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What is Healthy Sex in Marriage?

woman in bed relaxing


My question is pretty vague! What does it look like to have a healthy sex life in marriage?

The background to my question is: My husband of 18 years is working on getting over a pornography addiction. I have some sexual abuse issues from childhood. So we are both messed up. Initially when we married I tried to be fun and sexy and would not get much response so I often felt rejected. He’d even say he wasn’t “visually or didn’t want it that often”. The porn addiction came to light 6 years into our marriage and I was crushed and really felt that the rejection was due to his addiction to porn. So we are again trying to recover from all this. We both admit that we have no idea what a healthy sex life is in marriage. Any clues you can give me?

Thanks. — L, NE


You are asking several really important questions here. In all honesty some are much bigger than a single post can answer. My immediate response is that you aren’t alone. Lots of people are also coping with hurt feelings from sexual rejection, abusive histories and confusion with pornography. Our culture is awash in unhealthy images and messages about sexuality. It is no small wonder we can’t easily conjure up definitions of healthy sexuality, much less experience it.

If you aren’t already, be sure that you and your husband are seeing a sex-positive and Mating in Captivity knowledgeable therapist certified through AASECT. You can find one here. A good sex therapist can help you both unravel the past hurts and move towards the sexual relationship you want to have together.

So what does a sexually healthy adult look like? (And have any of us ever seen one?!) A sexually healthy adult feels good about his or her body, sexual desires and sexual responses and communicates openly about sexuality with their partner. Easier said than done! For most of us, this requires actively educating ourselves about sex and sexuality in order to undo the harm that people, media messages and myths of sexuality have done to us.

What does healthy sex look like in a marriage or relationship? Healthy sex in marriage (or in relationship) is when you and partner communicate about sex without fear of being shamed or shut down. It is when you both enjoy your own sexual response and you enjoy your partner’s sexual response. People often ask about how often they should have sex and what kind of sex “normal” people have. In truth, healthy sex doesn’t have to do with the activities or how often you do them. Healthy sex has everything to do with opening your hearts and minds to hear what you want sexually, and to hear what your partner wants, and to work towards finding ways to merge the two. Sometimes you just can’t get all your sexual needs met! That doesn’t mean the relationship is failing. It just means that people are learning how to be together. Some things are “deal-breakers.” Some aren’t.

Ok, an example is in order! Recently someone – let’s call her Craven for fun – told me that she would like to have sex three times a week but her partner prefers sex once a week. Together, they spent time talking about their different desires. They felt a little hurt or awkward at moments, but ultimately assured each other that they love and care for each other. They decided that a fun compromise would be for them to look forward to having sex once a week together, and for Craven to do something else that she likes – masturbating while her partner is watching – about once a week. Also, Craven gets to masturbate as much as she likes alone. It isn’t like she has to just sit on her hands and wait for her partner to “get in the mood!”

I offer this as an example of healthy sexuality because the couple felt comfortable talking about what they wanted sexually, and even though they didn’t want the same thing (how often does that really happen?) they found a compromise that meets their needs and also makes sure no one feels obliged, rejected or shamed.

Dear reader, I hope this is helpful. A book about healthy sexuality in marriage (and long-term monogamous relationships) that I particularly like is called “Mating in Captivity.” It might help to read this together with your husband to initiate these conversations.