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We Couldn’t Fit This On a Candy Heart: Intimacy After the Honeymoon

Debra from Australia, writes:

Have you ever run a forum on the libido of menopausal women? What does LDS sexuality look like? How do LDS couples learn to explore their sexuality, once the honeymoon stage has passed? “Hot and sweaty” just isn’t so practical when time is precious and privacy is limited!

How does the male learn to be courteous to his wife, and vice versa, when there are these myriad activities/stimuli impinging on time and mood? How do couples manage the natural cycles that each experiences?

At some levels I am also interested in notions of overcoming the “natural man and woman” and to overcome the sense of duty and obligation that often exists. My personal “natural woman” struggle is not over interest, but rather a general libidinal disinterest. At present I feel as if I could not be bothered. This is both a hormonal issue, as well as a psycho-sexual one.

A thousand questions from my middle aged mind!

Dr. John Lund has done a little work in this area but I find some of what he says insufficient in answering my questions.

At some levels the intimacy/sexual experience has defied all description and is totally different to the experience I thought it would be. Have we all been duped by hormones in our young adult years of chastity only to marry and find that the faithful, marital/sexual experience is much less fulfilling than we expected? Or are we still learning that Christian/Mormon sexuality is very different from what we once thought it was meant to be at both procreative and mutual levels? Can it be better/improved?

I suspect that frank disclosure and introspection coupled with scientific knowledge could be the liberation of many husbands and wives who currently live in a quandary regarding how to have a wonderful intimate life as a means of expressing their mutual sexualitythe infamous “becoming one.”

I suppose I could write a thesis, but I doubt that it would cut much mustard in academic circles because it is somewhat of a delicate issue.

Alison says:

Wow, Debra. Loaded question!

As you have probably guessed, I am not shy or reserved. Not even (or, perhaps, especially not) about this general topic. When my teenage daughter was having her annual checkup last summer, the doctor asked her if her mother had explained “the facts of life” to her. She rolled her eyes and said, “More than I’d like!”

Intimacy does bring up an interesting dynamic with LDS women. Of course it is something we engage in (we aren’t known for our large families for nothing), but it is also something we consider sacred and private. If we need help on genealogy or organizing, we ask our friends or take a class or read books or look it up on the internet. But how do we get help and insight into marital relations without betraying the trust and confidence of our spouse and without making something personal and sacred seem casual and common? How do we find answers about intimacy without venturing into inappropriate venues?

President Spencer W. Kimball stated, “If you study the divorces, as we have had to do in these past years, you will find there are reasons. Generally, sex is the first; they did not get along sexually. They may not say that in court. They may not even tell that to their attorneys, but that is the reason.”

I won’t pretend to be loaded with the answers you seek here, for a couple of reasons. (1) I’m not yet menopausal. In fact, I just found out I am pregnant again. (You may consider that my official announcement.) (2) I have never experienced what could be even remotely described as “libidinal disinterest.” As you can guess, that doesn’t mean I am not incredibly opinionated about the matter. It just means that my ideas may not be worth the bandwidth they require to download. But considering President Kimball’s statement, it is a topic worth addressing.

Who knows what “LDS sexuality” looks like? That’s kind of like asking how LDS bathrooming appears to onlookers! And really why should it matter? What sexuality looks like for couple #1, simply won’t be positive, comfortable, exciting, bonding, and wonderful for couple #2. These relationships are so personal partly because they are so uniquely defined by the two people involved.

The chastity and virtue that the gospel teaches are such freeing principles in this respect. If we follow the counsel to avoid any premarital intimacies, if we avoid pornography and vulgarity of any kind, then we are open to being able to learn and love and create with our spouse, without any preconceived notions or unrealistic expectations about what marital intimacy is “supposed” to be and without any unfair or unrealistic comparisons. Within the bounds of gospel teachings, it can be whatever the two of us decide it is.

From my limited perspective, this seems to be a “problem” that crosses all ages. Of those women with whom I’ve had such personal discussions, by far the majority (from brand-spankin’-newlywed to retirees) fall into the “I’d rather be knitting” category. They accommodate, but don’t much enjoy, physical intimacy with their spouses. OK. I take that back. They like hand holding and hair stroking and having “sweet nothings” whispered in their ears. They like the 1940′s movie version of being “made love” to. But they don’t particularly care for “the act.”

In my mind it is this distaste or ambivalence that seems to be the real problem not the man’s supposed “over-interest” in things sexual. (And, indeed, don’t we tend to define “over-interest” as interest that is really merely greater than our own? Is the demonization fair? Is it markedly different from calling someone less interested “frigid”?)

God did not intend for marital intimacy to be something we want to avoid, but rather something that brings us closer as a couple, that makes us “one,” not just physically, but emotionally as well. If intimacy is not bringing us closer, we should ask ourselves why.

Perhaps, as you suggest, this may just be biology. One person is always in overdrive while the other can’t get out of first gear. Neither, in my opinion, is inherently good or bad and neither should be labeled as such. It is an issue of compatibility. But if your interest level and that of your husband truly vary widely, can you not come to some mutually agreeable, mutually satisfying solution?

Years ago I attended a stake Relief Society conference. One of the workshops was about keeping the “romance” alive in marriage. This class was really a gently-phrased class on marital intimacy. The teacher, who served a mission in Japan, told the group that she lit a special Japanese candle that made the shadow of a butterfly on the wall to indicate to her husband that she was “in the mood for love.” Other class members followed, alternately explaining their particular personal mating call and making pithy comments like, “What if you’re never in the mood?” or “Why would you ever want to let your husband know even if you were?”

I left the class completely disillusioned. Had I been doing it wrong by not sprinkling rose petals on the sheets? Should I have a particular scent of incense tucked away to indicate my increasing desire? (Could I afford that much incense?) Was I completely unromantic by simply saying, “Hey, baby ?”

When I got home, I immediately went to my husband and asked if he would prefer the more subtle, nonverbal approach. He said, “No!!! You are just what every man dreams of.”

So, that may be an exaggeration. But to him it was true. And that is key, that our approach is what is most effective (for want of a better word) within our relationship. And that I would have been willing to change my approach if he would have liked it better.

Before I seem to be completely neglecting the flip side, let me say that more women would be more interested if their husbands were more willing to do the same. That is, find out what would please their wives and be willing to do it even if it isn’t something they thought of. On both parts, that “finding out” can only effectively occur if we are willing to openly communicate about it. And, let’s be clear, by “communicate” I mean talk, frankly and clearly, not sending heart-shaped smoke signals over the house!

Lastly, I have never really considered the highs and lows of sexual interest to be much of an issue. That may be because my husband and I are generally very compatible in this area, but I think there is more to it. If either of us were ill or injured or particularly concerned or distracted over an issue, the other would be respectful and understanding and not press physical intimacy at a time when the other didn’t feel able to give it. There would be no pouting or trying to make the other feel guilty. There is no keeping score. To the contrary, we would try to help the other feel better.

On quite the other hand, if one of us were interested and the other were merely indifferent, I cannot think of a time when either of us withheld from the other. But please understand the mindset involved. This is not done out of pity. It is not done out of duty or some notion of marital rights. It is not done as some form of self-sacrifice. It is done out of love. Whether or not you are feeling a particular physiological need at a given moment, how can you not enjoy the pleasure of the person you love more than anyone on earth?

Fortunately, there are now a few resources available that come from an LDS perspective. I’ll gather some sources and post them below.

I believe that any mutually loving, respectful couple can improve their intimacy.

Kathy says:

Hi Deb. We talked a little bit about your question off-line. I’ll repeat, here, that I think we’re all going to be kind of surprised to learn, on the other side of the veil, that an experience we thought was extremely physical actually was rapturously spiritual. I think people who are pure, as Alison explains, sometimes feel an overwhelming spiritual impulse that manifests as arousal when they first fall in love, if they have not short-circuited this response by “looking for love in all the wrong places,” so to speak. The couples I know well enough to share this sort of discussion will often say this sublime, transcendent thing is at least as powerful now that they are creaky old grandparents as it ever was when they first experienced it together. Invariably, at least in my experience, this is predicated upon extramarital chastity in all its forms. Maybe there are secular psychologists who would shout me down immediately for such a backward, backwoods view. I’d rather read your thesis. I’ll bring the mustard.

Maybe it’s enough to know that this is one of the most clearly delineated privileges of the highest degree of celestial glory. You don’t have to watch much TV to appreciate how rare purity is likely to be by the time of the final judgment. I hope I don’t sound like a grumpy old prune when I gloat that it’s not going to hurt my feelings too much when some of the laugh-track-laden, predictable, perverted drivel that passes for prime-time comedy goes on the chopping block at that big review in the sky.

I hope you will find this enigma a “fine romance,” a “many splendored thing,” and most of all, another true-love story to the tune of “Love and marriage, love and marriagego together like a horse and carriage. That’s the main thing, brother. Ya can’t have one without the other.”

Sounds like the ultimate exploration in meaningful communication. Wouldn’t the desperately amorous BYU engaged couples envy you, if they knew what you were studying so avidly behind closed doors?! Read all the legitimate science and doctrine; but don’t forget to have fun!!! Adults have endless responsibilities; but they also get to have adult activities. Gotta love that, if you love each other. Enjoy.

{ 9 comments… add one }

  • Alison Moore Smith July 29, 2007, 5:08 pm

    Just days after our column posted, I went to my first prenatal appointment. I’d been threatening to miscarry for over a week, for someone on their 11th pregnancy, but with only five live births on the record, these visits can be a very traumatic time.

    After the ultrasound revealed the most breathtakingly beautiful heartbeat you’ve ever seen, I could finally relax and enjoy all the “new momma” coddling that the staff was giving me. As I left, I noticed the fliers on the wall. A research company was looking for post-menopausal women to participate in a study looking at ways to help increase sexual desire.

    Well, hmmmpppphhh. Had we really written our responses without considering that there are multiple physiological factors involved? So now a belated bit of advice: If lack of physical intimacy is causing a problem in your marriage, check with your OB-GYN. There very well may be a medical solution.

  • Reader Comment July 29, 2007, 5:09 pm

    Greg Olson writes:

    What a timely and wonderful topic you have approached. More and more “baby-boomer” women around the world are reaching the perimenopausal and menopausal stages of their lives. Perhaps never before in history has something so intimate and sacred received so much media and attention.

    Please forgive a brother from throwing in two-cents, but I have watched LDS women struggle with issues similar to this one for over a decade now and I’d like to add something if I may.

    LDS families (couples) are usually very good about seeking the blessings of the priesthood for problems in their lives, be they physical, mental, emotionally, financial, etc. One thing that may need to be improved upon is our neglect of spiritual intimacy. Honestly, if our child were going through a difficult problem we would think nothing of fasting and praying about it and discussing it, searching the scriptures and seeking spiritual guidance. Why do we fail to put the same energy into our marital intimacy problems? Have we forgotten that the Savior is the third partner in any successful marriage?

    A wise and loving Heavenly Father gave us physical intimacy that we could learn to “be one” and that we could be co-partners in the most wonderful parts of the plan of salvation. His direction (commandments) to Adam and Eve (all married couples) begins with the admonition to “be fruitful” and “multiply” and to “replenish the earth.” As I read this part of Genesis it seems to be the first commandment given to them as a married couple. Perhaps we need to seek his counsel and direction more in regard to sacred marital intimacy.

    I have had many couples struggling with sexual intimacy issues do some “homework” to improve their communication in this area. Like anything that is important (i.e. church service, going to the temple, visiting teaching) intimacy requires time and effort. If intimacy is always relegated to the after 10-pm-finish-watching-the-news-first time frame, it may be a less than satisfying experience. Couples that make sufficient time for this are going to have to put it in their day planners! If not, it will always be at the mercy of other things that scream for our time and attention.

    Once a time has been established, I recommend that couple talk openly about things that may be contributing to their problems, everything from illnesses, children, work, church callings, and get it all out in the open. Once they have identified the problems areas I suggest that they kneel as couple and counsel with Lord about their concerns. Inspiration is more likely to come to those who have prepared their hearts and minds to receive it. Often wives are inspired to ask their husbands for special blessings concerning their marital difficulties. It becomes very hard for either spouse to resent the other once the Holy Ghost has softened their hearts and instructed their minds.

    Resolving marital intimacy problems in this way tends to take away guilt, shame and stress from women who think that they have a serious “medical problem.” Sometimes a doctor may need to be part of the solution, but often the problems can be resolved between a committed couple in very sacred and spiritual ways.

    Please forgive me for rambling, but this is something that I hope more Latter-Day Saints will deal with openly and peacefully as they work with their spouse to overcome trials of the faith. Learning to prioritize and prize sacred moments together is a wonderful lesson to be learned.

    Best of luck with this new website!

  • Reader Comment July 29, 2007, 5:16 pm

    Clarke from Loveland, Colorado, writes:

    The topic of intimacy between partners is a lot like the word “success”: overused, misused, abused, exploited, and so distorted that it has become empty and meaningless for a majority of adults. I say that because evidence proves it. In the United States, over half of babies born to black mothers are born out of wedlock, and nearly half of white babies, and that does not include the obscene number of unborn children who are intentionally destroyed by medical “professionals,” who have sworn an oath to preserve life, and their cohorts who have conned mothers-to-be into thinking that an “inconvenient” mass of tissue can be discarded at will and without consequence.

    These outward observations are not the problem. They are only symptoms of a much greater, deeper problem: a massive breakdown of morals in society, but also a breakdown of teachings that rightfully should be passed from parents to children. Unfortunately, if mom and dad don’t understand, how can they pass that understanding to their offspring? And just how much “understanding” can be appropriately passed on to those offspring?

    My mother was an angel, if ever there was one; willing to give of herself to anyone in need. My father was an honest man, if ever there was one, and faithful in all his duties as a provider and active church member. When I was about eleven years old, I remember sitting in a doctor’s office reading a magazine and there was an article about the crime rate among blacks in comparison with whites. I encountered a word I had never seen before, and I asked my mother who was sitting next to me, “What does rape mean?” Her answer was short and very informative”: “It’s that bad thing.”

    I asked my dad once why I was having difficulty getting dates with girls. He suggested that I should kiss them more (I hadn’t tried it yet and I was close to 18 years old). That is the extent of my sexual education from my parents.

    My wife’s parents married when her father was forty-three and she was nineteen years old. We have since concluded that he thought he was exempt from fatherhood at that age, and thus it was safe to marry a sweet young thing. He was mistaken and was eventually the father of eight. My wife was always very shy, and still is not particularly inclined toward extroversion; so shy, in fact, that she would not interrupt her father’s conversation with another man to inform him that her brother was drowning in an irrigation ditch (he survived).

    Take two kids from a background of that sort, send them on foreign missions followed by a temple wedding, then expect them to have a successful marriage. The only thing we knew was stuff I had read from various sources, some reasonable and others not so helpful. My wife was apparently not inclined to take her own initiative in that area. The fact that a couple has nine children is not evidence of a successful intimate relationship. It is only evidence of the requisite physical activity. The fact that we are still friends after nearly thirty-seven years is more an evidence of long-term commitment than of skill in our relationships (yes, husband and wife have numerous relationships in homemaking, providing, nurturing, child-rearing, in addition to those exclusive to the two partners in the marriage).

    I have been learning many things along the way, and my wife has too.

    We wish we could have known at the beginning what we know now. It also would have been nice to start college already knowing calculus, advanced engineering math, semiconductor physics and all that other stuff too, but that is not what life is about. Life is about learning, and learning applies to the partners in a marriage; especially if it is to last through eternity. There is a good reason why the Lord speaks of longsuffering, patience, brotherly kindness, love unfeigned, and those other attributes that are rarely mentioned when the infamous three-letter word arises as the subject of discussion.

    I have learned from my interactions with single mothers over the last twenty-some years that the studies are correct that conclude: 98% of prostitutes, 85% of single mothers on welfare, and one out of three women in the general population of the United States were victims of sexual violation prior to age 16, and you can take those figures to the bank! Consider that a large percentage of males in the US were raised in homes with absentee fathers, abusive fathers, alcoholic fathers, irresponsible fathers, spineless-wimp fathers, and sometimes abusive mothers as well, then add that to the pot when you start pairing the offspring up for marriages, and it is a miracle that we have as many intact marriages as we do. It is these factors that have fueled the bulk of the “pro-choice” movement, the militant feminist movement, and the screw-ball ideas that permeate the print and electronic media.

    It is these factors that contribute greatly to the rampant homosexuality that we see seething among the population. Besides these, there are the intact marriages that still have problems. I have news for you all: if you are married, you have marriage problems. It is a universal part of the human condition. There is no such thing as a couple who has it all together. Some have it more together than others, but everyone still has areas of challenge, no matter who they are. Get used to it. Worried about compatibility? I have more news: There is no such thing as a “compatible” couple. You commit to the relationship, then go to work making it work as you learn and grow together, both partners growing simultaneously and growing toward and into each other mentally, physically, and spiritually, thus becoming one, “even as I and the Father are one,” as they together follow Christ and the principles he teaches in scripture, through prophets, and through personal revelation.

    How do you solve the problems? How do you help people have successful marriages and intimate relations within marriage? Go to a clinical psychologist? Not a good choice. I have a cousin who is an excellent family therapist. I expressed my concern that there were so many people with severe personal problems who pursue college classes in psychology to learn about their problems who then get enough credit hours to become “qualified” practitioners, yet they have not solved their own problems.

    I suggested that as many as 85% of practicing clinicians, based on my limited acquaintance with several, were unsuitable for the profession, if you can call it that. He said the problem is much worse; that there only a very few (significantly less than 10) clinicians in the entire Salt Lake area that he would willingly refer to a client.

    So, if you don’t learn it from your parents, and you don’t learn it in school (we don’t need to delve into the problem of public schools that teach the mechanics of sexual interaction, including advanced techniques in homosexuality as was exposed in New Jersey and elsewhere in the last two years), and clinical “therapists” are not qualified, what can you do?

    Fortunately, there are some excellent books on the subject that are becoming more widely available. The Act of Marriage by Beverly and Tim LaHaye is an excellent resource, though not written by LDS authors. There are some written by LDS authors, but I don’t notice that they explain some of the complexities of the relationship that come from different personality styles, of which there are four.

    Personality Plus: How to Understand Others by Understanding Yourself by Florence Littauer is a good book on the subject, as are some of the writings of Robert Rohm. [More recently Littauer has written Personality Plus for Couples: Understanding Yourself and the One You Love which may provide more specific marital insight.]

    The scripture says, “Adam knew his wife.” With nearly forty years of experience, I am inclined to suggest that this implies a lot more than the simple act of physical intimacy. Adam and Eve, through years of toil and labor, grew together, learning about each other, learning to interact with each other, until they really understood each other well. That is the real essence of “knowing” your mate.

    The American Bar Association has conducted studies that showed over 90% of divorces were rooted in financial problems. This differs from the observation of President Kimball that the real problem was in the sexual relationship. Having observed lots of families and knowing much about their finances, I think the problem is a combination of both, but both are outward symptoms of a greater problem. As financial demands descend on the family, tensions between husband and wife increase when income is not sufficient to keep up with outgo and upkeep becomes their downfall.

    As tensions increase, marital intimacy suffers or becomes non-existent.

    This provides an ideal opportunity for either or both to develop “alternate interests” that lead to transgression and much unhappiness. That deadly combination almost universally results in a termination of the relationship unless the couple attacks the underlying problems as well as the problems at the surface.

    Jacob promises that “after [we] have obtained a hope in Christ, [we] shall have riches IF [we] seek them”. He continues to explain that we will seek them with the intent to do good; to clothe the naked, feed the hungry (both starting with ourselves and our own family), and liberate the captive (including our own slavery to interest paid to banks and taxes paid to government by having enough to pay the taxes and still meet our needs). Jacob 2:17-19 The D&C states that there is a law decreed by which all blessings are predicated, and when we obtain a blessing from God, it is by obedience to the law upon which that particular blessing is predicated. D&C 130:20-21

    To be financially successful enough to provide for our families and have an excess to give to others, we must understand the laws that govern making a suitable income. This cannot be learned in school because teachers can’t teach what they don’t know, and they don’t know how to be financially successful. They went to school to learn how to teach others to get an education, not to learn how to make money. But colleges can’t teach that either, for the same reason. The same principle applies to building a successful marriage. That is why you don’t go to a psychologist for marital advice when he has a failed marriage himself. You can only learn from those who have attained what you want to attain. This is an axiom that should be burned into the mind of every person. That is why we “follow the prophet” who follows the Savior who has “been there, done that,” rather than getting our information from others who are dismal failures at what we are attempting to accomplish.

    The underlying problem in all of these issues and situations is a lack of wisdom. Where can you gain wisdom? From a mentor or from experience. A wise man always seeks mentorship so he can learn from the experience and mistakes of others. A fool chooses to learn from his own mistakes. While the university of hard knocks is an excellent educator, the tuition is quite high. James 1:5 counsels: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God.” But how many of us take the counsel we received at the outset of our marriage, if we were fortunate enough even to receive any correct counsel?

    When my wife and I were married in the Logan Temple, the instruction we received before taking our vows was simple and to the point: “From now on [your spouse] is the number one thing in your life.” She [he] comes ahead of parents, ahead of children, ahead of job, ahead of church, ahead of everything else, including kids’ soccer games, cheerleading, band practice, family outings, cleaning the house, period. If there is not time for everything, it’s time to apply wisdom to our lives and select those things that are most important, remembering the counsel of Dwight Eisenhower: “The important is seldom urgent, the urgent seldom important.” The only thing that should come ahead of your spouse is the Lord Himself. President Hinckley wisely counsels that if men and women would always try to do the things that will make their partners life more comfortable, happy and enjoyable, this would contribute greatly to the stability and success of their marriage.

    So how do you develop a better intimate relationship? Follow some basic steps: Shut out everything else so just the two of you have significant time together. Insist on it. Send the kids to bed or to their rooms. Trade babysitting with a friend so you can get out together, if you can’t afford a sitter. Create a space where only the two of you are allowed.

    I am not fond of kids climbing into bed with us, and we have never encouraged the practice. Nursing babies were not allowed in bed with us for very long either. Pass responsibilities to children as early as they are able to handle them, but be wise in this, too. Responsibility promotes growth, but too much responsibility without allowing children to be children leads to burnout and can be disastrous.

    Once you are together, alone, talk. Spend time learning about each other’s preferences. This will necessitate some experimentation and willingness to communicate your own desires, feelings and insecurities to your partner, husband or wife. If you do not share your innermost self with your chosen eternal mate, how can you expect him or her to really know the real you? But to do that requires that you totally trust your mate, and your mate must be able to trust you completely. Trustworthiness is part of personal integrity, and to enter the Celestial Kingdom, you must have integrity. The female physiology is such that the husband will need to give her attentions and affections that allow her interests to develop while he keeps his “under control.” But at the same time, he must also adapt his approaches (note the plural here don’t be boring, keep some variety in your life) to her current state. And be prepared for surprises, such as the case of the woman who saw her husband helping her children with their evening prayers. This was a major aphrodisiac for her. Women usually respond best when they are safe, secure, and know they are loved, and how better to demonstrate that than through nurturing children’s love for the Lord rather than spending your life pursuing financial prowess or being star player in city-league baseball?

    continued…

  • Reader Comment July 29, 2007, 5:17 pm

    Clarke continues:

    Wives also need to be understanding of their husbands. Are you doing your part as a wife in the intimate aspects of the relationship? Consider the man who spends all his daytime hours out conquering the world, who then comes home and must “conquer” his woman before she’ll be receptive to him. He might greatly appreciate it if you would conquer him occasionally so he doesn’t feel that you are a burden in that regard.

    And if he’s giving you attention, pay attention! It is difficult for a wife to become aroused if her mind is wandering all over the place, thinking about children, getting them off to school in the morning, planning tomorrow’s menu, or whatever women think about when they should be focusing on their man, and some of you know you do that, right?

    Be inventive. Be playful. Be seductive. It’s okay! Enjoy each other. Act alive! You belong to each other and nobody else! But be careful not to violate the other person’s feeling of safety and security. This is especially important if the wife (or husband in some cases) is a victim of abuse. And make yourself more interesting than any competition could ever be, whether it be the centerfold blonde in a girlie” magazine or the always-impeccably-dressed vixen he sees at work everyday but never sees in curlers or as she wakes with messed-up hair first thing in the morning.

    And here’s a shot for the men in a marriage: if a husband sends his wife off to work to help make the living, especially when the children are still home and not out of high school, as far as I am concerned he isn’t cutting it as a man. Adam didn’t tell Eve to go get a job. It was Adam’s responsibility to provide for his family. D&C 83:2 is quite clear on this subject: “Women have claim on their husbands for their maintenance until they are taken ?” Your income is a reflection of the value of the service you render to others. If you need more income, make yourself more valuable.

    Ask the Lord for guidance. Be more careful in your spending if that is a problem. Stay out of debt other than to purchase a home or engage in an appropriate business, but always be wary of becoming a slave to creditors. Remember that you cannot expect your wife to hold a job all day, come home and fix dinner, tend kids, clean house, then fall into bed with visions of amorous adventures with her “knight in shining armor” who spent the evening watching football while drinking beer (root beer?) and eating potato chips while she labored.

    I have done the math. A wife, working 20 hours per week, part time, at ten dollars per hour earns $200, which, after taxes, cost of commuting to work and other expenditures necessitated by her working, leaves about $100 to spend on merchandise which cost only five dollars in material and labor to actually manufacture. The numbers don’t lie if you understand taxes and how businesses operate. It isn’t worth it to have your wife enslaved to the tax man, interest payments to the bank, and merchandise mark-up margins at Walmart or Costco. Follow the counsel of the prophets and do what is necessary to allow her to be a wife and mother. Or spend your life, her life, and maybe your marriage proving that the prophets were right. It’s your choice.

    More than anything, don’t expect every encounter between the two of you to be perfect. Allow a few failures along the way. Remember: Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly until you can get enough experience that you can learn to do it well. Become each other’s mentor and teach your partner what you like and what you prefer. And be willing to get out of your comfort zone. Men also would do well by stripping off that stupid “macho” image they seem so intent on preserving. It’s amazing how women willingly respond to men who are “real” instead of the phony Romeos commonly portrayed in the media. Those women who only respond to the guys who think they are “God’s gift to women” aren’t worth having as wives. If that describes you, it’s time to change.

    If you keep doing what you’ve been doing all along that got you into the mess you are in, but you keep expecting a different result, that is Called insanity. Altering your behavior so that you can change the outcome is called repentance. If you want change in your life, youre going to have to make some change in your life.

  • innovative momma July 29, 2007, 5:19 pm

    I appreciate the opportunity to discuss this subject. I desire to offer insights with the caveat that whatever I say should be considered prayerfully and thoughtfully. It is easy to injure someone in these kinds of discussions, whether the comments are offensive to some or conjure up memories of situations and events that are unpleasant in any way. I do not know what is going on in Debra’s life, and do not pretend to judge her or to offer specific solutions for her particular situation. I simply hope to add to the knowledge pool.

    I bring to this discussion a near-menopausal lifetime of struggle, the victories coming after long, concerted effort to heal. I believe that this voice of experience is as valid as anyone’s, and that it, coupled with the benefits of my training and efforts to thoroughly understand, evaluate and appropriately apply the results of research, makes me a much more sensitive, insightful and successful psychotherapist than those who have not walked similar paths. That means I also value others’ insights, and desire that we use the gospel as the common foundation of our paradigms.

    As I see it, Debra succinctly broached several issues: (1) male vs female sexual needs and how to address them, (2) balancing needs for intimacy with all other demands of life, (3) the appropriateness of sexual behavior when the directive from the Lord is a vague, “within the bounds the Lord has set” (what is carnal and what is not), and (4) sexual intercourse fantasy vs reality. With the understanding that all that I say pertains to those keeping their marriage covenants, and is not to be construed as justification for breaking such, I proceed as delicately as I can.

    (1) Male vs. female sexual needs and how to address them. We have the notion, gleaned from a variety of models around us (especially in the media), that sex is all physical sensation. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Sexual needs are closely tied with emotional needs. If the latter are not met, the former never will be satisfied. The effect of worries, mental images, and psychological meanings attached to the activity and to orgasm combine in a multitude of ways to affect the quality of the experience — even for women experiencing a rapid succession of orgasms in any one session. Daily pressures, concerns and discord intrude. Sheer physical ability to respond to sexual cues and direct stimulation waxes and wanes. Men achieve their first orgasm of the occasion much sooner than women do, though women rebound much more quickly. Taking all of that into consideration, we need to get away from the concept that sexual activity is all about getting “turned on” and staying that way. If you’re equating a terrific orgasm with successful sex, you’ve missed the boat.

    Sexual intercourse can be a celebratory activity between spouses. Sexual intercourse can be a medium of forgiveness. Sexual intercourse can be a mutually satisfying expression of love. Sexual intercourse can be an escape mechanism. Sexual intercourse can be a statement of power (especially in, but not limited to rape and incest). Sexual intercourse can be a statement of duty. Notice how all of these are not tied to physical responsiveness but to psychological expression?

    Successful sexual intercourse is also tied to schema, or core beliefs. For men, they express their love for their wives through sex. The old joke about a husband and wife discussing their clashing views of lovemaking applies. It goes something like this: the wife is crying, saying that all she wants her husband to do is love her. He responds, “I’m trying!” as he fidgets under mounting sexual urges. Are either of them wrong in their view of what “love” is? No. Are they clearly communicating their needs? No. Does he understand that she means “being taken care of, understood, empathized with, soothed” and not “have an orgasm”? No. Does he understand that her body may go through the motions of orgasm, but the orgasmic feeling can be minimal…and that the cause isn’t necessarily physical in nature? No. Does he understand that even if she has multiple orgasms, deep inside the emotional pain she feels makes that experience filthy and horrid to her? Or that she may feel violated, or worse, betrayed by her own body? No. Does she understand that men are more action oriented while women are more emotion oriented, and that he is really trying to fix her problems by “making love”? No. Does she understand that at the moment of orgasm he may finally feel like he is successful at something in his life, even if all else is failing? No.

    Great sex, then, is much more a psychological phenomenon than a physical one. Ask any LDS woman who has had a horrible first marriage, struggles to maintain celibacy while single, and qualifies herself for the temple marriage in her future. Sexual urges, during that first marriage, may have been nonexistent, but may rise at an alarming pace the first time she is treated really well by a date. Is it the need to have an orgasm that drives that urge, or is it the need to be cherished, cared for, and appreciated for more than what her body can offer?

    Open communication, as Alison said, is thus the key. I know of a stake president who used to counsel couples, “If she’s not running a foot race with you to the bedroom, brother, it’s your fault.” He meant, of course, that he felt it was the husband’s responsibility to care for and take care of his wife in such a way that she felt valued, important, desirable and desired in everything except sexual intimacy…because then she would welcome her sexuality and the righteous expressions of it. Incest and sexual molestation survivors understand this far too well. It’s a trust issue, but I want to defer that discussion a bit.

    (2) Balancing the needs for intimacy with all other demands of life. Marital relationships, as has been discussed here and by our priesthood leaders, need to be nurtured, succored and cherished. I won’t venture guesses as to deep reasons behind any woman not being able to prioritize this time, because that would get too personal for this column and its best left to a therapeutic session. I won’t speculate, either, why children have been conditioned to be intrusive and disrespectful of this time. I could, though, counsel mini-getaways at affordable, local motels, retreats for a week at a time to some favored location, even second honeymoons and other romantic getaways. I could counsel us to put some romance (as a colleague put it, “some spice, girl!”) back into marriage. But these are simply worldly, external answers with limited value. If you want to cultivate the commitment to Friday Night Date Night, and make them quality events, re-read the discussion above. No need for careful schedules, expensive romantic interludes or other superficial activities. Simply meet the needs of your spouse, communicate your needs to him in a way that helps him meet them, and then recognize that the second most important relationship of your life is with your spouse. The first is your relationship with your Heavenly Father and His Son. Your eternal salvation and exaltation are your primary responsibility. Need I mention how we best get there by lifting others?

    (3) What is carnal and what is not. This is a very touchy subject, and that’s no pun. About 20 years ago, many in the church were quite offended by a First Presidency letter that declared oral sex between husband and wife to be outside the bounds the Lord had set. The letter was recalled only a few months later. Whether this activity is or is not appropriate is not the point here. Nor is it the appropriateness of the First Presidency making that kind of demand (the usual phrase was, “the First Presidency has no business inside my bedroom.” Excuse me? Hmm.) What _is_ the point is this: What activities we can do within the bonds and bounds of marriage should be dictated by the Holy Ghost, and if we cannot feel the Holy Ghost during those times, we should take stock and reconsider. All things are spiritual to the Lord (D&C 29:34). If it makes you uncomfortable to think about the Holy Ghost being aware of your sexual activities, you’ll have to take that up with Heavenly Father (and I encourage all to do so). But I can testify to you that no sexual experience, including the best orgasm you ever had, compares to what it feels like to have that experience ratified by the Holy Ghost. No therapy results come anywhere near the powerful healing within that experience, too.

    One of my adult daughters called me several months ago, asking if I would like a negligee. She had seen one in one of my favorite colors, and thought that since my husband and I had been separated for 15 months due to work and school obligations in two distant regions of the USA, we might enjoy this sexy enticement. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings, so I agreed…at first (I admit, I was rather surprised and taken off guard by this offer). Then I took stock of the situation. (a) Wearing a negligee is a very worldly thing to do, promoting physical attraction above the expression of mature love. (b) What would I have him wear in return? Aren’t I allowed to have the same provocative experience? (c) What kind of message would my still-at-home sons get about sexual intimacy and how to treat women properly if they should come across that negligee in the laundry? What image of womanhood was I trying to instill in my sons that women are primarily sex objects?

    You can easily see why I quickly called her back and told her I had come to my senses!

    So I don’t promote provocative, seductive behavior as a cure-all for libidinal disinterest. Putting on an act just makes it all an act. Resolving the underlying issues is a far better approach. However, that is not to say that provocative, seductive behavior between a husband and wife is wrong. I think that if such springs forth as a natural response to your activity, it has an entirely different meaning and purpose than does purposeful acting to try to turn up the hormones a notch.

    (4) Sexual intercourse fantasy vs reality. I was watching the editorial on the “Sleepless in Seattle” DVD the other day, and was intrigued by how the director, the principal actors and the rest had insisted that Hollywood had carved our perspective on love and lovemaking. They were right, of course. We women especially have romanticized views of the “perfect mate” and “perfect sex.” We grew up with them, all images and expectations based on fantasy. (And hasn’t the media taken advantage of that gullibility?) We want to hear music swelling, crescendos at the appropriate moments, synchronized orgasms, and all the rest that Hollywood promotes but is simply not part of life.

    Again, great sexual intimacy is possible into the waning years, as Alison’s friends revealed. The character of those moments changes, of course. Certainly, the psychological issues of aging need to be adequately met. What needs to happen is a gentle acceptance by both partners of the frailties of age. Sisters, it is not evidence of failure of any kind on your part if you need lubrication assistance in your later years, especially after menopause. Maybe, because of the number of children a woman has borne, she doesn’t feel the same sensations with stimulation as she did before. Maybe he has become more sensitive to her gentle caress in non-genital areas. He may need some pharmacological help ?and if he does, she needs to be gently accepting and quite careful to meet his emotional needs over this sensitive matter. Even casual, off-the-cuff remarks about it could cause deep hurt. Exploration of mutual pleasure giving is helpful. One of my colleagues regularly advises that husbands and wives need to spend time every few years just exploring all the sensual areas of their partner’s body, not just those typically associated with sexual intimacy, without engaging in intercourse.

    Remember: there is opposition in all things. You simply wouldn’t cherish the great moments if that’s all you ever had.

    Now, to the final point I wish to make, and I appreciate your patience. I hope this discussion has not become painful or uncomfortable for anyone. However, if you have been the victim of sexual abuse of any kind, you may want to skip this next part, unless you feel you’re at a stage where you can take a psychologist’s view of it. I thank D. Wayne Abbott, Ph.D., a psychologist, former stake president and friend of mine, for this analogy.

    Think of a multi-ringed bull’s eye, how it is a series of concentric rings around a central core. Call the rings “walls of protection” around the innermost, most vulnerable core of your soul. At the beginning of every new relationship, the walls of protection are held high, defending the core with all their might. As you build that relationship, the outer walls come down. These are walls of various ways or times of giving trust. With some people, you drop many walls soon into the relationship. With others, you never let down even the first wall. Sometimes you re-order the walls, so that for some relationships you trust the person in some ways but not in others, whereas with another person the opposite may be true. Sally may trust Jenny to do her part in a class presentation, but not to keep a secret, whereas Sally may trust Kelly to keep the secret, but knows that Kelly never meets a deadline.

    Sometimes we let down some walls before we should, because we are so desperate for that relationship that we fear losing it. This leaves us vulnerable to be hurt, but with the innermost walls still up, it’s a tolerable vulnerability. Sometimes, even that tolerability is strained, but if that’s all we ever know, that’s all we’ll ever expect and all we’ll be able to allow ourselves to have because we believe that’s all we’re worthy of receiving.

    Do we ever let down all of the walls? Yes. It can happen voluntarily, or it can be forced upon us. The voluntary times come when we are involved with our spouses in mutually agreeable sexual intercourse, and orgasm (the moment when the body takes total control) is the precise moment when all the walls are down. We are at our most vulnerable at that moment. You can see, then, why rape, incest and sexual molestation are so damaging, and why the survivors of such struggle for so many long, hard years. It’s supposed to be a moment of complete trust, not a violation of trust and a betrayal by our own bodies!

    If, then, a woman hears negative or purely carnal things about her at that time, such force their way past that very last wall that is struggling to rise and defend, and damages the soul. The same holds true for men. It is vital, then, that anything said at these times be positive, and not be discussed at any other time. It is wholly inappropriate and quite psychologically challenging to have a partner reveal later how the spouse responded, or what he/she said or did at those moments, even if the partner only discusses it with the spouse. Such comments force their way back past all the walls; it is a betrayal of trust. Trust, therefore, is absolutely the most important concept in a marriage.

    May you have an open, honest and insightful discussion with your eternal companions, that trust may be strengthened, love increased, and sexual intimacy become glorious.

  • Reader Comment July 29, 2007, 5:19 pm

    Janet Bernice from Middleton, Idaho, writes:

    I hesitated to give my response in the arena of “physical intimacy” as I have been divorced for 23 years. But! I guess I can tell you what I’ve learned about what doesn’t work and what I would do different.

    Yes, President Kimball is exactly right sexual problems can be the number one reason for divorce. But I’ve also heard when things are right in the bedroom, sex is a “little thing” in a married life; but when things aren’t right in the bedroom, it is like trying to vacuum around an elephant.

    In my 10 years of married life the problem was huge and I can sum up the problem in one word selfishness from both of us.

    And in so saying, over the years alone (still hoping to marry) I have researched and read everything I thought had merit about sexuality and married life. I particularly like John Gray’s approach; although not LDS, he certainly is spiritual in his perspective. He makes it very clear that one of man’s most powerful way of showing love to his wife is through the physical act; they are just made that way; biologically speaking, everything is on the outside with men. This is also manifested in the way many men deal (or don’t) with their anger or aggression or anything that could possibly have a physical nature – think ward basketball! Women, on the other hand, are all internal, both biologically and psychologically. Now why would a loving Father make these differences so pronounced? Other than the actual act of procreation, it was also made this way so it would be difficult; it is difficult on purpose because we are meant to learn to think of the other first; we are meant to have an attitude shift; we are meant to learn to be more Christ-like in all things and consider our partner first. We are meant to get outside of ourselves, get out of our own way, so to speak. So if you want to understand who your spouse is, you have to try to understand the way they think, the way they communicate, the way they feel about sex as well as their testimony of the gospel. It is not a small issue for a man, regardless of premenopausal or waning libido. Making an attempt to show your partner physical love is very important to a man.

    I agree that when we get to the other side we will probably discover that sexuality is something eternal in nature and, of course, spiritual. Afterall, aren’t all things created spiritual first? I know when sex is right, it is wonderful. When it was wonderful, I wanted to please my spouse and he me; period. When it was awful, it was complicated by things that went on during the day which resulted in a lack of respect from me for him, anger, tiredness with kids, and the selfish way he treated me. Then I really didn’t want to make love, not even the 40s variety. Why would you want to make love, which requires a desire and physical energy, to someone you don’t respect or feel kindly towards? (FYI, my ex was not a faithful person – to me or to the gospel).

    And yes, there are times a man wants to “do it” and the woman doesn’t. There are lots of ways to deal with this, get creative; find an answer. Don’t just turn your back and say, “not tonight dear, I have a headache.” It’s not honest, usually (I know, I’ve done it) and it’s not the way Father would want us to treat one another. It all comes down to that tendency towards selfishness and communication/or the lack thereof; and whether or not you really do want to be a partner with your spouse or just a roommate that gives sexual favors when she has to. Been there, done that ?and I also know people who have wonderful intimacy, regardless of age; and it seems to me it is that way because they have learned to care about the other person first.

  • Reader Comment July 29, 2007, 5:20 pm

    Jaron Skenadore from Seattle, Washington, writes:

    What a loaded question this one is. The comments by Alison (congrats on the pregnancy!) and Kathy were most interesting.

    It’s hard to comment on why women feel differently about marital intimacy. We are so diverse in so many ways and this is just another diversity.

    My husband passed away two years ago. I miss him so much. I miss the intimacy of hand holding, shared glances, laughing together, waiting to tell him about something I saw or heard, about the children and grandchildren. I miss his body next to mine, his arm around my shoulder, his hugs and squeezes. Because of his illness, that was about all it was for five years before he died, so we learned to cope and to share what we could.

    In my experience, the flames of passion do indeed burn higher when you’re young. The skills and knowing what pleases another come with time. There are times when you do make love out of love, not necessarily out of desire. It’s part of love.

    In today’s society, so much emphasis is placed on sex, usually pretty raw, that it makes us feel we “have” to be more sexual than we always feel. And, no matter how young or how old we are. Men, too, feel this pressure. Look at all the older men who have “trophy” wives, trying to convince us that they are still vigorous and masculine. Well, maybe they are and maybe they aren’t, but they want us all to think they are!

    If you and your husband find a mutual balance, I wouldn’t worry about it. If one of you is more eager or less willing, talk about it. Maybe it’s something in your life or health that needs a little fixin’. For example, diabetes can cause low libido or inability to perform or enjoy the marital act. Hormonal changes make a big difference. Worry, stress, lack of appreciation, patience, bad timing, etc., need to be discussed.

    If this is a subject that bothers you, makes for stress in your marriage, perhaps talking to your family doctor would be a good bet. Certainly, talking to your spouse is a priority.

    Each marriage is unique. What is important is finding what works for the two of you. With love and patience, you can find the balance that makes you both happy. Don’t stress out!

  • mlinford July 29, 2007, 11:14 pm

    Laura Brotherson’s book doesn’t get to menopause if I remember correctly (but then again, I haven’t finished it, so that that FWIW), but I wanted to respond to this:

    God did not intend for marital intimacy to be something we want to avoid, but rather something that brings us closer as a couple, that makes us one, ? not just physically, but emotionally as well. If intimacy is not bringing us closer, we should ask ourselves why.

    I think also it was intended to bring us together in a different way — in our ability to work through the differences that often exist, and also to work through the ebbs and flows of life together. I don’t believe there is a “one-size-fits-all” formula that can fix intimacy problems. I bristle at examples like Dr. Laura’s “once a day” concept because I don’t think approaches like that are complete — they seem to miss that marriage involves give and take, negotiation, and finding solutions that work for both spouses (although I admit that her solution has worked for some marriages on the rocks).

    I also think this whole process thing gets at part of the reason we don’t hear a lot of direction or specifics from our leaders: Because we are ultimately supposed to turn to each other and together, to God, for help, guidance, direction, solutions, insights. It’s in the struggle that we have the potential to be one in a deeply meaningful way.

    That can also include studying various resources that are now available to LDS people (and good discussions like this one), but I still think that most commercial resources at least lack this spiritual element. It’s one reason why I liked Laura Brotherson’s book (although I think she spends a little too much time on trying to overcome the “good girl” syndrome, although I’m sure that is still an issue for many women esp. when the first get married.) I found her recognition of the fact that we can boldly go to God in faith that He can help us navigate these issues. And always, rather than making it a his vs. hers thing, I think He wants us to make this element of our lives an ongoing process of partnership, counseling together in mutual trust, sensitivity and love.

    And, as in other elements of growing older, I think the challenges of menopause and whatever else aging might bring to this element might test us as spouses in unique and sometimes challenging ways. But that’s why we’re here, right? We pass one test, only to come face-to-face with another. :)

  • Alison Moore Smith July 29, 2007, 11:27 pm

    I think also it was intended to bring us together in a different way — in our ability to work through the differences that often exist

    Very well said. Yes, I agree. I have often wondered if some of the attraction of homosexuality to some is that, perhaps, there are less of these differences to deal with. You know, if the men are all from Mars, then their languages might not be so foreign to each other…

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