How to communicate sexual desire in a relationship

A reader writes in:

Biblically, is communicating your sexual desire to someone you are dating to marry wrong? From the sermon on the mount, I understand the qualifications on what lust is. And premarital sex is wrong I believe, but how do we handle ourselves in communication. I suppose I’m having trouble discerning things. Are we too prude as a culture? Or do we avoid all appearances of sex for a reason? Can I tell my girlfriend the ways she turns me on, etc. Thanks!

I’ve mentioned before how male and female sexual desire is not sinful and why it’s important to talk about sex with your girlfriend and/or fiancee. So to answer the first question, no, communicating the desire is indeed not sinful.

One thing about “lust” in Matthew 5 is that it’s by nature coveting.

Matthew 5:27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; 28 but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Jesus is speaking to the men — notice how when preaching to the crowds, only the number of men is counted. In particular, He’s also speaking about ‘adultery’ in v27 rather than ‘fornication.’ So the ‘lust’ or ‘passion’ here is about coveting a woman that is not yours — which is unmarried or married women for a married men (e.g. any woman not their wife) OR married women for single men (e.g. not single women).

Why not single women for unmarried men? Remember, Paul speaks this to the unmarried about their ‘lust’:

1 Cor 7:8 But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I. 9 But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

If you ‘sexually desire’ a member of the opposite sex who is single, you should take the steps to marry. This makes logical sense and does not conflict any of the statements of Jesus and Paul on sexual desire.

The gross overstatement of ‘lust’ in “purity culture” in the modern Church for a single man to a single woman or vice versa is definitely damaging to getting people to marry. It causes a lot of single men and women to shy away from their sexuality, which is one factor in delaying marriage (along with life scripts). This often leads toward illicit ways to express sexuality like porn, romance novels, and so on.

Now, what it looks like in practice can be difficult for many men to do. When I was going out on dates with Christian girls I would ask them a few dates in (read: not the first few dates) about more serious topics. Alternatively, if you’re texting or messaging back and forth a lot and the conversation is leading that way you can ask about topics like that too.

There’s a couple different ways you can do this:

  • Ask her what she finds attractive about you, and be ready to answer what you find attractive about her.
  • Ask her what she thinks about particular responsibilities of marriage, and move slowly toward 1 Cor 7 about either spouse not denying sex to each other
  • Ask her what her parents taught her about husbands and wives, and be prepared to answer the same things about your experiences.
  • There are potentially other prospective questions that relate to sexuality as well like abortion. Huge list of prospective questions here.

Like anything you’ll probably usually be uncomfortable talking about these things right away and it could be awkward. If it turns out awkward, you can just say even though it’s awkward it’s good to discuss relationships more in depth. It will get less awkward over time the more you practice.

Overall, there needs to be some discernment, as you mentioned. Things you would say to a 3 date girl would be different than you would say to a 3 month ‘dating’ or ‘courtship’ relationship which would be different than something you would say to a fiancee.

For example, I wouldn’t and didn’t shy away from “that’s what she said” jokes with my now wife for any ‘stages’ in along the aforementioned timeline. However, I did not go up to her right away and say how she looked was turning me on. That was more toward the engagement period. In the earlier to mid part I would say something like “you looked great in that dress or skirt and it makes me want to wrap my arms around her and kiss her” and then actually do it. When we were engaged, I’d say “I want to ravish her.”

I’m also not afraid of hugging and non-sexual contact, and I think that is one of the big things that a lot of Christian men are generally uncomfortable with. Non-sexual contact is socially acceptable contact usually with the back, hands, forearms, or shoulders. Men do it all the time with a slap on the back or fist bump. You can also do this with women, albeit depends on the social customs.

There definitely is some variability and different boundaries. I know some married couples who did not kiss until they were married, so the latter example would not work for them. I think when in doubt you should shy on the less side of things though.

Ostensibly in the relationship you are both there because you find each other attractive. Most cultures tend to find blatant sexual statements too forward and unbecoming and in general the Scripture is like that too on fornication and giving the appearance of evil. However, there is a natural progression from single to engaged to marriage where expression of sexuality grows.

Comments from other married or single commenters to flesh this out for our reader(s) are also good.

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11 Responses to How to communicate sexual desire in a relationship

  1. Frankly, this is my entire MO.

    From the TRP subreddit, that weird hodgepodge of truth and foolishness:

    “It’s okay to chase girls just because they’re hot. These girls want you to chase them. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t make themselves hot.”

    You don’t marry someone just because of this, but it’s perfectly valid to walk up to a girl and say, “Hi, you’re gorgeous and I wanted to talk to you.” The subtext in your head: so we can see if we want to bang each other, in which case we’ll get married. You are being circumspect, not deceitful.

    Frankly, you can (and should) turn this into a selling point for yourself. You really do have to convince yourself that you’re a catch, but because men are not women, we have a hard time being confident in our estimations.

    The first step is recognizing that as far as you and the Lord are concerned, you’re enough. At Judgment Day we’ll look back and see all our sins, but “marrying a woman out of your league” will not be one of them.

    The second step is realizing that given you and the Lord’s opinions, it’s hers that matters. You’re confident in yourself (if not—repent!), but if you’re not every girl’s cup of tea, that’s fine.

    Given those, if you find yourself in a situation where you have to sell yourself, one of your most attractive qualities is that you go for what you want.

    As such, don’t feel like you need to hide that you’re into her—as long as you’re also willing to let her walk away. This becomes easier when you admit to yourself that you’re attracted to (i.e., want to bang) most women.

    I think guys (self included) act like they’ll put on trial at any moment:

    “Isn’t it true, Mr. Dropit, that your true motive is to have sex with my client? Isn’t that the real reason you took her to coffee?”

    The answer to this in-your-head-lawyer is:

    “Well, yeah man, look at her!”

    The extended response would be:

    “That was exactly my intention. That she was physically qualified I could tell with a glance; what remained was her mental, emotional, and moral suitability, as well as her opinion on the proposed coupling. Both to gather more data for myself, and to give her an opportunity to make her own estimate, I proposed a short meeting where we could mutually gather information.”

    “Isn’t it true that despite your penchant for drunk texts and insufferable neediness, you proposed said meeting to my client, knowing in advance that you would be an inconvenience?”

    “Well, I doubt that. I wasn’t looking for salvation—I get that from another source, mind you—and anyway, if she had refused, there was a cute girl with a dog I could see behind her…”

    “What! Another woman! Are you a womanizer, sir?”

    “I don’t know what that means.”

    “A man who sleeps with multiple women! Is that not you sir?”

    “Whoa, sleep with? Don’t you mean fuck? No, that would be fornication.”

    “But you might break the hearts of countless…”

    “First: no one seems to have cared about my heart, so whatever. Second: At no point did I make any promises. I would submit, Counselor, that you’re attempting to bind me by my sense of honour to uphold oaths I never swore, for the emotional security of your client. That would seriously impinge on my ability to be fruitful and multiply, which orders I have from a higher court than the present.”

  2. Some tidbits on my mind:

    1) There’s only one being called “The Accuser,” and it ain’t Christ.

    2) I really ought to link the entire TRP post. Readers will have to ask the guidance of God to discern what’s good, and what’s not, in it.

  3. Here’s the perspective of a married woman, who had trouble “staying pure” with my husband before marriage. (We were both virgins on our wedding night, but did cross several lines that we should not have before marriage.)

    – For a woman, being desired by the dude you desire is quite intoxicating. If you go too far down the line of sexually explicit comments, you will make it very hard for her to keep her thoughts pure and be self-controlled around you. Song of Songs warns three times, “do not arouse or awaken love before it so desires”. This is for good reason – you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube!
    – Comments like “You are so beautiful”, “You look great in that dress” and even “I’m looking forward to our wedding night” are helpful. Comments like “I just want to rip that dress off you” and “I’m looking forward to doing x, y and z with you on our wedding night” can be unhelpful, as they lead to fantasising about the specific acts. And, as the saying goes, fantasy is just a rehearsal for reality.
    – Keep conversations about sexuality based on God’s word. Remember that sex in marriage is a good, God-invented thing, and keep Him the centre of it from the beginning.
    – Have these conversations in a public/private place – where you can be seen by other people, but not heard. I know from experience that talking about sex can be, well, sexy. And talking about these things in a dark car at night is not a very good strategy if you are waiting until your wedding night to have sex.

    Hope that helps 🙂

  4. donalgraeme says:

    A good post. Lots of problems stem from the purity culture and a widespread ignorance of how to talk about sexuality among Christians.

  5. earl says:

    Yeah the line (which is often purposely blurred by outside factors) is the difference between licit sexual desire and illicit (which is lust).

    I think if you are still in the dating/courting phase the sexual desire talk should be kept to a minimum and more on the innocent side for reasons like temptation or possibly leading to a mortal sin, however you shouldn’t be afraid of it. I’ve never had a problem telling a lady I’m interested in (and knowing she’s interested in me) I find her attractive or physically touching those areas which you mentioned above.

    If you are engaged then you can amp it up a bit (without acting upon it)…because you are in the planning stages of marriage.

    Once married, you have the freedom in reason to communicate it.

  6. anonymous_ng says:

    I read once a saying something to the effect that the difference between an older man who is creepy, and one who is charming is that the creepy old man knows that if there were a sexual encounter, his needs would be satisfied, but the charming man knows that her needs would be satisfied, and his is a given.

    The point that came to my mind from reading this is that far too many men are ashamed of their sexuality. They suffer under the societal Puritanism that sex is bad despite us living in the most sexualized time ever.

    As DS has noted, there is nothing sinful or impure about sexual desire per se. It’s in the actions that follow even if only in your own mind and heart.

    What follows then, is that a man’s insecurity about his sexuality will bleed over into all of his relationships with attractive women. He cannot come to things secure in his value because he thinks that he is perverted. Then, the things that come out of his mouth are a reflection of that state. He says crude things that open a door to his inner thoughts, and they are perverted, but not because of his sexual desire, but because of the perverse message he’s absorbed from society.

    I will also say that to the degree that men in our society don’t know how to communicate subtley, they need to learn. In the same way that I’m sick to death of hearing people bragging about their ignorance of mathematics, I’m similarly sick of people excusing men for spending no effort on learning to communicate with a deft touch, something beyond T&A.

    Holding a hand just a little bit too long while saying that she looks nice says it all without sounding like a longshoreman to a streetwalker.

  7. Stephanie says:

    Seriously Serving’s comment is perfect. That “do not awaken love before it’s time” is so important!
    Even for adolescents to remember.

    From my personal experience, almost everyone we know that are Christian that were trying to stay pure, wished they had had a shorter engagement in order to make it easier – us included! We only had a 6 month engagement, but 3 months would have been perfect. That was after knowing each other a year though. YMMV

  8. @ SPDI

    Used to keep up with that, but dropped it a couple years ago. I think it’s too easy to get sucked in.

    In general, the main thing holding men back is fear.

    Maybe not afraid to approach one woman, but they are afraid to approach a more attractive woman. Once they’re comfortable with a more attractive woman, they’re still afraid to approach an even more attractive woman.

    Same with holding a conversation, having an opinion, being able to tease and be playful with a woman, and being confident, decisive, bold, and all of the other traits of masculinity. Beauty for men is something that I think is generally intimidating and make men feel like they are out of their league (which is really just a self defeatist attitude).

    Of course, I personally believe(d) that no one was out of my league, but on the other hand you generally have to be realistic about your situation as well. If you’re just making piddly change and generally unemployed and shabbily dressed but are extremely charismatic, it’s true you might get women to sleep with you (if you’re a non-Christian) but they won’t marry you.

    Women generally only marry up. And the word for it is hypergamy as we all well know.

  9. Stephanie says:

    “Women generally only marry up.”

    It’s just not always true though. I married my husband when he only worked at IHOP and had nothing to his name because we were both still in college. I came from more upper class people and still fell in love with him. He had (and has) a heart of gold and I could tell by his character that he would excel at anything he did, and he has ❤ But I wouldn't call the initial feelings and commitment necessarily "marrying up."

  10. @ Stephanie

    1. I said “generally” for a reason. It’s also very rare that you see “upper class” women marry down… and by upper class I mean their parents made >389k+ per year. That’s the 1% in the US.

    There’s not as much stratification in marriage in the US, and you’ll quite often see a bunch of mixing in marriages between the upper middle, middle, and lower middle classes. However, most of the stratification occurs between the 3: (1) lower class, (2) lower mid, middle, upper mid, (3) upper class.

    Basically, this is when there is a drastic change in lifestyle due to wealth. Not too much change in lifestyle from say 50k – 250k as people can go in debt to afford what they want or at least put on appearances. However, when you’re in the lower (350k), you’ll start to see the large lifestyle differences.

    There tends to be more stratification in other countries.

    2. College is also an exception. It’s not expected that a man is going to be pulling down a solid paying job while going to college.

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