Even though sexual intimacy is a huge part of life, we each reap messages of what it is and should be from various sources. Hollywood, family, religion, and personal experiences have shaped our limited perspective of sex, and, unfortunately, we all too often hesitate to talk about the realities with others. There are too many false messages to tackle at once, but we'll start with two profound and contradictory messages (and yes, this one is for the ladies):
"Sex is your wifely duty. You won't care for it so just grin and bear it."
"A healthy woman's response to sex is/should be similar to that of a man."
The pressure is on, women! Geesh! Some well meaning mothers and grandmothers offer tips to the younger generation on how to "tame the one-eyed snake" and may warn a young bride of her wifely duties. Loaded with a traditional gender role mentality, the message is loud and clear: "Sex is for men. In order to keep him, you'll need to keep him satisfied."
Like most things, our beliefs and our attitudes directly shape our experiences. Women who grew up hearing these overt or subvert messages enter a sexual relationship already resenting her responsibility, thus removing the opportunity to find enjoyment. Women who have heard these messages yet still experience sexual drive often feel that something is wrong with them. Either way, this message directly and negatively impacts the sexual enjoyment of many women.
It's also NOT TRUE. I spoke at an intimacy conference a couple years ago. The audience was largely a conservative, religious group. It broke my heart when after my presentation, two women approached me to tell me they had no idea that sex is for them too! These women had been married for several years and viewed sex as solely their marital responsibility. Imagine the lack of passion that must have existed in those relationships!
Sex is absolutely for you too! The reality that women can orgasm is proof enough. In fact, women are given a sexual organ, the clitoris, that has one purpose - PLEASURE. Where as the male orgasm serves an additional purpose of reproduction, the female orgasm serves no reproductive purpose, yet we are designed to receive pleasure from sex. So yes, sex is for you too. It is not your wifely duty, it is your relational privilege, and your sex life will absolutely improve if you believe that.
But what about the other side of the coin, the very contradictory message that a healthy woman's sex drive should be equal to a man's? Also FALSE...the majority of the time. Studies show that 80% of women in heterosexual relationships have less drive/desire than their spouses. Healthy is a relative term and therefore cannot be applied to everyone.
A woman should not be pressured to feel like she must be someone she isn't. If she assumes that she must be highly sexual or sensual and it does not come naturally, she may feel broken and frustrated. (Hear me, I do believe we should stretch ourselves to deeper levels of sexual enjoyment, but not when the effort leaves you feeling, disingenuious, defeated and frustrated.) If you have a high sex drive and you feel like a highly sexual person, great! If your sex drive does not match that of your spouse, that's fine too! Ultimately the couple needs to determine what works for them, as a unit, always following the criteria of mutual edification. Free yourself from the pressure of stated or unstated expectations that simply are not your reality. We are all unique.
Next week, we'll take a look at some sexual myths that apply to men.
It is way too common for me to be counseling an individual from a couple and to hear them put up with inappropriate behaviors from their partner saying that they don't want to come across as "demanding", "nagging", or "pushy". Usually, but not always, this is coming from a woman. It seems that society has taught us that women need to be "cool" with whatever her man is doing and if she isn't she is controlling. So, to become attractive to the opposite sex, she pretends to be incredibly casual and comfortable with his behavior. The problem evolves, however, into her feeling devalued and without a voice to express herself.
So, here are some basic rights in a relationship. My intention for posting these is that both parts of the couple can be empowered to ask for these or hold off until they find someone who demonstrates these qualities. It is OK, ladies, to state your expectations (directly and pleasantly) and let your partner know that you need to see these behaviors in order to feel that you are valued, respected, and loved. That is, after all, the most ideal way you experience a relationship.
There are an abundance of examples of each of these basic rights. I would encourage that you assess your relationship and speak openly and honestly about how the two of you may improve. Don't forget, your partner has the same rights. So whatever you are willing to ask for, be sure you are demonstrating the same respect and love. Be bold. Be loving.
List of relational rights taken from the following sources:
Evans, Patricia. The Verbally Abusive Relationship: How to Recognize it and how to Respond. Bob Adams, Inc. Publishers. Holbrook, MA, 1992.
Tracy, Celestia G. Mending the Soul. Mending the Soul Ministries, Inc. Phoenix, AZ. 2012
“To err is human, to forgive divine.”
- Alexander Pope
This phrase holds a lot of truth to me. There are some offenses we endure that are more easily forgivable, but others require something bigger than ourselves to let go of. This is when forgiveness become a daily process or decision and we often have to rely on a strength bigger than our own to do it.
As provided by Dictionary.com
Imagine that your longtime friend asks to borrow $10,000 from you. For whatever reason, you agree to loan him the money, which he promises to repay. One year later, he has not been able to repay the any of the debt and continues to be in financial hardship. After consideration you decide to forgive him the debt, never requiring repayment going forward.
This is a very straight forward example of forgiveness: canceling a debt and therefore removing some or all of the consequences from the borrower. Forgiveness does not stop there, however. The money is still gone. And now, the consequence and responsibility to regain that money or deal with its loss falls on the lender.
This is why forgiveness can be costly and challenging. Not only in doing so do we remove our right to get even, but we also agree to deal with the consequence without holding it over the head of the one who wronged us. At times the offense is small and not as noticeable. At other times, though, the forgiver has much more at stake.
This is why those considering to offer forgiveness should NOT rush into doing so. First, they need to take inventory of all that was lost or harmed. You cannot forgive without knowing what it is you’re forgiving and what it will cost you. This step can be a lengthy process. For example, when one is considering forgiving their abuser, it takes time and a lot of reflection to know exactly how they have been harmed and what has been taken from them. Often the offense hurts us deeper than its face value. Do not feel bad about taking time on this step, but be cautious of stalling here and becoming bitter or resentful.
“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”
- Nelson Mandela
Once you have taken thorough inventory, you can decide to forgive, remembering that you may need to make that decision more than once as feelings of injustice creep up. But forgiveness is NOT reconciliation or resolved trust. In the case of your friend borrowing $10,000, you may decide that it would not be wise to lend them money again. This decision, done out of self protection rather than resentment and passiveeagressiveness, is often very prudent. A survivor of abuse may be able to let go of their right to exact revenge, but it is unlikely that they will or should have a reconciled relationship with the abuser. Boundaries after wrongdoing is a necessary step in the forgiveness process.
Interested in reconciliation? Reconciliation requires repentance.
"Repentance, which literally means to turn, is the activity of reviewing one's actions and feeling contrition or regret for past wrongs."
This step is the one that requires action from the offender. It is a process of building trust again. The problem is we find it difficult to determine true repentance. Those who have done wrong often offer apologies and show remorse for their actions (or more often, remorse for getting caught), but after not too much time repeat their offense. So how can we be sure that the offender has truly changed? Well, there are never guarantees, but here are some things to look for:
“Just as forgiveness isn’t cheap, repentance isn’t cheap. Repentance isn’t just being sorry we got caught. Repentance is learning from our mistakes. Repentance is walking a mile in the shoes of the one we’ve wounded. Repentance demands that we lie for a time in the bed we have made. In real repentance, we feel the pain we have caused others and ourselves.”
-Laurie Hall, An Affair of the Mind
Forgiveness is a complex concept and truly courageous endeavor. We should never be asked or pressured to rush this process, but be careful to not wallow in a place of resentment. Prayerfully move through the steps outlined above and practice caution when considering reconciliation. At some point, however, a choice to trust and let go will ultimately come from you.
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