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Toxic teachings ruining marital intimacy

Updated: Dec 8, 2021

" all men lust? Like constantly?" My husband glanced up from his desk and looked at me like I had four heads. "I am staring at airport specs for a design project. Zero lust over strength of concrete specifications."

He was joking in that moment, but the conversation that followed left me reeling. We were 11 years in on this marriage journey. MORE THAN ONE DECADE-- and I finally realized there was a major lie I had come to believe.

The lie that all men constantly struggle with lust— “it’s just how God made them.”

It's no surprise I thought this because many people DO struggle with the temptation to lust. The problem lies in how this issue has been addressed in Christian circles.

All the marriage books I read in the early years of our relationship contained the same (false) assumptions: 1. All men lust. God made them visual, and because of this, they are always thinking about sex and objectifying women. If they aren't regularly struggling with lust, it's because they are using up all of their energy to avoid it. (So applaud them and praise them as often as possible.) 2. Women don't understand because they aren't visually wired like men. 3. Women don't have the same desire for sex that men do-- and they can't possibly understand the need because they aren't men. But men *need* sex a LOT. 4. A wife should be available for her husband (and excited about it) all the time to help him not be tempted elsewhere.

**These books often go on to say a woman should give manual stimulation or oral sex when she is postpartum because that time is "so difficult for her husband" (when she cannot have sex because her body is HEALING from bringing THEIR CHILD into the world).** Um. No.

There is no self-sacrificial love in these sentiments-- except for when they tell a woman she should “be like Christ and sacrifice for her husband” (aka by "putting out"-- yes, they use that term in this context).

These statements are dripping with USE. If you've never read or heard my soapbox about love versus use, these are my go-to quotes: "Love is to will the good of another." -St. Thomas Aquinas "The opposite of love is use." -St. John Paul II Love says "I want what is best for you." It's self-sacrificial. Like Jesus on the cross (the best example of love).

Use says "I want what I want. And you are a means for me to get that." This is a direct quote from one of the books (published in 2004, not 1954)

"Men need to be able to talk to their wives about their temptations with other women’s bodies. Women need to accept that husbands will be tempted by other women, and not be hurt if a husband shares this." If I'm 100% honest, I'm sick to my stomach and shaking a little while typing that out. That's how triggering that sentence still is for me to read. I'm still angry that it stole 10 years of marital intimacy. That message was seared in my brain-- “a good Christian wife can handle that her husband is tempted (apparently constantly) by other women.“ And as a consequence, the safety to fully trust, be vulnerable, and enjoy marital intimacy was compromised in my marriage. That book goes on to say: "A husband has a need for physical release. A woman does not have a need for sex; her need is only for emotional connection, which she won’t get unless she gives him sex." Do you see the transactional nature of marital sex in this description?

One side is using the other. Neither is willing the good of the other.

And the message to women that they have no desire for sex, only an obligation to their husbands, can't be lighting a fire in marriage beds. Obligation sex isn't exactly intimate. Despite the obvious transactional description of sex and the use of one spouse by the other, the book that I pulled quotes from is a highly rated marriage book (published in the 2000s, not 1950s)-- still shared on social media as recently as last month by Catholic and non-Catholic Christian influencers. These toxic teachings are still being promoted. As Shelia Gregorie of To Love, Honor, and Vacuum says, "When Christian teachers repeatedly and consistently say that all men lust and that temptation is normal, this paves the way for dysfunctional marriages and normalizes sexual sin." A woman who has been told her husband is regularly tempted by every woman around him, he can barely control himself and he's probably thinking about those women constantly (because he's made this way, she can't understand it, etc. etc.)-- is NOT going to feel safe or excited about vulnerable, authentic intimacy. Because no one would want to be intimate with someone described the way these books describe men. And as a mother of three sons and married to an incredibly good man, I am disgusted that we've told men this lie and set the bar so low for them. Shelia goes on to say, "If sex is reduced to his physical release, then he is using her body while ignoring her soul. That’s erasing her very personhood." Amen, sister. What the heck is this nonsense? Are men incapable of having goals, dreams, and aspirations beyond their next orgasm? What an insulting pile of garbage. Some of these ideas are so embedded in certain Christian circles that it is never questioned. I never questioned it.

People I knew and respected introduced me to these books.

They used just enough scripture and authority to convince my newly married self that this was the Christian healthy, happy marriage way.

It wasn’t too difficult given the groundwork that had been laid as a teen. This post isn’t primarily about modesty—which I do think is a virtue and important when understood correctly. Unfortunately, the “modesty” I was taught had a foundational belief that the female body is an occasion of sin. Sometimes stated outright, sometimes in a more subtle way. The effect is the same, though.

We are taught that men are created to lust.

And that the female body is an occasion of sin— and since men can’t control how they were made, it’s the woman’s fault for being an occasion of sin. Last time I checked, we are made in the image and likeness of God. What an insult to the Creator to say that He made men with an unconquerable drive toward a deadly sin and that He created women as a stumbling block to men.

Neither of these commonly expressed views sound like the image and likeness of God.

As a result, we view women as threats (because we should be wary of occasions of sin) and men as untrustworthy, unsafe, sex-crazed animals who need to be protected from their God-given desire to use women.

It needs to stop. Parents, we need to deal with the lies in our own upbringing and then change what we teach our kids.

Okay, on to another lie. "It is bad for our marriage to go more than 7 days without intercourse. And 7 days is really for dire circumstances. Multiple times per week is the best safeguard, so we cannot practice NFP due to the abstinence required." I've heard some version of this multiple times while teaching NFP. It was my fear when beginning to practice NFP-- because I thought for sure the abstinence was going to lead to the demise of my marriage.

It is not bad for your marriage to go 7+ days without intercourse. That statement that this amount of abstinence is harmful is a lie. In my opinion, it's a teaching created and perpetuated by individuals who don't have mastery over their own sexual urges, and they want to twist a truth (sex is good and holy in marriage) to avoid dealing with their own sin.

How did your relationship survive before marriage?? What do you do after a baby? What if one of you is traveling for work and away? Women are taught that their husband has one foot out the door, ready to find someone else, if she doesn't satisfy his "release" enough. I'm using verbiage found in these books. His "release" is a common phrase. {Cringe} Look. Sex is holy, powerful, and important.The sacrament of matrimony is renewed in this act. But it's not THE most important thing in a marriage-- or in life. I am passionate about this because I think these lies are leading to marriages having LESS intimacy-- and that is a problem. We want to help our clients maximize the amount of available days for sex. I am pro-authentic love. And pro-healthy sexuality.

And pro-self-sacrifical marriage (aka authentic love). If the fertile window causes fighting/anger/resentment/etc. in your relationship, there is a problem. And the answer is not simply "you need to have more sex." There may be incorrect assumptions about a normal sex life. There may be a sexual addiction or pornography use. One side may be using the other. There could be a misunderstanding about biology in regards to breastfeeding hormones, menopause, or even simply the effect of progesterone on vaginal lubrication. Something is affecting your ability to utilize the non-fertile days. If there is anger/fighting/resentment about sex, there is something that needs to be brought to the light, exposed to the truth, and healed. When lies are exposed to truth, couples can have intimacy that's rooted in freedom and trust.

We cannot call each other to grow in holiness when we accept toxic teachings excusing sin and placing blame on others.

I know too many wives who blame themselves for their husband’s pornography addictions (and unintentionally enable it)— because all of the lies listed above essentially told her that he can’t help it. And told HIM that he can’t help it or expect a different life free from pornography.

That’s another insult to Our Lord. He can’t conquer lust? When he defeated sin and death— this particular sin escaped defeat? Or worse— Jesus intends for your marriage to always be plagued by porn because ”it’s your personal cross.” Pro-tip: Jesus doesn’t hand out sins as crosses.

The one telling you that lies/sin in your life is just how God made you is NOT the one who wants you freed from it and living in authentic, holy intimacy.

I don't have all of the answers. If you are reading this thinking, "maybe I also have believed the lies these sources spew,” I'm right there with you.

I’m finally untangling beliefs I wasn't even consciously aware of. I CAN tell you it's worth the time and energy to untangle them (Our Lady, Undoer of Knots, pray for us!) and so much healing can happen simply from bringing them to the light in your own thought and prayer.

My recommendations for navigating this:

  • Prayer-- ask Jesus to show you where the lies are still hiding in your assumptions and to reveal the truth. Honest, authentic, real, raw prayer is fastest path.

  • Read some Christopher West on Theology of the Body or St. JPII. Our Bodies Tell God’s Story is a great first book to pick up.

  • Shelia over at To Love, Honor, and Vacuum is blowing the doors open on this topic.

  • Fulton Sheen is always a winner when it comes to marriage books.

  • "Holy Sex" is a popular book that some of our clients have read and recommended.

  • And therapy and spiritual direction have been tools in my arsenal for a solid five years.

Finally, know know that I'm praying for you. Together we can be examples of authentic love and healthy sexual intimacy to a world that desperately needs them.

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