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We need to talk about sex in church!

When many Christian couples get married they are ill-equipped to navigate sexual intimacy. Premier’s Maria Rodrigues spoke with psychosexual nurse therapist Emma Waring, who longs to see churches talking more openly about the struggles couples face in the bedroom

Warning: contains graphic content

Emma, why do you feel sex needs to be talked about in churches?

When my husband and I joined the church that we go to, seven or eight years ago, I was being asked fairly regularly by the pastoral care team to meet with couples who were struggling with an aspect of sex. I didn’t offer them therapy, because that would blur professional and church boundaries, but I met them like I would do a friend. We would meet over coffee and talk about what they were struggling with.

What I started to hear time and time again from Christian couples was, firstly, if they had problems they didn’t know where to turn and that sex hasn’t really been talked about very much in the Church. And that was really the thing that prompted me to write my book, which specifically has a focus for Christian couples [Seasons of Sex & Intimacy]. There wasn’t really a very practical book out there. There were quite a lot of books around the theology of sex, but not books on how to make sex good, how to create a good sexual relationship within marriage, but also how to manage practical problems surrounding sex.

Historically, the message that many of the couples I’m working with heard is: don’t have sex until you’re married and then when you’re married have lots of it – with not much information in between. But it’s really difficult for couples to make that transition. Something I’ve tried to address in my book is the myth that many Christian couples buy into – that if they wait until their wedding night, the sex will automatically be really fantastic. That’s been really interesting for me to hear and to understand. There is almost a sense that couples feel they don’t need to take any responsibility; that it’s magically going to come together and be perfect, without any discussion or thought.

It is so difficult for couples if they have waited, and then sex on their wedding night is a disappointment. Actually, lots of couples don’t have sex on their wedding night, as they are too exhausted. For some, when they do have sex, it’s a real disappointment, as it doesn’t work. But they don’t really know where to go from there. I do think we need to get better at talking about it – in more detail than just do it!

For most of us, our sex education was in school so is this something that churches could play a role in – filling in the gaps, educating and equipping couples?

I think that would be amazing if church communities could become confident in embracing precisely that approach, because actually there are some technical things that are really useful to understand about sex. I’ll give you a simple example. When a man has an erection, he has eight times more blood flowing into the genital area, and it’s that that enables him to have an erection. Now that’s an obvious thing that people can see. But the same process happens in women. Women have erectile tissue within the vulva area in the vagina. Now, because we can’t see that many of us don’t know that that process happens. When a woman gets aroused, similarly to a man, she gets an enlargement of blood into that area, and it prepares the vulva and vagina for penetration.

Our bodies are very cleverly designed, and the female body is designed to get aroused. Many of the couples I work with don’t understand that, and so they might try to have intercourse when the man is aroused and it really hurts the woman. If you talk about the process that needs to happen in order for the woman to get aroused, and for her body to respond, then that helps them to understand that there could be a lot more focus on the intimacy rather than just penetration. What I mean by that is the kissing, the touching and all the things that the couple can do to arouse each other. Introducing something like a vaginal lubricant, which we can assume is just what postmenopausal women need, is something that I recommend to all the couples that I work with. Such simple, practical tips can make a huge difference in terms of a couple’s enjoyment.

You can listen to the full interview here.

Emma Waring also features within our May issue, where we have an article on intimacy on marriage. To find out more about her work, visit emmawaring.com

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