies. There are a myriad of reasons our sexuality gets broken in this world.

If we care about our own marriages and the marriages of our children, if we care about the marriages in the future Church, sex cannot be some taboo topic that we think will work itself out in silence. It won’t. It needs specific cultivating and sometimes outside help (in the form or medication or therapy), and there is absolutely no shame in seeking help and wholeness for a part of our lives that is not thriving.

But if we feel ashamed of needing help, we won’t seek it. So if this article can do any good in the world, I hope it can empower people in marriage whose sex life is less than they desire, to seek out help somewhere. I believe seeking healing is worth it.

 

References:

What Sleeping With Married Men Taught Me About Infidelity, by Karin Jones for New York Times.

The Secret to Desire in a Long-Term Relationship, a 20-minute TED talk by Esther Perel

Sex Made Simple: Clinical Strategies for Sexual Issues in Therapy, by Barry McCarthy.

Couples That Talk About Sex Have Better Sex, by Kyle Benson for Gottman Institute.

How American Masculinity Creates Lonely Men, a 48-minute program by Shankar Vedantam for NPR

From Jonathan: On Making Love (book recommendations about sex)

Other articles Jonathan and I have written about sex and marriage

On Peace, Busyness, and Remembering that I’m not God (Psalm 131)

On March 18th, I was privileged to preach at ICA here in Phnom Penh. You can listen to the message here, or via our podcast on iTunes.

We talked about three things that block peace and a few things that help bring peace.

I also introduced a short song called Be Still, Be Quiet, based on Psalm 131. It’s at the end of the message around the 25 minute mark.

all for ONE,

Jonathan T.

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                      “Psalm 131 is one of the shortest Psalms to read, but one of                                         the longest to learn.” — Charles Spurgeon

 

Psalm 131

My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.

But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore.

 

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Avoiding Platitudes, Accepting Influence, and Loving Jesus (John 11:1-44)

Last Sunday I had the privilege of preaching at the ICF here in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

To listen to the message, click here, or view on iTunes.

We looked at how Jesus allowed his emotions to be influenced (by a woman!), we talked about platitudes and why to NEVER use them, and we considered the different ways Jesus empathized with Mary and Martha.

He mirrored each woman and responded very uniquely, in fact.

We also talked about the one thing we must remember for this story to make sense: I am NOT the center of Christ’s universe. The Father is. Christ’s love for me is secondary and derivative. His primary goal is NOT to relieve my suffering or heal my disease.

So, although he loves, he sometimes “stays.”

— Jonathan T.

 

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The Questions of God, Hagar, and Genesis 16

Learning to ask good questions is a Christlike thing to do. Here’s a discussion about the questions God asked Hagar. These questions form the basis of my pastoral counseling ministry. Recorded at ICA, Phnom Penh Cambodia, November 2017.

Click here to listen to the mp3, or find this message on the trotters41 podcast here.

 

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The True Myths That Keep Me Coming Back to God {Velvet Ashes}

Elizabeth is over at Velvet Ashes today . . . 

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The word myth often conjures up the idea of epic fantasy tales or of commonly held beliefs that need debunking. In fact, the Oxford Dictionary defines myth as both “a fictitious or imaginary person or thing” and “a widely held but false belief or idea.”

The dictionary also defines myth as “a traditional story, especially one concerning the early history of a people or explaining a natural or social phenomenon, and typically involving supernatural beings or events.” The word derives from the Greek mythos which simply means “story.”

And that is what I think of when I think of myth: I think of story. I think of narrative. So when I use the word myth to describe the Bible, I’m not saying it’s not true – because I most certainly believe it is true. Rather, when I say the Bible is myth, I’m saying that it’s full of stories that infuse meaning into our lives and that it is, in actuality, one overarching Story.

The God of the Bible audaciously makes a world, joyfully populates it with creatures, and then willingly redeems those creatures from sin and death. This story is unlike any story humans have ever told. Indeed, the Bible’s uniqueness among world myths is one reason I believe it, love it, and base my life on it.

Finish reading here.

Communion as the intersection of all things

by Elizabeth

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I didn’t grow up with the Sacraments. Sacraments were for liturgical traditions, while I was a proud and happy member of Restoration Movement churches. I did, however, grow up with physical commemorations of spiritual truths — for that is what sacrament means. Of course, I didn’t know that back then.

I like to talk about these things when I get together with my friend Heidi, whose husband is an Anglican priest. When I asked her what sacrament means, this is what she told me:

 “The Anglican Book of Common Prayer uses this definition of sacrament: a sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace given to us. There’s also the pithy phrase ‘Matter matters.’ It relates to the way God comes to us through matter (water, the bread and wine, etc) and to His value of matter (our physical bodies themselves and all of creation are precious to him – not evil or something to be escaped as in Gnosticism).”

“Matter matters.” As someone who has been running away from her physical body since early adolescence, this was novel concept to me. But as I reflected on my spiritual history, I realized that my church tradition did observe two sacramental practices: baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Baptism celebrates our union with Christ through death, burial, and resurrection and is intended to occur once in a lifetime. The Lord’s Supper, on the other hand, is a regular occurrence and a reminder of how much we are loved. We are loved enough for Christ to pour out his very blood and allow his very body to be broken for us and for our eternal home.

(I like to designate corporate singing as a sacramental practice due to the fact that in singing we join the physical sound waves of our voices together to worship our Triune God and to declare spiritual truths over ourselves, but that’s another conversation entirely.)

Some people call it the Eucharist. I usually call it communion. Whatever its name, this meal of bread and wine is our feast of love. It is where we learn and remember our belovedness. It is where God speaks to us. It is where He calls us: every particle of every person in every place.

God communicates His call in every conceivable human language, for in His wisdom He created communion as the intersection of all things.

It is the intersection of the physical – bread and wine – with the spiritual – the forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life.

It is the intersection of the deeply personal – what Christ did for ME – and the incredibly communal – what Christ did for ALL of us.

It is the intersection of the Old Testament sacrifices and the new covenant where no more sacrifices are needed.

It is the intersection of the ancient and the far future as we look back to the Exodus and the Passover – the central story of the Old Testament – and eagerly await the wedding feast of the Lamb.

It is the intersection of the ordinary — a regularly repeated act — and the ceremonial — a special event.

It is the intersection of celebration – our God is victorious and we are free — and mourning – our God suffered and our sins caused it.

The Lord’s Supper is the intersection of the marriage invitation and the acceptance of His offer. It is the intersection of being chosen and the act of choosing back.

The Table brings together all human experiences. At the Table He speaks to each person’s particular history and particular language and particular longings. At the Table He places us in a community that will never end.

So come to the Table where there’s always room for more.

Take, eat: the Body of Christ, broken for you.

Take, drink: the Blood of Christ, shed for you.

Come to the Table and remember. Come to the Table and celebrate. Come to the Table where there’s always room for more.

 

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