The Gift of Sex – A Review

The last three weeks (1, 2, 3) I covered book reviews of The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman, Love And Respect by Emerson Eggerichs and His Needs, Her Needs by Willard Harley.  Today’s book review, The Gift of Sex by Clifford and Joyce Penner, more than any of the others, is for married people, although singles can benefit by understanding some of their married friends’ issues.  Remember, the best expert on ANY relationship is Jesus, who was an adult single and never experienced sex, even though He “invented” it.

Gift of Sex“Men and women are different.  Women desire sex and open up sexually when they feel loved by and connected with their husbands; men connect and feel loved through sex.”  This preliminary explanation in the preface sets the tone and direction for the rest of the text.  Men traditionally start this connection by asking a woman for a date and getting to know her.  The Penners compare this process to Christ loving the Church and initiating the model by which a man is supposed to love his wife illustrated in Ephesians 5:22-33.

“The husband loves, adores, and connects with his wife;
His adoration allows her to open up sexually;
His affirmation ignites her passion;
She invites him sexually;
He feels validated, so they both end up happy;
It’s a win, win!”

Two major contentions of the Penners are 1) that a man is never truly satisfied unless his wife is; 2) that a woman must believe she is worthy of pleasure and that she has a right to be sexual; her body is designed not just for reproduction, but also for sexual satisfaction and pleasure.  They note that there are many individual permutations of the assumptions they lay out in the book, but there are general principles that can be applied to enhance sexual function in marriage to make the partnership most satisfying to both.

2021-11-27 Milky Way LoveThe first major section of the book is subtitled “A Biblical Perspective.”  They point out that sex was not a result of the fall or a human idea.  Maleness and femaleness was God’s design to enable humans to understand the relationship between Him and His creation.  “It is part of the original perfect creation of mankind.”  There is nothing dirty or sinful about sex as long as it is practiced in the guidelines the Designer set up: an exclusive monogamous husband and wife in a covenant commitment for as long as they both live.  Throughout Scripture the husband-wife sexual relationship is used to symbolize the Divine-human one.

The Bible teaches sex is for unity, procreation and pleasure and assumes a healthy passion.  “Our sexuality is not something to be diminished as we become more ‘spiritual.’  It is part of us as spiritual, godly persons and is good.”  Its guiding foundation is that men and women are equal – not identical in either roles or behavior, but in terms of value, ability and position before God.  We are expected to give ourselves to each other in marriage under the mutual command of 1 Corinthians 7:2-5, “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband… Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time.”

Paul recognized, that while he would prefer people to be unmarried as he was (he was most likely a widower), human passions are very strong and for many, marriage is the best way to avoid falling into sins of adultery or fornication.  “Let them marry (i.e., and enjoy sexual release) – it is no sin.”  (7:36)

From this basis, Penners go on to describe as clinicians in “The Physical Dimension,” the body parts involved, with more details about the sex organs than many need to read.  However, this also provides helpful material, especially if one is in any measure uninformed about sexual responsiveness of the opposite sex from a biological perspective.

Following this, Penners characterize “The Total Experience” with such chapter titles as “Getting Interested,” “Having Fun,”… “Meshing Your Worlds,” … “By Invitation Only,” “Letting Go,”… and “Cleaning Up.”  With skills developed by teaching hundreds of Christian Perspectives in Sexual Enjoyment seminars, they adeptly address pragmatic details many texts on marriage relations omit, usually on the assumption that Christ-followers will discuss intimate details – an assumption that is often inaccurate.  Frequent references back to the basics of 1 Corinthians 7 and Ephesians 5 ground their advice solidly in Scripture.

2021-11-27 When Sex Is Not WorkingAlthough “The Total Experience” mentions a few obstacles that may come up, “When Sex Isn’t Working” goes into great detail to help couples find and explore the roots, evidences, and solutions to problems in a sexual relationship.  The longest section in the book suggests that there are lots of dysfunctions that may occur within marriages.  From “You Want To Do What?” to “Pornography and the Internet,” the Penners take us on a survey of some of the most common obstacles to sexual fulfillment in marriage.

Parts of this section hark back to The 5 Love Languages, Love and Respect, and His Needs, Her Needs“The starting point for resolving any difficulty is always effective communication.”  While the Bible strictly confines sexual activity to the marriage relationship, no guidelines are given about what is acceptable in lovemaking activity.  Again, using Biblical ethics (e.g., Paul’s concern not to offend a brother by eating meat sacrificed to an idol; see Romans 14:13-16) they proficiently address differences in views husbands and wives may hold toward lovemaking actions and move a couple toward a satisfying acceptance of each other.  The entire section is filled with very practical and explicit advice for how to meet and overcome apparent dilemmas in sexual satisfaction.

2021-11-27 Happy CoupleThe final brief section, “Enhancing the Sexual Experience,” explores how to invite God into the bedroom.  Remembering that sex was His idea, the Penners go on to address how to talk lovingly with each other about sexual issues, if outside help in the form of counseling is needed, and they close with some questions asked in various seminars.

Good reading for any couple considering marriage, for enhancing an already good one, and great helps for any in conflict over sexual issues.  And it is helpful for the unmarried to sympathize with married friends.  The underlying assumption, only addressed specifically in Love and Respect, is that the involved parties are people of good will toward each other.  If this in not the case in your life, there are other issues that need resolution first, with books and resources available to help.

“Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled.”  Hebrews 13:4

His Needs, Her Needs – A Review

Two weeks ago and last week I mentioned the four books (The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman, Love & Respect by Emerson Eggerichs, His Needs, Her Needs by Willard Harley and The Gift of Sex by Clifford and Joyce Penner) that most influence my thinking on love and marriage, but each has lessons that are applicable to other relationships in life.  In fact, last week my elder sister, who never married, and I were discussing these blogs and her comment was that she grew a lot in her understanding by reading a couple of books on love and marriage.  They helped her in her association with our Father in Heaven, in communication with others and in talking with married friends about their relationships.

2021-11-20 His Needs Her NeedsToday’s review of His Needs, Her Needs is perhaps the most focused on marriage so far, in that his subtitle is “Building an Affair-Proof Marriage.”  In fact, pages 21-34 and the entire chapter 13 (How to Survive an Affair) concerns the assumption that an affair has already occurred.  We will focus our attention on issues he addresses to avoid this scenario, which in turn, can have applications to other relationships.

Dr. Harley has found in interviews with thousands of couples over twenty-five years that most “marital experts” fail terribly at helping couples save or enjoy their marriages.  The common thread he discovered (and what Chapman and Eggerichs allude to) is that people get married because they find each other irresistible; the common problem is that somewhere in their life together, they “fall out of love,” i.e. they need to restore the feeling of love that drew them to each other in the first place.  However well they may communicate and problem-solve, “unless this helps trigger the feeling of romantic love, spouses feel cheated in their marriage… If you’re in love, you are caring for each other the right way.  If you’re not in love, you should learn the right way to show you care… to create and sustain romantic love.”

2021-11-20 Ten Emotional NeedsIn answer to the question, “What could your spouse do for you that would make you happier?,” Harley classifies almost all the responses into “ten emotional needs”: (alphabetized) 1.Admiration, 2.Affection, 3.Conversation, 4.Domestic Support, 5.Family Commitment, 6.Financial Support, 7.Honesty/Openness, 8.Physical Attractiveness, 9.Recreational Companionship and 10.Sexual Fulfillment.

He provides a very helpful Emotional Needs Questionnaire in Appendix B to help the reader determine and evaluate their spouse’s effectiveness in meeting those needs.  (The questionnaire is attached here, and permission is granted by the publisher to photocopy or print for use in your marriage.)  At the conclusion of the questions, he challenges each to rank the five most important of the ten.  This should not be just in terms of most desperate need.  For example, a woman whose husband does not take care of himself, maybe smells bad and is generally a slob, may think that Physical Attractiveness that drew her to him in their dating life is her most important need, where it may be simply the most felt need.  But as he begins to work on meeting her needs, this may slide into the background as she recognizes this simply interfered with their conversation or letting him show affection. 

“Often the failure of [spouses] to meet each other’s emotional needs is simply due to ignorance or each other’s needs and not to selfish unwillingness to be considerate.”  From his surveys and research, he has found that while no “one-size-fits-all,” there is some commonality to how most men and women answer the questionnaire and rank their most important emotional needs.

The First Thing She Can’t Do Without is most often Affection, the “cement of a relationship.”  And he guides us guys on how any man can learn to be affectionate without sex; yet he affirms that within a marriage, “when it come to sex and affection, you can’t have one without the other.”  He suggests asking one’s wife to write up a list of “Affectionate Habits to Create” and another of “Affectionate Habits to Avoid.”  Knowing what your spouse needs never meets that need; we must learn new habits that change that knowledge into action!  Just as James says, “Faith without works is dead,” so good information and intentions are worthless if we do not follow through.  A woman’s need for Affection is one of the most common and deepest emotional needs.

The First Thing He Can’t Do Without is most often Sexual Fulfillment.  “The typical wife does not understand her husband’s need for sex any more than the typical husband does not understand his wife’s deep need for affection.”  And so begins an excellent examination of the differences men and women experience when approaching this intimacy that takes a marriage into the picture of Christ and the Church.  He even notes counseling couples in their 70s who discover sexual incompatibility was simply a matter of not understanding each other’s needs. 

He applies the Golden Rule as Jesus taught, Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.”  Affection and sexual expression must be mutual, demonstrated in a husband’s care and sensitivity to his wife’s needs and if one meets the other’s needs as they would want their needs met, they will usually find a spouse willing to meet theirs.  If either spouse is unwilling to meet ‘your’ needs, the first place to look is at oneself: Am I meeting his/her needs?

The second most common needs found in women and men are Conversation and Recreational Companionship, respectively.  Both of these areas take specific and determined effort on the part of the companion lacking that need to learn how to converse and how to enjoy recreatonal times together.  But Harley does not leave us hanging with a guy wondering, what does she want to talk about and why 🤯; nor the gal thinking of the horror of every Monday night having to watch TV football! 😱

With perceptive questions at the end of each chapter, the readers are guided into discussing how to meet each other’s needs within a framework that will prove satisfying to both; Questions for Her; Questions for Him; To Consider Together.

Remember how we talked when we were dating; we could spend whole nights chatting and wonder where the time went?  Remember the fun we had together as a couple learning what pleased each other?  Each of the ten emotional needs is dealt with per chapter with practical proposals to work out in ways that will enliven each other’s spirits and take a couple “from incompatible to irresistable.”  “Couples start out irresistable and only become incompatible as they leave each other’s basic needs unmet.”  You’ll enjoy reading his description of The Irresistable Man and The Irresistable Woman. 😉

His helpful appendices include a detail on each of the ten emotional needs (Appendix A), the Emotional Needs Questionnaire (B), and a Recreational Enjoyment Inventory (attached here) to help couples explore how they can renew the pleasures of leisure activities they enjoyed while dating.  His hope for couples reading his books or visiting his website: “Learn to become an expert in making your marriage the best it can be.”

The 5 Love Languages – A Review

2021-11-06 Two In LoveFour books come to mind when anyone talks about love, marriage or personal relationships: The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman, Love and Respect by Emerson Eggerichs, His Needs, Her Needs by Willard Harley and The Gift of Sex by Clifford and Joyce Penner.  Each author approaches relationships from a Gospel perspective, i.e., men and women are created in the image of God, expected to build relationships with each other, and are different from birth . . . and ‘vive la différence!’

The best life, they claim, is to follow God’s pattern established in Adam and Eve and explained by Jesus and the Apostles.  It is not a restrictive, “Don’t do that” theology, but a liberating, expansive and freeing philosophy which looks for the best in every individual.  Remember, in the Garden of Eden, Adam’s and Eve’s sin was to eat from a forbidden tree.  BUT that was the ONLY tree forbidden!  Genesis 3:2-3 has Eve telling the Serpent that they could eat from ANY tree in the Garden except ONE.  That left a lot of trees open for consumption.

And for those who think the nakedness was somehow sinful and Adam and Eve were just too stupid to realize it, read again.  They were as God created them, and had nothing to hide until they ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, the forbidden tree.  When a child has done nothing wrong and a parent asks, “What are you doing?” he will simply answer, “I’m just . . .,” no big deal.  But if he has done something he knows the parent disapproves of, his response will be to cover up his tracks.  “Nothing!” . . . with eyes averted, hastily looking right and left, up and down for any excuse, hoping that his action will not be discovered.  That was the nakedness Adam and Eve were trying to hide.

That is the nakedness we now hide as well.  None of us is without sin, none has lived fully as God intended us to live, and the result is we need clothes to hide who we are.  All of us are afraid, at some level, of exposing ourselves fully, even to someone who loves us, just as Adam and Eve were afraid to expose themselves to their Father, who they knew loved them.  The nudist and the communist make the same mistake of trying to live free from guilt and selfishness before we are fully redeemed in the New Jerusalem (coming soon).

2021-11-06 - 5 Love LanguagesThe Five Love Languages presents the idea that each of us is wired to give and receive love in different ways, and that by recognizing the “language” in which you and your significant others express and accept love will help to identify the roots of conflicts, connect more deeply, and begin to grow closer together  The five languages Chapman describes in detail are Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, Words of Affirmation and Physical Touch.

Everyone’s personality determines how we understand love.  We see love expressed in that language which is most natural to each of us and we usually attempt to show it in the same way.  However, if the person we love “speaks” a different love language, the communication breaks down and the loved one “feels” unloved; their “emotional love tank” becomes emptier without refilling and misunderstanding and conflicts emerge.

Chapman’s website has a Quiz that one can take to help identify your particular love language.   For a starter enticement to purchase one of his books, he provides a seven-day devotional, one for “him” and one for “her” that, even without purchasing a text, can go a long way into improving any relationship, especially a marriage (but not restricted to that).  There are several free downloads for anyone just wanting to learn if one of his books is worth buying.

In Dr. Chapman’s Gateway to the The Five Love Languages he summarizes each of the languages as this:

Words of Affirmation — Actions don’t always speak louder than words.  If this is your love language, unsolicited compliments mean the world to you.  Hearing the words, “I love you,” are important — hearing the reasons behind that love sends your spirits skyward.  Insults can leave you shattered and are not easily forgotten.

Quality Time — In the vernacular of Quality Time, nothing says “I love you” like full, undivided attention.  Being there for this type of person is critical, but really being there — with the TV off, fork and knife down, and all chores and tasks on standby — makes your significant other feel truly special and loved.  Distractions, postponed dates, or the failure to listen can be especially hurtful.

Receiving Gifts — Don’t mistake this love language for materialism; the receiver of gifts thrives on the love, thoughtfulness, and effort behind the gift.  If you speak this language, the perfect gift or gesture shows that you are known, you are cared for, and you are prized above whatever was sacrificed to bring the gift to you.  A missed birthday, anniversary, or a hasty, thoughtless gift would be disastrous — so would the absence of everyday gestures.

Acts of Service — Can vacuuming the floors really be an expression of love?  Absolutely! Anything you do to ease the burden of responsibilities weighing on an Acts of Service person will speak volumes.  The words he or she most wants to hear are, “Let me do that for you.”  Laziness, broken commitments, and making more work for them, tell those with this language their feelings don’t matter.

Physical Touch — This language isn’t all about the bedroom.  A person whose primary language is Physical Touch is, not surprisingly, very touchy.  Hugs, pats on the back, holding hands, and thoughtful touches on the arm, shoulder, or face — they can all be ways to show excitement, concern, care, and love.  Physical presence and accessibility are crucial, while neglect or abuse can be unforgivable and destructive.”

One of the best features of Dr. Chapman’s practice is that The 5 Love Languages is not just for married people.  The 5 Love Languages of Children is available for parents; a Singles Edition for the unmarried; a special edition For Men (probably for those of us who have a hard time getting it! 😏); a special one for Teenagers and another for Military Personnel.

Whether you are in a special relationship or just wanting to develop personal awareness of those around you; children, colleagues, friends; take a look at The 5 Love Languages and see if there may be insights that will help you communicate more clearly to those for whom you care.

Rated R: The Mystery of Marriage

The word “mystery” in the Bible does not mean what most people seem to think.  The first definition of the word is anything that is kept secret or remains unexplained or unknown.”  However, other definitions are more fitting: “an event that remains unsettled until the very end,” or specifically, “any truth that is unknowable except by divine revelation.”  I.e., a mystery is not something about which we are still in dark; it is something that is being or has been revealed, though it was once hidden.

Now to the singles reading this, I will offer very little to aid you in your sexuality, other than to note that Jesus was a young adult single.  I can offer (in another blog sometime) advice on this matter, but only as an observer and student of Scripture, because I am “the marrying kind.”  Jesus, the apostle Paul and others, both men and women, were not, and they lived fulfilled and purposeful lives without spouses, and with complimentary relationships without sex.

As for the MPA Rating, the R is a slight overstatement.  Spoiler: there is no lewdity, nudity, or excessive foul language or violence, but the subject matter IS something which you probably don’t want children to read without parental input.  If you have come here for the R rating, please stick around for a few minutes and read about the mystery of a marriage.  Regarding Same-Sex marriage, I refer you to an earlier blog.

Consider for a moment what most modern American marriage relationships look like.  Now this a VERRRY broad generalization and not to be taken as a model for how a marriage must work, but just an observation of how most in our nation work.
He mows the lawn, maintains the vehicles, does minor repairs around the house, works outside the home, and sometimes shares some of the housekeeping or cooking.  He maintains the checkbook, figures their taxes and spends some time with the children.
She does most of the cooking and housekeeping, organizes vacations, makes reservations and is primarily responsible for raising the children even though she may also work outside the home.
And he shows love to his wife and she shows respect to him, and they satisfy each other sexually.

If they are more affluent they may hire a landscaper to maintain their lawn, and they will take their autos in regularly for maintenance.  If anything in the house needs attention they just call a repairman.  They may hire a CPA to do their taxes and may even have a personal financial manager to pay their bills, and tell them how much they can spend on amenities each week. 
Perhaps they will employ a cook and a housekeeper or order meals from a service that provides on time delivery.  The cook may do the grocery shopping and the housekeeper maintains their cleaning supplies.  They may sign up for a cruise or tour group and leave the travel arrangements entirely to the tour company.  A nanny could be hired to come in daily, or an au pair may live with them and share meals with the family.

All of these services can be hired without incurring any personal guilt or judgement from society.

However, if they indulge in sexual infidelity, there will be consequences.  These may involve separation, legal actions, social stigmatism, and maybe divorce.  There will be changes in family relationships beyond the couple, including children, in-laws, shirt-tail relatives and family friends.  There may be job losses or changes, housing rearrangements, financial hardships, and a complete reorienting of their lives.  All because of violating one feature of the marriage relationship.

This suggests that there is something unique about the sexual relationship in a marriage that makes it apart from all of the other intimacies and details of the “normal” marriage.  The Bible supports this idea in 1 Corinthians  6:18: Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.” 

The husband who does not tend to his wife’s sexual desires risks pushing her away, either into the arms of another or into volunteerism or vocational obsessions.  The wife who does not tend to her husband’s sexual desires may find him falling for promiscuity, prostitution or pornography to gratify them.  The unique thing which elevates their marriage above every other relationship a husband or wife may have is their sexuality, specifically their sexual fidelity.

Every marriage is as unique as the couple involved.  No two are exactly alike, but there are certain commonalities that can be recognized in any successful and pleasant marriage. 

The first is a common faith, a recognition that the marriage is not just for their happiness, but is a “mystery,” a reflection of Christ and the Church. (Ephesians 5:31-33)

Let’s reveal this “mystery!”  Jesus said the pattern for marriage was laid down by God at the creation: “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh.”  (Matthew 19:4-6)

Problems in marriages come because none of us is completely sinless as Jesus was (2 Corinthians 5:21, Hebrews 4:15).  So when you put two fallible people together and tell them to love and respect each other (Ephesians 5:33), there will inevitably be conflicts, as each of them needs the other to discover where their selfishness lies.  It is in the curing of that selfishness that married couples become a model of Christ and the Church.

2021-04-17 Marital FidelityThe second is a developing intimacy that will increase and expand as they live together.  Sexual expression will likely be a part of that intimacy even when age or illness deteriorates the actual sex act of consummation.  An acceptance of a spouse’s body in the same way one sees his or her own body will grow in this intimacy (Ephesians 5:29).  Just as one looks at his or her reflection in a mirror and tolerates developing wrinkles or extra body fat or minor defects, loving and respectful husbands and wives will become more comfortable with each others’ bodies, and can enjoy physical intimacy that reflects what the Scripture means when it says “the two shall become one flesh.”  (Genesis 2:24)

Note the inclusivity and exclusivity of this expectation:  Nothing is forbidden in the marriage sexual relationship as long as it is mutually agreed and not harmful.  However, it is ONLY for the two committed to the marriage.  (See for more about this.)

As books have been written on these subject, I will simply refer you to some of best I have encountered and encourage you to explore this wonderful subject of what makes cohabitation a marriage by reading a couple of these references:
Love and Respect by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs
The Five Love Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman
The Gift of Sex by Dr. Clifford and Mrs. Joyce Penner
The Love Dare by Stephen and Alex Kendrick
His Needs, Her Needs by Dr. William Harley

See https://www.marriagebuilders.com/ for an excellent online resource from Dr. Harley.

Mystery solved.  Revelation resolved.