Nov 082018 5 Responses

The Only Thing That’s Off Limits in Bed

When I speak at marriage conferences, I typically spend the last hour doing Q&A. Before the last break, I give every participant an index card and require them to write something down. Even if they just write “I’m writing something down,” I ask them to participate. Most people take the opportunity to ask a question which maybe they’ve never had the opportunity or freedom to ask someone before. No matter what city or region of the country, I generally receive the same questions:

But the question I receive the most is “Is there anything off-limits in the bedroom?” In part, this question comes because it’s being asked in an anonymous way. Few people worry about publicly asking “Is it okay for couples to have separate checking accounts?” but they are less free to vocalize a question about sex. An anonymous question written on a note card provides the opportunity they may not feel free to ask in any other setting.

Yet this question also comes up in every single conference simply because it is a question many couples are asking. What is off limits?

The audiences I speak to are often skewed heavily toward the Christian faith tradition. I’m a pastor and many of the events I hold are at churches, Christian retreat centers, or simply events marketed toward Christians. This demographic comes from a background where sex is spoken about less openly both at home and in other settings. In many instances, women in these crowds are asking about oral sex. Either they fear that it is wrong or they are uncomfortable with it and their husband is asking for it.

One of my favorite questions I’ve ever read off a notecard while on stage before a few hundred people was: “Is it ok if I give my husband a blowie?” I had never heard the term, but was happy to encourage the wife that in fact, a blowie was morally acceptable. While some caution might be needed for couples where abuse is part of their past, for most couples, oral sex is a natural part of their sexual diet. (See: The Greatest Aspect of Sex)

But the question–what is off limits in bed–is about more than just oral sex. Couples understand that just because one spouse doesn’t understand or is uncomfortable with the desires of the other spouse doesn’t guarantee something is wrong. Likewise, just because one spouse desires something doesn’t ensure that desire is good, healthy, and useful to the couple.

When it comes to sex, one thing is simply off limits:

Any act which is disrespectful to another individual is out of bounds.

At the center of healthy sexual expression is respect between two people. As long as two people are showing respect to one another while giving and receiving sexual pleasure, most actions are acceptable. However, when one spouse desires something which devalues the personhood of the other, that act is off limits.

What’s Not Disrespectful

There are some things in marital intimacy that some might find disrespectful but aren’t.

New places/positions. One of the great threats to meaningful sex is getting into a rut. Whenever sex happens the same time, the same place, the same way week after week, it can get boring. While it’s acceptable to have a routine to sex, some variety can be enjoyable and productive. When someone asks for a different position, time, or place to try sex it can create caution from one spouse. It’s okay to be skeptical, but just because you’re unsure doesn’t mean the request is disrespectful. (See: When You Are Too Tired for Sex)

A session that’s just about one person. Sex should be about mutual satisfaction and pleasure. That’s the overarching goal of sex. But an individual session can simply be for the pleasure of one. It is a good idea to occasionally make one person the focus of a time of intimacy. This isn’t selfish. It’s not disrespectful. It is a good way to deepen marital intimacy. If sex is always or primarily about one person, that’s disrespectful. But if you occasionally alternate the focus of sex, that’s good.

Communicating how to improve. Communication is a vital aspect of healthy intimacy. It’s important for couples to communicate what they like, don’t like, and what their spouse can do to make things better. These conversations can be difficult. If not done right, they can be disrespectful. However, if done properly they don’t lack respect but actually signify love and respect for each other. Asking your spouse to start or stop doing something in bed isn’t disrespectful. (See: Shocking Results from a Marriage Seminar)

Disrespectful Actions

While some actions can feel disrespectful when they aren’t, other actions clearly do cross a line and fail to value the other person. Here are five:

1. Including another person in the act. Sex is meant to be an intimate moment between two individuals. Anytime a third party is brought into the act, it is disrespectful to those involved. I don’t have to share my wife. My wife doesn’t have to share me. Holy sex has a wholeness about it. All of me and all of you engaged with one another is the idea of sex. A third party is off limits because it is disrespectful.

2. Engaging in the act outside of marriage. Pre-marital sex is theft. You are taking what does not belong to you. Sex comes with a price tag. The cost is a willingness to give your life for the person you are sleeping with. When we engage in intimacy with someone to whom we are not committed, we are using them rather than loving them. If someone is not willing to die for you, they have not earned the right to sleep with you. (See: My Best Advice For Single Women)

3. Failing to consider (or be compassionate about) someone’s history. We often fail to remember the prevalence of sexual abuse in society. When someone has a history of being abused, it can greatly impact their sex lives. Husbands and wives must be aware of a spouse’s past abuse and must be compassionate toward how it still impacts their lives. Of course, to be aware, the spouse has to be informed. If past abuse is negatively impacting a couples intimate experience, they should seek counseling in order to learn how to properly navigate it. Yet if a husband or wife lives in denial about their spouse’s pain, that is a sign of disrespect.

4. Using force or manipulation to get your way. Desires differ. One spouse might want one thing while another spouse wants something else. An aspect of intimacy with any couple is a discussion and negotiation of what they are willing or not willing to try. While differences should occur, when one spouse forces their way or manipulates the other to get what they want, they are disrespecting the other. This means the same action between two different couples can be viewed in different ways. With one couple it could be completely acceptable while for the other couple it should be off limits. If your spouse doesn’t want to try something, you can attempt to convince them, but you can not manipulate or force them.

5. Making a private act public or bringing the public into a private act. Sexual intimacy is designed to be between a husband and wife. While it’s acceptable to discuss with a counselor for help or friends to get suggestions, the bulk of the activity is meant to be private. It’s not the source for jokes, stories told in public, or other means by which the privacy is threatened. In part, sexual intimacy flourishes when each individual trusts the act is simply between husband and wife.

Respect Matters

Few people understand the connection between respect and good sex. Yet the two are greatly related. When respect is present in a relationship, husband and wives will value one another. They will learn how to give and receive pleasure. They will be able to communicate in a way that overcomes problems and teaches each other how to be better lovers. A struggling sex life doesn’t guarantee that respect is absent, but in many cases, disrespect is the hidden barrier between husband and wives.

There is only one thing that’s off limits in bed–disrespect.

5 Responses to The Only Thing That’s Off Limits in Bed
  1. Linda Hardy Reply

    This article was awesome! For years I wondered the same thing about oral sex being okay. I was also sexually abused at 5 and my spouse never understood how it affected me and our sex life.
    Thank you so much for your insight and for your inspirational emails and writings.

  2. Kara Reply

    Glad you included #2.

  3. Happily Married Woman Reply

    I am a married woman and I agree with everything but one point – and that’s in #5 in what’s not respectful. While we do not share our story carelessly, we talk about it with other couples and people we are close to – and, yes, in some detail. There is nothing inherently disrespectful in discussing your experience with others. It’s been a benefit to other couples we know and it’s been helpful for us. We should embrace storytelling of this nature, in my view.

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