One of the most delightful discoveries on my journey to cherish Lisa was finding out the difference cherishing makes with sexual intimacy. A cherishing mindset helps you enjoy the richest aspects of sexual intimacy while protecting you from the worst tendencies of sexual desire and pleasure. Because sex can be such a powerful experience, it’s easy for the desire and pleasure to take over until it becomes more about two bodies than two lovers and two spouses. And with the ever-present promise of such intense pleasure, it’s easy to become selfish.
When you decide to let cherishing direct what happens between the sheets, you make it your goal to “use sex” to cherish your spouse instead of using your spouse to cherish sex. The difference is enormous.
For instance, when a man is cherishing his wife, she, not an act, is what he desires and cherishes. Sex becomes a tool to proclaim her beauty, her worth, her desirability, and her excellence. When a man desires sex in general instead of his wife in particular, she’s going to feel used rather than cherished, and the sexual act can actually do great harm. (I’m not trying to be a prude here; maybe she just really wants the pleasure and physical release as well—there are different kinds of sex in a lifelong marriage).
For your husband, cherishing means he also wants to be desired sexually, not “serviced” reluctantly. If he’s healthy, he doesn’t want “obligation sex,” though he may take it when life is crazy busy (again, real life), but his soul will be filled only by cherishing sex.
It made such a difference when I began to look at each act of sexual intimacy as another opportunity to cherish my wife. That mindset changed everything, helping me to let go of unhealthy and selfish views of sex, and bringing to the forefront the best parts of sex.
Wives, God designed your husband’s brain to cherish you and to be enthralled with your body. In His word, he directs men to put one hundred percent of their sexual focus on their wives: “May you rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer—may her breasts satisfy you always; may you ever be captivated by her love” (Proverbs 5:18b-19).
If you want me to be honest, the Hebrew word translated “breasts” is actually slightly more specific, but there’s no way I’m putting that in my blog. You can figure it out on your own.
This God-designed power of wives’ bodies to enthrall their husbands revealed itself to me during a trip to California. Lisa and I drove to a trail where I planned to run and Lisa planned to walk.
“Do you have your cell phone?” I asked her.
“No, I left it in the room.”
“I don’t want you walking out here without a phone. Why don’t you take mine?”
I took off running but came to the end of the trail less than a mile later; we had started in the wrong direction. I turned around and met Lisa walking toward me. “Hey,” I said, “We need to turn around. The trail ends up there. But can I have my phone for a second? I want to type in some notes so I can clear my mind.”
“Sure,” Lisa said, and pulled my phone out of her…jog bra.
I had been married to her for about thirty years at the time. I had had that phone for at least two years. But that black piece of plastic carried almost a supernatural glow like I had never seen. “Sacred Cell Phone!” (sorry) Just holding it, I forgot what I was trying to do.
“What?” Lisa asked.
“Give me a second,” I said, pathetically trying to remember why I was holding this now sanctified piece of plastic in my hands.
As embarrassed as I am to admit this, God made me to respond to Lisa’s body and in particular, her breasts, just like that. It pleases him. When a guy is enthralled with his wife, and a wife knows she has that kind of power to transfix her husband, it’s a beautiful thing and helps keep the power balance in marriage. I’m not, not, not defining a woman’s power by (or tying her worth to) her sexual appeal, but as part of a healthy marriage, it’s a wonderful thing.
The other God-honoring aspect of this is that the more I’m enthralled with Lisa, the more I’m freed from sexualizing any other woman. I can appreciate their wisdom, wit, faith, insight, friendship and leadership without valuing them or evaluating them based on physical appearance or sexual appeal. If you’re already full, it’s easy to pass up a Big Mac.
For her part, Lisa doesn’t have to worry if she’s desired by any other man or struggles to maintain a false stereotype of a never-aging body that the culture at large deems desirable. She knows the mere act of carrying my cell phone in her jog bra is enough to turn me into an embarrassing adolescent who is so gob-smacked he can’t even remember what he wanted to say (thirty years after we got married, mind you!). Too often, a woman who is ignored or under-valued by her husband is more inclined to “test” her desirability with other men, a perilous lose-lose situation, biblically speaking.
Another aspect of cherishing sex that transforms the relationship is that this is the only occasion when a husband’s pride and ego work in his wife’s favor. One of the absolute best ways for a wife to “give” to her husband is to learn to receive (and even ask for) sexual pleasure with abandon. When a husband can leave a wife exhausted, panting and smiling and can say to himself, “I did that to her, thank you very much,” well, both spouses win.
Here’s a key element in pursuing a cherishing sexual relationship, however: cherishing sex isn’t about desiring sex; it’s about celebrating your spouse. That makes your spouse feel affirmed. Otherwise she may just feel used. It’s not about your “needs.” It’s about her beauty, her desirability, her loveliness and her pleasure.
In a healthy, cherishing marriage that extends into the bedroom, two Scriptures are showcased. Wives want to hear Song of Songs 6:9: “My dove, my perfect one, is the only one.” If a wife catches her husband watching porn or checking out women on the sidewalk; if the man she dressed to please for their date night turns his eyes from her to watch the waitress walk by, she feels like she’s in a competition that she has just lost. She wants to be “the perfect one, the only one.” The goal for every cherishing husband is to make his wife feel exactly like that. “Why would I look at her when I can look at you?”
But wives, your husbands want to hear, “He is altogether desirable. This is my beloved and this is my friend” (Song of Songs 5:16). If you cherish your husband ninety-nine ways but make him feel sexually undesirable, he’s probably not going to feel cherished no matter what else you do.
Sheila Gregoire wisely warns that “obligation sex” (simply meeting the man’s need for a sexual release) just doesn’t work long-term. No woman can be that altruistic. And no healthy man should be pleased without pleasing his wife. Pursuing a cherishing sexual relationship comes closer to what Sheila describes as a healthy sexual attitude: “Instead of emphasizing his need for sex, then, let‘s emphasize mutually satisfying sex— something that you both want, that you both find pleasurable, and that you both find intimate.” (For more on this, check out Sheila’s book, The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex.)
It’s not a coincidence that the typical sexual sin for men is voyeurism, and for women, exhibitionism. Here’s what’s going on spiritually. When a man chooses to become a voyeur, he’s saying to himself, “It’s not enough for me to be satisfied with a woman; I want to find sexual excitement from all women.” That attitude alone sets a man up for many selfish failures and fosters a predatory attitude that makes him a prime candidate to become a poster boy for the me-too movement.
When a woman decides to become an exhibitionist, here’s what’s going on in her mind spiritually: “It’s not enough for me to feel beautiful by being desired by a man, I want to know that men in general find me attractive.”
With the voyeuristic husband and the exhibitionist wife are saying is, “My spouse isn’t enough for me.” How can anybody feel cherished when they are regularly told by word or action that they’re not enough? In both attitudes, sex is divorced from the marriage and fulfillment is sought outside the marital bed where it can never be found, because both attitudes destroy marital sexual fulfillment that God created us to enjoy.
Men, you’ve probably heard this, but the allure of porn is the dopamine rush that hits your brain when you see something new. That’s why an already viewed picture or video won’t “work” like it did before. Excitement comes from the new and the unseen. It doesn’t take a scientist to point out how this is exactly the opposite of marital sex, where you are cherishing the body of a woman you have seen in many ways and perhaps for many years. Neuroscience is pretty clear: you can’t cherish your wife fully if you are re-wiring your brain with porn. This is a fight worth fighting.
There’s so much more to say on this topic, which I’m thinking of addressing in an upcoming ebook. For now, let me suggest that you can take your marital intimacy to an entirely new place if you just think about injecting the concept of “cherishing each other” into your lovemaking. What happens next will be different for every individual and every couple. But making “cherishing” the benchmark of each act and the relationship in general can do wonders to help couples walk out of harmful past sexual habits and into new horizons of refreshing sexual intimacy, pleasure and even abandon.