66: A Healthy Sex Life: What Couples Should Know
About the Guest
Juli SlatteryDr. Juli Slattery is a widely known clinical psychologist, author, speaker and broadcast media professional. She's the president and co-founder of Authentic Intimacy. She hosts a podcast called Java With Juli, where she answers tough questions about relationships, marriage, spiritual, emotional and sexual intimacy. She has authored eight books, including 25 Questions You're Afraid to As...more
What does a healthy sex life really look like? How do you find healing if you’ve experienced sexual brokenness? Listen to Ron Deal’s conversation with Dr. Juli Slattery on what makes a good lover and the importance of bringing God into that equation.
66: A Healthy Sex Life: What Couples Should Know
Juli: What really makes a great lover is good character because good character means that I can trust you; that you're not going to hurt me—you're not going to leave me. If you see something that's unattractive in me, you're not going to run away. You're not going to use it against me. None of the other aspects of sexuality can flourish without that. So when we're working through these wounds—whether they're wounds from the past or even wounds from within our current relationship—that's the first place to start.
Ron: Hey everyone, welcome. This is FamilyLife Blended and I'm Ron Deal.
This donor-supported podcast helps blended families, and those that love them, pursue the relationships that matter most. It's great to have you along. Welcome to Episode 66: A Healthy Sex Life, What Couples Should Know.
But hey, before we jump into this stimulating conversation, I want to mention that this week October 14-15, 2021 we're putting on our latest Summit on Stepfamily Ministry in the Atlanta area. It's called Prepare and it's based on my newest book, Preparing to Blend, which is designed to give preblended family couples the preparation they need for life after the wedding.
The book gives leaders and pastors a premarital program in a book. It's a turnaround program that you can use to begin taking couples through this book and program immediately. This is premarital counseling for step couples. Get one for you or give one to your local pastor, Preparing to Blend.
Now, if you're planning on coming to the Summit, I look forward to hearing from you. Please let me know you're a podcast listener; that would be fun to connect around. If you haven't registered yet but you live in the Atlanta area, you can still join us, it's not too late.
If you don't live in that neck of the woods, well, in a few weeks you can tap into our All-Access digital pass and get access to the presentations. Of course, you'll miss out on the networking and the conversation over coffee or a meal, but you could still stay up to speed on what's happening in the field of stepfamily ministry. Speaking of which, we've got a new certificate course to tell you all about. Hang in there till the end of this episode and I will give you the details.
Okay, we've had my friend Dr. Juli Slattery on this podcast before but she's back, and this time she's joined by Dave and Ann Wilson of our sister podcast FamilyLife Today®. I got the chance to interview all of them together about marital sexuality and boy, let me tell you, it was a fun conversation.
Dave and Ann Wilson, if you're not familiar with them, they are good friends and the co-hosts of the radio broadcast and podcast FamilyLife Today. They're conference speakers and authors of the book, Vertical Marriage.
Juli is a clinical psychologist. She's an author, a speaker, and the President and Co-founder of Authentic Intimacy. Now, listen up folks, her podcast called Java with Juli is awesome. It's about sex and intimacy and it's one I listen to regularly, and I think you should too. Java with Juli, look it up. Juli is an author as I mentioned. She's written 10 books including Finding the Hero in Your Husband, Passion Pursuit and Rethinking Sexuality. She and her husband Mike are the parents of three sons, and they live in Akron, Ohio.
Okay, let's get real, talking about sex.
If you've listened to this podcast before, you know that at some point in the past I had a conversation with Dr. Juli Slattery about sexuality in blended family couples. We spent some time talking about some of the nuances and challenges and opportunities for blended family couples. I have a special opportunity to continue that conversation today with Juli and she's in the studio with me. Thanks for being here.
Juli: Sure, always good to be here.
Ron: And if you listen to this podcast from time to time, you hear what we call a FamilyLife Today flashback which is when we take a FamilyLife Today program when I'm interviewed by Dave and Ann Wilson for example, and we put it out through our podcast. Well, today the tables are turned, and I get to interview Dave and Ann as a part of this conversation. So welcome.
Dave: We're glad to be a flashback.
Ann: Ron, it's fun to be with you today. [Laughter]
Dave: It is.
Ron: It's good to have everybody here. We're talking about sexuality in marriage and—
Dave: Oh, I've got to go. [Laughter] I didn't know that's the topic.
Ron: You know it's one of your favorite topics, so you're staying in.
Dave: I don't like to talk about it. I just—okay, we're done.
Juli: Yes, right.
Ron: Juli, you're spending your life at this point talking about Christian views of an understanding of sexuality—God's intent for sexuality with couples. Share a little bit with our listeners about your ministry.
Juli: I started a ministry with Linda Dillow ten years ago. It's called Authentic Intimacy and you described it. I wake up every day with the mission to study and teach and minister on topics of sexuality. It began primarily with women, but we found out we have a lot of men that are listening and attending our events. And now doing a lot of work with Christian leaders helping them have a discipleship framework for how we address sexual issues.
Ron: My wife and I are avid fans of your podcast which is called Java with Juli. I want to encourage our listeners to check that out. One of the things I've heard you say on your podcast is when your boys give you—I'm the dad of three boys—you're a mom of three boys—we've kind of got that going on there.
Dave: So do we!
Juli: Yes. The Three Boy Club—look at that.
Ann: We have three boys.
Ron: Yes, that's right.
Dave: Only boys at this studio right now.
Ron: So when you're talking to your kids about sex, they kind of razz you sometimes and say, "We have the mom who talks about sex all the time."
Juli: Yes, poor guys.
Ron: I love your response. You say to them "Well, really, I help people understand God."
Ron: Explain that to our listeners.
Juli: I really have no interest in talking about sex for the sake of talking about sex. If it's just this thing that we're trying to work out—and yes, it's important in marriage—that's important. But I'm really convicted by what Paul said where he said I've really dedicated myself to teach nothing but Christ and Christ crucified—that we're put here on earth to create disciples of Jesus Christ.
I see that sexuality is something that was created to draw people to Jesus, to help us know Him, and to connect with Him intimately—but in most of our lives, is actually something that is a dividing wall between us and God. I love being able to help examine that wall, see if it's from the Lord or from the enemy, and begin tearing it down so that not only people can experience sexual redemption, but they actually understand the beauty of why God created sexuality.
Not just sex—but their sexuality and how it is really a tangible way for us to understand the love of God.
Ron: Dave, Ann, you guys are in ministry. You're talking to people all the time. What do you think people have wrong about that? What do you think they misunderstand about what Juli just said?
Ann: I think they have no concept of what Juli just said because our culture has discipled them in terms of their sexuality. YouTube has framed their mind. Pornography has shaped them. Sexting is shaping this culture now.
Dave: And I would even add I think the church has missed it.
Ann: Me too.
Dave: So even sitting here looking over at Juli, I was so grateful that you are doing what you're doing, Juli.
Ann: Me too.
Dave: I sat in church with my mom. I wasn't a follower of Christ till college, but I never heard anything positive in church about sex. It was wrong. It was dirty. I always joke and say, "If you do it, you're going to go bald." You know that kind of thing. [Laughter] But I really had a wrong perspective. And then you add the culture's teaching from the locker room or wherever I was growing up, my idea of sex was completely not the heart of God. I had to be retrained biblically and that's the kind of stuff you guys are doing and Juli's doing.
Ann: I grew up with sexual abuse. I grew up exposed to pornography for years and years and years. That's what I learned to read and that was some of the literature I was reading. Then I was sexually promiscuous. So I had no biblical framework. My parents didn't go to church and so I came into this Christian life having no idea what God meant by sexual purity.
Ron: Now Juli, Ann just did something there that I thought was really profound. So we were sort of talking about culture and the messages and pornography and what you learn from that and then she made it personal. She talked about her story—her narrative. In order for us to adopt more of a biblical understanding of sexuality, we have to start there; right—looking at our own personal narrative.
Juli: We do. Dave, you did that as well. I mean, just sharing how did I learn about sex? Was it from the church? Was it silence? How did the world impact that? How did my own wounding impact that as well? We've got to start with this idea that we don't come to marriage with a clean slate. A lot of people think that even as they're in a remarriage situation—a blended family situation—they think "Well, okay, that was the past. I made all these mistakes. It didn't go well but this is a clean slate. We get to start over."
In essence, that's true you have a new covenant, but you bring all the narrative and the baggage of everything you've learned and experienced about sexuality from the time you were a child. Then you pick up a book on marriage and sex and you're like "Okay, we're supposed to do it this way. We're supposed to handle this problem this way," and you're not digging deeply into—not just the narrative of sexuality—but where are all the lies that the enemy has planted along the way that need to be exposed and uprooted.
Ron: Really this is all of us. It doesn't matter whether this is a first marriage or a second marriage—whatever the narrative is—because we're all sexual beings—born that way, raised that way, get sexual messages from people, culture, things that happened in our home around us. So we all come with some baggage; right?
Juli: We do, yes. I believe everybody has sexual brokenness. I wouldn't have said that ten years ago. I didn't really think I had any, honestly. But the more my understanding of God's design for sex has expanded, the more I see how far I fall short of that.
Dave: I would just throw in when we got married, even as I was thinking about getting married, this is the one area that if somebody would have asked me "Hey, what areas of your marriage are you really going to nail? You're going to get this right." I would have said "Oh the bedroom. There's no question." Then you got married and it's like "Wow! I am so far—"
Ann: So broken.
Dave: It was one of the first times in my life I realized this sexual part of our life and our marriage is spiritual. I would have never understood that, but it was so hard and so—I was so broken, didn't know it—but it illuminated it. It's like this is a God thing that's going on here that I don't know if I understand.
Ron: Okay, but if we're going to reflect on our personal narratives, that just got difficult. I mean we just asked our listeners and you just asked me to look hard into the mirror, look hard into my heart, to open that up before God with all humility and begin to say "What is it that I believe? What do I think? What do these preconceived ideas that I don't even recognize are working with in me—"
Ann: And where do they come from?
Ron: "Where do they come from?" and now, "What do I do with that?" What would you guys say to somebody who's going, "I don't think I want to go there."
Juli: Well, I would use the analogy of Legos, because we all have three sons—
Ron: Wow! That's a switch. [Laughter] I can't wait to hear how this winds up.
Juli: We all have three sons, so we all grew up with lots of Legos—
Ron: That's true; that's true.
Juli: —in our house, right?—tripping on them and stuff.
Dave: I built a Legos rollercoaster—
Juli: You did?!
Dave: —with my oldest son that took an entire bedroom. [Laughter] That's how big it was.
Juli: That's amazing!
Dave: Just a little tidbit.
Juli: Yes, so I'll have to ask you about this. In that process of building the Lego roller coaster, did you ever get to the point where you're like, "We've got something wrong here"?
Dave: Oh, every five seconds. [Laughter] That's why it took a week to build it and in our bedroom.
Juli: So you build and you're like "This doesn't look right. We need to start deconstructing and tearing apart some pieces until we get to the place where—"
Dave: And get the manual out.
Juli: Right. Until we got it messed up, or we could keep building but we're building off the wrong foundation. A lot of married couples—I'd say all married couples, at some level—are building their sex life off the wrong foundation, and even the wrong picture of what healthy sex is supposed to look like. If you don't do this work—you can read the books, you can go to the conferences, you can try new things—but you're building off of the wrong foundation. So this work is critical to being able to move forward.
Ron: What are some of the wrong foundations that people inadvertently build their sex life off of?
Juli: I'll give you two. The first one is really a cultural narrative of sex and we've talked about it a little bit. It comes from pornography. It comes from the larger message of culture and sex, which is, sex is all about your personal fulfillment. It's a piece of your identity. If you are not having good sex or expressing yourself sexually the way you need to, then you can't be an actualized whole person. We can see how that's playing out in the culture, but I think where we don't see it is where it is playing out in Christian marriages.
I'll give you an example of somebody I did talk to—came to a conference I was doing on sexuality, said "Wow! I wish I had heard this 20 years ago. My wife and I just ended our 29-year marriage because we just couldn't get on the same page sexually. I think it's a kindness to both of us that we find somebody who's more compatible with us." That is a cultural narrative view of sexuality where a great sex life means we're sexually compatible—it's pleasurable, it's fun, we want sex at the same time.
Ann: I want to know what you said to the guy.
Juli: I tried to talk him to staying in his covenant and recognizing that sex is a celebration of covenant. It's not the covenant itself. That would be the cultural narrative that believes—and again, even uses the Scripture to justify—"I deserve a great sex life. It's your job to meet all my sexual needs and if you don't, then something is seriously flawed between us."
The second bad narrative is something that I call the purity narrative that comes out of the purity culture, and that's something we've talked about on the FamilyLife Today broadcast before. But this narrative really says: all you need to know about sex is save it for marriage and when you get married, it will be great. The finish line is the wedding day. It's like, "Aww, did we make it?" If we made it passed that finish line, it's all good. God is blessing us.
There're so many problems with that narrative even though it is in some ways biblical. It's taking a piece of biblical teaching and building a whole narrative around it. But one of the mistakes with that narrative is saying that sex is just about morality. Whereas the bigger picture of sex is also about our maturity—learning to love maturely. Really, the wedding day is the starting line of a new journey of what it is to walk in sexual integrity and wholeness.
A second thing is it's assuming that you're only sexual if you're married.
Juli: It's the legalism of it even if we're talking to blended families. You know, "Was I really sexually pure when I came into my marriage if this is my third marriage and I've had partners before?" and, "Can God really bless this union because we've got all this junk in our past?"
Ron: There's so much shame wrapped up into that. It's sort of like, "Well, I made mistakes back then—or somebody made mistakes" and, "We went through a divorce" —or whatever that story is—even if you were widowed before coming into this blended family marriage, you may feel like, "We didn't have a perfect sex life and so we're doing it right this time. We're going to get the promise. I know everything's going to be fulfilled just because we're obedient in every way."
Or somebody is saying, "No, we lived together before we got married" or, "We're living together now, so I guess God is not really on our side." That all flows out of that idea that somehow—if you get it all right, then you're going to be blessed by God and if you get it wrong, then you're going to be cursed by God and that's not the heart of God for his people about anything other—we do this around the topic of sexuality in a way that we don't do around other things.
If you're a liar—you're just really good at lying—and you're struggling with that, well somehow, we think there can be forgiveness or there can be life after that, but we don't give people that opportunity sometimes when it comes to sex.
Juli: No. We don't see it in the grace of God. Some people—and I would guess that even you—Dave and Ann, in the early years of your marriage were operating with some mixture of those two narratives.
Dave: Boy, oh boy. My perspective was so wrong. I mean how bad is this—sitting at the Weekend to Remember® two weeks before our wedding. We went to it as an engaged couple—two Saturdays from now we're getting married. I think we're sitting in the talk that FamilyLife had in the Weekend to Remember about God's heart for sex. It's probably the first time I've ever heard that it's a beautiful thing and God created it and all the things we've been teaching for 30 years.
What am I doing during that talk? As an engaged man, I'm writing notes in Ann's manual.
Ann: He's drawing pictures. [Laughter]
Dave: I literally remember—this is so embarrassing—drawing a bed with two stick figures saying, "In 14 days, this is legal." —so excited that we're trying to save ourself for marriage—.
Juli: Why would that be wrong? Why would you be embarrassed by that?
Dave: No, it's awesome because we both were sexually active with other people. Now, we're dating as two followers of Christ and we're like, "We're doing this different. We're going to keep ourselves" —and we did, not absolutely perfectly but we did. So it was exciting to think it's going to be honored; it's going to be beautiful. What I didn't know at that moment was all I'm thinking about when I'm drawing those little stick figures is my pleasure—what you said, Juli. The wrong foundation was it's about me enjoying this part of our marriage.
Ann: It's all about the physical.
Dave: I had no idea it was much more than that and they were literally saying that from the stage. That's what's so the paradox.
Ann: You're saying you weren't paying attention. [Laughter]
Dave: They're saying that and I'm like I don't care. I know more than you do.
Ron: I was thinking that very same thing, Juli, when you were talking a minute ago that one of the big lies in culture is it is all about the pleasure. If you've been exposed to any pornography at all, like that's totally it. That's the message: your pleasure, what you can get out of the other person. I mean, it has all sorts of tainted messages with it. There's a higher purpose for sexuality. You like to talk about the higher purpose. What is that?
Juli: Yes, it's what I call the biblical narrative. You've got the cultural narrative, the purity narrative, and the true biblical narrative. I think when we talk about sex—in a Christian context—we have to ask, "What is tradition?"—that we've been passed down from generation to generation—and "What is biblical?"
So my desire is to help people press more deeply into what the Bible actually says as we deconstruct those Legos. The biblical narrative is really this profound complicated understanding that sexuality was created to be this physical metaphor that teaches us about the covenant love of God. One way to sum it up is the Bible begins with a wedding of Adam and Eve and sex before there's fall—before there's shame—and it ends with a wedding of Christ and the bride, and the whole story in between is really about connecting those two weddings.
Paul says it very specifically when he quotes Genesis in Ephesians chapter five, and he says, "For this reason a man will leave his mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." And then he says but I'm really talking about this wedding in Revelation of Christ and the church. Paul is saying in Ephesians 5, Jesus loves his bride with a covenant love. So every aspect of our sexuality is an echo of that and every piece of our brokenness is a way that that has become twisted.
Ron: And we have to deconstruct the narratives that we have that we didn't even realize were not helpful—that were in effect destructive, and we have to begin to look at those in light of what it's intended to be—what is an opportunity to be. Then you can begin to say "Alright; I've got to set aside that notion over here and begin to move toward this thought over here."
I think one of the ways, for example, just practically in terms of how we get there is beginning to think of sex as a celebration of your us-ness, of your oneness, of your togetherness, and an expression of the covenant that you have made to one another. It's sort of like "Okay, celebration, no agenda, no demand. I just bring myself with a smile and I'm going to join you." All of a sudden, we're more relaxed; we're less pressured. I'm less anxious inside of me. I'm putting less pressure on you. You're less anxious as a result and we're just coming together.
Sort of like if we were to meet on a dance floor and just dance and enjoy each other, that's a different feeling than some people have when they come into the bedroom and all of a sudden, they have this performance anxiety because it's all about pleasure and I've got to do this and I've got to do that and you've got to achieve that experience or otherwise we've failed. We're just undoing ourselves, throwing out that old narrative, and moving towards that celebration there.
Ann: But that's not easy.
Ann: Because we can learn it—we can know it in our head.
Ron: It's deep in your head and your heart.
Ann: Yes, and so we have like "Yes, I want that. That's exactly what I want." But I still have those narratives that have been wrong—that have been embedded. So how do we get rid of all of that baggage? Because for us it has taken years.
Ron: Yes, it does.
Juli: So, let me ask you—how have you addressed that baggage—because you've walked this road.
Ann: Because we're old. [Laughter]
Juli: You're wise.
Dave: I mean, I don't know what Ann's thinking. I know this: long talks, long discussions about our feelings, our fears. Honestly, in my life, the scariest probably place in my world is the bedroom with Ann. Not in a bad way, but it's scary; it's so intimate. It's you're naked and unashamed—
Ann: So vulnerable.
Dave: —physically but its soul and so you're bringing your fears, your struggles, your past. You know we said in Vertical Marriage bring God into your bedroom because you've brought everybody else in there. So every relationship you've brought into that bed, and you didn't think you were, but whoa, I'm not in a bed just with my wife. I have former lovers and former mindsets and it's like those have to be discussed and pushed out and let's bring God's heart into it. So that's part of it has been that.
But the other thing, Ron, when you said that for me I thought—or Juli, when you said the bedroom is a mystery—the picture of Christ and the church, in some ways what Ron said where I can relax and go, "Oh that's so great!" —because now I'm Christ and so I come in the bedroom and now if I understand that perspective—which is the way I think God wants us to understand it— I do put away the agenda. The agenda is one agenda serve—serve her. It's not about me. It's never been about me. Christ didn't go on the cross and say this is about me. No, this is about what you need and I'm going to serve you.
So, in a sense it's like, I can come in the bedroom with—and again it's one thing to say and another thing to actually live out—but—it's not about my pleasure. It's not even about anything else but, "How can I love her?" That requires all kinds of things like, understand her better, but it's like, "Wow! The pressure's gone now. I just want to love you. Tell me what your needs are and how I can love you." Does that make any sense?
Ron: It does.
Juli: It's beautiful.
Dave: For me it makes it much more beautiful.
Juli: Every woman in the world is like I want my husband to say that. But let me ask you, Ann. You shared so candidly that you've had trauma in your past, which is really hard to work through from the enemy plants so much fear and so many lies even in a moment of sexual trauma. What has it been like for you to walk that out?
Ann: When Dave and I went to seminary, we started taking classes on how to do counseling—just a few classes to help us in ministry. As a result of that class, they would put up your family tree and we would get into our past. It was the first time I acknowledged that I had been sexually abused. I had told Dave I had been, and he was the first person that I told, but I thought it's no big deal because—
Dave: And I thought the same thing. It's all in the past.
Ann: —because I had never dealt with it. But upon going to seminary, we'd been married three years and when we started talking about it, I found myself sobbing every night. Because of the loss that I had experienced, because of the anger that I was experiencing, and I had also found out that my sister had been sexually abused for years as well. That was traumatic. I started a journey reading, talking to friends, talking to Dave.
One of the things that really helped heal me was—this class was really counseling basically—but one of the things that helped me was when Dave started studying it with me. He took the burden and the shame that I felt on. Before he was like "What is your problem? Why? It's no big deal. It's in the past." I was saying "But the past has caught up with me and I feel it right here in front of my face in the present and it's effecting the way I'm responding to you because I'm flashing back to all these things." But when he started reading it, Dave, what was that like for you?
Dave: I was obviously just so naïve—a young 22-year-old thinking, "Seriously, it's over;" right? It's like, "Oh my goodness. Her soul has been violated." I'm just becoming aware of, "Wow! This is what she is and has felt." It's not who she is but she has been violated. It crushed me. I just knew my role is to be Christ in the church—love her as Christ—I need to walk with her and hopefully be a part of her healing. It's been decades.
Juli: You were.
Dave: I hope.
Juli: Even when you say that Dave, I don't know if you knew at the time the theology of Christ and the church and sexuality, but the way you describe that, Ann, of he took on I think you said my shame—
Juli: —and my pain and he was in it with me. That's exactly what Jesus did.
Ann: That's so good.
Juli: You were walking out what Jesus did for the church. When we're on this journey of healing and intimate knowing and putting pleasure in its right place and we're ministering to each other without even realizing it, we're beginning to walk into that true narrative which is an amazing thing.
Ron: One of the things we talk about on my podcast quite a bit is knowing our pain and knowing what we do with it when we feel it. Sexuality is one of those things that taps into the deepest pains in our hearts. There's betrayal there; there's hurt; there's disappointment; there's excitement mixed with sadness all sort of at the same time for some people. If that's your journey that you're on, it's sort of like "Yes, I've got to be able to know my own pain. I've got to know what triggers it and I've got to know what it makes me do."
In the sexual realm, it will have an expression like, "It makes me withdraw." A lot of people can physically be engaged in intercourse, for example, and not be there. Their mind and heart can be somewhere else. Your body can show up, but your mind and heart has withdrawn to a safer place. When you recognize those mechanisms in yourself, again, trace it back to what's the pain behind this? Where did this come from? What is this about?
Then, ask a really important question: what's the truth? What's the truth about me? What's the truth about how God views me? What's the truth about you and I in our relationship? And what this means and what it doesn't mean. That's really, I think, Juli, where your work is so important because it helps people unpack those untruths, if I could say it that way, those false narratives that they've been living in and begin to see the better narratives—the God narrative in terms of His point of view about you as a sexual person and what you bring to your sexual relationship.
But I think there's another aspect to it and it's kind of learning this truth about us. Maybe it was a betrayal from someone in the past that has put that pain in your heart and fear of being vulnerable and exposed which are all the metaphors that sex brings to us; right? We get naked. We get exposed and vulnerability—wow—that just activates a lot of hard places in us.
Is there a different truth that you now understand as a grownup—as an adult? Is there a new truth about this marriage? Okay, that was then. Who are you? And who are we together? Well, this is a safe place—that wasn't a safe place.
You can begin to see the process there of trying to move away from those false narratives and move to that truth that really can orient and settle and I want to call it light—move away from the dark and move toward the light. I think that's the journey then that brings healing to people and new discovery.
Juli: You know, Ron, as you describe that I have two thoughts that come to my mind. The first one is health is always integration. It's always bringing back together things that have been split off. Unhealth is when we disintegrate. Sometimes we disintegrate for protection like you were describing sort of the out of body experience. Some people would call that dissociation. It's a way of numbing yourself to not feel the pain that you once felt.
So that journey of reintegration of: where's God in my sex life? What does it mean to be present? What does it mean to have sex be more than a bodily experience but two hearts and souls becoming one?
The second thing is the key to that is safety, and you said the word "safety"—when we look at our covenant with God, the most important thing about our covenant with God is His character—His love is based on His character. People say, "What makes a great lover?" and they'll say, "Oh, it's what you think about," but what really makes a great lover is good character. Because good character means that I can trust you.
You're not going to hurt me. You're not going to leave me if you see something that's unattractive in me. You're not going to run away. You're not going to use it against me. None of the other aspects of sexuality can flourish without that. So, when we're working through these wounds—whether they're wounds from the past or even wounds from within our current relationship—that's the first place to start.
How have I hurt you? How can I make this a safe relationship? How can we learn to trust each other? Because pleasure isn't going to work—the intimacy isn't going to work. None of it is going to work unless we establish that foundation.
Dave: If I could add one thing, I think what we've discovered—I hope Ann would agree—is that God redeems.
Dave: This area as much as any, it isn't rehabilitates—it isn't like it makes it a little better. It's like no, no, no, like you said, Ron. It goes from darkness to light. It goes from old creature to new creature. He can bring even out of that horrible darkness that we experienced, and Ann experienced, beauty—
Ann: And He restores.
Dave: —to a place where you're like "This is a beautiful part of life and our marriage that I never thought we could ever quite get there because there was too much damage." Other people can get there. They didn't have the brokenness we had. That's what we all think. I'm here to say God does this miracle called redemption through the blood of Christ. It's a beautiful resurrection truth.
Ron: And this is where any of us come face to face with our selfishness because if you're in this situation and you feel like, "Wait a minute. I'm due pleasure. It should be this. We should be experiencing that." Now, all of a sudden, what you've just described is about selflessness. It's about me saying, "Oh, no, how do I love you well at this season of our life? Right now you're struggling with something. How do I enter that space with you and join you in that struggle and serve you in the midst of this rather than sitting over here going—feeling sorry for myself because we don't have great sex."
Juli: Yes, and I would say that maybe instead of selflessness let's use the word unselfishness because there's also a part of sex where I have to—
Ron: Oh, I bring myself.
Ron: Yes, you're right.
Juli: And I also have to request and share these—this is how I'm feeling, and this is how you can love me well. When marriage becomes one sided, that's a ministry—it's not intimacy.
Ron: That's a very good distinction—I'm glad you brought it up. Let's talk about that for a minute because I kind of think one of the inadvertent byproducts of that whole discussion was men are sexual beings who deeply need sex—which, by the way is not true—and women are kind of like sort of sexual beings and maybe, they don't need sex.
Juli: Which isn't true.
Ron: Which isn't true. [Laughter] And so neither one of you is a self that is able to manage yourself and be in charge of yourself and bring your interests and your desires and hungers and communicate those and have, not embarrassment about communicating your wishes and desires and your likes and your dislikes—but, somehow you're supposed to be embarrassed by that.
Or you're supposed to somehow communicate without actually saying it because that would mean you're a sexual person and that's sort of weird. So we just hide that whole part of us. I kind of think men and women can get lost in unique ways within this space. How do we bring ourself to the bedroom, if you will, and bring all of ourselves in a way that serves the other?
Juli: Boy, that's a huge question to unpack. [Laughter]
Ron: It is.
Juli: One thing I would say is that most of us have a mortgaged sexuality.
Ron: Ooh; love it. Unpack that for us. What does that mean?
Juli: Well, if I wanted to give you my house, I couldn't give you my whole house because I don't own it all. The bank owns some of it. We're paying off that mortgage but, in some ways, we come to the marriage bed that way where I can only give what I own. So many of us have aspects of our sexuality that are mortgaged by the past. There's unforgiveness; there's wounds that still have strongholds; there's lies we believe.
So when we talk about entering the marriage bed—entering that marriage relationship wanting to give of ourselves—it begins by asking the question: who owns my sex life?
Ron: Because one expectation people have is my partner owns my sex life. They're supposed to know what's going to bring me pleasure.
Juli: No, you don't even know.
Juli: That's why this personal work is so important, and the work that you guys did personally. Like now you're at a place of healing and freedom where it's like no, the enemy doesn't own me. That lie doesn't have a hold on me anymore. That bitterness—it's all that work of communication and forgiveness and bringing God into it to redeem. You can only give what you own. That's a huge part of it that most couples will skip right past.
Ann: It's interesting. I remember I've shared this before but when we were hearing Howard Hendricks and his wife, Jeannie, speak about sexuality and biblical viewpoint of sex in marriage, he said this—he said, "Until you've been married 15 years, you think sex is all about the physical; but after a while, when you've been married a while, you realize that sex is the union of the soul." As I was thinking about you, Juli, I thought part of that reason is for the first 15 years you're still dealing with all of your baggage. You're dealing with your—
Ann: Yes, your insecurity—your wrong views. Once you are in a marriage where you feel seen, you feel loved, you feel safe—then you begin to walk without shame. You can become vulnerable realizing that I'm fully loved even when I'm fully seen. That's the beauty of our sexuality in biblical marriage.
Dave: Yes, and I would just add it feels like you fight for that.
Ann: You have to work hard for it.
Dave: The part of the mortgage part of you that's owned by somebody else or something in our broken past—you've got to take that back. It isn't just, "Uuhh." It's almost Ephesians 6—there's a spiritual battle and it's like I've got to armor up and I've got to go after this. I'm not going to tolerate for 20/30/40 years this in our relationship. I have to win this back.
Ann: I think people stop making the payments. Like I can't make these payments. They're too high now.
Juli: Well, and I think some of it is we only think about God and sex in terms of playing defense, but we forget that God—as you said—is a redeeming God. He revives, which means He takes back ground that has been stolen.
Juli: And that's what kind of gets the fire in my belly.
Ann: Me too.
Juli: It's like "You know what Satan, you have no place in my heart, in my sex life, in my marriage. You're wreaking havoc in the world, and I can't do a whole lot about it, but I can do battle where it's between me and God and my husband." It's worth fighting for, and it is a fight.
I've met men and women who've been in counseling for years overcoming addictions, impact of trauma and how the body remembers trauma, learning to communicate things that are so hurtful and vulnerable, learning to forgive each other and have mercy, and they fight for it. What's so important is this isn't just marital ground, it's spiritual ground.
Ann: I was going to add as we've been talking, I thought—the thing that is so critical in this discussion is the power of the Holy Spirit working in us and our surrendered hearts to allow Him to change us from the inside out. We don't do that. We can't just think, "Oh, I'm going to fix this and tomorrow it will be better." It's that surrendered heart to Jesus saying, "Lord, help me, heal us, help us."
Ron: Ann, as you were talking, I had another connection from sexuality and the picture it gives us of God and what that reveals about Him, and also what we learn about ourselves in the process. You talked about the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and I just thought of the imagery—the symbolism all throughout the Bible. In the garden, if you think of the garden as temple theology—God meets man there. This is where heaven and earth meet. That's what the Garden of Eden was all about.
Then the tabernacle comes as the place—or the temporary place—where God shows up and man can meet. Then Christ comes. The book of John tells us He tabernacled with us. He became man. He lived with us. God now came to us. And then we have imagery in the New Testament about the Holy Spirit who lives in us. By the way, isn't that interesting. He becomes a deposit in us—a guarantee of what is to come but it brings new life.
The whole picture there is of sexuality. We have husband and wife coming together—becoming one through intercourse. A deposit is made—new life is born. The sexual relationship is one of reflecting the gospel and of course, that's what's happening. Of course, the Holy Spirit is bringing new life, not just in the form of children—procreation but in the form of renewing us and leading us to the place where we can be not driven by those poor narratives but by the truth.
Wow. So as we talk around all of this, let's talk about first steps. If somebody's listening right now and they're just kind of going "Wow! Okay, a lot going on in my head and I'm trying to grasp all these little parts, where do I begin? What do I do first?"
Juli: They say when you're a hammer everything looks like a nail; right? So when I read the Scripture, I'm always seeing teaching on sexuality even when it's not there. [Laughter] One of the passages that I've really learned to love—because I think it does give us practical steps to resurrection—is John chapter 11, which is when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. We see really three first steps there. We see Jesus breathing life into something that feels very dead.
The first one is we see that we have to trust God's love when He doesn't make sense. For people listening this conversation may be triggering all kinds of pain and questions about why didn't God save you, Ann, from that sexual abuse? Where was He? Where is a loving God when I was so hurt by a previous spouse? We begin to doubt the goodness of God which is in the story of Lazarus what Mary and Martha and those around were asking "Well, didn't Jesus love him?"
Ann: Where were you Jesus?
Juli: Yes, "You could have stopped this" and we see Mary and Martha learning to rest in the knowledge that God is God. Martha says it, "I know that You are the Savior and whatever You want can happen," and resting in the belief that He loves me. That's a first step—the faith to say no matter what you're walking through, no matter how confusing it is—will you trust God's goodness towards you even if you don't see the whole picture, which they didn't at the time.
The second thing which I think is so practical is when Jesus said I'm going to speak life here roll away that stone. Martha said, "Wait, it's going to stink." Like, there's been a dead guy in there for four days and—very practically—the odor is bad. When we begin this work of looking at our narratives and sexual healing, it's going to stink and you're going to need to bring out things from the past that are painful.
You're going to need to potentially make confessions that are embarrassing—shameful. Things that you feel like, "Wow, I could never tell anybody this." But Jesus says don't you want to see the power of God? You have to be willing to roll away the stone. I'm not going to do it for you. It's your choice—but we have to make that decision no matter what it costs. I want God to breathe life into my marriage. I want healing.
Ann: It's like bringing out the thing that's in the house that's really stinky and you air it outside and expose it to the light.
Juli: Yes! Yes, exactly. We have to have the courage to do that and the faith that God really does want to expose for the sake of healing.
The third step is once Jesus rolled away the stone, He called forth Lazarus. Lazarus comes out in these really stinky grave clothes because they were covered with dust. He tells the people around Lazarus, "You unwrap him," because he's not completely free yet. I think that's so critical—is that we need the community of God on this journey.
Dave and Ann, if you were to share your testimony, you could probably tell about people that surrounded you—counselors and mentors who were patient with you and helped you walk towards maturity and that's what we all need. I really believe that gives us a model of, "Okay, here's where we go as a married couple. We need to trust God's goodness. We need to have the courage to deal with the painful and stinky stuff. And we need to rely on the goodness of God's people to help us on the journey."
Ann: Juli, that's really good. It sounds like a book that's in the making. [Laughter]
Juli: I don't know.
Ann: Are you thinking? Maybe?
Juli: I don't know. People have said that but yes, that just makes it practical—right out of God's word.
Ann: You guys, I want to go back a little bit. Ron, this is your show, but I kept thinking and maybe this is my mom's heart of at the very beginning we were talking about, Juli, you mentioned that every person you know is sexually broken. Now as a parent of young kids, you have this dream of what your kids are going to do and what they're going to become, and that part isn't a narrative we usually like to attach to our kids—that they will be sexually broken, but will they be? And is there anything we can do to help them?
Juli: Yes, on both counts there. I've wrestled with this as a mom. Like all the things God's taught me I just want to give my kids.
Ann: You're the expert. Like you know this.
Juli: But they're like, "All my friends are reading your books but I'm not reading them. That's my mom talking about sex." [Laughter]
Ron: "That's gross!"
Juli: I think there comes a point where yes, you want to protect your kids sexually. Yes, you want to give them good teaching, but we have to understand that ultimately the most important thing is their relationship with Jesus Christ—and we can't give them that. We can model it, we can encourage it, we can disciple them, we pray for them—but it's Jesus who redeems our sex life. Parenting gives wisdom and tools and a safe relationship to talk about hard things, but I can't give my kids what only Jesus can give.
We're all at the stage where we have young adult children and we've been through those teen years where you wrestle through, "Why don't they just do what's right? Why don't they love Jesus?"
Ann: Why can't they learn from our mistakes?
Juli: But, let me ask you this—What would you rather have?—I'm using air quotes—A sexually pure child or a Christ follower?
Ann: A Christ follower.
Dave: No question.
Juli: It usually takes encountering our brokenness before we truly follow Jesus—not just believe the message of Christianity but surrender to Him and if that is what God will use in my child's life, then all praise to Him.
Ann: My sexual brokenness is what led me to Jesus, and I think that's true for many people.
Juli: It is.
Ron: On the flipside we can be proactive. We can try to talk to our children, and these are subjects that make us uncomfortable. Again, that goes back to the self-conversation we had, "I am a sexual person and I have to own that in front of my children to bring up this subject and that's really weird."
I know some of our listeners are going, "I'm a stepparent. I don't think it's my space or my territory. I don't know how to do that. Is that my job?" I think that's a conversation between husband and wife—who's best suited, who has the child's ear, and be in a trusting relationship with the child to venture into this—but we have to do it.
You've been listening to my conversation with Dave and Ann Wilson and Dr. Juli Slattery. I'm Ron Deal and this is FamilyLife Blended. We went on to talk about sexual discipleship and we're going to come back to that portion of the conversation in just a minute.
I told you earlier this isn't the first time Dr. Slattery has been on my podcast. If you like what you heard, be sure and check out Episode number 30. Juli and I were talking about what I call Re-Sex: The Challenges of Sex for Blended Family Couples. I think you'll get a lot out of that conversation as well.
If you would, please take a minute and write us a review. Share this podcast with a friend. That's a great way to let other people know about the work that we're doing and who knows, maybe it will bless them as well.
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You know, sex is everywhere in our world, but a healthy view of sexuality is not. As a therapist I can tell you most people think they know a lot more about sex than they really do. They don't. They think they know the role sex plays in their life and in their marriage, but they don't. They think that they don't need to study the subject. Well, they do. I have one encouragement for you today. God designed sex with many purposes in mind. Study His design. Learn about it—from the One who created it—who created it for us. In the process, I think you'll learn even more about Him and about yourself.
There are really good, solid biblically based, research informed resources that are available on the subject on healthy sexuality. You just need to get some. Juli's podcast, Java with Juli is one of those good resources. There's a book called A Celebration of Sex by Doug Rosenau. It's another great resource. You do have to study this topic a little bit—if not a lot—but no matter whether you're single or married, you will never regret maturing your sexual understanding and perspective.
If you'd like more information about my guests, you can find it in our show notes or you can just check it out on the FamilyLife Blended podcast page. You'll find that at FamilyLife.com/blendedpodcasts—or you could always look in the show notes.
By the way, if you go online, be sure and check out everything FamilyLife has for your marriage and family. Our division is called FamilyLife Blended, has the world's largest collection of articles and videos and resources and books for blended families. Like the book The Smart Stepfamily Guide to Financial Planning or my one-year devotional, Daily Encouragement for the Smart Stepfamily.
My latest book that I mentioned at the beginning of the episode is called Preparing to Blend and it's for engaged couples and pastors and leaders who are working with engaged couples. It just released. You can find that wherever books are sold. Be sure and check us out. The show notes will tell you how.
You know we're always coming out with new resources at FamilyLife. At the beginning of the episode, I told you about our annual Summit on Stepfamily Ministry happening all this week in Atlanta. We record all of those presentations, and we make them available to people in the form of an All-Access digital pass. You can find that online. Again, just come visit us at FamilyLife.com.
But I also promised to tell you about something we've just created called the Certificate in Blended Family Ministry Course. It's an online, on demand self-paced video streaming course that gives you the basics of stepfamily ministry. There're seven sessions talking about why pastors and church leaders must care about this cutting-edge ministry—Understanding Stepfamilies 101. Ministry 101: Where to start and what your objective is.
We talk about Leadership Development and what the Bible says about divorce and remarriage and how you can lead dynamic small groups for blended family couples. It's all there. It's the best of the best you could say from our previous Summits on Stepfamily Ministry. So get online, check it out, share it with a pastor, share it with your church leadership, help grow a ministry in your local church and community that impacts lives for generations. Just get started.
Now, let's get back to our final thoughts about sexual discipleship.
Is it healthy for us to have conversations with our adult children? I want to put that caveat in there. Even our younger ones you know—
Ann: I think so.
Ron: —do you feel like they can handle it?
Ann: But I'm not sure of the appropriate age. Juli would be more of that.
Juli: It's not just age. I think it's also the relationship and personalities. We want to have sensitivity. I love this concept of sexual discipleship that just helps me frame this because so often we think of sex education, and we think "Oh, I've got to have this talk with my child, and I have to go through this course, or I have to have this talk with my son once he gets married." Education are pieces of discipleship, but discipleship is the overflow of the life.
Yes, that's a piece of the overflow of the life but so is, "I need to apologize for some of the things I taught you early on because God's taught me more and I want to talk about how that messaging could have been harmful for you" —or— "the way I reacted when I saw that you were looking at pornography—like, I flipped out. That was wrong."
Ron: Somebody's listening right now going "I need to tell my kid and own up to I had an affair that ended my first marriage. That's why we're in this blended family. Everybody knows it. I've never acknowledged it. That's something I need to talk to my child about." That is about the spiritual life—it is about sexual life—it is a discipleship moment.
Well, guys, thanks for being with me today; I really appreciate it. I appreciate the candor of the conversation. I want to go back to something—Juli, early you referenced the bride of Christ and the imagery and Scripture of the bride—God gave away the first bride in the garden. I am struck by one more bride narrative that I think is important for this conversation. In John chapter 3, John the Baptist identifies Jesus the Messiah as the Bridegroom—begins a reference and used that type of language about Him.
In John chapter 4 we're introduced to a woman who has been a bride many times and is desperately thirsty for a loving, faithful bridegroom—and Jesus comes to the well and meets her. It is no accident that those two stories are back-to-back. We need a bridegroom—there's the bridegroom. Here's a woman who needs a bridegroom.
By the way, I think as the Jewish listeners would have heard that story as John began to tell the story went something like, "Okay, so this woman was at a well one day and this man shows up." They would have said, "Oh, oh, oh, we know this story! We know this." See it was a story structure. It would be like if I said to you, "A long, long, time ago" you would go, "In a land far, far, away." Like, you know that story—you know how it goes.
They would have said, "Oh, we know this one. This is where they fall in love. This is where they become husband and wife and they run off together," because throughout the Old Testament that is a repeated narrative. But all of a sudden, the story takes this turn because this woman is not a worthy woman.
She is tainted in their eyes—married five times, now living with somebody. Like, "Whoa, wait a minute, wait a minute. I don't know what to do with this story. He's not going to marry her, is he?" And lo and behold the Messiah comes and He basically says, "Yes, in my love, in my grace, you are worthy and come follow me." She drinks deeply of the water that satisfies her thirst and she follows Him.
One last part of this story—you just can't get away from this. She's had six lovers. What's the imperfect number in scripture? Six. What's the perfect number? Seven. He is the perfect Bridegroom. The story for you and I is this—the message is this—you and I may be unworthy. When we look in the mirror, we may feel sexually broken. Lots of things have happened in our life and we feel so unworthy of love, being loved, or being received as a bride.
But that story, John tells us—because of the Messiah, we are worthy of love—because of what He does in us and who He makes us to be and how He changes everything in our life. He is the perfect Bridegroom which makes us unworthy, worthy. We just need to drink. We just need to believe the truth and walk with Him.
Ron: Next time, we're going to hear from Ryan and Jessica Ronne about widowhood and forming a new blended family.
Jessica: I don't think it's fair to ever ask a woman that who you want to marry to live in like a shrine to their late wife or ex-wife or whatever. If it makes her uncomfortable, I would say those feelings need to take precedence over your feelings.
Ron: That's Ryan and Jessica Ronne, next time on FamilyLife Blended.
I'm Ron Deal, thanks for listening. Thanks to our FamilyLife Legacy Partners for making this podcast possible. If you want to join them and make a tax-deductible donation specifically for FamilyLife Blended, you can do so by going to FamilyLife.com/BlendedPodcast and just click the donate button. Or if you'd prefer, just look in the show notes for a link.
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