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Appropriate Sexuality within a Marriage, Frequency *and* Activities

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#1 Seraphim of the Midwest

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Posted 24 November 2014 - 08:52 PM

Sexuality is a very important aspect of marriage.  

 

In Western culture, sex is simultaneously everywhere and nowhere.  Young people are encouraged to be very active, leading to an abundance of problematic phenomena: rape, teen/unwed pregnancy, pornography, homosexuality, and deviance.  On the other hand, once a man and woman are married, it is very common for sexual frequency to decrease precipitously, even to the point of non-existence.

 

What is proper sexuality within marriage, specifically frequency and activities?



#2 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 24 November 2014 - 09:20 PM

The Church is sufficiently clear on these matters.



#3 Seraphim of the Midwest

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Posted 24 November 2014 - 09:22 PM

I disagree.  Let me ask in a very specific way then.  

 

How often can a husband expect that he and his wife will have "standard" sexual intercourse (missionary position, not a fasting day, she is not menstruating, and there is no pornography or other taboo activity)?



#4 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 24 November 2014 - 09:41 PM

You ask a question which cannot be answered - it obviously depends upon the couple who must work out these things between them within what the Church teaches.



#5 Seraphim of the Midwest

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Posted 24 November 2014 - 09:49 PM

I disagree.  I believe it can be answered.  And the question is always answered in a marriage.  Sexual intimacy either happens or it doesn't, day-by-day.

 

In reality, the lower libido spouse will usually control the frequency of sexual intimacy.  The female is usually the lower libido spouse.

 

So, in reality, your answer is equivalent to the usual answer given within our culture: "the female decides how much sex there will be."  This is especially true if the Husband and wife don't agree on frequency.  If the woman isn't receptive, it does't happen.

 

Is this the stand of the Church?  I think the answer is *actually*, officially no.



#6 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 24 November 2014 - 09:59 PM

You put words in my mouth I did not speak. It is obvious that frequency of intimacy is a matter for the couple. If there is a difference between them which they cannot resolve, that is a pastoral matter for their spiritual father if they will refer the matter to him.



#7 Olga

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Posted 24 November 2014 - 10:23 PM

MidwestSeraphim, why ask the question if you already know the answer?



#8 Seraphim of the Midwest

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Posted 24 November 2014 - 10:56 PM

Olga, I ask partly as a rhetorical device to draw out discussion.  I also ask because I see a lot of very vague discussions across the Internet, but not many specific answers such that married couples can have a solid answer.  I think such a discussion provides a much needed topical discussion that does not get the attention it deserves... namely, how shall an Orthodox husband and wife approach the sexual aspect of their marriage in the midst of our culture and baggage that is often carried into, but not distinguished from, the Orthodox Church.

 

I am glad that you posted Olga, because I think it would be excellent to get a woman's point of view on the matter, especially from you (as a moderator, you refused to allow me to ask previously).

 

So, I will ask you directly: Should the wife have the ability to determine the frequency of sexual intimacy in a marriage, i.e. does she hold "veto power"?

 

I can ask the question in the way I did initially: If sexual intimacy is as important to most men as intimate conversation is to most women, then should a wife desire/expect intimate conversation more often than a husband should desire/expect sexual intimacy (and for longer duration)?

 

It seems very reasonable to expect that if the husband is not getting his desire for sexual intimacy met, then the wife should be just as willing to take a vow of silence as long and as often as she expects her husband will be celibate.  And getting her desire/need for intimate conversation met outside of her husband should be treated with the same contempt that extra-marital sexual intimacy sought by the husband is treated.

 

So, then the question posed to everyone on the forum: Why is this subject almost always treated with a double-standard, i.e. a woman's desire for intimate conversation is morally more pure and superior to a man's desire for sexual intimacy?

 

And, for anyone who tries to give the pat answer, "ask your priest/spiritual father," I can say that I have had each of these answers provided at one time or another:

  • "What is done in the bedroom is between the husband and wife.  It is nobody else's business as long as it isn't degrading to one or the other"
  • "Sex is inherently dirty and tainted, and should be avoided.  As an older man, I am glad that my desire is all but gone."
  • "The sexual relationship during fasting times is by mutual consent only.  If either the husband or wife objects, then you should not fast from sex.  Especially if one of you is 'climbing the walls'"
  • "Just do the best you can.  It is a hard subject and there really isn't much teaching about it in the Orthodox Church... there really isn't."

I also had correspondence with an "expert" in the area.  So I did due diligence and still could not get a straight answer.



#9 Olga

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Posted 24 November 2014 - 11:03 PM

Any answer I give will be of no consequence. What applies in my life cannot and should not be imposed on someone else's.

 

Rather than being a "pat answer", "ask your priest" is a sensible one. A good priest who knows you and your wife well will be able to advise you accordingly. What is medicine for one couple might be poison for another.



#10 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 24 November 2014 - 11:07 PM

It is not, I have to say, clear to me at all what is meant by 'a woman's desire for intimate conversation'.



#11 Kosta

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Posted 25 November 2014 - 05:28 AM

No need to micromanage and come up with a schedule between the two of you. I remember a news program on pre-nuptial agreements. One couple put into the contract the frequency of sex they are to devote each other to each week, I think such micromanaging is insane

Your question is partially cultural. While I have doubts that men have a higher libido than women (maybe in my parts there is something in the water). You can go way back in time and see that part of the understanding of marriage was that the wife was expected to give sexuality gratification to her husband in exchange for economic stability and protection from him, hence raping your wife in that age would have been an absurd accusation.

Today things have changed and everyone is expected to find that middle ground. Obviously things shouldn't deteriorate to the point where one spouse is looking to have an affair.

#12 Michał

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Posted 25 November 2014 - 09:05 AM

You put words in my mouth I did not speak. It is obvious that frequency of intimacy is a matter for the couple. If there is a difference between them which they cannot resolve, that is a pastoral matter for their spiritual father if they will refer the matter to him.

 

The frequency of sex is no business of a spiritual father.



#13 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 25 November 2014 - 09:42 AM

That is so, but if the couple's relationship is being damaged by tensions caused by differences regarding sex and, as Kosta puts it, the marriage is deteriorating, then it is, assuming they take their problem to him, as they should.



#14 Seraphim of the Midwest

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Posted 25 November 2014 - 03:08 PM

Marriages often deteriorate because wives have hangups about sex.  Given the fact that such hangups are a historical holdover from ancient pagan Greek society, one would think that Orthodox Chrisitans would have a better handle on the problem.

 

Unfortunately, it is a taboo subject because it is not "nice" to expose the problems people have with sexuality.  Paradoxically, sexual repression is very common today, despite the bombardment of sexual images in our society.

 

So women usually answer with talking to a priest about it.  Of course, males have a protective instinct when it comes to a female in distress, and so tend to come to the protection of a distressed female.  In the end, the female who is repressed controls the situation.  Such is unacceptable.

 

When a man commits to a woman in marriage, he is promising to live in chastity -- that is, preserve himself for her sexually, not participate in any extra-martial sexual/intimate activity, no pornography or other such sinful activities.  He also commits to providing financial resources and being a father to the children who are brought into the world through the union.  In return, he expects that his need for sexual intimacy will be met by his wife.  She has a responsibility to him to be subject to him in the area of sexuality.

 

The dirty little secret is this: Women in Western societies, once the man has a ring on his finger, don't typically respect the agreement.  Thus, the husband suffers as a result of the wife's repression and hangups.

 

Previous comments have made a great point: a priest has no business micromanaging such matters.  In reality, the sexual responsibility of the wife to the husband should be communicated to women prior to the marriage and they need to accept the fact that in putting that crown on their head, they agree to meet the need of their husband.

 

It is the place of forums such as this forum to communicate such issues since the issues aren't adequately covered in catechesis, pre-marital counseling, books, or other.  These issues are ones that are to be communicated through the living tradition, passed down from parents to children, and spoken about in private.  

 

Paul teaches in the Epistle to Titus "Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored."

 

In the West, no such culture exists because Orthodoxy is in large-part a convert Church.  The older women who have experienced how to successfully meet the needs of their husbands usually do not teach the wives what it means to fulfill their responsibilities and be subject to their husbands.  Therefore, the only alternative is for these issues to be discussed out in the open.  Suggesting that such will happen by asking a priest is a cop-out.



#15 Seraphim of the Midwest

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Posted 25 November 2014 - 03:16 PM

Kosta, I wonder, would you elaborate a bit on your culture?   I speculate that in your culture, the older women indeed do teach the younger how to be proper wives.

 

In reality, women who do not suffer from Victorian type repression indeed do have higher libido than their prudish counterparts.  Sexual pleasure is inherent in the female anatomy (as they have an organ which serves only one known purpose - the experiencing sexual pleasure).  The male lacks such specialized anatomy.



#16 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 25 November 2014 - 03:24 PM

The last sentence of post #14 is completely unacceptable here and I would call upon the moderators to take appropriate action.



#17 Father David Moser

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Posted 25 November 2014 - 03:25 PM

Frankly, all this talk about sex really bores me.  The expectation is that a husband and wife abstain from marital relations on fast days, the eve of feasts ((including Sundays) and on feast days (this presumes the reception of the Mysteries on that day).  That all being said, not all people can meet this expectation and so the husband and wife must come to some agreement.  While one's spiritual father is not the one who brokers or determines that agreement, he can certainly be asked his guidance and help at such times.  Even the Patriarch of Moscow in centuries past issued a letter to his clergy recognizing that such strict abstention is not always or even usually possible and then set the "minimum" compliance for married clergy that they should fast from marital relations on the eve of the Liturgy, during the whole of the first week of Lent and during Holy Week. Nothing else said about Wed's and Fri's or the other fasts or even the intervening weeks of Great Lent.  So the rule is very plastic and can be adjusted to the needs of the couple.

 

As for the frequency of marital relations outside of the fast, that is entirely up to the couple and is something that must be settled between them.  Each must be ready to forgo their own wishes in order to give to their spouse what is needed (remember your body does not belong to you any longer but to your spouse).  The Epistle for the marriage reminds us that wives should submit to and obey their husbands but that husbands must love their wives as Christ loved the Church (and how did Christ love the Church?  He gave up his very life and suffered crucifixion for her - so husbands until you have at least figuratively given up your "life" and died for your wife, you shouldn't be worrying about her obedience).  Problems of physical intimacy (frequency, etc) within a marriage usually mean that there are problems of intimacy and that sex is being used as a weapon against one's spouse.  Such problems can be solved simply by good, honest, open communication between husband and wife - but most of the time such problems prevent such communication.  In that case it is wise to consult with some kind of marital or relationship counselor.  This is not spiritual guidance, but simply someone (maybe professional, maybe not) who can help the couple listen to one another and recognize the root issues that are not addressed because the sex issue (or any one of a multitude of other surface issues) are in the way.



#18 Euthymios

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Posted 27 November 2014 - 10:49 AM

Sexuality is a very important aspect of marriage.  

 

In Western culture, sex is simultaneously everywhere and nowhere.  Young people are encouraged to be very active, leading to an abundance of problematic phenomena: rape, teen/unwed pregnancy, pornography, homosexuality, and deviance.  On the other hand, once a man and woman are married, it is very common for sexual frequency to decrease precipitously, even to the point of non-existence.

 

What is proper sexuality within marriage, specifically frequency and activities?

What do you mean by western culture? The sex and immorality problem is worldwide. I hear that in Russia, they are encouraged to imitate the decadence of America, and that immorality and alcoholism are out of control.



#19 Euthymios

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Posted 27 November 2014 - 10:57 AM

Father David,

 

Does not the abstinence of sex before liturgy and fast days imply that sex is impure or bad? But Scripture nowhere teaches this. St. Paul taught: "unto the pure all things are pure:" (Titus 1:15).

 

I think this attitude about sex comes from paranoid cultures marinated in phobias and superstition, and from Gnosticism and Augustine. The Scriptures are silent on it. A lot of these ideas were accepted in an uncritical age by illiterate, and biblically illiterate people. They were told what to do and believe, and many did not even have access to Scripture.



#20 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 27 November 2014 - 11:59 AM

Euthymios, Fr David may answer for himself, of course, but you are not having regard to the distinction between man in his fallen state and the higher state to which he aspires and attempts to reach through denial of those characteristics of our fallen state which are not sinful but are the consequence of the fall. It is not a sin to have marital relations, nor to eat meat; there are the 'blameless passions'. But nonetheless, we should try to rise above these when about to partake of the Body and Blood of Christ. That is why we should abstain from sex and meat (and other non-fasting food) at least the day before communing.






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