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Volume 14, Issue 2: Husbandry

Sexual Grumbling

Douglas Wilson

A good marriage is characterized by an ability to talk about anything. This does not mean that it is easy to talk about everything, but rather that any subject can be addressed in a way that is profitable.

One area where talking can be difficult is in the area of sex—particularly in discussing the sexual temptations which come at the relationship from outside. Because sexual discussion between husband and wife can be difficult for many reasons, there are a number of things that a husband should remember as he takes responsibility for undertaking such risky business. At the center of everything is his duty of Christian contentment.
First, a husband should be clear in his mind that he is talking about his temptations, not giving way to them. In short, talking should be honest talking, and not a form of discontented manipulation. He should understand what his temptations actually are, and what they are not. His wife should be able to help him resist those things which are temptations to sin. But if he doesn't believe something is sin, but talks to her as though he is "struggling" with it, he is actually trying to manipulate or corrupt her, not talk with her. More than one man has "confessed" certain things to his wife when he was actually trying to corrupt her with them.
Another issue is that honor and praise always edify every aspect of a relationship, including sex, while grumbling is destructive and tears down. Many men are chronic sexual complainers, and Scripture forbids complaining (Phil. 2:14), and requires contentment (Phil. 4:11). Further, the Bible says that men are to honor their wives (1 Pet. 3:7), and this includes expressing honor to them for their sexual attractiveness. Godly contentment is closely related to an undefiled marriage bed (Heb. 13:4_5). Put another way, many men think they are tempted by lust when they are really tempted more by a discontented and critical spirit.
In many cases, they wouldn't dream of complaining about their food-life the way they complain about their sex life. But complaining always tears down. A man who complained about the food all the time is unlikely to see an improvement in the cooking. It is the same in the bedroom—a man who constantly complains about sex is unlikely to see improvement in the cooking there either. This remains true even if all his complaints remain unspoken. Complaining is communicated in countless ways.
Complaints can be divided into three categories. The first is that a man's wife does not look like other women. We may call this the adulterous complaint. A man is told to be satisfied with his wife's breasts (Prov. 5:19), and this excludes the common practice that many men have of getting their appetite abroad while eating at home. An undiscriminating man who has a steady diet of movies and television shows he shouldn't have is going to grow increasingly discontented with his wife's appearance.
He might respond that he would be happy to be satisfied with her breasts, but that she won't let him near them, which leads to the second kind of complaint—not the way she looks to him, but the way she responds to him. Because her behavior is under her control, men sometimes assume that they have a right to complain here if they do not appreciate something. What these men do not realize is that a woman's sexual responsiveness flourishes, as a luxuriant green plant in the garden, in direct correlation to how it is nourished and watered. Many men complain that their wives are too embarrassed to be as responsive and hot as the Shulamite, but they are too embarrassed to praise her as the Shulamite's husband did. And so we may call this the complaint of the fool.
The third complaint occurs when a wife is actively sinning against her husband, either through infidelity, gross lack of submission, refusal to have relations with him, and so on. If a woman is sinning in this way, a husband does not have the right to overlook the problem. If he cannot bring the situation around, then he is responsible to get help from the outside. If he refuses, but still complains, it is the complaint of a coward.
If a man knows that his desire to talk with his wife does not proceed from discontent, then a talk about all these things can be quite helpful. He should remember that a husband is responsible to help his wife respond to him correctly as he talks with her. Many women have gotten themselves into a trap—they are offended when their husbands keep things back from them, but then they are offended in a different way if their husbands tell them any details about their temptations. In short, they penalize honesty and penalize dishonesty. When wives do this, a man can't win for losing, and so he frequently winds up clever and dishonest. He needs to become wise and honest. It is all well and good to say that a woman shouldn't respond this way, but the husband is the one responsible to help her work through this. She is given to him as a helper, and one of the things he needs help with is sexual fidelity (1 Cor. 7:2). And marriage is a help with this in other ways than simply providing physical sexual release. Godly conversation is an important part of it.
But in order to provide true help, the foundation of all discussion between a Christian husband and wife must be contentment. A contented man and woman can strive to glorify God still more in what they learn sexually. But if the striving is built on discontent, then everything they learn how to do will only exacerbate that discontent.

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