Sexual Synchrony that Enhances Attachment
Set me as a seal upon your heart… Song of Songs 8:6 (1)
This blog will focus on strengthening the bond in marriage through sexuality. Many (if not most) couples struggle with experiencing the fullness of the beauty and satisfaction of the sexual relationship in marriage. Sex is a complex and powerful experience. Developing a healthy and fulfulling sexual relationship in marriage takes intentionality from both partners. When a healthy sexual relationship exists in marriage, it has the potential to be a long-term, life-giving experience for both partners (2). While sex is not the most important aspect of the marital relationship, focusing on the development of a healthy sexual relationship as a stabilizing force will enhance and strengthen the marital bond.
Since sex is a private topic, we often feel awkward speaking comfortably about it even with our spouse. Many people find discussing sexual topics in a serious way awkward and embarassing. Sex is more commonly joked about or brought up through covert inuendos. However, since we are all sexual beings, and since sex is such an important topic, its vital that married couples normalize open discussion on the subject.
It is common for couples to avoid discussing their sexual relationship although each individual has strong thoughts and feelings about the subject. This is where mature intentionality comes into play. If having a mature conversation with your spouse about sexuality feels awkward or scary to you, there are likely some complications that need to be addressed.
In order to develop a healthy sexual relationship in marriage, complications must be addressed. It is common, even expected, in our culture that couples enter into marriage with confusing, painful, and dysfunctional sexual experiences that have set their sexual template in unhealthy ways. Complicated experiences before marriage often leave us feeling under-equipped to creat a healthy/free sexual connection with our spouse; some of the biggest issues are:
- Parents who didn’t teach you about sex or model healthy sexuality
- Negative messages received from culture or religion
- Childhood exposure to pornography
- Sexual molestation/abuse
- Damaging sexual relationships with others prior to your spouse
Negative pre-marital sexual messages and experiences bring complications that must be worked through in order to be have a healthy and free sexual connection with your spouse.
Not all sexual complexities happen prior to marriage. When any type of sexual trauma or unfaithfulness has occurred during the marriage, it threatens the secure emotional attachment that is needed for a healthy sexual relationship. Sexual trauma can be in the form of assault or harrassment, and the perpetrator may be an individual outside the marriage or within the marriage (i.e., your spouse). Assault and harassment are not only damaging, but also illegal. If this has happened or is happening to you, do not delay in getting the help you need to heal and be safe. If you are in danger or have an incident to report, call the domestic violence hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE.
Unfaithfulness in marriage is also an all too common complexity. Sexual betrayal in the form of pornography use or when a spouse has an emotional or sexual relationship with an individual(s) outside of the marriage is extremely damaging to the marital sexual relationship. A healthy sexual relationship requires a strong sense of trust and vulnerablility. Betrayal of any kind erodes that trust, so it has to be repaired in order to experience a strong sexual relationship in marriage.
Additionally, some individuals have physiological complexities. Physical issues that impact sexuality include but are not limited to: vaginismus, pelvic floor dysfunction, pain during sex, inabilty to orgasm, premature ejaculation, and erectile dysfunction (3). When one of these issues is present in the marriage, seeking medical help and therapy can be advantageous. Clifford and Joyce Penner wrote a book entitled Counseling for Sexual Disorders, which is helpful for informing therapists in regard to labeling and guiding couples to work through these types of complications. Physical disorders and complications hold couples back from experiencing the full potential of a healthy sexual relationship, but there are methods and concepts that can aid couples in building a strong bond instead. It is important for couples to intentionally address these issues so that their emotional bond is not impacted in a negative way.
The ultimate goal in marriage is to get to a place of sexual synchrony with your spouse. When communication is open and mature and when the complications have been healed and addressed, a more synchronous relationship can form. Sexual intimacy is a feeling of being deeply connected and synchronized with another spirit, soul and body. All three types of connection are so important. The climax of this deep connection happens in our body but impacts us deeply in our soul and spirit as well. Sexuality is our physical expression of what is happening in our soul and spirit in terms of connection. Some call this deep connection the “mystery of oneness” in referring to Matthew 19:6 “they are no longer two, but one flesh.” (3).
Separating sexuality from emotional/spiritual intimacy destroys its intended design and leads to destruction and devastation. Sheila Wray Gregoire in her book, The Great Sex Rescue, says it like this, “You cannot manufacture intimacy when you are unsatisfied in your marriage. Sex is not just physcial,” and “we cannot expect sex alone to create a feeling of value and intimacy.” Erotic desire separated from emotional synchrony cheapens and counterfeits the experience. Also, pressure from either spouse creates a feeling of obligation or duty rather than desire which creates a scenario where the obligated spouse is acting against their own body (2, 4). This is extremely damaging to sexual synchrony as it creates psychological and neurological patterns that cause more and more distance over time. In my opinion, satisfaction that comes from a truly synchronized sexual relationship is very rare.
The act of sex is a form of quieting our bodies (5), resetting our nervous systems and synchronizing our neurobiological system. Clifford and Joyce Penner, Christian sex therapists and married couple help us to understand that the sexual energy of a couple needs to be reprogrammed from the way that we have traditionally been taught. A healthy scenario they describe in their curriculum comes from both a scientific and spiritual understanding of the human body and relationship dynamics:
- The husband enjoys his wife and lavishes love on her non-sexually without pressuring her sexually.
- The wife enjoys being enjoyed and delights in the appreciation of her own beauty.
- This confidence gives the wife the comfort and confidence to explore her own depth of sexual desire.
- Because the wife is so at rest with her own body and the love of her husband, she is able to embrace freedom in the sexual expression.
- A woman’s progression of arousal is different from a man’s progression. If the couple follows the rises and falls of the woman’s climax rhythm instead of following the man’s, the ebbs and flows of that expression will bring deep satisfaction to both the husband and wife.
- 5. If sex is good for a woman, it will automatically be good for the man and both of them will be satisfied for the duration of their life together (1, 6).
The Penners are joined in presenting these healthy concepts and other similarly encouraging/challenging ideas by a host of other books (including but not limited to):
- The Great Sex Rescue by Sheila Wray Gregoire
- The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Marriages by John Gottman
- Boundaries in Marriage by Cloud and Townsend
- Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas
- Habits of Joy-Filled Marriages by Coursey and Warner
I believe that the act of sex is one of the most powerful experiences we can have as humans. There is a healthy way to experience this and a dysfunctional path as well. I encourage you to fight for healthy intimacy in your marriage. You are worth it. Your spouse is worth it! You will never regret the journey into health and freedom!
Our practice offers customized marriage intensives and a Marriage Attachment Healing Conference for couples who wish to begin learning and practicing attachment healing skills in a more intensive format. Find out more about the upcoming Marriage Attachment Healing Conference (February 11 and 12, 2022) here.
- Christian Standard Bible. (2017). Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers.
- Penner, C.L. and Penner, J.J. (2017). The Married Guy’s Guide to Great Sex. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
- Gregoire, S.W. (2021). The Great Sex Rescue. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
- Katehakis, A. (2020, May 1). [Conference presentation]. 15th Annual IITAP Symposium, Online.
- Warner, M. and Coursey, C. The 4 Habits of Joy-Filled Marriages. Chicago, IL: Northfield Publishing.
- Penner, C.L. and Penner, J.J. (2017, September 28). [Conference presentation]. AACC 2017 Global Conference, Nashville, TN, United States.