On not overemphasizing sex in marriage

Mary DeMuth wrote a piece titled “I’m Sick of Hearing About Your Smoking Hot Wife” over at the Christianity Today blog “her.meneutics” last week. There is a good positive follow-up post by Zach Hoag here. I am in agreement with a lot of what is being said in these posts. I just wanted to add a few things.

The first is to mention this note from Kathleen Norris. It’s from a larger essay on celibacy.

Any marriage has times of separation, ill-health, or just plain crankiness, in which sexual intercourse is ill-advised. And it is precisely the skills of celibate friendship – fostering intimacy through letters, conversation, performing mundane tasks together (thus rendering them pleasurable), savoring the holy simplicity of a shared meal, or a walk together at dusk – that can help a marriage survive the rough spots. When you can’t make love physically, figure out other ways to do it.

-The Cloister Walk, p.118

The point is that marriage is a many-dimensional thing. Sometimes, for a variety of reasons (circumstantial, psychological, physical) sex just isn’t possible or is ill-advised. What is there to fall back on? Hopefully a hundred different things! The secular culture drastically over-emphasizes sex. So what? But Christians fall in to a trap when they try to do the same thing. Christian books on marriage where literally half the text or more is about sex miss the mark. It would be ridiculous for a book on marriage to NOT have a chapter on sex. But it would be equally ridiculous for it to be about nothing but. We’re not helping anyone by playing along with the over-emphasis as if we can redeem it all by enough rhetoric or bombast in the other direction.

I would also like to take a page out of Wendell Berry’s work and mention the matter of time and age. Even if your wife is “smokin’ hot” by all accounts now, she won’t stay that way long. It is nonsense to talk about your 70-year-old wife that way. At that point, her beauty is apparent in other ways. Those ways are present now too. It is unhealthy and unsustainable to emphasize something fleeting and transient. Praise it, but balance it with the whole. We make a culture with no place for our elderly when everything we lavish praise upon is tied to youth – be it beautiful skin and figure, the strength of young men, or the great accomplishments of middle-age men “hitting their stride”. All good things to be sure, but not the whole picture. We need a place for snotty-nosed kids to be celebrated along with frumpy old women and bent-over men that can’t shovel the walk anymore. Where those people are sidelined, we will look EXACTLY like the rest of the world and not as some ekklesia of called-out ones.