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Start Experiencing the Intimate and Satisfying Sex God Intended for Your Marriage
How’s your love life? Can you and your spouse talk openly about sex, or does it create more conflict than unity? Dr. Juli Slattery a clinical psychologist, author, and co-founder of Authentic Intimacy, a ministry dedicated to reclaiming God’s design for sexuality, says that when we understand God’s design for sexual purity, it helps us build the framework for addressing issues such as pornography, healing from past wounds, sexual incompatibility, pursuing pleasure together, and forgiveness. She examines the cultural shift that views sex as a form of expression versus love and reveals God’s invitation to every couple to view their sexual relationship, including their greatest struggles, as an avenue to learn about the nature of His covenant love. Listen today and discover practical steps that you can take toward true intimacy as a couple.
Welcome to the Influencers Podcast. We are here to see the influence of your life grow and expand to change your world and the world. I’m Scott Young, along with cohost Dave Donaldson, who we have back in the studio with us today. And we’re absolutely thrilled. It’s because the topic of the day has attracted Dave to come back from his overseas journeys on assignment and be with us because we’re going to talk about a book, God, sex, and your marriage. Dave’s come to be part of the program. We’re so glad for that. And let me just ask you our listeners a question, how’s your love life? Come on, go ahead and score it between one and 10, one being a disaster and 10 being red-hot. How is your love life? Can you and your spouse talk openly and intimately about sex? Does sexuality create more conflict in your relationship or unity has shame snuck in and sabotaged your intimacy? And what is your view of just simple sexual activity or sexual intimacy? Has it been corrupted by the world?
We live in our guest today. Dr. Julie Slattery is a clinical psychologist, an author co-founder of… and I love this, Authentic Intimacy. She has dedicated her life to reclaiming God’s design for sexuality to be intimacy. She’s got a great podcast called Java with Juli. It’s very popular. When she records an episode on the day of recording 7,000 people download the content during the first month, over 15,000 will download her content because it’s helping people to grow. She’s an author and a speaker. She’s written books, such as, “Rethinking Sexuality”, “Passion Pursuit”, and “Sex and the Single Girl”. She lives with her husband, Mike in Ohio, and they have three grown sons, which means you have a long term marriage. How long have you been married? Julie?
Yeah, we’ve been married almost 28 years.
I guess that’s long term.
Well, it’s longer than some.
That’s true. We still have a ways to go, but it’s been a great journey so far.
Sex – A Jigsaw Puzzle?
Thank you so much for joining us on the Influencers Podcast. And you say that sex is like a jigsaw puzzle. How, how is it?
Well, I have to confess that I like jigsaw puzzles, so that probably influences my choice of metaphor there, but I think it’s like a jigsaw puzzle in that there are so many different pieces that you have to learn to put together, and you have to learn to put into context. But where that metaphor really helps me is realizing that for a lot of years, I was working with the wrong picture on the front of the jigsaw puzzle box. So if you’re a puzzler, like I am you can’t solve a jigsaw puzzle unless you’re consistently referring to the picture that you’re supposed to create. And I think with sexuality, people don’t know what the picture is supposed to look like or even worse -they have a wrong understanding of what great sex is supposed to be from God’s perspective. And in that case, they are not only running into problems, but they don’t even know what wholeness is going to look like if they begin to address the problems. So that’s kind of where that picture kind of helps me communicate the complexity of sexuality.
What are some of the problems and pain points that people find themselves in when they don’t know the image they should be measuring themselves against?
Yeah, well, regardless of whether you have the right image or not, you’re going to run into problems. And some of the most common ones are things like we have different desire levels for sex within our marriage. We don’t know how to communicate about sex. We’re coming in with past experiences that lead to shame, lead to misunderstanding”. There are an awful lot of people who are coming into marriage with a history of pornography that has shaped how their body and brain respond to sexual stimulation. There are people that have experienced trauma – emotional and sexual trauma and childhood and the teens – that made that make sexuality, just fraught with triggers of fear and pain. And so in my work over the last decade related to sexuality, I found that those kinds of issues are more the norm, rather than the exception. Now you complicate that Scott by what you were asking, you have all those problems, but they’re even more compounded if you don’t know how God wants to use those problems to form healthy sex within your marriage. And that’s where most people are – they’ve got the problems, but they don’t even know what the solution is supposed to look like.
Sex Outside of Marriage?
Is most of your work sexuality inside of marriage? Do you talk about sexuality outside of marriage?
Yeah, I do talk about sexuality outside of marriage because the picture of what God created sex to be is actually for everyone, it’s not just for married people. It’s for all of us navigating our sexual desires, temptations, shame, wounds. And so the message is not just for married people, but it’s, we’re all sexual people. And so I’d say probably about 60% of my work is addressing sexuality as a whole, as it relates to different cultural issues. Just the things that people are struggling with. And then about 40% is particularly related to marriage challenges.
Do you, do you find do you work with younger people outside of marriage? I heard a report yesterday that talked about sexuality in younger emerging people, which is actually dropping off because of the increase of pornography. But what it’s really doing is damaging the intimacy side of any future they may have. It’s just like sex, but why do you need someone else, right? Do you find that with younger lives?
Yeah, absolutely. And not just as a result of pornography, but there’s a cultural shift from thinking about sex as an expression of love and intimacy and connection to thinking about sex as a form of self-expression. And so the research that is coming out on Gen Z and young adults in our day and age are saying that there’s a lot more experimentation a lot more with pornography, but also sexting and experimentation with gender expression and things like that that are sort of replacing the traditional way of viewing sex, which is sex as a way of connecting intimately with another person. And they actually project that’s going to continue to happen as even virtual reality takes over and that experimentation without another person becomes even more tangible. So unfortunately that’s a trend we’ll probably continue to see.
The Four Pillars of Love
Julie. It’s great to have you with us and my cohost Scott. So good to be back with you. I have been on assignment working on the crisis and Ukraine and I just got, by the way, the latest listening audience has gone up since I’ve been on assignment. So Scott, you’re doing a great job. Julie, how do the four pillars of God’s love for us that you speak about help us have the right perspective of sexual intimacy in marriage?
Yeah. Well, welcome back, Dave. I’m glad that I can be on the show for your return. And yeah. I love to explain those four pillars. We have to start by understanding that the front of the puzzle box from coming from a Christian perspective is actually God’s love for his people. It’s, Christ’s love for the church. And that is the larger picture of sexuality that we read about through the Bible. And I could spend hours explaining that as Paul says in Ephesians 5, that’s a mystery. We won’t take the time to dive into that today, but this is one way that that becomes very tangible when we say, okay, “If a husband and wife’s love within marriage are supposed to look like Christ’s relationship with the church…well, what does Christ’s relationship with us look like?” And so in the book, I break that down into four specific pillars and apply them very practically to what we should be working towards in, in our relationship sexually and within marriage.
So the four pillars, I talk about them briefly, and then we can dive in wherever you’d like to go deeper, but the first one is faithfulness. And so faithfulness is the foundation of our relationship with God. It’s trusting his word, trusting his character. And in a similar way, marriage is unique in that it’s this covenant, it’s a relationship based on a promise to be faithful. And faithfulness is about more than just not cheating on your spouse. It’s all about the character and trust that we’re building within marriage. The second pillar is intimate knowing the reason that God calls us to relationship with him is not just so that we obey him and that we’re good people, but he wants to have what he says, deep, intimate fellowship with us. And so your relationship with God should be more intimate today than it was 10 years ago.
And in the same way, sex is not just about doing and following the rules. It’s a journey of intimacy. It’s an invitation to be deeply known by one another. The third pillar, I think surprises a lot of people when it shows up in the sexual relationship, but it’s unselfish love. Our theology of Christianity says that love is actually impossible without sacrifice. And that that really the pinnacle of God’s love for us was the cross when he gave his son for us. And in a similar way, healthy sexuality is going to require an element of unselfishness on both a husband and wife’s part. If that doesn’t exist, you can’t have a thriving sexual relationship. And then the fourth pillar is passionate celebration. You know, as God’s people were told to gather regularly to celebrate our love for him to worship, to rejoice in all seasons, whether things are going well or not, there’s a time for passion and celebration and our expression of love. And in the same way, God has created sex to be very passionate, to have the capacity for great pleasure. And that’s a good thing when it’s within the context of celebrating the promise of love that God is called the husband and wife to have for each other.
Pornography, Trauma, and Living Together
Many years ago, I was giving a two part series at our church outside DC. And the first week was on the gift of marriage. And I made the statement that the greatest gift you can give your future mate, is your virginity. But if you’ve lost that, the next best thing is to start now. And so the following week I spoke on the gift of singleness and I made that same statement and a lady in the second row stood up, walked towards me and said, you are full of “bleep”. And afterwards I talked with a lot of couples that were cohabiting. And can you talk about that impacts sexual intimacy and faithfulness?
Yeah. Dave, thanks for bringing that up. I can somewhat understand why we’re getting such of a strong reaction to statements like that in our day and age. And I think it takes a lot of discernment to teach what God is calling us to in terms of stewarding our sexuality in a way that is consistent with his design while also recognizing that people are coming to this conversation with multiple levels of brokenness. So part of what I’ve learned on this journey is for example, probably about 1 in 3 women have been sexually exploited before the age of 18 and probably about 1 in 5 men. So we were talking about girls and boys, and we also know that when there are certain elements of trauma or brokenness, those sometimes manifest themselves in, in sexual struggles, like struggle with pornography. You know, the average kid is exposed to pornography nowadays around the age of 8 or 9.
So when people hear that message, that the greatest thing you can do for your spouses, give them your virginity, a high percentage of the people who are hearing that message are so confused about that because they’ve been sexually awakened by pornography. Some of them, many of them have experienced sexual trauma. Many of them have experimented sexually, and now they feel like, “Wow, I’m damaged goods, at best I’m kind of offering a B game, not only to my spouse, but to God”. And so I think we’re learning within the current day and age to really talk about sexuality from the perspective of the larger Gospel message, that if you are in Christ, you are new creation. Everything from the old has passed away, including your sexual history, including even maybe the pride that we have about keeping ourselves pure. Because everything we have is from God. And so when we come to Christ, we are empty before him broken before him and all things become new.
I think really challenging people that really one of the greatest gifts we can give is surrendering our sexuality to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, which yes, includes saying that God wants us to honor this gift and to steward it within the covenant of marriage. But it also includes what do I do with my, what does Jesus say I need to do with my shame? What do, what do I do with my wounds? Where’s God in the midst of the sexual trauma I experience as a child what do I do with my addiction to pornography? If I just can’t stop on my own willpower these are the questions that at least 50%, if not more of Christians are navigating. And so I think we need to go a lot deeper, not just in calling people to the right behavior, but inviting them on the journey of what it looks like for God to create all things new. So that the fruit of that is the behavior that honors God within marriage or singleness.
Sex: An Invitation to Intimacy vs a Simple Activity
Do you find that current sexuality as it’s practiced in the world in general? Which now almost front loads, sexuality in a relationship – people meet and they have sex, and then they say, well, maybe that’ll be the kind of person I want to have a relationship, which used to be totally opposite. There used to be a season of getting to know somebody getting to know their values and the prize was like sexuality. It’s now front loaded, but it seems to have done a lot of damage to intimacy. There seems to be a lot of sexual activity and maybe to the loss of intimacy and how can couples that have lost intimacy, which is a very high value to you and your writings. How can they recapture intimacy and how can we help people that are broken get whole again?
Yeah, that’s a good question, Scott. And really there’s two different issues that you brought up in that question. The first one is the trend that we’re seeing of people having sex before marriage just recreationally, or even justifying it by saying, “Hey, we need to know if we’re compatible before we get married”. And I would just challenge that individual that you’re thinking about sex all wrong. Sex is not about compatibility. Sex is about the expression, the physical expression of covenant, of the promise of sharing your life for each other. And I would go so far as to say that every sexual relationship will encounter elements of incompatibility. Even if you’re compatible, maybe when you’re dating, if you get married, you’re going to find out that you’re incompatible through seasons through different struggles that you go through. And that actually incompatibility is part of God’s design for sex, because it’s not just about immediate pleasure.
He wants to teach us those other elements of what it is to deny myself out of love for my spouse. And so again, I would really challenge the framework that we’re using to talk about sex in our culture today. It messes people up, not just in their pursuit of love, but it messes them up in how they navigate sexual issues within marriage. And that kind of gets to the second question you asked.
I think most people view sexuality as an activity rather than an invitation for intimacy. So the most common questions that people from a married perspective want to ask me are, “How often should we be having sex? What if we’re incompatible? What if I’m no longer sexually attracted to my spouse?”, those kinds of questions, “What’s okay in the bedroom?”. Now there’s nothing inherently wrong with those questions, but they show that we’re focusing on the wrong thing.
God didn’t create us to have a compatible sex life. He actually created us so that we are going to have to work at attraction. We are going to have to work at intimacy, and that’s where we actually get into sex, not just being about what our bodies are doing, but the deeper invitation to have the difficult conversations about what are the barriers.
Shame and Communication
Can you share with me about shame, like, for example, let’s say that one person is always initiating sex in the relationship and the other person tends to shy away. Well, they can do that dance for 25 years and never get to a conversation of, “How does it feel when I initiate with you?” “What thoughts go through your mind? How can I be more sensitive?, or how does it feel when I say ‘no’”, what’s underneath all that?
I actually have found that the greatest barriers to our sexual relationship are also the greatest invitations to intimacy for a couple . So you talk to a couple who has walked through and overcome an infidelity. They probably have a very intimate marriage because of where they’ve had to go through together. You talk to a couple who’s navigating infertility. That challenge is inviting them to deeper, grieving and conversation than they probably ever had before that. And so it’s looking at what’s happening in this sexual relationship as “What does God want to do?” and taking our love to a deeper level.
Sexual Maturity and Sexual Morality
Julie, you make the statement that God is not only concerned with our sexual morality, but also our sexual maturity. Explain what that looks like in marriage and some practical ways you can share on building that sexual maturity?
Absolutely. So one thing I like to tell people is God is more concerned about your love life than your sex life. And and I think when we only focus on morality, we’re focusing on, are we keeping the rules? So within marriage, are we, are we putting up the right guardrails and not cheating on each other? Are we not looking at pornography? And those are very important questions. We are to avoid sexual morality and sexual sin. That’s really clear, but God also challenges us to grow in our love for each other. You know, one of the criticisms that he had of the religious leaders of his day was that you’re keeping the rules, but your heart is far from me. And that can be very true of a sexual relationship within marriage. For example, let me just give you a, a regular scenario that I would encounter in my work.
A woman finds out that her husband has been looking at pornography and understandably she’s hurt. She’s angry, she’s devastated. She unleashes all these feelings towards her husband. And if he’s a good man, feels ashamed he’s been keeping it a secret, because he doesn’t know how to share it with her. He doesn’t know where to go with that. Now what happens next is really key. Does she continue with the attitude of “you broke the rule and I didn’t, therefore I have a higher moral ground than you do?”, or does she humble herself and say, “Hey you know, there is brokenness in our marriage. I didn’t realize was there. And yes, we have to address the issue of pornography. But even in that, I want to understand how God wants me to respond. I want to understand your journey. I need to heal and deal with my anger and my sadness, but this is a this is a journey with the two of us.”
And so that’s an example of where one person will say “I kept the sexual rules. So you’re the one that needs to get help” instead of saying, “No, God actually not only wants us to address the moral problem. God also wants to mature us in teaching us. What does grace look like? What does forgiveness look like? What does confession look like? How can we get to the place where we’re so open with each other, that we can be honest about temptations and about where we’re vulnerable?” So a couple that will go down that road together will find out that not only are they addressing the pornography, but more importantly, God is forging them together. In a way that is more representative of the character that he wants them both to develop.
Connecting with Julie
I really feel love is at the center of our spiritual development and our spiritual growth and love is work. Love is a struggle. And you’re talking about taking on that struggle together and it bringing intimacy, which is so good. And I love what you said that God is more concerned about your love life than your sex life and the four pillars. We just want to mention those again and also just want to find out Julie, how, how to connect with Java with Julie, your podcast. How do people find that to listen to more on the topic and then your most current book, “God, Sex, and Your Marriage”? Tell us how people can connect with your resources.
Yeah. So you can find that podcast Java with Julie on any podcast platform and then all of our resources available at our website, which is www.authenticintimacy.com
And then remember that image. Julie talked about that puzzle and that puzzle, it, it, it probably has the picture of Jesus on it and Jesus is faithful and Jesus is intimate and Jesus is unselfish and Jesus is passionate. Those four pillars are so great. Want to thank you just for being part of the Influencers Podcast. So great to have Dave Donaldson back with us again. And as we continue to grow our influence, let’s touch our neighborhood and let’s touch the nations.