Can we talk about sex for a minute? I mean, I know it is a sensitive subject but it is not something that the Biblical writers shied away from. So why do Christians? Modern Christians have become so sanitized with puritanical culture that they can scarcely mention Song of Songs without blushing or cringing. What do we do with this book? There it is in the middle of the Bible, in all of its salacious, Rated R beauty. We all want that Song of Songs happy ending. Most of us are afraid to admit we don’t have it, and don’t even know how to begin to get it.

I suspect it is because we are all carrying around our own sexual baggage. It seems easier to keep it hidden in the darkest recesses of our hearts—never to be brought into the light, or examined for fear that we will find failure, pain, selfishness, or brokenness there. We would rather put behavioral laws in place, find ways to shut down our desires, or meet our needs in darkness. But stuffing our sexual baggage and denying that we have any is a sure way to perpetuate failure, pain, selfishness and brokenness in our intimate relationships.

Several years ago I was a regular Bible teacher at the Nashville Rescue Mission. On one particular night I taught on the topic of idolatry to a group of female addicts. I touched on all kinds of idols from (obviously) drugs and alcohol to co-dependency, sex and food. Afterward, the group of ladies from my church had a vigorous discussion with each other about how the gospel could possibly apply to our eating habits. Surely a certain amount of law was necessary to lose weight. Defenses were up. Each woman had a comment about what had worked for her. A couple of them reluctantly shared their guilt and failure to keep food in its rightful place. Others jumped in to excuse and justify why they were carrying an extra 10 pounds. We could all readily understand the effects of applying the gospel to something OTHER people struggled with but…well, you gotta eat right?

Various diet plans were evaluated based on how much law and how much indulgence they allowed. Other suggestions came pouring out about making healthy food taste good and exercise fun. I could hardly believe I had just taught about this subject, and here we all were defending ourselves like a bunch of addicts—I can quit anytime I want to. The problem is, I don’t want to.

It has taken this long to kick obsession out of our marriage and invite emotional intimacy in.

The thing about addicts is (and I believe we are all addicts in some way), they run after their obsession, trying so hard to be satisfied with the object of their desire. But satisfaction in that object, if found at all, is temporary. They will always want more and better.

Those of us who love food will never be ultimately satisfied with more and better food. There are consequences for trying to be so. Most diets don’t work because they don’t lead their participants to stop obsessing about food—in most cases they increase it. We merely transfer our obsession to healthier food, organic food, or my favorite, “super-food.” I know when I’m on a diet, I think about food 24/7. I am always planning to eat. What can I eat? How can I make flax seed taste like white flour? How can I consume the least amount of calories and get the most full? What low calorie dessert can I enjoy two amazing bites of? How can I be satisfied?

Ok, you say, I thought this article was about sex? Well, personally, I gotta get there through food. Just as we don’t end up losing weight, and have a proper perspective, and yes, even enjoyment of food, until we stop obsessing about food (or skinny-ness or whatever related desire), the same is true of sex. You cannot have more and better sex by seeking more and better sex. Unlike an obsession with food, a battle that wages largely within oneself, obsession with sex includes another person. An obsession with sex can turn your partner into an object to be obsessed with, instead of a person to be in love with. It obligates another person to satisfy something in you that will never be ultimately satisfied. It will never be enough.

Guilted Into Giving

I recall many bridal shower devotionals where the young blushing bride-to-be was told to never refuse her husband (I even conducted a few like this I’m sorry to say). I believed this was good advice because it was always followed by a devastating description of what refusals do to a man’s psyche. When I was engaged and given this advice I thought to myself: Are you kidding? Why would I refuse him? I am looking forward to that part of marriage as much as he is. The two of us could hardly keep our hands off of each other as our wedding drew near.

A few weeks after the wedding and honeymoon were over, I understood. My husband and I both had full-time jobs and we lived in a tiny apartment by the beach. One evening I came home late from work with a bag full of groceries. I put the groceries away, cooked dinner and then washed the dishes. My husband slinked up behind me as I was drying the last dish and said: You almost ready for bed? The look I gave him made it abundantly clear that I was ready for separate beds.

The next morning I felt guilty, believing my refusal had done irreparable damage to my husband’s soul. He felt guilty that he had watched football while I was exhausting myself trying to be a “godly wife.” It was our theology that was driving our behavior. Our theology dictated that we conduct our relationship out of obligation rather than love. And let’s face it, obligatory sex is not sexy or enjoyable for anyone after a while. Our theology demanded physical intimacy for a successful, Biblical marriage, but largely neglected the need for emotional intimacy. It told us that I needed love, he needed respect, without acknowledging that love cannot exist without mutual respect, and that we both needed love and respect.

Twenty-five years into our marriage we have finally started taking an honest look at the failure, pain, selfishness, and brokenness that we tried to fix so many times with behavioral laws, shutting down desires, or meeting base needs in darkness. It has taken this long to kick obsession out of our marriage and invite emotional intimacy in. We have discovered that an emotionally intimate relationship leads naturally to a physically intimate one. We have returned to a theology of love, and will never again return to the theology of obligation.

Read more from Marci Preheim here