Why Christian couples are having less sex
And how to get your sex life back on track
“Now, more than ever, people are having less sex,” says Monica Cook, a Christian sex educator and counsellor with the Australian Centre for Sexual Health (ASHR).
This may come as a surprise to many couples as they wade through our sex-soaked culture, but it’s a claim backed up by numerous sources of research, including the ASHR’s ‘Sex in Australia‘ study. And, according to Cook, this sex saturation is in fact an underlying cause for our retreat from the act itself.
Cook gives a candid look at the common issues married Christians are grappling with when it comes to their sex lives on the two most recent episodes of Eternity‘s With All Due Respect podcast. She identifies two common reasons why married Christian couples are avoiding sex, and outlines the biblical way to a healthy sex life.
1. The tyranny of ‘normal’
“We are surrounded by what sex should look like. And so the people that come to see me are often really grappling with this. They have a lot of ‘shoulds’ – we should be doing it this often. It should look this particular way. And if it’s not, there’s something wrong with us; we’re broken,” Cook explains.
“We need to start moving away from ‘the shoulds’ and start to look at what do we actually each enjoy? What is our meaning for sex? What do we get out of this? What are some mutual things that we do that we both enjoy?
“[We need to] start from that place and move forward, rather than starting from a place of difference – of you want it this often, I don’t.”
“It’s important for couples to know there’s help in that space of navigating desire difference.” – Monica Cook
Cook acknowledges that this point of difference, and often asked question – how often should we be having sex? – is a real sticking point for many couples.
However, she says, “When people ask this question, they’re often looking to me to give them some number in terms of frequency or what should be included in their repertoire, but I’m going to resist that because I don’t think it’s actually helpful. And I don’t think comparisons are helpful. It’s possible be normal but not be average, if that makes sense, in this field.
“And so it doesn’t really matter what the national average is and what’s happening with everyone else. It’s up to each individual couple to do what they enjoy in that space.”
If the main concern around frequency is the discrepancy between how often each partner thinks they should be having sex, Cook adds: “It’s important for couples to know there’s help in that space of navigating desire difference – that there is good evidence-based research that helps couples move through that, which is also part of what I do.”
2. Our pornified culture
The proliferation of pornography has created a lot of confusion around expectations in the bedroom, and Christian couples are not immune.
Among self-identified Christians, 64 per cent of men and 15 per cent of women view pornography at least once a month, according to the latest statistics from internet filter provider Covenant Eyes.
The result of this is that Christians – along with other viewers – can start to think pornography is “educational”, says Cook. This then leads to a reluctance to engage in “real sex”.
“When people go and try to replicate that, or think that that’s the ultimate love making, it’s really problematic. And so one of the outcomes that I see is a lot of shame and doubt around one’s own ability to perform in the bedroom …
“There’s a lot of unrealistic expectations … of what sex should be.” – Monica Cook
“People are really afraid to give things a go because they [think they] should be these amazing porn stars that they see. And it’s just easier and less confronting to not go there than to face the fact that they’re not as awesome in the bedroom as what they’re seeing. So there’s a lot of unrealistic expectations that develop in light of what sex should be …
“And because of the high expectations, it leaves people heading towards porn more. So it’s a sort of negative cycle. The more uncertain you become of yourself, the easier it becomes to avoid that situation of having to engage with another person because that’s difficult and there’s no control in that situation.
“Whereas with porn, you’re just sitting back, you’re receiving, there’s no expectations from you. You’re in control at every moment.”
Aside from unrealistic expectations, Cook notes the many other problems pornography brings into a marriage, including its normalisation of nonconsensual violent sex and, of course, pornography addiction. For Christians, the main problem lies in the way porn divorces sex from the biblical framework of marriage, intimacy and love for which it was intended.
“Porn actually separates things like emotion and empathy and intimacy and love and affection from the act of sex – and then consent, respect, emotional connection, safety, health, they’re all missing from that picture,” Cook says.
How to have a healthy sex life
“I think there are some really helpful guides that the Bible gives us in terms of what a healthy sex life for a married Christian couple looks like,” says Cook.
“The first one of those is the fact that sex is a gift. It’s not an entitlement or a hunger that needs and must be satiated. This means that sex can be requested but not demanded, and the answer needs to be respected. So how consent is navigated is a really important part of a healthy sex life for couples.
“It’s really a mutual pursuit of each other’s pleasure. Couples that get that right enjoy a really healthy sex life.” – Monica Cook
“The second one is that in the Bible, you see this huge emphasis on mutuality. That your body is not your own, it belongs to the other, is often a very controversial verse in 1 Corinthians 7. It can be used for nonconsensual concepts, but as I read it, it highlights how sex is the protective other-person-centered love, where the focus isn’t actually on what do I need but on what, in our oneness, does our relationship need? So it’s really a mutual pursuit of each other’s pleasure. I think couples that get that right enjoy a really healthy sex life.
“And the final aspect is love. Looking at 1 Corinthians 13, I replace the word ‘love’ with ‘making love’, because in some ways, sex is a physical form, a bodily expression of love.
“So, I throw that out at couples and say, ‘Well, let’s read it that way. Making love is kind – how’s that going in your relationship? It doesn’t envy, does not boast. It’s not proud, doesn’t dishonour the other. It’s not self-seeking. It’s not easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs and it rejoices with the truth.’
“So it’s a really powerful kind of measuring stick for couples to read that passage and see, ‘OK, how is our sex life going on that front? Is it trusting? Is it hoping. Is it persevering? Is it protective?'”