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Why marriage ruins sex

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Marriage can ruin sex if you focus too much on the structure and not enough on loving your spouseSometimes it can seem like marriage ruins sex.

After getting married, many people notice that sex becomes routine, boring and just not that exciting.  Yes, the spouses with the stronger drive will still have a strong desire for sex, but it’s often not the same as it was earlier in the relationship.  The spouse that has a more inhibited drive can often find that desire goes away completely.  Sometimes as the words “I do” are spoken.

Why is this?

Reason 1: Naughtiness is sexy

It’s unfortunate, but it’s true.  When we are doing something we know is wrong, we get a bit of a thrill.  For many couples, this explains why prior to marriage, sex (be it penetrative, oral, manual, or just making out) is hot.  It’s sexy because it’s risky.

The reason is that when we are doing something risky, our brain releases dopamine, a hormone that tells us we’re “winning” at life.  We get a burst of dopamine when we pass a test that was hard.  When we jump a ramp on a bike as kids (or as adults).  When we jump off a tall diving board.  Dopamine is what gives you that “high” that makes you feel like you’re on top of the world.  You feel like you got away with something.  This is why some people steal cars to go joy-riding in (rather than to make a profit).  It’s the excitement that drives them.

But, once your married, it’s no longer taboo.  It’s now not only acceptable, it’s expected and expectation is decidedly unsexy.  No one gets excited by expecting something to happen.  It’s just mundane, normal life.  Don’t get me wrong, sex still produces a dopamine burst, but it’s not as large.  It’s lost something.  It’s similar to a drug addict going from heroin to marijuana.  Yeah, it will get you high … not it’s not even in the same ballpark.

Reason 2: Responsibility is unsexy

The other side of this is that having someone rely on you is about the unsexiest thing in the world for most people.  Healthy individuals don’t get turned on by dependency.  We want someone who is confident, a person who is capable on their own.  Someone who wants us, but doesn’t need us.

The problem is that when we get married, we join our lives.  We open our hearts and minds.  We become vulnerable in many ways.  Those with stronger drives often find that sex becomes their barometer for how the relationship is.

  • If you haven’t had sex in a while, you start to feel detached and insecure.
  • If your spouse doesn’t initiate, you feel they don’t desire you.
  • If your spouse isn’t interested, you feel they aren’t interested in you.
  • If your spouse rejects sex outright, you feel they’ve rejected you.
  • If your spouse gatekeeps sex, you feel the relationship has become some sort of business arrangement where you haven’t met your performance goals.

Whether these feelings are accurate reflections of reality or not, the fact is that you appear to become dependent on sex with your spouse.  That feeling of dependence is unsexy, particularly to those who don’t view the relationship through the same lens.

And that’s a massive change from sex while dating.  Sex before marriage, especially if you aren’t living together, is something you want, not something you need.  It’s naughty playtime, not a duty or required to keep your spouse happy.  In marriage, you start can feel like you are required to have sex.  Whereas before marriage, you weren’t supposed to be doing it, so when you did, it was because you really wanted to.

Reason 3: The commonplace becomes mundane

Lastly, we tend to get bored of things.  When sex is a rare event before marriage, when you can sneak away, it’s exciting and fresh.  It’s new and a special event.  But unfortunately, in marriage too often we take it for granted.  We expect sex, and expectations are not sexy.

Unfortunately, marriage can be a structure where obligation kills desire.  Because it’s not only available but also encouraged or even required, it’s no longer fun.

It’s not that the sex has changed.  In fact, sex likely got technically better over the years, but that mindset has shifted.

Right now my kids are all dying to get a fidget spinner.  But I know that only a couple of weeks after they get one, I’ll be tripping over the discarded toy in the hallway.  No one will want to play with it anymore.  Last Saturday they all fought over who was going to play with a fidget spinner one of the kids at church had.  But I know that within days the excitement will wane. It will become boring and dull.  I won’t be able to force them to play with it.

And of course, the fidget spinner won’t have changed.  It will do the same thing it always did.  It didn’t objectively become more or less fun.  Only their mindset regarding it did.  The commonplace becomes mundane.  The mundane is boring.

Society’s response

Our culture’s response to this has been to be more open to things like open marriages, threesomes, sex parties, and porn.  Like children, when something becomes boring, they just find a new plaything to keep things interesting.  The problem is that these things tend to escalate.  You need more and more fresh and new things to stay interested.  And it doesn’t really solve the issue.  This is bailing out a ship without ever patching the hole.  There’s no time when it ends.  You just need more and more fresh, new and exciting things.

It’s not a solution, but because they don’t have an answer, they’re looking for temporary relief.  Things that will help stem the feeling of hopelessness and a sense of being trapped.

So, how do we stop marriage from ruining sex?

Christians should have the answer to this, shouldn’t we?  The God we serve created sex, so as His followers, we should be able to figure this out.

Really we have the same problem in the Christian walk as well in dealing with our relationship with God.  For many of us, Christianity becomes dull after a time.  For those of us who grew up in the church and know no other life, we often get born into an already dull relationship with God that our parents have.  This is the life I grew up in.  My parents never seemed excited about their relationship with God.  They didn’t talk about Him much.  They talked about His stuff, and talked about what we needed to do, our obligations and duties, but not about what He meant to them.

And growing up, Christianity was boring.  It was just something I was.  Being in church was dull because I saw it as a duty and an obligation.  Something you had to do to avoid hell.  Many spouses approach sex in the same manner.  Something they need to do to avoid divorce.  I’d imagine for many spouses, sex is about as inviting and as exciting as is an hour long sermon to many congregants.

But have you ever been around new Christians?  They’re excited and vibrant.  They look forward to time with God.  They’re excited to read the Bible.  It’s inspiring.  Similarly, couples in a new sexual relationship are excited and vibrant.  They crave that intimacy and are excited about it.

New Christians are infatuated with God just as new lovers are infatuated with each other.

However, as you get into the relationship, things change, as we discussed.  The world tries to recapture that infatuation feeling, but should we?

Infatuation is about making me feel good

That beginning of relationship high is all about making ourselves feel good.   We want to be with our spouse, or God, because of how it makes us feel.  It’s not really because we love them, it’s because we love how good we feel when we focus on them.  Then the structure of the relationship (be it marriage or Christianity) settles in, and it’s no longer as fun.  There’s work to be done.  It’s now a real relationship that requires our attention and devotion, in a self-sacrificing way.

It’s no longer carefree and exciting.  There are obligations involved.  Things we should be doing.  Things we used to love to do, but now we know we should do them.  I think this is by design.  Because in order to grow through this, we need to change our focus.

We need to get excited about the object of our love, rather than the feeling of love.

I think the answer lies in changing our mindset.  When my wife and I were in our early twenties, we left the denomination we grew up in.  There were a few reasons.  One of the most impactful had to do with not believing the doctrine we were taught was faithfully reflecting the Bible.

While that may sound like a very high-minded theological reason, it has a very substantial impact on who you believe God is.  It took us another four years or so to find a church where their core doctrine matched what we saw in scripture.  Suddenly we were excited about God.  It’s like we never really knew Him before.  Church was interesting.  We couldn’t wait to go.  Sermons were inspiring.  When we read the Bible, we saw new things because we had a new perspective.

Over a decade later, I’ll be honest, that excitement has waned a bit.  Not completely, but it’s not the same.  We still enjoy going to church.  I’m still finding new and exciting things as I read through my Bible.  But, if we’re honest, I don’t think we’re as excited as we used to be.

Will I eventually become bored with Christianity again?  Will sermons be dull?  Will I lose interest in reading the Bible?

No.  Because I’ve found the answer: I decided I wanted to know God better.

And that’s a subtle but important change for a Christian.  We often aren’t encouraged to know God.  We’re taught a lot about God, but you can’t really tell someone who God is.  They have to get to know Him themselves.  You can’t manufacture intimacy.  The best we can do is create a framework within with intimacy can flourish.  And that’s what church is.  That’s what doctrine is.  That’s what all the rules in the Bible are, I believe.  A structure created to help us.  But they only go so far.

Marriage is a structure for fostering love and intimacy

In the same way, marriage is a structure.  There are rules, duties, obligations and guidelines for how to do things.  They set us up for the best chance for true intimacy to flourish.  But it won’t magically do it for you.  You have work to do as well.

In both cases, if you all you do is focus on the structure, the duties, obligations, rules and guidelines, then you will end up with a solid, but empty structure.  One that is boring and lifeless.  And this is where many marriages and many Christian walks, end up.  With a structure that looks pretty, but has no life.  Many eventually abandon them, because a lifeless structure is dull.  It’s mundane.  It’s boring.  And so we give up.

After all, we did all the things we were supposed to do right?  We followed all the rules.  Met our obligations.  Adhered to the guidelines.  And it’s boring.

We focused on the structure for the structure’s sake.  Instead, we need to focus on the other party.  What if we focused on God with respect to our faith and devotion?  What if we focused on our spouse with respect to marriage and sex.

When we changed denominations, the excitement was all about me.  It was about what I was learning, about having my questions answered.  It was new and fresh and frankly, I was infatuated. But infatuation is not love.  It’s selfishness.  It’s all about how it makes me feel.  I may never recapture that excitement, but I’ve found something deeper.

I’m not doing it to satisfy my own desires, but rather to be closer to God.  

What if the lack of satisfaction is there to push you deeper?

What if that loss of excitement is there to force us to get more intimate?  What if most people just give up too easily?

When you read your Bible, do you do it because you should?  Afraid if you don’t you’ll go to hell?  Do you read it because you’re looking for an answer?  Because you’re following a devotional, preparing for a church lesson, a sermon?  Or do you read it because you have a desire to know God?  Not know about Him, but know Him.  How He thinks, how He feels.  What His desires are.  What if you read it so that God would be known?

What if you read it so that God would be known?

Similarly, when you think about sex, are you thinking about relieving stress or pressure?  About meeting an obligation or duty?  Are you just wanting to have fun?  Or maybe you’re worried if you don’t they might watch porn or have an affair?

What if you had sex to know your spouse.  To be intimate and vulnerable.  To be alone with just the two of you, naked and unashamed, together, exploring each other.  To know them and be known in return.

What if the reason sex has become less exciting is that you’re focused on the wrong thing?  What if it’s designed to spur you into a deeper relationship?  Something that points to true intimacy?

Adding excitement isn’t wrong, it just can’t be the basis of your sex life

Don’t get me wrong, sex can be fun and relieve stress.  Those who have been readers here for a while know that I’m all in favor of adding spice to the marriage bed.  I’ve even created resources to help people shake things up if you’re stuck in a rut, or just to explore some new things.

It can be fun to switch things up with games, toys and new activities and positions.  It can also be helpful in exploring new facets of intimacy and learning more about each other.  And that should be the focus, the deepening of the relationship. The excitement can’t be what your married sex life is based on.  I think that is the trap of society’s response.  They take a tool for deepening intimacy and make it the focus.  The relationship becomes a medium of exploring sex rather than sex being a medium for exploring intimacy.

So, sex can be fun and exciting, but there’s more to it.  Sex also does protect against affairs and divorce and temptation.  It is an obligation and a duty, but one we should approach as a privilege with joy, as an opportunity to know our spouse better.  A chance to be intimate to share ourselves and give them space to share themselves.

It’s the same thing as reading your Bible.  It’s a good thing too.  It’s a duty and an obligation for Christians, make no mistake.  It will help give a foundation for accepting eternal life and it’s good to know about God, the commandments, rules, and guidelines and it’s a great place to get answers to questions.  But if our focus is on those things, then we are missing the main point.

Christianity without a relationship with God is unfruitful.  The structure will not save you.

Sex without intimacy is unfruitful.  It won’t satisfy you and you’ll eventually get bored.

In both cases, the structure isn’t the problem, but focusing on it and expecting the structure to bring purpose will doom you every time.  Christianity won’t save you, but it gives you the structure to know the one who will.  Marriage doesn’t ensure a great sex life, but it gives you the structure to create one.

We all know marriages and Christians who are stuck focusing on the structure rather than the relationship.  Share this post to help them out.

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