Love and Sex
It is hard to know where to begin. "Always define your subject first," one is told, but when the subject is love, the definition is evasive. However, because there are so many mistaken concepts of love, it is necessary to explain one's own understanding of it. In this chapter we are particularly concerned with the relationship between sex and love in the context of marriage. (I hope readers have first read the important Introduction.)
All the world over, love is often spoiled by the fact that sexual intercourse is surrounded by fears, false beliefs, shame, selfishness and ignorance. Yet God created the act of sex. He did so for two closely related reasons. The long-term one is the continuation of the human race, but the immediate object of intercourse is to provide man and woman with a unique means of expressing their love for each other in marriage. When sexual intercourse is experienced not only as physical union, but simultaneously as deep spiritual union of two persons, then one is very close indeed to realising in the depths of the union, that the greatest thing that life has to offer husband and wife is real love, and God is love. This is surely a mystery and one cannot define it precisely. Maybe St Paul, in his words to the Corinthians, will help us to understand it:
Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, (love) is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude... (it) rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Cor 13:4-7).
God created us to be happy people, and through these pages it is hoped to enhance the expression of true love between husband and wife and to dispel some unfounded fears. If there is one thing more than any other that breaks marriages and diminishes love, even between two people who once truly loved each other, I would choose as that one thing, the abuse of physical sex. Once the act of sex is allowed to predominate in love, trouble is on the way. Soon the partners will be substituting sex for real love in an effort to close the gap that is developing between them. This is the way to separation. Love feeds on personal intercourse, involving the whole person, not just on the physical act of sex. And this, if one thinks about it deeply enough, can just about explain everything.
Occasional Abstinence A surprising amount of abstinence is part of every marriage. Indeed one of the first surprises for young married people is the discovery that they don't always want to be together and would like to be alone at times. They can even feel guilty about this. Most often they don't quite know what to do about these disturbing feelings. They rarely do what is most necessary and that is, talk to each other about them. As a result of this problem a subtle change begins to develop in their sexual relationship. They begin to "perform" for each other – to pretend as it were – and so the first small seeds of dishonesty are sown. However, a loving sensitivity will sometimes justify a little pretence.
One's Deeper Feeling As with everything else, it takes years of trying before one learns how to use sex properly in marriage. Some people never learn the art, with the result that many marriages collapse unnecessarily. The real test of a sexual relationship comes when one of the partners just doesn't feel like it. What he or she does then can determine what happens to an entire family. It would help if everyone realised before marriage that there would be many, many times when they will not feel like having intercourse. When a partner resorts to "performing," distaste soon follows the pretence. It may be objected, "but there would be a lot less sex if we were always to wait until we both felt like having it." Perhaps! But maybe there would be a lot more happy marriages if men and women were more honest with themselves and with each other about their sexual desires and gave their real feelings a chance to develop. Sex has become so disproportionate today that it often takes precedence over people's deeper feelings.
It would seem that what is needed as much as anything else is a sense of humour. This would help enormously to put sex in its place. It would also defuse fears of inadequacy. We are not sex machines. There are times when people want sex and times when they don't. As in everything else, it is a good start from men and women to get to know their own limitations and to accept themselves and each other, just as they are.
A happy marriage is one where the balance is maintained between the physical and the spiritual. To maintain that balance, it is necessary to abstain from sexual intercourse on many occasions, like times of sickness and excessive tiredness, out of respect for one's partner. But another very important reason is that temporary abstinence is the key to the highest peaks of experience in life. Satiety deadens: intermittent abstinence excites, inspires, and enriches.
The experience of many people has shown that it is possible to achieve contentment during the times of abstinence by developing a facility to express their love without intercourse. It takes time, love and strength of character, but the reward in terms of emotional well-being is worth the effort. What a pity not to try. Many people learn to master this control and for an engaged couple it is an invaluable preparation for marriage. However, circumstances differ greatly and what is possible at one time could be very difficult at another. It remains for each couple to find out what is best for themselves. Enforced abstinence with little understanding is a different matter, especially when the husband is conscious only of his own needs. Then it can cause frustration and tension. When, however, love is understood in its fullness, things change. The quantity of sex may perhaps decrease but its quality increases. To abstain from sex does not mean abstaining from love. On the contrary, abstinence is frequently the highest expression of love, and for a woman to experience a non-genital expression of it from her husband can be a powerful means of assuring her of the depth of his love. At the same time her gratitude and her love for him grow, so that she is later filled with a new dimension of self-giving, which enhances the experience of intercourse for both of them.
Likewise, the husband becomes conscious of a deepening respect and love for his wife. He cannot always have intercourse just when he wishes but when the right time arrives it is deeply rewarding. Her confidence and trust fill him with a new sense of strength and peace. Wherever equality of the sexes exists and especially in the intimate world of marriage, liberation of the female liberates the male (C. J. Jung). True love raises the status of woman and man.
From the time I began to teach about natural family planning, I discovered two surprising facts. The first is that the biggest objection to a natural method, the need for intermittent abstinence, is made mainly by people who never tried it. It is generally non-users who say that the abstinence involved makes failure of the method inevitable and spoils the expression of love. In fact, couples that have experienced its use discover that husbands and wives grow in love and achieve greater sexual enjoyment, not in spite of occasional abstinence, but because of it. Over and over again men and women have expressed to me their happy surprise at this new realisation.
This discovery often has an unexpected result. Many of these couples say that formerly, because their love had been growing cold, their desire for intercourse together was also lessening. Now the required abstinence, accepted willingly out of love for each other, increases that very love so that now they want to avail of every possible "safe" chance. In such cases the result of intermittent abstinence is more frequent intercourse in the end. And if they want to take occasional deliberate risks, then a possible "unplanned" child will surely be welcomed with great love.
My second surprise was greater – many married women have never had an orgasm, and a large percentage of women do not usually enjoy intercourse.
Some of the kindest married men have very simply asked the question: "How can a man recognise an orgasm in his wife?" Some of them had never observed it. Not long ago two women said to me: "Doctor, since we were born neither of us have felt this orgasm that you mention." Another time the father of three children came with his wife to thank me because now, after six years of marriage, "we are really having sex together." Only a man who really loved and cared for his wife, would be bothered to offer his thanks and make that honest statement.
Most men truly love their wives and it is my experience that a little more information and a lot more dialogue can transform the lives of many men and women. The object of this chapter is to initiate that dialogue rather than to impart knowledge. When husband and wife really believe in God and in each other and can communicate with patience and love about their sexuality, peace and harmony reign.
Sex – Genital and Non-genital Sex involves a person's whole being. It is not merely genital. Genital sex refers only to contact between the male and female reproductive organs. The word "non-genital" covers all other expressions of our sexuality. This point must be understood to see how men and women complement each other as one half of an orange complements the other. We need each other. God made us so. It is by our daily interaction with the opposite sex that we complement each other, but this relationship does not always require genital expression. It already exists before people get married. Some of the finest men and women in history in fact, never married.
Widows and widowers can adapt themselves to a new, richer way of life without genital sex. And unmarried people do not need intercourse to become complete personalities, as is sometimes thought. Indeed they are often harmed by having premarital sex. Having genital sex too soon numbs a person's sensitivity to increased knowledge of another.
Within marriage, however, genital sex comes into its own. It is the aspect of sexuality proper to marriage. Yet husband and wife also need to express the love between them in non-genital ways. And if they are truly happy together, the non-genital expressions of love must be a lot more frequent than genital sex. The closest sexual union only occurs where genital sex does not begin the love-story.
From Love and Life by Dr Léonie McSweeney