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Enhancing the Sexual Relationship in a Christian Marriage

No matter how long a couple has had their sexual relationship established, problems are likely to arise between them from time to time. Most of these problems will be fairly simple matters which get resolved without too much trouble. But occasionally, a couple may experience much more difficult problems that seriously threaten their relationship.

A few generations ago, a couple with any kind of sexual problem had few resources to help them do anything about it. There weren't any books available that discussed sex in helpful terms; doctors and ministers had little advice to offer; social taboos made it difficult for a husband and wife even to admit to each other that they were having difficulties.

Today, of course, it takes a special effort to sort out advice consistent with Christian principles from the proliferation of material available. But at least help is there. A couple having problems with sex can usually find a solution if they make the effort.

There are some basic principles that a Christian husband and wife can follow as they seek a solution for problems in their sexual relationship. First of all, they should get the problem into the light. They should talk about it, tell each other what they are feeling and experiencing. No problem can be resolved when it is hidden.

Sometimes when the problem is in the light where it can be discussed, the couple will find that it is not really a sexual problem. All kinds of personal problems can create tensions or frustrations that surface in sexual relations. Perhaps a couple is not communicating well, or the husband is neglecting the children, or they have financial trouble. One woman discovered that she wasn't able to have a satisfying sexual relationship with her husband until she had dealt with resentments she felt toward her father for past wrongs.

Of course, the problem might prove to be purely sexual. A couple can have an excellent marriage overall, but still have difficulties in sex. But no matter where the root of the problem lies - whether in the marriage as a whole or specifically in the sexual relationship - the only way to get at it is to bring the matter into the open where it can be discussed.

Once the problem is in the light, a couple should ask the Lord for wisdom in searching for a solution. A Christian husband and wife don't have to face any problem alone. Sometimes we hesitate to ask the Lord's help in sexual matters. We ask him to help us raise our children or communicate with each other or balance the budget, but we can't quite believe that he really cares about our sexual lives. Well, God does care. Sex is a gift from him, and he wants to teach us how to conduct this part of our lives, too.

Finally, as a couple tries to work through a problem, they should keep a long-range perspective. Sexual difficulties may need some time to cle.ar up completely; one of the worst things that can happen in the meantime is to be under pressure to see a change.

When a couple needs to deal with some problem in their sexual relationship, they should decide on the steps they will take, but then not try to analyze their progress for several months. It is not going to help them to keep looking over their shoulders to see if things are improving. They should take the steps they decide upon, put the problem out of their minds, and them, after some time has passed, talk the matter over again and see where things stand.

If a problem persists, or if a couple need help getting their bearings on how to deal with it, they should talk with a responsible, mature Christian who has had some experience in dealing with marriage problems. The counselor should be someone who can be trusted to offer both a truly Christian outlook and sound marital advice.

With this basic approach to dealing with sexual problems in mind, it’s better to discuss a few of the specific problems that can develop in a couple's relationship and offer some guidelines for dealing with them.

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Adjustment

Because a husband and wife do respond to sex differently, they need to make certain adjustments to each other to have a successful sexual relationship. A newly married couple particularly needs time to become familiar with one another's responses and get used to relating sexually. This initial adjustment varies with each couple: with some it seems almost automatic, while others need quite a long time.

Problems can arise during a period of adjustment if the two partners don't tell each other their true feelings about the relationship. Sometimes the husband or the wife would like to change something in the way they make love, but is afraid to say so. The other partner can go on for years without knowing that her husband thinks she is too demanding or that his wife wishes he would take more time for foreplay.

Other periods of adjustment may be necessary as - the circumstances surrounding a couple's sexual relationship change. For example, pregnancy and childbirth can affect a woman's sexual responses. The fatigue and discomfort that some women experience in the first and last months of pregnancy may cause a lessening of sexual desire, while the middle months may be a time of increased desire. Some women find that they have a greater interest in sex during the first months after recovery from childbirth, while others find the demands of caring for a newborn leave little time or energy for sex. Obviously, pregnancy and childbirth do not affect every woman in the same way, but a couple should not be disturbed if they experience fluctuations in desire during that time.

Again, menopause has a big impact on a woman's sexual response. Many women find an increase in sexual desire at this time, while their husbands may experience a slight lessening of sexual capacity at about the same age. If these shifts occur, there is no cause for alarm, but the couple will need to make new adjustments in their relationship.

The most important thing to remember during any period of adjustment is to stay in communication. A wife has to tell her husband if she needs more time to get aroused; he has to tell her if he has trouble making love late at night. For either to pretend that everything is wonderful when it isn't does a disservice to them both.

Premature Ejaculation

Just as men become sexually aroused very quickly, they often reach a climax quickly once intercourse begins. This can become a problem when a husband regularly has his orgasm so early in intercourse that he cannot maintain an erection long enough for intercourse to be a satisfying experience for his wife. This “premature ejaculation” both deprives the wife of the pleasure she would normally receive and causes the husband anxiety about his sexual adequacy. Ironically, anxiety can actually cause premature ejaculation, and so the whole problem is aggravated.

Some men have found lying on their sides during intercourse helpful. And age and experience have helped others. Often the solution is just a matter of growing out of old habits of solitary sexual experience into the mutuality of married sex.

Premature ejaculation need not remain a serious problem in a couple's sexual relationship. Premature ejaculation can almost always be conquered with the help of time and patience.

The Orgasm Controversy

There is this problem that used to be called “frigidity” and is now usually termed “orgasmic impairment.” Both of these terms refer to women who are unable to reach a satisfying climax in sexual intercourse.

There seems to be a different conclusion about the real source and nature of female orgasm. One claims that stimulation of the clitoris during intercourse causes orgasm, another insists that clitoral organs are infantile and true orgasm centers on the vagina, yet another announces that intercourse itself cannot give women an orgasm in the first place.

The whole question has also been taken up by the women's liberation movement, which sees it in terms of male oppression, so now we have politics on top of confusion. The end result of all this controversy is an enormous preoccupation with the intensity and quality of a woman's sexual experience. Many women feel under pressure to live up to the experiences that someone else presents as a norm for sexual fulfillment.

In such a highly charged atmosphere, what is a Christian couple to do when the wife cannot experience a satisfactory level of enjoyment in their sexual relationship? A suggestion is that they resist the pressure to make a particular type of orgasm their goal - or a certain number of orgasms, or even having an orgasm at all. The fact is that the physical experience called orgasm varies a lot according to individual women and particular circumstances.

Given the fact that the experience of orgasm varies so much, a couple would be wise to stop trying to achieve a particular physical sensation, and concentrate instead on growing in the enjoyment and satisfaction they find in their sexual relationship. Do they both take joy and delight in their sexual relationship? Do they experience intercourse as a sharing of love and affection? Do they find it physically pleasurable and satisfying? It may well be that upon considering these questions, both husband and wife will see room for growth in their ability to enjoy sex. Most of us have not reached our full potential in dozens of areas, from enjoying intercourse to playing tennis.

If the wife is not finding the couple's sexual relationship enjoyable and satisfying, the couple can take some reasonable steps that may help her. First, they should be sure to express love in all of their life together. Tenderness and affection play an important part in a woman’s sexual response. The husband should be concerned to show his affection for his wife at all times, both within sexual intercourse and in ordinary events of their life.

To create an atmosphere of love and affection, a couple may also need to solve other problems in the marriage. One wife has severe orgasmic impairment because she has developed hostile feelings toward her husband. It was basically a problem in their personal relationship, not in their sex life. When a couple maintains an attitude of committed love and service, expressing that attitude through tenderness and consideration, both partners usually find sex enjoyable and satisfying.

Growth in sexual satisfaction may also depend on resolving bad attitudes about sex. Fear of men, feelings of guilt or shame, and bad memories of past sexual experiences can all keep a woman from fully enjoying intercourse with her husband. Good communication about sex can bring these problems to the surface where the couple can begin to deal with them.

The circumstances surrounding a couple's lovemaking give another key to growth. Some couples need to allow more time in their love-making for foreplay and gentle expressions of tenderness. Or a woman may find that she enjoys intercourse more if it follows a time spent talking with her husband in a relaxed, intimate setting. Sometimes a couple needs to allow more time for rest so that neither partner is too tired to enjoy making love. When circumstances permit it, a couple may prefer to have intercourse in the morning or afternoon, when they feel more rested and alert.

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Worries about privacy or fear of getting pregnant can also affect a couple's sexual relations. If they are afraid that neighbors in the next apartment will hear their creaking bedsprings, they can try making a bed on the floor. If the children might come barging in, they should keep the bedroom door locked. If they don't wish to become pregnant at a particular time, they should take some responsible steps to avoid conception, in accordance with sound morality.

Finally, a woman's inability to enjoy intercourse might be corrected by a better knowledge of sexual physiology. For example, some women have been unable to reach a satisfying climax because neither they nor their husbands understood the role of the clitoris in giving a woman sexual pleasure. Women should tell their husbands freely and honestly what they find stimulating. A couple might also look for a reliable book that explains sexual response and the techniques of intercourse.

Along these lines, in some women the muscles surrounding the vagina have been stretched in childbirth or are naturally weak. The muscular weakness may reduce the pleasure these women receive from intercourse. A very simple Kegel exercise will strengthen these muscles.

In dealing with any difficulty in a couple's sexual relationship, it is good to remember that sex is only one part of married life. It is important, but it is not the focus of the entire relationship. A couple can have a wonderful sex life, yet still be miserable. Conversely, they can have a happy marriage without ever experiencing the highest possible level of sexual satisfaction.

Most problems in a sexual relationship will yield to patient efforts at growth and improvement. Yet a couple may run up against some problems that do not seem to change. Or they may have to devote most of their attention at a particular time to other matters in their life and bear with some inadequacy in their sexual relationship. But the fact that they cannot immediately experience their maximum potential of sexual pleasure, or even that they may never reach It, does not mean that their marriage has failed. All of us, because of our natural human limitations, will fail to reach our full potential in many endeavors.

In the end, married happiness depends not on number or intensity of sexual experiences, but on a couple's commitment to love and support each other in every part of their life together. Sex, after all, is one of the forms of the present life that is passing away. What will endure of our marriages to be carried into the new age is what has been built on faithful, Christ-empowered love, in all the ways that love is lived.

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