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by Ron and Nan Deal, Taken from the Passionate Sexuality audio seminar by Ron and Nan Deal.

Passionate sexuality results from a number of marital factors. Physical health, relational strength, positive beliefs about sexuality and personal body image, and a healthy theological perspective about sexuality are just some of the factors. Expectations also contribute to sexual intimacy in significant ways. They influence sexual attitudes and ones belief about what constitutes “good sex.” Misguided sexpectations can set a couple up for disappointment and disillusionment with their sexual experiences. But healthy sexpectations contribute to more positive sexual experiences.

Three Healthy Sexpectations to Improve Your Sex Life:
  1. 1. Sex is the biggest little part of marriage. If you believe the TV ads, sexuality is what you’re buying when you get a bottle of shampoo, pizza, or even a car. Given the way we obsess about sexuality and stress its importance in our lives you’d think sex would turn out to be a very important aspect of a highly satisfying relationship. Well, the answer is yes...and no.

    The Couple Checkup Research Team[1] studied over 50,000 married couples and over 50,000 couples creating stepfamilies (totaling over 200,000 people) and found that sexuality, including sexual expectations, affection, matters of desire, and how a couple communicates about sexuality, contributes to a healthy relationship, but isn’t “everything” to the marriage. Overall sexuality was the sixth most important predictor of a high quality marriage relationship and the seventh most important predictor of a high quality remarriage relationship.

    But while the sexuality scale itself proved to predict with 84% accuracy whether stepfamily couples were happy or unhappy, sexuality only accounted for 13% of what contributes to a high quality relationship (and only 10% in the general marriage study). In other words, Ron’s mom was right when before we got married she told him that sex is an important part of marriage, but not everything. What she meant was—and what our research indicated—sex contributes to a healthy marriage, but a healthy sexual relationship doesn’t necessarily result in a healthy marriage. You better have more in your relational tool-box than just good sex because sex is just part of the picture.

    When sex is going well, it adds excitement to marriage and acts as a regular emotional bonding agent for the couple. The surge in oxytocin in the body that occurs at orgasm stimulates feelings of affection, intimacy, and closeness between partners. Consistent mutual sexual pleasure increases bonding within the relationship. But when affection and sexuality are not functioning well it can be a considerable drain on the marriage. Dysfunctional or non-existent sex, say Barry and Emily McCarthy in their book Couple Sexual Awareness, contributes 50-70% of what drains a marriage.

    Keeping a realistic perspective on the role and significance of sex in a marriage is essential. So, again, is sexuality important to the overall health of a marriage? No, from the standpoint that sex in and of itself is not enough to form the foundation for a relationship or sustain it, but, yes, in the sense that it increases intimacy, feelings of closeness, and acts as a significant bonding agent for partners.

  2. The pace of sexual arousal for men and women is different and needs close attention, particularly from men. Gary Smalley was right when he suggested that “men are microwaves and women are crock-pots.” Men warm up to sexuality very quickly, but it takes women a long time (even before sexual touch begins) for the juices of desire to begin flowing. (Physically speaking women can lubricate as quickly as men can become erect, but it is the build up of desire that is slower.)

    But once women do ignite, they have much more stamina than men. Jeff Foxworthy says that women are like diesel engines—they take a while to warm up but once they do they can run a long, long time. Men, on the other hand, are like bottle rockets—they shoot straight up, explode quickly, and fall straight back down to earth. (That’s what some call a “snorgasm”.)

    Managing this difference in pace is critical for healthy lovemaking. Clifford and Joyce Penner suggest that pace-management begins with a husband who is willing to progress at his wife’s pace. If he moves through a sexual experience at his pace, she will likely be disappointed and not given time to fully engage her body. They recommend that men slow lovemaking to the woman’s pace, following her lead. That ensures that both will have the opportunity for receiving and giving pleasure.

  3. 3. “If you get the relationship right, sex will be okay.” This belief is sometimes true, especially for women for whom sexual desire flows from emotional connection shared outside the bedroom. But you can have a good relationship and sex still be problematic if:

    • Sex is full of anxiety, fears, or inhibitions (e.g., worrying about your body image);
    • Couples lack erotic skills (e.g., each believes that touching the other the way you want to be touched is best);
    • There is a negative cycle to perform up to the other’s standards (e.g., couples compare themselves to erotic or pornographic movies they have watched).

There are many reasons couples get stuck from time to time (half of couples have a sexual complaint), but most issues can be overcome with good communication and a little advice from the experts. Yes, sex is a natural body function, but it doesn’t mean you will be proficient at it. Learn as much as you can about sex and making love to your spouse (we suggest the Passionate Sexuality series, not Cosmopolitan magazine).

For further reading we suggest Enhancing Your Sexual Intimacy.

[1] Comprised of David H. Olson, Peter J. Larson, Amy K. Olson-Sigg, and Ron L. Deal. Research reported in The Checkup Checkup and The Remarriage Checkup.

Ron L. Deal is Founder & President of Smart Stepfamilies™ and Director of FamilyLife Blended® for FamilyLife®. He is a bestselling author, highly sought-after speaker, and therapist specializing in marriage enrichment and blended family education. Learn more here.