Conversations are a funny thing. Sometimes they’re terrific—you can talk about life, work, family, faith, whatever—and you come away feeling closer with your friends. But other times, you can be having a good talk and all of a sudden it gets… kind of weird.
That’s been my experience reading a number of the latest marriage books when they come to the subject of marital intimacy. There’s been a renewed interest in applying the Scriptures to this important subject—one of the many for which Christians have a less than stellar reputation. When it comes to the subject of sex and Christianity, you typically hear the terms like “repressed,” or “old-fashioned”—terms that, despite some less than excellent teaching on the subject, don’t actually square with the way the Bible paints it.
However, in an effort to correct the misconception, I wonder if we’re guilty of an overcorrection. Some undersell sex as a wholly unpleasant act that should only be performed for the purposes of child bearing and as a result of this terrible teaching, many married couples have been weighed down with guilt and shame for doing something they enjoy. Others oversell it as basically being the greatest thing you’re ever going to experience, and in doing so put a huge amount of pressure on married couples to perform.
In all honesty, the oversell gets a little weird (sometimes downright creepy), and probably isn’t entirely helpful. It’s the problem of the overshare—and sometimes you have to raise the TMI flag. So how can we avoid the overshare? Here are a few things I’ve been considering that might help:
1. Avoid being prescriptive where the Scriptures aren’t.
Honestly, I’m not sure it’s wise for an author or preacher to be too specific when talking about how often couples ought to be intimate. Some folks have thrown out a daily challenge as a “sure-fire” way to cure what ails you in your marriage, others have gotten really specific about their own marriages. But here’s the thing: the Scriptures themselves don’t get terribly specific at all. You’re not going to find a commandment to the effect of “thou shalt sleep with thy spouse daily.” The most prescriptive teaching on the subject would be 1 Cor. 7:1-5, which effectively says, “Be together as frequently as you both agree upon.” So, if the Bible isn’t terribly specific about something, perhaps we should avoid doing so as well.
2. Consider the influence of the culture on you.
In North America, we live in a completely sex-saturated culture. You can’t walk into a mall anymore without having a 30-foot tall scantily clad (and heavily Photoshopped) woman hit you in the face. As such, we would be foolish if we failed to recognize the culture’s impact on us or to think that somehow we’re immune to its effects. If we were to do so, it would make us no better than those Jeremiah preached to when he said “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick” (Jer. 17:9).
Yet, we are called to not only reject sexual immorality, but to strive to not have even a hint among the body of Christ (cf. Eph. 5:3). This should impact the advice we give in sermons and books on this subject by frequently calling us back to our own need for the gospel and to think about that which is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy (cf. Phil. 4:8).
3. Remember to be sensitive to the consciences of others.
Finally, Paul reminds us to never cause another believer to stumble in exercising our freedom in Christ (cf. Rom. 14:13-23). Love for our brothers and sisters in Christ should always lead us to be careful to consider what we teach about marital intimacy. As such, we need to remember that our experiences of freedom in this area (and any other) are not normative for all believers. Some feel free to exercise a great deal of liberty in their own marriages and that’s wonderful—but not everyone does. When we treat our own experiences as the standard for all believers, we risk causing them to experience feelings of inadequacy and shame. So instead of sharing a bit too much info, maybe we always ask, “In saying this, am I showing the greatest amount of love and respect to the consciences of my brothers and sisters in Christ or am I putting my freedom ahead of the needs of others?”