Eight Skills for Sexual Integrity: When Sex Is Not the Answer
What do you really need? Sometimes it's not sex, but intimate connection.
by Doug Rosenau
Part Two of a weekly eight-part series: "Eight Skills for Sexual Integrity."
In Part One of our Sexual Integrity series, we explored God's radical and wonderful views about sex. With that foundation, we now take a closer look at the real-life sex issues that men face every day. We'll start with a true story about Justin, a young family man very much like you and me.
One month, it seemed that nothing was going right for Justin. Can you relate? At work, he got a bad review. At church, his pastor appointed a co-teacher in his Sunday school class without consulting him. And at home, his wife was pouring herself into their baby boy and had little time left for him. Then, at just the wrong time, one of his co-workers, Jill, came on to him at work--and he fell quickly into an affair with her.
The affair was soon discovered, and Justin found himself desperately trying to save his marriage. He had time to ponder his actions, and was stunned at how he could choose to have an affair, and how quickly it happened. He wondered, What set me up? Why did I fall for it?
The Hidden Needs
It didn't take a rocket scientist to see the many unmet needs that had left Justin vulnerable: lack of affirmation, feeling incompetent, and little physical affection. He was a lonely, angry, and insecure person at the time. Everything got sabotaged when he tried to ease his pain by having a sexual affair with Jill.
Justin reflected on his relationship with his wife, and finally noticed that he had too many eggs in the sexual basket. He wasn't very affectionate unless they were making love; he usually celebrated victories by making love; he was encouraged out of his funks and felt affirmed in his masculinity through sex. One time, he even told his wife that sex would help him get over the flu!
Justin was trying to meet nonsexual needs in sexual ways. Over time, Justin conquered his problem by learning to open up. He talked freely about his needs with his wife and his close male friends. He showed affection toward his wife; hugs and touching in his marriage did not have to always end in sex. It was fascinating that, as he met his needs apart from lovemaking, the sexual intimacy in his marriage increased.
Many men, if they could become more self-aware like Justin, would realize that what they often need is intimate connecting, not sex. This soul hunger for intimate connecting may be as simple as sharing a hurt, celebrating a victory, or getting a hug. Bringing sex into it is a great sabotage.
Singles often confess to me that they really did not want to be sexual, though they ended up in bed with someone. They just wondered if they were sexy and desirable. They needed to be held and caressed and to get their human "touch hunger" needs met. They wanted to laugh and be playful and feel excitement.
I felt so sad after a single man told me he desperately needed a woman to just physically hold and comfort him after the death of his mother. He said the only way he knew to accomplish this was to find someone and have sex. To him, sex seemed to be the only way to receive female closeness and nurturing.
I reassured him that I would help find female friends that could meet this nonsexual need in a tender way---more like a sister or mother. Making love and being nurtured through grief are two very different needs and processes.
What Is Normal?
You might ask, Are these typical stories? The answer is a big yes. In fact, it is uncommon to find a man who never tries to meet nonsexual needs in sexual ways. As evidence of this, I recently posed a question to my men's group: "It's Friday afternoon and you got off work two hours early. The wife and kids are not there and you have that time to relax and enjoy. How many of you might think of something sexual as part of that recreation?" All of them admitted that it would cross their minds.
We brainstormed what they were really desiring at the end of an exhausting week: diversion, some adventure, a chance to let down and play. I suggested that rather than masturbating or engaging in some other sexual escape, they should go wander around Home Depot, play a computer game, get on their bike or read Sports Illustrated (not the swimsuit edition!).
It is a critical skill for sexual integrity: letting God help us meet our needs, sexual and nonsexual, wisely and appropriately. I appreciate the passage in Ecclesiastes 3:1: "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven" (NIV). We think we need sex when we actually need recreation or consolation or intimate connecting.
The reason men often shoot themselves in the foot and meet nonsexual needs sexually is a basic immaturity. They aren't very self-aware of deeper needs and feelings; they have a proneness to taking shortcuts; and they sacrifice long-term gain for immediate pleasure.
A Solution That Works
A scripture I have heard so many times took on new meaning for me in the context of this sexual integrity skill. It is 1 Corinthians 10:31: "whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." Within God's economy, there is a time and a place for every activity and need. If we grow up and keep within God's lines in meeting these needs, we will find love and joy and peace and His glory.
It takes real courage and wisdom to be truly self-aware and make the choices to meet nonsexual needs nonsexually. This is where our first skill in maintaining sexual integrity comes into play. We can't but He can! God can help us grow up and wisely learn to be mature men of sexual integrity. "Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong. Do everything in love" (1 Corinthians 16:13).
* If you had to prioritize your top three nonsexual needs, what would they be?
* Why do you think men lack self-awareness about some of their deeper needs? Think about better, more creative ways to meet some of these nonsexual needs nonsexually.
Skill Three: Discipline sexual fantasies and surges
Missed part one of this eight-article series? Just click on the first skill to learn about sexual integrity.
The Eight Skills for Sexual Integrity:
Skill One: Plug into God's thinking and power
Skill Two: Meet nonsexual needs nonsexually
Skill Three: Discipline sexual fantasies and surges
Skill Four: Embrace masculinity and enjoy moms, sisters and daughters
Skill Five: Cultivate covenant monogamy and passionate intimacy
Skill Six: Make positive pre- and post-temptation choices
Skill Seven: Run to God's ER when broken
Skill Eight: Create practical theologies for doubtful issues
Dr. Doug Rosenau is a licensed psychologist and certified sex therapist in Atlanta. He is the author of A Celebration of Sex (Thomas Nelson).
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