It staggers me sometimes just how much rubbish gets bandied about in popular culture as sex advice. Recently, it was the Guardian with an article titled “How to have sex with the same person for the rest of your life” but it presented good points poorly and made a lot of bad ones.
The way I see it, if you’re looking to have great sex with the same person for the rest of your life, there are three strands to work on:
- Being a decent human being
- Understanding the body
- Using your imagination
Much sex advice focuses only on one or two of these, or (worse) focuses too much on detailed points or ideas without first asking other questions to give context. But the “key” to a lasting and satisfying sex life is never “just this” or “just that”. It’s the combination of many positive factors working well together and the absence of negative factors that would hinder it. So let’s have a look at these three strands and some of the sex advice given in relation to them.
Love your neighbour as yourself
– Leviticus 19:18 (NIVUK)
Be a decent human being – towards your partner and towards yourself. Or, to frame this in more theological language: practice the faithful love of God.
A faithful person views other people as neither objects nor idols. A faithful person respects other people’s consent, autonomy, and self-actualisation – and doesn’t underestimate the importance of these. A faithful person is honest, generous, humble and sacrificial, someone who exercises compassion, patience and self-control.
And here’s something else: there is nothing wrong with applying all of those attitudes and actions towards oneself. They might look a little different in practice, but we need to value ourselves as well as others.
Unsurprisingly then, much sex advice is really relationship advice. It’s important because good advice enables people to weed out entitlement, low self-esteem and unrealistic expectations (of each other and the relationship), clearing the ground for something wonderful to flourish.
But great sex doesn’t grow by itself.
I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
– Psalm 139:14 (NIVUK)
Our bodies are an important part of our identity and will be part of our destiny when we share in the resurrection of Christ. So let’s not be afraid or ashamed of understanding how they work!
In her book Come As You Are, Emily Nagoski talks about how people’s sexualities respond differently to different stimuli. You see, there is no such thing as a sex drive – no one suffers tissue damage for lack of sex. Rather, we all have sex accelerators and sex brakes; these vary in sensitivity and what pushes one person’s accelerator can hit another’s brake. For pleasurable sex, you need to purposefully understand what works for you and this is particularly important for people with insensitive accelerators and/or sensitive brakes.
It’s also important to know that some people experience only spontaneous desire, others only responsive desire, and others both. And that’s normal.
I can’t do justice to the breadth of different needs people may have, whether through how they are as people or the varying physicality of their life-stages. As with any aspect of our bodily functions, it’s not good for our sexuality to feel out of proportion with the rest of our selves (whether as too active or too inactive). But that’s not something to hide in a big box of shame, guilt and fear; it’s something to examine, understand and deal with. In my experience, there is no help like professional help, though you could do worse than to read Nagoski’s book – not least for her analysis of why people can feel like sex is a drive.
“Like a lily among thorns is my darling among the young women.”
“Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest is my beloved among the young men.”
– Song of Songs 2:2-3 (NIVUK)
Advice on capturing erotic excitement is often like advice that says a play will evoke greater anticipation if it has a bigger set or fancier costumes. Sure, those things can open up possibilities you wouldn’t otherwise have, but they don’t make theatre. Interaction and imagination do that.
If you think of sex as being like theatre, it’s easy to deconstruct a number of sex myths. The excitement of sex is not incompatible with the constancy of faithfulness, rather it is to be found in play. That’s why you need to approach sex with imagination and a sense of fun – though fun doesn’t mean irresponsible (and it doesn’t have to mean spontaneous).
What about fantasy? The way I see it, the purpose of imagination is to intersect with reality in transformative ways. A person who is so concerned with their fantasies that they can’t partake in the messy theatre of sex, has lost the art of play. On the flip side, a person who fails to stimulate their imagination during sex, will grow out of it.
You see, the stories we never grow out of are the ones that keep stimulating our imagination when we explore their layers and view them through the varying lenses of our life-stages. In a similar way, I believe people will never grow tired of sex with each other when they can create and re-create within a theatre of love.
Instead, they will always be growing through it.
I contributed this post to Threads, a multi-author blog run by the UK Evangelical Alliance, where it was first published on 26th April 2016.