Defining and Achieving Healthy Sex
Dr. Sara Bolden, DPT, WCS
“When I was a teenager, I dated this guy that I thought I knew. I mean, I trusted him. He went to my school. His family went to my church. He was smart and handsome. He really seemed to have it all together. We went out to dinner and a movie a few times and had a really good time together. But each time he dropped me off, things seemed to get progressively heated, you know, in a sexual way. I was okay with the kissing and a little touching, with my clothes on, of course, but then he kept pushing me to go further and further. He wanted to touch me without my clothes on and he wanted me to touch him everywhere. Did he rape me? Well, no, I don’t think I ever told him to stop. I just knew that I didn’t want to do what we did. I tried to tell him I wanted to take things slowly, but he was so persistent. Before long, we were having sex all the time, but it wasn’t what I expected. I never wanted to do it. I didn’t like it at all. It was even painful, at times, but he made me feel like it was supposed to happen this way. Eventually, we broke up and I felt very ashamed. Actually, I felt ashamed the entire time we were together. The whole experience was a little traumatic for me, but I just told myself to move on. I just couldn’t. I really didn’t know how.”
“Fast forward to today. I have a husband who adores me and who is so good to me. He would never hurt me or push himself on me, but I just can’t seem to enjoy sex. I don’t even know what sex should look like or feel like. I mean, sometimes it’s uncomfortable, but even when it’s not, I’m just not interested. I don’t seem to get that euphoria that everyone seems to get when they have sex…like in the movies. And I feel like I’m the only one, too. None of my friends seem to have this problem. Somehow I feel that the relationship I had in the past has somehow affected me. Is there something wrong with me? Will I ever get over this?” – A former patient of Women First Rehabilitation
Ever find you’re struggling with a similar painful past or uncomfortable scenario. Did you connect with this patient’s story, shaking your head in agreement to having been sexually pressured? Do you feel unsure of what healthy sex should look like? Do you wonder how you should “feel” or “act” during sex or what you should expect out of a sexual encounter? If you have answered yes to any of these questions, please know that you’re not alone.
One in 4 women experience some kind of unwanted sexual touching in their lifetime and most girls have experienced their first sexual encounter, whether good or bad, between the ages of 15-19yrs (www.rainn.com).
Even if the experience was perceived as “good,” teenagers generally understand little, or nothing, about the nature of sex or God’s intended purpose for sex.
Sexual maturity, which includes physical, cognitive, emotional, social and moral development, begins in the mid-adolescent years, but does not fully mature until early 20’s (Angela Oswalt, MSW, C. E. Zupanick, Psy.D. The Development of Adolescent Sexuality. www.sevencounties.org)
For women, our first experience usually sets the stage, if only mentally, of how we view our bodies with regards to intimacy. Women often get a poor introduction to the act of sex and, as a result, lack understanding of how to achieve healthy sex. Our view of sex and intimacy is further distorted by images from television programs and/or movies which often depicts couples ripping each other’s clothes off, thrashing and rolling under the sheets while spontaneously and jointly coming to climatic end. If you are taking mental notes while watching these types of images and scenarios, it’s hard to remind ourselves that these are fictitious characters, in fictitious relationships, living in a responsibility-free, fictitious world. Besides, most of what is seen on television or in the movies was created by men for the viewing pleasure of men. The desires of women, or how she should be honored sexually, are never portrayed or accurately depicted in the media. This should not be the standard that we esteem or strive in our own sexual lives.
God’s plan for sex
Sex is a God-ordained plan that was put in place for his glorious purpose of procreation and pleasure. God designed sex to be between a man and a woman as written in Genesis 1:27-28, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Note, that God first created man and woman. Next, he gave his blessings on them, “man and woman.” Then, he commanded them to be fruitful and multiply. God blessed the union of man and woman and he encouraged them to have sex. His blessings proceed the act of sex which was then followed by fruitfulness and multiplication.
He first created. Then, he blessed. Finally, the end result was abundance.
The blessings of sex come from being obedient to his Word. God blesses sexual intimacy between a man and a woman, but more importantly he purposed it to be between a husband and a wife, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled…” (Hebrews: 13:4). Everywhere the Bible talks about having blessed or fruitful sex, it refers to a husband enjoying the “wife of (his) youth…” (Prov. 5:18 emphasis is mine) or leaving his father and mother becoming “one with his wife” (Genesis 2:24 emphasis is mine). God finds sex between a husband and wife so important that he even refers to sex as “marital duty” and urges couples to “yield (her body) to her husband” and “(his body) to his wife” “not depriving each other” of sexual intercourse but for only short, mutually agreed upon time (1 Corinthians 7:3-5 emphasis is mine). As you can see, the scripture is clear to reference and define healthy, God-blessed sex between a husband and a wife. It may not be popular or frequently practiced in today’s modern times, but this is how God originally designed sex. This plan was not to harm us, confuse us or create frustrations within our relationships. Rather, his plan was put in place to protect us, bless us and draw us deeper spiritually with him and each other so that he may be glorified.
God also designed sex for the purpose of pleasure and sexual satisfaction. God wants us to enjoy sex and desire sex with our spouses. How can I be so sure of this? Just read the book of Songs of Solomon! Nearly the entire book of Songs of Solomon echo his desire for married couples to enjoy and yearn for sex. His Word encourages us to be “satisfied by her breasts” and “intoxicated always in her love” (Prov.5:19). The book of Songs of Solomon capture the intensity of pursuing each other with intense passion to fulfill and satisfy each other sexually. With descriptions of the act of sex being “more pleasing than wine” (Songs of Solomon 4:10), and metaphors of a woman’s body being like precious herbs, expensive perfume and the most beautiful garden that he (her husband) wants to “come into” tasting her “choice fruits” (Songs of Solomon). See, God doesn’t just want us to have sex for procreation. He wants us to have really intense, satisfying, fulfilling sex so that when we experience this deep pleasure with our spouses, we want to come back for more.
By now you know that “healthy” sex, the kind that is most gratifying and blessed for your body and relationship, is between a married husband and wife. This kind of sex was designed by God for our pleasure and procreation as well as to bring him glory and honor. But what exactly does “healthy” sex look like in the bedroom?
Healthy sex includes acts of “giving” and “receiving.” Both individuals must learn to be the giver and the receiver when connecting intimately with each other. I emphasize the word “learn” because, as mentioned above with skewed media portrayals of sex, our concept of sex is typically one sided. Individuals typically fall into the role of giver OR receiver and rarely play the part of both. Women, historically and as a whole, have not enjoyed sex as much as men and therefore tend to fall into a “giver” position to fulfill an obligatory duty of the relationship.
Research confirms this with the “90%/20%” study which concludes ninety percent of men end each sexual encounter with orgasm verses twenty percent of women (Bolden, S. What a Girl Wants: The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex).
It’s important to be intentional about being a giver and a receiver with every sexual encounter you have with your spouse. Communication is key in achieving this. Talk to each other. Find out each other’s likes and dislikes and determine how each of you can achieve both roles during love making. If you don’t like talking during the act of sex, make a point to provide each other with signals regarding your role as a giver or receiver. Although sometimes self-perceived as a threat, communication is always welcomed in a healthy sexual relationship.
If you’ve been married a long time or sex hasn’t been good from the start, have a heart to heart before jumping into the sheets. Let your spouse know that you desire to be a source of sensual pleasure and want to enhance your sexual experience.
Healthy sex must be perceived as safe, emotionally, physically, spiritually and mentally. Particularly for women, past experiences and how she perceives those encounters often shapes her opinion about sex. In fact, her mind plays a huge role in whether or not she will enjoy sex and/or can achieve an orgasm. Researchers found that in order for women to achieve an orgasm, she must first inhibit, or turn off, the portion of her brain that regulates fear and anxiety. If this process does not take place, she will not have an orgasm. Can you see how her first sexual encounter can shape how she perceives future experiences? If she felt fearful or pressured with having intercourse or engaging in sexual intimacy, she may connect that feeling every time she is under the same conditions. If this describes your current situation and you’re struggling with fear, please know that there is help. There are wonderful psychologists who are also board-certified sex therapists who can help restore and renew your thinking regarding intimacy.
Sometimes, it’s not mental or emotional fear that hinders individuals from enjoying sex, it is technique. Since, 90% of men have no trouble having orgasm, lack of technique tends to impact women more than men. Women have trouble understanding their own bodies let alone helping guide her husband during sexual intimacy. She tends to leave it up to him to figure it all out and bring her to orgasm. When it doesn’t happen, she thinks something is wrong with her body. There are several things women can do to help improve her ability to have an orgasm and/or improve her arousal and sensations during sex.
First, understand the female sexual anatomy. What places were made for stimulation and arousal? You need to know where to find these places so please take a mirror and look at your body. Next, it’s important to understand the stages of climax. The process begins with successful arousal, which means she is enjoying the provided stimulation, followed by the persistence of stimulation. As sexual tensions builds from the intensity of stimulation, orgasmic bliss is sure to ensue. The final phase of climax is “resolution.” The resolution phase is equally important because it involves the release of “bonding” hormones which make you feel connected, satisfied and complete with your spouse.
“What a Girl Wants: The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex is an excellent reference and guide regarding female anatomy as it pertains to sexual stimulation, arousal and orgasm.“
Healthy sex should never be painful. Painful intercourse is common but not “normal.” One in 4 women experience pain during sex and many believe it is “supposed” to feel that way because of having children or getting older. Some women have gone to their gynecologist looking for help regarding this pain and have been told that they just need to relax or have sex in the bathtub. After many medications, vaginal hormones, medicated creams and salves, women often feel defeated in this area and try to avoid sex at all costs. This is not God’s plan.
There may be many reasons for painful intercourse, none which are “normal.” Pain can come in the form of tight or spastic pelvic floor muscles, nerve entrapments, back or tailbone pain, hormonal imbalances, scar tissues, organ prolapses, chronic infection or vaginal tissue injury. Often, women will report burning, stinging, stabbing, pinching, ripping, rawness or severe itching in their vaginas when attempting to have intercourse. There may be other pain present, but she is unaware that it is connected. For example, she might also experience bladder problems (urgency/frequency, burning in the urethra, bladder spasms, etc.), bowel dysfunctions (constipation, IBS, chronic stomach pain) or associated musculoskeletal pain such as back, leg or buttocks pain.
Pain during sex is a legitimate problem that can be helped! There are medical providers that are specialized in women’s female anatomy that know how to restore and/or renew a female’s body so she can enjoy sexual intimacy. These providers include pelvic floor specialists and physicians specialized in “sexual medicine” and/or “sexual dysfunction.” For more information, visits www.WomenFirstRehab.com.