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So many young adults and even not-so-young adults feel uncomfortable and awkward when it comes to discussing sexual intimacy in marriage. Many young people have never had a healthy, positive conversation about sex as a wholesome component of marriage, which contributes to their anxiety, nervousness and fears about sexual intimacy.
It has a been such a taboo topic for such a long time that it wasn’t terribly surprising to see that many otherwise intelligent, educated college students still see sex in a negative light. There are signs though that marital sexuality is becoming a little more accessible as a positive, wholesome topic of discussion.
Recently, I was asked to speak to a class of Brigham Young University students to talk about how to prepare for intimacy in marriage. As a follow up assignment, the students were asked to provide their thoughts about the class. The feedback from the students was eye-opening and brought a confirmation of the immense needfor more healthy and wholesome discussion of this topic.
Young married couples will have a hard time being open and comfortable with this subject in their marriages unless we can change the awkwardness and anxiety that currently surrounds it. As a marriage counselor and Christian sex therapist, I am passionate (pun intended) about helping couples be better prepared for a healthy and exciting intimate relationship in marriage.
My hope is to share some of the thoughts from these college students to underscore a serious need among our young people and to inspire us all to find ways to reclaim the divinity of marital sexuality. We need to shine some light on this sacred and vital topic in more positive and affirming ways. We can and must do better at communicating the wholesome nature of sexual relations within marriage…the way God designed it.
Lacking Positive Messages
The following comments illustrate the significant lack of healthy, wholesome teachings about marital intimacy prior to marriage:
Throughout my life, sex was not discussed very often in the home. When it was, it was usually in a very negative way. The focus was on avoiding premarital sex or pornography. I was never specifically taught to feel bad about it, but when there are so few positive discussions about it how else am I supposed to feel?
As I sat listening to the presenter, I immediately began to feel a little awkward because she was so open about it. My parents rarely ever talked to me about sexual intimacy and its importance within marriage. Like many youth raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the topic of ‘sex’ has always been extremely taboo… In my family we can’t even say the word ‘sex.’ It’s a dirty word.
I am so glad I attended this discussion. I really needed it. I was so nervous about sex. I’ve had a strong desire to learn more about it but felt like that would be wrong somehow. I felt like we’re not supposed to learn about sex because everything you will find about it is secular and worldly—not what God wants us to learn.
We talked about the ‘good girl syndrome,’[i] but I think there is also a good boy syndrome. At church there was constant attention given to the negative aspects of sex and the misuse of our procreative powers. Sitting in this discussion, though, made me realize that we never talk about the positive aspects of it. It’s sad and contributes to it being such a taboo and uncomfortable topic.
When the presenter talked about this ‘good girl’ issue that a lot of people struggle with, I realized that was something I also struggle with. I could see my discomfort with just sitting in a class learning about it. It probably took at least the first hour of her presentation for me to relax enough to not feel so awkward and weird. It makes sense that it’s going to be difficult for me to talk about it (or do it) with my spouse if I can barely handle hearing anything about it.
I’ve been taught my whole life to not even think about sex, not until some date in the future. Now, however, as my wedding approaches, I feel like I’m playing catch up as I try to change my ill-formed ideas of sex.
When sex is rarely talked about in positive, affirming ways, it can have detrimental effects on young people. More than half of all the responses received from the class included something along the lines of how “sex was never talked about,” or “sex was an embarrassing topic,” or “I’ve never heard anything positive about sex.”
When asked how many of the students had received more than half of their sex education from their parents only a few hands went up. Who is doing the teaching if not parents? Two of the students were daughters of marriage-counselor moms who specialize in sexuality. Wholesome sex education need not be limited to parents who specialize in the topic.
We can’t expect young people to come into marriage well prepared for such an important aspect of the marital relationship without open, comfortable conversations and healthy, positive information. If parents and our religious culture refuse to appropriately address the subject in positive and affirming ways, then Satan, and our secular society will have free reign to the hearts and minds of our young people on the subject of sex.
This young woman shows a particularly sad and unnecessary sexual mentality, yet highlights how even a little light on the subject can have profoundly positive effects:
The ‘good girl syndrome’ is definitely something I have personally struggled with mentally and emotionally. The idea of sex in general has always been an uncomfortable, dirty topic and has led to feelings of disgust and shame.
While I was listening to the class lecture, I was sitting next to my fiancé. He kept pointing out how tense I was. I tried to relax but discussing sex so openly made me uncomfortable and brought up negative feelings. I tried to keep an open mind about the discussion. I wrote down a few questions to talk with my fiancé about later.
After the discussion, my fiancé and I decided to talk again about intimacy, but it was really hard at first. I tried to open up with the things I was struggling with, but it took a good hour before we were able to understand each other and actually begin to talk about sex with a little more ease.
Once we were able to really start talking, the feeling surrounding sex began to change into something much more intimate and honest. It felt a lot different from my previous experiences with these sorts of discussions. We were able to express our expectations surrounding what we wanted for our honeymoon, as well as what we expected lovemaking to be like. We discussed appropriate bounds for sex in much greater detail than I ever thought I was capable of.
By the time we finished, we were both feeling a lot more confident that we understood each other’s expectations and we were able to grow closer together. It wasn’t crude or awkward like I thought it would be. It was actually rather spiritual.
I am grateful that we were able to draw closer together like this, and now that we are more educated on sexual intimacy in marriage, I feel more confident and grateful that we will be able to have a much more enjoyable experience right from the start.
This story shows how essential it is for parents, leaders and just about everyone to be more open and positive about sexual intimacy in marriage and to help shift things away from making this sacred topic so taboo and uncomfortable.
Making a Positive Change
Many young people don’t even know where to begin to make this shift from thinking of sex as bad and dirty to thinking of sex as something good and godly within marriage. One student wrote the following questions that plagued him regarding how to overcome his inhibiting thoughts and beliefs about sex:
- How do I get over the fact that it feels like I’m sinning every time I talk about this?
- Is it really okay to talk about it this openly?
- When I have kids, what can I do to help them not feel disturbed when this is brought up in conversation?
- How can we get people to see this as a serious topic, and not just one to be joked about or awkwardly avoided?
- I wonder how I would be different if I had been raised in a more open environment where we were able to appropriately discuss this subject?
Thankfully there are some encouraging stories from young people who have had more openness and affirming attitudes instilled during their upbringing. The following young, married woman was raised in an environment where sexuality was discussed in a healthy and positive light. Her experience helps us draw some insights as to what we can do to shift the mindset about sex to a more wholesome, positive view and help others do the same.
Sex was never an uncomfortable topic growing up. When I was 8 years old my parents explained to me in simple terms what sex was. Because they weren’t weird about it and taught me from a young age, I didn’t find it weird or uncomfortable either. It wasn’t taboo in my home. I knew if I had any questions I could ask.
I had learned that sex was a good thing that was meant to be saved for that special someone in marriage. When I got engaged to my husband, it was interesting discussing this subject with him since he hadn’t had the kind of education and upbringing that I had.
It was cool though, because I was able to share some things and help him understand even more that sex was a good thing that God gives to married couples. He obviously knew this but there was still a part of him that wasn’t completely convinced of its goodness and divinity.
As we talked about it and learned together it helped us to be better prepared for intimacy in our marriage. Being able to discuss our thoughts and understandings about it helped us feel more comfortable and confident about this new experience we would be having. Those conversations were really tender and created an extra special connection that has lasted into our marriage.
We had a wonderful honeymoon. Of course, there were some bumps along the way since this was very new to both of us. But overall it was a very positive, incredible transition into the sexual part of our marriage. I’m so grateful for the learning that I had received and the positive sexual environment I had grown up in. It helped make my first intimate experiences in marriage more enjoyable and amazing than I could have ever imagined.
What We Can Do
What are some things young people can do and ways we could help them overcome the negative thinking that many have acquired on this topic? The following are a few ideas essential to lighting the way to a healthy intimate relationship in marriage:
1. Seek sources of light about sex.
Young people need to search out healthy, positive and affirming messages about the vital sexual relationship in marriage to counter and undo all the negatives they may have accumulated. Affirming scriptures and statements can be especially beneficial to instill in your heart and mind that sex truly is of God. We may know that intellectually, but it needs to sink deep into our hearts that this is true. It was our Heavenly Father who created sex in the first place.
Many prophets and apostles have spoken of the sanctity of sexual relations within marriage. President Kimball said, “In the context of lawful marriage, the intimacy of sexual relations is right and divinely approved. There is nothing unholy or degrading about sexuality in itself, for by that means men and women join in a process of creation and in an expression of love.”[ii]
You can find many more scriptural and prophetic references to marital intimacy in the book And They Were Not Ashamed: Strengthening Marriage through Sexual Fulfillment.[iii] Reading and re-reading these affirming words can flood your heart and mind with godly messages regarding the goodness and divinity of sexual intimacy in marriage.
2. Gain intimate information.
Being well informed about sex is a wonderful way to be more comfortable, confident and open about sexuality in marriage. Knowledge is power so the more appropriate knowledge we gain, the more we’ll be able to comfortably and confidently speak to the topic—reducing the taboo air that surrounds it. Some good books that affirm the divinity of sex and teach important insights about marital intimacy are listed at the end of this article.
3. Have open, affirming conversations about sex.
To be able to talk comfortably about sex with your fiancé(e) or spouse you’ll need to practice having healthy conversations before that stage arrives. Talk with family or close friends who have a healthy mindset about sex. The ability to communicate is key to a good and mutually fulfilling sexual relationship.
As an engaged couple you’ll want to talk about appropriate physical boundaries for before you are married, but it is also good to talk about expectations for the honeymoon and your marriage. Discussing any potential fears, concerns or insecurities going into the honeymoon is important to help calm those issues as early as possible.
Anyone can help by vocalizing positives about sex and inspiring affirming attitudes instead of letting Satan and his distorted and damaging messages have all the air time. I often encourage people whenever I speak to go out into the world and put in a good word about sex. We must do better at teaching the goodness and grandeur of God’s designs for sex within marriage instead of just warning about the world’s unhealthy usage of sexuality.
Powerful Effects of Positive Information
Even with all the comments from the students in the class about the negative experiences and thoughts they’ve had about sex growing up, it was encouraging to hear how even a small amount of positive, affirming information about marital sexuality can help put young people on a better course to healthy intimacy in their marriages.
Many of these young people were able to recognize what they needed to do to overcome their negative beliefs and get themselves better educated and better prepared for a positive intimate experience and mindset in marriage:
One of the main takeaways that I got from the workshop was that I need to work on my own sexuality. Although I have come a long way from the ‘good girl syndrome’ when I first got engaged, I can work on being more open to thinking about the topic and more open to appropriately discussing it. Now that I’m married, I can do better at making sex a higher priority instead of everything else getting checked off my list before seeing if I can fit sex in.
I think the most prominent thing that stuck out to me was how different men and women are wired sexually. Without opportunities like these classes it’s amazing that people ever figure this stuff out! I thought it was interesting how these differences factor into how we should be teaching young men and women about sexuality. She mentioned how men especially need to learn how to bridle their sexuality while women especially need to learn how to embrace and nurture it. So often we are taught the bridling concept, which helps men, but can be detrimental to women. Looking back, I think it has been detrimental to me. I now realized that I need to see myself as a sexual being and embrace and develop my sexuality.
I like how she emphasized the fact that we all need to become educated about sexual intimacy before and during marriage. I learned that I can prepare for it even though I’m not yet married or engaged. I can pray for help, overcome any negative feelings I may have towards it, understand and affirm my sexuality as God-given, get educated, talk about it, discuss expectations with my future fiancée, resolve any moral issues beforehand, and so on! There’s plenty I can be doing now to prepare for what she calls a ‘sextraordinary marriage.’[iv]
Man, I had no idea that there was that much to talk about pertaining to sex! I now know that I know a lot less about sex than I previously thought. I was struck repeatedly about how grateful I was that I attended this class. It seems like some of the things I’ve learned will save me and my future wife a lot of heartache simply because we will know what to expect and how the other person is wired. I think the greatest takeaway from this discussion for me is how obscenely important it is that couples communicate what they are thinking and feeling, especially when it comes to sex.
This workshop has helped me overcome a lot of my stress and worry about sex. I now see it in a different way. Because of this I think there will be less discomfort and more enjoyment for both me and my wife on our honeymoon. It has helped me see the need to help my children and those around me understand sex in a more positive light.
Growing up all we hear is ‘no, no, no’ and then once you are married it turns into ‘go, go, go’ without any explanation of the reasons why or how to make it work once you’re married. I realize now that sex is a truly positive, God-given gift and we should embrace our sexuality and not feel guilty about it. Obviously, there are ways to misuse it, but as long as it is within the Lord’s bounds, then it is a positive, healthy thing.
It really struck me that because women already don’t spend very much time thinking about sex, when they are constantly told it’s a bad thing–don’t ever think about it, don’t do it, etc. it just makes it even harder for them in the future to even consider doing it. I now realize there’s a better way to teach about sexuality that is informative and is still in keeping with the standards of the Church.
Something I had no idea about that will help me in my future marriage is that for men the primary way they feel loved is through sex. That was very surprising for me, probably because I’m a female, and that is not how it is for us. I think that will make me prioritize sexual intimacy more often in my married life.
The main takeaway that I had was that we need to approach sexuality differently in our faith-based culture. We should not treat sex as something dirty or something to just be ignored until marriage. Instead we need to treat it as the wonderful gift that it is—reserved for the sanctity of marriage. I realize now that sex does not transform from something dirty to something wonderful overnight. It is always something wonderful when done in the right context within marriage. We need to cultivate a more positive and open discussion about sex.
We can all help our young people move into marriage with a more sexually affirming mindset as we share God’s truths about the goodness and godliness of the intimate marital relationship. As we each strive to change the way we think about sex, talk about sex, and teach about sex to be a more positive, affirming message we can change the air surrounding sexuality and help create strong, solid, ‘sextraordinary marriages!’
Helpful Christian Resources:
- And They Were Not Ashamed: Strengthening Marriage through Sexual Fulfillment by Laura M. Brotherson
- Knowing Her Intimately: 12 Keys for Creating a Sextraordinary Marriage by Laura M. Brotherson
- Sexual Wholeness in Marriage: An LDS Perspective on Integrating Sexuality and Spirituality in our Marriages by Dean M. Busby, Jason S. Carroll, Chelom Leavitt
- You, Me, and We: A Practical Guide to Marital Intimacy by Anthony Hughes
BIO — Laura M. Brotherson, LMFT, CST, CFLE
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Certified Sex Therapist, Laura M. Brotherson is the founder of The Marital Intimacy Institute with a mission to help couples create “sextraordinary marriages.” She counsels with couples, individuals and families in private practice (and online). Laura is the author of the best-selling book, And They Were Not Ashamed: Strengthening Marriage through Sexual Fulfillment, and her latest book, Knowing HER Intimately: 12 Keys for Creating a Sextraordinary Marriage.
Laura is actively engaged in providing marriage education through Couples Cruises, articles, newsletters, radio and television broadcasts, and presenting at conferences and workshops. Laura is passionate about helping couples navigate the intricacies of intimacy to help build strong marriages and families. Laura and her husband are the founders of StrengtheningMarriage.com—your trusted resource for education, products and services to strengthen marriages … intimately!
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[i] Brotherson, And They Were Not Ashamed: Strengthening Marriage through Sexual Fulfillment, (Chapter 1).
[ii] Kimball, Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 311 (emphasis added).
[iii] Brotherson, And They Were Not Ashamed: Strengthening Marriage through Sexual Fulfillment, (Chapter 2).
[iv] Brotherson, Knowing Her Intimately: 12 Keys for Creating a Sextraordinary Marriage