1Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: "It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman." 3 The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
Within the marital covenant, sexual intimacy can be a joyous, mutually satisfying, and mutually encouraging gift. But many husbands and wives don't know how to "get there." In 1 Corinthians 7:1-5, Paul is telling Christian married couples to not think of their bodies as their own, but as existing for the service of their partner in one-fleshedness. In his excellent book Sacred Marriage, Gary Thomas writes, "Sex is serving each other with our bodies."
Perhaps we may recapture the cultural circumlocution "making love" and recast it in the vision of grace-driven sex as the fruit of a grace-driven marriage, a marriage relationship that is captured by the grace of God in the atoning work and resurrection of Jesus Christ and therefore seeks to glorify God in Christ in Spiritual power through the daily "drudgery" of the marriage. If a man carries around in his heart the question(s) "Do I have what it takes? Am I a real man?", and if a women carries around in her heart the question(s) "Am I desirable? Am I lovely? Am I acceptable?", grace-driven sexual intimacy then can answer these questions affirmatively and simultaneously, thereby "making" love.
Apart from (what Paul David Tripp calls) "body parts issues," what are some practical ways that husbands and wives can submit to each other and sacrifice for each other in pursuit of grace-driven sex?
3 Practical ways wives can submit their bodies for grace-driven intimacy:
1. Be visually generous – You likely know that men are visually wired and therefore easily captivated. A wife can engage and captivate her husband, then, by becoming generous with how she presents herself to her husband, appealing to him sexually in the (un-sinful) ways in which he's wired. Maybe it means keeping the lights on. Maybe it involves flirtation and seduction. Maybe it means bringing the lingerie out on more than just Valentine's Day. But even outside the bedroom, there are many circumstances in which men may feel as though their wives have given up seeking to captivate their vision. We all see the "funny 'cause it's true" humor in the wife in sweatpants and baggy tees, but is this much different than a husband who gives up on becoming presentable, putting the pressure on his wife to give grace to his sloppiness? Do you dress to "impress" for people more than for your husband? A wife can rightfully say, however, "But shouldn't my husband accept me as I am? Shouldn't my home be a place where I can just be myself and not have to try to impress anybody?" Of course. And your husband should love and accept and cherish you no matter how you look. But I think the overarching question, the one that gets most at the heart is this: Whose vision are you interested in captivating?
2. Engage/enjoy - There are certainly exceptions, and many men are willing to settle, but the majority of men are not merely interested in sex for the release. In Shaunti Feldhan's For Women Only -- highly recommended, by the way -- she reveals the results of her survey question, "With regard to sex, for some men it is sufficient to be sexually gratified whenever they want. For other men it is also important to feel wanted and desired by their wife. How important is it to you to also feel sexually wanted and desired by your wife?" A whopping 97% said it was "very" (66%) or "somewhat" (31%) important to feel sexually wanted and desired by their wives. Only 2% said it wasn't important so long as they got enough sex.
What Feldhahn discovered, to her surprise, is that for men, sexual satisfaction is tied only superficially to sexual release -- it's not less than that, but certainly more -- but also to feeling desired, accepted, encouraged, adored, and attractive to their wives. She concludes -- and most men would affirm -- that it is important for wives not just to be willing, but to participate, cultivate eagerness, to engage and enjoy. (I am not saying getting to that point is easy; I'm only saying that that point is the point of your husband's greatest satisfaction, so from a grace-driven perspective, I would hope a Christ-revering wife would at the least be interested in getting there.) The absolute best biblical example of this, of course, is the bride's disposition in Song of Songs.
3. Talk – Men are not wired very well for context clues, and because a woman's body has ebbs and flows to what she may find desirable, arousing, etc., men often feel lost. (e.g. That thing "worked" the last time, didn't it? Why isn't it working now?) Meanwhile his wife feels he doesn't know her at all. Look, men may not ask for directions, but they'll accept them if given lovingly. Most men really do want to please and satisfy their wives and find pleasure themselves in doing so. It is odd that many women will want to talk about everything on their mind but this one thing. It's okay to ask for something, to guide a man's hands, etc. And while, of course, it would be great if he just already knew exactly what you wanted/needed, nobody gets good at something without practice and direction. Given enough of that over time, a man of average intelligence and interest will learn how to satisfy his wife. Don't give up; give instructions.
3 Practical ways husbands can submit their bodies for grace-driven intimacy:
1. Listen and remember. – Men, cherish your wives. This means actively listening when they're talking to you and remembering what they say. What does this have to do with sex? Almost everything. For women, preparation for sex begins long before you hit the bed. The more cherished the average wife feels, the more interested she will be in (and more enjoyable she will find) sex with you. Women above all want to be wanted for more than their bodies. This means you cannot reserve affection and conversation solely for times you are interested in leveraging them into sex. Love your wife's whole person and love her wholly. A wife will most engage in sexual intimacy -- emphasis on the "intimacy" -- when she feels safe, when she feels that you are interested in her heart and mind, not just her body. So listen to her all the time and remember what she says so she knows you really were listening. Remember that emotional connection comes first, sex second.
2. Make your wife your standard of beauty. - There is almost nothing more shaming to a wife than to feel as though her husband's vision is captivated by someone else, even if it's just a pretty stranger who happens to pass by. Over time, as couples become more and more familiar with each other, and bodies change, etc., a wife's fear of losing her husband's eye typically grows. Husbands, make it your firm commitment -- a covenant with your eyes -- that you will not measure your wife against anybody else, real or imaginary. If measurement takes place, they must measure against her, and they must all fall short. In Proverbs 5:18-19, the father warns his son against adultery and says:
18Let your fountain be blessed,
and rejoice in the wife of your youth,
19a lovely deer, a graceful doe.
Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight;
be intoxicated always in her love.
The Hebrew word there that is rendered "breasts," by the way, is of course best translated as breasts. This is not metaphorical, and it's not temporary. May the breasts of your young wife satisfy you at all times, which means even when neither of you is young any more. Is your wife skinny? You like skinny. Is she not? Then you like "not." Maybe her body changed. Well, then, you changed too. And this can't be something you just say; it must be something you actually feel.
3. Forethought is foreplay. – Someone wrote a book called Sex Begins in the Kitchen, and they weren't talking about gettin' wild. They were talking about preparing of a wife's heart, about romancing her, and this, in the context of children and family, domestic duties and chores, routines and schedules, and just the weariness of age and days going by way too fast, means really taking care of your wife. It means having a vision of sexual intimacy that begins with "unromantic" romance like babysitting the kids so your wife can get away with friends or have time to breathe and chase a hobby or study the Bible, doing the dishes and cooking dinner so that's one less thing she feels wearied by. A woman's mind becomes cluttered, and when her mind becomes cluttered, her body becomes tired. A grace-driven husband, then, will recognize that foreplay isn't just the lighter touches and affection that immediately precede intercourse, but all the romancing he can do in the days and hours leading up to "hitting the hay" by way of removing obstacles and stress from his wife's way. Rescue her body long in anticipation of having access to it.
Many men and women will have reluctances or objections to some of these steps, and some of these hesitations will be legitimate. None of these steps are to say that the precious gift of mutually satisfying sexual intimacy is easy to achieve, but merely to say that couples interested in selfless love of their spouse in the area of sexual intimacy could do a lot worse than the ideas mentioned. :-)