What if I don’t enjoy sex?

By: Anna K. Mondal


Lots of cliches (and myths) exist about sex: it’s a gift to enjoy; it’s a duty to endure; men have an intense sex drive; women have a lower sex drive; it’s a biological need. Then there’s the popular Pauline one-liners: “don’t deprive each other”; “fulfill your marital duty”; “come together so Satan won’t tempt you (1 Cor. 7).”


Cutting through this jungle of messages, what’s the whole story of what God actually says about sex? Better yet, what does sex say about God? And specifically, what if you don’t enjoy this supposed “gift” and struggle to relax into it? What if sex conjures unpleasant sensations and painful memories? What if it’s a place you feel no delight, only duty and dread?


If you’ve ever wondered if you’re sexually broken, ever felt doomed or confused, I hope you find a glimmer of liberation in Jesus’ heart for you. If you’re reading this from a place of disheartenment, I hope you experience something like the opening of a window: a little light, a little fresh air, a glimpse of a new horizon.


In this blog, we’ll look at Christ’s vision for mutual delight in marriage, a few obstacles to actually experiencing it, and practical ideas to give you hope. I’ve included some reflection questions and invitations to embodied action—they’re yours to consider if you choose.


Note: While men can and do struggle to enjoy sex, this is geared toward women. Additionally, past sexual abuse is an immense obstacle to sexual enjoyment/flourishing. That topic deserves its own treatment and will be the focus of the next blog.


Sex Reflects God’s Love


One of the beautifully radical themes running through the story of Scripture is this: God wants to marry us. He wants to be with us where we are (John 17:23-24). He loves us like a groom loves his bride (Isa. 62:5). He is a besotted lover who pursues, invites, and makes eternal promises. We can’t see the whole heart of God—Who is Love (1 John 4:16)—unless we embrace this vision of Him as Bridegroom.


Sex is a creative, generative, soul-uniting gift from God. But it’s not just a gift. Like everything in the created world, it’s God’s self-disclosure. Like the fierce invisibility of wind, the ocean depths alive with wonders, the biological nurture instinct in mothers with their young, sex reflects something of the nature of God (Job 39; Isa. 49:15). We love because God loves. We generate new life because He is Creator. So, sex isn’t just about horizontal human-to-human “satisfaction” or needs-meeting or self-actualization or obligation or security. Sex shows us something of God and His great love, which reaches across difference to unite with us and make us flourish in His presence.


A few basic implications of sex as a reflection of God’s love:


  • Sex is an invitation to embodied delight, and the uniting of two souls

  • Sex is an invitation to imagine and enjoy divine love

  • Sex involves us—the beloved—but it’s not only about us (imaging the Trinity, the lover and God are also participants in this picture)

  • Sex is meant to exist in mutuality: mutual satisfaction, mutual self-giving

  • Sex is meant to exist in a context of covenant promise, safety, and commitment

  • Sex isn’t a drive or need; most deeply, sex is a deep knowing of another person

  • Sex isn’t meant to be demanded or rejected, but mutually discussed and wholeheartedly agreed/disagreed on by both partners

  • Sex is meant to exist in love, with spouses characterized by patience, kindness, self-giving, honor, honesty, etc.


Reflect: What is your reaction to this? What feelings or thoughts do these statements bring up for you?


This biblical vision for married sexuality is important to mention here, not to bring shame or feelings of overwhelm. Instead, it’s crucial to see just how lofty and grand this vision for intimacy is. If we are to enter into Love, we must have the Holy Spirit’s help (Gal. 5:22). We’re all inherently self-oriented, attracted to satisfying our own needs and desires. If we are freed to enjoy sex with holy abandon, it has to be from a place of union with Christ and empowerment from His Spirit.


Secondly, this vision matters because it might illuminate obstacles to sexual flourishing. In your marriage, is sex consistently demanded? Is it always one person’s decision? Or, do you both have an equal voice? Is pressure, manipulation, or emotional punishment involved (e.g., withdrawal or moodiness)? Is there a context of safety? Is there honor and honesty? Sexuality is not disconnected from spiritual realities (Eph. 5:32). If a marriage culture is characterized by un-love, impatience, unkindness, self-centeredness, disrespect, or deception, true sexual flourishing is impossible (1 Cor. 13). Souls cannot be united—in sex or any other way— when habitual sin separates them.


Reflect: what questions, desires, or fears are surfacing in your heart right now?


Obstacles to sexual enjoyment


In a perfect, uncomplicated world, we could enjoy married sex with total delight and mutuality. But, as you may have heard, we live in an imperfect, complicated world and we’re married to imperfect, complicated people (and maybe we’re imperfect and complicated, too). Sex is impacted by a tangled mass of sin, suffering, struggle, physical maladies, and practical obstacles. A few things that can block our ability to be sexually present and delighted with/by our spouse:


  • Fatigue (physical and/or emotional)

  • Biological, structural realities (vaginismus, postpartum, menopause, etc.)

  • Body image concerns and self-objectification

  • Focus on “performance” and doing sex “right”

  • Body memories and shame from past sexual experiences

  • Emotional and/or spiritual disconnection with spouse

  • Unresolved hurt, unprocessed conflict in the relationship

  • Lack of awareness of the biology of male vs. female sexual arousal


Before we go on, can I just say: none of these things are entirely (or at all) “your fault.” None of these things are things you can resolve by yourself. Whether it’s partnering with a medical specialist, a counselor, communicating with your husband, or learning about your body, you can’t do it alone. Please don’t put pressure on yourself to have it all together and fix it all at once.


Also, if you just read this list and feel overwhelmed, I’m so sorry. I get that, I’m there a lot, too. It’s easy to be crushed by fear or confusion or shame. Please don’t think you have to magically transform into someone who feels differently than you do about sex. And don’t think things can never change...


Reflect and act: Which obstacles to sexual enjoyment do you experience? What would it look like to ask for help? To trust a wise woman or counselor with these details? To tell your husband? How could you bring these hurts and hangups to Christ?


Practices for sexual flourishing


If it’s true that you want to experience holistic flourishing and sexual connection in your marriage, it might take time. Beautiful things are always cultivated, and rarely automatic. Healthy, enjoyable sex isn’t “natural” for anyone. Sex is not a sport or a skill. It’s not like water polo or chess, where you have to practice endlessly to win or become masterfully proficient. Rather, sex is about soul-union, mutual self-giving, mutual delight, for a glimpse of God’s love and glory. So, sex isn’t necessarily considered “successful” if the mechanics work and both people experience climactic pleasure. The goal of sex is a deep knowing, connecting, and mutual vulnerability that leads to delight and life (either literally or figuratively).


So what might be some ways you could pursue sexual flourishing and enjoyment?


  • Prioritize self-care: restorative rest, nutrition, hydration, exercise, emotional care, healthy stress relief practices, solitude, silence, etc.

  • Consult a medical professional about any physical/structural complaints (painful sex, reproductive or menopausal concerns, hormonal imbalances, etc.).

  • Talk with a counselor about past messages or shame connected to sexuality

  • Talk with safe people, a counselor, and/or your husband about your body image blocks and the biblical vision for body-honor (CITE). Journal, educate yourself, explore your relationship with your embodiment.

  • Think about and talk with your husband about the ways you feel pressure to perform or give/experience pleasure.

  • Process past sexual experiences (chosen or unchosen) with an experienced, safe, wise counselor

  • Communicate and connect with your spouse in non-sexual ways daily

  • Have fun together (play games, make food, take an art or dance class together)

  • Use your voice: give a wholehearted “yes” or a wholehearted “no” to sex

  • Educate yourself and your husband about female versus male arousal systems


Again, the pressure isn’t all on you to “solve” or “fix” your sexual experiences. If you’re not enjoying sex, sex may not be the actual problem. You may not be experiencing sex in all its fullness and beauty, in a way you can actually respond to. Or, you may be suffering from bigger picture marriage disconnections. You may be suffering from biological realities that are disappointing and difficult. In all this, Christ calls you to speak truth and live into love for His glory.


What one practice could you and your husband try together? Which one could you take initiative for individually? Where do you need help? Where can you access hope? What fears or desires are surfacing, and who could you share them with?


Conclusion

Sex cannot be compartmentalized. It is hitched to spiritual, emotional, verbal and physical ways of marital relating. How is Christ inviting you to deepen your holistic soul-union with your spouse? How might this impact your sexual relationship with your spouse? Jesus is Lord of the Wedding Feast (John 2:1-11; Rev. 19:6-9). He invites you to find enjoyment in all good things—even sex (Song of Solomon; 1 Tim. 4:4).



Resources for you

Sexual Reformation by Aimee Byrd

Redeeming Sex by Debra Hirsch

The Great Sex Rescue by Sheila Wray Gregoire

Celebration of Sex by Dr. Doug Roseneau


 

About the author


Anna Mondal is a soul care practitioner living in San Diego, California, with her husband and son. Anna participated in the TS apprenticeship program in 2013. She has a MABC and is currently pursuing global trauma recovery certification. Anna is the co-author of Help! Our Sex Life is Troubled by Past Abuse.


 

References


1) Theme of Christopher West’s book, Our Bodies Tell God’s Story: Discovering the Divine Plan for Love, Sex, and Gender (Brazos Press, 2020), and citing Scriptural bookends of humanity beginning and ending with weddings.


2) Before God is explicitly portrayed as Creator or Lawgiver or Judge or Savior, He is a holy “us”—a God in fellowship, in union, in a beautiful dance of self-giving love and delight (Gen. 1:26; also see Timothy Keller, The Reason For God). God exists in fellowship. We are most human when we express love communally, whether this is sexually (for married people) or relationally (for single people).


3) For a brilliantly beautiful elaboration of “self-orientation,” see Laurie and Matt Krieg, Impossible Marriage: What Our Mixed-Orientation Marriage has Taught us About Love and the Gospel (InterVarsity Press, 2020).


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