“‘Like a lily among the thorns, so is my darling among the maidens.’
‘Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved among the young men.
In his shade I took great delight and sat down,
And his fruit was sweet to my taste.
He has brought me into his banquet hall, and his banner over me is love.
Sustain me with raisin cakes, refresh me with apples, because I am lovesick.
Let his left hand be under my head and his right hand embrace me.'”
(Song of Solomon 2:2-6)
Mutually satisfying physical intimacy involves the recognition that sex is God’s gift to a married couple. Through it, husband and wife are able to experience the most profound intimacy possible—two becoming one flesh (Genesis 2:24). Thriving couples are willing to discuss what they like and dislike sexually and make adjustments to meet each other’s needs. Their intimacy is marked by affection and warmth, and they understand that developing a healthy sexual relationship is a lifelong process that requires adaptability and communication.
In a strong, healthy marriage, the partners don’t regard sex as a “chore” or “obligation.” Instead, they see it as a delightful “dance” in which each spouse puts the other’s needs and interests ahead of his or her own and explores ways of giving sexually to his or her “other half.”
Here are a few of the most important steps that define the basic choreography of this marvelous dance:
Laying the foundation
We begin with the assumption that sex and sexuality really do matter. They are fundamental to the whole meaning of the marital relationship. God Himself cares deeply about this aspect of the relationship between husband and wife. It is rooted not only in the Creator’s original design for the human race, but in man’s identity as the Image of God (Imago Dei), and thus in the Divine Nature itself: “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27). Sexual union is vital to the process of becoming “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Further, a high regard for the “marriage bed” (Hebrews 13:4) is central to the Christian faith, since the Bible consistently uses it as an image of Israel’s relationship with Yahweh and Christ’s relationship with the church. For a few powerful examples of this, see Song of Solomon, the Book of Hosea, Ezekiel Chapter 16, Ephesians 5:22-33, and Revelation 21:2.
Priming the pump
In a number of subtle and not-so-subtle ways, our culture tries to persuade us that sex is most potent when most isolated from the rest of our day-to-day experience. The most exciting encounters, we are led to believe, are those that take place outside the circle of the familiar and the mundane. Intimacy with your “old lady” or “old man” is assumed to be about as thrilling as a bowl of cold oatmeal. But Scripture adopts an entirely different point of view. According to the Bible, sex is all about knowing the other person inside and out and in all kinds of contexts. The Hebrew word used is yada’ and it means a thorough, exhaustive knowledge that embraces complete mutuality and total sharing in every area of life.
All this suggests that you have to prime the pump of passion by keeping full-fledged romance alive at the center of your relationship. You can do this through date nights, candlelight dinners, and generous amounts of heart-to-heart conversation. This is a truth that our X-rated society rarely recognizes and hardly ever acknowledges: the flames of truly enjoyable and meaningful sex derive their heat not from wanton sensuality, but from the gentle, human touch of tender romantic love.
“You shall love your neighbor” – and that includes your husband or wife – “as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). Herein lies the real secret behind romantic love between the sexes and the physical bond in which it finds consummation. Charles Williams, friend of C. S. Lewis and member of the legendary Inklings, called it the mystery of “in-othering” or “co-inherence.” It’s the marvel of me in you and you in me. Williams’s term encapsulates perfectly how a love affair grows into a genuine marriage, and a genuine marriage is transformed into a way of the soul – a gateway to deeper knowledge and experience of God Himself. “For we are members of His body,” writes the apostle Paul, “of His flesh and of His bones” (Ephesians 5:30).
No wonder research indicates that couples who build their relationship upon a foundation of true spiritual intimacy and a shared faith in God possess one of the most important predictors of marital success and longevity. These couples know what marital sex is for and what it means. They see their own union in the light of that greater Union towards which all things are moving.
Keeping it in context
Deeply meaningful sex is a lot like a wedding cake. It’s something you build layer by layer. You start at the most basic level and work your way up. You initiate a connection in some small and simple way and then maintain it and elaborate on it as you move forward. The act of intercourse could be compared to the icing on the cake. It’s the finishing touch you put on a painting that you’ve labored long and painstakingly to get “just right.”
This is what Dr. Kevin Leman had in mind when he chose the title Sex Begins in the Kitchen for his best-selling book on marital intimacy. He wasn’t attempting to conjure up lurid mental images of passionate embraces underneath the dining room table. Instead, he was hoping to convey the idea that sex is actually an expression of the care a couple shows for each other in all areas of life – in communicating, in sharing thoughts and feelings, and even in helping out around the house. He was suggesting that what happens in the bedroom may actually represent the final link in a chain of events that began hours earlier when your fingers touched while washing the dishes together.
Questions for Discussion
For your next date night, watch a romantic comedy together. Give some conscious thought to the parallels between the typical “guy-gets-girl” plot and the biblical story of God’s pursuit of mankind – the greatest romance of all time. It might be a good idea to prepare for this by reading Song of Solomon or the Book of Hosea. Afterwards, talk about the movie, paying special attention to what it says about your love for each other and God’s love for you.
- How has this date enabled you to put the concept of marital intimacy into the bigger picture of married life as a whole?
- What do you think it really means to know each other on every level of human experience and interaction?
- Exactly how does physical intimacy put a bow on this package?
- What are some ways you can get to know each other better, build intimacy, and engage in simple affectionate contact throughout the coming week?