It’s got to be a priority in your budding relationship. Wedding dress – check. Cake and flowers – check. Appropriately socially-distanced ceremony and reception arrangements – check. In-depth first night sex talk – um?
“People think sex just works,” sexologist Renee Yam tells Eternity, when discussing one of the most common misconceptions that engaged couples and newlyweds have about sex.
“They think, ‘I don’t need to talk about it. I don’t need to tell my partner what I like. It just happens.'”
Yam has just released a new book that aims to give Christian newlyweds all the facts they need, titled Sex Awakened – Cultivating Healthy Sexual Intimacy in Marriage. And it certainly does just that – in graphic detail (diagrams and all!).
“We don’t talk about sex often. Growing up, many people don’t even know their body parts,” says Yam, who admits in her book to learning about sex through women’s magazines like Dolly and Cleo in the age before Google.
There is no such thing as ‘perfect sex’.
Still today, when sexual imagery seems hard to avoid, Yam says we are very coy when it comes to talking about real sex.
“It’s not an open conversation that we talk about amongst our friends in our churches. Even with pre-marriage counselling, the topic of sex can get overlooked or it’s quite brief. And when you’re engaged, maybe you don’t really know what to ask until you’re actually married. So you don’t have the questions or the language to talk about it.”
She adds, “That’s why I intentionally tried to put in education around your body and how sex works to help people get educated.”
Her book also goes to great lengths to explain that there is no such thing as “perfect sex”.
“We watch things in movies and we see both partners are always ready for sex. Both partners know how to touch each other. Basically straight away, as soon as they touch each other, they’re experiencing orgasm. And we think that’s what sex is meant to look like.
“But there is no perfect sex, because the sex that you have with your partner is unique. And if both of you are satisfied and enjoy it, then that is good sex for you.
“I think it’s also important that we understand that we’re not always going to have amazing experiences. There will be times when it’s quite average. There will be times when things don’t go the way that we thought they would – maybe we’re experiencing some problems in that area, and that’s normal.
“We’re not machines. Your sex life is not always the same every single time you are with your partner. But you have an opportunity every time that you are with your partner to create a new and unique experience with them. And that’s the beauty of it.
“It’s not one size fits all like our culture has shown it to be. But it can be something that you develop and grow like a garden, and you can enjoy, explore and appreciate.”
It’s not a light switch. Intimacy is a journey of discovery.
Yam adds: “I hope my book normalises what actual sex looks like and that it would, hopefully, give people some realistic expectations of what to go into a marriage expecting.”
Importantly, her book does not just focus on the physical aspects of sex – which is another misconception about the topic, she says.
“It is so much more than just the act of intercourse, which is what a lot of people who come and see me, or who I talk to, think.
“Our sexuality isn’t just a physical response. But we are emotionally, mentally, spiritually and physically connecting with the other person that we are with. So it’s an expression of all those parts of ourselves. I think that’s the way that God designed it – that it would be a complete connection in that sense …
“My hope for the book is that I help people understand that sex is complex and involves every part of us.”
Her final intention in writing the book is to prepare couples for the work that a healthy sex life requires. This involves, firstly, ongoing conversations with your partner.
“We talk about what we are going to eat for dinner and we talk about our finances. Sex also needs to be something that you talk about all the time.
“We have this assumption that [our partner] should just know what to do, and that is not helpful either, because we’re not mind readers.”
“It’s got to be a priority in your relationship.” – Renee Yam
Yam continues, “It’s an intentional choice to work on this area. It’s not, like so many people think, that as soon as you’re married it’s like a light switch, where desire goes on and arousal works. It’s not a light switch. Intimacy is a journey of discovery.
“It’s a journey of allowing the walls to go down and the layers to come back. And like your journey with God, it’s a journey of trust and safety, so you feel like you can let more of your guard down and allow someone to see you in a really vulnerable way. So I think the expectation is to understand that it’s a journey for the rest of your life with that partner, if you continue to choose to lean towards and stay curious about each other.
“It’s also an investment. It’s got to be a priority in your relationship. But that changes with the seasons. You might not have all the time in the world like you did on your honeymoon, and that’s OK.
“As long as you are feeling closer and connected as a couple, and you’re learning about each other more, then you’re achieving what Song of Songs is talking about.”