Basic to every other aspect of human existence is the Dominion Mandate of Genesis 1:26ff. God, after making heaven and earth out of nothing in six days, delegated the responsibility of governing His creation to Man. Man was to be fruitful and to multiply, to fill the earth and subdue it, all for the glory of God. When sin entered the world, it made this task more difficult, but the goal remains the same, to extend the reign of Christ over every area of life.
While many talented scholars have attempted to explore the dominion mandate in social, political and economic areas, there has been comparatively little written about the most fundamental relationship human beings commonly experience; marriage. Even less has been written about the dominion aspects of the two “becoming one flesh” that is at the heart of Christian marriage.
This is not an easy essay to write, for it concerns issues that I personally am not comfortable discussing. No, not because of excessive prudery, just a conviction that some things are best left to husband and wife to discuss and explore, within the normal course of their own relationship. The Bible devotes an entire book to the beauties of physical love (Song of Solomon) and in my humble opinion that is all the practical instruction any couple should ever need. Sadly, over the years, as issues of physical intimacy come up during marital counseling, it has been my experience that too often, such communication does not occur, whether because of unstated assumptions about what “well everyone knows” or just plain embarrassment to talk about something so intimate as sex. It is my growing conviction that many sincere, dedicated Christians are woefully ignorant of very basic Biblical principles of marital intimacy, causing them needless frustration, discontent and dissatisfaction in their marriage. Furthermore, in the vast wasteland of evangelical scholarship, many Christian authors implicitly adopt humanistic and godless principles that they then unknowingly pass on to their readers. Add to the above a sexually obsessed culture and one can understand the reticence so many Christians may have about discussing this area of dominion.
Thus it is with some trepidation that I open this particular can or worms, but open it I must. Dominion is essentially governing EVERY area of life according to God’s will and sexual intimacy was designed by God to be the means by which life itself was brought into the world. Though God’s Word is the sufficient and authoritative basis of any proper understanding of human sexuality in order to bring His principles to bear, we must first start with an analysis of the nature of the current problem. Hence, this study begins with some basic observations on human sexuality based upon three primary areas; credible research done by reputable social scientists (the Kinsey studies are NOT considered reliable or credible by this author), twenty years of marriage counseling in a pastoral setting, as well as twenty-three years personal experience as a married man. These “observational” criteria will then be evaluated in light of clear, Biblical principles to arrive at some practical applications.
Now each of the above lines of evidence requires some caveats. I have both undergraduate and graduate degrees in the social sciences (psychology and sociology) and am well aware of the basic humanistic presuppositions that underlie all research projects. The questions one asks will determine the kind of answers one receives. Humanist psychologists operating within a materialistic philosophy will approach this entire issue differently than Christians do. For example, socio-biologists, assuming Darwinian evolution, will interpret all human sexual activity from an evolutionary perspective. Therefore, the research assumes that women, through natural selection, tend to seek mates that will provide them support and protection during pregnancy. Therefore commitment is high on a woman’s lists of priorities. In the same way, evolution supposedly selected men who would disperse their genes as widely as possible. Hence men are more “naturally” likely to “stray” outside of marriage because of a “hard-wired” tendency to mate with as many women as possible in order to have as many offspring as possible.
Obviously, Christians will reject this interpretation, and question many of the lines of evidence used. For even by their own assumptions the conclusions are often non-sequitors. Why should men want to have as MANY children as possible, when the issue in natural selection would be the number of children who survive to reach maturity? Hence, would not Darwinism require that MONOGOMOUS men, who care for their offspring, teach them, and equip them for life’s challenges be more likely to pass on their genes to surviving children then rascals who are simply concerned about inseminating every available woman? Sinful men want sex, not necessarily children. Furthermore, if the socio-biologists are correct, then men interested in non-procreation related sexual activity (such as homosexuality or perversions) should have been naturally selected out of the gene pool hundreds of thousands of years ago.
Yet, even with these misguided presuppositions, the careful Christian scholar may well find observations, verified by proper experimental design with statistical validity that offers insights into how people act. The evolutionist can never understand the “why” properly because his basic presupposition is dead wrong. But he may well uncover occasionally the “how” that the Christian can use to amplify basic Biblical principles (just as physical scientists may well discover aspects of God’s creation through verifiable observations that the Christian can use. The Christian will simply interpret the data differently because he begins with the presupposition of a sovereign God who created all things as a reflection of His glory).
In the same way, there is always a danger with anecdotal evidence gleaned from personal experience, whether from the counseling office, or one’s own personal life. Piaget, the famous child psychologist has been severely criticized for basing his sweeping conclusions about child development on the limited observations of his own children. Not all children are alike (as any parent of a large family can testify to). Life is often more complex that what we personally encounter. Our experience may not always be replicated in the lives of others. What might well have been valid observations of Piaget’s own children may not be true of someone else’s.
Furthermore, there is a tendency, well documented in scholarly journals that demonstrate the human propensity to accept data that confirms their opinions and reject data that would cause us to change our minds. Yet even so, we DO learn things in life and the acid test is whether the things we “learn” are verified by the real world. While we ought to carefully evaluate our experiences in light of this ambiguity, the fact is that if twenty people in a row come into your house and say that there is an elephant eating the leaves off the tree in your front yard, then it is certainly worth your time and trouble to see for yourself whether there is an elephant there!
If you see the same problems arise again and again in a counseling situation, it is not inappropriate to reach some tentative conclusions about the way that men and women relate together sexually. If you then see similar dynamics happing in your own marriage, and can point to objective, verifiable evidence conducted according to the rigid requirements of statistical inquiry, it is likely that you are on the right track. If in turn all of the above data can be reconciled with specific Biblical principles, you can be confident that you are making valid observations.
One final caveat; people are different. Therefore, while one might well make some valid observations that in general, apply to the majority of people, it is not only likely, but also almost inevitable, that those same observations will NOT apply to some people. For example, recently I was sitting in a parking lot waiting for my wife to come out of a store. As I watched people walking by, I noticed that the overwhelming majority of people wear glasses (I had just gotten a new pair myself and was interested in what styles were now popular). Though I did not keep a detailed tally, it certainly appeared that at least seven out of ten people wore glasses (and the popular style was NOT the one I had chosen). However, by saying, from my experience that day, that MOST people wear glasses, we are also implicitly saying that SOME people do not.
Thus in the following essay, we will be making certain observations that certainly appear true to MOST people in MOST situations. However, because of the variability of human nature, it is also true that in SOME situations, SOME people will not fit into our categories. While there is always the danger of over-generalization in these cases, one cannot allow this fear to discredit important information that is of real benefit.
It would certainly appear that a large number of Christians experience significant sexual dissatisfaction caused by a genuine lack of understanding about proper expectations. Contrary to the modern feminist movement that insists the only distinction between men and women is one of plumbing, there is overwhelming evidence that men and women are radically different in how they see the world. These differences go far beyond merely culturally imposed gender roles, but are based on biology and brain chemistry as well as emotional dispositions based on hormones. The socio-biologist DO here have some support because any rational assessment of the situation would certainly appear to support the contention that at least in some aspects, men and women are hard-wired differently.
Christians of course understand this to be true because God created men and women differently, for different purposes; e.g., the man is to work at dominion, the wife is to come along side and assist him. All the differences that have been demonstrated by rigorous scientific study (studies that are either lambasted or ignored by the Feminists because it undermines their social agenda) are inherent within men and women because of the creation ordinances. Though many in the Church today have adopted or accommodated themselves to the prevailing Feminist zeitgeist, the Bible clearly gives different roles to men and women.
While all these differences are interesting to discuss, here we want to focus on the effects they have on how men and women approach marital intimacy. For example, generally speaking, it would appear that men want sex more than women. The popular fantasy so often seen on television and in films of the sexually rapacious female, ready, willing and able to have sex at any time, with any man, is just that, a fantasy; a fantasy created by men who want women to act like men in sexual matters. While nymphomania is no longer considered psychopathology, there are cases of women diagnosed as “sexual addicted.” Yet even in these extreme cases, women clearly do not respond sexually the same way as men (e.g., “sexual addiction” for women appears to be related to excessive masturbation, rather than a desire for sexual partners).
Research studies have demonstrated that for the average woman, EMOTIONAL intimacy is MORE important then sexual intimacy. It is not that sex is unimportant to women, or that they do not desire it, or that poor technique on their husbands’ part results in a lack on interest in sex. The reality is that God created women for a relational role, and their basic orientation is towards a relationship. Studies show that men are far more likely to commit adultery than women because men can more easily separate the sexual act from a relationship. Furthermore, generally speaking, studies done on why adultery occurs, strongly suggest that women are usually seduced into adultery for emotional reasons, not physical ones, while for men it is the other way around. Studies done on premarital relations suggest that young women give in to the sexual demands of their boyfriends because they think this is important to the relationship, while young men are more likely to say that the desire for sex is an end in and of itself. Now social conditioning does come into play here; but young men are far less likely to list peer pressure as a high priority for the reason they want to indulge in sex.
Observations conducted during twenty years of marriage counseling supports the above assessment. Generally speaking, men desire sexual activity far more often than their wives. Some studies have shown that men think about sex several times EVERY minute (the validity of this data may be open to question). It is fair to say, that most Christian women seldom think of or desire sexual intimacy anywhere near this often. A recurring common complaint of men who come in for marriage counseling is that their wives do not want to have sex often enough, even when the reason for counseling is not related to sexual matters. It is not as if the wife has NO interest in sexual intimacy, but just that she is not as interested as her husband.
When Christian writers deal with this issue, it would appear that they fail to understand that this is a difference in orientation, and instead offer various “techniques” to get one’s wife in the mood. Yet the most common advice gleaned from “Christian” self-help books basically ignore the Biblical commands regarding sexual relations and implicitly gives dominion in this area to the woman. Sometimes the implication is that the man is a selfish carnal beast because he wants sexual intimacy when his wife does not. Or that he is apparently incompetent in sexual technique because he fails to get his wife interested. Granted, there may well be a history of men being selfish in desiring to have their own sexual desires met and ignoring the legitimate desires of their wives (more about this in the Biblical assessment section).
But if there is in fact a difference between the husband and wife regarding the desired frequency of intimate relations, someone is going to be the “loser.” Either men are not going to have physical intimacy as often as they want, or women are going to have to have physical intimacy, whether they really want to or not. The most common solution; i.e., to require the man to get the wife “into the mood” (and that if she is not “in the mood” then sexual intimacy is either inappropriate or that she is doing him a favor) is always weighted against the man. It takes away dominion from the man. As one crude jokester put it, “foreplay in my house consists of thirty minutes of begging…”
Furthermore, men and women are sexually aroused by different stimuli. Men are far more visually oriented than women. Studies show that men are more likely to place physical appearance higher on their list of priorities than women. Men are stimulated sexually by the more apparent differences between the genders then women. A woman might well note with approval a man with broad shoulders, trim hips or muscular arms, but they do NOT sexually arouse her. However, the very image of certain female body parts; e.g., size of the breasts, width of the hips, buttocks, etc. is enough to arouse a man sexually. It is the very rare woman indeed, who undergoes the physiological phenomenon associated with sexual arousal just by appearances. Instead, women find that sexual stimulation results from a far more complex series of stimuli; i.e., her own feelings of security with the individual, self-perception of her own attractiveness, degree of emotional intimacy, etc.
This difference in arousal has been compared to an electric vs. gas stove. For a man, arousal can come quickly and easily, simply by a visual stimulus; much like a gas stove can be turned on to full heat with a flick of a switch. For a woman however, arousal often takes a long time, requires something more complex than visual stimulus, much as an electric stove takes longer to warm up than a gas one. The comparison also extends to the aftermath. Men are more likely to lose interest in sexual matters immediately after having marital intimacy (i.e., turning off the gas) while women are able to maintain sexual arousal for extended periods (much as it takes an electric burner longer to cool down). This difference helps explain why women often complain that after physical intimacy, when they feel so emotionally close, their husbands just want to roll over and go to sleep.
Some Applications Based on Biblical Data
Appropriate Expectations of Physical Intimacy in Christian Marriage
Frequency of Required Frequency of Physical Intimacy
Sexual attraction; arousal and
Appropriate sexual activity in Christian marriage